Author Archives: Donna Boyle Schwartz

About Donna Boyle Schwartz

Donna Boyle Schwartz is a well-known home furnishings writer and editor, working with leading magazines and newspapers for more than 30 years. Donna is vice president/creative director of DDS Enterprises, a consulting firm concentrating on editorial projects and original research; the company also operates a full-service recording studio specializing in archival audio restoration. An enthusiastic DIYer, she has a shed full of tools and a house full of projects. Check her out on Google+!

Buyer’s Guide: Best Dishwashers

Dirty dishes, meet your match. Today's dishwashers can handle the toughest grease and grime while using less water and energy than ever before. Whether you're finally moving up from hand-washing or are itching to upgrade, your dishwasher search starts now.

best-dishwashers

Photo: shutterstock.com

When you’re planning a dinner party, it’s not long before you start picturing the pile of plates that will await you once your guests depart. Hand-washing your way through pots, mixing bowls, and place settings would take you—approximately—ages. At the prospect of all that drudgery, you might find yourself reconsidering the party. But before you call off your get-together, consider investing in a dishwasher. Having a machine to clean your dishes could save you an estimated 230 hours—that’s nearly 10 days!—per year.

Even if you already own a dishwasher, you too have a lot to gain by purchasing a new model. Today’s dishwashers use at least 40 percent less water than similar appliances manufactured 20 years ago. Besides conservation, there’s a compelling financial reason to upgrade: An Energy Star-rated dishwasher could save you more than $40 per year. The question really isn’t why should you buy a dishwasher; it’s why shouldn’t you?

On the market today are a generous variety of options, ranging from plain-Jane models with few frills to pricier, fully programmable “smart” models that do everything but load and unload automatically. Not certain where your needs fall in the spectrum? We’ve laid out a handful of key considerations to keep in mind.

Size and capacity. Dishwashers normally come in two sizes. The standard dimensions are 24 inches wide by 34 inches tall (34 inches being the height of most countertops and base cabinetry). Compact models are 18 inches wide. A compact washer is usually fitted with one or two racks, while a standard size holds two or three, enough to accommodate at least eight place settings. In any case, adjustable upper racks and removable baskets earn bonus points, as either feature goes a long way toward accommodating awkwardly shaped items. Dishwashers in custom sizes are available by special order, but be prepared to pay more.

Cycle selections. The number and variety of cycle selections will vary from washer to washer, and finding the best selection of cycles for your needs will often be the deciding factor in your purchase. A typical washer will come with settings for a “normal” wash cycle, which can run anywhere from 90 to 135 minutes, depending on the make and model of the machine; a“heavy” cycle for pots and pans; and perhaps a “light” (also known as “delicate”) cycle for stemware. Pricier models offer additional options, including a “rinse and hold” cycle; a cycle for china; and a heavy-duty sanitizing cycle. Some dishwashers also offer different drying cycles, and some feature a programmable delayed start option.

Water usage. Today’s dishwashers are required by law to use a maximum of 5.8 gallons of water per cycle. Some upscale dishwashers even include an “eco” cycle that utilizes less water than a regular cycle, while others are equipped with a sensor that determines how dirty the dishes are and adjusts the water usage and cycle automatically.

Energy efficiency. Models on the market today are required by law to carry an Energy Guide label that estimates how much power the appliance consumes per year as well as the estimated cost of running the appliance based on the national average cost of natural gas and electricity. Look for the Energy Star logo, which indicates that the unit exceeds the federal minimum standards for efficiency and quality.

Noise level. The noisiness of dishwashers is rated in decibels; the louder the noise, the higher the decibel level. Newer models boast thicker insulation around the dishwasher tub and noise levels around 45 decibels. (For reference, a decibel rating of around 50 is roughly equivalent to the volume of a conversation.)

Other bells and whistles. Popular extras available in today’s dishwashers include innovative spray arms to move wash water more efficiently, stemware clips to secure wine glasses, spray nozzles for cleaning bottles and jars, special cutlery racks, programmable controls, and child locks. A variety of exterior options can complement the look of your kitchen (or a pending remodel), including ever-popular stainless steel, mirrored finishes, or a variety of colored finishes, and some dishwashers can even be outfitted with insert panels to match and blend in with cabinetry.

Even if you shop with a checklist of ideal features in hand, finding a dishwasher that fits the bill in such a crowded market can be overwhelming. That’s why we’ve culled some of our favorite options to make your search even simpler, weighing the above factors against critical reviews on several of the top shopping sites. Here are the top-rated Energy Star-approved dishwashers you’ll want to have in your kitchen:

Bosch 500 Series Dishwasher

Photo: bosch-home.com

Bosch SHP65T55UC 24-inch Pocket-Handle Dishwasher 500 Series
This 24-inch-wide unit garnered 4.3 out of 5 stars on Amazon. It boasts a 16-place-setting capacity and features a third rack for smaller items that fits up to 30 percent more in each load. This model offers five cycles and five additional wash options, including Sanitize to wipe out bacteria and ExtraShine to dry glasses—no need to follow up with a microfiber cloth for a spot-free shine. Meanwhile, its 44-decibel sound rating led reviewers to praise this model as “the quietest dishwasher ever.” Price: $899.

