Author Archives: Daniel Mintz

Weekend Projects: 5 Low-Cost DIY Fire Pits

Even a do-it-yourself novice can complete a DIY fire pit for less than a hundred bucks—and within a single weekend!

After a summer spent out in the Great Wide Open, we hate to retreat indoors, but in most parts of the country, it’s only a matter of time before bitterly cold winter temperatures set in. For now, though, you can extend patio season and enjoy the fall season to utmost, with a DIY fire pit. Scroll down to see five different approaches, each of which involves a different material and a different level of skill to complete. Their s’more-making capabilities? Equally outstanding.



DIY Fire Pit - Stones


Rocks arranged in a circle: If there’s an older, more tried-and-tried way of safely containing a fire, I’d like to know about it. No, you needn’t live near a quarry; Spoonful of Imagination built one from stones found on the property. Occasionally maintained, this is a zero-dollar DIY fire pit that’s bound to last a lifetime.



DIY Fire Pit - Cinder Blocks


Cinder blocks lend themselves well to a variety of projects around the house. Here, Must Add Fabric Softener laid two courses of cinder blocks over a platform of pavers to create a $20 DIY fire pit. To more firmly secure the assembly, an optional step would be to put construction adhesive where the blocks join one another.



DIY Fire Pit - Glass


Karen of The Art of Doing Stuff made what she calls a “personal fire pit.” A can of gel fuel situated in the base—a repurposed metal planter—delivers the small flame, while decorative stones lay over cut-to-size mesh. Framing the fire bed is a transparent box made of four glass panels connected together with silicone.




Here’s a DIY fire pit designed and built around a portable charcoal grill. The concrete portions are pre-made and readily available in home centers, where the clerks would know them as “tree rings.” Perhaps the most difficult part is to design the inner ring so that it’s of the perfect size to support the lip of a grill bowl at center.



DIY Fire Pit - Drum


I would never have thought of turning the drum from a busted washing machine into a DIY fire pit. House and Fig began by stripping the drum of all its plastic parts. Next, unsightly edges were removed (with a grinder), legs were welded on, and the entire thing was painted with high-heat black matte paint. Brilliant!

Weekend Projects: 5 Easy Ways to Build an Outdoor Movie Screen

Turn your backyard into the neighborhood drive-in this weekend with inspiration from five easy-to-make outdoor projector screens.

Like fireflies and fireworks, movies under the stars make for magically memorable summer nights. But if your town or city doesn’t already host nighttime screenings, you can bring the drive-in to your own backyard—minus the Hollywood budget. To inspire your DIY outdoor movie screen, scroll down to see five of our favorite designs, any of which you can build in one weekend. Get the popcorn ready, lay a blanket on the grass, and enjoy the double feature!




“And the Oscar goes to” white bed sheets for being the least demanding of all DIY outdoor movie screen materials. If you’ve got spare linens, follow the lead of We Lived Happily Ever After. Hannah can show you how she simply clipped a queen-sized, ironed-flat sheet to sturdy bamboo sticks set in the ground.




For a larger, sturdier screen, build a pair of wooden posts with help from the step-by-step directions available at Instructables. To stabilize the posts, secure each one with ropes and stakes. Finally, stretch a white tarp (or a blackout cloth) between the two, before locking the material in position with either staples or nails.




In a woodsy backyard, use the trees to create a wonderfully whimsical DIY outdoor movie screen. First, suspend a rope from one tree to its most conveniently positioned neighbor. Next, hang the “screen” from the rope. The 2 Seasons then took it step further, framing the projection area between wine-colored drapes.




Structural elements of your home may provide all the support needed for a DIY outdoor movie screen. Here’s a look at what Sam (from My Barefoot Farm) managed to build in her backyard. She attached her screen (a 10′ x 20′ tarp with steel pipe framing) to the vertical supports beneath the second-story deck.




