Why the Doormat is An Important Home Decor Element

Have you ever come to a house and noticed that it has a really homey feel, but can’t quite put your finger on the reason? Chances are, the answer was right under your feet. That’s right — the doormat is what gave you this impression.

The impressions people get of places are often formed by the things that are not consciously noticed. Walkways, doormats, and lighting are all things which people don’t pay much attention to unless something is obviously wrong with them. But they all make a big difference in how a location is perceived. A nice doormat with a homey picture on it gives the psychological impression that this is a place you can relax and be yourself in. Since it’s right in front of the door, the feelings given by the doormat is mentally transferred to the entire house.

Fortunately, doormats are inexpensive and come in a wide variety of designs. You do not have to settle for the old-fashioned rubber tire ones anymore (though, if you are trying to present an eco-friendly image, you may want to prominently display recycled rubber). There are several made of tightly woven materials of various types which show different images. Countryside images are common, but there are also ones with joke images, cartoons, flowers, and pretty much any pitcher you can imagine. If you’re a traditionalist, of course, you can get the old standby: the “Welcome” mat.

Of course, doormats have a function to go with their form. The “practical” purpose is to prevent dirt from being tracked into the house. Therefore, they are made out of very tough materials, and or are woven in a way which provides special durability. A doormat will often outlast the carpet is protecting, and this is pretty much the point — the tough doormat protects your delicate flooring.

Due to this practical use, many doormat buyers do not pay enough attention to the aesthetic properties of the small square of material they will be looking at for the next several years. This is why doormats have a reputation as being pretty boring. But with hundreds or even thousands of designs available, there is no need to get a mere “workable” doormat.

The next time you need to update the look of your home or apartment but don’t want to spend a lot of money, take a real look at what doormats are available! You may be surprised to find that for a mere $15-$30, you can change the whole atmosphere of the outside of your house/apartment, while making your flooring last longer.

February 13, 2012
Posted in Home — Knowledge Buff @ 5:51 PM

Choosing Kitchen Cabinets

Kitchen and bath cabinetry has improved a lot in the last 25 years. There had been a point when you discussed factory built cabinets you would hear, “do you mean like what they put in trailers?” Or “I bought some of that stuff from K-Mart and it came apart on me.” Those living on the gulf coast have seen their share of tempests that has ruined many kitchens—one cabinet store hasn’t sold a particleboard cabinet in five years. But the one issue they are getting all of the time arises because there is just too much to make a choice from.

I think the higher availability gives you the capability to get precisely what you need.

If you are someone that is totally lost, maybe I can shed some light and make this a delightful journey for you, as it is meant to be fun. There are many ways to go about this. One is to hire a designer. If that’s your position, I would like to recommend it; somebody with experience truly will help you coordinate your project, and help you select colors and style.

2. If a designer is out of the question, then buy a handful of mags and perhaps 2 books, pick colors and styles that appeal to you and mesh them together. Some kitchen designers will help you with this. One of the things I tell people is settle on a theme for your house. What sort of a person are you–modern, normal, country, Tuscan etc.? Another thing you have to remember is this might not be your last home–so be creative, just don’t make it unsellable. You can always accessorize with color. Here is the order of decisions I often go with:

Select your style, then kitchen cabinets and counter tops. They have a wide range of styles and designs, so they need to be first as you can work the rest in. Remodelers deal often with kitchen and bath cabinets. There are 2 main types out there: face frame cabinets and full access cabinetry or European. Standard overlay implies the doors are 1″ bigger than the opening top and bottom–you’ll see more of the frame, and these are typically the least costly. Full overlay is where the cabinet doors overlay the face frame one 0.25″ all of the way around–you’ll see less face frame and inset is where the door basically fits within the face frame making it have a flush appearance, these are often the most expensive.

Full access, or “European,” cabinetry don’t have a face frame, are assembled often of particleboard, and the doors are either wood or a thermofoil. The EU introduced them thanks to a wood shortage.

