2010 International Builders Show: At home in the future

By Katherine Salant
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, January 30, 2010

In ways large and small, the 2010 International Builders Show held last week in Las Vegas reflected the still-troubled home-building industry. One entire exhibition hall was vacant, most exhibitors rented smaller spaces than usual, and the dancing models in the upscale showers -- standard fare for years in the high-end plumbing-fixture booths -- were notably absent.

Almost every manufacturer appeared to be riding out the recession by offering "new and improved" products that in reality reflected only minor changes and by promoting their greenness as demonstrated by recycled content, miserly water consumption or efficient use of energy.

Nonetheless, there were some noteworthy offerings.

Bicycle-wheel wind turbine

Declared by Popular Mechanics magazine to be one of the "10 most brilliant products of 2009," Honeywell's new wind turbine may change the face of the industry and, quite possibly, the look of the suburbs. Small and compact, the Honeywell turbine resembles an extra-large, 6-foot-diameter bicycle wheel with plastic blades instead of wheel spokes. More important, it is not subject to the same constraints as the horizontal and vertical wind turbines on the residential market. It can be installed on the roof of a wood-framed house rather than on a separate pole or tower, and it does not need to be positioned away from trees or other obstructions.

Another critical difference with the Honeywell model is that it can start up and generate electricity with wind speeds as low as 2 mph, a rate at which air movement is barely perceptible. The other wind turbines currently available require start-up wind of at least 7 mph. The Honeywell model's ability to function in light breezes is especially relevant to Washington area residents because the average wind speeds here are low, about 5 to 8 mph in the District and the close-in suburbs, 8 to 11 mph in a more rural setting like Leesburg.

Another plus with the Honeywell turbine: It does not make alarming noises or vibrate excessively, two major objections to installing wind turbines on houses in residential neighborhoods.

How much electricity would the Honeywell model provide to Washington area households?

According to the Energy Department, the average U.S. household uses about 10,000 kilowatt-hours a year of electricity. Matching up usage and local wind speeds, Sarah Jenan of WindTronics, the Michigan firm that developed and manufactures the turbine, said that homeowners in the Leesburg area (a Class 4 wind zone) could expect to generate about 2,700 kilowatt-hours a year, or about 27 percent of average household electricity use. In the close-in suburbs (a Class 3 wind zone), the turbine would produce about 20 percent, and in the District (a Class 2 wind zone) about 15 percent.

The installed cost for the turbine, including a connection to the local electric grid, averages about $8,000 to $9,000, said Brian Levine, a WindTronics marketing executive, adding that the installed cost can be partially offset by a federal tax credit of 30 percent that expires in 2016, as well as by state tax credits and rebates. For specific information on the rebates offered in the Washington area, check out http://www.dsireusa.org. For information on the Honeywell/WindTronics turbine, see http://www.ownyourwind.com.

Simulated golf course

Green, in this instance, refers to the golfing variety. Die-hard golfers with big bankrolls -- about $45,000 to $60,000 -- might consider a Full Swing Golf simulator for the basement or a spare room.

The simulator fits into a specially constructed box that is 20 feet long by 13 feet wide by 10 feet high. At one end, images from 68 famous golf courses, such as Pebble Beach in California and St. Andrews in Scotland, are projected onto a 9- by 12-foot screen. A multi-surface hitting area, set about eight feet back from the screen, simulates course conditions including deep rough, light rough, sand traps, fairways and putting greens.

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