Welcome to Bob Vila


This DIY Game Night Essential Doubles as a Fire Pit Cover

Outdoor furniture gets a fun twist with this double-duty tabletop and checkers board.

SHARES

game table 1

Photo: allthingsheartandhome.com

A fire pit makes a great addition to any backyard, but some, including Robin from All Things Heart and Home, find the gaping hole it leaves behind to be a little distracting during the off-season months. Searching for a way to make use of the structure, while also attractively camouflaging it, Robin came up with this incredible double-duty tabletop and game board combo.

game table 2

Photo: allthingsheartandhome.com

Robin began by measuring her fire pit and cutting pieces of cyprus wood into a large square that would cover the opening. Next, she used a domino joiner to join the wood pieces, and then added wood glue for extra support. After the pieces were dry, she found the center of the square and created a large circle using a screw, a pencil, and some string. Robin checked that the circle was large enough to cover the fire pit opening, and then used a jigsaw to cut around the circle. She then sanded the piece and stained it for a weathered finish. To create the checkerboard on top, she marked off squares using painter’s tape and filled the necessary holes with black paint. For an aged finish, Robin sanded the black paint until the wood grain showed through.

game table 3

Photo: allthingsheartandhome.com

For the full instructions, and for more double-duty ideas, visit All Things Heart and Home.


Is Your Air Conditioner Going to Survive the Summer?

Take a little time now, before the season of heat and humidity really kicks in, to evaluate the health and efficiency of your AC.

SHARES
Air Conditioner Troubleshooting

Photo: fotosearch.com

With the winter finally passed, savvy homeowners around the country are preparing for another summer of sizzling, sweltering heat. A comprehensive seasonal maintenance routine includes a long list of must-dos, but when it comes to the health and comfort of your home and family, there’s at least one especially critical task that you shouldn’t delay. Right now, before the mercury rises any higher, make sure that your central air-conditioning system still has what it takes to deliver peak performance.

Before you evaluate the health of your system, however, take the time to determine its age. Air conditioners last between 12 and 17 years, on average, so if yours has been in place for more than a decade—or if you simply don’t know when it was installed—the equipment “may already be on borrowed time,” says David Kenyon, a product manager with Sears Home Services. Do you suspect that your air conditioner may be on its last legs? If so, check for the following signs, which often indicate the need for repair or replacement.

Air Conditioner Troubleshooting - Compressor Unit Profile

Photo: fotosearch.com

Excessive Noise
Air conditioner troubleshooting sometimes requires the expertise of a technician, but even typical homeowners can easily discern if the system has been making excessive noise. Indeed, “standing next to the appliance can tell you a lot about its condition,” Kenyon says. Grating and grinding, rattling and whining—any such sounds indicate the possibility of damage to one or more internal components. “If things don’t sound right,” Kenyon concludes, it’s wise to contact a professional.

Unusual Patterns 
Central AC operates on a cycle. “It runs for a specific amount of time, then rests for a specific amount of time,” Kenyon explains. If the system rarely rests, or if it constantly turns on and off, it may be improperly sized or excessively strained. Either situation may lead to discomfort or inexplicably high energy bills. The good news: “Long and short cycling are common issues,” Kenyon says, and their resolution often leads to “a more livable environment and lower monthly operating costs.”

High Humidity
Professionally installed, properly operating AC works to keep humidity at a comfortable, healthy level. If you find yourself adjusting the thermostat down to a lower-than-usual target temperature, of if you discover mold and mildew where it never existed before, “there’s probably something wrong,” Kenyon says. “Your best bet is to work with a pro,” he says, ideally through regular checkups, at least twice a year, “not simply to solve problems, but to prevent problems from occurring.”

Poor Air Quality
In the past, “dust was a hallmark of home HVAC,” but over the years, filtration has improved by leaps and bounds. If at your house the cooling season is still the harbinger of red eyes, scratchy throats, or allergy or asthma symptoms, Kenyon advises that you should “at least replace the filter, or to go a step further, explore some of the new technology.” Meet with a local contractor to learn more about the latest healthy home air-conditioning options, or schedule a free in-home consultation with Sears Home Services.

