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October 19, 2013
August 31, 2013
August 31, 2013
So you are about to buy a new home. The home is in a good school district. This is the home you will raise your family in creating memories that will last for generations.
You are impressed with the builder. You love all the moldings and built-in cabinetry, book shelves and cubbies for displaying things. In this price range it goes without saying you want quality. You’re not worried about having to replace anything or remodel the kitchen in a few years because everything is new, high quality made in America. Right?
Yeah, maybe, maybe not so much.
Click Here for the PDF Version Ask The Kitchen Guy 8-31-2013 – Buyer Beware
I recently toured several new homes, some still under construction, in the Chicago suburbs with significant asking prices. What I found was truly surprising. With asking prices north of $700,000.00, you should expect quality materials. I would. As it turns out, you don’t get a lot of quality materials or workmanship at that price range in the suburbs of Chicago these days, in most cases. I am sure there is at least one builder out there that still makes sure only quality materials from established manufacturers, fabricators and craftsmen are used in their homes.
Unfortunately, what I found without exception was inexpensive, imported, flat packed cabinetry and plumbing fixtures with very expensive sounding names made from materials of unknown origin wherever it is cheapest. Flanking the cabinetry is built-in case work, casings, fireplace surrounds and mantels and moldings all made from MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard) or whatever is cheaper and paint-able. Seems paint can cover a lot these days.
Because these materials are purchased and “Branded” by Import Companies there is almost no way you can be guaranteed the materials are safe and not harmful to your family in my opinion. Even if the importer, seller or builder present you with documentation that states the “brand” of cabinetry used in your home passed some environmental standard or manufacturing standard, they can’t prove your cabinetry did. They may not even be able to prove your cabinetry was made in the same factory that made the cabinets that passed.
The average homeowner, home builder or remodeler for that matter probably doesn’t realize that a warranty from an import company that contracts out the manufacturing of its products to the cheapest overseas third party manufacturer it can find, isn’t quite the same as a warranty from an established manufacturer putting its name on the product. Ever try suing someone or a company in a foreign country?
Without laws or regulations requiring sellers and importers of products being installed in your home to verify the origin make-up of the materials, buyers are on their own. As a consumer you would be better served if, for example, you were told that the moldings surrounding high traffic areas (doors, outside corners) in the home you are about to purchase are not likely to hold up to heavy traffic because they are made of MDF, a relatively soft material?
MDF in the right applications is a wonderful material. For instance, because it holds paint so well, it is great for center panels of cabinet doors. However I would never make a cabinet box out of it. It works well for painted crown molding. At eight feet above the floor it is not likely to get much abuse. Different story for base boards and door jams.
I for one am tired of seeing good unsuspecting people being taken advantage of by “Branding Schemes” and so called craftsmen using paint and calk to disguise poor quality craftsmanship and or potentially harmful materials. I trust a well-informed American Consumer to determine what combination of value and service best fits their situation and family needs. However in these cases it seems to me that key information is deliberately being withheld.
A president of a very Eco-friendly cabinet manufacturer in the US told me a few years ago that by law he wasn’t allowed to use the materials in is products that the importers are flooding the market with. Perhaps wanting the government to do the right thing is folly. Until they do, if ever, it’s buyer beware.
June 8, 2013
Jeff Kida recently wrote an article published in Remodeling Magazine discussing the traditional work triangle and the concept of “Zone Kitchen Design”. Click here to view the pdf version Remodeling Magazine May 2013 Article
You can also read it on line at the Remodeling Magazine web site along with other great articles. www.remodeling.hw.net
May 16, 2013
Question: Stacey an executive for a national publication wrote asking for information on “Universal Design” and “Aging in Place” design and building principles and practices. I have met Stacey; the question seemed odd coming from someone who looked to be in perfect health and not a day over twenty five. But after thinking about it I realized she was correct to be interested in understanding how these issues can impact all of us.
For a pdf version of the article Click Here Ask The Kitchen Guy 5-16-2013 – Universal Head Ache #1
Considerations: What is “Universal Design” or “Aging in Place” construction? Why should I concern myself with these issues at my age? I’m an investor, why should I worry about the next owner’s problems and needs? Where do you go to start figuring out your needs? Just getting started can be a major headache.
Answer: Take two aspirin and don’t call me until you have read the rest of this article.
