Dripping With Design Twenty years ago, drips and leaks were a faucet buyer's main concern. The advent of ceramic disks and washerless valves has improved faucet performance dramatically, allowing consumers to worry less about function and more about style, according to Ken James, manager of commercial products at Gerber. “Showrooms and kitchen and bath stores have become much more fashionable,” he says.

Manufacturers must keep up with the demand for new finishes enhanced by PVD (physical vapor deposition) technology developed in the late 1990s. PVD involves vaporized zirconium reacting with nitrogen and other gases to form a durable plated surface. The use of PVD technology has helped drive finish trends, says Keith Kometer, director of product marketing for Kohler. Back in 1985, shiny chrome and polished brass were the most popular finishes. With PVD, more versatile metallic finishes are possible.

Speaking of looks, the number of faucet styles on the market has grown exponentially. Pullout sprays are one shining example of the ever-evolving trends in this fixture category. Manufacturers come up with more elegant and elaborate models every year. That little black microphone-looking spray gun is gone, replaced by, in the case of Brizo's Floriano, a blooming flower.

Nouveau Flow Toilet evolution can be summed up in two words: low flow. Most toilets installed during the 1980s used about 3.5 gallons of water per flush. The Energy Policy Act of 1992 cut that down to 1.6 gallons, where it's been ever since. “For the first three years, low flow simply meant that everyone flushed three times,” recalls Rosie Romero, former remodeler and host of Phoenix radio station KTAR's Rosie on the House, a home improvement talk show. “Then the industry had to develop the technology to make it work, but it took them 10, 12 years to get close.” Most manufacturers would argue with that point, but it's safe to say that toilet technology keeps advancing.

Dual-flush technology debuted in 2004 with Sterling's Rockton Dual-Force toilet. A split button lets the user flush with either 1.6 gallons or 0.8 gallons of water. Several other companies, including Gerber and Caroma, have followed suit, and this can only be good for both the consumer and the environment.

Toilet style keeps evolving, too, as seen with Kohler's latest artistic triumph, the Purist Hatbox. Tankless, electric, and upscale — retailing for about $2,800 — the Hat-box is, as Kitchen and Bath Group president David Kohler puts it, “a natural evolution of how we perceive the toilet.”

Style in Stock The kitchen has become a far more public space over the past 20 years. Today's open floor plans mean nothing's hidden, so cabinetry plays a starring role in a kitchen's look.

With appliances becoming high-tech status symbols, there's a new level of luxury in the kitchen, says Connie Edwards, CKD, CBD, director of design at Timberlake Cabinets, and cabinetry has to be furniture-quality to keep up. Consumers are more sophisticated, and they expect more options from manufacturers and remodelers. For instance, Edwards points out the flood of decorative hardware that has emerged during the past few years and the increasing array of exotic finishes. In the near future, look for sleeker, shinier door surfaces, like the Venicia line from KraftMaid, to match stainless steel appliances.

At this year's Kitchen and Bath Industry Show (KBIS) in Las Vegas, almost every manufacturer showcased full overlay doors, which have become increasingly popular. Paul Winans, owner of Winans Construction in Oakland, Calif., and current NARI president, notes that this is a big change. “Face frames with overlay doors didn't exist 25 years ago.” But changes during the past 20 years have occurred not just in what cabinets look like, but what's inside those cabinets. Companies like Rev-A-Shelf continue to expand their lines of organization products with pull-out shelves, incorporated spice racks, cookware holders, and fruit baskets.

Crisis Management “Insulation wasn't a big topic until 1978, when the energy crisis hit. Then everyone had to have it,” says Tom Newton, CertainTeed's manager of advertising and promotions.

In the early to mid-1980s, energy codes were changing and R-values became all-important. “In 1988, the Model Energy Code was the first formalized code establishing the need for increased R-values in homes being remodeled or developed,” Newton explains. This made insulation a hot remodeling job — whereas before it was mainly installed in new construction.

Newton also sees growing acceptance of insulation systems such as blow-in cellulose, wool, and foam. Although greener products like recycled denim batts are more expensive, Winans thinks price won't be a deterrent for long. “The price difference will drop over time until they become the norm.”

