Video: Automatic toilet seat?

By Silicon Valley Bureau Chief
CNBC
updated 6/23/2006 1:23:18 PM ET 2006-06-23T17:23:18

Home builders suffering their worst slump in four years say they'll rely on new designs, gizmos and gadgets to re-ignite the industry.

Everything from the ultimate automated toilet -- complete with warming seat, jet sprays and a hot air blow-dryer that eliminates the need for toilet paper.

Plumbing supply giant Kohler is offering up an $8,000 tub -- think Infinity Pool, but for bath tubs. And a body-bubble system that will transform the way you think of bathing.

“Little air bubbles that flow up over the body,” said Tom O'Connor of Kohler. “It's almost like sitting in a champagne bath.”

All these innovations were showcased recently in San Francisco at the biggest building convention in the country. Taking place in a state that had been a builders' best friend, but what is now becoming the industry's worst enemy

“Things were very giddy for a several years, so it was expected that they would slow,” Robert Rivinius at the California Builders Industry Association. “We are hoping that it’s just short term.”

For the first time, builders are acknowledging a dramatic sales and construction slowdown gripping the West -- the region most responsible for a five-year building boom that's coming to an end.  A boom they hope to retart with some cool gadgets to entice buyers.

Like home automation: every electronic function -- lights, entertainment, a very smart security system, all controlled from a single panel.

“An alarm goes off, it'll send you an email so you instantly know within 30 seconds of the event happening,” said David Loetz at Interactive Home, which makes the system

There's a renewed interest in renewable energy. Rooftop solar panel overlays can now be replaced by this solar tile technology built into the roof tiles themselves.

“A solar photo voltaic installation for a standard house may cost as much as $20,000 to 25,000,” said David Saltman at Open Energy Corp. “State and federal subsidies will cover about a third of that in California, and then over the course of seven years you'll see a return on that investment.”

But home sellers and buldiers are hoping building innovation will mean a return now, rather than later

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