Author Archives: Joe Provey

Joe Provey

About Joe Provey

Joe Provey is an expert on all things home and garden. His work has appeared in many national magazines, including E, The Environmental Magazine, Popular Mechanics, House Beautiful, Better Homes & Gardens Specials, and Fine Homebuilding. Joe also has more than a dozen books to his credit. His latest, Convert Your Home to Solar Energy, was published last year. Other titles include Outdoor Kitchens, Easy Closets, 1001 Ideas for Decks, Green-up Your Cleanup, Design Ideas for Flooring, Toro's Expert Guide to Lawns, 1001 Ideas for Kitchen Organization, and the Parent's Complete Guide to Soccer. Joe is the president of Home & Garden Editorial Services (HGES), a company that produces books for publishers in the home, garden and related fields. In the past, he has served as chief editor to several national home improvement magazines, including The Family Handyman, Mechanix Illustrated, and Practical Homeowner. He was also the founding editor of Soccer Jr., the Soccer Magazine for Kids, and several other soccer-related magazines. Joe lives in Bridgeport, Connecticut with his wife MaryAnn, where they have seven children and four grandchildren between them. Check him out on Google+!

How To: Paint Wood Paneling

If your wood-paneled walls seem dark and dated, painting is a great way to brighten them up. Follow these simple steps to achieve a professional-looking, up-to-date finish.

How to Paint Paneling


In a room with wood-paneled walls—particularly if that wood is a veneer—your instinct may be to start fresh, either by tearing out the paneling or by concealing it behind drywall. Both of these options, however, involve avoidable expenses that may be difficult to justify if you are trying to keep costs to a bare minimum. So long as your paneling has stayed in decent condition over the years, perhaps the least expensive way forward is to leave the paneling in place and paint over it.

That may be easier said than done, partly because solid-wood paneling so often has knots, the kind that appear invincible to paint coverage and leave the well-intentioned homeowner feeling a bit trigger-shy. Just as often, there’s a wax or varnish to deal with, and do-it-yourselfers know that sanding can be not only taxing, but really messy. And then there’s veneer wood paneling: Isn’t there something about its hard, almost plastic-like surface that looks like it simply wouldn’t take paint very well?

Related: How To—Paint EVERYTHING

How to Paint Wood Paneling - Roller


The truth is that, regardless of whether yours is solid or veneer, it’s pretty easy to paint wood paneling. If you’ve ever painted a piece of wood furniture, then you’re probably already familiar with the few simple steps that make up the process. Follow these guidelines and you ought to achieve professional-level results.

Start by thoroughly washing the wood-paneled walls with a solution of TSP and water. Next, proceed to lightly sand the walls using a technique aptly known as “scuffing”; the goal here is to create a good mechanical bond between the paneled wall and the initial coat of primer that you will soon be applying.

Today’s primers are so good that you can probably skip the sanding, but I think it’s worth doing. Even though it takes only 20 or 30 minutes, scuffing gives you long-lasting insurance against chipping paint. Just be sure to wear a dust mask and, for health reasons as well as cleanliness, wipe away dust with a damp rag as you go.

Having finished scuffing the full width and height of the paneling to be painted, you can then move on to giving the surface its initial coat of primer. I prefer Zinsser’s (for solid wood, use a water-based product; for veneer, use a shellac-based one). Two primer coats are normally sufficient. Note that while it’s not strictly necessary to do so, you can have the primer tinted to match the shade you eventually plan to paint the wood paneling.

Finish by applying your chosen paint. Lightly sand the surface between coats; expect to do two or three. In order to avoid ending up with the orange peel–like texture that roller-applied paints sometimes produce, opt to use a foam sponge roller cover (inexpensive and easily purchased at your local paint supply store or home improvement center). Keep a paintbrush handy for cutting in at corners and dabbing away drips.

Once you are done, stand back to admire the difference painted wood paneling can make in a room!

Planning for the Next Flood

Regardless of when it occurs, flooding is one of a homeowner's worst nightmares. Here are some valuable lessons I learned that could help you plan for the next flood, whether anticipated or unexpected.

How to Prepare for a Flood


Late on October 29th, 2012, Hurricane Sandy pushed seawater across the 800 yards that separate Long Island Sound from the co-op where my wife and I live. The surge burst through our basement windows and bulkhead door at 10 o’clock at night. The basement filled with floodwater so quickly that if we’d had a sump pump—and if there had been electricity (as a precaution, the city had cut power in flood zones)—the system would have been completely overwhelmed.

