Thursday, December 29, 2011


There are four different types of lighting, and your home should have each of them, appropriate for the area. The four types of lighting are: ambient, task, accent, and decorative.

1. Ambient. Ambient lighting is general light that fills the room. The light is diffused and produce an overall glow. It should be inconspicuous and blend into the surroundings. It can be accomplished with chandeliers, ceiling or wall-mounted fixtures, recessed or track lights and with lanterns mounted on the outside of the home. Having a central source of ambient light in all rooms is fundamental to a good lighting plan.

2. Task. Task lighting provides lighting for a specific area and task. Lighting for reading, crafts, or writing are examples of task lighting. Task lighting should be free of distracting glare and shadows and should be bright enough to prevent eye strain.

3. Accent. Accent lighting accents a particular part of the room or object in the room. An example would be lighting accenting a painting or sculpture. Accent lighting is the most dramatic type of lighting. To be effective, accent lighting requires as least three times as much light on the focal point as the general lighting surrounding it.

4. Decorative. Decorative lighting is treated as a design element. An example would be a dramatic wrought iron candle stand or small decorative lamp shaped like a butterfly. It is not made to give out much light, but provides a decorative touch. Decorative lighting is usually provided by recessed and track lighting or wall-mounted picture lights.

A well-lit room looks warm and welcoming. But don't forget the bulbs. Natural full-spectrum bulbs can make everything in your room look better, including you!

Sources: Pamela Cole Harris and American Lighting

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Remodeling Counter Tops

Remodeling your kitchen or bathroom is a big job, but changing the look of the whole room can be done without redoing the entire place just by changing out the counter top.

Here are some things to consider, as described by Kitchen Countertops:
  • Granite Countertops - Granite is the most popular choice for kitchen counter tops, especially when the size your budget isn’t a consideration. A solid quality countertop can define a kitchen. The inclusion of a granite counter top will add class to the most modest of kitchens. They are available in a number of colors and are extremely durable (although periodic sealing is usually a must). Although there is some maintenance involved, granite kitchen counter tops are elegant and timeless.
  • Engineered Stone Countertops - Engineered stone is not as popular as granite but is often confused for a granite finish. Engineered stone has all the pros of granite but is probably easier to maintain (it differs from brand to brand the quality of the stone). Engineered stone counter tops are composed of quartz particles and they are available in a larger range of colors than granite – an additional benefit is a nonporous surface that is scratch resistant. Some popular brands on the market are DuPont, and Silestone. Engineered Stone is often more expensive than a granite finish.
  • Marble Kitchen Countertops - Let’s get this out of the way – marble has an extremely high price tag and is not often used for countertops or indeed anywhere in kitchens. While marble is luxurious and instantly recognizable, it requires maintenance and it easily stains. Sealers are required to retard staining and scratches. Please be sure to read all of our great articles before choosing to buy.
  • Solid Surface Kitchen Countertops - Solid surface counters are just what they're called, solid. Most scratches can be sanded out. The countertops are custom-made to your specifications by companies such as Avonite, Corian, and Swanstone. Visit our directory for links to these suppliers. The biggest advantage with solid surface counters is the range of colors and patterns… you just have to make sure you are careful with hot pans and everyday mishaps which can leave marks and/or stains.
  • Ceramic Tile Countertops - Ceramic tile is extremely durable and usually easy to clean. It’s also relatively inexpensive – a great choice for average kitchen renovators. Ceramic counters are usually installed one section at a time and most people can easily work with the materials. Ceramic finishes are excellent because they take hot pans, are easy to clean and are available in a number of different textures. The only downside is that the grout in between the tiles can be difficult to clean (if poorly designed) and the surface can end up uneven. Both of these pitfalls can be avoided with a professional installation.
  • Laminate Countertops - Laminate counter tops are popular and affordable – popular trademarks Formica, Nevamar are house hold names. Laminate counters are made out of plastic coated synthetics with a smooth surface that is usually easy to clean. The pieces are cut to size and then installed and finished on the ends. The biggest advantage of laminate finishing is obviously its affordability and range of patterns and colors. It’s relatively durable and easy to replace if stained or damaged.
  • Stainless Steel Countertops - A contemporary and industrial can be achieved with a stainless steel counter. Stainless steel is extremely heat resistant and durable. This choice of countertop is usually constructed precisely to your specifications so you can expect a seamless finish. While they are easy to clean, they can also appear clinical, they are noisy, very expensive it’s difficult to modify the fabrication yourself.
  • Soapstone Countertops - Soapstone offers a beautiful finish - it is generally dark in color and has a smooth and welcoming feel. Popular among historic homes (particularly among renovators) it is a great finish for both countertops and can be used as sink material. The biggest pitfall is the regular maintenance soapstone requires: applications of mineral oil will help prevent cracking over time.
  • Wood or Butcher Block Countertops - Increasingly popular wood countertops offer a rustic look and are available in a wide range of finishes and timbers. Hardwoods such as oak and maple are often used as kitchen countertops. One of our favorites, wooden counters can be sanded and resealed and the look fantastic, although they require a small amount of care. They can be damaged by water and stains overtime and need to be oiled or sealed – instructions and maintenance will vary from hardwood to hardwood and among manufacturers.
  • Concrete Kitchen Countertops - If your kitchen is an unusual shape and you require a very specific shape then a concrete counter might be a great choice (although the elevated price tag may be beyond most budgets). There are lots of advantages: it can be color tinted, it can look fantastic in the right setting (industrial) and new finishes mean that a concrete counter will almost never crack. On the downside, cracking is possible and the finish can be quiet porous (although it can be sealed).
Of course, you also have to consider what kind of feel the room should have: modern, classic, country, comfortable, chic? And your personal style.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Safe holiday decorating