Avid movie-goers, take note: A DIY outdoor movie screen like this one would last long beyond this summer. Just paint one side of a plywood panel and support it from behind with a framework of pipe (galvanized steel or PVC). At the end of the season, disassemble it and store the parts in your basement, garage, or shed.

Choosing the Right Bulb (and Dimmer)

Don't get left in the dark about the new light bulb regulations. Enlighten yourself on the new energy-saving light bulbs—and the dimmers that support them.

lightbulb retailers


Up until recently, buying a light bulb was probably as routine for most people as buying a carton of milk. But new light bulb regulations that took effect January 1, 2014, aimed at reducing the gluttonous energy consumption of the general service incandescent bulb, have made energy-saving alternatives like compact fluorescent (CFL) and light-emitting diode (LED) lamps top of mind for many. Here’s what you need to know about the new energy-efficient bulbs and the dimmers that support them.

Forget “Watts”—Think “Lumens” 
For decades, we have been buying light bulbs based on how much energy they consume (watts), rather than how much light they emit (lumens). To help consumers better understand the switch from watts to lumens, the Federal Trade Commission now requires product labels to include both. To replace a 100-watt incandescent bulb, look for one that gives you about 1600 lumens. For a 60-watt bulb, you’ll want 800 lumens. Learn more by checking out Lumens and the Lighting Facts Label at

Compact Fluorescent Lights (CFLs)
Unlike earlier versions of these lamps, which emitted a fluorescent glow, the new varieties offer both the same amount and quality of illumination as the standard incandescent, but they use 75 percent less energy. CFLs are available in a wide range of wattages, from 5 to 68 (equivalent to today’s 25 to 100 watts). They come in three color temperatures—soft white, bright white, and daylight—and last approximately 10 times longer than current incandescent bulbs.

Light-Emitting Diodes (LEDs)
LED bulbs, which employ semiconductor technology to provide illumination, use 85 percent less energy than incandescents and 50 percent less than CFLs to produce the same amount of light, making them the highest lumens per watt in their class. LEDs offer precise color quality and come in a range of color temperatures from soft ambient to daylight. They are pricier than CFLs, but given their long life (25 times that of standard  bulbs) and energy savings, LEDs may well be worth the initial outlay.

Lutron Skylark Contour C-L Dimmer

Lutron's Skylark Contour C-L Dimmer

Dimming the New Light
While early versions of CFLs and LEDs were nondimmable, that too has changed. Lutron, the leader in dimming technology, now provides a variety of innovative options for reducing the light output for the new generation of energy-saving bulbs. With compatible switches for CFL and LED lamps, you can easily control light levels to create the right ambience for any room in your house.  And, because dimming uses less energy, there’s additional savings to be had in lower utility costs as well.

For a bulb to be dimmable, it needs to be compatible with a dimmer. Lutron C·L® Dimmers were designed specifically for dimmable LEDs and CFLs, so be sure to look for bulbs that say “dimmable” on their packaging. (These dimmers are also fully functional with the newly regulated incandescent, should you continue to favor those bulbs.) With standard features that include a main switch and a dimming slide, models like Diva, Skylark Contour, Toggler, and Luméa are smart choices. The company also offers more-advanced models such as Maestro Wireless technology, which allows you to control lighting levels with any combination of up to 10 dimmers, switches, sensors, and wireless controls—all with the touch of a button.

Lutron C-L® Dimmers are available in a variety of colors and styles from your local home center, lighting showroom, or your electrical distributor. For more information, visit


This post has been brought to you by Lutron. Its facts and opinions are those of

5 Things to Do with… Old Toys

If you are having toy-separation anxiety, consider up-cycling them into useful, playful objects. Here are five repurposed toy ideas that cleverly show how to think outside the box—the toy box.

Up in the attic, down in the basement, or out in the garage, chances are that you’ve got a chest full of old toys. If you’re not saving those playthings for the grandchildren, then perhaps you simply can’t bear to get rid of belongings that were once cherished. Well, play time doesn’t have to be over: There are myriad ways to repurpose classic toys into objects for the home boasting practical or decorative value. Check out our five favorite projects involving repurposed toys now!



