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I visited the BC Home and Garden Show at the new Vancouver Convention Centre on Sunday March 6. Given the activity at the Home Show as well as at home showings these days, it seems like just about everyone in Vancouver is either buying, selling or improving the home they live in.

One very pleasant change from the last time I attended was the new venue - it was held at the Vancouver Trade and Convention Centre in Coal Harbour while BC Place gets its new roof. Although many of the exhibits seem to never change (hot tubs come to mind), there were definite themes around more sustainable living and home automation.

By 'more sustainable', I mean products that are both economically and environmentally lower impact than the standard, or which take a fresh approach to solving home improvement projects.

One such product was a refinishing material for kitchen and bathroom countertops. The material is called liquid granite and it is sprayed onto the existing counter surface. Although it is a plastic (petroleum based) this has to be weighed against the cost of transporting new materials and sending a structurally intact countertop and tiling to the landfill. Anyone that has completed a home renovation knows that to replace a countertop also involves removing the backsplash (and the drywall that the backsplash material is attached to) which is both costly, time consuming and an inconvenience. At first glance, I had trouble differentiating it from real granite. If you are hesitating over replacing your laminate countertops with granite, this may be an economic alternative.

Another product that has come of age is the tank-less hot water heater. Hot water tanks, whether gas fired or electric, are prevalent in BC, mainly because they are inexpensive to purchase and install. However, the energy and dollar cost of continually keeping a full tank of water at a high temperature is wasteful. Why not use a device that instantly heats up just the water you need? Not only does it save money and eliminate the risk of flooding, it also saves valuable in-home real estate - we could all use an extra storage closet!

Home automation is becoming a means of better home management and not just a curiosity. Sophisticated systems will manage your home's energy as well as how you spend your energy (i.e. home entertainment). I visited a booth that specialized in installing a system that can control audio, video, lighting, sprinkler systems, heating and ventilation, and sprinkler systems directly from the internet, an iPod, iPhone or iPad. The system will provide two-way communication between the device and the feature being controlled. For example, if you were playing music in your living room, your iPod would display the track information, album cover and artist while two slide bars would give you control over the volume and track position. Because many of the systems are web based, they can also control your household systems while you are away from home.

Now if only someone could make travel that easy, I'd have a reason to leave home in the first place!

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