The New American Home always garners all the headlines at the International Business Show. But for a look at what the crystal ball shows for America's housing, the house to see at this year's show in Orlando was in the parking lot adjacent to the huge Orange County Convention Center here.
Labeled the NextGen House, this show home wasn't a thing of beauty, at least not on the outside. But inside, and "inside" the inside, the 2,700-square-foot house gave visitors a peak into the future of home construction.
This was the fifth incarnation of the demonstration house, but the first to feature a second story, the better to display the four principles it was designed to demonstrate -- strength, environmental friendliness, efficiency and connectivity.
Just up the stairs, several "cutaways" allowed builders to peer behind the walls to see special features that can't be "experienced" any other way. How else to witness in action a hybrid heating and air conditioning system by Carrier that switches automatically from natural gas to electricity, depending on the outdoor temperature? Or an insulation system that acts as both a thermal insulator and air barrier?
Not visually exciting stuff, to be sure. But to most builders searching for ways to save buyers a few bucks -- and to distinguish themselves from the competition -- these are hidden assets.
Meanwhile, up on the roof, stone-coated, shake-like steel roofing panels made of 25 percent post-consumer recycled steel were interlocked together to protect against earthquakes and 120-mile-an-hour hurricane-force winds. At half the weight of composition shingles, no less.
Back down to earth, NextGen's interior brewed up a storm of its own. After all, the place had its share of fancy new gadgets and gizmos, just like the other show homes here.
"We're trying to balance needs of the consumer with benefits and costs," explained Dana Bres of the Department of Housing and Urban Development's Office of Policy Development and Research. "Lifestyle leads, technology only suggests; all the time."
One crowd stopper was the master suite, which was coated in Kelvar, the same material that is used in bullet-proof vests, and acts as in an-home storm shelter that can keep occupants safe in category 5 tornadoes or hurricanes. Another was the built-in coffee center, said to be "a most wanted" appliance that brings the art of making espresso, cappuccino and lattes into the American kitchen.
Then there was the disappearing faucet by Delta, designed to save kitchen work-space. To get water, simply pull the inlaid joystick forward and the spout rises out of the countertop. When you're done, push the control back and the spout retracts back out of the way.
And who couldn't resist stopping at the Connect IO oven? Said to be the "first" with built-in refrigeration to keep foods fresh, before and after cooking, the range also has the ability to change any cooking function from anywhere inside the house -- or outside via a phone or the Internet.
Which brings us to the real show-stopper, the digital entertainment and home automation package that allows you to do everything from close the window shades to play your favorite song, all with just a touch -- from anywhere in the home.
The system shown here featured touch screens throughout the house, placing all the home's automated components at the occupant's fingertips. The software could be programmed to tell the oven when to come on, eyeball visitors at the door, or turn off the lights and turn on the security system when the front door is locked.
In addition, every function could be accessed from a TV screen, PDA, Xbox 360, PC or laptop -- anywhere in the world.