July 2021

Over the last year, we’ve all been reminded how important it is to wash our hands to keep from spreading germs. Luckily, today’s kitchen faucet technology makes it easier. Some faucets let you turn them on with a simple touch of your wrist or elbow. Some are touchless, and some are even voice-activated.

This month we give you a quick round-up of some of the more exciting options available.

Take Care,
John

Don’t Forget the Kitchen Faucet
Kitchen faucets don’t get enough credit. Yet, they are used multiple times each day and keep our dishes, hands, and other surfaces clean. Over the years, kitchen faucet designs have changed, and in recent years, manufacturers have incorporated technology into their products. If you want to include the latest faucet technology in your kitchen, here are some things to consider:
Valve Technology

The valve makes or breaks a faucet. If the valve stops working, your faucet will no longer function. There are four types of faucet valves – compression, ball, cartridge, and disc.

Compression valves are the oldest of the four types. The valve consists of a screw stem that raises and lowers as it is turned and a rubber compression washer at the stem’s bottom. All compression faucets have separate handles for hot and cold water. You untighten these handles by turning them to let water flow out of the tap. Tightening the handles stops the water. Compression valves are inexpensive and are prone to leaking when the washer wears out or hardens.

Ball valves are used in single-handle faucets and are also relatively inexpensive. A ball valve is a steel ball that contains a network of grooves and holes. The grooves and holes align with the hot and cold water inlets. The faucet handle moves the valve to control the water temperature and flow rate. Because they contain numerous small parts, such as springs, O-rings, and washers, leaks will eventually develop as the parts wear out. However, older and inexpensive faucets will most likely have a compression valve or a ball valve.

Cartridge valves have a small plastic or brass cylinder with channels that direct water flow rates and control temperature. A rubber O-ring seals the bottom of the cartridge to prevent leakage. Cartridge valves can be used in a single-handle configuration like ball valve faucets or paired inside two-handled faucets. In addition, cartridge valve faucets are designed for ease of repair. A leaky faucet requires simply replacing a worn-out cartridge and O-ring with new ones.

Ceramic Disc valves provide for the most extended wear. This innovative valve design incorporates two rotating ceramic discs. The discs contain channels that align when rotated, allowing water to flow and water temperature and pressure modulation. In addition, ceramic is one of the hardest materials on Earth and will last a long time. Ceramic disc valves also resist the build-up of minerals that can clog your faucet.

Touchless Technology
This last year has made us more aware of germs than ever before. Your kitchen faucet can be one of the dirtiest, most germ-filled places in your home. It’s not surprising – you have sticky, dirty hands from handling raw meat or working outside, and you turn on the faucet to wash your hands, leaving behind dirt and germs on the handle. But, it doesn’t have to be that way. Touchless faucets, which have become commonplace in commercial buildings, are now more affordable and common in home kitchens.

Let’s look at some of the options:
Moen Arbor Motionsense
The Arbor Motionsense faucet features dual motion sensors that will turn on with a wave of your hand. Additionally, it provides a standard aerated stream and a powerful rinse mode called PowerClean. PowerClean technology offers 50 percent more spray power than other faucets to clean off cookware and plates with ease. The Arbor Motionsense comes in various finishes and is powered by six AA †batteries. What’s more, it can connect to your Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant, meaning you can control the flow of water with your voice. Best of all, this faucet comes with a lifetime warranty.
Kohler Artifacts
Like the Moen Arbor faucet, the touchless Kohler Artifacts faucet is voice-activated when paired with your Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant. For example, you can ask the faucet to “turn on,” or you can ask it to pour a specific amount of water.
Kohler Graze
Another option from Kohler is the Graze faucet. It features a sleek design with a pull-down handle for items that need a higher-strength spray. Its touchless technology allows it to turn on with the wave of a †hand under the faucet, and with its heat memory sensor, you don’t have to wait for the water to heat up or cool down. Instead, it will turn on at the temperature you select.
Kohler Artifacts
Kohler Graze
Delta Leland
This option is not quite as high-tech as the others but is a more affordable choice. It uses ShieldSpray technology to create a powerful stream of water to clean up all of your messes. You do have to tap the spout to activate the faucet, and it prevents the spread of germs because you can use your wrist or elbow.
Grohe Ladylux
Our favorite brand for its craftsmanship, style, and engineering, Grohe offers a touchless, foot control version of its classic Ladylux single-handle, pull-down kitchen faucet. Grohe also offers kitchen faucets operated by the touch of a wrist or arm that prevent contamination of the handle. While Grohe is typically higher-priced than the other options, their quality is superb. In addition, the company offers a limited lifetime warranty; Grohe will repair or replace any part or finish that proves to be defective in material and/or workmanship under normal installation, use, and service at the company’s discretion.
Voice-Activated Technology
Delta, Moen, and Kohler have launched voice-activated faucets that pair with Amazon Alexa, Google Home, and Apple Home Kit. Operate the faucet with spoken commands to turn the water on, dispense measured amounts of water, fill containers to a preset level, or dispense a specific quantity. In addition, these faucets incorporate motion sensors to turn the water on and off with a wave of your hand.

