Author Archives: Bob Vila

Bob Vila

About Bob Vila

You probably know me from TV, where for nearly 30 years I hosted a variety of shows – This Old House, Bob Vila’s Home Again, Bob Vila, and Restore America with Bob Vila. You can now watch my full TV episodes online. Now it's this website that I am passionate about and the chance to share my projects, discoveries, tips, advice and experiences with all of you.

Bob Vila Radio: Is There a Leak in Your Gas Fireplace?

No mere annoyance, the sound coming from your gas fireplace may signal something serious.

Gas fireplaces have been showing up in more and more homes the past few years. They’re clean, easy to use, and add a nice ambience to the home. A drawback, however, is the noises they sometimes make.

Gas Fireplace Noise

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Listen to BOB VILA ON STOPPING NOISE FROM GAS FIREPLACES or read the text below:

If you hear a popping noise when the burner’s on, it may indicate that there are small leaks around joints in the burner assembly. To test for leaks, first turn off the burner. Once the ceramic logs have cooled off, remove them from the firebox.

Next, mix a bit of liquid detergent with water and pour it into a spray bottle. Turn the now-exposed burner assembly back on and look for any small bursts of flame that appearing around joints. If you don’t see any, try spraying a little detergent mix on the various joints and fittings in the burner assembly. If you see bubbles, you’ve found the leak.If the leaks are around a joint in the assembly, use a wrench to gently tighten the fitting.

If you can’t find a leak—or the leak you find appears to be a hole in the assembly itself—you’ll want to call in a pro. Gas leaks are serious business and need immediate attention.

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.


Bob Vila Radio: Venting a Fireplace Insert

Though there are at least a couple of different ways to vent a fireplace insert, not all are equal in terms of user-friendliness and fire safety.

With temperatures dropping, homeowners are resuming their seasonal quest to get the most heat for the least money. If you have a fireplace that’s inefficient, you might want to consider installing a fireplace insert. Most are considerably more efficient than the fireplaces they replace.

Wood Stove Inserts

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Listen to BOB VILA ON VENTING A FIREPLACE INSERT or read the text below:

The best way to vent an insert is into a stainless steel liner that extends through from the top of the stove through to the top of the existing chimney. That setup provides the highest efficiency, plus it’s easy to inspect and clean.

Though you can also vent the stove insert into the existing chimney, it’s a bit trickier. That’s because the proportions of the chimney may not match up with the size of the insert. If that’s the case, the chimney won’t draft properly; besides getting smoke in your eyes, you’ll also get a rapid buildup of flammable, acid-laden creosote in the chimney. A chimney liner that’s matched to your fireplace insert is a solid investment that helps keep your home toasty and safe.

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.


Bob Vila Radio: Troubleshooting Tips for Motion Sensor Lights

Motion sensor lights have an annoying track record of inconsistency. If yours no longer function as desired, they may not need to be replaced, but they do need to be reset. Follow these simple troubleshooting tips.

Motion sensor lights are a must for any home security system, but sometimes they get out of whack, turning on and off inappropriately. That’s especially common after power outages.

Reset Motion Sensor Lights

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Listen to BOB VILA ON RESETTING MOTION SENSORS or read the text below:

Fortunately, resetting motion sensors isn’t a big deal. Once you’ve got your ladder safely positioned, use your hands to gently adjust the bulbs of the unit to where you want the light to shine. Same with the motion detector. Aim it towards the area where you want to detect motion.

Next, move the operation switch to the “test” position, then climb off the ladder and do a brief jig in front of the sensor. If the lights don’t illuminate, increase the sensitivity setting on the unit. That’s often just a matter of turning a small dial. If the lights come on more often then they should, try decreasing the sensitivity setting.

When you have the unit behaving as it should, move the operation switch from “test” back to the “normal” setting.

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.


Bob Vila Radio: Measure Twice, Cut Once

Accurate measurement is fundamental to any successful DIY project. Remember to choose the right tools, mark precise points, and keep perspective on just how accurate is accurate enough.

You’ve heard the old saying, “Measure twice, cut once.” When it comes to do-it-yourself projects, there couldn’t be a better motto. Here are some tips for sizing up jobs around the house…

Measure Twice Cut Once

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Listen to BOB VILA ON ACCURATE MEASUREMENT or read the text below:

Don’t use a 25-foot tape to measure for a 6-inch cut. Better to use a smaller tape that’s easier to manipulate.

To transfer your measurements to the surface of the material you’re cutting, first press on the edge of the tape and roll it until the edge makes contact with the material. Then put the point of your pencil at the measurement and flick it up and to the right, then up and to the left. That’ll give you a mark that’s very visible yet small enough at the point to maintain accuracy.

