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Floor Care and Cleaning Guide

Floor Care

Regular care and maintenance of your new flooring is a simple way to extend the life and performance of your investment and keep it looking like new for years. Here are some general guidelines to follow for the different flooring types. 

Carpet

Suck it Up: dirt, dust, and other small particles are sharp and abrasive, and when they collect in your carpet, they can rip and tear the fibers over time. Regular vacuuming keeps these particles from wearing away at the carpet, and it also improves its appearance. 

Bag it: if you choose a vacuum that uses bags, make sure you change the bag frequently to allow maximum cleaning efficiency – and to avoid all that dust blowing back onto your carpets! Newer bagless models may save time and make the effort even easier.

Watch Your Weight: heavy furniture, potted plants and other home décor can crush carpet pile and leave compressions that you may not notice until you redecorate or move. Use felt pads or protective caps and re-arrange the furniture periodically. 

Stay Out of the Sun: in the same way the sun damages our skin, its ultraviolet rays can also damage the color of your carpet over time. To avoid sun lightening to your carpets, shut the curtain or blinds when the sun is most intense or use UV glass or film in your windows. 

Snip the Snags: looped carpets tend to snag over time – especially at the seams. It’s best not to vacuum over loose yarn or pull at the snags. Instead, treat every loose thread like you would on an expensive suit. Grab scissors and carefully snip the snag flush with the plush. 

Watch the Spills: when these events occur to begin the clean-up process by using a dry cloth to blot up as much debris or liquid as possible. The longer you wait, the more the fibers will absorb the stain. Warm water should then be used to rinse the stained area. Press the cloth into the carpet to soak up the moisture until the stain is gone. Don’t scrub and don’t use hot water. You’ll damage the fibers. Finally, rinse the area with warm water and absorb the wetness with a dry cloth. After your carpet is dry, vacuum it to restore its texture and appearance. There are some carpet cleaners that do actually work. Ask your retailer about cleaning products that have earned the Carpet & Rug Institute’s (CRI) Seal of Approval. 

Read Up!: like a fine piece of clothing, carpet is a textile. Though it doesn’t come with a little white tag on the back of the neckline, it does come with maintenance literature provided by the manufacturer. Different fibers, styles, and finishes require specific care. In the same way, you wouldn’t throw a silk blouse in the washing machine, you don’t want to make a similar mistake with your carpet. Read up and follow the suggested guidelines. You’ll be glad you did.

Call the Pros: time and traffic take their toll. It’s just a fact of life. Carpet manufacturer warranties have very specific instructions on the type of professional cleaning necessary to keep that warranty in force. Refer to that material. Then, when necessary, call on a reputable carpet cleaning service to restore your rugs to their original luster. The knowledge, commercial equipment and experience of a professional can go a long way towards removing stubborn stains and keeping your home beautiful. 

Hardwood Flooring

Meet Mat: tiny particles, like dirt, can act like sandpaper and scratch your wood. By placing a floor mat at each entryway and encouraging family members and guests to wipe their feet, the majority of dirt and grime will remain on the mat. Also put a floor mat or rug in any area where water could be splashed – like near the kitchen sink. This will hinder any possible water damage. Note that rubber-backed or non-ventilated floor mats or rugs can damage your floor. Instead use floor mats or rugs made especially for hardwood floors and be sure to shake them out regularly. 

Whistle While You Work: along with a hardwood floor comes the responsibility of keeping it clean. The better care you take, the longer your floor will maintain its original beauty. 

  • Step #1 – purchase a high quality broom so that you can sweep your floor regularly of dirt, dust and other particles.
  • Step #2 – use a vacuum cleaner without a beater bar to get in between the boards and other hard to reach areas. Deeper cleaning techniques vary depending on the installation and finish of your hardwood floor.

For “Finish in Place” hardwood floors, using an 8″x14″ terrycloth mop with a rotating head that makes cleaning corners, under cabinets and along base boards easier is recommended. Professional cleaning products recommended by your flooring manufacturer can be used to remove tough stains and spills without dulling the finish of your wood floor. Makers of “Pre-finished” floors recommend their own specific products for routine maintenance.

Do’s and Don’ts

  • DO use cleaners that won’t leave a film or residue
  • DO use a professional hardwood floor cleaner to remove occasional scuffs and heel marks (just spray some cleaner on a cloth and rub the stained area lightly)
  • DO clean sticky spots with a damp towel or sponge
  • DO minimize water exposure and clean spills immediately
  • DON’T wax a wood floor with a urethane finish
  • DON’T use ammonia cleaners or oil soaps on a wood floor – they’ll dull the finish and affect your ability to recoat later.
  • DON’T wet mop or use excessive water to clean your floor (wood naturally expands when it’s wet and can cause your floor to crack or splinter)

Protect Your Investment – all hardwood floors fade or change shades over time. Like our own skin, wood’s exposure to sunlight may greatly increase this process and cause permanent damage.

Window treatments are recommended to shade your floors from the sun’s harsh rays. We also recommend rotating area rugs and furniture regularly, allowing wood floors to age evenly from UV exposure. To avoid permanent marks and scratches, it’s a good idea to cover furniture and table legs with flannel protectors. Be careful when moving heavy objects across your floor to avoid scuffing. Ladies – your stiletto heels may be fashionable, but what’s not in fashion (or covered by your warranty) are the dents and scratches they cause to wood floors. Likewise, trim your pet’s nails regularly and keep any and all other sharp objects away from your floors. Love your floors and your floors will you back for a long, long time. 

Laminate Flooring

Sweeping & Mopping: dust and dirt act as an abrasive on a laminate’s surface and seriously dull its appearance. This fact of life can be avoided by regular sweeping, dust mopping or vacuuming to remove loose dirt and grime. Either a broom or a vacuum cleaner without a beater bar will do the trick. Vacuum cleaner attachments are useful to capture dust and dirt between planks or along edges. An occasional damp mopping is also recommended. But be careful – laminate flooring can expand when it comes in contact with excessive water. After a damp mopping, a clean cloth should be used to wipe the floor dry. Placing doormats at each entryway is also a good idea to collect excessive moisture and dirt before they enter your home. 

Do’s and Don’ts

  • DO use glides or floor protectors on the bottom of furniture to prevent scratching or abrasion
  • DO lift heavy furniture instead of dragging or pulling it to avoid scratching and abrasion
  • DO use carpet fragments face down under heavy objects when moving them across a laminate floor
  • DO your spot cleaning and occasional complete cleaning using the manufacturer’s recommended products
  • DON’T use soap-based detergents or “mop-and-shine” products
  • DON’T use abrasive cleaners, steel wool or scouring powder
  • DON’T flood your floor with water or cleaner
  • DON’T try to refinish or sand your laminate floor

Repair – replacement laminates may be a slightly different dye lot and/or texture than your original installation. With time and usage, however, the replacement product will blend in with the rest of your floor. With proper care and regular maintenance, laminate flooring will provide you and your home with many years of beauty, warmth and durability.

