Safe AND Sound

Safe AND Sound

The home-as-haven trend has created a demand for products that enhance both physical and spiritual well-being.

By John Filippelli

After all, growing consumer awareness and the home-as-haven trend have created a demand for products that benefit both physical and spiritual well being through the purification of the home especially the water and air, according to kitchen and bath designers and manufacturers.

Rick Millard, v.p./sales and marketing design for Comfort Designs Bathware, a Division of the Praxis Cos., based in Savannah, TN, explains: "Everything from houses and cars to bathroom products really should be easier to use, create less hassle and be cleaner. [In the kitchen and bath industry], something that doesn't promote disease or that [works to actively prevent] the spreading of disease is going to be in high demand."

Billy Henry, president of Microban Americas, a Division of Microban International, Ltd., agrees: "Clearly consumers are more aware of the issues that can be created by stain- and odor-causing microbes found throughout the home," a factor that many kitchen and bath professionals see playing into consumers' product choices.

"Just beyond each faucet and shower fixture and the pipes that feed them is bacteria. Some of these germs, such as cryptosporidium and legionella, are quite toxic. However, there are sensible and cost-effective ways [for your clients] to rid their homes of these unwanted guests," adds John Vastyan, a journalist whose work focuses on the plumbing and mechanical and radiant heat industries, and who is president of Manheim, PA-based Common Ground.

For instance, Vastyan cites reverse osmosis water treatment; point-of-use, thermostatic protection valves with constant circulation for comfort, safety and health; and radiant heat and ground source heat pumps as necessary elements to ensure a truly safe home.

Likewise, Vastyan sees a growing interest in products that promote energy conservation in the kitchen and the bath everything from energy efficient appliances to ground source heating and radiant floor heating.
Indeed, the focus on a safe home environment is increasingly impacting product design at all levels.

Tim O'Connor, director of Sterling Brand Marketing, a subsidiary of Kohler, WI-based Kohler Co., notes that his company has developed products that reflect just how broad the range has become for safe products for the home.

"Our shower doors are constructed of tempered glass, so if a door were to shatter, you would not have any sharp, jagged edges," he reports. He also points to the firm's most recent offering of stainless steel kitchen sinks that feature a rolled outer rim, eliminating any potential for sharp edges."

Air quality, too, is a concern for many homeowners, according to Karen Collins of Broan-NuTone LLC, in Hartford, WI, who cites a growing interest in the company's whole-house HEPA filtration systems.
Steve Coven, president of Chicago-based Napco, a distributor of chemicals, coatings, equipment and supplies to the refinishing industry. "Indoor air quality is an important consideration for contractors and builders as well, as they oversee a project's progress," he stresses.

Whether it is reverse osmosis water treatment, air quality considerations, anti-bacteria protection or anti-scald devices, one thing is apparent: Consumers are thirsty for products that not only make drinking water and air safer, but make their homes safer, as well.

Micro manage
Henry believes consumers are currently seeking products engineered with antimicrobial protection that guards against bacteria, mold and mildew. "Products engineered with Microban antimicrobial protection can be found all around the home, and especially in the kitchen and bathroom," Henry says. "When used in conjunction with normal cleaning practices, these products provide an added level of cleanliness protection."

To that end, he cites Aqua Glass bathtubs, CorStone sinks made of Lucite acrylic, Parabond flooring adhesives, Laticrete grouts and tile installation products and Dap caulks as examples of products that offer antimicrobial protection.

For Kevin Holmberg, fabricator for Quality Encounters in Port Angeles, WA, these types
of residential considerations are actually developing from commercial-style applications.

"We believe infection control in the work place and the home will become a major focal point in the upcoming five to 10 years," he says, citing a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which notes that 88,000 hospital patients die from nosocomial infections annually.

Vastyan adds that these types of statistics have had a direct effect on consumers' re-evaluation of what they need from their homes. This is most evident in the mature client, he believes.

"As our aging population moves eagerly toward products and technology that enhance our healthier lifestyle, ensure safety and help us to be good stewards of the natural resources we've been given, [we find ourselves developing a] keener attention to risks to ourselves, to our loved ones and to the environment," he offers.

Up in the air
According to Coven, air quality is a key component toward creating a safer home especially when considering the various air pollutants present every day, and especially prevalent during remodeling projects things such as drywall dust, paint fumes, mold spores and asbestos.

"We're seeing anything that will clean the air and create a healthier environment [as being of prime importance to design professionals and homeowners]. People seem to be very conscious of odor and dust and the like in the house," Coven notes.

Coven believes that products that rid work sites of such pollutants such as his company's TINY GIANT exhaust system are one way to combat the problem, especially during remodeling projects.

"In remodeling, people are generally living at the home throughout the entire process," he explains. "Therefore, we were looking for a way to make the environment more pleasant for the homeowner and safer for the worker, as well as creating a way to help the professional worker market his services."
In addition, Henry notes that the new DuPont air filtration products with Microban protection are just launching into the market and have been met with very strong demand.

Major Avignon, president of Carson, CA-based Water, Inc., adds: "We're seeing increased interest in air switches from a safety and design perspective."

Vastyan adds that insisting on specifying and installing carbon monoxide detectors is one thing kitchen and bath dealers can do that can amount to a life-saving decision helping to protect their clients from the dangers of exposure to the colorless, odorless, toxic gas. "There are many different types and brands of carbon monoxide detectors available on the market," he reports. "Mainly, they operate on household current or batteries. Detectors using household current typically use a solid-state sensor that purges itself and resamples for carbon monoxide periodically."

