A much better choice, if you have the room (and most kitchens do), is to increase the depth of your base cabinets to match the depth of your normal refrigerator then wrap the refrigerator in a wood panel. The refrigeraor looks built-in and you get a lot more countertop space. To learn more about the other advantages of opting for deeper base cabinets, see our article
A separate cooktop and wall oven are going to cost about twice as much as a good quality range with built-in oven. Unless you are a daily or near-daily baker, forget the wall oven. You won't use it enough to make it worth the price. Wall ovens are also hard to design into small kitchens because of their sheer size and mass. They always seem to be in the way of other essential kitchen functions. Ovens in ranges are too low to be comfortable enough to use regularly, but if you use it only once in a while, it's a bargain. Many of us don't use the oven at all — substituting countertop toaster-ovens and microwaves, and most home cooks use it only once in a while1. So here is an opportunity to save big by avoiding that expensive cooktop/wall-oven combination.
Kitchen Remodeling Myths and Fables
Like every enterprise, kitchen remodeling is awash in myths and half-truths that an cause a lot of confusion and wasted effort and money. Here are a few of our all-time favorites.
Refacing cabinets saves 50-75% over replacing the cabinets.
If your kitchen layout is good, and your cabinets are working for you, refacing is definitely an option. It will save something, but probably closer to 20-25% over the cost of new cabinets. Refacing cabinets requires that new doors and drawers be made, and the entire exposed part of the cabinet box be repainted or veneered with new wood. But, it is precisely the doors and drawers that are the expensive parts of the cabinet. The box itself is cheap. What you really save is the installation cost. Since your cabinets are already installed, they do not have to be reinstalled. The savings will nowhere near 50%. Also, keep in mind also that by keeping your old cabinets, you give up many of the nicer features of today's cabinets, including better hardware and door and drawer organizers not available 20-30 years ago.
Factory cabinets from the big box stores cost a lot less than cabinet shop cabinets.
This used to be true. Twenty years ago the big cabinet manufacturers were so much more efficient than regional and local cabinetmakers that the price difference was significant. No longer. Local shops have gotten a lot more efficient. Locally manufactured cabinets are now about the same price as equivalent factory cabinets when you consider that:
- Factory cabinets have to be shipped, often from far away, and this cost is added to the price.
- The cabinets have to be installed. With local cabinets the installation is part of the package. The cost of installing factory cabinets is separate and in addition to the cost of the cabinets. We used to install for a major lumber-store chain, so we know what they charge, and it is not inconsiderable.
- Cabinets have to be designed. You cannot just order a handful of cabinets and expect them to fit your kitchen. Factory cabinets ordered through box stores are "designed" by a sales person who has had only rudimentary training in kitchen design — usually about 3 days in a classroom. Local cabinets are designed by an experienced cabinetmaker to precisely fit your kitchen.
- If a cabinet is damaged, missing or just the wrong size, a local cabinetmaker can produce a replacement cabinet in a matter of days. A factory cabinet takes weeks. So the price goes up considerably if there is an error because the whole job has to wait until the replacement is delivered.
Of course, having said all that, there are exceptions. If you stay with stock cabinets in standard finishes, avoid high-markup fancy trim, mouldings and accessories; and look for sales, you can really get a deal on store cabinets. But before you order, make sure of the layout. We puzzle over why store designers do things like specify drawers that cannot open because another cabinet is in the way. Rather than contracting with the store to install the cabinets, hire a local carpenter, and have him double check the design. It will almost certainly be cheaper because the store does not pile on its overhead and profit, and you often get better workmanship from the guy who depends on your satisfaction for his paycheck.
Tall Tile Tales
Porcelain is better than ceramic tile
They are actually pretty much the same thing. Porcelain is just one type of ceramic tile. Historically the only difference has been that porcelain tiles were made of light clays while other ceramics were made of red and darker brown clays. What makes the real difference in tile quality is how long and how hot tile is fired. Tiles fired longer at higher temperature are denser, harder and more impervious to water. This applies to any ceramic tile whether made of red clay or light clay. Our recommendation, ignore the term "porcelain". Look for the tile that's the right size, durability, color and luster. It does not matter whether a tile is porcelain or ceramic as long as it is graded for how it is to be used. Learn more about how tiles are graded and the difference between grades at Porcelain or Ceramic: What is the difference?
