Author Archives: Donna Boyle Schwartz

About Donna Boyle Schwartz

Donna Boyle Schwartz is a well-known home furnishings writer and editor, working with leading magazines and newspapers for more than 30 years. Donna is vice president/creative director of DDS Enterprises, a consulting firm concentrating on editorial projects and original research; the company also operates a full-service recording studio specializing in archival audio restoration. An enthusiastic DIYer, she has a shed full of tools and a house full of projects. Check her out on Google+!

Never Shovel Snow Again After This One Improvement

If you've grown sick and tired of shoveling snow time and time again through the long winter months, perhaps it's time to consider the next best thing to a driveway that shovels itself.

Photo: shutterstock.com

Though winter’s worst storms are likely yet to come, many homeowners around the country have already had ample opportunity to grow tired of shoveling snow. After all, it’s a tedious, time-consuming, back-breaking chore, one that’s regrettably unavoidable in cold climates. But wait—is it truly unavoidable? No. There is another way, thanks to an innovative snow-melting system that enables equipped driveways and walkways to automatically melt away accumulated snow on their surfaces.

Manufactured by SunTouch, the ProMelt line of heating cables and mats operates similarly to radiant-heat flooring installations. The system heats from below, and because it’s specially designed for use outdoors, the electric heat works to melt away not only powdery snow, but also stubborn ice. The cables “are generally activated by special snow sensors,” says Daniel O’Brian, a technical expert from online retailer SupplyHouse.com. That means, once the snow begins to stick, the system can automatically click on. You don’t have to think about it if you don’t want to, but “manual controls are often an option as well,” O’Brian confirms.

Photo: supplyhouse.com

Manual control can you help you minimize the operating cost of a heated driveway and/or walkway. It’s difficult to estimate the seasonal expense involved, because, as O’Brian points out, “electricity rates and the severity of winter storms change from location to location.” In addition to the cost of operation, there’s also the initial investment to cover the components and their installation. O’Brian notes that snow-melting systems are ideal for new home construction, or for homeowners who plan to install a new driveway or walkway. “Retrofitting them is virtually impossible, unfortunately,” because the mats must run under or within the paving.

ProMelt snow-melting mats range in size from 2′ x 5′ to 2′ x 56′; prices start at $190. Customizable configurations allow them to be used with the majority of today’s popular driveway and walkway materials—concrete, asphalt, pavers, and tile among them. Installation methods differ somewhat from material to material. Beneath pavers and stone, for instance, the mats are set into the substrate sand. In concrete, the mats are affixed to wire or rebar that’s suspended into the middle of the pour.

ProMelt mats rely on oxygen-free copper heating elements and are made to be flexible and long lasting. Thermoplastic insulation guards against corrosion and temperature resistance, while a tough polyurethane outer jacket adds further protection against chemicals and abrasion. Though the mat configuration facilitates installation, in certain outdoor configurations it may be preferable to use “loose” heating cables, as these can be worked around bends and other such obstacles. Both types are available through SupplyHouse.com, and both can be handled by contractors or ambitious DIYers.

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


Buyer’s Guide: Best Refrigerators

With so many available sizes, finishes, features, and configurations, picking the right refrigerator can be a challenge. Let us simplify the process with this quick rundown of important considerations and a sampling of well-reviewed models.

Best Refrigerators

Photo: shutterstock.com

The kitchen plays host to more appliances than any other room in the house, and the king of them all is the refrigerator. Whereas it was once a plain white box of no-frills functionality, the refrigerator has evolved to boast a range of stylish finishes, plus an ever-widening assortment of features, some more useful than others. If it’s been years since you last shopped for a fridge, you may be surprised by how much the product landscape has changed. So as you navigate the many options, keep these factors in mind to make a selection that meets your day-to-day needs, satisfies your style preferences, and fits within your budget.

Size/Capacity. When it comes to refrigerator size, there are two measurements to know. The first is the appliance’s exterior size. If you’re buying a new fridge as part of a major kitchen renovation, then you’re free to consider larger- or smaller-than-standard appliance sizes, because your countertops and cabinetry can be designed to fit around whichever model you choose. However, if you’re working within an existing kitchen layout, the new refrigerator needs to fit into the space vacated by the old one. In some kitchens, there may be a height limitation, but width is more typically the crucial dimension. Standard refrigerators measure between 30 and 33 inches across. Depth varies as well. Some models are designed to sit almost flush with the edge of the countertop. Counter-depth refrigerators yield a sleek, almost built-in look, although because they are shallower, these fridges may not offer as much storage capacity as full-depth models.

The fact is that once the refrigerator has been installed, you’re going to care less about its exterior dimensions and more about its interior capacity. Standard-width refrigerators typically have interior capacities ranging from 19 to 22 cubic feet. While some models offer up to 33 cubic feet of capacity, they are wider (and sometimes taller) than the average model. Compact refrigerators, some as narrow as 18 inches, are experiencing new popularity, not in dorm rooms or offices, but in smaller homes. While these so-called column refrigerators often lack a freezer, you can buy a separate (equally small) freezer to serve as a companion.

