Saturday, November 26, 2011

Bath Counters


There are several choices when choosing a bath counter.  While cost may vary considerably, the typical bath counter does not have a lot of square footage so the cost of something unique may be affordable.  Of course one choice is to not have a counter at all – that is using a pedestal sink.  Pedestals work especially well in small baths and powder rooms, taking up less space, making the room seem larger by being more open, and usually costing less than the vanity/counter/sink combined costs.  Below is a review of some bath counter options.

§         Solid Surface:  Solid surface products such as Corian are a popular choice for bath remodeling.  The surface is durable, easy to clean and maintain, comes in a variety of colors and patterns, and can be shaped easily.  Plus they are often combined with an integral bowl of the same pattern creating a seamless finish without difficult to clean edges. 
§         Stone:  Granite is the most popular stone surface for bath counters.  Easy to clean, durable, a natural product, and readily available in a wide variety of colors and natural stone or vein patterns.  More porous stones such as marble or limestone while initially attractive stain easily, require regularly sealing, and scratch more easily than granite.
§         Tile:  Ceramic tile is typically inexpensive, available in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, finishes, and colors, and is a durable surface.  The largest drawback is the grout joints between the tiles that may be difficult to maintain and keep clean.
§         Man-made Synthetics:  Today there are a wide variety of manufactured stone products imitating the look of granite or marble.  A more traditional, and very inexpensive, product is cultured marble.  Including an integral bowl cultured marble is probably the least expensive option.  It is available in a variety and colors, is very durable, easy to clean, and is readily and quickly available for standard size vanities.
§         Other:  Laminate is another very inexpensive choice that is easy to clean and available in a variety of colors and designs.  Wood counters are also sometimes used in a bath, especially for a more decorative function like a powder room that will not receive heavy day-to-day use.  For both of these products water exposure may cause long-term issues.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Remodeling the Kids’ Bath

Many homes today have a master bath and a hall bath or a shared bath for the other bedrooms.  The second bath often functions as the children’s bath.  Remodeling a kids’ bath or second bath involves some different design and product decisions than for the master bath.  Following are some ideas to consider.

§         Size:  The typical 2nd bath is smaller than the master bath and the number of fixtures are more limited.  There is often room for only one sink although in some situations two are possible.  Typically there is a tub/shower and a toilet.  Especially for small children a tub is important, showers are difficult to use when bathing infants.  And if resale is a consideration, having a tub/shower combo in the 2nd bath is a good choice.
§         Design:  One popular option, if space permits, is a two-room bath.  The front room has the vanity or vanities and storage; the second room has the toilet and tub/shower.  This often allows more than one child to use the bath at a time.  Another design consideration is storage space.  If multiple kids are using the room, adequate storage for towels, toiletries, hair dryers, medicine, etc should be taken into consideration.
§         Product Selection:  Some bath products work better for small children than for teenagers.  Keep in mind if you have small children that they will grow.  A standard height vanity with stools for small children may be a better long-term solution.  Shower curtains are much easier to work with for bathing small children and can be easily and inexpensively changed in the future.  Decorative selections for small children are better used in towels, shower curtains, and accessories than for permanent items such as tile and plumbing fixtures that will be expensive and difficult to change.
§         Safety:  Many of the same safety rules apply for any bath.  Non-slip floor tiles, pressure balanced and scald guard faucets, and GFI protected electrical outlets are all especially important for small children and good ideas for any bath.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Bath Flooring Options

A bath remodel involves many product selections and decisions. There are pros and cons to different bath flooring options.  Plus, those product selections have a great influence on the remodeling price. 

Tile:  Tile is the most typical choice for a bath floor.  Tile is durable, water resistant, and comes in an amazing variety of colors, shapes and sizes.  Pricing can vary significantly from inexpensive to very expensive depending on the exact tile selected and the complexity of the pattern to be installed.  A good tile installation should include a tile backer board substrate to give rigidity and in the long term keep the tile from cracking.  To avoid slipping in a wet area bath floor tile typically has a textured or slightly textured surface.  In general tile is a mid-range cost selection but upgrades in the tile selection plus the optional addition of heating to the floor can increase costs significantly.

Stone:  Stone is similar to tile in many aspects but generally more expensive, and often the most expensive option for a bath floor.

