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: Prevent Scalding Injuries

Take action to protect your children from injuring themselves while running a faucet in the kitchen or bathroom.

Scalding injuries are one of the top reasons people show up at emergency rooms with burns.

Hot Water

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Listen to BOB VILA ON PREVENTING SCALDING INJURIES or read the text below:

Kids, of course, are especially vulnerable, but there are several ways you can minimize chances you’ll need to make that trip to the ER. First, make sure the temperature on your water heater is set no higher than 120 degrees. You won’t want to go much lower, though, since that can promote bacteria growth in the heater.

Another important safeguard: Install anti-scald valves in the faucets throughout your home and also in the shower heads. There are several different types of these valves, but they all are designed to shut down the flow of hot water to a trickle if it reaches the faucet at a dangerous temperature. They’re just the thing for older homes whose plumbing was installed prior to new, more rigorous building codes. Best of all, they’re relatively inexpensive and easy to install. There’s probably not a better investment you could make to ensure your home is safe for you and your family.

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.


How To: Repot a Plant

For a houseplant to thrive, it may need to be moved into more spacious digs from time to time. Here's how to tell when your plant needs a bigger pot, and how to get it there quickly and safely.

How to Repot a Plant

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Even if you’ve never before tried to repot a plant, you can do it today without much trouble, probably in under 15 minutes—so long as you’re dealing with a houseplant. It’s a different story with plants that live outdoors, not least because they tend to be larger and heavier, and therefore more difficult to move about. But for the vast majority of plants grown on windowsills and desktops, repotting is a simple and—in my opinion—a relaxing and fun job. Probably the trickiest part is deciding when it’s appropriate to move a plant out of its current container. One sure sign is if the plant has stopped growing. Another is if the roots are poking through or visible near the drainage holes on the bottom of the pot. Still another indication, less obvious than the others, is if the foliage has lost its vigor and begun to go limp. Once you’ve determined that your houseplant would prefer roomier accommodations, go ahead and follow the easy steps detailed below.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
- Hand fork or trowel
- Gardening scissors
- New pot
- Potting soil or compost

STEP 1
Bring the plant you’re repotting to an area where you feel comfortable making a little mess. Indoors, many people simply cover a table with newspaper. In some cases, watering the plant to dampen (not soak) the soil may make it easier to remove the plant from its container. In other instances, it’s easier to work with dry soil. Use your judgement. Rest assured that neither technique is better or worse for the plant’s health. Keep in mind that working with damp soil will make the process somewhat messier.

How to Repot a Plant - Roots Detail

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STEP 2
The best way to remove the plant from its current home depends both on the size of the plant and the type of pot it’s in. If it’s a small plant in a plastic nursery container, you can simply turn the container upside down and gently squeeze from the bottom, using your free hand to guide the plant out.

If it’s a larger plant in, say, a heavy terra-cotta pot, work a gardening fork or trowel around the edge of the soil in the container. Root damage is inevitable here, but try to keep it to a minimum. Next, lay the pot on its side and turn the container (not the plant) slowly, thereby twisting the plant out onto your work surface.

STEP 3
Now it’s time to prepare the new container. Double-check to make sure that it has at least one good-size drainage hole; if it doesn’t, you can always create one with your drill/driver. Some indoor gardeners like to line the bottom of pots with stones or broken pottery to further enhance drainage.

STEP 4
After filling the container halfway with new potting soil, use gardening scissors to clean up the plant and its root ball. Remove any old stems that could slow the plant’s growth, and cut away any dark-looking roots. With your hands, gently break up parts of the root ball to encourage new growth.

STEP 5
Position the plant into its new container so that the top edge of the root ball hits an inch or two below the lip of the pot. Add soil to backfill around the sides of the root ball until the plant can stand upright on its own. You may need to pack the soil, but be very careful not to make the medium too dense.

STEP 6
To help your plant cope with the shock of having been repotted, give it a good soak. Finally, return the plant to its favorite perch, whether it’s the humid environment of your bathroom or the cheerful sun of a bay window.


Bob Vila Radio: Water Hammer

If you hear a banging or thumping in the water lines, it's water hammer—and it's annoying. Here's an easy for any homeowner to remedy the issue.

Ever hear a banging noise when you shut off faucets in the house? The problem could be what plumbers call “water hammer.”

Water Hammer

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Listen to BOB VILA ON WATER HAMMER or read the text below:

That’s when a cushion of shock-absorbing air—which is supposed to reside in vertical air chambers of your plumbing system—becomes depleted. That causes water racing through the pipes to slam against fixtures when they’re shut off. There’s your noise.

Try this: First, close the main valve that supplies the house. Next, open the faucet that’s highest in the house. Do the same for the faucet that’s lowest. Be sure to flush all the toilets. As water drains from the pipes, in goes the air.

