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Thrift Store Savvy: 10 Treasure-Hunting Tips from a Seasoned Shopper

You don't need a second mortgage to piece together a stylish home interior with finds from your local thrift stores. Learn the secrets of successful secondhand shopping from an insider who's been there and back again.

Tips for Thrift Store Shopping

Photo: shutterstock.com

As the force behind the home decor business and DIY blog Miss Mustard Seed, Marian Parsons knows a thing or two about spotting treasure among other people’s castoffs. Thrift stores have long been a favorite hunting ground for collectors like Parsons, but in recent years many establishments wised up on the value of their vintage merchandise, resulting in higher price tags on anything old. Nevertheless, she reports, bargans still abound if you know how—and when—to look. Read on for her hard-earned advice.

1. Take your time.
Gone are the days when you could make a thrift store trip a one-stop shop, filling up the entire back of a pick-up with furniture, textiles, and trinkets. But if you’re willing to put in the time and visit the same shop casually but regularly, your purchases will add up to a collected home that you love and that fits your budget.

2. Find out about a store’s schedule.
Ask the store owner if there is a day of the week when sales are typically held, or a day of the week when new donations are rotated in. Parsons has found that Mondays and Tuesdays can be good times to shop, after yard sale leftovers are brought in on the weekend.

3. Buy within your ability to fix.
A low price tag on a piece of furniture might seem tempting, but consider the feasibility of rehabbing the piece before you buy it. If you’re not ready to tackle a full upholstery job, resist picking up that reading chair in need of a total overhaul. Start small with simple fixer-uppers before tackling anything with significant damage.

Thrifted Dishes for Bulk Pricing

Photo: Shutterstock.com

4. Look for bulk pricing.
When it comes time to clear shelf space, thrift stores often offer bulk pricing—for instance, ten cents apiece for all dishes or cups. Watch for these sales on the your favorite collectibles (Parsons’ penchant is white ironstone) to scoop up deals.

5. Be discerning.
Don’t buy things simply because they’re bargains; otherwise, your house will fill up very quickly with odds and ends. Instead, choose only items that speak to you.

6. Pack a measuring tape.
Keep this tool handy to determine whether a larger item would fit in your house—and in your car—before you buy. Many thrift shops have no-return policies, even if you’ve only taken your purchase as far as the parking lot before realizing it’s too large.

7. Bring cash.
Not all thrift stores accept credit cards, so make a quick stop at an ATM before heading out for a day of shopping.

8. Don’t haggle.
Thrift stores often send proceeds to charities, so haggling down prices is generally frowned upon. The only exception might be if you are buying multiple items, especially any large or bulky pieces whose purchase would clear out space in the shop. Even then, Parsons stresses, ask politely and be prepared to take “no” for an answer.

9. Visit stores in new places.
While regular excursions to your local thrift store can uncover gems, it’s also fun to peek into shops in other towns, especially when on vacation, to see a new selection of thrifted items. Plus, whatever you pick up while out of town doubles as a travel souvenir.

10. Shop with an open mind.
For Parsons, this advice is the key to finding real treasure in a thrift stores. Sure, it’s fine to enter a shop in search of a particular type of item, but it can be more rewarding to stumble upon a great piece you weren’t expecting. Keeping an open mind makes you much more receptive to seeing the potential in any given furnishing.


DIY Wingback Upholstered Headboard

A DIY take on the classic wingback gives this bedroom a whole new look.

There’s something transporting about wingback furniture. And private. When it comes to wingback headboards, that little extra bit of material marks the borders of your own personal sanctuary. So we were thrilled by Sarah M. Dorsey’s fantastic DIY wingback headboard. From the tufted look to the nailhead edging, all the details came together to make this project a visual success. Read on to see how she created the high-end look for under $150.

