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Quick Tip: Use Low-VOC Paints

Try the new low-VOC paints that get the job done with fewer toxic chemicals

Low-VOC Paint

Most VOCs will dissipate as the paint dries, but it is best to wait several days before moving into a room that’s just been painted.. Photo: From Bob Vila's Babyproofing the House

The Danger of VOCs
There’s more to that new paint smell than you might think. There are already federal restrictions on them because they’re damaging to the ozone layer, but more and more studies are showing that volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, are dangerous to humans.

Precautions to Take When House Painting
VOCs are found in paint and lots of other products that contain solvents and petrochemicals. Their concentration can be 10 times higher indoors than out, especially right after a home improvement project. While most VOCs will dissipate on their own as the paint dries, they continue to off-gas at low levels for years. Ventilation is key during and after any paint job. Never use exterior paint indoors, and wait several days before moving into a room that’s just been painted.

VOCs and Health Concerns
High-level exposure to VOCs has been linked with eye and breathing problems, headaches, nausea, dizziness and even cancer. Children and asthma sufferers are especially vulnerable. Because of these health concerns, paint manufacturers have been putting a lot of effort into new lines of low- and no-VOC paints.

What Qualifies as Low-VOC Paint?
Petrochemicals are what make up 5 to 15 percent of standard latex paints and about half of oil-based paint. That’s about 450 parts per gallon. Until recently, these toxic chemicals were what made the paint work well. Now, to qualify as low-VOC paint, they must contain 100 parts per gallon or less and still do a good job.

Benefits of Non-toxic Paint
Non-toxic paints have lots of benefits, but one of the greatest is easy cleanup. Because it’s not considered a dangerous substance, you can clean up the mess with soap and water and dispose of the cans in your regular trash.


Quick Tip: Painting a Room

Consult these step-by-step interior painting pointers to get the job done right.

How To Paint a Room

Photo: Flickr

Interior painting is one of the all-time favorite do-it-yourself jobs, but like everything else, there is a right and wrong way to paint a room.

Start Off Right
Make it easy on yourself and do it like the pros. Start by emptying the room or at least giving yourself access to all of the walls by grouping and covering furniture in the center. Mask off the floor carefully with tape and drop cloths, rosin paper or painter’s plastic. Shut off the power to the room and remove lighting fixtures and electrical plates. Remove the window hardware as well. Some skip these steps and wind up spending more time cleaning up drips and spills or replacing ruined items.

Prep Your Room for House Painting
Prep is as important as paint. Fill and patch nail holes and imperfections and clean the woodwork. Prime any bare wood, new drywall, or stained areas.

Begin at the Top
Paint the room from the top down. Start with the ceiling, cutting in from the edges with a brush and rolling the rest in long, even strokes with a roller on an extension rod. Wait between steps for the paint to dry. Cut in for the walls next, using a brush or paint pad to follow the line of the ceiling. Don’t worry too much about neatness around the trim since you’ll paint that last. Actually, a good thick layer between the wall and trim will help fill any gaps for a uniform look.

Cover All Imperfections
The walls need at least two coats with a roller: the first will hide any imperfections in the wall, the second will even out the finish. Use an extension roller here to keep your strokes and pressure even and to save your back.

Don’t Forget Finishing Touches
Once the walls are dry, tackle the trim from the top down with a good 3- or 4-inch brush. If your hand isn’t steady, you can mask window panes with tape and stick-on corners. A small paint pad made especially for sash will help you stay inside the lines, and a good sharp razor blade will get rid of any mistakes after the paint is dry.


Quick Tip: Decorating Ideas that Won’t Break the Bank

Follow these simple steps to spruce up your home and create a warm welcome for family and guests alike.

Budget Decorating

A new couch transforms the room. . Photo: From Bob Vila's Bob's Shingle Style House

Take a Good Look
To get your home ready for entertaining, first look at it with the eye of a realtor. Does it need a little TLC to feel more welcoming? Do you need to update your wallpaper or change the paint color? Re-upholster the furniture? Are your drapes worn or do they just need washing?

Small Changes, Big Impact
Maybe purchasing a key new piece of furniture or just some throw pillows will be enough of a change to freshen up a drab house. Remember, not everything has to match or be perfect; it should just be clean, uncrowded and inviting. Clear off as many surfaces as you can.

