SIC 3432
PLUMBING FIXTURES AND FITTINGS



Companies that produce metal plumbing fixtures and parts make up the plumbing fixture and fittings industry. This classification also encompasses establishments engaged in the assembly of plastic components into fixtures and fittings. Companies that manufacture plastic, ceramic, earthenware, and other types of plumbing fixtures are classified in separate industries, as are firms that make steam or water line valves.

NAICS Code(s)

332913 (Plumbing Fixture Fitting and Trim Manufacturing)

332999 (All Other Miscellaneous Fabricated Metal Product Manufacturing)

Industry Snapshot

Although advanced plumbing systems have existed since 2000 B.C., metal pipes and fittings were not commonplace in the United States until the early 1900s, when they began playing an important role in the development of industrialized society. By 2000, the plumbing fixtures and fittings (PFF) industry had shipments valued at $3.7 billion, and the industry had nearly 15,000 employees. The PFF industry is largely dependent on the new housing market. Other important market sectors are commercial and institutional construction, and replacement and renovation.

The fixture industry had experienced steady expansion since the 1970s, despite economic recessions. Through the mid-1990s the industry enjoyed an average annual growth rate of between 5 and 5.5 percent. This rate of growth, however, began to slow in the late 1990s, as total industry shipments fell from $3.85 billion in 1998 to $3.70 billion in 2000. Over the same time period, employment declined from 15,651 workers to 14,750 workers. To maintain profitability and growth, industry players introduced new products, increased productivity, and took advantage of propitious demographic trends.

Organization and Structure

Plumbing refers to the system of pipes, fixtures, and other apparatus in a structure that supplies water and removes liquid and waterborne wastes. The foremost role of an integrated plumbing system is to safely deliver and remove water; therefore, fixtures and fittings must conform to strict codes, regulations, and trade standards. Manufacturers of fixtures are also concerned with producing styles that appeal to consumers by reflecting current trends in home decoration.

Most plumbing fixtures and fittings are built for residential use. Primary residential applications include kitchens, bathrooms, utility rooms and gardens. Fixtures also complement various commercial, industrial, and institutional plumbing systems. Most fixtures and fittings may be divided into one of four groups: traps, tubes, and drains; pipe fittings; faucets and toilets; and shower fixtures. Manufacturing metals used by the industry include copper, brass, bronze, and iron.

In 1997 the largest single product share of the PFF market was for miscellaneous plumbing fixtures and fittings and trims (brass goods) valued at more than $1.5 billion. The second largest product share was for single lever plumbing fixture controls, two or three handle bath or shower fittings, and anti-scald bath or shower valves valued at nearly $1.3 billion. The last was for nearly $800 million worth of lavatory and sink fittings (except single control) including drains and overflows.

Basin drains usually incorporate traps or tubes. Traps are essentially drainage pipes with a bend, or trap, beneath the drain for holding water and preventing odors and gases from backing up out of the drain. P, J, and S shaped traps are commonly used for sinks, while drum and bottle-type traps, which are typically used for bathtub and kitchen drains, consist of a cylindrical metal box or settling basin attached to the waste pipe. Other types of traps include grease, laundry tray, and slop sink. Most traps incorporate a clean-out plug or screw to remove debris caught in the trap. Tubes are used to connect traps, garbage disposals, dishwasher drains, and other drains and devices. They come in a variety of shapes and materials to suit all applications and configurations.

Pipe fittings are used to connect pipes and tubes and come in a multitude of shapes and sizes; several categories of fittings exist. Nipples are used to extend a pipe and to provide proper threading for connection to other pipes. Couplings are used to join standard sizes of pipe. Similarly, floor flanges connect pipes to a wall, floor, or other flat surface. Elbow fittings make it possible to change the direction of a straight pipe. Reducers, when incorporated with couplings, provide a means of connecting different sized pipes. Three-and four-way tees allow a pipe to branch out into two or three other pipes, often of smaller size. Other common fitting types include return bends, flair and compression fittings, wye (Y) bends, slip joints, and ground joint unions.

