31 March 2010

Philadelphian Honored for Kitchen Design

Philadelphia Inquirer
Joanne Hudson won a prize for her work on a 19th-century Center City brownstone.

The kitchen is the hub of most homes, evolving into an area that offers as much personal style as a living or family room, says a regional winner of a national design contest.

Joanne Hudson of Joanne Hudson & Associates Ltd. in Philadelphia is the Eastern Pennsylvania and Southern New Jersey winner of the 2010 Sub-Zero and Wolf kitchen-design contest, beating 60 area entries. Hudson will receive $500 and a March 24-28 trip to the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach, Fla. During that visit, the winners of up to $15,000 in prizes will be announced.

"This is the first time I entered the contest," Hudson said. "I usually don't enter contests. My staff kept encouraging me to enter the contest. Finally, I said OK, I'll do it."

In the kitchen-design business, winning this competition is grabbing "the brass ring," says Doug Durbin, a judge and former winner. Judging is based on the integration of kitchen appliances, functionality, and aesthetics of the design, Durbin said.

Hudson's winning entry is for an urban kitchen in a Center City brownstone built in the 19th century. Originally the kitchen was in the basement, but it later was moved to the home's first floor.

In considering a new design, Hudson wanted to maintain the house's classic style. Her urban kitchen is unique because "it's respectful of the architectural space," she said.

The completed kitchen, 27 by 20 feet, features a butler's pantry for storing china and separate work stations for preparing food, cleaning, and entertaining. There are two islands, one with an ice shaver, a wine cooler, and stools for entertaining guests, Hudson said. The second is for preparing food.

"We didn't want it to look like a commercial kitchen," Hudson said of her plan.

David Stimmel, an award-winning designer, appreciated Hudson's design. "I like the positioning of the doorway. The light streaming through the French doors runs straight down the hallway," Stimmel said. "I liked how she concealed the kitchen appliances. It balances out the room."

The focal points of Hudson's architectural design are the French doors leading into the garden. Hudson wanted to give the room a "symmetrical feel," so it was essential that "everything line up" or "flow . . . ."

"It was important to the clients to have plenty of storage for linen, silver, and china."

Key elements in the design included using dark cabinets to reference the past, Hudson said. But to avoid creating a very dark room, she did not want to use the traditional dark oak for hardwood floors and woodwork. Instead, she selected raven-stained maple cabinets, a stone floor, and marble countertops. The end result was a "dramatic and contrasting contemporary kitchen," Hudson said.

Hudson, who grew up in Toronto, graduated in 1962 from the University of Manitoba Faculty of Architecture in Winnipeg with a bachelor's degree in interior design. After graduating, she began working on commercial designs such as office buildings and hospitals. In 1979, she started her own business in Toronto.

She later moved to this area, and since 1984 Joanne Hudson & Associates Ltd. has been at the Marketplace Design Center. Now, she has three showrooms: Joanne Hudson Kitchens, Joanne Hudson Bath and Plumbing, and Joanne Hudson Tile and Stone. She is well known for her designs for kitchen remodeling in Pennsylvania.

Drawing has always come naturally, Hudson said. She still loves to pencil sketch. French designer and interior architect Andre Putman, whose clients include Bisazza and Louis Vuitton, influenced Hudson's interior designs. She described Putman's designs as "classic and beautiful."

"They are pure designs with an edge," Hudson said.

In April, she will travel to the Milan Furniture Fair to see the latest designs in kitchens.

"Life goes through the kitchen," Hudson said. Today, people use their kitchens for everything. "It's where life happens."

28 March 2010

One Sweet Arrangement

The Philadelphia Inquirer
Music producer Leon Huff's Moorestown home is a serene, orderly getaway. The Sound of Philadelphia? "I'm a guy who really needs quiet."

The desk is huge, handsome, and perfectly, absolutely clear. Not a single stray paper, not a file, not even a pen rests on it. Yet this desk is in the working home office of an extremely busy man.

Leon Huff admits it - he's a neat freak, and it shows in his elegant Moorestown home, a place so immaculate it's hard to imagine anyone even lives in it.

The music producer and his wife, Regina, have created a world of striking furnishings, color schemes that blend as harmoniously as the undertones of mellow jazz, offering serene order.

"I love privacy and quiet, and we've found it here," says Leon Huff, who created a music empire with his partner, Kenneth Gamble, when they formed Philadelphia International Records in 1971. Credited with establishing "The Sound of Philadelphia," the company worked with artists like Teddy Pendergrass, Patti LaBelle, Chubby Checker, Michael Jackson, and Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes.

Recently, a fire swept through the company's Philadelphia headquarters, causing extensive damage and corresponding heartache, and making the Huffs even more grateful for their home, which, they both suggest, is their sanctuary.

"It's not just the look and feel of this house, but also its peace and privacy," says Regina, a Camden native who also lived in Delran.

"I'm a guy who really needs quiet. I do like to get away from the world sometimes," says Leon, who describes himself as ". . . very happy with solitude."

The Huffs first saw the home they now own several years ago, when it belonged to former Eagles football player Lito Sheppard and his wife, Nicki. As social guests of the Sheppards', the couple recall being smitten.

"I loved it the minute I stepped inside," says Regina, who felt comfortable with the open flow, the private yard, and the expansive feel.

When Sheppard was leaving the area, the Huffs signed on the dotted line, leaving behind a home in Washington Township, Gloucester County, decorated in muted beiges. They were ready for a bit more sparkle.

With the assistance of designer Georgio Savva of Cherry Hill's Unique Interiors, they set out to create their home remodeling vision. Because Savva also had worked with the Sheppards, he knew the home well and could guide them.

"I've always liked Moorestown. I used to ride my bike here when I lived in Cherry Hill," says Leon, who was born in Camden and lived in a modest rowhouse with small rooms, with his father's barbershop in the basement. "I'm not spoiled, and neither is Regina. We both feel very fortunate to live in this beautiful place."

The couple, relative newlyweds, married in 2005 after their earlier marriages ended in divorce. And there's no mistaking that their taste for glamour came to the fore when they moved into the property in April.

The living room is a study in art deco with walls in sea-mist blue with a cocoa glaze, the handiwork of Lillian's Paintbrush in Moorestown, a company owned by Lillian Beretta that specializes in custom paint finishes. The company did all of the customized walls.

In the living room, accessories in metallic tones complement the walls, and a lush curved sofa is done in raw silk. The curvy motif is repeated in an area rug over the lacquered mahogany wood floor. Art by the Phoenix Art Group, a collective of Arizona artists who will custom-match any palette in original artwork, unifies the room, which might easily be a 1950s Hollywood mogul's lair.

The foyer boasts a remarkable sculpture of a joined male and female in silver and bronze, and a three-dimensional wall piece of gleaming acrylics and stainless steel. Across from the foyer is the large dining room. Ultramodern chairs with flashes of silver and high-gloss Italian lacquer anchor the collection of Murano glass that Regina has been collecting, in her word, "forever." Murano pieces crop up in other spaces, but the dining room is the showcase.

From the contemporary kitchen, with wood cabinetry with raised panels, a Murano light fixture, and granite counters, there are spectacular views of woods and trees, and of a deck, with restaurant-style grill, and kitchen appliances that are custom-made for parties.

"But we still order in a lot of pizza," confesses Regina, who patronizes a popular spot on Main Street.

Leon's home office with its pristine desk holds treasured photographs, including one of Michael Jackson as a preteen that is "a cherished possession," he said.

A family room with soaring ceiling and double-paddle fans is spare in furnishings, and blends chocolates, cocoas, and beiges for sophistication and serenity. This is a room to kick back in and chill, but one that can also put on company manners for Sunday sports or family gatherings.

Upstairs, a master bedroom in pale beiges has as its centerpiece a four-poster bed that looks straight out of a European castle. In a home full of showstopping art, furniture, and accessories, this suite is still one of Regina's favorite spots, and another haven for her Murano glass.

