We recently attended the International Builders Show presented by the National Association of Home Builders, which gives builders, remodelers, architects and other building industry-associated occupations a peek at the latest in building materials and technology.
Windows, doors, fireplaces, appliances, cabinets, siding, decking, roofing, heating and cooling, ventilation, foundation systems, steel framing, plumbing fixtures, insulation, door hardware, safety and security systems, electrical and lighting and home automation were just a sampling of the more than 300 product categories represented at the show.
The most popular themes of the show were looks, lasting quality, thinking green and automation.
Manufacturers were clear that the American consumer wants products that look good and at the same time adds value to their home. Additionally, the style of the products in their homes -- be it sleek stainless steel appliances, brushed nickel plumbing fixtures and accessories or classic Craftman-style windows - must reflect their sense of style and way of life, whether casual, contemporary or classic.
Equally apparent was the trend toward high-end product designed to add value. For example, many leading plumbing fixture manufacturers offered faucets with maintenance-free valves and upgrade finishes complete with a lifetime warranty. Keep in mind that style and improved value aren't without a price tag. The consensus: So what? With escalating home values, increased equity and still-low interest rates, the American consumer can venture out as never before.
While consumers are willing to spend more for "sizzle," they want the steak that goes with it. Pretty is fine, so long as it lasts a long time and requires minimal maintenance.
Homeowners are looking for products that require a minimum of maintenance, while continuing to last and look good for a long time. Thus, the growth in composite building products such as windows, doors, decking, railing systems, fencing, siding, roofing, garage doors. Gone are the days when weekends were devoted to sanding and staining or painting doors, windows and decking. Today's mantra is KISS -- keep it simple stuff!
One of the benefits of composite building products is the reduced demand on natural resources and the "green" building movement - another fundamental theme of this years event.
Manufacturers are responding to consumer demand for maintenance-free products that use environmentally friendly technology.
For example, one of the biggest growth categories in composite building materials is decking and railing systems. The last several years have produced products that remarkably mimic the look of dimensional lumber. Most of the leading products in the category have several styles, patterns and colors from which to choose. Most products are handled like wood; they can be cut with a saw, nailed or fastened with screws. The better products hold up well to ultraviolet rays and require nothing more than periodic cleaning. They don't need to be sanded, stained or painted and best of all, wont get in the way of that special family outing that you have planned.
Manufacturers are responding to the other side of the "green" coin as well: energy efficiency.
Skyrocketing energy costs have sent consumers scrambling for building products that will improve personal comfort and lower their utility bills. In response, most manufacturers with products that affect comfort and energy use are putting their R&D pedal to the metal to come up with increasingly more fuel-efficient products that will keep consumers from going into hock to pay their utility bills.
Insulation with better R-values, more energy-efficient windows and doors, and state-of-the-art heating and cooling systems lead the pack of products that are making a big dent in utility bills. Photovoltaic energy systems -- where homeowners use the sun to generate their own power -- are the rage.
Another theme of this years International Builders' Show was technology and home automation.
Although new, home automation is expanding to virtually every aspect of the home and is now affordable for everyone. Most major subdivision home builders have been incorporating "smart home" technology into their homes in recent years due to consumer demand and as an added sales feature. For the most part these smart home systems consist of an "all-in-one" central terminal for telephone, cable television and broadband Internet with dedicated lines that run to many rooms throughout a home. This means that you can "plug and play" in virtually any room in your home without the need to run cables along baseboards, under carpet or crawl the attic or basement to run additional wires.
Home automation takes it a step further. Now you can use various types of technology - wireless being the most popular for existing inventory - as a means of controlling lighting for your entire home at one or more locations. You can control your thermostat, appliances, home entertainment system, operate your garage door, arm and disarm your home security system, and monitor security cameras on your television using a single remote control at your bedside.
What's more, you can perform most of the same functions from anywhere in the world by logging on to your "hip home" using a computer and the Internet.
For more home improvement tips and information, visit our Web site at www.onthehouse.com or call us at (800) 737-2474 every Saturday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. EST.