Kitchen Floor – The Reveal

* Check out this post to find out why we chose Luxury Vinyl Tile (LVT)

So the question remains, which tile did we choose to replace our old green and white checked linoleum floor?

LinoleumIf you guessed Iron Blue, then you’re correct!

New FloorAs for how we eliminated tile choices, we started with the two lightest tiles – they didn’t “pop” against the white appliances. The darkest tile, graphite, was definitely one of Jeremy’s favorite, but it was difficult to envision the entire floor that same dark color. Although there is variation among the tiles, graphite had the least color variation of all the samples. I was a big fan of the taupe-gray, but we worried that it was too traditional. So, in the end Iron Blue won – there is great color variation, it looks great with the white appliances and it is a little bold.

Now, although LVT claims to be more DIY friendly than ceramic to install (no wet saw, tiles are more forgiving, etc), we did have our floor installed by professionals. The main reason? That cursed linoleum. When installing the cork floor in the downstairs bathroom Jeremy tried to remove the existing linoleum, but it was extremely glued to the cement floor. Instead he just laid the cork on top of the linoleum. For the LVT, we needed to remove the linoleum for a proper install. That gave Jeremy some nightmares. So, we left that to the professionals. Plus, they haul all the waste away, so we didn’t have to deal with that headache either.

No More LinoleumYard LinoleumWhat I found interesting is that the installers did not try to peel up the old linoleum, they just cut the floor out. As you can see from the pile in our yard, the linoleum is still glued to the plywood. In the picture above of the kitchen you can see we now have a bare subfloor. Yea, I never would have thought of just cutting out the linoleum. The installers laid new plywood and then applied the adhesive:

AdhesiveThe adhesive is super smelly, and takes at least half an hour to “set” before the tile can be laid. Sadly, I don’t have any photos of the installers laying the tile – I tried to stay out of their way.

New LVT FloorIn addition to laying the LVT, they installed new white shoe molding (quarter-round) to the baseboards, and wooden kick-boards to the cabinets. We previously had brown rubber kick-boards. look closely:

Old Kitchen So much better without the linoleum and rubber kick-boards!

Empy Corner

New TileI really love the texture of this tile! They also feel great underfoot – softer and warmer than even the linoleum. The tiles are 16 inch squares and are laid on a diagonal. Both large tiles and the diagonal supposedly make a room look larger, and I think the room does feel larger!

We were considering refinishing the cabinets in a lighter stain, but we are starting to think that the cabinet color goes nicely with the floor. There are some sandy/tan colors in the tiles that tie into the caramelized bamboo and the cabinets. We’re still not fans of the faux-marble green counters, but the floors are really the focal point now. So, I don’t notice the counters as much…

Are you a fan of the new floor? Did we make the right choice with the Iron Blue? Which would you have chosen?

Kitchen Floor – The Decision

Ah, the kitchen. Although I love cooking and food and brewing, the kitchen has always been my least favorite room in our house.

KitchenWith its caramel-pecan cabinets, marble-green laminate counters and linoleum floor, I always cringe when guests would end up hanging out in the kitchen.The kitchen is large and functional, but not the most beautiful room n our home.

This summer we are finally ready to do a small-scale kitchen remodel. Sources (magazines, the Internet) say that kitchen remodels are the most expensive home-improvement and offer the greatest return on resale. So, it’s going to be expensive, but it is worth doing right. Our first goal is to replace the kitchen floor. The linoleum is stained, ripped, scratched and downright ugly. Keeping it clean has also been a pain, since it is textured.

Floor ChoicesThe first thing we had to decide was floor type. We needed something durable, water-resistant, stylish, easy to maintain, and comfortable. We also wanted it to coordinate well with the bamboo flooring, and offer some sound dampening. Luxury Vinyl Tile (LVT) offered us everything on our list.

Pictured above are five LVT samples we brought home from the local flooring store. All five samples are from Armstrong Flooring’s Alterna line. Hopefully these samples make you a believer: LVT can look just as nice and realistic as ceramic tile. I won’t lie, I really wanted ceramic tile in the kitchen. In the end, LVT is (practically) superior to ceramic. Oh, let me count the ways:

1. Can be installed with or without grout – so it can mimic ceramic tile. Even when grouted, LVT can be walked on within the first 24 hours, unlike ceramic. Also, no cement board needed.