But the crown jewel is the gigantic lower level, a kind of playground for all seasons. Every recreational toy is in this space, from a massive pool table and customized game table to a bar, full movie theater, and lounging area.

The feature the Huffs love most is one of the few that remain from the Sheppard era. Seems Sheppard and his wife commissioned a jazz mural, also from Lillian's Paintbrush, that stretches across two walls of the lower level. "When I saw that, I really had a feeling that we were meant to be in this house," Regina Huff says. "The music theme of that mural made it seem like an almost magical match."

Also displayed on the lower-level walls are the gold and platinum records won by Gamble & Huff's performers. The late Teddy Pendergrass, who was extremely close to Huff, has a wall of his own.

There's a far less public room on that lower level that is one of the most precious to Leon. While it's basically a storeroom, in it are the many honors, awards and memorabilia of a full life in the music industry. But even in this home, there just aren't quite enough walls to display it all.

Those cherished reminders of Philadelphia International Records have taken on even greater significance since the Feb. 21 fire that destroyed some of that glorious past.

Finally, tucked away in a corner of the expanse is a simple room "decorated" with basically just one piece of furniture: a barber chair.

That chair is not just a successful entrepreneur's reward - a place for the luxury of home haircuts - it's also a nod to Leon's past.

"My father was very important in my life. And our Camden home had that basement barbershop," Leon says. "So when I come in here, I'm reminded of that other life, one that taught me a lot that's important."

Leon gets a bit nostalgic for that life sometimes. "Those were happy days back in Camden, and I don't ever want to forget my roots," he says. "Roots matter."

25 March 2010

Before Buying that Beach Castle, Do Some Digging

The Washington Post / Harvey Jacobs

My father, channeling both Mark Twain and Will Rogers, used to tell me, "Buy beachfront property -- they're not making any more of it." For generations, that was pretty darn good advice.

Over the past 25 years, we saw modest oceanfront homes in places like Bethany Beach, Del., or Duck, N.C., once costing a few hundred thousand dollars, soar in value to many millions of dollars. Annual appreciation of 20 or 30 percent was common. Prices doubled every three or four years.

Traditional one-story, three- or four-bedroom beach cottages were leveled to make room for palatial eight-, 10- or even 12-bedroom mega-mansions that more accurately reflected the best and highest use for the now immensely valuable oceanfront sand upon which they were built.

Then the great real estate bubble burst and property of every variety and location suffered terrible declines in value. Beach property, often held by the most affluent, took far longer to feel the effects of the bust. But those effects are now certainly being felt. Property values all along the Delmarva Peninsula have declined by as much as 40 to 50 percent from their peak. The amount of time it takes to market, sell and settle a beach condo has also increased to nearly a year, according to Veronica Bishop, spokeswoman for the Coastal Association of Realtors, which tracks the Ocean City marketplace.

But in every catastrophe there is opportunity. For investors, second-home buyers or retirees who have been sitting on the sidelines for years, 2010 may be the time to dive into the beach market. Prices are now almost back to 2001 levels, and buyers previously priced out of this market may now be able to afford their dream home. In addition, the sheer inventory of available homes is quite favorable to a beach buyer.

But before taking the plunge, home buyers must heighten their level of due diligence. It is no longer acceptable to simply make a cursory home inspection and perhaps a pest inspection and then hope for the best. Today's savvy buyer must also inspect the financial and legal integrity of their town and especially of their condo or homeowners association.

While this may sound a bit extreme, small towns and community associations are experiencing severe budget shortfalls. Cuts in services must be made -- and they could affect that location's desirability. For example, if a town had decided to close off portions of the beach to save on cleaning costs, or if it could no longer afford to hire lifeguards, a beach-home buyer would certainly want to know about it. Such quality-of-life decisions are made in public forums. Official minutes of meetings and printed budgets are all publicly available, often on the town's Web site. A beach-home buyer should obtain and review these records before making the investment in a home.

A buyer also should consider inserting a clause in the purchase offer making it contingent upon the buyer's receipt of and reasonable satisfaction with these public documents. Should this review reveal unacceptable financial or legal circumstances, the buyer should have the option to cancel the purchase offer and have his earnest money returned. Then neither party should have any further liability under that contract. Condominiums and common area associations are already legally required to make most of these disclosures.

Although beach-home prices may seem like a bargain now, the total cost of ownership and deferred maintenance must be factored into the overall buying decision. Total cost of ownership includes real property taxes, water and sewer charges, and insurance premiums, including for liability, casualty, hurricane and, if available, flood insurance.

In recent years, insurance premiums have become a much larger percentage of the total cost of ownership. For community associations, total cost of ownership also includes homeowner's, condo or recreations fees and may include special assessments for maintenance, repair or replacement of common areas. Reserve accounts should be established to ensure that common area associations have sufficient funds on hand when major items such as roofs, elevators, parking lots, pools, tennis courts, decks or swimming pools require replacement, or the beach needs replenishment. Prudent planning and management of reserve accounts can avoid the need for unwelcome special assessments.

Under normal economic circumstances, these costs are apportioned among all the homeowners in the town, or among all the members of the condo or homeowners association. So long as all of the residents pay their taxes and fees, these towns or community associations have the wherewithal to maintain, repair and replace the amenities that make the beach such a wonderful place to relax.

However, in these dire economic times, more homeowners are walking away -- or being forced away -- from their financial obligations. As a result, beach towns and common area associations are feeling the pinch.

Because beach properties are subjected to harsh natural elements, items such as paint, caulk, weatherproofing, windows, doors, awnings, storm shutters, decking, siding and roofing, as well as exposed hardware such as hinges and locks, require almost constant maintenance. Owners must also be vigilant for signs of less-visible problems such as termites, mold or shifting sands and, if necessary, treat the problem immediately. All of these repairs cost money. With the number of foreclosures and other distress sales occurring, the money for this maintenance is often not available and this essential maintenance is simply not being done.

Now is the time to buy at the beach, but only after performing additional due diligence. That should include structural, pest and even environmental or geological inspections; review of budgets, financial statements (focusing on delinquent accounts), reserve accounts and even bond ratings by a certified public accountant; and a legal audit of meeting minutes and any litigation involving the town or common area association. Go out of your way to hire a reputable home inspector.

While there is never any guarantee that one's beach investment will be a winner, undertaking this heightened level of scrutiny will increase the beach-home buyer's chances of making a prudent investment that can be enjoyed for years to come.

Harvey S. Jacobs is a real estate lawyer in the Rockville office of Joseph, Greenwald & Laake. He is an active real estate investor, developer, landlord, settlement attorney and lender. This column is not legal advice and should not be acted upon until legal counsel has been consulted.

22 March 2010

Eco Lawn Service Opens in Scotland

Horticulture Week

The Great Lawn Company has launched with eight franchisees offering environmentally-friendly domestic lawn care in the Edinburgh and Glasgow areas.

Founded by ex-greenkeepers Ian MacMillan and Andrew Turnbull, the company has adapted the range of chemical-free lawn care products and petrol-free reel lawn mowers offered by All Turf Management to meet the needs of the domestic market.

Turnbull said:  "We intend to compete with the likes of Greenthumb when we roll out nationally with a focus on being family friendly.  When you have companies doing lawn care and spraying people's lawns with all sorts of chemicals - for the kids to then go and roll in; to us that's just not right."

Turnbull has been producing carbohydrate nutrition mixes in Belfast and MacMillan has trialled them on turf grass in Scotland over the last two years.

They plan to trial the business model with the eight franchisees for another year before rolling out nationally in 2011.

Five of the eight lawn service franchisees are ex-greenkeepers and all have undergone an intensive training course in carbohydrate nutrition.

Turf care machinery dealer SGM have already endorsed the new business and they have opened their premises to house the product range and for training and help in the management of the business.

20 March 2010

'Man Cave' Comes with Casita Option

Calgary Herald
Cool room part of unique show home

Did you hear the one about the guy who walks into a show home and says: "I'm looking for a man cave?"

He tours the home, comes back and says: "I found one, right here."

