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+!

How To: Choose the Right Gutters

There is so much to consider when choosing new gutters, including shape, material, and cost. But don't overlook performance and quality, which will over time reward you with reduced maintenance and lasting beauty.

LeafGuard

Photo: LeafGuard Brand Gutters

Gutters are a critical component of a home’s drainage system, and like many exterior features, they’re subject to wear and damage. An important item on your spring maintenance checklist should be to examine and clean out the gutters. Regular cleaning and maintenance will go a long way toward getting the maximum lifespan out of your gutters.

If, however, your gutters are showing signs of severe wear—cracks, holes, and leaks, for example—or if they’re sagging or pulling away from the house or have numerous missing, loose, or bent fasteners, it may be time to look into replacement gutters. Experts point out that water damage to the roof, fascia board, decking, or rafters is a sure sign that gutters are due for replacement. “Most ordinary gutters last about 10 to 15 years,” explains Robert Lowe, director of operations for Englert LeafGuard, originators and makers of the only one-piece, seamless gutter system with built-in hood. “Dangerous water leaks and overflows can cause tremendous damage to a home, sometimes before homeowners are even aware of the problem.”

There are many types and styles of gutters on the market today, with the primary materials being aluminum, copper, steel, galvanized steel, zinc, and vinyl. Aluminum is the most prevalent gutter material and offers several advantages over other types. Aluminum is lightweight, resistant to corrosion, and available in a wide range of colors—and it’s also often the least expensive option.

Copper Gutters

Copper gutters. Photo: shutterstock.com

Other choices among the metals include galvanized steel gutters, which are coated with a layer of zinc; these gutters are strong but may be prone to rusting. Steel gutters also are available with a coating of aluminum and zinc, which alleviates the rust problem but is more expensive. Zinc gutters, yet another option, are also strong and durable, and normally do not require painting or finishing. Copper gutters are an extremely upscale and attractive choice, but cost substantially more than other metals.

Another inexpensive option is vinyl, which is available in a wide range of colors to match many types of vinyl siding. Vinyl gutters are not as durable as metal, however; they break down over time with exposure to sunlight and will therefore need to be replaced much more frequently. Additionally, vinyl gutters typically come in 10-foot sections, and the rubber seals used to join the sections can become brittle and leak.

Most professionals note that aluminum gutters offer the best combination of style, durability, and price. “As far as replacement gutters go, you want seamless aluminum gutters with a minimum thickness of .025 inches,” asserts Lowe. “There also are numerous options for ‘toppers’ for those gutters; the most common are solid hoods and filters. The different toppers each have their good and bad points. The solid toppers are the best, because they use the reverse curve or liquid adhesion model, which works the best. The downside to these types of covers is the installation process, which is generally handled by a subcontractor. These products install under the shingles, which can cause problems with roof warranties.”

LeafGuard

Photo: LeafGuard Brand Gutters

Anyone in the market for new gutters not only has to choose a material, but also has to select among a range of shapes, or profiles. The most popular is the “K-style,” or ogee, gutter, which has a shape similar to decorative crown molding. Fascia gutters, another alternative, feature a smooth face that performs the same function as fascia boards, hiding the edges of the rafter tails from view. Half-round gutters have an open construction with the open side facing the roof. This style has fallen out of favor, because it easily clogs with debris and then overflows. European-style gutter systems are typically half-round gutters made from materials that weather naturally, such as copper.

All gutters come in either sectional or seamless constructions. Most do-it-yourself gutters are sold in 10-foot sections that must then be linked together with snap-in connectors. The drawback to sectional systems is that the joints eventually leak. Seamless gutters, on the other hand, have seams only at the corners. Seamless gutters are typically made of metal and are extruded to custom lengths by professional installers using a portable gutter machine.

 

LeafGuard Brand gutters combine many of the attributes recommended by professionals, according to Lowe. They also carry the Good Housekeeping Seal. “Patented LeafGuard Brand gutters allow homeowners to say goodbye forever to cleaning gutters clogged by leaves and debris, because the one-piece gutter system features a built-in hood that covers the gutter bottom and deflects leaves and other debris,” Lowe adds. “This unique, seamless design keeps debris from collecting in your gutters, which keeps rainwater running freely and safely away from your home—each and every time it rains.”

 

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


Spring Home Maintenance? Don’t Overlook Your Gutters

With all the home maintenance tasks that pile up in the spring, it's easy to forget about cleaning the gutters. Don't ignore this important chore! If you don't clear debris from your gutters, you could be heading for roofing, siding, and foundation issues in the months ahead.

