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.

How To: Hang a Hammock

Who doesn't dream of whiling away the afternoon cradled comfortably in a hammock? Make it your summer reality by following these easy tips on how to hang a hammock in your backyard.

How to Hang a Hammock


Laying in a hammock is the epitome of summertime relaxation. Getting the hammock set up, on the other hand, can be a frustrating endeavor. Consult the tips below to make quick and easy work of the process so that soon, you will have gone from hanging the hammock to hanging out in its comfy, swaying embrace.

Choosing a location for your hammock is perhaps the most difficult part. While you probably don’t have the perfect pair (and ideally spaced) palm trees on your property, you might very well have two healthy oak, maple, or beech trees that are strong enough to support your weight. Ideally, those hardwoods would be as far apart as the total length of your hammock, fully stretched out.

If the trees are too close together, the underside of the hammock is going to scrape along the ground. If the trees are too far apart, you’ll need to extend the reach of the hammock by means of an added-on rope or chain. While there’s a simple remedy for the latter problem, there’s unfortunately no fix for the former (other than to buy another, smaller hammock). Note, however, that it can be a mistake to extend a hammock any more than 18 inches at each end. Doing so leaves it vulnerable to ripping. So if you fully anticipate having to add extensions, only consider buying a hammock outfitted with a spreader bar to inhibit rips.

How to Hang a Hammock - Detail Suspension


For obvious reasons, it’s important to establish a secure connection at each end of the hammock. One option is to use tree-fastening straps (which may or may not be included with your purchase). These straps feature a loop on one end and a metal ring on the other. Simply wrap the strap around the tree, pass the loop through the metal ring, then attach the hammock to the ring with S-hook hardware. One virtue of tree-fastening straps is that while effective, they cause no harm to the trees involved.

Though there are countless hammocks on the market, most fall into one or two design categories. First, you have traditional hammocks, and then you have hammocks with spreader bars (like the one pictured at right). Traditional hammocks are meant to hang loosely between two trees, with the center dipping down. Since they get attached to points that are six to eight feet high up on nearby trees, you can, in a pinch, consider using tree branches, not tree trunks—so long as the branches offer sufficient heft.

The other type of hammock involves spreader bars, which force the hammock to remain open, so the occupant never becomes wrapped up in a hammock burrito. Unlike the traditional design, hammocks with spreaders hang only four or five feet from the ground. Also, whereas a traditional hammock hangs loosely, these hammocks hang taut; when unoccupied, they are virtually parallel with the ground.

Remember that the wonderful thing about hanging a hammock is that once you’ve finished the job, your reward is right there in front you. Collapse into your new favorite spot—hey, you’ve earned a break!

How To: Start a Lawn Mower (and Troubleshoot Common Problems)

Starting up a lawn mower should be easy, right? But occasionally, particularly after a long, dormant winter, a mower can be tough to start. To get your mower humming along, follow these simple steps—and if it balks, try our tips for troubleshooting.

How to Start a Lawn Mower


Regular mowing is not only beneficial to the look of your lawn, but also to its health. Whether you’ve recently purchased a new grass guzzler or have finally dragged out your old machine for the new season, it’s not uncommon to be frustrated when trying to start up the lawn mower. Of course, different mowers operate slightly differently, but the following guidelines can help you start a lawn mower of the most common type—that is, gas. If you’ve followed the steps outlined here and still cannot start your lawn mower, be sure to consult the troubleshooting tips offered at the bottom of this post.

Safeguard the mower blades against damage by taking the time to remove all objects from the parts of your property given over to grass. Clearing the way entails not only picking up children’s toys and moving lawn furniture, but also addressing any tree branches that have fallen or rocks that have been unearthed.

Next comes a step that may seem glaringly obvious, but which, on account of its simplicity, some homeowners forget: Confirm the presence of oil and gas in the mower. Are you readying a new gas-powered mower for its first go on your grass? Consult the manual to learn the fuel and oil recommendations for the specific model you now own.

With the mower all set to go, press the primer button three to five times in order to channel gas into the engine. If, however, you’ve used the mower recently, you should be able to skip this step. Priming the engine is necessary only after a prolonged period during which the lawn mower has not been used (over the winter, for instance).

