Originally created 02/23/03

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Tiny bubbles

Consumers today want loads of bubbles.

Not just in their champagne. In their bathtubs, too.

The gentle bubbling option is a trendy alternative to the traditionally powerful, invigorating whirlpool jets.

"They are slightly effervescent," says Gary Uhl, director of design for the plumbing company American Standard. "The feeling is more relaxing."

Those "champagne" bubbles are part of the trend toward customized bathtubs.

"Over the past 10 years, it's become more common to have a whirlpool. People are not as wowed by that anymore," says Jacqueline Marquardt, Kohler Co.'s senior product manager for whirlpools and tubs. "They want to see something different and unique."

The "soaking tub" is an especially hot custom option.

Kohler, for example, offers the "sok" tub that submerges the bather from shoulders to toes in the 66-inch-by-34.5-inch basin. The bather is further relaxed by tiny, effervescent bubbles from the 11 air jets as well as the sound of cascading water dropping off the rim's horizon into the tub's recirculating channel. But expect to pay for such luxurious bathing privileges: pricing starts at about $6,000.

For about $1,200, the bather also could add "chromatherapy" to this experience: eight hues, from stimulating to soothing, are sequentially transmitted via four light ports positioned within the inner walls of the bath. A touch of a button starts the color sequence, and each color is displayed about eight seconds.

Ready made

Factory-built housing appears to be getting an even bigger share of the market, the National Association of Home Builders says.

According to a study by Freedonia Group Inc. of Cleveland, factory- or systems-built housing will grow 1.2 percent annually through 2005.

The 33,500 modular homes built in 2001 captured roughly 2 percent of all nationwide housing starts that year, said analyst Fred C. Hallahan, principal of Hallahan Associates.

"The good news is that the industry is still at high numbers, especially when you compare it to 10 years ago, when we were in the 20,000 volume level," he said.

Systems-built housing, accounting for 100,000 new homes each year, is constructed in whole or in part in climate-controlled factories and complies with the same building codes as site-built housing.

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Contact Features Editor Tharon Giddens at: 823-3347 or tharon.giddens@augustachronicle.com.