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: Pros and Cons of Cathedral Ceilings

There are many reasons to love cathedral ceilings—and one big reason to temper your affection.

Vaulted ceilings, also called cathedral ceilings, have some great attributes, but others you may not be so fond of. On the one hand, they do give your room a light and airy feel, and they can make a small room appear bigger than it really is.

Cathedral Ceilings

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Listen to BOB VILA ON VAULTED CEILINGS or read the text below:

But when it comes to energy efficiency, cathedral ceilings a bit of a bust, especially during the winter. That’s because air you’ve spent your money to heat ends up at the peak of the ceiling, not down where it can keep you warm (although a ceiling fan can help with that).

As an energy-saving alternative, you might consider what’s called a ‘tray ceiling.’ Tray ceilings look like conventional flat ceilings, except all but the outer part of the ceiling is raised a foot or so. The reduced height of a tray ceiling can help keep your heating bills within reason, but you’ll still get some of that light-and-airy feel.

Before you start cutting into collar ties, be sure to check with a contractor or structural engineer.

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: Remove Poison Ivy from Your Yard

If poison ivy crops up on your property, you can remove it chemically, naturally, or—if you're ready to get your hands dirty—physically.

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Homeowners know too well that not all greenery contributes to the beauty of a garden. Weeds, for instance, are a chief nuisance, and the meticulous among us have spent countless weekend hours picking dandelions, nettle, and thistle out of the ground. But even in their multitudes, weeds are more or less benign when compared to the itchy threat posed by poison ivy. If you spot these vine-like plants, with their telltale trio of pointed leaves, you can resign yourself to the inevitability of suffering a painful red rash, or you can take action. We highly recommend the latter! Read on to learn three different ways to get rid of poison ivy.

Chemicals
Upon realizing there’s poison ivy growing on their property, most people enlist a store-bought herbicide. Before purchasing any, double-check that the product in question contains either glyphosate or triclopyr. (Because both of these chemicals kill most other plants in addition to poison ivy, you may wish to use an alternative method, depending on whether or not the poison ivy abuts plant material you would like to keep alive.) Closely following the product directions, fill up a spray bottle with the herbicide and apply it directly to the leaves of the poison ivy. Remember: Herbicide is potent stuff, so be careful where you’re spraying. If, for instance, the poison ivy is climbing up the trunk of a tree, take pains not to get any herbicide on the tree bark. Instead, dab a bit of herbicide directly onto the individual leaves of the poison ivy plant. Once you’ve finished treating the area, monitor it on and off for the next couple of weeks, reapplying if and when the poison ivy reemerges.

How to Get Rid of Poison Ivy - Leaf Detail

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Naturally
If you steer clear of commercial herbicides because of the chemicals they contain, experiment with an organic approach. You need not look any farther than your kitchen pantry for an active ingredient. It turns out that salt, in high enough concentrations, works to kill most unwanted plants, including poison ivy. But you can’t simply sprinkle it around. First things first, concoct a saline solution by mixing three pounds of salt, a gallon of water, and a quarter-cup of dish soap. Fill a spray bottle with your homemade herbicide and apply it directly to the poison ivy leaves. Do so on a clear day, allowing the salt the opportunity to do its job before rain washes it away. Check back occasionally and continue to re-apply the herbicide until the poison ivy no longer returns. Be careful not to spray the herbicide onto neighboring plants, unless you’re willing to bid them farewell.

Get Physical
The least hands-off method is perhaps the most effective way to get rid of poison ivy. Provided you own a good pair of work gloves (and a set of full-sleeve clothing), the answer to your problem can be as simple as digging up the poison ivy with a garden trowel. To remove all the roots, be sure to excavate each plant to a depth of around eight inches. Also, take extra care in outfitting yourself for the task. It’s not a bad idea to go so far as using duct tape to seal the seam between your gloves and shirtsleeves (and between your pants and socks).

Whatever method you choose, fully getting rid of poison ivy requires patience and persistence. If a plant reemerges, keep at it with your chosen method, always being careful to keep your skin protected as you work.


Don’t Forget to Fertilize Your Lawn This Fall!

