Author Archives: James Scott


Childproofing the Kitchen

Safety products and common sense can help keep children safe.

Childproofing

Photo: shutterstock.com

Many child-safety experts believe that children should be kept out of the kitchen and that no amount of childproofing can make a kitchen safe. Jay Hanc of Safe Beginnings, a baby-proofing and safety company in Brookline, MA, says, “My first suggestion is don’t allow kids in the kitchen. Between cooking and cleaning, the kitchen is not a safe place. If they are in the kitchen, they should be in their high chair.”

To keep children safe, all kitchen entrances should have a safety gate to keep children out. “The biggest frustration for me is hearing parents complain about the looks of some of the safety measures,” says Mat Dann, a firefighter and paramedic. “You can stain or paint safety gates to match your kitchen or your baseboards. The most important thing is the safety of your child.”

Cabinets and Drawers 
Cabinets and drawers are major culprits for injuries to toddlers. Drawers, which are often at the height of a toddler’s head, should be installed with automatic closing slides that keep the drawer shut even after a hard shove. Better yet, Merillat makes the Soft Action Drawer Guide System, which regulates the closing of the drawer to prevent drawer slams and pinched fingers.

Cabinets and drawers should all be secured with internal locking devices because external locks that need to be put back in place after each use are often forgotten. One highly rated product is the Safety 1st Tot Lock system, which is installed inside drawers and cabinets that are 0.5 to over 1.5 inches thick and utilizes magnets as a locking mechanism. A switch on the locks disables them when they are no longer needed.

Electrocution Dangers
The 911 Infobook reports that 86 percent of electrocution injuries involve children ages one to four, with the highest concentration of emergencies occurring at mealtimes. The likely reason is that outlet covers have been removed, appliances are out, and children are in the kitchen during busy meal preparation.

While outlet covers are the most common solution to keep children from electrocution, Hanc warns, “They’re a choking hazard if they’re left off, which all too often, unfortunately, they are.” Hanc prefers a self-closing outlet cover that slides back into place when the outlet is not in use.

GFI (ground fault interrupter) outlets are required in new buildings in most areas, and have cut down on electrocution injuries, but cannot accommodate a self-closing outlet cover. Make sure no appliance cords dangle within reach of children. A slide-out appliance shelf high up in a pantry with a recessed power strip is easy to install but difficult for children to access.

Burn Prevention
According to the Burn Resource Center, burns and fires are the leading cause of accidental death in the home for children 14 and under. Children from birth to two years are most frequently admitted for emergency burn care and are most frequently burned in the kitchen. “Many of the accidents we see are from children pulling on a tablecloth,” Dann says. Small placemats that do not hang over the edge of the table or counter are the easy answer. Skid resistant placemats are an even better solution.

The latch to the dishwasher should be locked at all times, with locking straps as an available second measure of protection. “Run the dishwasher after the children have gone to bed,” Dann says, “because the steam escaping can scald a small child.” The oven and stove can also be made safe. “Turn your pot handles toward the wall, and if you’re not using all your burners, use the ones at the rear of the range,” Dann says.

Hanc recommends glass-top stoves because they have no open flame, preferably one with a heat warning light and burners set back from the edge of the stove. He also suggests finding an oven with the knobs at the rear of the stove where children can’t get to them, or failing that, knob covers. Induction cooking surfaces stay cool to the touch, but are pricier than other alternatives.

Stove guards, like the one produced by Prince Lionheart for around $25, are essentially plastic shields that prevent children from reaching onto the stove. Children pulling on or leaning against a hot oven door can burn their hands, however, so Omega Appliances produces an oven with a quadruple-glazed oven door that remains cool to the touch even during cooking. Electrolux ovens also feature Cool-Touch oven doors.

Self-cleaning ovens feature locks that can double as safety locks to keep children out, but several companies make separate oven locks. “They’re not always attractive,” says Dann, “but they are a necessity.”

“A lot of this is common sense on the part of the parents. One thing people often forget is to never keep treats above the stove or near appliances,” Dann says, “Kids are curious, and they are resourceful.” A kitchen designer will take children into account when planning a kitchen by placing outlets higher up, selecting child-safe appliances, or creating appliance garages. Take advantage of their expertise when planning your new kitchen or kitchen remodel.


Working with Your Architect

If you're embarking on a major project, choosing the right architect can save you time, money, and trouble.

Architects

Photo: http://architectinperson.files.wordpress.com/

Hiring an architect should save you time and money, minimize bumps, streamline the building process, and provide an accurate picture of how the project will turn out before a single nail has been driven.

