17 January 2021
With CES 2021 just concluded, there were the usual groundbreaking product debuts like new Wifi 6E wifi routers. The show, virtual this year, offers a snapshot of the near future through these types of products and technology available now. Appliances and surrounding technology have been a growing topic at the show as vendors push for more integration with other smart home technologies. The goal is that such platforms as lighting, temperature settings and services can anticipate the home owners’ needs without commands.
As you can imagine, Debbie and I are looking at all of this in regards to our smart home planning. A lot of the technologies aren’t mature enough to adopt as we move in later this year but we’re keeping a critical eye on infrastructure and preparation. That way, when the time is right we’ll be ready to integrate more valuable and proven technologies into our larger plan. Appliances fall into that category of immature future technologies for the most part. I’m leaving the planning around the kitchen mainly to Debbie, as every smart husband understands “Happy Wife, Happy Life.” Though I will be applying the “critical eye” to that space for future needs like installing Cat6 drops behind the appliance locations and power and Cat6 in the island base for smart faucets and water sensors.
Some of the trends around smart home appliances revolve around softening the look and giving appliances a custom appearance. Going beyond cabinet panels that blend refrigerators, freezers and dishwashers into your cabinetry, some appliance companies let you choose materials and finishes for fridges, microwaves, dishwashers and more to give a custom look to smart appliances. Many vendors offer homeowners a variety of colors and materials like LG Electronics’ Furniture Concept appliances so they blend into the kitchen setting. Samsung’s Bespoke 4-Door Flex refrigerator comes with four customizable panels in eight colors and two finishes. The interior features a beverage center with a filtered water dispenser and a filtered water pitcher that refills automatically.
As home design and smart home integration is becoming more driven by maximizing space, appliances have become increasingly about multitasking. LG Electronics’ InstaView range has multiple cooking modes. There’s convection bake technology without the need for preheating, an air fryer option that crisps food with less oil than a deep fryer and an air sous vide mode, which delivers a controlled low temperature setting for vacuum-sealed foods. From a smart home perspective, it also comes with apps that can connect to your voice assistant and scores of recipes. Tapping on the oven window twice let’s you see what’s cooking inside.
The LG Electronics’ InstaView door-in-door refrigerator offers space to stash frequently reached-for foods and beverages, visible through a large glass panel that illuminates when you knock on it twice. The beverage dispenser features a UV light that maintains a hygienic water dispenser. You can also use voice control to open the doors if your arms are full of groceries. You can also ask the fridge for the day’s agenda thanks to calendar integration, check the status of the ice and more.
Samsung’s Family Hub refrigerator features frequently used interface functions, such as music that includes personalized recommendations and an upgraded SmartThings dashboard for all your smart home devices. Photos, notes and more can be uploaded to any screen so you can display family pics, seasonal and Holiday images and reminders for use on the Family Board feature introduced in 2019.
A new service from Samsung’s SmartThings includes an automatic meal planner powered by Whisk’s Food AI that recommends meals for the entire week as well as recipes for food already in your refrigerator. Debbie really likes this integration as it will make shopping lists with the ingredients she needs and connects to favorite grocery stores so she can get everything in one trip. Recipe instructions can also be sent directly to synced Samsung cooking devices to minimize hassles and mistakes.
We’ve looked at a number of options around kitchen faucets. I have to admit I find the Kohler Purist ceiling-mounted kitchen faucet pretty interesting. I don’t know if it’s just because it’s so different or the functionality. One advantage is that frees up counter space. A water-resistant puck on the counter takes wireless instructions, allowing you to adjust the hose height and rotate the swing arm. The spray head is weighted to eliminate excessive swinging and you can control the spray and flow styles and pause the water flow. The spray face is also designed to withstand mineral buildup for those in hard-water areas. Kohler also has ceiling and wall mount faucets for the bathroom as well.
