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Green Building Blog

Blog Review: Kitchen-Exchange

Straight talk on kitchen remodels, appliances, and sensible budgeting by Peggy Deras

Peggy Deras

Peggy Deras is a certified kitchen designer and certified interior designer in the San Francisco Bay area who launched her Kitchen-Exchange blog as a companion to her Web site, Kitchen Artworks.

Her specialty is working with clients who want to remodel “inconvenient, outdated” kitchens. Kitchen-Exchange is a place where you pose questions about appliances, cabinets, lighting, and budgeting, and where Deras shares information she’s recently come across that might be helpful in a kitchen overhaul.

As a result, the blog is a mix of advice and news. She doesn’t advertise her blog as “green,” but she regularly includes items that deal with sustainable building, particularly energy-efficient lighting. For example, a recent blog described a new type of light bulb, called the Vu1, which is under development by a Seattle company. The bulbs will have efficiencies that rival compact fluorescent lamps but will contain no mercury.

She also detailed provisions of California’s CalGreen Building Code, which has tougher requirements on indoor air quality and water use; and passed along a link to an article about a new home energy rating program.

Her emphasis on sensible kitchen remodels for middle-class homeowners also is, if indirectly, a green approach because it favors reuse over new construction.

She comes by her interest in kitchens honestly. When she and her then husband bought their first home in 1969, they had big remodeling plans but not much money. So they did the renovations themselves. They spent $6,000 on the kitchen, including the cabinets that Deras built herself.

“We ended up with a pretty high-end kitchen,” she writes, “and I was launched on a career with that kitchen remodel.”

Deras is blunt but supportive. That’s an appealing combination for people who are wading into what is likely to be a complicated and potentially budget-busting project. Her tips on energy-efficient designs are useful, and so is her no-nonsense advice to readers in search of good remodeling strategies.

On designing with fluorescent lighting

“Because I try very hard to design fluorescent lighting schemes that bounce the light from hidden coves and the tops of cabinets, I early-on realized that the intensity needed to be higher to achieve the desired results… The great thing about this kind of bounced light is that it picks up the color of the ceiling as it bounces. Consequently we don’t have to deal with yucky fluorescent light color. Of course I do also specify that the fluorescent tubes be the best color my clients can afford, or at least minimum warm white.”

On planning a green remodel

“Green building is really a lot easier than green remodeling because you start with nothing when you build. So building with green materials and methods will result in a green home. How green depends on the materials and methods, but green. When you remodel, you are starting with a structure that is obsolete. And in many cases, the remodel will only target part of the structure — for instance, the kitchen. So, even though you might choose bamboo cabinetry, cork flooring, Energy Star appliances, and all the other accouterments of a truly green kitchen; your green kitchen will still be mired in a not-so-green house.

“What to do? I suggest starting your planning for a remodel, any remodel of your obsolete home, with an Energy Audit and report.”

On the outcome of her own energy audit

“By doing an audit and sealing last year on our home, before buying a new furnace and duct work, we achieved a 48% reduction in our heating energy use. That’s pretty amazing considering that we opted to do only part of the prescriptive measures advised. We were also able to buy a smaller furnace than we had been told by other companies that we needed. Even better is the savings month in and month out in windy, foggy, South San Francisco. Best of all is that we are truly comfortable in our home that was once drafty and cold.”

On shopping for a contractor

“Low-balling contractors often ‘find’ problems that reputable contractors will call out up front. Better to find a contractor you trust and negotiate to bring your project in at a price you can afford. Contractors are not the enemy. They are glad to work with homeowners as a team on the project if given half a chance.”

On when not to hire a designer

“Typically, if I consult with you and then draw up your plans, you will pay me somewhere between $3-5K. On a higher-budget project the client can expect me to save them as much or more than they pay me. When a budget is pared to the bone, as yours is, there is no fat to cut (and no room for a designer on the payroll).”

On when you should hire a designer

“Recognize when you are in over your head: Many kitchens are easy for their owners to plan. Plenty of space for adequate counters, storage, passageways and your chosen appliances. It’s really hard to make a huge mistake going to a Big Box store with your floor plan with a kitchen like that. Other kitchens are not so easy…This is the moment when consumers need to realize that a professional can wring far more out of an inadequate and antiquated space than they themselves or any novice can do.”

Deras also writes two other blogs, Appliance Notes and Kitschy Kitchens. Deras describes the latter as “an entertaining detour into what makes a really BAD kitchen; OR a strange/unusual kitchen.” Both make for good reading.


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