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issue: March 2004 APPLIANCE Magazine

On Location: International Builders' Show 2004
Builders Betting High


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by Lisa Bonnema, Editor

ON LOCATION
APPLIANCE Magazine traveled to Las Vegas, NV, U.S. to report on the 2004 International Builders' Show, held Jan. 19-22, 2004.

Life has been good for the U.S. housing industry throughout the last few years, and based on the record-breaking attendance at this year's International Builders' Show (IBS), home builders are expecting that to continue.

It seems like a safe enough bet. The U.S. Commerce Department reported that new home construction totaled 1.848 million units in 2003 - the highest level in 25 years and an increase of 8 percent from 2002.

 

The 2004 International Builders' Show (IBS) attracted more than 104,000 attendees and 1,640 exhibitors - a record for the annual event. The trade show covered 803,530 sq ft of the Las Vegas Convention Center and highlighted the latest products for the builders' segment. Next year's IBS will be held Jan. 13-16 in Orlando, FL, U.S. APPLIANCE magazine photo.

Sales of single-family homes topped 1 million for the year, registering a new record high for the third year in a row.

Home remodeling also set some records. Based on its Remodeling Market Index, the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) expects the remodeling market to close at U.S. $182 billion in 2003, a 5-percent increase compared to 2002. It also forecasts the fourth-quarter total to be the highest for the quarter in the past 2 years.

And while the industry recognizes that such increases can't continue forever, it does feel pretty confident that levels will remain comfortable in 2004. In his Housing and Mortgage Outlook presentation at IBS, Freddie Mac Chief Economist Frank E. Nothaft said that even though this year's housing starts and home sales are expected to be off 3 percent from 2003, they will still surpass 2002 levels. David W. Berson, chief economist for Fannie Mae, had a similar tone in his outlook presentation, saying that modestly higher interest rates may slow housing activity in 2004, but "not enough to take the bite out of housing demand."

Pair that with a rebounding economy and the "nesting" phase consumers have been going through, and it seems logical that builders' would shoot for upgrades. Hardwood floors, granite countertops, and feature-rich appliances are infiltrating today's new and newly updated homes, and builders are liking the profit margins.

The good news is that appliance makers have picked up on the trend and gave IBS attendees exactly what they wanted. Premium brands were the norm at this year's show, and new features and design updates were aplenty in everything from cooking and refrigeration to central vacuums and fireplaces.

 


GE Consumer & Industrial exhibited its new GE Profile Artica® side-by-side refrigerator at IBS with the ClimateKeeper2™ system.

The system, which will be available in certain Artica models by early summer, features two cooling systems - one for the refrigerator and one for the freezer. According to Robert Rogers, GE's marketing manager of Refrigeration, the technology breaks up the traditional method of blowing air from the freezer over to the refrigerator. Instead, two separate evaporators create two zones of air circulation that allow the refrigerator to maintain its humidity levels and also prevents the transfer of food odors.

   Money in the Pot

Perhaps one of the biggest indicators of a high-end home is the kitchen, and according to Chris Wignall, senior vice president of Marketing and Sales for Maytag Appliances, consumers are spending. "People are still nesting and fueling the upper-end of the market," he tells APPLIANCE.

Catering to this growing market segment, Maytag exhibited its latest Jenn-Air® Pro-Style® cooktops and ranges at IBS. "Premium brands like Jenn-Air make so much sense for the builder industry," notes Mr. Wignall. "By definition, built-in appliances require some form of construction or remodeling."

The new Pro-Style cooking appliances, which will be available by the end of this month, include both aesthetic and technology upgrades that cater specifically to the high-end. To start, the company has ramped up the power on its Pro-Style cooktops. The units now include 17,000 BTU burners for pan-searing and stir-frying, and the 36-in model has been upgraded to include six burners. The company also added dual-fuel ranges in 30- and 36-in sizes to the line. The ranges feature two-mode convection cooking - Convect Bake and Convect Broil - so cooking enthusiasts can choose their preferred technique.

Mr. Wignall adds that while aesthetics have always been important to high-end consumers, a growing trend is to keep design elements uniform across the entire product line. As a result, the company has implemented a new look for its entire Pro-Style series. The refrigerators, dishwashers, and ovens, for example, all feature diamond-etched handles, and the ovens include new oversized knobs for a more commercial-grade look.

