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: Make Plywood More Portable

Plywood may be cheap, but it sure isn't easy—to carry, that is. If you're working solo, these two tricks can help you get a handle.

Though plywood is a versatile and affordable material, ideal or at least serviceable for hundreds of uses, it’s not the most convenient thing to heft from one place to another.

How to Carry Plywood

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Listen to BOB VILA ON CARRYING PLYWOOD, or read the text below:

Why is it so cumbersome? Mainly it’s because plywood typically comes in four-by-eight-foot sheets. Depending on the thickness, a sheet might weigh anywhere from 25 to 85 pounds. Bottom line: Unless you have really long arms, plywood is hard to carry. Fortunately, there are tricks that can help you get a handle.

First, position the plywood with the long edge down. Tie about 20 feet of rope into a loop and slip each end of the loop around the two bottom corners of the plywood. Reach over the edge of the plywood, grab the middle part of the loop, and lift. That’s a good way to get you and your load from point A to point B.

Another trick is to lift the plywood slightly with one hand and, with the other, hook a claw hammer under the plywood about midway along the edge. The hammer extends your reach and, again, you’ve got yourself an instant handle!

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: Fixing a Broken Window Pane

At one time or another, most homeowners must deal with a broken window pane. Save the cost of a contractor and make the repair yourself—here's how.

Has a pint-sized baseball player in your neighborhood recently hit a home run through your bedroom window? Here are some tips for fixing it.

How to Replace a Window Pane

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Listen to BOB VILA ON REPLACING A WINDOW PANE or read the text below:

Once are wearing gloves and goggles, remove the broken shards by pulling them toward you. That way, if a shard breaks, the splinters are sent safely away from you.

Next, scrape and sand the notch of the sash where the new pane is going to go. Then run a bead of caulk around the notch, not only to provide a cushion for the glass, but also to help make the window weather-tight.

For help in positioning the pane of glass, fold a short length of duct tape in the middle, forming a tab. Now stick the tape onto the glass. That’ll function as a temporary handle.

Once you have the new pane in place, open your glazing compound, remove a lump with your putty knife, and roll it on a flat surface until it looks like a length of rope. Set it next to the edge of the glass and use your fingers to smooth it out.

Once you add a few more lengths of glazing compound around the window, you’ll be done… except for a little sanding and a coat or two of paint!

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: A Trick for Splinter-less Cuts in Plywood

You don't need fine cabinetmaking tools to get clean cuts in plywood. You just need a little know-how.

If you’re planning to cut plywood, here are a few points to keep in mind. Cutting plywood usually creates a splintered edge on one side of the sheet. That’s no big deal if your project requires only one side of the sheet to be splinter-free.

How to Cut Plywood

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Listen to BOB VILA ON SAWING PLYWOOD or read the text below:

Which side will the splinters be on? That depends on the type of saw you’re using to make the cut. Generally speaking, radial arm saws and table saws produce splinters on the top side of the sheet, while saber saws and circular saws splinter the wood on the bottom. If your choice of tools is a muscle-powered hand saw, expect splinters on the top.

But what if you need both sides of the sheet to be free of splinters? Your best bet is to use the sharpest, stiffest knife you can find to make deep scores—on both sides of the wood—along the lines of the intended cuts. One caution: You’ll need to measure carefully to ensure your score lines end up in exactly the same place on both sides of the sheet. As always with power tools, make sure you don protective glasses and gloves before you start your cuts.

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: Locating a Leak in the Roof

Before you can repair a roof leak, you first need to locate the problem. That sort of detective work is rarely a cinch, but these tips can help you crack the case more quickly.

The toughest part of fixing a roof leak is often to figure out where the water is getting in. It’s not uncommon for water to enter the roof at one spot before traveling, by dint of gravity, to the spot where you finally notice it as a stain on the drywall, for example, or as a saturated panel of fiberglass insulation.

How to Find a Leak in the Roof

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Listen to BOB VILA ON LOCATING ROOF LEAKS, or read the text below:

The best way to spot a leak is to head up to the attic on a rainy day. Bring along a flashlight with a good, strong beam and use it to look for areas of wetness. Since water reflects light, so you should be able to find the spot pretty quickly. Once you’ve found it, remember to mark it so that you can find it again a day or two later.

When you have a clear day, make your way up to the roof. Meanwhile, ask a helper indoors to tap on the spot you marked in the attic. Working together, the two of you should be able to locate the shingles directly above the wet area. Communicating via speakerphone here may be prove faster than taking turns tapping.

If you don’t see signs of entry directly above the mark made in the attic, try looking a little further up the roof. Also, check to see if any of the “usual suspects” in roof leaks are located near to where you’re looking. These include dormer valleys, chimney flashing, and the gaskets surrounding pipes and wiring.

When it comes to making the repair, a little roofing cement can go a long way!

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 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

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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

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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

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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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.