Building a Better Wood The 1980s brought a lot of innovation to engineered lumber. In 1981, the Engineered Wood Association (APA) created a product standard for OSB, making sure it passed performance tests for load strength. That was a huge advance in the industry, says Dennis Hardman of APA. “Almost all OSB and plywood is now manufactured to the performance standard, rather than being made from a ‘recipe.' This allows manufacturers to become much more creative with how they make it,” he says, because they can use different veneers and other materials to create the products.

While OSB was getting up to snuff, laminated veneer lumber (LVL) and glulam were also gaining acceptance. Both products have seen rapid increases in use over the past decade. Hardman says that resin and species changes have improved glulam, and manufacturers continue to look for new ways to make it better. “They're experimenting now with using fiber-reinforced plastics within a beam, which increases the strength dramatically,” he says.

Smart Glass Although low maintenance is still a high priority for homeowners when choosing windows, energy efficiency is also top of mind. Manufacturers and contractors agree that consumers are more savvy about windows these days. “Back in the late '80s and early '90s, all of a sudden we started getting questions about energy efficiency,” recalls Rod Clark of Jeld-Wen. Although low-E glass debuted in 1979, it wasn't widely available for almost another decade. “People take low-E glazing for granted now, but it made a huge difference,” Winans says. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Energy Star program, introduced in 1992, used voluntary labeling by manufacturers to put energy-efficient products out front for the consumer, and now nearly every window manufacturer has Energy Star-rated offerings.

Even though today's windows perform more efficiently than ever before, Romero believes there's plenty of room for improvement. “We can't get our windows to operate anything near what our wall systems can,” he says. “They're still the big holes in the outdoor system and the number one barrier to controlling the inside environment. I think windows are one of the places where we'll see the most significant improvements in the next 10 years.”

Those changes should also include more color and style options. “People want more choices of color and hardware finishes,” Clark says. Manufacturers are offering more hardwood interiors and a broader selection of styles and colors. “We now have to pay more attention to those things,” Clark says. “We have to be better prepared for today's more sophisticated consumer.”

Tech Fare “Used to be $7,000 would buy a nice appliance package. Now, professional-style ranges are in all the brands,” Romero says. “You used to have a choice of three or four gas cooktops. Now you've got dozens.”

The kitchen has become more than just a place to prepare dinner. Many homeowners see it as a showcase for high-end, deluxe appliances, and manufacturers are clamoring for that upscale attention. Commercial-style ranges with oversized knobs, convection capabilities, and electronic thermostats come complete with the promise of making you a better cook and a happier host. Manufacturers boast chef consultants who show them exactly what the pros need. Stainless steel exteriors are still de rigueur, and hidden control panels are becoming more common, especially on dishwashers. And although it has yet to catch on, several manufacturers have attempted to merge the kitchen and the media room by embedding televisions in appliances. Whirlpool showed a prototype microwave with a TV in its door at KBIS 2005 and LG considers its TV refrigerator one of its flagship products. These units seem light-years away from the avocado-green monsters of the 1980s.

Unplugged According to Romero, the proliferation and improvement of cordless tools is the most significant change in the remodeling industry during the past 20 years, and most contractors and tool manufacturers agree. The cordless tools of today are lighter, faster, and more powerful than their predecessors from the 1980s. “We've taken over 200 parts out of our cordless framing nailer in the last 20 years,” which makes it easier to service and easier to use, says Lewis Klein of Paslode.

But when cordless tools first hit the market, they weren't known for reliability. It took tool manufacturers a while to get batteries “to where they're practical in duration time and voltage power,” Romero says. Klein agrees. “Our fuel technology has gotten better, batteries have gotten stronger. We like to we're approaching pneumatic-like tools with our cordless offerings.” Companies like Hitachi offer an ever-increasing lineup of cordless tools, from impact to hammer drills to circular saws.

On the horizon, technological advances continue to change tools — and not the way they operate. Bosch's Safe & Sound program uses radio frequency fication (RFID) chips to record tool product numbers and serial numbers on inside the tools, making them easy to track and difficult to steal. Although the program is in its infancy right now, Bosch's Jason Feldner sees unlimited potential for its future. “The tag will be able to hold warranty information, where the tool was purchased, every user who has ever used the tool, and what jobs it's been used on.”

Back it Up As with other product categories, siding has experienced extraordinary diversification in styles, colors, and varieties. Nearly every company has siding that mimics wood-grain or authentic cedar shingles, and Alcoa has started a program that lets consumers choose from 700 colors. But likely the most significant advances have been in insulated siding and fiber cement.