The next morning, I went down to the basement, flashlight in hand. The refrigerator was floating on its back, and the dryer had somehow settled atop the washer. The furnace was submerged, paint cans bobbed like apples, and my workbench floated slowly through the murk like a canal barge. Up and down the Eastern Seaboard, there were countless similar scenes, with many thousands of homeowners having experienced far worse than severe basement flooding.

Planning for the next time
The question may not be whether there will be another another Sandy-type flooding disaster, but rather when will it happen? Those who live in flood-prone areas are wise to be prepared. A crucial aspect of readiness is to fully understand the risk level your neighborhood faces. Here, the FEMA Map Service Center proves a valuable resource, not least because it can help you figure out flood insurance details. After all, homeowner’s insurance policies do not cover property loss due to flooding.

How to Prepare for a Flood


Build an emergency kit
Keep the necessities on hand and ready to go at a moment’s notice. Compile your emergency kit now, not in the hours and days prior to a hurricane. Store the following in a plastic container with a tight-fitting lid:

- Water (three gallons per person)
- Food (a three-day supply of nonperishable items)
- Hand-crank radio (or a battery-powered model with extra batteries)
- Flashlight (with extra batteries, if applicable)
- First aid kit
- Whistle to signal for help
- Dust mask
- Plastic sheeting
- Duct tape
- Moist towelettes, garbage bags, and plastic ties for personal sanitation
- Wrench or pliers (necessary to turn off utilities)
- Manual can opener (for canned food)
- Local maps
- Cell phone (with solar charger)

Check out for additional recommendations. Included are tips for developing a family communication plan that includes where and when loved ones will reunite in the wake of a disaster.

Minimizing the damage
We can’t keep our basement from flooding, but we can control what the floodwater has an opportunity to damage. We didn’t lose anything in the flood that couldn’t be replaced (albeit at significant cost), but my neighbors lost belongings of great sentimental value. Had these things been moved to higher ground, they would have been spared. Lesson learned: Store as little as possible in the basement.

Here’s what else we’ve done or are planning to do shortly:

Raise the appliances
Certain equipment must remain in the basement. With concrete pavers, cinder blocks, or even loose bricks, you can raise the furnace or water heater (or washer and dryer) several inches off the concrete slab or installed flooring. It’s not always as simple as it sounds, however, as basement ceiling heights tend to be low.

Install a check valve
Flooding causes water damage, certainly, but it can also cause sewers to back up, with the result that wastewater rises up through drain lines and empties into basement-located appliances or utility sinks. Prevent such an occurrence by installing a relatively inexpensive and do-it-yourself-friendly check valve.

Set up sump pumps
Although it wouldn’t help in the case of a storm surge, a sump pump can be effective in managing the groundwater that continues to seep slowly into the basement even several days after the fact. After a Sandy-like event, this technology can help you return your house more quickly to healthy working order. In the course of normal flooding, or as a defense against basement moisture resulting from causes unrelated to flooding, sump pumps have shown their value time and again.

Consider a levee
Assuming the storm surge neither reaches too high nor lasts too long—and that you are fit enough to fill and position several hundred sandbags—a levee can effectively keep floodwater at bay. To be successful, consult an engineer; building a levee is not a project to be taken lightly. The subject is too complex to be fairly treated here, but if you’re serious (or merely curious), I recommend watching How to Build a Sandbag Dike and Levee Building to get a grip on the basics.

The Dremel Multi-Max: Who Let the Tool Designers Loose?

My window sash replacement project turned out to be an easy fix, thanks to the variable—and versatile—features of the new Dremel Multi-Max.

Dremel Multi Max Tool Review - Scraper

The Dremel Multi-Max fitted with the flexible scraper was useful when removing dried glazing compound around a broken windowpane. Photo: Joe Provey

Because of the popularity of the Dremel rotary tool, most people perceive the Dremel brand as a bastion of the arts-and-crafts set rather than of home improvement and fix-it-yourself enthusiasts. While their tools were ideal for carving and model making, their utility didn’t extend to bigger jobs. Well, someone let loose some very creative tool designers at the Dremel factory, and the results have added utility and versatility to a whole array of multipurpose tools. These new offerings range from models that resemble mini-circular, scroll, and saber saws to updates to the company’s iconic rotary tool.

Recently, I had an opportunity to put the Dremel MM20 Multi-Max oscillating power tool (available at The Home Depot) through its paces. While it doesn’t quite fit any of the traditional tool categories, it perfectly fits the Dremel brand of tools because it does so many things: it saws, scrapes, sands, slices, and more.

The fact that the tool is corded appeals to me because it keeps the tool weight low and eliminates frequent battery changing and charging for a tool that’s likely to be used continuously for long stretches. (Cordless models are, however, available.)

