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.

We’re always looking for ways to save money when we are remodeling. Dare say it, no one want to be the one who pays too much for their remodel. However, you also don’t want to be the one who pays too little and ends up with nothing or a project gone wrong. Some of us have fairy godmothers looking over us as we shell out half of what the project should cost and the job is a success – the other 80% of us? Well, our angels took a coffee break at the wrong time.

Typically, good contractors are expensive – just as good products are expensive. And as an added FYI – when you are buying home improvement products (just like everything else) the less expensive the product, the more likely it is not made in the US or Europe. Just because the brand name says “American” to you doesn’t mean that the product is physically built here. Developing countries do not have to conform to the same eco-regulations as developed countries do – corporations do use this to their benefit.  If MADE IN THE USA is important to you, then make sure the product is made here.  Being a US company is not enough.

Getting back to our topic – you may have a remodeling contractor in your area that you have heard great things about, but you are concerned that they are just too expensive for you and your home. Not necessarily so. You can get “deals” from high-class establishments, but there is a price for it. First, educate yourself by going online – go to the websites of well-known brands and see if they are having any promotions. Then, negotiating for a rock bottom remodel begins with these questions to your remodeler:

  • Do you have any manufacturers that are currently offering incentives?
  • Do you have anything in stock that you are looking to move on?
  • My budget is only “x”, but I need a new “y”. Can you help me?

There is always at least one manufacturer, that the store represents, that is having an incentive program. If you have done your online homework, then you will be better apt to ask detailed questions like, “If I order a Corian counter made from one of the twelve promotional colors, do I still qualify for the free sink? And if not, which is the better deal for me? Is there a product similar to Corian that I should be looking at that could give me a better price point?”

Remodeling companies do sometimes have things in stock. We try hard not to, but it happens. Tile, in particular, has a way of hanging around the back rooms. Returning tile can be expensive and you have a short window to get it back to the warehouse (they don’t want it back once they have sold off the dye-lot because it may not match their current lot). Non-returnable custom orders sit in corners because someone made a mistake on the color, size, etc (this can be common for vanities). Countertop shops alway have remnant pieces hanging around. If you are looking for stone tops, tell your remodeler that you are not interested in going to the stone dealer warehouse – you want to go to the fabricator’s shop to see their off-fall (this usually only works for small tops). And then you have the few unfortunate cases where the client disappeared and never paid for the order.

Communication is key with your designer, remodeler, showroom sales, contractor – anyone and everyone you are dealing with for your project. If you share with them at the very start what your financial needs are then they can point you in the right direction.

So what is the catch? You lose some control in your project. Perhaps you envisioned your new bathroom in blue and cream with a large double bowl cherry vanity. The designer at your local remodeling company recommends two white pedestal sinks that have been discontinued and being sold at 60% and for storage they have a chocolate-colored linen cabinet in the back that was ordered for another client who changed their mind at the last-minute. You have a talented designer and you know that the new design would work well and look good – but it is not your dream room.  However, this could save you hundreds, maybe even thousands of dollars. You have to decide what is more important – the vision or the money.

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

Note:  If you are interested in seeing an example of some of the current promotions available right now, take a look at this page on our website.  Your local dealer may be able to offer something similar to you or they may have something completely different.  The key is that there is always something going on with some manufacturer – you just need to ask.

Sometimes when I walk into a home, I really wonder what the architect was thinking.  I would take a guess that at least 30% of American homes have the awkward situation of a hall that ends with a bathroom.  If you’re fortunate, the view is of a towel bar or blank wall.  If you are unfortunate, the view is of a toilet.  Many of us choose to ignore and accept this vision, or we leave the door closed.

 I remember one home we worked on about ten years ago, as you walked up the stairs to the second floor the first thing that welcomed you was the commode in the bathroom across from the landing.  When we remodeled that bathroom, one of the things we did was move the toilet across the room to a more private location.  Suddenly the view of the trees through the window took precedence.

