We recently attended the annual International Builders Show presented by the National Association of Home Builders. We were among more than 100,000 attendees from around the world who converged on Orlando, Fla., for a peek at the latest in building products, technology and allied services.
Billed as the world's largest building industry event, there were some 1,600 exhibitors who came out to showcase their wares in more than one-and-one-half million square feet of exhibit space. Appliances, plumbing fixtures, lighting, cabinets, counters, decking, windows, doors, siding, roofing, fireplaces, building materials and tools are just a small sampling of the more than 300 product and service categories represented.
Chances are if it has to do with building, it could be found at this event.
Missing from this year's show, however, was the obvious leap in new product development and technology that had been featured at the exhibition event for the last several years. As far as we are concerned, that's a good thing. We suspect that manufacturers are offering builders and consumers a bit of a breather, an opportunity to catch up with the major advancements that have been made over the last several years.
Rather than launching new product, manufacturer focus has shifted to making good product better. They want it to look better, last longer, be easier to install (for both the builder and consumer), and require less maintenance -- all with an eye toward comfort and convenience.
No less visible this year is the emphasis toward the production of "green" building materials designed to reduce demand on natural resources and as a means of improving indoor air quality and family health. Building products are getting better in this regard. Arsenic has been replaced by a less toxic compound as the active ingredient in pressure-treated lumber and a leading insulation manufacturer has omitted formaldehyde from the product and in turn added a compound to prevent the growth of toxic mold.
Speaking of mold, it's no secret that it thrives on moisture -- the same moisture that is produced from cooking, bathing, doing laundry or just plain breathing. Ventilation fan manufacturers have come to the rescue with products that move more air yet make less noise. They are more attractive than ever and some models contain space heaters and energy efficient fluorescent lighting.
To further combat indoor air quality and mold problems, comfort system manufacturers are turning out systems that "sanitize" indoor air, using electronic and ultraviolet air cleaning systems. Dehumidification systems and central vacuum systems are gaining momentum as effective ways to improve indoor air quality.
Super energy efficient building materials and products that reduce demand on natural resources and improve home comfort, lower utility bills and help save the Earth generated lots of interest at the show. A new generation of expanding foam sealants, super caulks, radiant barriers, insulated foundation systems, windows, doors and insulation are contributing to the most energy efficient homes in the history of construction.
Helping fuel the energy efficient trend are appliances that use less water and power and that carry the Energy Star label.
Home automation systems are hot. They control lighting, heating and air conditioning, home entertainment and security. A couple of products that no "hip" home should be without are a combination oven-refrigerator and a refrigerator with a built-in computer. With the refrigerator-oven combo, a meal can be prepared in the morning and placed in the refrigerated oven, which will keep it cool until the oven is activated at a predetermined time. Change in plans? Need to work late, stuck in traffic or decide that you want to eat out? Simply log on via the Internet or dial up with your cell phone and keep things cool or change the cooking program.
Thought that your new low-profile, side-by-side fridge with ice and water in the door was as good as it gets? You apparently haven't seen the refrigerator with a built-in computer monitor. Now, while you're waiting and filling your glass with ice and water you can check your e-mail or surf the Net. You also can scan your groceries to create a shopping list, order online and have them delivered to your home.
Home safety and security products continue to be big at the builder's show. They are less complex, more affordable and easier to use. Windows with unbreakable glass, exterior doors with multipoint locking systems, keyless door locks, and remote controlled lighting, and security-minded home automation systems are a sampling of this steadily growing category.
Home automation systems aren't just for controlling lighting and entertainment anymore. These state-of-the-art systems now permit homeowners to control interior and exterior lighting and monitor their home by using strategically placed video cameras via the Internet from virtually anywhere in the world. Now, in addition to notifying a contracted security monitoring company, a "smart" security system can digitally record unexpected activity and immediately fire you off an e-mail with an embedded video attachment.
Some systems will also detect smoke and fire and notify local authorities or call you on your cell phone. Still other systems will detect plumbing leaks, running water and allow you to adjust the thermostat.
Composite building materials have been the rage for the last several years. What's different now is that manufacturers are perfecting the process and turning out products that look more realistic, last longer and require less maintenance. Such is the case with a new vinyl siding product that has fade resistant properties, a wider lap profile and comes with a foam backing for a stronger, more energy efficient installation. Even the trim is more realistic.
The same holds true for fiberglass doors. Fiberglass is more stable than wood. It won't expand, contract, twist or crack. The new generation of fiberglass door looks every bit as real as natural wood with none of the maintenance woes. It can be stained or painted and will stand up to tough weather.
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