On the eve of PCBC 2008, the California Building Industry Association's annual extravaganza in San Francisco, comes news that builders from all over voted to bestow the supreme designation of "cool" on five products that will be displayed at the show. Not surprisingly, all but one rely on technology to achieve their coolness, and even the odd-one-out is a modern marvel in terms of concept.

William Gloede What struck us here at Tech Spec as cool was that two of the "Cool Products"–Lagotek's Cell Phone Home Control and the Lifestyle BUILT-INvisible 6748 Home Entertainment System from Bose Corp.–have been prominently featured, though in earlier versions, in this space in the past. That indicates that either builders are reading us really closely or–more likely–we are on a similar wavelength.

Not to give the aforementioned two products short shrift, but we have written extensively on each. Suffice it to restate that the Lagotek Home Control system is among the easiest, least expensive, and most reliable ways to control various appliances, A/V, and mechanical systems around the home. Likewise, for the money, the Bose system is the least aesthetically intrusive A/V setup with the best sound we have seen.

In Tech Spec's opinion, the "coolest" of the five is actually the hottest: EnerWorks Inc.'s Space-Saver Residential Solar Water Heating Appliance. This marvel looks pretty much like a standard water heater, with solar collector panels for the roof, but can take care of up to 80 percent of an average household's hot water needs at zero energy cost–depending, of course, on region and available sunlight. Some estimates put the cost of keeping a supply of hot water on hand at 25 percent to 30 percent of total household energy costs. A one-panel system retails for roughly $3,300; a two-panel system, $4,400.

Of course, there are plenty of solar hot water systems on the market. What sets this one apart is the amount of space is doesn't use. Says Ken Arnold, senior vice president for corporate development at Dorchester, Ontario-based EnerWorks, "Home builders can include the impressive economic and environmental benefits of solar water heating and reduce the footprint normally required for this technology by half."

SOLAR SAVINGS: The new Space-Saver Residential Solar Water Heating Appliance from EnerWorks Inc. may be a bit of a mouthful, but it promises big returns on homeowners' initial investment. Photo: Courtesy Enerworks Inc. The next cool product is an electric radiant heat system from Canadian company, Nuheat Industries, based in Delta, British Columbia. It gives builders a way to add a touch of warmth to tile, stone, and laminate/engineered wood flooring–even in wet environments–with simple installation, thanks to its patented guide system.

One would be nuts, even at today's oil prices, to use this system for general heating. At $0.10 per kilowatt hour, about the average U.S. cost, running the system in a 60-square-foot area for nine to 10 hours would cost about $0.38 per day. At that rate, running it to heat a 2,500-square-foot home would run north of $1,000 per month. Still, the NuHeat Cable System uses just 12 watts per square foot, which, for resistance heating, is efficient.

"It allows you to efficiently zone heat during the cooler months–leaving the primary system off–then use the primary system in the really cold months but at a lower setting, because the [NuHeat system] is helping it heat individual rooms when needed, dropping total energy consumption," says Chris Guelpa, a NuHeat spokesperson.

The last of the PCBC "Cool Products" is probably the simplest but most elegant: QuickDrain USA's Shower Wall, a linear shower drain system that eliminates custom-tiled shower pans in those increasingly popular oversized tile or marble showers with jets that shoot water from every conceivable angle. It allows the use of any size tile or stone slab in the shower pan because the floor slopes gently to a long drain along the base of the shower instead of one single point.

Which is very good, because shower pans, sooner or later, always leak.