The line was a dozen deep to get into the shower at Kohler's exhibit booth Tuesday at the NAHB International Builders' Show in Las Vegas.
Nobody was smelling particularly stale. It was only the first day of the world's largest home-building trade show that runs through Thursday at the Las Vegas Convention Center.
They wanted to experience the Moxie shower head and wireless speaker that plays up to seven hours of music, news and programs through Bluetooth technology. And they had a chance to win in a scratch-off game the $199 product that just came out in December.
The speaker magnetically snaps in and out of the shower head, which has 60 angled nozzles and a silicone spray face that makes it easy to wipe away mineral buildup.
"I take my shower, and I take it out with me to go get my coffee," said Leslie Bronson, product specialist for Kohler. "It's great for remodels. You can do it yourself. You don't need a plumber."
It's exactly the kind of thing Lisa and Chip Iuliano of ABT Custom Homes in Suffolk, Va., were looking for at the show. They usually go to IBS in Orlando, Fla., but hadn't been in three years.
"We're just going to educational seminars and looking at new products," Chip Iuliano said. "Vegas has a little more to offer than Orlando."
From tools to toilets, the IBS exhibit floor is filled with the latest innovations in home-building materials and products that make homes comfortable, energy efficient and cutting-edge in design.
Sam Dotson of Custom Service Hardware in Cedarburg, Wis., was showing a $1,480 kitchen cabinetry remodel with solid oak doors and drawer fronts, soft-close undermount drawer slides and dovetailed wood drawer boxes.
The company also makes hardware for rolling door applications such as the bifolding Murphy hide-a-door that turns into a closet shelf when closed.
"Last year was great," Dotson said. "It was a combination of remodels and new homes, probably more remodels."
Residential remodeling will improve slowly and steadily in 2013, said Paul Emrath, vice president for survey and housing policy research for the National Association of Home Builders.
NAHB projects remodeling spending for owner-occupied, single-family homes will increase 2.4 percent in 2103, and another 1.7 percent in 2014, Emrath said during a panel session on remodeling.
Many remodelers are reporting increases in requests for bids and proposals, so now it's a question of how quickly they can convert those calls and appointments into actual work, he said.
"We think improvement in the forecast is pent-up demand from putting off projects rather than people getting a house ready for sale," Emrath said. "We asked our guys what kind of jobs are out there and it was the traditional reason for remodel. Either something was worn out and needed replacement or there's something better and they like it."
Spending on home improvements and repairs reached $275 billion in 2011, down 16 percent from the market peak in 2007, said Kermit Baker, senior research fellow for the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University. He showed about $350 billion homeowner improvements through third quarter 2012.
Spending on distressed properties was estimated at nearly $10 billion in 2011, with more than 1 million of those properties coming back on the market.
"Most of those homes have been empty, going through foreclosure," he said. "Energy efficiency is one sector that grew. Baby boomers are doing retrofits and replacements as they move toward retirement."
Ben Morey of Morey Construction in Signal Hill, Calif., said most of his remodeling work is for kitchens, but bathrooms also are popular remodel projects. The average kitchen remodel has decreased from more than $100,000 to about $75,000, not including appliances.
The quality of cabinets and countertops is still the same, but people aren't expanding square footage like they were, Morey said.
"We usually had 60- to 100-square-foot additions, bumping out for a breakfast nook or more room for cooking. Today it's more about how efficient can we be without an addition," the remodeler said.
Contact reporter Hubble Smith at email@example.com or 702-383-0491.