Welcome to Bob Vila

Top Tips for Identifying a Hazardous Tree

How to Identify a Dangerous Tree

Photo: shutterstock.com

It’s not always easy to identify a tree that’s in trouble. In part, that’s because while trees face certain knowable foes like drought and disease, they are also vulnerable to unpredictable dangers—strong winds, for example, or lighting. Still, a responsible homeowner ought to keep his eyes open for signs of a problem. Read on to find out which red flags to be on the lookout for:

Hide and Seek
To begin your inspection of a tree, head right to its base. If the lowest part of the trunk is obscured by ground cover plantings, pull them back to gain a better view. Here, either hollow cavities or the presence of mushrooms could indicate a serious problem. Move on to checking the ground around the tree’s drip line—that is, the circumference under its canopy. Look for roots protruding up from the ground. Visible roots are not problematic in and of themselves, but if there’s other evidence to suggest that the tree is struggling, then protruding roots might mean that the tree is on the verge of toppling over.

If you encounter a tree that’s missing a long streak of bark along its trunk, it was probably struck by lightning. Being composed mostly of water, trees are excellent conductors of electricity. When lightning hits the canopy, the bolt careens all the way day down to the roots, boiling sap in its wake and creating explosive steam. If there’s damage to one side of the trunk only, the tree might fully recover. But if bark’s missing on multiple sides, it’s likely that the tree isn’t going to survive.

How to Identify a Dangerous Tree - Bark Detail

Photo: shutterstock.com

Branch Inspection
Since dead branches are the first to fall, it’s wise to remove them from trees growing close to the house. On deciduous trees, dead branches either have no leaves or brown leaves (in the winter, this is tough to judge). With evergreen trees, look for brown needles and the absence of bark. If you successfully identify dead branches—and if those branches are easily accessible—go ahead and prune. Otherwise, call in a specialist.

Two-Trunk Trees
When trees have two or more trunks, be sure to look closely at the point where they meet. U-shaped connections between trunks are usually not a problem. A tight “V” shape, however, suggests a weak spot. If you’re worried about a particular tree, you can have a steel or elastic cable installed to keep it from splitting apart in high winds. But to be clear, this isn’t a project for the do-it-yourselfer; hire an experienced pro.

Call in the Pros
If any of the red flags discussed leave you uncertain about the health of a tree on your property, it’s best to call in a certified arborist. Besides having training and hard-earned knowledge, arborists also have specialized tools they can use to make sophisticated diagnoses far beyond the scope of this article.

Additional Notes
If you have work done on a tree, don’t let any of the workers climb the trunk by means of leg spikes. With every step, they’d be punching holes in the tree that would make ideal portals for harmful pathogens. The damage done by leg spikes might not be immediately evident, but it could eventually prove fatal to the tree.

Bob Vila Radio: Is It Time to Remove Your Screen Door?

Screens are a must in warm weather. But as it gets darker earlier in the evening, you may choose to remove your sliding screen door as a way of maximizing natural light.

Maybe your cat has been using your sliding screen door for climbing practice. Or maybe, as we approach winter, you’re thinking you simply won’t be using the screen again until spring.

How to Remove a Sliding Screen Door

Photo: shutterstock.com

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Listen to BOB VILA ON REMOVING SLIDING SCREEN DOORS or read the text below:

Whatever the reason, you’re planning to remove the sliding screen door. Here’s how it’s done.

With some doors, it couldn’t be simpler. Just grasp each end of the door and lift, pulling the bottom towards you until it clears the track. Once you’ve got the bottom out of the frame, you should be free to guide the panel to the basement, garage, shed or wherever storage area you’ve chosen.

It’s not always that hassle-free. Some doors have screws sticking up from the bottom of the frame, one at each end. These screws control the tension on the wheels that allow the door to roll in its track. To remove this type, start by loosening the tension on the wheels a bit. Then, working one end of the door at a time, ease a flathead screwdriver under the wheel, gently lifting up. Once both wheels are out of the track, pull the bottom of the door toward you to ease it out of the frame.

Take care not to damage the door hardware or wheels. Plastic wheels on old doors can be especially brittle.

How To: Clean Kitchen Cabinets

Having cooked countless meals in your kitchen, the cabinets are now covered with stubborn gunk and grime. Learn how to use common pantry items to prepare a cleaner that can leave your cabinetry looking spotless again.