Notice how there are two handles on the lawn mower, each running horizontally only inches apart from the other. Press and hold these handles together, keeping them together as you pull the starting rope. Do so quickly and with considerable force. That action should cause the mower engine to turn over. Sometimes, as you have likely experienced in the past, it can take several attempts before pulling the starting rope achieves the intended result: a purring motor.

How to Start a Lawn Mower - Detail Mower


Troubleshooting Tips
You’ve checked and rechecked the mower for oil and gas. You’ve pulled the starting rope so many times that your arm is sore. You’ve flipped through the owner’s manual, muttering curse words all the while. At times, lawn mower maintenance can be truly exasperating. When all else fails, consider these possibilities:

• If you know that there’s oil and gas in the mower, but the engine still refuses to start, it’s possible that either the carburetor has flooded or the cylinder has become soaked with gas. (The smell of unburned gas is a telltale symptom.) Leave your mower on level ground for at least 15 minutes, which should allow enough time for the gas to evaporate from within the mechanism.

• If you are returning to your lawn mower after having left it to spend the off-season in your garage, any gas that was left in the machine may have gone bad. If you think that could be your issue, observe the mower the next time you try to get it going. Does it appear to start up, then quickly stall out? The fix is simple: Siphon out the old gas, replacing it with fresh fuel.

What Would Bob Do? Installing a Screen Door

A screen door is a great thing to have. It lets in cooling breezes in the summer and protects your front door from harsh weather in the winter. If you're in the market for a new screen door, or just want to replace the one you have, here are some tips on purchasing the right door for your house.

How to Install a Screen Door


I’m going to install a new screen door. Any advice or time-saving suggestions on how to go about it?

It’s relatively easy to install a screen door, but to avoid hassles it’s imperative that you choose the right kit (these are commonly sold at brick-and-mortar home centers as well as through online suppliers). But of all the many screen door kits on the market, how do you know which one is right for your home?

For one thing, the screen door must be the right size. If you are putting in a screen door where there wasn’t one before, you must start by determining the dimensions of the door opening. Measure the width and height of the space within the door trim; do so at a few different points along each side (chances are things are not perfectly level or plumb). Now select the standard door size that corresponds most closely to the smallest width and height measurements that you took. If there’s only a small deviation between the opening and the nearest standard door size, filler strips can help you achieve a snug fit. If, however, the door opening is 3/8 inch wider than the nearest standard width, or if it’s more than 7/8 inch taller than the standard height, you are going to need a custom door.

How to Install a Screen Door - Detail Door


If, on the other hand, you are installing a new screen door to take the place of an older one, there’s much less measuring to do. Confirm the dimensions of the door you’re replacing so that you know what size door you need to buy. Also, note the locations of the hinges on the existing door. If the latch is on the right side and the hinges are on the left (when you’re looking at the door from the outside), that means you have a right-hand door, also called a right-swinging door. The opposite, of course, is a left-hand door. Your new screen door should match not only the size, but also the door-swing direction of the panel you are replacing.

I highly recommend opting for a screen door that comes preassembled. Installing these novice-friendly designs requires only basic tools and a minimal investment of time. The popular manufacturer Andersen, for example, estimates it would take the average do-it-yourselfer in the ballpark of one hour to install its “rapid-install” series 3000 preassembled models.

Here’s another tip to help you save time: Choose what’s known as a self-storing door. These designs greatly simplify the twice-a-year task of exchanging the screen for a glass panel and vice versa. In the manner of a triple-track storm window, the door integrates both screen and glass panels; you can easily slide one or the other into use as the season requires.

How To: Create a Gravel Driveway

A gravel driveway can be a classic, low-maintenance, and inexpensive addition to a home. It complements a range of house styles and—even better—is a reasonable undertaking for a determined DIYer. Here are the basics.

