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11 kitchen and bath design trends for 2011

 

Dark natural finishes, induction cooktops, satin nickel faucets, and LED lighting are among the top design trends for kitchens and bathrooms for 2011.

By NKBA Staff
February 13, 2011

More than 100 designers who are members of the National Kitchen & Bath Association (NKBA), and have designed kitchens or bathrooms during the last three months of 2010, participated in an NKBA survey to reveal design trends in the marketplace for 2011. The results of this survey suggest there will be some changes in the direction that kitchen and bath styles will take this year. Below are 7 kitchen trends and 4 bathroom trends that are poised to take hold in 2011. These are overall trends across the United States and Canada; they won’t necessarily appear in all geographic areas.

Kitchens

1) Shake It Up

The Shaker style began a rise in popularity in 2009 and gained momentum in 2010. By the end of the year, Shaker has supplanted Contemporary as the second most popular style used by NKBA member designers. While Traditional remains the most popular style, having been used by 76% of designers surveyed over that last three months of 2010, that’s a slight drop from the previous year. Meanwhile, the percent of respondents who designed contemporary kitchens fell to 48%, while Shaker rose to 55%. Cottage was the only other style to garner at least 20% of the market, as it registered at 21%.

2) Dark Finishes

Dark natural finishes overtook medium natural, glazed, and white painted finishes to become the most specified type of finish toward the end of 2010. While medium natural fell from being used by 53% to 48% of designers, glazed from 53% to 42%, and white painted from 49% to 47%, dark natural finishes rose from 42 to 51%. Light natural and colored painted finishes remained fairly common, as each rose slightly from the previous year: 24% to 25% for light natural and 24% to 29% for colored paints. Distressed finishes dropped significantly from a year ago, when they were used by 16% of designers, to just 5%.

3) A Place for Wine

While the incorporation of wine refrigerators seems to be on the decline (see Bonjour Réfrigérateur below), unchilled wine storage is growing in popularity. While only 39% of surveyed designers incorporated wine storage areas into their kitchens at the end of 2009, just over half—51%—did so as 2010 came to a close. While other types of cabinetry options remain more common, most are on the decline, including tall pantries (89% to 84%), lazy Susans (90% to 78%), and pull-out racks (81% to 71%). Appliance garages also seem to be falling out of favor, as their use declined from 36% at the end of 2009 to 29% a year later.

4) Bonjour Réfrigérateur

The French door refrigerator has strengthened its position as the type specified most often by NKBA member designers. While freezer-top refrigerators were only specified by 8% of designers as 2010 drew to a close—down from 10% a year earlier, freezer-bottom models fell very slightly from 60% to 59% and side-by-side units actually rose slightly from 46% to 49%. Meanwhile, French door refrigerators jumped from 67% to 78%. Among smaller units, refrigerator or freezer drawers remained flat at 31%, while undercounter wine refrigerators fell sharply from 50% to 36%, an interesting change given the increasing use of unchilled wine storage.

5) Inducting a New Cooktop

Induction cooktops haven’t overtaken gas and electric models, but they’re closing the gap. As we entered 2010, gas cooktops had been recently specified by 76% of NKBA designers, compared to 38% for electric and 26% for induction. However, while the incorporation of gas cooktops has fallen to 70%, electric cooktops has risen slightly to 41%, while induction cooktops are up to 34%. Meanwhile, single wall ovens are down from 46% to 42%, although double wall ovens are up from 68% to 74%. In addition, warming drawers are down from 49% to 42%, and ranges are down sharply from 81% to 68%.

6) LED Lighting

Incandescent lighting continues its journey to obsolescence. While 50% of NKBA member designers incorporated incandescent bulbs into their designs at the end of 2009, only 35% have done so a year later. Instead, designers are clearly opting for more energy-efficient lighting options. While the use of halogen lighting is down from 46% to 40% over the past year, LED (light-emitting diode) lighting has increased from 47% to 54%. Designers aren’t turning to CFLs (compact fluorescent lights) as a solution, though, most likely due to the poor quality of light they produce; their use by designers remained flat at 35%.

7) Trashy Designs

A greater emphasis is being made to address trash considerations in the kitchen. Some 89% of kitchens designed by NKBA members in the final quarter of 2010 include a trash or recycling pull-outs. In addition, garbage disposals were incorporated by 86% of designers, up from 75% the previous year. Trash compactors have also become more common. Entering 2010, they were recently used in designs by 11% of designers, but a year later, that figure had climbed to 18%. These changes may be due to an increase in sustainability awareness, but they certainly indicate an increase in concern toward trash generated in the kitchen.

