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: Know the Signs of a Dying Tree

You can't always save a tree from demise, but happy endings begin with you recognizing there's a problem before it's too late.

It’s not always easy to spot when a tree is in trouble, but it’s important to keep your eyes open for problems. Here are a few red flags to look out for.

Signs of a Dying Tree

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Listen to BOB VILA ON TREE HAZARDS or read the text below:

Pull ground cover away from the bottom of the tree to get a better view of the trunk. Here, hollow spots or cavities indicate serious problems. So can the presence of mushrooms; these may suggest the presence of rot or decay.

While you’re at it, check the ground on the side opposite the lean of the tree. If you see roots protruding, it could mean the tree’s beginning to topple.

Another possible hint that the tree may be in trouble: patches of missing bark on the trunk. A long streak of missing bark usually means the tree was hit by lightning, an event that’s often fatal, if not immediately then in the long term.

If you’re in doubt about the status of a tree, it’s best to call in a certified arborist. Besides having the knowledge to spot problems, arborists also use specialized tools, which enable them to bore into trees and access more definitive answers about their overall health.

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.


How To: Apply Polyurethane Sealer

It's important to top off your home's wood flooring and furniture with a few coats of polyurethane for both protection and an appealing shine. Follow these five steps for a smooth—and simple—application.

How to Apply Polyurethane Sealer

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More than a mere shine, polyurethane sealer protects and preserves the finish you’ve chosen for your furniture or flooring. To apply polyurethane in such a way that it actually performs its intended role, precision is key. If you’re going to cut corners, then you may as well skip the sealer. It’s an optional coating, after all.

Perhaps the first thing to know is that there are two types of polyurethane: oil-based and water-based. Both work equally well, but oil-based polyurethane imparts an amber glow that many people find pleasing. The downside? It takes longer to dry and smells quite strongly. Water-based polyurethane, meanwhile, goes on clear, dries faster, and has almost no odor. It usually costs about twice as much as the other option, though, and some say it’s not as tough.

High-Quality Bristle Brush

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MATERIALS AND TOOLS
- Polyurethane
- High-quality bristle brush
- Sandpaper (100- to 220-grit)
- Razor blade
- Polishing compound
- Tack cloth
- Mineral spirits (optional)

STEP 1
Polyurethane is going to accentuate the surface inconsistencies, so before applying the coating, take pains to properly sand the surface you are sealing. After, remove all dust and debris with tack cloth.

STEP 2
Stir, don’t shake, the can of polyurethane. Shaking creates air bubbles, which in turn leave bumps on the surface. While stirring, if you notice that the polyurethane has an overly thick consistency, thin it out with mineral spirits.

STEP 3
Using a bristle brush, apply the first coat of polyurethane in long, broad strokes. Keep the application thin, so it goes on evenly and neither pools nor drips. Coat the entire surface. Once finished, wait for the polyurethane to dry. Allow 24 hours for oil-based polyurethane and 4 to 6 hours for a water-based product.

STEP 4
Having allowed sufficient dry time, test to see if first coat is dry. Do so by lightly sanding an inconspicuous area. If the polyurethane remains wet, stop sanding and wait another hour or so. Once you’re certain the surface is dry, remove any dust or debris that may have stuck to the surface during the drying process. If sanding doesn’t cut it, you can use a razor to remove imperfections that wouldn’t otherwise budge. When working with the razor, be careful not to scuff the wood.

STEP 5
Apply the second coat just as you did the first, with long, careful strokes. Spread the polyurethane evenly over the surface and let it dry completely.

STEP 6
Once the second coat has dried, sand or shave off any imperfections as you did in step 4. With many oil-based polyurethanes, two coats will be enough. If you’re happy with how the job looks, wait a few days, then finish by polishing the surface with a polishing compound. If it seems necessary to apply a third coat of sealer, simply follow the process you’re familiar with by now. Note that you should never need to apply more than three coats of oil-based polyurethane. Sometimes water-based poly requires more than a few (up to a dozen) coats. Thankfully, it dries quickly enough for this not to become a weeks-long saga!


Bob Vila Radio: How to Remove Paint Spots from Wood Floors

In the course of completing a recent paint project, stray drops of paint managed to get on your finished wood floors. Don't worry! Here's some advice on how to get those up.

When’s the best time to remove paint spots from wooden floors? Right after the paint hits the floor, of course! But what if you don’t notice a spot until later, by which point the paint has become hard as a rock?

How to Remove Paint from Wood Flooring

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Listen to BOB VILA ON REMOVING PAINT FROM WOOD FLOORS or read the text below:

Try using a rigid plastic putty knife, paired with light taps from a hammer. If that doesn’t work, use a hair dryer to warm the spot, then give the putty knife another try (be careful not to apply too much heat, as that could damage the floor). For paint that’s landed between floorboards, try gentle strokes using a pull scraper. Solvents can also be a big help, provided you choose the type that’s appropriate for the paint you used, be it oil- or water-based.