Tile grout stains and is nearly impossible to clean
There was a time when stain was a major worry when using grouted tile on a floor, countertop or backsplash. The grout at the time was cement grout. It was inexpensive and came in a rainbow of colors. But cement is porous and has to be regularly sealed with a silicon sealant to remain looking fresh. Even with sealant, it would eventually get grungy.
The new grouts are very different. Rather than being cement based, they are epoxy and urethane based. You know urethane, the stuff used to make nearly indestructible polyurethane varnish. Urethanes cure to a flexible, self-sealing, semi-elastic, hard finish that lasts for years and years without staining. Anti-microbial formulations for baths also inhibit mold and mildew.
Epoxy, more expensive and more difficult to apply, is usually reserved for special situationa. For most ordinary applications, urethane is more than adequate.
Hand-washing dishes rather than running the dishwasher saves water and electricity
This is one of our all time favorite misconceptions. Many homeowners believe they're helping the environment and reducing their water bill by washing dishes the old-fashioned way rather than using a dishwasher. Nothing could be further from the truth. Modern dishwashers use, on average, 1-1.5 kilowatt hours of energy and 3.7 gallons of water (an amount equal to one full kitchen sink). Take into consideration how many full sinks you use to wash a pile of dishes and the amount of water you use for rinsing the dishes and it's easy to see how wrong this myth is. Washing by hand consumes much more water than using your dishwasher, especially when you consider that washing dishes by hand is a daily affair whereas you may only run your dishwasher only every 2 or 3 days. Your dishwasher is one of your most efficient appliances. In most localities (excluding the cost of detergent) it costs between 12¢ and 20¢ to wash a load of dishes.
So if you are going "Green" and thinking about leaving the dishwasher out of your new kitchen to help the environment, forget it. Buy the most efficient dishwasher you can afford. Stop washing by hand, just load dirty dishes as they are used into the dishwasher until it is full, then push the magic button. For more information on saving water, read our article Saving Household Water
Dishes should be "pre-rinsed" before being washed in a dishwasher.
Many thousands of people seem devoted to removing every spec of food from their dinnerware before putting it in the dishwasher. You can eliminate this "pre-rinse" for any dishwasher newer than 20 years old because it does not help your dishwasher get your dishes any cleaner. Moreover, re-rinsing may actually harm your dishes because prerinsing causes the concentration of alkaline in dishwasher detergent to rise to high levels. Dishwasher detergents are made to clean stuck-on grease and grime. With no grease and grime to attack, the alkaline in the detergent attacks your dishes instead, making them appear cloudy, scratched and in some cases, actually etching the surface. Scrape away large bits of food, but don't prerinse, and if you are one of the fortunate few to have a disposer built into your dishwasher, don't even bother to scrape. By not prerinsing, you will save about 14,000 gallons of water each year. That 14,000 gallon figure is not a typo.
If you have natural gas in your home, go for gas. Gas ranges are a little more expensive to buy, but also less expensive to operate and, as most professional chefs will agree, better to cook on. But keep in mind that efficiency is relative. Cooking on gas for a year saves just $18.00 in my home town, Lincoln, Nebraska, over cooking with electricity. Of course consumer-owned Lincoln Electric System's electricity is the third cheapest in the country, so the difference may be much greater where you are.
Don't Buy the Brand
Just because you've bought GE appliances all your life, as your father and grandfather did before you, does not mean you should buy GE today.
Brand name is a lot less important than it was just a decade ago. There are only a dozen large appliance manufacturers left in the world. All of the smaller companies have been gobbled up by the monster brands.
Whirlpool, for example, now owns Admiral, Acros, Amana, Bauknecht (Europe), Brastemp (Spain), Consul, Estate, Inglis (Whirlpool Canada), Jenn Air, KitchenAid, Magic Chef, Maytag, Roper, Speed Queen, Sub Zero, and Norge as well as Whirlpool. Whirlpool manufactures only some of its own appliances, farming an increasing number out to Chinese factories. The appliances are substantially the same across all of the Whirlpool brands. Whether a particular refrigerator is called a Whirlpool, Admiral or Maytag mostly depends on which brand name will sell the best. Brand no longer makes much difference — except to the price. A Whirlpool refrigerator is generally cheaper than the same Amana or Maytag refrigerator. The car companies have been doing this for years, A Plymouth Voyager is cheaper than a Dodge Caravan which is cheaper than a Chrysler Town and County — although they are exactly the same mini-van. The appliance makers have adopted the same marketing strategy — and we keep falling for it.
