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: The Biggest Obstacle for a Basement Bathroom

Whereas gravity is normally a given in home plumbing, waste removal may need to be achieved by other means in one particular area—the basement.

Adding a toilet to your basement not only adds convenience, but it can also boost the value of your home. But before you proceed, it’s wise to do your research.

Basement Toilet

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

The big thing you need to know is whether the sewer or septic lines are buried deep enough in the ground for gravity to do most of the work getting rid of the waste. For the answer, check with your municipality or the contractor who built your home. Note that even if you can count of the force of gravity, you are still going to need a one-way valve to keep wastewater from backing up into the basement.

If the lines are above the level of the toilet, you’ll need to install an upflushing toilet. These generally have a pumping mechanism hidden inside the toilet or behind it. Upflushing toilets are not cheap, but since installation would likely not require cutting through the basement slab, you’ll save some money there. Some models even allow you to tie in the waste water lines from sinks and shower stalls—a definite plus.

In any case, don’t start the job before you check local building codes. Most installations will require a permit.

Bob Vila Radio is a 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day carried on more than 186 stations in 75 markets around the country. Click here to subscribe, so you can automatically receive each new episode as it arrives—absolutely free.


Bob Vila Radio: Flashlights Get Flashy

Like so many other technologies, flashlights have improved dramatically in recent years. Here's what you need to know now.

If you’re in the dark about some of the latest advancements in flashlight technology, here’s a quick summary.

LED vs Fluorescent Flashlights

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Listen to BOB VILA ON NEW FLASHLIGHT TECHNOLOGY or read the text below:

For years, flashlights relied on bulky D-size batteries and bulbs with filaments. Today, two newer types of flashlight are gaining popularity—light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and fluorescents.

With no filament to burn out, LEDs are powered by tiny semi-conductors. Compared to traditional bulbs, LEDs draw a only a minuscule amount of power. That means they last much longer than the bulbs to which you’re likely accustomed.

Fluorescent lights are especially popular in lantern-type products. Thanks to their elongated shape, these fluorescents put out a lot of light and do a good job of illuminating larger areas—say, your dining room during a power outage. Fluorescents do take a lot of power, though, so you’ll want to keep plenty of batteries on hand.

Bob Vila Radio is a 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day carried on more than 186 stations in 75 markets around the country. Click here to subscribe, so you can automatically receive each new episode as it arrives—absolutely free.


The Beginner’s Guide to Working with Wallpaper

Wallpapering isn't for the faint of heart, but with careful project planning, you can set yourself up for success—and an eye-catching reward.

DIY Wallpaper

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Gone are the days of your grandmother’s chintzy wallpaper. Today, a wide range of compelling designs are available, and due to advances in manufacturing, it’s easier than ever to hang wallpaper. Still, if you’ve never worked with the stuff before, the prospect can seem daunting. That said, anyone can learn the ways of wallpaper. If you’re in the early stages of planning a DIY wallpaper project, these tips can help you buy right and install the product with a minimum of trouble.

Trends
Know this: It’s not unusual for a homeowner to keep the same wallpaper for as long as 15 or 20 years. So beware of trends and consider the long term before you go so far as to make a purchase. As much as you like a given pattern right now, do you think you’re going to like it as much next year, or several years down the line?

Placement
If it’s your first time tackling this type of project, go easy on yourself and start by wallpapering, not a multifaceted space, but a long, uninterrupted wall. Features like doorways and corners only add complexity and require extra trimming and alignment work. Also, remember that, much like a bold paint color, a little wallpaper goes a long way toward making a visual impact. Reconsider your plans to wallpaper an entire room; instead, why not create a single accent wall?

DIY Wallpaper - Bedroom

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Type
Though you can still find wallpapers that must be applied in the traditional method, most are now self-adhesive or pre-treated with a water-activated glue. Unless you’ve hung wallpaper before, it’s best to steer clear of any product that must be glued on. Of all the many options available, self-adhesive vinyl is thought to be the most manageable for first-timers. Actually, most wallpapers on the market these days are made of vinyl, not paper. In part, that’s because vinyl lends itself quite well to easy maintenance.

Style
It’s a hard pill to swallow if you’ve fallen in love with an intricately patterned paper, but where installation is concerned, some papers are much easier to install than others. Think it through and choose a wallpaper suitable for your skill level. Hey, if you can’t hang it properly, it’s not going to look good!

Solids: For beginners, textured solids are the safest bet, because they do not need to be carefully aligned. And if imperfections exist—either in your application of the paper or in the irregularity of the room—these problems mostly remain hidden, as the naked eye cannot pick them out amid the sea of color.

Stripes: Far less forgiving is striped wallpaper, which, even for experience do-it-yourselfers, can be tricky to line up properly. And if the room isn’t perfectly level and square, the stripes have a way of calling attention to those flaws. Hung properly in ideal circumstances, though, striped wallpaper draws the eye upward. As a result, the stripes somehow manage to make a small room look decidedly taller.