DIY Wingback Headboard

MATERIALS*

- plywood (62.5-inch x 48.5 inch)
- 1x4s
- 1x6s
- 2x6s
- fabric (4 yards)
- (28) buttons
- foam (62.5-inch x 48.5 inch)
- batting
- nailheads (about 500)
- drill and screws
- staple gun
- gorilla glue
- upholstery thread and needle
- hammer

*measurements are for queen-size bed

STEP 1

DIY Wingback Headboard Step 1

The plywood was cut to size, holes drilled in plywood for tufting, 1x4s were cut to build a support around the entire back. 1-inch foam was attached with adhesive to avoid it slipping while tufting.

STEP 2

DIY Wingback Headboard Batting

Batting was attached with staple gun, fabric on top (attached after tufting).

STEP 3

DIY Wingback Headboard Buttons

Buttons were covered with fabric (I also applied a small amount of gorilla glue on the interior of the button since I wasn’t using heavy duty button covers, to avoid them popping off). I doubled up upholstery thread and used a long needle to tuft. Like the ottoman we made, I pushed to button from the top—pulling the fabric tight as I went and David stapled from the bottom. Fabric was pulled tight and stapled underneath on all sides.

STEP 4

Next the arms were attached. A 2×6 and 1×6 were attached together with screws.

How to Attach DIY Wingback Headboard

STEP 5

Arms for DIY Wingback Headboard

Fabric and batting were cut to cover the arm. Fabric and batting were placed in between headboard and arm then the arm was attached to the headboard.

STEP 6

DIY Wingback Headboard Fabric Fold

Fabric was pulled tight around the arm and stapled to the back.

The fold for the fabric on the top of the wing was created by first pulling the fabric over the top, stapling on the outer side, wrapping the fabric around the front and side of the wing, folding the top edge to create the crease (excess fabric and batting were cut off at this point too), and then stapling in the back.

STEP 7

Nailhead DIY Wingback Headboard

Nailhead was applied on the edges of the arm. I found it pretty easy to eyeball it with the edge, but you could use a pencil or fabric pen to draw a guide line. I used about half the box of nail head, so about 500 in total.
Final DIY Wingback Headboard
Thanks, Sarah! To see the plan she designed and get the exact measurements for her queen-sized headboard, or to tour her house, visit Sarah’s blog.

 

 


DIY Wood Headboard

This bedroom gets a beach-inspired look with the help of a new headboard.

We love it when home DIYers aren’t afraid to work with wood and stains. So when we saw this project from Mandy at The Hankful House, we knew we wanted to give it a spot in the Bob Vila Thumbs Up competition. The transformation from before to after was so incredible, we didn’t even recognize the room—always a good sign. And for us, it all starts with this headboard, which anchors the space. Read on to see how Mandy did it.

DIY Wood Headboard

MATERIALS 

- wood planks
- dark wood stain
- 2 x 4 boards
- screws
- drill

I have never had a headboard. I have always been a box spring and mattress kind of gal. Not that I had anything against headboards it was more of a money issue. But it’s like being able to purchase that amazing and beautiful yet really expensive accessory. That was the headboard. I knew we needed it to finish off our bedroom so we made it.

I wanted some rustic-ness to come in to match our beachy but not really beachy themed room. Does that make sense? There is something so elegant about natural materials.

It cost me about $70.00 or so, which wasn’t that bad. We had to buy the longer planks because our bed is so large.

STEP 1

We had the Home Depot guy cut the wood to our length there so I wouldn’t have to listen to my husband complain. Seriously it worth hanging out at the store for a few more minutes.

STEP 2

DIY Wood Headboard Stain

I brought them home and stained them. I did want them pretty dark to match our furniture so I gave them 2 heavy coats and didn’t rub any off. I will tell you it did take a few days for them to dry completely. If I had done this in August, the boards would have been dry in 5 minutes.

STEP 3

Once they were dry we placed them together and Mike screwed in 2×4′s to the back for support. We attached those to the wall for extra support and that was it. It is beautiful and I am in awe!

