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Tips on Buying Bath Vanities and Cabinets

Tips on Buying Bath Vanities and Cabinets
Bath vanities and cabinets are steamed, banged, and splattered. Make sure the ones you select will work hard for you.

A double sink bath vanity with sconces

Return to the Best Bath Ideas for Love & Money

Bathroom vanities are the hardest working cabinetry in your home. They have to hold up to daily wear and tear as you get ready for work or give kids their baths. And they’re constantly exposed to moisture, which is no friend to wood or wood-like materials.

Also, bathroom space usually is at a premium, so the size and location of cabinets is doubly important. A wider vanity will give you more storage, while a narrower vanity will give you more room to move around.

So many choices and decisions. Here’s a guide to selecting and placing vanity cabinets.

Fitting Vanities and Cabinets to Your Budget

You can find bathroom vanities and cabinets for any budget and style, although the lower your budget, the more limited your style choices.

Budget ($70 to $150 per linear foot): Stock cabinets are mass-produced and afford no customization. But you save money and time by buying stock.

Stock bathroom vanityImage: Indigo House Furnished Apartments, NYC

They start at 9 inches wide and go up in 3-inch increments to 60 inches wide and come in 12-inch or 24-inch depths.

I bought a stock vanity when I added a basement bathroom recently, and I love it. You can pluck a 30-inch-wide vanity right from the shelf, no waiting time, for $150 to $500.

Better ($450 to $540 per linear foot): Semi-custom gives you more choice of size and style. You can change widths in 1-inch intervals, and depths according to manufacturer guidelines. You’ll have more choices in door styles, stains, and glazes, though not as much as in custom cabinets. Figure on waiting around three weeks for delivery.

Best ($1,200 to $1,400 per linear foot): Custom cabinets let you achieve your dream cabinet with any size, design, or color. Want a high cabinet (36-inch to 42-inch) for more storage and to reduce stooping to brush your teeth? Custom can give you that. Want beading around doors? No problem. But that customization comes at a cost in money and waiting time — six to eight weeks.

Custom bath vanity cabinetImage: Bethany Cropsey, Designer

Cabinet Construction: The Key to Quality

Bathroom cabinets must stand up to moisture and a lot of opening and closing. So construction of the box — the bones of the cabinet — is important.

Budget: You’ll get 1/2-inch particleboard sides; stapled, nailed, or glued drawers; and partial-opening drawer slides. This construction works best for powder room vanities, which don’t see as much wear and tear. But the moisture in full baths will eventually weaken the particleboard (it’s only made of pressed sawdust) and make it sag. Stock cabinet drawers don’t have lasting power.

Better: Now we’re talking 1/2-inch plywood boxes — way sturdier than particleboard — and dovetailed drawers, which hold up better than stapled or glued drawers.

Dovetail joineryImage: Mark Juliana

Top-of-the-line construction includes 1/2-inch to 3/4-inch plywood or hardwood sides, and 5/8-inch hardwood drawers with dovetail or dowel joints. You can get full-extension drawer glides, which make it easier to see what’s in the back of drawers, and soft-close glides that eliminate banging.

Tips for Choosing Bath Vanities

  • Ornate cabinets with beading are lovely, but may not be practical in bathrooms. Water from shower steam collects in beading, and you’ll have to towel them off to prevent droplets from eating away at finishes. If you do go for doodads, make sure the cabinets are sealed well.
  • Unless you love mopping floors, buy base cabinets that rest on the floor, rather than on wood feet. Feet give cabinets the look of furniture, but cleaning under those cabinets is a constant chore.
  • If a local craftsman builds your custom cabinets, make sure the cabinets are sealed well. If not, they won’t stand up to bathroom moisture.
  • Make sure your bathroom fan is in tip-top shape to prevent the room from getting too steamy and penetrating wood cabinets.
  • If you need maximum counter space, pick a vanity with an off-center sink.

Off-center sinkImage: Skobel Homes
Vanity Location is Vital

Once you’ve decided what type of bathroom vanity you want and can afford, you have to decide where to put it — not as easy as it sounds because every square inch of bathroom space counts.

