Author Archives: Barbara Winfield


Buyer’s Guide: Tubs

From bare-bones functionality to almost unimaginable luxury, today's tubs offer a dizzying range of styles, features, sizes, and materials. Here's how to navigate the bubbly waters and find the perfect tub for you.

How to Choose a Bathtub - Niahome

Photo: niahome.com

Equal parts meditative and functional, today’s bathroom has been transformed into a spa, a place to unwind and refresh the body. Situated at the heart of this relaxation center is the tub. Once a utilitarian device, the tub has become a glamorous and, in many cases, exciting feature in bathroom design. These days, when it comes to choosing a tub, the possibilities are nearly limitless. Options include soakers and whirlpools; classic claw-footed models; contoured shapes, ovals, squares, and rounded; tubs with neck rests and armrests; tubs set into platforms; and tubs you step down into—or even walk into. All this variety comes at a price, so it’s important to remember that the total cost of a tub will reflect the amount of technology involved as well as the type of finish and material.

“It used to be that bathtubs were just a tub-and-shower combination, with the primary goal being showering and cleansing the body. Today, bathtubs are often separate from the shower, with the sole purpose of soaking to relax and unwind,” says Gray Uhl, director of brand education at American Standard. Buying a tub is no longer a simple decision, and because a tub can be an expensive and permanent purchase, it is very important to do the research before you actually buy.

Before shopping for a tub, first ask yourself how you like to bathe. Do you prefer a long lingering soak, or an invigorating whirlpool massage? Factor in how important bathing and other uses of a tub are to you and your family. Taking this opportunity to evaluate your goals and lifestyle before choosing a tub can be well worth the time investment.

TUB MATERIAL

Fiberglass: This is a lightweight, moldable material. A fiberglass tub is the least expensive type you can buy. Unfortunately, it’s prone to scratching and doesn’t wear well, lasting about a dozen years. Fiberglass with an acrylic finish will hold up longer.

Porcelain-Enameled Steel: This is a steel-based material covered in porcelain enamel. The result is a low-cost, smooth, glossy, and durable finish that is easy to clean.

How to Choose a Bathtub - American Standard

American Standard's Spectra Cast Iron Tub at Wayfair ($1,050)

Enamel-Coated Cast Iron: This classic material will endure as long as your house stands. Because of its heavy weight, especially when filled with water, it is not recommended for large soaking tubs, and it’s best used on ground floors.

Acrylic: This is a type of plastic featuring a high-gloss finish and excellent durability. Solid acrylic is a mid-price-range product that is more durable than fiberglass. Another plus: Scratches are less noticeable because the color is solid all the way through.

Because it is easy to mold into shapes, acrylic is a popular material for uniquely shaped whirlpools with molded armrests and other detailing. It’s also lightweight, an important feature in large tubs that can put damaging stress on structural elements.

 

TYPES OF TUBS

Standard Bathtubs
The two most common tub sizes are 60 inches long by 30 inches wide and 60 inches long by 32 inches wide. A standard rectangular-shaped tub, however, will have a smaller dimensioned bathing well, measuring 55 inches by 24 inches at the top and narrowing to 45 inches by 22 inches at the very bottom. These are general bathtub dimensions for both cast iron and fiberglass tubs. When you’re shopping, be sure to choose a tub with a drain in the correct location, either left- or right-sided to correspond to your tub faucet and shower placement.

Claw-Footed Tubs
Popular since the 1800s, claw-footed tubs are very traditional. They are often generously scaled and typically made of cast iron. This style is usually expensive in part because of the porcelain enamel applied to the exterior and interior surfaces.

How to Choose a Bathtub - Kohler

Kohler's 66-inch Iron Works Clawfoot Tub at Lowe's ($3,687.64)

Freestanding Tubs
Unlike a standard tub, a freestanding tub is not surrounded by cabinetry or built into an alcove. The tub may stand on feet, or be skirted or encased with custom-built panels and a stone, tile, or marble deck. Designed to be self-supporting, this type of tub can serve as a luxurious focal point for any bathroom.