Also, keep a clear perspective on how accurate your measurements really need to be. For example, if you’re cutting drywall, a quarter-inch gap isn’t gonna make a big difference. You can always cover it with tape and mud. It’s the same with trim you’re planning to paint. A little caulk goes a long way. For clear-finish woodwork, though, you’ll need to be more precise.

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.


Bob Vila Radio: Every 2 Years, Flush Your Water Heater

To improve the performance of your water heater and extend the useful life of the tank, don't forget to flush out the sediment buildup every couple of years. Here's how

If you want to make sure you’ll have hot water whenever you need it, it’s a good idea to flush your water heater every couple of years.

Flushing a Water Heater

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Listen to BOB VILA ON FLUSHING A WATER HEATER or read the text below:

Over time, mineral sediments build up, and those sediments can not only cut down on efficiency but also cause corrosion, shortening the life of the tank.

To flush the water heater, start by cutting off the electricity or gas, whichever powers your heater. Also, shut the valve that supplies water to the tank (it’s at the top of the tank). Then proceed to attach a hose to the drain valve at the bottom of the tank, positioning the other end of the hose outside the home or into a drain below the level of the drain valve. Open the valve.

Next, open a hot water faucet in the house. That’ll allow air into the system and soon, water should begin draining out the hose. Be careful: Water exiting the heater will be very hot!

Once the tank’s finished draining, close the drain valve, open the supply valve, and power up the heater.

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.


Bob Vila Radio: The Tool-Free Way to Locate Wall Studs

Though an stud finder would make things a bit easier, not everyone has one—and the fact is that you don't always need one. Here's how to locate a wall stud without the aid of a tool.

If you’ve got a heavy mirror to hang on the wall, you’ll need to find a stud that will support the weight. The easiest way to do that is with a stud finder. Electronic and magnetic versions are both readily available at home centers.

Locating Studs

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Listen to BOB VILA ON LOCATING STUDS or read the text below:

But if you’d just as soon stay home—and save some dough—try looking for nails in the baseboard. They are usually hammered into studs. Studs are usually spaced 16 inches from one center to the next. So if you find a nail in the baseboard, just measure over, in 16-inch increments, to where you want to hang the mirror.

Also remember that electrical outlets and switches are usually attached to studs, either from the left or the right side. Try knocking gently on the wall directly to the right and left of the outlet or switch. If one side sounds hollow, then the other side is where you can expect the stud to be.

Still can’t find a stud? Well, you can always drill a small test hole to make a way for a bent coat hanger, which you can then twist around until you knock against a stud. Aftewards, you’d repair the test hole with a little spackle and paint.

But if you’re going to go through the trouble of drilling, spackling, and painting, you might as well run to the store for a stud finder. Hey, you gave it your best shot.

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.


How To: Paint Your Front Door

A can of fresh paint is all it takes to boost home's curb appeal and brighten your mood upon pulling into the driveway. Cleaning up that lackluster paint on your front door is a simple and satisfying job, so why not make a day of it? Follow this step-by-step for an easy home update.

How to Paint a Front Door

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Front doors undergo wear and tear on a daily basis, not least from the elements—precipitation and wind and the glaring-hot rays of the sun. That being the case, it’s no surprise that every so often, depending on the architecture of your home, it becomes necessary to paint the front door. Some might see this as a chore, a purely maintenance-oriented responsibility, but why not capitalize on the chance to paint the front door a new color? After all, a new look for the entryway can go a long way toward boosting curb appeal, and I think the change can make it more enjoyable to return home after a day at work or weekend away. Of course, painting is one of the easiest home improvements one might undertake, and if you start in the morning, you can have the project completely finished by nightfall.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
- Screwdriver
- Primer (optional)
- Exterior acrylic paint
- Paint roller
- Paintbrush
- Putty knife
- Lint-free cloths

STEP 1
For best results, particularly if you are painting both sides of the door, I highly recommend remove the door from its hinges. Certainly, it can be a hassle to do so—after all, front doors are heavy—but wouldn’t you rather inconvenience yourself for ten minutes than suffer the sight of a poor paint job over the next few years?

How to Paint a Door - Blue Paneling

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STEP 2
Prepare an adequate work area. That includes laying down an old sheet or drop cloth to catch paint drips, then bringing a pair of sawhorses (or makeshift stand-ins) into position to hold the door off the floor. Finally, ask a friend or family member to help you lift the door and place it over the supports.

STEP 3
If the existing paint on the door has cracked or peeled, remove it with a putty knife. Just be careful not to gouge the door with the tool. Next, smooth rough areas with fine-grit sandpaper before washing the surface with warm, soapy water. Wipe the door down with a lint-free cloth and be sure that it’s completely dry before you start to actually paint. Remember, preparation is key in any paint job.