How to Clean Kitchen Cabinets

Photo: shutterstock.com

Kitchen cabinets are opened and closed more often than the front door is. Such frequent use—along with leakage, spills, and the cabinets’ proximity to food prep—inevitably leads to grime. In fact, kitchen cabinets are notorious for hosting the sort of stains that remain stubborn against conventional cleaners. If you’ve been battling buildup to no avail, read on to learn how to clean kitchen cabinets using simple, non-toxic items that most homeowners keep on hand.

- A bucket or large bowl
- Warm water
- Baking soda or vinegar
- Large spoon
- Microfiber cloths

Fill your bucket or bowl with several cups of warm water. Next, mix in your preferred cleaning agent, be it baking soda or vinegar. How much should you add? That depends on which of the two you’ve opted to use. If baking soda, dump in a couple of cups. If vinegar, a couple of splashes should do the trick.

How to Clean Kitchen Cabinets - Interior Detail

Photo: shutterstock.com

Dip a clean microfiber cloth into the mixture. (Don’t use paper towels; they’re too delicate.) Squeeze the cloth to wring out any excess. The cloth should be moist but not dripping wet. Next, test the cleaner on an inconspicuous part of your cabinetry to make sure that it neither dulls nor discolors the finish.

Wipe down your cabinets, paying extra attention to the hardware (knobs, pulls, and handles) and to the areas immediately adjacent those often-touched components. Re-moisten the cloth if and when necessary. Start over with new cloths as others become soiled in the process of cleaning. Keep at it until you’ve wiped all of the cabinets and they look as clean as you want them to.

Rinse away any baking soda or vinegar residue with a microfiber cloth that you’ve moistened with clean water. Go over the entire area that you previously wiped down with the cleaning agent. Finally, go over the cabinetry once more with a dry cloth. The goal here is to leave the kitchen not only clean, but dry.

INFOGRAPHIC: The Terrifying Truth About Termites

Few homes are safe from the bite of the termite. Find out what you can do to save your home from these dreaded, munching pests.

What’s keeping you up at night? Basement flooding? Bathroom mold?

What about termites?

It’s possible that among the many (real and imagined) stresses of homeownership, termites top the list. But how much do you really know about these vicious little munching critters? Are your fears justified?

Study our infographic to learn precisely why so many homeowners get buggy over the “T” word—and what you can do to diagnose and deal with termite trouble.

Terrifying Truth About Termites

Copy and paste the below to embed this infographic on your site:

This post has been brought to you by the National Pest Management Association. Its facts and opinions are those of BobVila.com.

So, You Want to… Knock Down a Wall

Your quest for more light and openness might lead you to removing a wall (or several). Before you start swinging the sledge, make sure you understand what you're getting into.

How to Remove a Wall

Photo: shutterstock.com

You live in an older house populated by a warren of small, cozy rooms. Lately, you’ve been thinking of knocking down a wall or two to open up space and bring in more light. While it’s true that removing a wall can help accomplish that aim, there are several important factors to consider before taking your plans any further.

Is the Wall Load-Bearing?
First things first. Before you plow ahead, you must determine whether or not the wall in question is load-bearing. In other words, is it keeping the house standing? Here’s a quick way to find out: Inspect the floor joists beneath. If the joists run perpendicular to the wall, chances are it’s a load-bearing wall. That’s not to say that your dreams of an open floor plan are outside the realm of possibility. It only means that you must consult a professional—a reliable contractor or engineer—to help you devise a strategy for removing the wall that will not compromise your home’s overall structural integrity. In general, though, removing a non-bearing wall is a much more modest proposition.

How to Remove a Wall - Plan

Photo: shutterstock.com

What’s Inside the Wall?
OK, so it’s not holding the house up. That’s good. But what else is the wall doing? Is it hiding wires, gas lines, or heating ducts? If you jump the gun and saw right into plumbing, electrical, or HVAC work, you may suddenly find yourself dealing with a much more complicated (and expensive) job. Before you start demolition, be certain that you know exactly what you’re dealing with. Not sure? Look closely at your building plans or call in a contractor. It’s certainly possible to remove a non-bearing wall no matter what it contains, but a professional can help you figure out how to reroute those components without causing any lasting disruption to the normal operation of your house.

