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: Pipe Insulation, and Why It Really Matters

Prevent winter's worst home disaster, freezing pipes, and promote household energy efficiency in the process, by remembering to insulate your water pipes.

If a plumbing pipe ruptures inside your home, it’s likely going to be a disaster. But properly installed pipe insulation can help prevent that.

Pipe Insulation Matters

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Listen to BOB VILA ON PIPE INSULATION or read the text below:

Pipe insulation performs more than one role, but perhaps its most important duty is to keep the water in your pipes from turning to ice, expanding, and then bursting to create a mega-mess. Insulation also cuts down on heat loss and keeps water warm as it makes its way to your faucets.

Cold water pipes benefit from insulation too, especially during summer months when humid air would otherwise condense on the pipes and cause corrosion.

Besides protecting pipes, insulation also protects people—from being injured by contact with very hot or very cold pipes.

There are plenty of styles and materials to choose from, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. In many freeze-prone areas of the country, pipe insulation is not only a good idea; it’s the law. Check local building ordinances before you head to the home center.

Bob Vila Radio is a 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day carried on more than 186 stations in 75 markets around the country. Click here to subscribe, so you can automatically receive each new episode as it arrives—absolutely free.

Bob Vila Radio: Is This the End of Oil-Based Paint?

Health and environmental concerns aside, oil-based paint used to provide the best finish. But thanks to advancements in manufacturing, safer formulations now perform equally well, if not better.

For decades, if you wanted a smooth, resilient finish for a project you were painting, you would turn to oil-based paints. They adhered better than water-based paints, left fewer brush marks, and created a rock-hard finish.

Pros and Cons of Oil-Based Paint

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Listen to BOB VILA ON OIL-BASED PAINT or read the text below:

Balanced against the advantages of oil-based paints are a set of significant drawbacks, including long drying times and more difficult cleanup, not to mention health and environmental concerns.

Increasingly, consumers are choosing latex and acrylic paints instead of oil-based. So are they settling for a sub-par finish? Not anymore, it seems.

Paint producers have been fiddling with new additives that help water-based paints mimic the good qualities of their oil-based cousins, but without the health concerns. In fact, development of acrylic paints has progressed to the point where many products actually surpass the performance of oil-based. They’re generally less expensive too.

Bottom line: New water-based and acrylics combine the best of two worlds, and that makes them worth a serious look when you’re planning your next painting project.

Bob Vila Radio is a daily radio spot carried on more than 186 stations in 75 markets around the country. You can get your daily dose here, by listening to—or reading—Bob’s 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day.

Bob Vila Radio: Does Attic Ventilation Help or Hurt?

Confusion reigns over the question of whether attic ventilation promotes, works against, or makes no difference in terms of energy efficiency. As is the case in so many questions relating to homes, the answer depends.

Does ventilating your attic make sense? To a large extent, the answer to that question depends on the climate where you live.

Attic Ventilation

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Listen to BOB VILA ON ATTIC VENTILATION or read the text below:

In cold climates, attic vents help get rid of the warm, moist air that rises from living space below. If you don’t give it a way out, it can condense on the underside of roof sheathing, causing rot. Vents that keep attic air cooler also guard against ice dams. That’s when warm attic air heats the underside of the sheathing and melts any snow that’s above. As the snow melts, the water trickles down to the colder eaves where it refreezes, forming a dam that backs up water under your shingles. Bad news for your roof!

In warmer climates, of course, none of that’s a problem. Even so, attic ventilation does allow hot air to escape, helping to keep your home cooler. Most roofing professionals agree that, regardless of where you live, at least some attic ventilation is a good idea. If you’re still unsure, though, ask around for a couple of trusted contractors in your area and get their advice.

Bob Vila Radio is a daily radio spot carried on more than 186 stations in 75 markets around the country. You can get your daily dose here, by listening to—or reading—Bob’s 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day.

Bob Vila Radio: It’s a Snap to Patch Metal with Pop Rivets

You may never have heard of pop rivets, but if your project calls for patching metal, you'll be glad to make the acquaintance of these handy, reliable fasteners.

Do you need a quick and easy way to fasten a patch onto sheet metal? Pop rivets make it pretty easy to do so. They come in various sizes and, when installed correctly, create a strong, durable bond between the metal patch and the sheet you’re attaching it to.

Pop Rivets

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Listen to BOB VILA ON POP RIVETS or read the text below:

Pop rivets work like this: First, you position the patch where you want it and drill holes around its perimeter. Next, working one hole at a time, you insert the long, nail-like end of the rivet into a special tool similar to pliers. Insert the rivet through a hole you’ve drilled and then squeeze the handles of the tool; that causes the ends of the rivet to flatten out and be drawn together. When the rivet is fully compressed, the nail-like end snaps off and is discarded.

Pop rivets are also called “blind rivets,” because of one very big plus: They can be used even when only one side of the material you’re working with is accessible.

Bob Vila Radio is a daily radio spot carried on more than 186 stations in 75 markets around the country. You can get your daily dose here, by listening to—or reading—Bob’s 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day.

Bob Vila Radio: The Basics of Drilling Through Metal

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

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

How to Drill Through Metal

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

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

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

Bob Vila Radio is a daily radio spot carried on more than 186 stations in 75 markets around the country. You can get your daily dose here, by listening to—or reading—Bob’s 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day.

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

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

Front Door Maintenance

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

Front Door Maintenance - With Plants

Photo: masonite.com

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

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

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

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

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

What other issues are there to watch out for? 

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

Front Door Maintenance - Veranda

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

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

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

Front Door Maintenance - Glass Inset

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


Bob Vila Radio: Fix Ice Dams—Fast!

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

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

Ice Dam Solution

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

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

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

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

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

Bob Vila Radio is a daily radio spot carried on more than 186 stations in 75 markets around the country. You can get your daily dose here, by listening to—or reading—Bob’s 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day.


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

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

Front Door Installation

Photo: masonite.com

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

Front Door Installation - Curb Appeal

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

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

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

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

Front Door Installation - Interior View

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

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

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

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

Front Door Installation - Lites

Photo: masonite.com

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

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

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

Front Door Installation - Back

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


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

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

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

How to Unclog a Kitchen Sink

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

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

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

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

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

Bob Vila Radio is a daily radio spot carried on more than 186 stations in 75 markets around the country. You can get your daily dose here, by listening to—or reading—Bob’s 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day.


Bob Vila Radio: Why Is the Smoke Alarm Chirping?

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

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

Smoke Alarm Chirping

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

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

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

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 60 stations around the country (and growing). You can get your daily dose here, by listening to—or reading—Bob’s 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day.