Thursday, October 29, 2009

Who Will Benefit from Energy Rebates?

Have you delayed replacing your old energy-hoarding kitchen appliances in hopes of new cash rebates from the federal stimulus program? The Oregon Department of Energy has instead chosen to channel its $3.6 million in allocated funds into generous rebates for low-income homeowners who replace their antiquated and inefficient heating systems. This news was met with a measure of surprise from those who had expected the State Energy Efficient Appliance Rebate Program would be used to energize consumer spending in the home-remodeling section.

States were allowed to decide how best to carry out the program. Most states, including CA, NY and FL, have elected to direct their share of revenues from what has been called the "cash for clunkers" program for appliances into cash rebates for homeowners who replace outdated washing machines, dishwashers, refrigerators and water-heaters with newer energy-efficient models. An additional cash incentive will typically be offered for recycling the old appliances appropriately.

Oregon Department of Energy cites that 40% of the state’s annual energy usage comes from heating homes. Also the state already has in place an established incentive program which offers tax-credits ranging from $60 to $180 for qualifying energy-efficient appliances.

This GE Monogram EnergyStar-rated dishwasher qualifies for an $80 state tax-credit plus a $25 rebate for Central Electric customers.

Jim Chapel, a salesman at Johnson Brothers Appliances in Bend, OR says that "everyday people come in asking about the rebates." Chapel was never convinced that the new cash rebates, had they indeed been offered for kitchen appliances, would have boosted sales significantly. He believes customers replace their dishwasher, for example, because they need a new dishwasher. Part of his job as he sees it is to make customers aware of all incentive programs that apply to a purchase, and he emphasizes that in addition to the state's ongoing tax-credits all of the power companies are offering rebates. These rebates vary from one power company to the next and from one appliance to the next and Chapel is "more than happy" to help customers get the right information.

Oregons's proposal will now require federal approval, and funds could be allocated by the end of the year.

Related Links:
US Dept. of Energy
Oregon Dept. of Energy-Conservation
Pacific Power
Central Electric Cooperative

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Introducing: Gourmet Gayle and the Breakfast Calzone

It's high time you met Gayle Tosello.
I have dubbed her Gourmet Gayle and she is a superhero in our family. She doesn't have a cape but she has a jar of capers...and she knows how to use them.

She doesn't have a time machine but she can whip up a wholesome and tantalizing dish faster than you can say "Buon Apetito!" Vivaciously she bounces from kitchen to dining room to sewing room, then out for a 5 mile walk, a swim or round of golf. Or all of the above.

Gourmet Gayle is living proof of the energy payoff of a mostly Mediterranean diet. In fact I'm convinced there is nothing she can't do. Except sit down.

Lucky me to have this polenta-making, biscotti-baking resource as mother-in-law and friend. I'm so excited to be able to share some of her fast and fabulous recipes with you here at the High Desert Home Companion. If I could bottle some of her enthusiasm I would share that also!

Gourmet Gayle prepares Breakfast Calzones with her granddaughter.

Gayle makes bread/pizza dough throughout the week; I think for her it's like brushing her teeth or putting on lipstick. But if that's too much fuss, which it is for me sometimes, use refrigerated pizza dough. This is a good candidate for "Breakfast For Dinner" nights. It is so simple but will impress your family (let them think you slaved):

Breakfast Calzones
Cook scrambled eggs (1-2 per serving).

Saute some veggies in olive oil: onion, mushrooms, zucchini, asparagus, tomatoes, spinach...whatever is in season or needs to be used up. Season with salt and pepper.

On floured board, roll out the dough into circles (about 6").
Layer eggs, veggies and top with cheese (Trader Joe's 4 Cheeses is great).

Fold over, pinch edges together and brush with egg. Then bake about 25 minutes at 400.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Countertops That Rock: The Ease and Elegance of Concrete

If you have ever dismissed the idea of concrete countertops with concerns about cracking or prejudged it as cold and unfriendly, it may be time for you to take a long second glance. Now, more than ever, this earthy and environmentally kind material may find a place in your home and in your heart. And oh, the places it will go; concrete is showing off its new-found versatility by turning up in the most unexpected venues.

Talk about mud pies with moxie. Who would have thought you could create such allure with a mixture of cement, rocks and dye? Color personalities go far beyond the classic sidewalk gray, to spicy earthtones, warm and subtly textured, and to polished black, as swanky and hip as a beatnik in a beret.

Concrete is rocking it's style in home designs from rustic to contemporary, with intriguing applications in virtually every room of the house. Consider its benefits as a shower surround; minimal grout lines mean easy cleaning and the addition of inlaid tile or other decorative accents (think pebbles, shells, fossils, metals) bestows texture and personality.

In this master bathroom, an "eroded" edge detail adds to the distinctive character of the shower walls.

This elegant one-piece vanity top with integral sink and graceful curves would be right at home in a very traditional design setting.

Cement can be molded into virtually any shape or size you can conceive of. You want seamless? Cinchy. Curves? Can do. Choose any thickness, from thin and graceful to extra beefy. You may opt for a built-in raised drainboard or an inset butcher block for your kitchen.

Mossy green cabinetry, chocolate brown concrete countertops and a pebble-infused backsplash harmonize in this approachable kitchen.

Labor Intensive 
"Why does concrete cost as much as some granites?" is a question I have often fielded as a Kitchen Designer. I myself presumed that concrete should be more affordable until I watched the process first-hand. I sat at my desk in a kitchen showroom several years back watching, fascinated, as the fabricators returned day after day to complete the next stage in the eventual creation of a unique and sensual surface that would thereafter provoke visitors to appreciatively run their hands over it asking "Is this concrete? I love it. But I'm afraid it will crack."

Durable and Practical
It's important here to distinguish between cracking and "crazing". Crazing, or an occasional series of very fine lines in the outer surface of concrete, literally the width of a hair, is generally considered an enhancement to its natural charm.
Cracking, on the other hand, is happily a thing of the past. According to Bayard Fox, owner of Cement Elegance in Bend, Oregon, "New technologies have made it possible to make lightweight, crack free, and stain free concrete products. They also do not require any maintanence!" Fox has developed a system using just a 1/2 inch layer of concrete over a lightweight aggregate core which contributes to their "no cracking" warranty. And because worthy fabricators will stand behind their product, there's no reason to fear this user-friendly material. 

Environmentally Friendly
Fox lists these virtues which allow concrete to promote a happy habitat:
  • Locally produced, reducing shipping and fuel.
  • Raw materials are sourced locally.
  • Made custom, reducing waste inherent in other solid surfaces.
  • Can be repaired instead of replaced. Can be re-colored instead of replaced.
"The trend for unique products that have durability and longevity is exciting. Concrete has the flexibility to be made in any color or shape and can be made to fit any style of home. Contemporary design is making its way to the northwest. Concrete is perfect for this style." says Fox.
From Farmhouse to Modern, I think another reason this material transcends style is because there is just something endearing and unpretentious about such ambitious rock dust. And it sure cleans up nice.

Form meets function with chic, clean lines in this weatherproof concrete patio ensemble by Cement Elegance.

Top photo: courtesy Cocina Designs and Ruettgers Photography.
All other photos: courtesy Cement Elegance.

Monday, October 12, 2009

A Fine How-d'ya-do!

Let this serve as proof that the Pacific Northwest is not to be overlooked in the American fall color event (but who's competing?!)
And I'm feeling thankful for the warm and welcoming front porches I've spotted around town. I'm not a big fan of scary Halloween decor (because I get scared!). These appear to say, "Come on in. The pumpkin pie will be out of the oven soon."

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