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: Build a Deck

If you are planning to build a deck, consider the benefits of an on-grade design.

How to Build a Deck

Photo: Deck vs. Patio

The beauty of a deck is that—unlike bare ground or lawn—it’s level, stable, supports furniture, sheds rain, and provides usable living space. Building a deck, however, requires more skill and understanding of construction principles than, say, building a patio. The simplest deck, called an on-grade deck, typically requires the installation of concrete piers to which beams and joists are attached. The perimeter joists, called rim joists, are doubled and then covered with trim boards.

Depending on climate, the piers may need to be set on a footing that is several feet below grade. Check with your building department to find out what the code is in your area. Proper footings prevent the deck from ‘heaving’ should the ground freeze. Framing hardware, such as post bases and joist hangers, are used to join all framing members. Decking (what you walk on) is fastened to the joists with screws or nails from the top, or with “invisible” fasteners from below.

How to Build a DeckSuch a deck will probably be less than a foot off the ground and therefore will not require railings or stairs, both of which complicate construction significantly. A door to the house will also complicate things. If it’s a step above the decking, you’re in luck. If you have to build one two or three steps to reach the door, you’ll also probably want to include a landing to make entering and exiting the house safer and easier.

If the deck is adjacent to the house, it will require a ledger board. Typically, siding is removed and the ledger board is bolted to the house framing. Flashing should then be installed so that rain and snowmelt don’t enter the joint between ledger and house. If the deck is a freestanding ‘island’ deck, there is no ledger board.

The higher a deck is off the ground, the more complex it is to design and build. Suddenly, you have to decide from which approach, or approaches, you’d like to access the deck. Skirting or landscaping must be used to hide the framing that supports the joists. Also, stair railings and balustrades must be built, adding to cost and complexity.

Building a deck can greatly enhance the enjoyment of your yard, but spend time planning every step before pulling out your circular saw and nail gun. The nice thing about getting a deck under your belt, however, is that you’ll learn skills that will help when building many other projects, including garden sheds, porches, arbors and gazebos.

Illustration courtesy of Lowes.


Replacement Windows 101

If you are thinking about new windows, here's everything you need to know from glazing options to installation requirements.

Replacement Windows

. Photo: Andersen Windows

Windows come in all styles, types, shapes and sizes, but unless you’re building a new house, all of the above are largely predetermined. There are of course some exceptions. Perhaps a previous homeowner replaced the original windows with units that are historically inappropriate or inferior. (Today, historic window styles are readily available from manufacturers like Andersen.) Or maybe you’re adding a family room at the back of the house, where it would be okay to deviate from the double hung windows in the front; in this situation, you might decide to use casements. Sometimes a homeowner will want to increase or decrease the size of the window being replaced, but if you’re like most homeowners, the real decisions will have more to do with energy-saving features and ease of maintenance.

Replacement WindowsWINDOW GLAZING
With regard to energy saving, the first thing to focus on is glazing. Efficient windows typically have two layers of glass and are called dual-pane or double-pane. The small gap between the glass layers creates a barrier to heat flow, which may be enhanced with an additional layer of glass (two separate insulating chambers), in which case it’s called triple-glazed. The gap or gaps between layers of glazing are often filled with a gas that further reduces heat flow by conduction. Argon and Krypton, or a combination thereof, are commonly used gas fills.

REFLECTIVE FILMS, TINTS, AND COATINGS
Reflective films, tints, and low-emittance (low-E) coatings are some of the other ways window manufacturers are improving window performance. Reflective films block much of the radiant energy striking a window—keeping occupants cooler—but they also block most of the visible light. In addition to giving windows a mirror-like appearance, they often cause occupants to use more electric lighting to compensate for the loss of daylighting. Bronze- and gray-tinted glass reflect radiant energy and reduce cooling loads without reducing as much the visible light entering the home. A visual transmittance (VT) of 60% (versus 90% for clear glass) is common.

Replacement WindowsLow-E coatings are more versatile than either reflective films or tints and are virtually invisible. Microscopic metal or metallic oxide particles suppress radiant heat flow out of the window and can be formulated to allow varying degrees of solar radiation in. In climates where heating is the dominant concern, low-E coatings may be used to prevent radiant heat transfer out of the house while allowing high solar heat gain. In climates where both heating and cooling are required, low-E coatings can reduce radiant heat loss while allowing moderate heat gain. In climates where the dominant concern is cooling, low-E coatings are primarily used to reduce solar heat gain. It’s even possible to fine-tune solar heat gain by choosing a low-E coating with a high solar heat gain coefficient (SHGC) for south-facing windows and a lower coefficient for other orientations.

WINDOW CONSTRUCTION
The material with which the window frame is built will also significantly affect its efficiency. Insulation-filled vinyl frames and fiberglass perform better than wood, wood-clad, and vinyl that is not insulated. Aluminum and steel perform worse than any of the above.

Replacement WindowsREPLACING YOUR WINDOWS
There are three approaches to window replacement: sash-only, insert windows, and full-window replacements.

