Of the many new gadgets to help you go green that were on offer at London's Ecobuild 2014 last week, one of the standout innovations was from Petwalk. The company's new, highly-insulated, automated pet door lets pets move in and out of the house at will, without squeezing through small openings or knocking on a plastic flap. It opens and closes electronically without being pushed open by a dog or cat, or by anyone else. Once closed, the doors form a draught-free seal that conforms to Passive House standards for thermal exclusion. Petwalk also offers a range of sophisticated extras.
The people at the Austrian company Petwalk seem to feel that pets deserve more humane, or human, access to the house and garden, and their invention is more like a personal concierge than a pet door.
Individually programmable chips
Pet doors that release in response to a magnetic chip have been around for years. But the Petwalk door goes further. The chips are either inserted under the animal’s skin or are worn on a collar, so when the pet nears the door, it swings open and then closes automatically. But it can also be programmed to allow pets outside for pre-determined intervals. If you’d like your dog or cat to come and go freely then you can do that, if however, you think Spot needs more time in the garden, you can program the door to keep him out for a longer period.
Within the same household, different pet’s chips can be set to different programs. So if, say, one of your dogs or cats needs a bit more exercise, you can program the door to let one pet back inside but not the other. This may seem either unfair treatment or a brilliant solution to pet obesity and indolence, but the people at Petwalk feel that it’s something pet owners might like to control.
Buyers can also opt for a set of garden sensors that keep the door closed in the event of rain. The Petwalk representative I spoke to explained that this means pets can stay warm and dry inside until the rain subsides. But I couldn’t help thinking that in the event of a sudden downpour when the dog is already outside, you might want him to stay there rather than track muddy paw prints through the house.
Security and size matters
Since part of the Petwalk ethos is that animals should be able to enter a house "with their heads held high," the company makes large doors for big animals, up to 30 x 50 cm (12 x 20 in). This size opening might seem to pose a security risk, but the door has its own built-in alarm system, which can be linked to the house alarm. The locking mechanisms are certified to the same standard as household door security locks. Humans can operate the door themselves using an infrared remote.
To make pets feel more welcome, and perhaps to aid the visually-impaired, the chip that activates the door also turns on a soft light. A self-rolling red carpet or automated stroking arm do not seem to be on offer yet.
Most architects would banish the pet door altogether, not only because of the breach in the thermal envelope, but because they ruin the purity of the wall plane. In answer to this antipathy, the Petwalk team offers doors that can be ordered with a range of cover plates to match the wall material. They can be printed with a brick pattern, for example, or a colored decorative motif, or even an image of your pet. While these options may not please the minimalist designer, the fact that the door can be mounted into glass or made to sit flush with the wall surface might prove more convincing.
Petwalk doors have been available in Austria, Germany and Switzerland since 2012, but are just now launching in the UK and US markets. Not surprisingly, this level of automated pet care and attention does not come cheap. Prices start at around £1,300 (US$2,000) for the basic, medium-size door module, with extras such as extended tunnels, decorative plates, rain sensors and a "super silent" option, also available.