  • Make sure cabinet doors have enough room to swing without hitting something or getting in the way of foot traffic. Measure the depth of vanities with doors open to make sure they fit comfortably. Building codes say the minimum allowable distance in front of vanities (and toilets) is 21 inches.
  • Be sure there’s enough space over and around the vanity to install a mirror and lights. Side sconces are best for eliminating face shadows. If that’s important to you, make sure you have enough room on each side of the mirror to place lights.
  • Take advantage of existing plumbing. Hooking up a new vanity to old plumbing is easy and inexpensive. But moving plumbing up, down, or across the room can cost you big bucks, considering you’ll pay a plumber typically from $45 to $65 per hour for labor alone. Of course, everything is a tradeoff. Just make sure you’ve got a darn good reason for moving plumbing around.
  • Place your vanity on or near a wall that can accommodate a wall-mounted or recessed medicine cabinet or shelving, because it’s a pain to walk across the bathroom whenever you want a Q-tip. Medicine cabinets start at around $15.

Recessed medicine cabinet with chalkboard insideImage: Wendi Dunlap


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9 Kitchen Trends That Can’t Go Wrong

9 Kitchen Trends That Can’t Go Wrong
Remodeling your kitchen is a huge commitment. Make sure you’re getting the best return by making choices that’ll last. Here are 9 trends with staying power.

Your kitchen is the one place where you want to be really careful about trendy choices. The last thing you want is a kitchen that’s out of sync in just a few years simply because you followed a trend. Instead, look at the trends in terms of the value they bring to your life and your home.

Here are nine trends that are popular now, but have staying power because they address lifestyle needs, convenience, and savings — ensuring you’ll enjoy your kitchen for many years.

1.  Love White? You Won’t Go Wrong

It’s hard to believe that white kitchens could get any more popular. But the preference for white cabinets continues to soar. Sixty-seven percent of National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA) members said that white is their top choice for cabinets, a 20% climb from two years ago. And layering white on white — white backsplashes beneath white cabinets on white countertops — was spotlighted in the 2014 Best in American Living Awards presented by the National Association of Home Builders.

Whirlpool’s White Ice collection, with its glass-like glossy sheen, is being hailed as the first appliance exterior to rival stainless steel.

White appliances are so much easier to keep clean than stainless, which smudges if you as much as look at it. Plus, the new icy look is simple, cool, and able to blend into transitional and contemporary styles.

And since stainless has filtered down to the masses, it no longer has that expensive and exclusive cache it once had. But white will always have staying power.

2.  Want Color? Go for Neutral Gray

Grey kitchen with yellow bar stoolsImage: Beautiful Protest

The popularity of sleek, sophisticated gray color schemes is soaring. Seventy-one percent of NKBA designers said gray is the fastest-growing color scheme for kitchens in 2014.

But gray can be tricky. In cold, cloudy climates, gray can appear frozen unless you use it on warm materials like wood cabinets, or pair it with hot colors likes reds and yellows. On the other hand, gray can appear pleasantly cool in sunny, hot climates — a breath of fresh air in heat and humidity.  So while white kitchens are a safe bet, gray is neutral enough — and close enough to white — to have staying power if you use it well.

3.  Embrace Smaller Appliances

Small is big these days. Micro-living is taking off for millennials and retirees. Owners of multigenerational homes are installing tiny, secondary kitchens for returning adult children and elderly parents.

Typically, these micro-kitchens feature a two-burner cooktop, combo microwave/convection oven, 18-inch dishwasher, and 60-inch fridge or refrigerator drawer.

GE, in fact, is developing an entire kitchen the size of a 6-foot-wide chest of drawers. The $15,000 unit — hey, small isn’t necessarily cheap — contains an induction cooktop, two ovens, a sink, a dishwasher, and two cooling drawers that can function as a fridge or freezer.

4.  Choose Quartz Counters Over Granite

Quartz kitchen counterImage: Bellingham from Cambria’s Waterstone Collection

In 2013, quartz and granite almost tied in countertop popularity. But in 2014, the trend is definitely toward quartz.

“Consumers Reports” says quartz is the toughest countertop material, which resists scratches, burns, and chips. Crushed quartz stone is mixed with resin to produce countertops that range from solid colors to the look of real granite, but they’ll beat natural stone in toughness. It’s easy to maintain, and unlike granite, you don’t have to seal it annually to prevent stains.

