Energy savers, spill-proof countertop Internet, ‘fur-face’ recognition … The latest in home innovation

Home Improvement
The Enginuity Micro-CHP, a gas water heater, also produces heat and electricity to power a home. Courtesy of Enginuity Power Systems

Leak detectors, touchless faucets, a water heater that generates power, and a laser-and-projector system that converts any kitchen counter into a tablet were among the products demonstrated at the International Builders Show and Kitchen & Bath Industry Show last month in Las Vegas. Many companies that display their wares at those co-located trade expos can also be found at other annual tech extravaganzas like the Consumer Electronics Show and the Custom Electronic Design and Installation Association convention. 

“The trends we’re seeing at these shows are all related to developing the home as a sophisticated center with frictionless technology and, most important, connectivity,” said Melissa Morman, chief experience officer for BDX, a digital marketing firm for home builders. “New technology addresses health and quality-of-life issues, along with sustainability and resiliency.”

Water and energy innovations

Among the products consumers are more likely to use are leak-detection systems, Morman said.

“Homes are 10 times more likely to be damaged by water than by a fire, so a detector that can alert you to a leak and systems that can automatically shut off your water can be hugely beneficial,” she said. 

In a recent BDX survey, nearly half of prospective new-home buyers (47 percent) said water and plumbing monitors would be a “nice to have” feature, while 18 percent expected to have these monitors in their new home. 

A more futuristic product related to water is “Genny” by Watergen, which can convert air into drinking water, Morman said. Watergen has designed products for global use and for emergency shortages of clean water, but the Genny product is designed for home or office use to generate up to 8 gallons of fresh water per day.

While touchless faucets have been around for a few years and offer a germ-free way to get water at home as well as in public, Kohler has added a new twist to the products, said Jacob Atalla, vice president of innovation and sustainability at KB Home.

“The new touchless faucets have a thoughtful smart innovation, which is that they can dispense an exact amount of water when you connect it with a voice-controlled app,” Atalla said. 

Not only is it a novelty to be able to control your faucet with a motion sensor and your voice, but the faucet reduces water waste by turning itself off automatically. 

The Enginuity Micro-CHP by Enginuity Power Systems, a gas water heater that also produces heat and electricity for your home, stood out at the show for its usefulness as a new power source. The Micro-CHP — which won Best in Show, Best Energy Efficient Product, and Best Home Technology Product — replaces a traditional gas water heater with a system that includes an engine that converts gas into electricity.

“This product is the one that I see as a game changer at this show,” said Wayne Visbeen, founder of Visbeen Architects in East Grand Rapids, Mich., who anticipates that this will be in homes all over the country. 

The system works a few hours a day to generate enough power to keep an average home comfortable. Because the system works with gas, it can also eliminate the need for a back-up power generator.  

Fun and useful technology

While saving energy and lowering your utility bills are important, some of the products at the Builders Show are more of a luxury item. 

For people who like to watch videos, check Facebook, or Google the latest news while they’re cooking or doing the dishes, Make Any Solid Surface a Tablet, a product by Atlas Granite, may appeal. MASST, which won Best Kitchen & Bath Product at the Builders Show, works with a combination of lasers and projectors tucked in your backsplash and under your kitchen counter to send an image of a computer screen to your counter. It works only with a light-colored counter, but when connected with your wireless Internet, you can watch cat videos, check your e-mail, review a recipe, or watch a YouTube cooking demonstration without worrying about splashing anything on your device.

The Make Any Solid Surface a Tablet product offers spill-proof Web surfing. —Courtesy of Atlas Granite

For dog owners, an update on the traditional pet door provides a “wellness for your pets” benefit, said Morman, as well as peace of mind for owners about their pet’s safety and comfort. 

Wayzn converts a sliding glass door into a smart sliding dog door that opens and closes with the help of an app that can identify your dog and let it into your yard even when you’re not home. 

Some of these new products can be pricey, but over time you can expect to see more of them available widely at lower price points.

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Correction: Due to a reporting error, a previous version of this story misspelled Melissa Morman’s name.