BEFORE

This was our before picture—the colors were just all wrong! Nothing relaxing about this room at all. Plus I still can’t believe Mike and I slept under 100 ton rod iron candlestick holders, what was I thinking?

Bedroom Before DIY Wood Headboard

AFTER

Bedroom After DIY Wood Headboard

What a difference our bedroom has now! I am so happy with our transformation and I got to cross off a few more projects for this room! Yeah! It’s almost done!

Thanks for sharing, Mandy! To take a tour of the whole master bedroom and bath, or see even more incredible DIY projects, visit The Hankful House.


What Would Bob Do? Solving a Yard Drainage Crisis

Yard Drainage Solutions

Photo: shutterstock.com

Please help. My yard stays wet when it rains. I live in a subdivision with flat terrain. Is there a solution that does not cost a lot of money?

You have a few options, but none of them are cheap. First things first, I would invite a full-service landscaping company to examine your property, diagnose the problem, and submit an estimate. Even if you opt not to hire the company, the consultation would help you to understand the cause (and potential consequences) of the problem. But knowing the basics of your situation, I can offer general advice on the yard drainage solutions that a pro might advise.

Poor yard drainage isn’t only an aesthetic issue. For one thing, standing water seriously jeopardizes the health of your lawn and landscape plantings. Another frustration: When your property is a swamp, you simply cannot enjoy it. Meanwhile, standing water can actually be a health hazard, as it gives rise to mosquitos and other pests. Not to mention, excess storm water may ultimately find its way into your basement, where it creates a host of other costly-to-fix issues.

Usually, there’s a solution to yard drainage problems. Topography is the key thing to consider. A well-draining property slopes gently, gradually away from the house, descending one vertical foot for every five horizontal feet. If that’s not true in your case—if, say, your property sits below that of the neighbors’ and the street—re-grading the terrain is the logical step. Unfortunately, it’s not a do-it-yourself job; you’ll need the help of professionals and their heavy machinery.

After an abnormally heavy rainfall, any yard can be expected to be a bit swampy, but if yours consistently hosts standing water, then you’re right to pursue a yard drainage solution. Each of these are designed to divert excess water from where it poses a problem to an area where it can more freely seep into the soil.

Yard Drainage Solutions - Curtain

Photo: wikimedia.org

Curtain Drain. This won’t work if your property has a lower elevation than all of the land surrounding it, but if the street or an adjacent woodland are below the grade of your swampy yard, you’re in luck. You can set a perforated pipe into the ground, running from the problem area to the safe zone. The pipe draws in water through its holes and by the power of gravity, carries water away from your home.

Drywell. If there’s nowhere it would make sense to drain the storm water, your best bet might be to install a dry well. Basically, a dry well is a holding tank for excess runoff. The container fills during a storm, then in the hours and days afterward, it drains into the soil beneath and adjacent. One advantage is that a grave-filled dry well may be covered over with soil and grass, so it’s invisible.

Sump Pump. If you’re willing to throw money at the problem, go for a sump pump (like that used to keep a wet basement dry). A sump pump corrals excess runoff and pumps it away. That means it can deposit the water somewhere that’s uphill from your property. The catch? A sump pump isn’t cheap: There are not only installation costs to weigh, but also the ongoing costs of running the machine.

As mentioned, a full-service landscaping company would have a great deal of experience handling situations such as the one you’ve described. But it’s important to note that if you believe municipal engineers are in any way responsible for the issue you’re facing, then your local government may be willing—or legally obligated—to solve it. Talk to your neighbors. If they too are experiencing drainage problems, then approach city hall as a group to maximize chances of your voice being heard.


IKEA Headboard Gets a DIY Makeover

An IKEA shelf gets reinvented as a DIY tufted headboard in this bedroom makeover.