Whirlpool Corporation brands account for 27% of the U.S. appliance market, followed by GE (25%) and Sears/Kenmore (16%). Whirlpool (US) makes appliances for Ikea (Scandanavian), Kenmore (US) and some refrigerators for the up-scale appliance brand, Thermadore (US).
Kenmore, the name given by Sears to its store-brand appliances since 1927, makes exactly none of its own appliances, it never has. Whirlpool, Frigidaire and LG (Korea) make Kenmore's refrigerators. The giant Chinese appliance maker, Haier, provides many of Kenmore's compact fridges, Danby (Ohio), a mini-fridge pioneer, makes its wine coolers and Sanyo (Japan) builds most of its freezers.
Viking, based in Greenwood Mass. (no, it's not Scandinavian) manufacturers most of its own appliances, but Amana makes its freestanding refrigerator, Sharp its microwaves and Marvel (Now owned by AGA) its undercounter refrigerators.
Electrolux (which is Scandanvian, but owned by the German appliance maker, AEG) has moved on from its clunky vacuum cleaners into a variety of appliances under its own name, but also under its Frigidaire and Tappen brands. GSH Home Appliances (Germany) owns the upscale Bosch, Gaggenau and Thermador brands.
Fake it 'Til You Make It (Cheaper), Part 2
Here is a little trick to make inexpensive laminate look like something much more costly.
Laminates are usually fabricated with a 1-1/2" thick edge. This is a "tell" that just screams "laminate" to any but the most obtuse observer. But there is no structural reason for this dimension. It just happens to be what you get when two 3/4" MDF sheets are glued together. Stone countertops are usually 3 centimeters thick — about 1-3/16".
Any laminate fabricator can make a countertop with a 1-3/16" edge rather than the standard 1-1/2". Oh, he'll hem and haw, tell you it can't be done, your sink won't fit, special jigs will have to be used, it will take more time, and so on. But if you stand your ground, hands on hips with a steely glare and practiced snarl, and show him a copy of this article, you'll get 1-3/16" countertops at a very modest additional charge, if any.
The fact is, to find out who makes what for whom requires an elaborate and constantly changing scorecard. Forget about brand. Look for features, warranty, and efficiency, not brand name. Brand name no longer tells you much. Inside the pretty cabinet a Maytag or Ikea is likely to be a Whirlpool, and a Kenmore is quite likely a Frididaire. You can no longer tell from the brand name who actually makes the appliance.
Your countertop takes incredible abuse. You put hot pans on it, cut on it, scrape and scratch at it, scour it, pound it, and spill hot liquids on it. Yet after years of use, it is still expected to look as good as ever. We discuss the pros and cons of most of the countertop options available for your remodeled kitchen in our article New and Traditional Countertop Materials
and strongly urge you to
increase your countertop IQ by reading it. But here is our take on price vs. value after working with countertops for nearly half a century. Keep in mind, that after cabinets and appliances, countertops are the most expensive item in your new kitchen and savings here can be substantial with no sacrifice in function or quality.
You have no doubt heard of Formica countertops. What you may not know is that Formica® is a brand name for a high-density laminate material used widely to make countertops. Formica was the inventor of the material, but now there are also other brands such as Wilsonart® and Nevermar®. Since "high density laminate" is quite a mouthful, most kitchen people shorten it to just "laminate". Most non-kitchen people call it "formica". We can't do that without risking a nasty note from Formica Corporation.
The no-question winner in the price/value countertop category is laminate. Unless there is a very good reason for using another material, stick with a good quality laminate countertop like Formica® or Wilsonart®. Sure,
granite, Corian® and Silestone®, stainless steel and concrete countertops are beautiful and will certainly make your friends and neighbors go "Ooh" and "Aah", but at a price. The price, in an average size kitchen, is about $2,000 for the "Ooh" and another $2,000 for the "Aah". And, with upscale countertops becoming more commonplace, the oohs and ahs just ain't what they used to be.
We have heard all the same talk about how the pricier materials are so much better than laminates. Well, they can sometimes be better, but they are absolutely not four to ten times better. They are however four to ten times more expensive. Stick with a good quality laminate. If you like the look of granite, buy a laminate that looks like granite. If you like Corian solid surfacing, there are laminates that look like Corian. In about 20 years you and your neighbor with the granite countertop are both going to be tired of your countertops and want to change them. He's going to throw away a $6,000 piece of rock, while you are going to junk $1,000 worth of paper and plastic. Who was smarter? There's a reason this stuff has out sold every other countertop material combined for the past 70 years. It is by far — by far — the best countertop value.
