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Hands-free residential faucets

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Kohler located their sensor under the neck of the faucet to limit accidental activation.

By Leah Den Hartogh

The world has long passed the time when a kitchen or bathroom faucet was just a faucet. As with so many things today, faucets can be controlled and connected electronically – and they talk to each other.

The kitchen faucet is now connected to the bathroom faucet, which in turn is connected to the showerhead, the plumbing system, and so on. All of which can usually be accessed via a smartphone application.

“Faucets are all ready – just waiting for a command,” said Garry Scott, vice president of marketing and e-commerce for Moen Canada, Oakville, Ont.

The newest technology allows the user to operate the faucet with just their voice using a variety of pre-set commands. It also offers touchless activation via a hands-free wave sensor.

Delta Faucet will launch voice activated technology for its hands-free faucets this year.

For Moen, their U by Moen Smart kitchen faucet technology is connected to a Google Home or Amazon Alexa device. From there, the faucet is also connected to a smartphone. On the application, the user is able to connect it to other products manufactured by the company.

The user will be able to determine how much water, at what exact temperature, and set keywords to perform certain actions, like “fill baby bottle.”

Delta Faucet, a division of Masco Canada, Mississauga, Ont., offers electronic faucets in both kitchen and lavatory models. The company is about to launch its new VoiceIQ technology, which is already available in the U.S. This can be paired with the company’s Touch2O kitchen faucet technology with a connected home device for hands-free voice activation, reported Lindsay Barber, Masco Canada director of product management

The faucet can be commanded to turn on and off, dispense a metered amount of water, or fill custom containers like a coffee pot. It features a handwashing feature that dispenses water at the beginning of handwashing, turns off while the user lathers up, and then automatically comes back on to rinse, said Barber.

Delta’s Touch2o.xt technology offers both touch and hands-free operation. When the user’s hands are within four-inch radius of the faucet, the water will turn on. When the hands are removed, the flow of water will stop.

Kohler added voice activation technology to their smart faucet line.

“This differs from traditional hands-free infrared sensors that require your hands be in a particular place and are sensitive to lighting conditions and clothing and skin colour,” said Barber. “We use some of the same technology principles in our highly specialized commercial products.”

Kohler also offers touchless and voice activation technology with their kitchen faucets. “We have designed our faucet sensor to be located under the arch of the faucet neck, making sure that activation of the faucet is intentional and not accidental by a person walking by the space or waving a hand or kitchen utensil over or to the side of the faucet,” explained Jason Keller, senior channel manager for Kohler Faucets, Kohler, Wisconsin.

The voice control feature allows hands-free activation to turn the faucet on or off, pour specific amounts, and fill pre-set measurements. Their faucets pair with Amazon Alexa, Google Home, and Apple Home Kit.

“Touchless technology is found most commonly in the kitchen space. Touchless kitchen faucets offer a hands-free control to allow you to activate your faucet while containing any prep or clean up mess on hands, pots, utensils, etc.,” said Keller.

“Cross-contamination is a larger topic in the kitchen space overall, so allowing homeowners a hands-free interaction in that space enhances their overall experience with their kitchen.”

The Moen MotionSense feature allows the user to wave their hand near the faucet to activate it.

Hygienic interaction

With the current global pandemic, there is more of a push now to switch to hands-free technology.

“Touchless technology offers a more hygienic interaction with your faucet, and while touchless in the bathroom space originally started in the commercial sector, it is becoming more intriguing for homeowners based on the increased focus on health and hygiene in the home,” explained Keller.

“In response to the pandemic, we recently rolled out a new ‘wash my hands’ feature on our U by Moen Smart Faucets that helps ensure you’re washing your hands for the recommended 20 seconds,” said Scott.

Kohler has also seen a rise in the interest in touchless technology. “We have had a great deal of interest from consumers since the inception of our touchless technology in faucets, and due to market interest and demand, we have expanded our line significantly over the past year,” said Keller.

Additional applications

There are many other applications for hands-free technology in the home, said Barber. “Beyond faucets, we are seeing demand growing for electronic soap dispensers and toilets with electronic, hands-free flushing,” said Barber.

Moen smart faucets can be turned on or off with voice activation, waving a hand or with the handle.

Sometimes when people talk about hands-free technology, they wonder about accidental activation, by the cat, for example. For Kohler, the location of the sensor makes accidental activation unlikely. A cat would have to walk through the sink space under the neck of the faucet in order to break the sensor beam, said Keller.

If it is accidentally activated, electronic faucets turn off the water after a certain period of no activity, typically four minutes.

If a sensor stops working altogether, the faucet will still function. “You can still use the handle of the faucet,” said Scott. Troubleshooting can be done with a smartphone. “If users need help with their smart faucet, they can reference the app for troubleshooting and connect with customer service to walk through any issues.”

For the contractor

Installing one of these faucets is like installing a regular faucet with a few additional components. The electric side is largely “plug and play.”

Delta ships its electronic faucets with six AA batteries, and they can also be powered with six C batteries if there is no grounded outlet.

Moen’s hands-free faucets also run off batteries. Scott notes that the changing of batteries is as easy as changing them out of a flashlight.

Kohler’s touchless kitchen faucet needs to be plugged in. This will require an electrician to install an outlet under the sink and the contractor or plumber can easily handle the faucet installation.

It should also be noted that per the Canadian Electrical Code, a “Class A GFCI must be provided to protect all receptacles within 1.5 metre of a sink.”

At the end of the day, the process for installing a connected faucet is little different from a standard faucet. But it is another thing the plumber needs to get familiar with because they will be asked to install them, and they need to be operating as designed before the plumber leaves the home. Fortunately, manufacturers are more than happy to offer training and guidance.

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