Get the Kitchen You Want for Less Part 2

Get the Kitchen You Want for Less Part 2

By: Kimberly Sweet

Layered lighting

There’s more to lighting than one big overhead fixture or even multiple recessed ceiling lights. Designers like to incorporate ambient or general, task, and accent lighting. In the kitchen, this typically translates into ceiling lights (ambient), under-cabinet lighting (task), and in-cabinet or above-cabinet lighting (accent). Older homes often lack the last two layers, but you can achieve better optics simply.

Get the trend for less (in the long run):

Under-cabinet lighting options, like pucks and light strips, are plentiful, low-cost, and help you reduce the risk of chopping your fingers instead of your vegetables.

For accent lighting that adds drama, use inexpensive LED tape or strip lighting (uninstalled, it runs $10-$30 per foot) inside cabinets, says Designer Nick Lovelady. This can work equally well to illuminate a big pantry cabinet or to show off dishware in a glass-front cabinet.

If you’re willing to spend some money up front to save money in the long run, consider replacing existing can lights with long-lasting, energy-efficient LED lights. Kitchen lights account for a great deal of home energy usage, and eventually the savings cover the higher cost of LED bulbs.

Designer Judy Klein suggests looking for lamps with under 3,000 Kelvin to create a warm glow.

Space for connectivity

As the role that smartphones, tablets, and laptops play in our life grows, so too does their place in the kitchen command center — whether for doing homework, looking up a recipe, or listening to music. Some kitchens incorporate a charging center for just this reason. Heck, some appliances even come with computers: Samsung’s Wi-Fi enabled refrigerator sports a built-in 8-inch LCD touch screen tablet and plenty of cool apps.Back to reality.

Get the trend for less:

Install an outlet inside a cabinet to keep the countertop clear.

Switch a standard outlet to an outlet with USB ports so you can charge phones directly without an adapter.

 Color
Paint the walls. It’s much easier for you — or a potential buyer of your home — to repaint a wall than to repaint cabinets or replace a countertop.Opt for colorful vases or serve ware. Target has affordable pieces in every shade of the rainbow.

Linens and fabrics make an impact, too. Klein recommends cotton, washable rugs from Dash & Albert, and Ikea also offers a large selection of attractive rugs. For placemats and table cloths, try Pier 1.

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Get the Kitchen You Want for Less Part 1

Get the Kitchen You Want for Less

By: Kimberly Sweet

1. White kitchens

White kitchens are classic and clean looking (at least in pictures). And if Pinterest is an accurate gauge, white kitchens, white cabinets, white marble counters, and white subway tile backsplashes are swooned over as much as white wedding dresses. But, there’s no need to redo the whole kitchen.

Get the trend for less:

Paint the walls white. A fresh clean coat of pristine white paint may be all you need to make your kitchen feel shiny and new. Avoid a stark “builder white” and go with a slightly warmer white instead.

Paint the cabinets white. The real question is, to DIY or not to DIY? Painting cabinets is a time-consuming job that requires a lot of prepping and priming. All the doors need to come off (where will you put them?), and you may not have the right tools or skills. Intrepid DIYers: See what’s involved in painting cabinets:

On the other hand, hiring pros can cost $100 to $200 per box, depending on the cost of labor in your area.Alabama kitchen designer Nick Lovelady, owner of Cupboards Kitchen & Bath, recommends buying new, especially with old cabinets that aren’t built well and lack interior accessories. When clients insist, though, his company does paint cabinets. Doing the job right, he says, can pay off by extending your cabinets’ finish 15 to 20 years. Lovelady recommends using a sprayer rather than a brush to avoid lines, especially on hard-grained woods.

Next: 2. Stone counters

Most show kitchens have stone counters, whether they’re made from engineered quartz, exotic granite, or a highly veined marble. But stone is expensive.

