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+!

The Meaning Behind GREEN

What do all of the green certification labels mean? Here's a helpful guide.

Photo: greenmarketing.com

Our childhood pal, Kermit the Frog, had the right idea when he sang, “It’s not that easy bein’ green.” While Kermit may have meant being green literally, today his mantra takes on a whole new meaning, as environmentally-conscious consumers seek products and services that are better for the planet.

In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit to being a “tree-hugger” from way back: so far back, in fact, that my first grade-school environmental cause—saving the wild mustangs—pre-dates the establishment of Earth Day in 1970.

But even a veteran environmentalist can run into a classification conundrum when confronted with today’s myriad claims. What, exactly, does it mean to be green? Fortunately, there are some umbrella certification agencies that offer home building and renovation guidelines for projects large and small. Consumers looking to “go green” can identify environmentally-friendly products by seeking out items with these logos or certification labels.

green labelThe first place for an ecologically-conscious do-it-yourselfer to begin is with the product category, as environmental certifications vary depending on the industry. Lumber and wood products, for instance, are certified by two primary agencies, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI.) Both of these agencies provide third-party certification that wood products come from forests that are managed and harvested in a sustainable way.

The FSC is an international organization founded in 1993 by a group of more than 100 environmentalists, land owners and manufacturers. FSC certifies and establishes guidelines for forests and how they are managed. Similarly, the SFI provides lumber producers with a set of forest management standards, and tracks lumber from the forest to the end use; there are currently more than 400 SFI-certified locations across North America.

Green Seal Certified LogoAnother widespread program, the Green Seal, is a certification program that covers a variety of home improvement products, including paints, coatings, stains and finishes; windows, doors, awnings and related adhesives; and household cleaning products. Green Seal certifies that products meet the highest standards of environmental quality and performance; the non-profit agency operates under the international guidelines for environmental labeling programs, ISO 14020 and 14024, set by the International Organization for Standardization.

Green LabelOn the softer side, the Carpet and Rug Institute features the Green Label and Green Label Plus certifications covering carpeting, rugs, cushioning materials and related adhesives. Products bearing these labels have been tested to ensure that they have very low emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which can adversely affect indoor air quality.

Other home textiles products, including curtains, draperies, furniture coverings and mattresses, are tested and certified by the European testing organization Oeko-Tex. The Oeko-Tex Standard 100 is an international testing and certification system limiting the use of harmful chemicals in textiles products. Two organizations are helpful when dealing with large projects, such as whole-home renovations or new construction: The U.S. Green Building Council and the National Association of Home Builders. Many of the current environmental certification programs are an outgrowth of the efforts of these two groups.

Green LabelThe U.S. Green Building Council developed the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program, a rating system for the design, construction and operation of high-performance green buildings, homes and neighborhoods. LEED-certified buildings are designed to use resources more efficiently and provide healthier living and work environments when compared to conventional buildings simply built to code.

Founded in 1998, the USGBC has nearly 20,000 member organizations and has certified more than 7,000 projects in the U.S. and 30 countries, covering more than 1.501 billion square feet of development. According to the group, LEED arose from building owners and developers’ desire to have a concise framework for identifying and implementing practical and measurable green building design, construction, operations and maintenance solutions. To this end, the USGBC established the Green Building Certification Institute, which offers a series of exams allowing builders, contractors and other individuals to become accredited for their knowledge of the LEED rating system.

Somewhat more recently, in 2007, the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and the International Code Council (ICC) partnered to establish a nationally recognizable standard definition of green building, the ICC 700 National Green Building Standard. This standard defines green building for single- and multi-family homes, residential remodeling projects and site development projects.

Green LabelThe group also offers NAHBGreen, a comprehensive set of educational resources, advocacy tools and standards. Certification is provided by the NAHB Research Center, a qualified and independent third party. The group offers Certified Green Professional (CGP) and Master Certified Green Professional (MCGP) designations for home building professionals who have demonstrated expertise in green building.

These certifications and the accompanying labeling can help consumers sort through sometime-confusing environmental claims and hopefully, make it just a little bit easier to be green… just like Kermit.


Care and Cleaning Keep Wicker Wonderful

A popular choice for spaces indoors and out, wicker furniture and accessories can provide years of comfort and enjoyment if properly maintained.