Vinyl:  Vinyl is available as a sheet or in 12” tiles and in a variety of colors and designs.  Vinyl tiles are easy to install and especially a good choice for do-it-yourself remodels.  Vinyl is typically one of the least expensive bath floor options.

Laminate Flooring:  Laminate flooring is made of layers of paper and wood with a top layer picturing whatever surface you want the floor to look like.  It is typically inexpensive and easy to install.  While the top surface is water resistant, if water does penetrate, especially to the pad below, there is no choice but to remove and replace the flooring.  In general this may work for a powder room but is probably not a good choice for a full bath.

Wood Flooring:  Wood floors including hardwood such as oak or engineered wood floors, basically a layer of wood over plywood, are another choice for a bath.  Installation costs are mid-range.  If wood is used in a bath care should be taken to keep in dry and remove excess moisture from the surface.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Ten Luxury Bath Options

Baths are typically the most heavily used rooms in a home, often several times a day and possibly by several different people.  Many clients look to include some luxury features in the master bath.  The following is a list of ten options to consider.

1.       Upscale the sink. There are many unique design options available for bath sinks.  These include alternate materials such as glass, copper, bronze, stone, hand painted porcelain, or glass mosaic.  While undermount sinks are very popular, a vessel sink sitting on top of the vanity counter is a luxury choice.
2.       Upgrade the counter.  All the choices that are available for kitchen counters are also available for bath counters.  Luxury items include a variety of metals, stones, glass, and wood products.
3.       Multiple showerheads.  Luxury showers may include multiple jets lining the walls, fixed and adjustable showerheads, and rain showers from the ceiling.
4.       Steam baths.  Another luxury shower option is a steam unit included with your shower, or even a separate steam room.
5.       Sound and light.  There are multiple options possible with lighting for the bath.  And including a sound system is another option.
6.       Tile upgrades.  Luxury handmade tile, glass tile, and metal tile are among a few of the great variety of tile available for bath remodeling.  Tile comes in an amazing array of sizes, shapes, and colors allowing for many design options.
7.       Tubs.  Soaking tubs, especially the large claw-foot vintage tubs are popular again if you have the space.  Air jetted tubs with multiple small air jets are an upgrade to the traditional jetted tubs with 6-8 large jets.
8.       Heat.  Heated tile floors add an extra layer of comfort in a bath.  Heated towel racks or European style thin fin radiators are another good option.
9.       Frameless.  Frameless shower glass enclosures and frameless glass doors are a significant upgrade to the traditional metal frame enclosure.  Also consider a large walk-in shower without a shower door at all.
10.   Space.  A luxurious bath may require a larger space than the traditional bath.  Combining rooms, expending into closets, or even a home addition may create the large space to allow for multiple cabinets and vanities, separate tub and shower, steam unit, bath linen storage, or a make-up area.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Ten Cost Saving Bath Remodeling Options

The next series of blogs will review bathroom remodeling.  Improving your bath will improve the enjoyment of your home, add to your quality of life, and increase your home’s resale value.  By square footage, baths are often the most expensive room in a home.  With plumbing, electric, heating, tile, sheetrock, paint, accessories, cabinets, counters, etc. numerous trades and products are packed into a very small space.  There are, however, cost saving options for bath remodeling.  The following is a list of ten options to consider.

1.       Small changes can have a big impact- Your budget may not allow for a full bath remodel but small changes can make a difference.  Options including changing plumbing fixtures, changing the vanity and counter, painting, or changing a tub to a tile shower.

2.       Save on luxury items- Steam showers, jetted tub, heated floors, multiple shower heads, and frameless shower enclosures are all very nice but are a significant cost upgrade to a bath remodel.  A basic, well built, bath may meet your needs at a much more affordable cost.

3.       Consider plumbing options- Plumbing work and materials are a significant percentage of the cost of a bath remodel.  Leaving fixtures in their current locations is much less costly than reworking all the piping and plumbing rough-ins.  Plumbing fixtures come in a variety of finishes with standard chrome being the least expensive.  There is a huge selection of plumbing fixtures including toilets, sinks, faucets, showerheads, etc.  Your designer, plumber, remodeler, or plumbing supply showroom can help you with alternate and cost saving product selections.

4.       Limit the tile work- Older baths often have tile walls four feet above the finished floors.  Tile work is a large cost increase over painted sheetrock.  Consider limiting the tile work to the tub/shower and bath floor.