Who doesn’t love IKEA? It’s affordable, flat packs make it easy to transport, and a breeze to assemble (well, usually). But when your IKEA furniture’s charm no longer suits your style, Aniko at Place of My Taste proves that there’s no need to throw it out if you can reinvent it. And she definitely reinvented her IKEA furniture into a whole new DIY headboard that blew us away—completed in a few hours and for $28, no less. Take a look to see how she got from her IKEA before to her custom-made after.

Before and After IKEA Hack DIY Headboard

MATERIALS

- IKEA shelving unit (or piece of plywood)
- (2) 2×4 wood pieces (4-feet tall)
- drill and screws
- staple gun and staples
- batting (2-inches thick)
- fabric (to cover headboard)
- buttons
- hot glue gun

Materials for IKEA hack DIY headboard

STEP 1 

IKEA Hack DIY Headboard step 1

First of all, we took apart our shelving unit. 

STEP 2

Using the drill, we screwed the 2 x 4 wood pieces onto the back of the bed. We put one piece of long wood on each side of the bed.

IKEA DIY Headboard Step 2

Eww—it doesn’t look very pretty, but this is the back of the bed and it won’t be visible. 

STEP 3

Then we lifted the bigger piece and attached it together with 6-8 screws on each side. This is how it looked after the two pieces were screwed together. Nice and tall.

IKEA DIY Headboard tall

STEP 4

We wrapped the batting around the headboard, and stapled it to the back of the huge piece. If you would like to have nice and thick tufted headboard, double the batting. Make sure you pull the batting out completely straight on each side. 

STEP 5

Once this step is done, you can add your fabric.

I chose white for my project. I am not sure what is with me and white  lately, but lots of times I am leaning towards white when it comes to color choices…

The nice thing  about this headboard is that if I ever want to change the look of it, I could take off the fabric and staple a new one on.

I wrapped the fabric over the batting , pulled the fabric out on each corner to make sure it is not wrinkled, and as a final step I stapled it to the back of the board.

Staple Gun Upholstering DIY Headboard

STEP 6

We measured 9 spots for the buttons, using a tape measure, counting equal distance from each side.

Then using a staple gun, we stapled each spot (9) for the buttons.

IKEA DIY headboard with stapled buttons

STEP 7

We glued each button to the headboard with a hot glue gun. I was hesitant to glue with a hot glue gun, but I was hoping to see the buttons stay on. They did!

DIY Headboard Tufted Buttons

I think it turned out just beautiful.

IKEA DIY Headboard Final

Thanks for sharing, Aniko! To see how she made the herringbone lampshade or sunburst mirror pictured here, or to see even more DIY inspiration, visit Place of My Taste.


How To: Install a Deadbolt

The easiest and cheapest way to improve the security of your home is to install a deadbolt. With the right tools, even the average homeowner can get the job done with relative ease. Here's how.

How to Install a Deadbolt

Photo: shutterstock.com

Automated security systems are nice to have, but the easiest and least expensive way to improve the security of home is to install a deadbolt lock. Even a high-quality lockset isn’t enough to keep out an experienced burglar; you’re a lot better off with both a lockset and a deadbolt. Since you really do get what you pay for, it’s best not to scrimp here. You’ll save on installation, because it’s so easy to install a deadbolt, you can do the job yourself within a couple hours. Here’s how.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS:
- Deadbolt
- Drill/driver
- Phillips-head screwdriver
- Tape measure
- Speed square
- 1″ chisel
- Marking pencil
- 2-1/8″ hole saw
- 1″ spade bit

STEP 1
Determine the ideal location for the deadbolt. Typically, a deadbolt lock appears 6″ or 12″ inches above the key lock (roughly 44″ from the bottom of the door). With help from your tape measure, pick your spot and mark it on the side of the door (the part through which the bolt is going to extend). Now break out your speed square and pencil a straight line at the mark point; it should extend all the way across the door’s side. Next, again use the speed square, this time to help you continue that line onto the front and back sides of the door. You should end up with a single line that runs continuously, at uniform height, around the door.

