The exhibit floor at the Pacific Coast Builders Conference, which wrapped up here two weeks ago, was a virtual Disneyland for developers.
Builders got excited over products that most folks wouldn't even pay attention to: a new line of door locks, roof shingles made of concrete, new types of window frames and the like.
But the average homeowner found the annual trade show a great opportunity to see hot new products that are popping up in housing tracts and retail outlets throughout the West and across the nation.
Some of the products are brand-new; others are simply improved versions of items that have been around for years. Many seem custom-made for the stereotypical Californian--that health-conscious, laid-back sun-worshiper that Easterners like to joke about.
Consider the new line of spas displayed by Jacuzzi, the folks who make big bucks from bubbles. Their most popular item: the Fiore, a sleek, black, two-person spa with a waterfall and sitting area shaped like a heart.
A key feature is its built-in, waterproof compartment. "It's got a hand-held shower, vanity mirror, and even a built-in ice bucket for your champagne," said Fred Bender, a Jacuzzi sales representative. The spa, he said, is "sort of a Darth Vader tub for lovers."
The price is also a bit out of this world. It retails for $4,850.
Californians on the move might want to check out Health Mate Inc.'s portable sauna, which sells for $3,500. A bit larger than a typical refrigerator, it comfortably seats two and heats up to 160 degrees.
"You just plug it right into the wall," said Health Mate's Dan Cheshewalla. "A lot of homeowners have bought it, but it's also very popular with renters. When you move, you just unplug it and take it with you."
Then there's the whole line of automatic roofs produced by Rollamatic Roofs Inc. With the flick of a switch, the glass roofs can be rolled open when the sun is out and rolled shut when evening comes.
"We've put them over pools, spas, atriums, patios--even restaurants and office buildings," said Ian Stone, a Rollamatic sales representative. One of the company's most popular models is round, eight feet in diameter, and costs about $9,000.
A survey released by Great Western Real Estate at the conference said that two-thirds of California's new-home buyers either already own a home-security system or plan to get one soon.
That could mean big profits for Aiphone Corp., a company that displayed one of the most advanced security systems at the show.
The heart of Aiphone's "Master Sentry" system is a control board that fits into the wall. When the doorbell rings, a small video screen on the board flips on to show who's there.
It also has a stereo system that allows music to be pumped into every room of the house, or only certain rooms, depending on the homeowner's wishes. An intercom allows a person in one room to talk to people in another.
A typical Aiphone package costs about $3,000 installed, said Harry Quanz, an Aiphone marketing executive. That would include a master station, two video monitors and five room-to-room intercoms with built-in stereo.
Homeowners are becoming increasingly concerned about the air they breathe and the water they drink, and that bodes well for products offered by Honeywell and Electrolux.
Honeywell is hawking a compact electronic air cleaner that hooks up to your home's heating or cooling system. It's designed to filter out dust, smoke, grease particles and even microscopic contaminants that are naked to the human eye.
"It also helps to keep your heating and cooling coils clean, which can help keep your energy bills down," said Bill Murphy, a Honeywell field manager. The cost: between $500 and $800, including installation.
Electrolux, meantime, is peddling its Purelex water-purifying system. About the size of a portable television, it fits under the kitchen sink.
Water comes up through the home's pipes, runs past an ultraviolet light that the company says will kill most bacteria and then goes through a carbon filter designed to get rid of lead and other contaminants.
The company maintains that its system destroys 99.99% of all bacteria and viruses that can be found in most municipal water.
"It costs $500 to buy and about $120 a year to replace the charcoal filters and the bulb," said salesman Charlie Beardsley. "It all works out to about six cents a gallon--a lot less than you'd pay for bottled water."
Then there's the new version of the Closet Carousel, by White Home Products. It's one of the company's most popular products: a motorized, oval-shaped clothes rack that saves closet space and lets you store more clothes.
"It's a lot like the motorized rack you see when you go to the dry cleaner's to pick up your clothes," said Barbara Smallwood, a spokeswoman for White Homes. "You just press a button, and the clothes circulate until you find the suit or dress that you want."
The carousel comes in 10 sizes, with prices ranging from $1,450 to $2,400.
Finally, for the bathroom that you thought had everything, there's the "Smart Seat," which American Standard hopes to introduce to the U.S. market soon.
The Smart Seat is an electronic bidet that's currently only sold in Japan. When the water quits running, warm drying air blows up from under the seat.
"You can also press a button to warm the seat on cold nights," said Nora Munroe, a spokeswoman for American Standard.
If you want to know how much the seat costs, you better sit down first: It's expected to sell for about $1,000 when it debuts on the American market.
Here are addresses and phone numbers for companies mentioned in this article:
Jacuzzi Inc., 100 N. Wiget Lane, P.O. Drawer J, Walnut Creek, Calif. 94596; Inside California, (800) 227-0991; outside, (800) 227-0710.
Health Mate Inc., 10020 Pioneer Blvd., Santa Fe Springs, Calif. 90670; (213) 949-0456.
Rollamatic Roofs Inc., 1441 Yosemite Ave., San Francisco, Calif. 94124; (800) 345-7392.
Aiphone Corp., P.O. Box 90075, Bellevue, Wash. 98009; (206) 455-0510.
White Home Products Inc., 2401 Lake Park Drive, Atlanta, Ga. 30080; (404) 431-0900.
Honeywell Inc., 1985 Douglas Drive North, Golden Valley, Minn. 55422; (612) 542-3339.
Electrolux, 1855 Lawton St., San Francisco, Calif. 94122; (415) 564-7610.
American Standard, 1 Centennial Plaza, P.O. Box 6820, Piscataway, N.J. 08854; (201) 980-3000.