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: Polish Silver

With these simple, totally DIY-friendly tips, you can keep your silver clean, shiny, and tarnish-free with a minimum of elbow grease.

How to Polish Silver

Photo: shutterstock.com

Gleaming silver exudes refined charm, yet over time that lustrous beauty gradually fades with the accumulation of tarnish, the product of a naturally occurring chemical reaction between the metal and the air. To look their best, silver candlesticks and vases, table knives and serving spoons all need regular upkeep. You can choose from several effective ways of polishing silver. While each method differs somewhat, they do share a common starting point: The first step in polishing silver properly is to deal with any tarnish that’s been allowed to build up. It’s only when the tarnish is gone that you can really get down to the business of polishing silver. Fortunately, you more than likely already have on hand the ingredients needed for tarnish removal.

1. Line a saucepan with aluminum foil, fill up the pan with water, then switch on a burner on your range.
2. With the water simmering, add in a teaspoon of salt and a teaspoon of baking soda. Stir until both have dissolved.
3. Place the tarnished silver in the water, leaving it there for about three minutes.
4. In that time, the tarnish should disappear, leaving the silver looking much brighter.

Note that if your silver has a dark patina you would like retain, skip this step and go straight to the act of polishing. The process outlined above tends to work well—too well, in some people’s opinions. Yes, there are those who’ve tried this technique and been unpleasantly surprised by how silver their silver turned out!

How to Polish Silver - Detail Work

Photo: shutterstock.com

Commercial Polish
When you’re shopping for silver polish in your local hardware store or home center, remember that silver is quite different from copper and brass and other metals. That being the case, it’s important to use a polish formulated for use specifically with silver. Apply the polish by means of a soft sponge or cotton ball, rubbing the silver (not the applicator) repeatedly back and forth (not in circles). Don’t rub too hard, and use a toothbrush if the object you are polishing has any hard-to-reach areas. When you have finished polishing, rinse the silver under running water before drying it with a soft, clean cloth.

Homemade Polish
Tempted to experiment with homemade silver polish? Many homeowners swear by one or another ingredient (or mixture of ingredients), and these techniques often filter down through multiple generations of a family. If you’re looking to establish a new tradition with an easy, fail-safe homemade silver polish, look no further than your bathroom cabinet. It turns out that toothpaste—yes, toothpaste—works wonders. There’s only one catch: Make sure to use nonwhitening toothpaste, as whitening formulations typically include abrasives that can leave scratches on silver, a soft metal.

Preventing Tarnish
Polishing your silver as often as once a week is one way to prevent a deep layer of tarnish from setting in, but without a butler at your service, sticking to that sort of regimen is virtually impossible, no? The next best thing is to store your silver with care. After each use, place the silver in tissue paper and then inside an airtight container (for example, a Ziploc storage bag). This may seem like overkill, but such precautions drastically slow down the rate at which silver tarnishes—and don’t you just love it when your silver gleams?


Bob Vila Radio: Finishing a Deck

Before choosing a finish for your worn-out deck, consider the maintenance requirements of paint versus stain.

Painted decks are nice to look at, but they can require a lot of maintenance. Constant exposure to sun, water, and foot traffic will challenge even the best paint job.

Finishing a Deck

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 PAINTED DECKS or read the text below:

When it does come time to paint—and that may be every year or two—you can take the quick route and use a belt sander to remove just the paint that’s peeling. Or using a chemical paint stripper and pressure washer, you can take the whole deck down to bare wood.

You’ll want to use tarps to protect the house and plants from paint chips and chemicals. Once that’s done… you wait. The surface needs to be completely dry before you apply primer and paint. That may take several days.

At some point in the paint-and-peel cycle, you may want to strip the deck and apply a stain instead of paint. Stain penetrates the wood rather than sitting on top. You’ll still have some maintenance to tend to, but it won’t take as big a bite out of your time.

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 75 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: Hang Picture Frames on a Brick Wall

It's not hard to hang picture frames on a brick wall. First, read through our simple instructions. Then grab your drill, some wall anchors, and a friend—and get to work!