Brace Yourself for Dust
No matter how you slice it, the job of removing a wall is a messy one. Be prepared for dust, and lots of it. Because that dust can do nothing but harm to your belongings, be sure to partition off the work area, using tape and plastic sheeting. Move everything you want to protect beyond the partition, and then cover it carefully; it’s amazing how much of that fine dust can make it past even a conscientiously devised and well-executed partition.

Beware of Hidden Hazards
Was your house built before the 1980s? If so, lead may be present in old layers of paint on the wall you’re removing. Hiring a professional inspector can be pricey, so check into some of the test kits readily available at home centers. The results are generally reliable, especially if you cross-test with a couple of kits that use different methods of detection. If you discover that lead is indeed present, follow the EPA guidelines for proper disposal.

Pull a Permit
Before you or a contractor you’ve hired actually picks up a saw or sledgehammer, be sure that you’ve secured all the necessary permits. Some municipalities charge stiff fines for undertaking projects without proper permitting.

All those considerations aside, there’s no doubt that removing a wall can dramatically transform the look of an interior. It can be a big job, but if you’ve done your homework, you’ll efforts will probably be well worth the result.

How To: Clean a Dryer

By adding only 30 seconds onto your laundry routine—and performing a deeper clean four times a year—you can keep your dryer in tip-top condition.

How to Clean a Dryer

Photo: shutterstock.com

Sorting, loading, folding—doing laundry is a tiring chore not only for you, but also for your appliances. What drags down the dryer, in particular, are the bits of fluff and fuzz that sometimes interfere with component parts. Allowing too much lint to accumulate can result in malfunctions or less-than-ideal energy efficiency. To avoid problems—and to pay no than is strictly necessary to run the machine—clean the dryer regularly. Hey, it only takes about 30 seconds! Here’s what to know.

After Every Load
After each use of the dryer, remember to unclog its lint screen. This detachable piece is usually located along the rim of the door (consult the manual for its location on your specific model). Once you’ve removed the screen, gently scrape away the material that’s collected there. On occasion, especially if you’re in the habit of using dryer sheets, it may be wise to actually wash the screen with soap, water, and a scrub brush. Replace the screen once it’s good to go. Why is this so important? Maintaining a clean trap dramatically reduces the risk of lint finding its way into parts of the machine where it’s not supposed to be.

How To Clean a Dryer - Open Appliance

Photo: shutterstock.com

Once Every Three Months
Your dryer needs a deep cleaning about four times a year. All it takes is a vacuum, all-purpose cleaner, and a microfiber cloth. So as the seasons change, make a point to spend 30 minutes providing a little TLC to a machine that you count on and hope will last for years and years:

1. Unplug the dryer, then remove the exhaust hose from the back of the machine. You can expect the tube to full of lint and debris. Use your hands to clear out as much as possible. For the rest, rely on a bent metal clothes hanger. Finally, follow up with a vacuum to suck out the leftover dust.

2. Before you reattach the exhaust hose, unscrew and remove the back panel of the dryer. Vacuum up any lint you discover within the machine, particularly in the part that connects to the exhaust vent. Your best bet here is the small nozzle vacuum attachment, as it can reach into the crevices.

3. Clean the lint catcher more thoroughly than usual. First, remove the screen, then vacuum its housing. If possible, proceed to unscrew the housing, lift it out, and vacuum the space beneath it.

4. Vacuum inside the dryer drum to remove any lingering dust bunnies. Next, wipe down the drum, along with the door rim, using an all-purpose cleaner along with a clean microfiber cloth.

5. Replace the lint trap, the back panel, and the exhaust hose. Having completely reassembled the dryer, feel free to plug it back in and give it a test run. Your clean dryer should now run more efficiently, dry your clothes more quickly, and leave them fresher!

The Pros and Cons of Cleaning with TSP

TSP is a powerful, tried-and-true cleaning agent, but it's so potent that you must be very careful when using it. Read on to learn its rewards and risks.

