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Are Smart-Grid Appliances Ready for Prime Time?

[from Moen.com]

Working to save consumers energy, money and time.

Smart products are here, ready or not

Although smart-grid appliances are still in their infancy, consumers are growing more familiar with this technology that promises energy savings for owners and utilities, plus a new level of connectivity in homes.

Manufacturers are rolling out products and features so fast that it can be hard to keep up. Here’s what you need to know to be smart-appliance savvy.

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Smartphone apps allow users to control smart appliances at their convenience, starting, stopping and changing functions remotely. Photo courtesy of LG.

Why do we need smart appliances?

Global energy consumption is predicted to triple by 2050. These numbers from the U.S. Department of Energy show just how vital home energy management will be in curtailing demand:

  • Residential housing consumes 37 percent of electricity produced in the U.S.
  • Appliances, lighting and HVAC represent 82 percent of household energy consumption.
  • U.S. households spend $1,400 per year on energy.

Utilities across the U.S. and the world are implementing residential smart meters to help improve grid efficiency and reduce electrical demand and costs, particularly during peak hours (typically 2–7 p.m.). They will also give information to consumers and smart appliances, so that both can adjust to less expensive and demanding options.

Where are smart meters in use?

There are now more than 46 million smart meters installed in U.S. homes, according to the Edison Foundation, with millions more coming.

Pilot programs in Louisville, Detroit, Martha’s Vineyard, Chicago and elsewhere, done in conjunction with appliance manufacturers, have turned up encouraging results. In Detroit, pilot customers reduced their energy bills by 11 percent, a $270 savings, over a 16-month period.

But you don’t have to have a smart meter to start using today’s smart appliances.

What can smart appliances do?

Smart products are rapidly becoming more useful and intriguing. As with the evolution of personal computers, manufacturers are touting models with greater capabilities and lower prices as the technology moves forward.

While the main reason for using smart appliances is energy reduction, many offer time savings and remote control through cellphones, which appeals to many consumers. Turning appliances on and off remotely, pre-heating an oven or turning up the AC via a smartphone is becoming routine, but there are many more options on the horizon.

Whirlpool’s 6th Sense Live appliances can automatically run when power is cheapest. By pressing the smart-grid button, the homeowner’s refrigerator, which is hooked up to an online database of energy prices, will choose the least expensive time to defrost. The dishwasher will turn itself on when the price is right, often after midnight. That can cut an appliance’s energy bill in half from peak use rates. (Owners can override those choices if they need to.)

On the time-saving front, some Samsung refrigerators have a built-in touchscreen that keeps track of food inside and can provide recipes using what you have on hand. LG has launched a feature that lets owners call up a list of what’s in their fridge on their phone, to assist shopping. In South Korea, LG’s home base, people can grocery shop online from the touchscreen. The Health Manager provides meal plans based on the user’s age, sex, weight, height and BMI. Look for those features to hit the U.S. soon.

The most-accessible smart features on the market are diagnostic. They allow owners to connect to customer service with a cellphone, so the product can emit a diagnostic code to analyze problems. Minor needs, like a refrigerator water filter, might be handled by homeowners, but if repairs are necessary, the technician shows up knowing exactly what’s wrong. Diagnostic options run about $300 extra on Whirlpool refrigerators; advanced touchscreen models can be in the $4,000 range.

Manufacturers are also launching smart water heaters, lighting systems, thermostats, HVAC and home management programs.

Who is the customer for today’s smart appliances?

Early adopters are most likely to purchase smart appliances, but these products are not yet big business. According to Pike Research, they totaled $613 million in sales in 2012, a fraction of the world market, but they will be the standard in a few years, experts say.

Making sure smart appliances stay relevant to consumer needs after purchase is a huge issue that has not been solved. GE and LG have launched some post-installation upgrades for smart products, but when large appliances sit in the average U.S. kitchen for 14 years, there has to be a cost-efficient solution to come.

Experts say replacing individual home appliances with smart options as necessary is a good way to get familiar with that technology, but that as time passes, products will improve, the smart grid will come to your client’s home and prices will no doubt decline, making them, indeed, a smarter buy.

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Upgrade Your Investment, While Adding Value to Your Return

Although much progress has been made in the recovery of our economy, homeowners still need to be careful about how much they invest in upgrading their property. There are four key areas in which a return on your investment is nearly a guarantee. With careful planning and budget-friendly options, making your home into to your dream home is within reach.

Start with the heart of the home; the kitchen. Re-facing cabinets is an affordable option.  In fact, the savings is about 75% over purchasing all new cabinets. Re-facing includes replacing the cabinet fronts, drawers and hardware on your structurally solid existing cabinetry. Another cost-effective option is a professional paint job on the existing cabinets and replacing the hardware.

