There are plenty of companies that offer tub liners.  The familiar catch phrases “1/2 the cost of new,” “no mess” and “a new bath in one day” ring out over the radio, television and in print ads.  But…

The true cost of a bath liner goes far beyond dollars.

Many of us have the good sense to know that to cover up a problem does not make the problem go away.  Yet, so many people look at bathtub liners as the inexpensive answer to a problematic tub/shower.  They may look nice, offer a quick remodel with minimal inconvenience and fit a meager budget, but the true cost of a bath liner goes far beyond dollars.

Bath liners are thin, preformed plastic pieces that are placed over the existing tub and shower walls… as is.  This creates two problems.  Any existing water damage is given the opportunity to thrive.  Uncontrolled mold growth takes off at lighting speed in the moist darkness, wrecking havoc on the health of the occupants.  Headaches, coughing fits, nausea are all common complaints of homeowners whose homes are infected with mold.  Any pipes leaking in walls continue to feed the mold and degrade the surrounding structure of the home.

The second issue comes from the liner directly.  Since the liners are preformed plastic, it will not fit your tub tightly.  A small gap may form between the tub drain assembly, your tub and the liner.  As you shower, each step you take causes a shifting to take place and water is inevitably sucked up between the tub and the liner.  This water will exchange itself with progressive showering, but the area will never dry.  This creates an unhealthy environment where mold and bacteria proliferate.

By the time you are aware that there is a problem, the price of cleaning up the area has grown exponentially.  What was once a $7,000 tub/shower project is now a complete gutting of the bathroom and possibly nearby rooms.  The dollars add up, your health is in compromised and, in all probablity, your homeowners insurance will not cover the damages.

How is it that these companies can knowingly provide you a product that can compromise your home?  Easy.  They take no responsiblity for existing conditions.  They promise nothing but a gimmick – “a new bath in one day” for less than what it would take to do the project right.  You will not get a refund for the service or product because they delivered exactly what was requested of them as per their contract.  If you have them remove the product, they will charge you for the added service.

Your best defence is to be educated and then vote with your dollars – you get what you pay for.  If there wasn’t a market for this charade of home improvement, these companies would not exist.

Normal wear and tear on a bathroom is going to happen.  But don’t be fooled,  the signs of water damage are distinctly different than the signs of use:

  1. Tiles falling of the wall.
  2. Soft or mushy areas on the wall.
  3. Sour or musty smells, especially after a shower.
  4. Grout discoloration in select areas.
  5. Salt peter or calcium build up in the grout.
  6. Difficulty keeping the bathroom mold free.

If you find any of these issues, call a reliable contractor to come out to your home to assess the space.  The problem will not get better on its own and the sooner you have a repair, the less expensive it will be.

If you don’t have water damage and are just looking for a way to zip up an outdated bathroom without the expense of tearing the room apart, I would recommend looking into tub spraying.  Instead of covering up the area, tub spraying is essentially painting the tub with a fresh coat of enamel.  This treatment can also be done to the wall tiles.  The effect lasts for about 5-10 years, depending on the level of use the room sees.

Is there any bathroom that is a good candidate for a tub liner?  If the tub/shower area is terribly outdated in a bathroom that sees limited to no use – then yes, a tub liner is an option.  Otherwise, save your money, time and health.

Written for Imperial Kitchens and Baths Inc, by designer Stephanie Bullwinkel, CBD.

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What is a Green Remodel?

December 11, 2009

Green – it’s the hot new color that has nothing to do with decor and everything to do with product choice.  But, outside of being a buzz word, what does “green” really mean?  If you visit Wikipedia, after paragraphs on the color itself is a sentence directing you to the “Green Movement” or ” Environmentally Friendly”.

Environmentally friendly (also eco-friendly, nature friendly, and green) are synonyms used to refer to goods and services considered to inflict minimal or no harm on the environment.[1] To make consumers aware, environmentally friendly goods and services often are marked with eco-labels. But because there is no single international standard for this concept, the International Organization for Standardization considers such labels too vague to be meaningful.[2]

Green is a loose term thrown around by companies to instill consumer confidence while having to prove nothing to anyone.  The end effect is commonly called Green Washing; ie. the term is meaningless because there is no substance behind it.