How to Install a Deadbolt - Drilling Door

Photo: shutterstock.com

STEP 2
On each side of the door, mark the point 2-3/8″ or 2-3/4″ from the edge (the measurement depends on the length of your latch bolt; for specifics here, refer to the template provided by the manufacturer of your chosen lock). Meanwhile, on the edge of the door, mark the midpoint. The three marks you’ve made represent where you’re going to drill. First up is the hole for the lock cylinder. Having attached the 2-1/8″ hole saw to your drill, address the mark on the front of door. Rather than drill all the way through, go about an inch deep, then move over and drill through the other side. The result should be a clean, circular hole through which you can easily see the other side. Finish with the 1″ spade bit; drill through the marked point on the side of the door, continuing until this hole meets the other.

STEP 3
Choose the faceplate from among the lock parts supplied with your purchase. Match the hole in the faceplate with the hole you drilled on the door’s edge. While holding the plate in position, trace around it with your pencil, marking its silhouette. Having done so, use a 1″ chisel to create a 1/8″-deep mortise within the tracing. The faceplate and bolt are likely attached, so you must install both simultaneously. After confirming which is right side-up for the bolt, slide the bolt through the latch hole, bringing the faceplate flush with the edge of the door (assuming you’ve mortised correctly). Secure the plate with the mounting screws provided before moving onto the key cylinder. When sliding the cylinder into place through the larger hole on the face of the door, be sure to fit the tailpiece of the cylinder through the corresponding holes on the bolt. Once it’s correctly positioned, screw the cylinder onto the door. Then repeat with the other half of the cylinder: Slide it into the door, join it to the bolt, then screw it in.

STEP 4
The hard part is over. After locking and unlocking the mechanism a few times to test its functionality, activate the bolt and shut the door as far as it will go. On the doorjamb, mark the point where the bolt hits. Here, using the 1″ spade bit, drill a hole to accept the bolt. Now look over to the unused lock parts you have left; the strike plate should be among the last remaining. Fit it over the hole, then trace around it with your pencil. As you did for the faceplate in step 3, proceed to chisel out a 1/8″-deep mortise. Once finished, set the strike plate into the mortise, making it flush with the jamb, then secure it in place with screws.

Test the door to be certain that it’s working properly. Assuming it is, you can now rest easier, knowing the average burglar would have a much, much harder time gaining entry to your most valuable investment—your home.


Innovative Closet Organizing System Means Less Mess

Powerfully built, easily affordable, and designed in no-frills modern style, EZ Shelf lives up to its name, bringing customizable storage well within reach of just about anyone.

EZ Shelf - Garage

Photo: thebestclosetorganizer.com

Clutter and disorganization are familiar foes to most, but a new shelving system promises to tame the turmoil once and for all. Whether your problem area lies in the garage, bedroom closet, the home office or elsewhere, EZ Shelf expandable products provide a versatile solution for a fraction of what custom shelving costs. With EZ Shelf, just about anyone, even novice do-it-yourselfers, can incorporate truly useful, durable, and stylish storage into their homes, quickly and easily.

EZ Shelf - Bedroom

Photo: thebestclosetorganizer.com

Installation couldn’t be more straightforward, as each shelving unit expands (3 sizes are available from 40″-73″, 28″-48″, and 17″-27″), with no cutting, no complicated measuring, and no drilling (into drywall) required. “The EZ Shelf system takes less than a third of the time it takes to install conventional wire shelving, and has fewer than half the number of parts,” says David Jablow, President and CEO of EZ Shelf. “Contractors and handymen will be able to charge consumers reasonable prices, or if you feel comfortable with a screwdriver it is an easy one-person installation.”

EZ Shelf products also give you the power to customize your own solution, as each unit allows for multiple handy configurations. Simply choose whichever one corresponds best to your needs. And when you combine units, the possibilities are nearly limitless, allowing you to custom-tailor a storage system that fits perfectly, even in a laundry room, pantry with awkward dimensions, or in a mudroom where nothing else has seemed to work in the past.

