KBB Collective | The Designers' Corner

Archive for September, 2010

Sep 21 2010

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What does energy efficiency have to do with a kitchen remodel?

If you’re considering undergoing a kitchen or bathroom remodel, you couldn’t find a better time to start your new project. Low interest rates, slow contractors and eager designers are waiting for your call. (And, thanks to the economy, you can’t afford to move to a new home anyway…)

In planning your remodel, you’ve probably looked at these cool green countertops, these gorgeous modern backsplash tiles and even found these formaldehyde-free cabinets.

But even the most green minded of remodelers may be overlooking the most important part of building green: energy efficiency.

Energy efficiency may not be the first thing you consider when doing a kitchen or bath remodel… in fact, it may not be something considered at all. In reality, a simple remodel offers the chance to cut your monthly utility bills. Through selecting energy-efficient appliances and insulating the existing walls, a kitchen remodel could cut your overall home energy bills by 20 percent. On average, any older, standard appliance you upgrade to an Energy Star model will reduce its individual energy use by 30 percent. It’s just a matter of making the right choices.

Take, for example, the refrigerator. The refrigerator is the largest energy user in your home. By replacing a 1990 or older refrigerator with a new Energy Star model, you’ll save enough electricity to light your home for four months. More than 47 million outdated refrigerators are still in use in the U.S. If these were upgraded to Energy Star units, it would save enough energy to power 14 million homes.

The average family does nearly 400 loads of laundry a year. If you upgrade that washer and dryer built before 1999, you’ll save enough energy to pay for a year’s worth of detergent.

Energy Star-rated dishwashers use far less water and over 40 percent less energy than conventional models. Saving water also saves energy, so choose wisely. Every bit of energy saved translates into less carbon emissions produced. By lowering your energy use, you are helping combat global warming.

Here’s how to know when to upgrade that appliance, even if it still works:

Recent national standards have reduced the energy use of refrigerators to less than a third of 1973 models. Just since 2001 the energy standards have dropped by 40 percent.

Replace any refrigerator manufactured before 2001 with a new, EnergyStar rated model. Current EnergyStar refrigerators use half the energy as models made before 1993.

Washing Machine
Replace any washing machine manufactured before 1999 with a new, Energy Star-rated model. Since it saves both energy and water, replacing an inefficient washing machine provides the biggest savings over any other appliance. The Fisher & Paykel EcoSmart Washing Machine (pictured) uses only a quarter of the energy and water of a traditional washer.

Clothes Dryer
In terms of energy savings, it is not worth replacing that clothes dryer until it reaches the end of its useful life. Rather than upgrading it, just use a lower heat setting and clean the lint filter after every use. Better yet, use a clothesline instead. Not only does it save energy, but your clothes will last longer too.

Replace any dishwasher manufactured before 1994 with a new, Energy Star-rated model. Current Energy Star dishwashers use over 40 percent less energy than older, inefficient models. The Bosch Ascenta Dishwasher (pictured) automatically senses how dirty the dishes and adjusts the water level, cutting energy use by 20%.

Energy efficiency is at the core of every global warming climate solution. Even a small remodel is a chance to correct the mistakes of the past and set us on the right track for the future.

By the way, you’ll be able to experience most of these companies in person at the upcoming West Coast Green Conference in San Francisco on September 30-October 1st.


Eric Corey Freed is an architect and author of four books, including “Green$ense for the Home”.

Sep 15 2010

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Are you selling yourself short?

As an industry, we keep forgetting the general public doesn’t know as much about our business as both we and they think they do. The media supplies them with construction jargon, so that they converse very knowledgeably about landing spaces and work areas, but almost all of us have stories about discovering gaps in that knowledge well after the project has started.

A few years ago, I read an invaluable article by the futurist Faith Popcorn. (She’s the one who accurately predicted cocooning.) I’m horrible at exact wording, but the gist of it was: No matter how vast the Internet is, or how knowledgeable people are, they’re secretly hoping you’ll have more knowledge and experience than they do.

Now I know some pros who give clients whatever they want. I also know some who take over completely. But as we transition to the next generation, those days are coming to a close. This next generation of homeowners (and a growing portion of this generation) wants to be part of the team. While they enjoy getting the information they want from the media, according to Faith, they secretly fear they’re only getting part of it. Judging by the tales of woe in consumer forums, they are.

If we’re going to welcome them on board, we have to provide the answers that allow them to make informed decisions. That also means putting ourselves in their shoes–Do they know we make two trips for recycling during the demolition process? Do they actually know that granite has a grading system and the poorer the granite, the more inclusions and fissures? Do they know that 100W light bulbs will be phased out in 2012?

We know more than we think we do.

I’m not saying you have to be a show-off, or you should overwhelm them with your knowledge. Clients who have been embarrassed or made to feel they’ve asked silly questions are non-clients. I’m saying, re-ask the above questions: Do you know how we try to be environmentally friendly? Would you like a crash course in granite since you’re interested in it for your own home? Would you like to know some of the key changes coming to home design?

Don’t be put off by the client who seems to know it all. Find the knowledge they need but didn’t know they were looking for, and you’ll set yourself apart with a lot of work over the next decade.