The European or Buck cabinets have 1/8″ openings between the doors. Face frame and European cabinets all have the same colors, glazes etc.; they just look a little different. There are many types of drawers and drawer glides. The most typical are merely a plain MDF vinyl wrapped drawer with quarter-inch bottom and side mount epoxy coated slides. Some places will upgrade to a birch dovetail with ¾” extension under-mount epoxy coated slides. And the best will be either a birch or maple dovetail drawer with full extension soft close drawer glides under-mounted.

Now you could be asking “how do I select a cabinet for me?” Almost all of the time, cabinets are selected based on budget. When you have established your financial position you can select a cabinet that you like that fits that budget. You may not get to do all of the upgrades to get the better drawers. Some have found the RTA cabinets will give you the most bang for your buck. All of the upgrades without the additional cost. Today, most ready-to-assemble cabinets are plywood and hardwoods with stains, paints and glazes that cost 50% less than the offerings from the massive box stores. They do need a bit more work than pre-assembled kitchen cabinets, but are worth it if you have somewhat decent assembling skills.

February 11, 2012
Posted in Home — Knowledge Buff @ 12:06 AM

Making the Bathroom Safe for the Elderly

It may be surprising to you to learn that the bathroom is the most dangerous room in the house! But of all accidents that happen in homes, 70% happen in the bathroom. Falling while in the bathroom is the second-leading cause of accidental death or disability in the US, beaten only by car accidents. In North America alone, slip-and-fall accidents cause more than 20,000 fatalities per year. Most of the yearly deaths and injuries from bathroom falls happen to the elderly — people who are 65 years old or older.

Therefore, keeping the bathroom as safe as possible is one of the keys to maintaining independence for the elderly, and for mobility-impaired or frail people.

Fortunately, there are many easy-to-use, easy-to-install accessories which can help keep you and your loved ones safe.

1. A grab bar. This simple bar, usually stainless steel or colored to look like it, attaches to the wall with screws and provides a secure grip for anyone who needs a bit of extra support. These are not only good for the elderly, but for ill or even sedentary people who have gotten stiff. Hauling yourself up off the toilet is not nearly as hard when there is something to pull up on.

2. A transfer bench. This bench is to transfer yourself from outside the tub to the inside. If adding a walk-in tub is out of the budget, this is the thing to get. You (or your loved one) sit on the bench and slide yourself into the tub/shower. It’s a wide bench which straddles the side of the tub, with two legs outside and two legs in. Transfer benches usually have suction-cup feet to increase stability.
Transfer benches come in a variety of styles. They can be padded or not, and most have a seat which can swivel and lock into position—a great help for those too frail to slide themselves over.

3. A shower chair. This is a waterproof seat which sits inside the tub or shower. They are great if you’re a caregiver, because they make it a lot easier to bathe a person. There are only two main variations on this simple device: With a back, or without one. Aluminum frames are preferred because they resist corrosion, and are light weight.

4. A toilet safety frame. This is a hand rail which bolts onto the toilet. It has two legs which rest on the floor. They are inexpensive, and give people something to grab onto when they are sitting down or getting up. They also provide an extra grab point when walking past the toilet.

5. A raised toilet seat. A raised seat helps by lessening the distance between a standing and a sitting position. Kids will find it hard to use a bathroom equipped with one of these, but in an all-adult household, or in a bathroom only used by adults, they are a great help. They do take a bit of getting used to since people are not used to doing their business on a perch, but anyone with arthritis or other mobility problems will appreciate not having to bend so much.

With simple additions like these, the bathroom can be made much safer than the norm, and help you or your elderly relative maintain their independence.

February 5, 2012
Posted in Home — Knowledge Buff @ 6:27 PM

Kitchen Remodeling Tips

The kitchen is often the focal point of activity in the house. It’s also a very important area in terms of design. In many homes, you can even see the kitchen from the front door! This makes kitchen remodeling one of the best ways to revitalize a tired house. When the view includes gleaming new appliances and nice new cupboards, the overall impression of the house is greatly improved.

New appliances often spring to mind when people think of kitchen remodeling. This is for good reasons: Appliances are easy to see and they are essential parts of the kitchen. Choices in appliance design should be made according to how long you intend to keep the machines. If kitchen remodeling is something you intend to do only when the old equipment is functionally obsolete, it’s best to go for timeless designs that will look as good in 20 years as they do now. On the other hand, if you like to remodel your kitchen every few years, go ahead choose appliances that reflect today’s trends.

