Q&A — How to remodel to protect children with allergies?

Written By: admin - Nov• 24•13

Protect children with allergies from drywall dust.

Question: My two daughters suffer from allergies and asthma. When we remodel next year, we need to end up with cleaner indoor air. What should we do?

Answer: My first thought is that you should not live there during the remodel. Even with control measures, construction dust will infiltrate your house.

Drywall dust is the worst. One Manhattan Beach homeowner I visited developed long-lasting breathing problems during a massive remodel.

You also should think about minimizing pollutants that will get trapped inside the house, especially during winter, when windows tend to stay closed.

Until fairly recently, indoor air pollutants were considered a limited phenomenon. But two basic changes in construction techniques have altered this. Nowadays, thousands of pest- and rot-ridding chemicals are being incorporated into building materials. Also, as a result of the energy crisis of the 1970s, buildings are now sealed tightly.

The chemicals remain trapped inside, where inhabitants inhale them into their lungs and absorb them into their skin.

It’s common to dream of new windows to dress up an old house, but it’s often after their installation that indoor air problems turn up. Imagine smelling your breakfast bacon late into the afternoon.

That’s a house that needs a filtration system.

To get some guidance on healthful remodeling, I turned to Dennis Allen of Allen Associates in Santa Barbara, whose firm aggressively pushes for more healthful buildings.

Contractor’s answer: If you want a more healthful house, everyone involved with the remodel — designer or architect, contractor and engineers — needs to buy into it. If you cannot find professionals with such a track record, make certain your team members are open to new ideas. If they don’t have healthful-house experience, it will be up to you to research the products that go into your home.

The good news is that you can find building materials without harmful chemicals. Most of these products are still not mainstream, but they are available.

With the proper knowledge, it is no more difficult or expensive to build with good health in mind than it is without. But someone on the team (and it may be you) must pay attention to what’s going into the home, including the furnishings and cleaning products.

There is a material safety data sheet readily available from the manufacturer of every product. It provides information on the harmful ingredients in a product and their effects on health. Someone needs to gather, read and evaluate these sheets for every product you plan on putting into your home.

That may sound daunting. So, at a minimum, eliminate the main culprits.

First, minimize carpeting. Even carpeting that does not emit chemicals will still trap millions of microorganisms as well as pesticides, mold spores, soil particles and animal waste that get tracked inside. People without allergies may be able to live comfortably with what gets trapped in carpeting but not those with allergies.

Famous Folks at Home — Whose kitchen is it?

Written By: admin - Nov• 22•13

item4.rendition.slideshowWideHorizontal.adam-levine-hollywood-hills-home-05-kitchenWhoever owns this kitchen probably eats out a lot. The house is big, the celebrity is famous, the budget was probably unlimited. But this is not a cook’s kitchen. It’s missing counter space, for one thing. And any warmth. I love stainless steel, but not to this excess. And when you’re at the sink, what are you looking at? The garden? The view? No, some boring white dishes. This would be a fine set up for a wet bar, but you can tell that not much cooking goes on there.

With those hints, whose kitchen is this?

Get the ANSWER here

A glass-door refrigerator for a change of pace

Written By: admin - Nov• 19•13

Yes, it’s a bit unusual. But why not? This is a commercial refrigerator from Frigidaire that is being used in a home. It costs from $1,400 to $1,700 depending on what kind of deal you can get.

The light can stay on or off. You decide. Some people like to leave it on during the day, or during meal preparation, then turn it off at night.

It comes with five shelves, including one on the bottom.

The refrigerator is Energy Star rated. If you read the reviews, you notice some people complain about the noise when the compressor starts up.

The major downside, of course, is that there is no freezer. The first time I saw one of these was in the Malibu house of Chef Harry Schwartz. Totally awesome. He and his wife wanted to see what was in the fridge and they had a separate freezer in the laundry room for the ice cream. I mean, really, how often does one use the freezer? Seldom.

But if you think this glass-door refrigerator really cool, you can get a matching freezer with a solid stainless steel door. Together they look like an $8,000 appliance but set you back just over $3,000 for both.

