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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

2010 PCBC Show: Home Technology Finds - Sound Proofing

by Lori Cunningham

This article is a part of the series I am writing about the Pacifiic Coast Builders Conference I attended a couple of months ago.  In this PCBC series, I cover different innovative home technology products.  Today I'm going to write about something that does not have any technological features.  In fact, some would consider this subject to be even boring. Before arriving to the 2010 PCBC Show, I was contacted by Roxul to meet with them about their products.  As with most non-technological home product vendors, I turned them down.  I was attending the Pacific Coast Builder's Show to write about great technology products for the home.  Roxul makes insulation for residential and commercial walls. 

But Roxul saw it differently.  They asked me to review the Safe'n'Sound product on their website, and see how it's designed to keep noise out of the baby's room and greatly diminish the sounds stemming from a TV room.  I became intrigued as I know that with all of today's great home technologies -- like multi-room audio, surround sound, home theaters, the latest Xbox and Wii games, etc., knowing a little more about soundproofing a room is a valuable resource to homeowners.

I'll be the first to admit that insulation is not a product I've thought a great deal about.  Nonnetheless, while at the PCBC show, I met with representatives from Roxul.  In the house we are building, we were scheduled to have insulation installed within one month at the time I met with Roxul.  I have to say that I was impressed with what they had to say. 

Roxul's"Safe'n'Sound" product is made out of stone wool instead of the typical spun fiberglass insulation.  Roxul uses basalt rock and recycled slag rock to spin a wool-like substance, similar to what you see with regular insulation, but that's where the similarities stop. 

Roxul's Safe'n'Sound includes these features that regular insulation cannot live up to:
  • excellent sound absorbency
  • water repellent
  • fire resistant (can withstand temperatures up to 2150 degrees F)
  • non-combustible
  • The density of the Roxul Safe'nSound versus regular insulation.
  • completely resistant to mold, mildew, bacteria growth, and rot
  • highly energy efficient
  • more than 40% of Safe'nSound is made from recycled content
  • GreenGuard Air Quality certified
  • easy to cut - can cut with a butter knife
  • provides a tight fit between wall studs - won't slump or settle in your walls over time

Roxul Safe'n'Sound provides two huge benefits above normal insulation - sound proofing and fire resistance.

Safe'n'Sound has a unique fiber structure of tiny interconnected spaces which traps sounds and vibrations.  Many home and commercial theaters use Roxul to soundproof the room so you can't hear the movie outside of the room or theater.  

Ideal rooms to soundproof would be TV rooms, bedrooms - especially the kids rooms - laundry rooms, furnace rooms, basements, and bathrooms.  Yes, with a Roxul insulated bathroom, you might not need to buy the TOTO Neorest 600 toilet with a built-in MP3 player.

Fire Proofing
In addition to sound proofing, Roxul provides for incredible protection against the spread of fire.  Watch this video showing an enclosed building fire test with stone wool versus regular insulation, the stone wool withstood the fire with minimal damage, compared to the insulation which had nearly completely burned. 

In a typical year there are 500,000 home fires reported.  The death report averages out to 3,000 deaths a year from these home fires.  A home insulated with Roxul would greatly deter the quick spread of a fire and provide for extra time to help get family members to safety.  In addition, Roxul insulation does not smoke or produce toxic fumes.

Ideal rooms, besides every room in the house, are attics, basements, kids' rooms, kitchens, laundry rooms, etc.  Kitchens are the number one area where home fires are started.

A Homeowners Perspective
If you are building a home or about to renovate your home or a room in your home, I would highly recommend you consider using Roxul for better sound and fire proofing.  It makes sense to 1.) ensure rooms that could potentially be loud - game rooms, bonus rooms, TV rooms, home theaters, and kids rooms are soundproofed so the rest of the house doesn't have to hear the noise.  2.) Fireproofing your kids' rooms and the kitchen just makes sense.