Uneven Cooling
As you walk from one room to another, do you notice a marked difference in temperature? If so, the age of your system may be to blame. Uneven cooling was typical of “old, single-blower setups.” To put poor performance in your past, Kenyon says, “the sole viable option is to upgrade.” Nowadays, HVAC specialists like Sears Home Services install AC technology that’s been carefully engineered to maintain a consistent temperature across the entire house—”top to bottom and wall to wall.”

Air Conditioner Troubleshooting - Thermostat Action Shot

Photo: fotosearch.com

If your evaluation suggests that there may be a performance problem, whether major or minor, with your central air-conditioning system, don’t wait until the system fails at noon on a sizzling August day. Be proactive in addressing your concerns. The first step? Arrange a visit from a technician qualified to work on your specific type of air conditioner. Keep in mind that some pros specialize in only one type. Others, like Sears Home Services, perform maintenance on all makes and models.

With proper maintenance by a qualified provider, it’s often possible to ensure that your air conditioner fulfills its expected useful lifespan. But there’s no such thing as an HVAC system that lasts forever. As yours gets older and older, you can expect more frequent breakdowns, at which point “it may actually be more cost-effective to upgrade,” Kenyon says, not least because the latest air conditioners boast exceptional energy efficiency, often leading to lower cooling costs.

Additionally, it’s important to note that installing a new air conditioner can boost the value of your home. In fact, upon resale, homeowners often recoup much of the sum invested in bringing the system up to date, Kenyon says. Even so, any project that comes with a high price tag also comes with anxiety. Only compounding the stress is the fact that HVAC, essential as it is, remains largely mysterious to many homeowners. Choosing the right replacement can be an overwhelming prospect; it’s a decision that a homeowner really wants to get right. An important advantage of a company like Sears Home Services is that a project coordinator guides you through the process, from selection to installation. Plus, in contrast with many local contractors, the nationwide company demonstrates its commitment to customers by providing a Satisfaction Guarantee. No matter the scope of your project, there’s peace of mind in having a familiar, firmly established, decades-old service provider on the job, particularly when the comfort of your family is at stake.

Photo: fotosearch.com

This article has been brought to you by Sears Home Services. Its facts and opinions are those of BobVila.com.


How To: Cut Ceramic Tile

Ceramic tile affords a durable, attractive surface for floors and walls alike. If there's a ceramic tile job in your future, ensure quality results by first learning what tools you'll need and how best to use them to make a variety of cuts in tile.

SHARES
How to Cut Ceramic Tile - Prep for Cuts

Photo: fotosearch.com

A small- to medium-size ceramic tiling job is a project that’s well within the grasp of most DIYers. With careful measuring, the right tools, and conscientious attention to detail, a determined homeowner can achieve satisfying results. But doing things right can be time-consuming. Case in point: Even the most straightforward tiling job will require cutting a few tiles, whether to complete the edges of the surface or to work around obstacles. Cutting tiles is a task that demands accurate measurements and precise use of tools. To make sure your project goes smoothly, it’s best to figure out ahead of time how you’ll handle all those cuts.

Different jobs require different types of cuts. For some, you’ll be able to get by with just straight cuts; for others, you may need to cut on the diagonal or carve a corner or curve out of a tile. And each type of cut entails different methods and tools. As you lay out your tile design, determine what kinds of cuts you’ll need, then check below for the situation that best describes your job to find out how to proceed.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
- Eye protection
- Gloves
- Pencil
- Glass cutter or tile-cutting pliers
- Square
- Rubbing stone
- Tile nippers
- Tile cutter
- Wet saw

BEFORE YOU BEGIN

Whatever cuts you’re making, the general process is the same: Measure and mark the tile on the top (glazed) side, snap or cut it, then smooth the edges. If you’re doing a one-time job that will require a tile cutter or wet saw, you may want to rent instead of buy; these tools are available for rental from home improvement stores. If you have never used any of these tools before, it’s a good idea to practice a little on some spare or scrap tiles before you get started in earnest.

Note that the divisions below are just general guidelines: For some tiles, you may need to use a combination of tools and techniques. Most important, before starting any project that involves cutting tile, put on your eye protection and gloves!

 

How to Cut Ceramic Tile - Using a Glass Cutter

Photo: fotosearch.com

1. FOR SMALL JOBS WITH STRAIGHT CUTS

If you need to cut just a few tiles and you don’t need to make any curved or corner cuts, you can probably make do with just a square and a glass cutter or tile-cutting pliers.