Further, you can always be safe in the assumption that your EZShelf installation isn’t going to fail unexpectedly. Powerfully built from tubular steel, the product provides significantly more strength than conventional wire shelving. Whereas conventional wire shelves hold 60 or 80 pounds, EZ Shelf can handle more than twice that weight, having been rated to securely support at least 200 pounds.

EZ Shelf - Walk In

Photo: thebestclosetorganizer.com

“EZ Shelf expandable products are the first economical alternatives to wire shelving that’s come out in the past 50 years,” explains Jablow. “So many people don’t like wire shelves—they look cheap and are hard to clean. So we asked an Italian design studio to help design EZ Shelf so that it is aesthetically pleasing, with a nice modern look.” Offered in white and silver, two classic colors that never go out of style, EZ Shelf looks good no matter what your decorating scheme. And though European-designed, over 75% of the product components are made in the U.S.A. and backed by a lifetime guarantee—a definite plus for those seeking maximum value.

EZ Shelf offers a selection of helpful closet organizing hints on its website, where we found a special closet makeover video that perfectly demonstrates why EZ Shelf is gaining popularity. Watch it now!

This post has been brought to you by EZ Shelf. Its facts and opinions are those of BobVila.com.


Bob Vila Radio: Drilling Through Tile

So long as you've got a power drill and the right assortments of bits, drilling through tile is a task every average homeowner can handle. Read on to learn how it's done.

Planning to install a new towel rack or grab bar in your bathroom? That may mean drilling through ceramic tile. It’s not a difficult job, but you do need to go about it the right way.

Drilling Through Tile

Photo: shutterstock.com

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Listen to BOB VILA ON SCREWS IN CERAMIC TILE, or read text below:

Start by using tape to make an X over the spot where you want to drill. The tape will protect the surrounding tile and also help keep your drill bit from wandering. Insert a carbide-tipped tile bit into the chuck of your drill and tighten it up. Dip the bit into cutting oil, then wipe off the excess. Position your bit on your mark and using light pressure, drill through the tape and into the tile (be careful not to push too hard; that could crack the tile). Once you feel the bit exit the inner side of the tile, remove it gently. If your tile’s mounted on drywall, switch to a drywall bit and finish the job, again withdrawing the bit carefully. Insert a screw anchor into the hole and mount your towel rack or grab bar.

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 75 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.


DIY Barn Door Headboard

New and salvaged materials come together in a rustic-inspired DIY headboard.

We’ve seen a resurgence in barn door decor over the years but when we spotted this project from Beth at Home Stories A to Z—a barn-inspired DIY headboard, we fell head over heels, so to speak. What’s more, because she and her husband, Matt, had antique side doors on hand, the project only cost them $90.57. We think their hard work speaks for itself in this one-of-a-kind headboard. Read on to see how they pulled it off.

DIY Barn Door Headboard

MATERIALS

- (7) 1x4x8 pine boards
- (1) 4×8 beadboard panel
- (6) mending plates
- (3) T-plates
- screws
- drill
- mitre saw
- nails
- hammer or nail gun
- milk paint
- sandpaper
- gate hardware

The hardest part for us was figuring out the measurements. Matt and I stink at math and the brainiacs who decided to make dimensional lumber measure differently than the actual size stated didn’t help matters! FYI: a 1″x4″x 8′ is really a 3/4″ x 3 1/2″ x 8′.

The height of our doors and the width of the sheet of beadboard we used to back the headboard frame helped determine the dimensions.

STEP 1

DIY Barn Door Headboard Frame

Once we had the pieces cut, we screwed them all together using mending plates.

STEP 2

DIY Barn Door Headboard notes

You can see that we wrote notes to ourselves in pencil which piece was to go where. Doing this saved us a ton of time in reassembly after the boards were all cut!

 STEP 3

DIY Barn Door Headboard Frame

Once the frame was finished and painted, I nailed the beadboard into place by hand. (My dog chewed through my nailgun cord!) Then Matt screwed the frame into the two windowed-side panels using more mending plates.