5.  Invest in LEDs

Kitchen with LED lightsImage: Inspired LED

Ribbons of LEDs are showing up in the weirdest — and most wonderful — kitchen places: Along toe kicks as nightlights; on the inside of cabinet doors to show off grandma’s china; concealed in crown molding to wash ceilings with light.

LED rope or cove lights are gaining in popularity because:

  • LEDs come in a rainbow of colors, from bright to soft white, red, blue, and green.
  • You can get creative about where you install them.
  • LEDs emit virtually no heat, so you can keep them on forever without burning cabinets or walls.
  • LEDs are energy efficient, lasting 50,000 hours on average — five times longer than CFLs.

And they’re coming down in price, making them more affordable for the average homeowner than they were a few years ago.

6.  Rethink Your Fridge

Under-counter U-Line refrigeratorImage: U-Line / Photography: Douglas Johnson

Refrigeration is no longer limited to a single, hulking unit. Homeowners are customizing their cooling needs with “point of use” refrigeration, adding cool where they need it.

That could mean adding a counter-height produce fridge in your prep island, next to a wine cooler for the adults, and a juice/soda fridge for the kids.

Don’t think we’re talking about dorm-fridge quality and prices. U-Line point-of-use refrigerators, for example, offer (depending on the model) 11 shelf positions, full-extension slide-out bins, and five food and beverage settings labeled deli, market, pantry, root cellar and beverage. Units typically sell for $2,500 to $4,000.

7.  Install a Touch-Activated Faucet

The Delta Cassidy is a touch-activated kitchen faucetImage: Delta Faucet Company

Touch-activated faucets are bursting out the fad category into the kitchen must-have column. In fact, in 2013 their popularity jumped to 30% from 20% the year before.

On the face of it, touch-activated seems a little gimmicky, and with prices starting around $350, it’s certainly a lot of money. But it’s great for those times when you’ve got dirty, chicken-goopy hands, and for those in your household who refuse to turn water on and off between tasks because it’s too much hassle. And as water becomes scarcer, anything that saves gallons will have value — and save you on your water bills.

A reason we recommend touch free over hands-free: As you know from public bathrooms with hands-free activiated faucets, they’ll often turn on when you don’t want them to and not turn on when you do.

8.  Stick with Transitional Design

More than 60% of NKBA designers say contemporary, with its sleek simplicity, is the fastest-growing kitchen style. Fussy doodads and decorative and distressed glazes are out.

Contemporary looks sleek and clean, but can also come across as cold. The design encourages a non-cluttered look, which can be hard to maintain in a busy home. So it’s better to hedge your bets with transitional design, which combines contemporary and traditional to exploit the best parts of each.

9.  Embrace Accessibility Because It’ll Make Your Life Easier

Bosch side open ovenImage: Bosch Home Appliances

Aging in place is a big snore — until you get to that age when the right modifications will allow you to stay in your home. And since a large part of the population is reaching retirement age, accessibility finally is catching on — even with homeowners who aren’t intentionally seeking those features. Why? Because the designs make so much sense.

It’s not a trend that’s going away. The NKBA’s 2014 survey shows that 56% of designers specified accessible/universal design features in kitchens during 2013, and most believe they’ll add more and more features in the years to come.

Three here-to-stay trends:

1. Side-opening ovens at counter height: You don’t have to reach up or bend down to fetch your turkey, just comfortably slide it out. It’s one of those slap-your-forehead tweaks that make cooking so much more ergonomic and accessible for everyone.

2. Drawers with deep pockets: Base cabinets have evolved from back-bending storage for pots and pans to deep drawer space — typically 24 inches deep — that can hold just about everything in your kitchen.

Continuing that evolution — heck, let’s call a revolution — are deep drawer organizers, ranging from $7 to more than $200, that make sure everything stays in its place, rather than rumble around in chaos. You can customize drawers with:

  • Slots to hold plates and store knives
  • Dividers to keep your water bottles separate from your vinegar collection
  • Stackable trays that keep utensils away from flatware
  • Removable boxes that let you reorganize the drawers at will

3. Microwave drawers: Just like the side-opening oven, by installing the microwave below counter height in a drawer, it’s easier for everyone to use. Just open it up put your food inside, close, and start it. That’s better than above-oven height, which has been the typical location for many years.

