Movable Light Switches and Other Cool Things at The International Builders' Show

light switches - movable light switchesWhat's the coolest new home technology on the drawing board, Jetsons' style? Last week's National Association of Home Builders' annual International Builders' Show (IBS -- not to be confused with Irritable Bowel Syndrome) proved a great prowling ground for what's in store for homes of the future -- and let me just say up front that I set my "impress me" bar high -- really high.

I wanted to be able to turn on the oven and roast a chicken from my laptop at work, or meet my goal of growing 75% of my household's food by 2012, feeding the family with whole foods grown in my robot-tended garden, with all our meal scraps composted in three minutes and carried from the table out back by an electronic horizontal dumbwaiter, straight to the plot, to fertilize next month's dinner veggies.

I'm exaggerating, but only slightlyLest you think I had unrealistic expectations, let me tell you something about IBS. I first went five years ago, and there were 100,000 attendees (no typo). Most American cities have fewer residents than the number of attendees that come to this show. It is massive -- and because it's massive, and the exhibition hall is the world's largest showcase of building materials, it's not at all bizarre to show up and see things like full-blown, park-size gazebos erected in the middle of the floor, or full-sized garage doors lined up to pick from, like cookies at the bakery. There are concrete foundations on display and life-sized entire exterior walls coated in element-proof wrap.

In fact, this show is so huge, they build a real-live house just for the show, to showcase all the stuff that is "-er" than the products exhibitors had last year: biggER, bettER, techiER, newER - you get the picture. Attendees take a bus from the show to go visit the "Show House" and see exhibitors' products in the flesh -- scratch that -- in the brick and mortar.

So, I show up every year at IBS with national deficit-sized expectations. But this year, it was something small - very small, actually - that turned out to be the coolest thing I saw the whole show: a movable light switch.

Verve is a company which offers a smart lighting system for homes that builders can install throughout a 2,500 square foot home for right at $3,200. There are lots of things that are cool about a Verve system, especially the features that make it smart. With literally a couple of button clicks, a homeowner can program the system so that once the front door opens and closes, and no motion is detected in the home for 15 minutes, Verve shuts all the lights off and resets the thermostat for unoccupied mode. It knows you're gone. And that's cool.

The low cost of the system, compared to others, is also cool, as are its energy-saving impact and the fact that a homeowner can program and reprogram the system with a couple of clicks of a user-friendly control panel, in seconds, as often as they'd like.

But none of that stuff is as cool as the movable light switch.

Verve systems feature wireless -- yes, totally wireless, totally movable (not a single screw required!) light switches. The energy generated by your flick activates a radio signal that talks to the home's central lighting control panel. You can stick one of these switches anywhere you want, and pull it right off and stick it anywhere else you want, as many times as you want, just clicking the switch and the control panel a couple of times to place your order about what room, lamp, light or outlet you now want the switch to control. Why is that cool? Let me count the ways:

  1. You can stick one two feet off the ground in your toddler daughter's room, so she can reach the light without getting you up on Saturday morning.
  2. You can stick one on your nightstand that turns on the front porch light when you hear a funny noise, and one that just controls your room. (This may render your secret Clapper obsolete, folks.)
  3. You can stick one under the dining room table and freak your guests all the way out at your Clue-themed dinner party, then put it back wherever you want.
  4. In less than one minute, you can reprogram your bedside switch to control your entire house, or your bathroom.
It looks like for now, it will still take weeks or months for our food scraps to turn into fertilizer, and I may have to tend my kitchen garden without the help of the next-gen Rosie Jetson I thought I would find at IBS. But from the looks of it, one thing new home buyers won't have to do is wish they had a switch for [the entry wall sconces] on the [living room wall] (fill in the brackets any way you wish, as applicable.)

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