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+!

To Breathe Easy at Home, Install an Air Cleaner

Maintaining good indoor air quality is crucial to your family's comfort and health. If you're concerned about pollutants in your home—or even just fed up with persistent odors—maybe it's time to clear the air.

Whole-House Air Cleaners

Photo: supplyhouse.com

The air in your home may not be as fresh as you think it is. If you’re not careful, indoor air can harbor not only benign entities, such as mustiness or a foul odor, but also bona fide pollutants that can exacerbate allergies and negatively impact your health over the long term.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) cites a long list of contaminants that are commonly found in households around the country. These include, among other things, smoke (from tobacco or cooking), dust, mold and mildew, and emissions from combustion sources (oil, gas, kerosene, coal, and wood), not to mention pollution from building materials and furnishings—paint, insulation, carpeting, and pressed wood among them. To protect yourself and your family from the legitimate threats to health posed by any of these indoor pollutants, the EPA recommends two courses of action: Prioritize good ventilation, and eliminate pollutants through the use of an air cleaner (also known as an air purifier). These appliances are designed to do one thing only, and that is to directly remove toxins from circulation.

Whole-House Air Cleaners 2

Photo: supplyhouse.com

Indoor air quality takes on paramount importance during heating and cooling seasons, when homeowners tend to keep the windows closed, and natural ventilation comes to a standstill. “If you have a furnace or ducted air conditioning system, an in-line air cleaner is a no-brainer,” points out Daniel O’Brian, a technical expert from online retailer SupplyHouse.com. “The air circulating through your home can be full of dust, dander, mold, and other unpleasant particulates that can affect you negatively. An in-line cleaner blocks these particles from continuing to go around your ductwork and into the air you breathe. It also helps keep these particles from getting into your heating and cooling equipment, which could help prevent costly problems down the line.”

The in-line air cleaner O’Brian refers to is related to, but much more powerful and sophisticated than, the air purifiers you’ve seen in your local home center. Those small, portable units can be reasonably effective in one room, but people don’t live in just one room. Although you could buy a portable unit for every room on every floor of your house, the better investment is a single, larger model that can serve the whole house. Most such air cleaners attach to your existing HVAC system, but that’s where their similarities begin and end. SupplyHouse.com and other leading distributors offer a range of whole-house air cleaners that use different methods to remove airborne contaminants. Here’s a rundown of the most common air-cleaning technologies:

Electrostatic attraction: Air flows through an ionized sector within the filter. Here, particles are imbued with an electrical charge. The charged particles accumulate on a series of flat plates in an oppositely charged collector. The particles are neutralized, leaving clean air to flow out from the appliance.

• Ion generation: These air cleaners work similarly to electrostatic devices. Ionizers disperse charged ions into the air, which attach to airborne particles, giving them a charge so that they attach to nearby surfaces (for example, walls and furniture). These charged particles are then cleaned up in the course of everyday housekeeping.

• HEPA filtration: When combined with a forced-air furnace or air handler, a HEPA filter-based purifier passes air through a series of filters, each of which plays a role in capturing impurities. There are also HEPA systems that run independently of the HVAC system. These can be mounted in an attic, crawl space, or closet.

In addition to removing contaminants that can exacerbate allergies and asthma, air cleaners can help reduce or eliminate unwanted odors from the home, without the use of artificial fragrances, perfumed candles, or other products that simply mask odors rather than eliminate them. Using an air cleaner instead of a commercial fragrance product to get rid of smells reduces the amount of chemicals in the indoor environment and can help create a healthier and fresher home.

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


Transform and Protect Your Deck in a Single Coat

Improving the looks and longevity of your wood deck has never been easier for the weekend do-it-yourselfer, thanks to a new product from Thompson's WaterSeal.

Thompsons Waterproofing Stain - Finished Deck

Photo: thompsonswaterseal.com

Your deck was no small investment: If you haven’t been taking good care of it, now’s the time to give your deck the care it needs to look great and last long. If exposure to the elements has caused your deck to turn gray or acquire mildew, or if the boards have begun to crack and split, you’re in luck. A new Waterproofing Stain from industry leader Thompson’s WaterSeal can not only protect your deck from further damage, but also add rich, beautiful color.

Thompsons Waterproofing Stain - Finishing Process

Photo: thompsonswaterseal.com

It’s a one-step product. That means a single coat provides the superior waterproofing for which Thompson’s WaterSeal is known, along with a stain to transform the appearance of your deck. Choose from five popular colors: Acorn Brown, Harvest Gold, Maple Brown, Sequoia Red or Woodland Cedar. Then select your preferred level of opacity—transparent, semi-transparent, or solid. Stains with more pigment will last longer, but show less of the natural wood grain. Transparent stain is guaranteed for three years, semi-transparent stain is guaranteed for four years, and the solid stain is guaranteed for five years.

