Sunday, September 24, 2017

Are Kitchens Obsolete?

Here we find ourselves in the 21st century and cars are driving by themselves, refrigerators are ordering food automatically on the interweb, and most shocking of all, Millennials have become the largest buyers of new homes! You could have fooled me. (See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZthGh758pYY ).
And, as we move inexorably into the future, technology is progressing faster than ever before in the history of mankind. A perfect example of this is Virtual Reality. It has made tremendous advances in just how real the virtual word that is created tricks us into thinking it is the actual world. (Read Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson, written all the way back in 1992, for a glimpse of the future). My nephew works for Microsoft in the virtual reality department and he let me try out the latest hardware/software. In one program I felt I was at the top of Mount Everest and another at the bottom of the ocean, picking up clams. I really thought I was there!
So how does this directly impact our future, or more specifically, mine? The days of the modern kitchen are drawing to a close. Ever since Eve, with Adams help, messed up in the garden, they had to start preparing food for their family by themselves. Hence the need for a functioning kitchen. But picture Adam or Eve putting on their VR (Virtual Reality) headsets and dialing into any restaurant they had a yearning for. Open the virtual menu, tell the avatar (fake [virtual] person) waiter what they would like, and pay with a Bitcoin!
A few minutes later a driverless car would pull up to their home with their virtual dinner (probably just some mush) and a robot would ring the doorbell. They would certainly think it was by far the best meal they ever had. Virtual Reality 1; Kitchen 0.
Fortunately, it's not as bleak as it sounds. Although we're all aging in place as you read this, we're not quite there yet (even though I am using Word 2003 on a Virtual Windows XP program, residing somewhere inside my Windows 10 computer). Fortunately we still need kitchens and we'll always need bathrooms (I think). Our best bet is to try to slowly adapt to the new technology. Talk to Siri and Alexa which are good ways to begin and you'll still be able to sit in your kitchen to eat, do homework, have coffee and read the newspaper (while they still exist).
I figure kitchens as we know them will be around for at least another twenty or thirty years, so if you are thinking about remodeling don't wait until they are obsolete. Remodel now so you can enjoy it for many years to come. And, if you want to get a jump on things, fall is the best time to start planing and getting projects moving.
Hurricanes, nuclear threats and global warming may come and go, but for now nothing makes you feel better than a new or remodeled kitchen or bathroom. Even if you have to pay the deposit in Bitcoins!