Ceramic, Porcelain and Stone Tile
Our clear second choice for the value-conscious countertop buyer is ceramic, porcelain or stone tile. Tile is, if anything, even more versatile than laminates, comes in many more colors, patterns and textures (and that's saying something since there are over 1,000 laminates to choose from), and can actually cost less. It can also cost a great deal more. Tile is both the least expensive and most expensive countertop option. You can easily spend just pennies per square foot for good-quality ceramic tile on sale. You can also spend many thousand dollars per square foot for hand-fired, hand-painted art tiles.
No doubt you have heard those horror stories about tile countertops. Tile stains, cracks, and so on. Actually, it is less susceptible to cracking than granite, soapstone or concrete. Stone is porous and will strain. This is true of stone tile countertops.
But, glazed tile will not stain. The glaze is actually a form of glass, and glass does not stain. What used to stain was the grout. Not true any longer with the new urethane-based grouts (See the sidebar: "Myths and Fables"). These very new products are flexible, durable, last a very long time, never fade, and are as likely to stain as, well, polyurethane varnish. Nor will glazed tile scratch, or mar. It can chip, but it takes a serious effort. You can cut on it, and put hot pans on it without risk. Before a pan can get hot enough to harm glazed tile, the pan will have melted.
Keep in mind that there is no essential difference between ceramic tiles that say "porcelain" on the box and ceramic tiles that don't. That's not what the salesman at the tile store told you, but he is wrong. The word "porcelain" is largely a marketing gimmick. As a gimick it works pretty well, which is why manufacturers keep using it. So don't pay more for a tile because it calls itself porcelain. Look for tile that is rated for countertop use — which is generally tile that is suitable for semi-wet areas. (For the guide you will need to buy the best tile for your countertop at the best price, see our article Porcelain or Ceramic: What Is the Difference?
.) Most tile meets this criteria easily. On sale, it is possible to find suitable tiles that cost $1.00 per square foot, or less. Quite the bargain. And to sweeten the deal, ceramic tile is literally made out of dirt — clay and silica (sand) — requires no nasty petro-chemicals and is, therefore, a reasonably green material – much greener than even the "greenist" engineered countertop.
If you use good judgment and common sense, you can easily get a countertop that will probably last as long as stone for the price of a quality laminate. Still longing for that granite look? Use granite or granite-look tiles instead at one-quarter the cost. And if you want that "Wow" factor, it's hard to beat the color, patterns, texture and flexibility of tile. Mix and match to your heart's content. Play with patterns and color. Add a few art tiles for interest. Just go crazy! It's fun.
Tile, then, is definitely our second choice for high quality, durable, budget countertops.
Solid Surfacing Countertops
Now we get into an area where there is much disagreement among our professional countertop guys and gals. But a solid plurality of us prefer solid surfacing to all of the remaining options. Solid surfacing, like Corian®, has the twin advantages of being cheaper than most of the rest of the pack, and at least as durable. Some of us don't care for the matte appearance of the material, but this is an aesthetic not a value choice. Tough, durable, almost impossible to stain, reparable if it is damaged, and relatively inexpensive, solid surfacing is a solid (pun intended) third choice for the value conscious.
The Also Rans
Then there are all of the rest — all of which are excellent materials: durable, long-lasting, nearly indestructible. They will outlast you, your house, your city, and probably the United States. You will grow tired of your countertop many, many years before it wears out. If you just have to have these premium materials, we will install them for you. Now all you have to do is figure out where to save the money to pay for them.
Mixing It Up
Have you heard of some rule that says all of your countertops have to be the same? We haven't either. A good way to get an interesting look is to mix and match countertop materials. Use laminates for most of the countertop, but perhaps hard maple at the prep counter and granite on both sides of the range. We have seen this technique used to wonderful effect by decorators and creative homeowners. It works, and it's cheaper than all-premium countertops — a whole lot cheaper.
(Back)Splashes of Color
If you really want to jazz up your kitchen, consider the artful ways backsplashes can be used. The days of automatically matching the backsplash to the counter are long gone. Glass, stone, tile and even wood can be used as a dramatic and inexpensive kitchen accent. Ceramic, stone, glass or metal tiles are available in tile shops and kitchen show rooms, or we can buy them for a little less at home improvement stores. Here is where you can get creative at a very modest price.
