28 December 2009

Consumers More Circumspect On Home Remodeling Projects

Chicago Tribune

'Twas only a few years ago, when the housing boom was in full roar, that homeowners didn't have to fret too much over whether the money they invested in remodeling would be paid back at resale time.

Indeed, it was practically a no-brainer: Home sale prices were going up so high and so fast that remodeling the kitchen or the master bath would nearly pay for itself. Some remodeling companies had so much backlogged work that clients passed the time on waiting lists.

"These days, it's a new ballgame," said Sal Alfano, a former contractor who now is the editorial director for Remodeling magazine, a trade journal. "Now, the jobs are smaller, the scope of work has been cut back, and consumers are doing things in phases."

And, he said, consumers are squinting harder at contractors' estimates, not only to push down costs but also to decide whether the price of that redone kitchen or master bath is going to pay them back anything when it comes time to sell in a market that has become notoriously fickle and with home prices sliding.

Such born-again cost-consciousness makes complete sense in the current economy, Alfano said, but he's concerned that the infatuation with the contractor who offers the lowest bid will come back to haunt consumers.

Each year, Alfano's magazine partners with the National Association of Realtors to produce the Cost vs. Value Report, a massive numbers-crunch that tries to ballpark the return on investment for dozens of home-improvement projects, nationally and regionally, in addition to numerous metro areas, including Chicago.

It's an ongoing slide, he said. Nationwide, the payback at sale on remodeling, in general, peaked in 2005 (the height of the housing boom) at 86.7 percent, according to the magazine survey of the remodeling industry and NAR members.

"That is," he said, "it was costing you 13 cents on the dollar to build just about anything (if you were selling the house in a relatively short period).

"That's pretty cheap," he said. "Then it sank like a rock, ending up at 76 percent, or 10 points lower than the year before."

In the 2009 survey, the average payback, nationally, was about 64 percent, according to magazine data.

That's almost exactly the average for 33 remodeling projects analyzed in the Chicago area in the 2009 survey, including kitchen remodeling, bathroom remodeling, decks and sunrooms. Heading the costs-recouped list here were not the glamour kitchen/bath projects, but smaller-scale and more utilitarian jobs.

The best returns here, according to the report, were on midrange entry-door replacements (115 percent return at sale) and upscale fiber-cement siding replacements (85.8 percent).

The magazine extensively defines the parameters of each project, citing specific materials and overall price ranges, all gleaned from cost-estimating software used in the remodeling industry. In addition, this year 4,000 members of the Realtors' group weighed in on how the improvements might pay back at resale in their local markets. The full report is at remodeling.hw.net.

A midrange major kitchen remodel in Chicago (average cost: $67,332) recouped about 67 percent at sale time. An upscale bathroom remodel here ($63,402) recouped about 50 percent, according to the study.

Despite the data, not all consumers are reining in and battening down, some remodelers say.

"For the people who have the ability and want to do a kitchen remodel, I'm not seeing them skimping," said Bryan Nooner, chairman of Distinctive Remodelers in Orland Park.

"Pretty typically, we're seeing kitchen remodels in the $40,000 to $70,000 range. They're spending what they want to. They still want the granite (counters), they want upgraded wood-cabinet species such as maple or cherry, and we're doing few standard wood stains -- most everybody wants a hand-rubbed finish."

One of his recent clients, Frank Toland, said resale value wasn't a consideration when he recently remodeled the kitchen of his Mokena home. He said the job cost about $70,000, in addition to upgrades elsewhere in the house that were done at the same time.

"Resale really didn't factor in at all," Toland said. "We're not planning on moving. We're planning on staying there, and that's why we decided to do it the way we wanted.

"We hope that the money we put in, eventually we'll get it out. But we said, let's do it the way we want it done rather than cut costs because of resale value."

Matt Draus, who owns Descon Construction in Oak Park, also said he's hearing from customers who are thinking long term.

"We see people who have a little bit of money and decide they're not going to move for five years because of the real estate market," Draus said. "But we're not seeing the big blowout room additions."

Instead, he said, he's seeing smaller projects and more emphasis on maintaining and updating existing features -- jobs that require handyman services.

But more so than in recent years, he said, money talks.

"Cost is definitely getting much more scrutiny now," he said. "It's all about cost, that's a No. 1 priority."

But Draus said that bottom-lining often seems to be coming at the expense of quality. Driven by the slumping economy, the home remodeling-industry ranks are swollen with newcomers and some tradespeople who are eager to have any income at all, he said.

"I'm [offering estimates] against people who aren't honest and upfront and are low-balling it in order to get the work," he said. "There are a lot of good builders out there, but there are a lot of others who are making times harder for the rest of us."

Alfano agreed, and urged homeowners to be cautious when considering bids that are significantly below competitors'.

"What we couldn't account for [in estimating costs for the magazine study] was the number of  home remodeling jobs where the contractor cut his overhead or his profit just to keep busy, hoping that things would turn around," Alfano said.

"Others are former new-construction builders who don't yet know that they can't really do a job for a large percentage less" than competing bidders, he said.

Draus said he's seeing some companies agree to jobs that unquestionably are money-losers for them, just to keep some cash flowing, sometimes with disastrous results for all.

"[A homeowner] might get a bid of $1,000 from a guy who's about to go bankrupt or a $3,000 bid from a guy who is competent and stable," he said.

"I've been called in to finish jobs for people who took the $1,000 bid," he said.


    The national average percentage of remodeling costs recouped upon selling a home. That means it costs 36 cents on the dollar to build just about anything for your home.

    In the Chicago area, the best returns were not the glamour kitchen/bath projects, but smaller-scale and more utilitarian jobs.


    Return on sale for replacing an entry door with a midrange substitute


    Return on upscale fiber-cement siding replacement


    The average payback on a midrange major kitchen remodeling project


    What you'd recoup on the average upscale bathroom remodeling project

New Trend: Cash For Appliance Clunkers

Post Star

New York will launch an appliance rebate program during President's Week next February designed to boost sales of energy-efficient refrigerators and washers, state and federal officials announced Monday.

New York's Great Appliance Swap Out will offer rebates to consumers who buy certain energy-efficient refrigerators, clothes washers, freezers and dishwashers; the rebate is even larger when those customers recycle their older, inefficient models.

Rebates for high-efficiency appliances will range from $50-$105 for a single unit, and up to $555 for the purchase of a three-appliance package.

The state expects to issue more than 170,000 rebates totaling $16.8 million, all funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The appliance swap-out is similar to the wildly successful and chaotic Cash for Clunkers program, with one key exception: Customers will have to apply for appliance rebates on their own. Under the Clunkers program, auto dealers begrudgingly fronted the car incentives as they waited weeks or months for payment from the federal government.

For their part, appliance retailers said they expect the rebates to be popular, judging by the number of inquiries they've received since the program was first proposed in July.

At Best Kitchen Cabinets and Appliance Center in South Glens Falls, Manager Jerry Laramie said his big concern is whether announcement of the program long before it takes effect will hurt sales in the interim.

"People are going to wait for it," Laramie said of the rebate. "But when it does hit, it's going to be crazy."