Spring may be the season of growth and renewal, but if you're serious about cultivating healthy and beautiful grass, it's what you do in fall that makes or breaks next year's lawn.

How to Fertilize Lawn in Fall - Spreader

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Autumn is generally seen as the season of winding down before winter dormancy. But when it comes to lawn care, fall is a busy time. What you do now goes a long way toward safeguarding the health your grass, not only for the immediate future, but also for the next growing season. While on the surface your fall lawn may look a bit bedraggled, the roots below ground are still hard at work, storing up the reserves they’ll need to survive the winter and to thrive come springtime.

Though at other times of year there are reasons to choose a fast-acting liquid fertilizer, in autumn—about a week after you mow the lawn for the last time—it’s best to apply a slow-release granular fertilizer. While the liquid stuff delivers a sudden jolt of nutrients, the granular variety feeds grass slowly over time. In most parts of the country, that’s exactly what you want. In very cold regions, pick a fertilizer specially formulated for winter protection, one that’s high in nitrogen. If you’re lucky enough to live somewhere warm, you already know that fertilizing is a year-round affair. For you, fall isn’t so critical. (Boy, you’ve got it made!)

How to Fertilize Lawn in Fall - Loading

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Theoretically, you could spread granular fertilizer over the lawn by hand. The reality is, however, that doing the job manually leaves too much room for error. While underfertilizing isn’t a catastrophe, overfertilizing is a real concern, and it’s easy to apply fertilizer too abundantly if you’re totally winging it.

Indeed, there’s a reason why professional landscapers use walk-behind spreaders. These outdoor tools include a flow-rate lever, which enables the user to set the precise amount of fertilizer to be dispersed per square foot of lawn area. If you’re serious about lawn care, a spreader is a tool worth buying.

You’ll notice that on your purchased package of fertilizer, the manufacturer lists the ideal number of granules to be applied per square foot. You can set the spreader to output precisely that amount, but here’s a superior method: Set the spreader to disperse half of the recommended volume, run the spreader over the lawn in one direction, then take it in the reverse direction, hitting the areas you initially missed. Because the effects of fertilizer are confined to the area immediately surrounding the spot where the granule hits the ground, the key to success is even dispersion. But when in doubt, underfertilize.

Once you’ve completed the work, clean the spreader before storing it away. Otherwise, the metal components might rust over the course of the off-season. If you’re left with a partially full bag of fertilizer, seal it airtight and keep it in a dry place. Exposed to the air, fertilizer hardens up and becomes unusable.

Additional Tips
• Fill the spreader in the driveway, not the lawn, to avoid spilling and overfertilizing one particular area.

• For the spreader to operate correctly, both the tool and the fertilizer granules must be dry.

• Wearing gloves is a sensible precaution to take when you’re handling fertilizer granules.


How To: Remove Vinyl Flooring

Have you had it with that dated, dirty, and dilapidated vinyl floor? Here's how to remove it, so you never have to look at it again.

How to Remove Vinyl Flooring

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Let’s be clear: It’s no fun to remove vinyl flooring. Peeling up the material itself is no picnic, but the real trial is to get rid of the glue that had been securing the vinyl to the subfloor. The only silver lining here is that while tedious and time-consuming, it’s certainly not complicated to remove vinyl flooring. No special tools or advanced skills are required. It’s really only a matter of elbow grease. Follow the steps below to get the job done with a minimum of frustration.

How to Remove Vinyl Flooring - Process

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The first step is to take all furniture out of the room so you can have unimpeded access to the floor. You’ll also need to carefully remove all baseboards and any other trim that meets the floor.

Next, locate a section of the floor with no glue underneath. Start here, using a utility knife to cut the vinyl flooring into 12-inch strips. Pull up each one gently. Where you encounter resistance from the glue, use a scraper tool (or even a kitchen spatula) to get the strip loose. In places where the glue is especially tenacious, you can use a hammer-and-chisel combination to chip at the hardened adhesive.

If you’re stuck with an area where the vinyl has been removed but the glue remains lodged on the subfloor, try this: Combine warm water and soap in a bucket, then apply it liberally to the glue, allowing time for the mixture to soak in. When you return, the glue will have softened and become easier to remove.