Get the trend for less:

Create a stone look by using granite tiles instead of a granite slab. At ¼ to 3/8 inch thick (instead of 2 to 3 cm), tiles cost less and make for easier carrying and installation than slabs. They can also be laid over an existing countertop. However, grout lines break up the appearance and can be tough to clean. 12 in. x 12 in. tiles roughly range from $2 to $17 per sq. ft.

Laminate counters now have more realistic patterns and patterns than before. Here’s your chance to get that white “marble” counter. (Note: They cost more than standard laminates.)

“Manufacturers are increasing their offerings and products look much better than they used to,” says Judy Klein of JK Design in Wilmette, Ill. One new option for laminate is curved edge treatments, such as bullnoses and ogees, which eliminate those telltale dark lines where edges meet, making it hard to identify a laminate counter as such.

By the way, laminate holds the U.S. countertop market share at 56%, with solid surface (12%), natural stone (9%), and engineered stone (7%) bringing up the rear, according to recent research by The Freedonia Group.

3. Minimalist kitchens

Whether driven by a desire to simplify or by simple economics, kitchens look considerably more minimalist than a decade ago. Rather than showing stuff off, we’re hiding it. In appliances, that means paneled, integrated refrigerators and dishwashers. Cabinets not only look less showy with simpler door styles and less moulding, they have more interior organization accessories to keep clutter at bay.To streamline the kitchen you already have, think low-cost kitchen storage.

Get the trend for less:

Rev-a Shelf offers an under-sink pullout (about $300) that makes the most of underused space.

Cookware organizers ($156 or $284) eliminate the need for a pot rack.

Modular, stackable trays make drawers manageable.

Cleaning Rain Gutters

Cleaning Rain Gutters

By: Pat Curry

In a downpour, a clogged roof gutter sends a cascade of water down the side of your house, making canyons of your flowerbeds and saturating your foundation. Clean gutters of leaves and debris to help prevent damage to your landscaping and siding, and to head off expensive repairs to your foundation that may cost $10,000 or more.

How often to clean gutters

Clean gutters at least once a year—twice a year if you have overhanging trees. Also, clean clogged gutters after big storms. Clogs often occur where downspouts join the gutter system—check these areas closely.

How to clean gutters

  • Wear a shirt with long sleeves. Wear rubber gloves.
  • Have a good extendable ladder available. Standoff stabilizers (ladder “horns”) are ideal to keep the ladder from damaging the gutter.
  • Use a small plastic scoop to remove gunk. Buy a gutter scoop from the hardware store ($25) or try a child’s sand shovel.
  • Spare your lawn by dumping the stuff onto a plastic tarp.
  • After you’ve cleared the muck, flush the gutters and downspouts with a garden hose—also a great way to spot any leaks.

Cost of a professional gutter cleaning

If climbing ladders is not your cup of tea, you can hire someone to do the job for you for between $50 and $250, depending on the size and height of your house.

Gutter covers

Interested in an ounce of prevention? You can slow clogging by installing gutter covers in the form of mesh screens, clip-on grates, or porous foam. However, the cost can be more than the gutters themselves and covers need regular maintenance to keep them clear. Expect to pay $6 to $8 per running foot for gutter covers, installed.

How to Care for Your Washer & Dryer

How to care for your washer & dryer By: Douglas Trattner

Anything that affects a dryer’s airflow can cause the appliance to fail and possibly create a dangerous fire hazard, warns Doug Rogers, president of the Mr. Appliance repair chain. And when it comes to washing machines, the leading cause of costly home damage is hose failure.

