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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

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!


How To: Install a Prehung Door

Prehung doors can make your life much easier, but you still need to know a few essentials in order to get the job done right.

How to Install a Prehung Door - Detail

Photo: mobilenewsblog.net

Doors come in countless different sizes and styles—from modern, flush interior doors with standard dimensions to massive, traditionally designed entryways. By comparison, there are dramatically fewer installation methods; in fact, there are only two. A door is either prehung in its own jamb, or it’s not. Installing a prehung door is considerably less complicated, but that doesn’t mean there’s no sweat involved. The following tips can help you avoid common setbacks.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
- 6-foot level
- Wooden shims
- 2-1/2-inch finish nails
- Hammer and nails (or nail gun)

It’s no problem to stray somewhat from the steps outlined here, but remember that no matter the techniques used, the goals always stay the same: Get the door jamb level and plumb; keep it flush with the drywall surrounding it; and maintain a uniform 1/8-inch reveal (the space between the door and the jamb).

STEP 1
When you set out to install a prehung door, begin by measuring the rough opening into which you are placing it. The opening should be one or two inches larger than the door itself. That wiggle room enables you to shim the door, bringing it to the level-and-plumb position critical to proper functioning.

How to Install a Prehung Door - Bob Vila

Photo: familyhandyman.com

STEP 2
Set the door into the rough opening. Has flooring not yet been installed  beyond the threshold? In that case, shim beneath the door jamb to account for the height that will be added once the floor’s installed.

STEP 3
Next, make sure the hinge side of the door is plumb, meaning perfectly vertical. Having checked that the door is still centered within the opening, stabilize it by adding shims to both sides, near the top. Check the alignment using a level. If the door’s plumb, hold the hinge side so that it’s flush with the adjacent drywall, then nail into the jamb at the point behind which you added shims. Go on to place shims in a few more positions along the hinge side; check level once more; then nail through the jamb wherever you shimmed.

STEP 4
Close the door and confirm that its top portion is level. Don’t waste time reaching for a measuring tool, though, if you notice the reveal isn’t uniform between the door and the jamb. That’s a sure sign things are amiss. Make adjustments by shimming the latch side of the door. Shim less when there’s too little reveal; shim more when there’s too much of one. Continue tinkering until the reveal along the top is uniform.

STEP 5
On the latch side of the door, bring the jamb flush to the adjacent drywall. The reveal ought to be 1/8-inch here; if it’s not, then adjust the shimming you have added already near the top of the door on this latch side. Once finished, nail through the jamb where you have shimmed. Now place additional shims six inches from the bottom of the door, as well as above and below where the strike plate will go. So long as the reveal remains uniform, proceed to nail the jamb at each position where you have added shims.

STEP 6
To finish, go ahead and put a few more nails through the shims you nailed previously. Your pre-hung door is now level and plumb, with a uniform reveal!


Planning Guide: Mudrooms

Every house needs a clean, well-organized spot where family and friends can hang their coats, stash their boots, and neatly rest all of their bags, hats, scarves and backpacks. Yes, everyone needs a mudroom—and with careful planning, you can create one that's not just a staging area, but a true command central.

Photo: cynthialynn.com

As the main staging area for arrivals and departures, the mudroom is a much-relied-upon space. If your floor plan doesn’t include a mudroom, you can create one by screening or walling in a section of an existing room, by finishing an attached porch, or by building a small addition. However you go about it, once you have a mudroom, you’ll wonder how you ever survived without one!

LOCATION
Whether you start from scratch or convert an existing room—or part of it—into a mudroom, choose a location that is frequently used by your family to get in and out of the house. Kitchens or pantries with entry doors to the exterior are ideally suited to incorporate a mudroom. Garages are also excellent candidates. Utility or laundry rooms with an outside entrance make good mudrooms as well—you can wash and dry the wet, dirty clothes on the spot! The same is true of basements that are equipped with plumbing and have entry doors to the exterior.

Farmhouse mudroom

Photo: pocketfullofblue.blogspot.com

FLOORING
Because the main function of a mudroom is to keep mud and snow away from the rest of the house, you shouldn’t have to worry about getting the floor dirty—there will be plenty of dirt. So you’ll need to select a durable flooring that is easy to clean.