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How to Care for Your Refrigerator

How to Care for Your Refrigerator

Refrigerators are hardworking appliances that run 24/7 and deserve some TLC. But other than clearing out smelly food, how much time did you devote to refrigerator maintenance last year?

If you want your fridge to live its full life — typically 13 years — show it some love and perform these simple maintenance tasks.

Monthly Maintenance

Empty Ice: Ice can absorb freezer odors and form solid blocks in the bottom of bins. To keep ice loose and smelling sweet, empty ice bins monthly and start fresh; put an open box of odor-sucking baking soda in the freezer.

Every Three Months Maintenance

Inspect door gasket: Dirty and flimsy gaskets prevent refrigerator doors from closing tightly and put stress on motors. Clean grimy gaskets with soapy water and dry completely. If seals are loose, their embedded magnets should be either replaced or re-magnetized.

If you’re handy, re-magnetizing is a DIY job — just run a powerful magnet along each side of the gasket, in the same direction, about 50 times.

Clean condenser coils: Condenser coils in the back of your fridge cool and condense refrigerant, releasing heat. If they’re clogged with dust and pet hair, they stress the compressor and waste energy.

Every three months, vacuum the condenser coils and fan using a brush attachment. Then, clean back coils and sides with a refrigerator coil brush ($7) that can slip into hard-to-reach places. Families with shedding pets should clean the coils monthly.

Level it: Fridges that aren’t completely level — side-to-side and back-to-front — won’t close properly, straining motors and causing condensation inside. To check, place a level on the top of the machine. Then rotate your machine’s adjustable feet until the fridge is level.

Every Six Months Maintenance

Replace water filter: To ensure clean water and ice, and to prevent clogs and leaks, replace the water filter. Check your owner’s manual for the location of the filter and directions on how to pull it out. After you’ve popped in a new filter, run a couple of gallons of water through it to remove any carbon residue in the filter.

Clean the drain hole and drip pan that remove condensation: Clear away food and mineral deposits, then scrub drain pan. (Check your owner’s manual for instructions.)

Day-to-Day Maintenance

  • Cover food to prevent odors from migrating throughout the fridge and freezer.
  • Keep an open box of baking soda ($1) in the fridge to absorb odor-causing acids.
  • Maintain an adequate amount of clearance on all sides of the appliance (except for those that are zero-clearance or front-vented).
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Guide to Hardwood Floor Finishes

Guide to Hardwood Floor Finishes

We’re not going out on a limb when we say hardwood floors are one of the most popular, value-adding features in your home. Homebuyers love ‘em.

But hardwood floors need regular maintenance and refinishing to keep them looking spiffy.

How much wear and tear your floors get determines how often you need to refinish them and what product you use. A household with just two adults might only have to refinish every 10 years; a home with adults, kids, and a dog might need to refinish every three to four years.

There are a lot of finishes out there. Use our at-a-glance guide below to choose the one that’s right for your home. We also help you decide if you want to refinish floors yourself.


Pros Cons
Easy to apply Not as durable as poly finishes
Low luster Susceptible to stains
Penetrates into wood Needs regular upkeep (refinishing)
Mild odor Must be completely removed before applying a polyurethane finish

Wax is the time-tested, old-fashioned way to refinish wood floors and was routinely used before polyurethanes became available in the 1970s. Both paste and liquid versions are making a comeback with homeowners who want a mellow, low-sheen look, and with those who prefer to use natural products with low VOCs and toxicity.

It’s applied by hand working small areas at a time, which makes it DIY-friendly (but labor-intensive). It’s also easy to touch up a wax finish, so ongoing maintenance is simple.

If you don’t want to darken your wood (which wax tends to do), first apply a base coat of shellac or sanding sealer that penetrates and seals the wood. Two to three coats of wax are recommended.

Especially good for: antique flooring in historic homes

Cost: $10 to $25 per 1 pound covers 400 to 500 square feet

Water-Based Polyurethane

Pros Cons
Fast drying time (2 to 4 hours between coats) More expensive than oil poly
Low odor; low VOCs Less tough than oil poly
Doesn’t yellow like oil polys
Easy to apply; good for DIYers

Polyurethanes are today’s standard floor finish. Water-based varieties used to have a reputation for being eco-friendly (still true) but not as durable as regular polys. However, today’s water-based polys are nearly as tough as their oil-based cousins.

