Monthly Archives: February 2015

Updating your kitchen with LED lighting

Excerpt from my regular column in the Santa Barbara News-Press.

Question: My wife and I own a home in the Santa Barbara foothills that was built in the early 1990’s. Our kitchen is the kitchen original built with the house and we are very happy with our cabinets, counter tops and appliances.   However we would really like to upgrade the lighting. Currently there are 3 lighting circuits in the kitchen each controlled by a separate wall switch. One circuit has six recessed can lights that are spread out over the entire ceiling with incandescent light bulbs. The second circuit controls several recessed can lights over the sink also with incandescent bulbs, and the third circuit turns on and off a hanging light fixture with halogen bulbs over a small breakfast table. We have read much about the new types of LED lighting and would like information on possible ways to convert our kitchen lighting to LED.

Your Handyman:  I personally am a big fan of LED lighting for many reasons and my prediction is that within relatively few years LED lighting will become the dominant style of lighting for both residences and businesses. You may have read recently in the local news of the UCSB professor who is credited with the invention of the modern LED light, being awarded the Nobel Prize and being labeled in the press as a modern day “Thomas Edison”.

The most noticeable feature of LED lights is that they emit a very clean natural looking bright light that brings out the true colors and beauty of granite counter tops, drapery fabrics and artwork in homes, and makes fine crystal and jewelry sparkle in stores at the mall. Incandescent, florescent and compact florescent lights emit a light that is less pure and actually illuminates with a slight amber tint that tends to subdue and distort colors. I personally dislike most everything about the twisty compact florescent bulbs (CFL): especially the shade of light they produce and predict that they will soon go the way of the rotary dial phone.

LED lights use a very small amount of electricity and the typical older style recessed can light designed to be used with a 100 watt incandescent interior flood light bulb, can be replaced with a 4” diameter LED can light, that believe it or not only uses 6 watts of electricity while producing an equivalent amount of illumination. This same LED can light is rated by the manufacturer to last for over 50,000 hours while a compact florescent light or incandescent light usually lasts for considerably less than 10,000 hours. Florescent lights work most efficiently when left on for extended periods of time like at a retail store and their life is greatly reduced when turned on and off for the shorter periods of time that are typical in residential use. The life of an LED lighting is not affected or reduced by being turned on and off in a residential application.

LED lights emit much less heat than other types of light, especially halogen, and this is a major benefit especially in retail lighting where a significant amount of the energy consumed by the air conditioning system goes to reducing the heat created by the racks of lights that are typically spread over the ceilings of the most mall type shops. This can also be an energy saving benefit in newer energy efficient homes with high insulation values that trap any heat created by the lighting fixtures. The only disadvantage that I am aware of that is currently associated with LED lighting is that because it is a relatively new technology, the price is considerably higher that other types of lighting but this price difference will quickly shrink as production increases and technology advances.

You can convert the lighting in your kitchen ceiling to LED in a couple of different ways. If there is good attic access over the kitchen then the ideal plan would be to remove the old can lights completely and install new LED can lights using the same wiring, all accessed in the attic. If you want to have the lights in new locations then a little drywall repair and painting will be required. If attic access is a problem or if there is no attic due to a second story living area over the kitchen, then you can purchase conversion kits that allow you to use the existing recessed incandescent can by installing a new LED light and baffle that connects with spring arms that match the way that most baffles and trim rings connect to the recessed can. The LED light has a threaded connector that simply screws into the old light socket, you then next connect the spring arms, slid the new light into the old recessed can, and your new LED light is ready for use.

Your hanging light over the breakfast table can be switched out to an LED fixture just as any light fixture is replaced once you are able to purchase a new LED fixture that you like. Any online lighting supplier now carries a large selection of all types of LED fixtures. The style of your light is probably a surface mounted fixture which is the most common style for a ceiling.

If you are considering under cabinet lighting or ambient lighting on top of the cabinets, then LED ribbon lights are a fabulous solution. The ribbon lights are about a ¼’ wide and have a tiny LED light every ½” or so and have a peel and stick backing with permanent 3M adhesive. The power supply requires a small transformer that can easily be hidden in a cabinet and are fully dimmable. A typical installation has the LED ribbon running along the perimeter of the bottom of the cabinets where they are concealed from view and fully illuminate the counter top and backsplash. The ribbons can also be installed along the top of the cabinets providing illumination to an area of the kitchen ceiling that is often left in shadows.

