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Planning Guide: Driveways

Whether you want a driveway that is simple and functional or eye-catching and elegant, you need to consider a number of factors and options to achieve the best results.

Building a Driveway

Photo: shutterstock.com

Why do we drive on the parkway and park on the driveway? That’s just one of life’s little mysteries, but there’s no mystery involved in creating a beautiful and practical driveway—just some thoughtful planning. Your driveway makes a big first impression, whether you realize it or not. Its size, shape, and surface material are certainly important considerations. So too are other aesthetic and practical issues, such as the architectural style of your house, the amount of space you have, how many vehicles you need to accommodate, and even the part of the country where you reside. Use this driveway planning guide to help you determine the best driveway for you and your home.

Slope and Width 
Although you’ll be constrained by the natural topography of your property, there’s definitely a desirable “sweet spot” for the slope of a driveway, neither too flat nor too steep. If it’s too flat, drainage may become an issue, and if it’s too steep, the surface becomes slippery and dangerous. As a general rule, a driveway should be less than a 15% grade, which means that it should not rise more than 15 feet over a distance of 100 feet. If your driveway is completely flat, however, be sure to build up the middle so water runs off the sides and doesn’t pool. Also, you’ll need to direct the runoff to an appropriate place. If your driveway is very steep and long, you may have to add curves or switchbacks to reduce the slope.

Another general rule is that your driveway should be around 10 to 12 feet wide, and a few feet wider at the curves. If you have space, it’s always a good idea to provide a larger area at the top for turning around or for additional parking when needed. A 12’x18’ space or larger is ideal for this.

Straight, Curved, or Circular?
This decision is partly aesthetic and partly functional. In general, a curved driveway will add more character and depth than a straight driveway, but if you have limited space or a very short distance from the street to your garage, then straight will have to do. You can add character to a straight driveway using interesting borders, stamped concrete, color variations, or intricate patterns. Long, straight driveways can also be very attractive if they are lined with trees and frame the property as you approach.

Building a Driveway - Pavers

Photo: landscapingnetwork.com

Sometimes a curved driveway may actually function better, not just look better. This may be the case if there are obstructions in the direct path to the garage, such as trees or other landscaping features, or if your access point from the street doesn’t line up with the garage or parking area. If you do decide on a curved driveway, the curves should be gradual and sweeping, never tight and cramped.

Circular driveways offer the benefit of not having to back out; if you live on a busy street, this may be an important consideration. Keep in mind, however, that if you don’t have a garage and you have more than one vehicle using the driveway, then only the first car in has the luxury of not backing out. A variation, the teardrop driveway, is similar in that it splits off into two paths, but it has only one access point from the street. Either way, a circular drive will take up quite a bit of real estate in your front yard, so this isn’t the best choice for everyone.

Curb Appeal
The main purpose of your driveway is utilitarian, but there’s no denying the impact it has on your home’s curb appeal. When you’re planning your driveway, consider how it will look and how it will tie in to the rest of your property. To get ideas, take notice of other driveways in your neighborhood and think about what you like and don’t like about them. You can still create a unique design, but there’s nothing wrong with surveying what’s already been done and borrowing a few ideas. Consider adding plants, lighting, or a front gate if you really want to boost your curb appeal.

Materials
There are quite a few choices when it comes to the material for your driveway. The most common options are gravel, asphalt, cement, and pavers. Within each category there are plenty of variations as well. Your budget will dictate the material to some degree—we have listed them from least to most expensive—but other practical and aesthetic considerations will come into play too. Just a few of these are the slope of your lot, the style of your home, and the severity of the weather in your neck of the woods. Here’s a quick rundown of each material’s pros and cons.

Building a Driveway - Gravel

Photo: premierdriveways.net

Gravel  This is the most affordable option, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it is inferior. If installed correctly with properly compacted subgrade, durable block edging, and a shallow surface layer of pea gravel, you can create a driveway that will stand the test of time without requiring an unreasonable amount of maintenance or loss of aesthetic appeal.

A well-designed and properly built gravel driveway is especially attractive for certain styles of home. Plus, gravel has the added benefits of providing quick water drainage and never cracking or splitting. To add character to a gravel driveway, use decorative edging to contain the gravel, and pick a gravel color that will complement your home and yard.

Keep in mind that weeds and grass can grow through gravel fairly easily if landscape fabric or some other underlayment is not installed. Also, if your driveway is too sloped, gravel may not be ideal because it will slide down. And if you live in a colder climate, plowing snow from a gravel driveway can be a hassle.

Asphalt and Cement Asphalt and cement are both very durable and popular choices for driveways. Asphalt is typically cheaper, although the price has recently risen along with the cost of oil, so the savings here are not what they used to be. Both materials are versatile. They can be colored, stamped, engraved, stained, or grooved to add interesting aesthetic dimensions. Over time, however, they can also crack and split, and collect stains from oil and tires. Also, because these materials are not permeable, the driveway must be designed with water drainage issues in mind and properly sealed. But overall, they are both solid choices.