See the refrigerator here: Frigidaire FCGM201RFB Commercial 19.7 Cu. Ft. Stainless Steel Refrigerator – Energy Star

See the freezer here: Frigidaire Commercial 19.4 Cu. Ft., FSG, Freezer (FCFS201LFB)

After planning for 12 years, a remodeled bath in 5 days

Written By: Kathy Price-Robinson - Jun• 28•13

Donna Bankowski has some good reasons why it took her 12 years to remodel the cruddy main bathroom of her Moorpark, Calif., home, a feat she finally pulled off.

“I’m taking my time,” said Bankowski, who bought the fixer-upper with her husband, Leroy, in the 1990s.

Indeed, since buying the 1970s tract home, the couple has made steady progress on its upgrades — replacing the wood on the front of the house with brick, redoing the driveway and walkways, adding a back patio, replacing the windows and doors, replacing the roof, scraping off the “cottage cheese” ceilings, installing Pergo floors, painting the walls and adding thick crown moldings and baseboards.

As the rest of the house rose up out of mediocrity, the bathroom upgrade kept getting delayed.

But it wasn’t for lack of need.
The bathroom had a dropped ceiling consisting of plastic panels on a rusted frame over fluorescent tubes. Plus, the dark oak vanity was not at all in line with Bankowski’s French-Country palette. Worst of all was the cracked and dingy fiberglass tub enclosure.


The $5 starting point

Written By: Kathy Price-Robinson - Jun• 24•13


Isn’t this bedroom yummy? It’s in the Rosarito Beach vacation condo that Don and Gigi Maurizio remodeled.

Gigi, an administrator with the Glendora Unified School District who lives in Claremont, told me she found the headboard (which is really a footboard) for $5 on closeout at a Pier One Imports store. That was the starting point for the room.

To make reading in bed more enjoyable, Gigi’s husband, Don, a professor in the technology department at Cal State L.A., mounted the headboard at an angle. He joked about spending more on the lumber to mount the headboard than the headboard cost.

I love what Gigi did with the “canopy” treatment. It looks so cozy, but it’s really just two rods sticking out of the wall with a piece of fabric hanging from each, and tied back at the wall. (Click on the photos for a larger view of this.) And the starfish hanging overhead came right from the beach just beyond the condo patio.

On the floor are ceramic tiles that look like slate; this tile is found throughout the house. To the right, you see a small table and chairs that might not seem in sync with the rest of the room. Those pieces were not bought new (as were most of the pieces for the remodel) but hold great memories for Gigi: The table is where she wrote her PhD dissertation.

Just above the table, the curtains — with seashells tied onto them — are quite in tune with the sound of the ocean waves just outside the window.

(Photos: Los Angeles Times)

Where the money went: Rosarito Beach condo remodel

Written By: Kathy Price-Robinson - Jun• 23•13


How Don and Gigi Maurizio spent the money on their Rosarito Beach remodel:


Demolition: $3,000

Scraping textured plaster walls: $500 (labor)

Staining beams: $500 (labor)

Cabinets: $7,200 (materials)

Tankless hot-water system and connections: $1,800 (materials)

Tile for floor, patio, shower and bath countertop, including grout: $7,700 (materials)

Granite countertop in kitchen: $2,000 (materials and labor)

Tube-type skylights for bathrooms: $500 (materials)

Glass block for windows, shower: $250 (materials)

Exterior doors, windows, screens: $2,000 (materials and labor)

Interior doors and hardware: $2,100 (materials)

Mirrors, mirrored closet doors: $700 (materials and labor)

Closet shelving systems: $300 (materials)

Sinks, toilets: $1,000 (materials)

Plumbing fixtures: $900 (materials)

Lighting, bathroom fans: $1,900 (materials)

Forced-air heater, ductwork and specialized vent covers: $2,000 (materials and labor)

Window coverings, shutters: $1,000 (materials)

Appliances: $3,200 (materials)

Fireplace gas logs and propane adapter: $340 (materials and labor)

Change/move plumbing and gas lines: $1,200 (materials and labor)

New electrical wiring, outlets and switches: $1,100 (materials and labor)

Painting: $1,500 (materials and labor)

Additional labor: $5,000

Miscellaneous and hardware: $5,200

Related costs

Duty fees to declare items at the border: $1,000

Gasoline/insurance for weekly trips: $4,000

Termite fumigation: $200

Lodging until condo was habitable: $2,000

Furniture and electronics: $6,800

TOTAL: $66,890

Confessions of a professional house snooper

Written By: Kathy Price-Robinson - Jun• 22•13

PhotoI’ve been snooping around remodeled houses since 1989 (first for the Santa Barbara News-Press when it was owned by the New York Times, then for the L.A. Times, and now for Kathy’s Remodeling Blog) and I guess I’ve got one of the best jobs on earth — visiting homes (or virtually visiting them via webcams and phone calls) and writing about them. Here you see me snapping photos during a recent tour of a luminous Hermosa Beach house.