Sash-only replacement kits include new sash and jamb liners for improved operation. They are easy to install but should only be used in windows that are otherwise in good condition.

Retrofit windows (also called inserts) fit inside the existing window frames. Only the window stops and old sashes need to be removed. Existing moldings, inside and out, are not affected. Installing inserts is only an option if the old window frame is in good shape, rot-free, and square.

Related: Know Your Window Styles: 10 Popular Designs

Inserts can be installed with less labor, less cost, and less mess than full-frame replacements. They are normally custom-built to the exact sizes of your openings and to match the angle of your existing sill. The advantage of retrofit windows is that they are available with tilt-in cleaning.

Full-window, also known as full-frame, replacements typically require the removal of the entire existing window, including the casings, frame, sash, and exterior trim. This method can be used to correct situations where the old window frame has deteriorated, is out of square, or when a different window style or size is desired.

While full-frame replacements involve more labor, cost, and disruption, they will allow you to better insulate around the window frame, a common location of energy leakage. With the trim removed, you can spray closed-cell foam insulation between the window frame and the studs. Full-frame window replacements can usually be done with standard window sizes but can also be custom ordered. Another bonus: With full-frame replacements as opposed to insert replacements, no glazing area is lost.

SAVING MONEY
There are several benefits to replacing old windows with new energy-efficient ones, but don’t expect dramatic reductions in your heating bill. Most replacement windows have R-values of 4 or 5 compared to 2 for single-glazed with a storm window. Given that the window area is a fraction of the overall wall area, it would make more sense to first invest in attic and wall insulation, weatherstripping, and sealants such as caulking, duct mastic, or even insulating window treatments. In all likelihood, more heat enters and/or escapes from your home through attic floors, attic hatches, recessed light fixtures, fireplaces, and other penetrations in the envelope of your house than through your windows.

WHEN TO REPLACE YOUR WINDOWS
Wood windows that have deteriorated due to water infiltration and rot are prime candidates for replacement. Or perhaps your windows no longer operate properly, and it will be expensive to repair them. You may also want to upgrade your windows to make maintenance easier. It’s no fun to climb on ladders to wash window exteriors, but today’s new window designs enable you to access exterior glazing from inside your home. Aesthetics can be a factor in window replacement, too. Many homes of historical note have been marred by the installation of inappropriate window styles and storm windows. Replacing them with storm-less windows of the right style will improve the look and value of your home.

What style of window are you considering? For a look at the 10 most popular choices, click here.


Swimming Pools 101

Considering an in-ground swimming pool? Here's everything you need to know about style, type, maintenance, safety and cost.

Swimming Pools

. Photo: Architectural Digest

An in-ground pool is the ultimate in backyard upgrades. If you’ve always wanted one, now may be the time. Prices have fallen during the recession by up to 30 percent. Nevertheless, it remains a big investment, so it’s important to make smart choices with regard to size, shape, site selection, and type.

Size and shape depend upon your needs, budget, available area, and design wishes. Swim spas are small pools (some only 10 to 14 feet long) that produce a manmade current against which you can swim in place. Lap pools are typically narrow but require a sizeable yard. Some are as long as an Olympic pool (25 meters) and are meant for training or exercise. Recreational pools are usually shallow at one end and deep enough for diving (9 to 11 ft.) at the other. Typically rectangular, they come in many sizes. Freeform shapes are also available and are often preferred because they blend well into the backyard landscape.

Many pool owners prefer to install their pool close to the kitchen or family room. That provides ready access to the house and makes it easier to bring food and drinks out and to clean up afterwards. It’s also easier to keep an eye on the pool from the house. That said, a somewhat secluded pool has the feel of a vacation getaway—without ever pulling out of the driveway. As long as the pool is connected to the house with a smooth, well-lit path and has a sizeable pool deck around it for outdoor furniture and a grill, no one will complain. A pool cabana, of course, allows for nearby dressing and showering.

POOL CONSTRUCTION METHODS
The majority of today’s pools are built of vinyl, fiberglass, or concrete (called either wet shotcrete or Gunite, depending upon how it’s mixed and applied). Poured concrete pools and concrete block pools have fallen out of favor. A plaster finish is troweled over shotcrete or Gunite surfaces.

Vinyl is the least expensive option. Inside a suitable excavation, a frame of wood, plastic or metal is erected. The most stable systems are set in a concrete footing. Wall panels are then fastened to the framing, plumbing is installed, and a sand base is laid. A heavy-duty vinyl liner is fastened to the top of the frame and what remains of the hole is backfilled. Masonry coping is installed over the top of the wall.

Fiberglass Poolsand Spas Pool Installation

Fiberglass pools are pre-molded in a variety of shapes and sizes. They are manufactured with steps, benches, and swimouts already in place (not the case with vinyl). After the hole has been dug, plumbing installed, and sand base laid, it is lowered into the hole and leveled. To avoid bowing, filling the pool with water and backfilling with sand must be done simultaneously. No framing is required.