Repurposed Toys - Planter


Toy dinosaurs aren’t extinct. On the contrary, they are alive and well, improbably serving as small-scale, prehistoric-themed planters for succulents. To make your own, use a power drill to hollow out the widest-diameter portions of these plastic figurines, then go ahead and add soil along with your choice of hardy greenery.



Repurposed Toys - Lamp


Got a toy boat that’ll never again set sail on the waters of your bathtub? Embark on a new journey and convert the toy into a fun and fanciful table lamp. It doesn’t take much: All you need are a few simple tools, a thrift-store shade, and a do-it-yourself lamp kit—the kind readily available online or at your local hardware store.



Repurposed Toys - Bookends


Apart from saving the world, there’s something else that action figures can do: function as bookends! Enlist your hero for the task by gluing his top and bottom halves to the visible surface and underside of a bookshelf. Having put his arms into a combat-ready pose, watch as he bravely defends against the force of gravity.



Repurposed Toys - Garden Cart


For those who like to get their hands dirty, whether in a lone vegetable patch or on a rambling property with numerous beds, an out-of-commission Radio Flyer—or any old wagon, really—can make for an excellent way to transport outdoor essentials like terra cotta planters, bags of potting soil, and assorted garden tools.



Repurposed Toys - Organizer


Game over? Think again! A neglected video game controller can become an object that you use every day in the home office. Here’s how: With a screwdriver, take the controller apart so that you can remove all of its buttons. Employ a power drill to form larger or deeper holes, if you wish, then put the joystick together again.

5 Things to Do with… Cassette Tapes

Wondering what to do with your collection of old cassette tapes? Perhaps one of these clever recycling projects will inspire you to put them to inventive good use.

Chances are good that in some remote corner of your home there lies a box full of dusty cassette tapes. Be honest: When’s the last time you listened to one? Now that digital music is the format of choice for the majority of music-lovers today, cassette tapes’ only real value is sentiment. With these cassette tape recycling projects, you can keep your collection for years to come, using it to create novel objects that have practical benefits not likely to be rendered obsolete anytime soon.



Cassette Tape Recycling - Chair


Back in 1987, you may have been dancing to the sounds of cassette tapes, but today you’re probably more interested in sitting down on your analog assets. Start with a wood chair frame. Using cable ties, lash tapes into panels—one to cover the seat, one to cover the back—then finish by fastening those panels to the frame.



Cassette Tape Recycling - Lamp Shade


Crafted almost entirely of the same types of cassette tapes that are currently hogging space in your too-small closet, this is no ordinary lampshade. To make your own, wire together a selection of tapes that have transparent plastic casings. Line the inside of the assembly with a layer of plastic sheeting, then fit the shade over a light bulb.



Cassette Tape Recycling - Carrying Case


Locate an empty box—cardboard, plastic, or wood—that features a hinged lid. Next, use a strong adhesive to cover the box on all sides with cassette tapes. Finally, glue a handle to the side that opens and closes. An equally easy alternative is to bind together a couple of dozen cassette tapes to create an open-topped crate.



Cassette Tape Recycling - Wallet


Transform a cassette tape into a one-of-a-kind, perfectly pocket-size wallet. Here’s how: Pry apart a tape casing so that it splits into halves. Next, glue a cut-to-size length of zippered fabric onto both halves. As a last step, seal the nonzippered side of the wallet enclosure with a narrow band of glued-on fabric.



Cassette Tape Recycling - Pencil Holder


To make a desktop pencil holder—or a small, open-topped box that’s useful for scores of miscellaneous purposes—you just need four cassette tapes and one compact disc. That’s it. The rest is a simple matter of applying enough glue to make all the components “jam” together.