Let There Be Light!
Remember that lighting can make or break a room. This is a great time to add dimmer switches or a new floor lamp in that dark corner. Halogen track lighting gives you the control you need to wash a wall or focus on your favorite artwork without making your family or guests feel like they’re in the spotlight.

Photo Finish
Framed photos make great conversation starters. Arranging them on a wall instead of your coffee table will clear the way for food, drinks and games.

Guest Room TLC
If people will be staying overnight, pay special attention to the spare bedroom. First, get rid of the clutter that often ends up in the guest room. Add a fresh coat of paint, an area rug, new bed linens, all in one color family or theme. Simple touches like putting bottled water, fresh towels and guest soap in a large wicker basket will make your houseguests feel pampered.

The Silver Lining
With a few updates, you’ll enjoy having your friends and family over and you’ll love it even when the celebration’s over!


Quick Tip: Winterize Your Home

Uncover any home repair issues and insulate your house before winter settles in.

Winterizing Your Home

Photo: shutterstock.com

Don’t miss 11 Ways to Winterize Your Home on a Budget!

Eliminate Winter Surprises
While you were having fun in the sun this summer, it was no vacation for your house. Sun, wind and rain can cause as much wear and tear as snow and ice. A fall checklist will tip you off to some problems before they become nasty mid-winter surprises.

Look for Trouble
Check your house from top to bottom. Start by inspecting the roof with binoculars: Are your shingles worn or failing? Check the attic for signs of leaks around the skylights or vents, chimneys, and have your chimney cleaned once a year. Clear out your gutters and check for leaks there, too. Drain your outside hose spigots if you live where pipes can freeze. Switch your screens for storm windows, and seal any drafty windows and doors.

Fill in the Gaps
The same goes for paint and siding: make sure you caulk or repair those gaps around windows, doors, trim and vents, and replace any siding that is failing.

Winterize Low Down
In the basement, check for dampness on the floor and walls, test your sump pump, flush your water heater and check for any signs of leakage. Clean your dryer vent regularly. Make sure that paints or any flammable materials are stored away from heat sources in a closed metal cabinet. And make that appointment to have your heating system serviced yearly.

Do the top-to-bottom check this fall, and you’ll avoid expensive surprises this winter.


Quick Tip: Buying a Snow Blower

If you plan on buying a snow blower, first find out what type will best suit your needs.

Buying a Snow Blower

Before You Buy
Whether you call it a snow blower or a snow thrower, before you shell out for one this winter, make sure you’re getting the one you need.

Gasoline-Powered Snow Blowers
If you consistently get more than six inches of snow or your driveway is long, you’ll need a gasoline-powered snow blower. There are two types: single-stage and two-stage. Two-stage models are the most expensive, ranging from $500 to $2,500. But if you’re clearing unpaved areas with heavy snow, you’ll need a two-stage model, because they have an auger that collects the snow, plus a separate impeller, which throws it.

Electric Snow Blowers
Electric models are less expensive, ranging from $100 to $400. They’re lighter and easier to maneuver, and they don’t make as much noise or create as much air pollution as gasoline-powered models. If all you’ve got is a small, paved driveway and some walkways to clear (and they’re within a hundred feet of your house), an electric snow blower will serve your needs in snowfalls of up to six inches. It will also save you gasoline and maintenance hassles without taking up much storage space.

Special Snowblower Features
Some models have great features like headlights, one-handed operation, and electric (rather than recoil) start mechanisms, so you don’t have to yank any cords. Some even have independent-clutch wheels that allow for easy pivoting without going into reverse. These can all come in handy when you’ve got a lot of ground to cover.


Quick Tip: Replace a Toilet

Try this simple DIY project to install a more reliable, cost-effective toilet.

Replace a Toilet

The Case for New Toilets
Because it’s one of the things we use the most, there are lots of reasons to replace an older toilet. Even if you don’t mind that outdated shade of avocado, you are probably paying for twice the water you need for each flush and Old Faithful will inevitably fail when you least expect it. But never fear: Toilet replacement is usually a simple job for the do-it-yourselfer with basic skills.