5.       Use pre-fabricated showers or tub surrounds- Tile is very nice but pre-fabricated fiberglass shower bases and tub/shower walls are fairly inexpensive to purchase, quick to install (saving labor costs), and easy to keep clean.  Certainly for a hall, kids, or 2nd bath this will be a cost saving option.

6.       Install a tub/shower versus shower only-  A tub/shower is almost always less costly than the tile work required for a custom tile shower with a tile base.  Installing a tub gives you the floor and about 16” of wall.  Installing tile includes a vinyl membrane, sloped mortar sub-floor, cement backer board, waterproof membrane, and then the tile.  All added together this is a very labor-intensive process.

7.       Install a pedestal in place of a vanity- A pedestal sink typically is less expensive to install than a bath vanity.  A vanity includes the cabinet costs, the counter, the sink, and the labor to install each.

8.       Save energy and water- Installing energy saving lighting and low water use toilets and faucets will save costs in the long term.

9.       Have a design focus- Consider keeping the basic bath simple and inexpensive, white vanity and white tile for example, with a decorative tile pattern in the shower or on the floor, or a decorative vanity top and sink.  This can create a dramatic and unique bath while minimizing costs.

10.   Consider the accessories- Towel bars, toilet paper holders, towel rings and other bath accessories can create an updated look at minimum costs.  Similarly changing vanity hardware, window treatments, or door hardware can upgrade a bath again at a small cost as compared to a full bath remodel.  Even new bath linens can make a difference.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Kitchen Sinks: Materials 4-6

 This is a continuation of the previous blog reviewing kitchen sink materials. 

A wide range of choices are available for the kitchen sink.  We have come a long way from stainless steel or cast iron being the only options commonly available.  Below is a brief review of some possible material options and pros and cons of each material.

§         Engineered Materials including Solid Surface & Composite:  This category covers a wide range of options including solid surface materials like Corian or Swanstone, quartz, slate, or granite –acrylic composites, and cast acrylic.  The major advantage of solid surface kitchen sinks is their ability to be an integrated unit with the countertop.  Composite sinks fall into three main categories; polyester/acrylic, quartz composite, and granite based.
o        Pros – Solid Surface
§         Seamless joint with solid surface counter
§         Durable surface, deeps cuts or scratches are repairable
§         More forgiving to dropped objects than cast iron or stone sinks
o        Cons – Solid Surface
§         Not resistant to high heat or very hot pots and pans, can scratch or nick
§         Can be expensive, especially since they typically involve totaling replacing the counters as well as the sink
§         Installation and repairs require professional fabrication

o        Pros – Composite
§         Reasonable durability and resistance to scratching and chipping in stone composites
§         Available in a variety of colors
§         Stands up to heat better than solid surface
§         Acrylic composites are typically inexpensive
o        Cons – Composite
§         Acrylic composites are the lowest performing in terms of scratch and stain resistance
§         Granite based composite can command a premium price
§         Stone based composites are limited in color to a neutral palette.

§         Natural Stone:  The most common stone sinks are made from granite or soapstone, but there are also sinks made from travertine, marble, and onyx.  These are heavy, dense sinks and the soapstone is impervious to stains. 
o        Pros:
§         Strong, robust, durable surface
§         Good sound-deadening qualities
§         A unique and interesting style option
o        Cons:
§         Heavy and typically require custom built cabinetry for support
§         Some stones are porous and require sealing
§         Often expensive to purchase and install

§         Other:  Kitchen sinks are available in other materials including concrete and various metals besides stainless steel such as nickel, copper & bronze.  Other metals are often used for specialty sinks such as a bar sink. 
o        Pros Concrete:
§         Unlimited customization
§         Distinctive and unique style option
§         Can be incorporated with a concrete counter for seamless design
o        Cons Concrete:
§         Requires periodic sealing to avoid stains and to repel moisture
§         May show cracks and fissures over time.
§         Costly as they are typically custom made and include counter replacement

o        Pros Nickel, Copper & Bronze:
§         Non-rusting, visually unique
§         Copper will take on an aged patina depending on the type of care given
§         Nickel is harder and stronger than copper
o        Cons Nickel, Copper & Bronze:
§         Expensive to very expensive depending on size and design
§         May need polishing to retain bright appearance

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Kitchen Sinks: Materials 1-3

A wide range of materials are available for the kitchen sink.  We have come a long way from stainless steel or cast iron being the only options commonly available.  Below is a brief review of some possible material options, including pros and cons of each material.