Bathrooms

1) Quartz Countertops

Quartz continues to take away market share from granite in the market for bathroom vanity tops. A year ago, 85% of NKBA bathroom designers incorporated granite into a recent design, compared to just 48% for quartz, but now, that gap has narrowed to 83% for granite and 54% for quartz. Unlike in the kitchen, solid surfaces haven’t gained much popularity in the bathroom, increasing only from 23% to 25% over the past year. Meanwhile, solid marble has declined from 46% to 37%, while cultured marble and onyx have increased from 12% to 19%. No other material has even 10% of the market.

2) Green Bathrooms

No, we’re not referring to eco-friendly spaces—we literally mean green bathrooms. A year ago, green color palettes were used by only 14% of NKBA designers, but at the end of 2010, that figure had risen to 24%. Still, whites and off-whites, beiges, and browns are the three most commonly used color tones in bathrooms. However, while white and off-white palettes are up slightly from 57% to 60%, beiges are down sharply from 66% to 57%, while browns have dropped from 48% to 38%. Other common color tones include blues at 22%, grays at 21%, and bronzes and terracottas at 17%.

3) A Worthy Vessel

Under-mount sinks continue to dominate newly remodeled bathrooms, with 97% of NKBA bathroom designers having specified them over the last three months of 2010, up from 95% a year earlier. However, vessel sinks have become the clear second choice among designers, as 51% of NKBA member designers have specified them in the final quarter of 2010, up from 39% a year ago. Integrated sink tops were also up from 34% to 38%, pedestal sinks were up from 21% to 29%, and drop-in sinks were up from 23% to 27%. This shows that bathroom designers have been specifying more lavoratory sinks across the board.

4) Satin Nickel Faucets

This trend relates to both bathrooms and kitchens. From the end of 2009 to the end of 2010, the percent of NKBA designers who specified a satin nickel faucet rose from 41% to 63% in the kitchen and from 45% to 57% in the bathroom, while the percent who specified a brushed nickel faucet fell from 61% to 48% in the kitchen and from 66% to 38% in the bathroom. Other popular faucet finishes in both the kitchen and bathroom are bronze and oil-rubbed bronze, polished chrome, and polished nickel. However, while stainless steel is popular in the kitchen, specified recently by 44% of designers, that figure drops to just 16% in the bathroom.

ABOUT NKBA

The National Kitchen & Bath Association (NKBA) is a non-profit trade association that has educated and led the kitchen and bath industry for more than 45 years. NKBA.org provides consumers with an inspiration gallery of award-winning kitchen and bath designs, as well as articles, tips, and an extensive glossary of remodeling terms. At NKBA.org, consumers can also find certified kitchen and bath professionals in their areas, submit questions to NKBA experts, and order the free NKBA Kitchen Planner and NKBA Bath Planner.

via Custom Builder

For beautiful kitchens, baths and entire homes that you will delight in and which will support and enhance your lifestyle regardless of your age or ability level, please contact Wendy at Hoechstetter Interiors for an evaluation of your present home or new construction project, and for assistance in creating the forever home of your dreams, no matter what your color, style, or materials preferences.

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A beautiful example of a stylish and fully accessible bathroom, complete with curbless shower/wet room, handheld showerhead, accessible sink, and well-placed grab bars. Notice how spacious this room feels without the tub or traditional shower one would normally have expected to find here, with the flooring continuous right into the shower. I'm pretty sure there's a seat just out of sight. This was designed by a professional who really fully understands accessible bathroom design.

“Despite the effect on resale value, replacing a tub with a shower is increasingly popular as aging-in-place remodeling gains interest. According to a National Association of Home Builders Remodelers survey, 70% of remodelers now report making universal-design home modifications, compared with 60% in 2006. Additionally, 60% of remodelers say these projects include adding a curbless shower, as well as grab bars, higher toilets, and wider doorways. Though most requests come from clients over age 55, more consumers are making the requests on behalf of aging or disabled family members.”

— Lauren Hunter, associate editor, REMODELING

==================================

This makes all the sense in the world for me, on several levels.