Here’s a list of maintenance tips to keep your washer and dryer running smoothly and safely:

  • Replace vinyl dryer exhaust ducts with metal ductwork to reduce fire hazards.
  • Before every dryer load, clean out the lint filter.
  • Every three months, wash the lint filter with detergent to remove invisible chemical residues that can restrict airflow.
  • Every month, visually inspect the dryer exhaust duct for crimps, obstructions, and unnecessary bends.
  • Yearly, remove and clean out the entire exhaust duct line from dryer to exterior.
  • Replace rubber washing machine hoses with braided-metal ones to reduce the risk of bursting. Expect to pay about $8 per hose.
  • Monthly, inspect washing machine hoses for tight fittings, bulges, cracks, and leaks. Tighten loose fittings. Replace damaged hoses.
  • Always ensure that the washing machine is level and on firm footing.
  • Always use the proper type and amount of detergent for the machine and load.
  • To prevent washing machine odor in front-load machines, always allow the interior to dry before shutting the door. Families with small children, however, should not leave the door ajar. Instead, use products specifically intended to eliminate odor-causing residues.

Caring for Your Plumbing System

Care for your pipes so they’ll last longer—and prevent a costly plumbing disaster later.

By: Joe Bousquin

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If you notice a leak in your pipes, even a small one, fix it quickly. Otherwise the pipes could corrode and cause water damage or mold. Image: Kim Steele/Photodisc/Getty

You probably don’t think much about the network of water and sewer pipes inside your walls that deliver your hot and cold water—and eliminate your waste—on demand. But giving your plumbing a little regular attention can prolong its life, prevent leaks, and avoid costly repairs. Here’s how to care for the pipes in your house.

Avoid chemical drain-clearing products

Clogged drains are the most common home plumbing problem, and you can buy chemicals to clear them. But these products sometimes do more harm than good. They can actually erode cast-iron drainpipes.

And because they typically don’t remove the entire clog, the problem is likely to recur, causing you use the chemicals repeatedly. “Each time, they’ll eat away at the pipes a little more,” says Passaic, N.J. plumber Joseph Gove. “Soon, you’re going to get leaks.”

Better to hire a plumber to snake the drain (usually $75 to $150) and completely remove the chunk of hair or grease that’s plugging the line. Or you can pick up a snake of your own, for around $20 at the hardware store, and try clearing the drain yourself.

Prevent future clogging

Clogs aren’t just nuisances. Backed-up water puts added pressure on your wastepipes, stressing them and shortening their lifespan. So avoid plug-ups by watching what goes down your drains. That means keeping food scraps out of kitchen drains, hair out of bathroom drains, and anything but sewage and toilet paper out of toilets.

Install screens over drains in showers and tubs, and pull out what hair you can every few weeks to prevent buildups. Scrape food into the trash before doing dishes—even if you have a disposal—and never put liquid grease down the drain; pour it into a sealable container to put in the garbage after it cools.

“Grease is only liquid when it’s hot,” Gove says. “When you pour it down the drain, it cools and becomes solid. Do that enough, and just like a clogged artery, your drains won’t work anymore.”

Reduce the pressure

As nice as high water pressure can be when you’re taking a shower or filling a stockpot, it stresses your pipes, increasing the likelihood of a leak. “That drastically reduces the life of your plumbing,” says Phoenix, Ariz., plumber Alex Sarandos. “It makes your pipe joints, faucets, and appliance valves work harder.”

You can measure your water pressure with a hose bib gauge, available at the hardware store for under $10. Attach it to an outside spigot and open the line. Normal pressure will register between 40 and 85 psi. If it’s above that range, consider hiring a plumber to install a pressure reducer (around $400).

By the way, adding a low-flow showerhead won’t affect pressure in the pipes. It only affects the amount of water coming out of the showerhead itself.

Soften the water

If your water has a high mineral content—known as hard water—it can shorten your plumbing’s lifespan. Those naturally occurring minerals, usually magnesium or calcium, build up inside your pipes and restrict flow, increasing the pressure. Plus, they can corrode joints and fittings. Although hard water can occur anywhere, it’s most common in the Southwest and parts of the Northeast.

A white buildup on showerheads and faucets is a telltale sign of hard water. Or, if your house receives municipal water service, you can easily find out how hard it is. By law, every municipality must file an annual water quality report with the Environmental Protection Agency. If you have a well, check your most recent water test report for hardness information. Anything over 140 parts per million is considered hard water.

