LAS VEGAS — The International Builders Show, it appears, is back. Not back to the pre-recession levels of 100,000 attendees, but the aisles were full at the show here in late January. Show organizers expected about 50,000 people, better than attendance the last couple of years when representatives of CONTRACTOR could talk to any exhibitor at any time because customers were scarce.

The show is back because housing is coming back. National Association of Home Builders is forecasting 949,000 starts for this year, Associated Builders and Contractors 950,000, and the Portland Cement Association is predicting a nice, round one million. That’s edging closer to the figure for a healthy homebuilding industry of about 1.2 million to 1.3 million. Any number higher than 1.5 million is edging into bubble territory.

The other big news that came out at the show was that IBS and the Kitchen & Bath Industry Show will co-locate in Las Vegas next February. That’s a good move for KBIS, whose last show in Chicago in 2012 was a dud. KBIS is in New Orleans this year in April. The arrangement is a trial courtship for a three-year period, after which the participants will decide if they want to get hitched.

It also presents a conundrum for some exhibitors: do they exhibit at IBS, at KBIS or at both? A big booth in one show and a small booth in the other? Ingrid Mattsson, senior manager of Advertising & Brand Management at Uponor, said her firm would stay at Builders because its product is behind the wall. Decorative plumbing manufacturers, on the other hand, may have a more difficult decision.

Manufacturers trotted out some innovative items

Plug in your plumbing. Among the kitchen and bath products on display from Kohler were the Moxie showerhead plus wireless speaker that lets the bather play music, news or podcasts when synched to a device enabled with Bluetooth technology, and the Sensate touchless kitchen faucet that uses advanced technology to turn the faucet on and off by waving a hand, kitchen utensil or pot near the sensor.

The Moxie showerhead syncs with any Bluetooth-enabled smartphone or mp3 player and streams music directly into the shower. But the fun doesn’t stop there; the speaker pod can be removed for enjoyment on the go. The speaker pod, which comes out of the showerhead and plugs in to charge, is held in place in the showerhead with a magnet. The Sensate touchless faucet contains a sensor that responds in 20 milliseconds for on/off operation. Its activation area is strategically placed on the underside of the spout, so a wave of a hand, cup, pan or kitchen utensil activates the flow.

Zurn PEX in collaboration with Dow Chemical has introduced hy-PE-RTube, made in the U.S. using DOWLEX 2344 Polyethylene Resin, which offers the traditional benefits of polyethylene resin along with excellent high temperature resistance. The polyethylene resin delivers long-term hydrostatic design strength at elevated temperatures, without the need for cross-linking. This process increases the tubing flexibility, resulting in potential installation benefits and labor savings. hy-PE-RTube is suitable for a full range of radiant applications in residential, commercial, and industrial installations. Zurn notes that the tubing, which is suitable for any hydronic application including snow melt and radiant cooling, has no “memory,” so it does not recoil on itself. It contains an oxygen diffusion barrier but, since it is not cross-linked, it is recyclable.

Delta Faucet introduced Touch2O Technology in 2008 for kitchen faucets as a way to wash goopy hands without touching the faucet. After the enormous success of the product, Delta has expanded Touch2O to the bath. Lavatory faucets from the Talbott and Lahara bath collections are available with Touch2O Technology, allowing the user to tap the faucet on or off anywhere on the spout or handle.

For an even cleaner experience, Addison and Lahara models feature Touch2O.xt Technology — “xt” for extra technology — that also offer an entirely hands-free experience. Touch2Oxt Technology features a 4-in. sensing field around the entire faucet. Once the handle is moved to an on position, the faucet automatically responds when a user approaches the sensing field. Moving hands out of range intuitively shuts off the water flow within seconds. Delta was the EPA WaterSense Partner of the Year in 2011 and all of the faucets in the collection meet WaterSense requirements.

Rinnai’s Ultra Series condensing water-heaters combine the benefits of traditional tankless water heaters with greater energy savings. The condensing design incorporates two heat exchangers to achieve optimum water-heating value from the fuel. The down-fired ceramic burner allows condensation to drain from the bottom of the heat exchanger, protecting the primary heat exchanger and burner.

The condensing design maximizes heating value and earns an Energy Factor (EF) rating of up to .96. Additional features of the Ultra Series units, include built-in Rinnai Circ-Logic recirculation technology designed to provide homeowners with the ability to maximize efficiency and comfort and a scale detection system that detects lime scale buildup and alerts the user when maintenance is required.

Danze Inc. announced a five-function, water-saving showerhead to its already expansive line of showerheads. Named Florin, the 4-1/2-in. Five-Function Showerhead meets requirements set by the U.S. EPA’s WaterSense program for water efficiency.

Features include wide, centerjet, aeration, massage and wide+centerjet sprays; Danze Intenze Technology featuring D-Force and Air Injection, giving it maximum performance at even low water pressure; brass ball joint with polymer shell; easy-glide selector ring with lever; 71 easy clean jets; maximum flow rate of 2.0-GPM at 20-80 PSI; and it uses 20% less water than a standard showerhead flowing at 2.5-GPM.