Dremel Multi Max Tool Review - Removing Paint

The scraper accessory was also able to remove multiple layers of old paint. Photo: Joe Provey

Attaching the accessories is easy too. Just remove the clamping screw with the supplied Allen wrench, position the accessory over the 10 lock pins at the desired angle, replace the clamping screw, and tighten. There is no shake, rattle, or roll with this system.

The on-off switch and speed adjustment are easily accessed, even as you are working. And you can buy an assist handle accessory that makes two-handed operation a little more comfortable.

The Dremel Multi-Max MM20 basic kit comes with several starter accessories, including a scraper, two blades, a triangular sanding pad, and a supply of various grit sanding sheets. Other accessories, such as the grout removal tool for regrouting tile, a knife tool for slicing through old carpeting, and the Multi-Flex attachment for scrolling and coping cuts, must be purchased separately.

My window sash repair project allowed me to try out several accessories. The first thing I learned is that it’s best to use a light touch and to let the OPMs (oscillations per minute) do the work. Most jobs are best done at high settings of 16,000 to 21,000 OPMs. Materials susceptible to chipping, such as laminates, are better cut at lower settings.

Dremel Multi Max Tool Review - Sander

The sanding attachment was able to reach easily into tight spaces and angles. Photo: Joe Provey

For a tool with a powerful 2.3 amp motor, control is exceptionally easy. Oscillating tools perform various functions using the back and forth movement of the accessory, not continuous movement in one direction, as do rotary tools. Unlike a circular saw, for example, there is no torque—nothing to make the tool jump in your hand. Furthermore, the “travel,” or the distance the tools move back and forth, is very limited with the Dremel Multi-Max, further reducing vibration. The blade accessories are unlikely to jam, even in tight quarters, as is common with a reciprocating saw.

The scraper accessory was able to remove multiple layers of old paint. (It also came in handy for removing vinyl tiles and stuck carpet padding.) It was less effective at handling paint that was already blistered; an old-fashioned hand scraper works more quickly. The flexible scraper also made fast work of removing dried glazing compound from around the broken windowpane.

Dremel Multi Max Tool Review - Feathering

The sanding attachment was handy for feathering old layers of paint on this window sash. Photo: Joe Provey

The sanding accessory, while obviously not suited to large areas, was perfect for this project, allowing me to get into rails easily. (I only wish I had owned a Dremel Multi-Max when I recently sanded the wood floor in my hallway. My conventional palm sander couldn’t handle inside corners, around thresholds, or flooring at the base of doorjambs. I had to resort to tedious hand sanding for that.)  The sander was also handy for feathering layers of old paint on the window sash to prep it for refinishing.

The Dremel Multi-Max will not replace any of your portable power saws or even your hand tools. You’ll still want a circular saw, saber saw, and a set of scrapers, chisels, handsaws, etc.  The Multi-Max will, however, add to your problem-solving arsenal. It’s a tool that gives you the ability to handle the finishing touches on big jobs and to get you out of difficult jams on the small ones (among them: cutting back baseboard moldings; cutting drywall for installing electrical boxes and recessed light fixtures; removing caulk, grout, and glazing compounds; cutting copper and plastic piping; and removing carpet). It’s especially effective when making cuts in confined areas where a plunge cut or flush cut is your only option.


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

How To: Paint Plywood Floors

For projects where hardwood, tile, carpeting, or other flooring options just won't do, let a few simple coats of paint come to the rescue.

Painted Plywood Floors

Photo: JProvey

For our newly renovated attic, we’d wanted solid wood flooring, but that idea, it turned out, wasn’t practical: The attic floor is out of level—so much so that it’s actually wavy. Back to the drawing board we went. Laminates were out of the running, because we feared ending up with the spongy feel common to many floating floors. Other materials merited consideration, but wall-to-wall carpeting seemed like the answer.

It wasn’t long into our search before we realized that nice carpet costs a lot. In perusing hundreds of samples, we compared weights, studied density, thought about textures, scrutinized colors, examined backings, puzzled over padding, and became really confused by the sheer variety of fiber types out there. Plus, we found it nearly impossible to compare sellers accurately, because different companies have different pricing schemes.

Related: How To: Stencil a Floor

Finally, we opted for a “green” carpet, a product derived largely from recycled plastic bottles. The attic conversion had proved such a long and challenging process that we were comforted by the knowledge that installing the carpet would be quick and painless. But then we got the estimate: $2,000! That’s when we ditched the idea of wall-to-wall carpeting and headed over to the paint department of the home center.