One difference is final color: Water-based polys dry clear; oil-based polys have a slight amber tint.

Water-based polyurethane has very low VOC content and is easy for a DIYer to apply. Three to four coats are recommended. You can use a water-based polyurethane over an oil-based poly as long as the old finish has completely cured (two to three weeks).

Especially good for: eco-conscious DIYers

Cost: $40 to $60 per gallon covers 400 to 500 square feet

Oil-Based Polyurethane

Pros Cons
Less expensive than water-based poly Long drying time (8 to 10 hours between coats)
Extremely tough High odor during application; high VOCs
Easy to apply Gets yellow with age (benefit to some)

Oil-based polys are the mainstay of floor finishing and widely used by professional finishers.

Although they’re tough, long-lasting, and less-expensive than water-based polys, oil-based polys have a higher VOC content and stronger odor during application. A coat takes 8 to 10 hours to dry, so you’ll want to vacate your house until the floor is completely dry — and bring your pets with you. Two to three coats are recommended.

Professional floor refinishers report some problems when using an oil-based poly over a water-based poly. Best advice: Don’t do it.

Especially good for: professionally finished floors at a reasonable price

Cost: $30 to $40 per gallon covers 500 to 600 square feet; it’s $1 to $2 per square foot to have a pro do it.

Acid-Cured (Swedish) Finish

Pros Cons
Extremely hard and durable Difficult to refinish (must use acid-cured finish if used previously)
Fast drying time (2 hours) but up to 60 days to fully cure Volatile odors; high VOCs
More expensive than most finishes Pro-only application

The Cadillac (or Volvo) of floor finishes, acid-cured Swedish finishes are for pro application only. They’re among the toughest of all hardwood flooring finishes, and the most expensive. They’re sometimes called conversion varnish sealers.

Acid-cured finishes have extremely high VOC content; you’ll have to bunk elsewhere for a few days after finishing to give the odors a chance to clear. The finish takes up to 60 days to fully cure, but you can walk on it after three days. Keep furniture off for two weeks, and rugs off for the full 60 days so the fibers don’t stick.

Especially good for: high-end homes with flooring made from exotic woods and floors with elaborate inlay designs

Cost: $3.75 to $5 per square foot professionally applied

Moisture-Cured Urethane

Pros Cons
Extremely durable (one of the hardest) Extremely high VOCs (fumes may last for weeks)
Expensive Pro-only application
Fast drying time allows for multiple coats per day Low humidity extends drying time

This is a durable finish that’s a step up in toughness and longevity from water- and oil-based polyurethane. It’s tricky to apply and isn’t recommended for DIY — it dries very fast, so speed and a deft touch are needed to avoid lap marks.

It has a high VOC content, making a respirator and good ventilation a must during application. Homeowners and pets should vacate the house during application and for up to two weeks afterward.

Especially good for: high-traffic areas and homes with multiple kids and dogs

Cost: $2 to $4 per square foot professionally applied

Penetrating Oil Sealer

Pros Cons
Easy for DIYers to apply Not as durable as a poly finish
Non-toxic ingredients Should be reapplied every 2 to 3 years
Mild odor
Mellow sheen

Oil sealers have been used for centuries to protect and moisture-proof wood. They’re easy to apply, and spot touch-ups are a snap. Because it penetrates the wood, an oil sealer enhances grain patterns and deepens the color of the wood. The finish itself doesn’t scratch, but recoating usually is needed every two to three years as the finish wears down.

The basic ingredient is tung oil, a naturally occurring, low-VOC oil that hardens as it dries. It needs long drying times between coats (24 to 48 hours), so finishing a floor with the recommended three coats can take several days.

Especially good for: historic homes with antique flooring; DIYers

Cost: $60 to $70 per gallon covers 500 square feet

Aluminum Oxide

Pros Cons
Extermely hard and durable (25 years) Only available with prefinished flooring
Difficult to refinish
After 25 years, you might have to replace the flooring

This super-tough finish only comes on prefinished wood planks. You won’t apply it yourself, but you’ll need to know it’s there if you ever decide to refinish it. It requires special refinishing techniques, like sanding with milder grits before using heavier grits. Your floor refinisher can determine if your flooring is covered with an aluminum oxide coating.