Another great way to bring a new, fresh look to your kitchen is to replace your counter tops. If you think marble or granite are not within your financial means, think again. There are plenty avenues to purchase these materials at a discounted rate. Often times, stone yards have remnants at fraction of the cost. For an even more affordable option, durable laminate counter tops, which resemble granite or marble, are available.

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Freshening up your bathroom is a promising investment with a boost to your home’s bottom line. It’s generally the little things that have the most impact. A new sink, faucet and other fixtures can bring a whole new look and feel, while increasing your home’s value. Give your bathroom that extra punch, with a standard mirror, framed with tile or molding.

Think about your home from the top down. Curb appeal has the power to make or break a home appraisal and sale. A new roof is the number one way to entice a potential buyer. There are endless options of cost-efficient roofing materials. If you want to add color and aesthetic appeal, you’re sure to find it in a composite shingle. This budget-friendly alternative to metal, slate or tile, allows you to show off your personal style.

Potential home buyers are looking for homes with extended, outdoor living space. So much so, that it’s on the top ten list of “home must haves”. Extend your home by adding outdoor living space, such as a deck or patio. Having a nicely finished wooden deck or a stone patio is like having an outdoor family/dining room. There’s not much better than that.

 

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10 Details That Make the Kitchen (from Moen.com)

201408 onsite 10 kitchen details  1 10 Details That Make the Kitchen (from Moen.com)

Ample countertop space adjoins this stovetop and ovens, allowing landing areas for pots, dishes and anything needed while cooking. Photo by PhotographerLink, courtesy of Nar Fine Carpentry.

 

[This article appears courtesy of Moen.com]

Small design details make a big difference in functionality.

Myriad details determine the success of a kitchen design. Some are basic to optimal kitchen functionality, while others are personalized to the homeowner’s lifestyle. Still others have been culled from years of experience and are often what separate a professionally executed kitchen from one that serves up frustration.

Following are 10 kitchen areas where attention to detail can improve usability, comfort and visual appeal.

Aisles. Islands are a must-have in today’s kitchens, but just as important is the ability to maneuver around them with ease. Designer Nicolette Patton, CKD, of Nar Fine Carpentry in Carmichael, Calif., recommends an aisle space of 42 inches to 48 inches between an island and perimeter cabinetry. If there’s a dishwasher or refrigerator, widening the aisle to 48 inches or more allows the door to open with ample room left over for someone to pass by.

Pro-style ranges. Because some models are deeper than typical base cabinet depth, they may prevent adjacent cabinet doors and drawers from opening when placed too close to a corner, notes Jean Stoffer, eponymous owner of a Chicago-based interior design firm. Don’t assume all 36-inch pro-style ranges are equally deep. Consult the appliance specifications before finalizing the design.

Panel-ready vs. fully integrated refrigerators. Educate homeowners on the difference between the two, Patton says. The latter costs more but, when installed, is completely concealed; panel-ready units protrude a few inches and look like refrigerators with cabinet paneling. With fully integrated models, the base cabinets may need to be pulled 1 inch forward during installation or made deeper to ensure they’re flush with the refrigerator, Stoffer says.

Countertop corners. If opening the refrigerator causes the door to bump into a countertop corner, round the corner or angle it back, Stoffer suggests. Alternatively, install a 90-degree stop on the refrigerator door. If the refrigerator is housed in a tall cabinet, extending the side of the cabinet so it’s even with the countertop edge eliminates the corner altogether.

Landing space. Make sure there’s at least 18 inches of counter space on either side of the cooktop or range, notes Courtney Ziething, owner and head designer of C.C. and Company in Newport Beach, Calif. Similarly, wall ovens, microwaves and refrigerators also require nearby landing areas.

Counter seating. Provide enough room to accommodate “at least the family and possibly a few friends,” Ziething says. For the comfort of those seated, Patton recommends an overhang of at least 15 inches for a 36-inch-high countertop and 12 inches for one that’s 42 inches high.

Wall space. Not all wall space is an invitation to install cabinets, especially if it’s narrow and next to a window or a ventilation hood, Patton says. Instead, consider leaving it as is, which may enhance the kitchen’s overall aesthetic appeal and add a feeling of lightness.

Lighting. Position the lighting over work surfaces to eliminate shadows. And be mindful of scale when selecting pendants or chandeliers for suspension over an island or peninsula. The bottom of the light fixture should be at least 72 inches above the floor, Stoffer says.