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

And the Walls Come Tumbling Down


     While your name might not be Joshua, and you may not be living in Jericho, when major construction starts on a kitchen or bathroom renovation, you may feel that you are in the middle of a battle zone. The dust, the noise, the destruction, and the construction are all inherent in such a process, and even if you know what to expect, it can be nerve racking.
      Although nothing takes forever, once this process begins, it does seem like it will take at least that long. And, even though no one can predict exactly how long a project will take, there are some basic guidelines as to what you should expect when doing a major renovation, and what you can do prior to, and during that time, to minimize your anxiety. 
      The first step is to pack everything in your existing kitchen into boxes. If you label the boxes you’ll be able to find things as you need them, and it will be easier to restock the new kitchen when the job is done. At this point, feel free to discard anything that you haven’t used in the past five years. 
      If you can go to the Caribbean while the job is in progress, make arrangements now. Otherwise, you’ll need to create a temporary food preparation area. Find a suitable space, (usually the dining room), not too far from a sink, if possible. Have the refrigerator, coffee maker and toaster moved to this location. If the refrigerator won’t fit in the same room, move it as close as possible. If you don’t already have a microwave oven, this is the time to buy one because it will be indispensable for preparing foods and hot beverages. Purchase disposable plates, glasses and plastic utensils.
      Before any of the workmen pick up a hammer, make sure that the work area has been isolated in plastic sheeting and that heavy drop cloths are put on the floor. It’s best if there is a separate entry into the work area from the outside, but if this isn’t possible there are special “plastic doorways” that can be installed to minimize the infusion of dust into the rest of the house. (Even with the plastic, some dust is inevitable).
      It’s a good idea to set up a prearranged meeting schedule with your General Contractor (GC), prior to the start of the renovation. For example, every Monday morning at whatever time is convenient. And never hesitate to vocalize any concerns that you may have, at any time.
      The big day arrives when the demolition begins. This is what you’ve been waiting for. Dirt, noise, vibration, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, masons, etc., etc. Second thoughts begin to creep into your head, but it’s too late . . . your committed. Now is the time to be strong, don’t let desperation set in, because pretty soon your dream kitchen will be completed. The workmen will be gone and you’ll be left with everything that you had hoped for.
      During the procedure you shouldn’t go into the kitchen while the men are working because it’s not safe; a wall could fall on your head. But, it’s never a bad idea to peak once in awhile, after they’ve gone for the day. The old adage, never show a homeowner a half finished job has some validity, because it’s the finishing touches and moldings, which go on last, that create the ultimate effect. But you may discover something that is being done that was not what you contracted for. 
      After the kitchen is done its time to make up a list of anything that you feel needs attention. Review it with your GC. Minor touch-ups can usually be done right away but if something has to be ordered from a manufacturer remember it can take several weeks.
       Although your project may have seemed like it has taken forever, if you consider that you will enjoy the efforts of your suffering for the next 20-30 years, its not really so bad. 
  

Friday, October 21, 2016

Toilet Paper Up or Toilet Paper Down?


Response to “When the Ship Hits the Fan” was so good I decided to continue with this theme and delve into toilet paper. Back in the day, before the invention of TP, people looked forward to receiving the gigantic Sears catalog, which was printed on very soft paper. However, time marched on and thankfully toilet paper itself was invented by Joseph Gayetty around 1857 and the roll of toilet paper was patented by Seth Wheeler in 1891. And, ever since, people have been debating the pros and cons of how to install it in the dispenser. Should it hang down in the back or hang down in the front.
     Although, it may not matter which way you install your TP, it does matter how you install your cabinetry, whether it be in the kitchen, bathroom or family room. I couldn’t possibly include all the instructions on how to do this properly in my column so here are a few web sites that will guide you through the proper procedure. If you’re reading this article on your computer or i-thing, just click on one of the links below. If you’re reading it in the newspaper, tap on them to your heart’s content. (Good luck).

a) http://www.thisoldhouse.com/how-to-install-kitchen-cabinets 
b) http://www.diynetwork.com/how-to/rooms-and-spaces/kitchen/how-to-install-wall-and-base-kitchen-cabinets 
c) http://www.familyhandyman.com/kitchen/diy-kitchen-cabinets/how-to-install-cabinets 

     After viewing these instructional videos it should now be apparent that there is a right and wrong way to do everything, and that extends to the toilet paper conundrum as well. But who is to decide which way is correct? Is there really a better way?
     Probably your best bet is to hire a contractor to install both your cabinets and your toilet paper, so you know that it’s been done right. Unless you’re affluent enough to have them install one of those $4,000 toilet bowls that eliminate the need for toilet paper. (Factoid: if you have the store that you buy the cabinets from install them, you don’t have to pay sales tax! Which leaves more money for TP.)
     Don’t look to me for an answer to the TP issue. I like it hanging in the back; Liz likes it hanging in the front. I guess it’s like a chicken and egg thing. We’ll never now which is better or which came first. What I do know is it sort of reminds me of the upcoming elections and the candidates we have to choose between. Will it really make a difference which way we go, after all, were just dealing with toilet paper.