I arranged to review the Roxul Safe'n'Sound insulation in the home we're building.  I installed it between our 5.1 channel TV/Xbox bonus room and our master bedroom.  To soundproof this room, our builder was going to put up normal installation and extra drywall; he was not aware of Roxul.  I have a lot of confidence in the Roxul Safe'n'Sound product and feel that this will be a better solution.  Once the house is built and we move in, I'll give my review on how well it keeps the Rockband sounds from entering into our master bedroom.

Where to Buy
Roxul Safe'n'Sound is available at certain hardware stores.  You can also special order it through the contractors desk at your local Home Depot.  It typically takes 9 days for it to arrive.  I ordered Roxul through my local Home Depot and it cost $41.85 per bag --- not including tax.  Each bag covers 60 sq. ft. and weighs 37 lbs.  Safe'n'Sound is produced for two wall stud sizes:  16 in. On Center or 24 in. On Center.  Roxul typically costs roughly 25% more than other types of common insulation, but it also provides sounder soundproofing and fireproofing that common insulation products do not provide.

If you have used Roxul, or other types of soundproofing, please leave a comment with your experience.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

2010 PCBC Show: Home Technology Finds for the Bathroom

by Lori Cunningham

I attended this year's PCBC (Pacific Coast Builder's Conference) in May.  PCBC is a tradeshow and conference focusing on homebuilding needs for builders in the Pacific Coast.  It's held every year in San Francisco.  It showcases everything from nail systems to solar panels to tankless water heaters to appliances.

While I was at the show, I met with several different manufacturers to learn more about their technology offerings for homeowners.  In the next several posts I'll give a brief review of some of the interesting finds I discovered at the show.  This article will focus on how technology is making the bathroom "smarter."

I was very interested in learning what possible technology was available in an unlikely product - toilets.  I knew that if any company had progressed in this manner, it had to be TOTO.  I can surely say that I was not disappointed.  Toilets have come a long way!

I was happy to discover that TOTO's Neorest toilet collection include plugs that must be plugged into a wall outlet.  This can be problematic, as most of today's bathrooms do not have a plug near the toilet.  If you're building a new home and you have a desire to have the most talked about toilet on your block, mark your plans for a plug in the bathroom!

The Neorest Collection features many toilets from a retrofit toilet seat that can fit most toilets, called a Washlet, to a complete stand alone toilet that commands respect.  The entire Neorest toilet collection features a built-in bidet with pressure control, a heated dryer, a warmed seat, soft closing lid, and a remote control, which mounts on the wall next to the toilet.  The toilet seat includes built-in technology that learns it's users' habits and warms the seat according to their usage patterns.  I have to say I was very impressed with the feature set.

No longer do homeowners need to have a separate toilet and bidet - the Neorest toilet combines the two taking up less room and making it more convenient.  If you're interested in getting the top-of-the-line Neorest toilet, seeking the "King of the Throne" status, the Neorest 600 is the toilet for you.  In addition to the features above, it includes
  • a dual-flush cyclone flush engine with automatic sensing
  • automatic flush and lid closing - you no longer need to remember if you flushed or not
  • cleaning mode - a flick of a switch starts the unique cyclone rim scouring motion which engages for a full minute to clean the bowl without having to flush
  • automatic toilet lid opening upon sensing homeowners approach
  • automated seat lifter with a press of a button, convenient for men
  • automated seat closer - deemed a "marriage saver" by TOTO - another convenience for men
  • built-in mp3 player to disguise unpleasant noises (speakers not included)
Japan is far more advanced than America in their toilet technologies.  TOTO, a Japanese company, is leading the way to bringing America the toilet of the 21st century.  Prices range from $500+ for the Washlet (retrofit seat) to over $5,500 for the Neorest 600.  For my first impression of the Neorest toilet, see the article I wrote for AT&T entitled, Not Your Father's Toilet.

