Affordable Kitchen Makeovers: What’s Below the Surface (cont.)

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Wood and wood-technology experts tell Consumers Digest that Armstrong’s claims are reasonable. They point out that acrylic-infusion technology has been around for decades and has been used in commercial-grade wood flooring to boost its durability. Performance Plus flooring starts at $4.99 per square foot and carries a 50-year warranty, which is twice as long as that of any of the company’s other engineered-wood products, which start at $5.50, but feature more-expensive wood species and exotic finishes.

Armstrong’s and Shaw’s products will be joined later in 2013 by a similar product from Mannington Mills. Mannington says its new Copper Mountain line, like the enhanced engineered-wood flooring of Armstrong, incorporates nanoparticles of aluminum oxide in its new top coat. The new line will have a 50-year warranty on its one-half-inch products and 30 years on its three-eighths-inch products. The new engineered-wood line is planned for release to select retailers, although as of press time, the company was mum on the retailers and the price.

Shri Thanedar, who is the chief executive officer and chief chemist at Avomeen Analytical Services and a 20-year veteran of the coatings-analysis industry, tells Consumers Digest that, although nanoparticles of aluminum oxide greatly increase scratch and wear resistance, he cautions that a 50-year life expectancy is unknown territory. “We haven’t had that level of durability testing, and the use of these materials hasn’t been in practice long enough to fully substantiate those claims,” Thanedar says.

The warranty on some engineered-wood flooring isn’t the only thing that’s expanding when it comes to kitchen floors. Ceramic tiles that come in larger sizes have expanded. The number of manufacturers that we found that sell oversize options, i.e., bigger than the previous 18-inch standard, is about to increase to three, from one in 2010.

Florida Tile, which previously had no 24-inch tiles, introduced three lines that include a total of 13 style options in early 2013. Crossville, which was the manufacturer that led the way on the size, has more than tripled its options in the past 3 years. It now has 71 options in 24-inch tiles (including 12-by-24-inch and 24-by-24-inch sizes)—51 of which were introduced since 2010. Congoleum plans to introduce a 12-by-24-inch DuraCeramic product—its first 24-inch tile—in spring 2013 in 12 color and style combinations.

This is a good thing in terms of design, designers tell us. “The grout lines are far fewer, so the space flows much easier visually and appears more spacious, as well as more modern and clean,” says Susan Serra, who is the owner of kitchen-design company Susan Serra Associates.

What’s better is that larger tiles come at no additional cost, because you pay by the square foot. Plus, tiling contractors tell us that larger tiles go down faster and more easily than do smaller sizes, which keeps labor costs at the same level as for smaller tiles.

SEEN, NOT HEARD. Cabinets aren’t going jumbo, but, since 2010, the number of kitchen-cabinet manufacturers that sell soft-close doors and drawers that close without slamming as a standard feature on all of their cabinets has doubled to eight from four. Cabinets that have standard soft-close features start at as little as $160 for a standard base cabinet, which is about the same as 3 years ago.

At a glance, soft-close hardware as a standard feature might not sound like a big deal, but it adds up. Some brands charge $7.50–$10 per door and $22–$30 per drawer for the soft-close mechanism as an add-on option. Other manufacturers don’t charge at all: Alno, American Woodmark, Bertch, Dura Supreme, KraftMaid, Masterbrand (including its Decora, Diamond and Kitchen Craft brands), Medallion (Elkay) and SieMatic.

Further, soft-close features for kitchen-cabinet doors used to require additional hardware that took up space in cabinet openings, but new soft-close mechanisms are incorporated into the hinges, which means that they won’t be in the way.

At least nine companies migrated to those space-saving soft-close hinges since 2010, but so far, the hinges are standard only on five companies’ cabinets: American Woodmark, Bertch, Kraftmaid, Masterbrand (including its Decora, Diamond and Kitchen Craft brands) and Medallion (Elkay). Dura Supreme made the hinges standard on some of its lines.

(Although it isn’t unusual for kitchen-cabinet manufacturers to charge a premium for add-on options, American Woodmark is the only company that we found that goes the other way: It will allow you to remove standard soft-close hardware from your order and will give you a discount of about 10 percent, or around $7.50 per door and $22 per drawer, based on the cost of most of its base cabinets.)

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