Consumers are remodeling their kitchens and baths with upgrading in mind, while low-maintenance materials also remain a priority, new research reveals.

By Janice Anne Costa

When it comes to kitchen and bath projects, designers are more likely to find the best opportunities for high-end upgrades and top-of-the-line products in remodeling jobs rather than new-home projects particularly if the home buyer is not involved in the initial building process.

Such are the findings of the National Kitchen & Bath Association's 2003 research initiative, for which the Hackettstown, NJ-based association partnered with the Upper Marlboro, MD-based National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) Research Center, Inc. to collect and process data within the kitchen and bath industry.

The survey, which polled some 41,000 consumers across the U.S., looked at consumer purchasing trends in such areas as plumbing fixtures, appliances, cabinets, countertops, flooring and more, in both new-home construction and remodeling.

Whether choosing easy-maintenance countertops or single-piece bath shower combinations, consumers remodeling their kitchens and baths seem to be seeking out products that are easy to clean and maintain, the survey reports. For instance,
in the kitchen, easy-to-clean smoothtop burners have gained four percentage points in market share over conventional ones in the last two years, while easy-care countertop materials like solid surface are also growing in popularity.

In the bathroom, consumers remodeling their baths are increasingly choosing single-piece bath shower combinations over more difficult-to-clean, site-constructed showers of stone or tile; likewise, they are increasingly favoring easy-to-clean solid surface or cultured marble over tile, which involves grout.

When it comes to top-of-the-line products and materials, the survey reports that consumers are more likely to invest in upscale products in remodeling jobs than in new-home projects. For example, higher-end products such as solid surface or natural stone countertops, side-by-side refrigerators, cooktop and wall oven combinations and wood cabinets are more commonly seen in remodel projects than in new-home ones.

According to the survey, "This reinforces the theory that remodeling expenditures are often discretionary, and much remodeling is done to upgrade kitchens and bathrooms, rather than simply replacing broken or obsolete materials and fixtures with something of equal quality."

By comparison, the survey notes that in new-home projects, buyers are more likely to "forego purchasing more expensive materials so they can purchase a larger home or one sited in a more desirable location."

The survey also looked at specific material trends in a variety of product categories.

Counter Trends
Some 94 million linear feet of kitchen countertops were installed in homes in 2002 according to the survey, with 36 million linear feet installed in new-home kitchens and 58 million linear feet installed in kitchen remodels.

While laminate continues to dominate the kitchen countertop market at the mid-to-lower end, laminate's market share has dropped dramatically in recent years thanks to the influx of an ever-expanding array of countertop options along with consumers' growing desire for upscale products at all price points. In fact, laminate was used in only 53% of homes in 2002 compared to 72% of homes in 1997, according to the survey.

By contrast, solid surface, engineered stone and granite have been gaining market share as consumers increasingly seek to upgrade their kitchen countertops. As of this report, solid surface was used in 15% of new-home kitchens and 16% of remodeled kitchens; granite appeared in 14% of both new-home and remodeled kitchens; ceramic tile appeared in 8% of new home kitchens and 7% of remodeled kitchens; butcher block appeared in 4% of remodeled kitchens and engineered stone was used in 1% of new home kitchens and 3% of remodeled kitchens (see Graph 2).

The bathroom countertop market is dominated by new vanity countertop installations, rather than replacements, the survey showed. Bathroom vanity counters constituted some 23 million linear feet of countertop materials in 2002, with 14 million linear feet being installed in new-home baths and 9 million linear feet installed in remodeling jobs, according to the survey.

This suggests that, in remodeling, kitchen countertops receive far greater attention than vanity countertops.
Again, more expensive vanity countertop materials were apparent in remodeling projects as opposed to new construction.

For instance, while solid surface was used on bathroom vanity countertops in only 6% of new-home projects, it appeared in a full 20% of remodeling projects in 2002, according to the survey (see Graph 2). Likewise, marble, slate or other natural stone accounted for only 4% of new-home vanity countertops, yet that number jumped to 11% when looking at remodeling jobs. Additionally, granite comprised only 2% of new-home vanity countertops, yet that increased to 5% of vanity countertops installed during remodeling.

Overall, some 54% of vanity countertops in new-home construction were made of cultured marble, compared to 22% of vanity countertops in remodeling jobs. Laminate comprised 27% of vanity countertops in new-home construction and 26% of vanity countertops in remodeling jobs; ceramic tile comprised 7% of new-home vanity countertops and 8% of remodeling vanity countertops; and engineered stone appeared in 4% of vanity countertops in remodeling jobs, the survey noted.

Cabinets & Vanities
Some 25 million kitchen cabinets and 4.5 million vanity cabinets were installed in new homes in 2002, compared to 22 million kitchen cabinets and 3 million vanity cabinets purchased for residential remodeling, according to the survey.
Wood-finished kitchen cabinets were the most popular, with more than 80% of all residential cabinets purchased in 2002 featuring wood finishes.

