Windows Yield High Returns in Remodeling

During many design projects, one of the best opportunities to make a high impact on the design with the best return is often by moving or adding windows.  The typical aversion includes cost, but is usually associated with a paradigm about the way things are or the impact that they will have.  Of course, installing windows where they do not exist has associated costs other than just the window.  In our market, a 36 inch wide by 54 inch high window typically costs between $500 and $1,000, depending on the quality and energy efficiency.  There is carpentry to frame it, plaster to repair, as well as painting inside, and usually some painting outside with some patching of the siding.  So if the cost to add a window would be an additional $1,500-$2,000 and you are doing a significant renovation, the new window(s) may actually be the star of the show.

kitchen windows before renovation

Before windows…

Kitchen windows after renovation
…after windows

Kitchen windows before renovation

Before windows…Kitchen windows after renovation…after windows


Kitchen Trends:  Granite or Quartz Countertops?

Kitchen Trends: Granite or Quartz Countertops?

20 years ago, I was installing granite for about $100 per square foot (PSF)…and today the average price is less than $75! Trends have an impact on many things, and the more stone is used, the more changes in shipping, mining and fabrication lower the cost. That’s not the only change in counter prices – people used to say “we don’t have the budget for granite so we are going to use Corian”… funny, Corian is now typically more expensive than many natural stones. The newer product trying to take more market share in counters is quartz… so here is a current retail guide on pricing.

Granite - Jet Mist color, honed

Granite – Jet Mist color, honed

Granite and Marble: Priced from $40 to over $200 per square foot installed. What makes the difference is really not that complicated. First is supply and demand – the more abundant the stone mixed with good demand and the price drops. Quality is a factor, and if you look at a lot of stone you can start to see why one “lot” of a certain color will be amazing next to another “lot” that is mediocre, but that is quality on the gem side of the equation, and good gemology equals higher prices. Some of the more abundant stones are actually better in serviceable quality- meaning it is stronger, less porous and with less imperfections, so if you are not the type of person looking for that “just so piece” you can probably find something nice in the $65 per square foot range. The benefit of Granite is that is that every piece is somewhat unique- just the way God intended. There is an array of colors and movement so there is usually a winner for everyone. It is durable (mostly) , however lighter colored stones are prone to stains- so if that white marble kitchen is what you want- keep the sealer handy and the red wine in hand.

Silestone Quartz - Lagoon color

Silestone Quartz – Lagoon color

Quartz: We sell Cambria, Silestone and Caesar Stone… and I know there are a few more, but these are the main players. Cambria has taken the one price fits all approach, and they keep the cost in line by trying to have the volume move through fewer hands. All of Cambria’s collection sells for about $76 PSF with a simple edge treatment. Silestone and Caesar Stone have a range of ingredients that change the pricing and products that offer recycled materials and matt finishes. The low is going to be in the $75PSF category and some of the sliced geodes produced by Caesar Stone are in the” if you have to ask category” (over $500PSF). The pros are that quartz products are maintenance light… no sealing required! And are non-porous- making them a green choice for a healthier environment. Also, quartz products are more uniform and predictable for color… just make sure that you take the time to visit your slab if you are looking at some of the new colors that have movement, the slabs do differ.

Five Tips for a Luxurious and Modern Shower

The Master Bath Shower has come a long way. We are typically removing small and cave-like 32×32 inch stalls from existing master baths and designing in roomy and beautiful custom showers. There are a few important things to put on the to-do list with your shower design, so we’ll start from the bottom and work our way up:

1st - Shower Drains: We are seeing a strong trend in linear drains. This is a long channel placed on one edge of the shower in lieu of the round drain often found in the middle. The channel drain has a couple of advantages that may be worth the extra cost (about $200-400 more for the product and additional work on the pan). You can use large format tile with a channel drain since the pitch is tapered in one direction- so that large tile can be installed inside the shower and the look is a bit more modern.modern shower stall2nd – Water proofing: The picture below is post applied water proofing, and this is not optional. There are a few different manufacturers and methods- the one shown is a liquid product that dries like a coating of rubber and we do use concrete board followed by the manufacturer’s recommendation to mortar all the joints.  And for a small and important final step on prep, we waterproof every shower.shower stall waterproofing3rd – Storage: A shampoo and soap niche can be an attractive way to break up a large finish and add interest, texture and color. Waterproofing is critical here and the shelves need to have a slight pitch so that water won’t collect there. In the first photo pictured above, there is a niche on the left, and handy corner shelves on the right. Note the lower corner shelf - we often include these shaving stoops so that leg shaving is safer and easier – make them about 12″ plus or minus off the floor.