2. Although the LVT is thick (thicker than linoleum or sticky-tiles), it is flexible enough to be laid on uneven floors, and not crack.

3. LVT is warmer underfoot, and softer. These tiles won’t crack when you drop something on them. Also, that something should be unbroken as well.

4. Luxury vinyl tiles are easier to replace, if needed.

The downfall? It doesn’t have the reputation of ceramic. Despite it’s name, it doesn’t sound very luxurious when you say “vinyl tile”. Anyways, on to the fashion show!

Taupe Grey

Charcoal

Multistone (White)
Gray Dust

Iron BlueIn order of appearance: taupe-grey, charcoal, multistone white, gray dust and iron blue. After we decided on LVT, we had to narrow down the wide selection of brands, styles, colors and textures. LVT is pretty limitless – you can choose planks or tiles; wood grains, solid colors or stone. The local floor store recommended the Alterna line, citing several happy customers. After we narrowed our focus to a product, we knew we wanted tiles that coordinated with the bamboo flooring, our cabinets and the existing countertops. We are considering refinishing the cabinets and eventually replacing the counters, but we wanted something that would not only work for the future, but also mesh well with what we already had (who knows how long it will be until we “kill” those green counters?). We thought all the samples we brought home looked great with the bamboo. So, which looks best with the cabinets but also with our future vision?

For the answer to that question and a peek into the installation process, come back late this week for the big reveal!

Dishwasher Dreams Come True

Ever since we moved into our house in July 2009, I have been dreaming of a new dishwasher. The one in our house was ugly, loud and didn’t do a great job cleaning the dishes.

P1080544Our friends have the same dishwasher in their house, and have the same complaints. In the photo above, the kick panel is missing because (spoiler alert!) it was right before we uninstalled it. That yellow thing under the dishwasher is a piece of fiberglass insulation. I guess someone else also thought the dishwasher was loud and thought that would help?

Recently Jeremy became annoyed with the failings of our dishwasher and we started discussing replacement options. We knew we wanted something quite, with a stainless steel tub, for not a lot of money. We gravitated towards Bosch because Jeremy’s parents have one and it is super quiet and they seem to like it a lot. Also, when we vacationed with our friends at Deep Creek Lake this past fall our rental house had two Bosch dishwashers. Implying to me that these dishwashers can take the abuse of a multitude of users.

We found the Bosch SHE55M12UC in white on the Sears Outlet website. The Sears Outlet is where they sell floor models and refurbished appliances (among other items). This Bosch model had everything we were looking for: stainless steel tub, fold down racks on top and bottom, 47 dBA, 259 kWh/yr operating estimate, 3 gallons of water per cycle, half-load option… and lots of other features. The price wasn’t so bad either, $450. The problem is, that is just the cheapest available dishwasher – and it was in Charlotte, NC. The closest dishwashers were still an hour away for more than $500 to pick up in store for an additional $100 to have it delivered. So, we put that option on hold.

Jeremy searched Craigslist for Bosch dishwashers. Now that we knew what we wanted, it made the search easier. We found a white Bosch Dishwasher in Annapolis for $300, and from the pictures it looked like it was the one we found on Sears. When we saw the dishwasher in person, it was a different model. This was Bosch SH55P02UC, which appears to be the older model of the one we liked. The SHE55P02UC has a stainless steel tub, folding tines, operates at 47 dBA, 259 kWh/yr operating estimate, 2.8 gallons per cycle, and it offers all the same wash options. The only difference I know of is that this model is no longer in prodcution.

New Bosch InsulationLet’s talk about why this dishwasher is so quiet . As you can see above, it is encased by insulation. This is the thick stuff, and it was securely attached on 4 sides of the dishwasher. Let’s compare to the insulation found on our original dishwasher:

Sad Dishwasher with InsulationThis sad insulation was like yellow fiberglass encased in a trash bag. It only wrapped around 3 of the sides, and was not securely attached.