Welcome to AT&T Digital Life: The New Smart Home Security Solution

Home security isn't just about peace of mind. It's about convenience and freedom. See how the new AT&T Digital Life has made home security, even smarter.

AT&T Digital Life Home Security

With AT&T Digital life, cameras mounted on the front porch let you see who is at the door or approaching the house.

When it comes to home security, we’ve certainly come a long, long way from hanging signs that caution “beware of dog”. Today’s high tech home security options offer homeowners a full range of features from keyless door locks and video doorbells to motion detector-activated alarm systems. And, while there are a good many gadgets, gizmos, products and apps on the market to support your security and automation needs, they are, for the most part, independently sourced and controlled. That is, at least, until now.

AT&T Digital Life is a 24/7 integrated professionally monitored system that lets you customize your home security and automation features to suit your specific needs.  Create programs based on daily routines, like automatically locking doors, turning lights off, adjusting the thermostat and arming the security system all from just about anywhere.  Or keep an eye on your property day and night with video monitoring outside and in—even when you’re away from home with the convenience of your smartphone, tablet or computer. Check on the kids, know when the housekeeper, dog walker, or pool man comes to the house, and get an email or SMS alert when the system detects a problem. It’s all about freedom, convenience and peace of mind.

AT&T Digital Life Motion Sensor

AT&T Digital Life motion sensors provide security ...

In addition to security benefits, AT&T Digital Life also provides automation packages that let you control lights, temperature and small appliances.  Everyone knows you can save money on your heating and cooling costs by simply resetting your thermostat when you are away from home.  But no one wants to return to a less than comfortable house after a long day at work. With AT&T Digital Life door and energy packages, you can raise the temperature to a comfortable 72 degrees and turn on the living room and kitchen lights even before you pull into the driveway, park the car in the garage that automatically opened with a motion sensor and simultaneously unlocked the front door.

AT&T Digital Life - Wall-mounted keypad

AT&T Digital Life's wall-mounted keypads provide in room convenience.

Since there is no such thing as one-size-fits-all when it comes to home security, AT&T Digital Life let’s you choose the features that best suit your household needs.  The Simple Security package, starting at $29.99 a month (plus equipment costs and a two-year agreement), includes 24/7 monitoring, wall-mounted and key chain controls, remote arming and disarming of alarms, and contact sensors for doors and windows.

An upgrade to the Smart Security package ($39.99 a month, plus equipment costs and a two-year agreement) comes with everything you need to monitor and access your home’s security system from almost anywhere using your mobile phone, tablet and computer. With Smart Security you can also opt for a full range of automation add-ons, including cameras for video monitoring, automatic and remote door locks, energy control of lights, temperature and small appliances, and water shut off. In short, just the right solution for your family and household needs!

Note: AT&T Digital Life available in limited markets.  Two-year agreement and equipment purchase required with either Simple or Smart Security; service restrictions apply; see for details; optional automation packages only available with Smart Security package. See for license information.

This post has been brought to you by AT&T Digital Life. Its facts and opinions are those of

5 Things to Do with… Junk Mail

Don't get overwhelmed by the stacks of junk mail on your dining room table, get inspired! Try one of these 5 ingenious projects that will put your junk mail to creative use.

Everyone hates email spam, and rightfully so. It does have one redeeming factor, though: It’s relatively easy to manage. By comparison, bona fide front-door-jamming junk mail seems intractable, not to mention wasteful. The situation becomes manageable, however, if you choose to see junk mail not as an annoyance, but as an opportunity. There’s no shortage of junk mail projects that can bring beauty, utility, and fun into your home. Scroll down now to see five creative junk mail uses!



Junk Mail Uses - Envelope


With folding, snipping, and pasting, you can easily repurpose junk mail into a one-of-a-kind custom envelope that’s guaranteed to impress and delight whoever is on the receiving end. In addition to saving paper, this project further personalizes the birthday wishes or holiday greetings you are sending.