Best Refrigerators - Full Interior

Photo: shutterstock.com

Configurations. In their quest to expand interior capacity and pack in extra features, manufacturers have struck upon a bevy of innovative configurations. While the most common configuration is still the familiar freezer-on-top design, some of the other popular arrangements include:

side-by-side combinations: Appealing to those who reach into the freezer as often as the fridge, these feature a vertical, full-length split, with the refrigerator on one side and the freezer on the other.

bottom-freezer styles: A fast-growing subcategory, this design positions the refrigerator above the freezer; while the fridge portion often has hinged French doors, the freezer pulls out along sliding tracks.

• four-door models: We’re used to “four doors” being a descriptor for cars, but here the term refers to refrigerators that feature an extra drawer (for meats and beverages) between the two-door fridge and pull-out freezer on bottom.

In deciding upon the ideal refrigerator configuration for your kitchen, don’t forget to account for a model’s door swing in relation to nearby walls, cabinetry, and other appliances. Another important consideration: Many appliances work best when installed with a certain amount of clearance on all sides. Read the literature and work with the appliance salesperson (and/or your contractor or kitchen designer) to make sure that the refrigerator you are purchasing is going to actually fit in your space.

Energy Efficiency. In any product showroom, you’ll find that each refrigerator carries an Energy Guide label, summarizing the appliance’s energy requirements and annual operating cost (based on average natural gas and electricity rates). To minimize monthly energy bills, focus on models bearing the Energy Star designation. Such refrigerators exceed federal minimum standards for efficiency and quality.

Additional Features. Bells and whistles are as prevalent here as in any other appliance category. Among the most popular are temperature-controlled drawers, adjustable storage shelves and bins, and through-the-door ice and water dispensers. On pricier models, you can find wine-chilling compartments, Bluetooth-enabled sound systems, and even integrated television and/or computer screens. In addition, most brands today offer a range of colors and finishes, from matte white to stainless steel and beyond.

To help you find the best refrigerator for your home, we’ve picked a few favorites, weighing the above factors against critical reviews on the top shopping sites:

 

Maytag M1TXEGMYW Top-Freezer Refrigerator

Best Refrigerator - Maytag

Photo: maytag.com

One of the most reviewed refrigerators over on The Home Depot, this traditional top-freezer model received 4.2 out of 5 stars, with consumers praising its “convenient” ice maker as well as its “large capacity.” The Energy Star-qualified unit provides 20.6 cubic feet of interior space, with adjustable full-width Spill-Catcher glass shelves; FreshLock humidity-controlled crispers for produce; and Cool Flow ventilation that helps evenly refrigerate large items. Available in an assortment of finishes, including stainless steel, the Maytag, though not the newest kid on the block, impresses as a low-cost, high-performing choice. Price: $799

 

Kenmore Elite 71323 French Door Bottom-Freezer Refrigerator

Best Refrigerators - Kenmore

Photo: kenmore.com

Sears shoppers gave the Kenmore Elite 5 out of 5 stars, citing its “roomy” 21.6-cubic-foot interior, which is housed within a modest 30-inch-wide frame. Energy Star-qualified, the refrigerator features a full-width pantry drawer, specially designed to hold extra-large, typically hard-to-store items like party platters. Other features include a filtered water dispenser, factory-installed ice maker, and a pull-out freezer with a two-tier design that maximizes storage space. Price: $2,099

 

LG LDC24370ST Bottom-Freezer Refrigerator

Best Refrigerators - LG

Photo: lg.com

Available in white or stainless steel, this LG bottom-freezer refrigerator combines contoured doors, commercial handles, and hidden hinges for a streamlined and seamless look. It’s spacious, too, with the refrigerator and freezer portions adding up to a total capacity of 23.8 cubic feet. Best Buy shoppers gave it 4.7 out of 5 stars, voicing appreciation for its LED lighting, quiet operation, and easy-to-clean adjustable shelves. The Smart Cooling system at its core relies on six temperature sensors and multi-airflow cooling to monitor and maintain temperature, with an electronic interface displaying the system status at any given time. Price: $1,619


Is a Walk-In Tub Right for You?

The bathroom can be one of the most dangerous rooms in the home, especially for seniors. But with a walk-in hydrotherapy bathtub, almost any bathroom can be transformed into a safe haven of relaxation and comfort.

Walk-In Jacuzzi Tub - Water

Imagine if instead of having to make an appointment and haul yourself to the spa—and then have to pay for the privilege—you could treat yourself to a spa-like experience every day at home. This idea is not so far-fetched: For decades now, homeowners have been outfitting their decks with hot tubs and their master bathrooms with oversize jetted Jacuzzi tubs. And while for the younger set, time spent in a Jacuzzi is merely a luxury, those who are older know that it can be something else entirely.

For women and men of a certain age, walk-in tubs with built-in hydrotherapy turn bathing into a restorative, even health-giving, experience. As one recent remodeler put it, “The whirlpool has helped take lots of aches and pains away. It is like being on vacation all the time without all the travel.” Having a walk-in Jacuzzi tub allows bathing to become a pleasure instead of a task.