No dice? OK, it’s time to bring some heat into the equation. Buy or rent a heat gun—or in a pinch, use your hair dryer—and hold it directly over the stubborn adhesive long enough to soften the glue (but not long enough to cause any damage to the subfloor). Then go at the glue with your trusty scraper.

Finish with some cleanup: Use a broom or shop vac to pick up all the debris that now litters the room.

If the above seems like way too much work, there’s always the option of renting a power scraper from your local home center. There’s a cost attached to bringing in such a tool, but it will certainly make much quicker work of things. If you opt for the power scraper, be sure to test it first in an inconspicuous area; you will need to adjust its angle so that it removes only the vinyl-and-glue layer, not the underlying subfloor. Score the vinyl into 10-inch sections with the utility knife, then turn on the scraper and get busy.

Safety Precautions
Until the mid-1980s, asbestos often served as an ingredient in vinyl flooring products. If you know that the installation you’re dealing with has been around that long—or if you’re not certain how long the vinyl floor has been there—it’s only common sense to have the material tested before proceeding. I believe in hiring pros when it’s appropriate, and in the case of asbestos-laced vinyl flooring, it’s eminently appropriate to pay people who know what they are doing.


How To: Clean Pewter

Regular cleaning helps preserve of pewter pieces. Whether you're simply dusting or administering a full tarnish-removing shine, these steps can help you care for this soft, durable, and beautiful metal.

How to Clean Pewter

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Used in everything from caskets to kitchen utensils, pewter remains popular with artisans and crafters in part because it does not easily rust or corrode. Pewter’s easy-clean, low-maintenance requirements make it the perfect material for jewelry, vases, picture frames and sculptures. On the flip side, the soft metal is susceptible to nicks and scratches. But kept clean and protected from extreme temperatures, pewter pieces keep their beauty for generations.

To clean pewter, start by filling a bucket with hot water. Squirt in some mild dishwashing soap. Dip in a sponge and squeeze out the excess water, then proceed to wipe down the surface. You’ll find that doing so eliminates a surprising amount of dirt and tarnish. Finally, rinse off the piece and dry it with a soft cloth.

At this point, you may wish to brighten the pewter with a polish. The best approach depends on the type of pewter you own:

How to Clean Pewter - Plate

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Polished pewter has a smooth, shiny surface that’s easier to clean but also shows more imperfections on its reflective surface. Polish this type of pewter regularly with an all-purpose metal polish or a homemade cleaner (see recipe below). How often you polish depends simply on how shiny you like your pewter to be.

Satin pewter has a rougher-grained matte patina that requires only annual washing. If it’s time for a touch-up, the best way to clean such pewter is with a mildly abrasive homemade scrub (see recipe below). Apply the polish with very fine steel wool in the direction of the grain; be careful not to leave scratches.

Oxidized pewter has been treated with a darkening agent to give it an antique look. It should not be polished. A gentle wash is all you want to keep it clean.

If you do choose to polish your pewter, remember that while there’s nothing wrong with store-bought metal polish, you can achieve similar results for less money with an easy DIY concoction:

Mix one cup white vinegar with a half-cup white flour to create a paste (for grainy-finished satin pewter, add in one teaspoon of salt, which makes the paste slightly abrasive and improves its cleaning ability). Use a soft cloth to apply the cleanser, rubbing it in with a circular motion. Leave it in place for 30 minutes, then rinse off with warm water and let dry.

Optional: Boil a small amount of linseed oil, then mix in rottenstone (a powdered limestone available at your local home center). Apply this second paste with a soft cloth. Rinse immediately, then dry thoroughly.

If a pewter piece has sentimental or monetary value, the wise course may be to leave it alone. Talk to a professional jeweler; some collectors prefer not to clean or polish pewter, because the metal gradually takes on a patina that people prize. To preserve this aged finish, many choose to maintain pewter simply by dusting it occasionally.


How To: Paint Tile

If you're unhappy with your ceramic tile, ripping it out isn't your only option. Did you ever consider painting it?