How to Make a Gravel Driveway


A gravel driveway can be very attractive in a characteristically unpretentious way, introducing casual curb appeal to the first and last element of your home that a visitor sees. Throughout the United States, gravel remains a perennially popular driveway material, not only for its aesthetics, but also for its relatively low cost in comparison with the alternatives. Furthermore, whereas poured concrete or patterned brick typically require professional installation, even a somewhat novice DIYer can install a gravel driveway successfully on his own, without having to pay for either design consultation or skilled labor.

- Landscape stakes
- String (or twine)
- Gloves
- Wheelbarrow
- Shovel
- Rake
- Hoe
- Weed barrier (optional)
- Gravel

Though it’s possible to cut corners, a well-made gravel driveway usually consists of three layers. In this striated approach, the bottom layer features six-inch-diameter crushed rock, while smaller, two- or three-inch stones form the middle layer. Only the third layer, the surface, comprises what most of us would recognize as true gravel. Here, eschew smooth stones in favor of rough, angular ones, because these can be depended upon to provide a firmer, more stable driveway surface.

Using landscape stakes in combination with string or twine, define the path you wish the driveway to take from the curb all the way to its end point. Next comes a labor-intensive proposition: To prepare the way for the gravel, you must remove any grass or topsoil from the marked-off area. If you’d rather not do this manually, consider bringing in a bulldozer—and someone to operate it—to make quicker work of this unglamorous but essential stage of the project.

Having cleared a path for the driveway, now you need to calculate the volume of stones you’ll need. To do so, you’ll need to determine the number of cubic yards each layer will occupy. Start by measuring the length and width (in feet) of the driveway you’ve laid out, then multiply these two numbers together to find your driveway’s square footage. So, if the width is 10 feet and the length is 15 feet, your driveway will be 150 square feet. Multiply that number by the desired depth of each layer to get the number of cubic feet of stone you’ll need for each layer. The recommended height for each layer is four to six inches. If you want a four-inch layer, divide the square footage by 3 (because four inches is one-third of a foot). Now that you’ve calculated the necessary volume of stone in cubic feet, convert that number to cubic yards by dividing by 27 (because there are 27 cubic feet in a cubic yard). Our 150-square-foot example is 50 cubic feet, or approximately 1.8 cubic yards (50 divided by 27), per layer. You’ll need about 1.4 tons of stone per cubic yard, plus four percent to account for compaction. So 1.8 x 1.4 x 1.04 equals your total order of stones (in tons) for one layer.

Drive Detail


Think strategically when it comes to scheduling the delivery of the stones for your gravel driveway. (Also, bear in mind that some gravel delivery trucks are capable of not merely dropping off the stones, but also spreading them.) It’s best to schedule separate deliveries for each of the three driveway layers. Further, it’s recommended that you stagger the deliveries a few days apart, so you have time to address each layer in turn. If you’re spreading the gravel manually, prepare yourself for the job by assembling the right tools: a heavy-duty wheelbarrow, a shovel with a sturdy trough, and a rake with metal tines.

Before the first gravel delivery truck arrives at your property, it’s important to even out the dirt in the path of the driveway. Depending on the area of your driveway, you can handle this work with your own tools or by enlisting the help of a professional with a backhoe. Are you planning to lay down a weed barrier? Do it after you’ve finished smoothing out the ground; take pains to ensure that the fabric doesn’t bunch up.

The bottom layer of the gravel driveway, of course, goes in first. Once you have spread these six-inch stones over the driveway area in a single, interlocking layer, ideally you’d bring in a bulldozer to compact the stones with its roller. Failing that, so long as you don’t think you’ll imperil the tires, drive over the base layer repeatedly with your car (or a neighbor’s truck). The object here is to pack the crushed rocks into the soil beneath, creating as strong a driveway foundation as possible.

Next comes the middle layer of two- to three-inch stones. In a perfect world, the gravel delivery truck would spread this layer for you, but whether or not that’s possible, the edges of the driveway are first going to need a little TLC. Neaten the perimeters with a shovel and rake and, if necessary, your gloved hands.

Finally, introduce the surface layer of gravel. To facilitate rainwater drainage, grade the stones in such a way that they peak in the middle of the driveway and incline slightly to the sides. Every few months, you may wish to use a rake to restore this peak. Likewise, you may need to neaten the edges from time to time. But for the most part, the gravel driveway you’ve now completed is—and will remain—a low-maintenance affair.