Electrolux Dishwasher

Photo: electroluxappliances.com

Electrolux EI24ID50QS
Rated the best dishwasher of 2014 by Reviewed.com, this 24-inch-wide washer’s structure makes loading super simple. It boasts three easy-lift racks, nine stemware grips to secure glasses, and a cutlery basket that can split into two for flexible positioning wherever you find space. We think this model’s wealth of high-tech features makes up for the higher price tag. Among its slick offerings are a circular spray arm for more cleaning coverage, a smart soil sensor, a “clean” light to indicate when the load ends (because it’s that quiet), and a touch-sensitive control panel. Plus, its Fast Wash—one of nine cycles total—cleans a load in 30 minutes, perfect for those nights when you’re short on time. Price: $1,099.

Whirlpool Front Control

Photo: whirlpool.com

Whirlpool Front Control Dishwasher WDF530PAYM
A favorite of Home Depot shoppers, who gave it 4.4 stars and a recommendation rate of 92 percent, this 24-inch-wide unit is both smart and budget-friendly. Its Sensor Cycle intuitively selects the best wash and dry settings for a specific load, saving time and money. Other cycles (there are a total of six) range from the typical normal to an overnight cycle that can tackle the toughest of sticky situations. This unit loads up to 15 place settings comfortably in its tall tub design due to features like a movable AnyWare Plus silverware basket; an adjustable (even removable) top rack; and a large-capacity lower rack that easily accommodates plates, bowls, and large dishes. Price: $549.


Want Hot Water Fast? Switch to a ManaBloc Plumbing System

Reduce your monthly utility bill and cut down on wasted water with a cutting-edge plumbing system.

Manabloc Systems

Photo: viega.us

If you’re building a new house or replacing the aging pipes in your existing home, consider the benefits of a ManaBloc plumbing system. This is a relatively new—and, yes, somewhat revolutionary—way to plumb water lines. What is it? Well, think of an easy-to-install, not-likely-to-leak ManaBloc as a sort of Grand Central Terminal for the drinking and bathing water in your house. It channels water from your well or your municipal supply via plastic tubes, not metal pipes, to the kitchen faucet or bathroom shower head or wherever the water needs to go. What’s truly remarkable is that for each plumbing fixture, there’s a separate, dedicated delivery line. The result is an energy-efficient, cost-saving plumbing system that reduces water waste and performs even better than many traditional systems.

Manabloc Systems - Diagram

Photo: supplyhouse.com

What really made the ManaBloc system possible was the advent of PEX tubing. “In the days of copper, it was not feasible to install a system like this,” explains Daniel O’Brian, an expert from online retailer SupplyHouse.com. “That changed with the rise of flexible tubing options, most notably PEX.” PEX tubing allows for faster and more-efficient water flow. It’s also less expensive and more versatile than copper because, first and foremost, you can actually afford to run a separate line for each fixture. Second, due to its pliability, PEX tubing is easy to fit behind walls. Finally, the ManaBloc is designed so that fixtures that have lower water volume requirements can be served by tubes that have a smaller diameter. This flexibility saves water and, by extension, saves the homeowner money.

A ManaBloc distribution manifold comes preassembled with three water intake ports and anywhere from 14 to 36 distribution ports, which hook up to either 3/8-inch or 1/2-inch distribution lines. Each color-coded port (red for hot, blue for cold) has its own dedicated shut-off valve, giving you complete control over the plumbing system from one central location. “If anything starts leaking around the home or needs to be repaired,” O’Brian says, “you know exactly where you need to go to shut off the water.”

ManaBloc connection fittings are sold separately and come in three styles: compression fittings, crimp fittings, or PEX press fittings. Compression fittings do not require any special tools, while crimp fittings require a crimping tool (a special ManaBloc wrench can help properly tighten the connection). ManaBloc plumbing packages are readily available and include everything you need to get going right away.

Online retailer SupplyHouse.com offers a large selection of ManaBloc distribution systems and accessories, and features a variety of instructional videos that explain the basics of shopping for, installing, and using ManaBloc systems:

 

 

 

 
This is a sponsored post on behalf of SupplyHouse.com. Its facts and opinions are those of BobVila.com.


How To: Fix Cracks in Concrete

They are not only a tripping hazard, but cracks in your concrete patio, driveway, or walkway can really compromise the curb appeal of your home. You've left these imperfections linger long enough. Here's how to fix them—easily!

