New products homing in on the coming century

January 30, 1994|By Linda Bennett | Linda Bennett,Contributing Writer

Las Vegas. Flashy 3-D laser light shows, a futuristic kitchen with a holographic command center and a full-size steel house built on the convention center parking lot competed with the nonstop sizzle of the famous Las Vegas Strip when 60,000 home builders and their suppliers met here last weekend.

The mood at the 50th annual convention and trade show of the National Association of Home Builders was cautiously upbeat, as the numbers for new home starts and sales continue to climb gradually back up to prerecession levels.

Trade show exhibits ranged from doorknobs to dumbwaiters, and included hundreds of brand-new products that will be available soon for use in either new construction or remodeling projects.

Updated traditional styling -- with echoes of art deco and neoclassical -- prevailed in everything from cabinets to bathroom fixtures, with an emphasis on the natural beauty of wood, stone, glass and metal.

Appliance manufacturers stuck with the basic colors of white, almond, black and stainless steel, while "environmental" colors -- forest, ocean and desert shades -- dominated elsewhere.

Among the best of the new products showcased were:

* Marvin Windows & Doors' new residential applications for switchable privacy glass, using liquid crystal technology to make windows that can alternate between clear and opaque. A film of liquid crystals sandwiched between two panes of glass results in a softly frosted window that diffuses sunlight and provides privacy for a bathroom, bedroom or entry. Flip a switch and send a mild electrical current through the film, and the crystals line up and turn the window clear. Switchable privacy windows will cost $80 to $100 per square foot.

* Kohler's new wheelchair-accessible kitchen sink, designed for good looks as well as ease of use. The enameled cast-iron double sink has two shallow basins, one of them just over 4 inches deep. The sink's thick front apron is easy to grasp and curves slightly inward to allow convenient wheelchair access; a soft polystyrene shroud underneath the sink keeps plumbing pipes from harming the user's legs. The basic sink will retail for about $340 without faucet; there's also a remote control drain release option.

* NuTone's new assortment of high-style doorbells, most framed in real wood and elegant enough to mount in clear view. Several neoclassic designs are especially handsome, featuring natural maple with pediment, column and dentil detailing and brass chime tubes. There are some art deco styles, too, along with a Craftsman version and a couple of contemporary designs. Prices range from $20 for a basic doorbell to just under $400 for a large clock-doorbell combination in natural wood and brass.

* Armstrong's new "Ceiling Fashions" products and idea book, providing a fresh take on no-nonsense suspended acoustic-tile ceilings. Included in the collection are several styles of )( dimensional ceiling panels made of pressed mineral fiberboard and an assortment of medallions and moldings made of rigid polyurethane foam. The lavishly illustrated idea book, which will be available soon through builders, offers dozens of possibilities for installation and painting techniques that give these plain white components the look of an expensive custom ceiling design. Ceiling tiles average $1.25 to $3.25 per square foot.

* Jacuzzi Whirlpool Bath's new J-Carre, a corner-configured version of the company's state-of-the-art J-Dream shower system. The new unit is somewhat smaller than the original but still manages to incorporate an eight-function shower nozzle, 16 programmable water jets, a seat, waterfall stream, steam bath function, grooming mirror and storage compartment. Retail cost of the corner shower unit is about $8,000.

* York's new Triathlon natural gas-powered heating and cooling system, under development for the past 10 years and set for release this spring as the gas industry's answer to the electric heat pump. The Gas Research Institute demonstrated a 3-ton version of the new unit, estimating its annual operating cost at as little as half that of a conventional natural gas furnace/electric air conditioning system or electric heat pump, depending on local utility rates and climatic conditions. In addition to lower annual operating costs, the unit is said to deliver air up to 10 or 15 degrees warmer than an electric heat pump can muster in winter and provide superior humidity control in summer. A GRI spokesman estimated initial cost of the Triathlon will be about the same as a conventional system consisting of gas furnace and electric air conditioning.

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