Ah, summer! Many people look forward to the warmer weather and casual atmosphere that arrives with the summer months. From out of the garage come the bikes and skateboards, the gardening tools and golf clubs…..if you can find them, that is. Isn’t it about time to organize the garage? Continue reading for some helpful tips.

Is your garage a catchall for the equipment you use when involved in activities such as gardening, home maintenance or sports? How often are you frustrated by your inability to find your favorite garden clipper or paintbrush? It is high time to get your garage organized so everything has a specified place of its own and you know where it belongs. When that happens, you will be pleased to find out that your car fits back inside as well!

Many people want to tidy up the garage, but get overwhelmed by the magnitude of the job and then give up. To keep that from happening, start with a detailed plan that has been custom designed for your individual storage needs and that functions well for your preferred activities. If you wish, the plans can outline how the project is to be completed in stages, rather than all at once.

Similar to your kitchen, a garage may be divided into zones so more than one person may be active in the space without bumping elbows. For example, do you complete small woodworking projects in your garage? Place all the tools necessary for this hobby within easy reach of your work bench. On the other hand, you should separate this activity from the area where another family member enjoys repotting plants.

The mainstay of today’s garage storage systems is a specially designed heavy-duty rail or panel that is mounted along the garage wall perimeter. From this rail many different modular components, consisting of lockable cabinets, wire baskets, shelving, work surfaces, hooks and other accessories, may be hung. Utilize not only the garage walls, but also the ceiling, to maximize your storage possibilities. Ceiling hooks work well for bicycles and ladders, while a shelf suspended from the ceiling can store items you use infrequently. These systems will protect your items from damage, increase their longevity, and eliminate the safety hazard they present when left lying about the garage. Since these systems are designed to be adjustable without tools, the components can be easily rearranged and new ones added as your needs change.

To increase the functionality of your garage, also consider adding a heavy-duty sink for clean-up (this would require plumbing), a non-porous stain-resistant floor covering, as well as a refrigerator/freezer. If your garage is uninsulated, the refrigerator/freezer should be designed to endure extreme temperatures and humidity.

27 Jun / 2011

Outdoor Rooms


For a culture that spends much of its work day inside, having a connection to the outdoors while at home is very desirable. Have you ever thought about creating an outdoor room for your home? Read below for ideas on how to make the most of the outdoor living at your home.

After a day spent indoors, the freshness of an outdoor living retreat can help you unwind, de-stress, and enjoy the natural surroundings. In California, where the temperate Mediterranean climate allows for outdoor living in three seasons, a new outdoor room can be a cost-effective extension to the living space of your home and the perfect spot for relaxing with family and entertaining friends.

Determine the Best Use of Your Outdoor Space

In thinking about your room, the first thing to decide is how you will use it. Do you want to relax, eat, or entertain, in your room-or all three? It’s also important to decide how large the room will be and how the space will be defined. These decisions are also predicated on the need for protection from the elements – sun and wind in California.

Ceilings, Walls, Floors

A pergola, trellis, or awning will help define the space at the same time it provides shade on a sunny day. Adding permanent walls made from stucco, concrete, wood or brick, or free-standing walls provide protection, direct your eye to the room and route accordingly. Other room-defining options include “framing” the room with plants growing on vertical trellises that provide a visual boundary but offer a view of what’s behind or movable planter walls that can be reconfigured as needed. An alternative to creatingan entire outdoor kitchen is to add a wall of French doors or a movable wall such as made by NanaWall. Then, when desired, the whole wall can be open to the outside and your existing kitchen is open to the outside.

Furnishings and Fabrics

As you plan your outdoor room, choose furnishings that are intended for outdoor use. Furniture cushions should be covered in fabrics that resist water,stains, and fading. Some newer cushions are offered in “fast dry” styles that prevent water from pooling on your seats in the event of a summer shower. Outdoor drapes are now widely available and can be used to block sun or wind, provide privacy for an afternoon snooze, and add visual interest.

Outdoor Kitchens

An outdoor kitchen can be as simple as a free-standing grill or as elaborate as a full kitchen complete with a grill, refrigerator, dishwasher, sink, cabinetry, and countertops. When shopping for appliances, keep in mind that they must meet outdoor electrical and plumbing requirements and should be wind, rain, and rust resistant.