• Measure and Mark. Measure, then use a pencil to mark the tile where you want to make the cut.

• Score. Place the tile on a flat surface, such as a workbench or a piece of plywood. Set your square slightly off your marked line so the glass cutter (or the scoring wheel on the pliers) will hit the right place. Then, starting at the edge of the tile, place the scoring tool on the line and press down firmly as you drag it across the tile. You should hear a scratching noise, which is the sign that the tile is being scored.

• Snap. If you’re using pliers, open them and slide the tile all the way into them, with the scoring wheel sitting directly under the line you’ve scored on top of the tile. Squeeze the pliers while gently supporting the tile as it snaps. If you’re used a glass cutter, place a length of wire hanger or other appropriately sized material beneath the scored line, then push down on either side of the tile to snap it; alternatively, grab the tile nippers and snap off the scored piece.

• Smooth. If the cut edge of the tile is rough, smooth it with a rubbing stone.

 

How to Cut Ceramic Tile - Using a Tile Cutter

Photo: fotosearch.com

2. FOR BIGGER JOBS WITH STRAIGHT CUTS

If you have lots of tiles to cut, or if you need to make cuts from corner to corner, use a tile cutter. Whether you plan to invest in the purchase or rent one to save a few bucks, just make sure you pick up a tile cutter that’s big enough for the tile you’re cutting! Then, as mentioned above, practice on a few spare tiles until you’re comfortable with this tiling tool.

• Measure and Mark. First, measure and mark the tile where you want to make the cut.

• Score. Place the tile into the tile cutter. Make sure the tile is pushed snugly up to the fence and that your marked line is directly under the scoring wheel. While applying slight pressure on the handle, slide the wheel forward across the tile. You should hear a scratching noise, which is the sign that the tile is being scored.

• Snap. Once you’ve scored the tile, move the handle back slightly from the tile’s edge and let the breaking feet lie flat on top of the tile. Apply downward pressure on the handle, and the tile will snap.

• Smooth. If the cut edge of the tile is rough, smooth it with a rubbing stone.

 

How to Cut Ceramic Tile - Using a Wet Saw

Photo: amazon.com

3. FOR CORNER CUTS AND REALLY BIG JOBS

If you’ll be cutting lots of tiles for a big job, or if you need to make corner cuts around door jambs or wall outlets, you should either invest in or rent a wet saw. As with any power tool, read the instructions before you begin and use all recommended safety precautions—and take a few practice cuts before jumping into the project.

• Measure and Mark. First, measure and mark the tile where you want to make the cut.

• Cut. Follow all the manufacturer’s instructions for the wet saw, and make sure you’ve put enough water in the tub. Turn the wet saw on, confirm that water is flowing over the blade, then proceed to make your cut the same way you would cut wood on a table saw.

• Smooth. If the cut edge of the tile is rough, smooth it with a rubbing stone.

 

How to Cut Ceramic Tile - Using Tile Nippers

Photo: fotosearch.com

4. FOR CURVED CUTS

To make curved cuts, or to remove small pieces of tile, use tile nippers. Have patience, as you can successfully cut tile this way only a little bit at a time.

• Measure and Mark. First, measure and mark the tile where you want to make the cut.

• Nip. Starting at the edge of the tile, place the tile into the tile nippers and squeeze, removing just a small amount of tile. In this fashion, continue to work your way toward your marked line, taking off only a little bit of tile at a time. If you try to remove too much at once, you will end up cracking the tile. As you get closer to your marked line, take smaller and smaller nips.

• Smooth. The cut edge of a nipped tile will be rough, so be sure to smooth it with a rubbing stone.


Quick Tip: Control Weeds Using a Propane Torch

The reemergence of perennials heralds the arrival of spring, but not all resurgent greens are equally welcome. When weeds start to rear their unwanted heads, try this white-hot trick for getting rid of them for good.