The cabinets and cupboards are a part of the kitchen that is often taken for granted – until they start to look worn. Since they take up such a large area, it’s important to choose the ones that provide the atmosphere you’re looking for. Dark cabinets usually look more expensive, but they can also make the kitchen seem like it needs more lighting. Lighter cabinets provide an airy feel, but are more prone to showing dirt and wear.

Countertops are another important aspect of the kitchen. The countertop can be made of pretty much anything, but popular materials range from Formica to various types of stone. Granite is often considered to be the pinnacle for kitchen countertops. It’s hard to damage, looks expensive, and can last forever. Other popular high-end materials include marble and quartz. Quartz countertops are popular because they can be made in any color, and marble is a favorite for pastry chefs thanks to its ability to allow easy rolling of thin dough.

The floor is the last major element that must be considered when doing kitchen remodeling. Though matte-finish kitchen flooring can look great, it is easy to stain. Therefore, it’s good to get nonporous tile or linoleum instead. Patterns are another thing to think about. Speckled patterns are great for hiding crumbs and the other specks of dirt that can accumulate during the day. This can lower or eliminate the need for touch-up sweeping during the day. Solid colors have their benefits as well. They can make the room seem bigger, and some colors impart richness to the expanse.

By pulling all of the elements together, it’s easy to obtain a beautiful and unified design. If you’re unsure of what goes well together, there’s no need to fret. Professionally-designed kitchen remodeling will ensure that your new kitchen looks great!

December 31, 2011
Posted in Home — Knowledge Buff @ 8:40 PM

What Is a Heat Recovery Ventilator?

Heat-recovery ventilators, or HRVs, are made to address the problems of tightly-built houses—stale air, lingering odors, and high humidity—without ruining the energy efficiency of the structures. Opening a window can “work,” but that allows a home’s heat to go outside unabated. It can also let humidity in. Heat-recovery ventilators, on the other hand, are made especially to let the stale air out while keeping the heat in. While they don’t bring the incoming air all the way up to the ambient temperature, they can save about 70% of the heat which would otherwise go straight to the outdoors.

Despite their name, heat-recovery ventilators can also be used to help keep air cool in the summer as they provide ventilation. During hot weather, the incoming hot air is cooled by the outgoing indoor air.

Unlike an open window, heat-recovery ventilators give continuously-controlled ventilation with a motorized system. They use the heat from the outgoing, stale air to warm up cooler (or cold) incoming fresh air. The two streams of air are never mixed. Instead, they go through a closely intertwined chamber setup. This allows the two air streams to get close enough to exchange heat from one to the other, without allowing the actual air to commingle.

Most heat-recovery ventilators are designed as whole-house solutions. They usually have between 4 and 8 supply-and-return ducts. In this way they are similar to typical built-in heating or air conditioning systems.

The ideal configuration of a heat-recovery ventilator will take air out from the most moisture-laden rooms like the bathroom, kitchen, and laundry room. Incoming fresh air, which is still slightly cooler than the old air, will go into lesser-used areas like hallways, closets, and other less-trafficked areas where air movement will not be uncomfortable.

Due to the size of a full installation job, whole-house heat recovery ventilators are usually installed by professional services.

Single-room heat-recovery ventilators also exist. These are good if there are one or two “problem” rooms which you need to address, without the expense or work required for a whole-house solution. Like room air conditioners, these ventilators install in a window or through a wall. Some models include filters, which is another thing they have in common with air conditioners.

For the most effective placement of a single-room heat-recovery ventilator, choose a location which will be high on an outside wall yet isn’t right up to the inside ceiling. Keep it away from thermostats to avoid skewing the temperature readings. Also keep it away from seating areas if the air movement would be a bother. Remember that there is fan noise associated with a one-room heat-recovery ventilator, and plan accordingly when it comes to placement. A noise which is quiet enough in a living room may sound like a plane taking off when it’s in an otherwise-silent bedroom.