Spring Gutter Cleaning

Photo: LeafGuard

Spring has officially arrived, and that means a whole host of outdoor chores for homeowners. One of the most important—but often overlooked—tasks is checking gutters for winter debris and damage.

A properly functioning gutter system protects your home from water damage by draining water from the roof and funneling it away from the house. When the gutters and downspouts are clogged, however, water can back up and damage the roof, fascia, soffits, and siding.

Experts agree that regular examination and maintenance will help reduce the need for gutter repairs and replacement. “One of the biggest problems we see with regular gutters is that the problems are hidden from view for most homeowners,” points out Robert Lowe, director of operations for Englert LeafGuard, a leading manufacturer of covered one-piece gutter systems. “From the ground it is very difficult to see inside of the gutter; therefore, most problems with built-up debris are noticed only when it is too late and damage is occurring.

Spring Gutter Cleaning - Damage

Photo: LeafGuard

“The most common problem is the obvious leaves and debris clogging the gutters, making the water back up over the top and damaging the fascia board, then the decking, the rafters, and in some cases the foundation of the home itself,” Lowe continues. “If you have ever experienced gutters that are pulling away from the house, or if you have to keep pushing the spikes back into the gutters to hold them to the house, these are tell-tale signs of fascia board damage. The problems need to be fixed as soon as possible because damage ramps up fast—as the gutter starts to sag, it can cause more water to run over, which in turn leads to more and faster damage.”

A simple way to check on a gutter’s performance is to wait for a rainy day and look to see if water is emptying from the downspouts. If water isn’t flowing freely from the bottom of a downspout, or if you notice water overflowing the edges of the gutter, there is debris clogging the gutters or downspouts or both.

According to Lowe, the easiest answer to most gutter problems is to clean your gutters on a regular basis. Most debris consists of small leaves and twigs that can either be scooped out by hand or removed with a handheld leaf blower or wet/dry vacuum. Flushing the gutters with a garden hose removes dirt and small particles. For denser debris, you may want to invest in a gutter cleaning tool. Most clogged downspouts can be flushed with a garden hose; use a plumber’s snake to break up those really stubborn clogs.  (Note: If you are climbing a ladder, be sure to follow safety measures.)

Gutter cleaning may be needed much more frequently than just once a season, especially if you live in an area where there are many trees. “The one problem we find, other than procrastination, is that you go out on a Saturday and spend all day cleaning the gutters and sealing up holes only for a windstorm to come the following week and blow more debris right back into the gutters,” Lowe says. “Most people don’t realize that more debris actually blows into the gutter system than gets washed in with rain.”

Spring Gutter Cleaning - After

Photo: LeafGuard

Other problems to look for when cleaning gutters include holes, corrosion, sagging sections, and loose, bent, or missing fasteners. Holes should be plugged or caulked immediately. Sagging is often the result of loose or missing spikes, which should be tightened or replaced.

In some cases, however, gutters may simply be too far gone and need to be replaced. “If you have problems with your gutters and you want to solve the problems once and for all, you have to ask the question, ‘What do I want my gutters not to do ever again?’ ” Lowe explains. “The top two answers should be, ‘I don’t want the water from my gutters to get to my house’ and ‘I don’t want to have to clean them again.’ ”

Lowe points out that LeafGuard Brand gutters solve both of these issues, due to the product’s patented one-piece design and seamless construction. “LeafGuard Brand by Englert is the original and only one-piece gutter system, with a built-in hood that covers the gutter bottom and deflects leaves and other debris,” Lowe says. “This unique, seamless design keeps debris from collecting in your gutters, which prevents clogs from forming; keeps water flowing freely; eliminates leaks and the threat of water damage; and makes climbing ladders to clean gutters unnecessary. LeafGuard Brand gutters eliminate the problems homeowners worry about, because these gutters will not let water go anywhere but out the front or down the downspout.”

Spring Gutter Cleaning - Guard

Photo: LeafGuard

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


A Few Things to Consider When Installing a Radiant Heat System

If you're thinking of installing a radiant heating system, you need to take a number of factors into consideration. Here's a quick rundown.

radiant heat

Over-pour radiant heat installation. Photo: stepbystep.com

Comfortable, even, and efficient, radiant heat systems are becoming a popular option for many homeowners today. But there are a number of factors that come into play when considering radiant heat, including the type of radiant system desired and whether the installation is for new construction or retrofit.