For Adirondack Appliance in Saratoga Springs, there's not really a downside to the program. Owner Thomas Thibeault Jr. said he expects manufacturers to jump on the rebate bandwagon and offer their own incentives.

"It's good for business; it's a good thing," Thibeault said.

Some retailers, like Adirondack Appliance, are expected to offer free recycling; there may also be opportunities to recycle old appliances at local landfills, waste stations and recycling centers.

Gov. David Paterson said Monday that the program will provide an "important boost" to the economy early next year, while keeping old appliances out of landfills through recycling incentives.

"This program will offer more than 170,000 New Yorkers the chance to save hundreds of dollars a year by replacing their old kitchen appliances with new, energy-efficient appliances and, by offering additional incentives for people to recycle, will help avoid placing additional burdens on our landfills," he said.

Paterson noted the state would not have pursued the program if it was not federally funded.

Appliance Sales Could Be Heating Up

The Washington Post

One of the oddest phenomena of the boom years was how kitchen appliances morphed into sexy, high-maintenance trophies. Even as we were fleeing our kitchens at unprecedented rates to dine out, those kitchens underwent a remarkable transformation, tarted up with Viking ranges and Sub-Zero fridges that cost as much as a Korean compact car.

These days flickered out when the real estate market imploded. When the demand for McMansions vanished, so did the need for high-end appliances to put in them. According to the market research firm NPD Group, spending on major appliances dropped from $24.9 billion in 2007 to $21.8 billion last year. Although that might sound like a lot of money, a lot of that spending comes from nondiscretionary replacement costs; if your fridge bites the dust, you're not going to wait months before getting a new one. And so the decline begins: Since the spring, Viking Range of Greenwood, Miss., has laid off more than 300 workers in five waves, according to the Mississippi Business Journal. Britain's Aga Rangemaster shed about 400 jobs.

But there's a plot twist unfolding in this riches-to-rags story. Even as analysts speak of a "new normal" and a need to adjust expectations, a kitchen that could have been lifted from the set of "Iron Chef" has never been more attainable. Mass-market offerings have been steadily creeping up in price as consumers, particularly younger ones, demand higher-end touches or a sleek, professional look on middle-of-the-road models.

While boomers and seniors are winding down their appliance purchases, millennials are just getting started, and their tastes are higher-end, says Mark Delaney, a home analyst for NPD Group. As a generation that grew up watching the Food Network, today's newly minted adults don't see features such as stainless-steel finishes as frivolous. The industry has responded in kind: Viking rolled out its lower-priced Designer Series line last month, and Sears recently sealed a deal to be the exclusive provider of Whirlpool's Jenn-Air brand, which offers high-end touches such as touch-screen controls. Hamilton Beach's coffee and espresso makers are stainless steel and state of the art. Such products are several notches down from the luxury appliances that inspired them, but they're still pricier than base models.

As a result, analysts are cautiously optimistic that appliance sales are due for a turnaround, albeit a slow one. The shopping habits of the wealthy as tracked by the research firm Unity Marketing show a four-percentage-point increase in the number of people making kitchen and bathroom purchases, which includes major kitchen and laundry appliances as well as such things as cabinets and countertops, in the third quarter of this year compared with the same period last year. Unity founder Pam Danziger attributes the uptick to consumers' desire to make staying at home with indoor grills more pleasant while boosting their homes' resale value.

This increase in purchasing will benefit retailers before it hits manufacturers, because current inventory will have to be cleared out first. But Sub-Zero and Wolf have already rehired a little more than 200 employees at facilities that crank out their high-end appliance lines, and the company said in a release that it will add 60 new jobs at these sites over the next several months.

There are a few other factors driving this recovery. Growing concerns about energy consumption, along with some stimulus-related Energy Department incentives being doled out at the state level, are also giving the sector a boost. Whether consumers are concerned about their carbon footprints or the cost of chilling and heating their leftovers, they're turning to energy-efficient appliances. The government rebates sweeten the pot.

One type of product that stands to benefit hugely from this embrace of the eco-friendly is the induction cooktop. Already popular in Europe, ranges with this feature have trickled into foodie consciousness but are just cracking the mainstream in the United States. They're not cheap -- a Consumer Reports review last year found that they start at a little less than $2,000 -- and they can require an ancillary investment in new pots and pans because the electromagnetic reaction that powers them won't react with aluminum or copper. In exchange for these quirks, though, users get a snazzy-looking appliance that boils water in roughly half the time of a conventional range and consumes far less energy.

Offering convenience as well as energy savings, microwave ovens are outperforming their full-size siblings in the retail arena, according to data from the market research firm Mintel. Among all cooking appliances (including ovens, ranges and toaster ovens), microwaves made up roughly two-thirds of shipments in 2009. David Lockwood, Mintel's director of research, says this relatively higher demand is partially because microwaves tend to wear out faster and be replaced more quickly than major appliances.

The most significant legacy of premium kitchen appliances is the stainless-steel aura of the upscale they have left on more prosaic offerings. Even at their peak of popularity, five-figure stoves never cracked the mainstream, but the aspiration they inspired has fundamentally reshaped a formerly utilitarian market. Although it's unlikely that many of us will be in a position to drop $10,000 on a cooktop even after the economy is humming along again, we're increasingly receptive to dropping an extra $500 or so for a less-fuel hungry model, one tricked out with a pro-style flourish or two, or one that's just prettier than the white enamel workhorses of yore.

18 December 2009

Valencia County Sites Featured As Registered Cultural Properties

Valencia County News-Bulletin

When New Mexico became a state in 1912, the 1,458 square miles that was to become Valencia County had already seen a good amount of history. As time marched on, rivers shifted course, political boundaries were drawn and erased and roads were carved, paved and sometimes rerouted.

Now the population of the county is closing in on 90,000 people, spread up and down the valleys and sprinkled across the llanos. While they are looking forward, they are also looking back and taking steps to preserve the precious history of the area.

According to the New Mexico Historic Preservation Division's Department of Cultural Affairs Web site, there are 27 registered cultural properties in the county, including buildings and areas that are culturally sensitive. Many of those listed on the state's registry are on the national historic registry as well.

One of the oldest structures in the county is the Miguel E. Baca House in Adelino, which sits adjacent to the Camino Real to its east and not far from the Rio Grande to its west. Originally built in 1896, the structure measured 80 feet by 30 feet, with building-length portals on both its east and west sides.

A large 30-by-35-foot room dominated the north end of the building, while six rooms on the south end served as spacious living quarters. The adobe walls measured 18 inches thick, ideal to keep warm air in during the winter and cool air in during the summer months. The old building still stands as a prominent landmark on N.M. 47, and was placed on the state registry in 1974 and the national registry in 1978.

When the railroad pushed west, that opened up new travel opportunities for people on the crowded east coast. Many of those seeking wide open spaces and opportunity dined at more than one of the Harvey House restaurants along the Santa Fe Railway. One stop along the way was in Belen.

Good food and better service by the Harvey Girls made the stopover a memorable occasion for travelers.