There are other features that make the Bosch run quietly. It has two pumps to help minimize noise and vibration, and a solid base. Our old dishwasher was propped up by 4 little legs, but the Bosch rests solidly on the floor.

Well, as the pictures reveal, we bought the white Bosch and uninstalled our old dishwasher. Here’s how we did it:

  • Turn off the power to the dishwasher. Our fuse box had a switch just for the dishwasher. If you want to be extra safe, turn off all the power in the kitchen.
  • Turn off the water where the dishwasher connects under the sink.
  • Disconnect the drain hose from the disposal. Ours was a white hose attached with a clamp. Loosen the screw on the clamp and pull the hose off. We reused the same clamp for our new hose.
  • Disconnect the water pipe (should hook up near where you turned the water off). Our pipes are rigid copper pipes. After loosening the bolt, Jeremy had to give the dishwasher pipe a good tug to get them to separate. If all else fails, use a hacksaw.
  • Remove the kick panel from the front of the dishwasher. Open the electrical box and un-wire the dishwasher. Of course, if you have a multimeter, check for any electricity before you do this step. Many new dishwashers just plug in to an outlet – both our new and old dishwashers were wired.
  • Look around under the dishwasher. You should be able to see where either the drain hose or water pipe connect. Disconnect them if you can. Our rigid copper pipe attached in the back, and we couldn’t unhook it.
  • Lastly, un-mount the dishwasher from the counter top. Most likely it is attached with two screws on the underneath of the counter.

If you do all of those steps, then your dishwasher should be free from any connections and you can just pull it out.

Dishwasher HoleThere you go – a dishwasher hole. You can see the white electrical wire coming out of the wall, and above that, on the side of the cabinet, the hole for the drain hose and water pipe. Oh, and the filth. I think that dishwasher has been there since 1996.

New Bosch InstalledTo install the dishwasher, you just do all those steps in reverse. Jeremy wired the dishwasher to the power while I connected the pipes. Then we turned the power back on and ran a half-load of dishes.

Inside the DishwasherIsn’t it beautiful? The main criticism we found in reviews is that the tub is too small. I think the tub is a reasonable size for Jeremy and I. We ran a full load after three days of dirty dishes. I will admit that I am having trouble loading it though. After 3.5 years I knew how to load our old dishwasher, we had a good systems for what dishes fit where. These new racks have tines going in different directions and I just haven’t mastered the art of loading this dishwasher. Our largest dinner plates do fit in the bottom rack, but depending on how you pull out the top rack, the spinning arms on the top rack hit the dishes.

Oh, and it is nice and quiet. We can have a conversation in the kitchen and watch TV in the living room at a reasonable volume while it is running.

What upgrades have you made recently? In the market for a dishwasher? Fan of the Bosch?

What’s Going on Back There?

On Monday we posted about our utilities and what we’ve done to cut the cost. We mentioned our BGE SmartMeter, which allows us to view our energy usage online. The BGE website also has tips for how to save monies. One that we hadn’t considered before was cleaning the back of the refrigerator to help it run more efficiently.

Floor Behind Fridge

Back of FridgeWe pulled the refrigerator away from the wall – uncovering filth on the floor and a lot of dust on the back of the fridge. This dust can clog up the coils and cause the fridge to run inefficiently. We read some posts online about cleaning the coils. People were removing panels off the back of refrigerators to clean the coils. The back of our fridge warned us to not remove any of the panels. We certainly did not want to electrocute ourselves or unplug the fridge. So, I just did my best to vacuum the back vent. I also cleaned that gross mess on the floor.

Clean FridgeThat’s better! We haven’t cleaned back there since we got the fridge in July 2009. So, that was long overdue.

Is our fridge running more efficiently? We’re not sure. We haven’t noticed – and I think that’s a good thing. There have been times where we have heard the fridge running from our bedroom. Since we have cleaned the back vent, we haven’t really noticed the fridge at all. When I have noticed the fridge running, I definitely think it is quieter.

Anyone else having cleaning adventures? Tricks for making appliances run more efficiently?