Vinyl Flooring

Your Mother Was Right: keeping the floor clean is not hard, but there are some guidelines to increase the life of your flooring. Dust, sand and grit particles are the enemy. Sweep or vacuum frequently. Don’t use a vacuum with a beater bar as it may scratch your floor and don’t use scrub brushes. When sweeping or vacuuming does not remove the dirt, mop the floor with clean warm water. Rinse the floor thoroughly with fresh water. If water alone does not clean the surface, use cleaning products recommended by the manufacturer. Most “no rinse” cleaners will work just fine. An ounce or so of liquid detergent or ammonia in a gallon of water will work, but you will need to rinse the floor well. Do NOT use detergents, abrasive cleaners or “mop and shine” products. And always toss in an ounce of prevention. Mats or rugs in front of outside doors will help keep the dust and grit from getting to the floor in the first place. Be sure the mats and rugs you buy are for vinyl floors. Some rubberbacked mats may leave stains or marks. 

It’s Just a Spill: for spots or spills, wipe them up immediately and use the same technique on the spot as you would for the whole floor. 

Sometimes It’s Serious: if you have a seam open up, you need to cover it to keep out the dirt. The same applies if you get a cut or gouge in your new floor. Dirt makes it harder to repair. Call your retailer or installer for information on who should repair the seam.

Ceramic Tile Flooring

Sweeping: dirt adheres easily to the surface of ceramic tile, especially styles with textured surfaces. Regular sweeping loosens and removes most dirt. A vacuum cleaner can also be used to sweep, but make sure you use one without a beater bar to avoid dulling and scratching the tiles. Vacuum cleaner attachments are great to suck up dirt along edges or in between tiles.

Mats: use doormats to keep dirt from coming into your home and shake them out often. This will reduce the amount of dirt being tracked across your ceramic tile floor, and reduces the wear to the finished surface. 

Mopping: ceramic tile floors should be damp-mopped using manufacturer-recommended grout and tile cleaners. For heavier soil, spot clean the floor with a sponge or clean cloth using the same recommended cleaners. 

Heavy Cleaning: mild scrubbing with a soft brush or electric polisher/scrubber may be required for textured tiles. After cleaning with a mild detergent, rinse thoroughly with clean, warm water to remove leftover residue. If necessary, wipe the tile dry with a clean towel to remove any film. For soft water situations, an all-purpose cleaner may be necessary. Apply it to your floor and let it stand for 3-5 minutes. Then lightly scrub with a sponge, rinse well and you’re good to go. Cleaning products available from your local grocery or hardware store can be used to remove soap scum, hard water deposits and mildew stains from ceramic tile. Be sure to consult the cleaning product’s instructions to ensure the product is recommended for your type of tile. After cleaning, rinse well and wipe dry for a sparkling shine. 

Do’s and Don’ts

  • DO clean up spills as quickly as possible so your grout won’t become stained
  • DO remember that while ceramic tile is very durable, it’s not indestructible and may crack or chip under extreme force
  • DO take the proper precautions when moving heavy objects across a ceramic tile floor
  • DO cover furniture and table legs with protectors to guard your floor against scratching
  • DO remember that if a repair is necessary, the replacement product may be a slightly different dye lot and/or texture than the original tile, however, with time and usage, the replacement tile will blend in with its neighbors.
  • DON’T use steel wool, scouring powders, or other abrasives that can scratch the finish of your ceramic tile
  • DON’T use bleach or ammonia-based cleaners – these products can discolor your grout if used too often

Caulking and Sealing – once your tile has been laid and grouted, it’s your responsibility to caulk areas that may be exposed to water. Caulking will prevent expensive subsurface damage and keep the tiled areas looking as good as new. Depending on your lifestyle, sealing your tile and grout may also be an option. After installation, sealing the grout and tile can provide protection from dirt and spills by slowing down the staining process. Grout colorants can transform the original color of your grout and, in some cases, can act as a form of sealant. Be aware that non-epoxy grout joints should be treated with a silicone sealer. Regular care and maintenance will keep your ceramic tile floors looking their very best for years to come. 

Area Rugs

You should vacuum or sweep your area rug as you would wall-to-wall carpeting. Watch the fringes. You don’t want to have to pull them out of the vacuum cleaner. Handmade area rugs can benefit from being turned over and vacuumed. Lift the rug up carefully and you will see all the dirt that had filtered down.

Turn, Turn, Turn: rotating your rug occasionally (annually) will help even wear patterns and prevent uneven fading. When rugs are exposed to the sun evenly, the colors harmonize and the rug ages nicely. If parts of the rug receive too much or too little of sun, one side might fade faster than the other.

See Spot? Go!: clean your area rug immediately after a spill. A water spill should be dried with a hair dryer set on a warm temperature. Try to dry both sides of the rug if possible. Anything else should first be blotted with paper towels to absorb as much as possible, and then apply salt or baking soda to the spot for a few minutes to absorb the rest. Once it dries, vacuum off the salt or baking soda. Professional grade rug cleaners are available. Be sure to test for color fastness before using. Take the rug to a professional handmade rug cleaner to deal with old or persistent stains. Do not try to clean it yourself. You might make it worse!

Read the Labels and Listen to the Pros: if you purchased a handmade rug, it’s best to have it cleaned by professionals. If you have a machine made rug, look to the manufacturer for the best way to clean it. Some can be machine washed. Others can be scrubbed by hand and dried outside.

Does Your Pad Need Padding?: consult with your retailer about the proper padding to be placed under the rug you choose. A pad can help stabilize and protect your rug. Some rugs come with a non-skid backing or a nice foam padding already attached.

Storing: if your area rug needs to be stored for a long time in a place without exposure to light or air, first vacuum it or get it professionally cleaned. For handmade rugs and those made of natural fibers, you might consider packing it with mothballs to protect against insect damage. Never fold your rug – roll it and store it in a dry location.

Rug Repair – repairing a handmade rug is an art form in and of itself. It is time consuming and labor intensive and therefore, often costly. Get the opinion of a professional before you have work done on a handmade rug – and be sure to use a reputable repairman. 

Stone Flooring

It’s Its Own Worst Enemy: sand, grit, and dirt can damage natural stone surfaces because they are abrasive. Use a vacuum on your floor if it’s textured, but avoid the beater bar. Those bristles are tough and might scratch your flooring. An old-fashioned dust mop works well, as does a broom. Wet mop as needed. 

Be Proactive: walk-off mats or area rugs on either side of entrances from the outside will help collect dirt before it reaches your beautiful new floor. Choose a rug or mat with a non-slip surface.

There’s Clean and There’s Cleaner: Damp mopping your natural stone floor will keep it looking beautiful. But your retailer or manufacturer can suggest special cleaners meant specifically for stone floors. Wipe up spills immediately. Use soap, not detergent, for good-old fashioned mopping. Liquid Ivory or a Castile soap product work well. Too much cleaner or soap may leave a film and cause streaks, so rinse well. Change your rinse water frequently. Don’t use products that contain lemon juice, vinegar or other acids on marble, limestone, or travertine. Avoid abrasive cleaners or any ammonia based cleaners. These products will dull the floor’s luster. Retail grout cleaners, scouring powders or bathroom tub and tile cleaners can mar the finish on your stone. Never mix bleach and ammonia. The combination creates a toxic gas. To remove algae or moss from your stone in outdoor pool, patio or hot tub areas, flush with clear water and use a mild bleach solution. 