Shower Controls
At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) I attended earlier this year in Vegas, I discovered Moen's new ioDIGITAL line.  I was immediately fascinated at how Moen married water with technology.  Moen's ioDIGITAL line includes controls for vertical spas, showers, and Roman tubs and allows homeowners to create custom presets for preferred water temperature and water flow.

The ioDIGITAL device requires electricity to run the controls.  The electronic valve which moderates the hot and cold water and requires electricity, can be installed near the shower or up to 30 feet away for retrofit flexibility.

One dial on the ioDIGITAL control manages the temperature while the other dial sets the water flow.  Once you find the right blend of the two, you can press one of four preset buttons to customize your setting.  Three other family members can do the same and have their own custom preset button.  So if you like your shower extremely hot and with full water flow, once you press your customize preset button, your shower will deliver this setting for you every time.  If your wife prefers less water flow and a warmer temperature, she can press her custom preset button before stepping into the shower.  No need to be present to adjust the water temperature for your kids any longer - they'll know which button to press to get the right amount of heat.

Vertical Shower
The Vertical Shower comes packaged with a big 7" rainshower showerhead, a handheld showerhead, four sprays, and the ioDIGITAL control.  The ioDIGITAL control allows a homeowner to easily set the temperature and waterflow of all the water dispersing components.  The Moen ioDIGITAL Vertical Shower retails for $2407, depending upon the finish (chrome, oil rubbed bronze, etc.).

The Shower package comes with a big 7" rainshower showerhead and the ioDIGITAL control.  It retails for $1,067.45, depending upon finish.

Roman Tub
The Roman Tub comes with the spout and ioDIGITAL control.  The Roman Tub only has three presets.  To set your custom presets, adjust your preferred temperature and then allow the water to fill the tub.  Once the tub is filled to your preferred water level, set your preset.  Now, in the future, just press your preset button and leave.  The tub will be filled at your preferred temperature and water level, then shut off automatically.  Very cool.  It even has a water top-off feature that when pressed, pours in more hot water to warm the bath before you enter.  The Roman tub also features a childlock feature which allows you to lock the water supply to the tub.  If children try to turn on the water, nothing happens.  By pressing the two dials at once, adults can use the water again.  

I love the fact that you can easily get  the exact temperature and water flow you desire with a touch of the button.  Moen's entire ioDIGITAL line also includes a pause button.  So you can pause your shower why you dart across the room to get your forgotten towel or talk to your toddler banging on the shower door.  Furthermore, Moen has an optional remote control that makes ioDIGITAL even more killer for us lazy ones on a cold morning.  Most of us need to wait a couple of moments before heated water starts flowing through a shower.  If your ideal is to leap from bed straight to a heated shower, then this remote control will do the trick.  Simply press your preset button on the remote control from bed, wait a couple of moments, then make a dash for the shower.  Now that's what I call convenience!

But wait, there's more!  If you install the Roman Tub ioDIGITAL and purchase the RF remote control ($159), you can be downstairs in the family room, press your preset button on the remote and the tub will be filled up as per your preferences. Technology can really spoil us, can't it?

The Moen ioDIGITAL control is certainly a luxury but I have a feeling once you try it, it becomes a necessity you can't live without.  We are installing both the Vertical Shower and the Shower ioDIGITAL controls in the house we are building.  Once the house is completed, I will be able to give you a full review.  Oh, and yes, we did get a remote control for the shower in the master bedroom!

Stay tuned for further articles on home technology finds from the 2010 PCBC Show!  If you have used TOTO Neorest toilets or the Moen ioDIGITAL line and would like to write a review, please contact us!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

How to Buy a Central Vacuum System

When we first started researching central vacuum systems, we didn't get enough information from the brochures we gathered or the websites we visited.  Talking to manufacturer reps or even home automation reps didn't help us either.  We wanted details and comparisons of features across the different central vac brands.

Thanks to the Internet, we are better informed and feel we can make a well-educated decision as to what type of system will best suit the needs for our house.