While Jacuzzi is best known for hot tubs, their walk-in bathtubs put the emphasis on safety. Ordinary tubs can be dangerous for anyone; slips are responsible for many thousands of serious injuries, sometimes even deaths, each year. For seniors in particular, that danger is present not only during moments of inattention, but increasingly as their mobility naturally declines with age. About 10,000 Baby Boomers turn 65 every day in the USA and one in three of these seniors suffers a fall each year, so this is not a marginal issue. The latest walk-in tub designs combine legendary Jacuzzi comfort with extraordinary safety features, including a leak-proof, low threshold bathtub door, built-in grab bars, raised seat, anti-scald water temperature protection, and textured, skid-resistant floor.

Though made specifically for one type of homeowner, Jacuzzi walk-in tubs are not just for one type of home. On the contrary, they know that no matter your age, it’s a priority to combine safety with preserving the look and feel of your bathroom and ensuring that your house not seem institutional. Innovators like Jacuzzi, Inc. have treated this seriously, using the concept of universal design—that is, features for the home that look great and work equally well for everyone, young and old. Their walk-in tubs, in other words, accommodate both grandparents and grandchildren.

Walk-in Jacuzzi Tub - open

Photo: HydrotherapyBathing.com

As you age, your house hasn’t changed, but your needs do change. Rather than leave your home prematurely for a senior living setting, the obvious solution is to fix your house to meet your needs. Aging In The Home Remodelers makes that process hassle-free by guiding you from product selection all the way through to installation. Their walk-in bathtubs and showers are available in multiple sizes, so if your existing tub is a standard size, the walk-in Jacuzzi can fit right into the space that it vacates.

In-home installation is handled by professional, certified installers, and is often completed in one day. This really is not a DIY project. There are a number of factors that can come up during installation, including the type and condition of the existing plumbing, electrical wiring and service, flooring conditions, local building code requirements, and the location of the bathroom within the house. However, certified installers can deal with all of the issues during the installation process. That’s why most quality walk-in tubs are sold as an all-inclusive package including your new tub, installation and clean-up.

To learn more about hydrotherapy and the Jacuzzi Walk-In Bathtub, visit HydrotherapyBathing.com.

This post was created in conjunction with Aging In The Home Remodelers, Inc. Its facts and opinions are those of BobVila.com.


Do You Need a Dehumidifier?

Read on to learn how a dehumidifier can help prevent excess moisture in the air from turning into a mold and mildew problem—and how you can select the best possible unit for your space.

How to Choose a Dehumidifier

Photo: thehomedepot.com

Air quality can suffer in myriad ways. Excess humidity ranks among the least desirable effects. Left unchecked, moisture buildup can lead to a number of problems within the home, including but not limited to musty odors, warped wood, peeling paint and mold. If at any point during the year a homeowner becomes concerned about the high humidity level inside, what can he do to alter the status quo? One word: dehumidifier.

Dehumidifiers range in size from portable, one-room units to whole-house solutions that tie into the home’s HVAC system. Though variations exist both in product design and quality, most dehumidifiers work the same way. You configured the preferred humidity level, and when humidistat registers a level in excess of your preference, the dehumidifier clicks on. Driven by a fan, moist air moves through the appliance, where it passes over a cold metal coil. At that point, the moisture condenses into water, which gets stored internally or drained away. The filtered air then passes over a warm coil before returning to the home’s conditioned space.

How to Choose a Dehumidifier - Isolated

Photo: thehomedepot.com

If you suspect but aren’t certain whether your home has been experience moisture issues, research the problem by purchasing and monitoring a humidity gauge, also known as a hygrometer. If on the other hand you know that your home needs a dehumidifier, consider these factors in making your selection:

• Determine the scope of the problem. Is the whole house overly humid, or is the issue confined to one area (e.g., the basement)? The scope of the problem directly determines the nature of the solution. Larger whole-house dehumidifiers tie into the HVAC system and include a drainpipe that empties directly into a slop sink, sump pump, or to the outdoors. These types of dehumidifiers aren’t cheap and typically involve professional installation. Portable dehumidifiers, meanwhile, are much less expensive and much more consumer-friendly. They plug right into the wall and operate via built-in interfaces that are easy to understand and configure. Some portable dehumidifiers are equipped with hoses that can drain or pump out collected water automatically; others feature a bucket that must be emptied out on a regular basis.

• Calculate the area’s square footage. Even dehumidifiers of the same basic design can differ in capacity. Select one that can hold ten pints of water for a 500-square-foot space; add four pints of capacity for every additional 500 square feet. So if you wish to dehumidify a 1,000-square-foot basement, you’d need a unit with a 14-pint capacity. For a very damp space, choose a dehumidifier that holds 12 pints of water for a 500-square-foot space, adding five pints for every additional 500 square feet.

• Don’t forget about energy efficiency. Energy Star-certified dehumidifiers use about 15 percent less energy than conventional units. In the long run, that means a savings of approximately $175 over the life of the dehumidifier, not to mention avoiding roughly 2,800 pounds’ worth of greenhouse gas emissions.