SHARES
Best Way to Kill Weeds - Dandelion

Photo: fotosearch.com

How you choose to eradicate weeds depends on your patience, physical abilities, and environmental ethics. You could get down on all fours and suffer the backbreaking work of pulling them by hand. Or, you could run the risk of harming desirable plants along with the weeds by applying herbicides. Instead, why not go for an approach that doesn’t damage your soil or your muscles: Just as farmers burn their fields to make way for crops, you can put the natural force of fire to work in your yard to get rid of weeds.

Best Way to Kill Weeds

Photo: amazon.com

A simple propane vapor torch kit—the kind made for garden use, not for soldering—and a gas cylinder are all you’ll need to scorch your weed-covered earth. Before you get started, however, you may want to seek permission from your local fire department to save you a fine if burning restrictions are in effect. A few other caveats: Have a fire extinguisher or garden hose nearby to quench flames that grow more than a few inches tall, don’t burn when it’s windy, and always avoid piles of dry, brown material.

Launch your attack as soon as weeds emerge, before they go to seed. First, read the manufacturer’s instructions for connecting the torch to its fuel source, and for lighting and operating it. Start with a low-intensity flame, adjusting output as needed. Slowly wave the tip of the wand a few inches above the plants you want to kill. A second or two is all you need—you’re scorching the weeds with 2,000 degrees of heat, effectively destroying their protective outer skin and boiling the water in their cells, so a little bit goes a long way. Your red-hot revenge is complete when you notice an unwelcome weed turn from glossy green to a darker, matte shade.

Even if a weed doesn’t wilt right away, rest assured that the damage has been done. Once singed, it can’t retain moisture or photosynthesize. Its roots might contain enough stored energy to produce another stem, but if that happens, apply a second or third treatment, and you’ll eventually starve the plant. To avoid displacing the soil and spreading more seeds, leave the dying weeds to decompose on their own and turn your attention to tending more beneficial blooms.


Clanking Pipes? Restore Quiet with a Water Hammer Arrester

Silence the distressing sound of clanking metal pipes—and banish any worries about damaged plumbing—with one simple installation.

SHARES
Water Hammer Arresters

Photo: fotosearch.com

Have you ever been spooked by strange banging, clanking, or thumping sounds coming from your water pipes whenever you flush a toilet or finish a load in the dishwasher? No need to call in the ghost hunters. The cause of these startling sounds commonly goes by the name of  “water hammer,” although it’s also known as hydraulic shock. Both names refer to a pressure surge that results when flowing water is forced to stop or change direction suddenly when a valve closes at an end of a pipeline system. While the eerie noises may conjure up images of the supernatural, the problems this pressure wave can cause are all too real, ranging from vibration to a partial pipe collapse. Water hammer plagues many homes, but—lucky for you—it’s easy to address.

Water Hammer Arresters - Sioux Chief Model

Photo: supplyhouse.com

Homeowners often first notice water hammer issues soon after the installation of a new water-using appliance, such as a washing machine, dishwasher, or ice maker; the addition of any of these heavy water users may cause uneven pressure throughout the plumbing system. If the cushion of shock-absorbing air that is typically contained by your plumbing’s vertical air chambers is depleted, then the water rushing through your pipes will slam into the fixtures without something to soften the blow. As soon as you hear the telltale banging or clanking, try to equalize the air distribution throughout the system. Start by closing the main valve that supplies the house with water, and then open the faucet that sits highest in the house, for example, the sink faucet in the top-floor bathroom. Head downstairs and turn on the faucet that sits lowest in the house (perhaps the basement sink). Finally, flush all the toilets. As the water drains, air replaces it throughout the system—exactly what needs to happen in order to quiet the water hammer. When water stops draining from that lowest faucet and you’ve emptied the entire system, shut off the faucets and reopen the main valve to let water reenter.

If this equalization process does not stop the banging and thumping, check the water pressure. A high household water pressure will create more hammering and knocking noises. You can test the water pressure by screwing a pressure gauge onto an exterior hose bib or behind the washing machine. The magic number is 75 psi—more than that, and you’ll want to call a professional to install or replace a pressure regulator. Less than that, however, means that your household water pressure is within normal limits and you need to look elsewhere for a solution.

Daniel O’Brian, a technical expert from online retailer SupplyHouse.com, recommends a solution that’s readily available and not terribly difficult to install: a water hammer arrester. This regulator fits right into a home’s plumbing system to absorb the shock, stop the banging, and ultimately prevent pipe damage. When water and all the force behind it has no place to go, the arrester, using either a piston or air bladder, takes the hit—the air in the bladder compresses, slowing down and stifling the noise triggered by the water.

