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: What Exactly Are Architectural Shingles, Anyway?

If you've done a re-roofing project, chances are you've come across a term that, while commonly used, isn't commonly understood by those outside the trade. Here's the lowdown.

Ever wonder exactly what the difference is between conventional asphalt shingles and architectural shingles? Here’s the lowdown: Architectural shingles are essentially just a premium grade of conventional asphalt shingles. They’re thicker than conventional shingles and have a textured look that’s distinctive.

Architectural Shingles

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Listen to BOB VILA ON ARCHITECTURAL SHINGLES or read the text below:

Conventional asphalt shingles are referred to in the trade as “3-tab”—that is, each sheet of shingles has three tabs or flaps, separated by quarter-inch grooves. They’re usually installed in flat, even rows and have a uniform appearance. That’s compared with architectural shingles, which have a layered and three-dimensional look.

On average, conventional shingles last about 15 or 20 years. Architectural shingles can remain watertight for up to 30 years, but such quality comes at a cost. Typical architectural shingles cost about 25% more. If you’re willing to shell out the extra money, there’s little doubt your choice would dress up the appearance of your home exterior.

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: Choose the Right Saw Blade for the Task at Hand

One size does not fit all, at least when it comes to saw blades. If you're in the habit of cutting different materials, from wood to plaster to tile, working with the right blade for the job can help you get done quicker, with less labor along the way.

When it comes to using reciprocating saws, choosing the right blade can make your jobs a lot easier. Among the many reciprocating saw blade types available, these are the ones any DIYer ought to know about:

Reciprocating Saw Blades

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

If you’re cutting through wood, you’ll get best results using a relatively coarse-tooth blade. For plaster, the coarser the tooth, the better. If you’re tackling nails or metal pipe, a fine-tooth blade—much like a hacksaw—is the best choice. Special blades are available for cutting stone or tile.  They’re essentially toothless and are coated with an abrasive grit that’s most often composed of tungsten carbide. That same blade also works well with cast iron.

The standard length for most reciprocating saw blades is six inches, but shorter and longer blades are available. If your job involves reaching the blade deep into recessed areas, you’ll want to pick up an extra long blade. Long blades are also handy for pruning trees or cutting through thick timbers used in landscaping. Be sure to have your safety glasses and gloves on before starting the job.

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: Save Time (and Water) with a Recirculating Pump

A recirculating pump enables your plumbing to deliver hot water instantaneously, and that's not only a time-saver, but a water-saver, too.

On chilly mornings, do you get impatient waiting for water from the faucet to get hot? If so, maybe you should think about installing a recirculating pump.

Installing a Recirculating Pump

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Listen to BOB VILA ON RECIRCULATING PUMPS or read the text below:

Recirculating pumps keep the water in your hot water pipes flowing back to your water heater, so whenever you turn on the tap, warm water is instantly available. Besides that convenience, they also save water, since you are bound to let less water go down the drain while you’re waiting.

Some pumps, particularly older models, are designed to run continuously, and that can nudge up your electric bills. However, many newer models can be programmed to shut off whenever they’re not needed (in the middle of the night or when the house is unoccupied).

A top-quality pump may run you several hundred dollars, but municipalities give tax breaks when you install one. That can help you feel good about your choice. So too would the knowledge that you’ve done something positive for the environment.

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: Get Rid of Bats

When bats takes up residence under your roof, you're in danger of more than merely foul odors. Be rid of your unwanted guests by following these steps.

How to Get Rid of Bats

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The good news: Bats are not aggressive. The bad news: If there are bats in your house, it’s only a matter of time before their waste begins to pose a serious problem. Health concerns aside—and there are indeed viable health concerns—bat droppings and urine can actually destroy wood and other building materials, gradually compromising the structural integrity of your home. So even if you are not skittish and don’t mind the idea of bats dwelling under your roof, there are very good, wholly rational reasons to act fast. Follow the steps outlined below to get rid of bats and prevent them from returning.

STEP 1
Familiarize yourself with local laws. In most states, bats are a protected species, which means that it’s illegal to kill them. One humane approach is to install a bat house on your property prior to evicting your unwanted guests. Chances are that once barred entry to your home, the bats would take up residence in the new accommodations you’ve prepared for there. From there, you could count on the bats to continue their beneficial service of eating the insects on your property.

Bats

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STEP 2
When the goal is to get rid of bats, it’s essential to figure out what type of bat you’re dealing with. So the first thing to do is learn what types of bats are common in your neck of the woods. Next, try to get a good look at the bats, if you haven’t already, so you can compare your observations to your research. Vampire aficionados could easily guess that you  best chances of seeing a bat are at dusk and dawn.

Once you know what kind of bats are in your house, you can move on to determining whether or not it’s maternity season for that particular species. If you prevent the mother bat from regaining entry to your house while the babies are still inside, those babies are going to die. And no matter how you feel about that, you’re definitely not going to like how it smells. So if it’s maternity season, wait it out.