Stains are toughest when the paint has bonded with the finish of the floor and seeped into the grain of the wood. When that happens, you may need to use a pull scraper to remove the paint—along with the finish—before touching up afterwards to reseal the floor.

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: Think Before You Install a Kitchen Island

A potentially welcome addition to the heart of your home, the kitchen island deserves thoughtful planning.

Installing a kitchen island doesn’t just enhance the look of your kitchen. It can also make meal prep a lot more enjoyable and provide a great setting for socializing. If you’re thinking of adding a kitchen island, here are a few pointers to keep in mind.

Kitchen Island Planning

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Listen to BOB VILA ON KITCHEN ISLANDS or read the text below:

Make sure you allow adequate space, and not only for the island itself, but also for the space around it. Most contractors suggest at least three feet between the island and kitchen appliances. Four is even better. If seating is part of the plan, position stools around corners rather than in a straight line. That makes for easier conversation.

Electrical outlets? The more the merrier. Below-counter nooks are perfect for setting up a charging station for your mobile devices.

One other point: Before you start the project, make sure you really want a lot of people hanging out in your kitchen. Once you’ve installed the island, it’s likely to become a very popular spot!

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: Are You Making a Big Mistake with Your Storm Windows?

If you rely on storm windows to stop drafts and save energy, find out which potentially costly mistake you could be making without realizing it.

This winter, before you shut your storm windows, make sure that at the bottom of each one, the weep hole is clear. All factory-built storm windows have small weep holes. These are designed to expel any moisture that collects between the storm and the primary window.

Strom Window Weep Holes

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Listen to BOB VILA ON STORM WINDOW WEEP HOLES or read the text below:

Unfortunately, some folks don’t understand the need for the holes. Concluding that the holes are hurting rather helping, those people fill in the weep holes with caulk. Doing so may save you a few bucks in heating costs over the short term, but in the long run the absence of weep holes can rot the window sill and, in severe cases, lead to water damage and mold in the wall.

If the weep holes in your windows have been caulked over, you can make new ones: Just drill a couple of quarter-inch holes through the bottom corners of each storm. For the weep hole to be effective, the drill bit must go all the way through the frame. Be careful, though, not to drill into the wooden sill underneath.

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: What Exactly Are Architectural Shingles, Anyway?

If you've done a re-roofing project, chances are you've come across a term that, while commonly used, isn't commonly understood by those outside the trade. Here's the lowdown.

Ever wonder exactly what the difference is between conventional asphalt shingles and architectural shingles? Here’s the lowdown: Architectural shingles are essentially just a premium grade of conventional asphalt shingles. They’re thicker than conventional shingles and have a textured look that’s distinctive.

Architectural Shingles

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

Conventional asphalt shingles are referred to in the trade as “3-tab”—that is, each sheet of shingles has three tabs or flaps, separated by quarter-inch grooves. They’re usually installed in flat, even rows and have a uniform appearance. That’s compared with architectural shingles, which have a layered and three-dimensional look.

On average, conventional shingles last about 15 or 20 years. Architectural shingles can remain watertight for up to 30 years, but such quality comes at a cost. Typical architectural shingles cost about 25% more. If you’re willing to shell out the extra money, there’s little doubt your choice would dress up the appearance of your home exterior.

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: Choose the Right Saw Blade for the Task at Hand

One size does not fit all, at least when it comes to saw blades. If you're in the habit of cutting different materials, from wood to plaster to tile, working with the right blade for the job can help you get done quicker, with less labor along the way.

When it comes to using reciprocating saws, choosing the right blade can make your jobs a lot easier. Among the many reciprocating saw blade types available, these are the ones any DIYer ought to know about:

Reciprocating Saw Blades

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Listen to BOB VILA ON RECIPROCATING SAW BLADES or read the text below:

If you’re cutting through wood, you’ll get best results using a relatively coarse-tooth blade. For plaster, the coarser the tooth, the better. If you’re tackling nails or metal pipe, a fine-tooth blade—much like a hacksaw—is the best choice. Special blades are available for cutting stone or tile.  They’re essentially toothless and are coated with an abrasive grit that’s most often composed of tungsten carbide. That same blade also works well with cast iron.

The standard length for most reciprocating saw blades is six inches, but shorter and longer blades are available. If your job involves reaching the blade deep into recessed areas, you’ll want to pick up an extra long blade. Long blades are also handy for pruning trees or cutting through thick timbers used in landscaping. Be sure to have your safety glasses and gloves on before starting the job.