It’s fairly simple to figure out whether this fix might correct the noise issue. Open the valve or fixture you think has been causing a problem, then close it after it’s been flowing. If the pipes start banging, an arrester may be a worthy investment. “When a fixture opens up, water pressure blasts the water through the pipes out through whatever outlet you opened,” O’Brian explains. “If that outlet closes abruptly, as is the case with a lot of solenoid valves on washing machines, the water goes from ‘60 to 0’ in no time flat. With no arrester, this 20-car water pileup smashes into the valve and all the piping it was traveling through. A water hammer arrester will dampen the clangor and take the shock, protecting any delicate components that the water had been crashing into before.”

According to O’Brian, today’s market includes a range of types and sizes of water hammer arresters, most of which are simple enough for typical homeowners to install themselves. Some models for sinks and toilets screw directly onto the outlet of the stop valve and hook up to the riser; others are designed to attach to appliances like dishwashers and washing machines. Even larger models can regulate multiple fixtures using a rechargeable air bladder, but these units usually require professional installation.

Whatever your needs and budget, experts at SupplyHouse.com are ready to help you sift through the wealth of options—including those from industry-leading brands like Sioux Chief, Dahl, and Watts—to find the right model for your household. Getting that proper unit into position may spare you from both the unsettling noises and any larger plumbing problems that might have been coming down the pipeline.


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


How To: Texture a Ceiling

Things are looking up if you hope to add new character to a room. You can easily bring visual interest by texturing your ceilings, where DIY options abound.

SHARES
How to Texture a Ceiling - Dining Room

Photo: Zillow Digs home in Sterling, VA

It all too easy to slap a coat of white paint on your ceiling and consider it done. But to really pull a room together, it ought to be stylishly topped off—and putting a textured effect on the ceiling is a great way to add impact to your décor. Another plus? Textured ceilings perfectly camouflage imperfections like cracks or evidence of water damage. There are a variety of techniques you can employ to create your texture of choice (way beyond the “popcorn” look popular in the 1970s). All it takes is a mixture of paint and drywall mud—and a little ingenuity. Read on for simple step-by-step guidance to texturing your ceiling, your way, without sending your budget through the roof.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
- Drop cloths
- Painter’s tape
- Ladder
- Primer
- Pre-mixed textured paint
- Wall paint
- Drywall mud

How to Texture a Ceiling - Stucco Texture

Photo: fotosearch.com

STEP 1
Since you’ll be working against gravity, you’ll want to protect your furniture, floors, and fixtures from splatters. Empty the room as much as possible, which will also give you space to move around. Cover remaining pieces of furniture and the entire floor with drop cloths. Next, take off any faceplates, vent covers, ceiling fans, and/or light fixtures. Finally, apply painter’s tape around the edges of the ceiling, right where it meets the wall, being careful to keep it stick-straight all the way across.

STEP 2
You might think that because textured paint is part drywall mud it will adhere to any surface, but for a quality job, you still want to prime first. This step will make application easier and give lasting results. Choose a primer close to the color you’ll be using to texture your ceiling—a dark primer for dark paint and a light primer for light paint. Cover the entire surface in a thin, consistent layer and let dry fully (consult the can’s drying time guidelines) before moving on.

STEP 3
Prep your product. If you’re looking for a subtle texture, you’ll get good results with pre-mixed textured paint. But if you’re aiming for more depth or special effects, mix your own by combining paint with drywall mud. The standard rule of thumb is one part drywall mud to 10 parts paint. Pour paint into a bucket, add drywall mud, and blend, aiming for the consistency of pancake or biscuit batter. Depending on the look you’re going for, you might want a somewhat thicker consistency. Do a small batch first to practice getting it just right.

STEP 4
It’s always wise to start in the least noticeable part of the ceiling when applying the texture—perhaps the darkest corner of the room, or the edge of the ceiling closest to the door. Position your ladder there and make sure you can work from a reasonable angle without arching backwards. The exact technique (and subsequent tools you’ll need) depends on your desired effect.