We decided to prime and paint the plywood floor, strategically placing area rugs to cozy things up. The total cost? About $250—50¢ per square foot—and that includes paintbrushes and rollers, wood putty, and other small items. Note that our project started out with good-quality plywood, but if yours is in bad shape, add a new layer of 3/8-inch A-C plywood. For a space likely to witness a lot of wear, choose hardwood plywood.

- Palm sander and 120-grit disks
- Wet/dry vac
- Putty knife and patching compound
- 12-inch roller frame and at least two roller covers
- Extension pole
- 3-inch paintbrush
- Primer
- Porch and floor enamel


Painted Plywood Floors - Patching

Photo: JProvey

First, make sure the plywood flooring is firmly attached to the joists below. Then fill all the nail holes and joints in the surface with patching compound. At this point, it’s smart to ensure that the space in which you are working has adequate ventilation (in other words, set up a fan in the window).


Painted Plywood Floors - Sanding

Photo: JProvey

Sand the plywood to whatever smoothness you want. For a larger area, we might have gone through the trouble of renting a floor sander, but here it took about as much time and was cheaper to use a random-orbit sander, fitted with 120-grit disks. Complement the palm sander with a wet/dry vac in order to minimize dust. For a low-mess job, run the vacuum intermittently as you finish sanding sections of the floor surface.


Painted Plywood Floors - Priming

Photo: JProvey

With a paint roller attached to an extension pole, apply two coats of primer to the plywood floor. Everyone has his own favorite primer; mine is pigmented shellac, because it dries quickly and provides a good base for the top coat. Depending on the size or layout of the room in which you are working, it may be more convenient—or in some cases, strictly necessary—to prime the floor one section at a time.


Painted Plywood Floors - Save Cleaning Time

Photo: JProvey

We coated our plywood floor in enamel paint, which comes only in a satin finish. If you want a semi-gloss or glossy look, you can use that type of paint, but you must protect it with a layer of water-based polyurethane. When it comes to applying your coats, a 12-inch roller speeds the job, while a 3-inch brush is good for cutting in at corners. If you pause during the process, wrap your painting tools in plastic to save on cleaning time.


Painted Plywood Floors - Completed

Photo: JProvey

Apply the paint as evenly as possible, as if you were doing a wall, allowing each coat to dry completely before continuing. Finish off sections with smoothing strokes, rolled in the same direction, before the paint dries (the roller should be moist but not loaded with paint). Allow the paint to cure for several days before moving in furniture, but in most climates you can walk on your new floor, in socks, within a few hours.

Coming Soon to a Rooftop Near You—Solar Shingles

The advent of low-profile solar shingles may increase the ease of installation and the aesthetic appeal of residential sun power, but some hurdles remain.

Solar Shingles - Installation


Solar electric systems are appearing on more and more rooftops across America, but their pace of adoption has not been lightning quick. Why? The main reason may be the initial cost a homeowner must pay to get the system up and running. Despite government rebates for green home improvements, as well as the efficiency incentives offered by utility companies, a solar electric installation entails a considerably large investment.

Related: DIY Solar Projects for the Average Homeowner

The other big hurdle has been aesthetics. Solar technology has gotten sleeker over time, but even those less-obtrusive panels are, in the eyes of many consumers, visually unappealing. Poised to change popular opinion on the matter, however, is a new product from Dow: the Powerhouse line of solar shingles. Rather than jutting out from the roof structure, Powerhouse shingles sit flush, hugging the pitch of the roof in a way that makes them largely inconspicuous to curbside passersby.

Powerhouse shingles are the first solar product to be building code certified as a roofing material. “What this means,” says Dan Pezolt, commercial director at Dow Solar, is that these shingles serve “as the sole weatherization material on the portion of the roof where they are installed. Previous solar roofing products have relied on underlayment materials to protect the roof from the elements.” In short, even though they help generate solar power, these shingles really are shingles.

Simple Installation
Each Powerhouse shingle features a “plug” as well as a “receptacle,” male and female parts that fit together snugly prior to nailing. “Earlier solar shingles were wired on the deck,” Pezolt explains,
“requiring an electrician on the roof and preventing the shingles from lying flat. Or if the wiring was done below the roof deck, [electrical connections] required hundreds of penetration holes through the roof deck.” Because Powerhouse shingles are so similar to conventional ones, the average roofer can perform the installation. An electrician then handles the wiring, which includes integrating the solar roofing with the home’s electrical service panel.

Solar Shingles - Installed


Pros and Cons
Suitable for any style of house, solar shingles take better advantage of roof area than do some other types of residential solar technology. Whereas typically proportioned solar modules would be challenged by a roof valley, for example, such a junction wouldn’t pose a problem for solar shingles.