There is no appreciable quality difference between a good mid-range faucet and an expensive designer faucet. The difference is only the cachet of the mark. If you buy a Grohe or Lacava faucet over a Kohler, Moen or Delta faucet it's because you appreciate the artistry of a Grohe or Lacava. The Kohler will give just as good service, it just does not have the pizzaz of a Lacava or the hand-made reputation of a Grohe.
If you must have high design, expect to pay for it. But for most homeowners the thousands of excellent mid-range faucets have so many design choices that looking any further for a faucet is just not necessary. For an overview of dozens of faucet manufacturers and their products, take a look at our article Sources of Supply: Faucets Overview
For your faucet finish, stick with heavy chrome. Faucets are available in everything from gold to "hand rubbed bronze", but these premium finishes can easily double the price of the faucet. Our second choice for easy maintenance and great looks: brushed stainless.
Sinks attach into your countertop in three ways: drop-in, tile-in and undermount. Tile-in sinks are used with tile countertops and designed so the top edge of the sink is flush with the countertop tile.
Undermount sinks, as you would expect, are mounted under the countertop. Tile-in and undermount kitchen sinks are preferred by most homeowners over drop-in sinks because they seamlessly flow into the countertop, eliminating the grunge-collecting lip of drop-in sinks. Until recently, however, undermount sinks could be installed only beneath pricey stone or solid surfacing countertops. There was no good way to undermount a sink in a laminate counter top that would last more than a few years. That has all changed.
has introduced acrylic and stainless undermount sinks that bond seamlessly to a laminated counter top. In fact, "undermount" may not be the word. These sinks are essentially integrated into the counterop. The sink selection is still rather limited, and there are just a few counter top fabricators familiar with the product (we happen to be one of them), but the list of both is growing. At about $600 installed, the Karran sink is no more expensive than a premium drop-in sink, and is a whole lot less expensive than any undermount alternative. Wilsonart
, the large laminate manufacturer has also recently introduced its own line of acrylic integrated sinks using the Karran technology.
If Karran integrated sinks are not for you, then the choice is a drop-in sink, the most common type of sink in the U.S. offering more style and color choices than all other mounting types combined.
Sinks are generally made of three materials, cast iron, stainless steel and plastic. Of course, makers of plastic sinks don't call them plastic. They are a "polymer", acrylic or a "composite" sink. Plastic sinks are an economy sink that doesn't really economize, simply because they scratch and stain readily and need to be replaced often. Cast iron is usually pricy, and heavy, but almost guaranteed to be a lifetime sink with reasonable care. So, if you find a deal on a cast iron sink, snap it up. It would be hard to go wrong.
But, you can't guarantee that a nice cast iron sink will be on sale at a deep discount just when you need one. So, our first choice of material for a sink for the budget-minded is good quality stainless steel. It is durable, easy to clean, heat resistant, tarnish free, less likely to break dishes than cast iron, blends well with just about every decor, and, best of all, is the most affordable sink. But don't grab the first sale sink you find at Lowes or The Home Depot. There are grades of stainless steel, some are much better than others.
The steel alloy you want is Type 302 or 304. These alloys have the best combination of chromium and nickel for superior corrosion resistance and durability. Also, they are fairly soft and have a little "give", reducing the chance of dish breakage. Look for Type 302 or 304 on the box (sometimes they are collectively referred to as "18/8" stainless). If the sink has one of these alloys the box will say so. If it does not, pass it by. There is a tiny difference in the composition of 302 and 304 steels, but either is very suitable to sinks.
The thicker the steel, the less susceptible it is to denting, bowing and noise transmission from pots and pans hitting the metal surface. The thickness, called "gauge", can be determined by its number. The lower the number, the thicker the steel. Most sinks come in 18 or 20 gauge steel. The 18 gauge is the thicker of the two and is more than adequate for residential sinks. If you can find a 16 gauge Type 302 or 304 sink on sale, then buy it, you cannot possibly go wrong with this sink.
Look at the finish. Some manufacturers have started selling highly polished stainless sinks. These glistening wonders look great in the showroom, but not so great after a few years of use. Steel scratches. Polished steel shows every scratch, brushed stainless steel does not. And, brushed steel is almost always cheaper.
The layout of your new sink is important. In the era before dishwashers, two-basin sinks allowed washing to be done on one side, rinsing on the other. With a dishwasher a deep one-basin sink is usually best for hand washing those big pots and roasters that will not fit in the dishwasher. If you must have a two-basin sink, choose an asymmetrical design: one that has one big basin and one small basin and put the disposal in the small basin.