Building a Driveway - Pavers 2

Photo: landscapeodandbeyond.com

Pavers Considered the most sophisticated option, pavers are also the most expensive. They’re also endlessly versatile when it comes to shapes, sizes, colors, and patterns. Pavers are very durable and they tend to have good drainage properties, because water can escape through the gaps. Unlike asphalt and concrete, pavers don’t generally crack or split, and small areas are easy to replace if problems ever do occur. Permeable interlocking pavers have become very popular lately. These are engineered with uniform gaps and installed on a granular base rock to allow very efficient water runoff. They have a clean look and are available in different shapes, sizes, and tones.

This planning guide should get you well on your way to designing a driveway that adds curb appeal, functions properly, and suits your particular needs and style. Our last bit of advice is to think long term; you don’t want to revisit this project in the future. Resist cutting corners to save a little time or money. Remember, nothing is more expensive or time-consuming than doing the job right the second time.


5 Smart Energy-Saving Investments for Your Next Home

A new home is just about the biggest purchase most of us will ever make. Incorporating some smart energy-efficient technologies into that home is a great, ecologically responsible way to recoup at least a little bit of that huge pile of money over the years.

Shutterstock

Photo: Shutterstock

If you live in an older home, the prospect of retrofitting it to be more energy efficient might send cold shivers down your spine—even chillier than that bracing breeze leaking in through your improperly sealed window. There are definitely steps you can take to get an older house into better shape, but you have more options and greater control over energy-efficient features in a new home, your next home. In the interest of planning ahead, here are some energy-saving must-haves to consider when you’re building your next home.

PREMIUM WINDOWS
Sure, old wood windows add a lot of charm to a home, but they’re also likely to add a lot of cost to your heating bill because they don’t incorporate any of the energy-saving features of today’s products. In fact, one of the single best ways to make a home energy efficient is to install good-quality windows. The U.S. government’s Energy Star program rates windows using data provided by the National Fenestration Rating Council, so look for the Energy Star label when choosing your new windows. Also, the Efficient Windows Collaborative provides a handy tool to help you pick out the right windows for the part of the country in which you live. In general, you’ll want double- or triple-paned windows with Low-E glass, filled with argon gas.

TANKLESS WATER HEATERS
The idea of keeping a big barrel of water hot all day just so it’s there when you need it seems kind of old-fashioned, doesn’t it? But that’s exactly what most water heaters across America do. A more efficient option is to go with a tankless water heater, which fires up only when water passes through it. This means there’s no standby heat loss and the heater never runs out of hot water like its bigger, bloated cousins. Not only can tankless water heaters save you money on your heating bill, but many come with a federal tax rebate of $300. Tankless water heaters can be run off your electrical service or via gas or propane, but be aware that the latter kind might need special venting while the former might need an extra circuit—both good things to know as you’re building your new home.

RADIANT FLOOR HEATING

Warmboard

Photo: Warmboard

Not only does radiant floor heating feel more comfortable, it’s more efficient as well. That’s because unlike “spot” heating solutions, like radiators or forced-air vents in the floor and ceiling, this type of heating provides an all-over warmth that not only keeps the air toasty, but also keeps other objects in the room warm so that they don’t rob heat. One of the most efficient radiant floor heating systems on the market is Warmboard. Unlike their competitors, Warmboard uses conductive heating panels that transfer more heat from your boiler to your home. In fact, their panels are two-and-a-half times more conductive than any other form of radiant heat, making them a smart energy choice for heating. And, the new Total Warmth System from Warmboard makes installation—and cost—even more manageable for homeowners looking for a radiant floor solution. The Total Warmth System is designed with energy efficiency in mind. It’s a complete package that includes a heater, super-efficient floor panels with superior conductivity, and thermostats for zoned heating.

INSULATION
If you’re building a new home from scratch, one of the most efficient ways to keep it warm is to use insulated concrete forms, which essentially incorporate the insulation directly into the structure of the house. If you’re purchasing an existing structure that has shoddy insulation, you can beef it up with spray foam, loose fill cellulose, or fiberglass—all good options. Insulation is rated in terms of its R-value, a measure of its thermal resistance; the higher the number, the greater the insulation’s effectiveness, so be sure to compare R-values when you’re choosing insulation. Energy Star offers this useful chart to help you determine how much insulation you need to add to an existing building.

