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.

Are You Safe from Bedbugs?

Are a few suspicious bites making you think that you have a bedbug infestation on your hands? Here are some tips for determining if those blood-sucking pests have invaded your home.

How to Spot a Bedbug

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Bedbugs haunt homeowners’ nightmares like the bogeyman. These nasty little critters that feast on your blood while you sleep cause you to check under your bed any time your skin begins to tingle. But in the summer months, when outdoor activities mean exposure to mosquitoes, gnats, and fleas, how are you to tell that your red, itchy bites came from a bedbug? Read on for the tips and tools to help you with early detection of an infestation.

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Recognize Bedbug Bites
Reactions to bedbug bites can vary, but they generally take the form of itchy, red bumps that appear in straight rows—often in threes—rather than scattered on the body. If you’re still uncertain whether your bites are signs of an infestation or just souvenirs from last night’s buggy barbecue, try this: Check your body for bites before you go to bed and then again when you get up in the morning, making a mental note of any new ones that occurred overnight. Bites that appear while you sleep may suggest that you are sharing your home with a nibbling pest.

Search Your Sheets, Mattress, and More
On your hunt for more evidence, start with your mattress. Keep your eyes peeled for four signs: bug droppings (which will appear as tiny, dark spots); red blood stains left over from feeding; insect eggs; and the bugs themselves. Bedbug eggs are white ovals about 1/16 of an inch in length, while the bugs are wingless, brown ovals that can grow up to a quarter-inch long.

First, pull your bed and nightstand away from the wall, and watch to see if any bugs scurry away. You may also see excrement stains on the wall. Then remove the top layers of bedding (your blankets or comforters), leaving just the fitted sheet on the bed. Hold a flashlight close to the sheet to examine thoroughly. If you don’t find anything on the sheet, then move on to check the mattress. Pull the sheet back and pay particular attention to the mattress seams, where bugs like to hide. You can press a credit card against the seam to hold it back while you shine the flashlight on the darker areas. You’ll want to flip the mattress over and check the other side as well. Finally, check the joints of your bed frame, shining the flashlight into all the dark crevices to search out the bugs. Snap photos and bag any evidence you find.

Continue your search through the rest of the apartment or house, pulling all upholstered furniture away from walls and thoroughly checking around zippers and seams.

Invest in Tools to Help
Just because you don’t see any bugs doesn’t mean you’re safe. More than just inspecting visually, you’ll want to employ a few tools to do the work for you.

Adding bedbug interception devices to each leg of your bed frame allows you to keep an eye on the situation without having to flip your mattress every morning. Instead, monitor the devices every few days to see if any pests show up. Consider using these on other upholstered furniture in the bedroom as well. Trapping a bug and identifying the pest is the only way to be truly sure of an infestation.

At the same time, you may also want to invest in encasements for your mattress and box spring. Although pricier than a detection device, these work double duty: They protect your bed by sealing out bugs, and they also cover crevices, leaving a smooth surface for easier inspection in the future.

Call In the Pros
Whether you find signs of a bedbug infestation or are still simply itching from an unknown cause, phone a professional. A qualified pest-control expert has much more experience with the search and knows exactly what to look for—and in this case, it’s better to have a second opinion. Bedbugs spread easily from room to room by hitching a ride on human clothing or other objects that are moved around the house.


What Would Bob Do? Repairing a Door That Sticks

Wood doors can be sticky, but the repair doesn't need to be. If your doors have been a little temperamental lately, try one of these fixes to get them opening freely again.

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In my house, several of our wood doors keep sticking. I’ve tried candle wax and have made sure all the screws in the door frame are tight, but the doors are still sticking. Any advice on how to fix a sticking door would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

How to Fix a Sticking Door - Panel

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In a situation like this, sometimes the door itself is to blame. Over time, joints in a wood door relax, causing the construction to sag and stick against the jamb. A more common cause is a hinge or strike plate that has become loose. But you’ve mentioned that the screws are tight, presumably in both the door and the jamb. So, although failing hardware is typically the first thing to check when a door is sticking, that doesn’t seem to be the cause of your predicament.

I’d speculate that humidity is the issue. Doors usually stick in summer, when relative humidity is high. The moisture expands the wood, making your doors too tight in their frames. In the winter, humidity levels are usually lower, because cooler air cannot hold as much moisture. If you have better luck with these doors in the cooler months, it’s simply because environmental factors are not causing them to swell.

