Author Archives: Roseann Foley Henry

About Roseann Foley Henry

Roseann Foley Henry is a writer, editor, and home improvement buff. She and her partner and their two children live in Bayside, where they are ever-so-slowly renovating a classic 1920 Dutch Colonial. Among her writing credits are The Life of a House, the story of a tiny gatekeeper’s lodge that was once home to her great-grandparents in County Clare, Ireland. Check her out on Google +!

Bob Vila Radio: USDA Zone Maps

USDA zone maps divide the country into growing regions based on typical winter minimums. Find out everything you need to know about your zone and what plants to grow accordingly.

Farmers and gardeners alike are familiar with the USDA plant hardiness zone map, which divides the country into growing regions based on their typical winter minimums. Simply put, if you live in a zone where the temperature is likely to hit zero some nights, you can’t expect the same plants to survive as you could in places where nighttime lows never dip below freezing. The map considers topography as well as geography. Depending on where you live in the New York area, for example, you may be in zones 5, 6, or 7.

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Listen to BOB VILA ON USDA ZONE MAPS or read the text below:

USDA Zone Maps

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Zone maps have been around since at least the 1930s, and the USDA published its first edition in 1960. The American Horticultural Society publishes an alternate zone map that takes maximum temperatures into consideration as well. That makes sense, since plants that need cooler temperatures to thrive won’t do well in intense heat. There’s also the National Gardening Zone Map, which takes rainfall and humidity into consideration. For many, though, the USDA zone map has become the standard.

There were significant updates to the USDA map in 1990 and again in 2012, adding more details and additional sub-zones, and reflecting some changes in weather conditions. Hardiness zones have generally shifted northward, reflecting warmer temperatures across the country.

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 75 stations around the country (and growing). You can get your daily dose here, by listening to—or reading—Bob’s 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day.


Bob Vila Radio: Stripped Screws

Stripped screws can make simple jobs a lot more challenging. Try one of these simple solutions to this commonly occurring, uncommonly annoying problem.

Inserting or removing a screw is one of the simplest jobs there is. But a stripped screw head can turn a simple job into a real head-scratcher. Here’s what you need to know to remove a screw when the slots are worn away.

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Stripped Screws

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If there’s even a little left of the slots, you may be able to get a grip by slipping a portion of a rubberband between the screw head and your screw driver. Sometimes that’s all it takes to provide the grip you need to turn the screw.

If that doesn’t work, try positioning your screwdriver in the center of the screw head and tapping it in lightly with a hammer. That may create enough of a depression in the head to let you get the screw moving. Alternatively, drill a tiny hole in the center of the head, just deep enough to let you set in the tip of a Phillips screwdriver.

Still not budging? If you have a small rotary tool, such as a Dremel, you may be able to carve a new slot that goes deep enough to allow for a good grip.

Remember, a screw usually gets stripped when its soft metal head is worn away by the screwdriver, so be careful when driving in a screw, especially with a power driver. Don’t let the screwdriver spin out of the slots.

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 75 stations around the country (and growing). You can get your daily dose here, by listening to—or reading—Bob’s 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day.


Bob Vila Radio: Removing Popcorn Ceilings

Once popular, popcorn ceilings have fallen out of favor with many homeowners. Read on to learn how you can get rid of these textured applications yourself.

So-called “popcorn ceilings” became popular back in the 1950s and 60s, because they hid imperfections in ceiling surfaces and added some soundproofing between floors. Unfortunately, they often contained asbestos fibers, which not only helped them fall out of fashion but also made them tricky to remove.

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Listen to BOB VILA ON REMOVING POPCORN CEILINGS or read the text below:

Popcorn Ceilings

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The potential for asbestos makes it critical that you have your popcorn ceiling tested before you even think about removing it. If your ceiling tests positive, this is not a DIY project. Call in the pros to remove the material safely.

If you’re lucky enough to have an asbestos-free popcorn ceiling, you can take it down yourself. It’s not difficult work, although it can be messy. Remove all furnishings from the room and cover the floor with plastic. Cover doorways with plastic sheeting as well to cut down on dust throughout your house.

Using a spray bottle, spray a five-square-foot section with water. The goal is to saturate the popcorn layer without damaging the ceiling underneath. Wait 15 minutes for the water to penetrate, then start scraping. Keep working in small sections, so that only one area of the ceiling at a time is wet. Continue until the entire ceiling is scraped, then allow to dry overnight.

To finish the job, you’ll need to sand the ceiling, fill in any gouges with drywall compound, and finally prime the ceiling for the paint that will be eventually applied. It’s a tough job, but the results are really worth the effort.

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 75 stations around the country (and growing). You can get your daily dose here, by listening to—or reading—Bob’s 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day.


Bob Vila Radio: Pivot Doors

Pivot doors offer a dramatic passage that blurs the line between indoors and out.