All place settings had to be arranged in just the right manner, with napkins folded in a special way and silverware perfectly polished. There can be no chips in the plates, cups or saucers. Full pitchers of cold water must be placed at every other place setting on the lunch counter. Fresh coffee, made with a pinch of salt, must be brewed. Every Harvey Girl carries a small towel on her arm to wipe up even the smallest spot or spill.

The Harvey Girls must also be as impeccable as possible. They cannot wear lipstick or any other makeup. Hair nets must be in place, with hair worn up, regardless of current styles. Uniforms must be freshly cleaned and ironed. Entire uniforms must be changed if even a tiny smudge appears. Everyone was required to wear white stockings with no runs and girdles, as checked daily by female supervisors.

The Harvey House closed in 1939, and reopened briefly during World War II to help feed the dozens of troop trains that came through town daily. Through the efforts of the City of Belen, the Valencia County Historical Society, the Belen Chamber of Commerce and countless volunteers, the building was preserved and is now a museum dedicated to the Harvey Girls, railroad memorabilia and is the home of the Belen Model Rail Club.

In addition, the museum hosts several art shows during the year ranging from exhibits of oil paintings, quilting, fiber arts and photography.

If you like watching freight trains, the museum is located on the west side of the Belen rail yard, which sometimes sees nearly 100 trains a day. The Harvey House was added to the state registry in 1982, and the national list a year later.

The Felipe Chavez house, which is was placed on the state and national historical registers in 1980, was built in 1860 by a pioneer merchant, trader and rancher. Felipe Chavez made his fortune with business interests ranging from the New York Stock Exchange to mining in Mexico.

Although there were several haciendas in the area, the Chavez estate was the largest. It included cornfields, extensive pasture, cottonwood groves, a mercantile and, eventually, a school for girls.

Ymelda and Leroy Baca and their daughter, Gretta, began work in 2004 to open the house to the public and share Valencia County's history.

For the first year, Gretta, who still lived in the area, began the renovation, while Ymelda and Leroy pitched in during visits. But when the couple returned home in 2005, the whole family came together to make their dream a reality.

From the beginning, the family's goal was to restore the house and property and create an institute for the preservation of culture, language and history.

Since Chavez's death in 1905, the keys to the historic house have changed hands more than a dozen times. Through the years, the house has been burned, damaged by floods and even vandalized, but the legacy of the property and of Don Felipe Chavez — also known as "El Millionario" — lives on today.

Another attraction the Bacas hope will draw crowds is a ghost story. Some people believe the spirit to be that of Felipe's daughter, Margarita Chavez. It's said that because her father left her out of his will, her spirit still roams the house.

As for the future of the Felipe Chavez house, the Bacas will continue to rent it out for weddings, parties, reunions and retreats. But their main objective is to host gatherings that will educate people about history and culture.

Ymelda, Leroy and Gretta hosts events that include history lessons, ghost stories, music festivals, poetry readings, art exhibits and plays. The family said the house is open for field trips for school children.

If you drive past the Jarales School located south of Belen on Jarales Road, you will see a building that has been there since 1932. It even looks the same as it did when the first students stepped through its doors. If you step through the door today, things will look nothing like they did in the 1930s.

The building has been renovated, revamped and reinvented as the Don Jose Dolores Cordova Cultural Center. The central hall is finished in white oak, and there is running water and plumbing, handicapped accessible bathrooms, a kitchen and central heat and air.

The soaring ceilings and walls of windows remain, as do the memories of those who attended the school before all the modern niceties were installed.

The cultural center held its grand opening in March 2007, and the schoolhouse has been on the state registry since 1994.

Did Joan and Joe Arvizu ever doubt their decision to move into their Bosque Farms home, a historical property in need of some tender loving care to restore it to its original glory?

The night that dirt fell on Joe's face probably gave the couple pause, but they persevered. The roof of the 1935 home was insulated with dirt, and some had seeped through the viga-supported ceiling and onto Joe.

Well, things at the home on South Bosque Loop have changed since 1992 when the Arvizus moved in, but not much. There's no more dirt on the roof and the doors are more secure, but the family has worked diligently to ensure that the house is just like it was in the Dust Bowl era during which is was built.

The Arvizus are only the third family to live in the 68-year-old dwelling. According to Joan, who's on the board of the Valencia County Historical Society, her abode was one of 44 buildings erected in the vicinity by the federal government's Works Progress Administration and intended as housing for farmers.

About 2,800 acres of land were purchased in the area from an old land grant and used as part of President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal. A similar homestead site was also created in West Virginia.

Forty two of the buildings were dedicated to housing, and a lottery was used to determine which families would have the opportunity to buy them. Charlie Jackson and his wife, Flora, were the first to reside in what is now the Arvizu home.

In 1944, George Shore purchased the home and the 58.8 acres of land. The farmer had his own dairy and lived on the property until about the mid-1980s.

Indeed, the house is obviously not of this era, and there are indications of its age throughout. A built-in ironing board emerges from behind a door in the home's "mud room," dating from a time of popular ironing centers.

The residence's only bathroom has the original bathtub, an antique-looking porcelain tub on legs. The home's light comes from bulbs that jut out from the walls instead of the ceiling. And, in an oddly ahead-of-its-time touch, the electrical outlets are designed to spring closed when plugs are removed from the sockets.

The home was placed on the state registry in 1988.

The mansion was originally built in 1881 by Don Antonio Jose Luna after the railroad negotiated a right-of-way directly through the original family hacienda. In compensation, the railroad agreed to build a home to any specifications named by Don Antonio.

After Mrs. Luna saw southern plantation homes, she wanted the home designed to complement them, but with a New Mexico twist. The 10,000 square foot home was built from traditional adobes.

Don Antonio died the year that the house was completed, so possession of Luna Mansion fell to his son, Don Tranquilino. It was thereafter passed down through the family and reached its heyday between 1900 and 1920, when Don Eduardo Otero and his wife Josefita Manderfield Otero took over the home.

The home was eventually purchased by Earl Whittemore in the 1970s, a local with a passion for history and preservation, and turned into a premier steak house. After three decades of ownership, Whittemore sold the property to the Torres family, Hortencia and Pete Teofilo Torres, daughters Johnnah Torres and Joell Torres and son Peter Japhen Torres.

The family spent months renovating the mansion from top to bottom and quietly reopened the fine dining establishment in August.

The mansion was placed on the state registry in 1973, the national list in 1975 and along with the surrounding fence, was added to the 2009 Most Endangered Places List by the New Mexico Heritage Preservation Alliance (NMHPA).

Jan Biella, deputy state historic preservation officer, encourages people to nominate properties for the registry.

"Every two months, the board entertains new nominations," she said. "It's always surprising what's not listed."

She said listing on the register is considered an honor. "It does not impose anything on the owner. And there are financial incentives such as income tax deductions."

17 December 2009

China Suppliers Ready For Uptick In Housing And Construction Market

Global Sources

Durable materials help makers integrate natural stone trays, decorative prints and other add-ons.

More China suppliers of shower enclosures will be looking to resume their foray into the upper market segments on the back of improving economic sentiment across domestic and overseas destinations.

Companies, in fact, are already expanding their midrange selections. This line promises the fastest export growth, with its share in the country's entire output rising from 40 percent a year ago to about 50 percent in the past six months.