Faucets are available in several different forms. Compression faucets, common in residential plumbing, use a washer to control water flow and are operated by turning a lever, moving a ball, or shifting a handle. Fuller ball faucets work similarly, but use a ball stopper instead of a washer mechanism. Ground-key faucets use a copper plunger to regulate water flow. Sill cocks, which are designed to resist freezing, are heavy duty exterior faucets.

Toilet fixtures and fittings include levers and other parts that control the flush and water inlet valves. The ballcock assembly is the primary mechanism that controls water supply in the tank and toilet.

Standard shower heads are typically made of chrome-plated brass or plastic, and they offer adjustable spray, swivel-ball joints, and self-cleaning rims. Massaging showerheads incorporate a diverting valve that allows for a pulsating action. Continental showers allow the shower head to be removed and used as a hand shower. Popular shower head enhancements include water-saving flow control mechanisms and anti-scald valves. Some regional building codes mandate inclusion of anti-scald valves in public facilities, as well as for showers in multi-family structures.

Sundry devices include water fountain heads, lawn hose nozzles and sprinklers, shower rods, various plumber's tools and supplies, water-saving devices, and anti-scald bath and shower valves. Special equipment of more durable material and incorporating a higher degree of technology is produced for hospitals, industrial plants, laboratories, and other niche markets.

Background and Development

Latrine-like receptacles with crude drains are known to have existed as early as 8000 B.C., and advanced plumbing systems built of terra cotta and burned brick were used as early as 2500 B.C. The first latrine with a water flushing reservoir dates back to 2000 B.C. in the royal palace of the Minoans. Clay plumbing pipes were introduced by the Greeks in about 200 B.C., and, later, the Romans began developing complex plumbing infrastructure that incorporated the use of lead pipes. By 300 A.D., the Roman system was carrying over 50 million gallons of water per day to residents.

Advancements in plumbing technology languished after the fall of the Roman Empire until the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. While cast iron pipes were introduced into plumbing in London in 1619, metal plumbing systems were not used on a significant scale in the United States until the nineteenth century. Between 1850 and 1900, the industry expanded rapidly, and by 1900, almost all U.S. towns with more than 2,000 residents had relatively advanced plumbing systems.

During the economic expansion that occurred in the United States after World War II, demand for metal fixtures and fittings escalated. Over the next three decades, massive increases in new single family homes, as well as growth in commercial and institutional structures, prompted a huge demand for all types of faucets, drains, fittings, and other fixtures. As the U.S. population skyrocketed, the percentage of families owning their own homes also increased from about 45 percent in 1940 to nearly 65 percent by the late 1970s. By 1980, metal plumbing fixture manufacturers were shipping about $1 billion worth of products each year.

Growth in the industry slowed in the late 1970s and 1980s, due to higher interest rates, demographic shifts, and other economic factors. Nevertheless, plumbing fitting and fixture manufacturers continued to report gains during the 1980s. Furthermore, the amount of plumbing fixtures used to build the average house during this time rose steadily. For instance, while most homes built prior to 1960 had only one bathroom, most homes built in the 1980s featured at least two baths. Moreover, kitchens became larger and utilized more elaborate fixtures than earlier homes, and new amenities, such as hot tubs and dual sink decks also helped the industry to sustain growth during this time. Importantly, the replacement market for existing home fixtures and fittings augmented the new home market.

From $1.3 billion in shipments in 1982, industry sales steadily rose to $2.6 billion in 1991, representing an average annual growth rate of around seven percent. In the early 1990s manufacturers were looking forward to continued industry growth. 1992 showed a 20 percent rise in new home construction and the trend was towards larger and more luxurious bath and kitchen amenities. The average new home in the early 1990s included 2.5 bathrooms, while the master bathroom was generally 30 percent larger than those of 25 years ago. By 1996 16 percent of all new homes had three or more bathrooms, 33 percent had two and a half baths, 41 percent had two baths, and only ten percent had one and a half baths or less. Between 1995 and 1998. however, the market continued to grow although much more slowly. In 1995 shipments were valued at $2.96 billion up only 1.5 percent over 1994. 1996 was a little better with shipments of $3.07 billion representing an increase of 3.7 percent. 1997 shipments increased only .2 percent to $3.07 billion.