There are two basic types of radiant heating systems—hydronic and electric. Hydronic systems are the most common; these systems use hot water passing through tubing to heat a space. Electric radiant heat uses electric cables or mats for the same purpose. There are four basic types of radiant heating installations: in-slab systems that are installed in a new cement foundation when it is being poured; an “over-pour” installation, where the tubing is installed on an existing foundation and then covered by an additional layer of cement; joist track systems that fit in between existing floor joists; and wood panel track systems that can be installed over existing subfloors.

A number of specialized components are required for radiant heat installations, including the tubing itself. “When installing a hydronic radiant heat system, most of the time you’ll want to use an oxygen barrier PEX tubing to prevent rusting of the cast iron components in your heating system,” notes Daniel O’Brian, a technical expert from online retailer SupplyHouse.com. “This oxygen barrier tubing is what carries the hot water through the flooring or track system and transfers the heat to the space.” There are many brands of oxygen barrier tubing available, explains O’Brian, including Uponor, the highest quality, Rifeng, the least expensive, and ThermaPEX, which offers the best combination of price and quality. All of these brands of radiant tubing carry a 25-year warranty and require PEX tools and fittings for installation.

Rifeng manifold

Rifeng Stainless Steel Radiant Heat Manifold from SupplyHouse.com.

Another necessary component of radiant heat systems is the manifold, which serves as a hub from which the hot water from the boiler is distributed to different tubing loops throughout the house. These manifolds often come with special features, including balancing valves and flow meters, temperature gauges, shut-off valves, and actuators.

The main “engine” driving the radiant heat system is, of course, the boiler, and there are several options available depending on whether you are retrofitting an existing home or building a new house. “For new construction, a condensing boiler would be ideal,” O’Brian says, because the lower temperatures radiant systems require make efficient use of a condensing boiler’s capabilities. For a retrofit without a condensing boiler, he notes that “a mixing valve would be required to mix the hot boiler supply water with the cooler return water to achieve the desired radiant water temperature.”

Heat transfer plates are another important component, and these also differ depending on the type of installation planned. “Uponor Joist Trak panels or Ultra-Fin suspended panels are popular for retrofit applications because they are installed between joists—which is generally easier than ripping up the floor,” O’Brian points out. “For new construction, you could consider using Uponor’s Quik Trak or the similar Warmboard floor panels. Quik Trak is a low-profile option that can be installed on top of the subfloor, while Warmboard’s heavier, thicker panels can be installed as the subfloor. For installations in concrete, you would need proper slab insulation, and you’d likely want to use bend supports where the tubing leaves the slab to protect the tubing against possible friction due to expansion and contraction.”

QuikTrack Radiant Package

Uponor's Quik Trak Radiant Heating System package from SupplyHouse.com

While most of these components can be purchased separately, there are also specialized radiant heat packages that offer homeowners a simplified approach to an installation project. Radiant heat packages are available for installations ranging from 250 to 2,000 square feet and come in several styles, including Joist Trak, Quik Trak, slab, and suspended pipe applications. Slab packages are the least expensive, priced from $267 for 250 square feet to $2,132 for 2,000 square feet; suspended pipe packages range from $427 for 250 square feet to $3,570 for 2,000 square feet; Joist Trak packages start at $1,072 for 250 square feet and go up to $6,614 for 2,000 square feet; and Quik Trak packages are the most expensive, ranging from $1,532 for 250 square feet to $11,095 for 2,000 square feet.

There also are numerous accessories available for radiant heating systems. O’Brian recommends radiant thermostats that are compatible with a floor sensor. “Standard thermostats can cause the heat to overshoot the set point,” he explains. “Overheating can cause damage to wood floors and just be plain uncomfortable to your feet. With a floor sensor, you can either set a temperature for the floor to reach, or set a max temperature so the floor does not overheat.”

Online retailer PexSupply.com offers a large selection of products and packages for installing radiant heating systems from the top manufacturers in the industry, and features a variety of product calculators, informative articles, and instructional videos on its Web site. For more, visit PexSupply.com.

 

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

 

 

 

 


Pro Tips: Is Solar Right for You?

If you're thinking about installing a solar energy system, you first want to be sure it makes sense for your home. Let us lead you through some of the variables you'll need to consider.

Solar Heating

Illustration: Lennox

Heating and cooling accounts for more than half of the energy use in a typical U.S. home—about 54 percent of your utility bill—making it the largest energy expense for most homes, according to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Is it any wonder why most homeowners cringe when they open up their heating and cooling bills, particularly in years with bitterly cold winters and sweltering hot summers?

But what if you could minimize the pain by substantially reducing—or in some instances even eliminating—your home’s energy costs? Solar may be the solution.