 Not everyone has the option to move a toilet.  It can be very expensive or even architecturally impossible to relocate a toilet.  So what other alternatives are available besides closing the door?

 First off, think of the doorway as a frame.  What are you framing?  Many times, towels and towel bars are a part of the picture.  While we try to make them look as pretty as we can, towels are just not interesting.  Something needs to pull focus.

 If you aren’t dealing with a view of the commode, place art work within the space – preferably something long and narrow that will fill the door frame.  Since the doorway is your “frame,” I recommend something on canvas without a frame.  The surrounding wall area becomes your “matting.”  If you want to draw attention to this space, then paint the wall a dynamic color that contrasts the walls of the hallway.  If you want this space to blend with the surrounding hall, then paint the wall a color similar to hall color.  I would not recommend wallpapering this wall, most “mattes” around paintings and photos are solid colors, not patterns.

 Take this a step further by adding an “Art light” to showcase the artwork.  (This is great if you entertain and you find people asking where your powder room is.)  A low-voltage MR-11 or MR-16 placed in the ceiling typically works best.  Housings with an adjustable socket allow for maximum control in illuminating the artwork.  For added drama, put the light on a dimmer instead of a switch.

 The same applies, if you have a view of the toilet through the doorway.  This time, hang a framed piece of art above the commode.  The “Art light” should be aimed so that no light spills on the toilet.  The sought-over effect is to draw attention away from the fixture.

 You may be tempted to install the lighting yourself.  However, I would recommend you find a contractor or electrician who has a history of installing these lights.  The size of your artwork and the angle of light along with its beam spread will determine the type and placement of the housing.  An incorrect housing and/or placement could result in a less than desirable result.

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

Angie’s List has one, Service Magic has one, even the online YellowPages has one – it’s a rating system representing consumer confidence.  From low to high, how does this company treat their clients? 

The Better Business Bureau is now applying the same thought to their rating system.  The old ratings were based on how a company resolved its complaints.  But the limited information provided often left consumers in the dark and reputatble companies were misrepresented.  Replacing “satisfactory” and “unsatisfactory”, are insightful ratings shown as letter grades A+ thru F.  The new system provides more specific information.  Where Imperial Kitchens and Baths, Inc. once had a “satisfactory” rating we now have a more meaningful “A+.”

“In today’s tight economic times, these ratings not only spotlight the honest and ethical companies customers look for, but the ratings components also assist companies to see where their operations may be improved.” Says Steve J. Bernas, president and CEO of the BBB of Chicago and Northern Illinois.

The new ratings take into account 17 weighted factors, using objective information and actual incidences concerning the business.  For more information about the BBB’s new rating system and specific rating factors, visit www.bbb.org.

There are many benefits to remodeling your home; at the top of the list is pride of homeownership.  But for so many of us, we have to remodel our home in stages – we don’t have unlimited funds to changes everything at once.  If you do not have an urgent need to remodel a particular space over another (ie. leaking roof, structural damage, etc.), how do you decide what takes priority?  If you are looking for tax deductions, then you may want to consider these remodeling projects first.

Current Tax Breaks

Cash for Clunker Appliances

Starting this fall, as part of the economic stimulus plan under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the “Cash for Clunkers” extends to Appliances.  Basically, purchase a new energy efficient appliance and get a tax credit of $200.  Just like the “Cash for Clunker Automobiles” there is a set dollar amount set aside for this program and once the money is gone, the program is over.

Appliance companies should have available to you the list of products they carry that qualify.  You may have to surrender your existing appliance in order to receive the benefit.

Energy Efficiency Tax Break

Install a solar panel to provide your home energy and not only will you see a substantial tax credit and your electric usage drop, but you may even be able to sell energy back to the electric company. 

For those of us who are less adventurous – upgrade your boiler, heater, furnace, air conditioner, windows, roof, or insulation and you will not only see savings on your gas and electric bills.  