All in all, heat-recovery ventilators seem to be a great way to get rid of stale air, odors, and overly-high humidity. They allow the fresh air in without bringing the cold, rain, or humidity in with it. To get an estimate on a whole-house heat-recovery ventilator, check with your local heating and air conditioning contractors. Or, if you are a handy type who doesn’t mind the bigger-than-average product, you can buy a whole-house heat recovery unit online, and install it yourself!

November 15, 2010
Posted in Home — Knowledge Buff @ 3:56 PM

How To Install an Electrical Outlet in the Floor

If you have a large space to furnish, you may find yourself with the problem of bringing electricity to a lamp or other item far from the wall. Installing a floor outlet is the professional way to avoid having to string an electrical cord across the room. This is the way it’s done in large, higher-class hotel lobbies, and there’s no reason not to do it in a large room in a home.

Installing a floor outlet means keeping some special considerations in mind. In the United States, most local electrical codes require a special box and receptacle, a gasket seal, and a strong, moisture-proof cover plate. This is because floors are subject to both foot traffic and at least occasional wet cleaning, and the floor outlet has to be able to handle this.

You will need: A drill, keyhole saw or hacksaw, a stiff wire, floor outlet hardware, wire connectors, and a power cable, cable clamp, and cable staple. If you’re installing the floor outlet into a carpeted floor, a carpet knife will be needed as well.

To avoid hassle, it’s best to install the floor outlet in a location that’s close to a nearby circuit. This will make it easier to do the wiring.

General steps for installing the floor outlet include:
• Positioning the floor outlet: Position the outlet between the joists. Once you’ve decided on the position, drill through the floor with a long bit. Drop a long coathanger wire though the hole, so you can see it from the level below. Bend the top of the wire and tape it so it doesn’t fall through the hole. Go downstairs and make sure that the area you intend to place the floor outlet will indeed be suitable—no pipes, existing wiring, or joists in the way.

• Using the outlet box as a template, draw an outline on the floor. Cut a hole for the floor outlet, using a keyhole saw or a jigsaw. If the floor is carpeted, cut a hole through the carpet and pad, drill marker holes at the corners, and then cut a hole through the substrate from underneath.

• From below, attach a cable clamp to your power cable (which is still not attached to the power at this point), and then snap the clamp into the floor outlet box. This will keep the weight of the power line from pulling downward from the box. Secure the cable to a joist within a foot of the box. Use a cable staple for this.

• Assemble the floor outlet: Go back upstairs and fasten the box into the floor. Attach the wires to the receptacle(s). First, connect the ground wire to the ground screw and then to the receptacles. Position the receptacle(s) into the box and secure them.

• Turn off the power to an existing circuit in a box which has a constant hot feed (this is one which is not operated by a switch). Then find the incoming hot wire. Using wire connectors, connect the new wires to the hot feed. The floor outlet is now able to get power.

• Turn on the power. You should now have a working floor outlet. Test it by plugging in a lamp.

That’s it! Now your floor outlet is installed, and you can have lamps which “mysteriously” get power even though they’re way in the middle of the floor, just like in fancy hotels! With creative placement of the lamp’s cord and other furniture, visitors won’t even be able to see where the floor outlet is unless they blatantly look for it. The overall effect is very professional.


Posted in Home — Knowledge Buff @ 3:44 PM

How To Install an Anti-Scald Valve In a Shower

Have you ever been standing in the shower, only to get blasted with super-hot (or super-cold) water when someone elsewhere in the house flushes the toilet or runs the water? Installing an anti-scald valve in the shower will put an end to these jarring and dangerous surprises.

Anti-scald valves, also known as pressure-balance valves, compensate for sudden pressure changes in both hot and cold water lines. This prevents the temperature from changing in response to other water draws. Since sudden temperature changes can cause a showering person to jump or otherwise lose their balance, keeping the temperature even can prevent slips and falls. It can also prevent scalding injuries—hence the name, “anti-scald valve.”

To install an anti-scald valve, the first step is to turn off the water supply to the shower you’ll be working on.

