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: Is It OK to Cut Protruding Tree Roots?

When tree roots surface, a portion of your property can be rendered more or less unusable by their protrusion. In weighing your options, here are few rules of thumb to remember.

You love that tree in your backyard. But one of the roots is protruding above ground, creating a sure toe-stubber, and you’re wondering if you can cut it without harming the tree. Here’s some advice from the experts.

Tree Root Removal

Photo: shutterstock.com

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Listen to BOB VILA ON CUTTING TREE ROOTS, or read the text below:

If the root is large—say, four or five inches in diameter, or more—you should avoid cutting the root, as doing so could cause irreparable harm to the tree.

Here’s another guideline: Measure the diameter of the trunk, in inches, and multiply that figure by eight. That total represents the number of inches from the tree’s trunk that you should leave undisturbed.

If you do decide to cut a root, first dig out the soil all the way around the root, then make a clean cut using either a sharp hand saw or a reciprocating saw. Once you’re done, refill the hole with soil and make sure the tree gets plenty of TLC over the next several months.

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.


3 Ways to Make Your Own Ice Melt

Chances are you already have the necessary ingredients for the homemade ice melt that can free you from the big freeze this winter.

Homemade Ice Melt - Frozen Car

Photo: shutterstock.com

Solid ice can bring your everyday life to a grinding halt, if you don’t have the means to get rid of it. Sure, you rely on shovels and picks to remove ice, but it’s a laborious process that can damage the underlying concrete or stone. And while ice melt works wonders, you’re out of luck if a storm catches you off-guard. The next time that happens, try homemade ice melt. Read on to learn three ways to make homemade ice melt with ingredients homeowners often keep on hand.

1. Salt
Scattering handfuls of salt over an expanse of ice isn’t going to do you much good. To be effective as an ice melt, salt must permeate the ice, not rest on top of it. For that reason, it’s best to spread salt while pouring hot water over the ice. As the hot water melts the ice, the salt kicks in to prevent the liquid water from re-freezing. You can use ordinary table salt, but the best option is rock salt, which in addition to the other role it performs, provides traction for shoes and tires.

Homemade Ice Melt - Snow

Photo: shutterstock.com

Note: The salt-and-hot-water method works to unstick tires, but do not use very hot water on a car windshield; the sudden temperature increase might cause the glass to crack. Also, bear in mind that high salt concentrations can be toxic to plants (though not as toxic as most store-bought ice melts).

2. Fertilizer
A common ingredient in commercial fertilizers, ammonium sulfate works by lowering the temperature at which ice melts. In other words, it doesn’t melt ice immediately, but it hastens the process. And unlike salt, it can be spread over the ice surface. Check your garage to see if you have any fertilizer left over from spring, and on the package label, confirm that ammonium sulfate is listed as a component.

Note: While fertilizer may be safely used as a homemade ice melt for lawn and garden areas, it’s best not used on driveways, paths, or in any instance where the fertilizer, once it combines with liquid water, might land in the municipal sewer. Famously, fertilizer runoff is an environmental concern.

3. Rubbing Alcohol
At -20 degrees, rubbing alcohol has a much lower freezing point than water. For that reason, alcohol often appears as one of many ingredients commercial ice melts. But if you have rubbing alcohol in the home for sanitary purposes, you can harness its ice-melting potential in a couple of ways. First, you can simply pour the alcohol on any icy areas you wish to break up. Or you can combine the alcohol with water in a spray bottle, creating a longer-lasting and easily portable ice-melting solution. Keep it in your car and use it the next time your door gets stuck or your windshield gets frosted over.

Additional Notes
No matter your chosen homemade ice melt, it’s best to simultaneously lay down a substance that adds friction, at least to surfaces anybody might walk upon. Sand and salt—and kitty litter—all do the trick.


Bob Vila Radio: Prevent Roof Collapse with a Snow Rake

In the unlikely event of a snow load testing the strength of your roof, use a snow rake to lighten the load up there.

When it comes to snow on the roof, how much is too much? That depends a lot on the way your roof was constructed.

