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: Get the Fireplace Ready

Before having your first fire of the season, read these tips on operating your wood-burning fireplace with the utmost efficiency.

When you’re pulling your parkas and mittens from the back of the closet, it’s also a good time to make sure your fireplace and chimney are safe and ready to operate at top efficiency.

Get the Fireplace Ready

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Listen to BOB VILA ON FIREPLACE EFFICIENCY or read the text below:

First, be choosy about the wood you burn. Seasoned hardwoods are best. Stay away from burning scrap wood derived from crates or pallets; when ignited, they may emit toxic fumes.

Consider installing a top-mounted damper. Providing a tighter fit than conventional dampers, they function much like a chimney cap to help keep out rain and snow. If you decide to go with a conventional chimney cap, choose one that’s stainless steel. They’re a bit more expensive but last longer due to their rust resistance.

Of course, keeping the chimney clean is a must. Have the sweeps come in at least once each year. If you burn more than three cords of wood a season, have them come twice. What you gain in fireplace efficiency, not to mention peace of mind, is worth the extra cost.

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 Big Bucks with Attic Insulation

Ever get the feeling your energy dollars are going through the roof? You might be exactly right! By installing attic insulation, you can cut your heating and cooling costs by as much as half. Start here.

Looking to put a dent in your monthly heating and cooling bills? The answer may be right over your head. If your attic isn’t insulated, you’re missing out on a prime opportunity to cut costs.

Attic Insulation

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

No matter what type of insulation you end up using, start the job by preparing the work area. That includes clipping portable lights onto rafters, so you can see what you’re doing. Also, if there’s no flooring in the attic, lay down sheets of plywood for a solid platform to work from.

Now’s also an optimal time to check the attic for any signs of discoloration or mold; either might signal a roof leak. While you’re at it, use weatherstripping or expanding foam to seal up any air leaks around chimneys, plumbing stacks, exhaust fans or anywhere you suspect outside air might be getting through.

Attic insulation can literally cut your heating and cooling bills by as much as half. So whether you hire a contractor or do it yourself, your wallet will thank you.

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: Prevent Basement Window Leaks

Don't blame basement window leaks on the amount of rain. Likewise, the problem probably isn't due to the age or installation of your windows. The first things to are your gutters and window well drain. Here's what to look out for.

Basement windows are great for letting natural light into subterranean space, but what if they also let in water? The culprit could be your gutters and downspouts.

Basement Window Leaks

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Listen to BOB VILA ON BASEMENT WINDOW LEAKS or read the text below:

Check the gutter running along the roofline nearest the window well in question. Check, too, the nearest downspout—that is, the gutter leading from the roofline to the ground. If there’s a clog in both or either one, then excess amounts of water could be spilling right into the window well. That’s not necessarily a problem in itself, but it might be a contributing factor.

If the window well was installed correctly, there’d be a drain at the bottom designed to let water permeate into the soil. If you don’t see a drain, dig down a few inches. If you still don’t see one, that’s a problem. In an exceptionally heavy rain storm—or in combination with a clogged storm drainage system—the absence of a drain could very well be the causer of basement window leaks.

You can add a drain, but it’s not the easiest of jobs. An alternative is to remove about two feet of the soil at the bottom of the window well, replacing it with crushed stone. Keep the level of the stone about three inches below the bottom of the window. That will help keep the water out.

For added protection, hinge a clear window well cover to the foundation. Being clear, the cover will still admit sunlight without inviting in water, too.

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: Prepare Your Garden Tools for the Off-Season

The cold season has begun in many parts of the country. If you're don't plan on using your garden tools again until spring, give them a thorough cleaning prior to putting them temporarily out of service. Here's how.

Once you’ve put your garden to bed for the winter, why not clean your garden tools before storing them away? TLC starts with laying all your hand tools out on the lawn and hosing them down with a high-pressure spray nozzle.

How to Clean Garden Tools

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Listen to BOB VILA ON WINTER TOOL STORAGE or read the text below:

You may need to use soapy water in combination with a bristle brush in order to dislodge dirt that’s caked on. It’s important to get it all off, since dirt soaks up moisture and promotes rust. Dirt also harbors pests that could infect next year’s garden.

Air-drying is fine, but a cloth can speed the process. As you dry the tools, remove any rust you encounter using either sandpaper or a stiff brush.