4th – Shower Doors: Modern design often includes a walk-in shower (just a panel on one end and no door on the other). This is a clean look and many of our clients like this. It should be noted that no door means no steam build up… or less warm air from the warm water being trapped. Most Master Bath installations include a door, and are “frameless”. The word frameless is a loose term because the glass has to be attached in some way and some methods sacrifice strength and water tightness for minimal hardware. My suggestion is to meet with the Glass installer if you have questions and make sure you understand the pros and cons of your desired look and your specific design.modern shower stall5th and not least – Shower heads: Rain heads are the fastest growing trend according to our client requests. If the ceiling is too high or too low, don’t push it. Too high and the water gets tempered and falls weak so you get what feels more like a spring rain outside and less of a fantastic shower experience, too low and the stream is uncomfortable and will make the space feel small. Rain head or not we always suggest a handheld shower head in addition to a fixed one. A handheld isn’t always ideal as a main head, but if you want to lower it so you don’t have to wash your hair, if you want to rinse your legs or you want to rinse down the shower, it works perfectly.modern shower headIf you take the time to know what you want from your shower- you will truly enjoy the time to get refreshed!

A great renovation idea!

I have a great idea that will allow you to give birthdays to homeless children and have a great time doing it! Why don’t you come to our place on Thursday April 10th where all you have to do is enjoy some great bites cooked on site from Chef Ryan Cyr (he is making a short rib appetizer and a spring soup and one mystery treat right before your eyes). We can add the beer & wine, friends from our community and a little jazz in the background. I’ll even throw in a chance to win an exquisite meal cooked in your home for 6 and another chance to win a convection steam oven generously donated by Yale Alliance and Jenn-Air Appliances.

Why all the fun! We need your help to renovate the offices and storage for the Birthday Wishes headquarters in Newton. This incredible charity provides birthday parties to homeless children. I know this is not a very visible need in our community, but the reality is that there are many children who by no fault of their own may not experience the joy that a birthday should bring every child. We can all help to raise some funds while we enjoy the companionship of our neighbors and friends, talk to Chef Ryan Cyr of Bistro-At-Home who will be here to show some techniques and great appetizer ideas for your next party.

The cost to attend is $50, and for every additional $25 donation, we’ll add one more opportunity ticket to win the dinner for 6 cooked in your own home and our second drawing will be for JennAir Steam convection unit provided by the folks at Yale Appliance! You won’t have to be present to win if you cannot attend so please make a donation!

Please go to: Birthday Wishes Store and purchase a ticket to our event, make a donation- and for all my close friends… BOTH!

What are we going to accomplish?

100% of your donation will go directly to purchase materials, electrical work, painting, floor finishing, furniture and fixtures. The Wiese Company will provide at no cost: all the design work, construction management and carpentry hours required as well as all the expenses of the event April 10th. We need your help to provide an improved environment for the volunteers to work in, and a more productive way to bring a birthday party to a child in need.

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Great ideas for entertaining… and special birthdays!

Great ideas for entertaining… and special birthdays!

Entertaining is often part of our planning in most home remodeling projects, so here are a few considerations for having a space made for scalable entertaining (the large annual event or the small intimate ones). Think about your guests arrival, if you often have 4-8 couples, you’ll need a large closet nearby, or a place you know the coats can go without interrupting the fun. If you’re the one that has the 20+ guest list often, leave out some of the walls in the planning your new space and create definition of space with furnishings. That will keep the home human sized for your day to day living, and allow you to move a few things an hour before guests arrive. Whether you prep the food  yourself or cater, some extra counter space and a sink next to say- a second refrigerator in the mudroom, walk-in-pantry or basement would be a helpful addition. Entertaining and cooking don’t always go hand in hand… but the following is an idea that I highly recommend. I recently had a birthday party for my significant other, and since she just turned- “a milestone”, I had a private chef come and prepare a surprise meal for 8. What a great night it was to be able to sit at the table in the comfort of home and not miss a beat while Chef Kurt and his trusted server, Meghan, took care of everything! My last suggestion for birthdays is that you ask your guests to show their love by donating to Birthday Wishes, a nonprofit that brings birthdays to homeless children, rather than giving you a gift.