How To: Clean Chrome

Faucets, towel bars, shower heads, hinges—chrome shows up all over the house, especially in the bathroom. Try some of these cleaning methods to keep your chrome gleaming and blemish-free.

How to Clean Chrome


When it’s clean, chrome glimmers—there’s no other word for it. The downside? Chrome succumbs fairly easily to surface blemishes, and while these blotches and streaks do catch the eye, it’s for all the wrong reasons. Compared with other common household materials, even different types of metal, chrome is not especially difficult to clean. More than anything else, persistence is the key to keeping chrome looking its best. For tips on making your chrome shine, check out the suggestions below.

Soap and Water
One of the most effective ways to clean chrome is also one of the simplest. Add dish soap to a bucket of warm water, dip a soft cloth or nonabrasive sponge into the solution, then get to work scrubbing the chrome. As you go along, rinse the cloth or sponge frequently in order to dispel the dirt that has begun to loosen and break free from the metal. To clean any creases or crevices you come across in the chrome, opt for an old toothbrush; the bristles can work the soapy water into areas you wouldn’t be able to reach otherwise. Finish up by rinsing the metal with clean water in order to eliminate any residual traces of soap that remain on the chrome.

How to Clean Chrome - Hinges


More potent than dish soap is distilled white vinegar. Using a one-to-one ratio, mix the vinegar with plain old tap water, then apply the solution by means of a cloth or nonabrasive sponge. Again, use a toothbrush for any hard-to-reach areas. Remember that vinegar works so well on account of its acidity, which dissolves even long-established grime. So as not to dilute its strength, take care not to mix the vinegar with too great a volume of water.

Avoiding Damage
The methods discussed here involve neither harsh chemicals nor heavy-duty cleaning tools. That’s because chrome is a soft metal. It can be scratched even by a scouring pad, so avoid the temptation to use a sharp edge on stubborn stains. Also, if you’re intent on using a commercial cleanser, be sure that its label says the product is suitable for chrome.

Now that you’ve done a thorough job of cleaning, you can either call it a day or go one step further to leave the chrome with an impressive shine. Interested? Two words: chrome polish. You can find it at most auto stores. Different polishes require different application processes, so closely follow the directions listed on the container of polish you decide to purchase. Now, instead of noticing fingerprint smudges, you’ll be seeing your reflection in the newly gleaming chrome.

How To: Remove Sticker Residue

The next time your new purchase, be it glassware, a toy, or electronics, is marred by a stubborn sticker, try one of these household remedies for getting the glue off.

How to Remove Sticker Residue


These days, each and every time you buy something new, the product seems to come with a sticker on it. Usually, that sticker comes off easily enough, but the residue it leaves behind can be a real pain to remove. If you’re tired of wasting time trying to clean bits of glue off your recent purchases, try one of the following tricks. Each involves a common household staple you probably already have in your kitchen, and all are bound to be more effective than your fingernail alone.

Detail - Stickers


Cooking Oil
Reach for the cooking oil next time you want to remove sticker residue. Dab any oil—olive, canola, sunflower, or another type—onto a paper towel, then lay that towel over the gunk that refuses to budge. Wait a few minutes while the oil works to dissolve the stubborn glue. Finally, remove the towel and rub away the sticker residue with your fingers or a plastic scraper (it should come off rather easily). A degree of caution is necessary with this method, because many oils can stain absorbent materials. Concerned? Test a drop of your chosen oil on an inconspicuous part of the object. Proceed only if the oil leaves no trace.

Rubbing Alcohol
Rubbing alcohol is another option for removing sticker residue. (In a pinch, you could even use vodka!) The process is no different from the one you’d follow if you were using cooking oil. Simply dampen a paper towel with the alcohol, lay that towel over the sticky area, then wait a few minutes while the fluid dissolves the glue. Finish by rubbing away the remaining residue with your fingers or a plastic scraper.

When diluted with water, a mild acid like vinegar works well to remove sticker residue. Soak a dishrag in the solution, then wrap the cloth around the object, leaving the vinegar to perform its magic for a few minutes. Remove the cloth, and you should find that the glue has become considerably less sticky.