Sharpening is next. Use a hand file, working in one direction, to create a beveled edge. If you’d rather not do the sharpening yourself, check with your local hardware store. Lots of stores offer that service.

Finally, apply a light coat of oil to the tools, including an extra drop or two on the hinges of clippers. And don’t neglect the handles: A little linseed oil will keep them from drying out and splitting.

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: Set the Stage for Thanksgiving

Whether you're expecting a quiet circle or a boisterous crowd, there are several steps you can take to get a head start on hosting this year's Turkey Day.

At Thanksgiving, it’s easy to lavish so much attention on preparing the meal that you forget about preparing the dining room. Here are a few suggestions for getting the room ready for turkey day.

Thanksgiving Dining Room

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Listen to BOB VILA ON THANKSGIVING PREP or read the the text below:

In the days before Thanksgiving, give the dining room a thorough cleaning, getting rid of cobwebs and treating stains on seat cushions. And don’t just clean the room, clear it! Banish clutter, box up knickknacks, and remove any furniture you don’t plan on using. The room will feel larger and more comfortable, and you’ll free up space on surfaces for side dishes, dessert plates, and other service items.

Make sure your table can accommodate the number of guests you expect. If it falls short, consider topping it with a standard 4′ x 8′ sheet of plywood. Once it’s covered with a festive tablecloth, no one will be the wiser.

Scope out the traffic flow around your table. If there isn’t enough space, try running the table diagonally. Or remove a leaf and set up smaller satellite seating in other rooms.

Finally, make sure you have enough chairs to seat everybody. Don’t forget—benches are great solutions for tight quarters.

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: Know the Signs of a Dying Tree

You can't always save a tree from demise, but happy endings begin with you recognizing there's a problem before it's too late.

It’s not always easy to spot when a tree is in trouble, but it’s important to keep your eyes open for problems. Here are a few red flags to look out for.

Signs of a Dying Tree

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Listen to BOB VILA ON TREE HAZARDS or read the text below:

Pull ground cover away from the bottom of the tree to get a better view of the trunk. Here, hollow spots or cavities indicate serious problems. So can the presence of mushrooms; these may suggest the presence of rot or decay.

While you’re at it, check the ground on the side opposite the lean of the tree. If you see roots protruding, it could mean the tree’s beginning to topple.

Another possible hint that the tree may be in trouble: patches of missing bark on the trunk. A long streak of missing bark usually means the tree was hit by lightning, an event that’s often fatal, if not immediately then in the long term.

If you’re in doubt about the status of a tree, it’s best to call in a certified arborist. Besides having the knowledge to spot problems, arborists also use specialized tools, which enable them to bore into trees and access more definitive answers about their overall health.

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: Apply Polyurethane Sealer

It's important to top off your home's wood flooring and furniture with a few coats of polyurethane for both protection and an appealing shine. Follow these five steps for a smooth—and simple—application.

How to Apply Polyurethane Sealer

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More than a mere shine, polyurethane sealer protects and preserves the finish you’ve chosen for your furniture or flooring. To apply polyurethane in such a way that it actually performs its intended role, precision is key. If you’re going to cut corners, then you may as well skip the sealer. It’s an optional coating, after all.

Perhaps the first thing to know is that there are two types of polyurethane: oil-based and water-based. Both work equally well, but oil-based polyurethane imparts an amber glow that many people find pleasing. The downside? It takes longer to dry and smells quite strongly. Water-based polyurethane, meanwhile, goes on clear, dries faster, and has almost no odor. It usually costs about twice as much as the other option, though, and some say it’s not as tough.

High-Quality Bristle Brush

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MATERIALS AND TOOLS
- Polyurethane
- High-quality bristle brush
- Sandpaper (100- to 220-grit)
- Razor blade
- Polishing compound
- Tack cloth
- Mineral spirits (optional)

STEP 1
Polyurethane is going to accentuate the surface inconsistencies, so before applying the coating, take pains to properly sand the surface you are sealing. After, remove all dust and debris with tack cloth.

STEP 2
Stir, don’t shake, the can of polyurethane. Shaking creates air bubbles, which in turn leave bumps on the surface. While stirring, if you notice that the polyurethane has an overly thick consistency, thin it out with mineral spirits.

STEP 3
Using a bristle brush, apply the first coat of polyurethane in long, broad strokes. Keep the application thin, so it goes on evenly and neither pools nor drips. Coat the entire surface. Once finished, wait for the polyurethane to dry. Allow 24 hours for oil-based polyurethane and 4 to 6 hours for a water-based product.