Shotcrete pools are made by shooting a mix of cement, sand, water, and aggregate from a pneumatic applicator at high speeds against the earthen walls and base of the pool excavation and around a grid woven of steel rebar (reinforcing bar). Multiple passes are necessary to build the mixture to the desired thickness. The concrete must be troweled smooth before it sets, and afterwards a coat of plaster is applied.

There are two types of shotcrete, wet and dry. Wet shotcrete is delivered premixed with water in a truck. Dry shotcrete, commonly known as Gunite, is a mix of sand and cement and sometimes small aggregate. It remains dry until it reaches the nozzle of the applicator and doesn’t really mix with water until impact on the pool walls and floor. There is some debate about which approach is stronger and longer lasting, but both processes produce durable pools. Gunite, however, demands a more highly skilled nozzle man to maintain the correct water-to-cement ratio.

 

Swimming Pools 101POOL DECKING
Decking around a pool can be poured concrete, stone, brick, tile, or any of a variety of pavers. Wood may also be used, but it will demand more maintenance, can be slippery when wet, and is prone to causing splinters. Don’t skimp on area. The pool deck, which will be used for lounging, sunbathing, and dining, is likely to get more use than the pool!

POOL COSTS
Pool costs vary by type of pool and region. For example, in many parts of the country a fiberglass pool costs less than a concrete pool—but not everywhere. Size is probably a more important indicator of price. Small pools will cost roughly between $20,000 and $30,000. Medium-size pools will run between $30,000 and $40,000. Large pools begin at $40,000 and go up from there. Add in the extras—diving boards, slides, decking, lighting, and automatic cleaners—and the costs can easily rise by another 10 to 20 percent. Some pool contractors may be able to give you a more accurate estimate based upon the pool volume. For example, concrete pools in many parts of the country cost about $10 per cubic foot. As with any home improvement, request several quotes from reputable contractors along with as many references as possible.

In addition to initial cost, plan for ongoing maintenance expenses. Vinyl liners, for example, last about 5 to 10 years, at which time they need to be replaced at a cost of about $4,000. Concrete pools need to be resurfaced every 10 years or so, a job that can cost even more. Fiberglass pools have a life expectancy of 25 years, making them a low-cost option in the long term. In addition, fiberglass is less likely to stain or support the growth of algae, thereby reducing maintenance hassle and expense.

Swimming Pools 101

POOL MAINTENANCE
The cost of a new pool doesn’t end with its construction. Depending upon how much of it you hire out, maintenance, supplies and electrical costs can run between $1000 and $3000 a year. There’s opening and closing, cleaning, checking connections, adjusting pH, adding algaecide, surface repairs, and liner replacements. Cost-saving green alternatives are available. Before deciding upon chlorine as your primary sanitizer (it’s a major pollutant), consider some of the natural water purifiers. They include saltwater, ionization, oxidation, sonic waves, and certain types of plants. And if you’re thinking about heating your pool to extend its use into the cooler seasons, consider solar thermal heating. Of all the solar technologies, its payback is the fastest.

POOL SAFETY
The Consumer Safety Protection Commission (CPSC) recommends taking measures to prevent children from accessing the water when there is no adult supervision. When planning a pool, include a fence around the perimeter in your plans. (Your municipality may demand it—and it’s a good idea in any case.) Gates should be self-closing, self-latching, and lockable. Door, gate and pool alarms should be installed along with anti-entrapment drain covers and securable pool covers. Everyone using the pool should be taught to swim, and someone in the family should be trained in CPR, first aid, and emergency response.


Garage Doors 101

If you're shopping for a new garage door, style and material choices will be abundant, but which will meet your needs best?

Garage Doors

Photo: High Street Market

As cars have grown more important to our lives, they have gained equal prominence in residential floor plans. You’d probably be hard-pressed to find a single-family house built in the last 30 years where the first thing you noticed wasn’t the garage door. In the day-to-day life of today’s home, the garage is so central that many people use it as the primary entrance!

Over the last ten years, garage door manufacturers and architects have begun to improve on the curb appeal of garage doors. Sometimes it seems that wooden carriage-style doors are now to home exteriors what granite countertops are to kitchens (both carry a similar sticker price). Fortunately, there are also some reasonably priced and decidedly attractive options to consider.

TYPES OF GARAGE DOORS
A wide variety of residential garage door types are on the market—sliding, folding, up-and-over and roll-up, to name a few. In the US, the most common is a sectional door, which has several horizontal panels hinged together and fitted with rollers. The entire assembly rides in two parallel tracks. A heavy-duty torsion spring, which is in turn wrapped around a torsion bar, serves to counterbalance the weight of the door. Homeowners are able to lift the door either manually or by switching on a motorized garage door opener. The actual lifting may be chain-, belt-, screw- or direct-driven.

Sectional doors are available with or without windows. Options for the former include up to 16 lites in several shapes, including square and arched. And there are many decorative styles too, from contemporary to traditional. Sectional doors are even available in the popular carriage-house style; these look like swing-style doors but work the same as sectional doors.