Furnishings and Fabrics

In addition to the traditional landscape light fixtures and pathlights, additional options for outdoorroom lighting such as lanterns,chandeliers, and candles create ambience and lend a feeling of.

Water Features

Swimming pools, spas, fountains, and ponds provide a focal point for outdoor rooms and can provide recreation and relaxation.

Fireplaces and Heaters

Fireplaces, chimeras, firepits and outdoor heaters provide ambiance and extend the use of the room into cooler seasons.

Products for the Outdoor Room

Hearth: Wood burning fireplaces, gas fireplaces, fire pits, chimaeras, fire and fountain combinations

Cooking: Barbecue grills, wood-fired pizza ovens, refrigerators, dishwashers, sinks, cocktail bars, food preparation areas, and countertops

Furniture: Dining tables, couches, chairs, cocktail and end tables, hammocks, chaise lounges

Water: Swimming pools, fountains, spas, waterfalls, ponds

Flooring: Wood, brick, stone, slate, stamped concrete pavers, pebbles

Shelters: Trellises, pergolas, gazebos, sunrooms, awnings, umbrellas

Accessories: Sound systems, televisions, art, sculpture, rugs

Lighting: Landscape lanterns, pathway lighting, chandeliers, candles

Decks: Natural woods, vinyl, fiberglass, recycled plastics

Heaters: Freestanding or table-top

15 May / 2011

Get Organized!

Get Organized!

Though it might seem hard to justify spending money on something you “should” be able to do yourself, hiring a professional organizer will likely pay for itself in time savings and stress reduction. When you can quickly and easily find a document without digging through stacks of papers to find it, or you reach into your closet and find only clothes you like, or you have a toy storage strategy that keeps toys out of every room in your home, you’ll have more time to do what you enjoy. And, we have a local, professional organizer to recommend. Her name is Amanda Kuszak, founder of Kuzak’s Closet.

While televisions shows like Clean House and Hoarders have gained popularity of late, you don’t have to be a pathological hoarder to benefit from the services of a professional organizer. Sometimes you just need permission to get help with something you’ve been putting off or a push to get past your inertia. Making an appointment with a professional, like Amanda, can give you the impetus to get started.

The National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA) surveyed more than 100 of its designer members across the country to uncover the likelihood that they would incorporate various materials and styles in their designs. The following seven top kitchen trends and four top bathroom trends emerged for 2011. Note: percentages may not total 100% as the survey tallied only whether a designer specified a product in a design, not how often they did so. Results reflect national trends and may not be consistent with local preferences.


  1. Shake It Up

    When it comes to style trends in the kitchen, Traditional remains the top choice. The big news is that Shaker has now supplanted Contemporary as the second most popular look.

  2. Dark and Beautiful

    The most specified type of finish for cabinets and floors is a dark natural finish. In contrast, the use of medium natural, glazed and white painted finishes has diminished.

  3. Take the Chill Off

    Interestingly enough, unchilled wine storage has grown in popularity, while the incorporation of wine refrigerators seems to be on the decline.

  1. French Revolution

    In terms of refrigerator styles, the French door refrigerator is now the most popular (78%.) Freezer-bottom models (single-door refrigerator on top, single-door freezer on the bottom) fell slightly in popularity to second place (59%.)

  1. Induction is Hot

    Induction cooktop selection is heating up! This trend is expected to continue due to induction’s energy efficiency. Gas cooktops are still the most popular though specification fell from 76% to 70%, while conventional electric cooktop specifications increased slightly from 38% to 41%.

  1. LED Lighting the Way

    For energy-efficient lighting solutions, designers are flipping the switch on LEDs (light emitting diodes) rather than CFLs (compact fluorescent lights) most likely due to the poor quality of light CFLs produce.

  2. Take Out the Trash

    Trash or recycling pull-outs were included in 89% of the kitchens designed by NKBA members. There was also an increase in both garbage disposals and trash compactors.


  1. Of Quartz

    Quartz solid surfaces such as Zodiac™ and Caesarstone™, are an increasingly-popular choice for bathroom countertops, up from 48% to 54%, but quartz still has not had the impact it has in the kitchen. For bathroom countertops, granite remains the most popular choice (83%.)

