Integrated Drain Boards Are Smart Design

Counter space is invaluable in a kitchen, which means that efficient design is key. Integrated drain boards are one of the more ingenious elements you can incorporate into your kitchen. Best of all, their sleek but unassuming look makes them as fitting a choice for modern house plans as they  are for detail-oriented craftsman homes.

Smart solutions
When first moving into a home, kitchen counters look beautiful and untouched. Yet, inevitably homeowners must find places for spices, cutting boards and draining racks – one of the more unsightly, utilitarian aspects of a kitchen. The integrated drain board is an engineer's response to that problem. A section of the counter next the sink is slanted slightly so that water naturally pours into the basin. A series of ridges continue from the flat part of the counter over the incline to keep an even plane. Dishes, pots and pans that still need to dry can be places on the ridges, allowing water to drip onto the incline and into the sink. When it comes time to clean the drain board, all you need to do is wipe it down with a dish towel. Once you've put away the dishes, you have a countertop free of clutter.

Making room
The space saved by an integrated drain board makes it a good design element for kitchens large and small. With traditional drying racks, you would have to find storage space for them when they're not being used. When you're not using an integrated board, you can easily place a cutting board on top of it to create a flat surface for kitchen work. If you are cutting or cleaning raw vegetables or meat, you just need to remember to wash the drain board thoroughly, which is again made easy by its self-draining design. The only drawback is that the drain board is a custom part of the countertop, meaning that you need to make a decision to install one before laying down your chosen surface.

Matching to your home
The aesthetic benefit of an integrated drain board is obvious, as your kitchen will consist of fewer distracting design elements. For craftsman house plans, you may choose to have the ridges be the same material as the rest of the countertop. For more modern, minimalist home designs, you can choose to make the ridges metal to create a sleek, contemporary statement. Once you've decided on a drain board, the style is really up to you.

LED fixtures in 2014 are lighting the way

The new year is looking bright, thanks to a host of fresh LED products designed to better light house and home. Featured in EcoBuilding Pulse's eco-friendly weekly product roundup, these lights merge sharp design with improved efficiency. For future homeowners, the potential cost savings of LED lights are worth a look. For people interested in energy efficient house plans, LEDs should be their first consideration.

These lights range from organic hanging fixtures to lamps to LEDs that resemble incandescents, building off of years of development and buzz. However, some consumers may be confused about the advantages and drawbacks of LEDs. While there has been plenty of debate over the benefit of LEDs, it seems that they may be the future of home lighting. 

The value of LEDs
LED stands for light-emitting diode, and it is a relatively new alternative to traditional incandescent bulbs. According to the Department of Energy, LEDs have the potential to be more energy- and cost-efficient than incandescent bulbs, due in part to a longer life and better performance in extreme conditions. Additionally, because they don't use a filament, they are more compact, easier to maintain and more durable than other types of light bulbs. The Department of Energy has even made the claim that LEDs could cut general lighting energy use nearly in half by 2030, thereby reducing energy expenditures as well as carbon emissions.

LEDs are often used as underlighting for counters, stairs and halls, or backlighting for shelving and appliances. Usually, they are embedded as part of a series of LEDs that lend themselves as a form of subtler track lighting. However, as LED products improve, they are being utilized as single bulbs in a fixture.

Still in development
While LEDs seem to be a perfect solution, there are a few reasons why they haven't become more popular in homes already. First, LEDs do not naturally produce white light, meaning that researchers and developers have had to put considerable effort into making LEDs practical for general home use. Second, the quality and efficiency of an LED light can vary greatly depending on the producer as those developers continue to fine-tune LEDs. Finally, the upfront cost for LEDs still surpasses incandescent, meaning that consumers are more reluctant to make the investment, even though LEDs can bring returns above and beyond that initial financial loss.

Because researchers are always improving upon LED designs, it's important that even skeptics keep up with the most recent developments in the field. With the proper research, energy conscious consumers are likely to find an LED product that suits their needs. If not, it's much like what Mark Twain wrote of ever-changing New England weather – if you don't like it, wait a minute.

A new year
Of course, that minute may have already come. More recent LED developments combine improved efficiency bulbs with interesting and innovative designs. One of the more distinguished lights to hit the markets are the Bio Mass Pendant Lights from Jay Watson Design. These slender, cylindrical hanging fixtures are made from a hollowed-out ash tree branch, with LED lights installed on the ends. This organic display would fit in perfectly with a rustic, country home, such as HHF-7908. Less showy are the recessed LED modules from Lutron, which can be adjusted for directional lighting, suitable for desk or kitchen tasks. 

If you are still reluctant about making the switch from incandescent to LED, there are also a number of designs that aim to resemble incandescent. Philips' SlimStyle A Shape and Switch Lightings' Switch Infinia both take on the familiar bulb shape that make them fit well with lamps.

How to make your bathroom more water efficient

When it comes to the bathroom, saving water can mean saving money. While energy efficient house plans can help conserve your energy usage as well as your bank account, there are still a number of design tips you can employ to be more efficient, no matter what kind of house you are planning to build. Here are just some of the techniques you can use to save some money in the bathroom.

The cost of a toilet
Toilets consume an incredible amount of water. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, toilets make up almost 30 percent of an average home's indoor water use. It used to be the case that toilets flushed 6 gallons of water per flush, though legislation in the 1990s meant that low-flush toilets soon had their day in the sun. Back then, these toilets only used half as much water without any changes in flushing design, meaning that the toilets were less effective, according to HGTV. However, technological developments, including better gravity-assisted flushing, wider flapper valves and pressurized air have made these toilets just as effective as the higher water capacity toilets.

One of the more recent designs to capitalize on the recent green-building and sustainability movement in the U.S. is the dual-flush toilet. It comes with two buttons for flushing. One is designed for solid waste and flushes the new average of 1.6 gallons of water. The other button is for liquid waste, and only flushes 0.8 gallons of water, thereby saving half of the water normally used for a flush. These toilets are a great way to save water.

Showerheads and faucets
The other two big culprits for water use in the bathroom are faucets and showerheads. Showering makes up 17 percent of indoor water use. Faucets account for more than 15 percent of indoor household water use, according to the EPA. Combined, the two consume roughly the same amount of water as household toilets. The amount of water used by both appliances can be significantly reduced.

The standard showerhead uses 2.5 gallons of water per minute, while high-efficiency showerheads use less than 2 gpm. If a shower is taken in the same amount of time with either head, that's at least a 20 percent reduction in water use. You can also use high-efficiency faucets or, if you can't spend the money, you can add aerators to your faucets, which add air to water flow and reduces water usage.

Look for labels
If you're unsure what kind of product to use, the EPA-approved WaterSense label lets consumers know whether an appliance is water efficient, meaning it's at least 20 percent more efficient and performs as well or better than its counterparts.