Wicker Care

Photo: wickerparadise.com

Wicker furniture and accessories are very popular choices for living spaces both outdoors and in. Comfortable, sturdy, and attractive, wicker comes in a wide variety of colors and patterns, making it complementary of countless decorating schemes.

A natural product, wicker is a weave of reeds and plant fibers and as such, it requires specialized care to looks its best. Some approaches may be used on all types of wicker, while others are suitable for either outdoor or indoor pieces only.

GENERAL CLEANING

• Remove any cushions and clean them separately, according to the manufacturer’s instructions, as proper care varies by fabric type.

• Regular dusting with a soft cloth, microfiber duster, or feather duster helps keep any type of wicker looking great.

• For heavier dust, use a small soft-bristled paintbrush; to remove dirt from those crevices where wicker meets the furniture frame, switch to an old toothbrush.

• Regularly clean wicker furniture with the brush attachment of your vacuum, being sure to set the suction to its lowest level to avoid causing damage.

• Wicker pieces need a more thorough cleaning once or twice a year. Moisten a microfiber cloth or terry towel (or even a clean sock) with warm water, then gently rub the wicker surface, top and bottom.

• For heavier dirt and stains, wipe with a cleaning cloth that’s been lightly moistened with warm water and mild soap; wipe again with plain water.

• To eliminate mold or mildew, wipe with a mixture of 25% white vinegar and 75% water, then wipe again with plain water.

• Before replacing the cushions, allow wicker to dry thoroughly in the sun; alternatively, use a hair dryer to hasten the process.

Wicker Care - Detail

Photo: shutterstock.com

OUTDOOR WICKER

• An effective all-purpose cleaning solution for outdoor wicker furniture is 1/4 cup of liquid dish soap and two cups of warm water. Wipe the wicker with a soft cloth or sponge, then rinse away the soapy suds with a garden hose. For mold and mildew removal, add one cup of white vinegar to the solution.

• For tough dirt and stains, use the same solution in combination with a soft brush; an old toothbrush will help you get into the nooks and crannies. Afterward, make sure to rinse thoroughly with plain water and dry thoroughly.

• When outdoor wicker is extremely dirty, use a hand steam-cleaner. Once you’ve steam-cleaned the entire piece, dry it thoroughly with a hair dryer (otherwise, wicker might bend or become deformed). For the very best results, steam-clean wicker furniture on a sunny, windy day to ensure quick drying.

Related: Wicker Gone Wild: 10 Easy Ways to Transform Old into New

GOOD TO KNOW

• Avoid damaging wicker furniture by being careful not to press too hard on its slats.

• If you have damaged or broken slats, make repairs with wood glue, allowing ample time for the glue to dry before continuing to clean. Of course, if the damage is extensive, you may have to take the piece to a professional.

• Do not use a stiff brush, a steel wool pad, or any harsh abrasives on wicker. Doing so could severely damage unfinished, natural wicker and could remove the protective finish from a lacquered piece.

• Never saturate or let water pool on wicker, as moisture can result in either spotting or deformity, or both.

Just a modicum of regular maintenance and cleaning will ensure that your wicker furniture and accessories provide many years of comfort and enjoyment.


Would You Live in a Tiny House Village?

The tiny house movement is poised to make a leap forward, with a village development planned for Sonoma County, CA.

Tiny House Village

Photo: thetinylife.com

When is a trailer park not a trailer park? When it’s being designed and developed by nationally recognized small-space living pioneer Jay Shafer. Shafer and his Four Lights Tiny House Company are currently planning a “tiny village” development for Sonoma County, CA.

“The best way to have and use a small house is in a community with other small houses, because that way you can take advantage of many shared amenities,” Shafer explains. “Not everyone needs to own a washer and dryer, for instance, or a lawnmower. It makes a lot of sense for owners of tiny houses to combine resources, which is what we are proposing.”

Related: 11 Tiny Houses We Love

Shafer has been an advocate of the tiny house movement since 1997, when he founded Tumbleweed Tiny House Company, a firm that designs and builds homes as small as 65 square feet. The planned village extends the tiny house concept to include shared amenities and a close sense of community.

[Ed: In July, 2011, we covered Shafer's Tumbleweed Tiny House Co. in Downsizing with Style.]