What you should do is buy a hygrometer and take a reading of the relative humidity indoors. Common causes of high humidity include wet basements and improper use of the bathroom or kitchen vents when bathing or cooking, respectively. If you happen to have a lot of houseplants, that too might add to the humidity, particularly in combination with other factors. So check the hygrometer reading, and if the reading comes in at over 70 percent, there’s your explanation. Get the humidity down, and you’re likely to find that those annoying doors finally unstick on their own.

If getting the humidity down isn’t in the cards, then you can always trim down the door panel. Concentrate on the problem edge, the one that rubs against the jamb; you can usually identify it by the worn finish. Ultimately, the space left between the door and jamb should be about 1/8 inch wide, or roughly the thickness of a nickel. Follow these steps:

• As a test, open and close the door with the aim of identifying the precise area where the problem’s occurring. Use a sharp pencil or carpenter’s compass to scribe the panel where it rubs against the side or top of the jamb. Having drawn a line on the door, proceed to take it off the hinges and carry it somewhere you feel comfortable kicking up a little sawdust.

• Next, use a hand plane, power planer, or belt sander to shave off the excess material. Remove only the minimum required for the door to close. (When the panel shrinks in winter, you don’t want there to be a big gap between the door and jamb.) Now put the door back into place and check the fit. A certain amount of trial and error is almost inevitable with this task, even for people who’ve done it before. You may need to remove the door again in order to sand off a little more. Keep at it until you’re satisfied.

• Once the door fits well and you’ve managed to achieve an approximately 1/8-inch reveal, you’re ready to refinish the part of the door that you’ve planed. You can either remove the door or finish it in place, but time is of the essence. The door wants to swell up again; refinishing limits its capacity to do so.

If the humidity is under control and you’ve already tried trimming your doors, then it’s possible you’re seeing a symptom of foundation settlement. Unfortunately, foundation problems are not DIY-friendly repairs. Consult with a foundation repair specialist. Fair warning: Foundation repair work is rarely cheap, but it’s in your best interest to understand precisely what problems, besides sticking doors, your foundation may bring about in the future.


Bob Vila Radio: Circular Saw Safety

So long as you know what you're doing with it, the circular saw can be a tremendously handy for a variety of projects. Here are some tips on using the tool safely.

Although circular saws are one of the most useful tools you can have in your toolbox, they can also be one of the most dangerous—that is, if you don’t know how to use them properly.

Circular Saw Safety

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

Here are a few safety tips: First, make sure the material you’re cutting is positioned correctly. For example, never attempt to cut the middle of a board whose ends are resting on sawhorses spaced apart from one another; as you’re progressing with the cut, the board will likely sag and pinch the blade, causing the saw to kick back. Instead, position the sawhorses closer together and use clamps to secure the lumber.

Never try to use a circular saw to make a cut in a stud. Again, you risk a kickback. Better to use a reciprocating saw for that job. Most importantly, once you’ve started a cut, never attempt to lift the saw or remove it until you’ve released the trigger and the saw blade has come to a complete stop.

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: Dealing with Finicky Fridge Doors

If you're tired of checking and rechecking the fridge to make sure the door has closed tightly, read on to find out how easy it is to fix that problem for good.

If your refrigerator door doesn’t open and close as it should—or if it doesn’t seal as tightly as it’s supposed to—the  problem could be that the fridge is not level.

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Listen to BOB VILA ON LEVELING YOUR REFRIGERATOR or read the text below:

Fortunately, getting your fridge to sit up straight isn’t a difficult job. For safety’s sake, start by unplugging the appliance. Next, remove the grill on the bottom. That’ll expose the adjustable leveling feet.

Place a level on top of the fridge, positioning across the front of the cabinet. Note the position of the bubble in your level. Then use either pliers or a crescent wrench to adjust the leveling bolts until the bubble in your level moves to the middle.

Once that’s done, turn your level so it sits front-to-back on the top of the cabinet. Recheck the level and fine-tune the adjustment on your leveling bolts as needed. If the floor where your refrigerator sits is not level, you may need to position shims under the leveling feet to make up the difference.

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.


A “Charged” Debate: Portable vs. Standby Generators

If the region where you live is subject to more than the occasional power outage, consider investing in either a portable or standby generator. These guidelines can help you choose between the two.

