Nearly 90% of Americans use their phones in the bathroom, this according to a Verizon Wireless survey of 6,000 individuals. Combine this with the fact that, according to Consumer Intelligence Research Partners (CIRP), 10.7 million U.S. Amazon customers have an Amazon Echo and a new trend emerges: smart plumbing-related products.
“Smart home technology was one of the biggest trends at the 2018 [KBIS] show — and, more than ever before, innovative home automation has found its way into the bathroom,” says Dan DiClerico, home expert and smart-home strategist at HomeAdvisor, a website and mobile-app provider offering free tools and resources for home improvement, repair and maintenance projects.
“That has all sorts of benefits for consumers across all generations. For millennials, there’s now the expectation of technology and innovation; builders are paying attention. For older homeowners, a lot of this technology is part of the strategy that will help them stay in their homes longer. Then the Gen Xers, that’s my generation, who are in prime child-rearing years, these innovations can be a huge help. Look for much more of the same in 2018 with voice control continuing to lead the way.”
DiClerico adds it is important to note smart-home technology is not limited only to comfort and convenience, but also includes safety and savings.
“Shorter showers, for example, are a great way to reduce energy costs — people forget the water heater often is the most energy-intensive appliance in the home,” he explains. “Smart controls also can prevent scalding — a real safety issue in homes with small children. So, there’s a clear way to make this technology appealing to consumers.”
Smart toilets may be the most popular smart product, DiClerico notes. To that end, Kohler’s Numi intelligent toilet with Konnect offers personalized settings from ambient colored lighting and wireless Bluetooth music sync capability to a heated seat and foot warmers. Its features can be controlled through voice command, motion control or the manufacturer’s Konnect app.
“We provide thoughtful design and technologies that offer convenience and functionality to enrich personalized experiences, making them easier, more comfortable and more enjoyable,” says David Kohler, president and CEO of Kohler Co. “Whether you’re getting ready for work, helping your children through their evening bedtime routine or simply in need of some personal relaxation, Kohler Konnect is the next evolution of our kitchen and bathroom innovations that help make these everyday moments better.”
Last year at KBIS, Moen showed off its U by Moen shower. This year, it added Alexa compatibility in addition to Wi-Fi mobile connectivity and personalization that provides users many ways to create the ideal shower experience with the push of a button or the sound of their voice. Users will know the commands have worked because the Alexa device will reply, indicating the desired activity has been completed; the app on the end user’s smartphone and the controller in the shower will respond by lighting up, changing color and reacting to the specific command.
“Consumers are interested in ways to personalize their space and smart-home technologies,” says Michael Poloha, senior product manager at Moen. “It’s all about elevating their daily routines and making tasks easier. At Moen, we thought, why not give consumers connected water? By allowing consumers to integrate their shower with automated systems, Moen takes the digital showering experience to the next level. Homeowners can have the shower incorporated into their smart-home ecosystem and enjoy the ease and convenience of a totally connected lifestyle.”
There are no installation differences needed on the contractor’s behalf because the voice activation is a software update that gets pushed to existing controllers for integration with Amazon Alexa.
Putting voice activation aside, there are many shower systems that are smartphone-compatible. “We have two products that allow homeowners to remotely control their MrSteam system,” says Martha Orellana, vice president of marketing at MrSteam. “The first is HomeWizard. It connects any home automation system to any of our home SteamShower systems. It lets homeowners activate their steam shower from almost any location, leveraging the advanced functions of an existing home automation system. Installers simply connect the single interface module cable to any of our E-Series generators and program the unit on the home automation system’s console. HomeWizard also pairs with the wireless iGenie for handheld remote-start function.”
The second option for remote operation is the SteamLinx mobile system that turns any smartphone or tablet into an intuitive steam-room remote control. The system works with any MrSteam E-series generator and is compatible with all the company’s home steam shower controls. Installation is minimal. A small transmitter module connects to the homeowner’s router and another module connects to the E-series generator. The homeowner downloads the free app and has steam at their fingertips.
As the technologies evolve, Bill Strang, president of operations and eCommerce for TOTO USA, says TOTO will continue to innovate to raise industry standards and consumer expectations as to what is possible in the bath space.
“For us, the bath space is a sacred place where people go to disconnect from the connected world — and reconnect with themselves,” he says. “For example, our new Flotation Tub has been proven to put the bather in a meditative, low-frequency brainwave state similar to what is experienced in a deeply relaxed mental state.
“This state of deep muscle relaxation is achieved by placing the body in a specific reclining posture with the buttocks lower than the slightly bent legs, which mimics the position of astronauts sleeping in zero gravity. By releasing the bather from the bonds of gravity to float in a tension-free state of weightlessness, deep muscle relaxation occurs that calms the body, mind and spirit and offers the perfect remedy for the physical and mental fatigue brought about by the stresses of today’s world.”
Smart-home technology isn’t limited to the bathroom or kitchen. Tankless water-heater manufacturer Rinnai’s Control-R platform allows end users to control their water temperature as well as control recirculation for faster hot water at the faucets. At the same time, service providers are able to remotely monitor the end user’s water heater and receive notifications for required routine maintenance.
“Should there ever be a problem with the water heater, the service provider can diagnose remotely and arrive at the home fully prepared to resolve the issue,” Rinnai America Corp. Vice President of Marketing Mark Buss says. “The end users enjoy being able to control their water heater’s recirculation. Having hot water ready at the faucet reduces wasted water that typically goes down the drain while waiting for it to reach the desired temperature. The plumbing professionals enjoy being better-connected to ensure repeat business and strengthened relationships with their customers.”
Liberty Pumps recently debuted its StormCell line of battery backup pump systems. The 12-volt backup sump pumps not only feature an energy-efficient pump for longer run times, but also can be used with the company’s optional NightEye wireless technology for remote monitoring of the pump system through a tablet or smartphone.
Looking ahead, will this smart-home technology trend continue? CIRP estimates among U.S. Amazon customers, awareness of Amazon Echo increased to 86% as of March 2017. Rinnai next release of its Control-R app will include Alexa integration, allowing the end user to trigger their water heater and send hot water to the faucet via voice command.
“We believe this trend absolutely will continue,” Mr. Steam’s Orellana says. “Even homeowners who are not incorporating smart-home systems now indicate they are planning for the possibility of adding one later. They want products now that will easily integrate. Wireless, touchscreen, intelligent controls, innovative steam dispersion and precision temperature control are becoming necessities. Innovative products that harness smart technologies to save time and offer convenience continue to gain in popularity.”