Cleaning with TSP Trisodium Phosphate

Photo: amazon.com

It wasn’t so long ago that trisodium phosphate (TSP) was a go-to choice for tough cleaning jobs. In recent years, however, the popularity of TSP has waned. There are no complaints about its performance—TSP was and remains highly effective. Rather, an increasing number of people are steering clear of cleaning with TSP simply because, due to its potency, working with the stuff can pose dangers to personal health and the environment. Here, we look at both the pros and the cons of cleaning with TSP, leaving you to decide whether or not it’s the right choice for you and your family, your home, and the situation at hand.

Cleaning with TSP Trisodium Phosphate - Bag

Photo: aquapure-il.com

There’s little doubt that TSP works great. For stubborn stains, it can often succeed where other solutions fail to do the trick. You might expect that using such a powerful cleaning agent would entail a complicated procedure, but once diluted, TSP can be applied simply with a brush or sponge, or via a sprayer.

TSP is suitable for use on a variety of materials, including brick and stone, cement and wood. But if any of those surfaces are painted, you should expect to repaint. That’s fine much of the time, because the single most common use of TSP is for cleaning surfaces as part of a proper paint preparation process, particularly for exteriors.

If you’re using TSP to clean siding, speed up the job with a power washer. Don’t own one? Rent the tool from your local home center. Doing so may set you back a few bucks, but you’ll save endless trips up and down the ladder. One benefit of cleaning exteriors with TSP is that, when combined with household bleach, it eliminates mold and mildew. Protect your landscaping by choosing a windless day for the project, and by hosing down leaves before and after the job.

Avoid cleaning with TSP in the bathroom; it can damage metal, ceramic tile, grout, and glass. And as discussed above, it’s not suitable for painted surfaces.

Being toxic, TSP must be handled with care. That means wearing the appropriate protective gear. T-shirts and shorts are a no-no. Instead, wear full-sleeve clothing in addition to gloves, glasses, and a respiratory mask. And if you’re going to be working indoors, you must adequately ventilate the area.

TSP can also be bad news for the environment. If it ends up in lakes and streams, the phosphates trigger an overgrowth of algae that results in a depletion of oxygen levels in the water, which endangers fish and aquatic plant life. Use only as much TSP as you need, and tightly control the runoff.

You should also be aware that, given the drawbacks of TSP, some municipalities have either limited its use or banned its use altogether. Before starting your cleaning project, be sure to check local regulations. Also note that on the shelves of your local home center you may not find TSP, but TSP substitute instead. The latter is much safer to use, but most agree that it doesn’t clean as well as the real stuff.

Resurrecting Tara, the Starring House in Gone with the Wind

After several failed attempts through the decades to put Tara, the famous house from Gone with the Wind, into a museum, one man works to rescue the set from its ruin—and invites tourists to view the process.

Tara Gone with the Wine

Photo courtesy of Peter Bonner, commissioned from the collection of the late Herb Bridges

Nearly every Saturday morning, Peter Bonner walks out to the dairy barn behind the Crawford-Talmadge House in Georgia. There, he leads a rotating team of as many as 16 volunteers, all of whom are engaged in putting together the heavy, dusty pieces of a structure that was dismantled long ago. Columns and beams, shutters and wall panels—these are just some of the components that once stood together to form Tara, the mansion seen in Gone with the Wind.

Film buffs may already know that Tara was only ever a facade, never a bona fide home in the sense of having rooms and a roof (or a sweeping front-hall staircase). “The only thing that was real was the brick front porch and four brick columns,” says Bonner. “The rest is all 2-by-4s and plywood veneer.”

Over the decades that’ve elapsed since the 1939 film, many set materials have deteriorated—and not only with age. It turns out that Tara has moved around quite a bit. She sat on a Hollywood lot until the late ’50s, when the facade was purchased and shipped to Georgia. Then there were plans to turn Tara into a tourist attraction. But when those plans fell by the wayside, Betty Talmadge—the former wife of former Georgia governor Herman Talmadge—took possession. What next? Ideas came and went, but nothing stuck. Talmadge finally placed Tara into storage, and she remained in storage until Talmadge died in 2005.

Tara Set Today

Photo courtesy of Peter Bonner

Bonner met Talmdage when, for his book Lost in Yesterday, he spent time researching the truth behind the novel that inspired the movie. Today, he works with the permission of Ms. Talmadge’s descendants to carefully sift through what remains. While the family retains ownership, Bonner has poured hours and hours into Tara. He is, by his own admission, a man whose love of history and storytelling—he owns and operates Peter Bonner’s Historical and Hysterical Tours—both led to and help explain his ongoing commitment to the project.

