Is basement finishing the next hot home improvement category? Manufacturers seem to think so.
Until recently, Owens Corning, which pioneered basement finishing products in 2000, had the category to itself. But in the last 18 months it's been joined by window giant Champion, sunroom manufacturer TEMO, and Total Basement Systems, a division of Basement Systems, known for its waterproofing products. So how much of a market is there?
ROOM FOR GROWTH
Plenty, it seems, and much of it untapped. Citing figures from the National Association of Home Builders, Larry Shealy, director of marketing and commercial sales for Owens Corning Construction Services, says 68% of about 60 million owner-occupied single-family homes in the U.S. have basements. “We've done some internal polling and we find that about 60% of homeowners would like to finish their basement, probably within the next five years,” he adds. That's 24.5 million homes. Add to that 1.5 million annual housing starts, many with unfinished or minimally finished basements. To date, Owens Corning's network of 27 dealer franchises has installed 25,000 basement systems.
Earlier this year, Tom Panek, president of Carriage Town Sunrooms and Conservatories, in Clinton Township, Mich., began selling TEMO's basement system. Panek says the price range for basements and sunrooms is similar, and both use panel systems, which make installation familiar. “We're already staffed up with the sunroom crews, an electrician, the salespeople. It's an easy transition.”
Sunroom contractors don't necessarily have an edge, manufacturers say. “We thought that initially,” says Bob Showers, vice president of Total Basement Finishing. But so far the 25 “large remodelers” installing the company's basement finishing system are a “mixed bag,” he says.
Most of these manufacturers are actively seeking contractors to either franchise or join their dealer networks. But basements aren't evenly distributed throughout the U.S. They're plentiful in the Northeast and across the upper Midwest and into the Pacific Northwest, but are scarce in most of California, the West, Florida, and the Deep South.
Where basements exist, there's solid potential. “The product is young,” Panek points out. Consumer awareness will grow if the companies now in the market “start pushing it,” he says.
—Jay Holtzman is a freelance writer based in Jamestown, R.I.