25 October 2011

Guest Post - The joys of radiant floor heat

In many parts of the U.S. and Canada, cold temperatures are already settling in. This is delightful when you're relaxing in front of your fireplace with a cup of hot cocoa, but not so much when you step onto cold bathroom tile first thing in the morning.

Thus was born the inspiration for this guest post! When David Tiefenthaler. who writes for the very informative Radiant Heat Reviewer blog, approached me a few months ago with this topic, I replied with a resounding yes. I had experienced the joys of radiant floor heat in a German hotel last January on my LivingKitchen trip and absolutely loved it! If I'm ever forced to live in a cold climate again, I would absolutely demand radiant floor heat. As most of my design projects have been in warmer climes, I haven't had the opportunity to specify it. That's why sharing David's expertise on this topic for my cold climate readers was such a welcome opportunity. Here are his insights into the why, what, how and how much of this technology for your home.


What is radiant floor heat? Exactly as it sounds, a floor is heated to radiate warmth from below for the comfort of any people and pets in the room. Radiant systems use either electric cables or heated water embedded beneath the finished flooring to do their job.

Radiant heating duplicates the feeling you would get if you were to walk barefoot on a floor that’s been warmed by direct sunlight for several hours. People who have it in their homes often walk around barefoot – even in the middle of winter! It’s a great option for cold climate residents or winter home owners.

The most common application of radiant floor heat is to install it under tile floors during a bathroom or kitchen remodel. The system is linked to its own thermostat, separate from the home’s forced air unit. For smaller rooms like a bathroom, adding an electric radiant floor heat system only costs about $500 to $1000 total for labor and for the materials. You would also have to choose a thermostat to go with it; always choose the programmable option, even though it is more expensive. With this system, I strongly recommend hiring a licensed electrician to connect the thermostat to your home’s electrical system.

Tile floor with electric radiant heat by ThermoSoft embedded in thinset

Some consumers worry that an electric-powered system will increase their utility bill astronomically. This simply isn’t the case. Thermostats that are linked to radiant floor heat can be programmed to heat up only when needed. For instance, if you get up for work at 6 a.m., the thermostat can be programmed to heat up the floor at this time of the day. Instead of waking up to ice-cold tile under your toes in the kitchen or bathroom, you’ll be greeted to the toasty touch of warm tiles. With a programmable thermostat, you will enjoy this luxury for about $10 to $20 per month extra on your electric bill.

You can use radiant floor heat to heat your entire house, but this is much more complex to install in a pre-existing home. For larger areas, like whole home remodels or new home construction, hydronic radiant heat is primarily used. This is because water can be heated with natural gas or oil-fired boilers, and these energy sources are less expensive to use than electricity.

For new home construction, long loops of radiant tubing are typically embedded in the concrete slab. A boiler heats up the water, which heats up the slab, which heats the finished flooring above it. In the most efficient applications, the tubes are included in the subfloor, rather than the slab below.

Homes and buildings with hydronic radiant heat on floors above grade level use aluminum plates strapped to the subfloor. The aluminum acts as a great conductor of heat, which in turn heats up the whole floor. Some products, like Warmboard, actually have aluminum built into the top layer of the subflooring. This puts the heat closer to your feet and requires even less energy to heat the floor.

A cross section of Warmboard subflooring with PEX-AL-PEX tubing in the aluminum channel.

No matter what choice you go with, the one constant is the luxurious comfort created by radiant floor heat. To paraphrase an '80s song, “It’s like walking on sunshine.”


David Tiefenthaler writes for Radiant Heat Reviewer to help consumers understand their options when considering different forms of radiant heat. He is a Do It Yourselfer and is always investigating the most economical and innovative ways to incorporate radiant heat in a home or building.

18 October 2011

What do an Arc and an iPhone have in common?

I wasn’t thinking terribly much about Apple Computer – other than hoping my antiquated iPhone 3G wouldn’t expire on the trip – when I headed to San Francisco last week for a Zephyr Ventilation design blogger event.