Not sure which faucet to choose? Whether you are renovating your entire kitchen or just upgrading the faucet, we can help select the product that’s right for you.

May 2021

Since May is National Home Remodeling Month, we wanted to offer some ideas on how we can help you improve your home and make it more fun this summer. Many of us enjoy going out to dinner or hitting the local sports bar for a game; however, it’s not as easy to do as it used to be. Maybe it’s time to consider ways you can bring these activities into your own home? Here are just a few suggestions, but if you would like to discuss other options to make your home more fun, give us a call.

 

Make Staying In More Fun with These Home Improvements

Alfresco Dining
Even as more people are COVID-19 vaccinated, eating at a restaurant is something that many people are not entirely comfortable doing yet. The good news is we can help you create a fine dining experience by building an alfresco dining area on your patio. One of the easiest ways to create an ambiance similar to a nice restaurant is lighting.

You can easily string bistro lights above the designated dining space and use candles and lanterns to give the area a more romantic feel. We can help with a lighting system integrated into a new deck or patio. Then you can set up the dining area to suit your needs. A small round table for a more intimate dining experience or a large rectangular table to seat family and friends are great options.

Movie Night
The COVID-19 pandemic put most movie production on hold in 2020, so even if you feel comfortable going to a movie theater, there are fewer options. We can bring the movie experience to you by transforming a room in your home into a home theater or building an addition connected to your outdoor space.

Some of the must-haves include recessed lighting to make your theater room seem like the real thing, colored LED accent lights, and an integrated control system to set the lights the way you want them.

Sound-proof walls and acoustic flooring, wall coverings, and ceiling materials are also essential to enhance the movie-watching experience. Finally, you can add a bar area for refreshments. You can stock the bar with your favorite beverages, a popcorn machine, or sweet treats to enjoy during the movie.

Game Day
Instead of going out to watch the game at a sports bar, we can help you create a sports bar in your home by remodeling an unused bedroom or basement into an in-home sports bar.

You can’t have a sports bar without cold drinks and snacks. Start with a mini-kitchen that includes a beverage center and a microwave. Depending on your budget, we can also install plumbing for a sink and dishwasher to make cleanup easier.

Wood or brick paneling can give the room an authentic, casual feel. Low-maintenance laminate or tile flooring are good choices as they are durable and not damaged by spills. Dimmable recessed lighting and a surround sound system completes the ambiance. The room can include anything a sports fan could want: multiple TVs, a full bar, a refrigerator and beverage fridge, stadium-style recliner seats, a padded booth, and signed sports memorabilia.

Whatever project you decide to take on this National Remodeling Month, be sure to use a professional design + build remodeler to ensure you make the most of your space and the job goes smoothly.

 

April 2021

Take Care of Your Home Now to Save Money Later

For most of us, our homes are our most valuable asset. Regular maintenance can save you money in the future. Wouldn’t you rather spend money on a new bathroom than taking care of water damage caused by a leak or appliance failure? Like regular oil changes, tire rotations, and other automobile maintenance, a house benefits from regular attention.

While many things can go wrong with your house, these are some of the common problem areas to keep an eye on.

Flush your water heater
If you have a conventional tanked water heater, sediment and minerals can accumulate at the bottom of the tank. (This is often indicated by a “popping” sound coming from your water heater.) While the sound itself is harmless, the build-up can eventually cause a leak or damage to the heating element or other parts. Water heaters should be flushed at least once a year, but more frequency could be required depending on your water composition.

If you have a tankless water heater, check your water conditioner to see if it needs replacement. If you find you do not have a water conditioner, be sure to get one as soon as possible, or your water heater could be damaged by hardened mineral deposits called limescale. Limescale build-up causes a tankless water heater’s heat exchanger to work harder than it should to bring the cool water entering the unit to the desired hot temperature. Eventually, the heat exchanger will overheat due to the increased workload. In many cases, an error code is triggered, and the unit will be automatically shut down. A repair or service may be required to get the tankless water heater operating again.

