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.

What Would Bob Do? Repairing Cracked Stucco

If you have a small crack in your exterior stucco, you can patch it pretty easily—and you definitely should, or you may be in for more extensive repairs down the line.

How to Repair Stucco


My house is 55 years old and still has the original stucco. On one exterior wall, there’s a fine crack with paint peeling away on either side. Is there a way to repair stucco quickly and easily before the rains come, and is it a job that I can do on my own?

A bit of good news: From your description, it sounds like your crack is not due to the foundation settling. If you had noticed larger cracks and such accompanying signs as sticking doors and windows, then I would have recommended that you call in a foundation specialist. As it is, yes, this is a job any do-it-yourselfer can handle. And it’s important work, so you’re right to have been vigilant. If rainwater were to penetrate behind the stucco, you might have a bigger problem on your hands.

How to Repair Stucco - Application


To repair stucco, you can use any number of commercially sold products. While some are designed to remedy larger gouges and holes, others are meant specifically to fix cracks like the one you describe. Quikrete, for example, manufactures a sanded (textured) acrylic caulk that’s both easy to use and effective.

The first step may seem counterintuitive: Using a cold chisel and hammer, widen the crack to at least a quarter inch. The edges of the crack should be chiseled perpendicular to the wall. If possible, back cut the crack so that its base is slightly wider than its top. Then clear all loose debris from the crack with a wire brush.

Now use a standard caulk gun to apply the stucco repair compound along the crack. As you go along, trowel the patch so that it matches the surrounding stucco finish. Allow the repair to cure for 24 hours, then cover it with a water-based paint, preferably the same color as the home’s exterior.

You may notice that despite having cured, the finished job feels flexible to the touch. That elasticity actually attests to the strength of the repair. Should the wall move slightly in the future, the patch will adjust rather than come undone. With the crack now properly repaired, you can rest assured that precipitation will not be able to get behind the stucco.

How To: Remove Wax from Carpet

Candles are elegant, romantic, and—occasionally—messy. The next time you have to deal with drippy candles, try these strategies for cleaning the wax off the carpet.

How to Remove Wax from Carpet


Candles enhance the atmosphere of any space. The gentle glow from their lit wicks fosters a feeling of calm and relaxation—so long as the wax does not stray out of bounds. Don’t stress, however, if you discover that wax has dripped down to a carpeted floor. It’s easy to remove wax from carpet using everyday household items.

One simple way to remove wax from carpet is to let it harden, then scrape it away with a butter knife. Once you’ve finished, remember to vacuum the carpet in order to remove any small bits of wax that have sunk into the pile. If scraping and vacuuming dosn’t do the trick, move on to a more aggressive cleaning  approach.

How to Remove Candle Wax - Isolated


Place a paper towel, plain brown paper bag, or white fabric dishcloth over the wax stain. (Avoid using anything patterned or brightly colored, because the color could be transferred to the carpet, leaving you with a more serious stain on your hands.) Next, reach for your clothing iron, put it on a low setting, then gently press it down on the paper or cloth, moving the machine in small circles over the area. As the wax heats up and begins to melt, it will get soaked up by the paper or cloth you’ve laid down. Repeat the process as necessary, replacing the paper or cloth if it becomes saturated with wax, until no more remains on the carpet.

Even after you’ve removed much of the wax, the carpet may retain a slight discoloration. If that’s the case, spray on carpet cleaner and rub it in; follow the manufacturer’s directions closely, as products differ. Finish the job by washing out any residue from the cleaning agent, then dry the area by covering it with a weighted-down towel. Let it sit overnight, cross your fingers, and return to check the carpet in the morning.

The wax should be gone, but after this bout of cleaning, the carpet fibers may look a bit disheveled. Never fear: Giving the floor covering a quick once-over with the vacuum cleaner ought to restore its original appearance.

How To: Clean Window Screens

Do your window screens look dingy? Is dirt from your screens blowing into your house and making your windows filthy? Sounds like it's time to clean those screens! Don't worry—you'll have them dirt-free and sparkling in no time.

How to Clean Window Screens


Window screens really take a beating. They’re constantly exposed to the sun, wind, rain and snow, and pollen and insects, not to mention all the dust that comes at them from inside the house. That’s why it’s so important to clean window screens as part of your spring maintenance routine. Here’s how to do it not only quickly, but effectively as well.

- Tarp or drop cloth
- Garden hose
- Ammonia
- Bucket
- Rubber gloves
- Scrubbing brush
- Towel

How to Clean Window Screens - Detail


The first thing to do is remove all screens from their positions in the windows. Lay the screens on a large tarp or drop cloth. It’s best to do this outdoors, because the process involves water and can get messy. If possible, wait for a day with good weather so that once you’ve finished, the screens can dry out in the sunshine.

With the garden hose nozzle on its lowest pressure setting, rinse all the window screens as thoroughly as possible, removing any loose dirt, dust, and visible debris.