NOTE: Hold the presses. Disregard this whole article. When Doug proofread the copy for accuracy he found the original patent for toilet paper at (tap away here) http://www.businessinsider.com/patent-shows-right-way-to-hang-toilet-paper-2015-3 which clearly illustrates the proper procedure.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

They're Killing Us . . . Breath by Breath

Forget about sleeper cells and the dangerous “lone wolves”. What’s really going to do us in is the dreaded imports that are slowly killing us, just as sure as a direct attack on our homeland. They’re putting arsenic in our orange juice, lead in our kid’s toys, and there’s even sulfur in our sheetrock. God only knows what’s in the cabinets. U.S. health regulators have recently reported that certain types of laminate flooring imported by Lumber Liquidators was found to have a greater risk of causing cancer, or other health problems, than previously believed. They said that “people who purchased the China-made flooring are about three times more likely to get cancer than it had calculated earlier this month.”  And yet we keep importing products and produce from countries that do not regulate their manufacturing.

So really, what’s the big deal? Where’s the harm in a little arsenic, or lead, or hydrogen sulfide gas, when you can save a couple of bucks? Haven’t you heard? We’re still recovering from the recession. Our health and well being is a small price to pay when you’re talking about saving money.

But if you are concerned about avoiding the perils of hazardous material exposure when eating, buying toys, homes or remodeling you must use your common sense (see K&B Insider #123, Common Sense, Priceless!). The best way to begin is by reading labels, assuming you still can read after exposure to all those noxious fumes. If not, have your BFF (Best Friend Forever) read the label for you. If the product does not have a label, ask the proprietor for a Material Data Safety Sheet, which lists the properties (both harmful and inert) of the product.

In the remodeling industry, most cabinet and countertop manufacturers have been making a concerted effort to clean up their act. Now you can purchase American made cabinets that have little or no harmful ingredients, such as volatile organic compounds, at very competitive prices; although they will never be as inexpensive as cabinets made in countries where the average hourly wage is less than a (US) dollar.
Some of these same countries sell granite counters with high levels of radon, a cancer causing, radioactive gas. Just shut off the lights and see them glow! But hey, they’re cheap! Consider instead quartz composite countertops which are certified by various environmental organizations as to their lack of harmful emissions or buy granite that has acceptable radon emissions.

Now, I’m not saying that everything made in America is great, in fact some of our stuff could stand a little room for improvement, but at least there are some government standards to adhere to. And I’m not saying that exposure to some chemicals is all that bad. When I was an Industrial Arts teacher, for many years I taught both woodworking and printing. In print shop we handled type that was made primarily of lead and washed our hands with kerosene. Having dinner with a product liability attorney the other day, I mentioned this and said it didn’t seem to have any ill affects. Her reply was, “think of what you could have been”!

So sit back, take a deep, formaldehyde filled breath, and watch the kids sip arsenic laced apple juice while putting their lead painted toys in their mouths. It really doesn’t matter much because the hydrogen sulfide gas coming from the sheet rock will eventually kill you anyway. Unless, of course, you decide to spend a couple of extra bucks and buy safe products from a country you can trust.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Duck and Cover - Under Your Countertop!