Solatube

Photo: Solatube Smart LED

SKYLIGHTS
Replacing your bulbs with compact fluorescents is a good way to save energy, but do you want to know an even better way? Don’t use light bulbs at all! That’s the benefit that comes from installing high-quality skylights in your home. By using skylights or solar tubes, you can bring illumination to even the darkest parts of your home and decrease your reliance on electricity to light your way. Skylights can also lower your heating costs by bringing the warmth of the sun in throughout the colder months. If you install operable skylights, you can even lower cooling costs by allowing hot air to escape in the summer. To maximize a skylight’s heating benefits, it’s important that it be installed at the proper slope. According to Energy.gov, a skylight’s slope should be “equal to your geographical latitude plus 5 to 15 degrees. For example, the optimum slope for a south-facing skylight in Columbus, Ohio, at 40 degrees north latitude, is 45 degrees to 55 degrees.” If you place your skylight on too shallow an angle, you’ll let in too much sun in the warmer months and capture less in the winter.

 

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


Repair Drywall with Less Hassle

If you’re armed with the right tools and a little know-how, you’ll never even think about hiring someone to handle this simple task again.

Drywall repair

Photo: HYDE Tools

Let’s be honest. Drywall repair is not something most people look forward to. Although it’s relatively straightforward in theory, if you have ever done it then you know that the dry time of the mud and all the dust created by sanding can turn the task into a big hassle. If you’ve repaired drywall before and your results didn’t turn out as seamless as you had envisioned, then you may be inclined to pay someone else to deal with it next time. Before you tackle the job again (or just throw in the towel), check out these helpful hints that will make drywall repairs easier and smoother.

HYDE bear claw repair clips

HYDE Bear Claw Drywall Repair Clips in use.

Patching large holes
If you have a large hole to repair, the first thing you need to do is cut a square piece of new drywall larger than the area you are repairing. Hold the new piece over the hole and trace around it. (Be sure to mark the top of the patch as a reference for when you install it as it’s not likely to be a perfect square.) With a drywall saw, cut along the lines that you just traced. The new hole is now ready to accept the drywall patch.

There are several ways to keep the new piece flush with the existing drywall, but the easiest way is to use Bear Claw Drywall Repair Clips from HYDE Tools. Simply clip them on the drywall and slide it into place; no nails, screws, or tools required. Apply drywall tape or HYDE’s Wet & Set (in roll form) over the clips and seams, and you’re ready to finish with mud—in other words, joint compound.

Patching small holes
For holes smaller than a baseball but bigger than a nail hole, there’s an easier patching solution than cutting a new piece of drywall. HYDE’s Wet & Set Repair Patch is a flexible sheet of water-activated patching material that dries within 30 minutes. It is impregnated with joint compounds and polymers specifically designed for patching walls and ceilings. Simply cut the patch to the size you need, dip it in water, and smooth it over the hole. After about 30 minutes it’s ready for finishing with mud.

Mudding
Regardless of which method you used, once the patch is in place, it’s time for finishing. Apply a thin coat of mud over the patch, making sure to overlap a few inches onto the existing wall surface. The key here is to use a joint knife in order to get the most uniform results. (Don’t use a narrow spackling knife that you might use to fill nail holes.) Also, don’t apply too much mud; a thin coat is more desirable and will make sanding that much easier. Wait for it to dry, and apply a second thin coat until smooth and seamless.

Sanding
Sanding is the messiest part of the job because the fine dust gets everywhere. Even if you cover your furniture and floors with plastic, dust still seems to infiltrate every nook and cranny. The best investment you can make here is HYDE’s Dust-Free Sponge Sander. It connects to wet/dry vacuums equipped with fine dust filters to remove dust while you are sanding. This tool is particularly useful for any drywall repair job in a finished area of your home. Remember, the key to effective sanding is to use long and broad strokes so you seamlessly blend in the dried mud. Avoid getting carried away and sanding too much—you don’t want to expose any clips or edges of the patch.

Note: Before you paint, make sure the patched area feels smooth. With your eye close to and parallel to the wall, look down to see if it’s completely flat (doing so now will eliminate the pesky “hump” that sometimes becomes visible after painting). Also, don’t forget to prime the patched spot before painting or the finish will look dull compared with the rest of the wall.

Following these simple tips and techniques can take the headache out of drywall repair and save you from calling in a pro for such a small job. Plus, when you’re all done, you get to enjoy the satisfying feeling of stepping back and admiring your work—even though in this case your work will be completely undetectable!

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


How To: Build a Temporary Wall

If you need to divide a shared kids' room or transform a corner alcove into a home office, then a temporary wall may be just the ticket.

Photo: lawallco.com

If you can’t live with the layout of your space, a temporary wall may be just the solution you need. For decades, renters have relied on temporary walls to “make it work” under less-than-ideal circumstances. Homeowners too can benefit from temporary walls: Building one enables you to judge whether a planned change is worth pursuing. And because a temporary wall does not tie into the framing, removing it is easily done, with a minimum of mess.

