ORLANDO -- The homebuilding industry has made great strides overall toward so-called smart homes, but progress is measured in many small steps.
At the recent International Builders' Show in Orlando, home builders saw some new products that continue to push the technology envelope in housing.
Fingerprint readers that activate doorway locks are among the latest developments in high-tech home security. To set them up, homeowners scan the fingerprints of family members, housekeepers and contractors. Then a swipe of your finger is all that is needed to open the door, but if the system doesn't recognize your scan, you are shut out.
The entry system is based on biometrics, the ability of machines to scan and recognize human features such as fingerprints or retinas.
One example of such a system is the SmartScan lock from Kwikset that activates the deadbolt lock on an entry door. The homeowner uses a computer keypad on the interior side of the door to program the scan system. The less technically savvy can use a key to turn the deadbolt, too.
According to Walt Strader, research and development chief for Kwikset, there is plenty of upside for homeowners who install this new generation of door locks.
"If the housekeeper comes on Wednesdays from 3 to 5 p.m., you can set the system to limit her to that time frame," Strader said. And children returning home from school will have fewer keys to lose.
The $200 locks aren't available everywhere yet. Kwikset plans a national rollout in early summer, but for now the locks are available in home stores in Orlando, New York and San Diego.
Cooks have long wrestled with the task of cleansing kitchens of aromatic leftovers of their handiwork. Broan has introduced Italian-designed vents that automatically sense airborne particulates -- and the system quietly removes the offending smell.
It also features an "Air Refresh" mode that turns on fans in 10-minute spans each hour until the user switches them off. If the odors are especially onerous, the system can crank up to scrub 1,500 cubic feet of air per minute.
The stainless-steel ceiling- or wall-mount vents range in price from $2,700 to $3,000. Good-looking vent hoods of this kind are gaining ground as artwork in some fine kitchens.
For cooking-challenged homeowners, new wall convection ovens remove the need for guesswork, by making temperature and cooking-time decisions for the user.
Thermodor has preprogrammed into its Masterpiece series' ovens the settings for 20 popular recipes, from poultry and casseroles to bread. The ovens also store up to four temperature and cooking times, for four of the homeowner's personal recipes.
Stephan Zipper of Thermodor says consumers on the go can also program start and stop times for virtually any dish. But cooks can override the system to finagle temperatures and times more closely to their cooking preferences. Stainless-steel single ovens with the EasyCook features start at $2,500; prices top out at $5,000 for double ovens with a microwave.
And since the refrigerator is also the posting place for much household information, from daily schedules to to-do lists, why not make it an electronics center, too?
That is Whirlpool's thinking. The manufacturer has developed a cradle that latches to the top of the refrigerator door. Homeowners can fit digital photo albums, DVDs or satellite radio players into the cradle. Matt Newton of Whirlpool says the $50 cradle -- DVD, digital photo album and radio are purchased separately, from electronics stores -- might also be configured as a cellphone charging station, as well as for other electronics functions.
The cradle, named "Centralpark Connection," will be available later this year. Refrigerators capable of handling these fridge-top information centers start at $1,500.