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+!

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

Photo: builderonline.com

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.

Weather-Tight
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

Photo: regentpg.com

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

Photo: shutterstock.com

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

Photo: shutterstock.com

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

Photo: woatile.com

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

Photo: bakerswaterproofing.com

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

Photo: modutile.com

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

Photo: shutterstock.com

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.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
- 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

Photo: shutterstock.com

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.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
- 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

STEP 1
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

STEP 2
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

STEP 3
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

STEP 4
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 BobVila.com.


How To: Build a Quick and Easy Trellis

Twined by flowering vines or climbing vegetables, a trellis is practical and picturesque—and not too tough to make.

How to Build a Trellis - Lattice Grate

Photo: Shutterstock

Low-cost additions to any landscape, easy-to-make garden trellises can be used to introduce shade or privacy, or to support climbing vegetables or flowering vines. Typically, a trellis consists of a square or rectangular frame with an inset grid. While the frame is usually constructed of wood, the grid can be created from a wide variety of materials, including chain link or wire mesh, nylon string or natural twine, interwoven sticks or bamboo stalks.

Related: How to Build a Trellis (VIDEO)

How to Build a Trellis - Climbing Plants

Photo: susancohangardens.com

A trellis can stand alone or connect to an existing structure, be it a wall, fence, arbor, or pergola. No matter the approach, the process of building a trellis begins by securing two vertical posts. The quickest way to do this, assuming your soil isn’t too stony, is to drive spiked post holders (for instance, Simpson’s E-Z Spike) into the ground by means of a sledgehammer. Then use nails or screws to attach your posts to the base of the holders.

For a more permanent installation, use a posthole digger to excavate holes to a depth of 30 to 36 inches, keeping the diameter as small as possible. Fill each hole with about six inches of gravel, then tamp it down. Set a post into the center of each hole and add concrete. Don’t pour the concrete all the way to grade level; leave a few inches to be filled in with soil. If you think you might want to move the trellis in the future, skip the concrete and instead fill the hole with a mix of soil and gravel, tamping down after every few shovelfuls.

Once the posts have been erected, frame a 4′ x 4′ sheet of lattice with 1″ x 3″ or 1″ x 4″ boards. Next, nail cleats—that is, 1″ x 1″ boards—to the inside edge of each post. Now, as a final step, screw the latticework to the cleats.

Use galvanized nails and screws throughout to minimize the risk of rust stains. Coat the trellis with either a translucent or solid-color stain, not only to improve its appearance, but also to protect the wood from the weather.

Tip: Build the lattice panel first so that you can space your posts the proper distance apart.


How To: Install Shower Valve Trim

Install new shower valve trim to freshen the look of your bathroom quickly, easily, and at low cost.

How to Install Shower Valve Trim

Photo: JProvey

A fast and easy way to freshen the look of your shower is to install new shower valve trim. If your trim resembles mine on the day that I undertook this project, then it’s either conspicuously out of date or completely corroded—or both. Fortunately, of all the countless projects you might choose to do in the bathroom, this is one you won’t need the plumber for.

The very first step is to determine what type of shower valve you have. Identification may be visible on the valve. If not, try performing an image search online. Since the majority of older valves were made by only a handful of companies, you probably won’t have to sift through many results before discovering a match.

Related: Wet Tech: 10 Waterproof Gadgets to Enhance Your Shower

When purchasing a new trim kit, it’s important to buy one whose mounting holes are in the same position as the holes that are in your existing trim. Some trim kits have mounting holes at 5:00 and 7:00 positions. Others have them at 2:00 and 7:00. The kit packaging helpfully lists which type of valves the trim has been designed to fit.

Installing valve trim is a task simple enough that conceivably—if all goes according to plan, of course—you could finish the job before you begin your morning shower routine. Even beginning do-it-yourselfers ought to have no problem with the step-by-step instructions that follow.

 

How to Install Shower Valve Trim - Remove Screws

Photo: JProvey

Remove the screws holding the shower control handle in place, then proceed to remove the handle itself.

 

How to Install Shower Valve Trim - Place Trim

Photo: JProvey

Place your new trim plate over the valve. Mine came with a rubber gasket; others may call for plumber’s putty or caulk.

 

How to Install Shower Valve Trim - Screw Plate

Photo: JProvey

Screw the trim plate into position using the screws supplied in the kit.

 

How to Install Shower Valve Trim - Diverter

Photo: JProvey

If appropriate for your valve, install the diverter—that is, the mechanism which directs water from the plumbing lines to your shower head.