Preparation and application are easy. Clean the deck thoroughly first. A ready-to-use deck cleaner makes this step pretty painless. Simply apply the cleaner, allow it to work for about 10 or 15 minutes, then scrub and rinse. Normally, you’d need to wait for the deck to dry out completely, but not with this product.

The next step is to measure the square footage of your deck. That determines how many gallons of stain are required (each gallon covers up to 400 square feet). You can buy it and be on your way. Thanks to its pigment-suspension technology, there’s no need to wait for the Waterpoofing Stain to have its turn in the paint shaker. Open up the can on any day with a temperature between 50 and 90 degrees, and the finish is ready to for application via brush, roller, or pad.

If you’ve ever painted outdoors before, you know that clean-up can be a hassle, but that’s not the case here. The Waterproofing Stain is latex-based, which means it washes off with nothing more than soap and water. Drying time for the stain varies depending on the weather. But in normal conditions, it takes only a couple of hours. Leave it overnight, and the next day your deck will appear as though brand-new, and it will be totally ready for you to start enjoying it!

This post has been brought to you by Thompson’s Waterseal. Its facts and opinions are those of BobVila.com.


Buyer’s Guide: Portable Generators

Don't be left in the dark the next time a storm cuts the cord to your home's electricity. With our tips for buying and the best portable generators on the market, you can find the whole-home backup to fit your needs

Best Generators - Control Panel

Photo: generac.com

The storm hits. Power lines topple. And your home loses electricity for an hour, a day, or even a week. These inconvenient—and in some cases, downright dangerous—grid failures seem to be more and more prevalent with each passing year. Brief, infrequent outages are a nuisance and if nothing else, remind us of our complete dependence on electricity. But soon enough, the ordeal is over. However, if your area has been experiencing blackouts more frequently, or for more protracted periods, it’s well worth asking this question: If a major storm came rolling into your town tomorrow, would you be ready for the potential consequences?

An electrical outage doesn’t have to mean the suspension of your life until grid power is restored. You can take matters into your own hands, without spending a small fortune, using a portable generator. Deciding you want to buy one is only the first step. Next comes the process of determining which are the best generators to consider for your household. Read on for details on the main considerations to bear in mind as you navigate the assortment of options available today:

Wattage. Generators vary by the number of watts they are capable of producing. To narrow the field, first determine how many watts you are going to need. Only you can answer that; the answer depends on which appliances you want to feel comfortable running during a blackout. Make a list of those must-have appliances, and write down the number of watts that each one needs in ooder to start. Know that lights typically require 60 to 200 watts to start; a refrigerator needs about 600 watts; and a portable heater may need as many 1,500 watts. For many homeowners, a generator in the 5,000- to 7,000-watt range proves sufficient.

Best Generators - Driveway

Photo: generac.com

Fuel Type. That list of must-have appliances also bears on whether the best generators for you to consider are ones that run on batteries, gas, propane or diesel. Many smaller inverter-style generators are designed to run off a car or a deep-cycle battery, while most models suitable for residential use operate on gas.

Exhaust. Any portable generator that runs on gas, diesel, or propane produces exhaust. For that reason, such machines must be used outdoors, with protection from the weather, at least 15 feet from the house. If you live in California, focus on generators compliant with the standards set by the California Air Resources Board.

Noise. Portable gas-powered generators can be pretty loud. But some are built with noise-absorbing glass wool, special mufflers, and/or vibration-absorbing feet. If you anticipate noise being an issue, the best generators for you to consider are ones specially designed to do their work effectively, but quietly.

Accessories. Many things you’d assume are included with a generator must actually be purchased separately, and those incidental costs can add up. For instance, wheel kits sold separately range from $40 to $150. And if you want to wire the generator’s output to your electrical panel, you’ll need a $500 to $900 transfer switch. Before you buy a generator, make certain you understand what, if any, components are going t0 be missing.

If you’ve begun shopping for a generator, you’ve likely noticed there’s no shortage of options. To save you time and effort, we studied the rankings put out by leading consumer testing sites. And we waded through tons of feedback from people who’ve actually shopped for and used portable generators. We discovered a couple of things: While it’s not easy to identify which are the best generators, these are clear favorites:

 

Generac GP7500 Electric Start Portable Generator

Best Generators - generac gp7500e

Photo: northerntool.com

Shoppers at The Home Depot give 4.7 out of 5 stars to this 7,500-watt generator from industry leader Generac. The reviews praise the generator’s ease of use as well as its ample 8-gallon fuel tank, which enables the unit to run continuously for up to 12 hours. The battery for its electric start is included in the price; it features a low-tone muffler for quiet operation; and its fold-down locking handle and heavy-duty wheels make transportation and storage easy. Price: $999