Tiles make hard-wearing and decorative floors, but for safety reasons choose nonslip styles. Vinyl tile and linoleum flooring is durable and washable too, but make sure that the color and pattern you pick will hide dirt and stains easily. Another good option is concrete. Its easy maintenance makes it perfect for mudroom floors, and when stained, colored, or painted, it can be a very attractive flooring material.

Related: How to Stain Concrete

Whatever you choose as your flooring surface, be sure to place fiber mats or absorbent rugs near the entryway to catch water and dirt before they get tracked through the house. It’s a good idea to install a boot scraper just outside the entrance to your mudroom, so dirt and mud won’t even make it over the threshold.

If you have the budget and your home allows for it, consider installing a drain in the center of the room and angling the floor slightly so that water and slushy, melting snow can drain away and you can easily wash out the room as often as required. If it’s not practical to place a drain in the center of the room, consider putting it in a corner where you can set a mesh rack above it for wet boots and shoes. If a drain is not possible, a sturdy rubber mat with sidewalls should do the trick.

Mudroom  Decor

Photo: bhg.com

EXTRA STORAGE
As any homeowner knows, you can never have enough storage; this is especially true in your mudroom. Because it’s the main pickup and drop-off spot in the house, the mudroom needs to accommodate coats, scarves, boots, cycling helmets, and backpacks—thereby stopping these items from littering entryways, hallways, and bedrooms.

One way to eliminate clutter is to install cabinets fitted with pegs, shelves, and drawers. Assign a specific storage space to each family member. Make them all responsible for putting away their own coats, shoes, and other items they use every day. If the budget allows, include upper cabinets in the plan. They’re great for stashing out-of-season items.

It’s also a good idea to include a storage bench in the mudroom. It’s not only convenient for removing wet shoes, but it also provides a space below where those shoes can be stowed. (And if the bench is sturdy enough, you can use it to reach those handy upper cabinets!) Again, if you are going store your shoes in cubbyholes beneath the bench, use plastic trays or mats cut to size to make cleanup easier.

QUICK EXIT AND ENTRY
Mudrooms can help create a hassle-free start to the day and a relaxing homecoming in the evening—if they’re well organized. As you’re planning, make sure there’s a place for everything. For example, set up decorative bowls or pegs for car keys and keep a notepad by the door for reminders, or even put up a cork board, whiteboard, or chalkboard where family members can leave notes. Set up a charging station for your electronic devices (if your mudroom is heated) so that you won’t forget your phone in the morning. Use pegs or a vintage coat rack to hang dog leashes, shopping bags, and coats so they’re easy to grab quickly. One more practical addition: a mirror to ensure that you leave the house looking well turned out.

WARM WELCOME
Your guests, family members, and even pets will appreciate coming in from the freezing outdoors to a warm and cozy mudroom. To keep the space toasty, you may need to rely on a space heater or heat lamp (which can also help dry damp clothes), or you can connect the room to the home’s central heating or hardwire an electric baseboard system. If you have a pet, once the room is sufficiently heated, you could consider putting a pet bed in a corner and making the room your companion’s special retreat.

In addition to adequate heating, it’s essential to have proper ventilation in a mudroom to keep the air fresh (there are likely to be a lot of shoes here after all!) and to prevent the growth of mildew and mold. If there are no windows in the room that you can open for fresh air, a bathroom-type exhaust fan can do the trick.

CONTROL ROOM
For frequent travelers who worry about bedbugs or dedicated hikers who are concerned about ticks, the mudroom can be a great place to “decontaminate” when you return home. If you have a washer and dryer in the room, simply unpack or undress in the mudroom and start up a laundry cycle. (Keep some robes and slippers in the room to help with this process!) If your laundry facilities aren’t close by, keep plenty of heavy-duty plastic bags on hand to transport clothing from the mudroom to your laundry room.

One final selling point: If you suffer from allergies, a mudroom can be effective in minimizing the amount of outdoor allergens like dust, pollen, and mold that enter the house on your clothing.

CHEERFUL DECOR

Even though it has the word “mud” in its name, your mudroom does not need to be drab. You can paint the walls in bright colors and use color-coded storage units and decorative baskets, making the room lively while still keeping things stored neatly and out of sight. Paint a wall with chalkboard paint and you’ll also have an attractive and useful means of keeping your busy family organized. Installing pendant or recessed lighting instead of fluorescent will make the room feel more like home than a storage area—and, after all, it’s both!