My team and I are excited to announce our 2014 “Impact in our Community” recipient is Birthday Wishes! Each year The Wiese Company, along with our business partners and the community, aid a local charity. Together we can offer repairs and design assistance, along with much needed improvements in the environment where the staff and volunteers perform their good works. Birthday Wishes is a nonprofit located in Newton Centre that provides birthday parties for homeless children.  This terrific organization will bring special joy and acknowledgment of a birthday to 23,000 homeless children this year. We will be in touch with more information about a special evening in April where Chef Kurt will part with some invaluable cooking knowledge  (and food), and you will have a chance to win a perfect gift for your next project from one of our suppliers (prize to be announced soon).

Our ambitious and obtainable goal?

  1. Re work the much needed office space for the staff and volunteers who are currently working in what appears to be the tables found on the side of the road (these people are dedicated).
  2. Move some electrical and network connections so the server doesn’t have to live where the closest cable was located and we can make room for more donations!
  3. Re-organize the space. As often happens, the work of giving back to your community comes before taking care of the space where these folks work. We want to re-plan the storage and work spaces to make life easier getting these birthdays out the door. This will include improved shelving, work spaces for party and goody bag assembly, and to accommodate larger volunteer groups to meet and wrap gifts as well as process re-planning for intake and outgoing items.
  4. Not least…. Remove the dirty smelly carpet and re-finish the floors. This alone will make the environment that much better and healthier- and oh yeah, and a fresh coat of paint!


Bath Tubs in the Master Suite

Bath Tubs in the Master Suite

People often ask me if bath tubs are an important feature in the master bath today- this is a relevant question, and its one that I get asked very frequently. I know most folks would like a simple yes or no answer, but the truth is- it depends. Bath tubs conjure something in the senses, so in the right place, they have a soothing affect just by being present. You know the photo of the tub with the towel over the edge- how it seems to be calling you to take a break? The same thing happens when we see a window seat complete with cushion and throw pillow- but are we going to sit there? Probably not- but the feel of the environment changes. The space becomes more inviting and relaxing- it offers opportunity to stir other emotions as well, and if that is important to you, even if you rarely take baths, then I would recommend looking at a design with a tub in it. The reality is that we see fewer bath tubs in the master bath, and is the result of having less time available in our lives. The space once reserved for the tub is often used for a luxury shower because we know we have time to enjoy that.  I know this to be true because many of our clients have the means to install a tub,  but they just know they don’t have time to wait for it to fill, or they know that by the time the bath is ready they will hear “Mom?” . If you already take regular baths, then the question is answered and all you have to do is find the right one.

Inviting Bath in Wellesley MA

Inviting Bath in Wellesley MA

If you are still unsure about adding a tub in the space, there are a couple more things to consider that may help you with your decision.  If you don’t think you will use it often but believe it either makes sense for your neighborhood or your desired aesthetic- then get a nice soaker tub that isn’t too expensive… you don’t need the hydrotherapy. If you are an avid soaker, consider  a tub with a few features that are great to have, such as: a heated back rest, a water heater to keep the temperature up, and air jets- which are more sanitary, quitter, and often offer improved hydrotherapy than a jetted tub. BainUltra is one of my favorite brands for tubs.  The last thing to think about is the tub freestanding or built-in? There are so many options… below is one of the newer designs I saw at the Kitchen and Bath Show last week- it is not very expensive and would be stunning in a transitional or more modern bath, and retails under $2k.


Apron Front Sinks- Not just for the Farm

Also known as farm house sinks, the apron front sink has changed in many ways, and it is no longer just for old-world or country style kitchens. Today’s farm house sinks are made with more durable finishes such as stainless steel, and fireclay. Both Stainless and fireclay do not have the staining or weight problems associated with porcelain glazed and enameled cast iron sinks. There are many advantages to using this style of sink- so let’s start with the obvious, they look great! In the kitchen, there are few tried and true focal points; one is the combination of sink and window. The look of an apron front sink can give you a great wow factor, so if you aren’t sure your cook top or range are giving you enough pop, this would be a great solution! Another less considered benefit is that the front of a sink cabinet is often the first place water damage will appear after wear and tear on the cabinets. Even the best finishes are subject to problems when you add wood and water, thus an apron front sink can be a great barrier. Are you doing a modern or transitional style? Not to worry, this large and deep basined sink also works well in contemporary style kitchens as you can see in the photos below. The last big advantage to this style of sink is that it’s ergonomic, putting you closer to the sink as you use it which will reduce the reach and bending. This is a big benefit for cooks with back problems, and an improvement for everyone. Apron sinks won’t have anyone fighting for cleanup duty in the kitchen, but they can add grace, charm and a few other benefits.