For starters, it reflects a greater focus on creating a home that is what people want for themselves, not viewing the place as an investment they are just parking in. Yes, it’s wonderful when you sell to make money, and to get the price you are hoping for or more, but what good is it, really, if you aren’t comfortable and don’t enjoy living in it yourself? Value is not necessarily measured in dollars, but in getting the biggest bang for your buck – and making sure you get what you need to support your own health and lifestyle before you try to worry about some hypothetical later buyer. Surround yourself with beautiful things and colors that you love, and the greatest (and longest lasting) reward you will reap will be your own delight and joy while you yourself live there.

Second, the reality is that our population is aging, and a far higher percentage of us are going to have to age in place whether we want to or not, just because the Baby Boomer generation is going to overwhelm our existing elder care options. Nobody really wants to leave the home that they love, but more savvy people are realizing that it makes sense to plan ahead for as many potential change scenarios as they can, while they are still able-bodied enough to do so, taking the time to do it right.

By middle age, too, the body starts breaking down, of course, and none of us can do all of what we could do when we were younger, or at least very few, and this process just accelerates as we get older. People are starting to face these realities, particularly as they see their parents and friends running into problems staying in their homes because of design that interferes with being able to do so safely and easily.  Particularly if people still love their homes and neighborhoods, remodeling to ease the transitions of getting older makes a lot of sense – and planning for it in advance of actually needing the modifications makes even more sense.

Curbless showers are particularly nice, because people in wheelchairs can just roll right in with no obstacles to overcome, there’s nothing for anyone else to trip over, either, and they make cleaning the floor a breeze, because there are fewer nooks and crannies for dirt to hide in, as with a traditional shower, and the entire floor has a tiny, imperceptible slope that prevents water from pooling anywhere.  They also make a smaller bathroom look a lot bigger because the continuous floor visually expands space, while anything that interrupts that span, like a shower curb, makes it look smaller.  It’s easier to get both kids and dogs in than to try to get them into a tub and keep them there, and controls placed low enough to be reachable by a seated user are also easier for children to reach.  The advantages go on and on.  And with today’s vast range of materials and finishes, your bathroom can still look every bit as stunning when accessible to everyone, regardless of whether you prefer a contemporary or a traditional look.

If you’ve got enough space for both a tub and a freestanding shower, you’ve got many more options, but if you can only fit one in, the shower offers more option for ease of use combined with beautiful aesthetics.

Many times these modifications are surprisingly easy and economical to do, especially if you are planning ahead and not under the gun of dealing with an emergency situation.  If you are already planning a remodel, make sure you include as many accessibility features as possible, particularly if you already have a medical condition that you know will eventually cause you to need to make changes to the house.  An interior designer who is a Certified Aging in Place Specialist to help you get the most bang for your buck (and time invested) in terms of both function and aesthetics, and integration with the rest of your home.

If you want to be sure you can stay in your home as you age, or as you move in elderly parents, or to enable disabled friends or other relatives to visit, contact Hoechstetter Interiors for anything from an evaluation of your current situation and recommendations to complete remodeling or new construction assistance to ensure accessibility, ease of use, and beauty for YOUR lifestyle.

Following are a few other images of beautiful bathrooms with roll-in (or near roll-in) showers and other accessibility features.  Future posts will look at accessibility issues and features in other rooms of the house.

This is a very tiny and narrow bathroom, but look how big it looks because of the open shower, continuous flooring, suspended vanity, and that marvelous huge mirror.  This stunning shower might be a little difficult for a wheelchair user to use in its present form because there’s no room to turn around, and hard to get assistance in if needed, but either a roll-in shower chair or the addition of a pull-down bench would allow for comfortable seating and easy transfer to the bench.  If this is all the space you’ve got, though, it’s definitely still workable even if a bit cramped – and without architectural changes.  Of course, grab bars would need to be added as well.  However, the handheld shower and controls are at a good height for a seated user (or children!), and you can see how well the shower integrates into the room without curbs, and how it visually expands the limited space.  The sink and vanity are already fully accessible because of the open space underneath, and placement at a height and with a depth that everyone in the family can use easily.