Note: Before you undertake to build a temporary wall, be sure that you check local building codes, paying close attention to relevant stipulations. Contact your municipal building department for clarification, if necessary. Renters are advised to ask the building owner or management company for permission.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
- Sill seal
- 2x4s (quantity and lengths depend on wall size)
- Wooden shims
- Drywall
- Nails or screws
- Circular saw
- Drill
- Hammer

Sill seal is foreign to many do-it-yourselfers, even those who’ve successfully completed scores of projects. Here, the 1/4-inch-thick foam performs two functions. First, it protects the existing floor, walls, and ceiling from damage. Second, and more importantly, the sill seal provides the pressure needed to secure the temporary wall wherever you choose to position it. Before doing anything else, apply the sill seal to those surfaces with which the temporary wall is going to be in contact.

STEP 1
Cut a pair of 2x4s to the length you want the temporary wall to be. These two pieces of wood are known as the plates; they will form, respectively, the top and bottom margins of the wall. Next, measure the height from floor to ceiling. Because that height may vary, it’s wise to measure twice: once for the left edge of the temporary wall, then again for the right edge. Subtract three inches from each measurement, then cut a 2×4 to correspond to each length. These are the end studs.

How to Build a Temporary Wall - Studs

Photo: finehomebuilding.com

STEP 2
Set the bottom plate over the sill seal you’ve already applied to the floor. Next, ask a helper to hold up the top plate—with sill seal between the board and ceiling—as you wedge the end studs into place. (Remember that sill seal also needs to run along the existing walls against which you are placing the vertical members.) If either stud needs persuading to fit snugly between the plates, tap it in with a hammer. Are the studs too tall? Trim off some height with a sander or circular saw, then try your luck again. With short studs, use one or more wooden shims to close the gap.

STEP 3
Now that you’ve established the wall perimeter, fasten the end studs into the plates by means of either nails or screws (the latter are easier to remove). For added stability, particularly if you have kids or plan to install a door, it’s smart to nail or screw the top plate to the nearest ceiling joist.

STEP 4
Install the remaining studs at intervals of 16 or 24 inches. (At this point, if you’d like to inhibit the transmission of sound through the temporary wall, add batt fiberglass insulation in the stud cavities.) Finally, put up the drywall panels; for ease of removal later, screws are recommended.

STEP 5
Finish the wall however you please. Some may be perfectly satisfied with the rudimentary look of unfinished drywall. Others may choose to paint the surface or even to install baseboard. Much depends on the purpose of the temporary wall, but it’s certainly possible to make it resemble your permanent walls. But remember, the more you add on, the more you’ll eventually need to take off.

Follow your design sense and do what makes you happy. After all, it’s your (newly defined) space!


5 Home Maintenance Tips for Spring

Now that spring has arrived, here's a look at some basic exterior maintenance projects you should undertake now to get your home into shape for the summer months ahead.

Prepping Spring Garden

Photo: thegazette.com

Nothing renews that feeling of pride of ownership more than attending to annual home maintenance tasks (especially once they are completed and behind you). Now that spring has arrived, it’s time to investigate the condition of your home’s exterior, including everything from the roof, gutters, siding, and foundation, to the lawn, shrubs, trees, and garden. The chore isn’t so bad, and with a plan—and the right tools—you can make short work of many of these common tasks:

Inspecting — Spring is a good time to see what damage winter storms, snow, and ice may have done to the exterior of your home  Take this time to inspect the roof; you can do it easily and safely from the ground with a pair of binoculars. Look for loose, curled, or missing shingles and any bent or damaged flashing around chimneys, skylights, or points where the roof makes contact with the house. Note where repairs are in order and make sure to get them done. Next, clean out your gutters and downspouts. With those spring showers on the way, you definitely want to make sure your gutters are clear of debris so that they function properly. Also use this time to inspect your home’s foundation and chimney; repair any cracks or crumbles. Small fixes now could save you money and headaches later.

Pruning — Your trees and bushes will look and grow a lot better if you remove dead, damaged, or overhanging branches. The main thing to remember here is to cut the entire branch off at the branch collar, which is the point where the branch connects to the trunk or another branch. Don’t leave little half branches or big stubs. You’ll get the best results using a handsaw or hand pruner, and it’s well worth investing in an extendable pruning saw with clippers if you have some branches that are just out of reach. Be sure to wear safety glasses and a hard hat if you are cutting branches directly overhead.

Hyde Pivot Jet Pro

Photo: Hyde PivotJet Pro

Cleaning — There’s certainly no shortage of things to clean outside when the spring season hits. The HYDE PivotJet Pro can help with almost any cleaning task and lets you get the job done with ease. It connects to your garden hose so there is no bulky or noisy engine to cart around or electric cord to wrestle. Its powerful spray provides superior cleaning without the risk of damage associated with pressure washers. Use it to clean siding, windows, foundations, decks, gutters, patio furniture, grills, driveways, pool areas, fences, mowers, and more. The HYDE PivotJet Pro consists of a spray wand with a pivot nozzle head that gets into hard-to-reach spots, and a built-in liquid cleaner reservoir that can be adjusted or turned completely off as needed. It’s much easier to use than a pressure washer, and much more affordable as well.