The downside is that Powerhouse shingles are significantly less efficient than conventional modules. As a result, in order to output an equal measure of electricity, solar equipment must cover a greater portion of the roof. And solar shingles are not cheap; in fact, they cost more than the modules we’re used to seeing.

For the portion of the roof you are shingling with Powerhouse, you don’t need to buy another roofing material. This is good news if you’re building from scratch or completely reroofing an older home. But if you have a roof that’s in decent condition, you’d have to remove perfectly good shingles to install the solar variety.

Right for You?
If you’re wondering whether these shingles are a good bet for your house, here are some considerations to weigh.

• At least 250 square feet of unshaded roof area is required for a typical degree of output.

• A southern exposure is ideal for residential solar, but southeast and southwest are acceptable too.

• Roof pitch needs to be taken into consideration; the ideal angle is equal to the local latitude.

• The price of installation depends on your roof, your location, and the amount of electricity you wish to produce via solar.

For a rough estimate of costs, consult the calculator Dow provides. Also, be aware that availability is currently limited to select markets, although it’s set to expand when the company opens a new plant in Michigan. Go here for an updated list of the states where Powerhouse shingles are available.

How To: Install Base Cabinets

Careful measurement, adequate shimming, and secure fastening are key to a high-quality, professional-looking cabinet installation.

How to Install Base Cabinets


One fundamental rule applies to the installation of just about anything: If you get the first piece right, the others fall into position. Misplace the first piece, however, and you’re likely to experience a series of headaches as you work towards completing the job. This is as true for hanging wallpaper as it is for laying brick. And it’s a lesson that deserves special attention from DIYers trying to install base cabinets in the kitchen.

Related: 5 Creative Alternatives to Kitchen Cabinetry

Start off by identifying the highest point on the floor over which you plan to install the base cabinets. Do so by drawing or snapping a level line along the adjacent wall, then measure down to the floor in several places. The spot where you measure the shortest distance is where the floor is highest. Later in the process, you are going to shim cabinets up to this height because that’s easier than subtracting height from a cabinet.

Draw a level line on the wall at a height of 34 1/2 inches; this height assumes that it’s a finished floor and that you want a standard 36-inch-high countertop. Next, mark vertical lines to the floor to denote the locations of the different cabinet units. Meanwhile, find and mark the studs along the cabinet wall; even after the base cabinets are in place, you must still be able to see the marks, so make them plainly visible.

Now you’re ready to install the first cabinet, typically a corner unit. Add shims beneath the cabinet so that its top edge hits the initial horizontal line that you drew. In situations where the wall is not plumb, it may be necessary to shim behind the base cabinets as well. Shim also between the cabinet and the wall at stud locations. Use 2 1/2-inch screws to anchor the cabinets (through the shims) into the studs.

Having installed the initial cabinet, move on to the next one. Shim as necessary, and to ensure a flush fit between this unit and its neighbor, join the two with a clamp before screwing the pair together. Proceed to install the other base cabinets along the wall in this way.

How to Install Base Cabinets - Detail


Further Considerations

• Repair any damage to the walls before installing the base cabinets against them. Likewise, complete all plumbing and electrical work in the kitchen prior to cabinet installation.

• At the rear of the cabinets, mark the location of plumbing pipes and electrical boxes, then bore holes or make appropriate-size cutouts so the units fit snugly against the wall.

• It’s usually wise to install kitchen flooring before the base cabinets. For one thing, working in this sequence means you don’t have to modify the floor material to achieve a seamless look.

• When inserting a filler strip between a cabinet and a wall, you can expect to have to do some fitting, because walls are not always plumb. Measure the gap at both the top and the bottom, adding 1/16 inch to each measurement. Use a plane or sander to trim the filler piece to the correct size, slightly beveling its angled edge so that the finished surface is wider than the unfinished surface.

• Putting in peninsula or island cabinets? First install two 2 x 2 cleats on the floor. Distance the cleats so that cabinets can slip over them, then finish by securing the cabinets to the cleats.

Basement Flooring 101

A surprising number of materials are suitable for basement flooring. This basic tutorial will help you evaluate your basement's challenges and weigh each material's pros and cons—even those prone to dampness.

Basement Flooring


Surprise! It’s all right to install virtually any type of flooring in your basement. Although hardwood should be avoided, homeowners have a plethora of other choices. Vinyl, ceramic tile, carpeting, linoleum, cork, laminate—all of these materials, and even some less common ones, can be successfully used as basement flooring.

Basement Flooring Challenges
If the good news is that you have a wide range of options, the bad news is that basements are the most challenging part of a house in which to install flooring. To complete your project, you may have to overcome an out-of-level subfloor, ceiling height issues, or, most likely of all, problematic moisture.

