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Tankless Water Heaters No Longer our Recommendation

water heaters

water heaters

For years we confidently recommended tankless water heaters.  This recommendation was backed up by quite a bit of well documented research that was easily understood from a theoretic perspective.  Conventional water systems keep all of that water hot all of the time.  New research shows that the truth is somewhat counterintuitive.  This article does a nice job of explaining the problem with tankless water heaters.  

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Counter Tops 101

Counter tops are the crown of the kitchen not only because they are one of the most pronounced design elements, but also because they are in constant use. In the 1950’s your choices for counter tops were laminate or tile.  Now there are a myriad of additional countertop options.

Laminate and Tile

Though the old standbys are often maligned, they remain good choices. Laminate is the most cost effective counter top material.  It is a hard, water resistant material that holds up well to wear.  Used in combination with other materials it can even provide an interesting design element.

Tile is usually avoided because of the grout lines which can collect dirt and require maintenance.  New epoxy grouts can eliminate most of this concern.  And luckily your tile choice isn’t limited to the Pepto-Bismol colored hexagons of your grandmother’s kitchen.  In the right setting, tile counter tops provide a great option.

Granite and Engineered Stone

The most common material these days for kitchen counters is granite.  It is considered by many to be overdone and thus not a good design choice.  But, not only is granite durable, it is also quite varied in its appearance.  If you want distinctive granite, you are likely to pay a little (or maybe a lot) more for it.  Granite has gotten a bad name because it requires some maintenance and because it can stain.  But in our experience, the maintenance is light and infrequent. Granite sealers are best protected by not using acidic cleaners or setting hot pots directly on the counter.  And, spills that do not sit for a long time are not likely to stain.

There are also artificial stones which include stone fragments in heavy duty resins.  These materials are often more durable than natural stone and look and feel very similar.  The most common of these is Silestone which is manufactured in Spain.

Solid Surfacing and Recycled Materials

About 45 years ago Corian began the evolution of our modern kitchen counter tops.  This solid surface material now has many competitors such as Avonite, Gibraltar and Surrell.  The reason that this material grew so fast in popularity is because it is durable and blemishes can be sanded out.  It is also easy to work with.  It is nonporous and easily cleaned.

Another relatively new material is paper that through a combination of pressure, temperature, and resins is made to be somewhat stone-like.  This material is nonporous, scratch resistant, and easy to work with.  This is a popular choice with those seeking to be eco-friendly.

Another popular choice among those seeking earth-kind-alternatives is a counter that includes recycled materials such as glass.  These counters are heat and scratch resistant.  They are also as durable as granite but do not require maintenance.

Miscellaneous Materials

Butcher block counters can provide the warmth of wood and a practical working surface.

Some of the more trendy and often difficult to work with products available include, glass, concrete and stainless steel counter tops.

Countertop Strategy

Often it is a good idea to utilize more than one countertop material.  This can create pleasing contrast and also provide utilitarian workability.  Often a work station with butcher block can be paired with stone (natural or artificial) to create hard and soft surfaces that provide a very organic feel.

Counters are used for many tasks including storing small appliances, chopping, and mixing.  Make sure that you have the right counter top material, storage, lighting and working height for all who will be engaged in the kitchen. And be sure to explore unique features that will customize your counters! For example, my family and I like to garden. We have two round pans set into a butcher block counter in our kitchen that allow us to easily whisk peals and other cooking refuge off the counter as we chop and later take these to the compost.

Kitchen Cabinets 101

Three types of Cabinets

Manufactured Cabinets

In many parts of the country, this is the most common type of cabinet.  It provides the widest spectrum of quality (from cheap cabinets that can be purchased at any home supply big box store to very high end cabinets with piano grade finishes).  Manufactured cabinets have less flexibility when it comes to customization — If it is not in the catalog it is not available.

Site Built Cabinets

This is the most common type of cabinet from volume builders in our area.  These cabinets are custom built on site.  They take advantage of existing walls to provide the backs and sides of the cabinets.  Often the face frames are made of plywood rather than solid stock wood. This helps reduce the cost of the cabinet but also tends to make them weaker.  These cabinets cannot be as easily modified or changed later.  They also do not endure as well because they are assembled with weaker joinery.

Custom Shop Built Cabinets

This is our preference for quality cabinets.  Like site built cabinets, they are completely customizable.  And like manufactured cabinets, they allow for complete boxes and tightly assembled face frames.  Building cabinets in our shop allows us to control the quality of materials that go into their construction.  Many cabinet makers will use Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF.) This material does not react well to water and it usually has high levels of unhealthy VOCs.  Another common practice is for cabinet manufactures to save money by using thinner plywood or less durable hardware.   By building cabinets in our shop, we can guaranty quality construction and materials.  For example, we use no or low formaldehyde plywood.  Formaldehyde is one of the more common and carcinogenic VOCs found in building materials. While this material choice slightly increases the cost of cabinets, it insures a healthy home.

