Thanks for all of your great questions during our recent Kitchen Design Webinar! Below are answers from AARP staff and our webinar presenter, Rosemary Bakker. We hope these provide additional help as you plan for your future kitchen needs. For more information, visit view our latest Livable Communities Awards page or rosemarybakker.com.
See also: What a winning kitchen looks like.
Cabinets/Countertops/General Kitchen Materials
Q: What is a reasonable life span for traditional wood cabinets, in terms of fading from sunlight exposure, dryness, etc?
A: The life span for cabinets varies widely depending on the quality of the original materials and workmanship. Cabinets rated low might last 15 years; those rated excellent might stay in good shape for as long as 35 years. (Source: Home Repair and Remodel Cost Guide, Marshall & Swift)
Q: What is the height trend for cabinets? Do you set them right up against the ceiling, or do you make them look more modern by lowering them from the ceiling?
A: So much depends on your storage needs and the height of your kitchen ceiling. One trend in kitchens with high ceilings is to install fluorescent tube lighting (hidden) on top of the upper cabinets. Make sure there is at least 12 inches of space between the ceiling and the upper cabinets. This is a great and inexpensive way to add lighting to the kitchen. Whatever your choice, make sure you can easily and safely access storage on the upper shelves. One way to do that is to add pull-down shelving units. It's an ergonomic way to access items on higher shelves.
Q: Where can I find slide-out shelving and drawers for cabinets?
A: Many manufacturers make high-quality slide-out cabinet storage units for both base and upper cabinets. Your best bet is to visit local home and kitchen remodeling stores and see which ones work for your situation. Consider full-extension glides for sliding drawers and shelves. Full extension means that you have full use of the drawer; you can pull it out completely, which gives you more usable space for storage and allows you to see everything inside the drawer.
Q: How can I check that the cabinets, flooring, countertops, etc. are made of safe, non-toxic materials?
A: Refer to the U.S. Green Building Council website at greenhomeguide.com.
Q: How can I find out the cost of upgrades to my kitchen, like adding pull-out shelves, replacing all the cabinetry and so on?
A: Go to costhelper.com, which has many links to other cost estimation tools. You can also go to the National Association of the Remodeling Industry website or call a certified aging-in-place (CAPS) contractor. Go to aarp.org/caps for more information.
Q: Do wood floors scratch easily?
A: Although wood floors are susceptible to scratches and dents, and will show wear especially in heavily trafficked areas, you can refinish them by sanding and applying a protective finish. Choose an environmentally friendly low-VOC (volatile organic compound) finish.
Q: I've heard that refrigerator drawers are more efficient than the familiar stand-alone models. Is this true?
A: Although refrigerator drawers offer convenience and easy reach, Consumer Reports states they "provide poor energy efficiency." For more information, visit Consumer Report's refrigerator page (Note: a subscription is required for access to complete information).
Q: Do you recommend a built-in microwave? I'm concerned about having to replace it in the future and maybe not being able to find the same size. I'm thinking about mounting the microwave above the stove. Is this a good idea?
A: Microwaves come in standard sizes, so you don't really have to worry about replacing a built-in one. The safest locations for microwaves are on or below the countertop. You can also install them at an accessible height with the bottom of the microwave no higher than 34" above the floor.
Q: Which material is better to use for kitchen sinks: countertop material, stainless steel or enamel?
A: There are pros and cons to all sink materials, and the best choice for you depends on your lifestyle and your family's needs. However, a 2007 Consumer Reports testing showed that enamel was more durable than steel. (Just don't drop a five-pound pot into the sink!). You can read Consumer Report's report on the test conducted in 2007.
Resources and Professionals
Q: We've lived in our home for 30 years and want to live here for another 30! Our kitchen hasn't been renovated for some time and we want to open it up and make it a real living space. Can you give us a few tips on what to include?
A: Good for you! Opening up a cramped kitchen will make it more spacious and ergonomically sound and much more enjoyable to spend time in with family and friends. Here are three key design features to include for lifelong needs:
- Roomy 48" aisles (good for multiple cooks, mobility aides, baby carriages).
- Multiple-height countertops for standing and seated use.
- A place to dine (at the island, countertop, or table).
For more information, see "Love Your Kitchen — for Life" in our Home Improvement section.
Q: How can I find the right contractor?
A: Find a reliable contractor by following AARP's seven steps. Also, check aarp.org/caps for trusted contractors, and ask friends for references.
Many occupational therapists are trained certified aging-in-place specialists (CAPS) too. Builders and remodelers often work with professionals like these to ensure the designs they execute for their clients will be the most comfortable and ergonomic. Learn more about occupational therapists at aota.org.
Q: Is there an appliance finish that holds its value best for resale?
A: Ask a local realtor, who will know about the value trends in your area. If you don't plan to move for a while, don't worry about it and get something that will work best for you!
Q: Should we add a dishwasher in our small kitchen for resale purposes?
A: Ask a local realtor about how this might affect the value of your home.
There are a variety of resources available to research products. Some are free, such as customer reviews posted on Amazon, Lowes and Home Depot websites. Others, such as designers, architects and remodeler sites, may require a fee for service. We have also included in this document the handout from the webinar listing several additional websites that provide valuable information as you consider a project for your kitchen.