As soon as water stops draining from that lowest faucet, shut it off, then reopen the main valve. That forces air out of the system, except for where you want it: in those shock-absorbing air chambers.

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.


Bob Vila Radio: Repointing Brick

Brick installations last quite a long time, but over the years mortar deteriorates. When that happens, at repointing brick becomes a necessity. Here's how it's done.

Brick is very low maintenance, but age and weather still take their toll. As a result, brick requires occasional repointing—removing and replacing deteriorated mortar. Fortunately, this is a task that a handy homeowner can tackle.

Repointing Brick

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Listen to BOB VILA ON REPOINTING BRICK or read the text below:

Working in small sections, use a cold chisel, a handheld grout saw, or a joint raker to tap out the damaged mortar without harming the brick. Remove the mortar to a depth of at least half an inch, then clean up the dust with a broom, brush, or hose. (Be sure to wear a respirator.)

Soak the brick and let it dry overnight. If your house is less than 50 years old, you can probably repoint using standard Portland cement mortar; older brick may require a lime-and-sand mix. Consult a mason if you’re uncertain about the age of your bricks.

Mix the mortar in small batches. Lightly spritz the bricks, pick up some mortar on a large trowel, and work small amounts into the joints using a pointing trowel. Even out the mortar with the flat edge of the trowel and scrape off any mortar you get on the face of the bricks. After an hour or so, use a sturdy wire brush to carefully clean mortar off the brick face. Mist the wall daily for the next few days to help the mortar dry without cracking.

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.


Bob Vila Radio: Dual-Flush Toilets

Dual-flush toilets cut down on water use, saving you money while conserving a precious natural resource.

Back in the 1980s, a bright Australian fellow came up with the idea for dual-flush toilets. They’ve been around for awhile.

Dual-Flush Toilets

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Listen to BOB VILA ON DUAL-FLUSH TOILETS or read the text below:

But what you may not know is that many of the newer models have improvements that make some of the orginals seem like Model T’s. For one thing, trapways have been significantly enlarged, and the sides of the bowls made steeper. Dual-flushers also now employ technology that pushes the waste down the trap (instead of washing it down with extra water).

It’s true that dual-flush toilets are often a bit more expensive than conventional models, at least on the front end. But the savings you build up on water use—along with financial incentives some governments offer—are likely to make your wallet happy in the long run.

Before you buy, make sure you compare specs on the units you’re considering. Price doesn’t always mean better performance.

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.


How To: Maintain the Metal in Your Yard

While most homeowners regularly tend to their lawns and landscaping, they often give short shrift to the metal elements in their yard—gates, railings, chairs and tables. Follow our tips for keeping these items clean and rust-free with a little TLC.

Photo: brickmoondesign.com

Enter the yard of most homes in America and somewhere among the trees, shrubs, and grass, you’re bound to find metal. Patio furniture, barbecue grills, handrails, fences, and gates—these are only some of the metal features common to the spaces outside our front doors. Thanks to metal’s well-deserved reputation for durability, we don’t often think about the material’s maintenance requirements. But when it comes to preventing rust—the mortal enemy of metal—homeowners must intervene from time to time to ensure that their outdoor metals keep looking and performing their very best. Follow these simple guidelines to help iron, steel, and other metals enjoy the longest life possible.

Coatings Are Not Superficial
Once precipitation and harsh weather have conspired to compromise and chip away at the coating on metal, then it’s only a matter of time before rust makes an appearance. Choosing your metals wisely is the best prevention. You’ll get the greatest longevity from products that have baked-on enamel or powder-coated surfaces. In comparison to less expensive painted or varnished metal, these coated products are far less vulnerable to peeling and flaking. Although they’re more expensive initially, metal items with superior coatings are worth the cost in the long run because they truly last for years.

Photo: hibbshomes.com

Safeguard Your Furniture
Metal outdoor furniture offers particular challenges. To make your furniture last, get in the habit of keeping up these easy routines:

• What a difference cleanliness makes! At least twice each year, give your metal tables and chairs a thorough once-over. A mixture of warm water and liquid detergent ought to do the trick. Apply the solution with a sponge; grab an old toothbrush to scrub any hard-to-reach areas. Use a hose to rinse away all traces of the detergent, then dry the metal with a rag, or on a good day, leave it to air-dry in the sun.

• Take pains to avoid damaging the metal’s coating. A simple action like clinking two metal surfaces together can chip one or both pieces, and dragging a chair or table leg may result in scrapes that leave the furniture vulnerable to rust. Take precautions. Raise the furniture up from the ground when you’re moving it, and at the end of the season, when you’re storing away your furniture, use old towels to prevent the pieces from hitting each other.