 

Even grab bars don’t have to be dull and institutional-looking.  Here is only one example of a growing number of beautifully designed styles of bathroom hardware that are designed to integrate beautifully with – or completely match – the rest of your fixtures and fittings, even in a more traditionally designed bathroom like this one.  The translucent fold-down shower seat nearly disappears visually.  I can’t tell if this is actually a roll-in shower or not, but it certainly could be.  The only thing noticeably missing here is a handheld showerhead and shower controls reachable from the seat.  It’s really a shame when a room is this attractively designed with such obvious intent to make it accessible, and such major elements are left out.  It’s on the right track, though, and shows how style and beauty simply need not be sacrificed even in a more traditional design.  If the necessary plumbing changes simply aren’t in the budget, there are add-on handheld showers that can be purchased separately and attached to the main showerhead that can bring additional functionality to a situation like this if need be.

 

This lovely “room within a room” shower still has a curb, but it’s low enough that most people would be able to navigate it with much less difficulty than with a standard curb (or tub edge!), and with help, a wheelchair could be gotten over it if necessary.  If designing this room from scratch, though, or remodeling it, it would be easy to eliminate it altogether with a little more attention paid to the way the floor slopes to the drain, with or without the contrasting flooring inside the shower and out.  The window ledge doubles as a seat (although perhaps a little low here) – totally functional, and totally unobtrusive as to purpose.  Add grab bars and a handheld showerhead, and this is another stunning example of how a shower can be accessible to all without sacrificing one iota of style.

 

This prefabricated showerpan is a lower cost way to achieve full accessibility in the shower.  That lip holds the water in, but is compressible, so that a wheelchair will just roll right over it, or you can step right on it if you can’t pick up your feet very far.  Add a drop down bench, and be sure there’s a handheld showerhead, and this is yet another well-designed accessible shower that integrates well into an attractive bathroom.  Horizontal grab bars are generally more useful and safer than slanted ones, but every little bit helps.  The sink, however, is not accessible as is, but could easily be made so by replacing the cabinet base with something that allows seated access as in some of the other images shown here, or by installing a cabinet base that can have doors while people are still all mobile, but which are designed to be easily removable later if wheelchair accessibility becomes necessary.

Many times, aging-in-place design allows for changes like this with flexible base cabinets when they become necessary, while retaining more “traditional” features until such time as they are needed.

Other options are installing backing in the shower in anticipation of adding grab bars later.  I’ve learned from hard personal experience, though, that you should buy the grab bars when you buy the rest of your fittings, and just store them away if you don’t want to install them right away.  It can take weeks or months to order something you’d really like to live with, and if you are injured (as I was last year, with a broken foot), even if you’ve already got the backing in place and every other accessibility feature set to go, you’ll get stuck with ugly hardware store special grab bars if you need them suddenly, or with finding a way to do without, which defeats the whole point.

(If anyone knows the photo credits for these images, please let me know and I will be happy to add the attributions.  My new software on my new Mac has eaten all the credits I had stored in the prior version on my PC <sigh>.)

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Image from Sparkly Like a Holiday

OK, I admit it.  I’m stealing this topic from Paul Anater, over at Kitchen and Residential Design.  But I’m not going to say the same things.

Yes, I quite agree that chalkboard paint is overdone – and way overdone in several of the images he shows.  It’s old.  It’s boring.  It’s dated.  There are clearly limits to its usefulness, safety, and definitely to its appearance.  Not only can it be toxic when it gets into your food as Paul mentions, but chalk dust can also be a major problem for people who have allergies, asthma, or chemical sensitivities, so it would not foster an accessible design for people who suffer from such afflictions.  It would also violate universal and visitability design principles, as it could create a similar hazard for other users of the space, particularly visitors whose sensitivities might be unknown.  Chalk dust doesn’t do anything for overall air quality, either, so that lowers the green design reusability quotient of the paint, never mind what the VOC content of it might be.

Now that we’ve looked at the potential health hazards, let’s focus more on the visual elements.

Looking at the images Paul posted, the ones that really offend me the most are the refrigerator fully covered in the dreadful green version of the paint, that huge, frightening expanse of black wall and door, and yes, that hideous kitchen. (more…)

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Canned Foods (Consumer Reports)

Image courtesy of Consumer Reports

Almost everyone knows by now that many of the refillable water bottles we love are lined with an epoxy-based material that contains carcinogenic chemical called Bisphenol A (BPA). Public outcry has resulted in several manufacturers now offering bottles with alternative, non-epoxy-based linings.

What is not quite so well known, however, is that the linings of most food and beverage cans are also this same type of epoxy resin that also contain BPA. This is the chemical that is responsible for the vastly longer shelf lives of canned foods in this day and age, which is why it’s become so ubiquitous.