Until next time,


Sep 14 2010

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What do you say when they say you’re “too expensive?”

If there’s one thing many kitchen and bath professionals dread, it’s price objections.

They shouldn’t. Questions about price are buying signals. Prospects must be at least somewhat interested in your cabinets to ask about their cost.

Often, they aren’t looking for the best price. They’re looking for the best solution to their design problems.

Price negotiations are no time for original thought.

That’s why you should memorize and share, at a moment’s notice, a list of reasons why you’re worth your design or consultation fee, margin, mark up, etc.

Fee “justifiers” can include things like your…

+ Experience
+ Design specialties and expertise
+ Awards and other recognition
+ Clients: who you’ve served, and how
+ Education

Another way to justify your fee: Explain how you save your clients time, money and headaches, etc.

Keep the following ideas in mind the next time you talk price with a prospect:

+ You can set and get any fee if you can differentiate yourself from competitors who charge less.
+ It doesn’t matter what you say about your prices. What matters is what you say about yourself. How you charge is less important than how you promote yourself.

+ If a prospect says you’re “too expensive,” she means that you’re not a priority right now. Your mission: Educate her as to why investing in your service should be a priority.

+ If someone calls your rate “too high,” say: “Too high compared to whom? Too high compared to what?” Establish their price parameters.

+ Compare apples to apples. When you’re told a competitor’s bid is less than yours, make sure there’s a fair comparison of everything that both firms offer.

+ Share your “only.” Nothing justifies higher prices more than the phrase: “I’m the only window fashion professional in this area who…”

Fred Berns, an interior design industry coach, is the author of the audio program “Overcoming Price Objections: How to Turn Price Bellyachers into Believers.”

Sep 13 2010

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Interview with Alex Wilson of BuildingGreen


I spoke last week with Alex Wilson, founder of BuildingGreen and executive editor of the Environmental Building News.

Alex was just named the 2010 winner of the Hanley Award for Vision and Leadership in Sustainable Housing, and will be speaking at the upcoming West Coast Green Conference in San Francisco.

BuildingGreen has been in my secret toolkit for many years and it is the first place I turn when needing information on a green material. Looking for a “green” cabinet manufacturer? Well, BuildingGreen lists 74 articles and product listings for you to review, as well as a detailed discussion of the issues in cabinet manufacturing, including formaldehyde and wood species. Think of it as the Consumer Reports of Green Building. Their unbiased (and often surprising) reviews don’t play any favorites or have blind faith in any company.

For nearly two decades, BuildingGreen has published their Environmental Building News (EBN) and has always been ahead of the curve on controversial topics in Green Building. They explained the good and bad side of the vinyl industry way back in 1993. EBN discussed the controversy surrounding waterless urinals in 2002. Any green building issues you’re grappling with now are ones they’ve likely dealt with years ago.

While Alex and his staff are inundated with new product information, he continues to be surprised with new innovations in materials. He is particularly excited to see the West Coast Green innovation pipeline.

When asked for a wish list of products he’d like to see, Alex immediately asked for an alternative to polystyrene (you may know it by the brand name Styrofoam™). This oil-based product raises many concerns over the chemicals, flame retardants and the blowing agents used to install polystyrene. He is currently obsessed with finding below-grade insulation alternatives to polystyrene, and has been featuring some on his weekly blog.

Recently, BuildingGreen revised their previous position on another controversial subject—the use of fly ash in building products.

Fly ash is the powdery soot byproduct from coal-fired electric power plants. Since the burning of coal provides up to 85% of our electricity (depending on where you live), a great deal of this waste product is produced. Some 71 million tons of fly ash were produced last year, resulting in 71 tons of mercury byproduct.

Depending upon the use of the concrete, fly ash can be substituted for 20%-50% of the Portland Cement in the concrete mix. There have been reports of some people using as high as 70% fly ash substitution.

“Like most people in the Green Building field, we used to think fly ash was great virtually all of the time, since it kept this waste material out of the waste stream,” Alex explained. “But concern about the leeching of heavy metals [mercury, for example] has caused us to modify our position somewhat. We are no only recommending fly ash in applications where 1) it’s locked up, as in concrete, and 2) the fly ash replaces the carbon emissions that would normally come from manufacturing Portland Cement.”

Officially, BuildingGreen no longer considers the use of fly ash in products to be beneficial unless it offsets greenhouse gas emissions.

Portland Cement, the key ingredient in the mixing of concrete, is one of the most carbon intensive industries. The processing and heating of the cement are responsible for 8%-12% of all carbon emissions. Since concrete is a required part of virtually every building, a substitute like fly ash could go a long way to cut carbon emissions.

I wrote about it back in 2006 and the logic of using fly ash to replace a portion of the Portland Cement still makes good sense. After all, cement manufacturers are already substituting up to 15 percent of the Portland Cement with fly ash to save money.

You can read more at BuildingGreen, download the latest issue of the Environmental Building News and read Alex’s weekly blog.


Eric Corey Freed is an architect and author of four books, including Green$ense for the Home.