1998 shipments were predicted to be worth $3.03 billion representing a decline of 1.4 percent. In early 1998 industry insiders blamed this expected decline on the construction industry. "We see a slowdown in residential construction and in commercial as well," said Charlie Whipple, vice president/sales and marketing at Chicago Faucets in a Contractor interview. Fortunately for the industry PFF shipments turned around and increased 5.5 percent to $3.45 billion. Predictions for 1999, however, were less optimistic. "Growth is expected to be modest in 1999, more in line with the 1995 pause that refreshed, as the housing market cools a bit while nonresidential construction accelerates moderately," said economic analyst Daryl Delano in an early 1999 Contractor interview. 2000 is predicted to show renewed growth in the residential and commercial construction markets prompting a hoped for 4.4 percent increase in PFF shipments valued at about $3.6 billion.

Prices for plumbing fixtures showed a 3.4 percent increase in 1995. In 1996 and 1997 prices increased 2.9 percent and 1.7 percent respectively. 1998, however, showed a price increase of only .1 percent.

The National Energy Policy Act, passed by Congress in 1992, set maximum water-flow rates allowed for residential and commercial fixtures. Manufacturers hoped that this legislation would boost replacement market sales, as well as sales of new water-flow devices. Residential and commercial regulations, which were scheduled to take effect in the mid-1990s, allowed only 1.6 gallons-per-flush (gpf) for water closets, 1 gpf for urinals, and 2.5 gallons per minute for faucets and showerheads.

There has been, however, growing consumer and grass roots opposition to the 1.6 gpf legislation and calls for its repeal because of less than satisfactory flushing with many of the new devices. The PFF industry, however, is against any change in the 1992 law. A repeal of the law would cost the industry tens of millions of dollars that would ultimately be passed along to the consumer according to Gerber Plumbing Fixture's Bill Ficken. Industry insiders feel that the chances of any changes in the law are "slim to none."

Fixture and fitting producers also benefited throughout the 1990s from new distribution channels. Discount hardware and home center warehouse stores were quickly becoming a primary outlet for consumer sales, as increasing numbers of consumers sought to install and repair plumbing themselves in order to avoid large mark-ups charged by plumbers and traditional hardware stores. HQ, Home Depot, and Builder's Square were a few of the massive warehouse chains that were bringing new buyers into the market.

Some manufacturers, however, are cautious about changes in the way their products are distributed. "In spite of the big box/home center situation, companies are investing in traditional plumber wholesaler organizations because they believe it is the correct way to service the market-place and eventually the consumer," says Ficken. "From the figures I see, two-thirds of all plumbing products are sold through traditional distribution."

Current Conditions

The value of shipments for the PFF industry in 1997 was nearly $3.6 billion. Despite predictions that this figure would grow to nearly $4.3 billion by 2000, actual industry shipments that year totaled only $3.7 billion. The value of shipments through 2003 was expected to grow by between three and four percent.

Demand for plastic fixtures and fittings is expected to show greater growth than the more traditional metal and vitreous ones. Plastics are showing especially strong growth in conjunction with residential bathtub, shower stall, lavatory sink, and whirlpool applications. Overall shipments of plastic fixtures (plastic and fiberglass) represented 46 percent of the market in the late 1990s. Vitreous china shipments accounted for 27 percent, and metal fixtures accounted for 20 percent.

The domestic PFF industry continues to face growing competition from foreign manufacturers. By the late 1990s imports had nearly doubled since the early 1990s, while exports had actually dropped.