So what does he plan to do? Bonner says, “My plan is to preserve and restore the original pieces to learn from them while displaying them like the works of art they are. We should maintain them with the original colors and stabilize them for all time.” Support for the project—much of it coming through Facebook—goes a long way toward stoking the fire of his zeal. So too do the weekly volunteers, who share his fascination with the story of the Tara structure.

For now, Bonner funds the project right out of his own pocket, partly by administering tours of the barn to GWTW fans. To purchase the book he’s written about the journey so far, and to see many photos of Tara now and in her heyday, visit his website.

How To: Paint Pressure-Treated Wood

The process of painting pressure-treated wood involves steps you would not take—and considerations you would not make—with regular lumber. Here's what you need to know.

Photo: shutterstock.com

It’s a two-sided coin: What enables pressure-treated wood to last outdoors is precisely what complicates the process of painting it. To produce pressure-treated wood, the milled lumber (typically pine or cedar) is saturated with chemical preservatives. These chemicals minimize the wood’s natural vulnerability to insects and rot, but they also leave the wood rather wet. To paint pressure-treated wood successfully, therefore, you must be prepared to exercise a bit of patience. To paint pressure-treated wood before it’s ready is to waste a day’s effort. For lasting results, follow the instructions below.

First, clean the pressure-treated wood you plan to paint. Use a stiff-bristled brush and soapy water. Once you’ve given due attention to the entire surface, rinse off the wood and allow it to dry thoroughly. Between the chemicals used to treat the lumber and the water used to clean it, the drying time may be as protracted as a few weeks—or even a few months. How do you know when it’s ready? Once the wood feels dry to the touch, sprinkle a bit of water on it. If the water soaks in, then the wood can be painted. If the water beads up, go back to playing the waiting game. Note that for a time-sensitive project, it may be wise to choose pressure-treated wood marked as having been kiln-dried after treatment (KDAT). The timeline for painting KDAT wood is considerably more condensed.

Once you’ve confirmed that the wood has dried out completely, you can begin painting. Start with primer formulated for exteriors, and make sure that the manufacturer lists the coating as suitable for use on pressure-treated wood. Having primed the wood—and having allowed sufficient time for the primer to dry (it should take no more than a day)—move on to applying your top coats. You should expect to do two. Avoid using oil-based paint here; on pressure-treated wood, latex performs much better. Use a paint sprayer if you have one, but if the job entails detail work, opt for a brush (or use both in combination).

It’s worth mentioning that in outdoor applications where the finish will be subject to the elements, paint lasts longer on vertical surfaces like fences than it does on horizontal ones like decks. If you don’t like the idea of repainting every two or three years, consider staining the pressure-treated wood instead. Yet another option is to allow the wood to weather and become gray, and then to coat it with a protective sealant. Of course, sealant must also be reapplied, but many consider the job to be less demanding than repainting, which often entails scraping away parts of the old finish.

Bob Vila Radio: Safer Basement Stairs Prevent Mishaps

This isn't anyone's favorite part of the house, but trips to and from the basement are a day-to-day inevitability. Use these tips to make those journeys as safe as can be.

If you’re aiming to reduce the risk of accidents in your home, one good place to start is your basement stairs. Here are a few ways to make all those trips up and down safer.

Safer Basement Stairs

Photo: shutterstock.com

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Listen to BOB VILA ON SAFER BASEMENT STAIRS or read the text below:

First, ensure you have well-placed lighting that fully illuminates the stairs, without casting glare into your eyes.

When deciding on paint, choose contrasting colors for the treads and risers to increase visibility. The higher the contrast in color the better. You can also add a little granulated texture to the treads, installing non-skid glue-down strips at their leading edges.

Check that the screws holding the handrail are tight. And if you have room—and especially if someone in the household has trouble walking—consider adding a second railing on the opposite side of the stairs. Be sure to check local building codes before undertaking the job.

One other option: You can install thin, lighted LEDs under the nose of the stair treads. That way you’ll have the safest, and snazziest, basement stairs on the block.

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 60 stations around the country (and growing). You can get your daily dose here, by listening to—or reading—Bob’s 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day.