Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Builders' Show Product Review

The International Builders' Show concluded this weekend, with many exhibitors focusing on home technologies. The technology pavilion was dubbed nextBuild this year (formerly tecHOMExpo). Here are just a few of the products that were on display that may be of interest to multifamily professionals:

:: Consumer Electronics
The Consumer Electronics Association was promoting their TechHome program to builders, which provides a rating system to measure the level of technology available in a home. A key component of that rating system is structured wiring, and there are always a number of options available at the show. On-Q/Legrand and their new acquisition, USTec, Leviton, Suttle, and Home Director were just a few companies offering structured wiring solutions. Notably, Home Director has an interesting solution that incorporates a wireless router while leaving the router's antenna exposed, and Suttle is still the only supplier to offer a set of modules that allow a property owner to offer multiple phone and data providers without rewiring in the unit.

Flat-panel televisions could be found around every corner, and Sony also exhibited their WallStation in-wall CD/DVD player, which could be a interesting solution for some clubhouses and common areas. IPod docking stations are still a popular item, with options available from Russound, Speakercraft, Channel Vision, and Sonance. The Channel Vision and Sonance versions are probably best suited for multifamily, and Channel Vision is the only firm to offer an in-wall solution for the iPod that can fit in a standard wallplate. HAI showed off a more universal audio system, but there isn't really a way to choose the music from the player without some additional wiring. Control4 demostrated their relatively cost-efficient home integration system - it's all very cool stuff that shows a lot of promise, but it remains to be seen whether the company will be able to gain the traction they need to ultimately succeed.

:: Energy Efficiency
The Green Building Initiative, a non-profit similar to the U.S. Green Building Council, promoted energy-efficient building practices, although the group doesn't yet have guidelines specific to multifamily. Rinnai and Noritz both displayd their lines of tankless water heaters, and a Rinnai representative mentioned that they are currently testing a remote building management system in New Zealand and Japan that they would like to bring to the States in the near future. LED lighting finally made an appearance at IBS, with Moda Light and others showing low-energy lighting solutions. Wattstopper showed off their occupancy and vacancy sensors, which are now required by code in some areas.

:: Telecommunications
Time Warner Cable and AT&T were the only service providers with any kind of presence at the show. A company called Tenvera touted a "fiber-in-the-home" system for ultra-fast connections - there really aren't any applications that would require such a system today, but there is no doubt that forward-thinking property owners should consider running fiber pathways to the wallplates throughout each unit for future applications.

:: Building Management
Because IBS is primarily focused on single-family construction, there isn't usually much to offer in the way of building management systems. This year was no different, but Doorking did roll out a management software package for their access control systems that is currently designed for self-storage centers. The software is being redesigned to work with apartment property management systems - no word on when this will be available. Elbex showed their video intercom system, which now includes a redesigned 7" touchscreen that goes in the living unit - the new version has a very sleek appearance and offers some very interesting features for multifamily properties of all types.

Stay tuned to the nextBuild website for more details about these and other products, or feel free to email me with any questions about the multifamily technology at IBS.

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