How to Paint Tile - Supplies

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You are itching to redesign your kitchen or bathroom, but the color of your existing tile limits your options. Certainly, one possibility is to remove or replace the tile, but that’s an involved process, not to mention an expensive one. Another option—by comparison, a much easier and cheaper one—would be to paint the tile. Yes, it’s possible to paint ceramic tile! Follow the steps below to paint tile like a pro, and proceed with your kitchen or bathroom redesign, confident that any style is within reach.

Here’s the catch: It’s not a good idea to paint tile in the immediate area of the sink or bathtub/shower, because the moisture may cause the paint to peel. Focus your painting efforts on walls, floors, countertops—indeed, any tiled area that isn’t likely to come into contact with a great deal of water on a frequent basis. Also note that because painting tile requires the use of epoxy and other compounds that contain harmful chemicals, it’s essential to ventilate the room well and to wear proper protective gear.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
- Sandpaper
- Two-part epoxy
- Bonding primer
- Painter’s tape
- Drop cloth (or plastic sheeting)
- High-gloss or semi-gloss latex paint
- Paint thinner
- Urethane sealer
- Paintbrushes (or rollers)

How to Paint Tile - Supplies Detail

Photo: shutterstock.com

STEP 1
Before you begin in earnest, thoroughly clean the tile. First, sand it. Next, wash the tile with a store-bought cleaner formulated to kill mold, or with a mixture of one cup bleach and about a gallon of warm water. Allow the tiles to dry completely before you proceed any further in the project.

STEP 2
Examine the tile. In order to look its best once painted, the tile should be free of imperfections. If you encounter any chips or cracks that you would like to repair, do so with a two-part epoxy. Mix the product according to manufacturer’s directions, then apply it carefully to the affected area, being careful to make your repair level with the surrounding tile.

STEP 3
Having successfully readied the tile, move on to coat it with an application of epoxy bonding primer. You can use either a brush or roller, depending on the size of the area you are planning to paint. Resist the temptation to skip the primer; you really need it for the paint to adhere in a lasting way.

STEP 4
Use painter’s tape in combination with a drop cloth or plastic sheeting to protect nearby surfaces from errant paint. Next, with a brush or roller, apply high-gloss or semi-gloss latex paint to the primed tile. If you find the paint isn’t spreading evenly, add a bit of paint thinner to the formulation. Once you’ve finished painting, wait for the tile to dry completely. In some cases, drying can take as long as several days.

STEP 5
Finally, apply two or three thin coats of clear, water-based urethane sealer to the newly painted tile. During the process, let each coat dry before you apply the succeeding one. This, too, isn’t a step to skip, because the sealer can be expected to safeguard the tile against threats like scuffs, scratches, and moisture.


Bob Vila Radio: Reciprocating Saw Safety

It's one of the most handy tools in the do-it-yourselfer's repertoire, but like any power tool (especially ones outfitted with a blade), the reciprocating saw demands special safety considerations.

Reciprocating saws—the ones with a motor and a thin, straight blade that juts back and forth—are one of the most useful tools you can own.

Reciprocating Saw Safety

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Listen to BOB VILA ON RECIPROCATING SAW SAFETY or read the text below:

Reciprocating saws can cut through wood, metal, and all sorts of construction materials. But they can also be dangerous and need to be handled with the utmost care.

One of the main hazards of recip saws is their potential for kickback. That can happen if you make the mistake of pulling the blade out of your cut while the blade’s still moving. The tip of the blade smacks into the material you’re cutting, and the whole saw, including the moving blade, kick back toward you. If you happen to be on a ladder, that’s especially bad news.

You also need to keep in mind that the blade can bind unexpectedly. That’ll cause the blade to stop moving, but not you and the saw. Be sure to keep a tight grip. One final caution: a saw blade can generate a lot of heat, so give it some time to cool down before trying to change it.

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: Flooded Basement Cleanup Tips

Among the litany of ways in which a serious storm can damage your home is the pernicious, hard-to-solve problem of basement flooding. These cleanup tips can help you back to life as you knew it before the rain.

What a huge job it is to clean up a flooded basement! But the job can be a lot less of a headache if you keep some key points in mind.

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

First, don’t panic. You do need to act quickly, though, to salvage your belongings and also to minimize the growth of unhealthy mold and bacteria. Use a pump or wet vac to suck up as much water as you can.