Industry Leaders

Masco Corp. of Taylor, Michigan, is one of the PFF industry's most aggressive companies, especially in terms of acquisitions. Over the last 30 years Masco has acquired more than 100 home improvement companies with annual sales of $1 million to $100 million. In a September 1999 in a $3.8 billion dollar deal Masco acquired five companies which make such products as glue guns, radiators, kitchen and bathroom cabinetry, and stains and varnishes. Masco had also acquired five other companies earlier in the year. "Our goal is to grow our business 16 percent in sales annually, and we've done that for 40 years and will continue to do so," said Masco's Richard Manoogian in a Detroit Free Press interview. The five acquired firms also had exclusive contracts with retailing home improvement giant The Home Depot. Masco had 1997 sales of $3.76 billion and employed just over 28,000. The company is best known for its Delta Faucet line, which was established in 1955. Other plumbing fixtures marketed by the company include Alson hand held shower systems, Peerless kitchen, bathroom, and tub and shower faucets, and its premium line of Rubinetterie Mariani S.p.A. kitchen and bath faucets. Masco has manufacturing facilities in Europe, Mexico, and Taiwan as well as North America.

The Kohler Company of Kohler, Wisconsin, controls about 25 percent of the U.S. plumbing fixtures market. Kohler has 43 manufacturing plants and has various PFF products including PRO sinks, faucets, and cook centers as well as Fairfax Faucets, Camber and Timpani lavatory sinks, and its Master Shower Thermostatic Valve system. Kohler had 1997 sales of $2.2 billion and employed 18,000. Kohler also manufactures small engines, generators, electrical switchgear, and high-end furniture, and has hotel and real estate interests. The Kohler family owns 98 percent of the company.

American Standard of Piscataway, New Jersey, makes air conditioning systems, automotive parts, and plumbing products at 108 facilities in 35 countries. American Standard had 1997 sales of $6 billion and employed 51,000. Sales of plumbing fixtures accounted for 25 percent of 1997 sales revenue with 1998 figures rising 5 percent to a record $1.5 billion. Plumbing products are marketed under the brand names American Standard, Ideal Standard, and Porcher. In a $417 million 1999 deal American Standard bought the bathroom unit of Blue Circle Industries PLC. The acquisition added annual sales of $283 million to the company's plumbing products division.

Workforce

In 2000, PFF establishments had 14,750 employees, compared to 16,133 in 1997. Production workers in 2000 numbered 11,330, compared to 11,635 in 1997. Total industry payroll in 2000 was $498.7 million, of which $326.4 million represented wages. The average hourly wage in 2000 was $15.52.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that all occupations within the industry would decline between 1994 and 2005. Most manufacturing jobs would decrease by 15 to 30 percent, due to increased automation and the movement of some manufacturing operations to foreign countries. Jobs for machine tool operators, freight movers, bookkeepers, drafters, and tool and die makers were expected to realize the greatest decreases (more than 30 percent).

Research and Technology

The late 1990s saw the PFF industry dealing with innovative products, new methods of distribution, and following the lead of European manufacturers, more emphasis on design and aesthetics. In 1998 the Waterless Co. introduced a waterless urinal marketed under the name No-Flush Urinal. The urinal uses no water and thus has no flush valves and no mechanical parts. The urinal instead has an Eco-Trap that is filled with Blue Seal fluid. Blue Seal is lighter than urine thus the waste flows down through it and the fluid forms a surface seal that odors can't pass through. No-Flush urinals have been installed in more than 40 government buildings, resulting in savings on water and maintenance costs. "People can't flush these with their feet, there will be no overflow problems and kids can't stick things down the drain," according to Klaus Reichardt, president of Waterless. "That way owners don't have to pay to have them fixed and maintained all the time."

1999 saw the introduction of Internet sales of plumbing fixtures when Amazon.com, the Internet's largest retailer of books, videos and music, announced it would begin selling plumbing products in November of that year. Although the site will be aimed at professional contractors, sales to homeowners are also welcome. Faucets, fittings, valves, and various other plumbing parts and fixtures will be available. In an interview with Contractor Amazon.com's Joe Galli elaborated on the new service. "We offer a full, exhaustive line of equipment they [contractors] use every day," Galli said. Any product purchased through Amazon.com/home improvement will be shipped anywhere in the country, regardless of weight, for $4.95. Overnight delivery will be an extra-cost option. "The No. 1 advantage we have is our selection," according to Galli. "We have upwards of 400 brand-name products available that professionals have come to respect and trust." While some contractors are enthusiastic about the new online service others are more reserved. "I don't do any purchasing over the Internet yet," said Patrick Wallner of Redding, California's Wallner Plumbing. "I'll always go to my wholesaler over anyone else, even if it means not saving a buck. The years I've put into the relationship with my wholesaler are not worth saving a few bucks."

