SIC 3088

This category includes establishments primarily engaged in manufacturing plastics plumbing fixtures. Establishments primarily engaged in assembling plastics plumbing fixture fittings are classified in SIC 3432: Plumbing Fixture Fittings and Trim. Establishments primarily engaged in manufacturing plastics plumbing fixture components are classified in SIC 3089: Plastics Products, Not Elsewhere Classified. As a result of the 1987 Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) reclassification, information is unavailable for the industry prior to 1987 at this level of aggregation.

NAICS Code(s)

326191 (Plastics Plumbing Fixtures Manufacturing)

Industry Snapshot

Plastics plumbing fixtures manufacturers produced items such as bathtubs, sinks, lavatories, shower stalls, and whirlpool baths. The market for plastic plumbing supplies is linked to the overall construction and building industry. The construction of new buildings, as well as the remodeling of existing structures, helps drive sales of plumbing products. The U.S. plastic plumbing fixture market benefited from the expanding American economy in the late 1990s, although the Asian economic crisis of 1997 caused a decrease in exports in 1998 and 1999. Industry shipments were valued at $2.99 billion in 2000, up considerably from $709 million in 1987. U.S. plastics plumbing products manufacturers face competition from imports, as well as from producers of ceramic and metal plumbing fixtures.

In the late 1990s, 572 establishments were involved in the production of plastics plumbing fixtures, and 205 of these—more than one-third—were larger companies with 20 or more employees. The industry employed 24,031 workers in 2000, 18,536 of whom were production workers. The industry was relatively capital intensive. On average, production employees worked about 38 hours per week and earned $10.73 per hour.

Organization and Structure

Production was concentrated in the relatively recently industrialized states of the South and Southwest portions of the United States. The top-ranking states by number of establishments were, Florida (with 38) and Georgia (with 27), followed by North Carolina and Pennsylvania (each with 18). Together these 4 states accounted for 19 percent of all establishments and 17 percent of total employment for the industry.

The industry is served by the Plumbing Manufacturers Institute, headquartered in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. Founded in 1956, the association has more than 50 members. The Institute, which organizes semiannual conventions, has committees on codes, government affairs, standards, intra-industry, and statistics.

Background and Development

The development and use of plumbing fixtures increased rapidly after the introduction of pressurized water supply and sanitary drainage systems in the 1840s. Kitchen sinks and toilets were the first fixtures installed, followed by washtubs and bathtubs. The earliest sinks and tubs were made of wood lined with sheets of metal. Thereafter, cast iron and glazed pottery sinks came into broad use. One significant early improvement in sinks was the built-in overflow.

The 1870s saw the increased popularity of bathing and new techniques of bathtub production. These new tubs were made of enameled cast iron and were mass-produced by a New York manufacturer.

The first modern toilet was designed by the Englishman Joseph Bramah in about 1790. Known as a valve closet, this design saw long use in the toilet compartment of railroad cars. The valve closet was followed by the less expensive pan closet, which was in common use from the 1830s to the 1870s. Also developed in England, the pan closet had a lead bowl with a hole in the bottom sealed by a hinged copper pan. In the 1850s glazed pottery toilets came into use, and in the 1880s the first all-earthenware toilets were developed in England.

The early plumbing fixtures were primarily of English design. This changed after the 1880s, when the United States became a center of fixture design. Louis Nielsen describes this change and possible causes for it in his book Standard Plumbing Engineering Design . After the 1880s, he writes, "developments in plumbing fixture design proceeded independently and at an accelerated pace in the United States. Much of this may be attributed to … U.S. industrial expansion and the continuous increase in population due to waves of immigration, and the tremendous demand for new homes and buildings to house the swelling numbers in industrial centers all over the country."

Many of the designs and materials developed in the United States around the turn of the century dominated the industry until very recently. Key among these was the development of the washdown toilet, similar in principle to today's toilet. One of the key advantages of this toilet was that it remained sanitary after extended use, thereby rendering earlier toilet designs obsolete. A number of improvements were made to this basic design in the twentieth century. These involved combining the components of the washdown toilet into a single integrated unit, using siphon jets to strengthen the flush, and reducing noise of operation.

With regard to materials, one of the key developments around the turn of the century was glazed vitreous chinaware. With its smooth impervious surface, vitreous chinaware was the dominant material for many plumbing fixtures, until the rapid growth in the use of plastic fixtures in recent years. Introduced by plumbing fixture manufacturers in 1952, plastics came to be widely used for toilets, bathtubs, whirlpool baths, shower stalls, utility and laundry sinks, and sink-washtray combinations in bathrooms.

The creation of industry-wide standards was important to the development of the industry. Nationwide standards first appeared just after World War I. Contemporary standards were established by the American National Standards Institute's Committee A112. These standards address both design and materials suitability. Regarding the general quality of fixtures, standards require that fixtures "shall have smooth impervious surfaces, shall be durable for the uses intended, and shall be free from defects and concealed fouling surfaces." The regulations also detailed standard dimensions and other specifications for fixtures.