To carry out this upmarket shift, the majority of makers will install value-added features such as massage and shower functions in future releases.

Accessories are likewise being produced from superior and durable materials, including built-in trays that may be fabricated from natural stone rather than acrylic. For this case, marble is the material likely to become popular in the next three to five years.

Decorative prints and graphics are being inserted between glass sheets as well. This ornamental layout is commonly available in the high-end line where the panels can be as thick as 10mm.

To speed up recovery, most manufacturers are also looking to establish new routes abroad as both the EU and the US, despite being China's biggest markets, have become relatively saturated.

In the second half of 2009, companies redirected shipments of low-end and midrange products to Eastern Europe, South America and North Africa. Foshan Korra Bath Ware Co. Ltd's exports to Eastern Europe have 4mm tempered glass panels while those for the EU are 2 to 4mm thicker.

China suppliers offer mainly semiframed and framed models, with each line accounting for approximately 40 percent of the country's total output. Frameless variants, which gained popularity during the economic crisis when manufacturing inputs were costly, constitute the rest.

Going for $60 to $100 each, low-end designs use tempered glass with a thickness of 4 to 6mm. Their metal components are aluminum or stainless steel coated with chrome.

Midrange models are priced at $101 to $150 and come with 6 to 8mm-thick tempered glass. Frames are made of chrome-plated steel or copper. The built-in trays are of acrylic.

At $151 to $200 each, high-end variants adopt 8 to 10mm tempered glass and copper frames with a nickel or chrome finish. The trays are constructed from acrylic or marble.

Materials for bath and shower enclosures are typically procured from domestic suppliers, but these can also be ordered overseas. Most fixtures are compliant with international standards.

Makers generally adjust their prices according to manufacturing input costs. In the next six months, most will offer stable quotes as material rates are expected to remain close to current levels. Copper rose from $1.80 in March to about $2.70 per pound in September 2009. During the same period, aluminum went up from $0.64 to $0.81 a pound.

China is home to more than 400 suppliers of shower enclosures and cubicles. Over 80 percent of enterprises are privately owned, most of which have small or midsize operations. Small suppliers ship less than $10 million worth of products annually to overseas destinations. They have fewer than 200 workers and R&D departments with eight members at most.

Midsize companies send abroad $10 million to $15 million worth of shower enclosures each year. Many have workforces numbering 200 to 500, including 10 to 20 in product development.

With annual export revenues exceeding $15 million, large makers employ more than 500 personnel. Their R&D teams are made up of at least 20 engineers.

Over 90 percent of China's supplier base offers related products such as sauna rooms and bathtubs.

Some manufacturers provide fixtures, including showerheads and panels. Those near ceramic hubs turn out toilets, sinks and other sanitaryware.

With vast sources of raw materials and support factories, the provinces of Guangdong and Zhejiang stand out as the key manufacturing centers. The former accounts for 70 percent of the country's output and ships mainly midrange and high-end models. Well-known international suppliers are also based there.

With relatively lower production outlay, companies in Zhejiang can offer designs that are more affordable than Guangdong's.

Zhongshan is the center of Guangdong province's shower enclosure industry and is recognized as such by the China Hardware Association. The city is home to roughly 110 suppliers, 90 percent of which are manufacturers.

Some of the well-known companies in the area are Zhongshan Ally and Zhongshan City Shali.

The proximity of the hub to Hong Kong and Macau continues to benefit the local industry, allowing makers to account for almost one-third of mainland China's overall exports.

Midrange and high-end designs comprise the bulk of the base's shipments.

To foster growth, leading makers there have set up research centers that focus on advancing new designs. The local government complements this initiative by assisting companies in applying for patents.

Note: All price quotes in this report are in US dollars unless otherwise specified. FOB prices were provided by the companies interviewed only as reference prices at the time of interview and may have changed.

$1.00 Per Month Buys Healthy Home Help

Earth Times

So you think $1.00 doesn’t buy much anymore? Think again. Broan-NuTone®, the industry leader in residential ventilation, offers a complete line of ENERGY STAR® qualified ventilation fans for a healthier home that brings new meaning to value.

For as little as $1.00 a year to operate, Broan-NuTone has packed its ENERGY STAR® qualified ventilation fans with more IAQ punch than other manufacturers. Whether it’s excess odors, indoor pollutants, mold prevention or improving the overall quality of indoor air, you can’t beat this value for a healthier home.

The ENERGY STAR lineup of Broan® and NuTone® ventilation fans includes some 35 different models from the Ultra Silent™ Series, recessed fan/lights, as well as heavy-duty models ideal for light commercial installations and offices. The Ultra Silent Series includes basic bath fans, fan/light/nightlight combinations, humidity sensing fans and humidity sensing/fan/light/nightlight combinations. ENERGY STAR fan-only models use less than 10 kilowatt hours per year.

“All of the ENERGY STAR qualified fans from Broan and NuTone are certified by the Home Ventilating Institute (HVI). The HVI label is a homeowner’s assurance that the certified air flow and sound ratings for a certain ventilation product are the results of testing by an independent laboratory,” says Patrick Nielsen, marketing manager, ventilation fans, Broan-NuTone. “The ENERGY STAR program uses HVI certification as its third-party validation when evaluating whether or not a fan receives ENERGY STAR certified status. Put simply: the HVI certification and ENERGY STAR qualified distinctions help guide homeowners to purchase the most energy efficient fans on the market.”

According to ENERGY STAR officials, earning the ENERGY STAR means fans meet the strict energy efficiency guidelines set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Energy (DOE). ENERGY STAR qualified ventilation fans that include light use 70 percent less energy on average than standard models; these fans provide better efficiency and comfort with less noise and use high performance motors that work better and last longer than motors used in conventional models. In addition, they feature high performance motors and improved blade design, providing better performance and longer life.

“Because Broan-NuTone is the leading U.S. manufacturer of residential ventilation, and has been manufacturing fans longer than any other company in the U.S., we have played a key role in helping the industry set the standard for HVI over the years,” says Nielsen. “When a homeowner puts one of our ENERGY STAR qualified fans into their home, they can rest assured that it’s the most energy-efficient fan currently available.”

And all of this for only $1.00 a year to operate.

In addition, all Broan-NuTone ENERGY STAR qualified ventilation fans are designed, engineered, manufactured and customer supported in the U.S. which also means the carbon footprint required to make that fan available to homeowners is less than many of its competitors coming from overseas.

“When you purchase an ENERGY STAR qualified fan from us, you’re not only getting the best IAQ value on the market, but you’re also helping to keep jobs in the U.S. And not just manufacturing jobs; technical and customer support jobs as well. When you call us, you’re speaking to a Broan-NuTone employee on American soil, not overseas. This ‘made in America’ commitment, combined with the incredible IAQ value, makes the installation of a Broan-NuTone ENERGY STAR fan a win-win,” says Nielsen.

For a complete list of all Broan-NuTone ENERGY STAR fans, visit www.Broan.com or www.NuTone.com. The ENERGY STAR models are available in most major retailers nationwide.