Green Flooring 

Green Tips for Adhesives:

  • Choose products with low to no VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds)
  • Avoid formaldehyde
  • Look for Carpet and Rug Institure’s (CRI) Green Label® or Green Label Plus® certification

Green Tips for Cleaners:

  • Choose products with natural and biodegradable ingredients
  • Consider homemade cleaners using things from the pantry: vinegar, baking, soda, salt, lemon juice, rubbing alcohol, ammonia, or olive oil

Green Tips for the Whole House:

  • Keep caulked areas caulked (caulking prevents the loss of heat or cold air)
  • If you are installing a new floor, make sure that space between the flooring and the door is just right (too much space means you’re heating or cooling the entire outdoors while too little space means you can’t close the door)
  • Consider that space heaters are energy hogs and can generate more than two pounds of greenhouse gas per hour (use them too much and they might make your hardwood floors contract)
  • Choose low or no VOC products whenever you can
  • Insulation is not just for the attic anymore, it can be added between floors for additional saving
  • Choose a retailer that shares your commitment to the environment and knows about all the latest advances in green products.

How to Clean Your Hardwood Floors

Article by: Bonnie McCarthy

Although installing hardwood flooring is usually more expensive than rolling out new carpet, it’s an investment worth considering, according to data from the National Association of Realtors. Surveys show that 54 percent of home buyers are willing to pay more for a house with hardwood floors. The question now: What’s the best way to clean and care for that popular flooring and keep that natural beauty (and value) shining through? Here’s how.

It’s not the wood — oak, maple, mesquite, bamboo, engineered hardwood or something more exotic — that determines how the floors should be cleaned, but rather the finish.

Surface finishes, often referred to as urethanes or polyurethanes, are among the most popular treatments today and are usually applied to hardwood floors after installation to protect them and make them more durable and water resistant. These finishes create a protective barrier. There are four types of surface finishes, according to the American Hardwood Information Center: water based, oil based, acid cured and moisture cured.

Homes built before 1970, including historic residences, may have original wood floors that were sealed with varnish, wax or shellac. These require a different approach to cleaning. The American Hardwood Information Center says these types of finishes work by penetrating the wood to color the planks and form a protective shield. Using a wax coating after staining provides a barrier against wear and tear and gives the floor a beautiful low-gloss satin sheen. The classic look requires a little extra TLC, however, since water-based products and mopping can damage the finish.

How to Determine Your Wood Floor Finish

To figure out whether or not your wood floors are finished with a polyurethane, shellac, wax or varnish, or have a finish that has worn away and is no longer providing coverage, the American Hardwood Information Center suggests these tests:

  • Run your hand over the wood. If you can feel the texture of the grain, the floor has a “penetrating” finish (usually a combination of a natural oil, such as linseed or tung oil, mixed with additives for drying) topped with wax.
  • In an out-of-the-way spot, dab on a little paint remover. If the finish bubbles up, it is a surface finish, like polyurethane, which coats the floor in a protective layer.
  • In an out-of-the-way area, place a few drops of water. If the water beads up and does not soak into the wood, the finish on the floor is intact. If the water is absorbed into the floor or leaves a dark spot, the wood is unfinished or the protective layer has worn away.
  • If you sprinkle on a few drops of water and white spots form beneath the droplets after about 10 to 15 minutes, the floors are sealed with wax. To remove the white spots, use a piece of fine steel wool lightly dampened with wax and rub gently.
  • If you suspect a varnish or shellac, take a coin and scratch the surface of the floor in an inconspicuous corner. If the floor has been sealed with one of the older finishing methods, it will flake off.

Preventing Dirty Wood Floors

Not wearing shoes in the house is one of the best ways to significantly reduce dirt, scuffs and daily wear and tear, and lessen cleaning time.

The National Wood Floor Association, or NWFA, is more specific and warns against walking on wood floors with cleats, sports shoes and high heels. It also offers this cautionary example: A 125-pound woman walking in high heels has an impact of 2,000 pounds per square inch. Furthermore, an exposed heel nail can exert up to 8,000 pounds of force per square inch. 

Whether you got out your calculator or not, the possibility of impact and denting appears to be undeniable. However, while you can’t always ask guests to shed shoes at the door, it might be a policy worth considering for family members.

What Not to Do

No matter what type of wood flooring you have, the NWFA advises against using cleaning products meant for vinyl or tile flooring. Their take: Self-polishing acrylic waxes cause wood to become slippery and appear dull quickly. 

Another no-no: wet-mopping wood floors, since standing water can dull the finish, damage the wood and leave a discoloring residue. Along the same lines, avoid overwaxing unfinished wood floors in an attempt to restore luster. If a waxed floor has become dull, try buffing the surface instead.

Regular Wood Floor Cleaning

Cleaning floors with contemporary polyurethane wood finishes (for floors installed after 1970) starts with vacuuming, sweeping or dust-mopping the surface.

Vacuuming. Vacuum wood floors daily, or at least once a week with a vacuum fitted with an attachment for wood floors. For regular machines, the American Hardwood Information Center advises turning off interior rotating brushes or beater bars if possible.

Regular vacuuming helps remove dust and dirt particles that play a leading role in scratching and dulling the surface of the floor.

Sweeping. The American Hardwood Information Center says choosing a broom with “exploded tips,” also known as synthetic fiber ends, is step one.

Damp mopping. Damp mopping should be done with a simple solution of pH-neutral soap (like dishwashing soap) and water; or one capful of a mild cleanser such as Murphy Oil Soap in a bucket of water; or a solution using products specially formulated for wood floors, such as Eco Mist Colloid W, Dr. Bonner’s or Method.

In conscientious cleaning circles, controversy swirls around whether to use a mixture of vinegar and water for damp-mopping wood floors. Ultimately, everyone has to do what works best; however, within the past 10 years this method has lost favor, and popular belief now holds that the solution causes floors to dull more quickly and is not as effective as simple soap and water.

To begin mopping, dampen the mop in the prepared solution, wring it out completely, and mop in the direction of the wood grain. Repeat as necessary. As the water in the bucket becomes dirty, dump it out and refill. Many experts (including Martha Stewart) believe scrubbing wood floors with a damp cloth by hand is the ultimate cleaning strategy — unless abundant square footage or protesting knees prove problematic.

But avoid cloths or mops dripping with water. If your floors do get wet or worse, dry them immediately!

Another technique: After the floor has been swept or vacuumed, put your cleaning solution of choice in a spray bottle and mist the floor, then use a dry microfiber mop or cloth and mop in direction of the wood grain. 

It’s important to note that just because a floor is clean doesn’t necessarily mean it will be shiny. If the floor has lost its luster, it may be time to have it refinished professionally. Whatever you do, don’t wax a polyurethaned finish.