The credit covers 30% of the energy saving improvements, capping at $1,500 for 2009 and 2010.  The credit will no longer be available after 2010.  When you complete your tax return be sure to include Form 5695.  The IRS website gives more information.

Potential Future Tax Breaks

The Home Improvements Revitalize the Economy (HIRE) Act of 2009

Provides a tax deduction of up to $2,000 per family, or a tax credit of $500, for the purchase of certain materials and home furnishings.  If you use green products that meet LEED (or other recognized standards) the tax deduction would actually double.  Purchases excluded from the HIRE Act are major appliances, housewares and electronics.

The lead sponsors of the HIRE Act are Rep. Henry Johnson and Rep. Nathan Deal from Georgia.  (Be sure to contact them and your local representatives if you feel this benefit would have a positive effect on the American economy.)

Canada has had a similar program in place since January and has seen a positive effect in stimulating the home improvement industry with one in three Canadians planning to take advantage of the program. (Home Channel News, 9/21/09, pg 35)  For more information visit the HIRE Act of 2009.

Like the auto industry, the home improvement industry is huge.  This is a service industry rooted in American workers and the US economy.  In the past couple years over 270,000 Americans have lost their jobs in the building products and home furnishings sector, and a loss of over 290,000 jobs are expected for 2009.  Keeping Americans working is not only a short term tax relief for homeowners, but it is a way to help us all weather the long term effects of this stormy economic climate.

Whatever you do, when you remodel your home, keep documents of everything.  Think of each contract not as a receipt of purchase but a proof of investment.  Give a copy of what you did for the year to your accountant.  When you sell your home, have these documents on hand, you may be able to deduct these expenses from any capital gains.

* Consult your accountant to see what tax benefits you qualify for before you start a remodeling project.

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

Many of us are strapped for cash, but we just can’t live with our bathrooms they way they are.   So here are a few ways that you can update your bathroom now and buy yourself a little more time before you remodel.

1. Fresh Paint. Giving the walls and ceiling a fresh coat of paint is fast, cheap and virtually mess free. A gloss finish works well in bathrooms, but beware if you have any defects in your walls the gloss will accentuate the negative. Matte finishes have a tendency to mildew and show humidity streaks; however, several paint manufacturers have been working to solve this concern. Eggshell is a nice middle ground. It will give you a soft sheen that will not readily absorb moisture and will not draw so much attention to flaws in your walls.

2. Update and replace lighting fixtures. If your bathroom lighting is not flattering your face, it is doing you no favors. Applying makeup, shaving, etc. in poor light will not give you the look you are going for. When shopping for a new fixture remember that is the quality and amount of light that is most important, style is second… how many people are going to see your face today vs. how many people are going to see your bathroom?

3. Replace outlets if the present outlets are not GFCI. This is one of the most important safety issues in a house. Electricity and water should never mix. A ground fault circuit interrupter, commonly known as GFCI, will protect you if your hairdryer, curling iron, etc. fall into a sink full of water. A GFCI outlet is one that has two little buttons in the center of the face. GFCI outlets should be around anywhere you have water.

4. New towels, rugs, accessories. Are your towels miss-matched? Is your bathmat tired? Do the accessories around the room have a pitted or peeling finish? Accessories are generally easy to change with only the need of a screwdriver or Allen wrench. Colors and patterns of towels and bath mats can be the same or mix-and-matched as sets. Fresh towels not only look good but feel good too. To keep you towels at their best, do not wash or dry with fabric softener… the waxy buildup on the material will make them less absorbent.

5. Reglaze the tub. Some tubs cannot be reglazed, but if your tub is looking shabby it is an option worth investigating. Sometimes reglazing can add ten more years to the life of your bathtub.