That changed shortly after I arrived at the Bay Area-based ventilation company’s gorgeous SoMa showroom.

Among the treats arranged for our event was a terrific presentation by Robert Brunner, founder of Apple’s internal design group, Apple IDg, and a Zephyr design partner.

You can see the same sleek thought processes that inspired his former boss, Steve Jobs -- a legendary design perfectionist -- at work in Brunner’s Arc series for the lesser-known Zephyr. Especially the Horizon.

While it’s unlikely that Arc will become as ubiquitous as the iPhone 4, the similarities are striking – and quite sexy! Both are as streamlined as a Jazz Age ocean liner, as glossy as a new Tesla.

This is art for your kitchen. They’ve even one-upped the style mavens at Apple by offering Horizon finishes I would love to see on my next iPhone, especially Red Glass. (I’m not holding out hope, though, that my 3G will last until the 5 debuts next year. My techie says it should rightfully be in digital hospice by now.)

Zephyr has long been known for stylish hoods. Brunner just upped the ante. Are you listening, Apple? Is there a red iPhone or leaf-patterned iPad in our future?

By the way, I suggested to Brunner and our Zephyr hosts that they find a way to incorporate an operational, touch-screen driven TV screen on the face of the Horizon! Wouldn't it be killer to watch your favorite shows on this sexy beast while making dinner? Wouldn't it???

This was my clear favorite of the Arc series, but there are other sleek styles by the one-time PowerBook designer. Here are a few more Brunner styles. From top to bottom, Layers, Plane and Tilt.

PS: Among my fellow attendees at Zephyr's event last week were some top-notch colleagues, including three Blogger 19 buddies, Kelly Morisseau of Kitchen Sync, Sarah Lloyd of Kitchen Clarity and Paul Anater of Kitchen and Residential Design!

Undoubtedly, they'll be offering more serious, in-depth coverage of the line than my book-sogged brain is capable of right now. I've linked to their blogs to ensure you'll be able to find their insights when they post them.

11 October 2011

Guest Post - How to update your kitchen with paint

When someone who knows their stuff approaches me with a solid guest post idea, I see it as a win-win. We all get the benefits of their expertise, and I get a free pass for a week. Thanks, Debbie Zimmer, Paint and Color Expert at the Paint Quality Institute, for your offer, your follow through and your very valuable information:


Kitchen remodeling can be among the most expensive upgrades to a home, often running into tens of thousands of dollars. But a less costly – yet very effective – way to enhance your culinary center is to break out the paintbrushes and rollers to put a fresh face on the space.

It’s actually possible to redo nearly every kitchen surface with paint, from the walls and woodwork to cabinets, and even the floors. However, most homeowners concentrate on the walls, woodwork, and cabinets. Whatever the scope of your project, here are some tips on how to proceed:

1. Start by “visualizing” your project.
You’ve probably seen your spanking new kitchen in your mind’s eye, but it’s wise to go one step further: Visit the websites of some of the major paint companies and check out their “visualizing” tools. Typically, you’ll be able to upload photos and quickly try out various paint colors to see just how your kitchen would look in different color schemes.

2. Lean toward lighter paint colors. There are certainly no hard-and-fast rules on this, but light paint colors make a kitchen seem to sparkle. If the airy feeling of a light tint isn’t appealing to you, consider this: Light-colored walls, woodwork, and ceilings will give the illusion that your kitchen is larger than its actual physical dimensions. And who doesn’t want a bigger kitchen?

3. Use paint with a high level of sheen. Paints with higher levels of sheen -- particularly high gloss and semi-gloss paints -- are more stain-resistant. They are also easier to clean if they should meet with up fingerprints or food splatters. What’s more, since they are the most reflective paints, they’ll make your kitchen look lighter and brighter. One more reason to use a glossier paint: They provide better mildew resistance than ordinary flat paint, no small consideration in a room that where water and steam are often present.