Some gurus of gunk attest that above all other methods applying mayonnaise ranks as the ultimate way to remove sticker residue. Given that mayonnaise combines two of the ingredients mentioned elsewhere in this discussion (oil and vinegar), it doesn’t seem so far-fetched that mayonnaise would prove effective. Its use, however, should be limited to nonporous surfaces, as it’s liable to stain materials that are absorbent.

How To: Kill Mold

Anywhere moisture lurks, mold may not be far behind. Patio furniture, bathroom walls, basement floors—they're all hospitable environments for invading spores. You can fight back the attack with a sturdy scrub brush and a few potent cleaning supplies. Here's how.

How to Kill Mold


For those who live in a damp climate—or in a poorly ventilated home—mold can be a cause for concern, not only because it’s unsightly, but also because it’s unhealthy (regardless of whether or not you are allergy-prone). For that reason, it’s important to act fast when you encounter mold, no matter its location, be it on a tiled bathroom wall or on patio furniture seat cushions. To kill mold (or its fungal cousin, mildew), homeowners have a handful of options. Choose your weapon based on the type of surface on which the mold has been growing. Here’s how you can effectively deal with the most common instances of household mold.

Walls and Tile
Because it thrives in areas that are damp and humid, mold is most likely to appear in your bathrooms or kitchen. In such cases, a solution of diluted bleach offers the fastest way to kill mold on the walls or floors. Prepare the solution by adding one cup of bleach into a bucket containing about a gallon of warm water. Then proceed to scrub the mold vigorously with a stiff-bristled brush, repeatedly dipping the tool into the potent bleach mixture. (In the bathroom specifically, where mold often inhabits the gaps between tiles, opt for an old toothbrush rather than a larger brush that’s will be less effective for grout lines). Remember that whenever you are working with bleach, it’s important to wear the appropriate protective gear (for example, rubber gloves) and to ensure that the room is sufficiently ventilated before you begin the job.

How to Kill Mold - Detail Mold


Fabric and Upholstery
Before you give up on any fabric that has fallen victim to mold growth, try the following procedure. It may allow you to salvage the garment, rug, seat, or pillow cover after all. First, take the moldy item outdoors so that its mold spores cannot spread throughout your home. Next, use a stiff-bristled brush to clear away as much mold as you possibly can. Now pretreat the item with either bleach (white fabrics only) or a store-bought stain remover that’s clearly designated for use on the type of material in question. Finally, wash the clothing in hot water. As you take the item out of the wash, check it carefully for signs of mold. More than one round of pretreating and washing may be necessary.

Natural Solutions
If you’re one of the many who prefer to avoid exposure to harsh chemicals like bleach, note that plain white vinegar can be a decent substitute. For best results, combine the vinegar with baking soda and water to create a briskly foaming liquid, which you can then use to scrub the moldy wall or tiled area with a stiff-bristled brush.

Preventing mold in the home is essentially a matter of minimizing dampness and maximizing air circulation. Start by installing quality vent fans in bathrooms and above the range in your kitchen. Once they’re installed, don’t forget to actually turn these on when you’re showering or cooking, and keep them on for about 10 minutes after you’ve finished!

How To: Prune a Tree

An occasional pruning will keep your trees healthy, safe, and pleasing to the eye. Follow these instructions on how to prune a tree to make sure that your cuts are effective and kind.

How to Prune a Tree


Sometimes a homeowner prunes a tree for aesthetic reasons, trying to keep the landscaping neat and tidy. Other times, tree pruning is a matter of safety—perhaps a branch has perilously crossed paths with a power line or grown too close to a window. The last but not least reason to prune a tree is for its own good. There are many instances in which pruning goes a long way toward promoting tree health. Rather than calling in a service every time a tree on your property needs a bit of attention, you can learn the basics of tree pruning—it’s well within your capabilities!—and consequently save the considerable cost of hiring a professional.

