What's new in home building products

Builder Mart: New wrinkles for the housing industry were enthusiastically received at the annual trade show at the Timonium Fairgrounds.

March 31, 2002|By Liz Steinberg | Liz Steinberg,SUN STAFF

Vinyl siding. Vinyl windows.

Plastic made to simulate wood. Concrete used to make faux stone patios.

Metal-plated ceiling and chair molding.

Tiling for your garage floor.

Stone faucets. Granite counter-tops. Sensor faucets for the bathroom.

Exterior walls made not of sticks and bricks but of Styrofoam and concrete and with the promise of being able to resist hurricane-force winds.

Synthetic wood doors and decks, in colors of your choice.

For nine hours on a single March day about 8,500 builders, remodelers and contractors roamed the aisles and sifted through 545 booths looking for the newest products to hit the housing industry at Builder Mart, the annual trade show organized by the Home Builders Association of Maryland at the Timonium Fairgrounds.

"From a builder standpoint, there are always new products out there," said John Kortecamp, executive vice president of the HBAM. The regional show, one of the largest on the East Coast, gives builders a chance to make contacts, expand their arsenals of suppliers and subcontractors and "shop the competition," Kortecamp said.

"The mood was reflective of the market - very upbeat, very energetic and very optimistic," he added.

Between the beer and bratwurst, manufacturers were twisting, tweaking and rethinking everything from your house's framework to the decorative molding inside it. Traditional materials are in surprising new places, and in some cases, revisiting old ones.

This season, for example, metal detailing is "in."

Metal smiths may be a dying species, but Style Solutions Inc. is offering a new option for faking metal millwork, moldings and trims. The Archbold, Ohio-based company is now offering Metallon, a 95-percent metal coating for the company's urethane products, which are an alternative to wood.

"To get a metal smith to do this kind of work would be super-expensive," said Ed Delvecchio, a Style Solutions sales representative from New Jersey.

The molding is first made in the Ohio plant and then sent to West Virginia, where Metallon craftsmen apply either a bronze, brass, nickel or copper metal coating to the product. It's then completed in either an antiqued, lacquered, hand-rubbed, satin or green patina finish, giving the homeowner a variety of looks.

Metallon-coated products cost about twice as much as Style Solution's standard urethane lines, said Delvecchio. Urethane is used as an alternative to wood. For instance, a urethane ceiling medallion that goes around a chandelier would typically cost between $35 and $60. A medallion that is hand-crafted would cost from $75 to $120.

Massive crown molding - 18 inches in depth - can cost up to $20 per linear foot. Also new in the metal department is iron balustrades being mixed with wood railings on interior staircases.

Stepping it up

Coffman Stairs LLC, a Virginia-based company that has been manufacturing stair parts since 1874, is promoting a variety of twisting and spiraling designs but says its product line is limited only by the customer's imagination.

"In the last few years it's become very trendy," said Kenneth Cleaver, vice president of Owings Mills' Choice Home Center, which carries Coffman products.

Most stair-product manufacturers are offering metal balustrades, he said.

"If you don't offer them you're missing a major segment of the market," Cleaver said.

Another elegant innovation is Kohler's Sok Overflowing Bath, which is billed as a more therapeutic alternative to a whirlpool, said Ellen Schwartz, showroom manager of Ferguson Bath and Kitchen Gallery in Woodlawn.

Water fills an inner tub to the brim, overflowing into an outer tub, from which it is recirculated. To enhance the sensation, the tub is made with a number of portals that release millions of effervescent, "champagne-like bubbles" that supposedly make bathing a luxury and not a chore.

The Sok tub is quieter than regular whirlpools and sells for about $6,000, Schwartz said.

Water can flow into your sink as well with Kohler's Vas and Bol design ceramic lavatory faucets. Like miniature waterfalls for your bathroom sink, water streams from an open chute, thus creating a more natural look, Schwartz said.

"It's not going to be like your normal faucet spray," she said. The faucets cost between $400 and $500. Builder-grade faucets cost around $200.

Some 180 degrees away, Delta's e-Flow lavatory faucet brings the convenience of electronic sensors - usually seen in commercial use - into the home.

Billed as ideal for children, the faucets are triggered by infrared sensors and come with plastic handles in six different designer colors. Think of it as an iMac for your bathroom.

Although the e-Flow has been on the market since September, sales have gotten off to a slow start, said Stacey Burns of Burns Associates Inc., which represents Delta.

"Most people don't associate electronics with the home yet," Burns said, adding that no other companies are offering comparable products. The e-Flow costs about 50 percent more than a normal faucet, she said.

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