By Jim Olsztynski

The "SmartHouse Technologie" exhibit at the 2003 ISH Fair in Frankfurt, Germany, was an amalgam of residential building automation that spanned plumbing, heating, air conditioning, lighting, consumer electronics and other applications up to and including the kitchen sink. Systems could be activated via Internet-connected mobile phones or PCs. Water or fuel leaks and other technical glitches could be identified, reported to the occupant or authorized technicians and repaired before damage occurs. Everything was geared to optimal energy use and cost control.

A quick run-down of some of the gee-whiz gadgetry includes:

  • Water meter valves that record the frequency of use and water consumption.

  • An indirect domestic hot water tank with a display to indicate if the anode has worn down.

  • A circulator pump for all heating or air conditioning applications with a graphic display showing operating condition, control type, set differential pressure or speed, fault and warning signals. Special solar pumps and controls provide control data for solar heating yield, CO2 reduction, collector and storage temperature.

Of particular interest to this reporter was the "Interactive bathroom," a term used to describe various plumbing features aimed at ease of installation, information retrieval, water conservation and cost reduction. And nothing was as dazzling as the automatically height-adjustable washbasin (lavatory) and toilet made by a German company called A.S.T. (

The units move up and down via low-voltage motors controlled by precision electronics--with voice-activated versions also available. Besides the entire unit moving up and down, the toilet seat tilts up or down so that individuals can slide on and off gracefully.

Elderly and disabled people are an obvious target market, along with plenty of commercial and institutional applications. For instance, these units are attractive to health care facilities and hospitals, as an alternative to personnel lifting people manually or via hoists. The convenience offered by these devices is also attractive to certain first class hotels, restaurants, office and other public buildings to accommodate guests and visitors of various sizes and capabilities.

Jim Olsztynski is Consulting Editor for PME. He can be contacted at