Touch-up PaintingExterior paint takes a beating throughout the year, so touching up those areas of your house, fence, or shed where paint is starting to fail is a good way to avoid long-term damage and make everything look new and fresh. This isn’t a task you want to revisit every year, so it is crucial to follow the proper steps for prepping, priming, and repainting.

Garden Prepping — If you enjoy growing a vegetable or flower garden, then you have some prep work to do before it’s ready for seed or seedlings. Removing weeds and leaves, tilling or turning the soil, testing the soil, and adding the appropriate fertilizers are just a few tasks that you can start doing now. You might want to consider adding a motorized tiller to your arsenal of tools if you plan on keeping a good-size garden every year. If you get a jump on prepping your garden early in the season, you will have more time later to enjoy the fun part—watching your garden grow!

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

 



The Right Way to Handle a Paintbrush

A little know-how goes a long way when it comes to painting. These simple tips will save you headaches and help you achieve professional results.

Paint Can Brush

Photo: shutterstock.com

Painting seems like a pretty straightforward task, so homeowners frequently choose to do it themselves in order to save a little money. But the entire process can turn into a big, frustrating mess if you don’t know a few simple techniques. Because that old saying “you can work hard or you can work smart” is particularly true for painting, we’re going to share a few professional tips and techniques from HYDE Tools on the right way to handle a paintbrush.

Start small—You may think that a bigger brush will save you time and you may be right in theory, but you’ll have much more control with a smaller brush. Start with a 1½-inch angled brush until you master the techniques, then work your way up if you like.

Go for quality—When shopping for brushes, you’ll notice a wide range of prices. It’s tempting to buy a cheap brush because you can’t really tell the difference in the store, but trust us on this—you get what you pay for. Buy the most expensive brush you can afford; you won’t regret it. And before you start painting with your new brush, be sure to prepare it properly.

Choke up on the brush—In baseball, to “choke up” on the bat simply means to move your hands closer to where the bat contacts the ball, which increases accuracy. The same idea applies with your brush: You will have more control if you move your hand as close to the bristles as possible without actually touching them. With your hand closer to the action, you’ll achieve a more accurate stroke.

Flatten out the brush—When cutting in to make a clean, straight line, gently push the brush down onto the surface a short distance away from where you want the edge, then work your way over to the line. The pressure will help your hand remain steady and distribute the paint more evenly. Make sure you have enough paint on the brush to enable you to push a very small bead of paint down the line.

Hyde Tools Painter's Assistant

HYDE® Painter's Assistant

Don’t use a full can of paint—When you’re painting a room, pour three-quarters of the can into your roller tray. Use that small amount of paint still in the can to cut in the walls to the ceiling. This will keep you from dipping the brush too far into the paint and making a mess on your hands and the stock of the brush. For small jobs, there’s no need to paint out of a full can, so consider the HYDE Painter’s Assistant, which serves as a convenient carrying handle for one- and two-quart containers and also functions as a magnetized paintbrush holder and paint-can opener; putty knife, brush and roller cleaner; and belt hook.

Don’t wipe the paint off—Most people instinctively wipe the brush on the side of the can after it’s been dipped in the paint. Resist the temptation! While you don’t want your brush dripping with paint, you also don’t want to wipe most of it off. Instead of wiping the brush, lightly slap it a few times on the inside of the can like you’re ringing a bell. See the HYDE video below on how to properly load a brush.

Breathe through the stroke—This may seem hokey at first, but a steady hand requires oxygen—it’s a physiological fact. Many people have a tendency to hold their breath when they are concentrating, but this can work against you. Ask anyone who is good at pool, darts, archery, or anything else that requires a steady hand and they’ll tell you that breathing is crucial.

Don’t gunk it up—If you want your brush to perform optimally, you have to keep it free of excess paint. The best way to avoid gunk-up is to use only the first inch or two of the brush.

If you apply these tips and techniques consistently, your painting skills will improve and your overall experience will be much more rewarding, as will the results. For more instructional paint tutorials, click here. I guess you could say that following these tips will give you an “edge” the next time you grab a paintbrush!

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


Planning Guide: Backyard Ponds

Building a pond is a great way to add character and serenity to your outdoor environment, but there are some important factors to consider before you jump in with both feet.

garden pond

Photo: www.your-garden-ponds-center.com

DOWN TO BRASS TACKS

A backyard pond can be a soothing and calming addition to your landscape, but before you build a pond, there are numerous factors to consider, particularly if your plans include aquatic plants (e.g., water lilies) or fish (e.g., koi). Building and maintaining a backyard pond with blooming aquatic plants and flourishing fish involves monitoring and adjusting the water chemistry and adding chemicals to maintain a healthy balance. Most pond kits come with the basic components—pumps, filters and aerators—to create a healthy garden pond, but you may want to do some research and make sure you have other supplies and chemicals on hand to keep plants and fish alive and thriving. Building a backyard pond might be easy; keeping plants and fish healthy can be tricky but rewarding.