Better Cooking and Eating with Steam Convection Ovens

Better Cooking and Eating with Steam Convection Ovens

With many things in the world of food, wouldn’t it be nice to have more things that taste better while being healthier, and with alternatives to pre-heating the oven in order to shorten the cooking time (especially on evenings filled with extracurricular commutes)? Take that wish list, add in the necessity of multi-purpose and you have an appliance that is made for the modern kitchen… the steam convection oven (aka combi-steamer). These ovens typically offer three main modes of cooking; first, the standard convection will cook food quickly- the cooking temperatures may be as much as 25 degrees less, and be up 25% faster than a typical oven (depending on the make and model). Next, there is the steam setting. The cooking process of a steam oven provides healthier cooking options as no oil or fat is necessary and since steam is a natural, gentle cooking method, it preserves nutrients and taste, creating fresh and flavorful food without sacrificing taste. This is also a great way to reheat leftovers without the rubber like issues that a microwave can create. Then there is the steam and convection setting- this duel setting can be great for foods like turkey because it browns like the standard oven and then keeps the food from drying out by using the steam. This setting can really cut back the cook time for your next holiday meal. It takes to about 90 minutes for a 14-lb turkey! Lastly, some companies like Viking even offer a fourth cooking mode, that of a microwave. Talk about having convenience all in one place! Depending on the setting you are using, steam convection ovens typically do not need time to preheat, so already you are 30 minutes closer to eating your meal. While most ovens do require you to fill the unit with water, the machine will remind you before you start cooking and there are a few models that can be hooked up directly to your water supply. All of the ovens offer easy to use settings depending on what you are cooking, now once you press a button you can enjoy time with your family without jumping up in fear because you didn’t hear the timer go off. Most models use the steam to clean; this means no nasty oven cleaners- all you need to do is wipe it down. Wolf offers a convection steam oven with technology that can actually sense the amount, size, and shape of the food in the oven! Just select an automatic mode and place the food in the oven, and it will monitor the time, temperature, and environment. These different settings and options are the reason why combi-steamers are making their way to the top of the kitchen wish list according to our contact person at Clarke Distribution (the local Wolf and Sub Zero distributor). Thanks to the features of the steam convection oven you can brown any meat while keeping it moist; breads and baguettes come out with that nice crackly crust just like from a bakery and you can get some more time back in your day. According to Wolf, you can cook what used to seem impossible- “Company for breakfast? Place a dozen eggs in the oven, carton and all. Press a button. In minutes, you have hard-boiled eggs for table or refrigerator.”

Wellesley Kitchen with Wolf Convection Steam Oven and Induction cooktop

Wellesley Kitchen with Wolf Convection Steam Oven and Induction cooktop

Induction Cooktops are HOT in Kitchen Remodeling!

Induction Cooktops are HOT in Kitchen Remodeling!

If you talk to anyone who hasn’t seen a demonstration with induction cooking, they’ll probably tell you that “gas is the best, and any self-respecting culinary specialist wouldn’t use anything else”. However, the times are changing; and induction cooking is giving gas stove tops a run for their money. There are several great reasons you should consider adding an induction top to your next kitchen. You might be surprised but induction cooking is not that new, it was introduced to Americans during the 1933 World’s Fair, but it has only recently started making headway in the U.S. due to improved and efficient manufacturing methods. Induction has been used in Europe for decades by professionals and homeowners; and it is just now starting to really catch on over here because the technology is more available and through strong educational pushes to the kitchen and bath industry. Induction cooktops use a process of alternating electric currents that create a magnetic field, this directly heats a pot/pan without heating the cook-top surface.

The first benefit to induction cooktops is their efficiency. The average induction cook top is about 84% efficient (Wolf Induction ranges come in at an impressive 90-95% efficiency), and traditional electric cook tops run at about 74% efficiency… and even more interesting, gas runs from 55-60% efficient. Second, unlike a regular electric unit, induction cooktops provide a constant temperature and precise control- similar to gas units. Third, you can boil water in more than twice the speed as a high output gas appliance- and when the pasta is holding up dinner, and that will be a benefit that pays dividends.