Fabulous (But Frugal) Floors
The least expensive floor option for kitchens is vinyl: either sheet vinyl or vinyl tile. But it's not a good value because it does not last.
The best value is either ceramic tile, hardwood or laminate flooring. The most eco-friendly is cork or bamboo. You can find much more information on these flooring options in Flooring Options for Kitchens and Baths
, as well as information on less common floors: cork, concrete, and bamboo, for example. Each of these has advantages and disadvantages.
Hardwood: The Warm Choice
No material says "warm and homey" like a polished wood floor. Oak, which is now mostly harvested as a crop from managed forests, is the ultimate hardwood flooring deal — relatively inexpensive and extremely long lasting. In former years the wood finishes available did not protect well-enough to use hardwood in a potential wet area like a kitchen. But the new finishes protect wood from all but flooding. Avoid prefinished wood floors. These are often a hardwood veneer on a medium density fiberboard (MDF) backer. If it gets wet, MDF, swells like cardboard, ruining the floor. You will want solid unfinished hardwood sanded smooth and varnished with polyurethane by a local floor specialist. This seals the wood and the cracks between the planks so water cannot get in.
If you live in a pre-1940 house you just might have a hardwood floor under those layers of tacky vinyl and linoleum. Before you budget for floor replacement, tear up some of the existing flooring and look. In the 1930s it was common for builders to lay an oak strip floor in the kitchen, then immediately overlay it with linoleum to protect it. Why they did this idiot thing is anyone's guess. We have never heard a good explanation. But it was done, and fairly often, so look for it. It's a lot cheaper to sand the linoleum adhesive off the oak and refinish it than it is to replace the floor. You will end up with what is essentially a pristine, never-walked-on, oak floor of first growth oak — better oak than most of the flooring you can buy today.
Ceramic, Porcelain and Stone Tile: The Lifetime Choice
Glazed tile or stone is probably the ultimate kitchen flooring material, and with care in selection can also be the most affordable. Large format tiles (12" x 12" or larger) are usually the best choices since they are faster to install (costing, therefore less money) and easiest to maintain. The former problem with the hard tiles was grout which stained and was difficult to keep looking nice. New stainless urethane grouts have all but eliminated this problem (See the sidebar: "Myths and Fables").
The creative options available with ceramic and porcelain tiles are endless. Patterns, solids, textured looks are just the baseline for designs. Add to that a myriad of size variations and specialty looks, and the combinations approach infinity. So if you want to get creative, a tile floor gives you every opportunity, but keep in mind that tile is a permanent floor, so use care in your selection. You want something that you will still like 50 years from now, because it will still be there: and 100 years from now, and 150 years….
Cork and Bamboo: The Green Choice?
For those concerned with protecting the environment while getting a great kitchen floor, bamboo and cork are considered the "green" flooring options. Cork is a wholly green material. It is the bark of the Cork Oak and can be repeatedly harvested without harming the tree. It is minimally processed into a tile than is dense, stain resistant and very water resistant. Before plastic, it was the material used for fishing bobbers and life jackets. Ever see a cork fishing bobber sink? Neither have we. The closed-cell structure of cork defeats water penetration. Still, it's best not to let water sit on a cork floor. The water will work itself around the cork and into the subfloor, which, if it gets wet enough, will buckle and warp, ruining the floor.
Cork does not seem like it would be durable enough for hard use in a kitchen. Yet, it is astoundingly rugged. Cork floors installed almost 100 years ago in Federal buildings in Washington, D.C., that get lots of daily pounding, are still very much in use. But, there are a couple of things to consider. First, cork floors and spike heels do not mix very wel. Second, cork expands and contracts a lot, so great care is required in its installation.
Bamboo is also considered a green material. We have a whole lot of doubt about that. Its basic raw material is green enoug — a renewable, sustainable grass stem from what may be the fastest growing plant in the world. But, in its raw state, bamboo is useless for floors. Floring is made not of bamboo, but of bamboo strips (best) or fibers (worse). The processing the grass goes through to make flooring is anything but green, and often requires some very, very eco-unfriendly chemicals and a whole lot of power. In fact, bamboo flooring is really an engineered material with a bamboo filler, similar to Silestone® which uses quartz as a filler. Quartz, although it is one of the most common minerals on earth, so abundant that we cannot possibly ever run out of it before the sun explodes, is not considered green. Beats the hell out of us. We think of bamboo flooring as sort of "greenish", definitely not actually green.