Kitchen Purge and Reorganization – Again

Christmas 2011 was a very kitchen Christmas, resulting in me reorganizing the whole kitchen, as documented here. This Christmas we were also blessed with kitchen gadgets (like the Soyajoy and a SodaStream), dishes, glasses and bakeware. So, yet again I found the need to make room in our cabinets. I was definitely inspired to finally take on the task after reading about kitchen purging and organizing on IHeartOrganizing. So, here we go!

Junk Drawer #1Junk Drawer #2I started with the two “junk” drawers next to the sink. When we first moved in these drawers were a catch-all for random things like outlet covers and screws removed for painting, take-out menus, pens, batteries, appliance warranties, etc. I emptied the drawers, organized the contents into piles and cleaned the drawers.

Organized Junk

Here are the different categories of drawer contents: appliance manuals, beer brewing recipes, batteries, a carabiner, a container of odd screws and nails, scissors, pens, notepads, candles, lighter, flashlight, chip clip, wood pencils, rubber-bands  twine, outlet covers/switchplates, those little nubby screw covers for the banister that I keep vacuuming up and furniture felt pads. Not pictured: the trash/recycling piles. After putting items away properly – filing paperwork, putting hardware and outlet covers with the rest of like items in the laundry room, etc – I was able to fit the rest of the items into ONE drawer:

New Junk Drawer

I really liked the acrylic drawer organizers that she used on IHeartOrganizing, but could find none like them at Target. So I settled for these metal-mesh dividers from the office section. They fit the drawer pretty well.

And the best result is that I emptied an entire drawer. I decided to relocated the silverware drawer next to the sink (below the upper cabinet that contained all the dishes) and put the empty drawer next to the stove, below the upper cabinet that holds all the cooking/baking necessities (flour, spices, etc).

Drawer Swap

I guess it is a little odd to keep spices in a drawer, but I think this is an improvement. First, most spices need to be stored in a dark cool place – not on your counter-top or in a rack above the stove. Secondly, when they were stored in the cabinet, even with some slight height-staggering, I could not see everything I had. Thus I couldn’t always find what I needed, and have repeats of ginger and cumin. Now in the drawer I can easily access what I need while cooking and be more aware of when things are depleted. Now that the spices are in the drawer, I have freed up a seemingly epic amount of space in the upper cabinet – allowing me to make room for the 10 lbs of almonds Jeremy bought (for almond milk, of course).

The next order of business were the cabinets that hold dishes that we don’t use very often – pie dishes, large bakeware, serving platters, etc. Most of these dishes were in the cabinet above the fridge, but I often forgot they were there, and there was one platter that was too long to fit in that cabinet. So, it was time to get creative:

Makeshift BuffetIn the absence of a buffet, I turned to our TV cabinet in the living room as a storage option. I love this cabinet, from Pier One years ago. It has doors that close to conceal the TV, and a drawer at the bottom that used to store DVDs. Well, most of our DVDs are in “long term storage”, since we store them digitally – which means this drawer was free for the taking (with the exception of those lonely DVDs off to the side). So, here now resides my larger platters, a ceramic casserole dish inside an insulated carrying-case and a box that houses my napkin rings and cloth napkins. This drawer is basically an instant dinner party.

After clearing out drawers and rearranging cabinets, it was time to modify a few spaces. First was under the sink:

Under the Sink - Before

This space looks crazy with the cleaning products, sponges and towels/rags piled on top of each other. First step was to pull everything out and figure out what could be relocated. A multitude of rags and microfiber clothes were relocated to the storage/laundry room (that is an organization project for a different day). In this cabinet there is a lot of wasted vertical space, due to the pipes and garbage disposal. I decided to rectify this.

Hanging "Bucket"

Under the sink - After

I installed a small plastic bin to the side of the cabinet to hold microfiber cleaning cloths and sponges. Now those items will not be buried in the bottom of the cabinet. The bin is a foot long, and about 6 inches deep. I drilled pilot holes in the bin at the 3″ and 9″ marks. I then positioned the bin where I wanted it in the cabinet and marked where the holes were. After using a level to get everything relatively straight, I drilled pilot holes in the cabinet as well. Then I screwed the bin in place with our awesome right angle drill. I put a little hook on the front to hang my pig scrubbie.