Have your furnace and air conditioner maintained
Annual professional maintenance will help lengthen the life of your HVAC system. Regular changing of your furnace filters will not only improve the air quality in your home but also help your system run more efficiently and help prevent costly repairs. How often you need to change them depends on several factors, including your HVAC system’s usage and the type and size of the filter used. A good rule of thumb is every three months, or when it is dirty. Replacing a standard fiberglass filter with a pleated filter will provide better overall air quality as their increased surface area picks up more debris and pollutants such as pollen, pet dander, dirt, and dust. While they are more expensive, they don’t need to be replaced as often, and over time, they will be less expensive. Additionally, pleated air filters can be recycled, making them a more eco-friendly choice.

Keep gutters clear of debris
Gutters are designed to guide water from your roof and away from the foundation. Regularly cleaning your gutters will help prevent water damage to the foundation, roof, and walls. It eliminates a nesting place for pests that can cause damage to your home (such as mice) or annoy you in your yard (like mosquitos). Overflowing gutters can also cause damage to your landscaping from misdirected water. Be cautious when cleaning or inspecting your gutters and practice ladder safety. Gutter screens can be installed to eliminate the majority of the debris. Gutters will still need to be checked once a year.

Inspect your deck
These are just a few of the areas on your deck that should be checked: deck boards should not warp or sag, flashing should be tight and undamaged (replace damaged flashing, especially in any areas where water is accumulating), tighten all loose fasteners, and pound in loose nails, and check that railings and handrails on stairs are tight and secure. A wood deck should be cleaned and sealed every 2-3 years. Ensure all debris is removed from the cracks, as it can damage the deck framing over time. If you have any concerns, make sure to have a professional inspect your deck as there are some problems only a professional will catch.

Check the exterior
Make a visual inspection of the exterior of your home and look for any problems. Are there foundation cracks or other holes or damage? Is siding loose, or are there gaps in the exterior, especially around windows and doors? All gaps should be sealed to prevent rodents from entering your home. Take a look at the roof (from the ground!) to inspect for any visible damage. If it appears there may be damage, hire a professional to address the problem. Don’t attempt to get up on the roof yourself.

Other safety checks
Many other items should be checked regularly to ensure the home is safe and efficient, including your dryer vent, fire extinguisher, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, garage door auto-reverse feature, water softener, and sump pump.

 

Home Maintenance Check List by Season

Like a regular health check-up, a home maintenance schedule is vital for every house’s upkeep. Continuing to check on your exterior, appliances, heating and cooling, plumbing, security, and electrical systems will help prevent breakdowns, save money, and keep your home looking its best. Use this home maintenance checklist to help schedule your seasonal updates, repairs, and cleaning, along with a handful of monthly tasks. Revisit the list monthly and at the beginning of each season to keep your home in prime working condition. If any of the jobs go beyond your skill level or lead to more complicated repairs, consider hiring a professional to help.

SPRING

  • Inspect roofing for missing, loose, or damaged shingles, flashing, and leaks
  • Change the air-conditioner filter
  • Clean window and door screens
  • Clean light fixtures
  • Replace burnt-out bulbs
  • Clean and seal the deck
  • Power-wash windows and siding
  • Remove leaves and debris from gutters and downspouts
  • Replace the batteries in smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, or invest in 10-year detectors and replace every 10 years
  • Have a professional inspect and pump the septic tank
  • Inspect sink, shower, and bath caulking for deterioration
  • Vacuum lint from dryer vent
  • Inspect chimney for damage. Check that spark arrestor is in place and secure
  • Repair or replace caulking and weather stripping around windows, doors, and mechanicals
  • Check sprinkler heads and drip emitters. Clean drip filters
  • Service air-conditioning system
  • Drain or flush water heater or check tankless water heater and assure it has a conditioner

SUMMER

  • Oil garage-door opener and chain, garage door, and all door hinges
  • Remove lint from inside and outside washer hoses and dryer vents
  • Clean kitchen exhaust fan filter
  • Clean refrigerator and freezer coils and empty and clean drip trays
  • Check dishwasher for leaks
  • Check around kitchen and bathroom cabinets and toilets for leaks
  • Replace interior and exterior faucet and showerhead washers and aerators if needed
  • Seal tile grout
  • Prune trees and shrubs away from structures