But there are still ways that you can be ecologically conscious when remodeling your home.  Beyond the “Green” label, look for these qualifications:

  1. Is the product manufactured domestically?  This question is ecologically based for two reasons.  First, less traveling time from the manufacturer to your home equals less emissions.  Second, the US EPA regulations are more strict than those of developing countries – less pollution emitted, however you will see a higher price tag because compliance with these regulations is expensive.
  2. Is the material in the product recyclable?  This is a no brainer.  On a global level, Americans, in general, consume goods faster than any other nation.  When you are finished with a product, if you cannot resell/donate it for another person to use, you should repurpose the materials in that product for another task.
  3. Is the natural material in the product a renewable resource?  Wood is the best example of this.  Choose product that can comes from companies that practice sustainable foresting activities.  You don’t have to buy cork or bamboo floors to do your part.  These materials are typically forested in China, think of the emissions from transportation alone.  Buying locally harvested wood can actually be a more effective choice.  Stay away from anything marketed as “exotic.”
  4. Are the solvents/adhesives in the product low-VOC?  VOC stands for Volatile Organic Compounds.  VOCs are what outgas from a product after manufacturing.  It’s the smell of new paint, new carpeting, new furniture… and it is an irritant, and may cause short term and/or long term illness.  Some people have no reactions to these outgasings, other people are more sensitive – regardless, they are not healthy for anyone.

These are guidelines you can apply to any purchase you are thinking of making, it doesn’t just apply to improving your home.  Don’t get snowballed by marketing when the label says “Green” – ask why.  Just because the salesperson tells you it’s natural and that’s why it’s “Green” – take a moment to think.

As an example, one of the biggest misconceptions in this industry is that natural stone countertops are “Green” because they are natural.  Think about the amount of diesel spent in cutting stone out of the ground, shipping it across the world, fabricating it into a top and then throwing the cuttings away.  The end-user then repetitively uses a chemical sealant to keep the stone from staining.  However – if you want a stone counter, and you are committed to living with that counter for the next 30 years or more, then the choice becomes more ecologically sound.

Want other ideas on how to make your remodel more friendly to the environment and to yourself?  Post a comment and I’ll get back to you.  Remember, the money you spend is your vote on what the world manufactures.

Written for Imperial Kitchens and Baths, Inc. by designer Stephanie Bullwinkel, CBD.

Do you ever feel that you just can’t seem to get enough hot water out of your hot water tank?  Are you ever stuck with a cold shower in the morning?  Or do you have a luxury shower with body sprays and you find your luxury only lasts for about 5 minutes?  Are you thinking that a larger hot water tank is the only answer?

Tankless hot water heaters have been very popular in Asia and Europe for many years and they are finally catching on in America.  The idea is that you only heat the water that you use as you are using it and with that theory you could have an endless supply of hot water.  Never run out of hot water again.

The number of fixtures/appliances that can operate on a tankless hot water heater varies from region to region.  In warmer climates, the cold water coming into a home isn’t as cold as it is in cold climates.  The colder the water, the more work the tankless has to do within the same period of time… the outcome, the hot water available to meet the demand is at a lower temperature.  This means, provided they have the same tankless brand and model, a home in Florida may be able to heat 5 showers at once,  while a home in Illinois may only be able to heat 2.5 showers.

Tankless hot water heaters are fueled by electric or gas.  Units that feed hot water to the whole house are typically gas.  If you are considering a tankless, be aware that depending on your average gas consumption during the coldest time if the year, you may need to increase the size of your gas meter.  Not everyone needs a tankless.  And you won’t necessarily save money with a tankless, though you may be able to take advantage of an energy tax credit (talk to your accountant).  The main reason to go tankless is to achieve comfort, if your current tank heater isn’t working for your household.

If you decide that tankless is right for you, use a certified installer  to ensure that the unit is installed correctly to keep your warrantee valid.

Written by Imperial Kitchens and Baths Designer, Stephanie Bullwinkel (CBD).  Previously published in Imperial Kitchens and Baths Newsletter Issue 1.

Reface, recover, renew, refresh – these are all words used to define a technique commonly used to update kitchen cabinets.  I prefer to use the term “recover,” since it most accurately describes the process.