Soaking Tubs
Soaking tubs are usually deeper and wider than conventional tubs; some units are as long as 6.5 feet and sized to accommodate two adults. Soaking tubs can be found in many different styles, from the classic enameled cast iron Victorian style claw-foot to ultramodern acrylic vessels. Models can weigh between 225 to 2,000 pounds, not including the weight of the water, which can be significant—soaking tubs require 50 to 80 gallons of water at 8.3 pounds per gallon. Heating the water can also be an issue. A hot water booster can be installed to augment an existing water heater or, in some cases, an on-demand heater may be necessary.

Whirlpool Tubs
A popular choice today is the sunken whirlpool tub, which comes with an array of therapeutic and relaxing options in the form of multiple jets or single jets that are installed in the walls behind the tub. You can also choose from a wide assortment of sizes, shapes, and colors, including models that fit into the standard 5- to 6-foot tub space. Among the more basic types of whirlpool baths is the hydromassage, which uses a pump to recirculate bath water out of several jets strategically located in the tub walls. Another is the therapeutic air massage—or “air bath”—that features an air system that encases the tub, engulfing the bather with thousands of gentle bubbles that pour in from small holes in the bottom and sides of the tub.

Manufacturers like American Standard, Jacuzzi, and Kohler offer luxury systems with a combination of both massaging jets and soothing air bubble systems in one unit, as well as baths equipped with heaters that warm the air before it enters the tub. If you’re in the market for a whirlpool tub, you’ll want to choose one that features a quiet yet powerful pump motor, is UL listed and approved, and has a removable front apron for easy access to internal parts and maintenance.

How to Choose a Bathtub - Jacuzzi

Jacuzzi Finestra Walk-in Tub at Quality Bath ($6,925.75)

Walk-in Tub
For seniors, or anyone with mobility issues, the walk-in tub offers a simple solution that combines safety with revitalizing hydrotherapy. Walk-in bathtubs come in several convenient sizes and can even be installed in a standard bathtub space. The tub includes a comfortable, chair-height, built-in seat and a grab bar for added security. Jacuzzi offers a walk-in bathtub with their patented PointPro jet system, featuring high-volume, low-pressure pumps with a perfectly balanced water-to-air ratio to massage thoroughly yet gently. They’re arranged in precise locations that deliver a therapeutic massage and are fully adjustable. American Standard’s walk-in bathtub offers options like whirlpool, air spa, and combo massage systems. The tub also comes with a special Quick Drain feature that incorporates a powerful pump that removes bath water in less than two minutes.

 


Buyer’s Guide: Replacement Windows

Replacing old windows with new, energy-efficient models can really pay off in both aesthetic appeal and utility savings. Consult our guide to help you weigh your window options and figure out which styles and materials will work best for your home.

Replacement Windows

Photo: awadandkoontz.com

It’s difficult to overstate the importance of windows in home design, not least because they have an impact on both the interior and exterior of a home. And this is one upgrade where it’s important to spring for a well-constructed product. Quality windows carry a higher initial cost and are a considerable investment, but over time they can offer significant payback in terms of improved aesthetics and energy savings.

According to AFG Industries, makers of high-performance window glass, energy-efficient windows can reduce the transfer of heat by as much as 65 percent. That means that energy-efficient windows can help your home maintain a comfortable temperature, which translates into a reduction in heating and cooling costs.

When you’re shopping for new windows, therefore, the very first thing to look for is the Energy Star label, which can be found on products from all the top manufacturers, including Andersen, Pella, and Marvin. To earn a green certification, a window must meet rigorous government-defined requirements, and for that reason, an Energy Star rating is one of the most informative barometers a homeowner can use to compare different windows on the market.

Related: Replacement Windows 101

According to Rick Keller of Keller Glass in Jeffersonville, New York, “A major decision in window selection involves choosing the glazing—the window glass—for light transmission and energy efficiency.” A single pane offers minimal insulation, so “today’s replacement windows are typically two- or three-paned.”