Cork is probably, then, the truly green choice, but bamboo is usually cheaper and has, generally, a longer guaranteed life cycle. Fifty-year bamboo warranties are common.
Let There be (Fluorescent or LED) Light
The major ongoing cost of your kitchen is electricity. After your heating and air-conditioning, your kitchen is the big energy-user in your house. Selecting low energy appliances and developing energy saving habits can go a long way to reducing energy consumption. So can proper lighting design. There is a lot more information on choosing efficient lighting and using it effectively in our article Designing Efficient and Effective Kitchen Lighting
. But here are the highlights:
Whatever style of light fixture your prefer, make sure the bulb is fluorescent. This is the smart choice, not just for the budget, it's also the green choice and the low maintenance choice.
Fluorescent lighting produces much more light for the electricity used than any other form of lighting except LEDs (more below). Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFL) can be used in almost any place a less efficient incandescent bulb can be used. The bulbs last a lot longer - up to 5 times longer, so they do not have to be replaced as often, which is nice for landfills, and they produce the same quality of light. Their drawback is that they require minute amounts (4 milligrams) of mercury to operate, and mercury, as you know, can be an environmentally dangerous metal. The EPA
maintains, however, that the amount of mercury use is so small that the total amount of mercury use in all the CFLs made has an insignificant impact on the environment compared to the enormous ecological benefits of CFLs. Some CFLs use less mercury than others, and some last much longer than other CFLs. Its usually not possible to tell from the box which CFLs are stellar performers, but the Environmental Working Group
recently tested CFLs and identified the seven most efficient and eco-friendliest. See the study results here
For undercounter lighting, use T-5 or T-8 fluorescent instant-on fixtures. You may not know what these are, but your electrician does. These are not pretty fixtures, but they are hidden under the cabinet, so what difference does it make? Avoid low-voltage halogen or xenon lights. These are not only more expensive to buy, but more expensive to operate, and they burn very hot so special care in installation is required. Low voltage lights have no advantage whatsoever over fluorescent undercabinet fixtures.
Light Emitting Diodes (LED)
The only real challenge to fluorescent is the light emitting diode. The big objection to LEDs is initial cost. By comparison to fluorescents, LEDs can be as much as 5 times more expensive. But, LEDs have come a long way in just a few years. They are still more expensive than fluorescent lamps to buy, but the cost is coming down rapidly. In a few more years they will probably be roughly equivalent. Even with the higher initial cost, the lifetime cost of LEDs is lower because they last ten times longer then fluorescents (100,000 hours compared to 10,000 hours), and their operating cost is less than half that of fluorescents. Available for several years as undercabinet light bars and pucks and as recessed ceiling lighting, LED bulbs that works in a standard light sockets are now coming on the market. So it won't be too long before LEDs take over the world. Good thing, too.
Are you ready for your own dream kitchen?
We can build one just right for your budget. Contact usE-mail us at email@example.com
and let's get started.
Need to know more about kitchen remodeling? Try these articles:
- Adapting a Kitchen to a Budget — A Case Study (Sidebar)
If you feel you cannot afford a great kitchen, think again. A terrific kitchen does not have to break the bank. You may have to get creative and even make a few compromises in your original grand design, but you will end up with a wonderful kitchen that will look good and serve your needs for years to come.
- Adapting a Kitchen to Human Dimensions and Movement - A Case Study (Sidebar)
Few homeowners are of average height, average girth; have average reach or average range of motion; or use their kitchens in an average manner. Yet almost all kitchens are arranged and sized using standards written for the the mythical average person. Unless you happen to be that perfectly average person, standard kitchen dimensions and arrangements may not be right for you. Here is how we adapted one kitchen to the physical characteristics and limitations its owners.
- Behind the Scenes — The Hidden Kitchen
Behind the beautiful new cabinets, under the sparking countertops, beneath the gleaming tile floor are the invisible bones and sinew that make the kitchen work - electricity, venting, heating and plumbing. Find out all that's needed behind the scenes.
- Body Friendly Design: Kitchen Ergonomics
Planning for efficiency and ease of use are more important than ever in kitchen and bath design, and in the context of universal design has become the hot new topic among kitchen and bath designers. Every aspect of kitchen and bath design is being given a new, hard look, from countertop and toilet heights to the optimum placement of the microwave and dishwasher and the best depth of the kitchen sink.