Cabinets Doors and Drawers

The most visible parts of a cabinet are the doors and drawers.  It is largely this element that defines the style of the cabinets.  For example, ornate raised panel doors can provide a lot of detail but they are also more difficult to keep clean.  Glass doors, on the other hand, show off nice dishes or pottery, but unless you are a fastidious cleaner and organizer, you may want to keep these to a few featured locations highlighted with their own lighting.  With a wide range of options, you should have no problem finding doors and drawers that make your cabinetry fit your kitchen’s needs and your style.

Materials

Plywood

As mentioned above, there is a wide array of plywood that can be used to build cabinets. Choosing the right plywood will make a great deal of difference in how healthy your home is over time and how well your cabinets will endure.  Most of the time this is not a choice offered to the consumer.

Drawer Slides

There is nothing more frustrating than a drawer that sticks and will not close properly.  A well made drawer slide will add to the initial cost, but greatly increases the drawer’s durability.

Hinges

There are three basic doors styles: partial overlay, full overlay and inset doors.  The hinges for each are slightly different. These days the most popular hinges are concealed or euro style hinges.  These hinges are often better made and provide a greater amount of adjustment so that they can be tuned as the cabinets age and the house moves.  There are also hinges and slides that are self closing.  It is wise to pay attention to the quality of hardware that is offered with the cabinets that you buy.

Knobs and Pulls

This visible hardware helps define the cabinet’s style.  There is no limit to what is available, unless you are buying manufactured cabinets that only offer a limited selection.  One option is no knobs or pulls at all.  Many people like to go this way because it is easier to clean and it provides a sleek look.  This is done by easing the edges of the doors and drawers to provide a lip that allows for easy opening from the edge.

Paints and Finishes

One of the biggest differences in the way the cabinets will look is made when choosing a finish.  Will they be painted or stained?  Stained cabinets tend to show fewer blemishes as the cabinets age.  Site built cabinets are often finished with lacquer because it dries faster, but it also yellows over time.  Many people are choosing to use a combination of painted and stain cabinets.  This is most common for kitchens designed in a French country style.

Layout and Design

A well designed kitchen with smart cabinet layout can be one of the most beloved features of a house.  Having the right amount of cabinets and counter top space is key.  While some kitchen designers will tell you that you can never have enough of either, our approach is a little different.  We often encourage our clients to reduce the number of upper cabinets, which are often difficult to access, in order to provide room for more windows.  We also encourage a reduction of cabinets as a means of helping the budget.  Pantry space is less expensive to create and it is usually easier to work with. Like most everything else, the quantity of cabinets is less of an issue than the quality of the design of the kitchen.

Kitchen Cabinets 101

kitchen cabinets

Kitchen Remodel College Station General Contractor

Three types of Cabinets

Manufactured Cabinets

In many parts of the country, this is the most common type of cabinet.  It provides the widest spectrum of quality (from cheap cabinets that can be purchased at any home supply big box store to very high end cabinets with piano grade finishes).  Manufactured cabinets have less flexibility when it comes to customization — If it is not in the catalog it is not available.

Site Built Cabinets

This is the most common type of cabinet from volume builders in our area.  These cabinets are custom built on site.  They take advantage of existing walls to provide the backs and sides of the cabinets.  Often the face frames are made of plywood rather than solid stock wood. This helps reduce the cost of the cabinet but also tends to make them weaker.  These cabinets cannot be as easily modified or changed later.  They also do not endure as well because they are assembled with weaker joinery.

Custom Shop Built Cabinets

This is our preference for quality cabinets.  Like site built cabinets, they are completely customizable.  And like manufactured cabinets, they allow for complete boxes and tightly assembled face frames.  Building cabinets in our shop allows us to control the quality of materials that go into their construction.  Many cabinet makers will use Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF.) This material does not react well to water and it usually has high levels of unhealthy VOCs.  Another common practice is for cabinet manufactures to save money by using thinner plywood or less durable hardware.   By building cabinets in our shop, we can guaranty quality construction and materials.  For example, we use no or low formaldehyde plywood.  Formaldehyde is one of the more common and carcinogenic VOCs found in building materials. While this material choice slightly increases the cost of cabinets, it insures a healthy home.

>>Learn Nine Ways to Save Money on a Kitchen Remodel

Cabinets Doors and Drawers

The most visible parts of a cabinet are the doors and drawers.  It is largely this element that defines the style of the cabinets.  For example, ornate raised panel doors can provide a lot of detail but they are also more difficult to keep clean.  Glass doors, on the other hand, show off nice dishes or pottery, but unless you are a fastidious cleaner and organizer, you may want to keep these to a few featured locations highlighted with their own lighting.  With a wide range of options, you should have no problem finding doors and drawers that make your cabinetry fit your kitchen’s needs and your style.