P1080174

In the cabinet next to the refrigerator I installed some hooks for the mandolin and rolling pin. This cleared up floor space in the cabinet. Since these tools are so oddly shaped they cannot be stacked and thus it is better to have them out of the way. The mandolin is hung with an adhesive “command” hook. This hook can support up to five pounds and was the only hook large enough to accommodate the mandolin’s thick handle. The rolling pin’s hook is one normally used for brooms or rakes and is screwed into the cabinet. The hook came in a two pack for less than the command hook (at Home Depot). Jeremy thought I was a little crazy for screwing all of this stuff into the cabinets, but if it keeps me from doing a whole kitchen overhaul – then it is worth it.

And now for the greatest change of all:

P1080168

P1080165Clearing some “junk” off of the counters and relocating the microwave. The microwave sat angled under the corner cabinet, taking up a lot of counter space. This counter top was prime real estate – between the sink and the stove where I liked to do my prep work for cooking/baking. Now with the microwave on the far side of the kitchen there is a lot more space for cooking. The bread and Soyajoy machines fit nicely in the corner, taking up far less room than the microwave. Jeremy is worried that I have broken my work triangle, but we the microwave shouldn’t be an important part of food preparation anyways.

I have kept the “pantry” organization that I started last year (here and here) and it has been very successful. I am hoping these new kitchen changes will be just as successful. Jeremy and I both love the increased counter space. We do have trouble remembering the silverware has moved though. I think the most important lesson is the same as before: just because it is the way you have always done it (or had it) doesn’t mean it is the best or most efficient way!

 

Soyajoy Alternative Milk Machine

For Christmas we received the Soyajoy Soy Milk Maker from Jeremy’s parents. Jeremy and I already wanted to try making almond and cashew nut milks – a process of soaking, blending, straining, and additional blending. The soymilk machine seemed like a simpler process.

Dry Soy BeansSoaked Soy BeansFirst you have to soak your beans or nuts. Things like rice and oats do not need soaking. The first photo is the sample of dried soy beans that came with the machine; the second photo is 12 hours later. You can buy dried soy beads and raw nuts in bulk at MOMs and Whole Foods. While the beans were soaking, I cleaned the machine as recommended by the user’s manual.

Cleaning ExplosionThe manual says to fill the soymilk maker with water, like you are going to make milk. Then add a drop of dish soap and run the “bean” cycle. Well, I must have added too much dish soap because I had an explosion. Warm soapy water spurted everywhere. So, I deemed the machine clean and rinsed it of the soapy water (and wiped down the counters/floor).

Finished Soy MilkThe next morning I made soymilk with the rehydrated soybeans. All you do is add filtered water and beans to the machine and select a cycle. When the machine beeps, the milk is done! You pour the milk out of the machine, through the strainer, into the pitcher (all provided). The solid byproduct is called okara. The machine produced approximately 48 fl oz of soymilk.

To make soymilk, the machine heats the liquid, so the resulting milk is warm. I transferred the milk to a tupperware container with a spout and added some vanilla. I waited for the liquid to reach room temperature and then chilled it in the fridge. By lunch the milk was still lukewarm. I was surprised how long it was taking to chill. So, I would recommend making soymilk, or any other milk where it is “cooked”, the night before you want to have it, especially if you were planning on enjoying it with breakfast.

I found the soymilk to have a strong bean taste. I added honey in an attempt to sweeten it more, but I couldn’t cover the bean taste. Jeremy had the soymilk in his cereal and liked it. He did not think it tasted like beans. My sister drank the soymilk and liked the flavors. So, I must be overtly sensitive to the bean flavor. Next time I will add a pinch of sea salt and a tablespoon of sugar to improve the flavors.