Photo: shutterstock.com

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Listen to BOB VILA ON SNOW RAKES or read the text below:

Steep and smooth roofs tend to shed snow loads easily, while roofs that are only slightly pitched or flat tend to collect big drifts. Another important factor is the weight of the snow. Half a foot of wet snow tips the scales about the same as a yard or more of fluffy flakes.

If you have a multi-story house, you’d best hire a licensed and insured pro who has the right equipment to get the job done right.

On the other hand, if you have a single-story home, you can pull snow off the roof with a long, telescoping snow rake. Look for sturdy models with small rollers that keep the edge of the rake away from your shingles—you don’t want to damage those.

Finally, before you start pulling snow off the roof, put some thought into where the snow’s going to land. You’ll want to pick a spot other than on your head or the heads of bystanders!

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: The Right Height for Chair Rails

Chair rails remain a popular option for dressing up interior walls, but while their installation can be straightforward, homeowners need to know where on the wall this type of molding looks best.

Chair rail molding adds a tasteful touch to rooms, especially when combined with wainscoting or crown molding. But if you’re thinking of installing chair rails, here are a few points to keep in mind.

Chair Rail Height and Width

Photo: stephanechamard.com

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Listen to BOB VILA ON CHAIR RAILS or read the text below:

To be the most visually appealing, chair rails need to be installed at the right height. Most experts say that ‘right height’ is about one third the distance from the floor to the ceiling. So for a room with an 8-foot ceiling, you’d want to nail the molding about 32 inches from the floor.

The best width for chair rail molding will vary a bit, depending on the dimensions and the wall color of the room. Two to three inches is most common.

Chair rail-type moldings were used as far back as the Greeks and Romans. But the term ‘chair rail’ didn’t come into common usage until the 19th century. That was when Shakers installed pegs in their moldings. Their purpose? To hang chairs out of the way during sweeping and mopping!

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: An Easy DIY Way to Seal Your Garage Door

Cold air and moisture often infiltrate at the point where the garage door meets the concrete floor. With this trick, you can seal the garage door with little effort and at next to no cost.

Though garage doors do a pretty good job of keeping bad guys away from your car, they’re not so good at keeping out the elements. That’s especially true if the floor in your garage is uneven.

Seal Garage Door

Photo: shutterstock.com

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Listen to BOB VILA ON SEALING GARAGE DOORS or read the text below:

Try this: Open the garage door so that the bottom is about head high. Cut a length of 3/4″ foam pipe insulation to fit the width of the door. Then position the insulation against the bottom of the door with the slit facing down.

Next, spread the slit in the insulation and use a screw gun or electric drill to attach the insulation to the bottom of the door. To keep the screws from tearing through the insulation, you’ll probably want to add washers around the heads of the screws.

Pipe insulation doesn’t exactly add to curb appeal. So if you don’t want it poking out the bottom of the door so it’s visible from the street, just drive your screws a little more toward the backside of the door than the front.

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: Bleach + Vinegar = Toxic

Power tools can be dangerous, but so too are combinations between common household chemicals. Do you know which substances not to mix?

When I talk to homeowners about safety, the discussion often centers around using tools and ladders and so forth. But there are a lot of other ways you may be injured in your home, and one of them is by mixing the wrong chemicals.

Bleach and Vinegar

Photo: shutterstock.com

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Listen to BOB VILA ON HAZARDOUS HOUSEHOLD CHEMICALS or read the text below:

You’ve probably heard that you shouldn’t mix bleach with ammonia. That’s true. It produces vapors that can damage your lungs and possibly even kill you, especially if you’re in a confined space.

Add this combination to the “don’t mix” list: bleach and vinegar. When combined, they give off a chlorine vapor similar to the poison gas used against Allied troops in World War I. Bleach shouldn’t be combined with toilet bowl cleaners, either; that combination can also produce toxic fumes.

Finally, steer away from combining highly acidic products with products that are highly alkaline. Mixtures of the two can cause serious chemical burns if they come into contact with your skin.

Before using any household product, it’s best to check the label. Potentially harmful interactions are often listed there.

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: Replacing Shingles the DIY Way

So long as you're comfortable working on the roof, you can replace a missing or damaged shingle on your own, saving the cost of hiring a contractor. Here are a few tips to help you get the job done right.