Materials

Plywood

As mentioned above, there is a wide array of plywood that can be used to build cabinets. Choosing the right plywood will make a great deal of difference in how healthy your home is over time and how well your cabinets will endure.  Most of the time this is not a choice offered to the consumer.

Drawer Slides

There is nothing more frustrating than a drawer that sticks and will not close properly.  A well made drawer slide will add to the initial cost, but greatly increases the drawer’s durability.

Hinges

There are three basic doors styles: partial overlay, full overlay and inset doors.  The hinges for each are slightly different. These days the most popular hinges are concealed or euro style hinges.  These hinges are often better made and provide a greater amount of adjustment so that they can be tuned as the cabinets age and the house moves.  There are also hinges and slides that are self closing.  It is wise to pay attention to the quality of hardware that is offered with the cabinets that you buy.

Knobs and Pulls

This visible hardware helps define the cabinet’s style.  There is no limit to what is available, unless you are buying manufactured cabinets that only offer a limited selection.  One option is no knobs or pulls at all.  Many people like to go this way because it is easier to clean and it provides a sleek look.  This is done by easing the edges of the doors and drawers to provide a lip that allows for easy opening from the edge.

Paints and Finishes

One of the biggest differences in the way the cabinets will look is made when choosing a finish.  Will they be painted or stained?  Stained cabinets tend to show fewer blemishes as the cabinets age.  Site built cabinets are often finished with lacquer because it dries faster, but it also yellows over time.  Many people are choosing to use a combination of painted and stain cabinets.  This is most common for kitchens designed in a French country style.

Layout and Design

A well designed kitchen with smart cabinet layout can be one of the most beloved features of a house.  Having the right amount of cabinets and counter top space is key.  While some kitchen designers will tell you that you can never have enough of either, our approach is a little different.  We often encourage our clients to reduce the number of upper cabinets, which are often difficult to access, in order to provide room for more windows.  We also encourage a reduction of cabinets as a means of helping the budget.  Pantry space is less expensive to create and it is usually easier to work with. Like most everything else, the quantity of cabinets is less of an issue than the quality of the design of the kitchen.

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Kitchen Design Process

In our culture today, the kitchen tends to be the heart of the home.  It’s a great spot for spontaneous conversations over a cup of morning coffee, for helping with homework, and to gather friends and family while entertaining. It’s a place of action, and as such, it deserves a great deal of attention in design. Here we will layout a kitchen design process.

Needs assessment

As with all design projects, start by asking yourself a few questions.  What are your needs and what are your desires? Does one person do all of the cooking or is it a shared responsibility?  Do children help with cooking and cleaning? What sorts of things do you cook? What appliances will you have?  What dishes do you store in the kitchen? What cookware?  How much stemware needs to be stored?  Taking a thorough inventory of the general ideas, like how you plan to use the kitchen, and also of specific ideas, such as how many cups or plates you plan to have, is crucial to designing your kitchen.

Budget

One of the most important design criteria for your kitchen is your budget.  Kitchens tend to be the most expensive room in most homes because they contain high finish materials and costly items like appliances. Consequently, it’s important to understand your budget and to manage it.  We encourage our clients to think about their budget as more than just the amount you are going to pay for your project –it’s also about ongoing maintenance, utility bills, and upgrade costs.  For example, it may be wise to pay more for an energy star appliance because of what it will save on monthly bills.  Or it may be wise to settle for a lower quality counter top that can be changed out at a later date so that you can afford to expand the size of your kitchen now. In this way, your budget can help you prioritize decisions.

Design

Kitchens come in a wide array of shapes and sizes.  Making them work well requires more intensive design consideration than anywhere else in the house.  Think about and include all aspects of your kitchen routine to create a workable layout.  For example, if you will be helping several kids with homework while you cook, be sure to consider easy access to their study area.  If a kitchen garden with herbs is part of your style, plan for access to the outdoors.  And, if your kitchen is going to be where your guests gravitate, plan for comfortable places for them to stand that won’t interfere with your cooking and cleaning.   Matching the layout of your kitchen to the demands of your lifestyle and routines can be tricky, but is well worth it.  As a design build firm, we encourage quality professional design throughout the house, but nowhere is it more important than the kitchen.

Lighting

Getting the lighting right in your kitchen is as important as any other element. All aspects of lighting come into play here. Good ambient lighting, quality task lighting and well planned accent lighting will all benefit your experience and your enjoyment. Consider using LED lights.  Though this new technology cost more up front, it uses far less energy and the bulbs last up to 50 times longer than an incandescent bulb.  But remember, not all LED lights are created equally.  This is a place where the old adage of “you get what you pay for,” seems to hold strong. Typically, LED lights bought from a big box will not meet the potential of more expensive lighting.

In the coming weeks we will continue to explore the design and construction of quality kitchens.  Please feel free to post questions!  We will try to provide an answer within 24 hours.