 

Westinghouse WH7500E Portable Generator

Best Generators - westinghouse wh7500

Photo: norwall.com

From Westinghouse, a generator boasting 7,500 running watts and 9,000 starting watts garnered 4.7 out of 5 stars on Amazon. With its 6.6-gallon fuel tank, it produces up to 11 hours of runtime, and it purrs along quietly, thanks to its specially designed muffler. Reviewers liked its color-coded control panel, but they loved that everything needed comes in the box. When the time comes to actually use the thing, you don’t need to scramble for any extra components. Price: $999

 

Yamaha EF2000iS Portable Inverter Generator

Best Generators - yamaha EF2000iS

Photo: acmetools.com

Dubbed the “Michael Jordan of inverter generators” (by TopGeneratorReviews.com), this 2,000-watt Yamaha received 4.6 out of 5 stars on Amazon. It runs—quietly—for up to 10.5 hours. And thanks to its sleek, briefcase-size design, the lightweight generator is eminently portable. Special features include the Smart Throttle Load, which contributes to overall fuel efficiency, and a handy oil-watch warning system that lets you know when to change the oil. Price: $1099


Art Cool Mini-Splits for Comfort—and Decor

Making a room cool doesn't have to involve loosing a window. Today's mini-split air conditioning units are the smart alternative to traditional window units, delivering comfort and decor all in one.

ArtCool-LG

ArtCool

Summer has arrived, and with the inexorable heat comes the inevitable hunt—for the perfect air conditioner, that is. Homeowners in search of a functional and fashionable alternative to conventional air conditioning units may want to consider a mini-split.  Mini-split air conditioning systems eliminate the need for the extensive wiring and ductwork required for central air systems, making them perfect cooling devices for older homes and new additions.  They also alleviate many of the problems associated with standard window units, namely they are quieter, don’t have to be removed “off-season,” and don’t present a bulky and unattractive appearance in the window. And, if it’s appearance that you are concerned with, LG’s Art Cool Mini Splits were made for you.

Art Cool LG Mini Split

ArtCool LG mini-split air conditioner at SupplyHouse.com

“The Art Cool series is a unique take on the tried-and-true mini split air conditioning formula,” explains Daniel O’Brian, a technical expert from online retailer SupplyHouse.com. “While being functionally the same (and in the same price range as standard mini split systems), they offer a more visually pleasing indoor unit that can actually enhance room decor,” he adds.

LG’s Art Cool line basically consists of two options, both of which come in either air-conditioner-only or heat-pump models: Art Cool Mirror units feature a flat panel surface with smoked charcoal mirror finish, creating a sleek, contemporary silhouette; and the Art Cool Gallery unit provides a 20-by-20 inch square panel that works like a picture frame—allowing the consumer to insert their own artwork or photograph. Both units mount securely on a vertical surface with screws.

Mini-split air conditioning systems typically consist of two separate units: an interior evaporator with a fan and cooling coil, and an outside condenser unit; the two pieces are connected by a refrigerant line set. Mini-split systems are available in single room configurations, which consist of one indoor unit and one outdoor condenser, as well as multi-room configurations, which have two to four indoor units connected to a single outdoor condenser. Most mini-split indoor units are mounted on the wall, although there are some ceiling-mounted versions.

ArtCool LG Mirrorfinish

ArtCool LG Mirror Finish

The LG Art Cool Gallery unit is available as a single zone system in either 9,000- or 12,000-BTU sizes; the Mirror units are available in either single- or multi-zone systems. Choosing the appropriately sized unit is dependent on several factors, including the regional climate, whether the mini split system will operate as a cooling unit only, or a combination of cooling and heating, the number and type of rooms, the number of windows per room and the average number of people occupying the room at a single time. SupplyHouse.com features a useful air conditioner sizing calculator to help consumers determine the correct amount of air conditioner BTUs needed for a given room, or set of rooms.

Typically, mini-split air conditioners will require professional installation by an HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) contractor, because the outdoor unit must be hard-wired to a dedicated circuit breaker and the correct amount of refrigerant must be used in the lines.

Online retailer SupplyHouse.com offers a large selection of mini split air conditioners and accessories from the top manufacturers in the industry.  To learn more about the LG Art Cool systems, view the video below, or visit SupplyHouse.com.

 

This blog has been sponsored on behalf of SupplyHouse.com. Its facts and opinions are those of BobVila.com.


5 Things to Consider When Choosing a Wood Floor

With the variety of woods, colors and finishes available today, shopping for a wood floor can be a bit overwhelming. Here are five things to know and consider when choosing the perfect wood floor for your home.