Photo: cb4photo.com

Although exposed brick offers a warm, appealing aesthetic redolent of history, many homeowners are puzzled by the question of how to hang pictures on a brick wall. If you’ve never done it before, this may seem like a daunting proposition. Whereas drywall or plaster yield easily to a nail, bricks and mortar obviously require a different approach. And yes, the steps involved are different, as are the necessary tools and materials, but even a beginning do-it-yourselfer can hang pictures on a brick wall. Simply follow the instructions detailed below.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
- Chalk
- Spirit level (optional)
- Drill
- Masonry bit
- Wall anchors
- Flush-mounting picture hooks or screws
- Screwdriver

STEP 1
You may never before have considered picture hanging a messy project, but when you’re working with brick, there’s the risk of dispersing dust around the work area. So before you begin, it’s a good idea to cover fragile items nearby with either plastic sheeting or a drop cloth. Doing so will minimize the amount of time you’ll need to spend cleaning up once you’ve completed the job.

Photo: keadesign.com

STEP 2
Use chalk to mark the location (on the mortar, not on the face of a brick) where you want to install the picture hook. Don’t worry—chalk can be rubbed away when you’re done.

STEP 3
Ask a friend to stand in the middle of the room while you hold the picture frame over the chalk mark you’ve made on the mortar. Taking into account the manner in which the frame is going to hang—from a wire or by means of a D-ring or sawtooth hanger— confirm that you’ve chalked the correct spot. If you are hanging multiple pictures, you may want to break out the spirit level so you can make sure everything aligns.

STEP 4
Attach a masonry bit to your drill/driver and proceed to drill a hole into the mortar where you marked it with chalk. Drill deep enough to accommodate a wall anchor, but not so deep that you might puncture any wires or pipes behind the brick.

STEP 5
Place a wall anchor into the hole you’ve drilled. Next, screw a picture hook into the embedded wall anchor. Finally, hang the picture frame over the hook you’ve secured into place. Now you’re done. Last but not least: Stand back to enjoy the view!

Additional Tips
- Choose a masonry bit that’s the correct size for the wall anchor you’re using.

- Use two wall anchors to safely secure a heavy, glass-fronted picture frame.

- When drilling, be careful to protect your eyes from the dust that may scatter.


Bob Vila Radio: Prevent Scalding Injuries

Take action to protect your children from injuring themselves while running a faucet in the kitchen or bathroom.

Scalding injuries are one of the top reasons people show up at emergency rooms with burns.

Hot Water

Photo: shutterstock.com

Listen to BOB VILA ON PREVENTING SCALDING INJURIES or read the text below:

Kids, of course, are especially vulnerable, but there are several ways you can minimize chances you’ll need to make that trip to the ER. First, make sure the temperature on your water heater is set no higher than 120 degrees. You won’t want to go much lower, though, since that can promote bacteria growth in the heater.

Another important safeguard: Install anti-scald valves in the faucets throughout your home and also in the shower heads. There are several different types of these valves, but they all are designed to shut down the flow of hot water to a trickle if it reaches the faucet at a dangerous temperature. They’re just the thing for older homes whose plumbing was installed prior to new, more rigorous building codes. Best of all, they’re relatively inexpensive and easy to install. There’s probably not a better investment you could make to ensure your home is safe for you and your family.

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 75 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: Repot a Plant

For a houseplant to thrive, it may need to be moved into more spacious digs from time to time. Here's how to tell when your plant needs a bigger pot, and how to get it there quickly and safely.

How to Repot a Plant

Photo: shutterstock.com

Even if you’ve never before tried to repot a plant, you can do it today without much trouble, probably in under 15 minutes—so long as you’re dealing with a houseplant. It’s a different story with plants that live outdoors, not least because they tend to be larger and heavier, and therefore more difficult to move about. But for the vast majority of plants grown on windowsills and desktops, repotting is a simple and—in my opinion—a relaxing and fun job. Probably the trickiest part is deciding when it’s appropriate to move a plant out of its current container. One sure sign is if the plant has stopped growing. Another is if the roots are poking through or visible near the drainage holes on the bottom of the pot. Still another indication, less obvious than the others, is if the foliage has lost its vigor and begun to go limp. Once you’ve determined that your houseplant would prefer roomier accommodations, go ahead and follow the easy steps detailed below.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
- Hand fork or trowel
- Gardening scissors
- New pot
- Potting soil or compost

STEP 1
Bring the plant you’re repotting to an area where you feel comfortable making a little mess. Indoors, many people simply cover a table with newspaper. In some cases, watering the plant to dampen (not soak) the soil may make it easier to remove the plant from its container. In other instances, it’s easier to work with dry soil. Use your judgement. Rest assured that neither technique is better or worse for the plant’s health. Keep in mind that working with damp soil will make the process somewhat messier.