Types of Central Vacs
There are four main types of central vacuums 0:
  1. Bag  - for homes when outside venting is not possible or desired.  Bags are typically changed 1-2 times a year.
  2. Bagless with Inverted Filter - dirt is funneled in around the filter so that it does not cling to the filter.  Needs to be emptied every 3-6 months.
  3. Filtered Cyclonic - small particles are filtered out.  Needs to empted every two months.
  4. All Cyclonic - dirt is tossed about so heavier particles fall to the bottom of the canister and smaller particles are vented outside. Needs to be empted every 3 months depending upon usage.
Central Vacuum Benefits
There are many benefits of installing a Central Vacuum:
  • better air quality in the home
  • reduced noise
  • deeper cleaning
  • no need to lug your standard vacuum cleaner all around or upstairs
  • all vacuumed pet hair, dust, debris, pollen, mites and bugs are taken outside of the house (bugs won't crawl back out!)
  • no need to empty the canister after every vacuuming session
  • lighter in weight compared to standard vacuum
  • more variety of hoses/attachments available
  • no need to worry about vacuuming up the power cord
  • many vacs have HEPA (High Efficiency Particle Arrestor) filters - which reduce the number of contaminants in indoor air. A HEPA filter will stop 99.97% of all particles .3 microns or larger
  • perceived higher value - increases home's value
A central vac costs more than double the average homeowner vacuum cleaner.  Yet, the average central vacuum can last up to at least 5 times longer!1

Features to Compare
Compare these features across central vacs when shopping2:
  1. CFM - cubic feet per minute - measures airflow.  Important but you need to know how much suction a vacuum has for this measure to be relevant.
  2. Suction or inches of water lift - states how high water can be lifted up the tubing.  This is an important measurement for suction, nonetheless, don't try this at home!
  3. Air Watts - the most essential measurement - is a calculation derived from CFM and inches of water lift.  The calculation is: Air Watts = Water lift X CFM/ 8.5.  Most central vacs companies make this number available.
  4. Canister Material- can  be either steel or plastic.  Plastic works best for moist areas like a laundry room or an outside area.

Choosing a Central Vacuum System
To determine how powerful your system to be, the best formula is to take the square footage of your home and double it.  Having a more powerful system will help cover you with these power stealing situations:
  • two story house
  • a large number of wall inlets (where you plug the hose into)
  • a lot of angles in the central vac tubing
  • leakage from tubing
A larger system will also provide for any future additions to your house.  The cost to upgrade to a more powerful system is typically a couple hundred dollars and is well worth the security in knowing your central vac has strong suctioning power.  If you receive a quote from a central vac or home automation dealer, be sure to ask them the Air Watts of the vacuum and how many square feet will it cover.

We found an excellent resource, which compares many different features across various brands and models of central vacs.  The website compares suction power, Air Watts, Filtration, Type (bag, bagless, Cyclonic, etc.), sound (how loud it is - the lower the decibel rating, the quieter the sound), as well as provides a link to find out how much each system costs.  This is an extraordinary website for anyone thinking about purchasing a central vac system.

A MUST SEE:  Click on the links below to see the BEST central vac comparisons on the web:

Smaller homes - up to 3500 sq. ft.

Medium homes - 4000-9000 sq. ft.

Large homes     - 10,000 sq. ft. +

Choosing Accessories
Most central vac manufacturers do not make their own hoses/carpet accessories.  For the most part, hoses will fit any central vac system.  However, it is best to confirm with your dealer or manufacturer to be safe. 

Hoses can be as long as 50ft - which helps in two ways.  First, you don't need as many wall inlets (fewer inlets makes the suction more powerful) and second, you can vacuum further without having to disconnect your hose and hook it back up to another inlet.  However, a major side effect of using a long hose is having a closet or somewhere to hang your 50ft hose!