Broan® is a registered trademark and Ultra Silent™ is a trademark of Broan-NuTone LLC, North America's leading manufacturer and distributor of residential ventilation products including range hoods, ventilation fans, heater/fan/light combination units, Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) Fresh Air Systems, built-in heaters, whole-house fans, attic ventilators and trash compactors. NuTone® is a registered trademark of NuTone Inc., a subsidiary of Broan-NuTone and North America's leading manufacturer and distributor of residential built-in convenience products including door chimes, central vacuum systems, paddle fans, stereo intercom systems, home theater speakers, medicine cabinets, ironing centers and ventilation fans. Broan-NuTone is proud to be an ENERGY STAR® partner.

16 December 2009

Oh! Christmas Tree!

The Wall Street Journal

T.J. Wisner used to buy a small Christmas tree for the downstairs floor of his home in Grand Blanc, Mich. Four years ago, though, after getting the idea from an art fair, he opted for something different: a "beer tree," bottles of holiday brews stacked on a terraced mound of inverted metal buckets.

While the family has a separate artificial tree upstairs, the "beer tree" has become the real Christmas tree. Each year, the Wisners decorate the structure with Christmas cards and pile gifts around it. "This is actually where we have Christmas morning," says Mr. Wisner, a 59-year-old life coach and speaker. "The day after Christmas, we blind taste the beers." Then the tree goes back into the Christmas tree storage bag until next year.

The centuries-old tradition of the Christmas tree is undergoing a rethink. Enterprising—and penny-pitching—people are crafting alternative trees using everything from tumbleweeds to bricks. For those who want to avoid a big do-it-yourself project, manufacturers and retailers are rolling out their own models that only barely resemble a traditional tree storage bag.

Crate and Barrel's CB2 brand is selling a new tree with white polypropylene bristles that the company advertises as "faux fir" and "unapologetically artificial." Williams-Sonoma Inc.'s West Elm and designer David Stark this holiday season introduced cone-shaped weave trees that look like they are made out of straw. And the company's catalog this year features a tree painted on a wall and decorated with a garland for sale at West Elm.

"We know that a lot of our customers are in lofts or apartments and might not have space for Christmas tree storage" says spokeswoman Abigail Jacobs.

The proliferation of offbeat trees may be a sign of a backlash against holiday consumerism—especially during these days of high unemployment. People are "trying to claim Christmas for their own in a way that doesn't fit with how Madison Avenue has defined it with thier Christmas tree storage bags," says Nancy Koehn, a retail historian at Harvard Business School.

The Christmas tree gets a makeover with more consumers making or buying alternative options -- some of which don't even try to look like a real tree. And with many consumers looking for ways to cut costs this holiday season, the pricey real or traditional artificial Christmas tree storage bags may not be in the budget this. Indeed, tree sales declined last year, according to a poll released last August by the National Christmas Tree Association, a group for growers and retailers of real trees, and Harris Interactive. Consumers purchased 28.2 million farm-grown Christmas trees last year, down 10% from the previous year, and 11.7 million artificial trees, down 35%.

"People are looking at every which way to save a buck but also continue with the Christmas spirit," says Toon Van Beeck, a senior industry analyst for IBISWorld, a market research firm in Santa Monica, Calif. Mr. Van Beeck expects tree sales to decline again this year.

The right price has led to quirky purchases. Debora Volansky, of New Milford, Conn., bought a purple tinsel Christmas tree from a pool-and-patio store last year. It was priced at $60—cheaper than your average artificial tree—"because no one wanted it," she says.

Her kids now decorate the tree with an ocean theme (This year—in lieu of a star—there's an octopus on top). "It adds color to the house, which I think is great," says the 42-year-old owner of a Web conferencing company, who already owned a pink bubble-gum colored tree which she stores in her attic in multiple tree storage bags. "The holidays are about the sparkle."

Some manufacturers are trying to appeal to eco-conscious customers who want to eschew the average artificial tree—made of plastic and metal—which growers of real trees have long denounced as neither biodegradable nor recyclable. Büro North, a design studio in Melbourne, Australia, says it uses minimal energy to produce the plywood trees it began selling online this year. The company, which says it has been getting 100 orders a week, packages the trees flat in recycled cardboard and which may then be put away in special bags made for Christmas tree storage. PossibiliTree LLC, in Northfield, Minn., started selling handmade wooden trees, which it says don't contain any toxic materials, online last year.

David Barshow's Mountain Dew tree began, in part, as a creative recycling project. In 2006, Mr. Barshow, a student at California State University, Chico, and his three roommates constructed a tree out of 400 empty Mountain Dew cans, which took three months to drink.

"There was an element of class that was lost when compared to a real tree, but everybody in Chico thought it was really cool," says Mr. Barshow, now 25, a graphic designer in Menlo Park, Calif.

They never made the tree again. "Our bodies just couldn't handle that much sugar after that," Mr. Barshow says. But the Web site they created for their tree, Mdewtree.com, still got 1,000 hits a day around Christmas last year and continues to attract new fans on Facebook and MySpace. "People email once or twice a month with questions on how to make their own and about storing Christmas trees," he says.

Some have gone as far as to make the nontraditional tree a household tradition. Mark Doeffinger, a landscape gardener in Plymouth, Mich., says he has been making his own Christmas trees for nearly three decades, ever since his dog knocked over the family tree and his wife was upset about the mess it created.

He has constructed trees out of different materials each year. One year it was hangers, and another year, old books. Mr. Doeffinger, who this year made a tree out of bricks and light bulbs, says Christmas has become a secular holiday that deserves a nontraditional tree. "The old-timer tree is really passe," he says. "The fake ones people don't like because they're fake. So I'm saying let's try something really funky."

The National Christmas Tree Association says such creations don't count as Christmas trees. "If you make a pyramid object out of bricks or whatever, that's a decoration, maybe, but it's not a Christmas tree," says Rick Dungey, spokesman for the Chesterfield, Mo.-based association. "To me, a Christmas tree is a conifer tree grown on a farm."

But some people have grown up with a different idea of what defines a Christmas tree. Mary Anderson, of Glendale, Calif., says her family used to decorate a tumbleweed with dried chillies and ornaments each year and remembers gathering around it to open gifts. The plant was much easier to come across in New Mexico where she lived and much easier to deal with in terms of storing artificial Christmas trees.

"It literally just rolled up at our door," she says. "It became sort of a tradition. It was a family joke."

Now, for the first time in years, her family is shopping for one this season to get Ms. Anderson's eight-year-old great-niece, who lives in Albuquerque, involved in the tradition. "My dad's gone, and it was just such an amazing, funny thing when he started that," she says.

Folks who own quirky trees warn that they draw stares from visitors. A few years ago, Brandi Duvall found a 10-foot-tall artificial tree that was marked 75% off, making the final price $570. The catch: It was meant to be placed upside down on the stand and had to be stored in a special tree storage bag.

Each year, the tree has caused a buzz in her neighborhood. "I had one couple come over last year, and they said, 'We just got to see your tree,' "esays Ms. Duvall, 34, of Springville, Utah. "It just grows on people."

10 December 2009

Annual Remodeling Report Finds 4 Best Improvements For Selling Your Home


House prices are still dropping, so it pays to know which upgrades will deliver the best return when you sell your home. An annual remodeling report finds 4 basic replacements are likely your smartest choice.

