The Very Best of the Very Latest (Continued)

Pump Sunlight Almost Anywhere
First came skylights. Big holes in the roof to let in daylight — and let out a lot of heat. A better, newer option — light tubes. Smaller than skylights, less likely to leak, and they let in a lot of daylight for their size, but let much less heat escape.

The Huvco Parans system is very different. It uses a dynamic solar collector on the roof to gather light which is sent through optical cables up to 60' to any of a dozen different fixtures that look just like ordinary light fixtures. The collectors actually move to follow the sun across the sky for the most light. Now you can transmit light from the third floor roof to the living room through a cable the size of your thumb. Forget the big holes in the roof. The trade-off? The price won't make you faint, but it will leave you light-headed. It will come down, though, as more companies get interested in the technology.

For more information visit Huvco.

Undermount Sinks for the Rest of Us
Undermount sinks are preferred by most homeowners because they seamlessly flow into the countertop, eliminating the grunge-collecting lip of drop-in sinks. Until now, however, such 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 now changed. Karran Products has introduced two lines of sinks that can be seamlessly integrated into a laminate countertop: light-weight acrylic sinks and a line of stainless steel sinks. Technically these are "integrated" rather than undermount sinks because they are actually bonded to the laminate countertop, but the seamless effect is the same.

The "integrated" 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 $850 installed, the Karran sink is not much more expensive than a good, hight-quality drop-in sink, and comes with an incredible 50 year warranty against staining. Installation of the sink (quite a time-consuming task) and bonding it to the laminate is typically included in the selling price. Considering the cost of even the least expensive composite, stone or engineered countertop, this sink is a bargain.

Although the Karran sink styles are limited compared to, say, Kohler, there is probably a style suitable for about any application. For more information contact us or visit karranproducts.com.

Other manufacturers are finally starting to join the undermount revolution. Wilsonart, the second largest supplier of laminate products (after Formica, the 800 pound gorilla of the laminate world), has very recently introduced its own line of acrylic integrated sinks in a very limited number of styles, but count on the product line growing. For more on Wilsonart sinks, see www.wilsonart.com.

A Microwave in a Drawer
The microwave has always been the red-headed step child of kitchen design.

There is just no good place to put one. On-counter models take up too much valuable countertop space. Under-cabinet units must be small to fit under wall cabinets, ending up too small to be fully useful. Over-range microwave-vent units are too high for safe use by all but the tallest. Sharp has found the answer with its pull-out microwave drawer. The appliance provides superb access by placing the microwave right at the most convenient height. It can even be installed under a Sharp cooktop.

It's not all roses, however. The microwave does not include a turntable — a rather astonishing oversight, and because it is the first one, the price is easily about double that of a premium microwave, but coming down.

Kudos to Sharp for a long-awaited and much-needed improvement in microwave placement — by a copier company?. GE where were you? For more information contact us or visit Sharp.

Pegboard Drawer Organizers
Very rarely does a truly clever product hit the market.

Here's one: Valendrawers has come up with a good solution to the problem of customizing drawer interiors.

Their innovative idea: insert a Melamine-coated pegboard base in the drawer bottom. Movable wood dividers fit into the pegboard and can be re-arranged as often as required.

Every other system we know of requires dividers to be cut to fit into slots. Once cut, they can seldom be recut to fit a different configuration. The Valendrawer system overcomes this limitation and is a big step forward.

Other manufacturers are now offering their own pegboard organizers. Rev-a-Shelf, maker of all kinds of organizers, has recently introduced its version using round pegs rather than Valen's pegged divider boards.

For more information contact us or go to Valendrawers, Inc. or Rev-a-Shelf, LLC.

Up-Swinging Cabinet Doors
We are big fans of up-swinging doors on kitchen wall cabinets. (See our article "Mise en Place: What We Can Learn About Kitchen Design from Commercial Kitchens). They are more efficient and much less likely to get in the way of a busy cook.

The problem with these doors in the past has been the lack of dependable hinges. The hinges not only have to allow the door to open effortlessly, but also hold it against gravity in any open position.

Haefele ("HEY-fel-la"), the huge German hardware company is now offering swing-up hinges that solve both problems very neatly, making up-swinging doors more practical than ever. Not to be outdone by the competition, Blum has very recently introduced its pneumatic lift system for bi-fold up-swinging doors featuring its patented "Blummotion" soft close system. For more information contact us or visit the Häfele or Blum web sites.

For more on the use of upswing doors to make a kitchen more functional and convenient, see Mise-en-Place: What We Can Learn About Kitchen Design from Commercial Kitchens .

EFI Fan/Light Time Delay Switch
Venting your bathroom adequately is one of the best ways to prevent the formation of mold and mildew. Most modern bathrooms have an adequate exhaust vent fan, but seldom do we run the fan long enough to adequately vent the room. Most of the time, the fan runs for about the five minutes it takes for us to dry off after a shower and leave the room. The recommended time for reasonable ventilation is 20 minutes. To solve that problem, Energy Federation, Inc. has developed a time-delay fan light switch. The switch controls both the fan and ceiling light (often incorporated into one fan/light unit). When switched on, both light and fan come on. When switched off, the light immediately goes off, but the fan continues to run for a pre-set amount of time up to 60 minutes.

All the work is done by a tiny computer chip inside the switch. Once the timer is set (it's pre-set to 30 minutes delay), all you do is switch it off, the switch takes care of the rest. The switch looks identical to a regular wall switch and comes in all the regular wall switch colors.

For more information contact us or Energy Federation, Inc..

For more on the bathroom venting requirements, see Illustrated Rules of Good Bathroom Design.

Wireless Remote 3-Way Switching
Few older homes have the code-required light switch near every door in a room. Most have one switch more-or-less centrally located. This means a shin-knocking, toe-stumping trip from the switch-less door through the dark to find and throw the switch by the other door. Precisely the situation modern electrical codes seek to avoid.

Retro-fitting a three-way switch can be an expensive proposition. Often a lot of plaster has to be removed to run the wires: three wires for each switch, plus a traveler wire linking the two switches together.

Wireless switching solves the problem inexpensively and elegantly. The existing switch is replaced with a combination switch that contains a small radio receiver hooked to a tiny computer. This is the "local" switch. A second, "remote" switch is placed by the other door. This "switch" is actually a small radio pulse transmitter no different than your garage door opener — except it looks like a wall switch.

The light is actually turned off and on only by the local switch.

     • Flipping the local switch instructs the electronics in the switch to turn the light on or off as the case may be.

     • Flipping the remote switch does nothing but send a coded radio pulse to the receiver in the local switch On receiving the pulse, the local switch activates the same internal electronics to toggle the light. If the light is off, the electronics turn it on, and vice-versa.

There it is - "three-way" switching at a cost of about $65.00 including the switch set. Compare that to $250.00-600.00 for a wired 3-way switch.

Because the radio pulse is coded, you can have as many remote switches as you like in your house, and none will interfere with another. But, if you set yet another remote switch to the same code, then you can have 4-way switching, 5-way switching, etc. The local switch does not care where the pulse comes from. If it receives a pulse, it will toggle the light. Ever wish you could turn on your detached garage light from the house? Stick a remote switch on the kitchen wall and a local switch in the garage. Wasn't that easy?

For more information contact us.