FALL

  • Rake leaves and aerate the lawn
  • Have forced-air heating system inspected by a professional. Schedule an inspection in late summer or early fall before the heating season begins
  • Check fireplace for damage or hazards, and clean fireplace flues
  • Seal cracks and gaps in windows and doors with caulk or weather stripping; replace if necessary
  • Swap old, drafty windows for more energy-efficient models
  • Touch up exterior siding and trim with paint
  • Inspect roofing for missing, loose, or damaged shingles and leaks
  • Power-wash windows and siding
  • Remove leaves and debris from gutters and downspouts
  • Mend cracks and gaps in the driveway and walkway. Seal if needed
  • Have your fireplace professionally inspected
  • Tune up major home appliances before the holidays
  • Repair or replace siding
  • Replace the batteries in smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Replace detectors every 10 years
  • Clean the carpets
  • Clean window and door screens
  • Vacuum lint from the dryer vent
  • Inspect exterior door hardware; fix squeaky handles and loose locks
  • Check for frayed cords and wires
  • Wrap insulation around outdoor faucets and pipes in unheated garages
  • Check water heater for leaks


WINTER

  • Cover your air-conditioning unit
  • Check basement for leaks
  • Inspect the roof, gutters, and downspouts for damage after storms
  • Vacuum bathroom exhaust fan grill
  • Vacuum refrigerator and freezer coils and empty and clean drip trays
  • Clean drains in sinks, tubs, showers, and dishwashers

Whether due to budgetary reasons or lack of room on your lot, an addition may not be the answer for many homeowners. An unfinished basement, however, could solve your problems when you convert this underutilized lower level into a finished and functional space.

Remodeling a basement requires extra care to properly handle water issues, like moisture and drainage, plus egress windows, electrical wires, and other challenges. Be sure to work with a qualified professional remodeler to get the best result. If you would like our help, we’re ready to guide you through our process and help you get your new basement.

These are some of the top trends we are seeing in finished lower levels but we can also help you get the custom space you want, one that meets your needs.

Guest Suite/Bedroom

Putting a bedroom and separate full bath in the basement offers a space with plenty of privacy. This can be great for a guest suite, especially if you have family or friends that come for extended visits. When the in-laws come for the holidays, that extra separation can be a big boon for family harmony.

This suite can be as simple as a bedroom and bath or include features like a sitting/lounge area or wet bar, depending on your budget.

Conversely, a basement is also a good space to put a bedroom for one of your family members who needs a little more privacy, such as a teenager. They get their space, and you get a little peace and quiet. It’s an even better solution for an older child commuting to college or working that first job.

It’s important to remember that building codes require that a new “bedroom space” must have an egress (exit) window or door.

 Home Theater

There are dozens of ways to design your home theater or media room. Some comfy couches, a big-screen TV, and sound system can get the job done, but the real movie enthusiast can opt for a separate room with a projection system, theater-style chairs and surround sound.

An open TV space, on the other hand, offers plenty of advantages, including a lower price tag and greater utility. If you don’t spend a lot of time watching movies or TV, it makes sense to spend the money somewhere else. Working with your remodeler and designer will help you find the best solution.

 Play Room/Game Room

If you’ve got kids, you know their ability to make a mess knows no bounds. A comfortable space in the basement is a great way to keep some of that clutter out of sight. A tile floor with area rugs will make it easier to clean up the space.

As children enter their middle school or high school years, the space can be converted to a game room, making space for pool tables, air hockey, foosball – whatever your family is interested in.

 

Children’s Nook

If there’s not enough space to give the kids their own room, why not get creative with the space under the staircase? That little area can be perfect for their own little hiding space. Add a bean bag chair, maybe a small table or lamp, and make it a comfy hideaway.

 

Wet Bar/Kitchen

As long as there have been finished basements, there have been basement bars. It’s great if you like to host parties or just have some friends over while watching football. Adding kitchen amenities like a microwave, refrigerator and sink enhances the convenience.

 

Home Office

With people working at home more than ever these days, finding a permanent space is a must. A separate room that offers a little privacy for your Zoom meetings is best. A basement office also helps you associate the office with “work” and separate it from your home life. Many studies have shown that natural light enhances productivity, so try to locate it in a room or part of the basement with windows.

 

Gym

Maybe you found yourself working out at home last year because of the pandemic, but even as things are opening back up, a home gym has some advantages. Most notably, you’re not paying the monthly fees anymore but investing in your home. Want to go high-end? Consider adding spa-like features, such as a sauna or steam shower.