For a subtle finish: Apply pre-mixed textured product as you would typically put on paint. Cut in at the edges first with a paintbrush. Then use an extended roller and paint tray, taking care to bring your roller as close to the edges as possible. To amp the look slightly, use a specialty roller with a texture of its own. Don’t be afraid to experiment; after all, if you don’t like the initial result, you can always switch gears and apply another coat.

For a stucco finish: To mimic the look of stucco, you’ll need a damp sponge or cloth as well as a wide compound knife or, if you’ve chosen a thicker-than-average consistency for aesthetic reasons, a trowel. Working on one small section at a time, apply the mixture to the ceiling, and then dab a damp sponge or cloth into your work in a repetitive motion to create the texture you desire. Repeat this process around the room, one section at a time, being careful not to let the pattern become too uniform.

For a popcorn finish: If you like this retro look, you’ll need to buy or rent a drywall texture sprayer. Purchase enough lightweight plastic sheeting to protect your walls from flying particles, securing it to the the perimeter of the room with painter’s tape and covering the walls like a floor-length curtain all the way around. Before spraying, choose the nozzle and air pressure setting that matches your desired result, and then follow its instructions as you move the sprayer across the ceiling. Again, allow your application to look as random as possible rather than aiming for a perfect pattern.

For an artistic finish: Truly advanced DIYers may wish to add extra character by creating a Victorian style rose rose medallion around a central lighting fixture or ceiling fan. This dramatic effect is achieved by using drywall mud and an array of texturing combs (two or three should do the trick, anywhere from 3 to 10 inches in length apiece). Working in concentric circles, you’ll use the combs to apply drywall mud (without paint) in thick, even, decorative stripes to mimic the look of plaster. When completely dry, you’ll paint the entire ceiling. Just keep in mind that this project will require a steady hand and a solid sense of design, so study up on the process before giving it a shot.

Whichever technique you choose, the end result will lend extra punch to your space’s style. The array of colors and effects is endless, so have fun and aim for a look that captures the personality of the room and those who live in it.


Solved! What to Do About a Leaking Toilet Tank

Faced with a leaky toilet? To dry things up, you'll first need to track that leak down to its source. Pinpoint the culprit with these quick troubleshooting tips.

SHARES
Toilet Tank Leaking - What to Do

Photo: fotosearch.com

Q: Help! My toilet is leaking all over the bathroom floor, and I haven’t yet located the source. How can I find and fix the cause of the leak before any real damage occurs?

A. Some of the biggest problems homeowners encounter start small and then suddenly spiral out of control—and this is precisely the path that leaks tend to follow. A hairline crack or chip that allows even a few drops to seep out can become a much bigger (and costlier) problem if not dealt with right away. The following troubleshooting tips run through the most common causes of leaky toilets. These should help you both pinpoint and fix the problem, so you can stop the water from seeping from your toilet—and prevent cash from seeping from your wallet.

Toilet Tank Leaking

Photo: fotosearch.com

The most common type of leak occurs at the bottom of the toilet tank and is usually associated with the emptying and refilling of the tank after flushing. The culprit? Oftentimes a worn-away spud washer (the big rubber washer, sometimes called a tank-to-bowl gasket, that seals the opening at the bottom of the toilet tank) or crumbling rubber washers at the bolts on the underside of the tank. Any of these washers can deteriorate over time as a result of exposure to hard water or minerals, but all are relatively easy to replace. Begin by turning off the water supply at the wall and then emptying the toilet tank with a flush. Disconnect the water supply from the tank, and then use an adjustable wrench to remove the bolts, nuts, and their washers from the underside of the tank. Lift up the tank (get a friend to help!), turn it on its side, and remove the spud washer from the bottom.

Another potentially troublesome mechanism is the ball cock, which is responsible for filling the toilet tank. It, as well as its fill valve, can fail over time. As it’s secured to the tank with just a nut and washers, replacing the ball cock mechanism is easy and usually costs about $10. But before you start emptying the tank to make a switch, first check for any loose connections between the water supply line and the existing ball cock. You may be able to fix the problem with a simple tightening—which is much simpler than making a trip to the store.