A recover involves removing the old doors and drawer fronts from your existing cabinetry and replacing them with new doors of your choice, wood or laminate.  The faces of the boxes are then covered in wood veneer or laminate to match the new doors.  The cabinets themselves are rarely distrubed.  The result is a brand new look wihtout undergoing major construction.  The video below is a time-lapse of a recover in process that we did in our showroom.

Can a kitchen recover really save you money?  Yes, but not every kitchen is a candidate for a recover.  The majority of cabinets in the space must be stable and solidly constructed.  Poorly constructed cabinets are better off being replaced with new cabinets.  The layout of the kitchen needs to remain approximately the same.  Appliances and sinks will remain in their current location.

Removing a wall and/or changing the floor will not necessarily exclude a kitchen from being recovered, but it may incur some expenses that you would not necessarily have if you replaced the cabinets entirely.

Adding and replacing select cabinets to the existing layout may be a problem depending on the limits of your contractor.  This is a question you should ask when getting estimates on your project, especially is you suspect your a cabinet.  As in all remodeling projects, it is common for the less skilled laborer to charge less.  Look for longevity, ask for referrences from other “recover” clients.  Recovering cabinets is an art equal to that of a custom tailor.

If you do add cabinets to your existing layout, be prepared – the interior of the cabinets will not match the interior of the existing (as they are not part of the recover process unless specified).  But the exteriors should be a seamless design vision between old and new.

Will the savings of a recover be half of what would be spent on new cabinets?  It could that significant of a savings.  The best way to find out is to have your contractors quote the project both ways.

Is a recover truely a” green” remodeling option?  When you factor in the existing cabinets going to a land-fill, new cabinets being made from new timber, and then transporting those new cabinets in large cardboard boxes, which are mainly filled with air unless the cabinets are not ready-assembled.  Yes, it is a greener option.  Just the doors off the exisitng cabinets are going to waste and the new doors take up considerable less space on a frieght truck than cabinets.  Then add to it that several door manufacturers and laminate companies in the US are taking the “green” initiative to heart and you have something you can feel good about.  (Many cabinet companies are offering sustainable cabinetry options as well.)  However, the glues used to apply the new veneer to the cabinets can cause irritation in senesitve people.  The outgasing of these product is typically fast-occuring.

Will a recover be less of a headache than a “typical” remodel?  Since the existing cabinetry will not be removed, a lot of time is saved in carrying in and out large casework.  If the floors and walls are not distrubed then there is even less mess in your home.

While there is no reason this process can’t be used in a bathroom, it’s just not as common.  Sometimes it is actually cost prohibitive.  In the case of a single 36″ vanity, it can be less expensive, and less hassel, to just replace the whole thing.

Written by Imperial Kitchen and Baths Designer, Stephanie Bullwinkel (CBD).

LED Lighting

July 15, 2009

The first time I saw real LED lighting for the home, I was in IKEA.  This was about 4 years ago.  I was very impressed.  These small lights meant to be installed under walls cabinets or in display shelving emitted cold, blue light – just like the inside of a refrigerator.  All the same, I was impressed.  I thought to myself that it is just a matter of time, this will either fizzle out  leaving LEDs to flashlights and kids carnival toys… or this will be brought into the mainstream.  The latter is happening.

One of the reasons that LED (Light Emitting Diode) lighting is entering the marketplace so slowly is partly due to our own US government – it can take years for fixtures to become UL approved.  There is however, the ETL certification from Intertek which allows safe products to enter the marketplace quickly and on a global level. 

ETL Safety Mark

ETL Safety Mark

LED lights entering the marketplace now are categorized as low-voltage.  What this means is that the fixtures are not directly connected to your household electricity, but rather “Plug and Play”.   A transformer is necessary to “step-down” the voltage to a lower level like 12-volts.  This transformer is either plugged directly into a switched outlet or hardwired into the home’s electricial system.  Then the individual LED fixtures are plugged into the transformer.

The Low Voltage lighting family includes Xenon and Halogen.  These lights, like LEDs, are very intense; Xenon lighting is often found in jewelry stores where diamonds are made to sparkle as if on fire.  And on fire it could be – these lights are very hot.  But LED lights stay comfortable to the touch for hours on end.