Bellawood Cumaru Hardwood Flooring

Bellawood Cumaru Solid Hardwood Flooring at Lumber Liquidators.

Homeowners evaluating new flooring owe it to themselves to consider the benefits and beauty of wood. Wood floors are comfortable, durable and surprisingly affordable, and nothing quite compares to the character and warmth they bring to every room in the house. While there are a myriad of choices available, not every type of wood flooring is suitable for every application. If you are shopping for a wood floor, here are five things to keep in mind.

Type of Wood Flooring
There are primarily two types of wood flooring products—solid hardwood and engineered hardwood. Solid wood flooring is milled from solid wood logs, and is joined with a traditional tongue and groove along both the long and short edges. Solid wood is available prefinished or unfinished, in strips and planks ranging in thickness from 5/16″ to 3/4″. Strips are 1-1/2″ to 2-1/4″ wide and planks are 3″ to 8″ wide.

Engineered wood flooring is comprised of multiple layers of plywood and composite material, and topped with a layer of solid hardwood. Engineered wood flooring comes in thicknesses ranging from 3/8″ to 3/4″ and from 3″ up to 10″ wide; the hardwood layer on top ranges in thickness from .6 millimeters to 4 millimeters.

While both types offer the same beauty of real hardwood, the primary difference between solid hardwood and engineered flooring is in the floor’s composition. “Since solid wood flooring is subject to expand and contract relative to a home’s humidity it needs to be installed on the ground floor or above grade,” explains Bill Schlegel, Chief Merchandising Officer for Lumber Liquidators. “Engineered flooring, which is more stable due to its multi-ply construction, can be installed on all levels of the home,” adds Schlegel, “making it perfect for basements and bathrooms where dampness and moisture can be issues.”

Select Red Oak Solid Wood Flooring

Select Red Oak Solid Wood Flooring at Lumber Liquidators

Choice of Wood Species
There are many different woods used in flooring, but some are harder and therefore more durable than others. “Day to day wear and tear is what concerns most people when shopping for a wood floor,” says Schlegel, “and the benchmark for hardness in the U.S. is Red Oak.” While Red and White Oak are the most common domestic wood floors, Hickory and Maple (harder than oak) and Walnut (softer) are also popular choices. Top selling exotic woods such as Brazilian Cherry, Brazilian Koa and Cumaru are among the hardest species available. “Naturally, the harder the wood, the better it will be for wear and installation in high-traffic areas of the home,” Schlegel notes.

Grain, Color and Appearance
Because wood flooring comes in so many different species, styles and finishes, it is fairly easy to select a floor to match any room décor. If you have a country-style interior, wide plank floors with highly defined wood grains and a distressed appearance will be a good fit.  For Colonial homes, consider wide, random plank width flooring in Oak and Maple.  For traditional interiors, hardwood flooring in widths of 2-1/4″ to 3-1/4″ in Oak, Maple or Walnut, or parquet flooring, will be smart choices. Virtually any type of wood can be used in a contemporary setting, depending on what stain or finish is used—for example pewter, dark charcoal or whitewash finishes can transform any wood species into a modern masterpiece.

Casa de Colour Select Pewter Maple Hardwood Flooring

Casa de Colour Select Pewter Maple Hardwood Flooring at Lumber Liquidators.

Type of Finish
The finish is the real determining factor in the overall appearance of a wood floor. The same wood species will look completely different finished in a clear gloss, versus a distressed, hand-scraped or wire-brush finish. “There are different gloss levels and finishing techniques that change the overall look of the wood floor,” Schlegel notes. “Our Bellawood solid and engineered wood flooring in a mid to high gloss looks completely different in a low gloss matte finish,” explains Schlegel; the latter imitating the look of an oil-rubbed European finish, but without the constant care and maintenance.  Distressed, hand-scraped or wire-brush finishes will also be something to consider when shopping for a wood floor.

Flooring is sold either “unfinished” or “pre-finished.” Unfinished floors are sanded and finished on-site, which provides for a consistent seal and prevents dirt and moisture from penetrating the seams between boards (floors typically receive one to three coats of sealant). Pre-finished flooring is factory-applied in a controlled setting, and typically receives seven to eight coats of sealant. “I definitely recommend pre-finished flooring, because it ensures a superior and consistent finish, and comes with a warranty,” Schlegel asserts. “All Bellawood pre-finished flooring comes with a 100-year, transferable warranty, which can be a selling point to future buyers—since the warranty transfers to the new owner.”

Cost and Installation
The cost of wood flooring depends on the type, the wood species and the finish. Typically, solid prefinished wood flooring runs from $2.49 to $12.69 per square foot. Prices on engineered prefinished wood flooring range from $1.69 to $8.79. The average cost of installation usually runs about half as much as the flooring but depends on the type of flooring and installation for your home.