True carriage or swing-style garage doors operate like a pair of very big French doors. They are typically made of wood and hang from jambs on hinges. Swing-style doors look good, with their strong vertical lines often helping to integrate the garage with the rest of the home. In addition, swinging doors tend to be more energy-efficient, because they seal well at the header and side jambs and only have one joint. They do, however, require more clearance. If you park too close to swinging doors, you won’t be able to open them. Also remember that swinging garage doors are more time-consuming to manually open and lock than sectional doors, and they’re much more expensive to automate.

GARAGE DOOR MATERIALS
Like entry doors, garage doors can be made of steel, aluminum, wood, wood composites, fiberglass, vinyl or glass. No matter what the actual material is, the wood look is most popular.

Garage Doors 101 - SteelSteel Doors. The best steel garage doors are made of two layers of galvanized steel, the surface of which is either primed and painted with a tough topcoat finish or clad with a composite material. Steel doors can be painted to match your home and are available with or without insulation. The downside of steel doors is that they can be dented and are subject to corrosion, especially in coastal areas.

Wood Doors. Wood garage doors are built with layers, or plies, to prevent warping. Woods include cedar, redwood, fir and meranti (luan). Wood doors may be factory-stained or painted, or finished on-site.

Wood Composite Doors. Composite garage doors typically have a wood frame covered with sheets of fiberboard. Better models offer higher-density fiberboard skins and include realistic details, such as overlays and grooves to simulate a real wood door. Cores are filled with polystyrene insulation.

Aluminum Frame Doors. Garage doors fitted with aluminum panels eliminate the problem of rust but are easier to dent. They are available in contemporary brushed finishes, as well as in many colors. (Translucent glass panels may be used in place of aluminum panels; these admit daylight without compromising privacy or security.)

Fiberglass Doors. Garage doors made from fiberglass are less subject to denting or cracking. They do not rust but can break upon impact. Two layers of fiberglass are typically bonded to a steel frame and filled with polyurethane insulation. Steel end caps help improve rigidity.

Vinyl Doors. Vinyl garage doors are promoted as being ‘kid-proof’, because they are difficult to dent or break. Typically built upon steel frames, these too are filled with polyurethane insulation. Vinyl doors look similar to fiberglass doors but are available in fewer colors. They are very durable and require little maintenance aside from an occasional hosing.

To see a selection of garage doors, don’t miss our Product Showcase: Garage Doors


Landscape Lighting 101

Add beauty and security to your home exterior with planned landscape lighting.

Landscape Lighting

Kichler Outdoor Lighting. Photo: Kichler

Landscape lighting can turn a visitor from feeling wary to welcome. It can change the rest of the yard from Nightmare on Elm Street to Some Enchanted Evening, all with the flip of a switch.

The first step in this transformation is to educate yourself about the possibilities. Because photos rarely do justice illustrating the amazing possibilities of landscape lighting, keep an eye out for good examples when you’re out for an evening stroll or drive.

The strong lights typically used for entrances and to illuminate large areas, such as driveways and decks, are powered by a 120-volt current. A qualified electrician must wire them directly to your circuit box and the cables, held within a protective conduit, must be buried at least 18 inches below ground. If you have these fixtures, make sure they are UL-listed and approved for outdoor use. The 120-v outdoor lights are also preferred for security applications, especially when combined with motion detection.

When less light is sufficient, low-voltage fixtures (12- to 15-v) are the norm. These include accent lights, path lights, and small floodlights. The fixtures are smaller and less obtrusive, use less energy, and are far less worrisome when in wet locations. They can also be plugged into an outdoor receptacle, making them ideal for do-it-yourself installations. The wiring does not require tools, and the cables do not need to be buried.

Solar-powered outdoor lights, a third option, are of course dependent upon exposure to the sun, and are variable with regard to output and when they turn on. They are best used to light paths where they are exposed to full sun throughout the day. Don’t put them in the shade!

Planning for Outdoor Lighting
Plot out your ideas on graph paper. Draw the footprint of your house to 1/8″ scale and sketch in all major landscape elements, including fences, decks, tree, paths, driveways, and garden beds. Include the location of any existing or proposed outdoor receptacles as well.

Make notes about what you’d like to illuminate and then decide which fixtures will do the job best. Try to use a variety of lighting techniques. Avoid overly bright and dark areas, and avoid glare for both visitors and your neighbors. Do not place path lights too closely together to avoid the “runway” look. You’ll also have to decide about fixture style, too, of which there are many!

Kichler Outdoor Lighting Deck Rev Types of Outdoor Lighting Fixtures
Entry lanterns or sconces: 120-v fixtures that mount beside doors. They should be either frosted glass or shielded to prevent glare. Their size should be proportional to the height and width of the entry area (often defined by a portico).

Recessed lights: 120-v fixtures typically installed in eaves over decks and garage doors. They provide large pools of light but are mostly hidden. Small, low-voltage recessed lights can be used to light stairs, railings, posts, and built-in deck furniture.

Floodlights: 120-v or low-voltage fixtures used to light wide expanses and large interesting objects, such as driveways, stonework, and trees.

Path lights: Usually low-voltage fixtures that illuminate paths by casting small pools of light on the ground. Sometimes, perforations in the light shield allow the lights themselves to be used as guides.