Much has changed for me in the last two decades. No. 1 in importance: I got a GPS (global positioning system) device, which is my new “higher power.” In the past, with my total lack of directional wisdom, getting to an interview in San Pedro or Lake Arrowhead or Laguna Beach or Westlake village was traumatic. I’d study maps, print out maps, memorize directions, get directions wrong. And then, I couldn’t pull off the freeway for a detour or I’d never find my way back again. Now, I just program the address and follow the kindly voice prompts to my destination. Ahhh.

No. 2: My cellphone! In years past, if I was running late or got lost, I’d have to get off the freeway to find a pay phone, and sometimes in very scary neighborhoods. And when you’re running late, that’s a big waste of time. If I’m running late now, on account of traffic (the one thing that has gotten worse in this whole equation), I make a quick call from my van. Done.

And finally, my digital camera has made my life so simple. No more buying film. No more dropping it off to get developed. No more having to wait to see if my images are good. I just get back to my office, pop the little data card into my computer and boom, I’ve got photos I can use to write my articles.

But here’s what hasn’t changed for me in the last 20 years: The people I visit. The subjects in my Pardon Our Dust features are so amazingly friendly, open and creative. And fun! I have actually been changed by my time spent with them, and have become increasingly more friendly and open myself.

People ask me what I’m looking for in the remodels I write about. Trends? Chic? Way cool? No, no and no. I’m looking for human spirit. I want to see what the motivated human being can achieve. If it’s a $7,500 kitchen in Corona where the husband had to talk the wife into it (that was a new one!) or a redo of a woman’s childhood home in Los Angeles, I want to hear more about it.

If you have done a remodel recently and it’s got a good story, lots of involvement from you and wasn’t too darned expensive, consider submitting it for consideration Kathy’s Remodeling Blog. Email before and after images and a description of the project to me at kathy@kathysremodelingblog.com.

And wish me luck as I attempt to arrive at my next interview, in a place where my GPS doesn’t recognize, and I’m not sure my cellphone will work: Rosarito Beach, Baja, Mexico. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Rosarito Beach condo remodel

Written By: Kathy Price-Robinson - Jun• 21•13


How did Don Maurizio puzzle out the cabinet installation in his Rosarito Beach kitchen? Click here to read the whole story.

Free and cheap: A tile showroom in my living room

Written By: Kathy Price-Robinson - Jun• 20•13


Suze Orman would not be happy with me. If you’ve seen her show, you’ve heard her intone: People first. Then money. Then things.

My current lineup is: People first. Then tile. Then everything else.

Back at the tile shop, where I picked up my free tiled tabletop in the alley behind the store, I checked out the baskets near the door where everything is $1 each. There, I found samples of various backsplash tiles in all shapes and colors of travertine, my favorite stone. Some were a foot long by 6 inches, some 6 inches square. The prices on the back were from $18 to $37 per piece.

So I picked out 20 of them and paid the $20 plus tax, loaded them into two shopping bags, brought them home, and laid them out on my coffee table. I had a moment of buyer’s remorse when I realized: Stone is out! Glass tile is in! These are outdated! That’s why they’re in the baskets! But then I remembered how much I don’t care for trends. And anyway, these are pure earth. How can earth go out of style?

My first thought was to cover the coffee table in a tile mosaic. But once I saw them laid out, I decided it would be too much intensity for the room. It would not blend. So now I’m placing them around my kitchen backsplash area, noting how each color and style feels and looks. Same with my bathroom. I might do a mosaic right on the backsplash.

I seem to love working with cast-off samples. There’s something so endearing about these little bits of matter that already exist, have served their purpose as samples well, and deserve a fitting tribute inside a home.

I already lined a windowsill with samples of Corian and you may recall the work table I embellished with samples of laminates used on countertops.

Any ideas what you would do with travertine samples like these?