Both solid wood and engineered wood flooring are installed by nailing, stapling or gluing planks to a subfloor. There are, however, a variety of new “click” engineered products available that can be installed easily and “floated” above the subfloor.

“Installation can definitely be an expensive proposition, especially with unfinished flooring,” says Schlegel, “but competent DIYers can save money by doing the job themselves and purchasing prefinished flooring.” Lumber Liquidators offers all of the tools and materials that a homeowner would need to install a wood floor.  He adds, “I recommend saving money on installation and buying a better floor.”

 

This article is sponsored on behalf of Lumber Liquidators.  Its facts and opinions are those of BobVila.com.


How To: Choose the Right Size Air Conditioner

Keeping cool this summer may be easier—and more affordable—than you imagined. The key to comfort is knowing what size air-conditioning unit will do the job effectively and efficiently.

window air conditioner

Photo: shutterstock.com

Temperatures are climbing. With the dog days of summer just around the corner, the perfect time to shop for a new air conditioner is now.

There are numerous factors to consider when you’re shopping for an air conditioner, including whether your home can accommodate a ductless mini-split system, a built-in wall assembly, a window unit, or a portable model. But all air conditioners have one thing in common: They must be sized properly in order to effectively lower the temperature and remove excess moisture from the air, resulting in a comfortable, cool indoor environment.

When you’re shopping for an appropriately sized air conditioner, a number of factors come into play, including the general climate and average summer temperatures in your region of the country; the square footage of the room or rooms to be cooled; the installation location in the wall, window, or ceiling; the number of people typically occupying a room; and the amount of insulation in the home. An air conditioner that is too small for a given area will not be able to cool the space efficiently, while an air conditioner that is too large will tend to cycle on and off too rapidly, wasting energy and impairing the unit’s ability to remove humidity from the room.

Air conditioners are rated by their seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER), and their capacity is expressed in British thermal units (BTUs). The BTU rating gives an indication of how quickly and effectively a particular unit can cool the room where it is located. Most home air conditioners sold in the United States range from around 5,000 BTUs to more than 20,000 BTUs.

mini split

LG mini-split air-conditioning unit from SupplyHouse.com

“The BTU—or British thermal unit—is the amount of heat required to raise or lower 1 pound of water 1 degree Fahrenheit,” points out Daniel O’Brian, a technical expert from online retailer SupplyHouse.com. “Since we measure all of our heating and air-conditioning units in BTUs, it’s important to know how many BTUs your living space requires so you don’t buy a unit that is too large or too small. Another common measurement that heating and air-conditioning units are assigned is ‘tonnage.’ But don’t let this confuse you—one ton is just 12,000 BTUs!”

Correctly sizing an air conditioner for a given room requires a tape measure and a few simple calculations. The first step is to determine the size of the room where the unit will be installed. SupplyHouse.com offers a handy sizing calculator to determine the correct amount of BTUs needed for a given room or set of rooms. The calculator requires the dimensions of a room, in length and width; the type of room, such as kitchen or bedroom; the number of people typically in the room; and finally, the exposure of the room—whether it is very sunny or shaded. Once you plug in the appropriate information, the calculator will determine the correct size air conditioner in BTUs. If you are cooling two adjacent areas, or if your room is odd-shaped, determine the square footage of each space as if it were a separate room, and then add the two measurements together to get a total amount of BTUs.

Energy Guide Label

Photo: Energy.gov

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, another rating that homeowners should consider when purchasing a new room air conditioner is the Energy Efficiency Rating, or EER, which represents the cooling capacity of a unit in BTUs per hour divided by the watts of power consumed at a specific outdoor temperature (usually 95 degrees Fahrenheit). The EER rating is found on the yellow Energy Guide label on the air conditioner, and it typically ranges from 8 to 11.5. An EER rating of 10 or higher is the most efficient and will yield the highest savings on monthly electric bills. A higher EER also helps the environment by reducing greenhouse emissions.

Online retailer SupplyHouse.com offers a large selection of mini-split air conditioners and accessories from the top manufacturers in the industry, and features a variety of informative tools and instructional videos on its Web site. Visit them here.

 

This post is sponsored by SupplyHouse.com. Its facts and opinions are those of BobVila.com.


Pro Tips: Saving on Remodeling Costs With Deconstruction and Salvage

If you're planning some renovations, you may be able to save money—and help the environment—if you opt to start your project with deconstruction rather than traditional demolition. Let a pro walk you through the pros and cons.