By 1999 industry analysts were becoming increasingly aware of European trend setting in PFF design and innovation. "Since Europe has had such a strong influence on plumbing design trends during the past 20 years, the show [Frankfurt, Germany ISH trade show] is increasingly watched by U.S. manufacturers for early warning signs of new directions," according to Don Arnold in a special report for Contractor . Arnold feels that under the influence of European designers the lines between products designed for commercial use and those designed for residential use are becoming increasingly blurred. Commercial products are becoming more aesthetic and products for the home are showing more innovation with such things as electronic proximity faucets, pre-rinse faucets, and the increasing use of stainless steel in home plumbing fixtures and accessories. Newer plumbing fixtures for commercial applications no longer have what Arnold terms "early penal-colony" design but rather have more enhanced styling and a far greater breadth of material options including glass, wood, and solid surface. On the electronic frontier are whirlpool tubs that respond to voice commands and proximity faucets with portable touch pad controls. Another tub comes with a monitor that allows its user to watch television, check e-mail, and surf the Internet. Toilets with concealed in-the-wall tanks were also featured at the show as well as toilets with a water saving two-stage flush system which delivers different volumes of water for flushing solid or liquid waste.

Other European innovations are aggressive ad campaigns for premium designer faucets and fixtures. Germany's Grohe reported a sales rise of 49 percent following a $5 to $10 million ad campaign for its sleek new line of faucets designed in Italy. Its premium priced sub-brand Groheart reportedly boosted company sales to $39.5 million in 1998 as compared to $33.3 million in 1997 and $26.4 million in 1996. A sales increase of 49 percent is astonishing when compared to an average growth rate of 3.7 percent for other European companies.

In 1998 Underwriters Laboratories announced that it would begin testing and certifying a variety of plumbing components and assemblies including fixtures, fittings, piping, appliances, and water treatment units. Previously these items were tested and certified by various multiple organizations.

Further Reading

"American Standard and Blue Circle in $417 Million Deal." New York Times , 3 September 1999.

Arnold, Don. "A Walk on the Wet Side of ISH '99." Contractor , May 1999.

Darnay, Arsen J. Manufacturing U.S.A.: Industry Analyses, Statistics, and Leading Companies. 6th ed. Detroit: Gale, 1998.

D & B Million Dollar Directory: America's Leading Public & Private Companies. Bethlehem, Pennsylvania: Dun & Bradstreet Corp., 1999.

Delano, Daryl. "Housing Market May See Cooling Trend." Contractor , December 1999.

——. "Nonresidential Spurt Mostly Commercial." Contractor , November 1999.

"Euro Effie Awards: Profits Flow From Famous Faucets." Advertising Age International Supplement , December 1999.

Hezelbart, Rob. "Amazon.com To Sell Plumbing Products." Contractor. December 1999.

"Manufacturer Updates: UL Expands Plumbing Services." National Home Center News , 9 November 1998.

"Masco Makes Five Acquisitions for $3.8 Billion." New York Times , 2 September 1999.

"Masco Main Supplier for The Home Depot." Contractor , November 1999.

"Plumbing Market's Growth Will Stabilize in 1999." Contractor , January 1999.

"Taylor, Mich. Based Construction Material Firm Swallows Five Companies." Detroit Free Press , 2 September 1999.

United States Census Bureau. Plumbing Fixture Fitting and Trim Manufacturing: 1997 Economic Census, Manufacturing Industry Series. Washington: GPO, 1999. Available from: http://www.census.gov/prod .

United States Census Bureau. "Statistics for Industries and Industry Groups: 2000." Annual Survey of Manufacturers. February 2002. Available from http://www.census.gov .



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