  2. Going Green

    The use of the color green in bathrooms is on the rise. Whites and off-whites, beiges and browns remain the most commonly used color tones, however.

  3. A Worthy Vessel

    Undermount sinks continue to dominate the bathroom scene, but vessel sinks have become the clear second choice among designers.

  4. Supreme Satin Nickel

    In bathrooms and kitchens, satin nickel is now the favorite faucet finish, while brushed nickel comes in second. Stainless steel remains popular in the kitchen, but not in the bath.

In the case of Bosch and Takagi, the answer is, pathetically, “Not much.” These companies, both with historically-stellar reputations for quality and service, have allowed the quality of their products and the value of their word to– pardon the pun– tank.

As a green-certified design + build firm, we have championed the installation of on-demand, aka “tankless” water heaters, since 2006. Unlike traditional water heaters, where a volume of water is continuously heated thermodynamically in a tank, tankless water heaters heat water only when the system is triggered such as when a faucet is turned on, a toilet A selection of antique water heaters is flushed or a washing machine is started. Bosch was the first brand of on-demand water heaters we installed.

A selection of antique water heaters

After experiencing problems with a number of the heaters, including one installed in our home– malfunctions such as repetitive days of ice-cold showers at 6:00 am after the unit worked properly the night before; error codes not listed in the service manual for which we were told, “It’s impossible, it just couldn’t happen,” and (this would be humorous if it wasn’t so painful) when, on a customer site visit, a Bosch field engineer denied hearing the banging noise emanating from a unit until he called the home office and a customer service agent told him she could hear it over the phone, Bosch did nothing. They did not repair or replace their malfunctioning products and never called to follow-up. The truth is they have no warranty.

Ultimately, we decided that the units had to be replaced. After reviewing the available options, we made the decision to install on-demand water heaters made by Takagi. Our research indicated that they made quality products and what appeared to be responsive support and a great warranty. At our expense, we removed the Bosch water heaters, paid for their disposal, and installed the replacement Takagi units purchased at the homeowners’ expense. These units seemed to solve the problem and we continued to install them in new projects.

Over the holidays, one of our customers, an engineer with Failure Analysis, called to let us know that his water-heater was behaving erratically. The heat exchanger on his year-old Takagi had started to leak and then failed. He and his family were without hot water for 1_ weeks. Takagi said that the reason the unit failed was not a manufacturing defect, but calcium build-up and that a scale prevention device (water softener) should have been installed to prevent this. Because we did not install one, the warranty was void. However, the installation instructions do not call for one. In the manual, in very small print on a separate page, you find in areas of hard water (not the case in Mountain View) a scale prevention device must be installed.

We called Takagi; spoke to them at length, asked them to test the water hardness (they did not) asked them to stand by their product if their directions were wrong and were told that corporate would not authorize the replacement. Close to 50 emails later, our client was able to convince Takagi that they should honor their warranty and replace the unit. The Takagi replacement process is slow, time consuming, and, get this, you have to pay for the replacement unit until Takagi confirms that the problem was due to a manufacturing defect.

A selection of antique water heaters

We now recommend that a scale prevention device be installed, regardless of water hardness, to prevent calcium build up and assure that manufacturers will honor their own warranty. While no one enjoys maintenance chores, the Housepure Secure water heater scale prevention device is compact and easy-to maintain- the cartridges need to be replaced once a year or when the gauge indicates. We will continue to research the performance of the various brands of on-demand water heaters in the literature and the real-time experiences of other contractors and report our findings in an upcoming issue.

You probably think of your kitchen as the room in your home where energy-efficiency really matters. However, your laundry room can also be a big guzzler of energy and water. The laundry room shown here is from the zero-energy Concept Home 2011 by BUILDER magazine with Martha Stewart. This show home demonstrates ideas that may be incorporated into a remodeling project, as well as a new home. Just a few of the ideas include:

  1. Choose Energy and Water Efficient Appliances

    Look for ENERGY STAR® qualified appliances to ensure they meet government standards. This helps conserve natural resources and saves you money on utility bills. For example, the Whirlpool efficient Duet washer installed in this laundry room can use up to 77% less water and 81% less energy over traditional top-load washers.

