Market for towel warmers heats up

European hotel luxury strikes Americans' fancy

February 06, 2005|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

Towel warmers are finding a home in American bathrooms.

These comfort items are prevalent in European hotels, where they often hook American travelers. In Europe their main function is drying towels in a damp climate.

In the United States, towel warmers are popular for a variety of reasons. They heat terrycloth in areas with harsh winters; they dry plush fabrics in humid areas; and their radiating heat warms the stone and tile surfaces of bathrooms.

Kent and Carol Granger of Kansas City, Mo., became familiar with towel warmers because their previous house had one. The couple swear by them, and installing one was a top priority for their new condominium.

"It's a nice perk," says Kent Granger, a retired lawyer. "I'm at the point in my life where I'd like to start pampering myself."

Towel warmers look like a series of metal towel bars.

Electric models have tubes filled with mineral oil. They can be plugged into electrical outlets or hard wired with a 110-volt line connected to an electrical box.

Hydronic models use a standard water heater to warm up their water-filled tubes. They require a copper-tubing return line to connect to valves and a pump for the circulating loop to make the water move through the tubes.

Because there are no electrical restrictions with hydronic towel warmers, they can be placed in moist areas such as on the deck of a jetted tub or at the end of a walk-in shower.

Customers favor electric models because they are easier to install and are more portable. They come in stand-alone units. Otherwise, towel warmers have to be mounted to the wall with blocking support behind them.

Small four-rail plug-in units start at $100. But a 22-carat, gold-plated towel warmer that takes up the length and height of a wall can cost up to $8,000. The average price is $800 to $1,200, bath showroom salespeople say.

Sizes can be customized at no additional cost, says John Bernard, owner of Wesaunard, a Virginia-based towel warmer company. Compact warmers are 18 by 24 inches. Large models are 30 inches by 6 feet.

A variety of finishes cover the metal tubes. The most popular one is oil-rubbed bronze, says Ray Farley, vice president and general manager of Myson, a towel warmer manufacturer. The color of the metal tubes can be matched to the paint of a bathroom wall for a 10 percent charge, he says.

Most towel warmer customers are those who have built homes, says Megan Murray, a bath showroom sales associate at Expo Design Center in Lenexa, Kan. "They tend to be younger people who have studied abroad and became familiar with them, or older people who have vacationed in Europe."

Towel warmers are not usually a priority in bathroom remodeling jobs, says Holly Mann, showroom consultant for Ferguson Enterprises in Lenexa. But "if people have had a towel warmer before, they tend to get them again," she says.

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