New to the builders' segment, Sharp Electronics is taking a different approach. The company, which currently offers only cooking appliances, is trying to help builders focus on differentiation. "We're about choices - letting the consumer have what they want," says Joy Weis Daniel, associate director of Product Development for Sharp's Microwave Oven Department. "Many builders want a package of appliances, with everything from one manufacturer. Maybe the best of everything isn't made by one manufacturer."

The company displayed its full line of stainless steel microwave ovens at IBS, showing builders a breadth of countertop, over-the-counter, and built-in over-the-range models. While all of the exhibited models were existing products, Ms. Weis Daniel says Sharp's main goal at IBS was to educate builders on the different ways they can design microwaves into kitchen designs. "Standard packages are just not for everyone," she explains. "That's why almost all of our countertop microwave ovens have trim kits for models larger than 1.2 cu ft."

High-end appliance maker Miele is also helping builders to think "outside the box" when designing appliances into the kitchen. "We work with builders, providing creative input to help their properties stand out…and sell out," states Ray LaRochelle, Miele's design-build specialist. Possible ideas, he says, include adding a second dishwasher to a kitchen island, creating a focal point with Miele's built-in coffee system, or hiding laundry machines behind integrated cabinets.


While high-end designers and homeowners often prefer freestanding bathtubs for their aesthetic appeal, homeowners are forced to give up amenities like water jets and air systems. MTI Whirlpools, however, exhibited the best of both worlds at IBS with its new Oasis model. The freestanding unit's double-wall design hides piping between layers of fiber-glass reinforced acrylic, and, as a result, is available with any of MTI's three massaging air bath systems.
The company is also focusing on expanding its niche product offerings. Its new Nespresso Coffee System (model CVA 2660), which was debuted at IBS, is the second built-in coffee system the company has introduced. While the idea of a built-in small appliance is possibly as high end as it can get, the new coffee maker can make individual cups of flavored coffee.

"We are committed to expanding this niche product into a niche category that gives consumers and designers different installation options as well as offering increased coffee varieties," Matt Kueny, Miele product development manager, tells APPLIANCE. "Now consumers can choose from two models based on their coffee preferences and tastes - the CVA615 that uses whole beans and the new CVA2660 that uses the patented Nespresso capsule system. Designers also have the option between 60-cm and 50-cm versions with the new design, which increases the installation options. The new system can be installed inside an upper cabinet, in a sitting cabinet, in a tall cabinet, or even installed under the upper cabinets."

Teaming up with Nespresso, a subsidiary of Nestle S.A., the CVA615 uses flavored coffee "capsules," which are pre-measured to produce exactly one cup of coffee in different flavors. To operate the appliance, the user fills the system's water container and places a capsule in one of the five slots in the rotating dispenser, which can hold up to 20 capsules. The size and blend are then selected via push button, and the system produces a single cup of coffee. When finished, it automatically dispenses the capsule.

According to Mr. Kueny, the greatest challenge Miele faced in designing the new system was packing so many features into such a tight space. "Our engineers, working closely with the engineers at Nespresso, were able to increase the functionality of the system and compress the space usage by nearly 40 percent," he notes. "The new system takes great steps forward in terms of ease-of-use, from the 20-capsule carousel to the cappucinator."

Refrigeration Risks

Several appliance companies used IBS to get feedback on some unique refrigeration ideas. LG Electronics, for example, exhibited its TV Refrigerator, one of the show's key attractions. The appliance, which is scheduled for an April release, is one of LG's premium products with a price point of about $3,000.

Besides offering TV and radio capabilities, the multi-purpose appliance is Energy-Star rated and offers several high-end functional features. A digital LCD display on the left side of the refrigerator enables users to control interior temperatures from the outside, including a deep freezing option for a specified section of the freezer. The display also indicates the status of the in-door water filter and allows users to choose from five different ice cube shape options. The right side of the unit features a cable-ready 13.5-in TV screen, AM/FM radio, two speakers, and an NTSC tuner.

According to LG, the refrigerator's energy efficiency comes from its Linear Technology. Instead of reciprocating compressors, the refrigerator uses linear compressors, which do not require a crank mechanism to change the rotary motion into a reciprocating motion. This is said to significantly reduce the compressor's energy loss and improve motor efficiency.