Consumer Reports recently tested a variety of canned foods for its presence, and found that even organic foods, and those made by manufacturers who make a concerted effort to avoid the epoxy resins still have significant levels of BPA in the food samples tested. Only one manufacturer, Eden, has so far managed to find a source of cans that was even willing to address the problem and attempt to make cans without BPA.

Despite being packed in cans made by the Ball Corp. with the oleo-based material previously known as “corn enamel”, which was common in food can linings prior to the 60s, testing still found measurable levels of BPA in Eden’s foods (although vastly below those found in other brands), suggesting that there may be multiple sources of exposure to the chemical in the food chain, not just in the cans.

You can read the rest of the whole article about this, and learn about the FDA’s new assessments of what a safe level of BPA exposure may be on the Consumer Reports blog.

So should you clean out your kitchen cabinets, throw away all of your canned foods, and never buy any more? In the ideal world, perhaps yes, but we all know that we don’t live in one. BPA is one of the highest volume chemicals in the world, though, even found in dust and water samples from all over the world, so at this point, it’s completely unavoidable in the environment, and it would be a reasonable assumption that this is one of the additional sources Consumer Reports speculates about. Eliminating BPA from food can linings may help, but until that happens, you can at least dramatically decrease your exposure to it by avoiding canned food wherever possible.

So what does this have to do with interior design?

Kitchen Storage

Kristi Stratton, CountryLiving.com

Well, clearly kitchens are where food is stored and prepared, and most are now designed with as much storage space as possible for both housewares and packaged foods. You may find, however, that as you reduce your reliance on canned goods and other processed foods, that you may need different types of storage, and it may need to be configured somewhat differently. Many things can be packaged in glass or ceramic containers instead of plastic or cans, but both glass and ceramics tend to be a lot heavier and bulkier than cans and plastic containers, and of course will break if dropped, so you’ll need to pay careful attention to how your storage is laid out so that they are easily – and safely – accessible. Increased refrigeration space may be required as well, in order to accomm0date a wider range of fresh produce and other foods.

It may be that you won’t actually even need as much space, though, because the shorter shelf lives of fresh foods and those that come in jars instead of cans means you’ll probably be shopping more often, but for smaller quantities. Or perhaps you’ll start buying in bulk and doing your own canning and preserving.

Well Stocked Pantry with Preserved Foods

Library of Congress via TheSustainableKitchen.com

You’ll be chopping up more things, so ensuring adequate preparation space that suits your needs and ideally allows you to work while seated as well as standing will be useful.

You may need or want additional cooktop burners or additional and innovative cooking sources like the marvelous new steam or combination steam/convection ovens. Steaming is one of the best possible ways to prepare food, locking in both nutrients and moisture, and these ovens make it so incredibly convenient that you wouldn’t believe it.

Miele Steam Oven

Miele Steam Oven

And because it’s healthier for both you and the environment, avoiding canned foods and learning to make your own fresh, more healthful meals from scratch, you’ll also be being much more green. True sustainable design doesn’t end with the cabinets and other finishes used; it translates through to how the space is used, how waste is removed, and much, much more.

So, if you’re designing a new kitchen, you’ll need to take these changing food preparation habits into account, and communicate your desires to your designer, so that the space can be optimized for food preparation patterns that are less common today than they used to be, and with which you yourself may not yet be as familiar with the requirements of and ways to optimize.

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cooker2 fire

Source: Fireflash.org

There’s a terrific article on kitchen fires and a variety of innovative fire prevention devices that can be used in the kitchen on Laurie Burke’s excellent Kitchen Design Notes blog. It’s a rather comprehensive look at the number one cause of home fires and ways to prevent them, and I highly recommend that everyone read it. Especially look at the first video, which shows very graphically how quickly a fire can spread, and the effects of various methods of attempting to put them out. That video is hands down the best I’ve ever seen for consumers about how to deal with kitchen fires – and how quickly they spread.

Watching the video sent me into flashbacks, though, I have to tell you! I had a kitchen fire myself a few years ago that started when I accidentally turned on the wrong burner when I went to heat water for tea. I had gotten lazy about putting away my pots and pans, so there was one sitting on every burner – and a plastic microwave food cover on top of the one on the burner behind the one I *thought* I was turning on. That, of course, was the burner I actually did turn on – and the whole thing went up in flames when the plastic heated up.

All I can say is thank God for my smoke detector, since I was in another room.