Shutting Down the Water Supply
First, close the water supply valve, then flush, bail and use a sponge to completely empty the toilet and tank. Uncap and remove the nuts from the base of the toilet. Then, detach the water supply line, starting with the tank end.

Removing Old Toilets
If your toilet is a real antique, you may need to unbolt the tank from the bowl. Lift the old toilet off its bolts and check that the waste line is still attached to the floor flange.

Repairing Damage
Make sure to repair any water damage to the subfloor. Clean out the remains of the old wax ring. And don’t scrimp on a new one because that wax ring is what seals and stabilizes your toilet.

Installing Your New Toilet: Read the Instructions
Your final step is to follow the manufacturer’s instructions to install your new water-saving toilet.


Quick Tip: Try Faux Finishing

Try these decorative painting techniques to evoke elegance without expense.

Faux Finishing

faux-finishing techniques transform a mantel. Photo: From Bob Vila's Shingle-Style House TV Project, Home Again Season 7, Episode 26

Faux Finishing: What Is It?
If you’re looking for ways to personalize your space and you’re ready to go a step further than a simple coat of paint, try faux finishing. Faux, French for false, finishing techniques were developed centuries ago to evoke the feeling of expensive, elegant finishes without the extravagant expense. With just paint, glaze and a few simple tools, you can create the look of marble, leather, malachite, parchment, silk, even gold leaf on walls or furniture. You could even wood-grain a plain white door to look like mahogany. The possibilities are endless, but you ll want to develop your technique on practice boards first. Also, it helps to have a sample or a close-up photograph of the actual material you re imitating to use as a guide.

Faux Finishing Tools
The best tools are the simplest. Start with everyday paint supplies. You’ll need an angled 2 nylon brush for cutting in, cotton rags, painter’s tape and a good multi-purpose ladder. The tools for faux finishing are often things you already have at home such as a natural sea sponge, cheesecloth, combs, rags and feathers. Your biggest investment will probably be a variety of artist’s brushes for veining, stippling, and color washing and a badger brush for softening.

Faux Finishing Techniques
Most techniques are variations on the same process. First, carefully clean, prep and prime your surface. Then, apply the base color using good quality latex paint and let it dry completely. Apply a coat of untinted, faux technique glaze mixed with water and latex paint in the color you want. Then, tool it, sponge it, rag it, drag it or blend several colors according to the technique you are going for. Blend with a badger brush to soften any hard lines. Add veins, details or stippling last, and seal with a coat of polyurethane to protect your hard work.

Faux Finishing Resources
There are lots of great faux finishing books and Web sites where you can find instructions for painting just about any finish you can think of. Or, try making one up yourself!


Quick Tip: Cleaning Your Gutters

Whether you do it yourself or hire a pro, cleaning gutters is a critical task that can prevent future water damage.

Cleaning Gutters

Photo: flickr.com

Don’t Ignore Your Gutters
While it’s a job many of us would love to ignore, gutter cleaning is an important twice-a-year ritual all homeowners need to adopt. When clogged gutters overflow, they can cause ice dams on the roof that force water inside your house. They can also get so heavy that they’ll pull the gutters loose and rot the trim and siding. Even if your gutter doesn’t fill to overflowing each season, leaving any decaying debris in there is an invitation to carpenter ants and mosquitoes. If you have a lot of trees around your house, you might want to clean your gutters even more frequently.

Cleaning Your Gutters
There are lots of ways to do the cleaning. You can find inventions like tongs on an extension pole, shop vacuums with gutter nozzles or even a remote-controlled gutter-running robot. But most methods eventually involve getting on a ladder. If you have gutters above the first story or aren’t comfortable on a ladder, you’re better off hiring a pro.

DIY Gutter Cleaning
To clean your gutters yourself, wear gloves, a dust mask, and safety goggles. Make sure your ladder is well-footed at all times and use a ladder stabilizer, or stand-off, to keep from denting and damaging your gutters. Scoop the debris into a garbage bag with a garden trowel, then rinse toward the downspout with a high-pressure nozzle on your hose and scrub it clean. Try to avoid spattering the siding in the process. Next, clear the downspouts with a hose or auger. Installing leaf strainers at the drain tops will cut down on the large clogs.