Spot light: Similar to floodlights but with a narrower beam for highlighting a specific object, such as a shrub or statuary.

In-ground light: 120v or low-voltage fixtures that are buried in the ground and covered with a gasketed lens. The beam can be angled slightly to illuminate a wall, tree, or fence.

Hanging or pendant lighting: 120-v fixtures that are frequently used for entry or porch lighting. Low-voltage hanging lights strung in trees, arbors, and pergolas have become popular as decorative accents.

Tip: You can simulate the effect of many of these lights with a strong flashlight. For an uplighting effect, hold the flashlight below the object or surface you wish to light. For a downlight effect, hold it above. Hold a reflector, such as a piece of white cardboard over the flashlight and place it beside a path to simulate a path light. If the effects you want to achieve are sophisticated, consider discussing them with a landscape lighting designer.

Installing Low-Voltage Lighting
With plan in hand, add up the fixture wattages. Purchase a transformer that’s rated slightly bigger than the total, so you can add a fixture or two later if desired. Most homeowner-grade transformers are designed for outdoor use only. If you want to mount your transformer indoors, upgrade to a commercial-duty transformer. Though often double the cost, pro-quality transformers will also allow you to adjust wattages in multi-line systems to account for voltage drop in your lines. Voltage drop causes unevenly lit fixtures and premature bulb burnout.

Draw possible cable runs on your plan, and choose the one that uses the least amount of cable. You’ll have better results if you group fixtures by distance from the transformer and run separate cables to each group. If you are using more than one run, try for equal cable lengths and about the same wattage requirements on each.

Landscape Lighting Plan

You will find more cable plans, like the one above, at Malibu Lights.

Finally, follow the maker’s directions for the gauge cable you’ll need. Generally, if your cable runs do not exceed 100 feet, you can use 16-gauge cable. If your runs are longer, you’ll need 12- or 14-gauge cable. (The lower the gauge number the heavier the cable.)

Mount the transformer within one foot of a GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) and at least one foot above grade, more if you’re subject to heavy snowfalls. Plug in the transformer and install a rain-tight cover over the connection, if one does not already exist.

Connect the cable or cables and lay out the cable according to your plan. Avoid installing the first fixture within 10 feet of the transformer to prevent it from getting too much voltage and burning out prematurely. Install the remaining fixtures at the planned locations. Quick connects make this a tool-less job. Just press the connectors together to push the prongs into either side of the cable.

Before burying the cable, observe the effect of the lights at night. Move the fixtures as necessary. Once satisfied, bury the cable in a few inches of soil or anchor with tent pegs and cover with mulch. Then program the transformer to turn the lights on and off automatically as desired.

Tip: Consider using two smaller transformers for larger, more complex installations, rather than one large transformer.


How To: Install Ceramic Tile

Plan ahead and place focus on prep work for professional results when installing ceramic tile.

How to Install Ceramic Tile

Photo: shutterstock

Installing ceramic tile can be tricky. Successful tiling jobs are a direct result of good planning and a methodical approach. Take the time to do the right amount of prep work before you begin.

STEP 1: Assess
Begin by inspecting the surface upon which you plan to install the tile. The substrate, or what tile is installed on top of, is just as important as the tile itself. A flexing floor or a wall that is uneven can lead to broken tiles and failed grout.

Water-resistant backer board, not drywall, should be used under tile that is likely to get wet (shower walls and bathroom floors, for example). Whether it’s backer board, plywood, or concrete, the substrate needs to be sound, clean, and dimensionally stable. Surfaces need to be level or plumb and true to plane, as the pros say—that means no bumps. Wallpaper, loose plaster, flaking paint, peeling tiles or unsecured sheet flooring must be removed from the walls or floors that are to be tiled.

STEP 2: Measure
Walls—When tiling a wall, you’ll want to establish a top line that is level. Few walls are truly plumb, so use a level to mark the top line. Establish its height so that you won’t have to cut very thin tiles (or cut very thin shards from nearly full tiles) to come flush to the floor. Snap a top line on your walls, and then snap a center line, too. Be sure to lay out all the walls you plan to do before you begin tiling.

Floors—To make your finished ceramic tile surface appear symmetrical (even if it isn’t), you need to find the center of the surface first. Then measure in from the sides. Pay special attention to this step if you’re tiling a small area, where wide tiles at one edge and narrow ones at the other will make the whole job look out of balance.

In an older home, you may find the floor isn’t square, which makes the job more complicated. Use the most obvious wall as a baseline, so those entering the room will see tile lines parallel to that wall; your job will look more even.

Once you’ve identified the center and baseline from which you will work, snap a pair of perpendicular chalk lines. These will divide the room into roughly equal quadrants. You’ll want to work outward from the center point in each of the four sections.

STEP 3: Lay out the tiles
After you’ve found the center point and squared the room for floor installations (or determined the top line level for walls), lay the tiles out to see how they will appear. Do it dry, before you mix the adhesive or mortar, within each quadrant of the grid.