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Major storms in recent years have spurred many homeowners to consider whether it might be wise to purchase a generator. If your area witnesses only brief, infrequent electrical outages, then you can probably continue to live quite happily without a generator. But if you’re losing power more frequently and for longer periods of time, then perhaps it makes sense to invest in a machine that produces electricity on demand, so you’ll be prepared for the next inevitable power failure. If you’ve researched the subject at all, then you know there are two main types of generators: portable and standby. Besides the obvious fact that both provide power, these two types of generators have remarkably little in common. The following can help you understand the important differences before selecting a generator for your home.

Portable generators: Labor-intensive but affordable
Smaller portable generators cost between $500 and $1,500, and are capable of powering your home’s essential appliances. These are considerably less expensive than standby generators—and all in all, they are fairly user-friendly—but a portable generator does require manual operation and close monitoring. What does that mean? For one thing, you must be at home to start the generator. So if you leave for vacation the day before a power outage, you’re likely to return home to an array of hazards and headaches ranging from a flooded basement (due to a failed sump pump) to a refrigerator full of spoiled perishables. By contrast, a standby generator—as you’ll read in the section below—offers the peace of mind of knowing that no matter where you are when the power goes out, the generator will come on automatically.

Further inconveniences of operating a portable generator stem from the fact that most such machines are powered by gas. Because a typical tank holds a finite quantity of gas—say, three or six gallons—you must periodically fill it, even during the worst winter weather. More seriously, due to the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning from engine exhaust, a portable must be placed at least ten feet away from the house, in an enclosure that protects the generator from the elements but also encourages the free movement of air. As tempting as it may be to run the generator in the garage with the garage door open, this is strongly discouraged. An open garage door does not provide adequate ventilation. Make sure you factor into your generator project budget the cost of a store-bought or DIY enclosure.

Photo: generac.com

Standby generators: Hands-off but expensive
Whereas a portable generator can handle the electrical demands of just a handful of appliances, a standby generator is brawny enough to power all the appliances your family has grown accustomed to using. So while the rest of the block is in darkness, your house would continue humming along as if nothing had happened.

Standby generators are quieter and safer than portables, and they operate automatically—you don’t have to lift a finger. Of course, that convenience doesn’t come cheap. Including professional consultation—which can be crucial in determining the appropriate-size generator—and installation, an average system costs about $10,000.

Making the price tag more palatable is the fact that standby generators tend to last a long time, about 15 years. And upon home resale, these machines recoup about 50 percent of their cost. Although maintenance is necessary every two years, licensed professionals can help ensure a unit’s reliability. And for some families, especially those who have vital medical equipment running in the house, the reliability afforded by a standby generator is virtually priceless.

Which type of generator is right for you? That largely depends on your needs. In choosing between a portable and standby generator, try to strike a balance between what is essential for your comfort and safety, and what your budget allows.

 


Bob Vila Radio: Installing Toggle Bolts

Planning to support a heavy load, be it shelving or a framed mirror, on plaster wall? The best starting point is to install toggle bolts. Here's how.

Installing wall hooks or fasteners into plaster walls isn’t difficult—that is, if you use the right approach. Probably the best type of anchor to use is a toggle bolt; they’re the ones with the threaded “butterfly” that’s spring-loaded.

Toggle Bolt

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Listen to BOB VILA ON ANCHORS FOR PLASTER or read the text below:

First, use two pieces of painter’s tape to mark an X over the spot where you plan to drill. That’ll help keep the plaster from cracking.

Using a drill bit that’s just slightly larger than the butterfly on your bolt, drill through the tape and the wall, then gently withdraw the bit straight out and remove the tape. Slip your fastener onto the toggle bolt.

Next, thread the butterfly onto the bolt, squeeze the butterfly, then pass it through the hole until you feel the butterfly open. Use your fingers to tighten the bolt, then finish with a screwdriver. Be careful not to over-tighten the bolt, or you could crack the plaster.

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: Make Your Own Insect Repellent

To keep pesky pests at bay, without resorting to foul-smelling repellants, make your own homemade bug spray with all-natural ingredients. Here's how.

Homemade Bug Spray - Sprayer

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There’s great satisfaction in making something you could just as easily purchase ready-made. Besides that special feeling of pride, there are many benefits of making your own bug spray. The biggest? Your homemade bug spray will contain only those ingredients you choose to add; that means no harsh chemicals. Follow the simple instructions detailed below, and soon you’ll be able to actually enjoy spending time out on on your deck, porch, or patio. Happy summer!