You can’t imagine how terrifying it is to go into your kitchen and see flames reaching to the ceiling, and the room filled with smoke, even when expecting at least some smoke.

Thank God I’ve always kept a fire extinguisher in the kitchen – and for my paramedic background and working so much with fire departments, because I knew to aim it at the base of the flames, not to use water, etc.

There are a couple of things the video did not emphasize enough, in my opinion, or even address, so I’m going to mention them here. Following that, I’m going to discuss electric fires in the home. Kitchen fires are the number one cause of housefires, and electric fires are high up the list as well, so it’s useful to discuss both together.

Additional fire safety tips:

1. The one thing the video really does not emphasize enough is not to fool around repeatedly trying to put the fire out if you can’t get it out right away when you discover it, regardless of the cause. Precisely because the flames can spread so quickly, you could easily get trapped and badly burned or killed by flames – and smoke inhalation is actually the most frequent cause of fire fatalities in the home. So get out of the house ASAP, and call for help from outside or a neighbor’s.

Some fires can be fought more readily than others, too, so here are some tips on how to decide whether or not to try to fight it yourself, and more about how to do so safely if you decide to – and when not to even try.

2. And get out even if you think you’ve gotten the fire completely put out, if it’s gone beyond the confines of the actual pan, or if you don’t know the source. Call the fire department anyways, and stay out until they clear you to return.

Once a fire gets going like they showed in the video, it can also damage the wiring to the stove, hood, overhead microwave, etc., and that alone can result in reignition and further fire damage, even once the initial flames are out.

3. Inspect your fire extinguisher at least once a month, according to the manufacturer’s instructions. You can also take it to your local fire station to have it inspected, which is also an excellent idea to ensure that there is no damage such as corrosion that could cause it to fail. Further information on care and maintenance can be found here.

4. Never, ever reuse a fire extinguisher, unless you have it professionally recharged. Even if you haven’t fully used it up, there may not be enough powder or pressure left to put out another fire, and the time you waste in trying to get it to work could cost you your life. You can have some of them recharged, or you can replace it.

They’re inexpensive – don’t stint on this. It’s not worth it – believe me. I was lazy about replacing mine after using it on some burning food in my oven at one point despite knowing better – and it initially failed when my kitchen really caught fire. I was fortunate that it finally worked and did put out the fire, but it was a very close call, and those wasted moments trying to get it to work and the added panic it caused me could have cost me my whole house.

5. Never stand a fire extinguisher up on end. Lay it down on the floor, or attach it to a wall or cabinet. The reason is that the contents are under pressure, and if the cylinder falls over and the valve is damaged, at best it will damage the extinguisher and render it useless, but it could also cause it to actually explode, and at minimum, cause the valve assembly to blow off with great force, which by itself could cause a lot of damage or injury. The article in the link is about a recall for this hazard in 1991, but any tank of pressurized gas or powder that sustains damage to its valve assembly can also go off like a rocket like this. It’s a hazard that is well known to scuba divers, and to anyone who works with any kind of compressed gas. Even if that doesn’t happen, a damaged valve may malfunction and result in the fire extinguisher not working when you need it.

6. Your best bet for most home uses is to have a dry chemical ABC fire extinguisher, which is usable on all types of fires. BC extinguishers like a couple of the ones shown on the video will not work well on paper, wood, and other ordinary combustibles like cardboard and plastics, all of which are often involved in fires in addition to the grease they featured in the video. A complete explanation of different types of fire extinguishers, ratings, and what each of the ABCD categories refer to can be found on the Fire Extinguisher 101 website.

7. Keep the fire extinguisher near a door, where you can reach it easily. Do not keep it on the stovetop, or tucked inside a cabinet, as you will not be able to reach it in the event of a stove fire.

8. Keep fire extinguishers in other rooms in addition to the kitchen, particularly in utility spaces such as laundry rooms and garages which can be sources of high fire danger.

9. Keep combustibles away from sources of heat and flame. That means no curtains next to the stove, or piles of paper, and no lit candles or open fires next to curtains or the like.

10. Don’t leave your cooking unattended, or other sources of flame such as candles and fires in the fireplace.

11. Make sure you also have a fire extinguisher (also ABC) accessible in your car.

12. Make sure you have smoke detectors, and test them regularly. Even if you have a hard-wired alarm system, as I do, you may not be able to rely on that. Call you alarm company periodically and check to be sure that they have the current phone numbers for your local fire dispatch or department.