Moisture and high humidity
The vast majority of basements in America are constructed using concrete, one of the most durable materials available to home builders. One of concrete’s few weaknesses, however, is porousness, which means that it allows water vapor to enter the basement through the slab floor and foundation walls. Particularly in older homes, moisture can also enter the basement through cracks in the foundation or at the joint between the foundation and exterior walls.

The effect of water or water vapor is to raise the moisture content of flooring materials that are sensitive to humidity—hardwood and fiberboard above all. This moisture can cause wood flooring to swell or buckle over time. Worse, the flooring can develop mold or fungus before starting to rot and deteriorate.

How does one keep water vapor at bay? The conventional approach is to install a vapor barrier over the slab. Manufacturers offer a bevy of options, such as roll-down plastic or felt sheets, paint-on coatings, and moisture-inhibiting adhesives. Different products are appropriate for different flooring materials, so the best vapor barrier for your basement will largely be determined by the type of flooring you are planning to install.

An alternate means of managing water vapor is to raise your floor off the slab. The air gap between the installed flooring and foundation slab encourages moisture to dissipate. Various companies sell waterproofing membranes that work on this principle; dimpled plastic matting is a popular design.

Basement Flooring - Vapor Barrier Subfloor


Also available are basement flooring tiles with a built-in vapor barrier. Topped by decorative vinyl squares or carpeting, these tiles feature molded plastic bases that enable the concrete slab to breathe. Plus, because the tiles are modular and interlocking, they can be removed, washed, and reinstalled after a flood.

Threat of flooding
Despite the best efforts of contractors everywhere, basements still flood and probably always will. If your basement has chronic flooding issues, it’s imperative that you take steps to address them. That means keeping water away from your foundation through proper site grading and installing a sound drainage system. Consider, in addition, a sump pump (and a back-up sump pump). Finally, be realistic in your choice of basement flooring, as standing water simply dooms some materials to the Dumpster. In short, choose something that can get wet.

Uneven surface
If your basement is out of level, you can use a self-leveling cement to create an even subfloor. Follow the instructions closely: It is important to prepare the old concrete surface and apply a bonding agent.

Low ceiling heights
Basements rarely boast extra headroom, especially if the ceiling accommodates HVAC air ducts. Even if a floor adds just a couple of inches, this slight increase can spell the difference between meeting or falling short of the minimum ceiling height prescribed by your local building codes. Identify a low-profile basement flooring solution, if necessary.

Basement Flooring - Modular Tile


Basement Flooring Selection
As elsewhere in the home, the basement affords homeowners many flooring options. But if you don’t like to take chances, you can’t go wrong with ceramic tile, the Cadillac of basement flooring. Unaffected by water or water vapor, ceramic tile may be installed directly over a concrete slab, helping to conserve precious inches in a low-ceilinged space. Another great option is glue-down vinyl tiles or planks, which emerge none the worse for wear even after repeated flooding. Bear in mind that this isn’t your parents’ vinyl; today’s products can emulate the look of wood, ceramic, or stone rather convincingly.

Engineered wood is yet another option, although you can expect swelling or buckling should the material be submerged. Typically, engineered wood flooring comes in tongue-and-groove planks, the top layer of which is a laminated veneer. Some are glued down, while others “float” unattached to the underlayment. Floating floors offer easy, adhesive-free installation, but note that basement moisture can affect any product that contains fiberboard (for example, engineered cork).

Here’s the bottom line: If you install any flooring that includes organic material adversely affected by water, you risk having to tear out the floor in the wake of a flood. You also risk the unseen buildup of mold beneath the flooring—a considerable risk to the air quality of your home.

How To: Replace a Toilet Seat

The range of available styles and options make choosing a new toilet seat a little more challenging than it used to be, but the actual task of replacement couldn't be easier. Here's what to do.

How to Replace a Toilet Seat


Though certainly not cutting edge, toilet seat design has witnessed a tide of innovation in recent years. So if you are planning to replace a toilet seat, especially if it’s been some time since you last perused the selection at your local home improvement center, keep an eye out for these key features:

Quiet closing: Gone are the days of toilet seats’ banging closed. Select a product with hinges designed to let the seat down gently.

Molded bumpers: The simple, no-nonsense advantage of molded-in-place bumpers? They do not break in the course of regular use.

Colors: Toilet seats now come in dozens of colors. One manufacturer, Bemis, offers a color selector tool to help homeowners navigate the field of available options.

Cleaning: The better the seat, the easier it is to remove for cleaning. Find a product that can be taken off with nothing more than a screwdriver.

Durability: Choose a toilet seat with stainless steel or zinc-plated hinge posts, which neither snap nor corrode as they hold the toilet seat in place.