How to Fix Cracks in Concrete

Photo: shutterstock.com

Installations of concrete can last hundreds of years, but sooner of later, most end up developing small cracks and gaps, holes and crevices. If your concrete path, patio, or driveway has begun to show its age, make the necessary repairs sooner rather than later. After all, what’s a small problem today is only going to get bigger and more difficult (or expensive) to fix. While in some cases it takes a pro to work successfully with concrete, almost anyone can fix cracks in concrete. Here’s how it’s done.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
- Concrete repair mix
- Hammer
- Chisel
- Wire brush
- Mason’s trowel (or putty knife)
- Protective gear

How to Fix Cracks in Concrete - Putty Knife

Photo: shutterstock.com

STEP 1
Concrete surfaces cannot be repaired with concrete. Instead, use a concrete repair mix; these are readily available at most home improvement retail chain stores. Options include epoxy compounds, latex patching material, and mortar mixes. This last option works best to fill large cracks (or chipped edges), while the other products are suitable for cracks in concrete that are 1/8 inch wide or narrower.

STEP 2
It’s important to prepare the cracked area for patching. First, use a small hammer and chisel in combination to knock away any cracked, crumbling, or loose concrete. Chip to a depth of about one inch below the surface plane. Then, rinse the area thoroughly, scrubbing with a wire brush to dislodge any loose, lingering particles. Bear in mind that this is dusty work. To facilitate cleanup, you may wish to spread a tarp beneath the work area. Most important, be sure to wear the proper protective gear.

STEP 3
Epoxy or latex. To cracks 1/8 inch wide or narrower, apply an epoxy or latex patching product, mixed according to the manufacturer’s specifications. The material goes on either with a mason’s trowel or a putty knife. Force it all the way into the crack, then smooth the product level with the surrounding concrete. Different mixes cure differently; again, consult the directions listed on your chosen product.

Mortar mix. For larger imperfections in concrete, use a mortar mix. Creating your own mix is as simple as combining one part Portland cement, three parts masonry sand, and just enough water to form a thick paste. Moisten (but do not drench) the problem area, then apply the mortar mix with either a mason’s trowel or a putty knife. As you work, take pains to eliminate air pockets by pressing down firmly on the applied product. Finally, smooth the patch so that it’s level with the surrounding concrete. Let it cure for about two hours, then cover the area with plastic sheeting to keep it moist. Sprinkle water under the plastic every day for a few days or until the surface has hardened up.


Innovative Closet Organizing System Means Less Mess

Powerfully built, easily affordable, and designed in no-frills modern style, EZ Shelf lives up to its name, bringing customizable storage well within reach of just about anyone.

EZ Shelf - Garage

Photo: thebestclosetorganizer.com

Clutter and disorganization are familiar foes to most, but a new shelving system promises to tame the turmoil once and for all. Whether your problem area lies in the garage, bedroom closet, the home office or elsewhere, EZ Shelf expandable products provide a versatile solution for a fraction of what custom shelving costs. With EZ Shelf, just about anyone, even novice do-it-yourselfers, can incorporate truly useful, durable, and stylish storage into their homes, quickly and easily.

EZ Shelf - Bedroom

Photo: thebestclosetorganizer.com

Installation couldn’t be more straightforward, as each shelving unit expands (3 sizes are available from 40″-73″, 28″-48″, and 17″-27″), with no cutting, no complicated measuring, and no drilling (into drywall) required. “The EZ Shelf system takes less than a third of the time it takes to install conventional wire shelving, and has fewer than half the number of parts,” says David Jablow, President and CEO of EZ Shelf. “Contractors and handymen will be able to charge consumers reasonable prices, or if you feel comfortable with a screwdriver it is an easy one-person installation.”

EZ Shelf products also give you the power to customize your own solution, as each unit allows for multiple handy configurations. Simply choose whichever one corresponds best to your needs. And when you combine units, the possibilities are nearly limitless, allowing you to custom-tailor a storage system that fits perfectly, even in a laundry room, pantry with awkward dimensions, or in a mudroom where nothing else has seemed to work in the past.

Further, you can always be safe in the assumption that your EZShelf installation isn’t going to fail unexpectedly. Powerfully built from tubular steel, the product provides significantly more strength than conventional wire shelving. Whereas conventional wire shelves hold 60 or 80 pounds, EZ Shelf can handle more than twice that weight, having been rated to securely support at least 200 pounds.

EZ Shelf - Walk In

Photo: thebestclosetorganizer.com

“EZ Shelf expandable products are the first economical alternatives to wire shelving that’s come out in the past 50 years,” explains Jablow. “So many people don’t like wire shelves—they look cheap and are hard to clean. So we asked an Italian design studio to help design EZ Shelf so that it is aesthetically pleasing, with a nice modern look.” Offered in white and silver, two classic colors that never go out of style, EZ Shelf looks good no matter what your decorating scheme. And though European-designed, over 75% of the product components are made in the U.S.A. and backed by a lifetime guarantee—a definite plus for those seeking maximum value.

EZ Shelf offers a selection of helpful closet organizing hints on its website, where we found a special closet makeover video that perfectly demonstrates why EZ Shelf is gaining popularity. Watch it now!

This post has been brought to you by EZ Shelf. Its facts and opinions are those of BobVila.com.


To Breathe Easy at Home, Install an Air Cleaner

Maintaining good indoor air quality is crucial to your family's comfort and health. If you're concerned about pollutants in your home—or even just fed up with persistent odors—maybe it's time to clear the air.

Whole-House Air Cleaners

Photo: supplyhouse.com

The air in your home may not be as fresh as you think it is. If you’re not careful, indoor air can harbor not only benign entities, such as mustiness or a foul odor, but also bona fide pollutants that can exacerbate allergies and negatively impact your health over the long term.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) cites a long list of contaminants that are commonly found in households around the country. These include, among other things, smoke (from tobacco or cooking), dust, mold and mildew, and emissions from combustion sources (oil, gas, kerosene, coal, and wood), not to mention pollution from building materials and furnishings—paint, insulation, carpeting, and pressed wood among them. To protect yourself and your family from the legitimate threats to health posed by any of these indoor pollutants, the EPA recommends two courses of action: Prioritize good ventilation, and eliminate pollutants through the use of an air cleaner (also known as an air purifier). These appliances are designed to do one thing only, and that is to directly remove toxins from circulation.

Whole-House Air Cleaners 2

Photo: supplyhouse.com

Indoor air quality takes on paramount importance during heating and cooling seasons, when homeowners tend to keep the windows closed, and natural ventilation comes to a standstill. “If you have a furnace or ducted air conditioning system, an in-line air cleaner is a no-brainer,” points out Daniel O’Brian, a technical expert from online retailer SupplyHouse.com. “The air circulating through your home can be full of dust, dander, mold, and other unpleasant particulates that can affect you negatively. An in-line cleaner blocks these particles from continuing to go around your ductwork and into the air you breathe. It also helps keep these particles from getting into your heating and cooling equipment, which could help prevent costly problems down the line.”

The in-line air cleaner O’Brian refers to is related to, but much more powerful and sophisticated than, the air purifiers you’ve seen in your local home center. Those small, portable units can be reasonably effective in one room, but people don’t live in just one room. Although you could buy a portable unit for every room on every floor of your house, the better investment is a single, larger model that can serve the whole house. Most such air cleaners attach to your existing HVAC system, but that’s where their similarities begin and end. SupplyHouse.com and other leading distributors offer a range of whole-house air cleaners that use different methods to remove airborne contaminants. Here’s a rundown of the most common air-cleaning technologies:

Electrostatic attraction: Air flows through an ionized sector within the filter. Here, particles are imbued with an electrical charge. The charged particles accumulate on a series of flat plates in an oppositely charged collector. The particles are neutralized, leaving clean air to flow out from the appliance.

• Ion generation: These air cleaners work similarly to electrostatic devices. Ionizers disperse charged ions into the air, which attach to airborne particles, giving them a charge so that they attach to nearby surfaces (for example, walls and furniture). These charged particles are then cleaned up in the course of everyday housekeeping.

• HEPA filtration: When combined with a forced-air furnace or air handler, a HEPA filter-based purifier passes air through a series of filters, each of which plays a role in capturing impurities. There are also HEPA systems that run independently of the HVAC system. These can be mounted in an attic, crawl space, or closet.

In addition to removing contaminants that can exacerbate allergies and asthma, air cleaners can help reduce or eliminate unwanted odors from the home, without the use of artificial fragrances, perfumed candles, or other products that simply mask odors rather than eliminate them. Using an air cleaner instead of a commercial fragrance product to get rid of smells reduces the amount of chemicals in the indoor environment and can help create a healthier and fresher home.

This post has been brought to you by SupplyHouse.com. Its facts and opinions are those of BobVila.com.


Transform and Protect Your Deck in a Single Coat

Improving the looks and longevity of your wood deck has never been easier for the weekend do-it-yourselfer, thanks to a new product from Thompson's WaterSeal.

Thompsons Waterproofing Stain - Finished Deck

Photo: thompsonswaterseal.com

Your deck was no small investment: If you haven’t been taking good care of it, now’s the time to give your deck the care it needs to look great and last long. If exposure to the elements has caused your deck to turn gray or acquire mildew, or if the boards have begun to crack and split, you’re in luck. A new Waterproofing Stain from industry leader Thompson’s WaterSeal can not only protect your deck from further damage, but also add rich, beautiful color.

Thompsons Waterproofing Stain - Finishing Process

Photo: thompsonswaterseal.com

It’s a one-step product. That means a single coat provides the superior waterproofing for which Thompson’s WaterSeal is known, along with a stain to transform the appearance of your deck. Choose from five popular colors: Acorn Brown, Harvest Gold, Maple Brown, Sequoia Red or Woodland Cedar. Then select your preferred level of opacity—transparent, semi-transparent, or solid. Stains with more pigment will last longer, but show less of the natural wood grain. Transparent stain is guaranteed for three years, semi-transparent stain is guaranteed for four years, and the solid stain is guaranteed for five years.

Preparation and application are easy. Clean the deck thoroughly first. A ready-to-use deck cleaner makes this step pretty painless. Simply apply the cleaner, allow it to work for about 10 or 15 minutes, then scrub and rinse. Normally, you’d need to wait for the deck to dry out completely, but not with this product.

The next step is to measure the square footage of your deck. That determines how many gallons of stain are required (each gallon covers up to 400 square feet). You can buy it and be on your way. Thanks to its pigment-suspension technology, there’s no need to wait for the Waterpoofing Stain to have its turn in the paint shaker. Open up the can on any day with a temperature between 50 and 90 degrees, and the finish is ready to for application via brush, roller, or pad.

If you’ve ever painted outdoors before, you know that clean-up can be a hassle, but that’s not the case here. The Waterproofing Stain is latex-based, which means it washes off with nothing more than soap and water. Drying time for the stain varies depending on the weather. But in normal conditions, it takes only a couple of hours. Leave it overnight, and the next day your deck will appear as though brand-new, and it will be totally ready for you to start enjoying it!

This post has been brought to you by Thompson’s Waterseal. Its facts and opinions are those of BobVila.com.


Buyer’s Guide: Portable Generators

Don't be left in the dark the next time a storm cuts the cord to your home's electricity. With our tips for buying and the best portable generators on the market, you can find the whole-home backup to fit your needs

Best Generators - Control Panel

Photo: generac.com

The storm hits. Power lines topple. And your home loses electricity for an hour, a day, or even a week. These inconvenient—and in some cases, downright dangerous—grid failures seem to be more and more prevalent with each passing year. Brief, infrequent outages are a nuisance and if nothing else, remind us of our complete dependence on electricity. But soon enough, the ordeal is over. However, if your area has been experiencing blackouts more frequently, or for more protracted periods, it’s well worth asking this question: If a major storm came rolling into your town tomorrow, would you be ready for the potential consequences?

An electrical outage doesn’t have to mean the suspension of your life until grid power is restored. You can take matters into your own hands, without spending a small fortune, using a portable generator. Deciding you want to buy one is only the first step. Next comes the process of determining which are the best generators to consider for your household. Read on for details on the main considerations to bear in mind as you navigate the assortment of options available today:

Wattage. Generators vary by the number of watts they are capable of producing. To narrow the field, first determine how many watts you are going to need. Only you can answer that; the answer depends on which appliances you want to feel comfortable running during a blackout. Make a list of those must-have appliances, and write down the number of watts that each one needs in ooder to start. Know that lights typically require 60 to 200 watts to start; a refrigerator needs about 600 watts; and a portable heater may need as many 1,500 watts. For many homeowners, a generator in the 5,000- to 7,000-watt range proves sufficient.

Best Generators - Driveway

Photo: generac.com

Fuel Type. That list of must-have appliances also bears on whether the best generators for you to consider are ones that run on batteries, gas, propane or diesel. Many smaller inverter-style generators are designed to run off a car or a deep-cycle battery, while most models suitable for residential use operate on gas.

Exhaust. Any portable generator that runs on gas, diesel, or propane produces exhaust. For that reason, such machines must be used outdoors, with protection from the weather, at least 15 feet from the house. If you live in California, focus on generators compliant with the standards set by the California Air Resources Board.

Noise. Portable gas-powered generators can be pretty loud. But some are built with noise-absorbing glass wool, special mufflers, and/or vibration-absorbing feet. If you anticipate noise being an issue, the best generators for you to consider are ones specially designed to do their work effectively, but quietly.

Accessories. Many things you’d assume are included with a generator must actually be purchased separately, and those incidental costs can add up. For instance, wheel kits sold separately range from $40 to $150. And if you want to wire the generator’s output to your electrical panel, you’ll need a $500 to $900 transfer switch. Before you buy a generator, make certain you understand what, if any, components are going t0 be missing.

If you’ve begun shopping for a generator, you’ve likely noticed there’s no shortage of options. To save you time and effort, we studied the rankings put out by leading consumer testing sites. And we waded through tons of feedback from people who’ve actually shopped for and used portable generators. We discovered a couple of things: While it’s not easy to identify which are the best generators, these are clear favorites:

 

Generac GP7500 Electric Start Portable Generator

Best Generators - generac gp7500e

Photo: northerntool.com

Shoppers at The Home Depot give 4.7 out of 5 stars to this 7,500-watt generator from industry leader Generac. The reviews praise the generator’s ease of use as well as its ample 8-gallon fuel tank, which enables the unit to run continuously for up to 12 hours. The battery for its electric start is included in the price; it features a low-tone muffler for quiet operation; and its fold-down locking handle and heavy-duty wheels make transportation and storage easy. Price: $999

 

Westinghouse WH7500E Portable Generator

Best Generators - westinghouse wh7500

Photo: norwall.com

From Westinghouse, a generator boasting 7,500 running watts and 9,000 starting watts garnered 4.7 out of 5 stars on Amazon. With its 6.6-gallon fuel tank, it produces up to 11 hours of runtime, and it purrs along quietly, thanks to its specially designed muffler. Reviewers liked its color-coded control panel, but they loved that everything needed comes in the box. When the time comes to actually use the thing, you don’t need to scramble for any extra components. Price: $999

 

Yamaha EF2000iS Portable Inverter Generator

Best Generators - yamaha EF2000iS

Photo: acmetools.com

Dubbed the “Michael Jordan of inverter generators” (by TopGeneratorReviews.com), this 2,000-watt Yamaha received 4.6 out of 5 stars on Amazon. It runs—quietly—for up to 10.5 hours. And thanks to its sleek, briefcase-size design, the lightweight generator is eminently portable. Special features include the Smart Throttle Load, which contributes to overall fuel efficiency, and a handy oil-watch warning system that lets you know when to change the oil. Price: $1099


Art Cool Mini-Splits for Comfort—and Decor

Making a room cool doesn't have to involve loosing a window. Today's mini-split air conditioning units are the smart alternative to traditional window units, delivering comfort and decor all in one.

ArtCool-LG

ArtCool

Summer has arrived, and with the inexorable heat comes the inevitable hunt—for the perfect air conditioner, that is. Homeowners in search of a functional and fashionable alternative to conventional air conditioning units may want to consider a mini-split.  Mini-split air conditioning systems eliminate the need for the extensive wiring and ductwork required for central air systems, making them perfect cooling devices for older homes and new additions.  They also alleviate many of the problems associated with standard window units, namely they are quieter, don’t have to be removed “off-season,” and don’t present a bulky and unattractive appearance in the window. And, if it’s appearance that you are concerned with, LG’s Art Cool Mini Splits were made for you.

Art Cool LG Mini Split

ArtCool LG mini-split air conditioner at SupplyHouse.com

“The Art Cool series is a unique take on the tried-and-true mini split air conditioning formula,” explains Daniel O’Brian, a technical expert from online retailer SupplyHouse.com. “While being functionally the same (and in the same price range as standard mini split systems), they offer a more visually pleasing indoor unit that can actually enhance room decor,” he adds.

LG’s Art Cool line basically consists of two options, both of which come in either air-conditioner-only or heat-pump models: Art Cool Mirror units feature a flat panel surface with smoked charcoal mirror finish, creating a sleek, contemporary silhouette; and the Art Cool Gallery unit provides a 20-by-20 inch square panel that works like a picture frame—allowing the consumer to insert their own artwork or photograph. Both units mount securely on a vertical surface with screws.

Mini-split air conditioning systems typically consist of two separate units: an interior evaporator with a fan and cooling coil, and an outside condenser unit; the two pieces are connected by a refrigerant line set. Mini-split systems are available in single room configurations, which consist of one indoor unit and one outdoor condenser, as well as multi-room configurations, which have two to four indoor units connected to a single outdoor condenser. Most mini-split indoor units are mounted on the wall, although there are some ceiling-mounted versions.

ArtCool LG Mirrorfinish

ArtCool LG Mirror Finish

The LG Art Cool Gallery unit is available as a single zone system in either 9,000- or 12,000-BTU sizes; the Mirror units are available in either single- or multi-zone systems. Choosing the appropriately sized unit is dependent on several factors, including the regional climate, whether the mini split system will operate as a cooling unit only, or a combination of cooling and heating, the number and type of rooms, the number of windows per room and the average number of people occupying the room at a single time. SupplyHouse.com features a useful air conditioner sizing calculator to help consumers determine the correct amount of air conditioner BTUs needed for a given room, or set of rooms.

Typically, mini-split air conditioners will require professional installation by an HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) contractor, because the outdoor unit must be hard-wired to a dedicated circuit breaker and the correct amount of refrigerant must be used in the lines.