That's pretty much what happened to Debi Ulansky, area sales manager for Brooklyn Custom Homes, at the company's show home in Monterra on Cochrane Lakes by Medallion Development Corp.

The man cave the visitor was looking for was the developed lower level of the Villa A bungalow, which has been finished as party-central in the 1,698-square-foot upscale home.

It's a cool room. There is a quiet sitting area tucked away into a corner, as well as a large bar area with stainless steel appliances, a sink and a granite-topped bar that will seat six.

There's also a games area in the show home with card and pool tables -- and a really neat media room.

Decked out to look like a 1950s soda shop, the room has an eating bar on the games room side. Inside the room are three aluminum-framed retro cafe tables -- and John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John singing a song from the movie, Grease, on the TV screen.

But there's something else that sets this home apart. It has a casita option -- a small detached bungalow at the front of the home with a gate that opens onto a courtyard between the 312-square-foot casita and the home, itself.

"The casita can be used as an office, fitness room, crafts room or garage -- whatever the buyer wants to do with it," says Ulansky, adding that the idea was brought to the Calgary market by Brooklyn officials after trips to Las Vegas and Arizona.

The Villa A, one of four villas available from Brooklyn, has a base measurement of 1,662 square feet. But the addition of three options, including the casita, brings the size up to 1,698.

The Prairie-style elevation used on the show home is one of two available. The other is Craftsman.

Ceilings on the main level are 10-feet high and doors are eight-feet high. On the lower level, ceilings are nine-feet high.

Stepping into the foyer of the home, Oxford-stained maple flooring stretches into the great room straight ahead.

Pillars with frosted glass panels separate this room from the kitchen and hallway. A large fireplace in the great room has a cultured stone face and a maple mantel.

Opposite the great room is a flex area that has been finished as a spare bedroom.

At the end of the hallway is the carpeted master bedroom. The adjoining ensuite has a linoleum floor, as well as a stall shower, a soaker tub wrapped in ceramic tile, a granite-topped vanity with twin sinks, and a carpeted walk-in closet.

Back down the hallway past the great room is the kitchen with espresso-stained maple cabinets. There's also a corner pantry, linoleum floor, stainless steel kitchen appliances, and granite countertops.

Other features include a wine rack and ceramic tile back-splashes.

The central island is finished with a granite top and has a flush eating bar for two. It also holds the microwave oven, as well as storage drawers. Adjacent to the kitchen is a dining nook with a door leading to the rear deck and tucked inside, a handy ironing center.

The garage entry is behind the kitchen, along with the laundry room and bathroom with tub/ shower.


BUILDER: Brooklyn Custom Homes; the Villa A.

AREA: Monterra on Cochrane Lakes.

DEVELOPER: Medallion Development Corp. PRICE: The base price of the model is the mid-$700,000 range with lot. The price of the show home -- with lot, GST, upgrades and furniture -- is $857,000. 

DIRECTIONS: From Cochrane, take Highway 22 north and then left on Cochrane Lake Road. 

HOURS: The show home parade is open from 2 to 8 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, and noon to 5 p.m. weekends and holidays. It is closed Fridays.

19 March 2010

Don't get Burned by Costly Restaurant-Style Ranges

Detroit Free Press
When you're choosing a range for your dream kitchen, bigger -- and more expensive -- isn't always better.

Luxury appliances are modeled on the looks of their siblings in commercial kitchens, but they have been modified for home use. Most offer insulated ovens, electronic controls and devices such as timers that are not found in the original models.

That pushes the price up considerably, with 36-inch home models from manufacturers such as Viking, Wolf and Dacor starting around $6,000 or more. Ranges with double full-size roaster ovens and up to eight burners reach into five figures.

Some experts say these luxury appliances are far from a necessity. And in many cases, they're overkill.

"We've tested a lot of those ranges," said Celia Kuperszmid Lehrman, deputy home editor at Consumer Reports. "They really haven't performed better than ranges that cost a fraction of the price. We're testing for boiling, simmer, broiling, baking -- the things people really use these ranges for. We haven't really found they are worth the extra money just for their cooking prowess."

Steve Swayne, regional technology leader for North America cooking for Whirlpool Corp., said shoppers tend to fall into two camps. "You have the people who want the look, that heavy feel and higher output burners available on a pro-style range.

"And you have the general population, the home enthusiasts who like cooking and don't need something big and massive to feed their family." Often enough, indoor grills will provide the 'professional taste' you are looking for.

Michael Robinson, director of communication at Factory Direct Appliance, said: "The huge stainless range was definitely a big trend.

"In years past, we dealt strictly with home building and getting new kitchen appliances to furnish them. Now our business is more remodels, and when you go to a 36-inch range, it's not a small step up -- it's a big step up. Money just isn't there the way it was before the recession."

"A lot of people wanted the big ones strictly for show," he said. " ... That high end has shriveled up quite a bit."

Some kitchen remodeling professionals think stainless appliances are already looking a bit passé. "Those pro-style ranges can be the Hummers of the kitchen," Kuperszmid Lehrman said.

Chefs who spend their days in front of 30,000 -Btu burners and commercial ventilation systems often approach home cooking entirely differently from their work.

Michael Foust, executive chef and owner of the Farmhouse in the River Market in Kansas City, cooks on a restaurant range in his home. The 20-year-old model from a used restaurant supply company "doesn't have any gadgets or gizmos," he said.

His parents sometimes cook on his range, but they can't always get the desired results from its heavy firepower. "I like such high heats, and I use thicker pans, but that equipment isn't really out there for the home cook, so you wouldn't really need something like that," he said.

18 March 2010

Oregon Town Becoming 'Reel' Green

Sandy Post

Gas-powered lawn mowers produce as much air pollution as 43 new cars each being driven 12,000 miles thanks to high levels of carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide and other compounds they create, according to peoplepoweredmachines.com.

The site also notes that each year, approximately 17 million gallons of fuel, mostly gasoline, are spilled each year when people try and refuel their mowers – an amount greater than the oil spilled by the Exxon Valdez.

Sandy’s Jay Bradshaw hopes to help abate that impact with his new business, The Quiet Garden. Born out of the downturn in the economy and difficulty with his job selling blueberry plants wholesale, The Quiet Garden offers lawn care, including mowing, edging, pruning and even his own natural pest repellant, in an environmentally friendly way. That means methods such as using a reel mower rather than a gas-powered one and composting trimmings.

“People say, ‘find the job that you like to do,’” Bradshaw said. “I could go out and work in the yard until dark. I really enjoy it; it’s peaceful, good therapy.”

Bradshaw sees the green lawn services business as a way to save gas, decrease emissions and build healthier lawns. And he noted that reel mowers offer a better cut for the grass and provide some good exercise, while the option of leaving clippings, which contain nitrogen, can also be beneficial to a lawn.

“When you use reel mowers to cut a yard, the blade cuts the grass instead of tearing it, so it’s healthier for the grass,” said Bradshaw, who also worked in the landscaping business in Chicago for the Theodore Brickman Company after attending Michigan State University. “And if you leave (the clippings) on the grass, you don’t have to worry about fertilization as much.”

Meanwhile, Bradshaw is also taking to heart that others have been affected by the recent economic difficulties and plans to incorporate that into his business. Last December, when his job took a turn for the worse, he noticed a Post article about the homeless around Sandy.

“I’m in a warm house and turning up the thermostat and thought of people in the woods,” Bradshaw said. “That really gets to my heartstrings.”

As part of his business, he plans to donate 10 percent of his earnings to the Sandy Action Center, with the hope that an endowment can be created to fund the organization’s activities.

“The more money you get in it, it starts growing,” Bradshaw said. He encourages others to help too, noting that a lot of people each doing a little bit will add up.

For more information, call 877-432-GREEN (4733) or visit thequietgarden.com.

Did you know?

• Americans burn 800 million gallons of gas each year trimming their grassy yards, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

• One gas mower running for an hour emits the same amount of pollutants as eight new cars driving 55 mph for the same amount of time, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.