STEP 3
Sure that maternity season is over or has not begun yet? OK—time to get serious. Watch your home closely at dusk or dawn, with the aim of pinpointing where exactly the bats are entering and exiting your home. Bear in mind that a bat colony usually has more than one access point, and these can be as small as a half-inch. You may need more than one evening to locate the different openings being used.

STEP 4
Cover each distinct opening with a one-way exit valve, one-way tube, or one-way bat netting product. Such items are commonly sold at home centers and pest control dealers. The ingeniousness of these designs is that, while they allow bats to exit the house with ease, they provide no way for the bats to return. If your chosen device seems to be working, leave it in place for a period of about three days.

STEP 5
Once there are no more bats left inside, you have a messy job on your hand. Inevitably, the bats will have left droppings and urine in their wake. When cleaning, it’s imperative that you wear the proper protective gear—full-sleave clothing, work gloves, and a respirator. In fact, think seriously about hiring a professional cleanup crew. Once the area is no longer toxic, proceed to seal all the holes you identified.


Bob Vila Radio: Adding a Fire Pit to Your Backyard

Homeowners love fire pits, not least because they are so affordable and easy to add to outdoor living areas.

If you enjoy cozying up to the fireplace in your home, why not consider adding a fire pit in your backyard? Fire pits are just the thing to bring friends and family together on cool evenings, extending the outdoor season.

Backyard Fire Pit

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

If you keep it simple, a firepit won’t break the bank. The simplest are essentially metal bowls with legs. They’re readily available at home centers. Some come with lift-off tops to keep the rain out (when they’re not being used). Some have screened covers to contain burning embers. Still others include grills you can set over the fire for cooking.

A do-it-yourself option is to create a ring of mortared stone at ground level. You can make the ring as tall as you want. To keep rainwater from accumulating in the middle, you may want to include an underground drain.

Some municipalities restrict or forbid outdoor wood fires; before finalizing plans, be sure to check local ordinances. And one more caution: Never put scraps of pressurized wood into your firepit. When burned, the chemicals in treated wood give off noxious fumes.

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: This Winter, Remove Your Screen Door to Enjoy More Light

Screens are a must in warm weather. But as it gets darker earlier in the evening, you may choose to remove your sliding screen door as a way of maximizing natural light.

Maybe your cat has been using your sliding screen door for climbing practice. Or maybe, as we approach winter, you’re thinking you simply won’t be using the screen again until spring.

How to Remove a Sliding Screen Door

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Listen to BOB VILA ON REMOVING SLIDING SCREEN DOORS or read the text below:

Whatever the reason, you’re planning to remove the sliding screen door. Here’s how it’s done.

With some doors, it couldn’t be simpler. Just grasp each end of the door and lift, pulling the bottom towards you until it clears the track. Once you’ve got the bottom out of the frame, you should be free to guide the panel to the basement, garage, shed or wherever storage area you’ve chosen.

It’s not always that hassle-free. Some doors have screws sticking up from the bottom of the frame, one at each end. These screws control the tension on the wheels that allow the door to roll in its track. To remove this type, start by loosening the tension on the wheels a bit. Then, working one end of the door at a time, ease a flathead screwdriver under the wheel, gently lifting up. Once both wheels are out of the track, pull the bottom of the door toward you to ease it out of the frame.

Take care not to damage the door hardware or wheels. Plastic wheels on old doors can be especially brittle.


Bob Vila Radio: For Brighter Interiors, Clean Your Storm Windows

Storm windows give protection and increased efficiency to older windows, but with their exposure to the elements, they gradually become streaked and foggy. This year, take the time to clean your storm windows, and you may be surprised by the difference it makes.

These days, a lot of folks are feeling the chill in the air and are beginning to button up their homes for the winter. If you have an older home with wood or aluminum storm windows and want to enjoy the crisp light of the season, your fall to-do list should include the task removing and cleaning those storms.

How to Clean Storm Windows

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Listen to BOB VILA ON CLEANING STORM WINDOWS or read the text below:

Do the job from inside the house, removing each panel that’s nearest you. If it’s a triple-track storm window, start by lowering the screen nearly to the bottom of its track, pressing inward on the spring-loaded tabs at the bottom of the screen. Then, holding the tabs inward, wiggle the screen a little, pushing up slightly on one side, to pull the screen toward you and out of its track. Repeat the process on the glazed sash, again working with the track nearest you. Be sure to note which windows and screens go where, since you’ll need to replace them as they were after you’ve given them a good cleaning.

If yours are wood storm windows, either fixed or operable, removing the windows for cleaning may be overly laborious or simply not possible, depending on circumstances. Clean these windows from the outside. You’ll be surprised by what a difference it makes!

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: Installing a Laundry Chute

By installing a laundry chute, you can harness the power of gravity to make one of life's dreaded chores much less strenuous.

Tired of lugging laundry down the basement stairs? Maybe you should consider installing a laundry chute. Kits are available at home centers, or you can build the chute yourself.