 

However you choose to use your basement, when renovating the space it’s important to do it correctly.  Hiring a professional to do the work can help you avoid hidden and unforeseen issues down the road. Give us a call when you are ready. We would love to help you with this project.

If your house is like many homes, you could probably use some better lighting. Proper lighting makes it easier to work, reduces eye strain, and can improve your sense of wellbeing – this is especially true in a room like a kitchen where we spend so much time cooking, eating, and entertaining family and friends. The truth is most homes were not built with enough lighting for everyday life. Inadequate lighting is one of the most common problems homeowners have in their kitchen – even if they don’t realize it. If you’re thinking about improving your lighting or remodeling your kitchen, make sure you work with a professional remodeler who can help you design the best lighting solutions for your home. Here are five of the most common lighting mistakes and

1. Too many recessed lights
Recessed lights are a great solution, but far too often, a poorly planned kitchen remodel or new home ends up with too many of them. Recessed can fixtures only light the horizontal surfaces and may not provide illumination over your room’s vertical surfaces. Illuminating the vertical surfaces is essential because it creates a reflection of light from the walls, helping to brighten your entire kitchen. Relying on only recessed lighting will result in more fixtures than you need and still not give you proper lighting.

2. Not enough task lighting
We’ve all been there – trying to work at a sink or stove that doesn’t have enough light. Ambient lighting is essential, but a kitchen requires task lighting in certain areas to be efficient. Otherwise, you’re likely to be working in your own shadow. Installing undercabinet lighting is one of the most straightforward task lighting solutions. Countless LED solutions can be crafted to accommodate your kitchen layout. Simple plug-and-go options are fine if you’re not ready to remodel. Contact us for more ideas for help with hard-wired options to make your kitchen shine.

3. Too much light
Overly bright lighting is almost as bad as not enough light – we humans are sensitive to light. Ask anyone who works in an office with harsh bright lighting, and they’ll tell you it can make you feel tired, nauseous, and cause headaches. In kitchens, granite countertops and stainless-steel appliances can reflect that bright light and cause even more glare. Adding controls to pre-existing lights, such as placing them on separate or dimmable switches, will go a long way towards creating a comfortable kitchen lighting layer. Use several tiers of ambient, accent, and task lighting to layer and balance the light for an optimal working space.

4. Improper lighting controls
As noted above, a properly lit kitchen should have three types of light: ambient, accent, and task. In many older homes, the kitchen lights are controlled by only one or two switches. Each type of light is for different purposes, so they should be wired on separate switches for the most efficiency. Think about how you use each area of your kitchen and plan accordingly. Adding dimmer switches allows lights to serve multiple purposes, such as a task light that becomes an accent light after meal preparation is completed.

5. Disproportionately-sized fixtures
A common lighting mistake is choosing one extra-large fixture that dwarfs the others in the kitchen. That oversize fixture may have looked great in the showroom, but it can be out of place in the average home. Having a too-large light can be as problematic as having a too-small light hanging over an expansive kitchen island. The general rule of thumb is to add the room’s length and width in feet, then pick a light that is the same size in diameter. For example, if the kitchen is 15 feet by 15 feet, then a light about 30 inches in diameter would be appropriate.

Improving Your Kitchen’s Energy Efficiency

Making energy-efficient improvements in your home is good for the planet and lowers your utility bills. There are many ways you can improve your energy efficiency without making a considerable investment. This month, we’re going to look at the kitchen specifically.

Most of these improvements will pay for themselves in a matter of years. A professional remodeler can help you determine the best solutions for your home that will give you the highest return on your investment.

Update Your Appliances
Appliance manufacturers have made great strides in energy efficiency over the last decade. If your appliances are more than ten years old, replacing them can significantly lower your energy consumption and utility bills. Kitchen appliances alone can be responsible for more than 30 percent of home energy consumption. Whether you replace some or all of your kitchen appliances, the long-term savings can be considerable—and will vary based on usage and the type of appliance.
Every appliance has a yellow EnergyGuide label applied by the manufacturer that shows its estimated energy usage and operating cost. It also shows how the unit compares to the average cost of similar models. Energy Star-certified appliances can save you even more.

More efficient appliances may have a higher price tag, but most will end up saving you money over time in lower operating costs. Consider how long you plan on staying in the home. We can help you run those numbers to see what makes sense for your home.