  2. Bring In Natural Light

    Use a tubular skylight to bring natural daylight into a windowless room. This helps decrease the use of electric lights, thereby decreasing your electric bill. A tubular skylight is thin enough to fit between roof rafters or trusses and ceiling joints. This interior windowless laundry room benefits from the addition of a VELUX Sun Tunnel skylight.

  3. Use a Ventilation Fan

    Install an ENERGY STAR® qualified ventilation fan to remove excess moisture from your laundry room while adding very little to your utility bill. The laundering process releases humidity into the room that must be properly ventilated or mold and mildew problems could result. The energy-efficient Broan-NuTone fan in the Concept Home laundry room costs approximately $1 per year to operate.

  4. Select Low-flow Faucets

    A WaterSense™ labeled low-flow faucet can provide the experience of a strong water flow, while cutting back on water usage. The utility sink in the Concept Home is fitted with a low-flow faucet by Kohler, which can deliver up to 45% water savings over traditional 2.75 gpm faucets. Sink water is also filtered and redistributed for outside irrigation.

  5. Provide On-demand Solar Hot Water

    Instead of a traditional tank water heater, the Concept Home runs on an on-demand hot water recirculation system. Water is heated by rooftop solar panels and then stored in an 80-gallon thermal tank. When demanded, the hot water is circulated through a loop under the slab to the required outlet.

Are the winter doldrums setting in? Try this for inspiration – the February, 2011 edition of House Beautiful provides the game plan on how designers Pat Healing and Dan Barsanti transformed a long, narrow, hard-to-furnish, living room in less than nine hours.

Here are the designers’ tips for successful transformations:

  1. A furniture arrangement that looks good on paper may not work in reality. Look at your room after a party to see how people have instinctively moved the chairs for conversation. That’s your clue for the room’s best layout.
  2. Use versatile furniture pieces in multiple ways. A large table can be used for dining, homework, games, and serving hors d’oeuvres at a party.
  3. Every chair in the room does not have to face the TV.
  4. There are no hard and fast rules – it all depends on your room and how you use it. Sometimes matchy-matchy can be a good thing to unify the space.
  5. Treat bookshelves as a composition and arrange them for balance and symmetry. Pick up accent colors used elsewhere in the room and repeat them in the bookshelf in art or accent pieces. One trick used by the designers was to remove all of the book jackets which made the composition less busy.
  6. Decorate in layers to add depth and interest the way decorators do. Rather than using the same solid color in the same exact hue, repeat the color in different ways, with textures, intensity, or sheen, for example, use the same color for textured chenille pillows on the sofa, shiny ceramic vases on the mantel, as one of the colors on dining room seat cushions, and sheer curtain liners.


The winter solstice occurring on December 22 marks the beginning of winter and the longest night of the year. The amount of light that reaches us from the sun decreases this time of year, which can darken our home interiors more than usual. Read below about how you can bring more natural light into your home this season and year ’round.

Today’s consumers, in general, give more thoughtful consideration to their purchases than they did a few years ago. People want to be sure they are getting good value for the dollars they spend.

As you are making plans to improve your home, perhaps you long for the upscale look and functionality of kitchens you see in magazines and on TV, but you want to avoid frivolous spending when you remodel. Our practical suggestions can help you get “more bang for your buck.”

  1. Exquisite glass or metal accent tiles used on a backsplash make a big design impact in a kitchen. Use them to create a focal point below the range hood. Select a less expensive coordinating field tile for the remainder of your backsplash.
  2. Select a luxurious granite, wood or quartz surface for the kitchen island countertop, while using a solid surface for the rest of the countertops. Beautiful new introductions in plastic laminate convincingly imitate natural stone, providing another good option.
    Formica’s new laminate pattern:
    Belmonte Granite
  3. A free-standing double oven range supplies the convenience of double wall ovens, without the added expense of purchasing a separate cooktop. These appliances are available in a variety of finishes — including stainless steel — that offer an upscale look.
  4. Choose a cabinet-depth refrigerator that provides the look of an integrated built-in without the expense.
  5. A kitchen sink with a low-profile basin divider offers the ease of handling both large pots as well as smaller items. You only need to purchase one sink.
  6. Purchase pull-out drawers in the cabinets you will use on an everyday basis and for the less accessible areas of your cabinets. Utilize adjustable shelving — a less pricey option — for the rest of the cabinetry.