Demand for solar energy in the United States is at an all-time high, according to DOE statistics. In the first quarter of 2012, developers installed 85 percent more solar panels than they did during the same period the year before. And, with new innovations, advanced technology, and decreasing product and installation costs, solar is becoming more attractive to homeowners in search of a smart, cost-saving, and environmentally friendly solution.

We reached out to Kevin Lyons, product manager and energy efficiency expert at Lennox, to learn what considerations homeowners should take into account when deciding whether solar is right for them.

 

Does it matter where I live?
Virtually all areas of the continental United States receive enough sunshine to justify adding solar power to a home’s heating and cooling system, but supplemental heat will be needed in regions where there is high heating demand and less winter sunlight—the northeast, for example.

Lennox SunSource

Photo: Complete Lennox SunSource installation with outdoor condenser unit.

Home solar systems are typically used in conjunction with a heat pump to generate heating and cooling or to supplement air conditioning systems, according to Lyons. “Solar energy generated by the Lennox SunSource Home Energy System, for example, is first used to power the heat pump or air conditioner. When the heating and cooling system is not in use, the solar energy can operate other appliances and electronics,” Lyons says. Any excess energy that’s not needed will be sent back to the utility company, possibly entitling the homeowner to a credit.

Lennox SunSource Condenser with Solar Panel

Photo: Lennox SunSource Condenser with Solar Panel

 

Does it matter what type of heating and cooling system I currently have?
Solar energy can be used to power both hydronic and forced-air heating systems. “Active” solar systems convert solar energy to either heated air or liquid and use that energy directly to heat an interior space or store the energy for later use. Typically, liquid systems are used when storage is included; they are suitable for use with radiant heating systems, boilers with hot water radiators, and heat pumps and coolers.

 

What are the upfront costs to installing solar? 
Although each solar installation is unique, small residential systems are available from major home improvement chains and are priced from $3,000 to $6,000 for backup power systems; industry estimates for the cost of a whole-home solar array run from $15,000 to $30,000 for the average household.

“There are many variables that impact both the upfront cost and the payback period for installing solar,” Lyons explains. “These include the number of solar modules purchased and the type of HVAC system purchased as well as the types of solar incentives from states, cities, and utilities, which vary greatly across the United States.” Lyons points out that the Lennox SunSource system can be wired directly into a home’s HVAC system, making the system “solar ready” even if the homeowner decides to delay installing solar modules.

 

What is the payback period for installing solar?
Geographic location, local energy costs, and government incentives all impact the payback period for a home solar installation. “Depending on the local cost of electricity, the various incentives can lower the payback period to as few as five years,” Lyons states. “A federal 30 percent tax credit applies to all U.S. residential solar installations and applies to the entire installed cost.” Lennox offers this handy calculator to help homeowners estimate the energy savings they can achieve with solar power.

 

Are there additional benefits to installing solar?
Investing in solar energy may not only reduce your energy costs but also improve the value of your home. Surveys conducted by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development have shown that home values rise an average of $20 for every $1 reduction in annual utility bills.


Control Temperatures and Save Energy with Zoned Heating Systems

A zoned heating system allows greater control over heat distribution in the house. You can turn up the heat just where you need it, just when you need it—resulting in significant savings on your utility bills. Need some convincing? Read on to learn more about the benefits of zoned heating.

Zoned Heating Diagram

Zoned heating diagram. SupplyHouse.com

Homeowners seeking a better way to control temperatures throughout the home should examine the benefits of a zoned heating system.

A standard, non-zoned heating system controls the temperature of the entire house as a whole. A zoned heating system, in contrast, allows homeowners to control the temperature of each room or zone individually, thereby maximizing comfort and minimizing energy costs. A zoned system can be adjusted for numerous factors, including room usage, personal preferences, and environmental conditions. Zoned systems help homeowners use their heating systems more effectively by distributing heat where and when it is needed.

“The advantages of a properly zoned home include savings on heating costs, and greater control and comfort throughout the home,” points out Daniel O’Brian, a technical expert from online retailer SupplyHouse.com. “If they are individually zoned, unoccupied or rarely used spaces do not have to be heated, and areas of the home that get colder than others can be adjusted directly for greater comfort. Furthermore, programmable thermostats can increase savings by dialing back heating usage when residents are out of the home or sleeping.”

O’Brian explains that a typical zoned heating system treats the main floor of a house as one heating zone and the upstairs bedroom area as a separate heating zone. This allows heat to be directed to the main floor during the daytime and to the upstairs bedrooms at night, allowing unoccupied areas of the home to cool down when vacant. A zoned system can also let homeowners minimize the heat in seldom-used areas, such as guest rooms or storage spaces.