It’s also worth asking about other incentives. Many utility companies offer rebates for making the switch to more efficient products, and federal, state, and local tax credits may be available.

Refrigerators and Freezers
Refrigerators and freezers are the most significant users of electricity in the kitchen. According to Energy Star estimates, U.S. consumers are collectively paying an extra $5.5 billion in energy costs because of old, inefficient units.

Refrigerators in the range of 16 to 20 cubic feet are the most efficient. The bigger the unit, the more energy it will use. Some features, like icemakers, will also add to the operating cost. Decide if the tradeoff in convenience and storage makes sense for your budget and family’s needs.
Ovens and Stoves
Gas stoves usually have lower energy costs—if you have a choice. You could also consider an electric induction cooktop if gas is not an option. Other considerations include self-cleaning ovens as they generally have more insulation and hold heat better, while convection ovens use about 20 percent less energy as the fan continually circulates heat.

Energy-efficient models of other appliances, including dishwashers, exhaust fans, and microwave ovens, are also available. We can help you find the best solution for your home.
Consider LED lighting
Another way to lower your energy costs in the kitchen and throughout your house is to look at lighting. In most homes, the kitchen lights are on more than in any other room. Replacing incandescent bulbs with LED bulbs can make a big difference. According to Energy Star, an LED bulb produces light 90 percent more efficiently than an incandescent bulb.

LED bulbs cost more initially but require less energy and last longer than incandescent and fluorescent bulbs. And, unlike fluorescent bulbs, LEDs have the familiar shape of incandescent bulbs and contain no mercury.
Phantom Loads
A phantom load is the electricity a device uses even when it’s turned off and can add up to significant costs over a year. These include popular small kitchen appliances such as toasters, coffee makers, and blenders. In other areas of your home, voice-activated devices continuously draw electricity to listen to your voice commands. Additionally, any device placed into “stand-by mode,” instead of turning off completely, will continue to pull electricity from the grid, even when not operating. These can include computer monitors, printers, TVs, or cable systems. The worst offenders of phantom loads are typically related to entertainment systems: TVs, cable boxes, video game systems, audio systems, phone/device charges. Unplug them when they’re not in use to reduce

Hammerschmidt Construction is proud to announce it won top honors at the 2019 Silicon Valley NARI’s prestigious Meta Remodeling Awards.

The competition recognizes the achievements of highly respected contractors, and has honored Hammerschmidt
Construction with a gold medal for best remodeling project in the category for Residential Interior $100,000 to $250,000.

“We are absolutely thrilled with being recognized for excellence in remodeling and receiving a gold medal,” said John Hammerschmidt, the owner of Hammerschmidt Construction. “To be honored in this way given all of the outstanding entrants is a big achievement and something we are very proud of.” Meta Award recipients are selected by an impartial panel of judges, who work within the residential building industry and associated fields.

John added that his Los Altos Hills’ client wanted to remodel the main floor to the standards of the recently remodeled master suite. The goal was comprehensive: to renovate the entire kitchen, upgrade the lighting, flooring, trim, and highlight the displayed artwork; additionally, create a half bath and expand the pantry area to match home’s existing style while maintaining the natural flow already established in the home.

“A bigger island was needed, more cabinets and counter space, and better window placement for a more dramatic bay view,” he explained. “It was a complicated job but I think in the end the client was very satisfied. We filled in the old windows and install a new larger one over the sink for an optimal view.” John said that a large white shaker cabinet was also included to match the master bathroom and reflexes lights, new appliances and more counter space were added as well.

The name Meta is short for “metamorphosis,” and signifies the transformative process and beautiful results that can be accomplished through a remodeling project. But the evaluation process is strict. The judges cannot be members of NARI of Silicon Valley, and all submissions are evaluated on objective criteria in problem solving, functionality, aesthetics, craftsmanship, innovation, degree of difficulty and entry presentation.

John went on to say that sharing the results with his team has been a strong motivator and that everyone appreciates being honored in this way. But perhaps more importantly, he add, is that the award might have greater value as an evaluation tool for homeowners looking to find the best fit. “There are a lot of contractors in the Silicon Valley doing good work,” he pointed out, “but a high-end residential remodeling contractor that does exceptional work is not easy to come by.”

08 May / 2017

Earthly Delights

I love my greenhouse from my Head (of lettuce) to my TomaToes..