Dehumidifiers can provide a continuous flow of fresh, dry air in the home, resulting in an energy-efficient solution that improves indoor air quality and keeps mold growth at bay all season long.


Convert Your Crawl Space into a Storage Area

There's nothing stopping you from storing off-season items in your crawl space—nothing except for moisture, mold, insects and potentially rodents. Here, learn what's involved in converting your crawl space into a safe haven for belongings you want to keep but don't frequently need access to.

Crawl Space Solutions - Dirt Floor

Photo: basementsystems.com

For children and perhaps even many adults, the crawl space is shrouded in mystery. Rarely do we think of the dark, dingy, low-ceilinged, and dirt-floored crawl space as providing opportunity. And yet, with planning and elbow grease, you can make even the most intimidating crawl space into an ideal storage area for off-season items. Plus, many of the improvements you’d pursue to make the environment storage-ready would also contribute to overall home comfort and energy efficiency. You’ve got nothing to lose! Read on to learn what crawl space solutions other homeowners choose, then decide which are right for where you live.

Assessment
What’s this going to take? That largely depends on the crawl space’s current condition. For most homeowners wishing to convert a crawl space into a storage area, moisture is going to be the main impediment. Your crawl space may not have a moisture problem, but there’s only one way to know: get down there and assess things. Look for evidence of mold—on the walls, joists, ductwork or insulation. Where there’s mold, there may also be insects, including termites—and the presence of insects might one day attract rodents, if it hasn’t already. Mold also indicates a level of moisture that could eventually affect the flooring, drywall, and insulation in the upper portions of your home. So before you can confidently keep any of your belongings in a moldy, potentially rodent-ridden crawl space, your first order of business is getting the moisture under control. And it’s worth doing, not only for the immediate benefit of additional storage, but because your home might otherwise be at risk to a host of moisture-related problems. For help here, consider consulting a contractor who specializes in basements and crawl spaces.

Photo: basementsystems.com

Moisture Control
In crawl spaces, much of the humidity and moisture comes from the soil floor. To contain that moisture, line the floor (and the foundation walls) with a plastic vapor barrier. Proper installation of the vapor barrier depends on your climate and the product used, but generally speaking, the liners overlap, with taped seams, to leave no patch uncovered. There are many types of vapor barriers on the market, with varying composition, thickness, strength and durability. Because you’ll be using the crawl space for storage, choose a product thick and durable enough to withstand foot traffic. Of course, some homeowners eschew vapor barriers in favor of poured concrete, the best and longest-lasting defense against crawl space moisture. But given the complexities of working within a crawl space, we recommend that approach only to experienced do-it-yourselfers or those prepared to hire a professional crew to handle what’s not an inexpensive job.

Photo: thehomedepot.com

Insulation
Insulation further protects against moisture by helping to control the temperature within the crawl space. A bonus: If pipes run through the crawl space, the insulation prevents them from freezing during the coldest parts of the year. Of course, there are many types of insulation available, but only rigid board insulation is appropriate here, because it resists water damage. Install these foam boards against the foundation walls—not along the ceiling—using either construction adhesive or mechanical fasteners. Once the insulation is in place, the vapor barrier goes up on the walls. Climate depending, it may also be wise to install mat insulation over the earthen floor (below the vapor barrier). For advice specific to your home and region, invite an expert to take a look.

Photo: crawlspacedoors.com

Ventilation
You wouldn’t think so, but crawl space ventilation is a contentious topic. For years, building codes required crawl spaces to be vented, and many still think year-round venting makes sense. (In coastal areas, vents are undoubtedly necessary to prevent a buildup of water pressure from destroying the home’s foundation during a flood.) But more and more experts are saying crawl space vents fail to do what they were designed to do—eliminate moisture. Those experts argue that on the contrary, crawl space vents invite moisture, particularly in the summer when moist, warm air from the outside meets the cooler air under the house. Given the competing opinions and that there are geographic factors at play, we recommend getting advice from a local contractor steeped in the issues at play.

Crawl Space Solutions - Dehumidifier

Photo: basementsystems.com

Conditioning
If you go so far as to block or seal up the vents to your crawl space, the only way for moisture to escape is by means of a dehumidifier (that is, if it’s impossible to install an HVAC register in the crawl space). Dehumidifiers vary widely, from small, portable units to crawl space-specific models plumbed in to the home’s drainage system. Similarly, the cost of a humidifier can range anywhere from a few hundred dollars to well over $1,000. A dehumidifier may not seem necessary for your crawl space, but if you find that moisture problems linger, be sure to purchase a unit whose size is up to handling the square footage of the crawl space.

Crawl Space Solutions - Storage Bin

Photo: thehomedepot.com

Storage Matters
Even if you’ve eradicated most of the moisture (and its attendant issues), we recommend storing items in airtight plastic containers. Depending on the height of the crawl space, you might consider shelving. No matter what storage methods you opt for, be sure so leave enough space around plumbing and ductwork, in case a contractor needs access for repair work. Now that you’ve converted the crawl space, you should have many more square feet of storage than ever before. Though inappropriate for frequently used items, crawl space storage works great for those items you can’t bear to part with, but which you don’t need regularly.