How To: Make Concrete Countertops

Concrete is a striking and practical choice for countertops, made from a DIY-friendly materials that enables any confident homeowner to achieve quality results.

How to Make DIY Concrete Countertops

Photo: craftworkhome.com

The brute strength of concrete has made it the go-to building material for a variety of such outdoor installations as driveways, walkways, and patios. But there are some who love concrete not only for its high durability and low maintenance, but also for its distinctive look. In fact, probably due in part to its affordability, concrete has become a popular countertop material in both kitchens and bathrooms. What makes concrete an even more budget-friendly option is that—in contrast to, say, natural stone—it’s easy to work with. A proficient or even beginning do-it-yourselfer can make a concrete countertop himself, saving the costs associated with hiring a contractor to do it. If you think you’re up to the challenge, scroll down to read the details of the process. Who knows? Soon you might find yourself making concrete countertops the DIY way!

 

1. BUILD THE FORM

How to Make Concrete Countertops - Form

Photo: diynetwork.com

Start by determining the dimensions you want the countertop to be. Next, build a form into which you can pour the concrete so that once it dries, the hardened material will conform more or less exactly to your desired specifications. For this type of concrete form, melamine-coated particleboard works best; it’s readily available, inexpensive, and most important, concrete doesn’t stick to it. Caulk all joints in the melamine construction to ensure that the concrete dries with neat edges. If you have only limited experience with caulk, it’s recommended that you outline the joints with painter’s tape. That way, if you misapply any caulking, you can painlessly correct the mistake by just removing the tape. To smooth any imperfections in the caulk bead, run a wetted finger along the silicone before it dries.

Is your concrete countertop going to be inset with a sink? If so, the form you build must include cutouts for the sink itself and (if necessary) for a faucet. To leave room for these fixtures, you can build recesses into the form (as in the picture above). Or you may be able to get your hands on a foam mold of the sink and its accouterments—manufacturers often make these molds available, not so much for DIYers, but for the contractors who do this stuff every day. Yet another option—perhaps the easiest—is to buy a sheet of high-density foam of the same thickness as your countertop. Cut the foam into pieces of the appropriate length and width, then sand their edges and cover the pieces with foam tape (sold at hardware stores). Finally, use caulk to secure the foam pieces into the right positions within the melamine form.

 

2. REINFORCE THE FORM

How to Make Concrete Countertops - Mesh

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Now lightly coat the melamine frame interior with olive oil; doing so will let the concrete slip more easily from the frame later on. Before you can even think about pouring the concrete, however, one essential step remains: adding reinforcement, in the form of steel mesh. For best results, suspend the mesh at the middle point in the vertical height of your melamine form. How? Drill screws into the outside walls of your frame; connect the mesh to the screws via zip ties, strong ties, or even a bungee cord; then extend the metal wiring across the breadth of the frame. Bear in mind that in order for this approach to be successful, you must be careful to mix the concrete to a watery—but not too watery—consistency. If this all sounds painstaking, consider the alternative: Mix the concrete however you like; pour it to fill the form halfway; set in the steel mesh; then fill the rest of the form.

 

3. MIX THE CONCRETE

How to Make Concrete Countertops - Mix

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When you’re ready to mix concrete for the project, closely follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Aim to achieve a thick, oatmeal-like consistency. If you find that it’s too hard to work with, add a little water (but only a little). The wetter the concrete, the more brittle it becomes upon drying. Consider augmenting the concrete with additives that inhibit cracking and shrinking. Known as admixtures, these ought to be readily available at your local home improvement retail store.

 

4. POUR THE CONCRETE

How to Make Concrete Countertops - Bob Vila

Photo: shutterstock.com

Pour enough concrete into the form to fill its volume completely, then use your hands to work the material along the edges and into the corners. If you attached the steel mesh reinforcement to the frame itself, cut those connections now. Then proceed to use a flat board, such as a one-by-four, to level, or screed, the concrete. Move the board back and forth in order to smooth the surface and fill low spots. Keep a trowel at the ready, so you can quickly deal with any excess.

Next, use a wood float, raising its leading edge slightly, to smooth the concrete further. Meanwhile, tap the sides of the form gently with a rubber mallet (or grab a partner and shake the form side to side very lightly) so as to create the vibrations necessary to dissipate air bubbles. After letting the concrete harden for a couple of hours, come back to the form and once more run a tool over the concrete surface. This time, reach for the trowel and use it to eliminate any lingering imperfections.