STEP 4
Take off all removable hardware, including the doorknob and lockset. If the door features any immoveable details, such as an integrated pane of glass, cover those carefully with blue painter’s tape.

STEP 5 (optional)
You don’t have to apply a coat of primer, but if the new color you’ve chosen is lighter than the existing one (or if you’ve had to remove a lot of old paint), then it’s probably wise to take this extra step. Priming the door will save you from having to do an extra topcoat or two. Of course, if you buy a primer-paint combination, and you should if possible, then you can very likely complete the job with only two coats.

STEP 6
Stir up the paint before beginning to apply it. Use a three- to four-inch paintbrush around the outside edges and corners of the door, then brush the edging around any raised or recessed panels. Switch to a small paint roller to make quicker work of the flat parts of the door. Assuming you’ve used a water-based—which is to say latex—paint product, each coat should take a few hours to dry in low humidity.

STEP 7
Apply the final coat in the same manner as above, starting with the outside edges and corners. Once finished, allow a little extra drying time—perhaps an additional hour. Finally, remove the painter’s tape, reattach the hardware, and replace the door on its hinges. That’s it—see, I told you it wouldn’t take long!


Bob Vila Radio: Avoid Common Mistakes to Minimize Heating Costs

Heating and cooling the house isn't cheap, but by knowing which frequent missteps to avoid, you can cut out unnecessary expenses.

Home heating bills are high enough already; don’t push yours even higher by making these common mistakes.

Efficient Heating - Vent

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Listen to BOB VILA ON EFFICIENT HEATING or read the text below:

First, avoid obstructing the flow of air through return vents. Though vents may not be the most attractive fixtures in your home, covering them with such things as furniture and drapes ultimately cuts down on the overall efficiency of your heating system. Likewise, don’t be tempted to close off vents in unused rooms. That, too, will make your system work harder than needed, driving up costs.

Meanwhile, make sure your thermostat isn’t exposed to heat from direct sunlight or from heat-producers like lamps or AV equipment. That can fool the thermostat and trigger activity that does not make your home more comfortable.

Finally, use the correct air filter. Cheap, flimsy filters reduce the quality of air in your home, while overly efficient filters, counter to intuition, can make systems work harder, especially older systems. Check your manual or call your HVAC supplier to determine the most appropriate filter for your HVAC components.

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.


Bob Vila Radio: Get the Fireplace Ready

Before having your first fire of the season, read these tips on operating your wood-burning fireplace with the utmost efficiency.

When you’re pulling your parkas and mittens from the back of the closet, it’s also a good time to make sure your fireplace and chimney are safe and ready to operate at top efficiency.

Get the Fireplace Ready

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Listen to BOB VILA ON FIREPLACE EFFICIENCY or read the text below:

First, be choosy about the wood you burn. Seasoned hardwoods are best. Stay away from burning scrap wood derived from crates or pallets; when ignited, they may emit toxic fumes.

Consider installing a top-mounted damper. Providing a tighter fit than conventional dampers, they function much like a chimney cap to help keep out rain and snow. If you decide to go with a conventional chimney cap, choose one that’s stainless steel. They’re a bit more expensive but last longer due to their rust resistance.

Of course, keeping the chimney clean is a must. Have the sweeps come in at least once each year. If you burn more than three cords of wood a season, have them come twice. What you gain in fireplace efficiency, not to mention peace of mind, is worth the extra cost.

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.


Bob Vila Radio: Save Big Bucks with Attic Insulation

Ever get the feeling your energy dollars are going through the roof? You might be exactly right! By installing attic insulation, you can cut your heating and cooling costs by as much as half. Start here.

Looking to put a dent in your monthly heating and cooling bills? The answer may be right over your head. If your attic isn’t insulated, you’re missing out on a prime opportunity to cut costs.

Attic Insulation

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Listen to BOB VILA ON ATTIC INSULATION PREP or read the text below:

No matter what type of insulation you end up using, start the job by preparing the work area. That includes clipping portable lights onto rafters, so you can see what you’re doing. Also, if there’s no flooring in the attic, lay down sheets of plywood for a solid platform to work from.

Now’s also an optimal time to check the attic for any signs of discoloration or mold; either might signal a roof leak. While you’re at it, use weatherstripping or expanding foam to seal up any air leaks around chimneys, plumbing stacks, exhaust fans or anywhere you suspect outside air might be getting through.

Attic insulation can literally cut your heating and cooling bills by as much as half. So whether you hire a contractor or do it yourself, your wallet will thank you.

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.