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Problem-Solving Tools & Materials, continued

DOORS & WINDOWS

No-Complaint No-Paint Window

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Low maintenance, low cost, and easy installation make vinyl windows a favorite of homeowners and builders alike, but their clunky frames and styling make them less appealing to customers trying to match existing millwork or seeking a more traditional look. MW Windows' newest vinyl window uses an integral, vinyl brick molding with a 3/4-inch J-channel that makes it look a lot like a wood-framed window. It also features block-and-tackle balances, fully welded corners, and insulating glass with a 7/8-inch air space. The windows are available in single-hung, double-hung, and sliding styles. The list price for a 3/0 by 4/0 double-hung with screen and standard hardware is $222.

MW Windows, 800/999-8400, www.mwwindows.com.

DOORS & WINDOWS

Screen Test

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Casement windows generally have better thermal performance than other types of windows, and they have no meeting rail to obstruct the view. But for many homeowners those benefits are more than offset by the ugly metal-framed interior screens supplied by most manufacturers. Marvin's Casemaster Casement Windows feature wood-veneered screen frames that blend in better with wood-framed sash and wood trim. A removable "finishing strip" prevents paint or finishes from getting on the screen mesh. The list price for a Casemaster (rough opening 1/8 by 3/4) with a screen and standard hardware is $340.

Marvin, 888/537-8266, www.marvin.com.

ELECTRICAL

Self-Stick Solar

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With brownouts on the West Coast and rising electricity prices everywhere, residential photovoltaic energy production is looking better all the time. Uni-Solar's collection of residential Solar Electric Racks, Electric Shingles, and Solar Laminates give homeowners and builders a lighter, more easily installed photovoltaic system than traditional panel arrays. The electric racks have the most traditional design and appearance, but they can be installed over uneven roofing materials like clay and cement tile. Solar electric shingles install in place of ordinary fiberglass or asphalt roofing shingles, so they add little to installation costs. Flexible solar laminates can be adhered directly to smooth surfaces like standing-seam metal roofing. According to the manufacturer, all of the products are virtually indestructible and more efficient than designs made popular in the '70s and '80s. Installed systems cost about $8 per watt, making a typical installation about $20,000.

Uni-Solar, 800/397-2083, www.uni-solar.com.

DOORS & WINDOWS

"i" Opener

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By eliminating the trolley and rail from its i-drive garage door opener, Wayne-Dalton not only has made garage door installation easier, but has simplified life for the builder, too. The new opener mounts directly on the header above the door, leaving the ceiling unobstructed by the track and motor and saving builders from having to coordinate with drywallers, electricians, and installers to hang the opener and track. The i-drive also makes door operation quieter because it eliminates many of the typical moving parts and better isolates the opener from the floor above. It locks and automatically changes the transmitter security code after every cycle, which prevents unauthorized entry by code stealing. The installed price for the opener only is about $350.

Wayne-Dalton Garage Doors, 800/827-3667, www.wayne-dalton.com.

KITCHEN & BATH

Stone-Friendly Sink

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Generally, stainless-steel sinks get (and deserve) little fanfare, but the Blanco Module, a high-quality, 18-gauge stainless sink with a 4-inch backsplash and integral countertop section, should make homeowners and kitchen installers very happy. The countertop section allows users to wipe splashed water and crumbs into the sink without the rim getting in the way. From the installer's point of view, eliminating the sink cutout makes working with natural stone and stock countertops much easier. A double-bowl module has a list price of $1,690.

Blanco America, 800/451-5782, www.blancoamerica.com.

KITCHEN & BATH

Show Them You Care

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Washing dishes in the tub or laundry sink gets remodeling clients cranky in a hurry, but the all-stainless Portable Kitchenette allows for easy food preparation and cleanup while the kitchen is temporarily out of commission. The portable unit features a pullout 16x12-inch sink and a butcher-block cutting board. A top-mounted shelf is handy for small appliances, and hooks for pots and pans are available underneath. The 28-inch-wide, 420-pound unit fits in the back of a pickup for job-site delivery, and removable drawers and casters make transport easier. You can lease it for $3,000 per year or buy it for $7,000. Neither price includes shipping.