• One hour of mowing is the equivalent of driving 350 miles in terms of volatile organic compounds.

• One gas mower spews 87 pounds of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, and 54 pounds of other pollutants into the air every year.

Facts taken from peoplepoweredmachines.com

17 March 2010

8 Steps to an Eco-Friendly Kitchen

The Washington Post

Once upon a time, 30 or 40 years ago, the words "green kitchen" meant that your kitchen looked like the inside of an avocado. Now (thankfully) those words mean something quite different.

Traditionally, the kitchen has been a place where waste reigned: in energy-hogging appliances, eco-unfriendly materials and a treasure-trove of toxins under the sink. But in the past decade or so, the concept of a green kitchen -- one that is energy-efficient, easier on the environment and better for your health -- has taken off.

"Whether you believe in global warming or not, it doesn't make sense to waste money, and that's what you're doing if you're not exploring green options," says John Tabor of Tabor Design Build in Rockville. His company recently performed the kitchen remodeling of a Clarksville house whose owners asked him to "pull out all the stops" in creating a green space. The room, with a $330,000 price tag, includes recycled concrete and glass countertops, a prep sink made from recycled aluminum, a sub-floor heating system and a potting sink made of recycled glass, to name a few features.

Even if the green theme doesn't extend to your wallet, there are plenty of other ways to make your kitchen more environmentally friendly. It's a good bet you are already doing some of them: separating recyclables from trash, or perhaps carrying your groceries in reusable bags. Here are eight ideas, ranging from simple to elaborate, to get you going greener.

Clean green

A growing number of manufacturers, including J.R. Watkins, Shaklee and Seventh Generation, offer nontoxic, plant-based products that are biodegradable and phosphate-free. Eco-Me sells kits for making your own cleaning products. The book "Home Comforts: The Art & Science of Keeping House," by Cheryl Mendelson (Scribner, $20) includes recipes for making your own window cleaner, oven cleaner, disinfectant and all-purpose cleaner; the latter is nothing more than a mix of four tablespoons of baking soda per one quart of warm water.

Choose nontoxic paint

If you're planning to freshen your kitchen with a new coat of paint, buy a variety that's nontoxic, also known as low-VOC (volatile organic compounds). "That's something that homeowners can easily do for themselves without sacrificing color or palette," says Shanon Munn of Ambi Design Studio in McLean. Munn began incorporating green elements into her work when she opened her business in 2004. Two of her early clients were pregnant, so using anything but low-VOC paint was not an option. "It's just something I do automatically," she says.

Install a recycling bin or kitchen composter

If you are not recycling, it might be because you don't have a separate place in the kitchen to put your glass and plastic, Munn says. Cabinets can easily be retrofitted to install a bin. "All of a sudden, you're recycling," she says. Those who are even more committed might want to add a composting bin. That requires a little more work, as the compost mixture must be "fed" with baking soda and a certain ratio of vegetables to protein to prevent odors from developing. "But for those who are looking for something beyond basic green changes, it's a nice step," Munn says.

Use energy-efficient appliances

When replacing your dishwasher or oven, choose a model that bears the federal Energy Star designation, which means it meets government guidelines for energy efficiency. Because 80 percent of appliances now meet those guidelines, this is an easy change to make, Tabor says. (Indeed, Tabor and many others chide the government for not making its standards more rigorous.)

If you're in the market for a new oven, consider a convection model, which cuts energy use by about 20 percent. Don't run your dishwasher until it's completely full, and keep your refrigerator well stocked, as a full refrigerator uses less energy than an empty one.

Install a foot pedal to operate your sink

Munn added that feature when she redid her own kitchen. "Not only is it green, it's practical," she says. "It's a hands-free operation, which makes it more sanitary, and you use much less water."

Choose recycled, renewable or sustainable materials

Consider such materials for floors, cabinets and countertops, and recycle your old ones if possible. When Tabor's company remodeled the kitchen in Clarksville, workers carefully removed the old cabinets, countertops, plumbing fixtures and kitchen appliances and donated them to two families. The hardwood floor was removed and stored, to be installed later in the family's basement.

Sustainable, renewable cork and bamboo are two increasingly popular floor choices. So is Marmoleum; like linoleum, it is made from nontoxic linseed oil.

Green countertop materials include compressed paper, and terrazzo made from recycled glass and/or ceramic mixed with concrete.

For cabinets, look for material that is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. That means it was harvested and fabricated responsibly. Some good options are reclaimed or recycled wood, and rapidly renewable resources such as bamboo and lyptus, a eucalyptus hybrid that resembles cherry when finished but grows back much faster.

Munn recommends researching the manufacturers of cabinets and kitchen furniture and, if possible, choosing a local source. "Even if you are choosing between two non-green cabinet lines, see if you can find out which one's products are closer to where you live," Munn says. "Where are the products being made? Where are the source materials coming from?"

Pay attention to lighting

Many kitchens get plenty of light during the day from sun streaming in through the windows. Light-colored cabinets and other materials help to maximize that light. Avoid turning on the kitchen light when natural illumination is sufficient, and replace incandescent bulbs and fixtures with energy-efficient LED lighting.

Eat green

Whether you're in the mood for a Granny Smith apple or green eggs and ham, try to incorporate locally grown and organic foods into your budget and diet. Most of the food in supermarkets travels thousands of miles to get there. Eat fewer processed foods in favor of fresh fruits and vegetables, and buy local produce. Find a farmers market close to your home. They are everywhere these days, even near the White House, and their wares include seasonal fruits and vegetables as well as locally sourced meat, poultry and dairy products.

16 March 2010

New Monitors are Energy Scoreboards for the Home

NY Times
Intel's prototype for a home energy monitor gathers data from appliances. 

UTILITIES are gradually installing smart meters that can tell homeowners the price of the electricity they’re using at the time, including discounts for off-peak hours.

But those meters aren’t yet in all that many homes.

There will soon be new options, though, for consumers who want to save money by using energy more efficiently. Companies are coming up with dozens of computer-based devices that monitor electricity costs, outlet by outlet, inside a home.

Intel has created a prototype for a home energy monitor that gathers information beamed to it from the appliances plugged into wall sockets, said Joe Jensen, general manager of Intel’s embedded-computing division in Chandler, Ariz. This sleek touch screen can hang on the kitchen wall or sit on a countertop. It can show, for example, which appliances are on and what they are costing to operate, he said.

The panel communicates wirelessly with the outlets, turning appliances off or on when instructed, or suggesting ways to change energy use in the house, he said.

The Intel display is meant to entertain as well as instruct, Mr. Jensen said. Family members may use its built-in camera to leave video messages for one another. They can also run dozens of applications on the monitor, just as they would on a smartphone, looking up addresses in the Yellow Pages, tracking packages and checking for weather and traffic conditions.

Intel won’t be offering the home monitors directly to consumers. It is working with manufacturers that will use its designs and its processors to run their devices, Mr. Jensen said. A high-end version could cost consumers $400 or more, he said, but the company is working with a high-volume manufacturer on a cheaper version.

He said some of the cost might eventually be underwritten by utilities that could charge a small monthly fee for the unit, as part of campaigns to conserve energy.

Tenrehte Technologies, a company based near Rochester, has developed an alternative device, called the Picowatt, that lets people use their smartphones or laptop computers, for example, to control lighting and appliances like air-conditioners or roaster ovens.

The Picowatt, which plugs into an ordinary wall outlet, is small — slightly larger than a cellphone charger. But it can communicate with the Wi-Fi router on a home network just as laptops do, said Jennifer Indovina, chief executive of Tenrehte. Plug an audio system, for example, into the Picowatt, then plug the Picowatt into a wall outlet, and it will calculate information on energy use and beam it to the router, she said.

Each Picowatt hosts its own Web page on the Internet. The page’s address is generated based on the serial number of the plug.
The Picowatt, from Tenrehte Technologies, makes it possible to use smartphones or laptop computers to control lighting and small appliances.

“You can see current settings in real time,” Ms. Indovina said, “and what it is costing right now to run anything on that plug.”