Photo: Sunsetgreenhome.com

Renovations, regardless of whether they are large or small, can be costly endeavors. You may, however, be able to recoup some money by considering the benefits of “deconstruction”—donating your used building materials—or by stretching your remodeling dollars by shopping “salvage”—buying someone else’s donated materials. The benefits of either choice extend well beyond just the homeowner, because these practices reduce the amount of demolition debris that ends up in landfills and provide jobs for laborers involved in the dismantling process.

“Many homeowners can profit by donating used building materials,” explains Kim Erle, a LEED Green Associate accredited by the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI), the credentialing arm of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). Erle isn’t just an expert on advising homeowners on green building and renovation, she is the living embodiment of the deconstruction movement. “We lost our home in Long Island during Hurricane Sandy and were faced with demolishing and rebuilding on an extremely limited budget,” she explains. “I founded the Sunset Green Home project, a LEED-registered project that will seek Platinum certification at completion.”

Although deconstruction cost Erle about twice what a traditional demolition would have cost, the charitable donation ended up fully offsetting the cost of the demolition. “The whole process is what I like to think of as doing well by doing good,” says Erle. First, it keeps a high proportion of the used materials out of the landfill, which is better for the environment. Second, it makes used materials available to homeowners who have a need for replacement items but may not be able to afford new materials. And third, it potentially provides green job training and experience for entry-level workers. “It’s a triple-bottom-line home run,” she adds.

Sunset Green Home Deconstruction

Photo: Sunsetgreenhome.com

Erle notes that deconstruction is financially beneficial on small-scale renovations too. “Jeff Carroll of Details, the company that deconstructed our home, tells me that the cost differential between using a deconstruction firm, which salvages the usable materials, and a demolition company, which tears out the materials without regard to salvaging them, is even lower for small jobs like kitchen and bath remodels,” she adds. His crew can remove a kitchen or bath in just about the same time that it would take a demolition company to do the job.

As project leader and homeowner on the Sunset Green Home project, Erle has firsthand experience of the benefits and cost savings of deconstruction and salvage. Is it right for you?  Here are her top tips to keep in mind should you wish to follow her lead:

Get started early! You may do better financially by deconstructing and donating your unneeded building materials. But deconstruction takes planning, so make sure to give yourself enough time.

Shop often and befriend someone at the resale store. If you’re hoping to purchase and install salvaged kitchen cabinets, for example, it may take some time and several trips to the salvage store to find exactly what you need. Make sure to give yourself a longer lead time to increase the likelihood that you find your dream kitchen. You’d be surprised at the treasures that are available.

Try to use a nonprofit deconstruction firm. Details, the company we used to deconstruct the Sunset Green Home project, is a nonprofit firm with the mission of workforce development. Therefore, the company can receive as a donation and “consume” all the materials of a deconstruction project in fulfilling its mission. Using a for-profit deconstruction company will still result in a donation of reusable materials, but  any materials that can’t be salvaged—for example, insulation that is removed when a wall is taken down—would not be considered part of the donation.

Habitat Restore

Photo: habitatmwgw.org

Don’t forget about energy efficiency and environmental impact. Life-cycle costs and ecological impact matter. It may cost more over the long term to install an inexpensive, salvaged—but inefficient—appliance than to purchase a new one with a higher initial cost, but that over time has significantly lower operating costs and resource use. For example, a new washing machine uses considerably less energy and water than an older model. Depending on its age, a salvaged washing machine may not prove to be cost-effective over the long term.

A DIYer who has materials to donate can contact Habitat for Humanity, which operates ReStores nationally (and in Canada) through its affiliates. Niche players can be identified through Internet searches—in the New York City area, for instance, Build It Green NYC has warehouses in two of the city’s boroughs.

For a time-lapse video of the Sunset Green House deconstruction project, click here.


How To: Eliminate Fruit Flies

Fruit flies driving you mad? Get rid of them for good by using common sense and some simple home remedies.

How to Get Rid of Fruit Flies

Photo: shutterstock.com

A terrific way to maintain good health is to stick to a diet chock-full of fruits and vegetables. But few things spoil the appetite more quickly than a cloud of flies lingering over the fruit bowl. Sometimes it seems like these tiny pests are everywhere—in garbage cans, hovering around sink drains, and near potted plants. Fortunately, there are several effective, nontoxic ways to get rid of fruit flies. You can keep them at bay, even during the height of summer, with the following time-tested tips and tricks.

PREVENTION
Like so many other household problems, fruit fly infestations can be prevented. We’ll get around to telling you how to get rid of fruit flies after they’ve invaded your living spaces, but first, here’s how to keep them from feeling welcome to begin with:

• Avoid bringing home any fruits or vegetables that are bruised; these often contain fly eggs or larvae.