Pot fillers. In northern climates, if the plumbing for a pot filler is located in an outside wall, it should be insulated against cold temperatures, which requires installing a thicker wall during framing, Stoffer says.

Natural stone countertops. For a cleaner look, the veining should align across seams when possible. On islands, which are centrally located and brightly illuminated, Patton eliminates this problem, as well as seams, by staggering counter heights and using different materials.

Posted in Kitchen Remodeling & Renovation.

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Worker Safety Considerations in Residential Remodeling

By Matt Blank

Worker safety in residential Remodeling is a top priority for us here at MBC Building & Remodeling, LLC. If a person cannot expect to be safe at work, the trade as a whole will suffer. Hundreds of Contractor Continuing Education courses every year in the US focus on keeping employees, clients and neighbors as safe as possible, while also highlighting the latest and greatest in advances in safety features for the different tools and machines needed to get projects done right.

Danger can be found in any corner of the house, no matter whether you’re remodeling a kitchen, bathroom or basement. Especially in exterior situations, such as windows, siding and roofing, safety must ALWAYS be on your mind; ladders and scaffolding of 40ft or higher may be needed.

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Here are the common safety inspections and precautions we go through on every project:

  • Where job materials will be placed – We always inspect first where and how we will get building supplies to the project. Can a truck dump it? Does it need to be hand carried? How do we keep it away from exits?
  • Where trash/dumpster will be placed – Workers need safe and efficient access to get rid of trash and debris, but it also needs to be in a spot that is easy for the truck to pick it up when it needs emptied. This is often in the driveway, and making sure it is not blocking the view of someone leaving the home is critical.
  • Level areas for ladders, scaffolds – This is not always the easiest to do, but a ladder/scaffold must be secure and level for workers. Sometimes plywood may be used to help level out the ground below.
  • Hard hats
  • Safety glasses
  • Rubber gloves
  • Dust masks
  • Yellow tape and/or signage when necessary – This could be blocking people from walking under or around a jobsite and/or dumpster.
  • Extra person– When a situation calls for an extra person on hand for helping with things like handling heavy jobsite materials or holding the ladder when climbing, it is always best practice to have at least one extra person on site and sometimes more depending on the size and scope of the project.

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Kitchen Remodel Cost Basics

What goes into the cost of your kitchen remodel? Many times meeting with prospective clients around Lancaster, PA, they want to know a ballpark estimate for what their kitchen will cost. There are many issues with this, but the first is we need to be able to get in the existing room and take a look at the current state of everything and then start to lay down the places you want it to go.

There are A LOT of different cost factors when it comes to remodeling your kitchen. Whether it is just some cosmetic upgrades or a complete tear out and replace, there are many small decisions that could wind up having a big effect on your final investment amount.

We begin to break it down below. Please note that there are still plenty of other factors that an experienced kitchen remodeler will understand and discuss, but this is a good guide to get started.

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Appliances –

  • Keep existing
  • Name brand and model type can significantly increase your Appliance allowances.

Cabinetry –

  • Type of wood
  • Type of finish
  • Door Style
  • Hardware
  • How many? All of these will determine the range your cabinetry budget fall under.

Walls/Ceilings –

  • The most common is painted drywall, of course.
  • People also choose plaster and wood for their project.
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Kitchen Addition inside after.

Countertops –

  • Laminate
  • Solid Surface (Corian)
  • Granite Slab
  • Quartz
  • Marble

Backsplash –

  • Sink with 4” backsplash combo
  • Laminate
  • Ceramic Tile – The style of tile you chose will determine the cost here. You could range anywhere from $1/sq ft to $40 or more.

Flooring –

  • Vinyl
  • Luxury Vinyl Tile
  • Ceramic Tile

Lighting Possibilities –

  • Decorative
  • Recessed, general light
  • Task under-cabinet
  • Ceiling fan/lights

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Plumbing –

  • Faucet with pull out spray
  • Pot-filler faucet
  • Garbage disposal
  • Moving the main sink area to another part of the kitchen
  • Instant hot water

Sink –

  • Porcelain
  • solid-surface
  • stainless steel
  • under mount
  • self-rimming

Other –

  • Bigger windows? We have several clients who have had us add a bay window behind their sink, replacing the original, smaller single hung window.
  • What’s behind the walls? Experts suggest saving an extra 10% over your budget as a rainy day fund because you can never know what’s behind the walls until you get in there and look.

When it’s time for your Kitchen remodel – call the best in Lititz, Lancaster, Mt. Joy, Conestoga, Millersville, Landisville, Elizabethtown… You get the idea!

MBC Building & Remodeling, LLC

Check out the Cost vs. Value Report 2014 for Central PA here.

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