Junk Mail Uses - Garland


Some rooms call for a festive feel year-round. One way to cultivate a sense of celebration—on a shoestring budget—is tailoring your unwanted mail into a garland. To make yours, cut identical shapes from different-colored letters and envelopes. Fix those cutouts to a string, then drape it loosely along the wall.



Junk Mail Uses - Notebook


In stationery stores and bookshops, I’m always drawn to the section where charming blank notebooks are displayed—and every time, I’m amazed at their price tags. If only I’d discovered sooner that it’s possible to make your own pads of paper out of junk mail you would otherwise throw away. I could’ve saved a fortune!



Junk Mail Uses - Wall Art


Last time you looked at the stack of junk mail piled high on your kitchen table, chances are you didn’t think, “How gorgeous!” But the fact is that shredded junk mail lends itself perfectly to Jackson Pollock-like murals that couldn’t be easier to create. Besides canvas, all you need is a tube of glue and a pair of hands!



Junk Mail Uses - Basket


Rather than depositing all your junk mail into the trash, set some aside to make a small basket that you can use to store miscellaneous bits and baubles, such as paper clips and rubber bands. First, roll the junk mail paper into tight strands. Glue them into the shape you desire, then secure it with lengths of string.

Homemade Fertilizer Makes the Grass Always Greener

While it doesn't guarantee a lush, green lawn, applying your own homemade fertilizer is an inexpensive, satisfying step in the right direction.

Homemade Fertilizer for Lawns - Grass


Spring is near, and for many that means coaxing the lawn back into shape. Growing grass can be frustrating and rewarding in equal measure. There’s no fail-safe method of success, unfortunately, but if you are struggling to revive a patchy area, applying fertilizer may be your best best. Of course, you can buy fertilizer at your local garden supply store, but you can also take matters into your own hands. Dirt cheap to concoct, homemade fertilizer involves a short list of ingredients that you likely have on hand already. This homemade fertilizer has proven effective for countless homeowners, and it can work for you too.

- 1 can or bottle of beer
- 1 cup of of household ammonia
- 1 cup of baby shampoo (nonantibacterial variety)


Homemade Fertilizer for Lawns - Beer


Start by assembling all three ingredients, each one of which brings an important benefit to the table. Beer delivers nutrients not only to the grass itself, but also to the bacteria in the soil that prime the lawn for growth. Meanwhile, ammonia supplies a powerful infusion of nitrogen—something plants can’t live without. Finally, shampoo makes the ground more absorptive. Because soil bacteria are so important to lawn health, nonantibacterial shampoo is a must.



Homemade Fertilizer for Lawns - Mix


Pour the ingredients into a container large enough to accommodate them. On account of the ammonia, do this either outdoors or in a room with ample ventilation. Next, add the mixture to a hose-end sprayer (an inexpensive accessory) or to a lawn sprinkler outfitted with a fertilizer compartment.



Homemade Fertilizer for Lawns - Spray


Begin spraying the homemade fertilizer, taking care not to let the nozzle linger too long in one place. Given its high level of potency, the fertilizer should be applied as evenly as possible across all parts of the lawn you are treating. Mix a larger batch if you wish to fertilize all of an unusually large lawn.



Homemade Fertilizer for Lawns - Repeat


Apply the homemade fertilizer every two weeks or until you are satisfied with the progress your lawn has made. Beware of fertilizing too much or too often, as an excess can inhibit rather than promote grass growth. Meanwhile, keep close tabs on the pH of your soil; it should ideally be in the 6.0 to 6.5 pH range.

Have you used a homemade fertilizer with success? Share your own tried-and-true recipe in the comments below!

How To: Make Your Own Milk Paint

If you love the beauty of antique painted furniture, you can re-create that same pigment-rich, matte-finish look with milk paint—that you can make yourself.