Coming Sunday: Rosarito Beach condo remodel

Written By: Kathy Price-Robinson - Jun• 19•13

PhotoIf you’ve ever wondered how a school administrator and college professor from Claremont, Calif., would remodel a condo in Rosarito Beach, Mexico, I’ve got a story for you. It will be in Sunday’s Real Estate section.

Above, you see the view from the front porch. Referring to wages earned in academia, the husband of the couple said: “You know that house in Malibu? It’s never going to happen.”

But this beachfront home — and a $70,000 remodel — did happen. Check it out Sunday.

Look to neighbors for ideas on vintage architectural details

Written By: Kathy Price-Robinson - Jun• 12•13

PhotoThe nice thing about remodeling an older home in a neighborhood of such homes is that you need simply walk around the area with your eyes open to find ideas for exterior architectural details.

That’s what Aaron Raymond did when he remodeled his 1942 French Normandy home in the Windsor Hills area of Los Angeles. While previous owners had taken off the decorative corbels on the front porch, Aaron noticed them on other homes in the neighborhood that had similar architecture. So he asked his carpenters to re-create them.

He used a similar tactic when thinking about his second-story addition. In other homes of likewise vintage, he noticed the second story hung over the first by several feet, with decorative corbels visually tying the two together. See that here.

We’re not all lucky enough to live in neighborhoods with older homes, but if we are so fortunate, the homes themselves can be a great inspiration.

(After photo: Jay L. Clendenin, Los Angeles Times; before photo: Aaron Raymond)

Top green-building innovations: one architect’s viewpoint

Written By: Kathy Price-Robinson - Jun• 01•13


I asked green-leaning Berkeley architect Robert Nebolon to make a list of the top green-building innovations from his perspective. Of course, he had to make two lists— architectural and non-architectural — and if you know any architects, you’ll know it’s pretty typical that he did more than was asked for.

Robert also consulted a colleague, Steve Means, a certified energy analyst.

Here are the two lists Robert came up with:

My list of top architectural green-building innovations includes:

1. Site planning — This takes advantage of each site’s micro-climate to assist in cooling and/or heating a house. Arrangement of rooms can strongly affect the comfort of the occupants.

2. Downsizing the house — People have come to realize that a smaller, well-designed house can be as livable and pleasant as a much larger house. Since smaller houses require less energy to operate and make a smaller impact on the environment, smaller well-designed houses with “green” features are becoming popular.

3. Informal floor plans — Informal floor plans tend to have rooms with multiple uses instead of rooms dedicated to one use, like a formal dining room, for example. Building costs being what they are, it is best to merge many activities into one or two rooms. This reduces energy costs since unused areas of the house are not heated.

4. Architectural form — By simply applying some smart architecture, reliance on mechanical systems for thermal comfort (heating and cooling) can be reduced. Use of major architectural elements, such as atriums, courtyards, massing of the building, in conjunction with the local micro-climate, can greatly reduce dependence on mechanical systems for thermal comfort all year long. Simply introducing a breeze can make a hot environment much more tolerable even if the temperature didn’t decrease. Look to structures constructed before there was air-conditioning and forced-air systems to see how they dealt with heat loss and heat gain.

5. Architectural details — Use of minor architectural elements, such as eaves, shading devices, well-placed operable windows and skylights, covered porches, breezeways, all in conjunction with the local micro-climate, can greatly reduce dependence on mechanical systems for thermal comfort all year long.

6. Landscaping — Well-placed trees and plantings can reduce the heat gain by any building.

To see the non-architectural list, click below.


Hot or Not Hot? Brad Pitt Homes in the Lower 9th Ward

Written By: admin - May• 31•13

Brad Pitt Homes from New York Times
Brad Pitt homes in Lower 9th Ward
Brad Pitt homes in Lower 9th Ward
Brad Pitt homes
As you may know, Brad Pitt helped create the Make It Right Foundation, which has the goal of building 150 new homes in the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans. The area was decimated when the defective walls of the Industrial Canal gave way after Hurricane Katrina blew past, making the destruction part of the worst engineering failure in U.S. history.

No one can fault Brad Pitt for his efforts. But when the first few houses emerged from the ground, eyebrows shot up. What are these things, some people said? These structures were designed by some really famous architects, and you get the feeling the architects were trying to express themselves. That’s cool. I like to express myself, as well.