The development, whimsically dubbed the Napoleon Complex, takes inspiration from quaint old-world villages. Shafer describes the design as having “a very organic layout, featuring winding paths and winding streets.”

He adds, “We are trying to create a sense of community and containment, a sense of being protected, similar to being in a small village in Tuscany.” All of the homes will face the walkway-lined interior of the development, while parking and delivery areas will be located behind the homes.

Tiny House Village - Plan

Village Plan from Four Lights Tiny House Co.

Upon its completion in 2015, the complex will feature 12 to 20 tiny homes situated on a total of two to five acres. Each home, ranging from 120 to 400 square feet, will have a private garden plot and private storage area. Lot sizes are expected to be between 1,000 and 1,500 square feet.

Smaller units are expected to sell for approximately $35,000, with larger units priced up to $90,000. Owners will pay a fee to maintain the shared spaces and amenities.

“The concept is very much based on the idea of homeownership, with everyone owning their own tiny house and their own piece of property,” Shafer says. “People always take care of a space better when they actually own it.”

Local officials have expressed enthusiasm for the project, according to Shafer. To be in accord with zoning requirements, the development is to be classified as a trailer park. “Housing regulations typically require homes of a certain minimum square footage, while the trailer industry does not have these minimums,” Shafer explains. “By designating this as a trailer park, we can work with local zoning to make sure that the community is in compliance.

“Yes, we are calling this a ‘trailer park’, but it will be like no other trailer park you’ve ever seen,” Shafer adds. “Most trailer parks are built fast, cheap, and out of control. Here, we are taking the concept and making it a high-end location for people who want to downsize their homes and simplify their lives. We are not just creating a place for people to stay; we are creating a beautiful community.”


Let the Sun Shine In: DIY Solar Projects for the Average Homeowner

If you're intrigued by the prospect of powering your home at least partly via the sun's rays, experiment with smaller DIY solar projects to get familiar with the principles and technologies involved.

DIY Solar

Photo: shutterstock.com

Interested in solar power but not sure where to start? Solar panels are becoming increasingly available to the average homeowner. To integrate solar energy into your personal power grid, there are a number of easy and inexpensive projects you can undertake.

Related: 12 Ways to Put Your Home on an Energy Diet

Perhaps the most accessible is creating a small backup power system, the type of contingency you might use to run lights and small appliances in the event of a power outage. The basic components are:

DIY Solar - Home Depot Kit

Photo: thehomedepot.com

  • a photovoltaic panel to collect the sun’s energy and generate the electricity
  • a storage battery
  • a charge controller to keep the photovoltaic panel from overcharging the battery
  • an inverter that converts the battery power into usable, 120-volt alternating-current (AC) power

Components may be purchased separately or bundled together as part of a complete kit. On sale from speciality online retailers and major home improvement chain stores, kits run the gamut in price from $300 to $6,000. If that seems expensive, consider that for the average household, a whole-home solar array usually costs between $20,000 and $30,000.

You can put together a small system to generate 800 watt hours for approximately $250. A setup of this size will power a 7-watt LED light for more than 100 hours or a 20-watt LCD television for 40 hours (or both the light ant TV for 30 hours). Under direct sunlight, the battery fully recharges in 16 hours.

A larger solar kit, one that generates about 2,200 watt hours, sells for just shy of $1,000. It will power a 7-watt LED light for 314 hours, a 20-watt LCD television for 110 hours, or a 50-watt refrigerator for 44 hours (or all three appliances for 29 hours). Charging takes about 7 hours in optimal conditions.

Most backup solar power systems use 12-volt lead-acid batteries. Always charge them in a well-ventilated area, using the same precautions you would with a car battery (i.e., protective eyewear and gloves are recommended).

Another inexpensive DIY solar project is a passive solar water heating system. You can assemble one from easy-to-find recycled components: a discarded electric water heater tank, an insulated plywood box (to house the tank), used window glass or clear plastic sheets, along with some pipe and insulation. Plans are not hard to come by, and the total price for the project typically does not exceed $100.