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
- Essential oil
- Oil base
- Spray bottle

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Homemade Bug Spray - Essential Oil

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STEP 1
With homemade bug spray, the “active ingredient” is essential oil. What kind? That’s entirely up to you. In India, many people swear by the effectiveness of neem oil, which comes from the seeds of a particular species of evergreen tree. But a wide variety of other essentials have been reported to work, with varying degrees of success. These include:

• Clove oil
• Citronella oil
• Geranium oil
• Orange oil
• Cedar oil
• Lavender oil
• Rosemary oil
• Thyme oil
• Eucalyptus oil
• Lemongrass oil

If you already have one of these in your medicine cabinet or kitchen pantry, give it a try. If purchasing a new bottle of essential oil, you’re probably going to find the best selection online or in a local health-food store.

STEP 2
Here’s a good general rule of thumb: For eight ounces of homemade bug spray, you need between 20 and 60 drops of essential oil. A greater number of drops will probably produce a more effective insect repellent, but a higher concentration of essential oil may irritate sensitive skin. Bear in mind that you might get good results by mixing oils. If you want to repel mosquitoes, a potent combination is eucalyptus oil, geranium oil, and lavender oil in equal measures.

STEP 3
Homemade bug spray isn’t just essential oil. In fact, in an eight-ounce batch, the vast majority of the liquid will be your chosen base—that is, an oil that’s safe and comfortable for application to skin. Coconut oil, jojoba oil, and almond oil are all popular.

STEP 4
After cleaning out the spray bottle you wish to use as your repellent dispenser, pour in the base oil, then add drops of your chosen essential oil or oils. That’s it!

Additional Tips
- If you don’t like the feeling of oil on your skin, try mixing water and alcohol (or witch hazel), then add in your choice of essential oils.

- For ants, combine water (or vinegar) and detergent. Some essential oils, such as peppermint and eucalyptus, are said to work well too.

- Are bedbugs your problem? Spray any you encounter with pure alcohol. Bear in mind that for the alcohol to work, you need a direct hit.

Keeping pests at bay is an ongoing battle. Experiment with different ingredients, then report your findings. We’re eager to know what worked for you!


How To: Defrost a Freezer

Defrost older freezers from time to time, not only to keep the appliance working efficiently, but also to prevent ice from hogging the storage space within. It's a simple task—you'll just need a few towels, a little time, and some heat.

How to Defrost a Freezer

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Have you got a freezer full of frost? That’ll happen. Fortunately, defrosting a freezer isn’t as big a deal as people make it out to be. Yes, it’s a bit of hassle, but there are definitely benefits. Once you’re done, you can expect the appliance to run more efficiently, which can mean lower electricity bills. And you’ll win back precious freezer space for storing microwave pizzas and pints of ice cream. Rather than put off the chore for another month (or six), scroll down now to learn how painlessly simple it can be to defrost a freezer.

Preparation
At the outset, you face perhaps the most difficult step in the process: Because food must be removed from the freezer before it’s defrosted, you’ll have to somehow keep everything from thawing out in the interim. If you can’t borrow space in a neighbor’s freezer, the best alternative is to place frozen food into a cooler (or even an airtight plastic bag), together with a suitable number of ice packs. Of course, another way to handle the problem is to plan far enough ahead so that you can eat up a good portion of your stock of frozen food in the weeks before you defrost.

Next, turn off the freezer before taking out all the removable parts inside, such as shelves, drawers, and trays. (Some parts may be so covered in ice that they refuse to budge; in that case, wait until the ice has melted enough to release its hold.) Before you move on, pile up old towels or dishrags beneath the freezer door to soak up the water that inevitably drains out of the chamber during the defrosting process.

How to Defrost a Freezer - Appliance Detail

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Melting the Ice
To persuade the ice within the freezer to melt faster, there are at least a couple different strategies you might try:

• Place bowls of hot water into the freezer. The heat from the steaming water will get the ice melting. Replace the bowls every five minutes or so to sustain the momentum.

• Use a hairdryer to blow hot air over the ice. For safety’s sake, move the hairdryer around so that no one area gets too hot, and be absolutely certain that the melting ice comes nowhere within reach of the electrical outlet you’ve plugged the dryer into.

Of course, if you’re in no hurry, you can simply wait for the ice to melt on its own!

Cleaning the Interior
Once the ice begins to melt, break it up into pieces and remove them with a plastic spatula. Don’t scrape too hard—and definitely don’t use a metal tool—or you could damage the interior of the freezer. As you pull out chunks of ice, put them in the sink or a large mixing bowl. All the while, try to keep dripping water contained to the towels you’ve placed at the base of the appliance.