Last but not least, induction cookers are the safest cooktops around. Not only is there no flame to worry about, but the nature of induction cooking renders the cooktop cool to the touch-it’s only the pot that gets hot. That is a far cry from the hot surface left behind on an electric top. Items made from aluminum, copper, glass, ceramics or plastics will not heat up through induction cooking; only cookware that is magnetic will work. Of course, for some people this may mean that they would need to purchase new pot and pans, but for kitchens where the very young or the elderly live it’s a great safety value, and this outweighs the price of a new cookware.

A kitchen with an induction cooktop and steam convection ovens

Wellesy kitchen with an induction cooktop and steam convection ovens

See an induction cooktop in action- click here to watch Chef Rachelle Boucher give a video demonstration! If this article peaked your interest for what’s new in kitchen appliances then be sure to look for next week’s newsletter where we’ll talk about steam convection ovens.

Preventing Ice Dams

Preventing Ice Dams

We’ve had a mild winter until today! We still have months to go before spring comes, and we’ll no doubt get a few more big snow storms before that happens. There is a certain beauty that comes when you look out and see the world is covered in white, and the way the sunlight glistens through the icicles that hang from trees and rooftops.  Though a row of icicles on a house is picturesque, it is also a warning sign… the same conditions that allow icicles to form also make ice dams.  As you maintain a comfortable interior temperature for you and your family heat slowly rises into the attic. This heat starts to melt the snow on the roof top, as the snow melt runs down the roof until it eventually reaches the eaves, and this is where ice dams form.  The ice forms around the eaves of homes due to a temperature change, the heat that had melted the snow is lost once the roof goes beyond the exterior walls, this slight difference in temperature is all it takes to allow the water to refreeze into a sheet or dam of ice which will melt and refreeze as the days go by.  As the snow continues to melt the dam grows in size; the water above backs up behind the ice dam and remains as a liquid. This water finds cracks and openings in the exterior roof covering and flows into your attic space. From the attic it could flow into the home- this may damage exterior walls, insulation and the ceiling finish. It can also lead to the growth of mold and mildew, which could have an adverse impact on you and your family’s health.

ice dams

To help prevent ice dams the approach is simple, just keep the entire roof as close as possible to the same temperature at the eve. This can be done a variety of ways:

  1. Ventilation- A ridge vent and soffit vents under the eaves circulates cold air under the entire roof. Both ridge and soffit vents should have the same size openings and between them provide at least 1 square foot of opening for every 300 square feet of attic floor.
  2. Insulation- Make sure your attic floor is keeping the heat where it belongs, replace damaged insulation and be sure you are hitting the state requirements. Massachusetts requires a minimum R-38 in the ceiling now, but many homes have less insulation. Another newer method of insulation is to have spray foam installed on the roof plane. This is the most effective type of insulation I have found against ice dams. (Each state is different, so be sure to check your local codes)
  3. Cap, Caulk and Seal- recessed lights, attic hatches, and electrical cables and vent pipes all affect the heat that makes it into the attic space. Recessed lights should be insulated so they will not give off excess heat. Attic hatches/fans should be covered with weather-stripped caps. Lastly check areas where holes have been made for pipes and cables- insulate and seal these areas so that you cannot see light coming in.
  4. Exhaust to the outside- Make sure that the ducts from the kitchen, bathroom and laundry lead to the outside through the roof or walls. If it goes through the soffit or eave you should rework the exhaust system.
  5. Moisture barriers- If you are reroofing or installing a new roof put in a moisture barrier (more commonly called an ice and water shield) between the deck and roof covering. This an inexpensive option that will help keep water out of your home due to moisture from ice dams, as well as protecting the house from wind-driven rain if the roof cover blows off during a windstorm.

When the heavy snows come, remove the snow where possible. A roof rake can be used to pull snow down the slope of the roof to prevent an ice dam from growing or forming. Aggressive chipping or breaking the ice dams can cause damage to the roof or gutters. In an emergency situation to stop water from continuing to flow into the house structure, it may be necessary to make channels through the ice dam, so using warm water should be the first attempt. However, the channel becomes ineffective within days, so this is only a temporary solution.

The most important thing to know is that there is no guarantee against ice dams. The best practice is to use a combination of ice and water shield, proper insulation and ventilation- if they are all in good shape, you will have the best chance. If it is too late to have any of these things done, the roof rake is the best prevention. Happy Snow day!