The only way to effectively deal with hard water is by installing a water softener. Most use sodium to counteract the minerals in your water, but new electronic softeners use electromagnetic pulses to dissolve minerals, and have the advantage of not adding sodium to your water.

You’ll need a plumber to install a traditional, sodium-based softener, for $500 to $1,000. Electronic units start below $200, and because the pipes don’t have to be opened up, you can install one yourself. Keep in mind, though, that you’ll need an outlet nearby to power the unit.

If you opt for a sodium-based softener, consider installing a whole-house pre-filter at the same time. Since the plumber will already be cutting into your pipes to install the softener, the pre-filter might add only $100 to the job. And not only will it give you cleaner drinking water by removing particulates and chlorine, you’ll reduce stress on your pipes that can occur when those particles clog faucet filters.

Keep your sewer lines or septic tank clear

If you have municipal sewers, hire a plumber to snake your main sewage cleanout every few years. This will cost $75 to $150, and will remove tree roots that inevitably work their way into these pipes—leading to messy sewage backups. If you have a septic system, get the tank pumped out every three to five years, for $200 to $500.

Other ways to avoid trouble

  • Learn where your home’s main water shut off valve is—so if there’s ever a leak, you can go straight there and quickly turn off the water to the entire house.
  • Remove hoses from outdoor spigots in winter to prevent frozen water from cracking the pipes and causing a flood.
  • Add pipe insulation to the plumbing in cold parts of your house—such as garages, basements, and crawl spaces—to avoid frozen pipes (and to shorten the wait for hot water).
  • Never use an exposed pipe as a hanger rod for laundry. Doing so can loosen joints and fasteners.
  • Fix problems quickly. Even small leaks can make pipes corrode more quickly, and cause significant water damage or mold.

Do You Really Need to Clean Your Air Ducts?

Do You Really Need to Clean Your Air Ducts?

By: Dave Toht

Dirty Air Ducts

Dirty air ducts don’t present a health hazard, but cleaning them will boost your HVAC efficiency. Image: AdvantaClean Systems Inc.

Five to seven times a day, the air in your home circulates through the air ducts of your HVAC heating and cooling system, carrying with it the dust and debris of everyday living.
Your furnace filter catches much of the stuff, but neglect, remodeling projects, or shoddy duct installation can lead to a buildup of gunk inside your ductwork that threatens the efficient functioning of your system.

Are dirty ducts hazardous to your health?

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) asserts no studies have proven that duct cleaning prevents health problems. Also, there isn’t proof that dirty ductwork increases dust levels inside homes.

But some people are more sensitive to airborne dust and pet dander than others. If your nose is getting itchy just thinking about what might lurk in your ducts, the $300 to $600 it costs to clean a 2,000-sq.-ft. home is a worthwhile investment. But before you reach for the phone, take a good look to see if your ducts are dirty.

Get the picture

Wouldn’t it be handy if you could take an incredible journey through your ductwork to see if cleaning is needed? Using a pocket digital camera equipped with a flash, you can come close. Simply remove a floor register, reach as far as you can into the duct (don’t drop your camera!), and take a couple of shots.

If there’s gunk within a few feet of the register, take heart. It’s easy to snake a vacuum cleaner hose into the duct and remove the stuff. However, if you see a long trail of junk and a thick coat of dust beyond what your vacuum can reach, your house may be a candidate for professional cleaning.

Look for these symptoms

  • Clogs of dust, cobwebs, and debris, or noticeable particles blowing out of supply registers.
  • Visible mold on the inside surfaces of ducts.
  • Rodent droppings and dead insects inside ducts.

In addition, recent construction inevitably creates dust you don’t want in circulation.

“We recommend cleaning after a big remodel job,” says Scott Milas of Mendel Heating and Plumbing, St. Charles, Ill. Milas adds that a new home purchase is also a good occasion — after all, who wants to breathe someone else’s pet dander?

“People get it done after they buy a house,” he says. “It’s like getting the carpets cleaned.”