Maintaining Your Gutters
When it rains, check for leaks and mark them with a china marker so you can patch holes or correct pitch problems when it’s dry. There’s debate about whether gutter caps or screens are worth the investment of up to $7 a running foot. Because nothing keeps all debris out, you still have to have your gutter cleaned every couple of years at least, and screens and caps make it much more difficult and expensive to do it.


Quick Tip: Budget Kitchen Remodeling

Ideas that cost a little but go a long way in a budget kitchen remodeling project.

Budget Kitchen Remodeling

Photo: Frisson

Big Ideas, Small Budget
If your kitchen is begging for a facelift but your budget begs to differ, try focusing on some key details instead of a major overhaul. 

DIY Cabinet Re-Surfacing and Re-Painting
If the cabinets are still in good shape, you can change the look of your kitchen just by changing the color of the walls and re-surfacing or re-painting the cabinets. Cabinet re-facing, which involves replacing the veneers, is more expensive but still saves 50 percent over a complete remodel. As long as your cabinets aren’t laminate or melamine, you can re-paint them yourself. De-grease them with a citrus oil-based household cleaner, remove the doors and hardware, and apply a primer-sealer first though you might still have to sand them down before painting. New drawer and door pulls will make a huge difference as well.

Selecting Your Color Scheme
In rethinking your colors, go for a 60-30-10 color scheme, which means 60 percent of a main color, 30 percent of a complementary color and 10 percent for an accent color like a backsplash or a trim detail. Recommended kitchen colors often include shades of tan, peach, yellow and all the many off-whites. Keep the big-ticket items like cabinets on the neutral side and accent with easily interchangeable elements like wall paint, window treatments, and small appliances. That way, changing the look of your kitchen in another few years won’t have to be a major investment.

Inexpensive Upgrades
Fluorescent under-cabinet lighting strips are an easy and inexpensive way to brighten up. And since you use it so often, spending a couple hundred dollars to upgrade the kitchen sink or even just the faucet can also go a long way for short money.


How To: Dye Concrete Floors

Tint your drab concrete floor an eye-catching color with easy-to-apply dye.

How to Dye Concrete Floors - Marrakesh Design

Photo: Marrakesh by Design

Dyeing floors is different from staining them. With dye, there is no chemical reaction with the concrete—it simply dyes the surface. Dyes can come in liquid form or as dry pigment, the latter to be mixed with a solvent (usually acetone). The color of the finished product and the depth that the dye penetrates into the concrete depends on the dye-to-solvent ratio. Dyes will not hide imperfections in the concrete; they are meant to enhance the variation that the concrete already has. Acetone dyes are made to be used on polished concrete floors that have not been sealed. If your floors have been sealed, the sealant will need to be removed before the dye is applied.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
Broom, vacuum, or mop
Dye
Solvent or water, as per directions on the dye
Plastic bucket
Rubber gloves
Paint sprayer with acetone-safe plastic tips and seals
Water
Sponges
Sealant (polyurethane or other)

Note: When working with an acetone-based dye, make sure the room is well ventilated; open all windows and doors when dyeing floors. Wear protective gloves and glasses, too, as acetone dyes are highly flammable.

DIRECTIONS
1. Thoroughly clean the floor with a broom, vacuum, or mop. Let it dry completely before moving on to the next step.

2. Mix the dye in a plastic bucket according to the manufacturer’s directions.

3. Wearing rubber gloves, load a paint sprayer.

4. Spray the dye onto the floor from a distance of about two feet (60 cm), using a circular motion.

5. The dye should penetrate the surface and be absorbed within about 1 minute. If working with a water-based dye, wipe away any excess with water and a sponge to avoid puddling on the surface.

6. Wait 15 minutes and apply a second coat, if desired, to darken the color.

7. Using the sprayer with a nozzle tip made for sealants, spray with a sealant. The dye dries quickly, so the floor can even be sealed the same day.

8. Let the sealant dry for several hours before using the floor. Dyed cement floors should be cleaned like any other floor—with a mild mix of soap and water.

Photo and text excerpted from Marrakesh by Design by Maryam Montague (Artisan Books, 2012)

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