Zoning the heating system can save homeowners up to 30 percent on a typical heating and cooling bill, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Because heating and cooling accounts for more than 40 percent of an average household’s utility costs, the savings from a zoned system can really add up.

Zone Heating Valves

Photo: SupplyHouse.com

The basic component of a zoned heating system is a zone valve, which controls the flow of water in a hydronic heating system. Inside the valve, an actuator opens and closes the valve based on the thermostat setting for that zone. Zone valves are available in two- or three-way valve configurations and in various connection types. They can be normally closed or normally open and can provide differing flow rates depending on valve size, allowing homeowners to customize the system for different floor plans and different-size zones. Zone valves can be used with a wide range of hydronic heating systems, including baseboards, radiators, heat pumps, and radiant applications. Leading brands include Honeywell, Taco, White-Rodgers, and Erie.

Homeowners with forced hot air heating systems also can create multiple zones by using two or more thermostats connected to a master control panel; the control panel opens and closes dampers that are installed within the ductwork.

There are also a wide variety of thermostats available, including programmable versions, to control a zoned heating system. “Any thermostat can be used to zone a home, but not all thermostats are for the same application,” O’Brian notes. “Voltages, the heating/cooling system layout, and features on different thermostats can be geared more towards one or another application.”

Related: How to Install a Programmable Thermostat

Adding a zoned heating system to an existing home is a fairly complex project and typically requires the use of a professional installer. “Retroactively zoning a home is not really something that an average DIYer would be able to accomplish,” remarks O’Brian. “They would have to wire in controls and thermostats, hook them up to the pump(s) and boiler or furnace, and cut into either their hydronic lines or ductwork to install zone valves or dampers. This all would likely require cutting open walls, running electrical, and possibly sweating copper.”

Even though installing a zoned heating system is not a typical do-it-yourself project, the energy savings and temperature control features may make it an extremely worthwhile home improvement. Online retailer SupplyHouse.com offers a large selection of thermostats, zone valves, and controls from the top manufacturers in the industry, and features a variety of information and instructional videos like this one, which explains how zone valves work.

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


How To: Clean a Microwave

To clean a microwave and take it from grimy to shiny in a jiff, try any one of these easy methods (none of which involve toxic chemicals).

How to Clean a Microwave - Interior

Photo: shutterstock.com

You know it’s time to clean your microwave when obnoxious smells fill the kitchen every time you open the appliance door. Fortunately, there are at least a couple of easy ways to clean a microwave using common household items that may already be in your pantry. Get ready to say goodbye to that odor of burnt popcorn!

No matter which method you decide on, the first step in cleaning a microwave is to wipe down all interior surfaces with a soft sponge or paper towels. For any stubborn food residue, use a plastic kitchen scraper. Tempting though it may be, steel wool should be avoided; it leaves scratches that ruin the microwave’s finish. Once you’ve given the interior a first pass, try one of these three approaches for a good, thorough cleaning.

LEMON JUICE

• Lemons contain citric acid, which cuts through grease and grime, and leaves behind a pleasant aroma. Cut two whole lemons into wedges, then squeeze the juice of each one into a small, microwave-safe mixing bowl. Once you have juiced them, throw the lemon rinds into the bowl, along with two or three cups of water.

• Place the bowl in the microwave, then set the appliance to run on high for two or three minutes—long enough for the water to start boiling vigorously. Without opening the microwave door, let the bowl stand for about 10 minutes, during which time its steam can penetrate any baked-on food and grease present in the interior.

• Open the microwave door and remove the bowl. If your microwave has a turntable, take it out of the oven (along with the carousel upon which it rotates). Soak these parts in hot, soapy water while you continue. With a damp cloth or sponge, wipe down the microwave and, if necessary, steam the interior once again.

 

VINEGAR AND BAKING SODA

How to Clean a Microwave - Exterior

Photo: shutterstock.com

Vinegar and baking soda combine to create a powerful cleaning agent. Both are inexpensive, and most people tend to keep a box or bottle of each item on hand. (Also, it’s worth mentioning that vinegar acts as a natural disinfectant.)

• Add four tablespoons of baking soda to a quart of warm water, being sure to mash and stir so that the powder fully dissolves. Dip a cloth or sponge into the mixture, repeating as necessary, and wipe down the entire interior.

• Pour one-half cup of water and one-half cup of white vinegar into a small, microwave-safe bowl. Place the bowl in your microwave, running the appliance on high for two or three minutes—long enough for the water to boil vigorously. Keeping the microwave door closed, let the bowl stand for about 10 minutes while the steam works its magic.