Unfinished or Waxed Floors

Unfinished or waxed floors, like those in older and historic homes, as well as floors in which the protective seal has worn away, should never be treated with water or liquid cleansers, which may penetrate, stain or warp the wood. Instead, according to cleaning experts, sweeping with a soft-bristled broom and vacuuming should be done as the primary line of defense. The NWFA says to step away from the mop: Never damp-mop a waxed floor.

Beyond basic care, buffing and waxing the floors once or twice a year should maintain the shine. 

Old-fashioned shellacked floors are not common in most homes. However, if you find yourself the proud owner of this vintage flooring, regular care should include sweeping and vacuuming often. Avoid water and liquid cleansers.

Engineered Wood Floors

Engineered wood flooring is created with a thin veneer of hardwood fused atop a plywood base. The material is stronger and more durable than regular hardwoods, and as a result has become a popular choice.

The cleaning procedure for this type of wood is the same as for hardwood floors with urethane finishes. Keep clean on a daily basis by sweeping and vacuuming and use a slightly damp mop as needed.

Painted Wood Floors

Painted wood floors make a strong style statement and are a clever way to disguise wood flooring in less than perfect shape. To clean them, sweep, vacuum or dust-mop regularly. Avoid scratching or damaging the painted surface by staying away from abrasive cleansers and opting for a simple soap and water solution for damp mopping. Experts suggest drying the surface immediately by hand to avoid streaking and unnecessary moisture.

What to Ask Before Choosing a Hardwood Floor

Article By: Mitchell Parker

So you’ve decided to get hardwood floors. Easy enough, right? Pick a wood and be done with it. 

Not so fast. There are a lot of factors that will determine what kind of hardwood floor your home can accommodate, and what will look best with your existing or planned furnishings and decor. 

You have some basic options: solid wood and engineered wood. Solid wood is what you generally think of as a hardwood floor: thick, solid planks of wood. Engineered wood is made of a veneer layer that sits atop a core of plywood. This construction deals with moisture a bit better and is recommended for concrete slab subfloors. Which brings up another point. The construction of the floor you’re working with pretty much will dictate what kind of wood you can use. 

Here’s how to prepare yourself for choosing a hardwood floor for your home. 

1. Where will the wood be going?

Installing hardwood floors on a second story is much different than doing so in a basement. A space beneath ground level is what’s known as below grade. A floor that’s even with the outside ground level is on grade, and any floors above this are above grade. Where you’re installing the wood will limit your recommended options.

“For example, you’re not supposed to put solid wood below grade, because the moisture coming up through the ground can cause problems,” says Bob Hagen, who owns Magnus Anderson Hardwood. “So an engineered wood is recommended.”

 

 

 

 

 

2. What is the subfloor made of? 

Find out what kind of subfloor you have. The three most common types are concrete slab, plywood and particleboard. This will help you determine whether you can install solid wood floors, or if an engineered wood would be best. 

Concrete. “If you have a concrete slab floor, you’re pretty much limited to engineered wood,” says Andrew Zheng, manager of Unique Wood Floors, which specializes in and ships prefinished hardwood. But don’t fret. You can still get any type of wood in an engineered format. And the thickness of the veneer on engineered wood varies. Higher-end engineered woods “are no less than solid woods in performance and price,” Zheng says. 

(Note: Even the hardest woods, such as Brazilian cherry and hard maple, will ding on an engineered floor if the plywood onto which they are veneered is soft, like lauan, which is a commonly used base.)

Another option is to install plywood over the concrete, but you’ll have to pay for the additional plywood, insulation and labor. “Most people just choose to stick with what they have,” Zheng says. 

If you’re still not sold on the engineered product, Hagen says there’s a way to still have solid wood on a concrete slab (as long as it’s on grade). It just needs to be glued down, preferably by an experienced professional. 

The downsides are that you need completely flat boards (hard to come by in longer lengths), and the glue is so strong that there’s a permanency to it. “If you have a leak or a flood, getting the material up is incredibly difficult,” Hagen says. “You’ll also want to check the VOCs [volatile organic compounds, which are toxic] in the product. And we ask clients about any chemical sensitivities.” 

Plywood. This is probably the most common subfloor and allows for the most versatility with hardwood floors. You can nail solid wood on top or use engineered wood. 

Particleboard. This material was commonly used under carpet in homes built in the 1970s. It’s basically a cheaper version of plywood. For hardwood floors, you’ll need to replace the particleboard with plywood. Then you can add engineered or solid wood.  

3. What are your living habits?

Think about how much abuse your floors will take and learn about specific wood species and their durability. Do you have kids and pets? Have large parties often? Or are you a single person who travels a lot? 

If you have a high-traffic house, you’ll want to go with a harder wood. The Janka scale measures how strong a wood is; basically a BB is fired into a plank and the size of the dent it leaves is measured. “Red oak is considered the bell curve,” Hagen says. “It’s pretty hard and medium priced.” 

You can also play with grain patterns as well as with stains and finishes that will hide dents and scratches. 

4. What style is your home?

You might love the look of hickory but then think differently when you see it covering a floor in a kitchen with modern cabinets. That’s because some woods lend themselves better to certain styles. 

When choosing a wood, consider cabinets, trimwork and door casings to make sure the wood won’t clash with other design elements. And coordinate with the colors of the walls and the amount of natural light. This will affect color choice. If you have a lot of windows and skylights, then you probably have enough light to balance out really dark floors. If you have a dark house already, a lighter floor choice will help brighten things.

If your style is modern: Natural maple lends itself well to modern styles. “It’s more of a Norwegian-looking design with a clean look and not a lot of variation,” Zheng says. Gray-stained oak and boards without knots create a clean aesthetic that also works in modern settings.

If your style is traditional: Go with something like hickory. “It mixes lighter and darker pieces, and it’s more like a traditional cabin feel,” Zheng says. Also, boards with knots and wider planks fit a more traditional style.

Of course, designers do incredibly creative things with mixing old and new, so don’t discount a wood just because it’s considered more appropriate for a certain style. Playing with grain pattern and stains can yield all sorts of interesting results. 

5. What’s important to you? 

Is budget the biggest factor? Or is the appearance all you care about? Determining what’s most important to you will help you determine the right wood for your floor. 

Cost. Engineered wood isn’t always the cheapest route, so don’t think you can’t have solid wood floors on a budget. Zheng says you can purchase generic oak flooring in various stains for $3.50 to $4 per square foot, while lower-end engineered floors start at $2.50 to $3 per square foot. Beautiful hardwood like the popular acacia species can be as high as $6 per square foot.

Maintenance. If you want something that will hold up over time, you’ll want to look at the harder woods (with higher Janka ratings). Also pay attention to the stain. 

The traditional method for staining wood uses a polyurethane finish, which produces a higher sheen. If the floor gets dinged or scratched, light bouncing off the semigloss finish can exacerbate the appearance of those flaws. 

Oil finishes are increasingly becoming more popular these days. They soak into the wood and provide a more matte finish. This can help hide wear and tear; plus, they last longer. While the up-front cost is higher, you won’t need to restain the floor as often, saving you money in the long run.