Fisher & Paykel gave IBS attendees a sneak peak at its Active Smart refrigerators - the company's first entry into the U.S. refrigerator market. Standing by its name, the new line of refrigerators is designed around microprocessors and sensors. To ensure correct temperatures are maintained, electronic controls continuously adjust cold airflow thorough multi-flow outlet ports based on daily usage patterns and climatic conditions. The refrigerators also use a variable speed compressor, and each compartment has its own variable speed fan to provide rapid cooling and freezing, as well as even temperatures.

The refrigerators, which will be available in April, come in top-mount freezer and bottom-mount freezer configurations. According to Bryce Wells, marketing manager, they have been intentionally designed without an icemaker feature. "We have found that high-end consumers do not want ice makers in their refrigerators," explains Mr. Wells. "These types of consumers purchase separate icemaker appliances. This allows us to offer more capacity."

Viking Range Corporation debuted its prototype 39-in refrigerator with a stainless steel interior. The bottom-mount model, which is scheduled for a fourth-quarter launch, will retail for around $7,000. According to Cary New, communications coordinator, the draw of the all-stainless appliance is its extremely commercial-grade look. In fact, the 39-in refrigerator, she explains, would have been 36 in, but the heavy-duty commercial hinges it required to support the stainless door increased the width by 3 in.

Cleaning House

Another segment builders are starting to explore is central vacuuming, according to Bud Kirkpatrick, president of H-P Products, Inc. "Builders realize that new homebuyers expect a central vacuum in their new homes," he tells APPLIANCE. "Many builders we are talking to aren't asking 'why?' or 'what is it?' anymore, they are saying, 'I need to install a central vacuum for my customers, what makes yours different?'"

Addressing one of floor care's biggest challenges, H-P Products exhibited its new quiet performance VACUFLO® 566Q model, which is said to produce noise levels of only 60.7 dBa. The key to low-noise design, Mr. Kirkpatrick says, is a patented foam "silencer ring" that diffuses air coming from the system and absorbs the resulting noise. "A lot of the noise is actually air coming into the unit from the cooling fan, not the vacuum fan," Mr. Kirkpatrick explains. The company also added additional foam to the system to diffuse any noise coming out of the motor.

Beam Industries showed attendees its new Electrolux Afuera™ Central Vacuum System. According to the company, every component of the Afuera - from its power unit and filtration system to its electric power brush and cleaning tools - were engineered to represent the premium end of the central vacuum product category.

Afuera is said to be the only central vacuum with a true HEPA filtration system. The permanent, washable filter, which is exclusive to Electrolux, was jointly designed by Beam and the makers of GORE-TEX® fabric. According to John Coghlan, president, the filter's unique membrane sheds collected dirt into the Afuera's sealed collection receptacle, unlike most depth filters that allow dirt to build up and can reduce motor performance over time.

The system's power unit uses a 520-Airwatt motor that Beam developed with one of its major suppliers that produces up to five times the cleaning power of conventional vacuums.

One of the system's major features, Mr. Coghlan says, is the electric power brush. "For years, our industry has used power brushes from portable units," he notes. Afuera's new gear-driven brush design, however, has been designed specifically for central vacuuming and is said to offer increased reliability. Its closed-frame motor design, for example, is also more robust and has less vibration, which means quieter operation.

"First, we looked into the belt life and created an integrated belt and gear design that assures the gear teeth perfectly mesh with the belt teeth," adds Mr. Coghlan. "Wear and tear is eliminated and belt life is extended to 1,000 hours."

The brush rolls are also attached using newly engineered sealed bearings to protect them from pet hair and other particles. The Afuera power brush also features a long-life halogen light bulb that also provides brighter illumination of the area being vacuumed. ets.


Jenn-Air®'s new convection wall oven is just one of the many high-end appliances featured at the 2004 International Builders' Show. The built-in ovens feature an exclusive Multi-Mode™ convection system. The six settings allow users to choose temperature, airflow, and cooking cycle conditions for different food types. The appliances are also equipped with a conversion system that automatically converts conventional cooking times and temperature to the ideal time and temperature for convection cooking.
Comfortable Investments

The comfort conditioning segment also highlighted some advanced products at IBS. Hearth & Home Technologies introduced its Heatilator® FreshAir Fireplace™, which is said to be the first open-hearth, direct-vent fireplace that doesn't require a glass door or a chimney. Instead, a patented Combustion Air Management System creates an air curtain across the fireplace hearth and directs all combustion gases up to the flue, leaving only radiant heat to be emitted into the room. Tests rate the appliance at –50 Pascal with no spillage of combustion products.