Pros Cons
Easy to work with Not very durable
Few harmful VOCs Most shellac contains wax — refinishing with modern products isn’t possible
Inexpensive Must be recoated periodically
Easy spot repairs

Polyurethane floor products have surpassed the usefulness of this time-honored wood finish. Houses built before 1970 may have hardwood floors finished with shellac, and you can maintain and refinish them with another coating of shellac. It’s not compatible with more modern finishes, such as polyurethane, so only refinish shellac with wax or another coating of shellac.

Test for shellac by dribbling a few drops of water on an inconspicuous spot. If the finish turns milky white, it’s shellac.

Shellac is a natural product that’s non-toxic and produces few VOCs. It’s not as tough and durable as polyurethanes, and is susceptible to stains from water and other spills. However, it’s easy to repair scratched areas by rubbing out the scratches with denatured alcohol, then reapplying shellac.

Shellac pairs well with wax. Use shellac as a base coat, and finish with two or three coats of hand-rubbed wax.

Especially good for: refinishing antique floors already coated with shellac

Cost: $80 to $90 per gallon covers 300 square feet

Two Options for Refinishing

Does your floor need a touch-up or an overhaul?

1.  For surface scratches and normal wear and tear, lightly sand the finish (called screening) and apply a new topcoat. You’ll want to use the same type of finish product that was on your flooring originally.

2.  For more damaged flooring, you’ll want to completely sand the old finish off down to the bare wood. Once you’ve done that, you can apply any finish.

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How to Care for Your Washer and Dryer

How to Care for Your Washer and Dryer
Keep your clothes washer and dryer running efficiently and reliably with this simple maintenance routine.

Be good to your washer and dryer and those costly machines will be good to you. Here’s how to keep your washer and dryer humming along safely and efficiently.

Before/After Every Load

  • Clean out dryer lint filter to maximize efficiency.
  • Dry the washer’s door and gaskets after using, and open the door on top-loaders to foster air circulation and prevent mold.
  • Always ensure that the washing machine is level and on firm footing.
  • Always use the proper type and amount of detergent for the machine and load. You can actually damage some models by using the premeasured pods. Check your manufacturer’s recommendations.
  • Remove damp clothes from washers immediately to prevent mold or mildew buildup.

Every Month

  • Inspect the dryer exhaust duct for crimps, obstructions, and unnecessary bends.
  • Inspect washing machine hoses for tight fittings, bulges, cracks, and leaks. Burst washing machine hoses could spill hundreds of gallons of water an hour, flooding your home. Tighten loose fittings. Replace hoses every five years; replace immediately if damaged.
  • Clean rubber gaskets and drums on washers and dryers with a solution of equal parts water and vinegar.
  • Check and clean drain pump filter on front-loading washers. Consult your owner’s manual for location.

Every Three Months

  • Wash dryer lint filter with detergent to remove invisible chemical residues that can restrict airflow.

Every Year

  • Remove and clean out the entire exhaust duct line from dryer to exterior. Clogged ducts cause thousands of house fires every year, with an average of about $10,000 worth of damages per fire.

More Tips

  • Replace vinyl dryer exhaust ducts with metal ductwork to reduce fire hazards.
  • Replace rubber washing machine hoses with braided-metal ones to reduce the risk of bursting.
  • To prevent rusting, fill nicks and scratches on the outside of machines with touch-up paint.
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Cleaning Your Kitchen Appliances the Easy Way

Cleaning Your Kitchen Appliances the Easy Way

Nothing makes a kitchen sparkle like clean appliances. So show your appliances a little cleaning love, and they’ll thank you by looking and performing better.

Your Refrigerator

The space behind your refrigerator is arguably the dirtiest couple of square feet in your house. It’s a meeting place for dust, gunk, and a host of other stuff that’s fallen behind the big guy.

To clean, pull out the refrigerator and mop up whatever you find. Then, vacuum refrigerator coils behind or beneath your fridge, which will put less stress on the fridge’s motor and prolong its life.

