Posts Tagged ‘eco-friendly’

New blog series: Things I Want

June 4, 2010

I’ll be moving into my new house this week and — more importantly — I’ll be inheriting another’s appliance choices.

The kitchen, as pictured in the listing.

Right now, that consists of:

One by one (or two), I’ll replace each of the appliance, either to improve efficiency and performance or because one simply konks out. And in the case of the fridge, that could be sooner rather than later…

Appliances don’t come cheap, and though I get a discount on them, they’re still an investment. So I’ll have to decide where to spend my money and where to save.

Because it’s dominating my thoughts the last few days, I’m going to channel my forthcoming appliance purchases into a series of blog posts called “Things I Want.” I’ll write them based on what I’d pick if I were going shopping today.

My criteria considers performance, features, aesthetics, durability, efficiency, price and warranty — not equally, however. And they all must be sold at Warners’ Stellian, obviously. But there’s really nothing I’d want that we don’t sell.

I’ll split it into two categories,  one aspirational and the other more achievable. I’m trying to think of what to call each category, and I keep thinking I’m ripping “Desired/Acquired” from something. But until I find out for sure…

Look for the first “Things I Want” post Monday.

Get paid to have your second fridge hauled away

June 2, 2010

How much are you paying for your pop fridge?

When I closed on my house last week, I asked the former homeowners question that wrinkled their noses.

“How old was that fridge in your basement?”

They looked confused but told me, “We probably shouldn’t be using anyway, I guess. It was such a pain to move. I don’t know…1960s, I think.”

My jaw DROPPED.

My energy stat knowledge doesn’t go back farther than ’70s models, which cost about $278 per year to run. So a fridge from the ’60s must cost at least $300 to run. That’s some pretty expensive beer they’re cooling.

I think many people don’t unplug their ancient second fridge because they don’t know how to get rid of it.

And certainly most homeowners don’t know that many utility companies pay them money to come pick it up!

Xcel Energy is among the local utility companies with a refrigerator recycling program that offers $35 to pick up a working second refrigerator. Some also run this program for freezers. Of course, you must be a customer of the utility to participate.

Some utilities, like Minnesota Power, up the ante to $50 to get you to give up that beer fridge. Even if you use the money towards a new refrigerator (if you use Rochester Public Utilities, you can get up to $75 for replacing and recycling a refrigerator), your energy usage on the new unit will likely be significantly reduced.

Here’s a complete list of refrigerator bounty programs from the Office of Energy Security.

Are stainless steel appliances an environmental no-no?

May 19, 2010

Stainless steel has become the standard finish for many when replacing kitchen appliances.

The growing popularity of commercial ranges like Viking and Wolf ranges introduced stainless steel to the kitchen.

And soon homeowners wanted to coordinate the clean, contemporary look with refrigerators, dishwashers and microwaves.

But environmental concerns wisely also influence purchasing decisions today.

The Star Tribune’s Fixit columnist, Karen Youso, posed the question of whether stainless steel appliances should worry eco-conscious consumers.

Her answer, happily, is no:

Stainless steel can be — and is — recycled. (According to the International Stainless Steel Forum, new stainless-steel products are made from about 60 percent recycled stainless.) Its alternative, enameled steel, also is recyclable, so stainless steel isn’t significantly better or worse for the environment.

But materials aren’t all that important when trying to determine how earth-friendly home appliances are. What matters most is energy efficiency, said Lise Laurin, founder of EarthShift, a Vermont company that works with corporations and institutions on sustainability.

Of course, we recycle replaced appliances for free on most purchases, so you can feel comfortable about upgrading to stainless steel. Just make them Energy Star appliances.

The bad habit that can waste 20 gallons of water

May 17, 2010

You might not wash your dishes before you wash your dishes, but even rinsing is completely unnecessary.

Energy Star, a joint program by the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy, cautions people to scrape, not rinse. Pre-rinsing dishes can waste up to 20 gallons of water.

Energy Star dishwashers and today’s detergents are designed to do the cleaning so you don’t have to pre-rinse.

And if your dirty dishes are going to sit overnight, use your dishwasher’s rinse feature. It uses a fraction of the water needed to hand rinse.