 

5. REMOVE THE FORM

How to Make Concrete Countertops - Remove

Photo: hgtv.com

Lay a plastic sheet over the concrete to prevent it from losing too much of the moisture it needs to cure properly. Generally speaking, the longer you allow the concrete to dry, the stronger it ends up being. For maximum strength, you can let the concrete harden for a period of weeks, but for this purpose leaving it alone for a few days is plenty. Once that time has elapsed, go ahead and remove the melamine frame, then lift the concrete countertop into position on top of your base cabinets.

 

6. FINISH THE JOB

How to Make Concrete Countertops - Finishing

Photo: hgtv.com

There’s a good chance at this point that small cracks or bubbles may be visible in your countertop. If you like them, do nothing. Otherwise, you can perform spot repairs with concrete patching compound. Remember, however, that after applying the patches (and allowing them to dry), you must then sand the countertop with diamond-grit sandpaper (manually or using a power sander). Finally, wash the counter thoroughly, removing all debris and fine particles of dust; let the countertop dry completely, then finish the job by applying a concrete sealer or a coating of food-safe polyurethane (optionally followed by an application of canuba wax).

 

Stand back and admire those concrete results!


How To: Install a Dryer Vent

Having your dryer properly vented is crucial in keeping the appliance operating effectively and avoiding the risk of fire or water damage to your home. Fortunately, installing a dryer vent is easy to do.

Dryer Vent Installation

Photo: familyhandyman.com

Developed in 19th-century England, the first mechanized clothes dryers were perforated barrels that rotated over flames. Today’s appliances are not so very different, at least in principle, with heated air blown through a tumbler. But where does the air go once it has stolen moisture from your socks, shirts, and hand towels? If you’ve ever walked or driven past a modern-day Laundromat, then you already know: For a dryer to operate safely and effectively, it must vent to the outside.

Related: 15 Laundry Rooms We Love

In recent decades, it’s been common practice for homeowners to use flexible vinyl or metal tubing in dryer vent installation. The ridged design of these ducts, however, tends to pose a fire hazard: In short, they trap lint. For that reason, experts now instead recommend the use of rigid or semirigid hose; either can be found easily and purchased inexpensively in the diameter appropriate for your appliance (for most dryers, the correct duct size is four inches).

STEP 1
Dryer vent installation begins with a decision: By what route will the duct travel from your appliance to your home’s exterior? The shorter, the better. A straight path is the shortest possible route, but not always practical. If, say, your dryer sits in the basement, then the hose needs to make at least one turn. To complicate matters, the total length of the run should not exceed 25 feet—and that’s for a straight shot. From that maximum, deduct five feet for 90-degree bends, and two and a half feet for 45-degree ones.

STEP 2
Now comes the most challenging part of dryer vent installation: putting a hole in the exterior wall. In most cases, the opening must be four and a quarter inches wide (for confirmation, consult the instructions provided by the manufacturer). I suggest drilling a pilot hole first, then going outside to double-check its position. If there’s no impediment, and you’re boring through wood, proceed to use the drill/driver, first outfitting the tool with a hole-saw attachment. To penetrate stucco or concrete, it’s easier to use a masonry bit to drill multiple holes around the circumference of the desired opening before manually chiseling out its interior.

Dryer Vent Installation - Exterior View

Photo: shutterstock.com

STEP 3
Install the dryer vent cap against the side of your house, being sure that its attached pipe fits through the wall opening you have made. Secure the cap with the provided screws, and don’t forget to caulk around the edges for protection against the elements. Now go inside and connect the dryer duct to the vent cap pipe (a 90-degree elbow may be needed), securing the connection with a hose clamp.

STEP 4
Having moved the dryer into the desired spot in your laundry room, measure the distance from the back of the machine to the vent opening, accounting for all the necessary turns in the ductwork. With a pair of tin snips, proceed to cut the tubing to the length of the measured distance. If you are joining more than one length of tubing, reinforce all joints with foil tape. When you’re finally attaching the tubing to your dryer, remember to secure the connection by means of a hose clamp, as you did in Step 3.

STEP 5
At this point, it’s important to make certain your dryer vent installation has been successful. Switch on the dryer, then go outside to inspect the vent cap: It should be emitting warm air. If it’s not, head back indoors to review your ductwork. The most likely explanation is that one of the connections has come undone.