Replace loose door gaskets — check your owner’s manual for replacement part numbers and find new gaskets at home improvement centers or by searching online. You’ll get the added benefit of saving energy with a tighter seal. Monthly, wipe gaskets down with warm, soapy water; rinse and dry.

A little soapy water or a 50-50 solution of water and white vinegar will clean and shine the inside and outside of your fridge. Wipe down shelves and crispers weekly, or whenever you spot a spill. Remove fingerprints on stainless steel exteriors with a damp cloth.

Your Stovetop and Oven

Most ovens have self-cleaning options. We heartily recommend letting the oven do the work for you. But there are a few spots the self-clean option doesn’t reach, such as the gunk around door hinges and frames, and the crumb-catching space between double ovens. You can wipe them up with vinegar or soapy water.

Baked on crud comes off with a little baking soda on a sponge, or a spritz of commercial oven cleaner. (Make sure you open a window before your spray, so you don’t choke on fumes.) Make a habit of wiping spills quickly after using the oven, and you may never have to scrub it again.

To clean your stovetop:

  • Fill your sink with hot, soapy water; soak burners, knobs, and hood vents (if they fit) for a couple of hours; then scrub. Repeat if necessary.
  • Replace stained metal drip plates if they’re beyond the help of steel wool.
  • Vacuum crumbs that have fallen in cracks between the stovetop and counter. Use the sofa attachment on your vacuum to get into those cracks.

Your Dishwasher

You’d think you wouldn’t need to clean your dishwasher because it cleans itself every time you use it. But you should check the drain in the bottom of the machine for debris, and wipe the gaskets around the door to ensure a tight seal.

Once each week, deodorize it by placing a bowl of white vinegar on the top rack and running it, empty, for a full cycle.

Your Microwave

The best way to remove baked-on food is to fill a microwave-safe container with water, microwave it until the water boils, and let it sit for a few minutes while steam loosens any gunk. Wipe clean.

Your Toaster

Unplug your toaster, pull out and wash its crumb catcher, and shake the machine over the sink to get rid of food. Dry thoroughly before plugging back in.

Your Coffee Machine

To remove mineral deposits that can clog your machine, pour a solution of two parts water and one part white vinegar into the water chamber, insert a coffee filter, and run the solution through the machine. Then run clear water through twice to remove the vinegary taste.

One old-timey way to remove stains from your glass coffee pot — or any vase, pitcher, etc., with stains — is to cover the bottom with table salt, add ice cubes, and, when they start to melt, swish around for a couple of minutes. Then rinse.

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How Long is That Remodel Going to Take?

How Long is That Remodel Going to Take?

Some remodeling projects go on for weeks and make a mess of your home life. Here’s what you need to know to survive.


Renovations can take weeks — and sometimes months. That means endless days of subcontractors traipsing through your home, noisy tools, and major dust. Even some minor projects can disrupt your daily routine. Before you begin to remodel, know what’s in store for you and your family.

We’ve highlighted nine common remodeling projects that homeowners are likely to undertake — projects that require professional contractors and that take at least one week to complete.

We also talked with veteran remodeler Paul Sullivan, who has renovated homes for 34 years and is president of The Sullivan Company in Newton, Mass.

Sullivan helped us rate each project on a “disruption scale” of 1 to 10, with 1 being the least disruptive to your everyday home life and 10 the most. If your project reaches a 10, consider getting a hotel room for the duration.

Attic Bedroom Conversion

National average cost: $51,696

Time: 8 to 10 weeks

What’s involved: A project that converts unconditioned attic space into a bedroom must include egress windows and at least one closet. Most likely, you’ll extend plumbing, HVAC ducts, and electrical wiring to the attic, and add insulation, drywall, and flooring.

Disruption scale: 3  Luckily, most of the work is in the attic and doesn’t involve your main living areas. You’ll have to put up with contractors moving through the house to get to the top, so provide drop cloths or old rugs to protect your floors. Also, plaster dust from drywall installation and finishing likely will float throughout your home, so you’ll want to change furnace filters every two to three weeks during the project.

Refinishing Hardwood Floors

National average cost: $1.50 to $4 per square foot

Time: 2 to 14 days

What’s involved: Sanding, staining, and sealing wood floors.