OkaraThis is the okara. The Soyajoy Machine came with recipes that use the okara. We decided to try the “chicken” strips (or as we say chik’n) recipe. Only, my sister Mimi decided strips were too challenging and made spheres instead:

Okara Stir-FryHere are her chik’n spheres in a stir-fry. Basically, you just mix the okara with oats and spices until it reaches a dough-like consistency. Then shape the “dough” and dip in soymilk and flour, then pan fry. This chik’n definitely tasted as good as store bought faux meats – we usually like Morning Star brand. I also found them to be like matzo balls – but that might have been influenced by the shape. I also used some of the okara to make veggie burgers. I used this recipe and substituted 3/4 c of okara for the pinto beans and quinoa. They turned out delicious!

Our first batch of soymilk lasted four days. For our second batch of milk I made almond milk. Again, the raw almonds soaked for about 13 hours. For almond milk you use the “raw” cycle, which creates the milk without heat. This cycle only took about ten minutes. After straining the milk I flavored it with 3 tablespoons of honey, as recommended in the accompanying recipe book. I find the almond milk more enjoyable to drink alone (ie, not in cereal) than the soymilk. I haven’t experimented with the almond meal byproduct of the milk.

I think this appliance will be very useful to us. Since we stopped buying “real” milk (read about that here) we have been consuming at least 64oz (half a gallon) of soy/almond/rice/flax milk a week. That probably costs us $4 to $8 a week. At MOMs you can buy dried soybeans at $1.59 a pound, and you only need 3/5 cup to make 48oz of soymilk. So, I don’t really need to do the math in order to demonstrate that even with the cost of water, that’s a lot of savings. Almond and other nut milks are more expensive. Yet even at $9.99 a pound for raw almonds, we will still be saving money on “milk” (need 3/4 c per 48oz of milk). Plus, I am not even including the uses for okara and the other byproducts of the milks. With the okara of one batch of soymilk we made 4 veggie burgers and a stir-fry that served four. Needless to say, I am pretty excited about the possibilities of savings and foods that this machine has provided.

Now, why this machine instead of just using a blender and a nut bag (as used here)? I found this machine easy to use and clean. It takes all the guess-work out of the blending. To clean I rinse out the stainless steel pitcher with soapy water. The top part of the machine comes off and there is a “funnel” (that covers the blades) that you twist off. I rinse these parts and wipe them down with a sponge. Everything is easy to clean and reach, unlike cleaning out the bottom of my blender. The machine also came with a toothbrush-looking cleaning utensil, which I haven’t needed to use yet.

So, would I recommend this crazy appliance? Yes, if you already enjoy milk alternatives. I am sure that I will have more stories and recipes to share as we experiment more.

Anyone else have experiences making their own soy/nut milk that they want to share?

Octagon – The Miracle Soap?

My Aunt first introduced me to Octagon soap. Since then I have read several blog posts about the multitude of uses for the soap. Even the label says it’s full of magic:

“For removing hard-to-get-out spots from the family wash, OCTAGON soap is excellent! And – it makes dish washing quick and easy… because it dissolves grease fast. You’ll like it, also, to help you keep your stove, cabinets and woodwork sparkling clean.”

I picked up the soap from Food Lion for about 80 cents a bar (I searched five different stores) in hopes of making a safe bio-degradable pesticide for our raspberry bushes.

Pictured is evidence of bug damage. I am not sure what kind of slimy bug is pictured in the first photo. In the second photo you can see the eaten leaves. I wanted a way to protect the plants from bugs eating the leaves and the fruit.

Using a grater I shaved approximately 1/4″ off the soap. I put the soap shavings in a spray bottle and then filled the bottle with luke-warm water.

I then sprayed the bushes with the soap spray. It has been fairly wet over the past few weeks, so I have had to re-spray the plants. The spray does seem to be safe for the plants. There has not been any discoloring of the leaves. The plants are still producing fruit, and I have noticed a decrease in ant activity. The trick now is remembering to reapply after it rains.

In terms of its other miracle uses, I have used the soap spray to clean the kitchen. The soap has a sort of lemony scent – reminds me of my great grandmother’s house. I use the spray to wipe down my counters, stove top and sink. I believe it does just was well as my other cleaners. Haven’t used it to wash dishes or remove clothing stains yet.

Anyone else having adventures with Octagon soap? Know any grandmas that used this to wash clothes?