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Kitchen Countertops - A Value Added Upgrade

by Desi Sowers, REALTOR, ABR, GRI, SRS, CRS

The material that covers your kitchen counters is one of the most visible and memorable features in your home.  It helps to establish the design, color theme, and level of finish out.  Today there are new choices in countertops, and old ones are making a comeback.  If you are thinking of making a change, here are a dozen countertop choices for you to choose from:

Granite:  This has been the most popular choice in recent years.  Granite is a strong, heat tolerant, and stain resistant countertop.  Its natural look is inherently beautiful, and it makes a strong statement.  To lower the cost, tiles can be used instead of slab granite.  On the negative side, color selections are limited, the cost is high, and the shiny polished surface is less in demand than it has been.     

Marble:  Marble offers more color choices than granite, and is available in a variety of tile sizes, such as 16 x 16, or larger.  There are several surface finishes for marble - from shiny polished, to matt honed, to rustic tumbled.  The honed matt surface is smooth, cleans easily, and makes a good kitchen workspace.  Marble is slightly more porous than granite, and must be sealed after installation. 

Soapstone:  Soapstone is a very durable and non-porous stone with a matt finish, but the color is limited to grey/black.

Limestone:  Various kinds of limestone, such as Jerusalem stone, are available.  They may be too porous for the high use and food stain environment of a kitchen countertop.  Frequent sealing may be necessary for maintenance.

Slate:  Slate is used for floors and has been used as a natural stone countertop.  However, some might consider the texture to be too rough for the kitchen counter.

Ceramic Tile:  Ceramic tile offers a wide variety of colors and textures.  New tiles are introduced frequently.  Tile has been out of favor in recent years as the countertop of choice, but could be a good fit with some kitchen styles.  The grout joints in ceramic tile are wider than stone tile.     

Stainless Steel:  Stainless steel is an interesting choice, and could be a perfect for some kitchens.  For others it may be too modern or cold.   

Concrete:  Concrete is coming on strong in many areas.  It offers a soft color palette, but there are concerns over stain resistance and durability.      

Plastic slab:  Plastic slab material, such as Corian, is very hard, easy to clean, and practical.  It was popular, but has lost favor in recent years because of its manufactured look.   

Plastic Laminate:  This is an affordable, colorful choice that is making a comeback for some urban style homes.    

Engineered Stone:  Engineered stone, such as Silestone, is a slab material made of stone pieces held together by epoxy plastic.  This is similar to Corian, but with quartz and other stone chips added for a more natural look. 

Glass:  Several types of glass composite counters are gaining in popularity.  One, such as EnviroSlab, is made of glass chips bound in plastic.  Another, such as Icestone, is a colorful countertop made of glass chips bound in concrete.  The green movement has brought these to the forefront because recycled material can be used.   

Nothing updates a home more than a new kitchen countertop, and nothing dates a home more than a poor one.  The kitchen counter is a feature that can add immediate value to your home.  But, before making this upgrade, make sure that your new countertop is compatible with the overall design style and colors of your home. 

Written by Roselind Hejl

Six Greener Ways to Stay Warm this Winter

by Desi Sowers, REALTOR, ABR, GRI, SRS, CRS
 

With cool weather on the way you may be wondering just how you’ll manage to maintain your eco-friendly habits and stay warm at the same time. While your home, like most in America, will likely rely on fossil fuels for heat for years to come, it’s still possible to have a “greener” winter.

When it comes to home heating costs, “green” practices can also save you another kind of green – cash. The average American household spends $2,000 on energy costs each year, and half of that total goes to heat and cool the home, according to EnergyStar.

“Making environmentally friendly changes to your heating habits can significantly reduce household energy costs,” says David Kogan, a home-heating expert with Indus-tool.

Here are six simple ways to stay green and warm this winter:

1. Winterize your home. Make sure weather stripping around doors and windows is adequate and in good shape. Check the insulation in your attic. If you can see the wooden beams, you likely need more insulation. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that about 80 million American homes are inadequately insulated. Proper insulation can save you up to 20 percent on energy bills, according to the DOE.

2. Use safe, green electric space heaters. Oil or kerosene heaters present tipping and burning hazards, plus they emit greenhouse gases. Modern electric space heaters are more energy efficient. For maximum safety and efficiency, choose a heater like the Toasty Toes or Cozy Legs flat panel heaters by Indus-tool. Thermostatically controlled, both products put the heat right where it’s most needed – on your feet and legs – rather than inefficiently trying to heat an entire area. “They use less energy than an incandescent light bulb and are safe for use around pets, children or elders,” Kogan says. Visit
www.indus-tool.com to learn more.

3. Dress for the season. “Every winter, I’m amazed by the number of people I see dressed inappropriately for the season. You don’t have to sacrifice comfort to look good,” says Diane Artzberger, a fashion expert who blogs about beauty, fashion and cosmetics at
www.thebeautyalchemist.blogspot.com. “You can look fashionable and stay warm by layering and choosing fabrics like cashmere, flannel or polar fleece and warm styles like hoodies, turtlenecks and cardigans.”

4. Install a programmable thermostat that will automatically reduce heat settings when you don’t need as much warmth – like when you’re not home or when you go to bed. Homeowners can reduce energy bills by as much as $180 a year with a programmable thermostat, according to the government’s EnergyStar program.

5. When you’re home, set back the heat and get cozy. Use afghans and throws to stay warm. Create a warm atmosphere with candles and the fireplace – just be sure to follow basic safety rules. Don’t leave candles or fireplaces burning unattended and keep flammable items away from the flames.

6. Rely on nature to help heat your home. Not everyone can afford to install solar heating panels on their homes, but you can open the drapes and blinds on a sunny day. The sun’s rays will help warm the house. Use landscaping wisely as well. Cut back shrubs or trees that block the sun from coming in windows. Plant trees on the north side of the house to naturally insulate it from winter’s northern winds.

On average, homeowners will pay 20 percent more to heat their homes this winter, according to the Energy Information Administration. A few environmentally smart changes can make a big difference in how much more winter’s bite will hurt your wallet – and your conscience – this season (ARA)

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