You can play around with finishes too. Hand-scraped or wire-brushed treatments rough up the appearance, creating a worn look so that if something does scuff it, the mark is not as noticeable. Note that the thickness of the veneer on an engineered floor affects how often it can be sanded down and finished. 

Appearance. Everyone’s preference is different. Some people are attracted to oak more thanwalnut, and vice versa. 

Acacia, shown here, is an exotic wood from Asia that Zheng says is a hot seller right now, because of its mix of lighter and darker tones; plus, it’s harder than hickory. The cost ranges from about $4 to $6 per square foot at his warehouse. The unique look is worth the higher cost for some. 

Pay attention to knots and grain pattern. Patterns in hickory and maple are different than in oak. You might want to spend the extra money for a unique grain pattern, or you may want to save money and go with a less-expensive wood with a better stain.

Consider plank width, too, which alters the appearance of your hardwood floors. Wide-plank walnut and 7-inch European oak are popular in traditional homes at the moment. 

The best thing you can do is see and feel the wood in person. “Wood is a living species. You need to feel what you’re attracted to. You’re the one living in the house, not the designer pushing you,” says Ilan Zamir, CEO ofAmber Flooring. 

6. How will you stain and finish it? 

A stain adds color to the wood. The finish protects the floors from getting dirty. Any stain or finish can be applied to almost any wood. Some people like the color of oak but want the grain pattern of walnut. That’s where staining can come into play. 

Some people can’t tell the difference between unstained black walnut and white oak that’s been stained espresso. Others can look at those woods and their grain patterns and immediately know the difference. It all depends on what’s important to you. 

A finish affects the maintenance. A solid wood that’s been hand scraped for a lower-sheen matte finish is easier to maintain, because you won’t see as much wear and tear. But maybe you want a semigloss look. 

Also, purchasing wood that’s been prefinished will give you a good idea of what it will look like and will save you the time and effort of finishing the floors onsite. Engineered wood is usually prefinished. 

7. How will you test it? 


This step is incredibly important. The last thing you want to do is install 800 square feet of black walnut based on a photo or tiny sample you saw in a showroom only to find it’s overpoweringly dark and contrasts poorly with your furnishings. 

Always ask for a 2- by 2-foot sample of what the floor will look like with a stain and finish on it. Use this to test it with your paint colors and decor to make sure it’s exactly what you want.

How to Pick the Right Floor for Your Garden Room

Article By: Billy Goodnick

Every room needs a floor, and outdoor garden rooms are no exception. Paths, decks, patios, overlooks, trash can storage pads, lawns, ground cover plantings … they’re all floors. If you can walk on it, store something on it or roll around on it, I call it a floor. 

The simplest, least expensive floor material is the dirt that comes with a property. Unfortunately, the problem with an all-dirt garden floor is, well, it’s dirty, even downright muddy when wet. It does have one redeeming trait: It’s dirt cheap. But it’s highly likely that you’ll have to choose something other than dirt for most of your garden. How to decide, given all the options? As with any design decision I make, I look for practicality, beauty and sustainability. 

As the saying goes, form follows function. So first consider how the surface will be used and what’s the most appropriate material to support that use. 


Loose materials for more casual spaces. I consider loose materials like crushed rock, graveland shale (also bark mulch) when I want an informal garden pathway or lounging area. They usually cost less and require less labor than other materials, and you don’t have to be a master builder to make them look good. But because these materials can be movable after placement, you’ll need to do some maintenance to keep them from wandering off.

Hard materials for more formal areas. On the other hand, hard materials such asflagstone, brick, tile, concrete and lumber lend themselves to more “civilized” applications like patios, decks and entryways. These generally withstand a lot of traffic and can easily be cleaned with a broom, a washing down (preferably not in water-scarce climates) or an electric blower, if that’s your tool of choice.

Visual appeal. But we seek more than just utility. The first thing we notice in a garden is its visual appeal and sense of style — not how easily ketchup stains can be vanquished. Take cues from the materials and finishes of your house as well as influences from the natural environment.

Environmental impact. Think about where the materials originated, whether they come from recycled sources and whether they are permeable. If you don’t know, ask.

Cost. For most of us, cost is the elephant in the room. The best advice I can offer here is to notbe penny wise and pound foolish. I’ve found time and again that a bit more expense (sometimes a lot) on the front end assures that you’ve selected the best floor for the job, the one least likely to come back and bite you later. 

7 Materials for Outdoor Floors — and How to Use Them


Stone. Stone is enduring and elemental, taking many forms. Where a naturalistic style is most appropriate, irregular slabs of flagstone edged with dainty ground covers look right at home. In formal dining terraces, geometric shapes solidly mortared to a slab are a practical solution, assuring that the stones stay in place and provide a level surface. 

When it comes to selecting the right stone for your project, consider not only the color, but also its surface texture. Too smooth and it might present a slip hazard; too irregular and you’ll have a hard time leveling a table (or walking in 6-inch stiletto heels — not a problem for me).

Stability and safety are paramount concerns, so be sure to set the stepping stones on a well-compacted base with some of their mass underground to keep them from tilting and moving around. Check that pathway stones are large enough and ergonomically spaced so you can land on them without having to delicately dance from one to the next.

The color of the stone should harmonize with the exterior of your home, other garden hardscaping and natural elements. You’ll find a wide range, from nearly black to gray to white, and browns including rusty oxide-infused shades.

Brick. Brick is another durable flooring material that can express the aura of a classic garden. If the visible foundation of your house is brick, use the same brick as a walkway border to bind the house and the garden into a coherent composition. Or you can unleash your artsy, bohemian style by creating random patterns and infusing the design with random sprinklings of other materials, like stone or decorative tiles.

If you’re the one responsible for rolling the trash cans from the side yard to the curb every Thursday evening, you’ll be happy you passed on a pea gravel path and went with a continuous ribbon of mortared brick.

The color palette for brick requires additional design decisions; colors include a range of nearly black through gray, brown, red and some yellowish tints. Although individual bricks are rectangular, there are endless patterns to experiment with, including traditional running bond, herringbone, basket weave, radial spokes, gentle curves and whimsical layouts that look like someone pounded down one too many beers at lunch.

 

In formal situations brick is laid on a compacted bed of masonry sand or mortared onto a solid slab of concrete. This approach ensures that the brick will not subside or shift, a critical detail under tables and chairs. For paths the standard approach is to set the outer edges of brick in a solid concrete base, pave the inner surface with brick set on well-compacted mason’s sand and then brush more sand into the joints to lock them into place.

For shady, moist areas where moss can cause slip-and-fall accidents, be vigilant about choosing materials, like brick, that can withstand a strong blast from a hose or deep scrubbing with a coarse broom.

Caution: Where the ground freezes, loosely set brick can heave, making the path uneven and possibly dangerous. And steer clear of mature trees with surface roots.

 

 

 

 

Tile. Tile, like brick, offers a broad palette of styles, ranging from crisp, contemporary forms to old-world Mediterranean. Because tile is thin and unable to bear much weight on its own, it is always mortared to a solid foundation. Be careful to avoid slick surfaces, since they can become dangerously slippery when wet.