Stay safe this holiday season by following some simple tips for electrical safety regarding your lighting and decorations.
Indoor and Outdoor
  • Before you begin decorating, read and follow the manufacturer's instructions concerning installation and maintenance of all electrical decorations.
  • Use only the lights and other electrical decorations that have been certified by a recognized independent testing laboratory such as UL, ETL or CSA.
  • Carefully inspect each decoration before plugging into an outlet. Cracked sockets, frayed, loose or bare wires, and loose connections may cause a serious electric shock or start a fire. Replace damaged items with new decorations.
  • Always unplug a light string or electrical decoration before replacing light bulbs or fuses.
  • Don't overload extension cords - it could cause the cord to overheat and start a fire. Use no more than three standard-size sets of lights per extension cord.
  • Don't allow children or pets to play with light strings, candle lights or other electrical decorations. Even small light decorations can produce a deadly electric shock if they are misused.
  • Turn off all electrical light strings and decorations before leaving home or going to bed.
Outdoor Decorating
  • Use only lights and other electrical decorations certified for outdoor use. Plug outdoor electric lights and decorations into circuits protected by ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs).
  • When hanging lights around your roofline or in trees, be sure to survey the area for overhead power lines and maintain at least a 10-foot distance.
  • Don't mount or support light strings in any way that might damage the cord's wire insulation. Never nail or staple light strings or extension cords down.
  • Keep all outdoor extension cords and light strings clear of snow and standing water and well protected from weather. Keep all electrical connections off the ground and hang sockets downward to prevent water from seeping into them.
  • Do not run electrical cords through door or window openings where they can be damaged.
Indoor Decorating
  • If you buy an artificial tree, check for a "flame resistant" label.
  • Unplug the lights when changing bulbs or when adjusting them on the tree.
  • Don't let bulbs touch any flammable material.
  • Never try to bypass a fuse built into a string of lights.
  • If you need to use extension cords, use only UL-approved cords that are rated to carry the electrical loads connected to them. Uncoil extension cords completely before using. Place extension cords away from heat sources and bulbs.
  • Never place cords under rugs and doors or through windows where they might be pinched or become worn.
  • Keep cords out of water and away from metal objects.
  • Be aware that cut Christmas trees or real Christmas trees cause the most fires during the holiday season. Make sure the base of the tree is maintained properly with the proper chemicals and water.
Source: El Paso

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Hiring a Contractor

Some projects can be done yourself. But for those that can't, or that you'd rather not, you need to hire a contractor. But how? What's the process? What do you need to know or consider?

LifeHacker put it well when they said:
Everything fails. From your air conditioner to refrigerator to the mortar holding the bricks of your front walk together, everything has a failure point—Great Pyramids of Giza? Not looking so new anymore, are they?—and the more aware of this you are the less likely you are to be caught off guard with a huge repair. 
You don't want to be forced to pick a contractor or repair man hastily just because an emergency repair is breathing down your neck, so your best defense is to check for problems before they crop up. You'll have time to carefully pick someone to do the work instead of saying "You can repair the septic tank tomorrow? Oh thank God!" and hoping for the best.
They recommend making a list of all the systems in your home, and their respective ages:
  • When was your roof installed? 
  • How old is your furnace? 
  • When was the AC unit last serviced? 
  • That 25 year old furnace might still be going strong today but it's well into its end of life. 
  • How old is your home? Is all the electrical original or have you upgraded it the technology you use?
  • Is your breaker box up to date or does it still use fuses that have to be replaced?
  • Is the seer on your AC appropriate for the size of your home after remodeling?
A checkup from a qualified professional on the major parts of your home like the roof and the heating/cooling system is radically cheaper than an emergency visit when they fail.

Here are some suggestions before hiring a contractor:
  • Get recommendations from friends and neighbors. We want you to start every story with "Look at the work I had done by Benchmark, it's perfect!"
  • Check for complaints against the contractor. You can see that our license is up-to-date with no complaints against us at the Board's Site.
  • Find out what licenses and permits they need. Generally, each city requires permits. Also ask for a rough estimate on the cost of those permits.
  • Check out the contractor's insurance. 
  • Meet with the contractor. We want to be a good fit for you - friendly, reliable, personable.
  • Get quotes. Track the quote variables with a spreadsheet or other list. Make sure you compare apples-to-apples, and understand the work that will be done.
  • Ask for references and check them out. 
Now that you're an informed consumer, we know you'll choose Benchmark Contracting because of our stellar reputation and excellent references!