Then remove the current handle and escutcheon plate (that metal plate that goes behind some water handles in the shower). Measure the setback from the outside of the tile to the center of the pipes in the wall. This is one time you don’t want to buy the new part first. That’s because you need an anti-scald valve which has a similar setback, for easier installation.

The next step in installing your new anti-scald valve is to get behind the valve, from the other side of the wall. If there isn’t already an access hole, you’ll need to cut one in. Once you have access, remove the tub spout and shower arm. Cut the supply lines where the shutoff valves will be located. Remove the old faucet valve and old piping above where you made the cut.

Use the old valve and pipes as a template for determining the size of the new anti-scald valve assembly. Solder connections, using a fireproof cloth to keep from lighting the work area on fire. While soldering, open the shutoff valves and remove the valve cartridge. Secure the valve and pipes with support blocks and pipe straps.

Go back to the shower side (front). Now install the new escutcheon plate, set the anti-scald limiter, and install the new handle. Install the tub spout and the shower arm. Test the anti-scald valve and the connections.

To adjust the anti-scald valve, look for a gear-like rotational stop behind the handle. This stop controls how hot the water can be turned. All you have to do to get at this part is remove the handle—no need to cut back into the wall. This makes it fairly easy to re-adjust if you find you aren’t satisfied with the way it’s initially set up.

Once these steps are complete, you have finished installing the anti-scald valve. You can now enjoy taking a shower, knowing that you won’t be blasted in extremely hot or cold water whenever someone runs water somewhere else in the house!


Posted in Home — Knowledge Buff @ 3:14 PM

What’s So Great About Ground-Source Heat Pumps

You may have heard of using the warmth from the Earth to heat your home. But how? Ground-source heat pumps are one way to extract the heat from the ground (“geothermal heat”) and turn it into indoor heat.

Ground-source heat pumps have many advantages, but the fact that they produce heat without burning fuel is their major plus. While the best natural gas furnaces can run at 92% efficiency, a ground-source heat pump whomps on that with an efficiency rating of an eye-popping 300%! This is because of the lack of fuel burning. They are using heat that is already there, and just transferring it to where you want it.

A ground-source heat pump has 3 main components. There is a “ground loop” which collects the heat, a heat pump (or exchanger) to condense that heat, and a duct system to distribute the heat throughout the house.

There are two kinds of ground loops in a ground-source heat pump system. A closed-loop system circulates anti-freeze through buried polyethylene pipe. This pipe is buried at least 6 ft. under the ground, where temperatures are at about 55 degrees F all year round. Open-loop systems, on the other hand, use a water supply to transfer the heat. This water is run through the heat pump to extract the warmth, and then discharged to another location (usually a pond).

The underground piping for a ground-source heat exchanger can be installed in many configurations. It can be buried in trenches, underneath ponds, or run in a series of vertical well holes. It can be installed in straight lengths or heavily coiled. This versatility allows it to be installed in many locations, regardless of the terrain.

Inside the heat pump, the ground-source heat is absorbed by a refrigerant. This refrigerant is compressed and heated until it reaches 160 degrees F. Air is then passed over the hot coils, where it picks up the heat. The hot air then goes through the house’s duct system to heat the house.

For areas with mild winters, a ground-source heat pump is usually all it takes to heat a house. The extraction of heat from the ground can overtake the opposing cooling forces of the wind and outside air temperature in these areas. People in cold places like Michigan, on the other hand, often find that they need to use old-fashioned natural gas during the deepest months of the winter. Even there, though, a ground-source heat pump can cut heating bills tremendously, and possibly eliminate them during the milder seasons of spring and fall.

November 13, 2010
Posted in Home — Knowledge Buff @ 4:04 PM

About Drywall Joint Compounds

When installing drywall, you will soon run into the question of what to do with the joints between the panels. There are several kinds of joint compounds. But which one should you use? Here is a brief description of the most common types of drywall joint compounds.

There are two main categories of joint compound: Setting compounds and drying compounds. Setting compounds contain plaster of Paris and harden through a chemical reaction. Drying compounds, on the other hand, harden through drying (evaporation) of their moisture.