The plugs will be on sale starting on Earth Day, April 22, at Amazon, Best Buy and other outlets, she said. The price will probably be $79.99, she said.

Once a Picowatt is plugged in, “it pulls the voltage to turn itself on and look for the router,” Ms. Indovina said. This process should be automatic, but because so many routers are on the market, she said, the Picowatt comes with a USB thumb drive and a CD to use as a backup during installation to help routers identify its signals.

Manufacturers are also making appliances that might someday be adapted to communicate directly with utilities or with smart meters when they are installed. General Electric sells a water heater with a built-in communications port to take advantage of utilities’ discount rates for off-peak use.

“When you get these variable rates,” said Kevin Nolan, a vice president of technology at G.E. in Louisville, Ky., “we will have a low-cost communications module that will hook into the heater and communicate with whatever smart meter you have in your home.”

Steve McMaster, the chief executive of Sam Six, a company in Portland, Ore., that develops software for utilities to make distribution and transmission of electricity more efficient, would like to see devices throughout a home fitted with computer chips so that they could use a wireless network to report directly to utilities.

“This is a cheaper way to get information back to the power stations, bypassing the need for physical installation of smart meters.” Mr. McMaster said. “The utility could talk directly to the oven for example,” he said, running it at a less expensive time of day.

The potential nationwide savings from such conservation are tremendous, he said. “By using the power that we have efficiently,” he said, “we could avoid the need to build power stations just for peak demand.”

15 March 2010

Mark Furstenberg's Kitchen Renovation

The Washington Post

Kitchen renovations often are triggered by small disasters. For renowned Washington baker Mark Furstenberg, his began with a leaky espresso maker that flooded his Kalorama condo and the one below.

A valve on his fancy restaurant machine got stuck while Furstenberg, founder and former owner of Marvelous Market and the BreadLine, was out of town. To dry out his kitchen, he had to take out a chunk of the floor and remove some cabinetry. And so the room sat, for three years, while he decided what to do. In the meantime he was baking, cooking and entertaining.

"I just lived with this kitchen that had a hole in the floor," Furstenberg says. He got a lot of grief about it from friends, who nonetheless continued to come over for his parsnip and potato puree, roasted cauliflower, short ribs and, of course, crusty whole-grain breads.

Until last year, Furstenberg did his best to ignore the fact that his kitchen, the heart of a three-bedroom condo in a stately 1910 building, was a mess. But he was spending more time there testing recipes and developing menus in his role as restaurant consultant. And he was working on a book about the lost art of breakfast and on plans for a retail bakery that serves breakfast. While attending a conference on Southern food and culture in 2008, he met Beverly Farrington of Huntsville, Ala., an interior designer who is also a foodie. Soon after, she came over for dinner while visiting Washington, and they started brewing a kitchen remodeling plan.

"I had decided it was time to redo," says Furstenberg, "But I didn't have a huge budget. She saw this wreck of a kitchen and said, 'I'll help you.' "

Even if you ignored the flood damage, Furstenberg's 1970s kitchen featured outdated kitchen appliances, Formica counters and almond laminate cabinets and was not a showcase piece. Farrington was jazzed by the challenge of working with the man who brought artisan bread to Washington 20 years ago and developed the bread program for the Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley. "I've done so many trophy kitchens for people who eat takeout all the time," says Farrington. "How fun to do something for someone that really cooks."

Last year, they negotiated a design to serve Furstenberg's needs and budget, featuring two work areas, one for baking and one for cooking, each with its own countertop material, prep sink and cleanup space.

The adjoining breakfast nook would be removed to expand the work space. There would be lots of natural materials: cork, wood and marble. Storage for his vast cookware arsenal of choppers, processors, hand blenders, flours and spices would be provided by hanging racks and open metro-style metal shelving. They shopped at Ikea and Lumber Liquidators for good design at good value. "I wanted no designer appliances, nothing showy," says Furstenberg.

Furstenberg could not be without a kitchen for long. "I was a terrible client because I was determined not to have the same problems everyone else had," he says. He'd been hoping for two weeks of downtime, but it turned out that for a month he could not bake or simmer or caramelize. And the finishing work took a few more weeks.

It was worth the wait. He is still happily arranging his Tunisian couscous screen, baker's peel and stockpots in all the corners and shelves. "Now I have a semiprofessional working kitchen that is really quite glamorous," he says.

The espresso machine that caused the mess is in storage. "The machine rebelled against having been deprived of its true life function," to work in a restaurant, he says. He will install it in the bakery he plans to open in the District before the end of the year. Says Furstenberg, "We've been through a lot together."

14 March 2010

Slow Versus Pressure

Chicago Tribune

Slow cookers face off against pressure cookers to see which is better for the harried home cook

As these times find us reaching for more dried beans, whole grains and secondary cuts of meat, they don't always give us enough kitchen time to cook them.

Maybe that's why more home cooks have been turning to their mothers' secret weapons: the slow cooker and the pressure cooker. Despite their retro image, both appliances have seen a resurgence in use in the last decade, according to market research company The NPD Group.

With that resurgence have come updated cookbooks. Diane Phillips, author of the new "Slow Cooker: The Best Cookbook Ever," cites four reasons for the cookers' comeback: dual working couples, higher quality appliance models, better recipes and an era of frugality.

Despite their fast-slow differences, the appliances work best on similar foods, those that usually require long simmering, boiling or braising. Appliance prices range from $35 to $150.

So which should the home cook choose when she wants long-cooked flavors with minimum fuss?

"It would depend on your schedule," said Andrew Schloss, author of "Art of the Slow Cooker."

If you want your meals to cook while you're at work or in bed, the slow cooker is for you. If you often make your meals at the last-minute and need to turn a pan of dried beans into chili super fast, you're better off reaching for the pressure cooker.

But there are some foods that just work better in each appliance.

"Baked beans are amazing in slow cookers," Schloss said.

Although most whole grains don't work well in the slow cooker, they're ideal for the pressure cooker, especially risotto. Traditional risotto recipes require careful monitoring, regular doses of hot broth and stirring, stirring, stirring. "But in a pressure cooker, it takes 12 minutes from start to finish with no stirring," Phillips said.

Despite their popularity, the two appliances can still evoke unpleasant memories for some. Older, hotter slow cookers could scorch food, but Phillips says newer models offer better temperature control. Older pressure cookers had a nasty reputation for explosions, which manufacturers have solved with safety valves that automatically release pressure when it grows too high.

Also, some pressure-cooker/slow-cooker devotees (and their family members) have complained that all the dishes prepared in the appliance start to taste the same. That, Schloss and Phillips said, is often attributable to bad recipes and improper usage, or as Phillips calls it, the "dump and run" effect. They stress that proper flavor building before the lid goes on is essential to successful pressure/slow cooking.

"Whenever I cook meat in the slow cooker, I brown it first in a separate pan, and then I'll saute the vegetables separately and then make a sauce," Schloss said. "There is a huge difference if you take that 20 minutes to create the browning and build and blend the flavors."

An advantage of the pressure cooker: You can do all of that in the cooker.

Still, with most innovations come drawbacks. While we liked elements of the stews we cooked in these appliances, most agreed they preferred them cooked in a Dutch oven.

Smoked paprika chicken

Prep: 20 minutes Cook: 6 hours, 20 minutes Makes: 8 servings

Serve over cooked noodles or rice. Adapted from "Slow Cooker: The Best Cookbook Ever" by Diane Phillips.

6 strips thick-cut bacon, cut in 1-inch pieces

10 chicken thighs, skin removed

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

2 onions, halved, sliced

2 each, seeded, sliced: red bell peppers, yellow bell peppers

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 1/2 teaspoons smoked or regular paprika

1 can (15 ounces) chicken broth

1 can (15 ounces) diced tomatoes, drained

1/2 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley

Cook the bacon in large skillet over medium heat until crisp; remove with slotted spoon to paper towels. Season chicken with salt and pepper; add to skillet. Cook until browned, 10 minutes. Remove to platter. Pour off most of the bacon fat. Add onions, peppers, garlic and paprika to skillet; cook, stirring, 5 minutes. Add the broth and tomatoes to skillet; heat to a boil, scraping up any browned bits.