How to Prune a Tree - Detail Pruning


Before you begin, look closely to identify the main branches that define the structure of the tree. Except in cases of severe damage, you should never remove these primary branches, because they are critical to the tree’s overall health. Another important rule of thumb: If possible, avoid pruning during the heart of the growing season; it’s better to wait until late fall, after the tree has dropped all its leaves. Also, to avoid shocking the tree, you shouldn’t trim off any more than a quarter of its crown during any one season.

Damage Control
The branches that are the likeliest candidates for trimming are those that have been damaged by storms. Choose a tool that’s appropriate given the size of the branch in question. Pruning shears work fine to remove slim branches, but for thicker growth, use a tree saw; failing that, reach for a simple handsaw.

Cut into the underside of the branch, no more than halfway through its diameter. Next, cut through the top side of the branch, being sure that your second cut aligns with your initial one. Severing the branch in two stages instead of one works to prevent the branch from tearing away part of the trunk.

Position your cuts at least a few inches from the trunk so that when you’ve finished, a protruding stub remains. It’s probably safe to reduce that stub somewhat, but do not disturb the stem collar, the thick growth that occurs where the branch met the trunk. It’s needed to help the tree heal.

Thinning Out
For healthy growth, tree branches require the free flow of air on all sides. Dense patches of foliage leave the tree vulnerable to fungi that could eventually compromise its health. For that reason, it’s recommended that you thin out the very thickest parts of the crown, but you must do so in a specific way.

In general, the best branches to remove in the course of thinning are the ones growing toward the center of the tree. Using pruning shears, cut these branches on a bias, at a point just beyond where they fork away from parts of the tree that are more obviously growing in an outward direction.

Giving Shape
Having removed all damaged branches and thinned out the overly dense sections of the tree, it’s time to consider pruning for purely elective, appearance-enhancing reasons. Don’t get too carried away. As mentioned, it’s bad for the tree if in a single season you trim more than a quarter of its crown. But if you identify any small branches that are sticking out too far or growing at unsightly angles, feel free to prune them. All the while, bear in mind that every tree has a natural shape. It’s a mistake to try fighting against a tree’s innate tendencies. Instead, prune the tree in such a way that you are helping it assume the shape that it “wants” to take.

How To: Paint Over Wallpaper

Are you sick and tired of your old wallpaper? Before you go to the trouble of stripping it off, consider covering it with a few coats of paint. Read on to find out how to do it and to figure out whether painting is the right solution for your walls.

How to Paint Over Wallpaper


Any number of imperfections, from nail holes to degraded plaster, may lurk underneath wallpaper. Another ugly truth: The wallpaper you see may in fact be only the top layer of several applications. It’s hard enough to remove one layer of wallpaper, let alone multiple layers. If you have no plans to move, it may be worth the effort to strip away the paper entirely. But if you need a quick fix, you can actually get good results painting over wallpaper! You can achieve a brand-new look with a minimum of hassle.

- Trisodium phosphate (TSP)
- Sponge
- Bucket
- Oil-based primer/sealer
- Paintbrush and roller
- Oil-based paint

How to Paint Over Wallpaper - Detail Red


To paint over wallpaper successfully, take the time to properly prepare the papered wall. This may involve the counterintuitive task of repairing or replacing loose or missing sections of the wallpaper. At the very least, prep work here requires cleaning the walls with trisodium phosphate, a chemical better known as TSP.

TSP is such strong stuff that it must be diluted. Mix it with water in a bucket, aiming for a ratio of one half-cup for every two gallons of water. Closely follow the manufacturer’s usage directions, including the labeled safety warnings. Adequately ventilate the room in which you are working, and don’t forget to wear protective gear.

TSP can be applied with a sponge or even an extra paintbrush. Once the TSP has dried, use a damp (but not dripping wet) rag to remove the chemical from the wall. Tread carefully. Too little water, and you may not get the chemical off, thereby compromising the paint’s ability to adhere. Too much water, and you run the risk of damaging the wall.