With the season of outdoor living upon us, homeowners may be looking for new solutions to patio or backyard access. The old standby—sliding-glass doors—provide lots of sunlight, but only half of the doorway’s width is usable entry space. French doors are an elegant solution but can take up a lot of floor space when they are both open.

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Listen to BOB VILA ON PIVOT DOORS or read the text below:

Pivot Doors

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A unique and high-style alternative for wide openings is the pivot door. A pivot door is not hinged at right or left; it rotates on pins in the floor and ceiling like a swinging door, only the pin is not up against the door casing.

Pivot doors can swing from the center or from a point off center, and they allow clean elegant sight lines that are truly beautiful when they open onto a garden, pool, or other outdoor space.

Pivot doors can be made to fit anything from a single, wide doorway to an entire wall, with the latter having the dramatic effect of combining indoor and outdoor spaces into one. The pivot style distributes a door’s weight, allowing you to install a single door in a wide space where a traditional door would be too heavy to hang from a hinge.

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 75 stations around the country (and growing). You can get your daily dose here, by listening to—or reading—Bob’s 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day.


Bob Vila Radio: Long Life Smoke Alarms

Every home a smoke detecter—in fact, more than one. But not every homeowner remains in the habit of testing and replacing the batteries of the smoke detectors installed. Enter the 10-year smoke detector, a breakthrough in safety being that its battery never needs to be changed.

It’s not news that every home needs multiple smoke detectors—one for every sleeping area and one for every floor of your home, including the basement and attic. You probably also know that you should be testing all your smoke detectors monthly and replacing the batteries at least yearly.

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Listen to BOB VILA ON LONG LIFE SMOKE ALARMS or read the text below:

Long Life Smoke Alarms

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Unfortunately, not everyone replaces batteries on schedule, and a smoke detector with a dead battery is like having no smoke detector at all. That can be a fatal mistake in a fire—the National Fire Protection Association reports that two-thirds of all deaths from house fires were in homes that didn’t have working smoke alarms.

Smoke detectors that have 10-year batteries can provide some peace of mind. You still need to test them regularly, but you don’t ever have to replace the battery. At the end of the 10-year battery life, you replace the entire unit. And no, that’s not wasteful: Even smoke detectors that use 9-volt batteries should be completely replaced every 10 years.

Another idea is to have hard-wired smoke detectors installed. These run off your home’s electrical system, not batteries, but they do have backup batteries, so they’ll continue to function if your power is out. You still need to test those units regularly to make sure they’re in good working order.

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 75 stations around the country (and growing). You can get your daily dose here, by listening to—or reading—Bob’s 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day.


Bob Vila Radio: Clearing the Counters

Kitchen countertops are notorious catch-alls for household clutter. Take back those surfaces with smart space planning and new ideas for better organization.

Over time, kitchen countertops can get cluttered with junk, which not only makes the kitchen look sloppy but also disrupts meal preparation. It’s time to take back your counters!

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Listen to BOB VILA ON CLEARING THE COUNTERS or read the text below:

Clearing Counters

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First, open up storage space in your cabinets and drawers by getting rid of items you never use. If you don’t yet have a junk drawer, move things around to create one—it’s great for stashing phone chargers, twist-ties, pens and other kitchen miscellany.

Next, gather any paperwork in the kitchen. Toss or file away what you can, then consider using a wall-mounted file for paperwork that cycles through your kitchen (takeout menus, notices from the kids’ school, incoming mail and appliance manuals).

Clean up that tangle of chargers by investing in one of the many products that stow devices neatly while they’re charging, or check online for some smart DIY ideas.

Now it’s time for the nitty-gritty: If any appliances on the counter don’t get used at least once a week, banish them to a cabinet or the basement. Figure out ways to move other kitchen implements up into a cabinet or onto a wall. A rod mounted near the stove is convenient for hanging cooking utensils; a wall-mounted magnetic strip will get that knife block off the countertop; and a pot rack can keep those frequently used pans off the countertop or stove.

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 75 stations around the country (and growing). You can get your daily dose here, by listening to—or reading—Bob’s 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day.


Bob Vila Radio: Backyard Bubbles

Luxurious as it may seem, a backyard water feature, and the relaxing bubbling sound it makes, often can be an easy addition to outdoor space.

The sound of running water can be very soothing—that is, as long as it’s not coming from a broken pipe in the middle of the night. That bubbly sound is relaxing in the backyard or on the patio, and it can be pretty simple for anyone to bring that luxury home.

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Listen to BOB VILA ON BACKYARD BUBBLES or read the text below:

Backyard Bubbles

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The easiest water features to install are probably bird baths, standalone waterfalls, and wall-mounted fountains. They are available in copper, stone, or lightweight fiberglass composites that look just like terra cotta or marble, in designs ranging from the totally whimsical to the subtly sophisticated. Keeping the water moving not only creates that calming sound, it also alleviates any worries about mosquitoes or mold growing in standing water.