At HCI, we pride ourselves in building houses that are Green, but I also enjoy building Greenhouses! As many of you know, I was raised on a farm and my first love is horticulture. In fact, my degree is in Landscaping and Construction. While I was forced to transition to “real construction” during the drought and recession of 1989, gardening continues to be a source of joy and relaxation for me. And, as a member of the Western Horticulture Society and California Native Plant Society, I spend a large amount of my free time with other fellow gardeners.

I have always wanted a greenhouse to start seedling and protect tender plants from inclement weather. I ordered a greenhouse “kit” over a year ago and was finally able to “build” it last month.


Left: My Happy Place. Right: Inside – shelves for seedlings, larger plants below 

Greenhouse kits are relatively inexpensive and can be purchased through Lowes, Home Depot, Harbor Freight and various online stores such as Hayneedle. I purchased mine from Harbor Freight, primarily because it was economical, knowing that I could modify it to fit my existing space and because I had the tools and experience to do so. A word of caution: Don’t underestimate the term “Assemble” in the description. To construct my greenhouse, it required two weekends to “assemble” it and several more days to modify the stock structure into the “fully loaded” version I envisioned. This included the addition of strip lighting, decking, benches, a heater, a timer, automatic irrigation, and a vent.

Photo: Etsy

To begin your collection of plants, start by selecting quality seeds. I like to purchase mine from Pinetree Garden Seeds because they have a wide selection of high-quality seeds. I also save seeds from fruits and vegetables that I’ve grown that are self-pollinated or locally cross-pollinated. That way they become hybridized to the local area.

Most likely, I didn’t do a decent job of convincing you that assembling a greenhouse is fun, but even if you never build a greenhouse, here are 10 good reasons that gardening is a worthwhile hobby.

1. Plants appreciate care and feeding, and they don’t talk back. (Those of you with kids will understand.)

2. The ROI is better than many of my investments. For the price of some seeds, water, and love, you can produce unlimited amounts of food. And, it’s amazing how much better it tastes when you grew it and it remains on the plant until it is ripe.

3. You will reap the rewards for your efforts relatively quickly; many plants bear fruit or vegetables within a couple of months.

4. Dirt can make you happy (and healthy).
Studies show that getting your hands in the dirt can have an unexpected range of health benefits including alleviating symptoms of psoriasis, allergies, and asthma, and improving immune function. Gardening has also shown promise in reducing the incidence of stroke and heart attack risk by up to 30% for those over 60. And, in one long-term study of 3,000 adults, researchers found daily gardening to represent the single biggest risk reduction factor for dementia, reducing incidence by 36%. Other studies confirm the antidepressant effect of gardening and found that a strain of bacterium in soil, Mycobacterium vaccae, triggers the release of serotonin, which in turn elevates mood and decreases anxiety.

5. Composting for your garden reduces waste.
Compost is necessary to create a healthy growing environment as it infuses nutrients back into the soil, reduces evaporation, and moderates soil temperature. And, you can compost using your own plant-based kitchen waste and yard clippings. A recent estimate from the Environmental Protection Agency predicted that up to one-fourth of all landfill waste could have been turned into compost. Click on this link for 10 Reasons to Start Composting.

6. You will be the envy of all your friends and neighbors.
If you do use a greenhouse, you’ll be able to grow tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, eggplant, lettuce, basil, and other vegetables during the winter and lettuce and tomatoes year-round!

7. Gardening allows you to grow your favorite plants and it’s a wonderful way to perpetuate family traditions and recipes. One of my favorite vegetables to grow is Espelette peppers, which I use to make my grandmother’s Piperade Sauce.

8. It’s a house that you can build without a permit!
A free-standing greenhouse with a maximum size of 120 sq. ft. USUALLY does not require a permit. (Please confirm this with your local building department).

9. Small business employee retention.
In addition to “growth” opportunities, my crew enjoys being my samplers and recipients of the “fruits” of my labors. A happy and healthy crew is a productive crew.

10. Gardening is a hobby that evolves with you and your family:

  • For newborns, you have healthy pesticide-free fruits and vegetables that you can puree into baby food with confidence.
  • For toddlers and elementary school students it’s a good educational tool.
  • For teenagers… well, you might have to make sure they haven’t planted their own “green plants.”
  • At any age, it’s a great place to escape from your cell phone, work or chores, and you will be all set for “the weird hobby years.”

Resources:

Humorous Garden Signs

Check out this wonderful book for kids from IKEA! 90 colorful pages of how its great fun making things grow!