 

Concrete. Square foot for square foot, concrete is a smart long-term investment. It starts off in a semiliquid state, meaning it can assume any shape. If plain old sidewalk gray isn’t your style, concrete can be textured and colored to look like stone, seeded with pebbles, pocked with rock salt or stained with intense pigments to create bold designs. One problem with traditional concrete, though, is it’s impermeable; it sheds water rather than allowing it to percolate into the soil where it can do some good.

Decking. A contractor friend of mine calls wood decks “dry rot in slow motion.” He’s pretty spot-on. Traditional wood decks, regardless of how much waterproofing sealant you apply each year, will eventually succumb to nature’s forces (or termites). 

But if you’ve got a sloping property, need a level surface for outdoor entertaining and want to avoid the expense and disruption of building retaining walls, decking is the way to go. Since you’re not likely to add on to the deck once it’s built, now is the time to decide how it will be used and make space for all the furnishings you want. 

To avoid the effects of weathering and decay, consider building with manufactured plastic lumber made from recycled bottles, plastic bags and wood scraps. It comes in standard lumber sizes, connects with screws and doesn’t rot, making it ideal for rooftop getaways. 

 

Loose materials.Although they might seem like a low-budget cop-out,loose materials like gravel, crushed rock, compacted shale and decomposed granite can be an inexpensive yet elegant choice, especially whenedged by a richer material, like stone or brick. Advantages include permeability, low cost and ease of installation.

However, these materials are more likely to be displaced, especially if water passes over them. And gritty, sandy materials are the last things you want to track onto your hardwood entryway. One of my favorite design treatments for upgrading crushed rock paths uses enriched thresholds and intersections of stone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Plants. In addition to inert materials, there’s all the living stuff. Once again, your choice should be guided by the intended use: Active recreation, for example, calls for the evenly mowed surface of a tended lawn.

Another consideration is how “at home” a lawn is in your climate. Where rainfall is dependable and plentiful, you needn’t be too concerned about using potable water for irrigation. And there are lots of organic approaches to lawn care, so you can avoid the old-school arsenal of chemical sprays and treatments that can be detrimental to beneficial insects, wildlife and groundwater. But in arid climates, more and more people are going lawnless to help conserve water as well as lower their dependence on fossil fuels for mowing and edging.

 

Meadows, with their tussled, just-got-out-of-bed appearance, are ideal for creating a rustic feeling — and can attract a diversity of beneficial insects and other cool things for kids to discover. You can walk through them or mow romantic, sinuous paths to explore. If you don’t need to wander through the space, any combination of ankle-high perennials and ground covers can provide color and an open expanse that will carry the eye across the garden.

Transition Time: How to Connect Tile and Hardwood Floors

Article By: John Whipple

Transitioning a bathroom’s tile floor to the hardwood of another room is often given little forethought. However, not planning the transition can result in a final product that doesn’t meet your expectations, or a floor assembly that’s destined to fail. 

Most of the floor framing in North America is designed to meet a base industry standard. This standard (usually measured as a deflection rating) allows for materials like small ceramic tile, vinyl, carpet and hardwood to be used on floors. But these days most of my clients want large, natural stone tile. 

Many also want the tile to transition seamlessly from one room to the other. This can be done, but most homeowners don’t know that their home has to be designed with extra strength and rigidity to carry this weight. 

Below you’ll learn what to specify when planning a transition from tile flooring to hardwood. 

This bathroom is a great example of current trends in bathroom design: plenty of space, bright light, a great soaking tub and a walk-in barrier-free shower. 

Notice the flush transition from hardwood flooring to tile. Looking closer (click on the photo to enlarge it), you’ll see that the tile is large (about 1 foot by 2 feet) and made of marble; both features require a stiffer floor than most homes have. 

Tip: If you’re working with large-format tile or natural stone, specify that your rooms meet a stronger deflection rating: L/720, instead of the base-standard L/360. This number indicates how much flex a floor has before tile is installed — both the Tile Council of North America (TCNA) and the Terrazzo, Tile and Marble Association of Canada (TTMAC) require L/720 for heavy installations.

 

 

Most of today’s floor tile is ⅜ inch to ¾ inch thick. Most hardwood flooring is ¾ inch thick. This means that when you put tile next to hardwood flooring, your tile choice will be critical for a flush transition. 

Simply tiling on top of a plywood subfloor is not an option — this practice is frowned upon and is not permitted by the TCNA or TTMAC. However, you can install a thin uncoupling mat (like Laticrete’s Strata Mat or Schluter Systems‘ Ditra) to meet the tile industry’s requirements. 

Tip: Installing a second layer of plywood over your subfloor and under your hardwood allows for more floor preparation options in the future. This is also a valid option if your home’s floor joists were not designed for a stronger, heavier floor. However, this should be planned early on, since it affects how your stairs and stair risers are built.

 

 

 

Here’s an action shot of tile being installed over an uncoupling membrane from Laticrete, which prepares the plywood subfloor for tile. 

Tip: If your floor isn’t strong enough to meet the right deflection rating, an uncoupling membrane won’t help. Increasing the floor joist width or adding another layer of plywood is a better and safer option.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here Tarkus Tile is prepping for a tile installation with a second layer of plywood and an uncoupling membrane. The orange material (Schluter Systems‘ Ditra) was installed with a quality modified thinset (mortar). Since this home’s existing framing was not suited to hold the new tile selection, the installers beefed up the subfloor to make sure the installation would last for years to come. 

Tip: The choice between a flush installation from tile to hardwood and one that meets industry guidelines should not be a hard one. Always follow industry guidelines! They will probably be stricter than local building codes.

 

 

 


 

 

This custom oak transition helps adjust for the difference between the bathroom floor and the bedroom floor in this master suite. This is often called a reducing wood transition, because it works with two surfaces, reducing their height differences.

We centered the tile installation under the door, so when the door is closed you see only tile in the bathroom and oak in the bedroom. 

Tip: I find that these transitions look cleaner if the door jamb (the vertical part of the door frame) overlaps the tile a little bit. But this is hard to do if the tile hasn’t been installed yet. If possible, install your bathroom door after the tile installation.

 

 

 

 

The simplest way to link floor tile and hardwood of different heights is with a transition strip. These strips can be finished to look like the floor or painted to stand out. 

Tip: Leave ⅝ inch to ¾ inch of space centered underneath the door for the bottom of the transition strip. If you affix a piece of scrap baseboard or plywood in the same size, it’ll help keep this channel clean of thinset, making the transition strip much easier to install. 

A custom transition can be milled by your flooring contractor for installation after the tile is complete. Notice where the wood transition meets the tile here — the wood is not cut to a feathered edge but kept to about ⅛ inch thick. This makes the edge stronger. The reducing transition also overlaps the tile, which helps with movement, since wood and tile expand at different rates.

 

Kitchen designs, bathroom designs, and more ∨

When decorating or building a home, don’t forget about the walls.
For small bathroom ideas, browse photos of space-saving bathroom cabinetry and clever hidden mirrored medicine cabinets.

 

Get Grout Magically Clean – Stains and All

If your grout is grossing you out, this deep-cleaning method will help it look new again!