STEP 4
Having allowed sufficient dry time, test to see if first coat is dry. Do so by lightly sanding an inconspicuous area. If the polyurethane remains wet, stop sanding and wait another hour or so. Once you’re certain the surface is dry, remove any dust or debris that may have stuck to the surface during the drying process. If sanding doesn’t cut it, you can use a razor to remove imperfections that wouldn’t otherwise budge. When working with the razor, be careful not to scuff the wood.

STEP 5
Apply the second coat just as you did the first, with long, careful strokes. Spread the polyurethane evenly over the surface and let it dry completely.

STEP 6
Once the second coat has dried, sand or shave off any imperfections as you did in step 4. With many oil-based polyurethanes, two coats will be enough. If you’re happy with how the job looks, wait a few days, then finish by polishing the surface with a polishing compound. If it seems necessary to apply a third coat of sealer, simply follow the process you’re familiar with by now. Note that you should never need to apply more than three coats of oil-based polyurethane. Sometimes water-based poly requires more than a few (up to a dozen) coats. Thankfully, it dries quickly enough for this not to become a weeks-long saga!


Bob Vila Radio: How to Remove Paint Spots from Wood Floors

In the course of completing a recent paint project, stray drops of paint managed to get on your finished wood floors. Don't worry! Here's some advice on how to get those up.

When’s the best time to remove paint spots from wooden floors? Right after the paint hits the floor, of course! But what if you don’t notice a spot until later, by which point the paint has become hard as a rock?

How to Remove Paint from Wood Flooring

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Listen to BOB VILA ON REMOVING PAINT FROM WOOD FLOORS or read the text below:

Try using a rigid plastic putty knife, paired with light taps from a hammer. If that doesn’t work, use a hair dryer to warm the spot, then give the putty knife another try (be careful not to apply too much heat, as that could damage the floor). For paint that’s landed between floorboards, try gentle strokes using a pull scraper. Solvents can also be a big help, provided you choose the type that’s appropriate for the paint you used, be it oil- or water-based.

Stains are toughest when the paint has bonded with the finish of the floor and seeped into the grain of the wood. When that happens, you may need to use a pull scraper to remove the paint—along with the finish—before touching up afterwards to reseal the floor.

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: Think Before You Install a Kitchen Island

A potentially welcome addition to the heart of your home, the kitchen island deserves thoughtful planning.

Installing a kitchen island doesn’t just enhance the look of your kitchen. It can also make meal prep a lot more enjoyable and provide a great setting for socializing. If you’re thinking of adding a kitchen island, here are a few pointers to keep in mind.

Kitchen Island Planning

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Listen to BOB VILA ON KITCHEN ISLANDS or read the text below:

Make sure you allow adequate space, and not only for the island itself, but also for the space around it. Most contractors suggest at least three feet between the island and kitchen appliances. Four is even better. If seating is part of the plan, position stools around corners rather than in a straight line. That makes for easier conversation.

Electrical outlets? The more the merrier. Below-counter nooks are perfect for setting up a charging station for your mobile devices.

One other point: Before you start the project, make sure you really want a lot of people hanging out in your kitchen. Once you’ve installed the island, it’s likely to become a very popular spot!

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: Are You Making a Big Mistake with Your Storm Windows?

If you rely on storm windows to stop drafts and save energy, find out which potentially costly mistake you could be making without realizing it.

This winter, before you shut your storm windows, make sure that at the bottom of each one, the weep hole is clear. All factory-built storm windows have small weep holes. These are designed to expel any moisture that collects between the storm and the primary window.

Strom Window Weep Holes

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Listen to BOB VILA ON STORM WINDOW WEEP HOLES or read the text below:

Unfortunately, some folks don’t understand the need for the holes. Concluding that the holes are hurting rather helping, those people fill in the weep holes with caulk. Doing so may save you a few bucks in heating costs over the short term, but in the long run the absence of weep holes can rot the window sill and, in severe cases, lead to water damage and mold in the wall.

If the weep holes in your windows have been caulked over, you can make new ones: Just drill a couple of quarter-inch holes through the bottom corners of each storm. For the weep hole to be effective, the drill bit must go all the way through the frame. Be careful, though, not to drill into the wooden sill underneath.

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.