According to Dennis Maiello, engineering manager, Heatilator Home Products, the heart of the system is its heat recovery ventilator unit, the HRV200 Plus. Certified as a stand-alone appliance, the HRV is said to recover more than 65 percent of the heat normally wasted through a fireplace's exterior flue. Using a patented high-temperature aluminum core, the HRV heats incoming fresh outdoor air with recovered waste heat from the fireplace exhaust. Passing through separate, sealed channels to ensure no cross-over contamination, the heated fresh air can then be distributed through the home ductwork, and the exhaust air is power-vented outside. In other words, energy that would normally be wasted and exhausted out of the chimney is now being used as a heat source for the home. Even when the fireplace is not in operation, the HRV will run at a lower speed for constant ventilation.

The fireplace also has safety features. An embedded flow sensor senses the carbon monoxide levels within the system and will automatically shut it down if, for instance, the air curtain isn't functioning.

Mr. Maiello says that while the fireplace is energy efficient and technologically advanced, that isn't what matters to consumers. "People are buying it for the aesthetic features," he says. "The challenge was creating a fireplace that wasn't all technical but that included significant aesthetic features as well, like taking the glass door off the fireplace."

Tankless water heater maker Rinnai, however, is betting on functional features, especially when it comes to builders. "Builders like the fact that tankless water heaters save space," notes Ervin Cash, vice president of Rinnai's Heater & Water Heater Groups. "They're thinking about what else they can put in that square footage."

According to Mr. Cash, the appliances are especially seeing growth in multi-unit housing because of the cost savings. Like all tankless units, the company's Continuum units only heat water on demand, which may save energy, especially in larger buildings. "Builders can use one appliance per unit or they can bank them all together," he explains. "Our Continuum products are smart enough to balance out how often each water heater is used."

The key to the company's tankless unit is gas modulating technology, Mr. Cash tells APPLIANCE. "The system uses feedback from a water flow and temperature sensors that adjust the fully modulating gas valve," he explains. "Because the unit is constantly modulating, the water heater can reach up to 199,000 BTUs, the largest capacity possible before the appliance is re-classified as a boiler."

The unit is also being used in conjunction with other HVAC products, sometimes eliminating the need for a furnace, Mr. Cash adds. "In some cases, you can combine it with an air handler, and you have now eliminated the need for a water tank and the furnace," he says. "That starts to change the whole dynamic of what you've seen in the industry - we are displacing traditional products."

Leaving Las Vegas

While it remains to be seen whether next year's IBS will register the record number of attendees it achieved in 2004, the real question will be whether or not the builder market can sustain its record numbers and continue to benefit from consumers' high-end tendencies. The odds point to a lower, but strong year in 2004, although that depends on what cards the U.S. economy will be dealt. Hopefully next year's IBS in Orlando, FL, U.S. will be an indication of a bright future for the housing industry.

The 2004 International Builders' Show (IBS) attracted more than 104,000 attendees and 1,640 exhibitors - a record for the annual event. The trade show covered 803,530 sq ft of the Las Vegas Convention Center and highlighted the latest products for the builders' segment. Next year's IBS will be held Jan. 13-16 in Orlando, FL, U.S. APPLIANCE magazine photo.

GE Consumer & Industrial exhibited its new GE Profile Artica® side-by-side refrigerator at IBS with the ClimateKeeper2™ system. The system, which will be available in certain Artica models by early summer, features two cooling systems - one for the refrigerator and one for the freezer. According to Robert Rogers, GE's marketing manager of Refrigeration, the technology breaks up the traditional method of blowing air from the freezer over to the refrigerator. Instead, two separate evaporators create two zones of air circulation that allow the refrigerator to maintain its humidity levels and also prevents the transfer of food odors.

While high-end designers and homeowners often prefer freestanding bathtubs for their aesthetic appeal, homeowners are forced to give up amenities like water jets and air systems. MTI Whirlpools, however, exhibited the best of both worlds at IBS with its new Oasis model. The freestanding unit's double-wall design hides piping between layers of fiber-glass reinforced acrylic, and, as a result, is available with any of MTI's three massaging air bath systems.


Also from the 2004 IHB show, read Laundry Luxuries.
 

 

 

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