STEP 4

To paint the headboard, I used General Finishes milk paint in Snow White. I didn’t use a primer on the wood first; I just went for it with the milk paint.

STEP 5

DIY Barn Door Headboard Painted Sanded

I sanded a few spots on the headboard to create a worn look and used the burnt umber glaze over the top.

STEP 6

DIY Barn Door Headboard Detail

I bought cheap gate hardware in silver and spray painted them ORB. I just hot-glued them in place because I was tired of drilling :) . Yes, we might get hit in the head by a random piece of flying hardware in the middle of the night, but that’s the risk of laziness that I’m just willing to take right now!

Here’s the most recent update to this headboard:

DIY Barn Door Headboard Update

 

Thanks for sharing, Beth! To see more pictures from her master bedroom makeover click here or check out her site, Home Stories A to Z, for more inspiring tutorials.


The Do’s and Don’ts of Window Fans

Though not a substitute for air conditioning on the hottest summer days, you can stay cool and comfortable for much less money month to month by learning how to use window fans strategically.

How to Use a Window Fan

Photo: shutterstock.com

Air conditioning is responsible for as much as one third of the electricity consumed in summer. These are energy-thirsty appliances, and energy ain’t cheap. That’s precisely why, instead of blasting the AC continuously, many switch to window fans when possible. Though powerless against humidity, fans are much cheaper to run and on many warm-but-not-miserable days, they can make you considerably more comfortable. No, there isn’t really a wrong way to use a fan; any breeze helps. But these tips can help you use fans more effectively, reducing your reliance on air conditioning and lowering your summertime utility bills.

Here’s the key: To maximize air movement in the home, you need both in-blowing and out-blowing window fans. These are not the oscillating fans you might place on a desk or bedside table. If you do not own and would rather not buy a specially designed window fan, a standard box fan does the trick—but you’ve got to set the unit securely into the window opening. And at minimum, you need two window fans: one whose blades are drawing air into the home, another whose blades are pushing air out. It’s not rocket science, but it is basic building science. Keep these do’s and don’ts in mind as you plan and tweak your fan strategy.

How to Use a Window Fan - Front

Photo: shutterstock.com

DO

Strength in Numbers. The more window fans you have working, the better. Aim to set up an equal number of in- and out-blowing fans. If you have an odd number, configure the extra one to pull air in. That creates a slight positive pressure indoors that may help discourage bugs from entering the space.

Prime Placement. Position inward-blowing fans on the shady side of your house, outward-blowing fans on the sunny side. Do this no matter how many stories your house is. But if there are multiple floors, the ground-level fans should pull air in, while the upper-level fans should push rising warm air out.

Size Matters. If you have a choice, always opt for the largest-size fans that can fit in your windows. Whether by fabric window treatments or panels of plywood, try to block the open-air cavities on either side of the fan unit (specially designed window fans come with integrated seals for this exact purpose).

The Stack Effect. Leverage what’s known as the stack effect. After sunset, set the ground-level fans to bring in cool night air, while trusting the upper-story fans to expel warm air. In the morning, when the house is at its coolest, remove the fans and shut the windows. The insulation in most modern houses can retain cool air for hours. Once the sun sets, re-open the windows and start your fans up again.

DON’T

The Nose Knows. Avoid situating in-blowing fans near waste bins or parking areas (your driveway included). That way, you won’t invite in unpleasant odors and toxic exhaust fumes.

Ups and Downs. Cooling with fans can lead to wide fluctuations in temperature, and in some cases such extremes can damage antique furniture or musical instruments made of wood. To be on the safe side, closely monitor items like this for signs of a problem.

There are always going to be days when air conditioning strikes you, not so much as an optional luxury, but more like a bare necessity. On other days, though, you may be able to get by just fine with the help of window fans, particularly if you position them strategically throughout your home. Stay cool out there!