The overall trend in shipments was strongly upward from 1987 to 1996, increasing by 49 percent in real terms over the period, with 1996 a peak year. Capital investments increased even more rapidly, with $15 million invested in 1987, $19 million in 1988, $69 million in 1989, $110 million in 1990, and $91 million in 1991. There was a sharp drop-off in 1992 to $31 million, after which investments started rising again to $31.2 million in 1993 and $57 million in 1994. The value of imports of plastics plumbing fixtures increased from $24 million in 1989 to an estimated $59 million in 1996, while the value of exports increased from $19 million to $40 million for these same years.

Exports played a key role for plastics plumbing products manufacturers throughout the 1990s. The rapidly expanding economies of Asia in the early 1990s helped increase exports, as American companies supplied plumbing products for the construction boom. Between 1990 and 1997 plumbing fixture exports to Asian nations grew at an average annual rate of 13 percent. However, the financial crisis of 1997—which resulted in currency devaluation—slowed exports.

Current Conditions

The market for plastics plumbing fixtures in the late 1990s was strong. Since demand for plumbing products is linked to new housing and building construction, the industry was buoyed by the expanding economy at the close of the decade, in which low interest rates fueled new home purchases. Historically low interest rates in the early 2000s, the result of a faltering U.S. economy, continued to bolster new home purchases. Of particular importance to the plumbing industry was the trend toward an increasing number of bathrooms in new housing.

Plastics plumbing fixtures compete against vitreous china fixtures, as well as metal ones, for a greater share of the plumbing fixture market, and have had success in doing so. According to Ceramic Industry, "in recent years, plastic has displaced vitreous and metal materials." In the late 1990s more than 30 percent of all lavatories were comprised of plastic, as well as 90 percent of shower stalls, and almost all whirlpool tubs. Plumbing products made of plastics accounted for approximately 48 percent of total shipments in the late 1990s. Plastic plumbing shipments grew consistently throughout the late 1990s and into 2000, increasing from $2.18 billion in 1997 to $2.99 billion in 2000.

Imports have challenged U.S. manufacturers's primacy at home. According to Ceramic Industry, the United States "ran a deficit of more than $300 million… across all four product categories (sinks, lavatories, toilets, and bathtubs)." Imports were expected to grow at an annual rate of 4 percent between 1997 and 2002.

Industry Leaders

Leading firms in the industry in the late 1990s included the Wisconsin-based Kohler Co., with 1998 sales of more than $2.2 billion and 18,000 employees, and Eagle Industries Inc., of Chicago with 1998 sales of $993 million and 7,000 employees. Eljer Industries Inc. was another key player. Headquartered in Dallas, Texas, Eljer achieved sales in excess of $397 million in 1998 and was home to some 3,700 workers. Founded in 1902, The Hancor Company was also an industry leader. The private firm was originally a producer of clay drainage tiles, but by 1995 had 14 plants dedicated to plumbing fixtures and announced plans to substantially expand its manufacturing facilities throughout the decade. In 1998 Hancor employed 1,200 and had sales of $220 million.

Other leading companies included the Aqua Glass Corporation—a wholly owned subsidiary of the Masco Corporation since 1984. With $135 million in sales and 155 employees, Aqua Glass manufactured acrylic bathtubs, showers, and whirlpools. The firm began marketing its products on the West Coast in the early 1990s, and in 1993 announced the opening of its first West Coast office in Klamath Falls, Oregon. Pomona, California-based California Acrylic Industries reported sales in 1998 of $140 million and 1,250 employees.

Research and Technology

The key areas of industry development concerned water conservation and accommodation of the disabled and elderly. Conventional fixtures were wasteful of water, with waste rates of 70 percent for conventional toilets and 50 percent for conventional showers. The U.S. Industrial Outlook for 1994 described the development of water-conserving fixtures as an emerging trend in the market because of the increasing popularity of products that use substantially less water. Industry standards mandating their use in new installations were scheduled throughout the 1990s. Among these regulations was the National Plumbing Products Efficiency Act of 1991.

Although water conservation fixtures typically cost up to 30 to 50 percent more than conventional fixtures, they sold well nationwide, but particularly in drought-afflicted California. In 1992 Toto Niki USA introduced a tankless computerized toilet that not only conserved water but flushed quietly. The industry standard for faucets was for flows of 2.5 to 2.7 gallons per minute in the early 1990s. New York State had the nation's strictest regulations regarding faucet flow in the 1990s, and 90 percent of bath faucets produced met these standards.

Industry manufacturers, prompted by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, also accelerated the design and production of fixtures to accommodate the disabled. The ADA defines disability sufficiently broadly that some 43 million Americans are covered by it, and the ADA requires owners and landlords of buildings defined as "public accommodations" to provide sinks, toilets, and drinking fountains that are accessible to those with disabilities.

Further Reading

"Plastics Continue to Make Inroads Into U.S. Sanitaryware Market." Ceramic Industry, 1 August 1998.

United States Census Bureau. "Plastics Plumbing Fixture Manufacturing," October 1999. Available from .

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

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