• If you live somewhere with monsoon summers, harsh winters, or other types of severe weather, consider bringing your outdoor metal furniture indoors, whether it’s for short-term shelter whenever a violent storm threatens, or for a season-long hibernation when the temperatures drop. No storage space in your basement, crawl space, or shed? A reasonable alternative is to cover the furniture with a breathable fabric for the duration of the foul weather.

Make Fixes Fast
Despite your best efforts, the metal on your property may begin to show signs of wear. Don’t wait for a small problem to get more serious. When you come across a small patch of rust, thoroughly clean the area (as described above), except work fine-grit sandpaper into the procedure. Lightly sand the rust away, then wipe off all residual grit before touching up the surface. Use metal primer first; once it has dried completely, follow up with a paint that’s specially formulated for metal.

Perform a Rescue Operation
More extensive damage demands more time and effort, and may require refinishing the metal. Here, preparation is key. Before you can begin a refinishing project, you’ve got to get down to bare metal—which is easier said than done. Use a wire brush—or to make quicker, easier work of it, use the wire wheel attachment on your power drill—and proceed to scrape away the old coating. Pay special attention to any crevices or scrolls that may be part of the design. Once you’re done scraping, wipe down the metal with a damp cloth (or hose it off), then wait for everything to dry before you apply metal primer and metal paint.


Bob Vila Radio: Lawn Mower Blade Height

The health of your lawn depends on many factors, including the height at which you set your mower blade to cut.

Whatever type of turf you have in your yard, if you want to keep it looking its best, make sure your mower is set to cut at the right height.

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Listen to BOB VILA ON MOWER HEIGHT or read the text below:

And what, exactly, is the right height? Well, for starters, try following the ‘rule of one third’. The idea is that you shouldn’t more than one third the length of the grass at any one time.

So, if you have, say, Bermuda grass—which is healthiest when kept a little more than an inch high—cut it back once it starts to edge up toward two inches. For fescue or rye, which do best at two to three inches, you’ll want to set your mower height up a couple of notches.

Raising the height a bit is also a good idea whenever the turf is stressed by heat, drought, bugs or other factors. Keeping your lawn trimmed to the right height not only promotes healthy growth, it also helps keep weeds at bay.

Height adjustment on most mowers is easy. Just check your manual.

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.


How To: Patch Drywall

If you're setting out to patch drywall, whether the problem at hand is a few nail holes or a large gash, these simple tips can help you restore a smooth surface ready for paint.

How to Patch Drywall

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Sooner or later, most of us need to patch drywall, whether for purely cosmetic reasons—filling nail holes, for example—or for comfort or safety—say, a hole has left wiring exposed. Although accomplishing the latter requires more materials and a greater investment of time, rest assured that a do-it-yourself solution exists, no matter the scale of the repair. Read on for guidelines for patching drywall in small-, medium-, and large-size projects.

SMALL
Tools and materials:
- Sandpaper
- Spackling paste
- Putty knife

The smaller the hole, the easier it is to patch. Start the process by sanding the area smooth. Next, load a bit of spackling paste onto your putty knife and apply the product directly to the hole. Work in enough of the paste so that it leaves a small mound over the hole, then press the flat side of the knife firmly against the mound in order to flatten it. Finally, swipe the blade in a broad motion across the repaired area, leaving the filled-in hole perfectly level with the finished drywall. Allow the spackling sufficient time to dry. Dry times vary, so refer to the manufacturer’s instructions for an accurate estimate. Sand lightly when dry.

MEDIUM
Tools and materials:
- Sandpaper
- Putty knife
- Joint compound
- Drywall mesh tape

If you want to patch a somewhat larger hole—an area with a diameter of one or two inches—the process becomes slightly more complicated, if only because it involves a material you might not have on hand: mesh tape. (You can buy mesh tape either as a roll or as a precut square.) After sanding the area to be patched, completely cover it with mesh. This now becomes the base to which you’ll add joint compound, a product that goes on like spackling paste but achieves a stronger result. As you spread the joint compound, pay special attention to the seams where the mesh tape meets the surrounding drywall. Once you can no longer see the tape, use the putty knife to flatten the mounded joint compound, then scrape the surface in wide, smooth side-to-side movements that create an even finish. Finally, allow the joint compound to dry for about eight hours—consult the manufacturer’s directions—before sanding and repainting the wall.

How to Patch Drywall - Large Hole

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LARGE
Tools and materials:
- Drywall panel
- Utility knife
- Drywall saw
- Drywall screws
- Screwdriver
- Drywall mesh tape
- Putty knife
- Joint compound
- Sandpaper

A larger patch involves a commensurately greater commitment of time and effort to complete. In fact, the patching process here is not very different from the one that was used to install your drywall in the first place. Begin by using a drywall saw to cut evenly around the problem area. You should be left with a hole that’s rectangular in shape; use a utility knife to clean up the edges, if necessary. If possible—and to do this, you may need to make the hole larger than seems strictly necessary—make your hole big enough to expose one of the wall studs. Failing that, you’ll need to run a wooden member horizontally between the two closest studs. Why? You’re going to fill the hole in the wall with a piece of new drywall, and that piece needs a surface to which it can be securely attached.