If you want to have your new LED lighting controlled by a dimmer switch then you will need to install LED compatible dimmer switches. Dimmer switches that worked with your old incandescent lights will not dim your new LED lights.

-Mark Baird
Owner, YourHandyman & Construction
CA License #935259

Dealing With Contractors

Excerpt from my regular column in the Santa Barbara News-Press.

Dealing With Contractors

Question: My wife and I are in the planning process of what we consider to be a big remodeling project at our home in Santa Barbara. We are expanding the size of our kitchen by pushing out the exterior walls, converting the attached garage into 2 new bedrooms and building a new garage. We are trying to find a reputable general contractor to work with who understand our needs, and will remodel our home in a timely professional manner. We have heard many “horror stories” from friends about experiences they have had with contractors and want to avoid these types of problems. How do we go about finding a general contractor who can be relied upon to do a good job?

Your Handyman: Santa Barbara has many excellent contractors in all the different construction trades, but like every community, has a few bad apples. It certainly is not uncommon to hear of situations where friends or relatives have hired a contractor to do work at their home and things went less than smoothly. Unfortunately, contractors are right up there with used car dealers and cell phone providers when cited by consumer groups for frequency and volume of customer complaints. But with a little knowledge of the laws governing contractors in California and a little due diligence beforehand, your remodeling project should go off without a hitch.

The typical homeowner is unaware of the basic California State laws governing the business of providing labor and materials for home improvement or construction. In California a person or business contracting to do any job exceeding $500 including labor and materials, is required by law to have a valid contractor’s license specific to the trade. A person who wants to apply for a contractor’s license must have years of verifiable experience in that trade, pass a comprehensive exam on the specifics of the trade and of contracting law that is administered by the Contractors State License Board, not have any history of criminal arrests, and post a contractors bond of $12,500 with the State. In California, different trades like plumbing, masonry, painting, and electrical each have a different license category with a test specific to that trade. A homeowner can easily go online to the Contractors State License Board website www.cslb.ca.gov and search by contractor’s name, business name or license number to verify that a license exists, who the license is issued to, if the license holder currently has workers compensation insurance, and if there have been any disciplinary actions against the license.

It is my opinion that any person who works in the building trades, who is self employed, does not have a criminal background, and is serious about their work will early on in their career acquire a contractors license. No license = no legitimate business = no insurance. It is very important that anyone you hire to work at your home has general liability insurance to protect you against any one of the myriad things that can go wrong in construction, and also workers compensation insurance if they have any employees. A contractor with insurance can simply request from their insurance broker that you are sent in the mail or email an insurance certificate confirming the details of their insurance coverage. If someone is hurt on the job at your home and the contractor doesn’t have worker compensation insurance, then you may be left paying some or even all of the medical bills, lost pay for the injured worker, and rehabilitation. There are more than a few law firms in Santa Barbara who do nothing but represent injured workers with their worker compensation claims against either the injured worker’s employer, or the property owner of the jobsite where they were working when the injury occurred. A contractor should also be able to provide proof of automobile coverage in case a truck gets backed into the wall of your house or a worker gets in a fender bender while picking up materials for your job.

California State Law states that the amount of a deposit on a contract is limited to $1000 or 10% of the total contract amount, whichever is less. There is no legitimate reason for an established contractor to require a deposit greater than these amounts and it is a serious red flag warning sign if a contractor is asking for a large deposit. I know a local custom home contractor who has built over 200 homes in Santa Barbara in the past 30 years, who requires zero deposit and submits only 1 bill to the owner when the house is fully completed. Most contractors however will ask to be paid by a percentage of completion agreement where basically the contractor presents an invoice weekly or biweekly billing only for work that has been completed at the date of the invoice. It is not a good idea for the homeowner to pay ahead for work that is yet to be completed or to pay for materials that are still on order or sitting on your jobsite.

Possibly the best way to find a good contractor for your project is by referral from friends or neighbors. Talk to people you know and associates at work to find people who have had work done at their homes that is similar to the project that you are planning, and who were happy with their contractor and the quality of his work. When interviewing contractors ask them for referrals to past clients, be sure to call the referrals to hear from them how their projects were handled, and ask them if you can stop by to take a look at the finished work. With some research and leg work you should not have a problem finding the right contractor for your project, your job will run smoothly and you will soon be enjoying your new kitchen and extra rooms.

 -Mark Baird
Owner, YourHandyman & Construction
CA License #935259