Plumbing Gadgets of the Future

At the 1933-34 World Fair in Chicago, the “toilet of the future” boasted a “2 1/2 inch passageway, larger than any other one-piece toilet!” That was probably pretty impressive at the time, but the real toilets of the future are self-cleaning, music-playing gadgets complete with heated seats and LED lighting. What are some other plumbing fixtures of the future? Read on for some of the smartest water devices on the market today.

Showers

The time of the programmable shower is now. Smart shower systems are pricy (as are many smart plumbing fixtures), at around $7,000, but their magic is undeniable. Watermark Design’s luxury shower system has a full-color digital touch screen that controls up to four outlets, water temperature, shower lighting and adjusts volume on your chosen audio device. Multiple members of your household can also save their preferred settings.

If you really love listening to music in the shower, but hate how it’s never loud enough, meet the Moxie Showerhead with Bluetooth ($129). This showerhead has a built-in speaker so the music literally comes through your water.

Toilets

The Japanese know how to do toilets. The Neorest 700H is one of Toto’s many smart toilets, and this one uses electrolyzed water to clean both the toilet and, well, you know. It also has a built-in air purifier, heated seat and warm-air dryer. Oh, and a hands-free automatic flush. But don’t expect to pay less than $4,000 for one.

For a less intense, but still luxurious toilet, the UltraTouch heated seat will efficiently heat your seat up to 25 degrees Fahrenheit above room temperature. At a more reasonable $80, it’s also treated with an antimicrobial agent to resist the growth of bacteria, fungus and mold.

Sinks

The Dyson Airblade Tap will not only wash your hands, but dry them too! The $1,900 faucet is equipped with a tiny powerful motor designed to dry your hands in about 15 seconds, using HEPA-filtered air.

Since the future is full of LED lights, you can also jazz up your sink experience with the Graff Ametis faucet, which has a light ring that glows red or blue to show you the temperature of the water. Starting at $1,500, the sleek chrome finish just makes it look that much cooler (blue light).

Appliances

Some Whirlpool dishwashers are now equipped with their new 6th Sense Live technology, which connects to your Wi-Fi network to tell you when electricity consumption is cheapest during the day. It doesn’t require a smart electric meter, and at $949, these machines only cost slightly more than comparable machines. If you press the smart grid button before leaving the house, the dishwasher will automatically run when grid consumption is cheapest.

Your washing machine can also be controlled from a distance now, with LG’s new machines that can communicate with you via text. The “HomeChat” system will tell you what stage of washing your clothes are in, and the machine will give you a shout if you’re home and something goes wrong with the cycle. They’re being tested in Korea right now, and are expected to eventually make it to the states.

Energy-Efficient Roof Options for Your Home

Eco-friendly roofs were once concepts reserved only for the covers of design magazines or for well-to-do hippies making a statement. Not anymore. These days, many savvy homeowners incorporate energy-efficient technologies on their roofs to save energy and money. Here are several energy-efficent DIY options for residential roofs.

Solar Roof

The benefits of a solar roof couldn’t be more obvious: free, renewable energy to help power your home and reduce the strain on the power grid. Play your cards right and you might even generate enough energy to sell back to the utility company and make a tidy profit.

Until recently, there was a big drawback in solar roofing options: Those old, mammoth clunky panels would look like a giant metal Frankenstein on your roof, negatively impacting the appearance of your home -- and that’s if your roof could even support the monstrosities. Luckily, those days are over.

Solar shingles are the new fashion, and they fit on and blend into nearly any residential roof. Several companies make these solar shingles and, in the right sun visibility conditions, they can be popped right onto an existing roof. Solar roofs are a much more attractive option for the green homeowner now, and there are plenty of energy-efficient options out there for buyers to choose from.

Tile Roof

The very same Southwestern-style curved tile roofs that have been around forever are actually an excellent green roof option. This tile provides good ventilation, keeps the house cool, and is made of a recyclable material.

As with any roof material, brighter colors reflect more light away, keeping the house cooler and helping the environment. Tile comes in an array of bright colors, and it has the advantage of being a style that consumers are familiar with -- and that looks good on top of the house.

Recyclables

With so many material choices that work better than traditional shingles, the old asphalt roof shingle could be headed the way of the dinosaur. And since these alternatives are often made of recycled materials, they’re easy on the conscience -- and, in many cases, the wallet, when you consider their long roof-life. Additionally, recycled material shingles may save you some money on insurance because of their good fire rating.

Metal is one such option. It is highly durable against wind, rain and fire; reflects plenty of light; is recyclable; and is significantly less expensive than traditional shingles when you consider the fact that metal roofs last two to three times as long. Of course, metal is a broad term and can include zinc, steel and copper. For that reason, metal roofing is available in nearly any color or style.