Universal Design contrary to what many believe designing for the handicapped. It is about making rooms, homes and other buildings more accessible and usable for everyone. It can be basic like making faucet handles easier to use and closer to the front of a sink or removing obstructions from under a sink so a wheel chair can be rolled up under it. It can also be more involved. Universal design in public spaces can be more generic trying to accommodate a large variety of possibilities to very specific when designing a residence with a single person or set of circumstances.
The concept of “Aging in Place” design or construction is relatively new. In a nutshell it’s about remodeling your home to accommodate you when you are older and perhaps dealing with disabilities or other issues that come with age. It’s much more than widening a door and adding some grab bars to a bathroom. It’s about transforming a home for you or a future owner to be easier to live when day to day living is more challenging.
Here are just two reasons to incorporate these principles into the repairs and remodeling plans for your property. First, why wouldn’t you want to make your property appealing to a broader group of people?
Second, this applies to investor owners, ever hear the phrase “Reasonable Accommodation”? There are thousands of pages of law, rules and regulations written regarding the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Most attorneys will tell you the two most important are “Reasonable Accommodation”. Put simply if a tenant asks you to modify your property, at your expense, to make it more accessible to him or her you may be required to do so if it is considered a reasonable accommodation. In case you are wondering, the final decision on what is reasonable is not yours to make.
So now what?
You shouldn’t think of these principles as an additional cost to a project. In many cases there is no difference in costs. It’s really about doing things different. If you have read any of my past articles you may be able to guess what my next statement is going to be. It starts with a plan and a budget. However, before you can start formulating your plan and budget there are a few people you need to consult with. It also requires a frank face to face conversations with your family, financial advisor, physician and most importantly the person you see in the mirror every day.
To help formulate the plan and budget once you have consulted with the necessary people I suggest you look for a certified professional in the residential home building or remodeling industry.
A few good places to start looking for certified professionals is through professional associations such as:
NARI – National Association for the Remodeling Industry – www.NARI.org
NAHB – National Association of Home Builders – www.nahb.org
NKBA – National Kitchen and Bath Association – www.NKBA.org
November 30, 2012
“Q: Dear Kitchen Guy: I would like to buy gift for friends of mine that are real “Foodies”, what do you suggest?
A: I can offer you two must have items for anyone serious about cooking. These products are top of their respective classes and Made in America.
Click Here for the PDF version of this article Ask The Kitchen Guy 11-30-2012 – Innovative Products for Foodies
Must Have Item One:
Any serious foodie must have high quality cutlery. I recommend CUTCO Cutlery. I believe it is as good as any cutlery made in the world. Here are some of the benefits to buying CUTCO Cutlery.
- Free Lifetime Sharpening Service, (there is a $6.00 or $9:00 S&H fee) depending on your location they will either come to your home or you can send it to the factory. Turnaround is quick. For more details see http://www.cutco.com/customer/sharpening.jsp
- FOREVER Guarantee, follow this link for details: http://www.cutco.com/customer/guarantee.jsp?ref=f
- Quality and American Made. http://www.cutco.com/company/made-in-america.jsp
- Buying Made Easy: The local representative Ari Aberman is a great guy you can call him at (773) 458-0411 to arrange your purchases or go to his web page at CUTCO www.CutcoAri.com
Must Have Item Two:
Epicurean Cutting Boards, I have wrote about these products here before and talked about them on the Mighty House Radio show too. Here are some of the benefits to buying Epicurean Cutting Boards.
- Unlike other cutting boards made from wood Epicurean’s cutting boards are dishwasher safe and store much easier than bulky competitor’s offerings.
- Their primary material is made with multiple layers of Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified wood fibers, compressed with a food-safe resin.
- They also have a new line of Eco Plastic products that utilizes 100% post-consumer recycled milk jugs.
- For a full product offering go to www.epicureancs.com They have something for everyone’s budget.
- All of our products are made in America.
August 10, 2012
August 10th 2012
“Q: Hey Kitchen Guy: Why is it that every kitchen or bath project I see done on TV seems to only take a week, yet every contractor I talk to tells me it is going to be several weeks to do my project? What gives?
Click Here For PDF Version of this article: Ask The Kitchen Guy 8-10-2012 – As Seen On TV
A: The contractors or dealers you are talking with are probably telling you the truth. Many, but not all of the television home improvement shows, do have a tendency to make the home improvement project they are featuring in any given episode look easier than it is. Those shows are a constant source of frustration for most remodeling professionals.