How to Repot a Plant - Roots Detail

Photo: shutterstock.com

STEP 2
The best way to remove the plant from its current home depends both on the size of the plant and the type of pot it’s in. If it’s a small plant in a plastic nursery container, you can simply turn the container upside down and gently squeeze from the bottom, using your free hand to guide the plant out.

If it’s a larger plant in, say, a heavy terra-cotta pot, work a gardening fork or trowel around the edge of the soil in the container. Root damage is inevitable here, but try to keep it to a minimum. Next, lay the pot on its side and turn the container (not the plant) slowly, thereby twisting the plant out onto your work surface.

STEP 3
Now it’s time to prepare the new container. Double-check to make sure that it has at least one good-size drainage hole; if it doesn’t, you can always create one with your drill/driver. Some indoor gardeners like to line the bottom of pots with stones or broken pottery to further enhance drainage.

STEP 4
After filling the container halfway with new potting soil, use gardening scissors to clean up the plant and its root ball. Remove any old stems that could slow the plant’s growth, and cut away any dark-looking roots. With your hands, gently break up parts of the root ball to encourage new growth.

STEP 5
Position the plant into its new container so that the top edge of the root ball hits an inch or two below the lip of the pot. Add soil to backfill around the sides of the root ball until the plant can stand upright on its own. You may need to pack the soil, but be very careful not to make the medium too dense.

STEP 6
To help your plant cope with the shock of having been repotted, give it a good soak. Finally, return the plant to its favorite perch, whether it’s the humid environment of your bathroom or the cheerful sun of a bay window.


Bob Vila Radio: Water Hammer

If you hear a banging or thumping in the water lines, it's water hammer—and it's annoying. Here's an easy for any homeowner to remedy the issue.

Ever hear a banging noise when you shut off faucets in the house? The problem could be what plumbers call “water hammer.”

Water Hammer

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 WATER HAMMER or read the text below:

That’s when a cushion of shock-absorbing air—which is supposed to reside in vertical air chambers of your plumbing system—becomes depleted. That causes water racing through the pipes to slam against fixtures when they’re shut off. There’s your noise.

Try this: First, close the main valve that supplies the house. Next, open the faucet that’s highest in the house. Do the same for the faucet that’s lowest. Be sure to flush all the toilets. As water drains from the pipes, in goes the air.

As soon as water stops draining from that lowest faucet, shut it off, then reopen the main valve. That forces air out of the system, except for where you want it: in those shock-absorbing air chambers.

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 75 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: Repointing Brick

Brick installations last quite a long time, but over the years mortar deteriorates. When that happens, at repointing brick becomes a necessity. Here's how it's done.

Brick is very low maintenance, but age and weather still take their toll. As a result, brick requires occasional repointing—removing and replacing deteriorated mortar. Fortunately, this is a task that a handy homeowner can tackle.

Repointing Brick

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 REPOINTING BRICK or read the text below:

Working in small sections, use a cold chisel, a handheld grout saw, or a joint raker to tap out the damaged mortar without harming the brick. Remove the mortar to a depth of at least half an inch, then clean up the dust with a broom, brush, or hose. (Be sure to wear a respirator.)

Soak the brick and let it dry overnight. If your house is less than 50 years old, you can probably repoint using standard Portland cement mortar; older brick may require a lime-and-sand mix. Consult a mason if you’re uncertain about the age of your bricks.

Mix the mortar in small batches. Lightly spritz the bricks, pick up some mortar on a large trowel, and work small amounts into the joints using a pointing trowel. Even out the mortar with the flat edge of the trowel and scrape off any mortar you get on the face of the bricks. After an hour or so, use a sturdy wire brush to carefully clean mortar off the brick face. Mist the wall daily for the next few days to help the mortar dry without cracking.

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 75 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: Dual-Flush Toilets

Dual-flush toilets cut down on water use, saving you money while conserving a precious natural resource.

Back in the 1980s, a bright Australian fellow came up with the idea for dual-flush toilets. They’ve been around for awhile.

Dual-Flush Toilets

Photo: amazon.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 DUAL-FLUSH TOILETS or read the text below:

But what you may not know is that many of the newer models have improvements that make some of the orginals seem like Model T’s. For one thing, trapways have been significantly enlarged, and the sides of the bowls made steeper. Dual-flushers also now employ technology that pushes the waste down the trap (instead of washing it down with extra water).

It’s true that dual-flush toilets are often a bit more expensive than conventional models, at least on the front end. But the savings you build up on water use—along with financial incentives some governments offer—are likely to make your wallet happy in the long run.

Before you buy, make sure you compare specs on the units you’re considering. Price doesn’t always mean better performance.