DIY Solar - Water Heating System

Photo: daviddarling.info

Passive solar water heaters are great for outdoor applications, such as outdoor showers. A salvaged water heater tank is set into an insulated plywood box. The box, in turn, is covered with recycled window glass or molded plastic, either of which focuses the sun’s rays, warming the water in the tank. An incoming water hose goes into the bottom of the tank, while from the top of the tank, an outgoing hose draws off the sun-warmed water. And there you have it—for virtually pennies, a terrific way to rinse off after a dip in the pool!


Area Rugs Set Fashion Free in the Great Outdoors

Use outdoor rugs to extend comfortable living and gracious entertaining to your deck, patio, or porch.

Choosing an Outdoor Rug

Photo: potterybarn.com

Thanks to modern advances in fabrication, outdoor rugs have never featured more extensive design options. A favorite accent for extending comfortable living and gracious entertaining to decks, patios, and porches, durable outdoor rugs define space and add color, even as they keep dirt and grime from being tracked inside by feet or paws.

Related: 10 Top-Rated Grills to Fire Up Your Summer

The majority of outdoor rugs are manufactured using polypropylene, but nylon, polyester, and acrylic varieties are also available. “Polypropylene is an extruded, solution-dyed fiber, so it doesn’t absorb any liquid or stains,” explains Jonathan Witt, vice president of Oriental Weavers, one of the largest makers of outdoor rugs. “Our rugs are UV-treated to prevent fading after exposure to sunlight and are constructed of 100% polypropylene, which is naturally stain-resistant, mold-resistant, and mildew-resistant. You can wash them off with a hose and even apply bleach without damaging the color or design.”

Choosing an Outdoor Rug - Oriental Weavers Sphinx

Oriental Weavers' Sphinx Caspian Indoor/Outdoor Rug

Indoor/outdoor rugs are offered in a wide range of constructions, including handmade, machine-made, and braided styles:

  • Handmade styles, also known as hand-hooked rugs, are the most expensive. Offering the most color and design options, these range from $200 to $1,000 for a 5′ x 7′ size.
  • Machine-made rugs are created using power looms that simultaneously weave up to five different colors. A variety of intricate designs are commonly available, with pricing between $40 and $750 for a 5′ x 7′ rug.
  • Braided rugs are a traditional construction now made with polypropylene yarns. Rugs of this type are offered in flat-braided, cable-braided, or corded-and-stitched constructions. Prices are similar to those of machine-made rugs.

Most outdoor rugs are constructed with a backing material of either polypropylene or another synthetic fiber. Rugs backed in jute, a natural fiber, will not be as durable or mildew-resistant and will deteriorate over time. Braided rugs typically have no backing and are therefore reversible.

Indoor/outdoor rugs are offered in myriad designs, shapes, and colors. When choosing an area rug, keep in mind that darker colorations create a more intimate environment, while lighter shades make a small area seem more spacious. No matter the design and colors you select, you can certainly count on area rugs to make your outdoor living spaces more stylish!


The Mini-Split Air Conditioner: Today’s Smart Cooling Option

If you live in an older home without ductwork, or if you've added a new room to your house, consider the benefits and convenience of a mini-split air conditioner.

Mini Split Air Conditioner - Pex Supply

Photo: SupplyHouse.com

Now that summer has arrived, it’s definitely time to focus on home cooling. If your house does not have central air conditioning—and if you don’t love the look of window units—a ductless mini-split system may be just the right option for you.

Mini-split systems typically consist of two separate units: an interior evaporator (with fan and cooling coil) and an outside condenser. The two pieces are linked by flexible tubing that runs cooled refrigerant from the outdoor compressor to the indoor unit for distribution. Because no ductwork is required, a mini-split particularly well suits both older homes and new room additions.

“Mini-splits are a good alternative to other air conditioning options,” explains Daniel O’Brian, a technical expert from online retailer SupplyHouse.com. “There’s no need for the intricate ductwork of traditional central air systems. And they don’t hog a window or need to be removed off-season like removable window units. They also produce significantly less noise (because the compressor is outside) and eliminate the need for electrical cords cluttering the living space.” As a potential benefit for houses in colder climes, some mini-splits can act as a heat pump and provide supplemental heating in winter.

Mini split house schematic

Mini-Split House Schematic. Photo: SupplyHouse.com

Most mini-split indoor units are mounted on walls. Ceiling models—suspended, recessed, and concealed—are also available. If you’re looking for something more decorative, many customizable options exist for wall-mounted units, from mirrored faceplates to the LG Art Cool Mini-Split (shown below).