• Store soft fruits in the refrigerator in a paper bag. (Hard-skinned fruits may be stored in the open, so long as they haven’t ripened to the point of softness.)

How to Get Rid of Fruit Flies - Detail

Photo: shutterstock.com

• Being that garbage cans and recycling bins are fruit fly breeding grounds, it’s recommended that you empty and clean these containers as often as you can. If possible, do so on a daily basis.

• If you store containers of condiments (for example, ketchup) and cooking essentials like vinegar in your cabinets, make sure to keep the jars’ rims and lids clean. Store these products in the refrigerator if there’s room.

• Wipe down counters and eating surfaces promptly after mealtimes, leaving no food or drink residue.

• If you’d rather not hand-wash dishes and utensils immediately after use, place them in the dishwasher.

• Clean sink drains with a bottle brush and a grease-cutting cleanser, followed by a hot water rinse.

• Launder dish towels and hand towels regularly; dry your mop thoroughly after you’ve finished with it.

• In the summer, use fine-mesh window and door screens to prevent fruit flies from gaining entry.

ELIMINATION
Oh, no! Despite your best efforts, fruit flies have found their way into your home. You’re surely annoyed, but the situation need not persist. Try this: Fill a small container with a teaspoon of cider vinegar, two tablespoons of water, and a drop or two of fruity-smelling dish soap. Place the container near where the pests have been most active. Although you may need to refresh the trap nightly for a period of three or four days, sooner rather than later you should notice that the fruit fly population has dwindled or disappeared.

Alternatively, drop a piece of rotten fruit into a glass jar. Next, puncture the pointy end of a cone-shaped coffee filter and place the filter on top of the glass jar. Watch as flies pass through the hole to pursue the fruit into the jar only to end up trapped by the filter. Release your prisoners outdoors, repeating the process as often as needed.

An equally effective approach is placing a piece of rotten fruit into a bowl of wine or wine vinegar. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, then use a fork to poke very small holes through the plastic. So long as those holes you make aren’t overly large, the flies won’t be able to escape.

Keep in mind, too, that rubbing alcohol kills fruit flies more or less instantly. If things have gotten out of hand—or if you feel like doing a little hunting at home—fill a spray bottle with alcohol and direct it toward any hovering fruit flies you encounter. Don’t get any of the alcohol on your fruit, though—it causes fruit to spoil.


How To: Choose a Water Heater

Whether tank or tankless, water heaters can dramatically impact your home's comfort and costs. If you are looking to replace an existing unit, the type, size and efficiency of the one you choose will be important.

Water Heaters

Illustration: SupplyHouse.com

While we often take a hot shower or bath for granted, it’s important to note that up to 20% of a household’s annual energy expenditures come from heating hot water. That makes it the second largest utility expense in the home, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, averaging around $400 to $600 per year.  If you are looking to install a new hot water heater—or replace an existing one—the type, size and efficiency of the unit you choose will have a big impact on its performance and long-term savings.

There are a number of different types of water heaters to consider from heat pumps to solar-powered units, but the most common are tank and tankless. Traditional, tank-style water heaters are large metal cylinders that keep hot water stored and on reserve for when it may be needed. Since they typically range in capacity from 40 to 60 gallons and are generally about 60″ tall by 24″ wide, they are often installed in a basement or laundry room.

Tankless units, also known as “on demand” water heaters, turn on only when hot water is required. With no holding tank, the system is not only more compact—typically 20″ wide by 28″ long by 10″ deep—but more efficient since it is not storing a reserve of hot water (or compensating for its subsequent heat loss). Tank-style water heaters are usually less expensive than tankless units, but tankless models generally last longer: a traditional water heater usually lasts 10 to 13 years, while tankless water heaters can last up to 20 years.

Takagi Tankless Water Heater

Takagi Tankless Propane Water Heater at SupplyHouse.com

Regardless of whether the unit is tank or tankless, water heaters generally fall into two categories: direct-fired or indirect-fired. Direct-fired means that the water in the tank is heated directly by the heat of a flame; these units are generally used in homes with warm air furnaces. In direct-fired heaters, fuel is burned in a combustion chamber under the water storage tank, then hot flue gases heat water in the tank.

An indirect-fired water heater gets hot water from a boiler or furnace, which heats water that is then transferred through a heat exchanger located in the storage tank. The energy stored by the storage tank allows the furnace to turn on and off less often, which can save energy and money.

The fuel source is another important consideration when selecting a water heater.  While there are hot water heaters compatible for gas, oil, electric, propane, and even solar, each has its own advantages and disadvantages.  Natural gas units, for instance, produce hot water quickly and are available in various sizes and models, but require venting through a chimney or wall. Liquid propane water heaters have similar venting requirements, but also require a storage tank and regular fuel deliveries. Oil water heaters produce hot water faster than any other method, but there are fewer models from which to choose. Electric water heaters are easy to install and do not require special venting, but they require more energy in comparison to other energy sources.