Is Now the Time to Replace Your Windows?

Drafts, rotting frames, aesthetics—there are plenty of good reasons to opt for replacement windows. Let's add yet another: increased energy efficiency. Have we piqued your interest? Read on!

Photo: pella.com

If you’re too chilly to feel truly comfortable at home, your windows—not the weather—may be to blame. Drafts are chief among the many reasons to consider replacement windows. And while an immediate benefit of new windows would be coziness through the colder months, there’s a year-round incentive too. Drafty windows force your heating and cooling system to work harder to maintain a comfortable indoor temperature. So when you replace your windows, you can save real money on your monthly utility bills, thanks to your home’s much-improved energy efficiency.

Photo: shutterstock.com

Technology has had an impact on every corner of your lives. While the great strides that have been made in computers over the past decade probably come to mind first, there have also been tremendous advances in window manufacturing. That’s why, according to ENERGY STAR®, replacing your old windows with ENERGY STAR®-certified products can lower household energy bills by as much as 7 to 15 percent. Depending on a number of factors, that translates into anywhere between $71 and $501 annually!

No single innovation is responsible for the superiority of today’s windows. Their improved performance results instead from a variety of new manufacturing methods. Perhaps most important has been the incorporation of multiple panes of glass. While single-pane windows have long served us well, they have their flaws. Double-paned windows insulate almost twice as well. You can even get triple-paned windows to maximize the efficiency of your home.

Some window makers, including major manufacturers like Pella, go a step further in their multipaned windows. By injecting argona colorless, nontoxic gas—into the space between the panes, manufacturers have improved the insulation value of windows that were well-insulated to begin with. How? Because argon is denser than air, the gas creates an all-but-impermeable seal between the home interior and exterior.

Meanwhile, Low-E, or low-emissivity, coatings have also gone a long way toward improving window technology. These microscopically thin, transparent coatings have been described as a ”sunscreen for your house.” In the winter, glass with Low-E treatment reflects heat back into the room, keeping it warmer. In the summer, the same glass reflects heat away from the home, allowing the interiors to remain cool. Low-E coatings perform one additional and extremely valuable function: They help block UV rays, drastically reducing fading of home furnishings due to sunlight.

Photo: shutterstock.com

Even window frames have gotten better. Wood remains a popular choice, not only for aesthetic reasons, but also for its insulating properties. In fact, compared with aluminum windows, wood frames insulate 1,800 times better! Fiberglass composite frames are another good option. Although less expensive than wood, fiberglass insulates nearly as well—or equally as well—as wood. Plus, fiberglass doesn’t expand and contract like wood does. Even contemporary vinyl window frames are well worth considering, because their multichamber construction inhibits the conduction of heat and cold.

Aside from energy efficiency, replacement windows offer a range of other desirable features, including:
- Tilt-in sashes that make glass cleaning easier
- Between the glass blinds, shades and grilles for privacy and light control
- Prefinished frames
- Low-maintenance exteriors

And finally, let’s not forget that replacement windows can completely and attractively transform the look of your home. To see just some of the countless looks within reach, check out the Pella Photo Gallery. If you’re on the fence about it all, consider this: Replacement windows are a savvy investment. According to the Remodeling magazine 2014 Cost vs. Value Report, window replacement offers a high return on investment, with homeowners recouping about 79 percent of the total project cost upon resale. Not bad at all!

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


Buyer’s Guide: Best Cordless Drills

Are you pining for the power and convenience of a high-quality cordless drill? Before you hit the stores, let us give you the lowdown on important features and useful extras.

Best Cordless Drills

Photo: shutterstock.com

Just as cellular technology freed the telephone, the advent of lithium-ion batteries forever altered the landscape of power tools. While the electric drill was always a homeowner favorite, its cordless version has become truly ubiquitous, appearing in the toolboxes of even casual do-it-yourselfers. If you own any power tools whatsoever, chances are you have a cordless drill. The popularity of these drills has led to a wealth of models on the market. With so many to choose from, how can you be sure to pick the best cordless drill for your needs? Keep these factors in mind as you navigate the selection process.

Best Cordless Drills - Bit Detail

Photo: shutterstock.com

Voltage. Cordless drills range from 7.2-volt models to ones boasting 20 volts or more. The most popular options are 12 and 18 volts; that’s plenty of power for most light-duty household tasks. Higher voltage equals faster drilling and screw-driving, but while speed can be a virtue, extreme speed is beneficial mainly to professionals. 12- and 18-volt drills are fast enough without becoming difficult to handle.

Weight. Over the years, cordless drills have gotten only lighter. It’s not unreasonable to focus your search on tools that come in under five pounds. But weight isn’t the only determinant of comfort. Equally important is the tool’s balance. To test the balance of a drill you’re considering, grip the handle firmly in your dominant hand, then lift it toward the wall as if you were going to drive a screw. The drill chuck should point straight at the wall without your having to fight to keep it from tilting up or down.