Just to be clear, the kind of pond we’re referring to doesn’t involve swimming, fishing, or boating. We’re talking about a decorative garden pond for goldfish, koi, or plants—a water feature that will blend into your landscape and create a calming aesthetic experience. There’s nothing more relaxing than the sights, sounds, and even smells of a well-maintained pond, but a pond has to be planned and built correctly in order to function properly and produce the desired effect. You can’t just start digging and then hope it all works out. Here are some important factors to consider before you grab a shovel.

LOCATION
Ideally, a pond should get a good mixture of sun and shade, but you want to achieve this without getting too close to trees. Digging around the root system of a tree can damage it—and it’s a bear of a project. Also keep in mind that you will need to run electricity to the pond for the pump and, depending on how elaborate you want to get, other components such as a filter, skimmer, or lights. This means you might want to locate your pond near your home. Keeping it close to the house gives you the added benefit of being able to enjoy its beauty when you’re indoors.

Backyard Pond

Photo: instructables.com

SHAPE AND SIZE
In general, the larger the pond, the more stable it will be for fish and plants, so don’t try to keep it small for the sake of maintenance. Go for the biggest pond that makes sense for the space you have. You can either purchase a prefabricated plastic pond tub, or you can use a pond liner and customize the size and shape of your pond. If you decide to go the custom route, take some string or a garden hose and use it as a line to lay out the shape that you want on the ground. This will enable you to try different designs before you make a final decision.

Be creative—try something other than a circular shape, and consider incorporating elements like a waterfall or stream. Think carefully, however, about placement of any special features. You don’t want to be looking at the back of a waterfall from your porch or window, so determine how any add-ons will affect the shape and orientation of the pond. After you have established the perfect shape and size, use landscaping paint to trace the perimeter.

ARCHITECTURAL FEATURES
If you’re going to the effort and expense of creating a pond in your landscape, you’ll want to include a place where you can truly enjoy it, so be sure to incorporate benches or other seating areas—or even a more elaborate structure like a gazebo—into the design. If the pond is large enough, you might even wish to place a small bridge across it. A tall stone or obelisk set in the middle of a pond gives it an exotic atmosphere and provides a focal point for the design.

PLUMBING OPTIONS
You don’t necessarily need a complicated plumbing setup. Filters and skimmers are nice but not essential for every application. At the bare minimum, you will need an electric pump to circulate the water—and to feed your waterfall if you plan on having one. A filter may not be necessary; beneficial bacteria that will begin to grow in the pond can act as a natural filter, and there are also a number of plants you can grow that will help keep the water clean. For example, water hyacinths reduce algae by removing certain nutrients from the water. Although it’s certainly possible to create a micro-ecosystem that strikes a natural balance, every application is different and will vary depending on where you live, the number of fish you keep, and the size of your pond. Do your research and make these decisions during the planning phase so you don’t have to tack on a filter and skimmer later. These should be incorporated into the design.

pond fountain

Photo: decorfortheoutdoors.com

NATURAL MATERIALS
Don’t forget that after you dig the hole for your pond, you will be left with a huge pile of dirt. You have to get rid of it one way or another, so take this into consideration when planning your pond. You may be able to use the dirt to build up an area for a waterfall or some other interesting feature. Also, if you want your pond to look natural and blend into the landscape, you will most likely need rocks for landscaping in and around your new water feature. Determine whether you can acquire them (legally) from nature or if you will need to purchase them. Even if you don’t end up having to pay for them, the time and labor involved in moving rocks can be significant.

CALL BEFORE YOU DIG
We know you’re anxious to grab that shovel, but there’s one more important thing you must do before you break ground: Call 811 and let them know what you are doing. They will send out the appropriate people to make sure that you are not going to hit any underground lines when you dig. This is a free service, so there’s no reason to risk hitting a gas, water, or power line.

The key in planning your pond is to think long-term. If you take your time thinking through all of these factors and considering your options, the result will be something you will cherish for years to come. Resist the temptation to cut corners or start building too soon, because saving that extra day or two isn’t worth it in the long run. Think about it—have you ever heard anyone say, “I know it’s not perfect, but I’m glad I saved a little time three years ago”?


When in Doubt, Revive Your Grout!

If your floor, backsplash, or tub surround is looking a little tired and outdated, the solution may be as simple as cleaning, reviving, or replacing the grout.

cleaning - replacing grout

Photo: lovingmyfloors.com

Tile has always been a popular choice for floors, walls, and other surfaces due to its durability and long life. In fact, it’s typically the grout that starts to fail or show its age before the tile itself, and when grout gets dirty or worn, the entire tile surface can appear old or tired-looking. The best way to breathe new life back into your tile is to restore your grout, and there are some very affordable ways to do so. Replacing tile can cost thousands of dollars, whereas the options we are going to discuss could run you less than a hundred!