6. Clean up old caulk and grout. Nothing contributes to the gross-out factor in bathrooms like moldy caulk and grout. More than just aesthetics, mold is unhealthy. Of course in humid areas, like bathrooms, it is a constant battle. Cut out old caulk, clean out the area, LET DRY, then recaulk. Clean grout with vinegar on a regular basis, using a soft small brush in troublesome areas (be careful not to scrub out the grout). Bleach applied with a cotton applicator once or twice a year can be beneficial as well, as long as your grout is color safe (test a small inconspicuous if you are concerned). If all else fails, you can regrout. If you don’t want to try your hand at this project, there are services that do this. Once your grout is clean, seal it with a grout sealer regularly to keep it looking good with minimal effort.

7. Reface the vanity cabinets. A general rule of thumb is that the larger the cabinet is, the more expensive it is going to be to replace. It you have a bathroom with a large vanity area, you may want to consider refacing the vanity cabinet, the cost can be half as much as replacing. Refacing involves replacing the cabinet doors and drawer fronts and then covering the cabinet box in a material that matches the new doors. While the interior of the cabinet looks the same, the exterior will give the whole room an updated look.

8. New solid-surface countertops. The countertop marketplace is flooded with new materials; it can be hard to decipher which material will work best. Laminate and cultured marble is the most inexpensive option, but are not the most durable. Solid-surface materials like Corian and Meganite are renewable, can have the sink bowl fused into the top, are easy to clean and offer a 10-year warrantee. You will pay a little more for these products up front, but the long-term investment will pay for itself over and over again.

9. New faucets. You can buy an inexpensive faucet as long as you realize that you are getting what you are paying for and may have to replace it again in the next few years. If you are looking for a long-term investment you will be looking for ceramic disc-valves, this will guarantee that you are never fiddling with a drippy faucet. You will also want a PVD finish; this insures that your faucet finish will not change color, peel or pit over time. Again, you will pay more for these faucets up front, but over time they end up paying for themselves.

10. Hang framed artwork. You can get “canned” art from almost any hobby or furniture store. But a trip to your community art galley can open your eyes to some local staving artists and you may pay about the same amount for an original as you will for a mass produced print. If you are having artwork framed tell the framer that the piece is going in a bathroom and the amount of light the room gets so they will use the correct materials for protecting your art. A frame boosts the importance of any image, if it is done right, even a child’s handprint can claim Picasso appeal.

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

I Blog, Therefore I Am

September 22, 2009

I see a lot of blogs about remodeling and what is starting to come to mind are the TV commercials where someone stays at a particular hotel and that immediately makes them an expert in everything.

Blogging is a wonderful way to spread information quickly and easily, but there are no checks and balances as to who is authoring them.  Just because you write a blog does not make you an expert.

So, why would someone write about something they know nothing about?  Google has a product called AdWords.  If you want to advertise your product or service online, AdWords is an easy way to do it.  Not only can you get top listing on Google Search engine, but you can have your ads placed on other websites that are registered with Google.

If you are a blogger you can set yourself up with Google to have advertising placed on your blog.  Every time someone clicks on the ads listed, the blogger makes some money.  So to make money, the blogger writes articles on hot topics hoping to draw an audience – not to educate you and help you, but to hopeful get you to click an ad.

The downside is that many of these blogs are not only poorly written, but they give bad, and potentially damaging advice.  This is very much the case in remodeling, where DIY projects are all the rage.

Next time you are reading a blog that tells you how to do something, research the author.  Are they an expert in their field or are they just a billboard.  Most of the time these authors won’t even list their name.  If they are listed, what else has they written about?  If the topics don’t coincide, chances are they don’t know what they are talking about.

If you are looking to remodel any part of your home, get expert advise from someone in the field.

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

How Much Does a Remodel Cost?

September 16, 2009

About once to twice a week I find a blog asking “How much?”  How much is a bathroom remodel?  How much is a kitchen remodel?  How much to finish my basement?  And this is best answered with… how much is a car?

It depends.  What are you trying to achieve?  What products do you like and in what finishes?  What are you looking for in a designer or contractor?  People who are practicing their craft are often less expensive upfront than the seasoned professional.