Mini Split Air Conditioner - LG Cool Air Picture

LG Art Cool Picture Mini-Split. Photo: SupplyHouse.com

Like all air conditioners, mini-split systems must be sized properly in order to cool a room effectively. Some of the factors that determine the size and type of unit required are climate, square footage, the number of people typically occupying a room, and the amount of insulation in the home. You can expect to pay anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000 for a mini-split system sized to cool an 800- to 1,000-square-foot space.

Mini-split systems are rated according to their seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER), and their cooling capacity is expressed in British thermal units (BTUs). SupplyHouse.com offers a handy calculator that estimates the BTU requirement for a specific room or set of rooms. The same tool recommends particular systems on the market that would meet those needs. Note, however, that your mini-split system must be installed by a licensed HVAC contractor.

To learn more about mini-split air conditioning systems, check out 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.


Backyard Decks Go Green with Redwood Construction

Redwood, an "old favorite" building material, is coming around again as a premium product for decking, thanks to its good looks and earth-friendly characteristics.

Redwood deck

Photo: virginiadeckbuilding.com

Contrary to popular belief, redwood can be a very environmentally-friendly building material especially when compared to many types of composite decking. The key to maintaining a “green” pedigree on your redwood deck is using redwood harvested from “new growth” trees—those which are 30 to 50 years old from forests that are sustainably maintained and replanted.

According to the California Redwood Association (CRA), redwood is grown and harvested in accordance with the highest environmental standards in the world, tapping the sun for energy and soaking in California’s famed North Coast fog. Roughly 90 percent of all product-producing redwood forests are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council or Sustainable Forestry Initiative as sources of environmentally-sound building materials. In addition, redwood uses 97% less energy to produce than plastic.

But that’s not all — redwoods also excel at reducing carbon emissions. As they grow, the trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, storing it in the wood and releasing oxygen into the air. When the trees are harvested, the carbon they had captured remains stored: an average redwood deck carries 500 pounds of carbon. Choosing redwood as a building material can actually reduce a homeowner’s carbon footprint. In addition, when lumber is milled into decking and other products, the bark, sawdust and scraps are collected and used to produce biomass energy. In terms of sustainability, you can’t go wrong!

Redwood deck

Photo: California Redwood Association

A Life Cycle Assessment from the trade organization Rooted In Truth compared redwood to plastic PVC decking and wood/plastic composite decking and found that redwood is one of the most environmentally-sound decking materials. Man-made materials such as plastics and wood/plastic composites require significant amounts of petroleum and chemicals to manufacture and these substances all contribute to global warming. Also, many of these composite materials are not recycled, and wind up clogging landfills for decades.

Related: Planning Guide: Wood Decks

Another common misperception about redwood is that it is expensive. According to CostHelper.com premium woods like redwood and red cedar cost $18 to $22 per square foot. That’s not bad when you consider that plastic/wood composites average about $20 per square foot. Less expensive options include pressure-treated southern yellow pine, which costs $10 to $16 per square foot or vinyl decking, which costs $13 to $22 per square foot. The most expensive decking materials are teak-like tropical hardwoods, averaging $22 to $24 or more per foot.

Premium woods like red cedar and redwood offer comparable levels of durability and longevity, lasting an average of 20 years. Both woods are naturally resistant to shrinking and warping, to boot. The primary difference between the two woods is color: redwoods range from light to dark red, while cedar hues run from light brown to salmon pink.

The main reason that builders and homeowners are returning to redwood, however, is aesthetics; redwood possesses a rich character and natural beauty that enhances the exterior of any home. It creates an aura of warmth and luxury, adding value while at the same time, providing an ecologically sound alternative for the environmentally conscious consumer.


Regular Maintenance Is Critical to Chain Saw Operation

Chainsaw Maintenance

Photo: motherearthnews.com

To safely and productively operate a chain saw, you must commit to maintaining it. Keep your chain saw in tip-top shape, not only to protect yourself but also to promote the tool’s longevity. Follow these guidelines:

• First things first, read the owner’s manual; it’s the only way to be certain you’re establishing the right maintenance routine. Though most are very similar, some important differences exist between machines. Learn the best practices recommended by the manufacturer of your specific make and model.