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: Save Time (and Water) with a Recirculating Pump

A recirculating pump enables your plumbing to deliver hot water instantaneously, and that's not only a time-saver, but a water-saver, too.

On chilly mornings, do you get impatient waiting for water from the faucet to get hot? If so, maybe you should think about installing a recirculating pump.

Installing a Recirculating Pump

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Listen to BOB VILA ON RECIRCULATING PUMPS or read the text below:

Recirculating pumps keep the water in your hot water pipes flowing back to your water heater, so whenever you turn on the tap, warm water is instantly available. Besides that convenience, they also save water, since you are bound to let less water go down the drain while you’re waiting.

Some pumps, particularly older models, are designed to run continuously, and that can nudge up your electric bills. However, many newer models can be programmed to shut off whenever they’re not needed (in the middle of the night or when the house is unoccupied).

A top-quality pump may run you several hundred dollars, but municipalities give tax breaks when you install one. That can help you feel good about your choice. So too would the knowledge that you’ve done something positive for the environment.

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.


How To: Get Rid of Bats

When bats takes up residence under your roof, you're in danger of more than merely foul odors. Be rid of your unwanted guests by following these steps.

How to Get Rid of Bats

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The good news: Bats are not aggressive. The bad news: If there are bats in your house, it’s only a matter of time before their waste begins to pose a serious problem. Health concerns aside—and there are indeed viable health concerns—bat droppings and urine can actually destroy wood and other building materials, gradually compromising the structural integrity of your home. So even if you are not skittish and don’t mind the idea of bats dwelling under your roof, there are very good, wholly rational reasons to act fast. Follow the steps outlined below to get rid of bats and prevent them from returning.

STEP 1
Familiarize yourself with local laws. In most states, bats are a protected species, which means that it’s illegal to kill them. One humane approach is to install a bat house on your property prior to evicting your unwanted guests. Chances are that once barred entry to your home, the bats would take up residence in the new accommodations you’ve prepared for there. From there, you could count on the bats to continue their beneficial service of eating the insects on your property.

Bats

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STEP 2
When the goal is to get rid of bats, it’s essential to figure out what type of bat you’re dealing with. So the first thing to do is learn what types of bats are common in your neck of the woods. Next, try to get a good look at the bats, if you haven’t already, so you can compare your observations to your research. Vampire aficionados could easily guess that you  best chances of seeing a bat are at dusk and dawn.

Once you know what kind of bats are in your house, you can move on to determining whether or not it’s maternity season for that particular species. If you prevent the mother bat from regaining entry to your house while the babies are still inside, those babies are going to die. And no matter how you feel about that, you’re definitely not going to like how it smells. So if it’s maternity season, wait it out.

STEP 3
Sure that maternity season is over or has not begun yet? OK—time to get serious. Watch your home closely at dusk or dawn, with the aim of pinpointing where exactly the bats are entering and exiting your home. Bear in mind that a bat colony usually has more than one access point, and these can be as small as a half-inch. You may need more than one evening to locate the different openings being used.

STEP 4
Cover each distinct opening with a one-way exit valve, one-way tube, or one-way bat netting product. Such items are commonly sold at home centers and pest control dealers. The ingeniousness of these designs is that, while they allow bats to exit the house with ease, they provide no way for the bats to return. If your chosen device seems to be working, leave it in place for a period of about three days.

STEP 5
Once there are no more bats left inside, you have a messy job on your hand. Inevitably, the bats will have left droppings and urine in their wake. When cleaning, it’s imperative that you wear the proper protective gear—full-sleave clothing, work gloves, and a respirator. In fact, think seriously about hiring a professional cleanup crew. Once the area is no longer toxic, proceed to seal all the holes you identified.


Bob Vila Radio: Adding a Fire Pit to Your Backyard

Homeowners love fire pits, not least because they are so affordable and easy to add to outdoor living areas.

If you enjoy cozying up to the fireplace in your home, why not consider adding a fire pit in your backyard? Fire pits are just the thing to bring friends and family together on cool evenings, extending the outdoor season.

Backyard Fire Pit

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

If you keep it simple, a firepit won’t break the bank. The simplest are essentially metal bowls with legs. They’re readily available at home centers. Some come with lift-off tops to keep the rain out (when they’re not being used). Some have screened covers to contain burning embers. Still others include grills you can set over the fire for cooking.

A do-it-yourself option is to create a ring of mortared stone at ground level. You can make the ring as tall as you want. To keep rainwater from accumulating in the middle, you may want to include an underground drain.

Some municipalities restrict or forbid outdoor wood fires; before finalizing plans, be sure to check local ordinances. And one more caution: Never put scraps of pressurized wood into your firepit. When burned, the chemicals in treated wood give off noxious fumes.

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.