§         Stainless Steel:  Stainless steel kitchen sinks are still the most popular option.  They have broad appeal for their neutral, clean look and durability.  There are two main factors to consider in stainless steel. One is the thickness or gauge of the steel; the lower the number the thicker the steel, and the higher quality sink.  Second is the sound deadening ability.   Spray coatings achieve increased sound deadening along with special sound pads underneath the sink. 
o        Pros:
§         Very durable and long lasting, resistant to chipping and cracking, easy to clean
§         Available in under-mount or drop-in models and many innovative shapes & sizes
§         Provides a consistent look with stainless appliances
§         Affordable
o        Cons:
§         Thinner gauges may sound tinny and flex
§         May show dried water and mineral spots
§         Can scratch {less visible on brushed finishes}

§         Cast Iron:  These sinks feature an iron base coated with an enamel finish.  Traditionally white, they are available in an array of colors.
o        Pros:
§         Durable sink available in various colors, style, and quality
§         Easy to clean and maintain.
§         Have a glossy finish and nice sheen
o        Cons:
§         Can chip or scratch causing underlying iron to rust
§         Undermount installation more difficult due to weight and options are limited
§         Due to high degree of thermal conductivity hot water does not hold its temperature for very long

§         China:  Vitreous china sinks are also known as fireclay sinks.  They are made from material similar to ceramics that is fired under intense heat.  Like ceramic tiles designs and colors can be “baked in”.  Many farmhouse type sinks are made of this material.
o        Pros:
§         Repels stains, requires no special cleaning, and is scratch resistant
§         Decorative patterns and detailing can be incorporated into the design
§         Material is homogeneous; chips will not rust like cast iron
o        Cons:
§         Often expensive
§         Chips can occur from hard knocks with heavy objects

The next blog will review other options for kitchen sinks.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Kitchen Sinks: Installation Type & Features

There are basic and typical sink mounting techniques.

Top Mount:  This is the most traditional and simple approach.  There is a hole in the counter that fits the sink and the sink drops into the hole.  It is also called self-rimming as the sink has a rim that sits on the counter and supports the sink.  The rim needs to be caulked periodically around the edge.  The main disadvantage of a drop-in sink is the barrier between the sink and counter formed by the rim.  This often makes clean-up difficult and over time this edge may become unclean and unsightly.

Undermount:  Undermount sinks are fitted under the countertop and are much more functional from a cleaning standpoint.  As the sink hangs from the underside of the counter {or in the case of a heavier kitchen sink may have a designed cabinet mounting system} items can be brushed from the counter directly into the sink without any catch points.  Undermount sinks are typically used with stone or solid surface counters. 

Flush Mount:  This is the combination of the sink and counter using solid surface materials like corian. silestone, or concrete. Here, the counter and sink are fused together in a seamless design.  Installation is simple; the sink is already mounted and attached to the counter so when the counter is installed so is the sink.  A tile-in sink is also a flush mount with a grout line between the sink and tile but the two different surfaces flush.  Because of the issues with grout and maintenance tile counters are not a popular choice.

There are also many optional special accessories available with a new kitchen sink.  These include form-fitting cutting boards, drying racks, and colander baskets.  Many sinks have space for optional attachments such as lotion or soap dispensers, a pullout spray, or an instant hot water spout.

The summary message is that kitchen sinks are not all created equal.  They offer a wide range of options and features worth spending some time to become familiar with.  This will give you a better chance of finding a sink you will be satisfied with, will fit the look of your kitchen, and will make your kitchen more efficient.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Kitchen Sinks: Configuration and Size

Kitchen sink configuration refers to the sink’s overall design such as quantity of bowls, number of faucet holes, square or round corners, bowl depths, and sloped versus flat-bottom sinks.  Size is self-explanatory but I will review some of the size options and combinations to consider.  Both the size and configuration are important as they directly relate to use and effectiveness. 