The space between the tiles should be uniform. Use spacers if your tiles don’t come on mesh sheets. The larger the tile the larger the space should be between them. Some do-it-yourselfers will make the mistake of pushing tiles too close together to reduce grout lines. Without enough surface area, grout won’t bond well and can fail prematurely, leaving room for leaks and water damage. It’s also very important to let the adhesive cure fully.

When it comes to the actual tiling, work across to the outside edge of one quadrant, then to the top or bottom, one row or course at a time. Fill in as you go. Double-check by measuring at least twice with a tape and a second time by dry-laying the tile prior to adhering.

STEP 4: Cutting the tile
The first step in cutting tile is measuring the size of the tile you wish to cut and transferring the dimensions to the glazed surface of the tile via felt-tip marker. Position the tile on the tile cutter, aligning the center line of the cutter with the axis on which the tile is to be cut. To keep it square, the top of the tile should be held flush to the fence at the top of the cutter. Then, using the lever to which the cutting wheel is attached, draw the cutter across the surface of the tile, exerting a firm, even pressure. Make only one pass with the cutter. Finally, snap the tile.

Different snap cutters have different means of snapping tile. Some have a heel at the rear of the lever that has the cutting wheel at its toe; with others, the reverse is true. Whatever the design of your cutter, use the surface to apply pressure to the score line. In combination with a bead built into the base of the cutter, the pressure will cause the tile to snap in half. A little patience, some practice, a score and a snap, and you’re a tile cutter.

How to Install Ceramic Tile - Setting

Photo: shutterstock.com

STEP 5: Adhering Tiles
If you are using tile, chances are that it’s in a setting where moisture is a given—kitchen, bath, entryway and so on. Make sure you use a waterproof adhesive. You can use a premixed adhesive or a mortar, but if you choose the latter, make sure it’s a thin-set variety. (Thick-bed mortars require some practice and skill at smoothing to get the tiles to sit flat, and the additional mortar isn’t necessary for a watertight finish.)

Be sure to check the product container to determine how quickly the adhesive will dry. Spread the adhesive smoothly with a square-notched trowel, then set each tile with a slight twist to spread the adhesive. Begin at the center of the surface and work out to the perimeter. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and stay off the installation for the required amount of time before beginning grout work.

STEP 6: Grouting tiles
Grout is usually purchased as a powder and mixed with water or a recommended additive. Read the instructions on the package or ask advice at the tile store. Wear gloves and spread grout evenly, being sure to force it into the joints with a blunt stick or another tool.

One simple way to enhance your color scheme is to add a dye or pigment to the grout. White grout, even after it has been sealed with a grout sealer (which is recommended, especially for floors), may prove difficult to keep clean.

STEP 7: Cleaning and sealing
Make sure you sponge off the residue on the surface of the tiles before it has the chance to dry. This step will require several passes over a period of an hour or more. It’s a critical stage when you’re working with tiles that have a porous or variegated surface. Dried grout can prove almost impossible to remove from indentations.

Finally, apply a grout sealer according to the manufacturer’s directions, and your tile job is complete!


How To: Replace a Crusty Old Tub Spout

Replacing a tub spout is a straightforward project whose necessity arrives sooner or later in the life of most bathrooms.

How to Replace a Tub Spout

Photo: shutterstock.com

A tub spout does two things: It provides a decorative cover for the pipe stub delivering water to the bathtub, and it directs the water away from the wall where it could cause damage.

Our spout was more or less failing at both functions. It was severely pitted and judging from the amount of caulk around its base, the spout had a long history of leaking.

Related: Soak Up the Luxury with a Free-Standing Tub

For ease of installation and a gap-free fit at the wall, we chose a slip-connection replacement spout. Several types and styles of spouts are available; be sure to select one that complements the design of your shower system.

For example, if you control the shower with a diverter knob, buy a spout with a diverter. If, on the other hand, the diverter is not part of your shower control, buy a spout without a diverter.

Bear in mind that if your replacement spout is one that threads into place, picking up some plumber’s tape is a good idea, since wrapping the old threads will ensure a watertight joint.

MATERIALS:
- Large screwdriver or wood hammer
- Razor scraper with new blade
- Mini tubing cutter
- Steel wool
- Plumbing grease
- Slip-connection tub spout (with or without diverter)

DIRECTIONS

How to Replace a Tub Spout - Step 1

Photo: JProvey

1. Scrape off old caulk. If there was a gap between the old spout and the wall, the new spout will eliminate it.

 

How to Replace a Tub Spout - Step 2

Photo: JProvey

2. Insert a large screwdriver or the handle of a wood hammer into spout, using the tool as a lever to rotate the spout in a counterclockwise direction. Unthread and remove the spout.

 

How to Replace a Tub Spout - Step 3

Photo: JProvey

3. Use a tubing cutter to cut the pipe stub to a three- or four-inch length.

 

How to Replace a Tub Spout - Step 4

Photo: JProvey

4. Clean the stub with steel wool until it’s bright and smooth. Make sure no burrs or sharp edges remain.

 

How to Replace a Tub Spout - Step 5

Photo: JProvey

5. Apply a dab of silicone grease.

 

How to Replace a Tub Spout - Step 6

Photo: JProvey

6. Slide the new spout onto the stub.

 

How to Replace a Tub Spout - Step 7

Photo: JProvey

7. Lock the spout in place by tightening the set screw with the supplied Allen wrench.


Planning Guide: Attic Conversion

Though it's rarely a breeze, attic conversion holds tremendous appeal for homeowners seeking more living space under their own roofs.