Multiple panes alone offer improved insulation, but modern window glass also features a low-emissivity coating (known as a low-e coating), which “reduces total direct sun rays by 13 percent.” Low-e glass should also reduce your month-to-month energy costs, as it minimizes heat gain in the summer and contains heat in the winter.

Keller adds that in multipaned windows, “inert gases often fill the spaces between the panes, providing additional thermal properties.” With each additional pane and layer of gas, the insulation factor notches upward. Better-insulated windows usually come with a higher price tag, but their energy efficiency cuts down monthly utility bills; over the long term, a homeowner can recoup the added expense and may even come out ahead.

Also helpful to anyone shopping for new windows are the ratings provided by the National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC). The council’s ratings differ from Energy Star’s in one important respect: They take into account not only a product’s energy efficiency, but also its ability to withstand extreme weather. Any window that has earned a rating from the NFRC can be expected to perform in temperatures between -20º F to 180º F and in wind speeds up to 155 mph.

WINDOW MATERIALS
While the materials chosen for a window frame do influence its thermal characteristics, they play a much larger role in determining its physical properties, such as thickness, weight, and durability. Here are some of the most popular standard window frame options:

- Wood: Prized for their aesthetic value, wood-framed windows are sold in a variety of shapes and sizes. If properly maintained, they can enjoy a long life, rewarding energy-conscious homeowners with a high R-value (a measure of thermal resistance).

- Wood clad: If one downside of traditional wood-framed windows is their maintenance requirements, vinyl- or aluminum-clad wood windows offer the best of both worlds—that is, the warm appearance of wood on the interior and improved weather resistance on the exterior.

- Aluminum: Strong, lightweight, and durable, aluminum windows are considerably less expensive than their wood-framed cousins. The tradeoff between the two is not only one of style, but also of performance: Aluminum is prone to condensation, which can in some cases lead to mold.

- Vinyl: A lasting, low-maintenance window material that resists moisture, vinyl costs less than wood, and although it cannot be painted, vinyl windows are available in a wide range of stock colors and a virtually infinite number of custom hues.

Fiberglass composite: Another option for homeowners who want the fine appearance of wood but less of the hassle, fiberglass composite windows excel in extreme conditions. They neither warp nor sag in high heat, neither shrink nor turn brittle in freezing cold.

- Composite: Made from a mingling of plastic and organic materials, composite windows are typically strong and energy efficient. If you wish to achieve a specific look and none of the stock colors strike your fancy, custom orders are indeed possible.

Photo: andersen.com

WINDOW DESIGNS
Different types of windows have different operating mechanisms and differently structured designs. Among the most common are:

- Double-hung or single-hung: Both feature two sashes in a single frame, but in a double-hung window, both sashes slide up and down.

- Casement: Hinged like a door, this window usually opens from the side, but top-opening casements (with a cranking knob) are also available.

- Sliding: Sliding windows operate horizontally along a plastic or metal track. They have two sashes; one or both can be opened and closed.

- Awning: Opening outward from a top hinge, awning windows have one panel of glass and typically appear in conjunction with another window style.

- Hopper: Basement ventilation is the most common application of hopper windows, which are bottom-hinged and top-opening.

- Clerestory: Designed to admit abundant natural light, clerestory windows are usually deployed in a series along the top portion of high walls.

- Rotating: Popularly used to frame views, rotating windows boast uninterrupted glass panels that pivot partially open from a central axis.

- Arched: Also known as radius windows, arch-topped windows are typically fixed in place but are also available in operable styles.

- Bow: Composed of several same-size glass panels assembled into a gentle curve, a bow window projects outward from the wall, rather than sitting flush with it.

- Bay: Another protruding window construction, bays combine two angled side windows with one larger central window.

Photo: pella.com

WINDOW SELECTION
Choose a type of window that suits the architectural style of your home, and opt for a size in proportion with the overall structure. Success means symmetry and balance; failure results in an exterior that never looks quite right. At retail showrooms, professionals are on hand to help you make decisions in keeping with your home’s architecture, your individual style sense, and your project budget.