Conventional forced-air systems produce uneven heat, with the highest air temperatures near the ceilings. Heat radiating up from the floor, however, warms not only the floor, but also the other objects in a room, such as your walls and furniture, which in turn begin to radiate heat. This produces a pleasant, even heat that is very quiet and healthy. Noisy fans become unnecessary, eliminating the dusty air that blows about and creates havoc for those with allergies. Vents and radiators are dispensable, providing a cleaner look in each room.

There are two main underfloor heating systems used today: hydronic and electric.

A tile installer bonds a NuHeat
heating mat to the subfloor
with thinset before laying the tile.

· The hydronic system is used for heating an entire building. With the hydronic system, hot water from a boiler or water heater, heat pump, or solar collector, etc. is circulated through loops of flexible plastic tubing embedded in a concrete floor. This system can be more expensive to install than forced-air, but once in place it can be up to 30% more energy efficient because no energy is lost through ducts.

The WarmlyYours TempZone
system is used under tile, stone
and hardwood floor coverings.

· If your primary concern is to avoid stepping out of a warm shower onto a chilly tile floor, an electric radiant system is for you. Remove the throw rugs — they have been known to cause serious injuries when people accidentally tripped on them. An electric radiant system is a more healthy way to heat up smaller areas of your home, such as bathrooms, mudrooms and kitchens. An electric radiant system uses loops of thin heating cables that are installed just below the flooring material or embedded in it. Manufacturers often sew the wires to a mesh backing that holds them in place for easy installation. An electric system works well for retrofit projects.

Either type of floor heating system can be controlled by programmable thermostats with setback features to ensure that the floor is being heated only when the room is being used-thereby saving energy.

01 Jan / 2011

Ring in the New


Happy New Year! This time of year often brings reflection on what has transpired throughout the year and hope for what can be in the new year. We wish you and your family all the best in the coming year.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.
~Alfred, Lord Tennyson, 1850

The full effects of the global financial crisis of 2008 are yet to be seen. While the credit-crunch caused by the burst of the sub-prime mortgage bubble is considered the primary cause, other factors propelled the crisis to global proportions. Speculation in the commodities market spurred energy to its highest prices ever. In the period leading up to the collapse, unemployment and bankruptcy were rampant. In fact, during that time, two of our customers, both long term (15+) year employees of local high-tech companies, lost their jobs in the middle of large remodeling projects. The declining value of the dollar abroad and inflation at home further weakened the economy and by late summer, the number of home foreclosures and housing loan defaults forewarned that the United States’ economy was about to collapse.

The federal government’s buyout of lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac failed to rectify the situation and within weeks, Wall Street investment banks were on the brink of collapse. Congress approved a massive, $700 billion economic package to rescue the failing banks, hoping to avoid a nationwide depression. While it brought some stability to the market and avoided a nationwide depression, at least temporarily, it has not yet reversed the negative economic trends and the remodeling industry has been especially hard-hit. Let’s face it; remodeling is, in most cases, a nice-to-have luxury and not a necessity. Unless your home is damaged in a fire or natural disaster, or your roof is leaking, remodeling is not imperative. That being the case, remodeling has come to a screeching dribble. We have it from a reliable (though not official) source, that in 2010, approximately 200 building permits were issued in Los Altos – down from the 2,000+ issued in recent prior years.

And, while we are receiving the same number of leads, whether it is the realistic fear of a job loss, the inability to obtain financing, or apprehension about the shaky state of the economy, most would-be remodelers are watching from the sidelines to see where the market will settle. Or worse yet, they are choosing to proceed with a low-ball bidder who gave them a price that is 50% less than it will actually cost to build their project – a game we have chosen not to play – but that’s another story. Underpinning all of these fears, whether conscious or not, is the awareness that something profoundly wrong was at work in the highest levels of power in our nation and there is no evidence that it has been exorcized. To the contrary, we think “it” was given a slap on the hand and big bonuses.

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