Next, use a drywall saw to cut out a section of the drywall panel you’ve procured either from the surplus in your garage or from the aisles of your local home center. Measure and cut carefully, as the piece must fit perfectly into the rectangle you’ve cut in the wall. Once you’re certain that you’ve got a snug fit, use drywall screws to attach the new drywall to the stud (or horizontal member).

With the drywall patch firmly in place, apply mesh tape over all the seams between the patch and the existing drywall. Then load up your putty knife with joint compound and proceed to cover the mesh completely. (Don’t forget to smooth compound over the drywall screws, too.) Use the blade of the putty knife to flatten out the compound in any spots where it’s mounded, then scrape across the seams in wide strokes, either side-to-side or top-to-bottom, depending on the orientation of the mesh. Allow the compound to dry for about eight hours before you begin the final stage: sanding the patched area and repainting the freshly repaired drywall.


What Would Bob Do? Filling Nail Holes

Before you set out to fill nail holes in a hardwood floor, make sure you're using the right product.

How to Fill Nail Holes

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I’ve removed some carpet and want to refinish the hardwood floors below. What should I use to fill the holes left by the carpet tack strip and the staples that held the carpet padding?

Floorboards are rarely face-nailed, at least not in modern installations. So these days, the situation you describe—the condition of a floor after the removal of wall-to-wall carpeting—is one of the only times that a homeowner would encounter hardwood flooring riddled with small holes. What’s the best remedy? That depends on whether or not, as part of the refinishing process, you are planning to sand the floor down to bare wood. If yes, then I suggest using wood filler. But if not, I recommend a similar but different product: wood putty. The former hardens and can be sanded. The latter never dries completely and is not intended for sanding; it’s an after-the-fact fix.

How to Fill Nail Holes - Floor Detail

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Wood Filler for Bare Wood
Knead a small amount of stainable latex wood filler before pressing some of the product into each nail hole in turn, using a putty knife or a three-inch trowel. Clean any mislaid filler before it has the chance to harden, but don’t worry if you miss some. There’s no need to be meticulous. After all, you’re going to sand down the entire area. In the case of shallowly applied wood filler, you can begin sanding once the product has dried, somewhere between 15 to 30 minutes, depending on the depth of the repair. For deeper holes, wood filler takes longer to dry, sometimes as long as 8 or 10 hours. Be advised that the filler may shrink as it dries, making a second, supplemental application necessary. Also, filler doesn’t take stain the same way wood does, so a seamless look may be difficult to achieve.

Wood Putty for Finished Floors
Whereas it doesn’t so much matter which type of wood filler you end up using, when you’re working with wood putty it’s crucial to select the most appropriate product. Here, the goal is to identify a shade of putty that matches as closely as possible the color of your flooring. If you can’t find a putty that looks just like your floor finish, consider mixing two or more putty shades together; the blend may get you closer to the mark than any single shade could have. Simply knead the putties together until they become pliable, then press the product into each nail hole. Be careful to use a tool that won’t scratch the sanded floor—a plastic putty knife is ideal. Don’t worry when the putty doesn’t appear to be drying; it’s actually not supposed to dry. Wipe away the excess with a soft cloth and call it a day.

Tempting though it may be, don’t use plaster-like fillers, such as spackling or joint compound, whether you plan to sand the floor or not. These products dry to a brittle finish and are almost certain to loosen due to floor movement.


Bob Vila Radio: Screen Repair Made Simple

Holes in window or door screens are not only unsightly, but they also invite flying insects into your home. Fortunately, it's a simple fix, whether your screens are metal or fiberglass. Read on to learn how it's done.

Ever notice how pesky bugs manage to find their way through even the tiniest holes in your screens?

How to Fix a Window Screen

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Listen to BOB VILA ON SCREEN REPAIR or read the text below:

No need to fret. Repairing the little holes is easy, especially if you catch them before they grow into big holes.

For metal screens, make a patch (using the same screening material) that’s about an inch larger than the hole. Next, unravel about a half inch of fringe around the edge of the patch and bend it at a right angle. Place the patch on the hole, push through the fringe wires, then bend them back to secure the patch.

For fiberglass screens, push the fibers of the screen back toward the middle of the hole, then apply a bit of clear nail polish to bond the fibers together.

For larger holes, head to the hardware store and pick up a self-adhesive patch that’s a snap to apply.

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.