Transfer the contents of the skillet and chicken to the slow cooker. Cover; cook on low until the chicken is cooked through, 6-8 hours. Skim off fat. Season to taste. Stir in bacon and parsley.

Cooking in a pressure cooker: Cook bacon in the pressure cooker with lid off until crisp; drain on paper towels. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the drippings in the cooker. Add chicken; cook until browned on all sides, 7-8 minutes. Add paprika, broth and juice from tomatoes. Seal the cooker, heat to build pressure; cook 8 minutes. Cool pan. Release lid. Add vegetables, garlic and tomatoes; simmer until reduced to desired taste and consistency, about 30 minutes. Sprinkle with bacon and parsley.

Nutrition information: Per serving: 211 calories, 42% of calories from fat, 10 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 67 mg cholesterol, 10 g carbohydrates, 21 g protein, 812 mg sodium, 3 g fiber

4 slow cooker tips 
From authors Diane Phillips and Andrew Schloss:

•Don't dump and run; brown meat and blend flavors before transferring food to the slow cooker.
•Avoid most whole grains, except barley, as most do not cook evenly.
•Do cook bean dishes, especially baked beans and cassoulet, which, Schloss said, works better in the slow cooker than in an oven.
•Do use as a warming dish for buffet foods.

5 pressure cooker tips
From Phillips and Schloss:

•Use it to quickly cook whole grains and soaked dried beans.
•Use more liquid than you would when adapting recipes for a slow cooker.
•Don't dump and run; brown meat and blend flavors before sealing.
•Adjust flavors after cooking, as they don't concentrate (through reduction) as much as they do with other methods.
•Do use the base of your stainless steel (not aluminum, which can pit and react to acids) stovetop pressure cooker as a regular pot.

12 March 2010

Montana: Grain Bin Remodeled into Living Quarters

Great Falls Tribune

John Thiebes takes a break inside the "caBin" he constructed from a grain bin on his farm near Carter, Montana   (PHOTO/SUZANNE WARING)

As John Thiebes made plans to construct living quarters on his farm near Carter he decided to think outside the box. In fact, his ultimate plan involved a perfect circle.

"Thinking I could remodel something, I looked around at the different farm buildings on the property," he said. "My mind kept coming back to the grain bins that were no longer being used."

After studying the bins and drawing up plans, Thiebes concluded that comfortable accommodations could be constructed in one of the bins to use when he spent time on his farm. He talked with a grain bin manufacturer, but the company wasn't much help. Manufacturers had no experience with putting doors and windows in a metal bin.

As Thiebes went forward, purchasing construction materials, bathroom and kitchen appliances, and heating and cooling units, he realized he was on his own. No one he knew had done anything like this.

The most challenging task was trying to make straight items such as bathtub and shower surrounds, kitchen cupboards, plasterboard, doors and windows fit into a curved structure. Thiebes found that if prefabricated windows were larger than two feet, they would extend too far out from the sides of the curved bin.

On the main level, he installed four small windows that were placed low so that he could see the wildlife while sitting down, and one window upstairs to let in natural light.

Despite complications, Thiebes and his sons pressed on when they had time during the summer of 2008. Figuring out the optimum gypsum wallboard size, they installed furring strips, insulation, the Sheetrock, and finally one-by-four-inch battens that covered the Sheetrock seams.

They laid the 18-foot diameter floating oak floor and then tackled the second floor loft, which is above the bathroom and kitchen area and provides the sons with sleeping quarters. It's accessed by a ladder at the side of the sitting area.

The biggest last-minute modification to the plan was in the bathroom remodeling. The electrical code wouldn't allow for the shower to be in the same room with the electrical box, so Thiebes installed a partition between the shower enclosure and the toilet area that contained the electrical box. Sliding closet-like doors shut off either or both sides of the bathroom from the sitting area.

Because Thiebes and his sons did the work themselves and looked for items that were on sale, construction costs were just more than $7,000, including the most expensive purchase, the $1,000 toilet.

To eliminate the need for a septic tank, Thiebes installed an electrical toilet that burns the waste much on the same principle as self-cleaning ovens.

The sitting area, defined with an area rug, is tastefully furnished with two cushioned, wicker chairs and a couch that can be made into a bed. A wood stove with a visible black stack that extends to the tin roof dominates the room. A television, music system and small air conditioner are built into the exterior wall. The paintings that adorn the sage-green walls were done by Thiebes, who has been an artist in his spare time since high school.

The kitchen area, with upper and lower cupboards on the curved wall, has all the amenities. The counter contains a sink with hot and cold running water and a two-burner range top. A microwave is built into the kitchen space, and a portable roaster oven has its own nook.

The 20-gallon hot water heater is hidden away under the sink, and an apartment-size refrigerator is built in under the counter. Furniture is arranged so that the table optically divides the kitchen from the sitting area. A rack overhead serves as storage for skillets, griddles and pans.

Gravity drains the gray water from the kitchen sink and the shower onto the grass and trees nearby. When no one is staying there, the hot water heater and all the pipes drain with ease because there are no traps in the plumbing.

Because the windows, looking out on the farm, are located toward the back side of the bin and the metal bin door covers the regular door when no one is at home, the structure looks like another grain bin in its row of bins to the passer-by. The deception becomes an advantage that lessens the chance of vandalism.

After a year, members of the Thiebes family are still excited about the creation. Usually only John Thiebes and one or two of his sons stay at the farm on an occasion. However, six of them were comfortable when they spent last Thanksgiving there, and last summer one of the Thiebes' sons stayed there all summer while he worked.

"I know this project could easily be replicated," Thiebes said. "Besides serving as living quarters on a distant place for a farmer, remodeled grain bins could also be modified to become living quarters for hired workers or guests."

Indoor Grill Easy on the Wallet


Shopping for kitchen appliances can at times be tricky. A host of factors to think about present themselves, with each one vying for attention as the most important thing to consider. No matter how much the color or the material of an appliance may come into the equation, there are always two other things to consider, no matter what personal preferences may be: price and size.

For the budgetary-minded trying to pack a punch onto a small countertop, appliance shopping can be a challenge. With a price tag of just $29.99, the West Bend Nonstick Countertop Grill and Panini Press (model 6113), offers a lot for the money. It measures approximately 13 inches by 11 inches with a height of 8 inches, but it unfolds 180 degrees to allow for maximum coverage as an open grill. In this open position, a slight slope in the design allows for fat and grease to drain away from cooking foods.

As a contact grill/panini press, the small size is sure to come in handy, regardless of kitchen size. (After all, counter space is always at a premium.) A floating hinge mechanism ensures even browning for thick items, like stacked sandwiches or even steak, which you'll be able to afford after paying only 30 bucks for this little indoor grill.

11 March 2010

Stores Hope Cash For Appliances Brings Big Business

Ozarks First
(Springfield, MO) -- Remember Cash for Clunkers? Missouri is rolling out Energize Missouri, a cash for appliances program.

Missouri plans to launch the program in mid-April. It will give rebates to customers who upgrade to energy-efficient appliances.
If you buy an Energy Star-rated appliance, stores will pick up your old machine and recycle it, and you'll get a rebate for upgrading.

Stores say act fast because they're expecting big business.

As Ozarkers built fewer new homes last year, appliances stayed on the showroom floor.

"It wasn't one of our better years," Judy Bilyeu of Metro Appliances And More says. "It pretty much came to a screeching halt."

The housing market is now on the rebound and builders are seeing an uptick in remodeling projects.

"It's wonderful. It's like the sun's coming out," Bilyeu says.

She hopes the cash for appliances program will jump-start sales as customers grab up rebates.

"Everybody's looking for energy-efficient and ways to save dollars or pennies," shopper Louella Wilson says.