Recycled rubber is another green choice, and it comes in styles which look quite similar to traditional shingles.

If you absolutely must stick with shingles, consider recycled wood fiber shingles. As an added green component, paint them white to reflect heat away from your house and lower your air conditioning bill.

Living Roof

Nothing is greener than a garden, and with enough effort and the right roof, you can have one on top of your home. A true roof garden is best-suited for urban-style flat roofs, but a living roof can be anything from a few potted plants to a full-on plant and flower conservatory atop your home.

It takes some hardy plants and a green thumb to make it happen, but you can hardly beat the “wow” factor of a living roof. Plus, a rooftop nursery can really insulate a building: A recent study found that on an 80 F day, a tar-painted roof reached 180 F, a white roof 120, and the plant-covered roof was just 85 F.

In the right conditions, a living roof is worth the work and makes for a beautiful addition. And nobody can argue with the beauty factor of this, the greenest of roof options.

5 Rugged Laptops Any DIYer Would Love

If you lug your laptop around dirty, dusty worksites either on the job or at your home, a typical laptop isn't going to cut it. Luckily, there a number of laptops out there designed with the DIYer in mind. Yes, you can choose from a whole line of tough and rugged laptops designed to survive drops, spills and shocks. Here are a few models that any guy with a tool belt and a pickup truck can appreciate.

  1. Amrel Rocky RT9
    If you want toughness above all else, and you’re willing to pay for it, the Rocky RT will give it to you, along with plenty of DIY-friendly features. Dust won’t bog the Rocky down and water splashes are a joke to this machine. It’s got a mega-bright screen you can easily see outside and has a backlit keyboard so you can work in the dark. It even has a heater to protect the battery in temperatures as low as -20 C. Prices vary depending on customization, but be prepared to spend over $3,000.
  2. Panasonic Toughbook 31
    There’s no bigger name in rugged laptops than the Toughbook, the first of its kind when it hit the market in 1997. It’s come a long way since then. The latest Toughbook 31 features optional 4G LTE wireless access, backlit keyboard, 500 GB of hard drive and up to 8 GB of RAM. Add that to a waterproof and drop-proof housing that folds up into a plastic carrying case complete with toolbox-like handle, and you’ve got one of the toughest -- and highest performing -- laptops on the market.
    There’s even the option of adding a touch-screen with stylus, allowing you to use the laptop like a tablet without having to take off your work gloves. It’s a great feature, but adds $200 to $400 to the base model price of about $3,000.
  3. Xplore RangerX
    If you think maybe a tablet would be more your speed, check out the RangerX. It’s an Android tablet with both front and rear cameras and is drop-proof, dust-proof and waterproof. It’s one of the lightest worksite-friendly computing devices, weighing in at only 2.2 pounds. You can even download free software from Xplore that makes the tablet glove-touchable. Prices start at $1,300.
  4. Panasonic Toughbook F9
    The Toughbook F9 is aimed at the business world, so it includes something most rugged laptops lack: A CD/DVD drive. It’s also one of the lightest rugged laptops at only 3.6 pounds, and it has a top handle, which almost makes it look like a small briefcase when closed. If you want something that’s tough and easy to carry around from project to project, this is a sure bet. Prices start at $2,600.
  5. Getac B300
    Call it overkill if you want, but there’s nothing out there quite like the Getac B300. The B300 is built to meet the military’s standards for a rugged laptop: It can last through every kind of environmental condition, and it doesn’t interfere with other transmitters or night vision equipment.
    The Getac’s screen is fully visible in sunlight or darkness, the keyboard is backlit, you can equip the laptop with multi-carrier 4G LTE to work online anywhere, and the battery lasts for 15 hours. It may be a little overkill for the weekend warrior homeowner, but the B300’s cool factor is through the roof. Prices start at $2,800.

Plug and Play Lighting Controls

It used to be that a room was light or dark. Simple, right? But with high-tech home theaters, security flood lights and special areas designated for reading, the need for specialized lighting has grown. The way to create different lighting options without breaking the bank paying for a professional -- or electrocuting yourself -- is to buy “plug and play” lighting controls. Here’s a rundown on some of the latest products.

Plug-in Dimmers

Using a dimmer to control your lights is great for creating the perfect mood lighting, and it can even cut energy costs slightly. The great news is that you don’t have to replace your existing light switch for these plug-in options.

For table and floor lamps, it’s as simple as plugging your lamp into an adapter that plugs into the socket. A dimmer switch on the adapter’s cord controls the lamp’s brightness. Look for a model that works with CFL or LED bulbs, because dimmers burn through the incandescent kind, while others last exponentially longer. These adapters run about $20 each.