 

How to Install Shower Valve Trim - Retaining Ring

Photo: JProvey

Clip the diverter retaining ring in place if needed. As the ring in my kit seemed prone to popping out, I used some adhesive caulk to secure it.

 

How to Install Shower Valve Trim - Stem Cover

Photo: JProvey

Now install the valve stem cover(s).

 

How to Install Shower Valve Trim - O Ring

Photo: JProvey

Use the supplied O-ring to fasten the stem cover(s).

 

How to Install Shower Valve Trim - Screw In Control

Photo: JProvey

Finally, screw in your new control handle.

 

Installing the shower trim kit took me all of ten minutes. Removing the old trim? Well, that took me an hour. Inexplicably, it had been installed with drywall screws. Oh, the joys of home improvement!


Laying Sod: Shortcut to a Beautiful Lawn

Sod is one way to get a beautiful lawn quickly. But, before you have a shipment delivered, be sure you understand what is required for successful installation and early care.

Laying Sod

Photo: tallahasseelawns.com

Laying sod is a great way to have a lawn without the wait, but don’t kid yourself—it’s a big job. If your lawn is sizeable, you may want to accomplish the job in two phases. Begin by redoing the worst or most visible lawn area, and tackle the other half next year. This keeps the job manageable and makes the frequent watering feasible for homeowners who do not have in-ground sprinkler systems.

Laying sod is best done in the fall or spring in the North and in the spring in the South. Plant the sod during cool weather because planting it when warm will subject it to burnout. Do not plant sod later than one month before the average date for the first fall frost. It’s important to give the grass time to establish roots before cold weather sets in.

Here are the steps involved in laying sod:

1. Remove old lawn
Mechanical removal of your old lawn will be the fastest and easiest way to get the job done.  However, for small lawns, a grape (grubbing) hoe is a terrific tool for removing turf. For large lawns, consider renting a sod cutter. It slices under the grass, enabling you to pull up strips of old turf. Make the job easier by cutting sod while the lawn soil is moist.

2. Fix grade problems
Now is the perfect time to fix any existing grade problems. Although grading often requires help from a landscaping contractor with heavy equipment, you can fix minor problems yourself.

The first rule of grading is that the ground should slope away from your house in all directions so that it drops at least 2 or 3 inches every 10 feet. The finished grade should also end up matching the level of existing features, such as walkways and patios, as well as areas of established lawn.

The proper way to regrade is first to remove the topsoil from the problem area. Make adjustments to the subsoil by scraping away high areas and filling in low areas. Then spread 2 inches of the reserved topsoil over the subsoil, and till it to blend. This will help prevent drainage problems between the two layers of soil. Next, spread the rest of your topsoil, which should make up at least another 4 inches. If you need to add topsoil, buy a loam that’s free of debris, such as roots and stones. It should also be free of weed seeds and pesticides. A landscaping rake is the best tool for working topsoil to the proper grade if you’re doing it yourself.

3. Amend the soil
Have your soil tested to see what amendments—fertilizer, organic matter, lime- or sulfur-based nutrients—may be in order. TK upon results of a soil test. The typical recommendations for every 1,000 square feet of new lawn include about 2 pounds of actual (elemental) phosphorus and potassium, 50 to 100 pounds of lime (in areas with acid soil), and 3 to 6 cubic yards of organic matter (such as compost or peat moss). Recommendations will vary depending on your soil’s nutrient, organic matter, pH levels, and your particular soil type.

Ensure an even application of amendments by dividing the recommended amounts in half and applying half while walking in one direction and the other half while walking in a perpendicular direction. Once you have applied the amendments, till them into the top 6 inches of soil.

Laying Sod - Raking

Photo: mapsoul.com

4. Rake smooth and firm soil with a roller
Rake the area to be replanted until it’s smooth. Remove any stones and vegetative matter brought to the surface during tilling. Once you’re satisfied, water the ground and check for puddles. Puddles show where depressions remain. When the soil dries, remove soil from high spots to fill the depressions.

Related: The Benefits of Working with a Landscape Designer

Next, roll the prepared soil to provide a firm base for the sod. Fill a lawn roller about one-third full of water and roll the soil until your footprints are no deeper than 1⁄2 inch. Complete planting preparations by watering the area thoroughly two days before planting. Check to be sure the soil is moistened to a depth of 5 or 6 inches.

5. Laying the sod
Begin by applying a starter fertilizer high in phosphorus, such as 2:1:1 or 1:1:1 ratio. Then lightly water the area where you will begin. Be prepared to begin work soon after your order is delivered. Sod can go bad quickly, especially if it begins to heat up or dry out. Have the pallets delivered to a shady spot. If you can’t start right away, unroll the sod and keep it moist.