LED Surface Mounted Spot

LED Surface Mounted Spot by Hafele

LED lights are more expensive than traditional lighting.  However, in the long run – they could save you money.  An LED fixture and transformer is expected to give 20,000 to 30,000 hours of light.  If you break this down to 4 hours a night, every night, 365 days a year – you would get approximately 13 years out of your LED lighting system.

LED lights come in 6 colors  – cool white, warm white (like an incandescent bulb), orange, red, green and blue.  For those of us who can’t make up their mind, there is a rotating effect available that slowly fades between colors.  I can only think of commercial applications for this – or if you like to have your Christmas decorations up year round.

While LEDs are still used mainly for decorative and task lighting – general room lighting may be in the future for Americans.  It will just take a little more time as we wait and see.

Written by Imperial Kitchens and Baths Designer, Stephanie Bullwinkel (CBD).

 
 

Indoor Air Pollution

July 9, 2009

“Indoor air is on average seven to ten times more polluted than outdoor air.”   ~United States EPA

We try to contain indoor air as much as possible.  We pay to heat it and cool it, why would we want it leaking outside.  Newer homes, of course, are tighter than older homes.

But by limiting fresh air to enter our homes, we are in fact creating a pollution problem. 

Indoor air pollution comes from a variety of places: radon from the ground leaching into our basements, formaldehyde out-gassing from furniture and carpet, particulates from the breaking down of biological matter, and gasses from household cleaners and chemicals—not to mention odors and moisture that encourages mold and mildew growth. When we limit the passage of air between the indoors and outdoors we are harboring these contaminants.

Vents in the kitchen and bath are excellent at expelling odors and moisture to the outdoors.  When running, they are also removing indoor pollutants.  This exchange of air is very healthy for your home and for you.

When air in your home exits through a vent, replacement air needs to be available to make up what is lost.  This make-up air can come from an open window, leaky doors, down-drafting of a chimney or a recovery system specifically put in place to exchange household air. If your home is well sealed, you may find the operation of your vent fan disappointing.  If replacement air is not available, a vent fan will starve for air.  Not only will it not perform well, but it may prematurely age the motor.

A vent  will also under perform if it is not clean.  We recommend vacuuming your bathroom vent fan when cleaning.  In the kitchen, clean or replace your grease filters often.  These filters are in place to keep grease from building up in the ducts in your walls.

Panasonic WhisperGreen Vent Fan

Panasonic WhisperGreen Vent Fan

Determining what size vent you need for your application can be a complex calculation that takes into account not only the size of the room but also the length of the ductwork for your vent.  Vents are sized by “cfm” (cubic feet per minute).  For example, this simply means if you purchase a 100 cfm bathroom vent fan, this fan will replace 100 cubic feet of air per minute.

There is a caveat however, and this lies in your walls or your ceiling.  The material, length and twists and turns that your vent ductwork takes as it sends the expelled air to the outside will have an effect on the efficiency of your vent motor.  If the complete venting system is not accounted for correctly, you could find your 100 cfm vent fan only pulling 40 to 60 cfm – and if you don’t have adequate makeup air to replace what is being expelled that number gets even lower.

The manufacturer’s website and paperwork that comes with your vent fan should help you with your calculations to insure a proper installation.  There are other independant websites that offer the formulas as well.  If in doubt, hire a professional to assess the size of the room and what it will take to properly get the air to the outside.

The other important factor when buying a vent fan is “sones.”  Sones rate how loud a fan is, the lower the sone – the quieter.  However, lower sones also usually equate to a higher price tag.  It may be worth the extra money however if you will be running the fan often or if you have sensitive hearing.

Fresh air in your home not only smells better, but is healthier for you too.  We all have experienced dank air from time to time, but if you are experiencing chronic issues with dank, musty or smelly air for which you cannot pinpoint a source, it may be a sign of a larger problem and an appointment should be made with a remodeling specialist.

Selections from this article will appear in Imperial Kitchens and Baths next newsletter mailing.

Written By Imperial Kitchens and Baths Designer, Stephanie Bullwinkel (CBD).