Battery Type. Older cordless drills run on nickel-cadmium (NiCd) or nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) batteries. Today’s best cordless drills, however, run on lithium-ion batteries. These weigh less, last longer, and recharge more quickly than their predecessors. The only downside to note is that for all their advantages, lithium-ion batteries are pricey to replace, running as much as $100 or more.

Accessories. Different cordless drill packages come with different features and accessories. Depending on how you intend to use the tool, one or another of the following features may be worth pursuing:

- extra battery
- “smart” battery charger (capable of recharging in 15 to 60 minutes)
- battery-charge indicator
- variable speeds
- built-in work light and/or level
- warranty for drill and battery

To help you narrow the crowded field of options, we’ve identified three of the best cordless drills, based on the criteria detailed above, on reviews by actual consumers, and by ratings from leading testing sites. Available in stores and online, our selections range from light-duty models suitable for apartment dwellers to semipro drills for the serious DIY homeowner.

 

Bosch PS31-2A 12-Volt Lithium-Ion 3/8-Inch 2-Speed Drill/Driver Kit

Best Cordless Drills - Bosch

Photo: amazon.com

Lowe’s customers love the Bosch 12-volt lithium-ion drill for its “compact size” and “light weight.” Plus, its “very sensitive clutch” is “excellent for driving screws to the perfect torque.” Popular Mechanics chimes in, too, saying that the model packs the punch of a larger tool and, despite being only 12 volts, “could run with the big boys.” Equipped with a 3/8-inch chuck, the Bosch features a built-in LED work light as well as a two-speed gearbox. Price: $99

 

Porter-Cable PCC606LA 20-Volt 1/2-Inch Lithium-Ion Drill/Driver Kit

Best Cordless Drills - Porter Cable

Photo: amazon.com

There’s perhaps no better value than the Porter-Cable 20-volt lithium-ion drill. Amazon shoppers rated the unit 4.7 out of 5 stars, praising it for being “powerful” while remaining “light.”  Measuring about 7 inches long and weighing only 3.5 pounds, the two-speed drill fits into tight spots and can be used comfortably for long stretches of time, thanks in part to its “long battery life.” A convenient built-in indicator shows how much remains of the battery charge at any given time. For a “well-built” tool that can handle “any job that a person might face,” look no further than the reasonably priced Porter-Cable. Price: $79

 

DeWalt DCD780C2 20-Volt Lithium-Ion 1.5 Ah Drill/Driver Kit

Best Cordless Drills - Dewalt

Photo: amazon.com

For heavy-duty performance, the DeWalt 20-volt lithium-ion drill ranked highest among those reviewed by Consumer Search in 2014. Amazon shoppers echoed the compliment, describing the tool as “light, powerful, and very well balanced.” With a 1/2-inch chuck and two-speed gearbox, the DeWalt is a brawny tool, designed with an ergonomic handle as well as lots of “little features.” A three-year warranty covers both the drill and its twin batteries. Price: $169


How To: Choose an LED Bulb

These days, you'll find a dizzying array of new options in the light bulb aisle. The next time you're out hunting for a replacement, let this tutorial help guide your selection.

How to Choose an LED Bulb

Photo: supplyhouse.com

If you’ve gone out to buy a light bulb recently, chances are you’ve hesitated over the unfamiliar selection. Traditional incandescent light bulbs have gone by the wayside, having been replaced by a slew of newer—and seemingly quite pricey—energy-efficient options. Clearly, something has changed. So what’s going on? In 2007, the federal government passed the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA), mandating higher energy standards. One target of these new regulations was lighting efficiency. While the typical consumer probably never noticed, the standard incandescent bulb is a real energy-waster; in fact, it wastes about 90 percent of the energy it uses. Efficient bulbs can produce the same amount of light with much less energy.

Among the field of new energy-efficient light bulbs, LEDs are swiftly emerging as a homeowner favorite. In part, that’s because they produce the most pleasing light. But you’ve got to be impressed by their stats too: LEDs operate five times more efficiently than yesterday’s incandescent. Daniel O’Brian, a technical expert from online retailer SupplyHouse.com, adds, “Another large advantage is projected lifespan. While incandescent bulbs last about 1,200 hours, you can expect an LED bulb to last up to 50,000 hours. That would be equal to having to replace 42 incandescent bulbs over the lifetime of a single LED.” That’s impressive.

Though LED light bulbs cost more to purchase (about $10 per, as of this writing), they and their efficient cousins are poised to save the average household about $50 annually, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. With such savings at stake, it’s no wonder everyone’s scrambling to understand the new products on offer in the light bulb aisle. If your head’s still spinning, consult the guidelines below for help in choosing an LED bulb that’s just right for your home.

How to Choose an LED Bulb - A-Type

Photo: supplyhouse.com

Watts vs. Lumens
Only a couple of years ago, we’d compare wattages in order to distinguish between the brightness of different light bulbs. Nowadays, what matters is the bulbs’ output in lumens. O’Brian explains, “Wattage really refers to power consumption.” Lumens, on the other hand, “actually measure the brightness of a light.” This isn’t change for the sake of change alone. The fact is that newer bulbs are so efficient that they render the old packaging system meaningless. O’Brian says that “while a 40-watt incandescent can give off around 450 lumens, a 7-watt LED can provide the same brightness.” It may be a bit confusing and inconvenient, but clearly, in today’s shifting landscape, lumens are the only measurement that counts.