Chainsaw Maintenance - Sharpening

Photo: lowes.com

• Problems with chain saws are usually caused by a chain that has become either dull or improperly tensioned. If it seems like your chain saw is laboring, switch to a new chain. (Meanwhile, sharpen the old chain with a chain saw file or a rotary grinder; alternatively, hire a pro.) Before each use of your chain saw, check the tension on the chain. If it’s correctly adjusted, the chain will fit snugly against the bar—but not so tightly that a gloved hand would be unable to move it around.

• The chain should be clean and lubricated. Before each use, make sure the oil reservoir is full. And if wood chips and sawdust accumulate, stop and clean the chain before continuing.

• Before each use, check and tighten all screws, bolts, and nuts. These components have a tendency to loosen on account of the tool’s vibration.

• Inspect the chain brake mechanism for tightness and positioning in order to protect yourself from kickback during operation.

• Clean or replace the air filter whenever it becomes clogged. Likewise, optimal performance depends on the air intake and cooling fins being free of dirt and debris.

• Use the correct blend of oil and gas to power the engine. When fueling, make sure the fuel filler cap fits tightly and is neither cracked nor worn-down.

• Clean or replace the fuel filter and spark plugs regularly, and whenever the engine is running roughly or misfiring, clean and adjust the carburetor.

• If heavily worn, replace the hoses and/or the pull-start rope.

• Remove the clutch cover and clean the chain brake band.

• Check the idle speed and if necessary, make an adjustment. When a chain saw is idling, the chain should not move. If you notice it moving, turn down the idle speed so that the chain remains stationary.

• If you are not going to be using the chain saw for several months, drain all fuel from the tank and exhaust that which remains in the lines or carburetor by running the saw until it stops. Remove the chain and store it in oil within a tightly covered container.

A chain saw is a valuable investment that can withstand years of punishing service. Following a set of simple maintenance steps will ensure that your tool continues to work properly and most importantly, safely.

For more on outdoor tools, consider:

How To: Use a Leaf Blower
Should You Buy a Used Riding Mower?
Mower Maintenance: 5 Ways to Keep Your Machine Up and Running


How To: Replace a Ceiling Light Fixture

Replace Ceiling Light

Photo: shutterstock.com

Let’s face it: Many homes today feature inadequate, poorly positioned, and sometimes plain-old ugly light fixtures. But you don’t have to live with anything you don’t love, especially when so many ceiling-mounted and hanging fixtures can be found on the market. Since new ceiling light fixtures come with mounting hardware, replacing an existing unit is easy—even for the novice do-it-yourselfer.

Step 1. Remove the old fixture
Turn off electricity to the room at the main circuit breaker panel. Double-check that power has been cut by locating and testing the light switch that controls your ceiling fixture. Next, carefully unscrew and remove the canopy of the old fixture. With the junction box visible, remove the wire nuts and separate the supply wiring from the old fixture. Carefully examine the wires for damage, and if none are frayed or broken, leave the wires exposed for the new fixture.

Step 2. Examine the junction box
Having confirmed that your existing junction box is securely fastened to the ceiling joist, make sure it will be sturdy enough to handle the weight of your replacement fixture. If the new fixture weighs substantially more than the old one, it may be necessary to install an accessory mounting strap or support rod. (Either can be installed next to the junction box so that, once installed, the fixture hides the hardware.)

Step 3. If installing a hanging fixture
Most hanging lights have a supporting chain or cable, through which (or next to) the wires should be threaded (or hung). I recommend using the paint tray of your stepladder to prop up the fixture, while you feed its wires up to the junction box. Carefully guide the fixture wires through the canopy, ceiling plate, and hanging bracket of your new fixture. Strip about a half-inch off of the fixture wires and about a half-inch off of the supply wires.

Replace Ceiling Light - Wiring

Photo: goodceilinglight.com

Step 4. Connecting the wires
Most new fixtures are color-coded with black and white wire. Twist together the stripped, bare end of the fixture’s black wire with the stripped, bare end of the supply line’s black wire. Secure the connection with a wire nut, then repeat the process with the white wire. Many fixtures also have a bare copper or green-sheathed ground wire, which should be twisted onto the mounting bracket’s copper or green grounding screw. Now carefully tuck the wires into the junction box, put a bulb in the fixture, and turn the circuit breaker on. If the light works, that means your wiring connections have been successful. Before continuing, turn the circuit breaker off again.

