My elation at booking a $34 hotel room on The Strip in Las Vegas was tempered somewhat by the reason my room was so cheap. Attendance at this year’s International Builders’ Show was off by more than a third from the 2008 IBS in Orlando, where turnout was nothing to write home about.

I arrived in Vegas on the show’s opening morning. After overpaying for a taxi from the airport to my hotel and dropping my bags, I walked the half-mile to the convention center. I entered the first of three exhibit halls and was struck by how few people were in the aisles. Never a good sign when you walk into a show and see exhibitors chatting on their cell phones.

When I left the show 2 1/2 days later, however, I took with me a more positive feeling than I thought possible on that first morning. None of the exhibitors with whom I spoke came to IBS this year with high expectations of a big turnout. So, they weren’t disappointed by the numbers, and they sounded sincere in emphasizing the quality of their booth visitors over the quantity.

The double whammy of the dormant housing market and sputtering economy had dampened exhibitors’ expectations. A few grumbled that keynoter Lou Holtz’s pep talk had extended into show hours and wondered about the timing of the show, which opened the same day as the Obama inauguration.

Still, I ran into one IBS exhibitor a week later at the more bustling AHR Expo in Chicago. He told me the strength of his IBS leads justified his trip to Vegas.

Product introductions at IBS always play second fiddle to K/BIS when it comes to numbers and glitz. Even in good times, with builders being builders, you see more economically priced products at IBS than at Kitchen-and-Bath.

So, while I can’t draw a direct line from the economy outside the exhibit halls to the booths inside them, I saw fewer new products and less innovation than in the past. With a few exceptions, manufacturers seemed to be saying, “Now is not the time to make statements with new styles, finishes and materials.”

Most of the products I did see were aimed more than ever at frugal builders and consumers. And almost all the products would work well in remodels/retrofits as much as in new construction.

Much of the innovation I did encounter was tied to green building. IBS housed a Solar Pavilion within one exhibit hall. The solar heating booths generated noticeable attendee traffic, which radiated to other nearby booths.

Also heartening to see were the people lined up to see The NextGen Urban Living Home, Environments For Living Home and The New American Home outside the convention center. These structures all emphasized green construction, which still is capturing builders’ attention.

When we finally break through to the other side of this housing downturn, the houses we build will be smarter "