Remember that in order for your dryer to keep operating at maximum efficiency, you must periodically vacuum inside the vent system, as lint has a stubborn way of lingering, even when there are no ridges in which it can get lodged.


Breathe Deep: 5 Ways to Improve Your Home’s Air Quality for Better Health

Because you can't see it, you might not give a lot of thought to the air you breathe at home. But clean air is an important component of a healthy, nurturing environment, so follow these five tips to get your indoor air quality as good as it can be.

Improving Air Quality

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Deep breathing has been shown to reduce stress, lower blood pressure, and even improve digestion. But if the air you’re breathing in isn’t as clean as it should be, taking those breaths might actually be causing more harm than good.

You can improve the air quality in your home most simply by cleaning with natural, odor-free products; having people remove their shoes before entering to avoid dragging in dust and dirt; and opening windows when the weather permits to keep fresh air circulating throughout the home.

Beyond those simple steps, here are five other ways to clean up the air in your home and make sure it’s fresh, invigorating, and free of harmful allergens.

CONSIDER RADIANT FLOOR HEATING
Radiant heating is installed beneath the floors (and sometimes behind the walls) of your home and consists of panels that contain either warming electric or water-carrying pipes. Because this kind of system doesn’t rely on ducts to deliver warm air to the home, it dramatically reduces the number of airborne particles that can cause allergies, discomfort, and sometimes even colds and flu. For homeowners with asthma or other respiratory conditions, the benefits can be even greater. Unlike forced hot air systems that can dry the air and blow around allergens, and baseboard and radiator systems that can harbor dust in hard-to-clean areas, radiant heating, such as the high-efficiency systems offered by Warmboard, is as clean as you keep your floors.

Warmboard radiant heat

Photo: Warmboard.com

 

GET THE HUMIDITY RIGHT
The humidity in homes should be kept in the 30 to 50 percent range. Maintaining this target humidity level is especially important in the winter if you have a forced hot air system, which tends to dry the air dramatically, and in the summer if you live in a humid climate. Depending on where you live, you might need a humidifier to replace moisture in the air or a dehumidifier to dry things up. Dry air is a contributing factor to common colds, while air that is too moist can become a breeding ground for bacteria, so getting this component of your indoor air quality right can be critical for your family’s health. One simple way to determine if the air in your home is too dry is to notice whether or not you get frequent electric shocks in the cold weather. If you do, it’s too dry. Air that’s too moist, on the other hand, can be detected by a damp or mildewy smell in the home.

 

GO GREEN
Going green when it comes to home air quality usually refers to switching to natural, scent-free products—and, of course, this is a fine idea. What we’re referring to here, however, is going green by filling your home with greenery. Plants can be a great way to not only freshen the air, but also warm and personalize your home. Studies by NASA have shown that certain houseplants are good at eliminating harmful substances in the air. Aloe vera, for example, is effective at clearing formaldehyde, which can be found in some plywoods, carpeting, and furniture as well as in certain cleaning products, while the bamboo palm is good at eliminating benzene, which is used in the manufacturing of plastics.

 

HELP YOURSELF TO A HEPA
High-efficiency particulate absorption, or HEPA, filters are well known as effective ways to clear harmful particles out of the air. You can benefit from the power of these fine-mesh filters in several ways. If you have a forced-air furnace system, contact your local HVAC contractor to see about installing a whole-house HEPA system that will help clean the air that comes out of your heating vents. Do likewise for central air conditioning systems. You should also look for a vacuum that has a HEPA filter, because it prevents the dust sucked up by the vacuum from escaping back into the air through the exhaust. Finally, an air filter placed in the rooms you use the most, like the bedroom or living room, can keep the air fresh and allergen-free.

 

DO A FABRIC AUDIT
Drapes, carpeting, and excessive pillows and fabrics can all harbor dust mites and other allergy-causing particles, so take a good look around your home and consider a redecorating plan that will eliminate these items. Choose tile or hardwood floors over rugs, blinds over drapes, and consider leather or wood rather than fabric-upholstered furniture. Also consider eliminating nonwashable items like decorative pillows, plush toys, and bedspreads and comforters that can’t be washed. Feather bed pillows are often a source of irritation for those suffering from allergies, so such pillows might have to go as well. The less cluttered and fabric-intensive your home is, the better chance you’ll have at keeping it clean, fresh, and dust-free.

 

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