Patterns: If you’re considering a patterned wallpaper, don’t forget—patterns repeat! You might like the sample, but would you like to see that pattern spread over and over across the breadth of the space? In the end, it’s a matter of taste. Generally speaking, patterns with a repeat of six inches or fewer tend to camouflage misalignments. Larger patterns, with a repeat of 12 inches or more, are easier on the eye when used in abundance, but these papers must be installed perfectly to look right.

DIY Wallpaper - Dining Room

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Measuring
Choosing a wallpaper is hard; deciding how much to buy is easier. A good rule of thumb? Don’t buy too little. Fortunately, by taking careful measurements, you can be sure to purchase enough wallpaper for the project, without overspending. Start by determining the total square footage of the walls you plan to cover. From that number, subtract 10 square feet for every door or full-size window. The resulting number equals the amount of wallpaper, in square footage, you’re going to need.

Complicating matters is the reality that, in the course of hanging wallpaper, you’re almost definitely going to create waste. That’s especially true with patterned paper that must be trimmed to line up with the previously applied sheet. It’s not a mistake to buy at least one or two extra rolls beyond what’s strictly necessary.

If you’ve read this far, you can rest assured that you’ve got the dedication, and now the insight, necessary to hang wallpaper with success. Yes, the process makes painting seem comparatively and appealingly effortless. But while wallpaper may be more demanding, the labor comes with an obvious, eye-catching reward.


Bob Vila Radio: Is MDF Better Than Plywood?

For many carpentry projects, medium-density fiberboard is the most affordable and user-friendly among affordable yet high-performing wood products.

Medium-density fiberboard, MDF for short, can be a cheaper, more stable alternative to plywood, if used in the right way.

Medium Density Fiberboard

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Listen to BOB VILA ON MEDIUM-DENSITY FIBERBOARD or read the text below:

MDF is made from wood scraps that are broken down into fine fibers, mixed with a binder such as glue, then formed into sheets. Most home centers carry four-by-eight-foot sheets, usually one-half or three-quarters of an inch thick.

MDF offers many benefits. First, it’s a bit less expensive than plywood. Second, it holds its shape, so you can use it for shelving, cabinets, trim and moulding. But since it doesn’t like moisture, it’s best used in indoor projects.

One important caveat: MDF contains formaldehyde, a suspected carcinogen. Wear a respirator when cutting it. And be aware that until it’s properly sealed with paint or urethane, the material continues to off-gas.

That being said, if you take proper precautions when working with it, MDF can save you money and reward you with good results.

Bob Vila Radio is a 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day carried on more than 186 stations in 75 markets around the country. Click here to subscribe, so you can automatically receive each new episode as it arrives—absolutely free.

Bob Vila Radio: Get the Right Recessed Lighting

Recessed lighting fixtures have one thing in common—they're all meant to be installed within the ceiling. Beyond that, however, recessed lights can behave in a variety of ways, each enabling you to achieve a different desired effect.

Whether you’re building a new home or remodeling the interior of an existing residence, recessed lighting offers to add both style and functionality to your digs.

Types of Recessed Lighting

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Listen to BOB VILA ON RECESSED LIGHTING or read the text below:

But before you head to the home center, give some serious thought to exactly what you want to do with the lights. There are several different types of recessed lighting fixtures, and each has its own specific purpose.

For example, wall-washer fixtures flood walls with wide swaths of light, and when they’re positioned around the perimeter of a room, the walls appear to recede, making the room look more airy and inviting.

Narrow-beam adjustable lights, on the other hand, can be aimed at artwork to create dramatic effects. Installing them on the ceiling about a foot and a half from the wall usually gives good results.

Fixtures that have recessed reflectors put out the most light and are best for illuminating such things as a desk, a computer, or a favorite reading chair. Be careful, though. Make sure to position task lighting directly above, not to the side of, the target area; that way, you won’t get shadows from your head or shoulders.

Bob Vila Radio is a 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day carried on more than 186 stations in 75 markets around the country. Click here to subscribe, so you can automatically receive each new episode as it arrives—absolutely free.


Bob Vila Radio: Level Out a Wobbly Ceiling Fan

It's hard to relax under a wobbly ceiling fan. If yours no longer rotates as it should, take these steps toward making the repair.

Ceiling fans are great—until they get wobbly. What causes that to happen, and how can you go about fixing a wobbly ceiling fan?

Wobbly Ceiling Fan

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Listen to BOB VILA ON WOBBLY CEILING FANS or read the text below:

First, check for dirt on the blades. Yes, even a small buildup can cause wobble. Use a sponge and household cleaner to get off the grime.

Wobbling could also mean one or more of the blades has become warped or cracked. Replace if necessary.

If the blades look okay, check to see if they’re out of alignment. You can do that by using a yardstick to measure from the upper tip of each blade to the ceiling. If the distance varies, check for loose screws where the blades are attached to their metal housings.

Also, those housings sometimes get slightly bent—from overzealous cleaning or whatever—and need to be gently bent back to their original position.

If none of that works, head to the home center and pick up a blade balancing kit. They’re only a few bucks, and if they help you solve the problem, there’s no doubt you’ll consider that money well spent.

Bob Vila Radio is a 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day carried on more than 186 stations in 75 markets around the country. Click here to subscribe, so you can automatically receive each new episode as it arrives—absolutely free.