To assist consumers in their watts-to-lumens transition, the American Lighting Association has issued guidelines for consumers seeking efficient equivalents to the incandescents they’re accustomed to buying:

• To replace a 40-watt incandescent bulb, choose a bulb that will produce 450 lumens.
• To replace a 60-watt incandescent bulb, choose a bulb that will produce 800 lumens.
• To replace a 75-watt incandescent bulb, choose a bulb that will produce 1,100 lumens.
• To replace a 100-watt incandescent bulb, choose a bulb that will produce 1,600 lumens.

Color Temperature
Anybody who’s worked in a fluorescent-lit office knows too well that brightness isn’t the only key factor. Equally important is color temperature—that is, how warm or cool the light appears. Color temperature is measured in Kelvin (K); the higher the number, the cooler the light. For example, “soft white” bulbs are rated up to 2700K, on the low side of the scale, producing a warm, relaxing glow. “Daylight” bulbs, rated from 5000K to 6500K, produce a crisp light suitable for laundry rooms, garages, and security purposes.

Shapes and Sizes
LED bulbs come in many different shapes, each of which has its own intended use. The most familiar bulb shape is known as “A-line”; these are what you’d use for, say, a table lamp. “Candle”-shape bulbs are designed for chandeliers and wall sconces, while “globe” bulbs are ideal for pendant lamps or any other application in which there isn’t a shade. Other popular shapes include floodlights, spotlights, and down lights.

Your Bottom Line
It’s certainly true that LED bulbs cost more than incandescents. The financial benefit of the efficient light bulbs comes over the long term, because LEDs cost about 75 percent less to operate and seldom need replacement. Think of it this way: Whereas running a 60-watt incandescent bulb costs about $4.80 per year, running an equivalent LED costs only a dollar.

Online retailer SupplyHouse.com offers a large selection of LED light bulbs from industry-leading brands. For more information or to view an assortment of LED bulbs, visit SupplyHouse.com now!

 

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


A New Tool in the Shed Promises to Replace All the Others

What if the key to an organized shed is simply to ditch all your tools? Well, all tools but one. Troy-Bilt's newest system can mow the lawn, blast leaves, throw snow and much more. It may be the last outdoor tool you ever buy.

Flex System's New Do-It-All Yard Tool

Photo: Troy-Bilt FLEX System

Next spring, one yard care system is going to revolutionize the way homeowners stock their sheds. We’re used to such things as the lawn mower, leaf blower, snowblower and pressure washer all being separate machines, but the FLEX line, from Troy-Bilt, unites them all in a single, first-of-its-kind outdoor tool.

At its heart, the FLEX is a single engine designed to power a suite of attachments, each designed for a specific purpose. Choose only the attachments you want, foregoing the ones you don’t need. In addition to the four that currently comprise the FLEX roster, the company plans to develop the following in 2015 and 2016:
- Power broom
- Log splitter
- Water pump
- Chipper/shredder
- Generator
- Aerator
- Dethatcher
- Brushcutter

Each attachment will be sold separately, in à la carte fashion. The only component all customers need to buy is the power base. From there, it’s a question of need. If you live in a warmer part of the country, the attachments you choose are very likely to be different from those chosen by a homeowner in the Northeast.

FLEX System Lawn Mower and Leaf Blower units

FLEX System Lawn Mower and Leaf Blower units

The real advantage of the FLEX is how it frees you from having to store a bevy of single-function outdoor tools, each with its own bulky motor. According to Troy-Bilt, the FLEX line takes up to 60% less storage space than a traditional collection of the same equipment. Plus, there’s only one engine to maintain.

FLEX System Snow Thrower and Pressure Washer units

FLEX System Snow Thrower and Pressure Washer units

When the FLEX hits stores in March, the power base is expected to retail for $399, with a four-year limited warranty. Attachments will range from $279 to $499, each covered for two years. It may seem like a long time to wait, but we’ve waited so long to fit the car in the garage again, we can probably hold off a little longer.


Buyer’s Guide: Chainsaws

Once the province only of horror movies and lumber harvest, chainsaws are becoming more and more popular among homeowners who like to do landscaping. Read our take on the best the market has to offer.

Best Chainsaws

Photo: shutterstock.com

As much as chainsaws hold appeal for tool geeks and aspiring lumberjacks, they are also quite handy for the average homeowner, particularly those who like to do landscaping. Likewise, if you heat your home with wood, you may in fact already own a chainsaw. There are number of types and sizes on the market today, ranging from light- to heavy-duty. Choosing the best chainsaw isn’t a matter of buying the top of the line (that’d be “too much tool” for most). Making the right selection starts with an honest assessment of your needs—that is, for what purpose are you buying a chainsaw? Keep in mind its intended uses, and you can dramatically narrow down the field of options. That’s not to say power and size are the sole considerations; factors like noise and fuel type are also worth weighing. Read on to learn what distinguishes different chainsaws, so you can understand the market and choose the best chainsaw for your specific purposes.