Good reasons for duct cleaning

  • Cleaning removes accumulated dust so it won’t shed into the household.
  • Removing debris and cobwebs eases airflow and increases the efficiency of the system, in extreme cases as much as 40%.
  • If you have fiberglass ducting; fiberglass gathers more dust than sheet metal.

Reasons to skip duct cleaning

  • Cost.
  • Health benefits are not proven.
  • Dust and debris caught on the interior of ducts isn’t circulating and therefore may not be a problem.
  • Changing furnace filters regularly often does the job, especially when combined with annual furnace cleaning.

How ducts are cleaned

Dislodging and removing dust and debris is done with one or more of the following methods:

  • Hand-held vacuuming: Workers use a brush attached to a large portable vacuum equipped with a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter. However, the hand-held method isn’t completely reliable and may leave pockets of dust.
  • Mechanical brush: A rotating brush is fed into the ductwork. A truck-mounted vacuum sucks away debris. The rotary brush may damage older or poorly installed systems.
  • Air sweep: A truck-mounted vacuum system carries away dust and debris dislodged by a compressed-air hose fed into the ducts. Of the three, the air sweep method usually does the most effective job.

Note: Some duct cleaning companies advocate spraying the inside of your ducts with chemical biocides. However, the EPA cautions that the spray may be more hazardous than helpful, aggravating respiratory ailments and introducing moisture that encourages mold growth.

Choosing a duct cleaning service

It is all too easy to set up as a duct cleaner; some fly-by-nighters do more harm than good. Ask a reputable heating contractor for recommendations, or go to National Air Duct Cleaners Association (NADCA) to locate a certified contractor.

Be wary of unsubstantiated health claims. Resist pressure to clean annually; even cleaning every other year is overkill. Most homes needn’t be cleaned more than once every five years. Also, make sure your furnace will be cleaned as part of the HVAC maintenance service that includes checking the plenum, evaporator coil, and heat exchanger.

How To Inspect Your HVAC

By Lisa Kaplan Gordon

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Falling leaves and budding trees are semi-annual signals to inspect HVAC systems to make sure heating and air conditioning flow freely and efficiently. Some mechanical components, like the flue pipe that expels carbon monoxide, should only be checked by a professional. But you can eyeball other HVAC parts and save money on house calls and fuel bills.

Check all exposed ductwork for loose fittings, dents, and collapsed or torn sections. Image: photine/Flickr

Inspect filters

Air filters, which clean the air returning to your HVAC system, are the easiest and most obvious components to check. Yours should be dust and dirt-free because you’ve cleaned or replaced them once a month. (Ahem!) If you’ve fallen behind on air filter maintenance, vacuum or rinse them under a hose or faucet, or replace disposables.

Ductwork problems

Exposed ductwork in your basement, attic, or Starbucks-style loft is easy to inspect. Look for:

  • Peeling duct tape and loose fittings around seams
  • Dirt streaks that indicate escaping air
  • Dents in metal
  • Collapsed or torn sections of flex ducts.

Furnace flames

Fire up your furnace and inspect the flame. It should be a steady blue, not a flickering yellow or orange, which indicates combustion problems that need professional help. Make sure side panels are closed and fastened.

Grills and registers

Inspect air return grills and HVAC registers for dust, dirt, and pet hair that impeded airflow. Open and shut registers to ensure they work. Make sure furniture hasn’t wandered over vents.

Air conditioning compressors

Be sure outside compressors are unobstructed by vines, shrubs, and leaves. Check that condensor unit fins are straight and undamaged. Place a level on top of units to detect a tilt, which hurts efficiency. If not level, slip a shim under the unit. Remove the top panel and inspect the fan blades for damage, but don’t repair a bent blade yourself: Call an expert to replace the blade ($200 to $300).

Thermostat check

Inspect thermostats by removing covers to sleuth out dust and dirt that can shorten the life of mechanisms. Remove particles by gently cleaning with a Q-Tip.