Attic Conversion - Family Room

Photo: Borges Brooks Builders

Want more livable space in your home? Don’t want to spend a king’s ransom? Attic conversion has fit the bill for countless homeowners over the years.

Unlike many basements, attics are dry, and being free of major appliances (e.g., the furnace), they are also quiet. You can devote the finished space to any number of purposes: Attics are suitable as home offices, TV rooms, art studios and even bedrooms—the list of possible uses goes on at length.

Related: Planning Guide: Basement Remodeling

Before starting on an attic conversion project, you’ll need to negotiate a gauntlet of building codes. Of course, these vary from one municipality to the next, but most codes correspond to one or another edition of the International Residential Code for One- and Two-Story Dwellings (IRC).

To view the latest IRC codes (as well as previous editions), go here. If you’re confused about which edition bears relevance to your individual home, ask an official in the building department of your city, town, village or hamlet.

Is Your Attic a Candidate?
Of course, it’s beyond the scope of this article to detail every code, but you should be sure to discuss them all with your designer, contractor, or local building official. What follows is an overview of the most important codes affecting the majority of attic conversion projects:

Attic Conversion - Storage

Photo: Dijeau Poage Construction

Area. Habitable attic space must satisfy the same requirements that govern rooms in the rest of the house. To pass code, there must be at least 70 square feet where the ceiling height is 5 feet or higher.

Windows and Openable Area. Minimum glazed area is required to equal or exceed 8% of the usable floor area. So let’s say your attic has 200 square feet over which the ceiling is at least 5 feet high. Your window area must be at least 8% of 200 square feet (16 square feet). Meanwhile, the 4% openable area requirement means you need 8 square feet (4% of 200, that is) providing access to the outside.

Ceiling Height. At least 50% of the usable area (calculated above) must have ceilings of at least 7 feet. In other words, if your attic has 200 square feet over which the ceiling is at least 5 feet high, then for a minimum of 100 square feet (50% of 200, that is), the ceiling height needs to be at least 7 feet.

Some homeowners satisfy this code by installing a dormer. In effect, a dormer raises the height of a ceiling that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to walk beneath. Doghouse-style dormers admit natural light and promote ventilation, while shed dormers maximize usable attic space. Consult an architect in either case; few “improvements” compromise the look of a house like an ill-conceived dormer does.

Heating. Code requires the heating system in your home to be capable of maintaining a steady attic temperature of at least 68 degrees Fahrenheit (assuming the annual low temperature outdoors). Homeowners usually find no cause to extend their heating systems, since hot air rises through open stairwells and attic insulation does an effective job of keeping in that heated air.

Support Capability. For a habitable attic served by fixed stairs, code requires a load capacity of 30 pounds per square foot. You can use an online calculator to aid in your assessment of the floor’s strength, but in order to use a tool like this, you must know a host of details about the framing of your house—the width and depth of joists, their span, the amount of spacing between them, and what species of lumber they are.

Ultimately, the building department official in your municipality is the one to decide such things as whether your floor is strong enough. Observing all codes is a contractor’s responsibility, but if you plan on handling your own attic conversion, be prepared to acquaint yourself with every pertinent specification.

Attic Conversion - Bedroom

Photo: Cuppett Architects

Designing Safe Stairs
In the course of a conversion project, the codes surrounding attic access can often be challenging, since most attics were designed, not to be lived in, but rather for storage, utilities (e.g., air handlers), or both.

If you currently reach the attic by means of a hatchway or pull-down stairs, then you will need to carve out space for a length of permanent stairs—several square feet in the attic and on the next level down.

Code stipulates that stairways must be 36 inches wide (or wider), with treads that are 9.5 inches deep (or deeper). The maximum rise from one tread to the next is 7-3/4 inches, and head clearance has to meet or exceed 80 inches. Winding stairs are generally permissible, though some restrictions apply.

Existing attic stairs rarely conform to today’s code. Before moving forward, it’s best to discuss the matter with a local building department official. Exceptions are sometimes granted when upgrades are not feasible. For a complete picture, visit the Stairway Manufacturers’ Association.

Note that, in addition to access by stairs, a habitable attic needs at least one operable emergency escape-and-rescue opening. Codes regulate this opening’s minimum dimensions and proper placement.

Finishing the Attic
My preference is to push the knee walls close to the eaves, creating as much floor space as possible. Low cabinets and bookcases fit snugly in the space under slanted ceilings. In a lot of attic spaces, ceilings are what you see, more or less, so I think it’s worth splurging on them; consider wood boards. When it comes to flooring, wall-to-wall carpeting over a plywood subfloor is one popular option. A much less costly approach is to paint the plywood and add a few area rugs. In the end, finishing your attic conversion is largely a matter of personal taste. There are no codes governing your choice of paint color, thankfully!