Unlike the car industry, the remodeling industry doesn’t have factory set standards and internal quality control.  There is no government instituted lemon law for a botched remodel.  It is our hope that companies who are affiliated with professional groups like NARI and NKBA are playing by the “best practices” standards and their pricing should reflect that.  When you purchase a $10,000 car it is an economy vehicle, $30,000 is a mid range and anything above $60,000 is luxury.

My point is this; I could say a modest bathroom remodel is about $30,000.  But your bathroom is 5×7, $30,000 would be a bit luxurious… while $30,000 in a 12×20 master suite would not go far.  And to make matters even worse, your location also determines your investment figure.  People who live in New York city are going to pay a lot more for a kitchen remodel than someone who lives in Sandwich, IL.  Labor is more expensive in New York because the cost of living is higher.  Not to mention working in a high rise is more expensive than working in a home.  Just unloading tools and materials can take half a day when working in a high rise.

So, for a true idea on how much to expect your remodel to cost you, stop blogging.  Most of the people who will answer you don’t have a clue – even if they are professional remodelers, they don’t know your space.  Call a few local contractors.  Give them the same detailed description of your space and what you would like to do with it.  A veteran in this business will be able to give you ball park figure (ie. “Expect your bathroom to start at about $15,000.”)  For a more definite estimate, have them out to your home.  The Better Business Bureau recommends starting out with three bids on your project.

But you say that you don’t want to be completely in the dark before you pick up the phone.  You would rather suffer sticker shock in private.  Then the best place for a jumping off point is Remodeling Magazine.  Every November they put out an issue called “Cost vs. Value.”   This annual survey not only shows you the approximate cost of a particular remodel in your region of the US, but it will also tell you what kind of return you could see if you were to sell your home after the remodel.  You can find this information on their website: http://www.remodeling.hw.net/remodeling-market-data/remodeling-cost-vs-value-report-2008-09.aspx .

If you are improving your home with the intention to sell, remember that low-cost, low-maintenance improvements are where you are going to see the greatest return for your money.  However, most of us remodel our abodes for ourselves; it is about investing in our happiness at home.

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

You need a bath – you just want to soak your aching _______, relax your ______ and unwind from the day.  If you are sore, getting in and out of a bath tub can be daunting.  But if you are in any way disabled, it can be impossible.

ADA bathrooms are typically designed for wheelchair accessibility.  Being able to get in and out of a tub is not a requirement and often during a bathroom remodel for people with special needs, the tub is replaced with a larger shower void of thresholds and shower doors.  Large showers litter nursing homes, which makes life easier on both clients and caregivers in the daily task of hygiene.  But the physiological benefits of a long soak are lost.

It is a shame that many Americans who need hydrotherapy the most, can’t use it because of their physical limitations.  A few tub manufacturers have developed a soaking tub with a seat and door system that allows accessability to people who cannot get into a conventional tub.

We perform about 1-2 remodels a year for people who have special needs and we recently learned that one of our trusted US manufacturers is now offering walk-in “Experience” tubs.

One Piece Acrylic Experience Tub

One Piece Acrylic Experience Tub made by VitaBath

Whirlpool, bubblers, chromatherapy, aromatherapy and the like is now available for people who need it the most, with limited to no assisance needed from a caregiver.  We are very excited about this advent in technology.

http://www.iwalkintub.com/

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

Dynamic Chicago Kitchen

August 26, 2009

The current trend of dark cabinets doesn’t mean you have to have a dark kitchen.  Pair black cabinets with stainless appliances for an edgy urban look.  The space could easily be softened by using doors fronts/panels to cover the appliances and a stone tile backsplash.

Fast forward to the 4 minute mark to see the incredible space designed by Larry Rych of Imperial Kitchens and Baths. 

(Note: the fireplace surround was incorporating into the project to create a flowing space between the kitchen and family room.)