Bob Vila Radio: The Risks and Allure of a Ventless Fireplace

If you decide a ventless gas fireplace would make for a safe and healthy addition to your home, you can look forward to heat and ambiance with none of the mess and hassle of a traditional hearth.

It’s not hard to understand the allure of ventless gas fireplaces. On the one hand, they offer heat and a cozy ambiance. On the other hand, they enable you to circumvent what’s often the most challenging aspect of adding a fireplace—proper ventilation.

Ventless Gas Fireplaces

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Listen to BOB VILA ON VENTLESS GAS FIREPLACES or read the text below:

Be aware that there are health concerns associated with ventless gas fireplaces. That being the case, anyone considering one ought to discuss the project with a professional before purchasing.

If you decide to move forward, you’re likely to enjoy the fact that ventless gas fireplaces involve fewer hassles than traditional hearths. There’s no splitting of wood, no trudging to and from the woodpile, no messy soot and charred wood to clean up.

You’ll also like the fact that ventless fireplaces are generally less expensive than their vented counterparts, since the former don’t require exhaust vents or flues to get rid of combustion byproducts. That’s because, at least theoretically, they produce very few byproducts. But again, you should know that some building scientists doubt whether these products truly operate as claimed.

One other plus: They don’t need electricity to operate, so if you get hit with a power outage you’ll still have a reliable source of heat.

Bob Vila Radio is a 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day carried on more than 186 stations in 75 markets around the country. Click here to subscribe, so you can automatically receive each new episode as it arrives—absolutely free.


Bob Vila Radio: Pipe Insulation, and Why It Really Matters

Prevent winter's worst home disaster, freezing pipes, and promote household energy efficiency in the process, by remembering to insulate your water pipes.

If a plumbing pipe ruptures inside your home, it’s likely going to be a disaster. But properly installed pipe insulation can help prevent that.

Pipe Insulation Matters

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

Pipe insulation performs more than one role, but perhaps its most important duty is to keep the water in your pipes from turning to ice, expanding, and then bursting to create a mega-mess. Insulation also cuts down on heat loss and keeps water warm as it makes its way to your faucets.

Cold water pipes benefit from insulation too, especially during summer months when humid air would otherwise condense on the pipes and cause corrosion.

Besides protecting pipes, insulation also protects people—from being injured by contact with very hot or very cold pipes.

There are plenty of styles and materials to choose from, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. In many freeze-prone areas of the country, pipe insulation is not only a good idea; it’s the law. Check local building ordinances before you head to the home center.

Bob Vila Radio is a 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day carried on more than 186 stations in 75 markets around the country. Click here to subscribe, so you can automatically receive each new episode as it arrives—absolutely free.

Bob Vila Radio: Is This the End of Oil-Based Paint?

Health and environmental concerns aside, oil-based paint used to provide the best finish. But thanks to advancements in manufacturing, safer formulations now perform equally well, if not better.

For decades, if you wanted a smooth, resilient finish for a project you were painting, you would turn to oil-based paints. They adhered better than water-based paints, left fewer brush marks, and created a rock-hard finish.

Pros and Cons of Oil-Based Paint

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Listen to BOB VILA ON OIL-BASED PAINT or read the text below:

Balanced against the advantages of oil-based paints are a set of significant drawbacks, including long drying times and more difficult cleanup, not to mention health and environmental concerns.

Increasingly, consumers are choosing latex and acrylic paints instead of oil-based. So are they settling for a sub-par finish? Not anymore, it seems.

Paint producers have been fiddling with new additives that help water-based paints mimic the good qualities of their oil-based cousins, but without the health concerns. In fact, development of acrylic paints has progressed to the point where many products actually surpass the performance of oil-based. They’re generally less expensive too.

Bottom line: New water-based and acrylics combine the best of two worlds, and that makes them worth a serious look when you’re planning your next painting project.

Bob Vila Radio is a daily radio spot carried on more than 186 stations in 75 markets around the country. 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: Does Attic Ventilation Help or Hurt?

Confusion reigns over the question of whether attic ventilation promotes, works against, or makes no difference in terms of energy efficiency. As is the case in so many questions relating to homes, the answer depends.

Does ventilating your attic make sense? To a large extent, the answer to that question depends on the climate where you live.

Attic Ventilation

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

In cold climates, attic vents help get rid of the warm, moist air that rises from living space below. If you don’t give it a way out, it can condense on the underside of roof sheathing, causing rot. Vents that keep attic air cooler also guard against ice dams. That’s when warm attic air heats the underside of the sheathing and melts any snow that’s above. As the snow melts, the water trickles down to the colder eaves where it refreezes, forming a dam that backs up water under your shingles. Bad news for your roof!

In warmer climates, of course, none of that’s a problem. Even so, attic ventilation does allow hot air to escape, helping to keep your home cooler. Most roofing professionals agree that, regardless of where you live, at least some attic ventilation is a good idea. If you’re still unsure, though, ask around for a couple of trusted contractors in your area and get their advice.

Bob Vila Radio is a daily radio spot carried on more than 186 stations in 75 markets around the country. You can get your daily dose here, by listening to—or reading—Bob’s 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day.