Architectural services should be calculated as part of the project cost, typically just under 10 percent of the building budget. What you pay for is the ability to see many different aspects of a project—the homeowner’s needs, the material and spatial constraints, the timetable, the cost, the permits, and the possibility—through one set of professional eyes.

“Architects bring a global vision to the very complicated process of building,” says architect Greg Colling of The Classic Group, a Boston-based architectural firm specializing in classic home design. A good architect can see obstacles in your project you would never anticipate and easy solutions you might never find.

Selecting an Architect
You will be spending a great deal of time with the architect you choose, as well as living and working in the space he or she designs, so take the time to find the right person for the job. Several search engines for architects exist on the Web. The American Institute of Architects (AIA) maintains an up-to-date, searchable database of their architects.

Find an architect with sensibility similar to you own. Ask to see photos of recent jobs or visit some finished projects to get a feel for the architect’s design sense and preferences. Ask how or why the designer decided on certain solutions, finishes, or schemes. If you like the architect’s past work, chances are you will find common ground. You will talk often and need to work your way through many issues, so make sure that you can converse easily and understand one another readily. If you are restoring an older home, the architect should have experience with period buildings. Typically, historic homes necessitate much more stringent building codes and additional permits.

Preliminary Meetings
An architect helps the homeowner pinpoint the goals of the project. Often, the initial answer— more space, an updated kitchen—leads to more questions from the architect. How is the space going to be utilized and by whom? How often? At what time of day? Be prepared with these answers ahead of time to enhance the discussion and the architect’s ability to make the most of your space. Working with Colling, David Masher identified several goals for his historical home’s kitchen remodel. The Mashers wanted to increase flow both within the home and to the outdoors, improve the lighting, and create a family space for cooking, entertaining, and working. A good architect allows for communication both ways, which ultimately benefits the project. “A homeowner’s needs and wishes are transformed through an architect’s sensitivity and creative process,” Colling says. The Mashers would agree. “We came together to find the right answers for our home,” Masher says of the space he now calls a dream home.

Drawing Up a Set of Plans
When working well with an architect, the savings are there from the start in terms of time and money. Colling says when he first sat down with the Mashers, he drew some “kitchen table sketches” based on their conversation. He also asked Jeanne Masher to find some examples in architecture magazines to “help her articulate her likes and dislikes.” During this planning phase, the architect will also survey the property and look into building regulations and requirements, Colling says.

The architect will produce a more definitive direction for your project and a set of design drawings based on these initial discussions and rough plans. A definite budget will also be prepared as the design becomes clearer. “Thorough drawings” make it easier for the contractor to accurately price and build your project,” according to the AIA. Colling drew up four pages of electrical plans for the Mashers. “That way the contractor had no questions, nothing was left to chance,” David Masher says. No unanswered questions means no time or money wasted in the middle of construction searching for answers, a huge savings for any homeowner.

The architect’s drawings also give a first look at how the space will be transformed. Seeing an accurate rendering of the final product lets you know whether your vision and the architect’s truly match.

Architects as Project Managers
An architect will help you choose materials, color and design schemes, and builders and tradespeople that can bring your design to life. An architect can help you choose materials and finishes that are durable as well as beautiful, saving on frequent maintenance and replacement costs, according to the AIA. New building materials come out surprisingly often, and architects have knowledge of their quality and effectiveness. In the Masher home, innovative new materials were used in the kitchen countertop, on the deck, and under the deck.

If there is one element of building that the average do-it-yourselfer will have trouble with, it is the permitting process. “The architect assists the homeowner in filing documents required for review and approval by local building, zoning, landmark and/or historic commissions, and obtaining proposals and awarding the contract for construction,” Colling says. Building codes and zoning laws can get complicated—having an architect at your side will ensure they are filed properly, keeping your project on schedule.

While bringing the drawings to life using the materials specified is the job of the builder, a good architect will act as your agent in working with the contractor. As the contractors set to work assembling the architect’s vision, there are often obstacles. Having good chemistry between the architect and builder can turn a potential problem into a solution. In the Masher home, an unused chimney became a ready-made channel for pipes and wiring.

The architect administers the contract between the owner and contractor, including meeting with the contractor and vendors to answer any questions, review contractor submittals, address any field changes, reject nonconforming work, and review and certify payments. In other words, your architect makes certain the project goes according to plan, on budget, and on time. If a problem with a contractor does occur, most notably in the quality of the work, the architect will be your greatest ally.