Disruption scale: 9  Whether you’re refinishing one floor or an entire house, the process involves a world of hurt. You have to move furniture and cover surfaces to protect from wood dust, which disrupts the flow of family life. And if you use oil-based sealants, you’ll have to live somewhere else to avoid breathing VOC fumes. Plus, you won’t be able to walk on floors for at least two days after the last coat of sealant is applied.

Bathroom Remodel

National average cost: $16,724

Time: 2 to 3 weeks

What’s involved: Turning your outdated bathroom into a dream spa includes updating plumbing fixtures, installing ceramic tile around a porcelain-on-steel tub, replacing an old toilet with a low-flow, comfort-height model, and installing ceramic floor tiles and solid-surface vanity counters.

Disruption scale: 7 to 10  If you’re remodeling your only bathroom, expect major disruption of your personal hygiene routine. You’ll have to wash in the kitchen sink, and install a portable potty in the yard or make friends with a neighbor when nature calls. You’ll have less pain if you have more than one bathroom in the house. Even then, you’ll suffer water outages during plumbing updates. And if you’re remodeling a master bath, you must put up with workman tromping through your bedroom.

Major Kitchen Remodel

National average cost: $56,768

Time: 8 to 12 weeks

What’s involved: Replacing cabinets, installing a kitchen island and countertops, replacing appliances, adding lighting, and changing flooring.

Disruption scale: 8  Kitchens are the heart of the home, so when they’re down, you’ll eat out more, wash coffee cups in bathroom sinks, and hold family meetings in the family room where your microwave and fridge now live. To ease the disruption, your contractor can easily set up a construction sink somewhere by running a couple of hoses from existing kitchen plumbing through the dust wall to a make-shift kitchen in an adjacent room.

Minor Kitchen Remodel

National average cost: $19,226

Time: 1 to 2 weeks

What’s involved: Replacing cabinet box fronts, adding new hardware, updating appliances, sinks, and faucets, and installing new flooring.

Disruption scale: 5  Kitchen facelifts are less disruptive merely because they’re finished faster than major remodels. You’re mainly pulling and replacing, so plumbing and electrical can stay put, and you’ll still have access to your fridge until the new one arrives.

Basement Remodel

National average cost: $62,834

Time: 4 to 6 weeks

What’s involved: Finishing the lower level of a house to create an entertaining area, wet bar, bathroom, and egress windows required by code.

Disruption scale: 2  Seems counter-intuitive, because turning unfinished space into extra living space requires all the finishes of a new addition — plumbing, electrical, flooring, walling, and insulation. But the good news: Work is confined to a part of the house you rarely use. Contractors can enter and exit through the basement door (if you have one), and noise and dust are easily confined. The biggest disruptions come from periodic electrical and plumbing outages.

Roof Replacement (Asphalt Shingles)

National average cost: $19,528

Time: 1 week

What’s involved: Removing and replacing roofing moisture barriers, flashing, and shingles.

Disruption scale: 1  Replacing your roof is one of the least inconvenient remodeling projects you can do. You’ll have to put up with some banging, move your cars away from the house, and keep dogs and kids out of the yard during the demolish phase. Roofers will cover the ground around the job to corral debris; and after the job, they’ll go over your yard with a magnetic roller to pick up stray nails.

Siding Replacement (Vinyl)

National average cost: $12,013

Time: 1 to 2 weeks

What’s involved: Removing and replacing old vinyl siding with new vinyl siding.

Disruption scale: 3  You’ll endure lots of banging around your house as the new siding goes up. If noise bothers you, stick in your earbuds and listen to something soothing. Even though contractors will cover the area around the house, expect some debris to litter the yard. Keep curious kids and pets inside while work is being done to avoid accidents.

Two-Story Addition

National average cost: $161,925

Time: 16 to 20 weeks

What’s involved: Framing, adding utilities, and finishing a 24-foot-by-16-foot wing including a family room and second-floor bedroom and bathroom.

Disruption scale: 4  Building an addition is like constructing an entire house attached to your house. But oddly, it’s life as usual until the very end, when you break through the wall that connects the two structures. Expect a lot of noise and trucks in your driveway throughout the project. The last one to two weeks, when you connect the structures, you’ll have to put up with some commotion — demolition, carpentry, drywall installation, and painting. Figure you’ll have a major cleanup job throughout the house when the construction is over.

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