Like car owners traded in their clunkers for gas-savers, homeowners can exchange older models for Energy Star-rated machines.

"Up to $1,500, so if you're going to do an entire kitchen remodeling job, it's not going to apply to everything you're going to buy," Bilyeu says.

The state allotted $5.6 million for the program. Store managers say be sure to act early before the money runs out.

"Early is the key," Bilyeu says. "It's hard to know how long that's going to last. If it will run out in the first two days of the promotion."

Rebates are on a first-come, first-serve basis so interested buyers need to start the cycle now.

"The state has proposed to actually take reservations up front," Bilyeu says.

Before stores run out of merchandise.

"We've seen some of the builders and local home remodeling contractors who honestly weren't doing much of anything in the past six months start to make their phone calls," Bilyeu says.

Or before the state shuts the door on rebates.

The state plans to start this program April 19 to coincide with the annual Show-Me Green sales tax holiday. That way, customers can hopefully get the rebate and not pay sales tax.

Customers need to save receipts because next year, they're eligible for a credit on their income taxes for buying energy-efficient products - especially large-ticket items like ovens and water heaters.

We do need to note that the program does not include refrigerators or freezers. But also starting in April, City Utilities will pick up and recycle working units at no cost to customers. Plus, they'll get a $35 rebate for participating. CU expects to recycle 2,800 refrigerators and freezers through the program. It's expected to reduce the electric demand on the CU system by 432 kilowatts per year.

Missouri DNR's website says:

Each state and U.S territory was allowed to design its own unique rebate program and select eligible products and rebate amounts on household and kitchen appliances. Missouri's plan outlines which ENERGY STAR appliances will be included in the program, rebate levels for each product, how rebates will be processed and a recycling plan for old appliances.

The Energize Missouri Appliance Rebates program will help Missourians buy appliances at lower costs, reduce home utility expenses and benefit Missouri businesses by stimulating sales of energy efficient appliances. To learn more about the program, visit the department's Energize Missouri Appliance Rebate Program Frequently Asked Questions fact sheet.

The department will issue rebates for the following items that are ENERGY STAR qualified. Purchases of these ENERGY STAR qualified appliances and equipment prior to the start of the program in Missouri will not be eligible for rebates. After commencement of the program, rebates will be provided on a first-come, first-served basis until all rebate funding is depleted.  Eligible appliances include:

    * Gas Furnaces - $125
    * Air Source Heat Pumps - $250
    * Central Air Conditioning - $100
    * Water Heaters-Gas Condensing - $150
    * Water Heaters-Gas Storage - $100
    * Water Heaters-Gas Tankless - $100
    * Water Heaters-Solar (With Gas Backup) - $500
    * Water Heaters-Electric Heat Pump - $150
    * Water Heaters-Solar (With Electric Backup) - $500
    * Clothes Washers - $75
    * Dishwashers - $75

09 March 2010

The Nuts and Bolts of Being Your Own General Contractor

The Denver Post

One couple who hired Conley Construction Co. a few years ago to remodel their Colorado home simply gave contractor Tim Conley the keys.

"We're going to Cabo," they said to Conley. "Call us when you're finished."

Sybille Hechtel, on the other hand, has remodeled or built seven homes, including her current house in South Boulder and an Earthship in Silverthorne. She learned from each remodel, did a lot of the work herself and contracted out the rest.

These are the extremes of how homeowners go about remodeling. On one end is the hands-on "Hechtel style." On the other end is the couple who wanted only the finished product.

In this economy, home remodeling projects are no longer an all-or-nothing choice between full involvement and a laissez- faire approach. Some homeowners act as their own general contractors but don't actually do any work; others hire a general contractor but remain involved in the process. These days general contractors, whose job it is to organize and oversee an entire project, including the work of subcontractors in specialty trades, tend to be flexible.

Of course, the more that homeowners are willing and able to do, the greater their savings. Even without lifting a nail gun or paintbrush, homeowners who hire their own subcontractors save roughly 15 to 20 percent over those who enlist a general contractor, according to construction-industry sources.

But it's a trade-off, and the more the homeowner takes on, the more time and knowledge are required. Acting as one's own general contractor can be daunting.

It can sometimes also be false economy, cautions Roger Reinhardt, executive vice president of the Home Builders Association of Metropolitan Denver. "There are things that can offset savings," he says. For instance, "homeowners who finance their remodels must carry the cost of a loan during construction."

Because of ongoing relationships with subcontractors, general contractors can set and keep to tighter schedules than most people. And if a "free-wheeling subcontractor walks off the job," Reinhardt notes, general contractors have others they can call in to finish.

Another upside to using a general contractor: They assume a level of risk. They will carry adequate insurance and also warranty that the work has been done correctly and stands the test of time.

Robert Palecki owns Home Remodel & Design in Littleton. He points out that it's his job to keep up with code changes, especially involving popular kitchen makeovers with behind-the-walls plumbing and electrical systems.

He is licensed in 17 jurisdictions and says every one is different. "There's a thick book of federal requirements, and every city or county has its own code book that is frequently amended and updated," Palecki says.

The 40-year industry veteran describes one common scenario that can be frustrating for homeowners: A home inspector will show up, without warning, say the code has changed and for that reason, so must the remodeling plans.

Experts say homeowners tend to enjoy the fun stuff — picking out cabinets, appliances, plumbing fixtures, tile, flooring and paint. But most don't enjoy researching building codes, deciphering blueprints or haggling with inspectors or subcontractors. A general contractor takes those challenges out of the homeowners' hands.

Randy and Carol Philp knew they wanted to be heavily involved in building their Coal Creek Canyon home when they met Bob Hinz and Mary Knowles of HomeWrights at the Colorado Garden and Home Show. The contractor-client relationship worked out so well that they've become friends — and that's rare.

"HomeWrights screens the contractors, so we didn't worry about being taken. We got two or three bids for everything and picked the ones we preferred. We were in control of the process but didn't worry about getting taken," Randy Philp says.

Mike Ebeling of Lyons, now a literary agent, was a contractor for five years. "A general contractor has relations with the subs," he says. "They'll get people to the door faster when something has to be done."

Tom Conley, whose company can handle everything or just act as a consultant, lets clients have all the input they want. "I encourage them to be involved," he says. "A lot of people have a friend who's an electrician (or other tradesman). I'll pull the permits, and if my customers want, they can do everything themselves."

But he's also available to troubleshoot and pick up the pieces when a do-it-yourself job goes wrong.

Tammy Leakas is a Boulder County architect and planner. She sees advantages and disadvantages to hiring a general contractor.

On the one hand, "People don't always get what they want. Contractors often try to change a design to what's easy, quick and cheap."

She adds that to be one's own contractor, the homeowner needs to be a good scheduler, a good coordinator, a good time manager and "strong enough to insist on getting your own way" without unreasonable add-ons on the back end.

Strident do-it-yourselfer Sybille Hechtel has learned to wear all of those hats, citing earning a Ph.D. as good preparation. "I learned how to make a list of everything that needed to be done and then stick to it," she says.

Her friends know her to be unusually diligent, organized, meticulous and disciplined.

For homeowners who are looking at nothing except price (because doing a remodel without a general contractor is likely to be cheaper) Palecki of Home Remodel & Design likes this slogan: "The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of a low price is forgotten."

And that, at the end of the day, is an important consideration for homeowners embarking on a remodel.

Getting Started

Make a list of what needs to be renovated and which optional improvements you want.

Set a budget but plan for the unexpected. The older the home, the more surprises you might find.

Set a timetable but be prepared to be flexible — just in case.

Consult with an architect or designer for ideas or total plans.

Consider how your furniture, artwork and entertainment system will fit into the renovated or added rooms.

Be realistic about your limitations and knowledge. Adding an extension or an entire story, or gutting and remodeling a kitchen from the floor joists up, is a complex project that might be best handled by a general contractor, while changing paint colors, replacing flooring, installing new countertops, adding wood trim or other cosmetic upgrades can be handled by almost anyone.