Coven concurs: "I definitely see this trend [toward awareness of air quality] continuing. 'Clean' is a big deal, [and] breathing healthier air has [positive] long-term health effects."

Changing course
Reverse osmosis, according to Vastyan, is the most recognized and efficient way to filter impurities that are normally found in drinking water.

"Current concerns for water right now seem to be arsenic, chromium 6, nitrates, mercury and MTBE. These are all removed by reverse osmosis," he points out.

Avignon agrees: "People seem to have a growing concern about the quality of water being delivered into their homes. However, the cost to society to make all of the water available the quality of bottled water is simply an impossibility."

Nevertheless, he adds: "People are coming to realize that they can install in their home a drinking water system that will cost less than a dollar a day to operate and will provide their family with bottled-quality water."

According to Vastyan, there are a variety of suitable water filtration systems available. Among them are sediment, which removes suspended particles, dirt and rust; granular-activated carbon (GAC), which acts as an absorber and reduces volatile organic chemicals such as chlorine and pesticides; and carbon block, which acts similarly to GAC, but offers the added benefit of reducing particle matter.

Avignon describes another development that has occurred as a result of this issue. "Our customers are becoming more selective as to different finishes and looks for their accessory drinking water faucets. In addition, our customers are including other products that we market that use our filtered water, such as instant hots, undersink chillers and plumbed-in coffeemakers."

Hot issue
Vastyan points out that there are potential pitfalls when developing safe products for the home, especially when it comes to the bathroom.

"Over the past decade, there's been a push toward lowering home plumbing system hot water temperatures in the U.S. from the previous 'standard' of 140ÞF to a safer setting of 120ÞF," he explains.

"The motive is to create safer temperatures at both the tap and shower. The second reason is energy savings," he reports.

But, he suggests, more energy dollars are being used because larger volumes of temperate water are needed to achieve the same comfort levels when bathing. In fact, the solution itself poses a Catch-22 scenario, he believes.

"Decreasing the hot water temperature in a delivery system reduces the danger of scalding, but increases the risk of bacteria growth. Increase the hot water temperature and just the opposite occurs," he observes.

Therefore, he cites mixing valves used at the heat source, such as thermostatic and pressure-balance mixing valves, as keys to anti-scald protection.

"With a properly designed delivery system and a temperature- and pressure-sensing shower valve (type t/p) at the point-of-use the sink valves both risks are virtually eliminated," Vastyan explains.

Adds Rick Reles, v.p./marketing for Global Faucets, a Kohler, WI-based subsidiary of Kohler Co., "We see thermostatics [being installed into homes] all over Europe, for example."

Keith Kometer, marketing manager for North American Faucets, also based in Kohler, WI, adds another perspective: "The biggest thing is that people want to have it, but they don't want something that calls it out. For instance, in showers, we offer high-temperature limit tops and anti-scalding in all of our valving, and all of this is [installed] behind the wall."

Vastyan notes that ground source heating is another smart choice for homeowners concerned with home comfort and energy efficiency.

"[Energy efficient water heaters] are especially attractive to electric utilities because they reduce the cost of heating electrically and eliminate electric resistant heat strips for supplemental heating," he remarks.

Vastyan concludes by suggesting radiant floor heating as well, which he notes will offer higher energy efficiency than forced air, no interference with room function and the ability to operate on any number of energy sources, including fuel oil, gas, electric, solar, ground source and solid fuels.

Seeing green
Green design or environmentally conscious design also plays a key role in the development of safe products, Avignon says. While the kitchen and bath industry is increasingly seeing this come up in terms of sustainable products, cabinet finishes and the like, it is also highly relevant when it comes to products that conserve water.

"The issue of 'green' design comes up most notably with the wasting of water especially in the West," he notes.

O'Connor agrees, adding: "Consideration is given to green products, but most of the things that you are seeing today are focused on toilets and using less water."

Says Reles: "[Green design] has an impact on our area of product, especially with flow-restricted showerheads and products that work with less water. We have to engineer that into everything."

To that end, O'Connor points out two Kohler products that reflect this trend.

"Kohler offers two toilets that can realize significant water savings," he offers. "These include the Cimarron Comfort Height toilet, which is a gravity-fed model that flushes 1.4 gallons of water, and the San Raphael Power Lite dual-flush toilet, which has been modified to flush with either 1.0 or 1.4 gallons of water."
In terms of conservation, Vastyan notes that an interesting movement, spearheaded by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), has developed as a result of the popularity of green design.

"The NREL, a group of forward-thinking builders, hopes to introduce the concept of Zero Energy Buildings. This concept focuses on building homes that produce as much energy as they consume," he explains.

In fact, he notes, several builders have already built concept homes, and home buyer interest is high. "Tapping solar energy is key, and so is the use of high-efficiency appliances," he adds.

Says Millard, "If I can select products that meet my needs and are green, I am going to get the green ones before I get the ones that aren't." He adds that, for those seeking to develop the next "safe" product, there's a very basic formula: "The easier you make it on the home builders, the faster it gets out there in big numbers."

O'Connor concurs: "The reality is that we need to incorporate safety features within the overall product that will not change the look and design, but make sure the features are inherent in the product and that they work for everybody." KBDN