The Armstrong Master Shower

Photo: American Cabinet & Flooring | Project Manager Randy WilsonTile – whether it’s used as flooring, in the kitchen as a backsplash or for counters, or in the bathroom – has one great downfall: grout. Since grout is porous in nature, unsealed grout absorbs all kinds of stains, from mildew to coffee and everything in between. To say it’s a headache to keep grout clean is an understatement.

NOTE: Be wary of using too much lemon juice with marble, since it can etch or damage the stone if left on too long. Hydrogen peroxide can be a safe alternative.

We inherited marble tile counters when we purchased our home. It’s pretty clear that the grout was never properly sealed, so it soaks up stains like crazy. It makes our kitchen feel gross and grimy, even if it was just cleaned. While I’d love to replace the counters with a solid surface like quartz, it’s just not in out budget – plus, we just can’t justify getting rid of something that’s perfectly fine otherwise.

Luckily, I have a foolproof method that will lift most household stains from that pesky grout. 

What you’ll need:

  • Oxygenated bleach (like OxyClean)

  • Warm water

  • Coarse scrubbing brush (like an old toothbrush)

  • Towel

  • Lemon

  • Grout sealer

TIP: Cleaning colored grout should be done with special care. Bleaching agents (like chlorine bleach) can discolor and harm the colored grout. Fortunately, oxygenated bleach does not contain corrosive chemicals and is safe to use on all grout. 

1). Clean the surface thoroughly, removing any surface residue or debris. Let the grout dry fully.

2). Dissolve 2 tablespoons of oxygenated bleach in 2 cups of warm water. Wet the brush in the mixture and apply it to the grout. Let is soak in, then scrub the grout in a circular motion, which will loosen the stain more effectively than a front-and-back motion. If needed, dip the wet brush into the oxygenated bleach to make a paste. Wipe clean, then let dry.

TIP: To lift extra dark stains, squeeze lemon juice onto the stain, let it soak in, then scrub, wipe clean and let the grout dry. Use lemon juice sparingly, since it can damage some tile finishes.

3). Spray the tiles and grout with an ecofriendly cleaning spray and wipe them clean. Let the grout dry fully before making a final decision on whether your hard work paid off – damp grout looks darker than dry grout. 

4). Apply grout sealer after the grout has fully dried to avoid any future stains. Be sure to reapply it each year. 

Still having trouble getting that grout clean? For those impossible-to-remove stains, you might want to consider:

  • A commerical tile and grout cleaner

  • A coarser brush (avoid using metal bristles, though, as they can erode the grout)

  • Grout Renew

If after you’ve tried all three, the stain is still hanging strong, you may have to resort to removing the old grout and replacing it with new. 

TIP: An electric multitool, like the Dremel Mult-Max, helps to make quick and safe work of removing the old grout. 

Get Grout Magically Clean — Stains and All

13 Big Ideas for Small Bathrooms


Small Bathrooms1.jpg

Photo: via TOH. A few things all old house lovers are familiar with: drafty windows, less-than-perfect plumbing, squeaky floors – and small bathrooms. While new home baths have nearly doubled in size over the past 30 years, old home bathrooms average about 5- by 8-feet.

Not to worry, though: you can combat the claustrophobia by scaling down to physically save space. (Pedestal sink, anyone?) And, with the right colors and lighting, you can create the illusion of a roomy bath

Here, we dig into the National Kitchen & Bath Association (NKBA) Design Competition archives to deliver great ideas from Certified Kitchen Designers that you can use in your next remodel. 

Photo: via TOH | Designer: Debbie R. Gualco, California

#1 Rich, Asian-Inspired Design

This homeowner wanted to bring her home out of the 1980s with contemporary Asian design, so the powder room vanity was inspired by a Japanese kaidantansu (stepped chest), which contributes fluidity of design in the cramped quarters. The use of rich and dark colors makes the walls of the small space recede.

Photo: via TOH | Designer: Erica S. Westeroth, Ontario

#2 Day at the Beach

These homeowners opened up their space by getting rid of two small closets and adding task and ambient lighting to help create the illusion of a larger room. Little width remained after incorporating the tub and toilet, so a shallow cabinet was incorporated. Our favorite detail? The playful “dry riverbed” of stones in the floor. 

Photo: via TOH | Designer: Gary Hentges, Illionis

#3 His-and-Her Bath

The use of continuing horizontal lines, a large, frameless mirror, and well-placed task lighting helps to create the illusion of a larger space. The marble-clad dividing wall lends modesty to the toilet area, while creating a recessed storage opportunity. A must in every small bath, the shower has a curbless entry to eliminate demarcation of the limited footprint. 

Photo: via TOH | Designer: Gary Henteges, Illionis

#4 Small and Simple

These homeowners wanted to “keep it simple and do it well.” This cherry and limestone bath replaced a tiny, cluttered space meant for guest use. The curved-front vanity maximizes usable space with two deep drawers on double extension drawer slides.

Photo: via TOH | Designer: Holly Rickert, New Jersey

#5 Zen Escape

The size of this room called attention to an eyesore: an off-center, aluminum-framed window. A floor-to-ceiling Shoji screen took care of that by concealing the flaw, while letting light through. A 7-foot framed mirror, hung horizontally, spans the entire length of the room and reflects the ladder towel rack, which adds storage without taking up floor space. 

Photo: via TOH | Designer: Keri Davis, Oregon

#6 Small Spa Retreat

This bathroom was constrained by bedrooms on either side, so it wasn’t possible to increase square footage. To make the space feel roomier, white marble tile and several mirrored surfaces wrap the room. Floor-to-ceiling cabinets add height, while a glass shower wall eliminates the visual barrier of a shower curtain or doors. Rich wood tones add warmth and create balance. 

Photo: via TOH | Designer: Leslie Ann Cohen, California

#7 Hacienda-Style Bath

This guest bath features a custom miniature sideboard topped with a rich red travertine counter and copper vessel sink. Rich shower draperies and handmade tiles add to the charm of this space, showing that patterns used selectively as accents will not overwhelm a small room.

Photo: via TOH | Designer: Lori Carroll, Arizona

#8 Tone and Texture

It’s not uncommon to create attention-commanding focal points in compact spaces. This powder room vanity is crafted with smooth, flaxen veneer and is topped with a cast bronze basin and patina counter. Recessed lighting around the large mirror illuminates any reflection.

Photo: via TOH | Designer: Leslie Thompson, Florida

#9 Modern Makeover

This vanity continues the lesson of creating a bold focal point in a small space. The upper walls of this ultra-feminine retreat are upholstered in padded silk, but the stainless steel backsplash adds a rugged accent.

Photo: via TOH | Designer: Margie Little

#10 Compact Commode

This teeny, tiny full bath features a wall hung toilet; the tank is hidden inside the 2×6 stud wall, allowing for 9 inches of extra space in the center of the room. Clear glass shower doors eliminate visual barriers and a skylight floods the space with natural light.