Speaking of a using a fraction of the water, a dishwasher built before 1994 wastes about 8 gallons of water per cycle compared to owning a new Energy Star-qualified model. So if you replace one of these old dishwashers with an Energy Star dishwasher, you’re saving enough water each week to wash two loads of laundry in an Energy Star qualified clothes washer.

So be lazy: scrape, don’t rinse!

Bosch dishwasher is best-selling model

April 30, 2010

I stress to customers the importance of selecting a product based on individual personal needs, rather than simply following Consumer Reports or a friend’s suggestion.

These sources can help validate a decision, but ultimately, your lifestyle is not your friend’s lifestyle — and I’m sure it’s certainly not Consumer Report’s lifestyle.

Saying that, I think it’s interesting to know what we sell the most of in each category. And in dishwashers, it’s the Bosch Evolution 300 series (models SHE43P02UC white or SHE43P05UC stainless steel).

It makes sense for the value. This European dishwasher is packed with features for $600 (stainless costs $100 more):

  • Energy Star qualified
  • Engineered to be super quiet (52 dBa)
  • 14-place setting capacity, with adjustable upper rack for taller pots, etc.
  • 4 wash cycles, including 30-minute Quick Wash
  • OptiDry for spotless drying
  • NSF Certified – Eliminates 99.9% of Bacteria

Of course there are a ton more features, but I’m only highlighting the ones I found most interesting.

And some features require more explanation, mostly because they’re branded (note the ™) with names that don’t really explain what they do, like AquaStop™.

So, for those keeping score at home, AquaStop™ detects leaks in the solid molded base of the dishwasher, shuts down operation and automatically pumps out water before contact with floors. Some won’t understand why this is important. And the rest of you had to replace an entire kitchen’s worth of hardwood floors and cabinetry due to leaking. Trust me: it’s important.

The Flow-Through Heater™ warms water (up to 161 degrees) more efficiently by having it flow through a heating chamber. Other manufacturers use conventional heating elements where water falls randomly onto a coil, warming it inefficiently. This is bad.

And, for the smart feature with the stupid name win: EcoSense™. Standard dishwashers constantly bring fresh water into the dishwasher, which could be completely unnecessary — the water might not be that dirty. So Bosch, being the energy efficient thinker it is, put a sensor in that checks to see how clean or dirty the water is and decides whether a fresh water refill  is necessary and will customize the selected cycle to the individual load of dishes.

Again, this might not be the dishwasher for you, but there are a ton of different Bosch dishwashers so perhaps you might find that works best for you.

Pode olhar I na sua geladeira?

March 31, 2010

OK, so I couldn’t actually say this phrase in Portuguese, but I sure asked to look at plenty of European’s refrigerators — in English.

I spent the last couple weeks in Portugal visiting a friend (we also traveled to France and Italy), and along the way I invaded the privacy of every kitchen appliance I came across; Rita’s friends wondered why I was so interested in their dishwashers. Why wouldn’t I be?

My apologies for the lack of photos, but I don’t own a camera and decided snapping cell phone pictures of near strangers’ kitchens could wear out my welcome.

So here’s what I learned about Europe, through the lens of appliance blogger.

“Dryers are for emergencies”

That’s what my friend Rita said when showing me the Bosch laundry pair installed under the counter in the kitchen of her house, which would be considered a condo in the states. Nearly all the clothes I washed during my trip were hung on the balcony to dry and later ironed — even the towels! All over Lisbon, clothes hung from lines strung out windows and across balconies. It was quite the sight.

A picture from Flickr of the conventional clothes-drying technique in Lisbon.

In my world of Midwest blizzards and crumpled clothing, irons are for emergencies and a steam Electrolux dryer a lifesaver.

Food must be fresh

Rita’s mother went to the market nearly every day for produce, bread, fish and queijo fresco (“fresh cheese”). The 24-inch wide refrigerator gave little space to bottom freezer compartment, which contained frozen vegetables and soups used — again — “only for emergencies.”

Queijo fresco, or fresh cheese, is simply delicious.