Cleaning – In some cases, the grout might just be stained or dirty, particularly if you are dealing with a floor that gets a lot of traffic. There are plenty of grout and tile cleaners on the market, but hydrogen peroxide and baking soda may work just as well. Pour a little hydrogen peroxide onto the grout lines and use a grout brush to work it in for a few seconds. Then pour baking soda on top and brush your little heart out. Clean up with water after you have covered the entire area, and your tile and grout will look fresh and new.

Coloring – If the color of your grout is simply outdated or faded, you may want to use a grout colorant to make it look new again. Grout colorants are applied directly to your existing grout; the process is not difficult, but it is a little tedious and time-consuming. Keep in mind that this will work only if your grout is porous (like most grout) and your tile is nonporous. Sometimes colored silicone caulk is used where tile meets other materials such as hardwood or tubs; grout colorant will not work on these areas. Also, when choosing a grout color, stay away from white or light colors because they will inevitably get dirty and stained. If you choose a darker color, then you won’t have to worry so much about the grout getting stained from foot traffic.

Replacing – If your grout is chipping, cracking, or coming loose, you can actually get rid of it and replace it with fresh, new grout. This may seem like a daunting task at first, but the old adage “the right tool for the right job” certainly applies here. The HYDE Regrout Tool makes removing grout unbelievably easy. It removes both sanded and unsanded grout at a rate of about 1 inch per second, and works with grout lines up to 1/8 inch wide. If you have ever tried to use other grout removal tools, you know that they are frustrating and dangerous, and they can actually damage your tile. The HYDE Regrout Tool eliminates these problems—it’s very easy to use and surprisingly affordable as well. The carbide tips are able to get into tight, awkward places, and they are even safe to the touch when the tool is running. Again, once the grout is removed, consider replacing it with darker colors that will not show dirt.

Sealing – After you have cleaned, colored, or replaced your grout, be sure to use a grout sealant to protect it and make it easier to clean in the future. Grout sealants help keep your grout from getting stained, and they protect it from moisture and mildew. It is well worth the small investment of time and money to protect your hard work and your refreshed tile surface! So before you start tearing out your tile, look into giving your grout a facelift. There’s a good chance that fixing up the grout using these helpful tips will give you the same results as replacing your tile, for a fraction of the cost!

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

 


Warming Trend: 5 Smart Ways to Heat Your Home

Heating your home has never been cheap, but new technologies can help cut the costs substantially.

Photo: Shutterstock

When considering the best way to bring warmth into your house, think of the four “E’s”: energy, efficiency, economics, and environment. You’ll want to choose a type of energy source that’s not only available in your area, but also fits with your ethos and needs. You’ll want to make sure your chosen heating system is efficient and suits your economic situation. And you’ll want to choose a system that creates a pleasant internal environment for you and your family. Here are a few ways to balance these four “E’s” when you’re choosing the best method for heating your home.

programmable thermostat

Photo: energystar.gov

Programmable Thermostats: A simple and affordable way to make your existing heating system smarter is to replace the old thermostat with a programmable one. This will enable you to create different heating schedules for different times of the day or different days of the week. For example, if no one is home during the day, it doesn’t make sense to keep the house as toasty as you like it in the evening when the house is occupied. Once you establish your desired settings, a programmable thermostat will automatically adjust the temperature without requiring you to remember to turn it up or down.Keep in mind, however, that extreme fluctuations in your thermostat settings can cause your furnace to work harder and can actually decrease efficiency, so be sure to keep the settings within a reasonable range.

Zoned Heating: The ability to heat different areas of your home to different temperatures is called zoned heating. You can set up different zones in a number of ways, depending on what type of system you have. Typically, multiple thermostats are used to adjust individual temperature settings for each room. This enables you to turn down thermostats in areas of your home that aren’t frequently used, which saves energy and money. Zoned heating can also remedy the problem of hot and cold spots in your home. For example, if the second floor of your home is always 10 degrees warmer than the first floor, or if the room above the garage is always 10 degrees cooler, then zoned heating is a smart solution.

Hybrid Furnace: If you live in a climate where temperatures occasionally get below 30 degrees Fahrenheit, then a hybrid, or dual-fuel, system will most likely save you money. A hybrid furnace is like a hybrid vehicle in principle—it uses electricity as its primary source of power but then kicks in another fuel source when higher demands are placed on the system. The primary source of heat for a hybrid furnace is an electric heat pump, which is more energy efficient than natural gas, propane, or oil. Heat pumps, however, don’t perform as well when temperatures drop below 30 or 40 degrees Fahrenheit. At such temperatures, a hybrid furnace will automatically switch from the heat pump to another fuel source to balance efficiency and effectiveness.