Now that nuclear proliferation has once again crept into our lives it brings to mind the 1950’s, when we were taught in elementary school, in case of a nuclear attack, to duck under our desks and cover our heads. This we were assured, by Bert the turtle, would certainly protect us from Armageddon and in case of a nuclear blast we would live to tell about it. Hard to believe, but that was the syllabus back then. Just click here, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IKqXu-5jw60 to watch the riveting 1951 production of Duck and Cover.
Obviously, we now know that the only real protection against radiation (and Kryptonite too, I think) is lead. So I’ve decided to use a crowdfunding source like Kickstarter https://www.kickstarter.com/ to create a lead countertop business. When the bombs start to fall, just empty your cupboards and climb in. You’ll be safe and sound when all your neighbors are fried to a crisp.
It’s not so outrageous. Back in the 1880’s and 90’s, zinc was all the rage for counters. I visited the mansions in Newport last fall (and by examining the kitchens was able to write off the whole trip). Each palatial home had a zinc counter in the kitchen. But in time zinc lost out to stainless steel; stainless to granite; and now quartz composite is the latest fad. Concrete rears its ugly head every once in a while, but who wants to prepare food on a sidewalk?
Each material has its own benefits but quartz is the zinc of the 21st century. Sold under the trade names of Cambria, Viatera, Caesarstone, etc., quartz is the second most abundant mineral on earth, and is a basic component of granite. In a typical quartz countertop, the raw quartz is crushed and combined with pigments, to give it color, and resins (sticky stuff), to hold it together. The resulting process creates one of the most durable countertop surfaces on the market today. It is harder than granite, more scratch resistant and non-porous. For the geologists who follow the K&B Insider, quartz ranks #7 on the Mohs hardness scale (whatever that is) and only diamonds, sapphires and topaz are harder. But it still doesn’t block radiation as well as lead.
The fact that quartz counters are non-porous makes them considerably more stain resistant than granite and safer in terms of bacteria growth. They require very little care, and perhaps that is why they are so popular today.
But don’t rule granite out yet. Considered by many as the most beautiful surface available, granite has movement! Movement is the suggestion of motion in the elements making up the finished surface. The swirls and patterns created by nature cannot be completely duplicated in engineered stone, however some of the new quartz composites are approximating this attribute. If you exercise a little care with granite, you can avoid staining and scratches. Granite should be sealed when it is installed and at least once a year afterwards.
The cost of the average granite slab is pretty stable; however, granite prices are dependent on the rarity of the color and the hardness of the stone and as quartz becomes more popular, its price is going up.
If you’re not ready to duck and cover under the protection of your new lead countertop, and your not concerned about outliving your neighbors, quartz and granite are probably the way go to. Take your time when making your choice and examine all the options that are available, selecting the one that best suits your lifestyle and the current political climate. 
This has been a public service message.

Monday, February 8, 2016

What’s Wrong With Me?



It appears that I have reached the point in life where I have difficulty accepting the premise that when something sounds too good to be true it almost certainly is too good to be true. Or, perhaps its not age related but ingrained in our DNA; we want more for less, something for nothing, always searching for the deal of the century.
Every day I find myself bombarded with countless ads and emails offering everything from handy gadgets (that I am assured I cannot live without) to fabulous furniture to complete new kitchens or bathrooms, all at ridiculously low prices. As hard as I try to avoid even glancing at these limitless offerings my fingers pay no attention to my brain. Taking on a life of their own, they click to open every offer that has managed to avoid my spam or junk mail rules and regulations. And each time I succumb to the lure of the must have LED flashlight with built in can opener, that’s “cheap at half the price”, I am disappointed yet again. What’s wrong with me?
I saw a young woman on TV who totaled her car, which she had named BRAD (while insured by a company that we should switch to immediately). I think she took her settlement and created a web-site named after her car that offers terrific DEALS, but only if you act very quickly. Most of this stuff is too good to be true, or too cheap to be good. But that didn’t stop me. I purchased a set of outdoor furniture (some assembly required); six chairs and two foot rests, guaranteed not to rust for a year. I’m too embarrassed to reveal how low the price was. It took two full days to assemble, after a two week wait for the missing parts to be shipped from California. The rust started 31 days after initial delivery. Company policy: 30 day return. Informed I was out of luck for return, but since the warranty was good for a year, I could ship the assembled chairs back to California (small print: at my own expense) to get a replacement. After calculating that shipping the assembled chairs would cost five times the initial cost of the product, I have decided to live with the rust.
But did this experience teach me anything? Apparently not much, although my resistance to these hard to believe offers is gradually building. And, speaking of building, the same holds true with remodeling. Ads for incredibly low priced cabinets and countertops are springing up all over. Often the cabinetry and counters are imported from overseas, in countries where they have no scruples or standards. We have no way of knowing what harmful chemicals are in these products and what dangerous gases will permeate our home environment once they are installed. But by then, it’s too late, the damage is done, and we’re pushing up daisies (that never grew because we ordered them from a cheap mail order catalog).
There is a range of legitimate prices for any product or project, but beware of the preposterous deals that don’t sound plausible. Every time I’ve succumbed to the deal of the century, be it for a lawn chair or a new computer program that will fix everything, I’ve regretted it. As attractive as low bids are, especially when coupled with big promises, they should raise a red flag.
Do your research! Check reviews and referrals and use your common sense! In the case of remodeling, make sure you select a qualified firm for your project, whose business and financial capabilities, past performance and reputation guarantee that you will get a job done well, with products that will perform as promised. I’m not saying that you can’t find bargains, but remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is, and you just may end up living with the rust.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Common Sense . . . Priceless!