With the ice gone, proceed to clean the freezer. Dry it completely before turning the appliance back on. If there are water droplets in the chamber when the freezer returns to operation, ice is just going to accumulate again, and quicker than you might expect.

The more often you defrost the freezer, the less time-consuming the process will be.


What Would Bob Do? Painting a Deck

Perhaps the simplest part of finishing a deck is actually applying the paint or stain. Choosing a finish, on the other hand—well, that can get tricky. These tips can help you make sense of it all.

How to Paint a Deck

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First-time deck painter here. I have prepared my deck as well as possible, scraping away old paint and sanding the wood. I am just wondering what is the best and most efficient way to tackle the job. Is it better to go with a brush, a roller, or another option that I haven’t considered? Is there anything else I should keep in mind?

Deck painting is a classic summertime project. For any homeowner, no matter his experience level, the key to success lies in the prep work. It sounds as if you’ve given due attention to this important early yet critical phase; others would be wise to follow your example. Once existing paint has been scraped away and rough patches have been sanded, the deck must be thoroughly cleaned. Only then is it ready to accept paint.

On all but the most compact decks, the best tool for the job is a paint roller. Yes, keep a paintbrush within reach, and use it to work paint between boards and to cut in around posts. But the roller makes quick work of covering the flat, easily accessed portions of the structure.

Many homeowners stumble over the question of whether to apply paint or solid-color stain. To an extent, it’s a matter of taste. But I’d opt for paint because it’s thicker and more durable; stain must be renewed more frequently. Also, paint does a better job of disguising imperfections. If, say, you weren’t able to remove all the paint from a previous paint job, stain would reveal the transitions between bare wood and areas of the deck that have residual paint. That’s the case even if you apply primer—and you should, whether you choose paint or stain.

That said, if your deck runs close to the ground, particularly if it’s suffered from peeling paint in the past, then go for stain. A lofted deck with air circulation from below is less likely to harbor the trapped moisture that compromises the performance of a paint job over time. In other words, the choice between stain and paint isn’t only a matter of aesthetics; different finishes are better suited for different types of decks.

How to Paint a Deck - Deckover

Photo: behr.com

If your deck has splintered wood and gaps between the boards—if, in short, it’s seen better days—then you may want to consider a new crop of outdoor finishes that not only add color and protection, but also correct minor flaws. Offered by a handful of manufacturers, these thick stains have a consistency reminiscent of cake frosting.

For instance, Behr makes a product called DeckOver, which the company claims can fill cracks up to a quarter inch wide. Unlike earlier incarnations of similar deck stains, DeckOver and its competitors can go right over old paint and stain, so there’s no need to spend hours laboring with a scraper. (Giving the deck a thorough cleaning, however, remains absolutely necessary.) Other selling points: DeckOver can be used on composite decks and concrete patios or walkways, and it comes in 50 colors; custom mixes are available too.

That level of convenience comes at a price. A gallon of DeckOver covers 75 square feet, and you’ll need two coats. At $37 per gallon, the job is going to cost roughly $1 per square foot. Meanwhile, a gallon of regular deck paint or stain would cost less and would typically cover about 350 square feet. If your deck is truly in rough shape and you have little time to put toward revitalizing it, DeckOver and similar products are probably worth the money. On the other hand, if your deck is in good condition, a regular paint or stain would do just fine.


Bob Vila Radio: Battery-Powered Lawn Mowers

In the market for a new lawn mower? If you're wondering whether a battery-powered model would be right for your property, these pros and cons can help you decide once and for all.

With the cost of gasoline continuing to rise, battery-powered lawn mowers have been getting a lot of attention lately. And there are some good reasons for that.

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Listen to BOB VILA ON BATTERY-POWERED MOWERS or read the text below:

They’re quieter than gas mowers; they’re often lighter to maneuver; they need less maintenance; and they don’t spew noxious fumes. Still, they do have their drawbacks. They’re often a bit more expensive to purchase than gas mowers. And some battery-powered mowers just aren’t as powerful as comparable gas mowers. That’s especially true of the low-end models, many of which run on 18-volt  batteries.

On the other hand, higher-end models that get their juice from beefier batteries may do as good a job—or even better—than their gas powered cousins. If you do decide to go with a battery-powered model, you’ll probably want to pick up an extra battery, to be sure you can finish the job in a  single session.

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.