Radiant Floor Heating: There are different types of radiant floor systems, but they all work by heating your floors from underneath, creating a home environment that is heated evenly and quietly without drying forced air or clanging baseboards. In general, radiant floor systems are more efficient than traditional setups, but not all systems are created equal. Many radiant floor systems can tie into your existing furnace, but if you don’t have an efficient furnace, you’ll lose some of the eco-friendly benefits of radiant heating. The level of conductivity in the radiant panels themselves is also an important factor in radiant heat performance.

The new Total Warmth System from Warmboard solves both of these issues by providing a complete package that includes a heater, superefficient floor panels with superior conductivity, and wireless thermostats for each room that allow you to take advantage of zoned heating by adjusting the temperature just how you like it, where you like it. The Total Warmth System also wins points because it was designed with ease of installation, affordability, and energy efficiency in mind.

Solar: Although the upfront investment can be fairly high, solar heat is certainly a smart choice because it is a clean renewable resource. The problem is that there are a lot of variables that come into play, so it isn’t ideal for all situations. Depending on your particular application, you will need to consider a number of factors, such as the amount of unobstructed sun that hits your home, how much space you have available for the solar thermal collectors, whether or not you’ll want to heat your water, the type of backup system you’ll need, the type of collectors you’ll need, storage tank size, and whether you’re going with passive or active solar heating. The bottom line is that solar power is very smart, but there’s no straightforward, one-size-fits-all, out-of-the-box application. It takes lot of research and know-how, and a generous budget to really do it right.

 

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

 


How To: Make a Picture Frame

Whether you want something unique and creative or just need to use up some scrap wood, making your own picture frame can be easy and rewarding.

picture frames

icing-sugar.net

What is art? Critics and philosophers are free to debate the question endlessly, but we think it’s pretty simple: If there’s a frame around it, then it’s art! Less simple—but not so complex that you shouldn’t give it a try—is building your own picture frame. Beginning woodworkers love this project, and for many others it can be a great money-saver. Within only a weekend, provided you have access to a few basic tools, you can make a picture frame to keep for the rest of your life.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS:
- Table saw
- Miter saw
- Router (optional)
- Wood
- Measuring tape
- Wood glue
- Hammer and brad nails
- Sandpaper
- Paint, stain, or linseed oil

The following steps apply in a general way no matter what type of wood you want to use (or happen to have on hand), or what size you would like the picture frame to be. But for the sake of simplicity in this tutorial, we’ll assume that you intend to build an 11″ x 14″ picture frame from a 1″ x 4″ maple board that measures 4 feet long.

STEP 1
Setting the table saw at 1-1/2″ (from the blade to the fence), rip the wood board into two 4-foot-long pieces. These must be exactly the same width, so pass the wider of the two through the table saw a second time. (Of course, if you’d wanted the frame wider or narrower, you would have set the table saw accordingly.)

STEP 2
With a router, cut a 1/2″ x 1/2″ rabbet—that is, a rectilinear groove—along one of the long sides of each of the two pieces. The picture is going to lie against the rabbet, so if you expect to frame an item (or to use a mat) of considerable thickness, accommodate it by creating a more generous rabbet.

STEP 3
Use a miter saw to cut one end of both boards at a 45-degree angle, being careful to make sure that the rabbet runs along what is to become the inside of the frame. In other words, once you have finished cutting an angle into each board, the rabbeted edges should be opposite the longer (and pointier) side.

STEP 4
Measure the longer side of the picture you are going to frame; add 1/16″ to that measurement. Then choose one of the two boards and transfer that total measurement to its rabbeted side, marking the distance. Here, cut a 45-degree angle, this time in the direction opposite to the initial angled cut. Next, place the second board over the one into which you’ve just now cut a second angle. Mark the second board, then cut it so that you have a pair of identical pieces. On the two leftover pieces, repeat the process of measuring, marking, and cutting, this time using as a guide the shorter side of the picture to be framed. Make sure you’re keeping the rabbeted side to the inside of the frame.

STEP 5
Assemble the four pieces into a rectangular shape, remembering always to position the rabbet groove to the inside. Dab wood glue onto each joint, then fasten the pieces together by means of brad nails. Two nails close to each outside corner ought to do the trick. Wipe away any excess glue immediately. Let dry overnight.

STEP 6
Sand the picture frame, then wipe away any sawdust with a damp cloth. Once you have allowed enough time for the wood to dry completely, it’s safe to apply your choice of finish. (If you’re building with attractive lumber, I recommend finishing with linseed oil.) Having finished the piece, flip it over so the back (rabbeted) side is facing up. Fit a piece of cut-to-size glass into the frame, then lay the picture face down on the glass and place a backing over it. You have several options for securing everything in place, including glazing points or brads.

Congratulations, you’ve created a masterpiece: You might even decide to leave the picture out entirely, because the frame itself is such a work of art!