In a large bucket, mix a cleaning solution of three parts warm water and one part household ammonia. Don a pair of rubber gloves, dip your scrubbing brush into the solution, and start scrubbing in small circles, from top to bottom. Remember to rinse the brush regularly in clean water as you go along.

Having scrubbed each screen to a sufficient degree, reach for the hose one more time and give the screens a final rinse. Now inspect each screen closely: Are there any spots that you missed? If so, spot-clean those areas to remove any lingering traces of grime. Finally, shake excess water off each screen, wipe down all the screens with a towel, and lean them against the house or garage until completely dry.

Of course, the more often you clean your window screens, the easier it will be to keep them looking pristine. For the most satisfying results, build this quick and easy effort into your annual spring cleaning routine.

How To: Hang Shelves

Sturdily mounted shelves can let us display a few of our favorite things or simply help us keep our junk off the floor. Whatever their intended use, shelves are a practical addition to any room, and installing them is a simple do-it-yourself project. Just see for yourself!

How to Hang Shelves


At some point in life, everyone wants or needs to hang shelves. Whether simple 2x4s or part of a store-bought kit, shelving stands unique among home enhancements. Unlike framed pictures, which perform only a decorative role, or sump pumps, which are nothing but functional, shelving can be simultaneously appealing to the eye and practical. No matter your experience level, you should be able to hang shelves with little trouble in one hour or less.

- Shelf
- Shelf brackets
- Pencil
- Measuring tape
- Level
- Stud finder
- Screws
- Drywall anchors
- Screwdriver or drill/driver
- Hammer

First off, decide where you want the shelf. Then consider the weight of the shelving as well as the weight of the items you are going to put on its surface. When there’s any considerable weight involved, it’s best practice to locate the wall studs and use them for support. If that’s not possible, the next best thing is to use drywall anchors.

How to Hang Shelves - Floating


Choose a height for the shelf and mark with a pencil the position on the wall where you plan to install the initial bracket. Then use a level and measuring tape to determine and mark where the second bracket should be fastened. At a minimum, shelving installation calls for two brackets; in the case of a long or heavy shelf, additional brackets may be required to promote stability and prevent sagging. If you judge that more than two are needed, measure and mark now for the extras.

Drill pilot holes to accept the screws to be used in fastening the brackets to the wall. Having done so, proceed to screw each bracket into place, being careful not to overtighten the hardware. Depending on the design of the shelving, either simply rest the board on the brackets or attach the shelf to the brackets via screws or another fastener.

Before loading the shelf with belongings, test the strength of the installation and make any adjustments that appear necessary. Don’t be alarmed if you notice any slight wiggling; that’s to be expected. So long as the wiggling is not too pronounced, it indicates that the shelf will forgive shifts in the wall or floor.

How To: Clean a Shower Head

To keep the water flowing forcefully from your shower head, you should clean it from time to time. Follow these quick, easy instructions for getting your shower head back in tip-top shape.

How to Clean a Shower Head - Dirty Fixture


Is your shower head failing to perform as well as it once did? If so, then chances are good that it’s time to clean the shower head, eliminating scaly buildup within the fixture in order to restore the strength of its flow. It’s easy to do, and you’ll be happy that you spent the small amount of time required to complete the task.

How to Clean a Shower Head - After


Pay attention first to the flexible rubber nozzles through which most newer types of shower heads send water into the stall. Over time, those nozzles become clogged up with mineral deposits that compromise the fixture and worsen its performance. Scrub the nozzles with a toothbrush to dislodge any deposits you can reach, but be careful not to scrub the soft rubber too vigorously. Also, avoid using strong chemical cleaning agents, because they too can damage the nozzles.

Detach the shower head and, after consulting the manufacturer’s instructions for information specific to the model you own, extract the filter screen. (This can usually be found near the point where the shower head attaches to the water supply pipe.) Run the filter under the faucet while gently scrubbing it with a toothbrush. Once it’s clean, reassemble and reinstall the shower head and test it.

You may notice a big difference—or you may not. Removing mineral buildup certainly ought to improve flow through the fixture, but if you have always had a problem with water pressure in your home, you shouldn’t expect that cleaning the shower head will magically overcome weak pressure.

The Vinegar Method 
Step 1—scrubbing the shower head nozzles with a toothbrush—may not manage to remove all mineral deposits. That’s OK: You can clean off the remainder with household vinegar, whose mild acidity actually dissolves the deposits. To do this, fill a plastic bag with vinegar, then fit the bag over the shower head so that the nozzles are completely submerged. Secure the bag with a zip tie or binder clip, leaving it in place for several hours or overnight. Remember to run the shower for a minute before jumping in to bathe—you don’t want to end up smelling like salad dressing, do you?

What Would Bob Do? Cleaning Air Ducts

Dust is everywhere—even in your house's ductwork. But is it really necessary to clean out your air ducts? Let's look at the pros and cons.

Cleaning Air Ducts


I am moving into a new home. The previous owners had a dog. I am wondering if cleaning the air ducts is worthwhile. Anyone had it done?