For a custom look that doesn’t cost a fortune, stick with standard windows throughout, splurging on one or two standout designs for windows visible from the curb. Bear in mind that “standard” windows need not look run-of-the-mill. Extraordinary products—including round, arched, octagonal, Gothic, and elliptical windows—figure among the stock offered by mainstream manufacturers.

Should you hire a pro or do it yourself?
According to Sean Boyes of Boyes & Torrens Construction in Neversink, New York: “When it comes to installing windows, it’s best to hire a reputable company that is fully insured,” he says. “When you hire a professional, you can be sure that the window will fit properly. Plus, a reputable company will service the installation in the future if needed.”

What do replacement windows cost?
According to Boyes, “Choosing quality windows plus expert installation would generally run anywhere from $500 to $1,200 for each unit, depending on the style. Picture windows, bays, and bows would cost more.”


Planning Guide: Outdoor Kitchens

Turn your backyard into the ultimate entertainment zone with a state-of-the-art outdoor kitchen.

Outdoor Kitchens

Photo: Kalamazoo Outdoor by Michael Minkoff, Long Island, NY

The summer backyard barbeque, an American tradition, has developed into a year-round pastime that includes everything from the basic, traditional stand-alone grill to gourmet meals prepared in a full-scale outdoor kitchen. According to a new national poll released by the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association (HPBA,) seventy percent of Americans revealed that they prefer cooking out to eating out. “People love to cook outdoors because food tastes better, and it’s an enjoyable way to entertain,” says Leslie Wheeler, HPBA Director of Communications. Add to that the popularity—and proliferation—of round-the-clock cooking shows, food magazines, cookbooks, specialty stores, and gourmet markets, and you can understand why even the occasional outdoor chef is looking to up their grilling game.

Related: Outdoor Kitchens: High Style and State-of-the-Art Features

For manufacturers of outdoor grills and grilling equipment, the trend has been met with a full range of new products, options and features. Today’s free-standing units—from well-known makers like Weber and Char-broil—are not only more sophisticated in terms of their cooking features, but better equipped to handle food prep, serving and storage with built-in cabinets and extended surface areas. And, for those looking to move from a stand-alone unit to a built-in—or create an outdoor kitchen that rivals the one they have indoors—there are plenty of options on that front too. “There’s no denying,” says Wheeler, “that this interest in outdoor living has inspired manufacturers to create new innovative products like hybrid fire grills, pizza ovens, flat grills for stir frying and deep fryers that make cooking outdoors fun all year–round.”

If you are thinking of enhancing your outdoor grilling experience this summer, there are many things to take into consideration. First, how do you plan to use your outdoor space?  If it is intended to be an extension of your existing kitchen, a built-in grill with some work surface and storage may be sufficient.  A stand-alone grill island with sink and refrigerator could be the better solution if you are looking to make cooking outdoors a more self-sufficient endeavor. And, if you are looking to turn your backyard into the ultimate entertainment zone with a state-of-the-art outdoor kitchen, the sky—and your budget—are the only limits.

Designing Your Outdoor Kitchen
“Design your outdoor kitchen for easy living,” suggests Russ Faulk, VP of Product Development, Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet . “Make sure materials and equipment are low-maintenance so that cooking does not become a chore” he says. “Place grills and burners away from the seating area to discourage traffic from interrupting the cooking,” According to Faulk, some of the most common outdoor kitchen design mistakes to avoid are: A lack of task lighting—making it difficult to cook after dark. Not enough counter space, and porous work surfaces creating a laborious clean up situation.

Material Considerations  
It is important to choose materials that will stand up to all types of weather,” says Mark Allen, President/Designer, Outdoor Kitchens by Design, Inc. and Director of Marketing, National Outdoor Kitchen and Fireplace Association (NOKFA). Allen suggests choosing weather resistant materials designed specifically for outdoor use—like quality-grade stainless steel—rather than interiors. “Most companies today build the outdoor grill island out of durable galvanized steel framing wrapped in concrete hardi-back board. Counters can be made of a variety of materials such as Granite or Travertine stone, a popular choice because of its elegant look and cool to the touch surface,” says Allen.