Versatility: For kids, there are “trainer” models that have built-in, removable potty seats; for senior citizens, some toilet seat models feature side arms with slip-resistant grips.

- Replacement toilet seat kit
- Penetrating oil
- Adjustable wrench

How to Replace a Toilet Seat - Kit

Toilet seat replacement kit. Photo: JProvey

Different toilet seats require slightly different methods of installation. Consult the manufacturer’s instructions to understand the quirks and idiosyncrasies of the product you have chosen.

One thing is certain: Today’s toilets seats are so easy to install that removing the old one is likely to be the most difficult step in the process. If your existing toilet seat fastens to the bowl by means of metal hardware, the dampness and humidity of the bathroom may have corroded the hinges, making the nuts tough to remove. If so, spray each nut with a penetrating oil, such as WD-40, then wait 10 minutes and try again.

Once you’ve succeeded in removing the old toilet seat, proceed to install the new one. Few tools are required, because more often than not, it’s a simple matter of nuts and bolts. Slide the bolt through the appropriate holes in the toilet seat and bowl. Then, with an adjustable wrench, apply torque to the nut situated beneath the bowl. The larger or more elongated the nut, the easier your job is going to be. Some toilet seat replacement kits may require the use of a tool specially designed for tight spaces.

Will these new easy-install toilet seat designs prove their durability over time? We’ll find out. In the meantime, consider posting a sign over the toilet that warns, “No standing!”

Varnishing Made Easy

Give your projects a smooth and lustrous protective finish. Here's how to varnish wood for satisfying, professional-level results every time.

How to Varnish Wood


A durable finish for woodworking pieces, furniture, and flooring, varnish beautifies wood and protects it from scratches and stains. To the uninitiated, achieving a smooth and lustrous look may seem like a magician’s trick, but once you understand the basics, varnishing wood couldn’t be much easier.

Related: 8 Ways to Age, Distress, and Gild Your Next Project

Make sure the surface you wish to varnish has been sanded smooth, and don’t begin varnishing until you have cleaned your work space. Varnish dries slowly and rarely fails to attract dust, hairs, and loose debris, so the success of your project ultimately depends, in part, on how well or poorly you clean up beforehand.

- Varnish
- Rubber gloves (optional)
- Natural-bristle paintbrush
- Stirring stick
- Paint mixing and measuring cup
- Paint thinner
- Respirator (optional)


How to Varnish Wood - Natural Bristles

A good brush has a thick head of bristles, and none are falling out! Photo: JProvey

Use a newly purchased varnish. A product that has sat for years in your workshop may contain lumps that could compromise your final results. (Test the quality of a varnish by coating it on a piece of scrap wood.) Of equal importance is the paintbrush used. Don’t waste time with a subpar tool: Opt for a natural-bristle brush that feels thick at its heel—that is, the bristle area opposite the brush tip. Likewise, pass on any brush whose bristles shake loose when they are firmly clenched.


How to Varnish Wood - Stirring

Stir until your stick no longer pulls up jelly-like globs. Photo: JProvey

With a clean stirring stick, stir the varnish thoroughly, but do it slowly enough to avoid forming air bubbles. (For this reason, take pains to avoid shaking the can excessively in transportation.) Next, carefully pour enough varnish for your first coat into a plastic container marked on its side with volume measurements.


How to Varnish Wood - Thinning

Mix a thinner, such as gum turpentine, into your varnish before applying it. Photo: JProvey

Add a thinning agent, preferably gum turpentine, to the varnish in your mixing cup. By making varnish dry more slowly, thinner effectively counteracts surface imperfections like streaks and bubbles. How much thinner is enough? Opinion varies. If the varnish you are preparing will be applied as a first coat, finishing guru Steve Mickey recommends a mixture containing 20 to 25 percent thinner; subsequent coats should contain about 5 or 10 percent thinner.


How to Varnish Wood - Brushing

Apply varnish with the grain in one direction, not back and forth. Photo: JProvey

When coating on varnish, work with a light touch; only the tip of your brush should bend. If you’re right-handed, start in the upper-left corner of the surface. Varnish a one-foot-square area, brushing in the direction of the wood grain—never back and forth—then move on to an adjacent square of similar dimensions. Proceed in this way until you have a full coat. While the varnish is still wet, remember to “tip off”: Drag the tip of your brush over the work piece to smooth any remaining streaks or lingering bubbles. Your tipping stroke goes in the same direction as your application stroke (in the direction of the grain).


Further Notes
• For best results, apply several thin coats, not a couple of thick ones.
• After the first two coats have cured, lightly sand the workpiece with 320-grit, open-faced abrasive paper. Vacuum and wipe away all residue before continuing.