Milk Paint Recipe - Furniture


Everyone knows that milk does a body good. But were you aware that milk also works wonders for walls and furniture? Yes! It’s the main ingredient in a finish aptly known as milk paint. A viable and sometimes preferred alternative to water- or oil-based products, nontoxic milk paint delivers a matte look that mimics the appearance of a seasoned, decades-old paint job. It can be found online or in stores, but with the following milk paint recipe, you can easily make your own.

- Skim milk
- Lime juice
- Cheesecloth
- Powdered pigments


Milk Paint Recipe - Curdling


Start by curdling the milk. You can do so in virtually any container; use whatever you have at ready disposal, be it a sauce pot or a frying pan. Pour in the liquids, using a half-cup of lime juice for every quart of skim milk, then wait. The curds must be allowed plenty of time to separate. Let the curdling milk sit overnight at room temperature.


Milk Paint Recipe - Collecting


Tie cheesecloth over a large mixing bowl or a sieve. Next, pour the curdled milk into your chosen receptacle. Watch as the cheesecloth separates the whey from the curds. Once they are strained, rinse the curds in water, then keep them moist. If the curds get too dry, your milk paint is liable to end up being gritty.


Milk Paint Recipe - Pigments


Having chosen the pigment you like best, add a sprinkle of the powder to the curds, then stir. Remember that the more pigment you use, the darker your milk paint is going to be. As a precaution, wear a dust mask when handling pigments; even the natural variety contains airborne particles that can irritate the lungs.


Milk Paint Recipe - Colors


Any porous surface (including wood) accepts milk paint. Because the stuff lightens a bit once it’s dry, a few coats may be necessary in order to get the color you want. Most important, waste little time before using the milk paint; it spoils within only a few days. And if you’re painting outdoors—or live somewhere with high humidity—it’s strongly recommended that you protect the paint job you’ve worked so hard to complete with a coat of water- or oil-based polyurethane sealer.

5 Things to Do with… Pegboard

While long relegated to workbenches and garages, today pegboard panels are cropping up throughout the house in a variety of new and clever uses. Here are 5 DIY projects to get you thinking.

People often peg pegboard as being fit only for the garage. Well, that theory sure has a lot of holes in it! As these DIY pegboard projects most emphatically suggest, there is potential for perforated wall panels in virtually every room of the house. Particularly for those with a fondness for order (or a weakness for creating clutter), pegboard is no mere practical option—it’s something more profound, like a small gift from heaven. Scroll down to see what all the fuss is about.



DIY Pegboard Projects - Kitchen


Even in a generously sized kitchen, there never seems to be enough space for cookware. How often have you stretched to reach a colander inconveniently stored in the recesses of your cabinetry? With this DIY pegboard project, those frequently used items always remain in your line of sight and within easy arm’s reach.



DIY Pegboard Projects - Office


Finding a paper clip needn’t be a scavenger hunt. DIY pegboard projects organize the home office as effectively as the woodworking shop. To install pegboard, nail furring strips into the wall studs (one strip for each side of the pegboard). Then mount the pegboard, outfitting the panel with your choice of accessories.



DIY Pegboard Projects - Headboard


When things go bump in the night, sometimes they’ve fallen off your bedside table. That would never happen, of course, if your headboard were a panel of painted pegboard. Short on floor space? Dispense with the nightstand altogether. After all, everything you need can go on a shelf or in a basket attached to the pegboard.



DIY Pegboard Projects - Charging Station


As technology has become a fixture in our lives, so too have unsightly wires and chargers. Hide them with this DIY pegboard project. Start by drilling into the bottom of a nice-looking case that’s big enough to hold a power strip. Put the power strip in the case, feeding its cord out through the drilled hole. Finish by fitting a piece of pegboard into the top of the case.



DIY Pegboard Projects - Gallery Wall


A typical gallery wall contains an arrangement of photos and artwork, each in its own frame. In a formal setting—the foyer or living room—nothing beats that approach. But elsewhere in the home, pegboard offers an easily modified decorative solution, one that is perfect for people who can never make up their mind.