My company for some reason didn’t have the current number, so when the fire set off my alarm, the company couldn’t reach fire dispatch. They kept calling me instead, which of course was useless. Even though I live directly up the hill from my local station, and it shouldn’t have taken more than 4-6 minutes for them to get to my house, it took 15 minutes to finally get them up here – and I had to call them myself ultimately, once I realized they were not coming as expected. If the house had caught fire, it could have burned to the ground by then, and would have certainly already been fully involved and not salvageable.

ELECTRICAL FIRES

Burned Outlet

Source: Aluminum Wiring Information Website

Now, speaking of the wiring burning, in addition to kitchen fires, electrical fires are among the top causes of housefires. These have a variety of causes including faulty appliances, old, defective wiring, poor maintenance, electrical system failure of various sorts – and overloading the circuits. According to the BSafe Electrix website’s excellent list of facts about electrical fires, some of the issues include:

– Wiring problems in the home result in 67,800 fires, 485 deaths, and $868,000,000 in annual property losses.

– A disproportionate number of electrical fires occurring in structures 40 years old or older.

– Children under 5 are twice as likely to die in house fires as anyone else.

– Dormitory, fraternity and sorority house fires number 1,500 annually, resulting in 75 fatalities and injuries, and causing property losses of $9,100,000.We’ve all been in houses where you can’t run both a hairdryer and the toaster at the same time without blowing the fuses. This sort of thing is an indicator of overloaded circuits, and it is invariably inconvenient.

We’ve all been in houses where you can’t run a hairdryer and a portable electric heater or toaster at the same time, and attempts to do so result in instant blackouts as the fuses blow. Certainly, this sort of thing is inconvenient and annoying.

What most people don’t realize, however, is that it’s also a tremendous fire hazard. Modern building codes require the kitchen to have its own circuits, separate from the rest of the house, which helps prevent these kinds of problems, but there are still a lot of older buildings out there whose electrical systems have not been modernized, so these kinds of things happen much more often in those situations. Older buildings just were not designed to handle the electrical loads we put on them these days, and unless major renovations are done, there is no requirement to bring them up to current code.

Even in a commercial situation, where building codes are even more stringent than they are in a residential setting, fires are often caused because of excess plug load (what gets plugged in) – which is also the number one cause of out of control electric bills in that setting, and excessive energy use. Tenants/employees have an amazing propensity to want to plug in all kinds of extra things like table lamps, portable electric heaters, chargers for handheld electronics, etc. that designers, architects, and engineers typically do not even consider when designing the space and the electrical system. Wise employers will limit or prohibit employees from plugging in all kinds of extraneous equipment, which will decrease both their expenses and their fire risks. A good designer will query you closely about your need for things of this nature and take them into consideration in the design, but particularly in a commercial setting, it’s not always possible to speak to every user of the building, so the electrical system is usually designed to handle what is built in plus the minimum number of required additional outlets and circuits, without regard to individual usage patterns or desires.

Another major cause of electrical fires is that over time, the connections inside the plugs, light switches, and junction boxes can come loose, and the resulting arcing of current when it runs through the wires can cause melting and ignition of the wires themselves, as well as the surrounding building materials. Ideally, wiring should be inspected annually to try to spot these hazards before they cause trouble.

Homes that are built with aluminum wiring are at particularly high risk of fire, as aluminum can’t handle the loads as well as copper can. If the aluminum wiring has copper pigtails, the wirenuts that are used to connect the two materials can come loose over time, and the gel inside them that prevents the aluminum and copper from coming into direct contact with one another can dry up. When that happens, the Al/Cu interaction generates heat – and will cause a fire if not caught quickly. Because these things happen inside the walls, they usually are not discovered until the fire breaks out. The fire/heat/melting can travel through the walls and by the time it breaks through the walls, the whole house can go up in an instant like a fireball.

Again, I learned about Al/Cu wiring and the connectors, as well as the arcing issue, the hard way – through experience. I was lucky, though. The near-fire started in a light switch in the kitchen (just by chance) – and also just by chance, I happened to still be awake, and found it when I went to turn off the light on my way to bed. Thank God I’m a night person, because this was at 1:30 in the morning. If I’d have been asleep, I’d have likely died in my bed.