Frequently, readers call or email, and ask me if they can ask a stupid question. As I used to tell my students, when you’re learning about something new, there are no stupid questions, (other than asking if you can ask a stupid question). This especially holds true when it comes to remodeling. However, many a question can be answered by using “common sense”, and if you just think about it for a minute, sometimes the answer just pops into your head.
Defined in the dictionary, common sense is defined as sound and prudent judgment based on a simple perception of the situation or facts. For example, you are about to cross the street and an 18-wheeler (big truck) is barreling down the street towards the intersection. Should you cross or wait for the truck to pass by? If you chose to cross the street you’re probably reading this column in your hospital bed, after being crushed by the truck, because you didn’t use your common sense.
Unfortunately, you can’t go to CVS to buy common sense. You get your allotment when you’re born and that’s it, but, most people have at least a modicum of this priceless attribute. The real trick is to use every bit of it that you were born with, and never ignore it just to save a buck or take the easy way out. You should know better!
So, you’re getting estimates for new semi-custom kitchen cabinets. Diligently, you get three estimates and two are about the same at $10,000 and one comes in at $5,000. What does your common sense tell you? There has to be a reason one estimate is considerably cheaper than the other two. Common sense dictates that you must evaluate what the cabinets are made of, where they are being manufactured, and most importantly, who you are buying them from. Most likely they are made from sub-standard materials, from a country that doesn’t pay its workers a living wage and the dealer has a less than stellar reputation and will probably be long gone before cabinets are delivered or your warranty expires.
Comparing appliance prices is not as complicated as the cost of cabinets, but even the appliance companies are making it more difficult to make “apple to apple” comparisons. If you choose a certain brand of dishwasher from a box store (big home center that’s shaped like box), often it is not the same model as one you find at your local appliance dealer. The model number may be KCMA1223QV34-W1543 for one and KCMA1223OV34-W1543 for the other. Deceptive, isn’t it? (Why can’t the appliance companies call it a model “5” instead of a hundred numbers and letters? But that’s a topic for another article). Check the model numbers carefully if you want an accurate comparison.
Common sense is not limited only to pricing, it has to deal with every aspect of a remodeling project. An equally exciting example is the location of a wine rack in the design of your new kitchen. I’ve had clients insist that it be positioned over the refrigerator (model #X123ABF25Q15a-2b) or next to the dishwasher. Although I’m not a wine connoisseur, my common sense tells me it gets hot over the fridge and next to the dishwasher. Find another place, so your wine won’t turn to vinegar.
One last example before I let you go. When you empty your dishwasher, you can stack several plates on the counter and then bring them all to the cupboard where they are stored. But, you can only carry two glasses at a time, unless you want to risk breaking them. So, which cabinet should the glasses be stored in and which should be used for dishes? Think real hard and let your common sense answer this question for you.
Most of the remodeling basics will be taken care of by your kitchen designer, because with training, experience, and common sense they know what to do. It’s your job to use your common sense when picking the right kitchen designer and contractor. If you choose strictly by price, you usually get what you pay for, and you may end up drinking vinegar.