Handsome new styles make for eye-catching additions to any outdoor space, and recirculating pumps make them easy to install and eco-friendly, as they don’t need a plumbing hookup and they reuse the same water over and over. In some cases, the pumps can run on solar power, so you don’t even need electricity.

Other styles plug into wall outlets, so you can simply fill the reservoir, turn on the pump, and presto! Instant waterfall. Some even have built-in lights, creating a wonderful ambience for evening gatherings on the patio.

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 75 stations around the country (and growing). You can get your daily dose here, by listening to—or reading—Bob’s 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day.


Bob Vila Radio: Gutter Guards

Gutter guards relieve you of the dirty, awkward responsibility of cleaning out the gutters—a seasonal task that many homeowners dread.

Cleaning out gutters is nobody’s idea of fun—it’s dirty and awkward, and it’s dangerous if you’re working high on a ladder. So it’s no wonder that homeowners look longingly at gutter covers, screens, and other systems that claim to relieve them of the task.

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Listen to BOB VILA ON GUTTER GUARDS or read the text below:

Gutter Guards

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These systems fall into two general categories. There are permanent installations of covered gutters, which use surface tension to pull water in while shrugging off leaves and other debris. And then there are screens and guards that can be installed on existing gutters to keep all that junk out and the water running freely.

The surface tension models are expensive, but they have the advantage of being a one-time cost backed by a lifetime guarantee. If they do clog, the guarantee should cover any necessary clean-out or repair. They work well, although sometimes they overflow during an extremely heavy downpour (as all gutters do).

Guards that cover existing gutters are less expensive, and they’re an especially good choice if you have wooden gutters, which are susceptible to rot from the buildup of leaves and other debris. But they’re not foolproof, and some debris can work its way in. If you’re considering a screen system, start with placing guards right over downspout holes (where a clog can do the most damage) or on sections of your gutter that are directly underneath trees that shed leaves and needles.

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 75 stations around the country (and growing). You can get your daily dose here, by listening to—or reading—Bob’s 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day.


Bob Vila Radio: Cork Flooring

Sustainably manufactured, comfortable underfoot, and quite visually striking, cork flooring is no newcomer, but its rise to popularity has been a recent phenomenon.

Cork flooring has been in the news recently, but cork is anything but new. It’s been marketed as a flooring material for about a hundred years; Frank Lloyd Wright even used it in his 1939 masterpiece Fallingwater.

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Listen to BOB VILA ON CORK FLOORING or read the text below:

Cork Flooring

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Cork flooring is made from the bark of the cork oak. The bark can be harvested every nine years or so without causing any harm to the tree, which makes cork about as sustainable as a building material can get. Cork flooring is made from material left over from the manufacture of bottle-stoppers. The waste is ground into granules, mixed with resins, molded, and baked. The resulting product is usually sold either as solid cork tiles or as laminate planks—tongue-and-groove fiberboard topped with a cork layer.

Cork is springy and warm underfoot, it’s resilient, and it’s a great insulator. Cork can, however, be scratched and gouged. Dirt and grit need to be vacuumed regularly, and cork floors probably shouldn’t be subjected to guests with stiletto heels. Cork can fade with too much exposure to the sun, and it’s sensitive to heat and moisture.

Long available in a range of brown tones, cork is now offered in a greater variety of colors and patterns, making this floor covering more versatile than ever. With so much going on underfoot, maybe it’s time to give cork a look.

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 75 stations around the country (and growing). You can get your daily dose here, by listening to—or reading—Bob’s 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day.


Bob Vila Radio: Cleaning Bathroom Vents

Here's how to clean your bathroom exhaust vent, so that it performs well in its vital function, which is to prevent mold and mildew from making the space unhealthy (and unpleasant) to occupy.

Bathroom ventilation fans whisk away odors, but their more important job is to draw moisture out of the room. Moisture leads to mold and mildew, so a well-functioning vent is critical to keeping your bathroom healthy.

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Listen to BOB VILA ON CLEANING BATHROOM VENTS or read the text below:

Cleaning Bathroom Vents

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To work well, your vent needs to be clean, but over time it can get downright grimy. After all, the fan inside is sucking up, not just moisture, but also dust, hair, towel lint, and all kinds of particles from the sprays and powders you use in the room.

Start by flipping off the circuit breaker to the bathroom. Next, remove the vent cover (wear eye protection, because you may get a face full of dust when you open up the vent.) Place the cover in a pail of soapy water while you work.

Under the cover, you’ll see the fan blades. If there’s a lot of dust, you can use a vacuum cleaner to take a first pass at it. Then use a rag dampened in soapy water to gently clean the blades, being careful not to touch any wires. If access is a problem, you can always use a toothbrush or a foam paintbrush to reach up into the unit to wipe away the grime.

Finally, wash and dry the cover and put it back in place. Be sure all parts are dry before turning the power back on. You’ll be surprised at how much quieter and more effective your vent becomes once it’s clean.

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 75 stations around the country (and growing). You can get your daily dose here, by listening to—or reading—Bob’s 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day.