• Open the microwave door, take out the bowl, and remove the turntable (if your microwave has one), along with its carousel. Soak these parts in hot, soapy water, while you move on to clean the microwave interior with the vinegar-and-water solution you’ve prepared. Keep at the task until no baking soda residue remains inside the oven.

 

COMMERCIAL CLEANSERS

• Various commercial cleaners are available. Typically, these produce strong and in my opinion quite unpleasant fumes, which linger in the microwave and can make your food taste a little off. If you want to try a commercial cleaner, I recommend purchasing a fume-free product and letting the door stand open for a couple of hours after you finish cleaning.

Of course, the more often you use the microwave, the more frequently you should clean it. But I would say that for the average homeowner, cleaning the microwave once every two weeks is an appropriate schedule if you want to keep the appliance looking—and smelling—its delightfully clean best.


Pro Tips: What Type of Paint Is Best for Exteriors?

For an exterior paint job that really lasts, you need to start with the right paint. We've consulted with the pros to find out what's new and how to ensure the best results.

Oil vs. Latex Paint - Exterior

Photo: sherwin-williams.com

A fresh coat of exterior paint does wonders for the look of a home, revolutionizing its curb appeal while adding a valuable layer of protection against the elements. In recent years, paint technology has advanced by leaps and bounds, leaving today’s homeowners spoiled for choice when it comes to products that are not only durable, but also resistant to mold, mildew, and dirt—the trio of threats that most commonly undermine the longevity of an exterior paint job.

Related: Exterior Paint 101

If you are trying to decide whether to choose oil or latex paint—latex being the generic term for all non-oil-based paints—the question may no longer be a relevant one: The latest and greatest paint formulations are more often than not water based. “In the past, oil-based paints were the standard for exterior projects,” explains Karl Schmitt, of Sherwin-Williams. Times have changed, however. Superior performance characteristics are now to be found among water-based products.

Schmitt continues, “Some professional painters believe oil-based paints deliver a better finish.” But unless the surface to be painted is distressed (for example, weathered wood or rusty metal), Schmitt maintains that “a water-based paint is the best option for the average do-it-yourself homeowner.” Whereas “oil-based paints tend to yellow and become brittle over time,” high-quality water-based paints, such as Sherwin-Williams Emerald, retain a smooth and uniform appearance for years.

Oil vs. Latex Paint - Ladder

Photo: shutterstock.com

“There are some real benefits to using water-based paint,” Schmitt says. These include “improved adhesion performance, mold and mildew resistance, and low VOC emissions.” Another important benefit of water-based paints: They more or less extend the exterior painting season. It used to be that “you couldn’t paint if the temperature was below 50 degrees.” Those days are gone. Improved formulations permit successful painting to be done even on days as cold as 35 degrees.

Noor Aweidah of Valspar cites further advantages of water-based paint: “shorter dry time, better coverage, and easier cleanup.” Duramax, the top-of-the-line exterior paint manufactured by Valspar, even features paint and primer in one application. What it all adds up to, she says, is a “just-painted look” that lasts for an impressively long period of time.

Before undertaking an exterior painting project, Aweidah recommends that you take several factors into account. “Weather is the first thing to consider.” Start by figuring out the right time to paint. “For best results,” she says, “an air temperature and surface temperature of 50 degrees is ideal. It’s also important to prepare for the project and use a high-quality paint.” Cover these bases, and “any exterior paint project [will be] doable for any DIYer.”

Sherwin-Williams’s Schmitt concludes, “Buy the highest-quality paint you can afford.” Chances are “the more expensive paint will last substantially longer, which means that in the long run, the pricier product “represents a much better value.”


Pro Tips: The Best Ways to Deal with Snow and Ice

When it comes to ice and snow, the best defense is to be prepared. Here are some expert tips on the tools and equipment—and best use practices—that should keep you safe and sound this winter.

Dealing with Snow and Ice - Shoveling

Photo: shutterstock.com

The severity of this winter has surprised many parts of the country. With more storms on the way, many homeowners are better preparing themselves, stocking the garage with everything necessary to handle snow and ice. These tools are readily available in stores; it’s only a matter of knowing which are essential to own.

For manual snow removal around the house, the experts recommend that you employ a mix of shovels, pushers, scoops, rakes, and scrapers.

