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.

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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).

Budgeting Your Remodel

July 21, 2009

In light of today’s economic climate, more than ever we are asking ourselves where we can scrimp, where we can save, and where we should spend.  When doing a remodel these are very important questions, which a respectable designer would be able to answer for you while keeping your budget in mind.  A dynamite remodel does not need to blow-up your wallet.

 This leads me to my first note of import; tell your designer your budget right from the beginning.  This will save time and frustration.  A loose range is fine, but without this important information your designer could design for you a dream bath that doesn’t fit your financial situation or they could design a less opulent space because they thought your budget was less than it really was. 

 Your designer should be your partner.  Just because you’ve given them a budget doesn’t mean that you’ve given them access to your savings account.  Your budget needs to accurately reflect how much you are willing to spend.  We’ve seen it happen, where the client is afraid that their prosperity will be taken advantage of by the designer, so they give the designer a lower budget than they really have in mind.  The designer respects the modest numbers that their clients give them and designs the space accordingly.  The result – client is disenchanted with the design and the designer, and then goes on to do business with someone else.  It is a big waste of time for everyone involved.  Honesty right off the bat is always the best policy.  If you share the same vision between multiple designers when quote gathering, you will know who is taking you for a ride if there is little similarity between the quotes.

 Based off of your budget, a designer will point you in the direction of particular products and structural possibilities.  Share with your designer what is important to you and what is less important.  Maybe removing the linen closet for a stand-alone shower is more important than exotic stone counters… or then again, maybe not.

 From a construction standpoint, there are places in the bathroom where you will want to spend the extra money.  Anything that is not easily removed and replaced should be carefully considered.  The list below illustrates which products can be easily replaced and upgraded and which products cannot be changed without major disruption of the room.

Least Disruption Accessories (TP Holder. Etc)
  Knobs/Handles
  Lavatory Faucet
  Toilet
  Shower/Tub Doors
  Shower/Tub Trims (This is tricky, make sure if you want to upgrade this later that the valve that is installed will work with the future trims.)
  Vanity Countertop
  Vanity Cabinet
  Tile
Most Disruption Shower Base / Bath Tub

 While this list is not exhaustive and it may not apply to your particular situation, it is a jumping off point showing that when it is time to make decisions as to where to skimp, save and spend there are guidelines that give you flexibility.  Open communication between you and your designer is the key to getting the room that you want at the investment you can afford.  A wise designer will know how to allocate your money appropriately for the biggest impact.

Written by Imperial Kitchens 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).