Cost Expectations  
“If you have a patio or deck already in place, and utilities are convenient and accessible, you can add an outdoor kitchen for as little as $5,000,” says Russ Faulk. “Kalamazoo’s average order is in the range of $25,000,” he says. “Outdoor kitchens used to consist of a built-in grill and some storage space, but the definition has evolved to include refrigeration, a sink, prep area, storage and our latest introduction, the first outdoor dishwasher, specifically designed to withstand extreme outdoor conditions.”

A DIY Approach
Starting with a finished patio or ground level wood deck, you can also plan and install an outdoor kitchen yourself (provided you do not need to install complicated plumbing, electrical or gas lines).  Eldorado Stone, a leading manufacturer of natural stone veneer products recently launched the Eldorado Outdoor™ line—a collection of strong yet lightweight building blocks that quickly assemble into custom barbeque islands, kitchen counters, bars and more—ready to be dressed with Eldorado Stone and Brick within hours. Eldorado Outdoor™ also has an online Design Tool, a proprietary 3‑D program that allows you to create a variety of design elements.

If you’re looking to expand your grilling options without the need for a building permit, masonry contractor, plumber or electrician, you might want to consider the new Weber Summit Grill Center with Social Area. With the Summit 670 Grill as its main component, the all-stainless, modular unit includes right and left cabinets that feature covered rotisserie and dual-ring burner, a corner unit with built-in ice bin, and an L-shaped Social Area extension that provides a generous entertaining counter with additional cabinet storage.  The unit measures 57.1″ H x 112.75″ W x 75.5″ D, comes with adjustable legs for leveling on uneven grades, and can be assembled in less than one day.  Best of all, you can have a high-end, outdoor kitchen for about $4,449.

You might also consider ordering your outdoor kitchen island online.  The BBQ Grill Island, pictured above, from GrillsDirect.com, measures 102.25″ W x 54.75″D x 36″H and features a Bull Angus grill, refrigerator, sink, side-burner and door/drawer combo. Constructed of a heavy-duty galvanized steel frame and outdoor-rated, non-flamable cement board base, the island comes complete with decorative stone facing, ceramic countertops, and ready for hook-up—via White Glove Delivery—for around $6,000.


Fall Home Maintenance Checklist

Use this handy home maintenance checklist to keep your house—and property—in peak condition this winter.

Photo: FrontDoor.com/HGTV

Fall is just around the corner: time to get your house in shape for the cooler months ahead. Although autumn can be one of the busiest seasons for homeowners preparing for winter, it’s also the best time to take advantage of the moderate weather to repair any damages before the first frost sets in. Here are some home maintenance ideas that will keep your home running in peak condition all winter long.

EXTERIOR MAINTENANCE
Check foundation for cracks and caulk around the areas where masonry meets siding, where pipes or wires enter the house, and around the windows and door frames to prevent heat from escaping. “Caulking and sealing openings is one of the least expensive maintenance jobs,” says Michael Hydeck, Hydeck Design Build, Inc., Telford, PA, and National President, National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI). “Openings in the structure can cause water to get in and freeze, resulting in cracks and mold build up,” he says. “Regardless of whether you live in a cold or warm climate, winter can bring very harsh conditions resulting in water or ice damage. A careful check of the outside structure combined with inexpensive maintenance can save you money in the long run.”

Install storm windows and doors and remove screens. Before storing, clean and repair screens, spray with a protective coating and place in a dry area of the basement or garage.

Slideshow: 10 Fall Home Maintenance Tips

Inspect exterior walls to see if any paint is peeling or blistering on the house or outbuildings. According to Carl Minchew, Director, Benjamin Moore Paints, “Peeling paint is a sign that the existing paint film is failing and can no longer protect the siding of the building. Left uncorrected, the siding itself will deteriorate, leading to expensive repairs in the future.”

Make sure the roof is in good shape. Inspect for missing and loose shingles. “Ice, rain, snow and wind combined with rapidly changing temperatures and humidity wreak havoc on roofs,” says Jay Butch, Director, Contractor programs for CertainTeed Roofing. “Your roof is your first defense in protecting your home. Without it functioning properly, water damage can occur. This causes deterioration to insulation, wood and drywall, making electrical, plumbing and HVAC systems vulnerable. It’s better to proactively deal with repairs in the fall than to discover a leaky roof during a snowstorm. For safety’s sake, have a licensed, certified roofing professional check the condition of your roof.”