“Use a shovel to lift and throw snow that is too deep or heavy to bulldoze using a pusher. A pusher is best for drier, lighter snow that can be efficiently bulldozed off the sidewalk or driveway without the ‘scoop-and-throw’ motion of a shovel,” says Joe Saffron, senior director of marketing at Ames True Temper.

“A roof rake helps clear heavy snow from a rooftop in order to avoid structural damage to your home. Some (like the True Temper telescoping roof rake) allow for quick extension and easy reach, without the need to get out the ladder,” Saffron continues.

“A scraper should be on hand to remove stubborn ice from surfaces. While on the road, you should have a shovel in the trunk of your car to help dig out your tires if you get stuck. Collapsible shovels, like the True Temper Autoboss, are a great option for easy storage.”

When shopping, prioritize safety and ease of use. Test tools before purchasing to be certain they are comfortable and amenable to the techniques you prefer. When shoveling, remember to stay warm and hydrated. Also, try not to push yourself too far beyond the limits of your normal physical activity: “As shoveling is not an everyday task, it is easy to strain muscles and joints when stooping and lifting in ways you do not normally move,” Saffron says. Be kind to your body and “look for ergonomic features, such as multi-point grips, elliptical-shaped and curved handles, and wide-mouth blades.”

Dealing with Snow and Ice - Blowers

Photo: troybilt.com

Heavier snow calls for heavier equipment. That’s where snow throwers come in. Of course, there are many makes and models from which to choose. If you are shopping for a snow blower, consider a variety of factors—the type of surface you will be clearing (i.e., concrete or gravel), the shape and length of your driveway and/or walkway, and how much snow your geographical area typically receives (as well as what consistency that snow is).

“A single-stage snow thrower like the Troy-Bilt Squall 2100 is best for clearing midsize driveways in areas with snowfalls of six inches or less. And it’s most appropriate for paved surfaces like sidewalks and patios,” says Barbara Roueche, senior manager, marketing communications, MTD Products. “Generally, a single-stage snow thrower is lightweight and easy to maneuver.”

“A two-stage snow thrower like the Troy-Bilt Storm 2840 consists of serrated augers that break up ice and snow. These models throw snow quicker and farther than a single-stage thrower,” Roueche continues. “A two-stage thrower is best for clearing large driveways and heavy snowfalls, and its power-driven wheels can handle uneven and steep terrain.”

Whatever snow removal tools match your needs and family budget, be sure to read the owner’s manual so that you understand how to properly and safely operate the equipment.

Finally, once you have managed to clear the snow away, think about investing in a low-tech solution to deal with slippery surfaces: a little bit of salt or sand can help increase traction, making approaches to and exits from your property much more manageable for family and guests.


Increase Your Comfort Level This Winter with a Humidifier

In the winter months, when heating systems are really chugging away, indoor air can become dry and staticky. A whole-house humidifier is a great way to add back a little moisture. Here are the basics.

Whole House Humidifier

Photo: shutterstock.com

Scratchy throats, frequent nosebleeds, dry skin, and static electricity can be common occurrences in winter—particularly when the combination of heated air and tightly insulated houses reduces humidity levels indoors.

GeneralAire Drum Style Humidifier

GeneralAire drum-style humidifier at SupplyHouse.com

“With frigid temperatures gripping most of the country, heating systems on full blast, and houses all buttoned-up against the cold, the air in a home can get pretty dry this time of year,” points out Daniel O’Brian, a technical expert from online retailer SupplyHouse.com. The solution to improved health and comfort, however, can be as simple as adding a humidifier.

Although everyone knows the old adage “it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity,” few people understand the relationship between the two. The actual heat a body feels is a combination of both temperature and humidity. The minute you turn on your home heating system in the winter, it begins to remove moisture from the air. Dry air feels cooler than moist air, so in a dry interior, in order to maintain a temperature that seems comfortable, you end up raising the thermostat higher than necessary. By adding humidity back into the mix, you can alleviate the dryness, lower the thermostat, and still feel comfortable—saving money on heating bills in the bargain.

“Not only can low humidity dry out your skin and throat, and generally make you feel uncomfortable,” says O’Brian, “it can contribute to other health issues—from making you more susceptible to colds and flu to aggravating conditions like asthma, allergies, and sinus problems.” Children and pets—especially birds—can be particularly sensitive to dry indoor air.

“Extremely low moisture levels can even be damaging to your home, causing wood floors and fine furniture to warp and crack, interior paint to dry out, chip and flake, and wallpaper edges to shrink and peel,” O’Brian notes. “And, if you think those static shocks are painful to the touch, think of what they are doing to your electronics!”