If after you’ve gone to the trouble to paint over the wallpaper it ultimately starts to peel, you’re not going to like how it looks. One way to prevent subsequent peeling is to apply an adhesive compound where the wallpaper is most vulnerable—at the seams where it meets the ceiling and floor. An even better approach is to coat the wall with a combination primer-sealer. Not only does primer-sealer minimize the chances of peeling, but it also provides a surface to which the paint can readily adhere. Use an oil-based primer-sealer, not a water-based product; after all, water and wallpaper don’t mix. Whether or not you choose to seal and prime, be sure to opt for an oil-based paint when you’re ready to coat the walls.

Once the walls are clean and you’ve applied the primer-sealer (if you’re going that route), give the walls enough time to dry. You are now ready to begin painting. Approach the job as you would any other painting project: Use a paintbrush to cut in at the corners and along edges, then let the roller do the rest. You’re probably going to need a couple of coats.

Let the first coat dry completely before you proceed to the next one. During the interim, consider sanding the wall. It’s tedious, yes—less so if you own a power sander—but sanding minimizes imperfections and could greatly improve the finished appearance of your work. Either way, the very last step is to paint the top coat. When you’re finally finished, stand back and admire the difference. Where once there had been wallpaper you had tired of, you’ll now see gleaming, freshly painted surfaces!

What Would Bob Do? Unsticking a Double-Hung Window

When a double-hung window just won't open, the most likely culprit is a bad paint job—but there are other possible perps. Here's how to get the window unstuck and figure out who done it.

How to Open a Stuck Window


My wife and I recently moved into a rental house, and we cannot seem to open the double-hung windows in the bedroom. That was just fine with us during the winter, but now that it’s warm out, we really want to let in some fresh air! Suggestions?

We’ve all been there: Try as you might to open the window, the sash refuses to budge. Almost invariably, sloppy painting is to blame. Double-hung windows are fairly complicated contraptions, and each part has its own name (even some professionals have a hard time keeping all the proper terms straight). Technically, a window ceases to operate correctly when paint enters and dries in the space between the sash—the movable part of the window—and the jamb stops and parting stops—elements that direct the sash’s up-and-down path. Fortunately, you don’t really need a vocabulary lesson to open a stuck window. All you need is a blade.


Run your utility knife along all the joints that surround the sash. And don’t forget to address the rear side of the top edge (you may need to climb up on a step stool in order to see what you’re doing up there). Now put the knife down and give the window a try. It should open—if not easily, then with a bit of fussing. Once you’ve got it open to the breeze, use the stub of a candle to lubricate the channel along which the sash travels. The wax doesn’t leave a mess and should make it much easier to operate the window in the future.

If doing the above makes no difference, I recommend removing both the upper and lower sashes. They need more attention than you can safely administer while they’re in place. Furthermore, the issue may be something more serious than mislaid paint. To be certain, though, you’ll want to get a good look at the thing.

Removing the sashes involves a handful of steps. Start by taking out the screws in the interior stops. Next, carefully pry the stop molding free from the lower sash. Proceed to pull out the parting strips—and sometimes that’s easier said than done. If the strips have been painted and are stuck, reach again for the utility knife. Score the joints that surround the strips, then pull—hard if you must, but carefully. Once those parting strips are out of the way, both sashes (the upper one first) should come out rather easily.

Closely inspect the sashes. If they are damp and the wood appears to have swelled, then paint isn’t your problem. The most likely explanation is that missing or poorly installed flashing on your house’s exterior is allowing water to soak the window frame when it rains. Flashing repair typically involves limited removal of house siding. The best thing is to get a professional’s opinion before deciding what to do next.

What if your inspection of the sashes doesn’t reveal any water damage? My suggestion is to scrape the window and sand it down, more or less, to bare wood. Add a coat of primer and then a fresh coat of paint, being careful not to leave any areas of buildup. Let the paint dry and then reassemble the window.

When doors become stuck, high humidity is often the cause. Although that’s rarely the case with double-hung windows, it’s not out of the question. So if you live in a very damp home, consider running a dehumidifier in the room that has the stuck window. By the same token, if it’s a bathroom window that’s giving you trouble, run the exhaust fan during and after your showers. Similarly, a stubborn sash in the kitchen may be aggravated by stovetop cooking; run the exhaust fan during meal preparation and see if that helps.