From Finland with Love: Notes on Installing a Wood Ceiling

Though it's not the least expensive, installing a wood ceiling is one of your most eye-catching options.

Installing a Wood Ceiling - Living Room

Photo: Cablik Enterprises

Nearly 30 years ago, I traveled to Finland and toured a series of modular, site-built homes in the city of Jyvaskyla. Apart from their energy efficiency—windows closed like refrigerator doors!—I remember being impressed the use of wood on all interior surfaces, ceilings included.

Related: 10 Great Looks in Tin Ceiling Tiles

Maybe these memories played into my recent decision to install a wood ceiling in our converted attic. In a space with two-foot knee walls, where the prominent ceiling is pretty much all that you see, wood struck me as the best choice.

But you may not be surprised to learn that installing a wood ceiling is more expensive than using drywall. All in, it would have cost about $1,450 to drywall the ceiling in my attic. That’s roughly the amount I ended up paying for just the tongue-and-groove boards alone, prior to their installation.

Installing a Wood Ceiling - Sanding

Sanding Wood Ceiling Boards. Photo: JProvey

Labor costs added another $1,400 to the total project cost. It took three days for a carpenter and his helper to complete the work (with me lending a hand). Less time would have been needed in a different space, I’ll bet. There were some quirks encountered in my attic. For one thing, the old rafters were neither sized nor spaced regularly. Additionally, there was some tricky fitting to do at the ridge, around the collar ties, and along the rough masonry end walls.

My wife and I handled the finishing. After sanding the wood and sealing it (so the stain wouldn’t go blotchy), we applied two coats of White Wash Pickling Stain from Minwax. All of that was done within 48 hours, which means that in my case, installing a wood ceiling took the better part of a week.

No, I don’t splurge on a lot, but the wood ceiling is something I enjoy every day. Yes, it costs as much as a nice vacation, but I have no regrets. Oh, speaking of vacations: In the summer of 2014, there will be another housing fair in Jyvaskyla!


Finally, a Sure-Fire Cure for the Sagging Closet Pole

If your closet rods are straining under the weight of the clothes they need to carry, give them a lift—and a break—with this clever how-to.

how-to-fix-a-closet

A simple prop holds the closet rod level under the heaviest of loads. Photo: JProvey

My wife and I recently reorganized our bedroom closet and added several new accessories, including a double rod hanger, canvas shoe cubbies, and a column of hanging shelves. We were really happy with the results, but our closet rod wasn’t. It sagged, and then sagged some more with every item we hung on it.

Fortunately, I had some wooden closet pole left over from another project and used it to build a prop. While I was at it, I added some dowels for my wife to hang her belts and handbags. Now we’re all happy—no more sag and another place to hang stuff. The total cost was under $10.

Skill level: About as easy as it gets, but you need to be comfortable with an electric drill.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
- Handsaw and miter box
- Drill
- 1” diameter spade bit
- ¼” diameter twist drill
- 1-3/8″ wood closet pole
- ¼” dowel
- Paint and small brush (optional)
- Beads to cap ends of dowels

DIRECTIONS

1. Carefully measure the height of your closet rod. Be sure to measure the height it’s supposed to be, not the height with the rod deflection. Mark this height on the wood closet pole, then bore a hole in the pole so that the bottom of the hole is at the marked height.

Drilling hole in wood closet pole

Photo: JProvey

2. Saw through the hole to create a notch on which the closet rod can rest.

Sawing closet rod to make pole support

Photo: JProvey

3. Bore ¼” diameter holes near the top of the pole and insert ¼” dowels.

How to Fix a Closet - Insert Wood Dowels

Photo: JProvey

4. Bore 1/4″ holes in plastic, wood, or clay beads. For safe drilling, first secure the beads in a clamp or vise with padded jaws. Then place the beads on the ends of the dowels.

Drilling hole in wood beads

Photo: JProvey

THE SAME GOES FOR SAGGING SHELVES
Now that your tools are out, take the opportunity to check your bookcases and cabinets for sagging shelves. Much of today’s storage furniture comes with 5/8″- or ¾”-thick melamine-laminated particleboard shelves. They hold up fine if the spans are two feet or less and if the load limits are not exceeded. For wider cabinets, however, sagging shelves are a common problem.

Measure the distance between the cabinet bottom and the underside of the sagging shelf. Measure where the shelf meets the side of the cabinet so you get the correct height for the shelf, not the height where the shelf has sagged. Then cut two strips of 1⁄4″ x 1″ wood to that length. Attach one to the cabinet back and the other behind the center stile. Together, they will prevent the shelf from sagging. Use double-sided tape to attach the wood strips so they can be removed if you decide to change the shelf height in the future.

Supports for sagging cabinet shelves

Wide shelves made of particleboard are likely to deflect under heavy loads. Make these simple shelf supports to solve the problem. Photo: JProvey

To add support to multiple shelves, place additional wood strips under the next highest shelf in the manner described above. Don’t skip a shelf, however. The load must be carried to the cabinet bottom.