Honeywell By Pass Whole-House Humidifier

Honeywell bypass humidifier at SupplyHouse.com

The simple answer to alleviating all these problems is to install a humidifier, which can be used to increase the moisture levels in specific rooms or throughout the entire house. Indoor humidity levels of 35 to 50 percent are considered to be the most comfortable, depending on personal preference.

Most people are familiar with single room humidifiers, which use cool mist, warm air, or steam vaporization to increase humidity in a room. There are also a variety of whole-home humidifiers that can be installed directly in line with your heating system to increase humidity levels throughout the entire house.

While there are various types of whole-house humidification systems, nearly all are controlled by a device called a humidistat, which allows you to set the exact level of humidity desired. Depending on the type of system you choose and the size of your home, a whole-house humidifier will use from 1.5 gallons up to 12 gallons of water per day when the furnace is operating.

Drum humidifiers are commonly used with forced-air heating systems. Drum systems feature a sponge attached to a drum that rotates slowly through a water reservoir. Warm air from the furnace passes through the sponge and picks up moisture, then the moist air is distributed throughout the house.

Bypass humidifiers are connected between hot and cold air return ducts. They use the pressure difference between the ducts to force heated air to pass through the humidifier and return to the furnace. Such humidifiers don’t contain a foam drum but rather a series of plastic discs with small grooves on both sides that allow for sufficient evaporative surface area without requiring a great deal of space.

Honeywell Humidifier Digital Control

Honeywell humidifier digital controls at SupplyHouse.com

Whole-house humidifiers are typically controlled by humidistats, devices that sense the moisture in the air and allow you to maintain the desired level of humidity; they come in both manual and digital models. As the humidity level in a space drops, a set of electrical contacts in the humidistat close, turning the unit on. When the humidity level rises, the electrical contacts open, thereby turning the unit off. Some models have a dual function and can be used to control a dehumidifier in the summer months, when excess moisture becomes a problem.

The amount of humidification you need in your home is determined by the total square footage of the house, as well as the home’s construction and insulation. Online retailer SupplyHouse.com offers a handy calculator to help consumers determine the best product to meet their needs. The company offers a large selection of humidifier products and packages from leading manufacturers, and highlights informative articles and instructional videos on its Web site.

For more about humidifiers and heating products, visit SupplyHouse.com.

 

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


How To: Clean Oven Racks

Over time, oven racks become covered with grease, grime, and baked-on food. Here are some (relatively) painless ways to get them clean and shiny again.

How to Clean Oven Racks

Photo: shutterstock.com

Ugh, is there anything worse than a dirty oven? If you use the appliance at all, chances are that baked-on grease, sticky grime, and burnt bits are going to accumulate—maybe not today or tomorrow, but someday. While many homeowners are lucky enough to enjoy a self-cleaning oven, that convenience comes with a consequence. Over time, the self-cleaning functionality ends up damaging the racks. To prolong their life, it’s recommended that, when possible, you clean oven racks the old-fashioned way. Fortunately, by using any of the following methods, you can get the job done quickly and with a minimum of hassle.

Bathtub Bliss

• Fill the tub with very hot water, just enough to cover the racks. Add up to 1/2 cup of dishwashing soap (or up to 3/4 cup laundry detergent). Let sit overnight.

• Alternatively, sprinkle baking soda over the racks, then douse them with vinegar. Once the foaming stops, submerge the racks in hot water and let sit overnight.

• In the morning, scrub the racks with an old dish towel to remove grease and grime, and use an old toothbrush to dislodge any baked-on grime. For really stubborn bits, add salt to the toothbrush to make the scrubbing more abrasive. Afterwards, rinse the racks thoroughly before returning them to the oven.

How to Clean Oven Racks - Detail

Photo: shutterstock.com

Trash Bag Treasure

• Place oven racks into an unused trash bag. Add 1/2 quart of ammonia. Seal the bag and let sit overnight.

• Open the bag in the morning; be wary of ammonia fumes. Rinse the racks thoroughly and replace.

Commercial Cleansers

• Because many cleansers produce toxic fumes, if you plan on using a commercial cleanser, clean oven racks outside.

• Cover a work surface with sheet plastic or newspaper. Lay down the oven racks in a single layer.

• Put on rubber gloves, then spray oven cleaner generously onto the racks. Let sit for about 10 minutes.

• Scrub the racks either with a rag or an old toothbrush. Rinse thoroughly with a garden hose before replacing.

It’s a dirty job, but if in your household, you are the person responsible for the task of cleaning oven racks, take heart: It requires only a few common household items, several hours of soaking, and a little bit of elbow grease to get the job done.