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Size/Power: The size of a chainsaw hinges on its bar length—that is, the distance from the cutting tip to the housing. In effect, the bar length is the cutting area; the larger the cutting area, the larger the jobs you can confidently tackle. Bar lengths run as short as six inches or as long as 20 inches (the former would obviously weigh less than the latter). At least in gas-powered models, another measure of chainsaw power is engine displacement—that is, the engine size. A higher number indicates a more powerful engine (but here, too, recognize that the larger you go, the more weight you’ll have to lug around while you’re working).

Best Chainsaws - Cutting

Photo: shutterstock.com

Fuel Type: Quintessential chainsaws are gas-powered, but there are now many quieter, lighter—and yes, less powerful—electric models on the market. Some are corded, meaning in order to operate the tool, you must be in range of an electrical power source. Cordless chainsaws, meanwhile, run on rechargeable lithium-ion batteries. Though most lack the brawn to take down trees, battery-powered saws are more than serviceable for many common applications.

Exhaust: While electric chainsaws obviously do not release exhaust, gas-powered models emit carbon monoxide and other pollutants. In fact, California residents are only legally permitted to use chainsaws that run in compliance with certain environmental standards set by the state.

Noise: They’re loud! That’s the most frequent complaint made against chainsaws, and with good reason. At full tilt, gas-powered models can exceed 100 decibels. And believe or not, some electric saws are just about as noisy. There are some electrics, however, which operate at about 85 decibels. So if you have neighbors close by, consider choosing one of those quieter models. No matter your choice, remember to always wear hearing protection when working with such a loud tool.

Safety Features: Chainsaws are dangerous, plain and simple. They cause thousands of injuries each year. Some of the best chainsaws feature such safety features as a trigger lock, which stops the cutting action the moment you release the trigger. Also, look for anti-kickback chains, which prevent snags and minimize jolting. Finally, there are double-acting chain brakes that protect the hand from moving toward the cutting area. Focus only on models whose design prioritizes your safety.

Accessories: A range of other miscellaneous features may be found in the chainsaw market. Some may be irrelevant to your needs, but others may provide a compelling reason to select one tool over another. Look out for side-mounted or tool-free chain tensioning, for instance; that makes it easier to adjust chain tension on the go. Also handy are see-through oil and gas tanks, self-oiling chains, and spring-assist starting. The latter reduces the pulling force needed to get the tool going—what a relief!

On electric models, built-in circuit breakers prevent the motor from burning out. Corded models need heavy-gauge weatherproof extensions and a ground fault circuit interrupter. Cordless models, meanwhile, are most convenient when they come with an extended-life battery (or an extra).

To help take some of the guesswork out of the shopping process, we’ve identified a few of the top-rated chainsaws available today. These recommendations are based on the criteria listed above, on ratings by leading consumer testing sites, and on reviews written by actual people. Check out the best chainsaws:

 

Husqvarna 450 18-Inch 50.2cc X-Torq 2-Cycle Gas-Powered Chain Saw

Best Chainsaws - Husqvarna

Photo: amazon.com

The Husqvarna 450 was rated by Consumer Search as the best chainsaw among gas-powered models. Amazon shoppers give it 4.2 out of 5 stars, reserving praise for its power and ease of use. Reviewers say it’s “easy to use,” “quiet,” and “powerful,” cutting through hardwood “like a knife through butter.” The Husqvarna 450 offers a Smart Start feature and is CARB-compliant. The unit has a 50.2 cc motor powers and a 20-inch bar. Other features include a Low Vib vibration dampening system; combined choke/stop control; a centrifugal air cleaning system; chain brake; and snap-lock cylinder cover. Price: $357

 

Black & Decker LP1000 Alligator Lopper 4.5 Amp Electric Chain Saw

Best Chainsaws - Alligator

Photo: amazon.com

The electric-powered Alligator Lopper excels at cutting branches up to four inches in diameter. For that reason, Amazon shoppers gave it 4.7 out of 5 stars. One reviewer calls it his “new favorite tool.” Another says it’s “ideal for 99% of the cutting I need to do.” With a 4.5 amp motor powering a six-inch bar, the Lopper boasts powerful clamping jaws that grab and cut in one easy motion. Plus, metal guards protect the cutting chain, allowing for safe use. Price: $79

 

GreenWorks 20322 DigiPro G-MAX 40V Li-Ion 16-Inch Cordless Chainsaw

Best Chainsaws - Greenworks

Photo: amazon.com

Designated the best cordless unit, receiving 4.7 out of 5 stars on Amazon, shoppers praised the Greenworks G-MAX as “comparable to gas-powered chainsaws” in power and importantly, “easy to use.” Powered by an interchangeable 40-volt lithium-ion battery system, the chainsaw delivers higher performance and a longer run time than other cordless options, with a single charge allowing for up to 100 cuts. Additional features include a 16-inch bar length, auto-oiler lubrication system, chain brake, and low-kickback chain for safety. Price: $194