Next, haul wet items up to an area where they can begin drying. Get a couple of dehumidifiers going, plus as many fans as you can muster. If the flooded area is large, it may be a good idea to call for some heavy-duty commercial fans and dehumidifiers.

Your aim is to get as much dry air moving around as possible. Pull off baseboards and moldings. It’s probably also a good idea to cut a few small holes in sheetrock so air can get to the inside of the walls as well as the outside.

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: Painting Pressure-Treated Wood

The process of painting pressure-treated wood isn't wildly different from painting other types of lumber. But there are special requirements here—most of all, the job calls for patience.

Thinking of putting some paint on that deck you just built? If you used pressure-treated lumber, you’ll need to approach the job a bit differently than you ordinarily would.

Painting Pressure-Treated Wood

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Listen to BOB VILA ON PAINTING PRESSURE-TREATED WOODor read the text below:

First, put a coat of preservative on the wood. And not just any preservative. Home stores carry preservatives especially formulated for pressure-treated wood.

The next thing you’ll need to apply is a bit of patience. That means waiting about three months before you paint. That’ll give the chemicals in the wood time to dry properly.

Once the wood has finished curing, it’s time to head to the paint store. Choose a paint that’s specially formulated for covering pressure-treated wood. Although you can use either oil- or latex-based, latex is probably the better choice, since it expands and contracts with the wood and is less prone to cracking and peeling.

Avoid the temptation to apply all the paint in one thick coat. You’re better off applying several thinner coats, using a brush and—if practical—a roller with medium-to-long nap. Make sure that between coats, you allow plenty of time for drying.

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: Clean a Stovetop

When weeks of hasty dinner prep leave your stovetop in a state, never fear: A combination of common pantry items can restore the shine to your appliance and a sense of order to your kitchen.

How to Clean a Stovetop

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On those busy nights when you’re lucky to have found just 20 minutes to put toward preparing a one-pot meal, cleanup seems like it can wait. Regret only sets in days or a week later, when you’re bent over, scrubbing away splatters of caked-on grease or drippings. No matter your homekeeping style—whether you prefer to do a little bit every day or a giant deep-clean once in a blue moon—these tips can help you clean a stovetop effectively, and without going nuts in the process.

1. Take off removable parts. These include such things as the grates over gas burners or the coils on some, not all, electric stoves. If the control knobs on your appliance come off, remove and deposit them—along with the grates or coils—in a bucket or sink filled with hot, soapy water. If your knobs don’t budge, clean them in place with a soapy sponge. (Though people often praise ammonia for its grease-cutting, its use here runs the risk of erasing the knobs’ markings.) Towel away any soap suds left on the knobs, then dry them off before being sure to double-check that all the knobs are set to the off position—safety first!

How to Clean a Stovetop - Dirty

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2. Address caked-on spills. You can always use a store-bought cleaner that’s been formulated for use on stovetops. But if you’d rather not spend the money—or hesitate to expose yourself to toxic chemicals—you can brew a potent cleaning solution from natural items you likely already have in your pantry. Try this: Mix equal parts water, baking soda, and salt to create a mild abrasive paste. Apply the paste to any splotches on the stovetop, then wait a few minutes. The paste should work to soften even the most stubborn stains. Finish by firmly rubbing the dirty areas with a sponge or a microfiber cloth. Once clean, buff the stovetop dry.

3. Revisit removable parts. In Step 1, you probably left several components to soak in soapy water. Now go back to those, and you should find their grime has loosened up. Scrub each piece with a sponge—or with a stiff-bristled brush—until clean. Rinse off, dry, and replace the parts where they belong on the stove.

Additional Notes
- If you own a gas stove and have noticed that one of the burners no longer performs as it once did, the problem may be a clogged fuel port. With the grates off, take a closer look, using a flashlight if necessary. If you spot a blockage, use a bent paper clip to gently dislodge the offending debris.

Now that your stovetop sparkles, the trick is to maintain its state of cleanliness. The best way to do so is by wiping down the grates/coils and the surface of the appliance after every use. Add stovetop clean-up to your post-dinner routine, if you can. Spending two minutes a day ultimately takes less time than periodic deep-cleaning—and the former definitely involves less hassle and labor than the latter.