Archive for December, 2010

Window Lighting Options

Saturday, December 18th, 2010

window-lightsMost people think of natural light when they consider brightening up a room with a window. But you lose this light source after dark. At night, window lighting can be used to simulate daytime illumination. The illusion of daylight on the interior space can be transformative. It offers a very different visual effect than traditional overhead lighting. From the exterior, the indirect lighting can be highly decorative at the same time making window lighting dual purpose.

Warm, full spectrum LED or fluorescent light around a window is just one option. You can choose any color to enhance the interior décor or mark a particular holiday with window perimeter lights. Rope lighting can be added along all four sides, the top, or just the window sill. Or, small lamps can be added at the corners. Button lights such as those typically installed under cabinets in the kitchen could be used for window sill lighting in some situations.

Window lights can also be directed toward the outside perimeter of the home for security reasons. These make it difficult for anyone to approach the window without being noticed. Burglars tend to shy away from well lit areas at night and look for easier targets.

Drapes, curtains, shades, blinds or any other window treatments can be accented with well placed lighting. In fact, light itself can be a window treatment. This is especially true for windows around a sunroom at night. The light reflections off the glass can give a mirrored effect to the room and make it seem much less gloomy.

Bathroom Skylight Overview

Friday, December 17th, 2010

bathroom-skylightNatural lighting for bathrooms can come from two different sources. The first is a window in an exterior wall. The alternative is a skylight. These can look like a window in the ceiling; or they can be a bit more inconspicuous, such as a solar tube.

It’s often simply inconvenient to have a normal window in the bathroom. It takes up too much wall space that can be used for other things such storage, mirrors, etc. For a bathroom that is centrally located, a window isn’t an option at all. In contrast, skylights are out of the way and do not require an exterior wall.

Some people suggest installing skylights with venting units that can be opened to increase airflow and reduce humidity in the bathroom. Often, such systems are inconvenient to operate. They simply don’t get opened nearly as often as they should. A completely sealed, fixed skylight unit is usually a better choice. A separate vent fan unit should be installed to control the ventilation in the bathroom properly.

Additional Considerations in Skylight Selection

If a roof has load bearing trusses in the area over the bathroom, a large skylight can be a significant problem to install. While conventional rafters can be adjusted, trusses should be left alone. An improper redistribution of the loads could cause the roof to eventually warp or even collapse. A possible solution to avoid this is to install several small skylights instead of just a single large one.

Tubular skylights can be more efficient at capturing the sunlight from any angle and diverting it into an interior bathroom. They’re typically easier to install than rectangular types and will fit into most tight spaces.

Don’t buy the cheapest brand. Over several years seals can break. Condensation can build up on the glass. Rain can seep into an already humid environment. It’s best to buy a brand with a lengthy warranty that is durable enough to last for most of the lifetime of the house.

Kitchen Range Vent Options

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

range-ventMost kitchens these days have some sort of vent over the stovetop. Standard range vents for kitchens need to be able to handle at least 120 CFM (cubic feet per minute) of air. If you cook a lot or the range vent is too noisy, it may be time to upgrade your unit.

The three types of range vents are duct, convertible, and ductless.

Duct range vents direct cooking smoke and steam to the outside of the home. These vents may or may not have a filter connected to them. Modern duct range vents will have a cap that is usually installed on the roof. Depending on the power of the system and how active the kitchen is expected to be, this may include its own filter.

Convertible range hoods can be used with either ductless or duct systems. This is handy because you don’t have to immediately install a duct system to make it operational. But installing a duct system will vastly increase its power and efficiency. The advantage of this kind of range hood system is that it will fit most residential cooking needs.

Ductless range vents rely exclusively on filters to clean the grease and grime from the smoke and circulate the clean air back into the kitchen. Those that use charcoal filters can remove odors, but they must be periodically replaced. Some use an aluminum filter that can be cleaned with soap and water. Filters must be washed or replaced often (every 3 to 6 months) to maintain the vent’s peak operating efficiency. Typically these will not have the power to handle nearly as much airflow as the other two types of range hoods. For homeowners who don’t cook much, these are still a viable option.

Upgrading Bathroom Electrical Outlets

Saturday, December 11th, 2010

119929591_a0ec3a641d_tIt is always a good idea to install GFCI outlets in bathrooms for the highest level of safety. These ground fault circuit interrupter outlets provide an added level of protection from short circuits in areas that may get damp. These are essential for reducing the risk of electrical shock. Many newer homes have these in place already, but older houses require an upgrade.

Along with your GFCI outlet terminal, purchase a circuit tester plug or analyzer. These are available at hardware or home improvement stores. You will use this device to check for any potential problems with the existing wiring. If you find that an outlet has been incorrectly wired, you need to fix it before installing a new GFCI outlet. Most GFCI outlets have test and reset buttons for periodic maintenance. These are not the same thing as the circuit analyzer and don’t serve the same purpose.

Replacing a Receptacle

  1. Test the existing outlet with the analyzer to make sure it’s wired correctly
  2. Turn off the power to the receptacle at the circuit breaker box
  3. Remove the outlet cover
  4. Unscrew the receptacle plug from the electrical junction box
  5. Pull it out of the junction box to gain easy access to the wiring
  6. Mark all wires so that you know which ones are which. There should be 3 types of wires: positive, negative, and ground. Additionally, there might be 2 or more sets of these in the box. It will depend on whether there are additional outlets on the same circuit. Keep track of which are line wires and which are load wires too.
  7. Disconnect the marked wires from the old receptacle’s terminal screws
  8. Connect those wires onto the new GFCI outlet terminals. The line wires coming directly from the circuit breaker box should be connected to the appropriate line terminals. All other wires need to be connected to the matching ones that are marked ‘load’.
  9. Mount or screw on the new receptacle to the junction box
  10. Install a new electrical outlet gasket that fits over the receptacle
  11. Reinstall the cover
  12. Turn the power back on
  13. Retest the outlet with the analyzer
  14. Test all outlets on the same circuit to make sure they all work properly too

Updated Doors Give Bathrooms a New Look

Friday, December 10th, 2010

bathroom-doorWhen you upgrade your bathrooms, don’t forget to consider putting in a fancier door as well. Bathroom doors need not be a simple 24” white painted wooden construction. There are a variety of choices and themes available.


The door frame can be expanded to make the room fully accessible. This requires some carpentry and drywall experience, but can be completed in a weekend. Additionally, the bathroom door can be hung in reverse so that it opens outward into a hallway rather than inward. This sometimes allows more space to get in and out. A swing away door hinge can also be installed to add an extra 2” of clearance.

A Distinctive Look

The door itself can have frosted glass insets to give it an entirely new feel. This affords privacy, but the light shines through. It is also easy to tell whether the room occupied. Stain glass in particular turns the bathroom door into artwork.

Hardware can also be updated to change the look of an existing door. Install a new handle or door knob that is decorative and functional for an affordable makeover. Or, you could consider painting the side of the door that faces into the bathroom to make it match or compliment your new wall coverings.

A Practical Approach

Accessories can be added onto existing doors or built into a new door. This includes door hooks for hanging your bathrobe, clothes, or an extra towel. A storage rack can be added for other bathroom accessories as long as the unit doesn’t keep the door from opening fully. Remember to ensure the hinges are screwed in place tightly since added weight on the door can place strain on the hinge mechanisms.