Remodeling is a better investment in some years than others. This year is among the worst if you’re hoping to recoup much money when you sell, says a newly released report. Homeowners are getting back just 64%, on average, of a project’s cost, compared with 87% in 2005, according to Remodeling Magazine’s 2009-2010 Cost vs. Value report.

Some projects pay back better than others. You get more bang for the buck putting money into a basement or attic upgrade than adding a wing to the house. Some of the highest-return projects include a deck addition and quick, conservatively priced replacements of old siding, entry door or windows. (If you want a different perspective, personal-finance guru Liz Pulliam Weston calls remodeling “a waste of money.”)

The report compiles responses from about 4,000 members of the National Association of Realtors in 80 cities to survey questions about 33 hypothetical projects. “I think what the real-estate agents are saying is you’re taking a big risk if you’re buying these high-ticket items, because the market is slow. Buyers are looking for utility,” says Sal Alfano, the magazine’s editorial director. “They’re not so wowed these days as they were three or four years ago.”

A retreat from overbuilding
Some contractors are dropping their rates to get work, so it might seem a good moment, if you have the money, to do a big, blow-out addition. And maybe it is, if you can keep the house long enough. But today, a high-end master suite remodel, for example, returns just 56% of the cost, on average, compared with 80% in 2005. 

“You’re not seeing the big 750-square-foot additions being put on the side of a house like you were a few years ago,” says Martin Conneely, owner of Conneely Contracting, in Arlington, Mass. “Our biggest (jobs) right now are maintenance replacements (of windows, doors, siding and roofing), basement renovations and moderately priced upgrades in the kitchen and bath.”

Despite widespread talk of falling labor prices among remodelers, the cost of construction overall hadn’t changed much.  Return on investment (ROI) is dropping because, in a market flooded with foreclosures, even if labor costs are dropping, the price of existing homes is at such a discount that anything newly built can’t compete.

The 22-year-old Cost vs. Value survey makes clear that return on investment depends greatly on where you live. The highest payback is in the Pacific region (Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington). There, although costs are double the next-most-expensive region (the Mid-Atlantic, including New Jersey, New York and home remodeling Pennsylvania), high resale values more than compensate.

Peter Michelson, CEO of Renewal Design-Build in Decatur, Ga., cautions homeowners to be aware that projects described and priced in this report can — and often do — cost considerably more than the amounts given.

ROI is better in the West South Central (Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma), South Atlantic (Washington, D.C., Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, the Carolinas, Virginia, West Virginia) and East South Central (Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee) regions.

Residents of the Mountain states (Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico) and New England (Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont) enjoy average returns.

It’s hardest to make a buck back on your project in the Middle Atlantic, West North Central (Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, the Dakotas) and East North Central (Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin) regions.

The math didn’t always come out so poorly. As recently as 2005, few homeowners bothered to figure out if their plans meant overbuilding for the neighborhood, Alfano says. They just commissioned the work they wanted and assumed prices would rise to cover their costs.

They were largely correct until 2006, when payback began shrinking along with the scale of jobs that homeowners were undertaking. “The projects that were evaluated as having the most return were not kitchens and baths so much anymore. All of a sudden it was these exterior replacements: roofing, siding and windows,” Alfano says.

It was the beginning of the end of the housing boom. “Today, resale value has come to the forefront. People are much more conscious of building for the neighborhood, and they’re worried about their mortgage rates and their jobs.”

Basic replacements rule
As a group, low-cost replacements — new siding, windows, doors and roofing — deliver the best bang for the buck now, a considerably better payback than from a two-story remodel or a kitchen remodel.

Given great improvements in materials, you can replace your inefficient 10- or 15-year-old products with highly efficient ones for a decent return when you sell. In addition, the improvements help you save on heating and cooling bills. Replacing leaky windows with highly efficient newer ones is a good example. The technology behind the glass and frames has so improved that you’re tightening up your home’s weatherproofing in the process. You get more comfort and, from the real-estate agent’s point of view, new windows show off your house from the street.

Replacement projects included in the Cost vs. Value survey all cost less than $20,000 and most cost considerably less. They instantly enhance curb appeal, boosting a home’s marketability, and they require little maintenance once installed - all of which are better prospects than with a home addition. A bonus: Most of these replacements qualify for a federal tax credit for energy efficiency (not included in Remodeling Magazine’s ROI calculations).

1. Replace the front door.

    * The absolute best return on the money of any of the projects surveyed — 129% of cost — is gained by replacing a beat-up front door with a $1,200 steel-shell door filled with foam insulation.
    * A new fiberglass door (more expensive, at $3,490) returns less, about 65%. (Fiberglass is the new chic building material because it’s rugged and durable, can be painted and will mimic almost any wood. Unlike wood, it doesn’t crack, warp or shrink and needs zero maintenance.)
    * Spend about $7,500 on an entire new entrance, including a widened opening, a solid-core wood door and high-end glass, new lighting and better locks, and you’ll recoup 69%, on average.

2. Replace home siding

    * Replacing old siding with a durable fiber-cement product ($13,287) recoups about 84% at resale.
    * Use vinyl siding ($10,607) to get an 80% return.
    * Foam-backed vinyl ($13,022) costs more and earns back less — roughly 79% — but it is much more efficient at insulating a home.

3. Replace windows. Three of the four window-replacement projects considered in the survey pay back about 77%:

    * Wood-trimmed windows ($11,700).
    * Lower-end vinyl windows ($10,728).
    * Windows trimmed in higher-end vinyl ($13,862).
    * The fourth project, higher-end wood-replacement windows ($17,816), has a return of about 72%. Fiberglass windows weren’t included in the study.

Replace the roofing: Spend $19,731 on new fiberglass asphalt shingles and you’re likely to recoup about 67% of the cost.

    * A higher-end roof replacement using standing-seam metal ($37,359) pays back about 61% of the cost, agents told the survey.

Additions aren’t cost-effective
Except for a new deck, which pays back nicely, adding to a home’s footprint brings a poor return these days.

A new deck
    * Wood is high-maintenance, but homebuyers love it: A new wood deck ($10,634) returns 81%.
    * New outdoor decks of midrange composite planks ($15,373) return around 71% of the cost at resale.
    * A higher-grade composite ($37,745) brings an ROI of about 61%.

Other additions
    * Adding a 200-square-foot sunroom ($73,167) recoups 51%. [Find a Sunroom Builder in Grand Rapids Michigan]
    * A high-end ($225,995) master suite project, adding 640 square feet to the house, including a bath with walk-in shower and stone walls, brings a 56% return.
    * A less ambitious, less costly ($103,696), 640-square-foot master suite addition including whirlpool bath and ceramic tile recoups 65%.
    * A garage addition ($87,230) earns back about 56%.
    * A high-end bathroom addition ($75,812) earns about 58% at resale.
    * Adding a midrange, 6-by-8-foot full bath ($39,046) recoups about 60%.
    * Add a midrange two-story wing ($156,309) to the house, including 24-by-16-foot first-floor family room and second-floor bedroom and full bath, for a return of about 69%.
    * A midrange family room addition ($82,756) returns around 65% of the cost.
    * Adding a sunroom or home office were the projects that yielded the least payback, presumably because these special-purpose rooms appeal to fewer buyers and are in less demand.

