Intelligent people at trade shows like the Builders' Show last week often ask me, “What’s the coolest thing you’ve seen? And believing that I, too, am a reasonably intelligent being, I immediately reply, “Ah … er … ummmmm,” and draw a giant, embarrassing blank.
My excuse for total brain failure is an all-too-full sponge: Not enough memory available to perform a needed task. My noggin is cloggin' with dozens of interviews, hundreds of products and the trauma of bad trade show food. I simply haven’t been able to process the mundane from the magnificent.
So here is our list of five products that blew us away. Or what we thought were wildly cool and useful.
The Energy Edge
Want energy efficiency? Want home control and automation? Green Edge Technology’s EdgeHome system combines both. Unlike other pseudo-home control and energy management systems that utilize plug-in modules—read ugly wall warts—EdgeHome builds energy monitoring and control into electrical outlets, light switches and dimmers, and junction boxes that communicate via a proprietary wireless radio frequency protocol. The system can report on the energy usage from each and aggregates them, while allowing control of lights and plugged-in devices, even the ability to set and program scenes.
Already TRI Pointe Homes in Southern California will offer EdgeHome in four of its Southern California communities, including Woodson in Playa Vista, Alegre and Aldea at Paseo Del Sol in Temecula and Messina at Orchard Hills in Irvine.
Builder costs range from about $1.25 to $2 per square foot, says Chief Operating Officer Keith Hartsfield. A thermostat, water sensor, security and media devices will follow. Are other builders interested? Green Edge’s crowded booth at the show provides the answer.
Tech in the Mirror
The talk of the Kitchen & Bath Industry (KBIS) show was Kohler’s giant and loud nightclub-like “booth” with DJ music and entertainment. Tucked inside, however, was Kohler’s Robern brand, which personalizes bath spaces with high-tech vanities, mirrors and medicine cabinets.
I’ve never been enamored of vanities and bath mirrors, especially in the morning. But the function of drawers with power outlets to hide unsightly wires, compartments to store your toiletries and cosmetics, integrated nightlights and dimmable task lighting really impressed.
We particularly liked the M Series cabinets with options like mirror defoggers, cold storage, integrated lighting and TVs. Yes, TVs. The M Series with TViD are cool and useful for those who want news and weather while primping and prepping. You can also connect a portable music player and groove to Kohler’s waterproof SoundTile speakers. We’re told wireless Bluetooth connectivity for music streaming is next.
Flexible Induction Cooking
Induction cooktops that use electromagnetic coils to efficiently heat pots and pans without heating the cooktop surface are big in Europe, but are just starting to catch on stateside.
Top-of-the-class should a trimless version of Themador’s Freedom Induction cooktop, due in April, and which allows you to place a pot or pan anywhere on the surface, as 48 electromagnetic coils placed below provide one limitless cooking surface. A “natural-mapping” interface intelligently recognizes cookware size, shape and position, and will signify the area on the cooktop’s 6.5-inch color touchscreen. Want to move it to another position? Do so and it keeps on heating. Buyers will pay a pretty $5,500 for this high-end cooktop.
More affordable induction cooking comes from sister company Bosch Appliance’s Benchmark with “FlexInduction,” also due in April at $2,800. Four induction coils automatically read cookware placement to utilize any combination of the zones. You can utilize different zones for cooking and warming in one teppanyaki pan, for example.
This is cool—or maybe we should say red hot—foodie tech.
Air and Water Control
Rheem does HVAC, Rheem does water heating. And now Rheem is combining the two with an EcoNet Controller that integrates air and water monitoring and control. After all, climate and water represent more than 65 percent of a home’s energy use, says Rheem. You can monitor Rheem’s water heater, furnaces and air conditioning right from the attractive touchscreen, allowing easy scheduling, set-it-and-go features and humidity controls. Smartphone and tablet apps can be used as well. It will all be connected via Wi-Fi and it’s rolling out now.
We also love Rheem’s hybrid electric and heat pump water heater that draws in surrounding warm air to help heat the water. Rheem tells us this is big with builders in Florida, as it can lower HERS (Home Energy Rating System] by about 4 points. Just remember you need about a 10-by-10-foot space to allow the unit to pull in surrounding air.
All-Purpose Bath Fans
You need a bath fan, but often have to purchase different fans with different cubic feet per minute (CFM) air flows for different bathroom sizes. Panasonic wants to reduce your number of WhisperGreen bath fan buys to just one or two: one that can produce 50, 70 or 110 CFM for normal-size baths and 110, 130 or 150 CFM for larger bathrooms. A little switch behind the grille allows you to set the CFM.
So why buy one of these when you only need a 50-CFM fan for a powder room? Panasonic has also gone modular. You can choose up to three modules to plug in behind the grille to have multispeed, motion sensing, condensation sensing, or a nightlight that comes on when it’s dark. The new WhisperGreen Select will be rolling out in the next few weeks with a Flex-Z Fast installation system.
WhisperGreen Select can be used to comply with the ASHRAE 62.2 code, LEED, CalGreen and Energy Star for Homes 3.0.
Panasonic has also expanded the WhisperGreen line to include two new models with LED lights. Who thought bath fans could be so cool?