Smart glass goes to the head of the class

January 07, 2006|By ROSE BENNETT GILBERT

Q: We're bumping out our kitchen to make space for a family room. Our old kitchen is dark and cramped, so we want to bring as much light as possible into the new space. One worry is that the addition will be north-facing and so really big windows may not make sense, what with the cost of heating the house. Also, we have toddler twins, so we want to put down a floor that's going to be easy to keep and not cold and hard. Any suggestions along these lines?

A: You need to do a little homework about your home to discover the wealth of new and advanced materials you have to work with these days.

The answers to all your questions are as close as the Internet or telephone.

For example, take the glass in today's windows. Glass may be one of the oldest of man-made products, but now it's also one of the most technologically clever. Window manufacturers like Marvin, Andersen, and Pella offer Low-E glass - Low-E means low-emission - glass with a microscopic layer of metal oxide that blocks the loss and gain of heat.


You'll also discover insulated glass, two panes with a layer of air or inert gas trapped between. You can't see it, but you sure can feel it in the comfort-level of your room, and in the gentler impact on your energy budget. You'll pay a bit more upfront for such smart glass, but it will allow you to have your light and your northern exposure, too, without becoming an energy-guzzler. Learn more from Web sites like the American Council for an Energy Efficiency Economy at

Now about your floor: hardwood is still one of the most practical flooring materials around. It, too, is one of the oldest, now offering offers technological innovations, such as new urethane finishes that make it long-wearing and easy to maintain. Learn more at

At the same time, man-made flooring materials give you a choice in other materials, at least the look of them. The kitchen we show here is floored with a laminate that pretends to be ceramic tile, only it's softer underfoot and much warmer to the touch (easy to keep and less expensive, too). Learn more at

This tile-look floor is also an effective reflector of light - whether it comes through the windows or from the electric fixtures, light waves will bounce off light-colored surfaces (including the ceiling) and ricochet brightly all around a room.

One more bit of research before you start: if floor-level warmth is important to you and your twins, look into radiant heating, a low-voltage wiring system that's easiest to install in new construction. It can go under almost any kind of flooring material, including hardwood, tile and laminates. Special conditions apply, so consult the North American Laminate Flooring at

Q: How can we save enough money this winter to finance a spring redecorating project?

A: With the Energy Information Administration projecting heating bill hikes from 31 percent (in the Northeast) to a whopping 71 percent (in the Midwest), it's never too late to take action against heat-waste at home. Home improvement expert Lou Manfredini (who's also Ace Hardware's Helpful Hardware Man), offers a number of money- and energy-saving tips.

Even in mid-winter, Manfredini says, it's worth $75 to $l00 to make sure your heating system is running at personal-best efficiency.

Manfredini also pushes for a programmable thermostat that lets you lower temperatures automatically when you're at work or in bed.

Cost: $40 - $10; pay-back time: a matter of a few months, he says.

Install weather stripping around windows and doors, and ceiling fans that you can run slowly in reverse to circulate warm air, and consider replacing an old water heater with a non-tank version that fires up only when you need hot water.

Two final suggestions from the expert: keep windows open to the sun by day, insulated behind closed curtains and blinds by night, and be sure your furniture doesn't block warm air vents and radiators.

Besides, a new furniture arrangement can also wake up your home life during these long cold winter nights while you're waiting for spring.

Rose Bennett Gilbert is the co-author of "Hampton Style" and associate editor of Country Decorating Ideas. Please send your questions to her at Copley News Service, P.O. Box 120190, San Diego, CA 92112-0190, or online at

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