Grow old gracefully with a wired home

Jura Koncius / The Washington Post /

Published Mar 15, 2013 at 05:00AM

Part of the fun of new home technology is using it to make daily living more comfortable and cool. The marketplace is growing with smart-house innovations, such as getting hot water from a refrigerator or instantly turning on a group of lights in your house.

Older Americans, and the people who care about them, want user-friendly homes full of convenience and safety. With wireless technology, more and more functions in the house can be controlled by remotes, keypads, smartphones or tablets. Home systems are being redesigned in ways that often can help people with arthritis or disabilities perform daily tasks more easily.

Eight out of 10 baby boomers say they want to stay in their homes and communities as long as possible, according to a 2012 AARP poll. “Our research shows people are not going to move,” said Nancy Thompson, an AARP spokeswoman.

Businesses such as iHome Integration in Virginia provide technology solutions to seniors and people with special needs. Co-owner Justin Tsuchida says he installs motion, door and pressure sensors as well as cameras that can help families keep track of loved ones through a smartphone or computer.

Builders and remodelers are increasingly getting technology requests from consumers who are spending time at home shows or reading up on innovations for kitchens and bathrooms. According to Bill Owens, president of Owens Construction near Columbus, Ohio, and past chairman of the National Association of Home Builders Remodelers, buyers are looking for convenience and comfort but are turned off by labels such as “senior-specific” or “universal design.”

“Baby boomers are looking for mainstream convenience and comfort,” Owens said. “They want to be jazzed by buying something new that is easy to use and has a wow factor. The safety aspect is an added bonus for a lot of people.”

Smart home innovations

Here are a few products that harness some of the latest technology:

Moen’s ioDigital Shower

The ioDigital shower system by Moen can enhance showering safety for seniors. The consumer can set a precise temperature and flow for the shower, lock it in and press a button to activate it daily. The system is sold with four programmable presets. The technology prevents that morning scramble to adjust handles to avoid being scalded or frozen. “This product makes life easier, and it has a safety implication,” said Brad Crozier, a Moen senior product manager. “That is true whether you are a senior or a parent with children.”

Price: $800-$1,300 for digital valve, controller and showering components. Versions for bathtubs ($1,200-$1,800) and more elaborate spa showers ($2,000-$3,500) also available.

Lutron Maestro Wireless

Lighting Control

An unlit garden path can be dangerous for anyone getting home at night, senior or not. With Maestro, you can pull into your driveway and push a button to have lights inside and outside your house turn on. The system is installed by replacing light switches or dimmers with those embedded with the Lutron radio frequency technology.

According to Melissa Andresko, Lutron’s spokeswoman, you can link up to nine dimmers (on/off switches are also available) to one remote control. “It’s good for both coming and going from your house,” said Andresko.

Price: Maestro Wireless dimmer and Pico remote control package $130; additional dimmers or switches $88; additional remotes $56.

GE Cafe French Door Refrigerator

A new GE refrigerator has several senior-friendly features, including a hot water dispenser for making tea. “This could be a lifesaver for someone who does not use the stove as well,” said Amy Levner, manager of home and community for AARP, who spotted the model at the International Builders Show in January.

Other senior-friendly features: It has extra LED lights to illuminate drawers and shelves better and has a water-filtration system that removes 98 percent of five trace pharmaceuticals.

Price: $2,999, available in April.

Kohler Sensate Touchless Faucet

The convenience of turning your kitchen faucet on or off without having to touch a lever or handle would be appreciated by anyone who loves to cook. If you are cutting chicken, you don’t need to touch the faucet with messy hands to turn on the water. Sensate plugs into an outlet, so no crawling underneath the sink to replace batteries. And there’s an added benefit for seniors who might have arthritis as waving your hand or a pot under a faucet to turn it on or off can be less painful than turning a handle.

Price: Available in chrome ($675) or vibrant stainless ($800). (The unit also works in a conventional way.)

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