Pimp My Kitchen– Appliances as Bling

  kitchen-fancy-blogIf you can afford the kitchen design shown in the photo, good for you. Every item shown has either an Energy Star rating or other “green” label, all are at the top of their peer group for energy performance, and the whole ensemble looks terribly impressive. If this is the prettiest, priciest kitchen in the free world, give it a blue ribbon. The basic ergonomic triangle is present (fridge, stove, sink all accessible without traveling far), the storage space makes the supplies for each operation available where the work is to be done, the counters are small but well-placed for staging a meal-in-progress, and there appears to be room for a wheeled workstation that will serve as portable prep space, ingredient setup and serving dish transport. Woof. What a kitchen!

kitchen-basic-blog1Now look at this kitchen. It’s plain, sports simple appliances, is short on storage space (presumably the hidden section at right contains the cabinets and cooking gear), and appears to have been squeezed into the corner of an existing room (the window would have been set higher in a room designed as a kitchen). This kitchen has no unifying theme, no flow of concept, no comforting proportions, no evoked period memory, no sense of who it is, and no self-declaring identity. I made all that crap up. Sorry. It’s a simple little kitchen, low in cost,  ad hoc in design, crude in aesthetics, and it just about works. And oh- the appliances are still green-rated, such as they are.

    Choose your kitchen. They’re both labeled green, both functionally adequate, both capable of facilitating good food preparation. I estimate one cost about $20,000 to install, appliances included. The other cost at least $100,000 dollars excluding structural remodeling. They both contain the same basic  equipment: range, vent hood, toaster, microwave, refrigerator. One has an automatic dishwasher, the other not. They both, surprisingly, use about the same amount of energy to prepare similar dishes. They both accommodate informal eat-in furniture, they both work for either a single cook or a cook with a helper or two. They both work.

kitchen-leed-3-blog

 The kitchen in this photo is rated as LEED compliant (Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design), which means it is built to rigid standards for energy conservation and sustainability. There are heat exchangers under the floor to capture the heat from drain water. The appliances are manufactured from materials not harmful to the environment, and the finishes on the natural wood cabinets contain no harmful chemicals. The refrigerator runs on a gas deemed no threat to the atmosphere. Don’t ask what this kitchen cost. Some of you might be able to afford it, but you would choose this kitchen not because it makes the others look wasteful, or pays for itself in energy savings, but because you desire the LEED rating and the prestige that comes with it. Despite its advantages, this kitchen runs on energy, and the more you use it, the more it costs to store and prepare your food.

   Kitchens perform, I’m trying to say, much more according to use than to design. The most energy efficient kitchen is the one never used. The most energy extravagant kitchen is one that is used to prepare foods at high temperatures, that consumes large amounts of water and energy for cooking and washing, and that keeps the fridge door flapping constantly while things are taken out and returned to cold storage. The best kitchen, to sum up, can be either one, two or three from our discussion, according to how it’s used. The best kitchen, actually, is the one used by the smartest cook.

House too tight? Not Likely

In this season of airing linens, opening windows and putting up screens, the subject of a tight house isn’t really pressing. But if you start now, you can get yourself ready for a tighter, less energy-hungry house next winter, ant-and-grasshopper style, while your neighbors are all atwitter about poisoning their crabgrass.

The basics of tightness are not too tough, even for non-techies who don’t do carpentry. In New England, barring new, super-sexy LEED or Energy Star homes, it’s difficult to achieve “too-tight” status in an existing, conventionally constructed house. I’ve seen too-tight skirts and too-tight sweaters causing problems for passing traffic, but houses can get very tight without causing much trouble if you know the secret.

And here’s the secret: start from inside the house. There you go. The house in the photo, which by the way is actually in Bulgaria, is open to the air in every way possible, and, as a questionable result, will probably never rot and fall down. Accumulated moisture is the root cause of most “sick” buildings, and of most structural and health-threatening rot in residential construction.
Start inside the house, reducing the escape of moist air into walls and ceilings in winter, and you will also, happily, be reducing the source of trapped moisture that produces dry rot, mold, insect damage and peeling paint.

Caulk. Learn to caulk. If you can’t learn to caulk, learn to wipe up caulk. That will do for a start.
Find the gaps in your walls, floors and ceilings and fill them (within reason– up to 1/4 inch gaps, rule of thumb) with an appropriate type and color of caulk. Use paintable caulk on your house’s interior; true silicone is a wonderful product, but it looks like poo when you can’t match the color, and it REALLY won’t take paint.

Foam. Learn to foam. But don’t try to wipe up foam. It’s not like caulk. Use foam for gaps too large for caulk, and if you havc some large gaps visible from inside your house, don’t hang your head in shame. It’s no disgrace to have large gaps, it’s only a disgrace not to fill them.

Weatherstrip. Learn to weatherstrip. Make old doors and windows tighter, not with paint (unless you’re desperate and you’re REALLY SURE you’ll never have to open that window/door/access panel again) but with those nifty engineered strips and flaps that allow things to move without being drafty.

Well done. And equally helpful, by the way, during cooling season if you use air conditioning. Next time we’ll delve a little into the wall/moisture/tightness question so you can see what all the fuss is about.