The survey showed face-framed cabinets maintaining their popularity over frameless cabinets, with 80% of surveyed consumers in both new-home and remodeling projects choosing face-framed cabinets, compared to a mere 20% who chose frameless styles (see Graph 1).

In new construction, framed, flat-panel doors were more popular, while in remodeling, frameless, flat-panel doors were more common, the survey said.

Bath vanity trends tended to mirror kitchen cabinet trends, according to the survey, with wood-finished, raised-panel framed doors the most popular choice for both new-home and remodeling bathroom projects.

Appliance Growth
In 2002, consumers purchased some six million ranges, cooktops and ovens. By comparison, approximately 1.7 million ranges, cooktops and ovens were installed by new-home builders, making the replacement market for cooking appliances more than three times the size of the new-construction market, according to the survey.

However, the new-home market for cooking appliances is still showing strong growth, up some two million units since 1997 attributable primarily to an increase in housing starts in recent years, the survey noted.

Freestanding ranges remain the most popular cooking appliance, according to the survey, claiming 60% of the new-home kitchen market share and 53% of remodeled kitchen market share (see Graph 3).

Slide-in ranges accounted for 18% of new-home kitchens and 20% of remodeled kitchens, while drop-in ranges constituted 7% of new-home jobs and 2% of remodel jobs.

The more expensive cooktop-and-wall-oven combination was evident in 15% of new-home kitchens and that number jumps to 25% when looking at remodeled kitchens, illustrating the growing trend toward upgrading products during remodeling.

However, cooktop-and-wall- oven combinations have been increasing in popularity in new homes, as well, up 2 percentage points since 1997. This suggests that consumers at all price points are increasingly interested in investing in their homes, and that even those without the luxury lifestyle are more willing to spend money to enjoy upscale amenities in the kitchen.

Conventional gas and electric burners continue to be prevalent, maintaining a 55% market share, the survey said. However, smoothtop burners are on the rise, making up a total of 43% of the total residential market an increase of 4% since 2000.

In 2002, some 57% of all new homes were sold with a refrigerator included, the survey reported, up 6% over 1997 numbers. Consumers also purchased six million refrigerators for existing homes in 2002 in a variety of configurations.
While the "freezer on top, refrigerator below" style was the most commonly seen style in both new construction and remodeling, the survey also showed in increase in the popularity of side-by-side refrigerators, with 35% of new homes containing side-by-side refrigerators in 2002, compared to 30% in 1997 and that number jumps to 50% when considering only new single-family detached homes. In remodeled kitchens, side-by-side refrigerators account for 41% of all homes, according to the survey, illustrating once again how remodeling projects tend to include more upscale products than new-home projects.

Surprisingly, appliances were cited by consumers surveyed as the product they would be least likely to purchase at a big-box retailer. In fact, only 32% of the appliances were reportedly purchased at a big-box retailer, compared to more than 70% of sinks, faucets and toilets, the survey showed.

However, that doesn't mean kitchen and bath dealers are picking up those appliance sales: Nearly 30%of appliance purchases were reportedly from a specialty store such as an appliance dealer, and another 18% were purchased from a hardware store or retail establishment such as Sears.

Sinks & Faucets
Stainless steel remains the dominant kitchen sink material, according to survey results, with stainless steel capturing 63% of both the new-home and residential remodeling kitchen sink market (see Graph 4). Enameled cast iron represented another 19% of new-home kitchen sinks and 15% of kitchen sinks used in remodeling jobs. Solid surface accounted for 8% of kitchen sinks chosen in remodeling jobs and 6% of new-home kitchen sinks, according to the survey, while enameled steel accounted for 5% of kitchen sinks used in remodeling jobs and 9% of new-home kitchen sinks.

In the bathroom, 51% of new-home jobs included cultured marble sinks, followed by vitreous china, which claimed 25% of the bathroom sink market, enameled cast iron, which captured 7% of the market, and solid surface, which accounted for 3% of the market.

In remodeling jobs, however, vitreous china was the leading sink material, used in 44% of the bathrooms of those surveyed. Cultured marble, at 20% of the market, and solid surface, at 11% of the market, were also strong contenders.
The survey notes that, in recent years, vitreous china and solid surface lavatories are increasing in popularity in remodeling, while cultured marble and vitreous china have experienced substantial drops in market share in new homes.

As of 2002, chrome still dominated the finish market for both kitchen and bath faucets, claiming 61% and 59% of these, respectively (see Graph 5). Stainless steel commanded 23% of the kitchen faucet market and 14% of the bathroom faucet market, while polished brass made inroads in bathroom faucets, claiming 13% of the overall market, the survey said.
Of all the kitchen and bath products reviewed in the study, faucets were the most likely to be purchased and installed by the home owner. Not surprisingly, more than two-thirds (71%) of consumer respondents reported that they purchased their faucets at a big-box retailer. KBDN