To dim overhead lights, just screw a regular light bulb into a special adapter, which screws directly into the socket. You’ll then be able to control it with a remote. A basic one is about $20.

Lightbulb Adapters

Lightbulb adapters can serve other purposes besides dimming. Most adapters come with a remote control which allows you to turn the lights on and off, but you can also purchase adapters with add-ons like motion and light sensors for a few extra bucks.

Models like this one come with a battery-operated sensor that can detect movement from 500 feet away! This is a great option for installing a motion-sensing outdoor flood light without the hassle of rewiring. You’ll even save some cash on your energy bill thanks to a light sensor that prevents the fixture from being triggered during daylight, and a timer that controls how long the beam stays on.

Remote Control Lighting Kits

If you want complete control over the lighting in one room (or even two) while sitting in your favorite armchair, there are starter kits that give you this option with no technical knowledge needed.

For about $80 you’ll get a kit complete with a remote, plug-in dimmer adapter and a screw-in dimmer adapter. The best part is the remote, which can switch off the overhead light and dim your lamps for perfect lighting.

Plug and Play Mood Lighting

To create custom accent lighting to showcase certain objects in your home, plug and play lighting is an easy -- though not always cheap -- option. LED strips are becoming quite popular, and are useful almost anywhere you’d like some extra light. They’re perfect to stick under cabinets or shelves, and can be easily installed using adhesive tape or screws. Many come with a dimming option so you can control the level of light. At around $30 a strip, they aren’t exactly cheap, but can be worthwhile for showcasing your prized high school trophy collection.

Understanding Cloud Storage

First came floppy discs, and then CDs. External hard drives and thumb drives are still quite popular, but one of the most recent and foolproof methods of digital file storage is something called “the cloud.”

It may sound mystical, but it’s not. Cloud storage allows you to store and sync your files across multiple devices and access them anywhere as long as you have an Internet connection. If you haven’t taken advantage of cloud storage, now is the time to start, because many cloud storage providers are offering large blocks of storage for free -- up to 100 GB.

Here’s what you need to know to get started.

What Is Cloud Storage?

Cloud storage refers to data saved in an off-site storage system maintained by a third party. This means you can store all of your project drawings, schematics and even detailed building plans without taking up lots of space on your computer. You can access your files online whenever you want, whether it’s on a desktop, tablet or smartphone.

Unlike physical storage devices like internal or external hard drives, it’s highly unlikely that the cloud will ever blow up (thereby losing all of your files). Cloud storage companies store data on hundreds of data servers, ensuring that if one of them blows, you’ll still be able to access your data from the others.

How Do I Get It?

Cloud storage has experienced a boom in the last couple of years, and it’s no surprise. It’s a convenient, relatively cheap (sometimes free) and easily accessible storage solution. Most services charge a monthly or yearly fee for a set amount of storage space, and throw in a few free gigabytes as an incentive for signing up. There are hundreds of providers to choose from, and each one has its pros and cons. Here are a few of the major players.

Dropbox

Dropbox is probably one of the most popular cloud storage devices. One of the best parts is that you don’t need a Web interface to access it, like many other cloud services. Add it as a folder on your computer, and your text files will sync automatically, ensuring you’ll have the most recent version at any time. While the initial free space is minimal, Dropbox has several options for getting more. Referring friends to Dropbox will get you some additional free space, and if you buy a new Samsung tablet or smartphone that has Dropbox pre-loaded, you can get 48 GB for up to two years.

  • Two GB free
  • 100 GB = $9.99/month      

Amazon Cloud Drive

If you already have an Amazon account, free space is waiting for you. Amazon Cloud Drive is only accessible through the Web; there are apps for smartphones, tablets and digital readers.

  • Five GB free
  • 100 GB = $50/year

Google Drive

Google Drive is another account that you already have access to if you’ve got a Gmail account. Like Dropbox, you can keep the Drive on your desktop and it will automatically sync your files. In addition to storing “Google Docs” created with Google’s tools, you can store Microsoft Office files and convert Google Doc files into Office files to use on your desktop.

  • Five GB free
  • 100 GB = $4.99/month

Apple iCloud

This service can only be accessed on the Web, but it has an added benefit: You can store any books, movies or music purchased from the Apple store on this account, and they don’t take up any space in your storage.

  • Five GB free
  • 50 GB = $100/year

SugarSync

SugarSync is another service that syncs your files across multiple devices, in addition to storing them. This is great for text or Word files that you edit on multiple devices. When you make a change to a document on your tablet, that change will be there when you open the document on your laptop.

  • 5 GB free
  • 100 GB = $9.99/month