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issue: April 2005 APPLIANCE Magazine

The Open Door
A Healthy Opportunity


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by Dick Topping, director of Appliance Research, TIAX, LLC

Changing demographics, the health care crisis, a renewed focus on wellness, the U.S. “Boomer” generation retiring in unprecedented numbers all mean that the home as we know it will be very different in the not too distant future.

About the Author - Dick Topping manages HVAC and Building Technologies research at TIAX LLC (Cambridge, MA, U.S.). Since graduating with a Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering from MIT and a stint in the U.S. Air Force, he has worked in the appliance industry for more than 25 years. If you would like to contact Mr. Topping, please e-mail editor@appliance.com.

So will the appliances, electric housewares, and HVAC equipment in it. Are you and your company preparing for the opportunities and challenges surrounding our changing homes? Whether your personal specialty is design, marketing, product planning, “cold stuff” (refrigeration, air-conditioning), “hot stuff” (heating, cooking), or “wet stuff” (laundry, kitchen, bath), your customers will soon be demanding real innovation that leads to enhanced convenience, efficiency, security, and overall value. There is certainly no shortage of new players worldwide eyeing these trends for competitive advantage. Our industry is still in the driver’s seat, but only for as long as we are willing to anticipate changes and act decisively.

The Harvard School of Public Health and my company, TIAX LLC, are initiating research into the future of health and wellness in changing homes. We hope to discover product opportunities for new technology platforms and integrating systems that address real, unmet needs related to health, socialization, comfort, and safety in the home. Our research initiative will include four facets that we feel will strongly influence our future health and well-being—the quality of the indoor air we breath; the ability of the home to protect us (and our parents, children, and grandchildren) from falls, illness, and chemical/biological threats; the lifestyles (cooking, eating, exercising, working, relaxing, etc.) that ensure our comfort and convenience; and our changing social engagements with family, friends, and business associates. Ultimately, these issues intersect and share common solutions among the technologies, components, and systems that need to be developed. Our goal includes “bridging the gap” between research (emerging on a global scale) and the practical products that will truly meet consumer needs.

For example, people spend approximately 90 percent of their time indoors. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has deemed indoor air quality (IAQ) one of the top five environmental health risks facing the U.S. Air within homes and other buildings can be more seriously polluted than outdoor air, even in the largest and most industrialized cities. Asthma afflicts about 20 million Americans, including 6.3 million children. In 2000, there were nearly 2 million emergency room visits and nearly half a million hospitalizations due to asthma, at a cost of almost
U.S. $2 billion. Infectious illnesses, such as influenza, measles, and chicken pox are transmitted through the air. Molds and mildews release disease-causing toxins. Environmental tobacco smoke is responsible for approximately 3,000 lung cancer deaths each year in nonsmoking adults and impairs the respiratory health of hundreds of thousands of children. The people exposed to indoor air pollutants for the longest periods of time are often those most vulnerable—the very young, the elderly, and the chronically ill, especially those suffering from respiratory or cardiovascular diseases.

While the relationship between IAQ and public health has been studied extensively throughout the last 50 years (including tobacco smoke, radon, volatile organic compounds, biological contaminants, molds, combustion products, etc.), medical and scientific research must be restructured to provide worthwhile solutions for the home. Although interest in IAQ has been growing, a clear understanding of consumer-driven needs, concerns, and perceptions has not been established. For example, how do consumers value clean air, and how do they know when they have it? We need to close the gap between IAQ science and consumer needs to define the market drivers and business opportunities in this critical area.

So what does this have to do with you as an appliance manufacturer or component supplier? If your answer is: “Nothing, we don’t make air filters,” I respectfully suggest you are missing the mark—and missing it by a wide margin. IAQ will touch the whole industry, either as a great business opportunity, as a company liability, or the very least as a growing concern in the minds of your customers that will impact their thinking. That thinking, in turn, will help determine where they live, how they act, what they buy, and ultimately, what they think about you. The same is true for other consumer wants that have become far more important to U.S. consumers since September 11: the security of our residences; the safety of our food, air, and water; our family’s comfort; and our overall well-being. These are all benefits that appliances can provide. There are great opportunities to build higher levels of customer trust and loyalty if you can show creativity, competence, and care. “Business as usual” may mean no business at all.

 

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