Best use of the money (besides replacements)
Upgrading existing space, such as a bathroom remodel, is the best bet for recouping cost. It makes sense: Pouring a foundation, framing a structure and bringing in electricity and plumbing are among the most expensive aspects of a building project. When you can largely skip these steps and increase your usable space, the payback is richer:

    * An attic conversion, including a 15-by-15-foot bedroom with dormer and a 5-by-7-foot bath with shower ($49,346) returns comparative gold: 83% return, on average. Agents in several cities said this job would return more than 100%.
    * A basement ($62,067) remodel —a 20-by-30-foot entertainment room and 5-by-8-foot full bath — recoups about 75% of its cost.
    * A midrange 5-by-7-foot bathroom remodel ($16,142) with standard fixtures and trim has a 71% ROI.
    * Expanding that bathroom to 100 square feet ($52,295), including moving plumbing and wiring and adding higher-end cabinets and fixtures, brings a 62% ROI.

Kitchens and baths: Scaled back but ever popular
High-end kitchens and baths are fading in popularity, replaced by “very practical things,” Michelson says. “The $400,000 and $500,000 jobs are few and far between. The jobs between $50,000 and $200,000, we’re doing lots of those.”

Bath and kitchen remodeling hasn’t stopped, since these projects maximize the enjoyment of the most-used spaces in a home. But “people are definitely being smarter with their money,” Conneely says. “For instance, a $75,000 remodel five years ago? That same client would today spend $50,000.” People who blithely bought the best of everything now pursue the same look by choosing materials judiciously.

    * A minor kitchen upgrade ($21,411) installing new cabinet fronts, laminate counters and other cosmetic improvements is a decent investment, at 78% ROI.
    * A major kitchen remodel ($57,215) using midrange materials — semi-custom cabinets and laminate counters — pays back about 72%.
    * A high-end major kitchen remodel ($111,794) with top-of-the-line cherry cabinets, stone counters, glass backsplash and expensive, built-in appliances, pays back just 63%.

09 December 2009

Affordable Innovations In Housewares

Hartford Courant

Are we really nesting more? Has the bad economy kept us at home more, cooking, cleaning, watching television and inviting friends for a meal?

The International Housewares Association thinks so. According to the trade group, some consumers are waiting until the economic outlook brightens before plunking down big bucks for a flat-screen TV or a top-of-the-line vacuum cleaner or kitchen appliance. But more affordable options — a serving platter, kitchen utensils or a time-saving gadget for cleaning the house — are still separating buyers from the money.

"Consumers have tempered their behavior slightly but tempered it less in our industry," says Perry Reynolds, vice president of marketing and trade development for the Chicago-based International Housewares Association. "They are spending more time at home with family, eating in and entertaining. Sales of coffee and espresso makers and home entertaining [goods] have all gone up."

Independent retailers, as opposed to chain stores, are one of the association's "bellwethers," Reynolds says, "and they tell me that their business is pretty good. They are telling me that people are postponing major investments or tailoring a purchase in such as way as to feel good about the investment." A cook who needs or wants indoor grills or new pots and pans may pass up the 19-piece set of cookware for a smaller set or a few well-chosen pieces, he says.

The economy is a factor in how housewares manufacturers design and price new items. Manufacturers have paid more attention in recent years to the balance of design, function and value. "Consumers want functional products at fair prices," Reynold says, adding that they don't want to give up great design.

Those three characteristics — function, design and value — were woven into the "Affordable Innovations" theme of a recent Housewares Association preview in New York of new products either just arriving in stores or on their way. About 20 manufacturers displayed their wares, ranging from cleaning supplies and clothing storage systems to tabletop appliances and deep fryers.

Have Food, Will Travel

Hamilton Beach Kitchen Appliances showed two electric cookers that can save time and money. The Stay or Go 5-Quart Slow Cooker ($39.99, www.hamiltonbeach.com) was designed in response to research showing that 78 percent of slow-cookers use their pot to cook and bring the food to another location, says Betty Byrne, manager of the Hamilton Beach test kitchen. The pot has an oval-shaped dish with a tight-fitting seal and canister clips to keep the lid in place. With its stainless steel exterior and bright red accents, the pot also has style.

Steamed On Schedule
Hamilton Beach also has taken rice cookers and food steamers to the next level. The Digital Simplicity Deluxe Rice Cooker/Steamer ($59.99) offers a timer that can delay cooking up to 15 hours in advance. In addition to steaming rice, the machine has a whole grains setting for cooking beans, barley, quinoa, oats and other grains. Byrne says that she uses the delayed start and the whole grains setting to have a hot cereal of barley, oats and dried apples ready for breakfast when the family gets up. There also is a boil and simmer feature for packaged rice mixes.

A Snap To Make The Bed
One of the most novel products at the show would make Martha Stewart — or any compulsively organized person — proud. Fit & Fold ($9.99, www.fitandfold.com) is a set of four color-coordinated buttons that make folding a fitted sheet a cinch. The two-piece buttons snap into place in each sheet corner but do not pierce the fabric. The buttons then snap together to create straight corners. Each button also is labeled with the name of the mattress corner (top right, bottom left, etc.) to put the oblong sheet on the mattress correctly on the first try.

Sleek Toaster

Another counter-top appliance for daily use is the Bistro Flatbed Toaster ($79.99, www.bodumusa.com) from Bodum USA. European in style and available in bright colors, these toasters are a cross between a toaster oven and a grill. Unlike a traditional toaster, the flat surface offers a large enough space to toast larger slices of bread, bagels, croissants and baked goods or to reheat tortillas and pizza - more like toaster ovens.

Space Case
To make space in a closet, organizing experts suggest tossing any clothing not worn in a year. But for people who can't part with a favorite sweater or jacket — or hope that it will come back in style — items from ITW Space Bag's line of storage accessories ($9.95 to $19.95, www.spacebag.com) will come in handy. The Cube Tote is a collapsible bin with handles that holds an airtight, water-tight Space Bag. For the show, the bag was filled with 24 sweaters and six pillows, but the bulk was compressed to a fraction of its size when air was removed from the bag with a home vacuum cleaner. A travel version of the space-saver can reduce volume up to two-thirds. The new Travel Cube has a wide opening, a gusseted bottom and a double zipper. The air can be expelled from the bag either by hand or with a vacuum cleaner.

Throw-Away Style
The new generation of disposable plates, cutlery and serving pieces looks like the real thing. Mozaik plasticware ($1.49 for individual pieces to $9.99 for sets, www.sabert.com) has the appearance, but not the weight, of china and stainless steel. This collection has style: rectangular and square plates, platters and bowls in addition to classic round, and an appetizer set of small square plates with mini "silverware." Some items are already available under the First Impression label at CVS and BJ's Warehouse stores, but the Mozaik label will cover the whole collection by next year.

Bright Ideas
When the news is depressing or the weather drives folks indoors to a warm spot, a cooking project can nourish both the appetite and the psyche. And what combats the blues better than color, the brighter the better?