At least in the houses I visited, going to the market often was part of the culture. (Then again, so was double parking on busy metropolitan streets.) But without a built-in icemaker (one Siemens brand refrigerator had smart vertical ice cube trays built-in to the front of the freezer drawers) or water dispenser, there’s more room in the refrigerator for eggs. The Portuguese cook with A LOT of eggs, I learned. My favorite use of egg yolks? Pastel de nata.

I often feel like I eat more out of my freezer than my fridge. I love frozen veggies and meats for stir-fry that don’t have to be prepared within days of a grocery shopping trip. Plus, I grew up in a house freezer jams, soups and casseroles. Most of my fruit sits on the counter.

Cooking fits in a small footprint

“Standard” American cooktops and ranges are 30 inches wide. Proud owners of pro-style cooking products, however, enjoy a cooking space up to 60 inches (yes, that’s 5 feet).

Most of the cooktops and ranges I saw were a slim 24 inches, or “apartment-sized” in Warners’ Stellian store speak. Still, I enjoyed multiple-course dinners that — had I not already given the kitchen a good up-and-down — I would’ve never guessed was prepared in such relatively cramped surfaces.

I regret now not asking whether a whole turkey could fit in the oven, easily the benchmark for cooking capacity concerns here in America. Then again, being blond-haired and blue-eyed got me enough strange looks in Portugal.

I do have a devoted love to the kind of appliances I grew up with — the kind my grandpa and dad and aunts and uncles sold. But I can appreciate the way that Europeans do things differently, sometimes even better, maybe.

But I’d rather not give up my dryer.

10 sneaky ways you’re wasting money in your kitchen

March 23, 2010

This is among posts I prewrote to be published in my absence while I took vacation time. I will respond to all comments when I return. Thank you!

You bought your kitchen appliances on sale. Bonus: they’re Energy Star, so you’ll save money in water and energy costs.

But did you ever think that the way you use your appliances can really affect your utility bills?

Here are 10 energy-wasting choices to avoid:

1. Making your dishwasher heat up cold water

Run hot tap water before you run your dishwasher it doesn’t have to heat up the water as long.

2. Setting your refrigerator and freezer too cold

Your fridge section should be set at 37 degrees to 40 degrees, and your freezer section should be set at 5 degrees. A deep freeze should be set at zero degrees.

3. Using an uncovered pot to boil water

Think of all the heat  — and time — lost without a cover on  a pot of heated water. Instead, a cover traps the energy in.

4. Selecting “Heat Dry” on your dishwasher

If you don’t wash a lot of plastic dishes, or lots of dishes in general, choose the “Air Dry” setting or simply prop your dishwasher door open after the rinse cycle.

5. Leaving foods uncovered in the refrigerator

Uncovered foods release moisture, causing the compressor to work harder. Instead, cover all liquids and foods.

6. Prewashing your dishes

Not only will it decrease the effectiveness of your dishwasher detergent, prewashing your dishes is unnecessary and wastes water. Just scrape off the big pieces of food.

7. Ignoring the gasket on your refrigerator

Close your refrigerator door over a piece of paper or dollar bill so it’s half in and half out of the refrigerator. If you can pull it out easily, your door seals aren’t airtight.

Try moistening the gasket with a thin layer of Vaseline, which should create a better seal. If that doesn’t do the trick, you might need to replace the gasket altogether.

8. Cooking with dirty burners and drip pans

Clean burners and drip pans will reflect the heat better, cooking your food faster and saving you energy.

9. Placing small pans on bigger burners

Match pans to the size of the element. Otherwise, you’re using energy to heat a bigger burner only to let it escape around the sides of the smaller pot or pan.

10. Barely stocking your refrigerator

It seems backwards, but a full refrigerator holds temperature better than a poorly stocked refrigerator. Just don’t pack food so tight as to block the airflow.

Money-saving laundry tips

March 18, 2010

This is among posts I pre-wrote to be published in my absence while I’m on vacation. I will respond to all comments when I return. Thank you!

By now thousands in Minnesota have begun using the new clothes washers they bought as part of the state’s Trade-In & Save program.

But that $200 check isn’t the only sign of money savings hitting your mail box.

Just wait until you see your utility bill. New Energy Star washers save an average $135 in water and energy costs.