How To: Protect and Beautify a Wood Deck

With just a little prep work and a good waterproofing stain, you can easily restore the beauty of your wood deck—perhaps even this weekend.

How to Refinish a Deck - Complete

Thompson's WaterSeal Waterproofing Stain

There are lots of ways to refinish a deck. If you want to showcase a fine wood species, such as mahogany, cedar, or redwood, a clear waterproofer is a good way to go. Some clear waterproofers don’t contain pigments or UV absorbers, so the wood can weather to a natural silver-gray over time. Others do, and will allow your wood to maintain its natural color.

If your deck is bleached and faded, a tinted waterproofer (also called a toner) will renew the natural wood color. Like a clear waterproofer, it protects wood from water and resists fading and mildew. It also imparts a very subtle wood-tone tint. Thompson’s® WaterSeal® offers tinted waterproofers in both oil- and water-based formulations. The latter can be applied to new pressure-treated wood without waiting the 30 days typically recommended for oil finishes.

If your deck was built of a common species, such as southern yellow pine or Douglas fir, or contains knots and sapwood, a semitransparent stain is a good choice. It contains more pigment than a toner to better mask knots, pronounced grain patterns, and discoloration. The additional pigment offers more UV protection, too. (Oxidation due to UV is what makes wood vulnerable to rot-causing fungus.)

I recently applied a coat of a semitransparent stain made by Thompson’s WaterSeal to a small deck and an outdoor bench. Unlike many other semitransparent stains, it both stains and waterproofs. It did a good job of blending tone variations and grain patterns, not unlike a wood stain for flooring or furniture. The coloring is not heavy, so the boards still look like wood. Thompson’s® WaterSeal® Waterproofing Stain comes in a three colors: cedar, desert brown, and nutmeg—and can be purchased only at Walmart.

If you don’t want the wood look, choose a solid color deck finish. It will hide the wood grain and color completely, just like paint, but it’s not as thick and you don’t have to worry about peeling. Solid color stain allows you to connect your deck visually to the house by matching or complementing siding and trim colors. It has the most pigment of deck finishes (short of paint) and therefore offers the most UV protection.

Regardless of which look you prefer, take the following steps to clean your deck before brushing or rolling on a finish. For do-it-yourselfers, the best approach is to use a stiff-bristle brush threaded onto a broom-length handle, and a bucket of TSP dissolved in water. Following manufacturer precautions, scrub the deck surface, including the railings and stairs, then rinse with a hose. You may use a pressure washer to clean your deck, but I find that for this job it’s usually not worth the bother. In addition, if your deck surface has suffered from UV radiation or minor decay, a pressure washer may cause further damage by lifting splinters and slivers.

If you’d like to brighten your deck or change its color, look into a cleaner formulated for decks. There are specialized deck cleaners made for brightening and for removing old tints and semitransparent stains. There are even deck strippers made for removing latex and oil-based solid color stains—but it’s a lot easier just to cover the old finish with a fresh coat of solid color stain!

Now allow the deck to dry. Depending upon the weather and the finish you’re using, it may take several days. In my case, I had to let the deck dry three days before applying the oil-based semitransparent stain. If I had selected a water-based finish, drying would have taken less time. Be sure to follow the directions on the can.

How to Refinish a Deck - Application

Thompson's WaterSeal Waterproofing Stain Application

I like to use a 12-inch roller to coat large horizontal areas, such as a deck, and a small roller to apply finish to balusters and to top and bottom rails. Do not over apply; spread all excess sealer evenly until the roller is “dry,” and then reload. Have a brush handy to apply finish to tight spots.

Avoid lap marks by maintaining a wet lead edge. The Thompson’s® WaterSeal® Waterproofing Stain is pretty forgiving in this regard as long as you follow the product directions and don’t work in direct sunlight. Doing so will dry the finish too quickly. This not only makes lap marks more likely but limits penetration into the wood you’re trying to protect. Early morning and late afternoon are good times to work as long as the temperature is going to stay between 50 and 95 degrees F. Out of the can, the desert brown waterproofing stain looks a lot like chocolate milk. It dries, however, to a translucent golden tan. I applied two coats because I wanted a deeper color. Otherwise, according to the manufacturer, one coat will suffice. A nice surprise was that the brush could be cleaned with soap and water. Roller cover and rags, however, had to be disposed of by placing them in a water-filled container to avoid any chance of spontaneous combustion.

If you have a wood deck in need of some attention, the solution may require nothing more than a simple cleaning and easy-to-apply waterproofing stain finish.


This post has been brought to you by Thompson’s® WaterSeal®.  Its facts and opinions are those of