In a May 9th, 1961 speech to the National Association of Broadcasters Convention Newton Minow, then FCC Chair gave his famous and somewhat critical speech declaring television a “vast wasteland”. His speech resonates still today. Here the excerpted phrase in context. The entire speech is worth looking up if you can.
“When television is good, nothing — not the theater, not the magazines or newspapers — nothing is better. But when television is bad, nothing is worse. I invite each of you to sit down in front of your television set when your station goes on the air and stay there for a day without a book, without a magazine, without a newspaper, without a profit and loss sheet or a rating book to distract you. Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland.”
When I consider all the home improvement shows on TV today, there are two shows that stand out in my mind for accuracy, good advice and quality work. It’s no coincidence that they have been on the air the longest. Those shows are This Old House, Holmes on Homes and their respective spin offs. The rest have fulfilled Newton Minow’s famous description of television, a vast wasteland.
Generally speaking, people don’t want to hear the truth when it comes to the work, details, materials, and costs involved in doing a remodeling project, right? So they tell you want you want to hear. More to the point, they don’t tell you what you don’t want to hear.
Networks provide approximately 22 minutes or less of content every half hour. In the process of delivering that content, the shows must be paced fast enough to keep your attention and simple enough for the general masses to understand it while telling you what you want to hear. The end results are typically shows that give bad advice, gloss over important and costly details leaving a job so poorly done I would be surprised if they are guaranteed to last any longer than it takes the film crew to back out of your driveway.
Exacerbating this situation is the endless supply of pretty faces with empty heads and a willingness to exchange whatever integrity they may have had for a paycheck and an opportunity to develop their brand.
Here are just some of the things I had to watch so called professionals do in order to write this article.
1) Planning: They rarely discuss what could be done. They never discuss what should be done unless it will be seen on TV.
2) Material Selection: It’s all about looks, pushing sponsors products and installing the product as fast as possible to stay on schedule. Durability, ease of use and maintenance are out the window.
3) Perceived Value: If you really think you can save $6,000.00 by demolishing your 200 square foot kitchen yourself, I have a bridge I want to sell you.
4) Trying to tackle a $30,000.00 project that typically takes 5 – 7 weeks in three days with just $3,000.00 is going to work out well because you have a positive attitude and a how to book that was written by someone who never did.
5) Giving a homeowner who works in an office 40 hours a week a 6 pound sledge hammer and tell him/her to start swinging while people are working within a few feet is beyond stupid.
6) Demolition kicks up lots of dust, much of which can be hazardous to your health. Short term and long term. Failure to contain the dust can leave families living in a toxic dump.
7) If you want to act like a pro, then be smart and hire professional licensed electricians and plumbers.
8) A can of paint is not going to make old builder grade (not good) cabinets look like new custom ones. Paint certainly won’t make your cabinetry function any better either.
9) Ranges or cook tops shouldn’t go in front of windows.
10) If you are going to cover up a window (probably not a good idea) you must do it properly or run a very good risk of creating a major mold problem in your home.
11) No you can’t install cabinets just like a pro.
Bottom line, save for Mike Holmes and This Old House, Newton Minow was right.
July 18, 2012
DDS Design Services and Crawford Plumbing Supply are now extending “Preferred Vendor Discount Pricing” to Our Clients, Friends and Family. Click Here For Details: Partner Program Announcement
June 1, 2012
“Q: Dear Kitchen Guy: We are looking to remodel our home over the next 12 to 18 months. We would like to be Eco-friendly but we are not sure where to start and the big box stores have been no help. What do you suggest? (Click here for PDF Version) Ask The Kitchen Guy 6-1-2012 – Going Going Green
A: As always, I recommend a thorough plan and budget before you start shelling out money for projects. Here is the process I suggest you use to remodel your home and make it more green or Eco-friendly:
1 – Do a preliminary assessment (See Maintaining Your Home, February 2012) for more details.
2 – Have an Energy Audit done to determine where you are losing energy (dollars) and what needs to be done to tighten up the house. This will cost some money but the investment is well worth it.
3 – Having done steps one and two above, now the fun (?) starts. You will have to determine what has to be done and in what order. The order in which projects get done should be determined by factoring cost, return on investment, availability of funds, existing conditions and a logical sequencing of projects. For instance, you don’t want to do a lot of interior painting if the roof is leaking even if you can’t afford the roof repair and you can afford a can or two of paint.
