Cool Gadgets and Gizmos for Your Home

Three parts of a house, including the solar panels on the roof, the power outlet, the alarm and the wooden door.

Highlights from this year's International Builders Show in Las Vegas included, clockwise from top left, Velux America's Fresh Air Skylight, GE's Café French Door Fridge, ODL, Inc.'s On Hand in-door storage and communication system and Leviton's USB Charger Receptacle.

Home buyers today don't want over-the-top exuberance, but they still like to have a little fun.

International Builders Show, Las Vegas — If any single event might be counted on to function as a barometer of our collective state of mind, it would be the International Builders Show (IBS), an annual trade gathering where manufacturers hawk all manner of products calculated to appeal to builders — and, in turn, to the nesting instincts of the American consumer.

At the height of the housing boom half a dozen years ago, for example, it seemed that the nearly endless aisles of exhibitor booths at IBS were heavy on glitter and flash — just like many of the homes of that heady era.

But this year’s event, held here in late January, seemed to reflect a renewed — though practical
 — optimism that economists and builders at the gathering said was the new mantra of housing consumers today, as the country emerges from the recessionary doldrums: Bye-bye, (occasionally wretched) excess. Hello, attainable luxury.

To be sure, the show visitor could still peruse acres of pneumatic nailers, fiberglass insulation and the like that are the staples of homebuilding, but there was also plenty of domestic-life eye candy
 on display, too. A sampling of what’s coming next for Americans’ dream homes:

A double blast in the shower

Where would be a good place to stash a speaker in order to play backup while you warble in the shower? How about within the showerhead itself? Kohler has nestled a Bluetooth-enabled speaker in its Moxie showerhead so that you can synch up all of that music stored in your mobile devices. And if you need a speaker somewhere besides the shower, Moxie pops out and can be charged up to play wirelessly wherever else you might need a blast of sound, such as the family room or at the beach. It works with a rechargeable, built-in lithium-ion battery, which, for those of you who favor really long showers, holds a charge up to seven hours, the company says. $199;

A refrigerator you can warm up to

These days, we seem to be asking a lot of our refrigerators, technologically speaking. The latest appliance trick comes from the 29-cubic-foot GE Café French door fridge, which not only dispenses filtered water — it dispenses filtered hot water. The manufacturer says the appliance can heat up to 12 ounces of water in two minutes for oatmeal, a cup of tea or a bottle of baby formula. The human user can choose the perfect temperature or select one of four pre-programmed settings. Available in late 2013, the GE Café models will retail from $1,699 to $2,999, the manufacturer says;

An easier way to charge

If certain electrical outlets in your home turn into a constant battleground for space between, say, the toaster and your phone charger, maybe it would ease electronic tensions if a charger receptacle was built right into the outlet itself. That’s what Leviton has done with its 20-amp USB Charger Receptacle, which can charge two USB- powered electronic devices (tablets, phones, gaming devices, digital cameras, etc.), leaving the regular outlet receptacle free for other uses. The ports — which are engineered to fit into a standard wall box and to use a standard wall plate — incorporate a chip that recognizes the charging power of the device that’s plugged in. The company says the product will begin to ship in mid-March; $35. The currently available 15-amp version retails for $20.

Speaking of maximizing space

ODL, Inc. introduced at the show its On Hand in-door storage and communication system, which puts storage on one side of a cabinet door and a “communication center” on the other. Built into a solid-core interior door, On Hand capitalizes on previously unused spaces: On the cabinet side, homeowners can keep pantry or laundry items, crafting materials, etc., on adjustable shelves. On the other side of the shelving panel is a framed sheet of clear glass with a removable white board that can be a display or message area; a magnetic chalkboard panel is a separate option. $287;

Fresh air, via the sun

Velux America’s Fresh Air Skylight uses built-in solar panels to capture available daylight to recharge a fully concealed control system that lifts and closes to bring in the breeze. The remote-controlled skylight requires no wiring and has an integrated rain sensor that closes itself automatically when it detects inclement weather. One popular size, 21-by-46 inches, costs $1,243, plus installation (and, the manufacturer points out, qualifies for certain tax credits for energy-saving products);


Freelance writer Mary Umberger has covered real estate and home-related products for publications such as The Chicago Tribune, Inman News and other leading print and online publications.

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