Don’t stop there, though. These guidelines will help you save energy, water and money:

DON’T use too much detergent
You’re only helping Proctor & Gamble when you pour in those heaping cups of laundry soap. The owners’ manual provides instructions on the proper amount of soap to use. Using too much soap also can shorten the life your clothing, which could get expensive.

DO keep venting dry and clear.
We recommend cleaning your dryer vent a few times a year (see Dryer not drying? Check the vent). Otherwise, it could get blocked up, causing your dryer to take longer to do its job. And remember to clean your lint filter after every use.

DO switch to cold-water washes
About 90 percent of the energy used for washing clothes in an average washer is for heating the water. Need I say more? If you have tough, oily stains, even switching your temperature setting from hot to warm can cut a load’s energy use in half. Otherwise, you’d be surprised how well cold water cycles clean these days.

DON’T over-dry your clothes
Instead, use a moisture sensor (if you have one) to automatically stop the dryer once it’s finished. Note: Dry towels and heavier cottons separate from lighter weight clothes to ensure proper drying when using a sensor. If you don’t have a moisture sensor, use the cool-down cycle to finish drying clothes using the residual heat.

DO put full loads in the washer and dryer.
Full loads of laundry mean fewer loads of laundry, which mean less energy, water and money used, too. If you must wash a small load, remember to set the water-level to match.

What are your tips for saving money on laundry?

Outdoor kitchen ideas: Part 1

January 12, 2010

It may seem like a strange time to think about outdoor entertaining — or not. If you’re in the Midwest (or Florida, considering its recent weather), you’re probably longing for warmer days spent outside (aka going to your mental “happy place”).

Now, my happy place involves mostly grills, fridges, kegerators and warming drawers. Thankfully, one of my favorite kitchen designers/bloggers — Susan Serra, CKD, author of The Kitchen Designer — aided my call to fill in the blanks (my questions in bold) to my outdoor kitchen ideas.

Watch for “Outdoor Kitchens: Part 2,” wherein I talk about choosing outdoor kitchen appliances.

Visualizing how you will use your outdoor space will inform the design process, Serra says.

What factors should those planning an outdoor kitchen keep in mind?

Outdoor living is moving to the next level! An outdoor kitchen is just one piece of many activities that take place outdoors. When planning an outdoor kitchen, here’s what you need to consider:

Outdoor kitchen size – Are you looking forward to entertaining large groups or cooking quiet, intimate dinners? Something in between? Visualize how you will use an outdoor kitchen…the frequency of use, the conveniences required, and the type of cooking (ambitious or simple) you’d like to plan for. Will others cook along with you or will one or two be responsible for outdoor cooking? Do you need separate cooking stations for prep or meal stages? Now’s the time to dream, imagine, and visualize the flow you’d love to have in your outdoor kitchen.

Location – Consider the lay of the land. Can an existing deck be used? A terraced section? A gazebo to house a separate kitchen? Is the topography of the land level? How close to the house would you like the outdoor kitchen (watch out for heat/smoke/noise issues if an outdoor kitchen is desired to be just outside the house.) What other outdoor activities will impact on the location of the kitchen? Make a list of expected activities (including lounging) to be sure an important activity (Bocce ball anyone?) is not forgotten.

Another factor in outdoor kitchen design is the weather. The weather will play a role in the wear of outdoor kitchen surfaces and your own desire to brave the elements while cooking up a storm!

Style – Of course, this is the fun part! What is the style of your house? Of your gardens, your outdoor living space? Outdoor kitchens can be designed in any way: modern, traditional, rustic or eclectic. All elements of your outdoor room builds on one another, even as one walks into and out of the house. Be style-conscious!

Appliance needs – One of today’s No. 1 hot buttons in outdoor kitchens, an explosion of outdoor appliances, tempts us to want it all: the ice machine, the beer station, the cocktail station, cooktop burners, warming drawer and so much more! Appliances are a large part of the fun of an outdoor kitchen, but consider what is really expected to be needed and used frequently.

Weather is a chief concern when building an outdoor kitchen in Minnesota. What should we consider, and what advice do you have for people in other parts of the country?