Crane was the first manufacturer to bring insulated siding to the market with its Solid Core line in 1998. “It's really a whole new category of product,” says Mark Axelrod, Crane's director of marketing. “Adding the insulated Solid Core backing allows you to go outside the design boundaries of vinyl.”

Previously, vinyl siding was made with narrow courses because panels with more bends were stronger. With an insulated backing to provide that needed strength, a more authentic wood look is possible, with panels now up to 6 and 7 inches.

Looks, however, are just part of insulated siding's appeal. It boasts higher energy efficiency (Alcoa says its Structure siding can improve R-value by up to 25%) and superior impact-resistance. “It's been the biggest advancement in siding since the market moved from aluminum to vinyl,” Axelrod says.

Fiber cement was introduced to the American market by James Hardie in the mid-1980s as an alternative to wood. “About that time, problems with wood siding were occurring in wet climates and coastal areas. Since James Hardie siding is moisture-resistant, it was targeted to coastal markets,” recalls Denese Bottrell, public relations manager for the company. Since that time, fiber cement has seen dramatic growth, with consumers finding its wood look, fire-resistance, and strength hard to resist. James Hardie now claims to cover more than 3 million American homes with its Hardiplank products. Nichiha entered the U.S. fiber cement market in 1998, bringing with it a number of styles, including several that effectively mimic stone and brick. The category keeps advancing, keeping up with consumer desire for low maintenance and good looks.

Through the Roof Back in the 1980s, the three-tab asphalt shingle was the predominant choice for most roofing. Asphalt shingles are still used on 56% of re-roofing jobs today, but architectural styles are gaining an edge on the market. “Back then, roofing was just roofing. Now it's part of the design element,” says Gary Urbanski, sales and marketing manager at Trimline Building Products.

The way roofs must perform on a house has also changed. Effective ventilation is a crucial element with today's tighter buildings. “Twenty years ago, all that mattered was that you could lock the house up and make it airtight,” Romero says. “We've learned that that's not smart construction.” Ridge vents and other ventilation systems will get more attention as energy prices continue to rise.

Counter Offer A number of factors have contributed to the phenomenal growth in countertop surfaces. Laminate still has the majority of the market and is holding on to it by coming up with textured finishes that mimic metal and stone, as well as unique patterns that set it apart from natural and solid surfacing.

CaesarStone and Silestone came to the U.S. market in 1999 and 1998, respectively, bringing glittery quartz surfaces into the upscale arena. The quartz category has steadily grown ever since, with companies like LG, DuPont, and Cambria entering the ring. DuPont's patent on solid surface expired at the end of the 1980s, making room for manufacturers such as Formica and Samsung to fight for Corian's crown.

New colors and particulates have expanded the boundaries of solid surface, but Samsung's Dale Mandell doesn't think replicating the quartz look is a worthy goal. The feedback he gets suggests that solid-surface customers want the product to give them more options, not just copy the look.

Into the Woods Therma-Tru introduced the first fiberglass entry doors in 1983. The category grew slowly but steadily over the next decade says John Kufner, the company's general manager for residential entry doors. Therma-Tru and other manufacturers continued to make improvements, and many fiberglass doors today have grain patterns that make them nearly indistinguishable from wood, even close-up.

Although fiberglass and steel are tops for exterior doors, for most interior applications —particularly in high-end remodels — wood is still the material of choice. Wood door manufacturers will continue to thrive if they remain true to their key market — the high-end homeowner, according to Tru-Stile's Chuck Tamblyn. Being able to custom-build doors for odd-shaped openings and in any style makes them a valuable part of the remodeling market.

Arsenic and Old Wood The biggest change in pressure-treated lumber happened when the EPA mandated that the use of wood treated with CCA (chromated copper arsenate) be discontinued in residential and other applications by December 31, 2003. Although it found that CCA-treated wood posed no “unreasonable risk” to the public, the EPA figured that reducing exposure to arsenic was probably a smart idea. Replacing CCA, for the most part, was alkaline copper quaternary, or ACQ.

Because ACQ contains about three times the amount of copper as CCA, it's about five times as corrosive to steel. This little wrinkle had fastener manufacturers scrambling to come up with fasteners that won't corrode. The 2003 International Building Code specifies the use of hot-dipped galvanized steel, stainless steel, silicon bronze, or copper fasteners.