The size of the sink or sinks and number of bowls relate both to the size of the kitchen and the usage.  A larger kitchen can easily accommodate larger or multiple sinks.  In a small kitchen a large sink may look out of scale and limit available counter space.  The number and combination of bowls in a sink are personal preference based on how you like to use the sink. 
  • A single bowl sink can make washing larger pots or pans easier.  Larger single bowl sinks often take up as much space as double bowl sinks. 
  • Double bowl sinks can make washing or prep in one sink and drying or a disposal in the second sink an attractive option.  Double bowls sinks can have two sinks of equal size or one large and one small with varying depths.  A new feature is a low-profile divider between the two bowls that allows a double bowl sink at times to function as one large bowl.
  • Triple bowl sinks take up much more space and can be quite large.  Triple bowl sinks are typically combinations of various sizes and depths.

The number of faucet holes was reviewed briefly in the previous blog.  Basically the sink faucet holes need to match the faucet selected, plus any other counter top options such as soap dispenser, instant hot, or sprayer you may wish to have.

Square or round corners, bowl depth, and sloped versus flat-bottom sinks are other choices available. 
  • Square corner sinks with flat bottoms are more modern and high tech but harder to clean. 
  • Flat bottom sinks may not drain as well as a sloped bottom sink and can hold a small amount of water. If this is something that will bother you a sloped sink bottom is a better choice. 
  • Deeper bowls seem at first a good selection but depending on your height, constantly reaching to the bottom of a deep bowl can be an annoyance and a problem.
  • As mentioned above multiple sinks often have multiple depths and this can be increase functionality.

Bottom line is that you want a good looking sink but you also want a sink that works well for your personal kitchen use.  Various members of the family will probably use the kitchen sink every day, and several times a day.  Spending a little extra time and money to make the correct selection is a good first step.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Kitchen Sinks Overview

I started with some Internet research for an overview of kitchen sinks and in about five minutes of search, cut, and paste I had 24 pages of information.  With that in mind I am starting with an overview of choices and options and what to consider when choosing a kitchen sink.  Then the next three blogs will cover {1} material choices, {2} configuration and size, and {3} installation types and features. 

Many clients look for exactly the same things in a sink; most people want a simple, elegant design and easy maintenance.  With thousands of different types of kitchen sinks to choose from deciding which sink is best for you can be difficult.  Below are some key points to consider when choosing a kitchen sink.

§         Type of expected duty is a key factor.  You will use the sink on a daily basis so consider function over form.  If you hand-wash a lot of dishes, then a double bowl sink may work well, one for washing and one for rinsing/drying.  However, if you only wash large pots, pans, and a few other items, then one large single bowl may work better.
§         Faucet and accessory setup is another key factor.  The sink needs to have the correct number of faucet holes for the type of faucet you choose, plus any other accessories you plan to install, such as sprayer, instant hot water, filtered water, or soap dispenser.
§         Where it will be located should be considered.  Replacing a sink in its current location is the least expensive option, as the plumbing rough-in does not need to be changed.  But if the location does not work for your day-to-day use, relocation may be a better choice.
§         Kitchen size often governs the size and style of sink; smaller sinks for smaller kitchens and larger or multiple sinks for larger kitchens or kitchens where two people cook at the same time.  An incorrectly sized sink may look out of scale with your kitchen.
§         Some kitchen sinks such as farm sinks or large multiple bowl sinks may require special cabinetry.  If you are remodeling the entire kitchen this is not as much of an issue since the correct cabinetry can be ordered to accommodate the sink.  But some pre-planning and decision making is required so all elements {sink, faucet, counter, cabinet} work together.

In summary, the steps to choosing a new sink are determine what your needs are, determine how the sink will be used most efficiently day to day, determine how the other parts of your kitchen will work with the sink, and the review all the sink options available to meet your goals.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Kitchen Faucets

Kitchen remodeling is such a huge part of the building industry that there is a dazzling array of products, manufacturers, and options from which to choose.  Plumbing fixtures are no exception.  This blog will review kitchen faucets and the next, kitchen sinks.  One thing for sure is that your kitchen will have a faucet and sometimes more than one.

Style and Finish:  Kitchen faucets are available in almost any style and finish you can imagine.  Often the style and finish will be chosen to match other design elements in the kitchen.  Polished chrome is the least expensive choice.  Stainless steel is a durable and inexpensive option that matches many sinks and appliances.  Brushed nickel is a very popular choice and other options include bronze and brass in a variety of finishes.  White enamel is available although we have found the finish hard to maintain.  The shape and look of the faucet also can vary quite a lot from a simple straight line to a large arch and everything in-between, and from very modern to very traditional.