But some of the folks who were to move into these houses complained. According to an architect quoted in a New York Times article, the new owners may have been robbed of that feeling of “home” that they would get from homes in the historical New Orleans styles of creole cottages and shotguns houses. (See some old-school New Orleans homes here.)

So you hate to say anything negative about this Brad Pitt project. Few of us will ever do anything this powerful and meaningful. But as only a dozen or so houses have been built so far, it would not be too late, it seems to me, to change direction and build the rest of the houses in a traditional New Orleans style.

Or am I being a fuddy duddy?

What’s your take?


How’s that remodel working out? Greening up a modest tract house

Written By: Kathy Price-Robinson - May• 31•13

Bill and Becka Doering did a whole-house green remodel on their Santa Barbara home, and I wrote a Pardon Our Dust feature about it, which you can read here.

Bill is both an engineer and a green-building enthusiast. With his firm, Doering Design & Engineering, he helps others make their homes more energy-efficient. Also, the couple and their house became the subjects of a new documentary called “Remodel 2030,” which is a takeoff of architect Ed Mazria’s Architecture 2030 challenge for all buildings to become carbon-neutral within 23 years.

As the Doerings and their two young kids have lived with their remodel for more than a year, I thought I’d catch up with them and see how it’s going. Here are the questions I asked:

1. Now that you’ve had a chance to live with your remodel for some time, what’s the best part of it, something that’s been more wonderful than you expected?

PhotoBecka: I really love the open floor plan. Taking out the walls makes it so much easier to keep up with the kids. I can be in the kitchen doing chores with the ability to see and hear them in the living or dining room. I can be on the sofa nursing Lucas and be able to chat with Emi while she works at the table, etc. The large slider in the living room creates a similar connection with the backyard.

Also, I love the daylight. The large windows and doors, and especially the skylight in the hallway, keep the house bright and breezy, even on cloudy days.

Putting the fourth bedroom into the plans has been key. There is always room in there for a little extra stuff. It affords our overnight guests a bit of privacy. And it’s still a relatively open space where the kids can spread out and do a big project or jump around and get crazy. Having such a versatile area has been valuable.

Bill: Of course, there’s the return on the investment of putting your heart and soul (and blood and tears) into your home. But the best unexpected thing is the location of the house, which has enabled us to change our daily living habits. We walk to Trader Joe’s and to the coffee store and to go to dinner. We play at the school down the block. We walk much more in the neighborhood. The car is relegated to a “need to use” basis…

And it reinvigorated our commitment to the environment and activism!

2. And what are your regrets? What would you do different if you could?

Becka: If I were to do it again, I’d look more at concrete countertops. At West Coast Green, I saw an elegant and interesting concrete, I think it had chips of recycled porcelain in it! I was really concerned about cracking and staining, but I think the porcelain would help to mitigate both of those issues. Also, I would have found more places to use the LED lights; they’re great!

Bill: I would have spent even more time researching products and ensuring a good installation of this or that. If you are gonna do it, do it once and do it right!


Quiz: Which is the biggest energy hog at home?

Written By: admin - May• 30•13

Before we start generating energy onsite with solar panels and geothermal, we should cut down on any needless uses of energy in our homes. That way, we’ll need fewer solar panels to give us all the energy our homes need.

But we are mostly in the dark (pun intended) when it comes to energy use. So here’s a little quiz:

For the ANSWER, and a full discussion of the topic, click here.

See more quizzes and polls

Free and cheap: A fleur-de-lis door on the side of the road

Written By: Kathy Price-Robinson - May• 28•13


As you know if you’ve been keeping up with my blog, I’ve recently become enthralled and obsessed with the rebuilding of New Orleans. I visited the first time in mid-February and have been there now four times.

So it was with some excitement, in my own Southern California neighborhood, that I came across this door left by a neighbor on the side of the street.

As I drove by, the morning sun glinted through the orange, green, blue and yellow of the fleur-de-lis stained glass. I backed up, got out, did an inspection and called my husband: “Can you bring your truck to pick this up?”

He said: “Do you think you need to stay and guard it?”

Of course! This was too good. Bill was amazed at the solidness of the tight-grain fir of the door. It’s heavy. Bill said they don’t make doors like this anymore. And we got the door framing to boot.