Installing a Laundry Chute

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Listen to BOB VILA ON INSTALLING A LAUNDRY CHUTE or read the text below:

To construct the chase—the passage through which you drop clothes to the basement—you have several options for materials: a galvanized heating duct, wood, drywall or melamine. Chutes work best when the chase is larger, say 1 by 2 feet. And make sure any joints are smooth, so clothing articles like socks do not snag on the way down.

Location is key. You’ll need to find a stud bay with unobstructed access to the basement—that is, no electrical wiring, no plumbing. Hallways are often a good bet, especially if their walls run parallel to underlying floor joists.

Use a stud finder to locate two adjacent studs, then cut a small hole in the wall to check for obstructions. If the bay is clear, use a reciprocating saw to cut an opening for the bottom of the chute, downstairs. Once you’ve double-checked that there are no obstructions upstairs, create the hole for the top of the chute.

Upstairs you’ll also need to remove the base plate between the two studs and cut a hole through the plywood flooring to make room for the chute. Assemble the chute, fit it into the bay, then finish up by trimming out the upstairs end of the chute and installing a door.

Before you start the job, be sure to check local building codes.

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: Clean and Maintain Butcher Block

With easy cleaning and conscientious use, the classic butcher block can last a lifetime—or longer. Here's how to clean and maintain the material.

How to Clean Butcher Block

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Butcher block counters are a perennial favorite in the kitchen, though many homeowners worry about the care and maintenance the surface potentially demands. It’s true that butcher block probably does require a bit more attention than other countertop materials, but it’s not particularly difficult work, and there’s no beating the payoff. Properly cared for, butcher block can last a lifetime. No other countertop boasts such longevity (or forgives so much). If you have butcher block counters or are contemplating the prospect of installing them, read on for details on how to keep these handy surfaces in tip-top shape.

Daily Cleaning
Just as pots and pans, dishes and kitchen tools must be cleaned after use, so too must be butcher block. Daily cleaning does not take long and requires no special tools or materials, but time is of the essence: Clean butcher block before the wood grain has the chance to absorb stains and become discolored. Food residue may be scraped away with a smooth, flat, and ideally plastic spatula, and the surface should be sponged off with only mild-dishwashing soap. Undiluted vinegar, by the by, works great for cleaning and disinfecting butcher block, and this type of vinegar does not leave behind a strong, pungent odor.

Stain Removal
Soon or later, even those who conscientiously care for their butcher block are going to encounter a stain. Before you reach for the sandpaper, try one of these two easy stain removal methods (note that both are safe for food prep surfaces). First is the kitchen superstar lemon: Even in tough circumstances, it can work wonders in the case of butcher block. Sprinkle a bit of coarse salt onto the stained area, then rub it in with half of a lemon. If the stain does not vanish more or less immediately, return to it a day later and see if either soap or vinegar helps the situation. You might also try baking soda, particularly if you’re dealing with a fresh spill. Blanket the stain in the powder, rub it in and let it sit, then scrub with either soap or vinegar moistening your sponge.

How to Clean Butcher Block - Sanding Counter

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Refinishing
The beauty of butcher block is that, if it should ever become irredeemably stained, you can always refinish it. (You might also choose to do so, if the surface sees uneven wear.) First, use a coarse-grit sandpaper to rub out the stain, then switch to a finer git so that you can smooth things out. After sanding, apply food-safe mineral oil or raw linseed oil. Evenly rub the oil into the wood and wipe off any excess. If the wood quickly absorbs all the oil, add another coat. Remember that proper care of butcher block entails oiling the entire surface every six months or so, at minimum.

Conscious Use
In some homes, butcher block counters serve as the main food prep surface. If your kitchen boasts only butcher block counters, be conscious of the fact that inadvertently you may be causing uneven wear. To avoid ending up with a single area that looks worn-out compared to the rest, try to do your chopping on a different part of the countertop each time you prepare a meal.

Also, since wood absorbs moisture quickly, it’s a mistake to leave damp cloths or spills for any prolonged period of time on the wood surface. When not in use, you want the butcher block to remain relatively dry. As you cook, rub down the counters occasionally with a dry cloth in order to minimize moisture. That way, you can help preserve the butcher block for years to come!


Bob Vila Radio: Quieter Leaf Blowers Are Here, Finally

Whereas noisy gas-powered leaf blowers were once the only option, homeowners may now choose from a wider selection of models, many of which boast quiet operation.

This time of year, the intrusive sound of leaf blowers is a constant presence in nearly every neighborhood. But blowers that make less noise—yet still get the job done—are becoming increasingly available.

Leaf Blowers

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Listen to BOB VILA ON LEAF BLOWERS or read the text below:

Although many of the newer gas-powered models are far less noisy than older versions, electrics remain the quietest overall. Cordless electrics with adequate power can be pricey. Plus, depending on the size of your yard, you may need an extra battery or two to get your leaves bagged in a single day.

Some corded electric models can sweep away leaves and loosen debris about as well as gas models. If you have a smaller yard and won’t have to drag around a lot of cord, a corded electric model may be your best choice.

Lower-noise electric options are good news, especially since many municipalities nationwide are enacting rules that either limit or entirely prohibit the use of gas blowers. Before heading to the store, check local ordinances.

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.