4. Use top quality paint.
Don’t be penny-wise and pound-foolish when purchasing your coatings. You’re already saving thousands of dollars by painting, rather than committing to full-bore remodeling. Spring for the highest quality paint and you’ll get a paint job that will be tougher, more durable, and longer-lasting.

5. Follow the right painting sequence. If you’re doing a top-to-bottom makeover of walls and woodwork, simplify things by working logically. Paint the ceiling, walls, trim (including windows and doors), and baseboards, in that order. This will help prevent you from spattering paint on just-painted surfaces.

6. Doing the cabinets, too? If so, remove the doors before doing any painting in your kitchen. Scrub the cabinets and doors with degreasing solution to clean them. Then sand them to remove any loose paint and provide more tack for your new paint. Wipe off dust from the sanding with a wet cloth. When the doors and cabinets dry, apply a coat of high quality latex primer. Then apply a coat of top quality 100% acrylic latex paint in the color and sheen of your choice – high gloss or semi-gloss for easier cleaning, or more of a matte-type finish, like a satin or even an eggshell, if you don’t want the cabinets to be too shiny. For enhanced durability, finish with a coat of clear polyurethane. (Each coat should be completely dry before applying the next finish.) Re-install the cabinet doors. In this case, paint the baseboards last.

That’s how simple it is to remodel your kitchen with paint. Total cost is no more than a couple hundred dollars, including brushes and accessories – even less if you already have some of these items.

When your project is finished, stand back and admire your handiwork. Then treat yourself to a nice dinner. With all the money you saved on your remodeling, you could afford a nice night out on the town. On the other hand, you just might be tempted to cook at home in your brand new kitchen!


Debbie Zimmer is a blogger, speaker, and nationally recognized expert on color, use of paints in interior and exterior design, and decorative painting techniques. She can be found on Twitter as @PaintQualityIns and the Paint Quality Institute blog.

Photo Credit: All of the kitchens shown are from the Behr Paint website. I used Behr for my recent office update and was quite happy with it!

04 October 2011

NIFTY NUGGETS – SlipcoverShop.com

This is the second in an occasional series of small, helpful finds I come across on projects. As I mentioned in my first Nifty Nuggets post, some will come from clients’ kitchen or bath redos, some from my own adventures in remodeling and decoration. This Nugget, like the one before, comes from a Chez J dining room discovery.

A few months back, after the moving company finally paid my damaged furniture claim, I bought six new upholstered Henriksdal dining chairs from Ikea. I found them to be extremely comfortable and, at $60 apiece, extremely well-priced, too.

The only challenge they presented was that the full-length covers I wanted only came in white and I couldn’t find any ready-made covers from other sources that would fit the Henriksdal's over-sized dimensions. Off-the-rack SureFit and Pottery Barn covers that covered chairs I've owned in the past were inches too small for the Henriksdals. Darn, darn, darn!

The cost of having custom covers made started at $150 apiece, obliterating the affordability of the Ikea chairs. So I turned to the Internet. (How did we all get along before it???)

A website called Slipcovershop.com came up in my search. The Woodside, NY-based firm offered the natural cotton duck I was seeking, and would make four dining chair covers to whatever dimensions I sent them for $159. This struck me as a pretty good deal.

The company was prompt in sending fabric samples at no charge, and in responding to several measurement questions I asked by email. They also had knowledgeable phone reps, which added to my feeling of confidence in ordering from them.

So I took all the measurements they requested, plugged them into their user-friendly online form, sent photos of the chair, per their request, and entered my credit card information.

The covers arrived when the confirmation said they would, fit perfectly and saved me about $600 on this small project. (That will more than pay for the two large pendants going over the dining table and their installation, too.)

I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this online provider to friends or clients.

Found Gold: Popular Posts from the Past!

Don't miss out on any gold -- subscribe by email

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner