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 Basics of Drilling Through Metal

Metal is hard, but drilling through it is easy, so long as you take the time to do it right and give due credence to safety.

Provided you have the right tools, it’s not difficult to drill through metal. But for the job to go smoothly and the results to be satisfying, make sure you know the basics.

How to Drill Through Metal

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Listen to BOB VILA ON DRILLING THROUGH METAL or read the text below:

First, be sure to wear safety goggles—not glasses—when you drill through metal. The goggles prevent any tiny flecks of metal from getting into your eyes. To hold the metal in place as you work, use a vise or a set of clamps. Also, it helps to create a small dimple, using a center punch, in the spot where you are planning to drill. The dimple doesn’t need to be big, just large enough to keep the drill bit in place.

As you’re drilling, keep a little light motor oil in the hole to help with lubrication and to keep the bit from overheating. Don’t try to rush the job by applying too much pressure on the drill and running it at top speed. You’ll achieve better control, and end up with a more accurate and cleaner cut, if you use moderate pressure and keep the drill at half speed.

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.

A Contractor’s Tips for a Long-Lasting Front Door

To keep entry doors looking and performing their best, heed the advice of contractor, author, and old house expert Scott Sidler.

Front Door Maintenance

Photo: masonite.com

If there were one rule in home exterior maintenance, it might be this: Don’t skip the door. With their frequent daily use and constant exposure to the elements, even well made, properly installed entry doors are prone to wear and tear. Given their partly utilitarian role in the home, doors are too often taken for granted and left out of monthly or annual upkeep routines. That’s a mistake, according to contractor, author, and owner of Austin Home Restorations, Scott Sidler. Here, Scott tells us what threats exist to the appearance and functioning of doors, and more importantly, what can be done to ensure that the door enjoys a long life. 

Front Door Maintenance - With Plants

Photo: masonite.com

What about ongoing maintenance? Are there annual upkeep tasks that you would recommend?

Scott: Spot-check the finish at least every year. Because of the stronger sun we have in the South, I see a lot of peeling paint. Here, paint chalks very quickly and doesn’t last nearly as long as it does in the rest of the country. But as long as you care for the door by keeping it painted, you’re not likely to have issues. I’d say that around here, a front door probably needs a fresh coat of paint—and at least a little sanding—every five years. It depends on the level of exposure it gets. If the door isn’t covered by a porch and is out there in the full sun, you may need to paint it as often as every two or three years.

Parents always scold children for slamming the door, but the sun and the rain are really a door’s worst enemies, right? Are there any steps you would recommend taking to minimize with the vulnerability of an entry door installation to the elements?

Scott: Many door jambs come with a factory finish on the side that’s visible to everybody coming and going in the house. But the back side of the jamb is usually left unfinished. So when we install a pre-hung door—whether it’s a fiberglass, steel, or wood door—we always make sure to back-prime the wood jamb to give it that much more resistance to moisture and insects. The other thing you can do is a borate treatment. It’s nothing complex. Borate either brushes or sprays on. Once applied, it migrates through the jamb, helping to the lengthen its life at minimal extra cost. It takes five minutes.

Editor’s note: Borate products are inexpensive and readily available at The Home Depot, which is also a great place to buy a entry door. The retail chain sells the full line of doors made by Masonite, a long-established leader in the product category whose fiberglass, steel, and wood doors come with a limited lifetime warranty when purchased at The Home Depot. If you need help choosing a new door, check out Masonite Max. Offered jointly by Masonite and The Home Depot, Masonite Max is an easy- and fun-to-use tool that guides you through the process of designing the perfect door for your project.

What other issues are there to watch out for? 

Scott: Of course, these problems don’t tend to affect fiberglass or steel doors, but in the warm, humid season, doors made of wood often stick. Then in the winter, everything works again. What some people do is shave down a sticking door in the summer so that it opens and shuts smoothly again. But now you’ve got a problem, because in the winter, that door is going to shrink, leaving big gaps all around it. If you’re going to modify a wood door because you’re having trouble with it, be sure to make allowances for the time of year. Fiberglass and steel doors are less sensitive to weather conditions, so they’re free of these seasonal issues.

Front Door Maintenance - Veranda

Photo: masonite.com

Assuming you’ve got the new door, it’s the style for your house, and you’re properly maintaining it—what are the benefits that can be expected? 

Scott: I don’t think a lot of people think about it this way, but the front door is the only part of your house that anyone will stand and stare at, with nothing else to do. This is how I explain it to homeowners: A guest doesn’t walk up to a wall in your house and just stare at it. But at the front door, while they’re waiting for you to answer it, visitors are just going to stand there and stare at the door. The door and its hardware. That’s the stuff your guests and potential homebuyers see first and linger on. Meanwhile, you probably go in and out of the front door every day. So make it something you love. And if there is one door in the house that should work smoothly, it should be your front door. It just gets so much attention. It’s the first impression your home makes. Don’t skip the door!

Editor’s note: Choose a new entry door with the best chance of standing up to the inevitable wear and tear it’s going to experience. In continuous operation since 1925, Masonite manufactures doors in an array of materials and style, and the company specializes in durability. Among the many Masonite product lines are its Barrington fiberglass doors, which stand out for their resistance to denting, warping, splitting, and cracking. Not sure what type of door you want? Don’t forget to try Masonite Max, a new online tool that guides you through the process of designing the perfect door and easily purchasing it from The Home Depot.

Front Door Maintenance - Glass Inset

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


Bob Vila Radio: Fix Ice Dams—Fast!

Though it's no substitute for comprehensive, permanent prevention measures, you can use this clever trick to resolve an ice dam problem before it leaves lasting damage.

If you live in an area of the country with cold winters, you are likely familiar with ice dams. These are the ridges of frozen water that form along the edges of roofs.

Ice Dam Solution

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Listen to BOB VILA ON FIXING ICE DAMS or read the text below:

Ice dams occur when heated air in your home rises, finding its way into the attic and settling on the underside of the roof. There, the presence of warm air causes any snow on the roof to melt. The snowmelt drains down the roof until it reaches the cold overhang of the roof, where if it refreezes, an ice dams forms.

Ice dams can lead to all sorts of damage, mostly stemming to the fact that, once the ice dams are entrenched, they prevent the roof from shedding any additional melted snow or rain. With nowhere else to go, the captive water can leak into the house, rotting wood or inciting the growth of mold.

Properly insulating the home—that means, in part, sealing the attic from rising warm air—is the best way to avoid ice dams. If you get an ice dam anyway, you’ll probably need to consult an energy-savvy contractor. But in the meantime, here’s a fix that may get you through a crisis:

Find a pair of old nylons and fill one of the legs with store-bought or homemade ice melt. Drape the nylons on the roof in such a way that the stuffed leg crosses the ice dam and the gutter. Eventually, the chemicals will melt that section of the ice, creating a gap through which water can slide down off the roof pitch.

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.


A Contractor’s Tips for Open-and-Shut Door Installation

In an interview with Bob Vila, contractor, author, and old house expert Scott Sidler explains his approach to choosing and installing doors in the South, where he lives and works around a changeable climate.

Front Door Installation

Photo: masonite.com

Real estate agents call it curb appeal. It’s how a house looks to visitors as they arrive by car. Curb appeal was, is, and will be important to homeowners, whether or not they’re planning to sell. And while factors ranging from landscaping to paint color influence curb appeal, there’s no more immediate facade facelift than a new front door. Thanks to the advent of pre-hung doors, installation has only gotten easier. But according to contractor, author, and old house expert Scott Sidler, owner of Austin Home Restorations, the job still comes with some complexities. Here, Scott shares what to keep in mind.

Front Door Installation - Curb Appeal

Photo: masonite.com

Most entry doors that you can pick up at The Home Depot—they’re pre-hung, right? What is a pre-hung door, anyway?

Scott: A pre-hung door comes with the jamb, the hinges, and the door itself. It’s a fully functional door; it’s just not installed. If it were not pre-hung, you would have to cut out hinge mortises and fit that door into an existing jamb. But with a pre-hung, you just order the doors you need, you set it in the rough opening—the framing between the studs, with the header above it. Then the door gets leveled, plumbed, shimmed, and fastened into place, and finally the trim goes over. Unless it’s a custom situation, pre-hung doors are used almost exclusively. It’s been a big step forward, I think. Everything is already assembled, and you just install it into the building.

If pre-hung doors have made entry door installation so much more forgiving, what’s the most difficult part now?

Scott: When you’re installing a door, you’re working with three planes: The door needs to be plumb, it needs to be level, and it needs to be square. It’s easy to miss some of the alignment issues. If you shim it a little too much on one side, you may put the jamb out of square, and as a consequence, the door may not close properly. But in new construction—if your framer did a good job, and you’ve got a well-framed opening—it’s fairly easy, so long as you take your measurements properly. With remodeling, it’s another world. In an older house that may have settled a bit, you need to make adjustments to account for any sagging. If the level, plumb, and square are not perfect, the door isn’t going to perform as it should. It’s not going to stay open when it’s open. It’s not going to to stay closed when it’s closed.

Front Door Installation - Interior View

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You live and work in the South. Are there any regional considerations you take into account when installing a door?

Scott: If we’re installing a pre-hung—or even if we’re building a jamb on-site—I like there to be plenty of space in the jamb. That’s why I use larger shims. They allow me to make sure there’s extra space in there, and that’s important because we get so much sun. Winters here, the temperature ranges from the 30s to 50s, so the wood contracts quite a bit. And in the summer, when it’s 95 degrees and 100% humidity, and it’s raining, that wood is going to swell. You want to make sure that there’s a little extra gap around the door that you can fill with weatherstripping, which can take that large expansion and contraction we get here. I think that’s fairly common in a lot of the country, but with wood doors here, the effect is extreme. You don’t have those issues with fiberglass or steel doors.

Do you think that’s a reason other contractors should think about shying away from wood doors in the South?

Scott: In new construction down here, and also in standard remodels, it sure feels like most of the exterior doors are fiberglass or steel, except on the high end, where the clients want something really special. In the South, fiberglass and steel tend to hold up better than wood. We also run across rotten jamb bottoms. The legs of the jamb start to rot out, because no matter what material the door is, you’ve likely still got a wooden jamb. With all the rain we get, that wood is going to rot out eventually. That’s why some jambs today have PVC bottoms. Just that bottom foot and a half or so being PVC… it makes a huge difference.

Front Door Installation - Lites

Photo: masonite.com

A new door ought to suit the style of the house. How do you go about choosing the right door for a project you’re working on?

Scott: It really depends on what the client wants. A lot of our clients say, “I want something that’s true to the style of the house,” what was there originally. So we can do a little research and see if we can find out. But usually we choose based on the home’s architectural style. Colonial-style doors are going to be the standard four- or six-panel doors. Mission-style doors are typically composed of thick, vertical boards tied together under an arched top, with a peek hole and wrought iron hardware. It’s about staying true to the architectural style of the house, whether this is an 1800 Queen Anne Victorian or a newer house in the local vernacular. Just try and stay true to that, so it doesn’t look terribly anachronistic and way out of place. Choose for the scale and style of the building.

Editor’s note: If you need help selecting a door, don’t hesitate to check out the Masonite Max configurator offered jointly by The Home Depot and Masonite. Easy and actually quite fun to use, the Masonite Max tool guides you through the process of designing and purchasing the perfect door for your project. Based in Tampa, Florida, Masonite has continually operated since its founding in 1925. Today, the company manufactures steel, wood, and fiberglass doors in an array of styles to suit any preference. Plus, at The Home Depot, Masonite fiberglass and steel doors carry a limited lifetime warranty!

Front Door Installation - Back

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


Bob Vila Radio: 2 Quick Fixes for a Slow Kitchen Drain

The kitchen sink drain may be slow, but these clever tips can help you repair it, and fast.

Chances are that, somewhere along the line, you’ve had to deal with a clog in your kitchen drain. Even if you make a point of not pouring grease down the drain, it can still build up over time and create a mess.

How to Unclog a Kitchen Sink

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Listen to BOB VILA ON HOW TO UNLCOG A KITCHEN SINK or read the text below:

Before going nuclear with that toxic chemical drain cleaner, why not try a one or two eco-friendly solutions?

First, focus on the plumbing under the sink—specifically, the P-trap. Use a hair dryer to heat the drain pipe at the point where it forms an obvious curve. Heating the pipe may help to melt any grease that’s accumulated there. Next, flush the pipe with hot water.

The sink is already backed up? Use a cooking pot to bail out the water, then pour a cup of baking soda into the drain, followed by a cup of vinegar. Let that concoction bubble for a half hour or so, then flush out the pipes with hot water.

In the future, to prevent grease from piling up again, dump a quarter cup of baking soda in the drain every couple of weeks. The bubbles will not only help keep your drain clear, but they’ll neutralize any odors the drain might otherwise emit.

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: Why Is the Smoke Alarm Chirping?

Is the sound of a chirping smoke alarm steadily driving you crazy? Find out what you can do to restore quiet—and your sanity.

Why do you do when there’s a smoke alarm chirping in your home, seemingly without provocation? How can you keep that smoke alarm from robbing you of peace and quiet?

Smoke Alarm Chirping

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Listen to BOB VILA ON CHIRPING SMOKE ALARMS, or read the text below:

If the smoke alarm chirps at even intervals—say, every minute or so—it’s probably the device’s way of telling you that it needs a new battery. That’s true whether the detector runs on battery power all the time, or if it’s hard-wired and the battery’s only there as a back-up in case of a power outage. Simply open up the case and replace the battery; that should be the end of it.

While you’re changing smoke alarm batteries, it’s a good idea to use a can of compressed air to blow away any accumulated spider webs or dust. That sort of debris can cause irregular chirping that a new battery isn’t going to make go away. Also, bear in mind that alarms don’t live forever. Most need replacement every 10 years or so. The cost of a few new alarms is well worth the protection they’ll provide you and your family!