- Cabinet Basics
Oak, maple, hickory, ash, cherry. Faced and unfaced. Framed and frameless. Custom, semi-custom and manufactured. MDF, Melamine, Thermofoil, even steel. So many choices. How do you pick the cabinets that are just right for you? Click here to find out.
- Cabinet Door Styles
There are an almost infinite number of cabinet door styles available. Here is a chart of just a few dozen of the styles we build. We could not possibly show them all. There are too many. Since we are an entirely custom cabinet builder, we can make any door you can describe.
- Comparative Kitchen & Bath Cabinet Construction
Some cabinets are made better than others. Learn the differnce between a cabinet that is solid, well-built and will last a long time, and all the others.
- Designing Efficient and Effective Kitchen Lighting
The kitchen is more than just a place to cook and eat. It usually serves as the administrative and the social hub of the home. The kitchen uses a lot of energy for lighting. That makes this room an important place to use efficient lighting. While remodeling your kitchen, you have the perfect opportunity to create a highly efficient lighting system. Find out how.
- Distributed Cabinet Manufacturing: Today's Cabinet Making Revolution
Local and regional cabinetmakers are catching up the the factory manufacturers in creative technologies to make custom cabinetry that rivals factory cabinets in price, but exceeds factory cabinets in creativity, construction and finish.
- Finding Some More Kitchen Space
In many cases, existing kitchens are just too small for any real improvement in space management. Learn where to get more space, or at least the illusion of more space for your new kitchen.
- Fine Furniture and Built-Ins
We craft fine furniture and built-ins to match any decor or preference. From traditional to avant-garde, from Chinese to French Provincial, there is no look we cannot reproduce.
- Flooring Options for Kitchens and Baths
Wood, stone, vinyl, ceramic tile, laminated flooring. What are the pros and cons of each? Learn the fundamentals of kitchen flooring.
- Guide to Nebraska Hardwoods for Cabinetmakers and Woodworkers
Most of the fine native American hardwoods commonly, and uncommonly, used in cabinetry grow and are milled into lumber in Nebraska. If you were not aware that hardwood is a Nebraska crop, read this detailed guide to Nebraska hardwoods.
- Kitchen Ergonomics (Sidebar)
The kitchen — unlike most other rooms in the home — is a workplace. The job of preparing and serving meals gets done there. Making that environment fit you is a most critical factor in your satisfaction with your kitchen.
- Mise en Place: What We Can Learn from Commercial Kitchens
Organized to prepare a large variety of appetizing meals at a moment's notice, we can learn a lot about kitchen efficiency from studying commercial kitchens.
- New and Traditional Countertop Choices
Exciting changes are happening in the world of countertop materials. Options that simply did not exist 10 years ago are in every home store today. Is solid surfacing, laminate, stone or tile your best choice? Or maybe something more exotic. Take a look at the incredible selection of modern counter top materials.
- Off the Wall Kitchens: Living Without Wall Cabinets
Wall cabinets are unquestionably useful storage, but with drawbacks. A major disadvantage is that wall cabinets make a kitchen seem smaller by closing in the space at eye level — which is where we subconsciously judge how large the space around us is - and limit the number and size of windows in the kitchen. Can your new kitchen do away with wall cabinets? Probably. Find out how.
- The Rules of Kitchen Design
In 1944 the University of Illinois conducted a study of kitchen design and developed fundamental design principals that have been modified periodically from time to time, but are still very much in use today. Here are the 31 rules for designing great kitchens.
- Saving Household Water
Fifteen billion gallons of fresh, treated water are used in American households every day. It not only deletes our water sources to waste this water, but costs a fortune in electrical power to treat and pump it into our homes. Find out what you can do to reduce your impact on the environment while saving 33% of your water bill.
- Solving Corner Cabinet Woes (Sidebar)
Corner base cabinets are notorious as dark, difficult-to-reach storage space. Useful corner storage requires some pretty fancy hardware to make the space work. There are a variety of solutions, some better than others. But is is possible to make a corner cabinet effective storage with just a little prior planning.
- Sources of Supply: Faucets
Thinking about buying a faucet? Before your do, see our list of major faucet manufacturers with ratings and guidelines on what to look for and how to select a good, lifetime faucet.
- Using Toe-Kick Space (Tips and Tricks)
The toe-kick space under your cabinets can be effectively used for extra storage, to store kitchen and bathroom accessories and for truly dramatic lighting.