The cure for this problem is to ideally completely rewire the house with all copper wiring, but given that that is often cost-prohibitive and typically will require tearing out a lot of walls and more, the most practical solution for most people is to replace all of the wirenuts in the entire residence with new ones that meet current code, or ideally to install Copalum crimping. You can find everything you ever wanted or needed to know about aluminum wiring, its hazards, and mitigation of them at the Aluminum Wiring Information Website.

I warned my homeowner’s association about this issue, knowing that it could endanger our entire complex, but they wouldn’t listen. Sure enough, several years later, we had a major fire elsewhere in the complex that destroyed one townhouse and seriously damaged three others. In that case, the fire was caused by arcing due to loose connections – which would have likely been detected had the association required everyone to inspect and repair their wiring as I did following my own near-miss. In that case, the owner of the destroyed home where the fire started told me that her housekeeper was complaining that the vacuum cleaner wasn’t working in any of several outlets. She said that the fire suddenly burst through the walls like an explosion and spread so quickly that from the instant it started, right in front of them, they were barely able to get out of the house.

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remodelling-buyers-market

If you’ve put remodelling and redecorating plans on hold because of the economy and thinking you can’t afford to do it right now, it’s definitely time to rethink that position, for a variety of reasons.

If you’re like many people, you’re likely spending more time at home these days instead of out and about, eating out, going to theater and concerts, travelling, etc. So why not be sure the space you’re spending all this additional time in is your dream place to be?

Unlike the money you spend on vacations and the like, which brings fleeting joy, the money you invest into your home may pay back when it comes time to sell, but just as importantly (or even more so), it will also reward you psychically and emotionally every single day you live there by making your home even more comfortable for every day living. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to come home at the end of each day and feel that thrill of being in a space that you love and that nurtures you no matter what else is going on in your world? To have a home that you actually don’t even want to leave?

You don’t have to spend a lot of money, if you don’t want to or really can’t afford to – even just a fresh coat of paint, some new throw pillows, a new painting or area rug, or moving the artwork or furniture you already have around to different locations can give you a facelift and needed boost. New lighting, new fixtures, and new hardware for your doors and cabinetry are other inexpensive upgrades that can pack a lot of punch.

Don’t know quite what to do, and can’t afford to hire a designer to do the whole thing? Most will consult on an hourly basis to give you any needed advice that can help you avoid expensive mistakes, and to get you pointed in the right direction to complete the job yourself.

However, if you can possibly come up with the cash, now is very definitely the time to go ahead those more major remodelling projects you’ve been putting off, or to remodel a home you’d hoped to sell but now find you have to remain in.

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Cricket looking more disgruntled than she really was at the time

Cricket looking more disgruntled than she really was at the time

I’m sitting here with Cricket on my lap, my boyfriend’s cat who’s “on loan” for a few days, since I volunteered to cat sit while he’s out of town. It’s been a few years since I had a kitty of my own in the house, my beloved old Standard Poodle Fennel

Fennel

Fennel (RB) at "summer camp" - where I used to board him when I traveled.

died last fall, and I’m still hunting for my next puppy, so I’ve been completely petless for a little while now – for the first time in 18 years. It’s really weird. Although I live about half time with Cricket and her daddy, it’s really not the same as having one of my own, in my own home all the time. So, while I really miss my guy, I’m really enjoying having Cricket here, and as I deal with the fur and litter box, I’m reminded of all of the fun – and the hassles – of pet ownership – including the implications for interior design.

Anyone who has ever had a pet knows that they pose a challenge to having and maintaining a beautiful home, even when they’re very well trained. Accidents and messes are just a part of life with an animal in the house, which includes vomiting, tracking dirt in, and anything from occasional incontinence to outright bad behavior making them soil anywhere they want, as well as other issues such as cats scratching the furniture, climbing the drapes, etc. The soiling issues also get worse as the pet ages, or if it develops health problems.

People often ask me how they can still have a nice home when they share it with pets, so here are some thoughts.

PREVENTION FIRST

No matter what materials you choose for your home, your first line of defense is obviously to make sure that Fido or Garfield are well-trained so that they do their business where they are supposed to, and use scratching posts, climbing towers designed for the purpose, and their own chewtoys instead of the furniture and drapes to exercise their natural instincts to chew, climb, and scratch. Keeping the critters off of the furniture altogether will help preserve it, but for most people these days, that’s not an option, and you still have to deal with the floors anyways.

Regular bathing and grooming of your pet will also keep it clean and prevent shedding, which will help immensely with maintaining the cleanliness of your home.

WHAT’S UNDERFOOT?

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