After leaves have fallen, clean out the gutters and downspouts, flush them with water, inspect joints, and tighten brackets if necessary. Clogged gutters are one of the major causes of ice dams. Replace old or damaged gutters with new ones that have built-in leaf guards.

Examine your pool cover for damage and replace if necessary.

Weather-strip your garage door. Make sure the seal between your garage door and the ground is tight to prevent drafts and keep out small animals.

Inspect your driveway for cracks. Clean out and repair any damage with driveway filler, then coat with a commercial sealer.

INTERIOR MAINTENANCE 
“Heating and cooling amount to 47% of the energy costs in your home. Proper sealing and insulation can save up to 20% on heating and cooling costs, or up to 10% on your total annual energy bill,” says Katie Cody, spokeswoman for Lowe’s. “Air leaks from windows and doors are easy to find by moving your hand around the frame. Applying weather stripping and caulk to these areas will help cut down on drafts.”

Have your heating system checked by a licensed heating contractor. Heating systems will use fuel more efficiently, last longer and have fewer problems if properly serviced. 

Get your woodstove and fireplace in working order. Gary Webster, Creative Director of Travis Industries, suggests that you examine your wood stove or fireplace insert’s door gasket for a tight seal. Also clean and inspect the glass door for cracks and have the chimney cleaned by a licensed chimney sweep. “A clogged chimney poses the risk of a chimney fire, which can be ignited by burning creosote—a combination of wood tar, organic vapors and moisture buildup,” says Webster.

Change the direction of your ceiling fan to create an upward draft that redistributes warm air from the ceiling.

Test and change the batteries in your smoke and carbon dioxide detectors and keep extra household batteries on hand.

Check basement windows for drafts, loose frames or cracked panes.

Vacuum internal parts of air conditioners. Remove units from windows or wrap outside box with an approved tarp or plastic air conditioner cover in order to prevent rusting of vital parts.  

Clean your humidifiers regularly during the heating season. Bacteria and spores can develop in a dirty water tank resulting in unclean moisture misting out into your room.

YARD AND GARDEN
Organize your garage. Clean and store summer garden tools.

Clear leaves from lawn, reseed patchy areas, and plant spring flowering bulbs. If deer are a problem, start deer-proofing by covering plants with netting and chicken wire.

Prepare your yard equipment for storage. This includes draining fuel from all gas-operated equipment such as lawn mowers, leaf blowers, and chain saws. 

Check to see that all of your snow equipment is up and running before the first flurry falls. Organize your snow clearing gear. When snow arrives you’ll want to have shovels, roof rakes and snow blowers where you can get to them. “Be careful where you store equipment,” says Travis Poore, The Lawn Ranger, a Home Depot Community Expert. “An outbuilding may not be as well insulated as a garage incorporated into a house. Equipment that is stored out in the elements, exposed to heat and cold extremes, can develop problems when the gasoline can no longer vaporize and flow into the combustion chamber of the engine.”

Drain garden hoses and store them inside. Also shut off outdoor water valves in cold weather. Any water left in exterior pipes and faucets can freeze and expand breaking the pipes.

Inspect and fill bird feeders. Keep in mind that once you start feeding birds you should continue on a regular basis throughout the winter months.

Fertilize the lawn with a high phosphorous mix to ensure healthy grass in the spring.

PORCH AND DECK
Check the supports, stairs, and railings on porches and decks. Make sure the handrails can support someone slipping on snow or ice. 

Clean porch and deck furniture, and look for any needed repairs. Cover and store outdoor furniture and barbecues in a protected area.

Make sure all soil is emptied from pots and planters. Dirt left in clay pots will freeze and cause the pots to crack if left outside.

FOR MORE:
View our Fall Home Maintenance Tips slideshow
For a printable PDF Home Maintenance Checklist, click here.