Single Handle Faucet:  A single handle faucet is the most common choice, with one handle controlling the volume of water and the hot/cold function.  A single handle faucet takes up little space on the counter, although some people find the volume and temperature can be difficult to adjust.

Double Handle Faucet:  The double handle faucet has a separate handle each for hot and cold water and offers better temperature control.  The do require three holes in your sink or counter {faucet, hot, and cold}, creating a more cluttered look. The additional handles can also be more difficult to clean around.

Pullout Spray Faucet:  Another option is a faucet that includes a pullout sprayer.  The pullout feature can be used to clean the sink area, to wash vegetables or for washing dishes. Pullout sprayers generally have more water pressure than the older separate sprays mounted adjacent to the faucet.  It also saves space and clutter on the sink or countertop.

Wall Mounted Faucet:  This is an increasingly popular option.  The faucet is mounted on the wall behind the sink, which makes it easier to use for filling large pots, frees up space on the counter, and gives the kitchen a unique look.  One limiting factor to using this type of faucet is that many sinks are on an exterior wall and having the piping and faucet located in there can make freezing a concern.

Second Faucet:  Many larger kitchens have two sinks, often a clean-up sink and a prep sink or bar sink.  Typically the faucets will be similar or matching styles and finishes with slight variation in size to match the function they serve.

Whatever faucet choice you make it is important to choose a well-made and durable faucet, and it is worth spending a little extra to do so.  The kitchen faucet is often used several times a day and long-term performance is a plus.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Kitchen Lighting

A common complaint we hear about older kitchens is that they are too dark or need better lighting. It’s definitely true that poor lighting makes working in a kitchen difficult.  It’s important that once the kitchen planning starts that lighting is not overlooked.  Lighting choices will have a huge impact on the final look, appeal, and functionality of a remodeled kitchen.  The following paragraphs review areas of lighting found in modern kitchens.

Natural Light:  It’s ideal if a kitchen can be designed to maximize natural light.  An added benefit is that the cost of natural light is zero, it’s free.  Of course adding windows or installing new and larger windows is not free, especially if structural framing with interior and exterior finishes is required.  The benefit of increasing the number of windows for more light may be offset by the loss of cabinet wall space.  One less expensive option is to replace double hung windows with casement windows (the ones that crank out).  Casement windows have less of a frame as the window is one large sash and opposed to two smaller sashes.  Another choice is to replace a solid kitchen door with a new glass door or a door with wood panels below and glass above.

Direct Lighting:  Direct lighting is what you need to the light the main areas of the kitchen, including the entire room, over an island or counters, and over appliances.  Typically this is either recessed lights and/or pendant lights over an island, table, or counter.  This is usually the brightest lighting in the kitchen, although the lights can be installed on dimmers. Different lighting areas are usually controlled by separate switches, so individual areas can be turned on as needed.

Task Lighting:  For task lighting we usually think of lighting under the wall cabinets to light the counters where most of the work in a kitchen is performed.  There are several types of under-cabinet lights available, florescent, low voltage halogen, and LED.  Our preference is LED, a very small light that rarely burns out, is energy efficient, and easy to work with.  Range hoods also have lights to illuminate the cook-top or range, another form of task lighting. It is also good to consider some sort of task lighting at the sink area, such as a recessed light or pendant.

Ambiance:  Ambiance lighting creates a mood.  This can be contrasting bright lights or soft lights, lights on the tops of wall cabinets, or along the kick space of base cabinets.  Lighting inside of wall cabinets with glass doors or lights that highlight a special piece of artwork or decorative feature in your kitchen are other examples.

Layering:   Layering is the hot trend in kitchen lighting.  Basically it is a combination of all the lighting noted above using different types of lighting for different locations and at different height levels in your kitchen.  Layering maximizes not only the functional use but also the visual appeal of your kitchen.

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Kitchen Backsplash

The kitchen backsplash at one time was standard; four inches of laminate counter material and a painted wall, sometimes with a small area of tile behind the range or sink to protect the wall from water and stains.  These days, kitchen backsplashes have gone upscale and are often an important kitchen design element.  Using some new materials and inventive design, your backsplash can be the decorative focal point of the kitchen.  The following list is a review of some kitchen backsplash options from simple to complex, inexpensive to more expensive, along with some pros and cons.

Laminate:  As mentioned above this is the simplest and one of the least expensive options.  Typically the laminate counter material continues 4” up the wall and above this is a painted surface, ideally with an easier to clean and maintain paint finish such as eggshell or semi-gloss.