Consider the adage: "Remodel where the water is." If your main objective is to increase your home's value, conventional wisdom is that kitchen and bathroom remodeling bring the greatest return on investment. But they are also the most disruptive to everyday life.

Go to the Home Builders Association of Denver website (hbadenver.com) and click on "Consumer Resources" for basic information and also a list of member builders and remodelers.

Being the Contractor

Know what's involved. The Renovation 101 website (renovation101.com/Be-your-Contractor2.htm) has a checklist of issues to consider.

Keep extensive records of every component of the project from bids to bills.

Be conscientious about checking out subcontractors with your local Better Business Bureau.

Make sure that every subcontractor is properly insured, including carrying liability and workman's compensation insurance.

Be prepared to eat, sleep and breathe your remodeling project 24/7. A major makeover is that time-consuming, and more complicated than you might imagine.

Hiring a Contractor

Seek recommendations but again, be conscientious about checking them out with your local Better Business Bureau.

Refer to the Home Builders Association of Denver website (hbadenver.com, Consumer Resources, list of members). Members of the Remodelers Council must be vetted, and builders must be sponsored by other builders. Both must adhere to the association's code of ethics.

Ask about a contractor's familiarity with green building. This is important in terms of available products, tax credits and the long-term savings of using green materials, appliances and fixtures.

Obtain and compare several bids. Examine the contract carefully before signing, and even run it past an attorney if you are unsure of the builder's legal obligations — and yours as well.

Agree on a work and payment schedule.

08 March 2010

From Washington: Home and Garden Show Offers Products, Inspiration

Herald Net

George Deane waited outside Comcast Arena on Friday in a line of people making their way into the annual Everett Home and Garden Show.

He was prepared to shop for the flowers he wants to bloom in the garden outside his Everett home. He checked his wallet for notes containing the names of the specific flower seeds he came to find.

“I think this is my third time here (at the Everett Home and Garden Show),” Deane said. “I’m really looking for some annual flower seeds. I don’t need to go through the big kitchen appliances and the roofs.”

Marysville residents Sharon and Kirk Quintoa visit the show every year and walked by vendor booths on Friday thinking of the things they want to add to their new home. They stopped in front of a heat pump on display.

“We’re looking for decking and we thought a heat pump,” Sharon said. “We redecorated and remodeled our old house by coming to the home show. We got ideas. We’re looking for things we need to do in our new home.”

After working their way through booths of vendors on the terrace level of the arena, William and Diana Routledge of Mukilteo sat down in seats overlooking landscaping, kitchen, flooring, solar and other displays spread across the arena floor. They were pleased to see some of the same businesses they recently chose to help with their kitchen remodel at the show.

“In about two months time, we’ll be doing some kitchen remodeling and we pretty much have made our decisions but we’re coming through seeing if there’s something that we missed,” Diana said. “Some of the things we’ve already decided on or chosen from what we consider to be good companies are represented here. It underscores the fact we made the right choices.”

Others came just to browse during the first day of the seventh annual Everett Home and Garden Show.

“We’re always looking for ideas for the house, just ideas,” Bernie Kania of Camano Island said. “It’s just interesting to see all the products in one spot.”

Attendance at the Everett Home and Garden Show has grown since 2003 when it was first held in Comcast Arena, according to Everett Home and Garden Show president Jim Ashe. This year’s three-day show boasts more than 400 booths and 250 different exhibitors.

“The show will be full and look full in spite of the economy,” he said. “Every year is a little bit different, and what you try to do is bring in exhibits and the kinds of the things people want to see.”

Many people who passed by Mike Siders’ landscaping display were looking for low maintenance landscaping ideas, he said.

The owner of Whispering Pines Custom Landscapes in Everett, Siders said questions about how to start low maintenance projects are common.

“Everyone really wants to downsize as far as maintenance goes,” he said. “I think a lot of people are tired of being prisoners of the economy, and the beauty of landscaping and home remodeling is it can be done in phases if you have a budget.”

Whether she finds something at this year’s show or not, the Everett Home and Garden Show is an event Janet Turner of Snohomish said she never misses.

“I just like seeing what new trends are coming,” she said.

01 March 2010

Dream Home: Creating a Masterpiece

The Baltimore Sun
Starting with a building dating to 1800, two artists have transformed it into their house and studio

Artists Harry and Deborah Richardson made their New Market home by adding a kitchen and studio space along with adjacent parcels of land and, eventually, a gallery. (Baltimore Sun photo by Barbara Haddock Taylor / February 23, 2010)

On the side lawn of his cottage, at the end of a long driveway, Harry Richardson gestures broadly to first-time visitors.

"I live on 20 acres," he says proudly. "And at the end of it, there's a lake."

Those who know him can easily see where the artist gets a lot of the inspiration for his watercolors. Even on a cold winter's day, several dozen tall pine trees, their trunks casting long shadows on the deep snow, follow the rolling hills downward to Lake Linganore. Up at the crest of these hills, Harry Richardson and his wife, Debbie, a painter and glass artist, beckon guests to the back entrance of their Frederick County home, the original part of which dates to around 1800.

Inside, natural morning light brightens a large kitchen in this addition to the original cottage. Beams fall onto cabinets that were taken from a neighbor who did not care for the sound of the wood's name — wormy chestnut. But here in the Richardson's cottage, the wood is appropriate for what they call their "Early American comfortable" style.

"In 1975, I paid $62,000 for my stone cottage and about 14 acres," Harry Richardson said. "Imagine that! You can spend that much on a luxury automobile these days."

Since that time, he added two parcels for his total of over 20 acres. Additions to the house came in 1978, in the form of kitchen remodeling and two rooms for studio space adjacent to the original first floor and a partially below-ground area for his wife's studio.

"I did a lot of the work myself with the help of friends," he said. "I used native fieldstone and recycled vintage flooring and barn beams. I even drew up the building plans myself. This is called sweat equity."

The original stone cottage was a German-American architectural style often referred to as "two, two and two," referring to the two rooms on each of three floors, including the cellar. What was once the main room or parlor is now a dining room with a large stone fireplace that has a life-size painting of a rifle over the mantel. Another feature in the room is an original, oak dough tray cabinet, a buffet-type piece of furniture with a top that lifts up allowing the bread dough to rise.

In 1987, Harry Richardson built a 26-by-32-foot, two-story gallery and frame shop on the property just yards from the main house. Materials, including cedar clapboard siding, cost about $25,000, which he asserts is amazing by today's prices.

"Here again, I drew up the plans and did a lot of the finish home remodeling work myself," he said. "I hired my neighbor to help with the heavy framing and roofing."

It is in the main-floor gallery that the couple exhibit their work, and while it is open by appointment only, twice a year they host an open house. They also sell their work at craft shows.

For the most part, though, they revel in hearth and home.

"We live a simple life here," Debbie Richardson said.

Making a dream home

Dream element: The Richardson's early 19th-century stone cottage is embellished with additions of cypress clapboard siding milled with a Colonial lap-bead. The roof shingles are fiberglass but have been built to replicate the original wood shingles. The house, as well as a separate gallery/frame shop, sits on over 20 acres of land that rolls to the banks of Lake Linganore in New Market, Frederick County. The cottage is also a registered Frederick County landmark.

Design inspiration: Colonial cottage-style furniture comprises the decor of the original house and its additions. Many of the pieces are antiques bought at shops, shows and auction. In the living/family room addition, for example, leather sofas sit perpendicular in front of a wood-burning stove. A coffee table that Harry Richardson fashioned out of a walnut slab adds to the grouping, as does an antique pine corner cabinet dating to 1820 and a rocking chair from 1870 — a family heirloom.

Personal touch: The Richardsons display personal collections throughout the cottage. Debbie Richardson's antique glass jar collection sits on several windowsills, aglow with light passing through the variety of their colors, some reflecting onto the walls and floors. A large watercolor portrait by Harry Richardson of his grandmother on the front porch of her farmhouse hangs in the couple's dining room. At one time, the piece was exhibited in the Corcoran Gallery of Art.