Photo: via TOH | Designer: MaryLou Kalmus

#11 Glass Grandeur

A curved glass countertop provides a sense of spaciousness, while hand-applied 1-inch Bizazza glass tiles mimic the swooping curves of the fixtures. The high ceiling features a deep amethyst color wash to visually lower the height of the room, which felt “like a tunnel” to the homeowers.

Photo: via TOH | Designer: Sheila K. Tilander, Washington

#12 Retro Redo

This homeowner wanted a nostalgic style with a contemporary twist. Trumpet-shaped sconces flank an oval mirror that conceals a medicine cabinet. A frameless shower door extends the visual expanse of the space, while allowing unobstructed views of oversized subway and amber glass tilework. 

Photo: via TOH | Designer: Tiffany De Tomasi, California

#13 Eastern Oasis

A freestanding vanity with elongated fixtures, a custom bamboo mirror, and ladder towel rack create the illusion of vertical space in this small guest bath. A soft color palette accented with dark woods, balances the space. Artistic relief panels add visual interest without completely walling off light. 

(You are reading an article originally posted on This Old House)

Universal Design for Kitchens

A Few Simple Changes Can Enhance the Functionality for Any User

Unlike universal kitchens designed years ago, universal design today doesn’t mean boring design, but quite the opposite. It is important to note that universal design practices are broader than that of barrier-free design, and are in fact universal. Almost without exception, features or flexibility added to a product to accommodate individuals with temporarily or permanently reduced abilities in some areas have proven to be beneficial to users in general. In many cases, more people without a disability will find features useful than the number of people in the original target audience.

A curb cutout is a good example. First, they were implemented for people in wheelchairs; however, they are used much more often by people on bicycles, baby strollers, pushing grocery carts or wheeled luggage than by people in wheelchairs.

If you’ve been designing kitchens with your clients’ needs in mind, you’re probably utilizing universal design. Your clients most likely have specific needs for their families. When designing a universal kitchen, you have to keep in mind the capabilities of each person utilizing the space. In most situations, we are dealing with families with small children, parents and in some cases, even grandparents, so we will take this scenario into consideration. Following are some simple ways to incorporate universal design into a kitchen.

Photo: KraftMaid | Passport Series

Surfaces: make sure they’re firm and stable. If there are overhangs on countertops such as snack bars, make sure they are supported well enough for anyone that might use it as an aid for getting up from their chair.

Dish Storage: the bottom shelf typically is the only shelf accessible to average-sized women, and it can also be too high to get a stack of dishes in and out of easily. Utilizing base cabinet drawers as dish storage will make dishes more accessible to people in wheelchairs, shorter people, elderly and for children. When possible, bring wall cabinets down to countertop height to allow more wall storage for dishes. 

Dishwashers: when able, raise the dishwasher 6 to 12 inches from the floor by adding a drawer below or by using two dishwasher drawers mounted side-by-side or on either side of the sink. 

Cabinet Pulls: there are several different options you can use for this application. The touch-latch option for doors and drawers on full overlay or European door styles make the doors longer than the cabinets to create a lip where you could put your hand behind the door to pull open. Knobs and pulls remain good options as long as they are not petite and smooth. Look for larger pieces with plenty of room for your fingers. 

Appliances: some refrigerators are extremely difficult and take way too much strength to open. If designing for somebody with little upper body strength, I would avoid large appliances with heavy doors. Microwave and refrigerator drawers would be better options. 

Light Switches: switches with large flat panels will work best.

Lighting: create well-lit space using combinations of under-cabinet lighting, general lighting, task lighting and decorative lighting. A dimmer switch on each fixture will allow adjustment for every user.

Counter Edges: A countertop that is a contrasting color from surrounding cabinets and the backsplash or countertop, with a contrasting front edge, makes for a visual aid to determine where one surface ends and one begins. 

Wall Ovens: Mount double ovens side-by-side rather than stacked, and mount them at about 30 inches above the floor. 

Faucets: choose faucets that have levers you could operate with a fist, or better yet, faucets with touch control options. Avoid faucets with controls that take a lot of finger strength or dexterity to operate.

Flooring: slip-resistant and non-reflective floors, distressed wood and slate are two examples of universal flooring.

Counter Heights: consider a table height for children, people in wheelchairs, and for those that find sitting and working easier. Create a standard countertop height for an average user, taller heights for taller people and for people that have difficulty bending over. The taller counter height can be anything higher than 36 inches and should be determined by the user.

Reclaim Your Car’s Home

The Garage Ranks as one of the most disorganized rooms in the house, according to several highly rated professional organizers across the country. Worthless junk often crowds out the family car. “They’re one of the most neglected areas and can get out of hand quickly,” says Alexis Rubin, owner of A-rated Funktional Home professional organization service in Littleton, CO. 

She estimates garages make up one quarter of her business, and she charges an average of $500 to $800 to clean and organize them. “Considering that cars are often a family’s second most expensive investment, professional help in desiging a garage that can maximize and maintain its function is a good use of money,” Rubin says. “Beyond that, a well-designed garage can expand storage for a wide variety of household items.”

Professional organizers help homeowners sort, purge, categorize and put items back in a way that makes the most sense to the individual. They will often discard unwanted items, either by donating them to a charity or consignment shop or posting items for sale online. 

Some organizers sell storage products and install them, while others handle the decluttering and bring in help to install cabinets and perform other tasks. “I consider myself project manager of other community experts, such as handymen or women who can assist with hanging,” says Melanie Raelin, owner of A-rated Wits End Organizing in Somerville, MA. “I personally set up donation pickups and yard or estate sales to help the person offset the cost.”


garage.jpg

Photo: Your Great Garage

Highly rated Your Great Garage in St. Petersburg, FL., sells and installs garage-specific solutions. Owner Tony Braswell says costs start at $99 for simple shelving and go up to $5,000 for multiple solutions in a large garage, such as overhead rack systems, epoxy floors and custom workspaces. 

Angie’s List member Carol Pressman of New Port Richey, FL., hired Baswell in July to clear out junk, organize her hobby paraphernalia and corral her grandchildren’s toys. The job, which took just over two days and cost $2,800, included an epoxy floor coating, overhead racks, wall storage and a customized gardening workbench. “It will make everything I do much more pleasant,” she says. “And they took away everything I didn’t want – that was a huge selling feature.”

Rubin and other organizers stress the importance of developing a system that’s easy to maintain. “Clearing out a space and making it look nice is just the beginning,” she says. “Organization is about maintenance. We can help change habits and build structures that work for you.”

Angie’s List member Cathy Flanders of Littleton, CO recently hired Funktional Home for the third time. After tackling the home office and kid’s playroom, Flanders wanted to maximize storage space for toys and bicycles and add a mudroom area in her garage. For less than $500, Rubin cleared out unwanted items and added shelving, hooks and bins to store outside toys, garden tools and other supplies. “It doesn’t just look pretty – she put in new systems that are easy to keep up,” Flanders says. “Our garage was a disaster,” Flanders says. “We could only maybe fit one care, if everyone held their breath. Now, we have a workable garage that should last.”

Flanders says her favorite part is a brightly painted accent all that Rubin suggested. “It feels like a finished space that’s an extension of the house,” Flanders says. “It makes me smile”.