Q: I'm a so-so handyman and I do many small projects around our home. Recently, my wife mentioned that a kitchen island could really improve our kitchen setup, and has already started to take measurements and even marked a profile on the floor with duct tape. This has me concerned since I'm not sure where to start. Where do I begin? Can I tackle this job myself? Also, is this really a good idea? - Peter
A: The best place to start is with your local building inspector. Usually you'll need a drawing or plan of the proposed island, and you'll need to find out what permits may be required. Permits may include electrical and plumbing. In some cases, a building permit may be required for the carpentry work as well.
It seems that some homeowners are under the impression that permits for a kitchen island are a waste of money, and they would rather "sneak in" the project. But permits are never a waste of money, because the job will need inspections along the way and the project will be completed within the laws of your community. Permits can also help with the resale value of a home, as any home-improvement projects you have completed would be documented with the town. So, don't take shortcuts here; even if you work with a contractor, always make sure permits are pulled for the job. This may help you weed out a bad contractor because many unlicensed contractors refuse to work with permits.
Now that you know where to start, you say you want to do the job yourself. As I mentioned, a proper kitchen island may include plumbing, electrical and carpentry work. Plus a cabinet designer will be needed to lay out the island and order the right-sized cabinets. Even seasoned contractors usually work with subcontractors when installing a full-blown kitchen island.
To build a kitchen island properly with professional results, it's usually a team effort. You can be captain of the team and work out the design with your local home center, then hire your own subs when needed to work with you to complete the island. The good thing about a kitchen island is that most electricians, countertop people and plumbers can be in and out in a day. The tricky part is scheduling the subcontractors properly. If you need help, a general contractor can be called in.
Another idea is to look into some of the new "prefab"-type islands. I've seen some new "cast-iron" countertop kitchen island setups, with built-in sink areas and plenty of shelf storage. Basically, they're ready to go right out of the box - all you need is the plumbing hookups. Even though these units are a little pricey, the labor costs should be drastically reduced.
Finally, if you have the room and the island is installed in a professional manner, I say that yes, you and your wife should set sail for some island living in your kitchen.
Q: We just had a new dishwasher installed, and every time I open the door after a wash cycle, I see a little puddle of water at the bottom. The appliance man said that this is normal, even with a new dishwasher. Can this be true? - Bett
A: In many new dishwashers, a small clean puddle of water can be perfectly normal, because they may be designed to cover the heating element in a little water to help prevent overheating the coil. If your appliance man actually checked the unit and said it was normal, I would not panic. If you see a large buildup of water, then you may have a pump or drain-blockage issue, and I'd call the service person back for a second look.