The Komachi 2 collection of knives from Kai USA ($7.95 to $9.95, www.shuncutlery.com) markets its color selection as a way to prevent cross-contamination of foods when prepping ingredients. The brilliant hues — royal blue, lime green, magenta, violet — will perk up any kitchen. The blades are made of high-carbon stainless steel for a sharp edge and bonded with a food-safe, FDA-approved liquid color coat that helps resist corrosion.

Knives this good-looking and functional shouldn't be tucked away in the drawer. The company offers a nine-piece set, including serrated bread knives, an 8-inch chef knife and a paring knife, in a countertop acrylic block ($89.99).

Kids, What's For Dinner?
Also brightly colored, functional and sure to get the kids in the family working in the kitchen is the Curious Chef line of children's utensils. The heavy-duty plastic, dishwasher-safe gadgets have rounded handles designed to fit small hands, while the knives' serrated edges cut foods but are child-friendly. The company sells about 50 utensils individually ($2.98 to $12.95, www.curiouschef.com) and packages both cooking sets and party sets ($19.99 to $38.99). The five-piece pizza set includes a pizza cutter designed with a finger guard, knife, spatula, pie server, pan, shopping list and stickers ($19.99).

Steam- Clean The Floor
Other manufacturers at the show appealed to neatniks who want their cleaning efforts to target germs as well as dust.

Haan Corp. has the answer to mopping floors without stocking up on a variety of detergents. Its SI-35 Slim & Light Steam Cleaning Floor Sanitizer ($119.95, www.haa nusa.com) uses tap water for steam-cleaning hardwood, tile or any sealed floor. A tank of water heats to 212 degrees in about 30 seconds — hot enough to kill bacteria — and provides about 20 minutes of steam- cleaning power. The cleaner, which resembles an electric broom, weighs about 6 pounds.

A Cleaner Toothbrush
In the bathroom, the egg-shaped, battery-operated Zapi Toothbrush Sanitizer ($29.99, www.violight.com) targets bacteria through UV technology. The contraption fits most standard toothbrushes and electric toothbrush heads. Available in bright colors, there also are four new designs including a ninja.

•Some of the new products shown at the Affordable Innovations show are already in retail stores or available by mail order. Others have been shipped to stores in time for holiday gift-giving. For more purchase information, visit the company web sites listed above or search for on-line retailers.

Enjoy The Holidays, But Remember Fire And Carbon Monoxide Safety

Woodlands Online

MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Texas -- Not having a working smoke detector can lead to a holiday tragedy, with increased numbers of fires due to cold weather and seasonal celebrations. On Monday, Dec. 7, at 1:15 PM, Firefighters from the New Caney, Splendora and Porter Fire Departments responded to a fire in a mobile home at The White Oaks Estates Community. Firefighters were able to quickly contain the fire, but not before smoke and heat damaged much of the home and it’s contents.

According to firefighters the cause of the fire was the family's natural Christmas tree. Investigator Roland Morgan determined that the fire started at the tree, which had only been in place a few days.There were no working smoke detectors in the home.

Although these types of fires are not common, they can be deadly under the right conditions. Between 2003-2007, U.S. fire departments responded to an average of 250 home fires that started with Christmas trees per year. These fires caused an average of 14 deaths, 26 injuries, and $13.8 million in direct property damage annually. On average, one of every 18 reported fires that began with a Christmas tree resulted in death.

Issaquah Press

As temperatures cool down, homeowners turn their thermostats up and ovens on. Consequently, the risk of carbon monoxide exposure also increases. In fact, from Thanksgiving until just after Christmas, carbon monoxide kills more people than any other time of year.You can’t smell it like natural gas, or see it like smoke. Carbon monoxide is an invisible gas that builds up in your house and can cause dizziness, nausea and even death. Still, nearly one-half of Americans report not having carbon monoxide alarms in their homes, according to a recent survey conducted by BRK brands, maker of First Alert-branded products.

For as little as $25, a carbon monoxide alarm can protect a home and family from potential tragedy. For maximum protection, the Home Safety Council recommends installing carbon monoxide alarms on every level of the home and near each sleeping area.

The following safety products are available:

-Plug-in alarms that use electricity from any standard electrical outlet and have battery back-up start

-Battery-powered devices that provide basic protection

-Combo smoke/carbon monoxide detectors that help to protect from two dangers in the home

-Multi-gas alarms that provide protection from carbon monoxide as well as three explosive gases — natural, propane and methane

The kitchen stove is among the most common sources of carbon monoxide poisoning in the home. Industry experts recommend running kitchen vents or exhaust fans anytime the stove is in use, but especially during the holidays when stoves often are left on for long periods of time. It also is a good idea to open a nearby window periodically when cooking to allow fresh air to circulate.

Homeowners also should arrange for a professional inspection of all fuel-burning appliances (such as furnaces, stoves, fireplaces, clothes dryers, water heaters and space heaters) annually to detect any carbon monoxide leaks.

08 December 2009

U.S. Seeks To Curb Workplace Injuries


Rules forcing employers to minimize the risk of repetitive-stress injuries with more than $4 billion a year in workplace improvements may be moving closer to being revived, eight years after corporations fended off the proposal.

The Obama administration Monday proposed requiring companies in the U.S. to keep more extensive records of ergonomic-related injuries, according to a Labor Department regulatory agenda. The move may repave the way for workplace-injury regulations that were nullified by President George W. Bush and a Republican Congress in 2001 amid opposition from companies.

"This is going to be what employers view as the first shot across the bow on the ergonomics front," said Brad Hammock, a lawyer at Jackson Lewis LLP in Reston, Va., who advises companies on how to comply with workplace regulations.

While the proposal doesn't reinstate the original Clinton-administration rules, it may lead to a revival of the ergonomics issue in a different form, Hammock said. The AFL-CIO, the largest federation of labor unions, pushed for today's proposal at its annual convention in September, and in documents it gave President Barack Obama's transition team to guide them on labor issues after he was elected in November 2008.

The reporting requirement, subject to public comment before taking effect, will "provide useful information to employers" and "help them identify these injuries," said Peg Seminario, director of occupational safety issues at the AFL-CIO.

The new rules could pave the way for new workplace furnishings like ergonomic work benches.

The original Clinton administration ergonomics rules issued in 2000 were intended to spare 460,000 worker injuries and save $9.1 billion in health-care costs. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation's largest business lobbying group, said at the time that the rules would cost employers much more than the $4.2 billion a year estimated by the government. The group said today that the Obama administration should expect a fight.

"Ergo regulations brought the business community together in the same way that the card-check" union organizing bill prompted companies to spend millions of dollars to kill, said Marc Freedman, director of labor law policy at the Chamber. "If they go forward with a new ergonomics proposal, it will have the same kind of rallying impact on businesses as card-check, because it could impact a broad range of companies."

Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said she was planning 90 new rules in her regulatory agenda for the coming year. "When people hear the word regulation, they feel stifled, delayed, and many times they believe government is being intrusive," Solis said in a video posted on the department's Web site. Her goal is to "level the playing field for businesses that play by the rules," she said