At this point you may be wondering why you started this process. (When you’re surrounded by alligators, its hard to keep focused on draining the swamp.) Oh yeah, you wanted to go green, hence the alligator reference.
4 – Choose your materials, equipment and suppliers. Going green can be very subjective. You must follow your own conscience and trust your instincts. Trust me when I say you will never be green enough for everyone. You will have to find a balance between logical applications, affordability, value and your own sense of style. Here are some examples:
- Is cabinetry made with bamboo grown and harvested overseas, mixed with resins and other chemicals in unregulated factories greener than laminate cabinets that look very similar made locally with materials sourced through Eco-friendly or sustainable programs?
- Does it make sense to purchase a high efficiency furnace and air conditioner when it might cost up to 50% more if your house is too drafty for the unit to work properly?
- Does it make sense to purchase a new counter top made with recycled glass and concrete when it costs more than quartz product made in a modern efficient factory and doesn’t hold up to everyday use nearly as well?
- Does it make sense to “re-purpose” an old appliance when a new one so much more efficiently will pay for itself (return on investment) in three years?
When it comes to choosing dealers and contractors, there are several ways in which you can go about finding the right contractor(s) in your area. A great source is NARI – National Association for the Remodeling Industry, another is the BBB – Better Business Bureau. I am personally not a fan of organizations or web sites that basically provide you with referrals from people you or they, for that matter, don’t know.
You should be getting my point by now. Research is the key. Find that balance and move forward.
One last thought on the subject:
In my opinion you are correct, “Big Box” stores or large merchandisers that compete with other similar organizations will not go green (other than figurative lip service) because their focus is on bringing products to market at the lowest cost they can, while maintain high profit margins. They do not operate in a vacuum – they are simply doing what their customer base demands of them. If you want more green information and options, support locally based businesses.
February 13, 2012
“Q: We just remodeled our kitchen; can you tell us the best way to keep it looking new? We are busy professionals and would also appreciate any advice you could offer regarding home maintenance in general.
Click here for the pdf version Ask The Kitchen Guy 2-13-2012 – Maintaining Your Home
A: There are five steps you can take to make keep your kitchen and home in general running smoothly. First organize your information. Second, create a team of qualified people and/or companies to assist you in doing what needs to be done. Third, do a complete and comprehensive assessment of your home; you will probably need professional help for this step. Fourth, create a maintenance and repair plan with schedule and expected costs. Fifth, incorporate these items into your household budget.
The goal in this process is to prevent premature equipment failure and give you a clear view of where your money will be best spent moving forward. However, safety must come first; check your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. If they are not working properly fix or replace them.
The best place to start is the nearest office supply store. You will need binders, paper, pens and pencils and clear plastic binder pockets large enough to hold the specification sheets and manuals that came with your appliances. You should buy enough binders for each area of your home. I suggest you organize them in the following manner:
- Kitchen & Bathroom(s)
- Mechanical & Safety Equipment – Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detectors, Furnace, Hot Water Heater, Generator, Sump and Ejector Pumps, etc.
- Exterior – Windows, Roof, Gutters & Spouts, Eaves & Fascia, Siding, Bricks etc.
- Other Rooms – Bedrooms, Living Rooms Etc.
- Tools and Portable Equipment – Lawn mowers, Snow blowers, Generators, Power Tools and anything else that comes with a manual.
In the pocket of these binders you can store the manufacturer’s manuals, receipts from where you bought them and from the people or companies that serviced them. These manuals can be huge time and money savers when things break, need servicing or cleaning. In the manuals you will typically find cleaning instructions and replacement part numbers and telephone numbers to help lines. I often find it easier and less expensive to by parts, for instance, water filters directly from the manufacturer over the telephone or their web site. Manufacturer help lines can also be a great source for factory trained and certified technicians.
Write down your exact model number and serial number on the front of each manual. Many manufacturers publish manuals to cover more than one model number.
If you do not have the manuals, model and serial numbers for your existing equipment it is not difficult to start gathering the information. Manufacturers’ plates can usually be found on your equipment with a serial and model numbers easily readable. Then you can usually find a web site where you can download the manuals at no charge. You may also want to write the web address and/or help line number down on the front of the manual as well.
Remember the old saying “When your only tool is a hammer every problem looks like a nail”. If you hire a window specialist to help you with your assessment don’t be surprised if they determine you need new windows.
