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Hot and Smart Home Products

After nearly two decades of traipsing through the International Builders Show, the housing industry’s annual trade show, I’ve noticed a pattern. When the market is booming, product manufacturers roll out splashy and silly products, like talking refrigerators, wash-and-dry heated toilet seats and crystal-handled gold faucets. In bad times, they focus on the basics, like beefed up insulation, recycled flooring and energy-efficient heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems.

With the National Association of Home Builders reporting new single-family home starts at a still-anemic 470,000, it’s no surprise that most of the products that will be exhibited at this year’s show—which will run from Feb. 8 to 11 in Orlando, Fla. —tend toward the bland. And yet, both builders’ confidence and single-family permits have ticked up in recent months and it appears that some manufacturers are feeling at least a bit of the buzz. Here’s a preview peek at a few of the flashier products that will be featured at this year’s show:

Wall-hanging fireplace: For homeowners who don’t want to crick their necks staring down at crackling flames, the recently released vent-free Napoleon Plazmafire fireplace hangs on the wall like a picture. With a flat or convex surround in various finishes, including “diamond dust pewter,” the $1,600 gas fireplace throws off 20,000 British thermal units of heat and is remote-controlled. A sparkling bed of crystalline glass embers and optional accent lights add to the glow. The unit doesn’t need a chimney but the company says it does need a fresh air supply to operate safely and shouldn’t be installed in a bedroom or bathroom. Check your building codes before buying, because unvented gas fireplaces are illegal in some states.

No-touch fashion faucet: Though hands-free faucets usually evoke airport restrooms, Brizo is bringing them into the powder room this spring. Fashion maven Jason Wu designed the starkly modern Odin faucet, which turns on whenever it’s touched, or even when hands are within four inches of the faucet. A built-in electronic monitor keeps the water temperature consistent, while a light display at the base of the faucet shows when the water’s cool (blue), tepid (magenta) or hot (red). In black, polished chrome or brushed nickel, the $800 faucet is not for the thin of wallet.

Smart thermostat: Thermostats that can be controlled through a smart phone, laptop or tablet are a small but growing trend. Lennox’s new entry in this category is the icomfort Wi-Fi thermostat, to be released in April. It sets temperature and humidity levels for various times of the day, nags you when the filter needs changing or the furnace needs servicing, and provides a five-day weather forecast. Cost without installation is $300 to $350, compared with less than $100 for a traditional programmable thermostat. The company says that the device must be installed by a Lennox dealer.

Remote-controlled deadbolt: Locks are also getting smarter and pricier. Early in 2011, SimpliciKey launched a battery-powered deadbolt that can be operated by a remote control, encrypted key fob, wireless keypad or regular key. The $250 lock comes in polished brass, satin nickel and aged bronze can be installed by a do-it-yourselfer. At the show, the company will unveil its soon-to-be-launched mobile web application that will allow an owner to control the lock from afar—especially useful for an out-of-town landlord or vacation-homeowner. But better keep the key handy, in case the device’s four AA batteries run out of juice.

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