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: Make Plywood More Portable

Plywood may be cheap, but it sure isn't easy—to carry, that is. If you're working solo, these two tricks can help you get a handle.

Though plywood is a versatile and affordable material, ideal or at least serviceable for hundreds of uses, it’s not the most convenient thing to heft from one place to another.

How to Carry Plywood

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Listen to BOB VILA ON CARRYING PLYWOOD, or read the text below:

Why is it so cumbersome? Mainly it’s because plywood typically comes in four-by-eight-foot sheets. Depending on the thickness, a sheet might weigh anywhere from 25 to 85 pounds. Bottom line: Unless you have really long arms, plywood is hard to carry. Fortunately, there are tricks that can help you get a handle.

First, position the plywood with the long edge down. Tie about 20 feet of rope into a loop and slip each end of the loop around the two bottom corners of the plywood. Reach over the edge of the plywood, grab the middle part of the loop, and lift. That’s a good way to get you and your load from point A to point B.

Another trick is to lift the plywood slightly with one hand and, with the other, hook a claw hammer under the plywood about midway along the edge. The hammer extends your reach and, again, you’ve got yourself an instant handle!

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: Fixing a Broken Window Pane

At one time or another, most homeowners must deal with a broken window pane. Save the cost of a contractor and make the repair yourself—here's how.

Has a pint-sized baseball player in your neighborhood recently hit a home run through your bedroom window? Here are some tips for fixing it.

How to Replace a Window Pane

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Listen to BOB VILA ON REPLACING A WINDOW PANE or read the text below:

Once are wearing gloves and goggles, remove the broken shards by pulling them toward you. That way, if a shard breaks, the splinters are sent safely away from you.

Next, scrape and sand the notch of the sash where the new pane is going to go. Then run a bead of caulk around the notch, not only to provide a cushion for the glass, but also to help make the window weather-tight.

For help in positioning the pane of glass, fold a short length of duct tape in the middle, forming a tab. Now stick the tape onto the glass. That’ll function as a temporary handle.

Once you have the new pane in place, open your glazing compound, remove a lump with your putty knife, and roll it on a flat surface until it looks like a length of rope. Set it next to the edge of the glass and use your fingers to smooth it out.

Once you add a few more lengths of glazing compound around the window, you’ll be done… except for a little sanding and a coat or two of paint!

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: A Trick for Splinter-less Cuts in Plywood

You don't need fine cabinetmaking tools to get clean cuts in plywood. You just need a little know-how.

If you’re planning to cut plywood, here are a few points to keep in mind. Cutting plywood usually creates a splintered edge on one side of the sheet. That’s no big deal if your project requires only one side of the sheet to be splinter-free.

How to Cut Plywood

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Listen to BOB VILA ON SAWING PLYWOOD or read the text below:

Which side will the splinters be on? That depends on the type of saw you’re using to make the cut. Generally speaking, radial arm saws and table saws produce splinters on the top side of the sheet, while saber saws and circular saws splinter the wood on the bottom. If your choice of tools is a muscle-powered hand saw, expect splinters on the top.

But what if you need both sides of the sheet to be free of splinters? Your best bet is to use the sharpest, stiffest knife you can find to make deep scores—on both sides of the wood—along the lines of the intended cuts. One caution: You’ll need to measure carefully to ensure your score lines end up in exactly the same place on both sides of the sheet. As always with power tools, make sure you don protective glasses and gloves before you start your cuts.

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: Locating a Leak in the Roof

Before you can repair a roof leak, you first need to locate the problem. That sort of detective work is rarely a cinch, but these tips can help you crack the case more quickly.

The toughest part of fixing a roof leak is often to figure out where the water is getting in. It’s not uncommon for water to enter the roof at one spot before traveling, by dint of gravity, to the spot where you finally notice it as a stain on the drywall, for example, or as a saturated panel of fiberglass insulation.

How to Find a Leak in the Roof

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Listen to BOB VILA ON LOCATING ROOF LEAKS, or read the text below:

The best way to spot a leak is to head up to the attic on a rainy day. Bring along a flashlight with a good, strong beam and use it to look for areas of wetness. Since water reflects light, so you should be able to find the spot pretty quickly. Once you’ve found it, remember to mark it so that you can find it again a day or two later.

When you have a clear day, make your way up to the roof. Meanwhile, ask a helper indoors to tap on the spot you marked in the attic. Working together, the two of you should be able to locate the shingles directly above the wet area. Communicating via speakerphone here may be prove faster than taking turns tapping.

If you don’t see signs of entry directly above the mark made in the attic, try looking a little further up the roof. Also, check to see if any of the “usual suspects” in roof leaks are located near to where you’re looking. These include dormer valleys, chimney flashing, and the gaskets surrounding pipes and wiring.

When it comes to making the repair, a little roofing cement can go a long way!

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.