Cleaning air ducts makes a lot of sense, at least in theory. Because dust gradually accumulates on virtually every surface, doesn’t it stand to reason that it would build up to an intolerable degree in the mostly untended HVAC ductwork that runs throughout your home? Yes, air ducts get dusty. But while air duct cleaning doesn’t hurt, it doesn’t always help either. There are certainly occasions when it’s appropriate, but there are a lot of times when it’s simply not necessary.

1. In most homes, dust collects within a safe range. Your furnace or air conditioning filters trap a high percentage of particles in the air, preventing them from entering the ductwork. Surely, that’s a reason to clean or replace your HVAC filters on a regular basis, but it’s not a strong argument for taking any further action.

2. Cleaning air ducts is not a do-it-yourself job. Even if you were inclined to do it, chances are good that you wouldn’t own the right tools, such as special rotary brushes and a high-powered vacuum. You’ll need to hire professionals, and the cost isn’t low. You could end up paying $500 for work that didn’t need to be done in the first place.

3. In the course of cleaning nonmetal ducts, there’s a risk of dislodging vital connections or tearing walls. If undetected, such damage could seriously impact the efficiency of your heating and cooling appliances and let particle-laden air from the basement, crawl space, or attic enter the system.

Cleaning Air Ducts - Inspection


The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that no evidence exists to suggest that any health hazards stem from light dust accumulation in ducts. In fact, shuffling across a carpet exposes a person to more contaminants. That said, the EPA does recommend cleaning air ducts if there is mold growth visible or if evidence points to an infestation by insects or rodents. Also, air duct cleaning may help to alleviate lingering odors caused by cigarettes or other sources.

Before you contact a duct-cleaning professional for a consultation and estimate, it’s smart to do a little investigating on your own. (That way, you don’t have to take the contractor’s word for it.) Start by having a look at the duct registers or grilles: Are they discolored and coated with a fine, dark dust? If you remove the cover, reach into the duct, and wipe its sides with a damp rag, does it come out filthy?

Go ahead and call the local service, if you discover that a seemingly excessive amount of dust is present. Alternatively, try limiting dust accumulation in your ductwork by using one or all of the following methods:

• Install filters over each of your hot air supply registers, following the manufacturer’s instructions so as not to restrict airflow. Check those filters after a couple of weeks to see what they’ve picked up.

• With a general-purpose caulk, seal any gaps between the edge of the duct and the wall opening. Dust that appears to be coming through ductwork may in fact be entering through that slim sliver of a gap.

• Bring in an HVAC technician to do an annual furnace cleaning. In the course of work, he will clean the furnace heat exchanger. If he finds that it’s not very dirty, in all likelihood the ducts aren’t either.

Quick Tip: Engineered I-Beams

Engineered I-beams surpass traditional framing lumber in strength and stability, avoiding many of the pitfalls to which the latter is sometimes vulnerable.

To save time and money on your next building project, one option is to use engineered I-beams. Made from engineered lumber products rather than whole trees, they’re extremely stable and uniform; they can be manufactured to spec; and they have pre-drilled punch-outs that save electricians and plumbers time and work.

For more on framing, consider:

Rough Construction
Engineered Wood Beams (VIDEO)
Factory-Made Flooring and Roofing Systems

How To: Make a Clapboard Sunburst

When you make a clapboard sunburst, something rare happens: House siding takes on a decorative role while continuing to perform its functional one.

Here’s an ornamental way to use clapboard. Create a sunburst on a gable end. Draw out your design on a template. Cut off the thick edge of the clapboards. Overlap each edge by half an inch and attach with galvanized nails. Work from each side toward the center, bottom to top, then cover the center seam with a trim strip.

For more on siding, consider:

Quick Tip: Installing Clapboard Siding
Wood Clapboard Siding Installation (VIDEO)
Siding Roundup: 8 Options to Beautify Your Home

Quick Tip: Trim Protection Tape

True to its name, trim protection tape keeps woodwork from being damaged in the course of remodeling. Here's what to know about it.

Protecting woodwork before you paint (or do other work) around it will save you time and money later. Trim protection tape comes in a variety of widths for any trim detail, from moldings to banisters. Look for a product that’s easy to use, will stick solidly to surfaces for as long as your project lasts, and won’t leave a sticky residue when it’s removed.

For more on trim and molding, consider:

How To: Paint Trim
Quick Tip: Installing Crown Molding
Get Trim! 9 Ways to Dress Up a Room with Molding

How To: Toenail Lumber

Nailing a board at angle is a basic carpentry skill known as toenailing. Although the technique can be challenging to master, these guidelines can help you learn how to toenail wood the right way.

When framing a house, there are many applications in which you have to join two pieces of wood at a right angle, such as roof rafters, ceiling joints, and wall studs. Here’s how to hold your lumber temporarily with a toenail. Spike in a large nail to hold against your lumber to keep it steady while you toenail the opposite side. Remove the temporary spike and toenail the remaining side.

For more on framing, consider:

Rough Construction
Wall Framing (VIDEO)
How To: Make a Mortise-and-Tenon Joint