Lay sod over one section of lawn at a time. Begin by laying full strips along an outside edge (such as the sidewalk). Start with a straight row to reduce the amount of cutting and fitting you’ll do later. Work toward the opposite edge of lawn, usually the edge by your house. Use a sharp-bladed knife or sod-cutting tool to cut as required. Make your last row a full-width strip, even if it means cutting the preceding row narrow. With contoured borders, overlap the border with sod, and trim away the excess later. Again, try to install all the sod the day it’s delivered. If you have sod left over, unroll it in a shady spot, water it lightly, and use it the next day.

If you’re installing sod on a slope, start laying the sod at the lowest point. Stake each piece in three places to prevent slippage. Stakes should be equally spaced and set in from the sod strip’s edges by at least 6 to 8 inches.

After installing the sod, firm it with a roller that is one-third full. If the roller is too heavy, it may cause the sod to slip. In hot weather, lightly watering the sod prior to rolling will also help prevent slippage. Follow rolling immediately with a thorough soaking—to a soil depth of 6 to 8 inches.

6. Care for your new lawn
Once sod is laid, take precautions to prevent it from being damaged. Minimize play and foot traffic for at least three weeks. Plan for watering needs before you lay sod, not afterward. Insufficient water is the leading cause of new-lawn failure—and over watering is not far behind.

Water at least twice a day, including once during midday. Keep the soil moist to a depth of 1- to 2-inches. Check, however, to be sure that the soil does not stay saturated for long periods; otherwise the sod may not root. Reduce watering frequency to every second or third day once the sod begins new root growth (about two weeks). After four weeks, a sodded lawn can survive longer periods without water.

Do not mow a newly planted sod lawn for at least 10 days after installation and not until the grass has begun to grow vigorously. Once again, if you use a rotary mower, set the throttle low to avoid lifting and chopping up pieces of sod.

Finally, do not fertilize new lawns for at least six weeks. Then, a light fertilization of 1⁄2 pound nitrogen per 1,000 square feet is recommended.


How To: Install a Shower Head

A small project that makes a big impact, installing a new shower head is a quick and easy job that almost anyone can do—no fancy plumbing tools required.

How to Install a Shower Head

Photo: shutterstock.com

Installing a new shower head is not quite as easy as changing a light bulb, but almost.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
- New shower arm (optional)
- Replacement shower head
- Pipe wrench
- Thread seal tape
- Plumber’s putty or caulk

STEP 1
As you begin, decide whether or not to keep the existing shower arm—that is, the angled pipe to which the shower head attaches. If the shower arm has become corroded over time, or if it doesn’t match the finish of your new shower head, scrap it. A pipe wrench does the job when you’re bare hands fail. Note that while shower heads don’t usually come with shower arms, you should be easily find an appropriate one for sale separately.

How to Install a Shower Head - Outdoor

Photo: shutterstock.com

STEP 2
Skip this step if you’ve opted to keep your existing shower arm. To install a new shower arm, start by wrapping its threads, two or three times over, with thread seal tape. Stretch the tape slightly, as you apply it. Next, carefully turn the pipe into the wall fitting, and then seal the wall opening with plumber’s putty. Slide the shower flange over the arm and  press it into the putty. Wipe away excess.

Related: 10 Dream-Worthy Showers to Give You Bathroom Envy

STEP 3
The next step depends on the type of shower head you’ve purchased. If yours is the type that attaches directly to the arm, here’s what to do: Use thread seal tape to wrap the threads at the base of the shower arm, then turn the shower head into position, taking care not to over-tighten. (If using pliers instead of a wrench, protect the finish on the fitting with several layers of cloth or plastic tape.)

Homeowners who have purchased a handheld shower head probably do not need to add thread seal tape at the shower arm base (to be certain, however, check the manufacturer’s directions). Here, installation consists only of threading the handheld onto the shower arm, before threading the handheld shower head’s flexible hose onto the bracket.

Additional Tips
• Arguably, handheld shower heads are more practical than fixed ones.

• A low-flow shower head saves both water and the energy your water heater must use to deliver a comfortable bathing experience.

• Metal shower heads generally perform better than plastic ones. Look for chrome finishes and brass construction. Ease of adjustment and problem-free longevity justify the added cost of such fixtures.

• Metal hoses on handheld shower heads are more flexible, and thus easier to manipulate, than plastic hoses.

• Shop online for greater choice, but visit stores for a chance to see and feel the products you’re considering. Expect to pay at least $80 for a quality model.