Another area I’m pretty comfortable with Debbie doing her home design thing is the bathroom spaces. For me they are a strictly functional space so I’d lean more toward a Spartan environment but Debbie is not on board with that. She sees the bathroom as a sanctuary where one can escape for a bit of self-care. There are some new plumbing fixtures and gadgets recently brought to market that align with Debbie’s vision of bathroom spaces that I can get on board with.
Kohler’s new Stillness bathtub introduces a spa-like environment — water, light, fog and aromas converge to transform the bathroom. The tub fills from the bottom, then overflows into a wooden moat, making a soothing sound. Full-spectrum lighting provides chromatherapy while fog covers the surface. This is another of those amenities you’d be best planning for in a new build due to the water drainage design but could be adapted to an existing home as well.
We’ve also been looking at alternatives to the traditional water heater. We’ve looked at the tankless, in-line options and like them. LG Electronics’ inverter heat pump water heater is another option. Its technology promotes faster water heating and lower electricity consumption.
There’s flexibility based on water usage needs as it comes in 200- and 270-liter capacities. From a Smart Home perspective the water heater is compatible with an LG app that allows you to monitor the system remotely, receive regular maintenance reminders and diagnose certain issues without having to call customer service. Users can also check the water temperature in real time and use the scheduling function to set operation scheduling.
Two words most people thought they’d never use together — smart and toilet. But Kohler’s new Innate intelligent toilet includes a heated seat with an auto open and close function, intuitive remote and personal bidet functionality. With all the pandemic attention to making life more touchless, Kohler has integrated a touchless flush sensor to flush with the wave of a hand next to the lever. The sensor promotes cleanliness and includes a light that can be adjusted through the app. For those who prefer a more mechanical approach, the lever can also be used manually.
Our laundry room is another area of the house that’s gotten a lot of attention. As we’ve raised 4 active kids (read lots of laundry) in a lot of different homes, we’ve had the opportunity to learn what works operationally and what doesn’t. As we’re empty nesters now too there are additional considerations. Accessibility both from other areas of the house and from our Master Closet to the Laundry Room was essential.
Obviously I want to put my Smart Home spin on the laundry room as well. So when I saw the LG slim WashTower I was pretty intrigued as it combines a washer and dryer in one unit with a single, intuitive control panel in the middle. Start the wash cycle and you’ll know how long it will take to finish both the washing and drying. The washer shares info with the dryer, which automatically sets the optimal drying temps and time, preheating the drum for better results. The washer also detects the weight and texture of the clothing to calculate the best, most energy-efficient setting for each load, while the dryer uses steam technology to deliver maximum hygiene.
The stacked design is ideal for space limited floor plans. Unfortunately this configuration doesn’t work for our Laundry Room needs. Our experience over the years has proven that a side by side washer/dryer combo works best for us on a raised platform to make loading and unloading easier. For those of you who have done a lot of large laundry loads know what I mean.
Samsung’s Smart Dial front-load washer and dryer learns your preferred cycles and settings, then prioritizes them on the central control panel. A turbidity sensor determines the ideal amount of water and detergent to use. It also determines how long to wash, ensuring that clothes come out their cleanest. The app will alert you when cycles are done, remotely start or stop the laundry and allow you to schedule cycles.
So another CES is in the books and more innovative new products and technologies have been released. What I’ve introduced here is just what I found particularly interesting around Smart Home appliances. There are many more and a wide variety of other categories. Debbie and I talk every day about our house plans so it was timely with CES and the new appliances and technologies. We still have to decide on which direction to go on a lot of things and then there’s the budget so it’ll probably take some time to accomplish everything. But the planning and preparation are the essential elements for now.
As I shared last week, we dropped a bit of a bomb on our architect with some significant floor plan changes over the Holidays. So we’re still waiting to get the updated plans back. We’ll be anxiously checking email this week. In the meantime, we’d love to hear your comments and questions about the smart appliances we’ve outlined above. Would you buy these? Do they deliver value for the capabilities they bring to the table? Are any of them a good fit for your Smart Home plan? A kitchen faucet hanging from the ceiling? Let us know …