Granite, Marble, or Synthetic Materials:  This is a similar approach to the laminate backsplash with the counter material extending 4” up the wall.  Another approach is to run the counter material the full height, normally 18” between the counter and wall cabinets, and a larger area behind the range or cook-top.  Using a single slab eliminates grout joints and painted finishes.  Granite and synthetic materials are more durable and less porous.  {Synthetic materials include Corian, Silestone, Ceasarstone, etc.}  Marble is porous and can absorb moisture and stains.

Ceramic Tile:  Ceramic tile is the most popular backsplash option and is used extensively.  It offers a wide range of design choices including patterns, color variations, painted designs, and varying shapes and sizes.  Ceramic tile is a mid-range cost choice and low maintenance, although the grout does need to be cleaned and sealed on occasion.

Glass Tile:  Glass tile is made from recycled glass and offers a wide variety of colors and shapes.  It can be used for the entire backsplash or combined with ceramic tile.

Mirrored Glass:  A mirrored backsplash is easy to clean and maintain and creates a feeling of depth and space.  Combined with a unique stone counter, colorful counter accessories, and under-cabinet lighting a mirrored backsplash can give a modern, unique, upscale appearance.

Stainless Steel:  Stainless steel is another low maintenance option.  Combined with stainless steel counters and/or appliances it can give a kitchen a professional, commercial, serious chef appearance.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Simple Kitchen Upgrades

When remodeling a kitchen, there are options that are less expensive than a full kitchen remodel, while still making significant improvements.  Both the appearance and functionality of your kitchen can be improved with a number of small and cost effective remodeling projects.  In many cases these projects can be accomplished over a period of time, spreading the costs while upgrading your kitchen.  The following is a list of some projects to consider.

Cabinets:  There are a number of ways kitchen cabinets can be improved without replacing the cabinets themselves.  New hardware, new cabinet drawer inserts, installing pull-out shelves or additional shelves, or even just adjusting the doors and shelves can all improve the functional and visual performance of cabinets.  If the space is available, an island may be added without changing the exiting cabinets.

Counters:  Installing new countertops can provide a major kitchen facelift.  This is often combined with a new kitchen sink and faucet.  Replacing the countertop can be accomplished in one to two days, a major improvement with minimum disruption.  Numerous counter options include stone of various types, solid surface man-made counters, laminate, tile, and a variety of wood choices.  Often two different materials may be used, for example a wood island counter with granite counters on the surrounding cabinets.

Appliances:  Replacing appliances is a straightforward improvement to most kitchens.  Many appliances such as dishwashers, ranges, and hoods are standard sizes and the change is fairly simple.  Also, adding a beverage or wine refrigerator is an increasingly popular option.

Electric:  There are many electrical up-grades to improve a kitchen visually and functionally; new light fixtures, under cabinet lighting, etc.  These will be discussed in detail in a subsequent blog.

Plumbing:  Changes and upgrade options to kitchen sinks and faucets will be reviewed in a subsequent blog.  Besides changing the existing sink and faucet a large kitchen may benefit from adding a second prep sink and faucet..

Backsplash:  Likewise there are many options for the kitchen counter backsplash; tile, glass tile, paint, stone, solid surface materials, etc.  These will be reviewed in depth in the next blog.

Paint:  Painting is a task most homeowners can manage with a little time and effort.  New paint can brighten and refresh a kitchen at a small cost.  Painting of ceilings and wood trim are also good options but a little more challenging.  Painting existing cabinets is not nearly as simple or fast as painting walls. It involves stripping and sanding the cabinets, then applying primer and two finish coats.  This is a task probably best left to a professional painter. However, painting the cabinets, especially combined with new cabinet hardware, can  make a major improvement to your kitchen. 
Flooring:  Kitchen floors can be a variety of materials including wood, engineered wood, laminate, tile, cork, or vinyl.  Floors can typically be installed without removing cabinets and often without removing the existing floors. 

Other Small Projects:  Other projects to improve and remodel a kitchen without a total kitchen replacement may include installing new windows, removing walls between the kitchen and an adjacent room, creating a pantry, or installing new moulding.  All can significantly improve the enjoyment and everyday use of your kitchen.

Note:  The concept for this and the next few kitchen and bath blogs comes from Case Handyman and Remodeling.