If you’ve got a broken shingle or two on your roof, it’s easy to repair the problem yourself. Most home centers sell shingles in small batches. Just take a broken shingle with you so you can pick a close match.

Replacing Shingles

Photo: shutterstock.com

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

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

Once safely on the roof, gently nudge a pry bar, its full length, under the three tabs in the row of shingles just above the damaged shingle. Then use the claw on the pry bar to remove the nails you see under the tabs.

Do the same for the next row of shingles, the one that’s just above. Once you remove those two rows of nails, you’ll be able pull out the damaged shingle. Next, slide the new shingle into place and fasten it with six roofing nails, one under each of the tabs you loosened.

To finish off, squeeze a dab or two of roofing cement under the tabs of the new shingle, plus under all the tabs you loosened at the start. Apply a little pressure to ensure the tabs make solid contact with the cement.

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: Is There a Leak in Your Gas Fireplace?

No mere annoyance, the sound coming from your gas fireplace may signal something serious.

Gas fireplaces have been showing up in more and more homes the past few years. They’re clean, easy to use, and add a nice ambience to the home. A drawback, however, is the noises they sometimes make.

Gas Fireplace Noise

Photo: shutterstock.com

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Listen to BOB VILA ON STOPPING NOISE FROM GAS FIREPLACES or read the text below:

If you hear a popping noise when the burner’s on, it may indicate that there are small leaks around joints in the burner assembly. To test for leaks, first turn off the burner. Once the ceramic logs have cooled off, remove them from the firebox.

Next, mix a bit of liquid detergent with water and pour it into a spray bottle. Turn the now-exposed burner assembly back on and look for any small bursts of flame that appearing around joints. If you don’t see any, try spraying a little detergent mix on the various joints and fittings in the burner assembly. If you see bubbles, you’ve found the leak.If the leaks are around a joint in the assembly, use a wrench to gently tighten the fitting.

If you can’t find a leak—or the leak you find appears to be a hole in the assembly itself—you’ll want to call in a pro. Gas leaks are serious business and need immediate attention.

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: Venting a Fireplace Insert

Though there are at least a couple of different ways to vent a fireplace insert, not all are equal in terms of user-friendliness and fire safety.

With temperatures dropping, homeowners are resuming their seasonal quest to get the most heat for the least money. If you have a fireplace that’s inefficient, you might want to consider installing a fireplace insert. Most are considerably more efficient than the fireplaces they replace.

Wood Stove Inserts

Photo: lennox.com

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Listen to BOB VILA ON VENTING A FIREPLACE INSERT or read the text below:

The best way to vent an insert is into a stainless steel liner that extends through from the top of the stove through to the top of the existing chimney. That setup provides the highest efficiency, plus it’s easy to inspect and clean.

Though you can also vent the stove insert into the existing chimney, it’s a bit trickier. That’s because the proportions of the chimney may not match up with the size of the insert. If that’s the case, the chimney won’t draft properly; besides getting smoke in your eyes, you’ll also get a rapid buildup of flammable, acid-laden creosote in the chimney. A chimney liner that’s matched to your fireplace insert is a solid investment that helps keep your home toasty and safe.

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: Troubleshooting Tips for Motion Sensor Lights

Motion sensor lights have an annoying track record of inconsistency. If yours no longer function as desired, they may not need to be replaced, but they do need to be reset. Follow these simple troubleshooting tips.

Motion sensor lights are a must for any home security system, but sometimes they get out of whack, turning on and off inappropriately. That’s especially common after power outages.

Reset Motion Sensor Lights

Photo: thehomedepot.com

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Listen to BOB VILA ON RESETTING MOTION SENSORS or read the text below:

Fortunately, resetting motion sensors isn’t a big deal. Once you’ve got your ladder safely positioned, use your hands to gently adjust the bulbs of the unit to where you want the light to shine. Same with the motion detector. Aim it towards the area where you want to detect motion.

Next, move the operation switch to the “test” position, then climb off the ladder and do a brief jig in front of the sensor. If the lights don’t illuminate, increase the sensitivity setting on the unit. That’s often just a matter of turning a small dial. If the lights come on more often then they should, try decreasing the sensitivity setting.

When you have the unit behaving as it should, move the operation switch from “test” back to the “normal” setting.

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.