Gerber Plumbing Fixtures LLC added a compact elongated option to its Viper series of HETs.  It is a 17-in. ErgoHeight toilet with a 12-in. rough-in. This WaterSense certified product is perfect for smaller bathroom spaces. The Viper compact elongated bowl provides the added comfort of a large elongated bowl in spaces that previously could only fit a round front. This model uses 1.28-GPF and consumes 20% less water than 1.6 gpf models. Other features include a FluidMaster 400A fill valve, a 3-in. flush valve for quick bowl clearing, dual-fed siphon jets, 2-in. glazed trapway, and color-matched tank lever. It is ADA compliant and comes in white and biscuit.

Software vendor Sage North America displayed its full range of software solutions, including Sage 300 Trade Specialty that includes a service management module. Service Management allows technicians, dispatchers, and service managers to seamlessly connected to their back office. Sage has purchased Timberline accounting software and has integrated it into Sage 300 Trade Specialty. With integrated service dispatch software, dispatchers can see what equipment is installed on the site and other information about the service site as well as check the status of work orders and related purchase orders right from their dispatch screen. The software allows complete control over service agreements, preventative maintenance, and warranties. It reduces duplicate data entry for entering information on customers, vendors, invoices, purchases orders, and other financial details. Contractors can generate quotes and automatically produce work orders from approved quotes.

Ford showed a GPS black box for F-Series pickups called Crew Chief that’s created by a company called Telogis. What makes Crew Chief different from other GPS systems is that Ford allowed Telogis to tap into its proprietary “black box” control module under the dashboard, so the device can record and process a wealth of information such as location, speed, fuel economy, airbag deployment and battery levels. Crew Chief uses this data to generate reports and real-time alerts to the boss. Ford reports that Crew Chief cuts harsh braking down by 77% and engine idle time by 50%.

Along with its FlowGuard Gold and BlazeMaster CPVC pipe, Lubrizol Corp. displayed its FlowGuard Bendable Multilayer Piping constructed of multiple layers of CPVC bonded with laser butt-welded aluminum. The bendable piping conforms to the application, providing reduced installation time and lower installed costs. The pipe is certified for potable water service by NSF International and Listed by NSF to the Uniform Plumbing Code. Its coefficient of linear thermal expansion is similar to metal. Its rigidity allows increased support spacing and mechanical strength compared to solid-wall CPVC. The pipe is pressure rated to 400 psi at 73°F/100 psi at 180°F. It can connect with an array of common CTS fittings, including FlowGuard Gold CPVC fittings.

Lennox Industries focused its display around the icomfort Wi-Fi Thermostat, a Wi-Fi-enabled thermostat that allows homeowners to make system adjustments from a downloadable app on any web-enabled device or Smartphone. Lennox termed it the first thermostat to offer a one-touch system for energy savings when away from the home. In addition to its remote-access capabilities, user-friendly interface and touchpad design, and added features, such as real-time weather reporting, the icomfort Wi-Fi has the capability to blend in with its surroundings, via customized “skins” that transform the touch-screen interface to assume the look of any wall color or pattern.

In addition, homeowners can also upload a photo to have the thermostat facing appear as a family photo or favorite piece of artwork. The thermostat communicates with a homeowner’s HVAC system to provide real-time alerts of any system issues to the consumer and installing service provider. It integrates with the homeowner’s air purification system and dehumidifier to make automatic adjustments and allow for maximum indoor air quality and comfort. The device monitors outdoor conditions and indoor set points to automatically decide between heating and cooling and dehumidification and humidification.

The Propane Education & Research Council promoted its newest Web tool, the newly updated online Propane Energy Pod. The Propane Energy Pod compares in seconds the energy costs and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions for one year for homes using propane, heating oil, and electricity. The Propane Energy Pod adds up the numbers for a homeowner’s five most common energy needs — space heating, water heating, cooking, clothes drying, and fireplaces. The user can select either a 2,400- or a 3,600-sq.ft. home, and enter the county and state of the home. The Propane Energy Pod instantly provides data on the energy consumption, Home Energy Rating System (HERS) score, and CO2 emissions for the home for one year. In addition, contractors can easily place the Propane Energy Pod on their own websites or the websites of their clients.

Thermal imagers are expensive but DeWalt has introduced a cheaper alternative with the launch of its 12 Volt MAX Lithium Ion Imaging Thermometer. The imaging thermometer measures temperature and displays both visual and thermal images. The images can be blended together to pinpoint an issue. We’ve seen much clearer images on high-end products costing five to 10 times more, but for about a grand you can trace radiant floor tubing or check temperatures in ductwork. The new imaging thermometer measures temperatures between 14°F and 480°F. The 2.2-in. color screen has the ability to change from an all-thermal, to blended image, to all-visual display. The thermal images use color range to depict cold and warm temperatures, while the visual images are photos of the actual surface being scanned. Contractors can change the type of image they would like to display with toggle buttons.