Assemble a team of qualified people and/or companies to assist you in doing what needs to be done. I suggest the local NARI (National Association of the Remodeling Industry) office or the BBB (Better Business Bureau). You can also search the yellow pages for a maintenance services company or remodeling contractor. A good remodeling contractor should have working relationships with the various trades and service companies that you will need for step three.
Remember you are not looking for free estimates here. However if you describe what you are trying to do, a professional should be willing to come out and discuss the assessment project (step 3) with you at no charge. Expect to pay the professionals for their time once they start working. This may be the most important project you ever do in your home so take your time and be thorough. Here is what I would do to help make my choice:
- Ask for specific experience in doing what you need done.
- Ask for a list of the services they perform directly and which ones they sub-contract out.
- Ask them specifically what and how they plan to do the job and in what time frame.
- Ask for references and check them out.
Here is a tip that will help you maximize your dollars. When the technicians come out to inspect the equipment such as the furnace, have them clean it and tune it up if necessary. They can also help you find the model and serial numbers.
FYI – The NARI Chapter of Greater Chicago publishes a handbook of its current members. Whenever I hand one out, I tell people they should keep it right next to their flashlights and other emergency items.
Do a preliminary assessment of your home. This is where you start gathering the information talked about in step 1. Determine (if you can) when and who serviced the equipment last. Once you’ve gathered the information and manuals, it’s time start doing the complete and comprehensive assessment. This is where the professionals should be brought in.
You will need to find a maintenance company or series of specialty companies to come out and inspect your property. I would start first with and Energy Audit. This will require a professional and should include scanning all exterior walls and ceilings with a Thermal Imaging camera that will give you a clear idea of where you are losing energy. Energy equals dollars. Another key component of an Energy Audit is a Blower Door Test.
A Blower Door Test is done by creating negative pressure in your home with a blower mounted to a door opening. The test will show where outside air is coming into your home and at what rate per hour or day you are exchanging air. You will probably be surprised to find how porous your home is.
Note: It’s not uncommon to find out that repairing and caulking your windows and doors may have a better payoff than blowing insulation into your attic and walls.
Create a maintenance and repair plan with schedule and expected costs. Basic items such as batteries for your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, furnace and water filters should be changed seasonally or according to manufacturers instructions. Then start looking at the bigger ticket items.
Nothing last forever but they can last longer if properly maintained. Making your equipment last longer will help free up your dollars for repairs that could save on energy (Energy = Dollars) expenses.
Incorporate these items into your household budget. They budget should be written down and spread out over twelve months and should include everything. Let’s face it you have to run your home like a business today. This is what I tell clients planning a new kitchen project.
* Remember knowing how much you want to spend is not a budget it is a spending wish. Knowing how you are going to spend that amount on a per item basis is a budget!
November 30, 2011
Remodeling Magazine just put out it’s annual cost vs value report for 2011 -2012. Click here to see the breakdown for the Chicago area.
For those numbers crunchers out there trying to determine whether to go ahead on a remodeling project I would like to offer this great analysis from the trade publication Remodeling Magazine. The article offers an excellent analysis of cost vs value for various remodeling projects many homeowners may be considering for there home. The data shown in the attached report is for the Chicago Illinois area however the full article offers data for the entire United States and can be found on the Remodeling Magazine web site.
My conclusion after reading these statistics is that remodeling your home if done right is still a good investment especially when factoring in two very important factors. One an updated ready to move into home can bring more value and shorter listing time making it much easier for the seller to maximize their equity. The second, as a kitchen and bath professional I be those statistics can be improved on by prudent decisions and hiring the right professional.
DDS Design Services – originator of the Reasonably Green concept – offers high quality materials and Eco-friendly options not usually found in a typical retail environment or contractor supply house. With an emphasis on the following:
- Planning and Budgeting – Part of a good design is an accurate budget that details all material and labor needed to complete the project.
* Remember knowing how much you want to spend is not a budget it is a spending wish. Knowing how you are going to spend that amount on a per item basis is a budget!
- Making our clients aware of green “Eco-friendly” options that are durable and make sense financially.
- Reliable Resource – DDS Design Services and the “Ask The Kitchen Guy” blog have been a resource for newspapers, magazines and radio programs throughout the greater Chicago area. Many clients have found our free kitchen planner and measuring form indispensable.