Step 5. Securing the fixture
Screw the ceiling plate to the mounting strap or support rod, then put the mounting stem onto the ceiling plate. At this point, make sure that the installation is secure and that the fixture is hanging at the proper height. (If the chain is too long, you can remove links or loop the extra chain around the mounting stem.) Slide the canopy into place so that it covers the mounting hardware; tighten the locknut to hold the canopy in place. Finally, install the correct bulbs, turn the electricity back on, and admire the radiance of your new ceiling light fixture!

For more on lighting, consider:

How To: Devise a Lighting Plan
Bob Vila Radio: Types of Lighting
Choosing the Right Energy-Saving Bulb and Fixture


How To: Choose a Programmable Thermostat

Honeywell VisionPro programmable thermostat

The Honeywell VisionPro Programmable Touchscreen Thermostat at SupplyHouse.com

Looking for a small home improvement that yields big results? A programmable thermostat, properly installed and configured, helps maintain a comfortable indoor temperate while reducing your home’s overall energy usage.

Several factors come into play when choosing a thermostat: how much flexibility you want in the programming, your voltage requirement, and the type of heating and cooling system you have. You must also decide on a user interface. Yet another consideration is what style of mounting system suits your installation.

The primary types of thermostats are:

Heat Only. This type works only with a single heating source. According to Daniel, tech specialist at online retailer Supplyhouse.com, “A programmable thermostat is a good way to lower your energy bills when using a forced hot air or baseboard heating system.”

Cool Only. This works only with a single cooling source.

Single Stage Heat/Cool. This type of thermostat controls one heating source and one cooling source—for example, a baseboard heating system and a central air conditioning system.

Multi-Stage Heat/Cool. This type of thermostat is used to control multiple heating and cooling sources—for example, a heat pump with a supplementary forced hot air backup system, plus an air conditioning system.

Electric Heat/Line Voltage. This type is used to control electric heaters or electric baseboard systems.

Heat Pump. Heat pump applications require a specialized thermostat that can handle air-source heat pumps and ground-source heat pumps.

Fan Coil. This type works with fan coil units, such as unit ventilators.

Millivolt. This type is used to regulate systems that utilize a pilot light rather than an electrical circuit (e.g., a gas-fired heater or gas fireplace).

Programmable thermostats are a desirable alternative to non-programmable models, because they allow the user to heat and cool the home based on a specific schedule. Most programmable models have four “set points”. These allow the user to define different temperatures for morning, daytime, evening and overnight. Some thermostats offer 24-hour programmability.

You can also establish different programs for different days of the week. A “7 Day”-style programmable thermostat enables you to have a different program for every day of the week. With a ”5-1-1″ model, there is a five-day program for Monday through Friday, plus a program for Saturday and a different program for Sunday. A “5-2″-style thermostat gives you a five-day program for the work week, plus a two-day program for the weekend. Most programmable thermostats also feature a manual mode, allowing overrides to whatever program may have been established already.

All thermostats run on either line voltage or low voltage. Low-voltage thermostats are connected using very thin doorbell or speaker wire. Line voltage thermostats require a heavier wire. Also available are wireless thermostats. Indoor and outdoor remote sensors can be found easily, as well. Many new thermostats are able to be programmed via internet, smartphone, or tablet.

Some thermostats come with an auto-changeover switch, which shifts the unit between heating and cooling automatically, depending on the indoor temperature. Other styles must be manually changed from heat to cool and vice versa.

Non-programmable thermostats typically have a mechanical user interface—either a rotating dial or a sliding lever. Programmable thermostats come with either a digital button and digital screen interface, or a back-lit digital touchscreen interface.

Face plates and mount styles can be horizontal, vertical, or round.

Online retailer SupplyHouse.com sells a wide variety of programmable thermostats, including leading brands Honeywell, White Rodgers, Robertshaw, Lux, Wirsbo and Tekmar. It also offers accessories, such as wireless interface modules, trim plates, and temperature sensors. The company has produced some helpful videos on programmable thermostats, including the one below on how to choose the right one for you:

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