Midwesterners often have severe weather in each direction — very hot and very cold! Is your chosen spot sheltered from heat, cold, and wind? With spring storms racing through the Midwest, and extreme temps, consider sheltered outdoor kitchen designs for people, and sun and heat exposure protections for your materials and surfaces as well.

Southerners – It’s all about shade! Consider shade cast by trees, buildings, or other structures/plantings. Note the sun’s exposure at your desired site for an outdoor kitchen. An optimum design would have the kitchen situated in a northern exposure.

What time of day will the outdoor kitchen be mostly used? In a southern climate, each meal can easily be enjoyed outdoors. The sun’s path over your desired location will either be a help or a huge hindrance.

Westerners – Of course, the weather in the western portion of the U.S. varies greatly from warm/temperate southern California to zone 5 in Colorado, so Westerners can take tips from other parts of the country.

One difference is the much lower humidity level, which is more tolerable and will allow a southern exposure in some areas that would otherwise be prohibitive in the deep South. For certain parts of the west — given a large area to work with and a beautiful, temperate climate — you have my OK (if it works for your lifestyle) to GO LARGE, as your outdoor kitchen may well be used year-round (Southerners take note!).

Easterners – The varied zones from the mid-Atlantic region to upper New England has a wide spread in temps as well. Lower to upper New England may wish to seek out western exposure (if the kitchen will be used late in the day) and southern exposure. The size of the outdoor kitchen should be seriously considered due to short outdoor seasons (mountainous Westerners take note).

Serra says those with expansive suburban or rural views have an opportunity to design their outdoor kitchen proportionately larger due to the scale of their great outdoors.

What do you suggest for city-dwellers looking to create an outdoor kitchen space?

What are your true priorities for outdoor cooking? I have family members in New York City who crave the simplest tabletop grill to put on their terrace and to serve their purpose. Many who wish to grill in an urban area are passionate cooks who want the grilled taste and texture and want to cook in a healthy way. For those people, any type of grill appliance will do! For those with a larger space, or a home in an ex-urb community with a small patch of yard, consider a larger grill or even a combination grill/burner/refrigerator appliance that has it all.

Some grills have integral countertop pieces that extend. Otherwise, small tables or built-in brick columns are small but can double as counter space.

What are some trends you see happening in outdoor kitchens?

Choosing environmentally friendly materials in outdoor kitchen design is a strong movement, but one must look for durability as well. Energy efficiency in appliances is ever-progressing. Pinpoint cooking technology in appliances offers the same control as the best in-home appliances do. The style of outdoor kitchens now is a warm, soft, natural look — perhaps rustic, perhaps modern with clean lines, but connected to the style of the outdoor room in a natural, organic way.

How do you feel about including a sink or faucet into an outdoor kitchen?

Having a sink in an outdoor kitchen is one of the best elements one can design into an outdoor kitchen! The sink handles prep, cooking, entertaining and cleaning tasks and is ready for duty exactly when needed. Outdoor plumbing takes on a whole new meaning when considering where and how to plumb a sink. Do you need hot water at the sink for cleaning? Consider a small undercounter water heater. A shut-off valve is a must to drain the system before the winter. A stainless steel sink is a natural choice, but cast iron has good looks and durability. Just cover the sink to avoid a home/play area for small animals! And, stone sinks are definitely a natural!

Faucets serving multiple functions may be useful and most durable in a tall gooseneck style — perhaps in stainless steel, with a simple design to withstand the elements and keep its good looks.

Do certain metal finishes (i.e. chrome, nickel, bronze, etc.) work best outdoors?

I’m a believer in mixing metal finishes. I would not recommend mixing metal finishes with abandon, as the balance and proportion of the colors and finishes within the kitchen as a whole should be thought through.

Can you mix a black or dark brown/bronze faucet with a stainless sink? In some cases (sink surrounding a speckled granite countertop for example), YES. Look at other metal finishes such as lighting, metal furniture and other finishes for a guide.

In my view, mixed finishes make for the most natural of interior or exterior rooms. But — as with any other designed area — it has to make sense in the context of color, texture, proportion and balance.

That said, have fun experimenting and exploring your vision, definitely!


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