Online retailer SupplyHouse.com offers a large selection of mini split air conditioners and accessories from the top manufacturers in the industry.  To learn more about the LG Art Cool systems, view the video below, or visit SupplyHouse.com.

 

This blog has been sponsored on behalf of SupplyHouse.com. Its facts and opinions are those of BobVila.com.


5 Things to Consider When Choosing a Wood Floor

With the variety of woods, colors and finishes available today, shopping for a wood floor can be a bit overwhelming. Here are five things to know and consider when choosing the perfect wood floor for your home.

Bellawood Cumaru Hardwood Flooring

Bellawood Cumaru Solid Hardwood Flooring at Lumber Liquidators.

Homeowners evaluating new flooring owe it to themselves to consider the benefits and beauty of wood. Wood floors are comfortable, durable and surprisingly affordable, and nothing quite compares to the character and warmth they bring to every room in the house. While there are a myriad of choices available, not every type of wood flooring is suitable for every application. If you are shopping for a wood floor, here are five things to keep in mind.

Type of Wood Flooring
There are primarily two types of wood flooring products—solid hardwood and engineered hardwood. Solid wood flooring is milled from solid wood logs, and is joined with a traditional tongue and groove along both the long and short edges. Solid wood is available prefinished or unfinished, in strips and planks ranging in thickness from 5/16″ to 3/4″. Strips are 1-1/2″ to 2-1/4″ wide and planks are 3″ to 8″ wide.

Engineered wood flooring is comprised of multiple layers of plywood and composite material, and topped with a layer of solid hardwood. Engineered wood flooring comes in thicknesses ranging from 3/8″ to 3/4″ and from 3″ up to 10″ wide; the hardwood layer on top ranges in thickness from .6 millimeters to 4 millimeters.

While both types offer the same beauty of real hardwood, the primary difference between solid hardwood and engineered flooring is in the floor’s composition. “Since solid wood flooring is subject to expand and contract relative to a home’s humidity it needs to be installed on the ground floor or above grade,” explains Bill Schlegel, Chief Merchandising Officer for Lumber Liquidators. “Engineered flooring, which is more stable due to its multi-ply construction, can be installed on all levels of the home,” adds Schlegel, “making it perfect for basements and bathrooms where dampness and moisture can be issues.”

Select Red Oak Solid Wood Flooring

Select Red Oak Solid Wood Flooring at Lumber Liquidators

Choice of Wood Species
There are many different woods used in flooring, but some are harder and therefore more durable than others. “Day to day wear and tear is what concerns most people when shopping for a wood floor,” says Schlegel, “and the benchmark for hardness in the U.S. is Red Oak.” While Red and White Oak are the most common domestic wood floors, Hickory and Maple (harder than oak) and Walnut (softer) are also popular choices. Top selling exotic woods such as Brazilian Cherry, Brazilian Koa and Cumaru are among the hardest species available. “Naturally, the harder the wood, the better it will be for wear and installation in high-traffic areas of the home,” Schlegel notes.

Grain, Color and Appearance
Because wood flooring comes in so many different species, styles and finishes, it is fairly easy to select a floor to match any room décor. If you have a country-style interior, wide plank floors with highly defined wood grains and a distressed appearance will be a good fit.  For Colonial homes, consider wide, random plank width flooring in Oak and Maple.  For traditional interiors, hardwood flooring in widths of 2-1/4″ to 3-1/4″ in Oak, Maple or Walnut, or parquet flooring, will be smart choices. Virtually any type of wood can be used in a contemporary setting, depending on what stain or finish is used—for example pewter, dark charcoal or whitewash finishes can transform any wood species into a modern masterpiece.

Casa de Colour Select Pewter Maple Hardwood Flooring

Casa de Colour Select Pewter Maple Hardwood Flooring at Lumber Liquidators.

Type of Finish
The finish is the real determining factor in the overall appearance of a wood floor. The same wood species will look completely different finished in a clear gloss, versus a distressed, hand-scraped or wire-brush finish. “There are different gloss levels and finishing techniques that change the overall look of the wood floor,” Schlegel notes. “Our Bellawood solid and engineered wood flooring in a mid to high gloss looks completely different in a low gloss matte finish,” explains Schlegel; the latter imitating the look of an oil-rubbed European finish, but without the constant care and maintenance.  Distressed, hand-scraped or wire-brush finishes will also be something to consider when shopping for a wood floor.

Flooring is sold either “unfinished” or “pre-finished.” Unfinished floors are sanded and finished on-site, which provides for a consistent seal and prevents dirt and moisture from penetrating the seams between boards (floors typically receive one to three coats of sealant). Pre-finished flooring is factory-applied in a controlled setting, and typically receives seven to eight coats of sealant. “I definitely recommend pre-finished flooring, because it ensures a superior and consistent finish, and comes with a warranty,” Schlegel asserts. “All Bellawood pre-finished flooring comes with a 100-year, transferable warranty, which can be a selling point to future buyers—since the warranty transfers to the new owner.”