Retractable Hoses
Another option to using long hoses is to purchase a retractable hose system that keeps the hose hidden in the walls. 

There are two options:

  1. Hide-A-Hose Hide-A-Hose works by keeping the hose in the tubing.  To vacuum attach the carpet tool to the hose, can extend as long as 60 feet.  When you're done, the hose retracts back quickly and easily into the wall tubing.
  2. Hose Magic/Hose Genie Management System.    The Hose Magic/Hose Genie is contained in a large box that will need to be cut into the drywall and patched back up.  Like the Hide-A-Hose, you attach your carpet tool; the hose extends to 45 feet long. 
We are planning on doing a review on one of these systems later in the year.

Other Types of Intakes
In addition to using a hose and powerhead to clean your floors, there are three other ingenious devices available to clean up messes:
  1. Kickplates - use a normal broom to sweep up your messes, kick the kickplate to open up the central vac suction, and sweep the debris right in.  Very useful for the kitchen, dining area, pet areas, etc..  Works with all central vac systems.  Some kickplates are automatic and begin sucking once a broom is sensed.
  2. Vroom - The Vroom is a mini vacuum that is sold either as a standalone unit (retails for $399 + installation) or it can be connected to your central vac system (retails for $199 + installation).  The Vroom is a smaller unit that hides in a cupboard and has a smaller sized hose that can extend to 24 feet.  In  addition to sweeping up the floor (with attachments), it can be used to pick up sweep up crumbs and messes on the kitchen counter, stove, refrigerator, drawers, etc.  The Vroom offers a handy way to pick up messes without having to get out the big central vac hose.  However, the Vroom for central vac is limited to VacuFlo and Dirt Devil central vacs.
  3. Spot by Vroom - a smaller version of the Vroom.  It's hose extends to 10 feet and is useful for cleaning up ongoing messes such as entry door debris, cleaning your dryer's filter, or picking up dog or cat food spills. It retails for $199 plus installation.
Remember, choose carefully the number of inlets you will need. Although it might be convenient to have an inlet in every room, doing so will cut down on your central vac's suctioning power.'s formula for the number of outlets is to take your home's square footage and divide by 600 (assuming a 30ft. hose will be used).

To get a  better idea of hose coverage, get a piece of 30' string, fasten one end down near where you anticipate an inlet will be, and tie the other end around a 3 ft. stick (to act as the cleaning wand) and pull the string around to your different rooms to get a better feel if your inlet is located in the right place 0

There are two types of wall inlets:
  1. electrical - has power in the inlet, means you use a direct connect hose.
  2. standard - has no electricity in it which means you'll an air driven (turbine) powerhead.

Nozzle types
The two most popular central vacuum carpet nozzle types are:
  1. air driven - relies upon the suction of the hose to power itself.  Air driven nozzles are used with standard inlets. 
  2. electric - has a motor in the carpet tool that powers the belt and forces the bush to roll.  Electric nozzles are used with electrical inlets.
For information on how to select a central  vac powerhead, see this article on eHow.

Retrofit?  Install a Central Vac in an Existing Home?
Yes.  More and more homeowners are starting to retrofit their homes with a central vac system.  The convenience and availability of kickplates are leading this trend.  According to Paul Runyan, sales manager for Beam central vacuums, 30% of the central vacuum market stems from retrofits.  Surprisingly, installing a central vac after a home has been built is not as difficult as one would think.

More information

See the great graphical charts from which show comparisons on air quality, noise, "lifetime," and price as compared to typical vacuum cleaners. 

Confused about central vac terms?  See's resource.

We Want to Hear from You!
Please write us at  if you are interested in writing an article to help other homeowners or would like to add your review on central vacuums or other home technologies, send us a note. is a website written by homeowners for homeowners.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Home Automation, Where to Start?

If you're curious or seriously considering using technology for your home, you are most likely overwhelmed by the number of choices and competing brands out there.  Home automation includes lighting controls, thermostat controls, audio and video distribution, interom, energy conservation, and more.  Where does one start?