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 75 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: Maintain the Metal in Your Yard

While most homeowners regularly tend to their lawns and landscaping, they often give short shrift to the metal elements in their yard—gates, railings, chairs and tables. Follow our tips for keeping these items clean and rust-free with a little TLC.

Photo: brickmoondesign.com

Enter the yard of most homes in America and somewhere among the trees, shrubs, and grass, you’re bound to find metal. Patio furniture, barbecue grills, handrails, fences, and gates—these are only some of the metal features common to the spaces outside our front doors. Thanks to metal’s well-deserved reputation for durability, we don’t often think about the material’s maintenance requirements. But when it comes to preventing rust—the mortal enemy of metal—homeowners must intervene from time to time to ensure that their outdoor metals keep looking and performing their very best. Follow these simple guidelines to help iron, steel, and other metals enjoy the longest life possible.

Coatings Are Not Superficial
Once precipitation and harsh weather have conspired to compromise and chip away at the coating on metal, then it’s only a matter of time before rust makes an appearance. Choosing your metals wisely is the best prevention. You’ll get the greatest longevity from products that have baked-on enamel or powder-coated surfaces. In comparison to less expensive painted or varnished metal, these coated products are far less vulnerable to peeling and flaking. Although they’re more expensive initially, metal items with superior coatings are worth the cost in the long run because they truly last for years.

Photo: hibbshomes.com

Safeguard Your Furniture
Metal outdoor furniture offers particular challenges. To make your furniture last, get in the habit of keeping up these easy routines:

• What a difference cleanliness makes! At least twice each year, give your metal tables and chairs a thorough once-over. A mixture of warm water and liquid detergent ought to do the trick. Apply the solution with a sponge; grab an old toothbrush to scrub any hard-to-reach areas. Use a hose to rinse away all traces of the detergent, then dry the metal with a rag, or on a good day, leave it to air-dry in the sun.

• Take pains to avoid damaging the metal’s coating. A simple action like clinking two metal surfaces together can chip one or both pieces, and dragging a chair or table leg may result in scrapes that leave the furniture vulnerable to rust. Take precautions. Raise the furniture up from the ground when you’re moving it, and at the end of the season, when you’re storing away your furniture, use old towels to prevent the pieces from hitting each other.

• If you live somewhere with monsoon summers, harsh winters, or other types of severe weather, consider bringing your outdoor metal furniture indoors, whether it’s for short-term shelter whenever a violent storm threatens, or for a season-long hibernation when the temperatures drop. No storage space in your basement, crawl space, or shed? A reasonable alternative is to cover the furniture with a breathable fabric for the duration of the foul weather.

Make Fixes Fast
Despite your best efforts, the metal on your property may begin to show signs of wear. Don’t wait for a small problem to get more serious. When you come across a small patch of rust, thoroughly clean the area (as described above), except work fine-grit sandpaper into the procedure. Lightly sand the rust away, then wipe off all residual grit before touching up the surface. Use metal primer first; once it has dried completely, follow up with a paint that’s specially formulated for metal.

Perform a Rescue Operation
More extensive damage demands more time and effort, and may require refinishing the metal. Here, preparation is key. Before you can begin a refinishing project, you’ve got to get down to bare metal—which is easier said than done. Use a wire brush—or to make quicker, easier work of it, use the wire wheel attachment on your power drill—and proceed to scrape away the old coating. Pay special attention to any crevices or scrolls that may be part of the design. Once you’re done scraping, wipe down the metal with a damp cloth (or hose it off), then wait for everything to dry before you apply metal primer and metal paint.


Bob Vila Radio: Lawn Mower Blade Height

The health of your lawn depends on many factors, including the height at which you set your mower blade to cut.

Whatever type of turf you have in your yard, if you want to keep it looking its best, make sure your mower is set to cut at the right height.

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 MOWER HEIGHT or read the text below:

And what, exactly, is the right height? Well, for starters, try following the ‘rule of one third’. The idea is that you shouldn’t more than one third the length of the grass at any one time.

So, if you have, say, Bermuda grass—which is healthiest when kept a little more than an inch high—cut it back once it starts to edge up toward two inches. For fescue or rye, which do best at two to three inches, you’ll want to set your mower height up a couple of notches.

Raising the height a bit is also a good idea whenever the turf is stressed by heat, drought, bugs or other factors. Keeping your lawn trimmed to the right height not only promotes healthy growth, it also helps keep weeds at bay.

Height adjustment on most mowers is easy. Just check your manual.

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 75 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.