AO Smith Water Heater

AO Smith 50 Gallon High Efficiency Gas Water Heater at SupplyHouse.com

If you are replacing an existing water heater, you may be able to tackle the job yourself.  “Replacing an old water heater with a newer comparable model is something a DIYer may be able to accomplish,” explains Daniel O’Brian, a technical expert from online retailer SupplyHouse.com. “Provided the venting, voltages, and fuel type match up, you would simply shut off the gas and electric, isolate the heater, drain the tank (carefully as the water may still be hot), disconnect it from the system, and swap it out for the new one.”

“Be mindful that the connections from an old unit to a new one might not be in the exact same place, so some re-piping may be in order,” O’Brian continues. “Compare the spec sheets of your new unit to the locations of the connections on your old model to get an idea if there are any changes necessary for a straight swap.”

“A new install of a water heater requires running gas lines, electrical, and setting up proper ventilations,” O’Brian adds. “As such, it should generally be left up to a professional.”

SupplyHouse.com offers a large selection of water heaters and accessories from the top manufacturers in the industry. To learn more about water heaters, watch the video below or visit SupplyHouse.com.

 

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


Expansion Tanks: What Are They and Why Are They Important?

When water is heated, it expands, increasing the pressure in closed heating systems. Over time, these pressure fluctuations can damage the system's components. An expansion tank is designed to alleviate this pressure and extend the life of your system. Here's how it works.

Expansion Tank Diagram

Expansion Tank Diagram: SupplyHouse.com

Homeowners looking to maximize the efficiency and life expectancy of their heating and cooling systems may want to consider installing an expansion tank as an easy and inexpensive means of regulating water pressure and preventing costly damage to other components, including pipes.

An expansion tank is designed to relieve pressure in both potable water and closed hydronic heating systems. It ensures that constant pressure is maintained within the pipes so they do not get damaged from excess pressure. “An expansion tank in a heating system is an invaluable component that protects the entire system from the increased pressure and volume caused by heating,” asserts Daniel O’Brian, a technical expert from online retailer SupplyHouse.com.

“When water is heated, it expands,” O’Brian explains. “In a closed heating system there is only so much space in the pipes and the boiler. If the water is taking up more space and has nowhere to go, the pressure will increase and possibly damage the system, generally at its weakest points, until a leak or even a burst pipe results. An expansion tank is designed to relieve the stress, thereby increasing the life of the components in your entire heating system.”

Extrol Expansion Tank

Extrol 4.4-Gallon Expansion Tank at SupplyHouse.com

Expansion tanks work by equalizing pressure throughout the system. An expansion tank is a small tank divided in two sections by a rubber diaphragm. One side is connected to the pipes of the heating system and contains water. The other side is dry and contains pressurized air, set at approximately 12 psi. As hot water enters the heating system, the pressure in the system increases. As pressure increases, the diaphragm in the expansion tank is pushed down. This compresses the air in the tank, creating more space for excess water to enter. This relieves excess pressure in the system and prevents pipes in the system from being damaged.

Installing an expansion tank is a relatively simple process that can typically be completed in less than an hour by a handy do-it-yourselfer. Some local building codes may require installation by a licensed plumber, however, so you should check with your municipal building department before proceeding with any installation.

Expansion tanks vary in capacity, ranging from tanks that hold as little as two gallons to large tanks that hold several hundred gallons. To determine the size needed for your system, online retailer SupplyHouse.com offers a handy Expansion Tank Sizing Calculator on its Web site. Use it to determine the size and model of the expansion tank that’s best suited for your system.

Prices for expansion tanks start at about $30 for small residential tanks and climb up to $800 to $1,000 for larger, commercial tanks. Leading brands include Extrol expansion tanks, manufactured by Amtrol, which are used for hydronic heating systems; the Watts ET series and Bell & Gossett HFT expansion tanks, both designed for use with closed hydronic heating systems; and Therm-X-trol expansion tanks, for use with potable water open systems.

If your home already has an expansion tank in place, you may want to check it periodically to make sure that the tank is functioning. To check if the expansion tank is working properly, simply place your hand on the tank and feel its temperature. The top portion of the tank should feel warm to the touch, and the bottom portion of the tank should be room temperature. If the entire tank is warm, it is likely that the tank has completely filled with hot water, which occurs only if the diaphragm fails. If this happens, the tank must be replaced immediately.

Online retailer SupplyHouse.com offers a large selection of expansion tanks and accessories from the top manufacturers in the industry. To learn more, watch the video below or visit SupplyHouse.com.

 

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