Bascially, there are two ways you can go about beginning a home automation project:
  1. Hire a professionial installer
  2. Do it yourself
Both options are good and your choice depends upon your budget, curiosity, and inclination.

I am in the process of implementing home automation through out our home right now, which is currently being built.  So these articles are being written as my husband and I learn.   I am a huge technology fan and firmly believe that technology  can make your life easier.  However, troubleshooting technology can tend to take your free time away, so there's a downside as well.

Hiring a professional
If you have the money and your inclination is low, hiring a professional installer is the right path for you.  Installers have experience installing components and wiring throughout the house.  They are knowledgeable about what is possible and what is a pipe dream.  They also spend many hours learning about new products in the product lines that they sell.  Most likely, they have implemented home automation technology in their homes or showrooms as well as for clients, so they can tell you from first hand experience how things work and what the downsides are.

The downside is that installers typically carry a certain number of lines and most of their education and experience revolves around those product lines.  So the plan they create  for you will most likely be limited to their experience  with other homes they have installed systems for.  Different installers favor different brands, but no installer can keep up with all they myriad of products out there.

Do it yourself
This is definitely a more challenging choice.  If you don't have experience in home technology, it can be a steep learning curve, but an interesting one if you have the inclination.  In the past, most home automation equipment and programs were proprietary and involved programming that needed to be done by the installer, as it was too complex for the homeowner.  Today, some home technology is changing, becoming more open (so that different brands of products can work with different products) and it can be programmed by the homeowner.  Remember X10?  Yes, it's still around, but new protocols have come out that are more stable and compatible with many brands.

On the downside, it's very difficult to find concise information to help you get started on your project.  Alhtough there is a lot of information available, you have to piece things together through home automation magazines, bulletin boards, manufacturer websites, etc.  Although the cost to build your home technology plan should be considerably lower, you don't have help to figure out how to install the technology unless you happen to have a good friend who already knows how to do it.  Keep in mind the expense for an electrician as well if electricity is not one of your strong points. is here to help you in your quest for home technology.  We do  not profess to have the answers -- only to share our knowledge of what we learn as we learn it.  We are tech enthusiast homeowners writing to homeowners, not technology engineers.  If you have experienced choosing, installing, or operating home technology in your own home, we invite you to become a writer for  We will share our experiences and report on the best tools and websites on the Internet to make home technology an easier reality for us all.

Need Help Getting Started?
For those of you looking for a template to help you create your home technology wishlist, I have created one to help you decide what technology you'd like and which room it should go in. This is a very handy Excel spreadsheet that you can use to list out all your possible "wants" and needs for each room of your house. If you'd like a copy, please leave a comment and I will e-mail it out to you.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Technology from a Family's Point of View

Welcome to The Well Connected Home!  The Well Connected Home will highlight an average family's journey into building a home with today's technology within a budget an average family can afford. 

The Well Connected Home showcases great uses of technology throughout the home that makes a family's life more efficient, enhances security, and increases enjoyment of family interests and activities.  Green products that help diminish our wear and tear on our environment will be highlighted.

Topics covered throughout the house include:

Peace of Mind

• security cameras
  • Accessible on TV, computer, and mobile phone
• internet enabled locks

• pool sensor

• front door intercom/video

• window/door sensor

•  room sensors/lighting controls

• motorize drapes

• remote bath set up

• digital shower controls

• networked computers - wireless
  • remote control/iphone/ipad
Green Home

• thermostat with zones

• tankless Water heater

• solar power

• automatic sprinklers with rain guard

• home energy meter

Kitchen Fun

• smart refrigerator

• fast ovens

• digital Dustpan - Kickplates - whole house vaccum/hideahose

• all-in-one Touchscreen computer

• charging station for all devices

Entertaining Your Family and Others

• computer on TV

• audio/intercom in each room

• digital pic frame

• game tech