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03/04/2021

Bathrooms get smarter, and cleaner

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Toto's Flotation Tub with Zero Dimension.

Even for the most-seasoned bathroom merchant, it’s highly unlikely that the term “left ventrolateral prefrontal cortex” has entered the marketing conversation.

Until now. And That’s just one sign that the bathroom is changing. Bathrooms are getting smarter, as they are getting cleaner. It’s the next frontier of smart home, said Bill Strang, president of corporate strategy and eCommerce for Toto. And that’s just one of the trends knocking on the door of the most practical (one could argue) room in the house.

Consider this: the company’s Flotation Tub with Zero Dimension combines biomechanics, neuroscience and ergonomics to create a weightless experience – like astronauts in space. In the tub, massage jets provide gentle therapy, while relaxation reduces activity in the part of the brain responsible for language. Water also comfortably flows from the adjustable “Neck Spa.”

It’s a high tech tub. And according to Strang, and other experts in the kitchen and bath industry, technology is increasingly factoring into kitchen and bath decisions.

“We believe the bathroom is the next frontier of smart technology,” he said.

It’s also an area of the house responding dramatically to the pandemic-induced trend toward cleanliness. “There’s a heightened level of cleanliness and a desire to be attentive to our health and hygiene.”

That plays well for the Washlet by Toto, which attaches to an existing toilet to create a bidet. Demand for the product exploded in March, with the emergence of toilet-paper scarcity. In fact, there was a time when the word “bidet” was one of the most-searched term on Amazon, (behind words including “wipes” and “sanitizer.”)

The Washlet can attach to a regular toilet in about 10 minutes. And the price of conversion product (about $400) puts the bidet within easy reach of the masses.

“We were in the right place at the right time with the right product when Covid hit,” he said.

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Crue Touchless faucet from Kohler.

Kohler’s Seth Stevens has also seen the trends toward technology and hygiene ramp up in the last year. “The pandemic really has reminded us a lot about health and cleanliness and hygiene, how we treat our bodies and what we do to keep ourselves clean,” he said. “Touchless faucets and anything related to our self-cleaning toilet technology has “done really well for us,” he said.

Speaking at the KBISNeXT Stage 2021, Stevens said the technology in kitchen and bath was ramping up before the pandemic. And it turned on the jets in 2020. “We were seeing a 20% year over year demand increase in technology toilets,” Stevens said. “In the pandemic that increased by like ten times.”

He doesn’t expect demand for bidets and self-cleaning toilets to slow.

“People are used to them and more comfortable with them,” he said.

The pandemic has also brought new products for facility managers. TOTO’s smart-sensor, Ecopower technology serves as an example of high tech. The system is like a regional hydroelectric power generator only on a smaller scale. It creates its own electricity every time water spins its small internal turbine. With Ecopower, there’s no need for hardwiring to a building’s electrical system or routine disposable battery replacement, which is costly and toxic to the environment. No minimum daily usage requirement.

Strang says that Toto was deep into technology development before the pandemic struck. Therefore, it was well prepared for the acceleration of the trend in the last year or so.