At home, I researched the fleur-de-lis symbol, which you see everywhere in New Orleans and which has become a symbol of the rebuild. See it here spray-painted on an old refrigerator after the hurricane.

The symbol is found all over Europe, especially in France, Spain, Scotland and Germany, and in the United States in southern Louisiana cities such as Lafayette and Baton Rouge, as well as New Orleans.

Where I will use the door, I’m not yet sure. It’s only 30 inches wide, six inches too narrow to replace any of my exterior doors. But I just realized it’s the perfect width to replace the door from the hallway into my bathroom, where I’d like to get more natural light. Can I imagine myself soaking in a tub while the morning sun from the living room lights up this window? Oh, yeah! I can see it.

The new chic: decorating from the dump

Written By: admin - May• 28•13

NewChic I knew we were on our way to a Depression Era decorating mentality and now we have arrived.

Thank goodness we have artists living at the poverty level to show us the way.

As seen in this feature in the New York Times, an artist who makes sculpture from driftwood and his resourceful partner have transformed a Maine rental into junk yard chic. This is not the faux shabby chic of Montana Avenue in Santa Monica with $900 artificially distressed side tables; this is the real thing.

In the kitchen shown here, the couple got their spice jars from the dump, found their iron sink somewhere and borrowed the stove from friends.

In other parts of the house you’ll find the used couch she recovered with French linen and the dining table he made from century-old pine.

The only “find” that gives me pause are books for their toddler that they scavenge from the landfill. I guess I’m just not there yet.

Click through for all the photos and the story

Want more?

See more Free and Cheap Decorating
See more Budget Remodels

Joni’s condo kitchen remodel: Coming into the final stretch

Written By: Kathy Price-Robinson - May• 01•13

PhotoJoni’s condo kitchen update is nearly done. (See the project up to now.) Joni’s friend and fellow nurse Patti is helping out, and she files this report:

I’m home from the mountains and went to see Joni’s kitchen today. It’s beautiful! I am thrilled and so is she. (Click photos to enlarge.)

Joni opted to have a friend who is a “tile guy” finish the tiling. She helped him and said that our thin set was definitely too thin. He applied it the same as we did; it was just thicker. We’ll never make that mistake again. The tile guy also did the grout work for her and had a tile saw to cut the few that required adjustments. I think she had just had it with the mess we had to clean up after using thin set that was too thin.

We are very close to being done. I think one day or so of clean-up just may do it. We need to finish some drywall work and put a finish coat of paint on the kitchen walls. And then we’ll replace the switch plates.

Joni is already talking about how to carry the mood and color palette from the kitchen into the living room. I can’t believe the balance that the chocolate-colored panels at the top of the cabinets (see that here) provides to the tile. I really don’t know if it’s just dumb luck or if there was some intuition at play in the color choice. However it came to us, I’ll take it. It’s beautiful.

We have one more issue to resolve: how to hang pendant lights from a solid beam over the breakfast bar. I’ll be asking your advice in a future posting.

New Orleans House Paint Colors: Yellow, white, rust, blue

Written By: admin - Mar• 18•13

Click twice for a bigger view

I love everything about this new paint job. The yellow exterior and fancy corbels are bright and cheery. Wouldn’t it be nice if all paint stayed looking as fresh as when it was new? Dreaming.

Then, the white in-between the slats of siding sets them off nicely. The red/rust shutters and door screens pop nicely. And of course, we must have a blue porch ceiling. This is a nice house to come home to.

Exterior side and corbels: Buttery yellow
Trim: White
Shutters and screen door frames and other details: Red/rust
Porch ceiling: Periwinkle blue

Who deserves a kitchen remodel? Vote now

Written By: admin - Mar• 17•13

One lucky organization will win a $25,000 kitchen remodel, sponsored by IKEA and Family Handyman, depending on which gets the most votes. The contenders are:

Little Ferry Hose Company #1 – Little Ferry, NJ

Simpson Shelter – Minneapolis, MN

IHS Development – Newark, NJ

Franklin Fire Station One – Franklin, WI

Moonachie Fire Department – Moonachie, NJ

Oddly enough, the three organizations in the path of Hurricane Sandy have the least votes.

Click here to find out more and cast your vote.

Voting ends March 31, 2013.