Cost and Installation
The cost of wood flooring depends on the type, the wood species and the finish. Typically, solid prefinished wood flooring runs from $2.49 to $12.69 per square foot. Prices on engineered prefinished wood flooring range from $1.69 to $8.79. The average cost of installation usually runs about half as much as the flooring but depends on the type of flooring and installation for your home.

Both solid wood and engineered wood flooring are installed by nailing, stapling or gluing planks to a subfloor. There are, however, a variety of new “click” engineered products available that can be installed easily and “floated” above the subfloor.

“Installation can definitely be an expensive proposition, especially with unfinished flooring,” says Schlegel, “but competent DIYers can save money by doing the job themselves and purchasing prefinished flooring.” Lumber Liquidators offers all of the tools and materials that a homeowner would need to install a wood floor.  He adds, “I recommend saving money on installation and buying a better floor.”

 

This article is sponsored on behalf of Lumber Liquidators.  Its facts and opinions are those of BobVila.com.


How To: Choose the Right Size Air Conditioner

Keeping cool this summer may be easier—and more affordable—than you imagined. The key to comfort is knowing what size air-conditioning unit will do the job effectively and efficiently.

window air conditioner

Photo: shutterstock.com

Temperatures are climbing. With the dog days of summer just around the corner, the perfect time to shop for a new air conditioner is now.

There are numerous factors to consider when you’re shopping for an air conditioner, including whether your home can accommodate a ductless mini-split system, a built-in wall assembly, a window unit, or a portable model. But all air conditioners have one thing in common: They must be sized properly in order to effectively lower the temperature and remove excess moisture from the air, resulting in a comfortable, cool indoor environment.

When you’re shopping for an appropriately sized air conditioner, a number of factors come into play, including the general climate and average summer temperatures in your region of the country; the square footage of the room or rooms to be cooled; the installation location in the wall, window, or ceiling; the number of people typically occupying a room; and the amount of insulation in the home. An air conditioner that is too small for a given area will not be able to cool the space efficiently, while an air conditioner that is too large will tend to cycle on and off too rapidly, wasting energy and impairing the unit’s ability to remove humidity from the room.

Air conditioners are rated by their seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER), and their capacity is expressed in British thermal units (BTUs). The BTU rating gives an indication of how quickly and effectively a particular unit can cool the room where it is located. Most home air conditioners sold in the United States range from around 5,000 BTUs to more than 20,000 BTUs.

mini split

LG mini-split air-conditioning unit from SupplyHouse.com

“The BTU—or British thermal unit—is the amount of heat required to raise or lower 1 pound of water 1 degree Fahrenheit,” points out Daniel O’Brian, a technical expert from online retailer SupplyHouse.com. “Since we measure all of our heating and air-conditioning units in BTUs, it’s important to know how many BTUs your living space requires so you don’t buy a unit that is too large or too small. Another common measurement that heating and air-conditioning units are assigned is ‘tonnage.’ But don’t let this confuse you—one ton is just 12,000 BTUs!”

Correctly sizing an air conditioner for a given room requires a tape measure and a few simple calculations. The first step is to determine the size of the room where the unit will be installed. SupplyHouse.com offers a handy sizing calculator to determine the correct amount of BTUs needed for a given room or set of rooms. The calculator requires the dimensions of a room, in length and width; the type of room, such as kitchen or bedroom; the number of people typically in the room; and finally, the exposure of the room—whether it is very sunny or shaded. Once you plug in the appropriate information, the calculator will determine the correct size air conditioner in BTUs. If you are cooling two adjacent areas, or if your room is odd-shaped, determine the square footage of each space as if it were a separate room, and then add the two measurements together to get a total amount of BTUs.

Energy Guide Label

Photo: Energy.gov

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, another rating that homeowners should consider when purchasing a new room air conditioner is the Energy Efficiency Rating, or EER, which represents the cooling capacity of a unit in BTUs per hour divided by the watts of power consumed at a specific outdoor temperature (usually 95 degrees Fahrenheit). The EER rating is found on the yellow Energy Guide label on the air conditioner, and it typically ranges from 8 to 11.5. An EER rating of 10 or higher is the most efficient and will yield the highest savings on monthly electric bills. A higher EER also helps the environment by reducing greenhouse emissions.

Online retailer SupplyHouse.com offers a large selection of mini-split air conditioners and accessories from the top manufacturers in the industry, and features a variety of informative tools and instructional videos on its Web site. Visit them here.

 

This post is sponsored by SupplyHouse.com. Its facts and opinions are those of BobVila.com.