Setting compounds are joint compounds which can take various times to dry. The fastest-drying only take about 10 minutes, while slower-to-dry versions can take 3 ½ hours. Watch out—these times estimate how long the compound will remain workable after you mix it, not after you apply it! So only get the 10-minute kind if you can mix AND apply the joint compound that fast. If you’re not a super-efficient professional, you will probably want one that takes a bit longer to become hard.

Setting compounds are good for filling large gaps in a wall, fixing holes, or for cutouts around electrical boxes which turned out to be too big. This type of joint compound is also good if you’re installing paper-covered metal bead. These compounds stick wonderfully, shrinks very little, and dries extremely hard. The downside is that their hardness also makes them hard to sand. Therefore, you need to be careful not to overapply them.

Easier-to-sand setting compounds are a lot like premixed joint compounds, but they dry fast. For this reason, you can only mix small batches of them, or they will harden up on you before you can finish using them.

Drying compounds, also known as “drywall mud,” are the most common type of joint compound. They are so named because their hardness comes from them drying out, rather than through a chemical reaction. These joint compounds come in both powder and premixed forms. Premixed joint compounds often need to be thinned before use. How much thinning they need depends on what you’re going to use them for—thin less if you’ll be using a knife to work with them; more if you’ll be using a spray-on texture.

All-purpose drying compounds can be used with all kinds of topcoats, even textured surfaces. This is a versatile type of joint compound, but specialized applications may be done better with a different type of compound.

Topping compounds are thin joint compounds. They are soupy and don’t have as much adhesive as the all-purpose variety. The upside is that they’re easier to feather and sand, and therefore they are ideal for the final coat.

Now that you know a bit about each of the kinds of joint compounds, you should be better able to choose the proper one to use on your drywall. With the proper compound and technique, you should be able to make a seamless wall which will look like a completely unbroken expanse.


Posted in Home — Knowledge Buff @ 4:00 PM

How To Avoid Ice Dams

Ice dams happen when ice on the roof melts, only to refreeze when it gets to the roof’s edges. The ice at the roof’s edge then dams up the liquid water behind it, forcing it to find another exit—often through the roof’s shingles. Therefore it is essential to avoid ice dams if you want to keep the roof in good condition.

There are several ways to avoid ice dams. You may need to use one or more of these methods for complete success.

The first way to avoid ice dams is to keep the roof cold. Insulate the attic, and seal every ceiling penetration. This helps keep heat intended for the living area down where it belongs, instead of allowing it to rise to the roof. When insulating the attic, make sure to keep vents to the outside clear. If insulation blocks the soffit vent, it will actually keep the attic and roof warmer—the exact opposite of the desired effect. There needs to be proper ventilation to keep the attic cold.

A properly-built roof will help avoid ice dams, as well as helping to prevent damage from those that do form. When reshingling (or even completely redoing a roof), install an ice-and-water membrane. These are 3-ft. wide waterproof membranes. They’re self-sealing, so you don’t have to worry about nail holes. They need to go from the roof’s edge up 2-3 ft. higher than the exterior wall.

The most labor-intensive way to avoid ice dams is to manually remove the snow from the roof. You can use a snow rake to pull the snow down from the roof, but with this method, you have to watch out not to hit any power lines. You will also have to then clear the snow from the ground, if having mounds of it below the roofline is a bother. There is some controversy to this method of avoiding ice dams. The Reader’s Digest Complete Do-It-Yourself Manual lists it as a viable method. State Farm Insurance, on the other hand, says that the routine scraping-off of snow is likely to cause shingle damage.

Another way to avoid ice dams is to use heating cable to heat the edge of the roof, the rain gutters, and the gutters’ downspout. There is cable made especially for this purpose. This is a surefire method, since it actively prevents water from being able to freeze in the affected area. Follow the manufacturer’s directions for installing the heating cable.

Since the last two methods involve hard, ongoing work, I prefer the second method of avoiding ice dams—the ice-and-water membrane. Since I have no attic in the house, there is no space up there to insulate. There are a lot less icicles out there since an ice-and-water membrane is installed, so it has made an improvement.


Posted in Home — Knowledge Buff @ 3:38 PM
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