Diversified Metal, 510/667-9900, www.mobilekitchenette.com.

KITCHEN & BATH

Power Shower

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Homeowners love showers with multiple jets, but often the existing 1/2-inch plumbing system can't handle the added volume, and new, budget-killing 3/4-inch supply lines seem to be the only option. But you can be a hero with Delta's Monitor 1800 Jetted Shower XO Series. The multiple-jet shower valve can be fitted to 1/2-inch plumbing and can accommodate various wall materials from natural stone to fiberglass. Although the XO will never provide as much water volume or pressure as a shower valve supplied by 3/4-inch lines, its two body sprays, hand shower, and showerhead should be enough to make even the grimiest homeowner happy. Suggested list prices start at $400 for a chrome shower-only unit; the most expensive model lists for about $750.

Delta Faucet, 800/345-3358, www.deltafaucet.com.

ELECTRICAL

Labor-Saving Switch

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Using an air-actuated switch, similar to those found on whirlpool spas, the ISE Sinktop Switch makes retrofitting a garbage disposal a breeze. There's no need to fish a wire up to a wall-mounted toggle switch, because the (white or chrome) push button mounts directly on the sink deck and turns the disposer on or off by means of an attached switched outlet mounted inside the sink base. It lists for $67.

In-Sink-Erator, 800/558-5700, www.insinkerator.com.

HVAC

A/C Goes Digital

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By combining a digitally controlled solenoid valve with a scroll-type compressor, Samsung's DVM System Air Conditioner allows builders to effectively cool large, spread-out homes with a single outdoor condensing unit. The valve allows the compressor to run from 10% to 100% capacity, adjusting itself to match the immediate cooling requirements. As a result, the unit can be connected to as many as 16 individually controlled fan units without sacrificing efficiency when only one or two are running. This gives builders more design flexibility and allows homeowners more effective zoning without multiple outside units. Further adding to the system's flexibility, indoor units are available in ceiling-, wall-, floor-, and duct-mounted versions. The manufacturer says that the equipment costs about 20% more than that of conventional systems but is cheaper to operate.

Quietside Corporation, 562/463-0880, www.quietside.com.

HVAC

Pipe Dreams

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While a wall filled with dials, valves, and pipes might show off your heating contractor's expertise, the maze of pipes and wires might scare clients concerned about reliability and future service. To simplify the process of installing hydronic heating systems and to appease skeptical clients, Ipex has introduced the WarmRiteRadiant Heat Control Panel. The assembled hydronic control systems include a pipe manifold, electronic controls, and a circulator in a neat, integrated panel. The metal box makes the heating system look more like a reliable, manufactured appliance and less like the control room of the Enterprise. The panels start at $2,000.

Ipex, 800/473-9808, www.warmrite.com.

HVAC

Common-Sense Ventilation

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Exhaust-only ventilation systems are popular with many builders because they're inexpensive and easy to install, but they can draw make-up air from questionable sources like basements, wall cavities, and garages. Providing a better home ventilation system can be relatively easy when a quality exhaust fan is paired with a Multi-Air Filtered Fresh Air System. The fresh air system uses a single exterior-mounted intake and a pleated-paper filter to provide clean, fresh air to four locations through three 2-inch ducts and one 3-inch duct. The 90-cfm system includes intake and exhaust grills and sells for $426.

Tamarack Technologies, 800/222-5932, www.tamtech.com.

HVAC

Better Indoor Air

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Although it's generally agreed that a heat-recovery ventilator (HRV) improves indoor air quality, high prices have prevented many homeowners and builders from installing them. But Broan's GuardianPlus whole-house filters and HRVs cost considerably less than most competing products, making fresh air more affordable than ever. The product line includes a whole-house air filter, a whole-house filter with fresh air intake, and a whole-house filter with fresh air intake and heat recovery. All three versions use the same compact plastic housing and have HEPA filters that can capture particles as small as .3 microns. At 23 inches wide, 30 inches tall, and 18 inches deep, the units can be wall mounted or suspended from ceiling chains. A wall-mounted control panel changes fan speed and alerts users when filters need servicing. According to the manufacturer, installed prices run from $900 to $1,400, depending on the model.

Broan, 888/336-3948, www.guardianplusairsystems.com.