Outdoor Showers 101

Outdoor shower fixtures range from hose hookups to backyard spas.

Outdoor Showers 101

Photo: Flickr

Outdoor showers accent pool areas or backyards, providing a convenient place to clean off and a yard feature that is artistic and functional. “A shower outdoors is one of those things that seems odd at first, but when people see them at someone else’s place, they end up wanting them for their own backyard. We also get a lot of people who come home from a rental where they had one, and it’s the first thing they want at home when they get back,” says Ross Sicote of Walpole Woodworkers, a firm specializing in custom yard and garden features.

Outdoor Shower Types
There are essentially two kinds of outdoor shower fixtures—standalones and wall mounts. Standalones attach to flexible hosing and are mobile. Wall-mounts are stationary. Deciding whether your shower will be a portable or permanent installation is the first step in deciding what type of shower will work for you.

The very simplest of showers can be hooked up directly to a garden hose. Shower seekers can craft their own fittings, using tubing and a showerhead, or purchase a shower package from any number of retail outlets. As with all outdoor showers, the showerhead should be durable stainless steel or brass to stand up to weathering.

Single-hose showers are for the bravest outdoor types, as they typically only use cold water. These showers are usually portable and may come attached to a small platform for drainage. Portable showers are the most inexpensive option, with prices ranging anywhere from $50 to around $300, but some sell for as much as $2,000.

Related: Outdoor Showers: The New Accessible Luxury

Pedestal or tower showers are hooked up to an outdoor plumbing line, but can be placed anywhere in the yard. They are less mobile than a single-hose shower, but offer both hot and cold water. If the shower features a single, mixed-temperature control, an anti-scald valve must be installed. Many come pre-assembled with an anti-scalding device already included. Pedestal or tower showers are sold in kits, and can be assembled and hooked up in about an hour. Prices can range from $500 to $2,000.

Wall-mounted units attach to an outdoor plumbing supply and are typically attached to the house itself. Plumbing for these showers is less exposed and less expensive. They offer great possibilities for outdoor shower enclosures and platforms. Prices are similar to pedestal units.

Homeowners may also opt to build a shower that is fully tiled, with built-in drains, and enclosed plumbing. Plumbing costs for such a shower run around $500, but the labor to pour or cast the concrete, tile the shower, and finish the installation makes it a genuine yard feature.

Design and Installation Details
“An outdoor shower can really be worked into the overall plan for the exterior of a home,” says Jeanine Keith Furrer, a landscape architect from Massachusetts. Some of Furrer’s designs include niches built into the exterior of the house for soap and shampoo, and stone dowels used as towel racks. Furrer notes the importance of a designer in keeping such a project on track: “Everything goes into an outdoor shower — the plumbers, the masons, and the fence installers are all involved.” For improvement novices, hiring a designer to make certain everything gets done on time, within budget, and according to their needs and desires is a sound investment.

“Installation is key,” says Michael Andriolo of Roma Tile in Watertown, MA. “If the pitch or the drainage isn’t properly done, and water can ease its way in, that’s where problems occur.” Andriolo says Roma has worked on numerous outdoor showers, and customers ask for everything from a simple concrete base to a tiled wall and base. The most common problems for an improperly installed outdoor shower are cracked or buckled tiles and poor drainage. For this reason, Andriolo recommends a professional installer for any tile or concrete job.

Privacy Enclosures
Most people will want some privacy, typically a small fenced-in area. Building a shower enclosure is a fairly straightforward job, using many of the same techniques and building supplies as a deck or a fence. For those not as confident in their building skills, many companies sell ready-made shower enclosures. Walpole Woodworkers sells kits that range in price from $650 to $1,500 and vary from a basic, unstained 1-inch-by-4-inch board enclosure to a customized enclosure with white stain and caps. Enclosures often contain benches, towel racks, and soap dishes. Some even feature a separate changing area. “They feature all the comforts of your shower indoors, plus a nice breeze,” Sicotte says.

Upkeep and Drainage
If your shower is portable, you need only keep the lines protected from damage or cold weather. A permanent shower in cold-winter climates needs frost-proof fixtures, which are more expensive but will endure cold months. If there is no frost-proofing, the pipes must be blown out at the end of the season.

Most outdoor showers simply drain into the ground or through a bed of stone. This is less taxing on a septic system than an indoor shower, but may be in violation of local codes. In many municipalities, outdoor showers are subject to building codes. Some even require a drainage system to protect groundwater and water quality. Before you install an outdoor shower, check with local building officials to ensure your shower meets the regulations for your town or city.