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Fitting, Can you do it yourself or should you call in the experts?

A poor fitter can ruin a top quality kitchen yet an expert can make the most of a cheaper kitchen. Obviously you want the best of both worlds, good cabinets and professional installation. Reputable kitchen specialists will take a personal interest in the installation and completion of a customerís kitchen. He is responsible for any problems and ultimately they will cost him money. Ask for references and recommendations from past customers. If having smokers in your home is an intrusion, request non-smokers. Ask how long the job is expected to take as you need to make arrangements to compensate for your lack of kitchen facilities.

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Units need to be fitted to a high standard to create a safe and attractive kitchen.

Check to see what you can do to help. Remember to empty your old cupboards and keep your dog out of the way for the duration. Make sure that there is parking nearby for the fittersí van as it acts as a mobile workshop and storeroom.

Some DIY enthusiasts tackle the job themselves but it is not as easy as it used to be. When appliances simply plugged in and did not need fitting in to cabinets, installation was within the grasp of those with reasonable skills. For the modern integrated kitchen, fitters need a thorough understanding of safe layout design, an all round ability in electrical and plumbing works as well as carpentry, tiling and floor laying skills. Gas fitting has to be carried out by a CORGI (Council of Registered Gas Installers) tradesman for obvious reasons. Safety is priceless and any money that may be saved by doing it yourself is wasted if the design is dangerous or the plumbing, gas and electrical installations do not comply with safety standards. When buying, pay as much attention to your supplierís ability to fit as choosing your cabinets.


Is stainless steel really stainless?

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Stainless steel is used to make sinks and recently we have seen this tremendously durable material forming oven fronts, hob tops, appliance fascias and even cabinet doors. Although it appears to be maintenance free, it does require simple care techniques to keep looking good.

Choose a good quality sink to avoid problems later. Buy cheap and you will discover that stainless steel can stain and even rust! Mild acids such as vinegar will promote rust in stainless steel where the nickel content is low. Stronger acids such as those used by photo processors will have a detrimental effect on all stainless steels.

Low nickel content in the stainless steel alloy will also give a weaker sink that could distort. Bearing in mind the weight of water and pots when you wash up this could be a real drawback. It is worth paying a small premium for 18/10 stainless steel (18 parts chrome to 10 parts nickel) as this is a good quality for kitchen use. If there is a high gloss mirror finish on the surface of the sink there is less nickel in the alloy and it is accordingly a low quality product.

Wipe away any acid spills such as from vinegar or grapefruit straight away. Never clean the bowl or draining board with an abrasive cleaner. Instead use liquid detergent in warm water and wipe with a soft cloth to remove water drop marks. Care for stainless steel appliance fascias and cabinet fronts in the same way. If choosing stainless steel cabinets, a Ďbrushedí surface is less likely to show grease from finger marks.


How can I find good service?

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A survey by the research company Mintel demonstrated that far too many people were unhappy with the service they received when buying furniture and furnishings. 69% reported unhelpful staff with poor product knowledge and 71% were unhappy about after sales service. For something as technical as a kitchen with a huge potential for disaster you have to be sure of professional service.

To find good service you must research. Ask if your friends and neighbours can recommend a company based on their experiences. If they give a glowing report about their kitchens, discretely look at it to see if it meets your expectations. (Some people are easily satisfied!) If all looks good, put that company at the top of your list. Visit the showroom and see how well you get on with its designers.

Shop around. Larger in town stores sometimes employ sales people who want to earn as much as possible without going to too much trouble. Usually their products are flat pack and are limited in design. They rarely take responsibility for installation yet good fitting is so important. Make sure that you see an example of products and installation before you buy. Ask to see satisfied customer letters or even contact previous customers. A kitchen can cost as much as a car. Spending a little time making sure that you get good service is well worthwhile for peace of mind.


What shall we do with our old kitchen?

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New kitchen buyers often worry about what to do with their old kitchen. In-toto offers to remove and dispose of cabinets and appliances but sometimes has to pass on the disposal charge. You could offer any items that have some life left in them to a housing charity but usually appliances and units are taken to a trade waste centre for recycling. Metals are melted down and the environmentally hazardous gases in fridges and freezers carefully removed.

If you donít mind strangers coming to your home, place a classified advert, listing the appliances and units you have. Let people see the kitchen in-situ and explain that they can take the kitchen away once the new one is fitted. You could reap several hundred pounds to put towards your new kitchen. If you donít want to go to that bother, ring charities such as the Salvation Army. They often welcome donated household items.

Can you use the components from your kitchen yourself? Cabinets make excellent garage, attic and playroom furniture. A single cupboard, drawer unit and length of worktop will easily assemble to form a desk for a computer or typewriter while a tall cupboard can be retained for boot and work wear storage in the garage. A handyman may wish to dismantle all the cabinets to yield a useful supply of board for shelves and other DIY jobs around the home. Make sure that you remove any grease first with hot water and washing up liquid. Save screws and fittings as they are a great source of parts. You will also save money as small bags of screws seem to cost an awful lot of money nowadays. Recycling your kitchen, no matter how it is done, can save money, help a worthy cause and is good for the environment.


Kitchens for the older user

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The number of people age 55 and over is set to double within 30 years. This will impact on all forms of domestic design. These people will be the baby boomers and former yuppies forming an altogether more material older generation.

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It is important to consider comfort and practicality carefully.

Consider carefully what you want in the kitchen then put you thoughts to the designer. If your designer suggests a sensible alternative that makes the operation of your kitchen easier or will save you money, fine. Otherwise donít be fobbed off with a Ďstandardí kitchen. Think what you dislike in your existing kitchen and be sure those failings are put right. Even the healthiest of us in mid-life can find bending down difficult. See if you worktop, sink and hob are at the best height for you. They donít all have to be at the same level. An oven built in to a tall cabinet allows you to lift hot dishes safely while hob guards prevent pans from sliding to the floor.

Cabinets can be tailored to your comfort. Fully extendible drawers allow easy access and metal pull outs in floor cupboards save you bending down. You may want wall cabinets set at a lower than standard height. If you cannot reach the top shelf, it is too high regardless of what the salesman says. Try the knobs and handles on several cabinets in the showroom. You may find that small shiny knobs are hard to grip and prefer the feel of a large metal handle. Insist on good lighting. It is dangerous to work in your own shadow. In summary, do not buy a kitchen until you are sure that the design is appropriate to your needs, now and in years to come.


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