Why Grow in a Greenhouse?
Learn more about Greenhouse Growing Benefits & Basics

02 Apr / 2017

Rest Assured

Whether you are planning a full bathroom renovation or making small improvements to an existing bath, shower seating can increase the safety and comfort of your room. Installing a shower bench decreases the amount of time you stand in the shower which eases the strain on your body but most importantly, as part of aging-in-place design, it reduces the chances of slipping and falling.

The majority of falls within a house result in relatively minor injuries, but falls in the bathroom are often more serious. A study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that almost 200,000 Americans a year are treated in the emergency room for bathroom-related falls. This is because bathrooms present a number of additional hazards over most areas of the home; the surfaces are slippery and there are very few well-anchored items to grasp. While it is certainly possible that anyone can slip and fall in a bathroom or shower, the elderly and disabled are particularly susceptible. Having poor balance or muscle strength makes it harder to catch oneself when falling, increasing the risk of injury.

At any age, a shower bench is an affordable and functional design feature. In addition to its safety benefits, a shower bench provides space to store extra accessories, a place to sit to wash feet, lather hair, or shave legs or simply a place to sit to relax and recharge.

There are two options for shower seating — Freestanding or Built-in — and your choice will depend on the size of your shower, the style of your bathroom, and your budget.

Free-standing

The easiest and least expensive option is a Free-standing bench that may be purchased through various bath retailers. Typically, they are made of kiln-dried teak which is sanded to a smooth finish and then treated to maintain its color. However, left untreated, teak will weather to a beautiful silver-gray color.

Alternately, various plastic and corrosion-resistant metal benches are available, and while functional, they typically have a medical look and feel. This rectangular teak shower stool in the photo to the left is from Frontgate and retails for $200.

Additionally, free-standing benches can be found in local stores and online at retailers including Bed Bath and Beyond and Home Depot as well as higher-end designer showrooms such as Signature Hardware.

This corner shower stool from Signature Hardware saves space and provides functional seating as well as a storage shelf for bathroom accessories. It is ADA compliant and runs approximately $175.

Built-in

Built-in benches are the second option for shower seating. We offer three different ways to incorporate built-in seating in your bathroom design.

  • Built-in, tiled, and permanently attached to the wall.

    • In this master bath HCI recently completed (photo 1 below), the bench is incorporated as part of the shower enclosure and extends the width of the shower (4ft) providing a generous seating area. It is finished with the same bronze-matte 24’ x 24’ tiles as the shower walls for a seamless, integrated look.
    • Some homeowners choose a contrasting accent color for the bench top such as the black marble bench top shown in photo 2.
  • Built-in “Floating” Bench

    • A floating bench (photo 3) is securely attached to the wall but is open underneath. It can be made of waterproofed wood, a solid surface material like quartz, or natural stone such as marble, granite, or limestone.
  • Folding Bench

    • For a small space, a folding bench (photo 4) provides the convenience of easily folding the seat down while showering or dressing then folding it up and away for extra space when not in use. Folding benches are typically made of teak or other water-resistant wood. Another advantage of using wood is that it isn’t as cold to sit on as tile. Both floating and folding shower benches require additional blocking in a stud wall and anchor hardware. Installed with the proper supports, seats can hold from 250 to 400 lbs., but in any case are only as strong as the walls and mounting hardware used.

Size and Location

Placement of the bench will most likely be determined by the size and configuration of your shower. It’s best to place the bench within reach of your shower controls, install a hand-held shower head and install grab bars for safety and ease of use. To meet most guidelines, shower benches should be mounted between 17 and 19 inches off the finished shower floor. An aging-in-place designer or occupational therapist may be consulted to customize your shower to meet your specific needs. There are also many reference books available such as Residential Design for Aging in Place that provide specific guidelines for aging-in-place bathroom design.

HCI Project

In 2013, we helped transform a cramped 70’s era master bathroom into a sleek, contemporary bathroom with an open configuration and curbless shower to allow for wheelchair access. The curved shower seat provides an accessible place to sit for showering and keeps toiletries in easy reach. Fabricated from a single quartz slab, the seamless bench seat with a bullnose edge is more comfortable against the skin than grouted tile with squared edges.


Photos courtesy of: Dave Edwards

Resources:


For inspiration visit architecture art design for 30 irreplaceable shower seat design and ideas, like this Teak Shower Seat Collection from Jack London Kitchen Bath

Visit Teakworks4u for a variety of ADA Compliant Teak Seats, Wall mounted, fold down or Freestanding Benches and much more.

 

Moen products like this folding seat can be found at Home Depot and Lowes

 

 


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