If a toilet leak seems to be coming from the bottom of the toilet itself, you might look for a failed wax ring affecting the seal. This is a much bigger issue than replacing washers and checking water lines, if only because it involves total removal of the toilet itself to inspect foundation items. First, confirm that the wax ring is to blame: Make sure the water is turned off and the tank is drained properly. Then, remove the cover caps and unscrew the toilet from the floor, carefully moving it (again, you might want to grab a friend) to expose the flange area for inspection. If the wax ring has failed, you can purchase a new one to replace it; the same goes for any obviously corroded bolts. Once the new parts are in place, caulk the base of the toilet to serve as one last DIY safeguard against leaks for (we hope) years to come.


How To: Clean Exterior Siding

Even the sturdiest siding requires some regular maintenance and attention. Here's how to keep the most common siding materials clean and in tip-top condition.

SHARES
How to Clean Exterior Siding

Photo: fotosearch.com

Day after day, year after year, exterior siding protects your home from the elements. It’s the first line of defense against an array of natural challenges, including howling winds, driving rain, hot sun, and bitter cold. Under the circumstances, it’s no wonder that grit and grime tend to accumulate over time. Savvy homeowners, as a result, incorporate exterior cleaning into their semiannual maintenance routines for a number of compelling reasons.

First, it cannot be ignored that the condition of your siding significantly influences the curb appeal of your home—that is, how it appears to visitors and casual passersby. Second, giving your siding a good once-over a few times a year gives you the chance to identify and address any problems early on, before they pick up steam and become extensive, expensive-to-resolve headaches that could steal years from the expected lifespan of the siding.

Indeed, from both an aesthetic and pragmatic perspective, it’s never wise to go long without giving a thought to the wood, brick, stucco, or vinyl that clads your home. Generally speaking, experts recommend seasonal inspection and cleaning as needed. But according to Jim Eldredge, a product manager with Sears Home Services, it’s essential to remember that “different siding materials carry different—often very different—care requirements.”

Continue reading below for expert advice on cleaning and caring for many of today’s best-known and most widely installed types of exterior siding.

Photo: fotosearch.com

WOOD
A perennial favorite, wood siding boasts timeless, undeniable beauty, but of all siding types, Eldredge says, “it’s probably the most demanding.” For one, it needs to be painted (or stained) approximately every five years. Also, because wood naturally expands and contracts, “you regularly need to check all the windows and doors, reapplying caulk if and when appropriate,” he adds. Plus, for wood siding to not only perform well but look good too, it requires annual or twice-yearly cleaning. Mostly, Eldredge says, “you can get away with using soapy water and a soft-bristle brush.” But in special cases—say, to remove mold, mildew, or algae stains—you need to scrub with a solution of bleach (one part) and water (four parts). A note of caution: “Don’t use a pressure washer,” Eldredge warns. “It’d be faster and easier than cleaning by hand,” he continues, “but a lot of times, it does way more harm than good.”

BRICK
A centuries-old siding material that typically lasts a lifetime, brick has long thrilled homeowners with its historical appearance, stately impression, and aura of strength. That said, as durable as brick may be, Eldredge points out that “its longevity partly depends on annual cleaning.” Under ideal conditions, so long as the siding remains in decent condition—with neither chipped, flaking brick nor cracked, crumbling mortar—maintenance involves thoroughly spraying down the entire house. Complicating matters is that, according to Eldredge, “parts of the structure that don’t receive much sun may get mold, mildew, or moss growth.” Double-check those shaded areas, and if you discover a problem, don’t hesitate to bring out the bleach. After thoroughly soaking the area to make the brick more absorptive, scrub in a mixture of bleach and water—about a cup of the former and a gallon of the latter.

STUCCO
Portland cement, sand, and lime or gypsum combine to create stucco, a material with an ancient heritage that today remains as popular ever. Versatility ranks as one of its main advantages—the material can take on a wide variety of colors and textures. The downside? Its rigid composition makes it vulnerable to chipping and cracking. Competent do-it-yourselfers can patch small areas on their own with store-bought stucco fillers, but for larger repairs, “it’s wise to hire a pro,” Eldredge recommends. Like plastering, properly applying stucco takes, as Eldredge puts it, “the kind of skills you develop only after years of experience.” You don’t need to be an expert to clean the material, though. Spray the exterior with warm, soapy water. It’s important to “start at the foundation level and work upward,” he says. “That way, the stucco near the base of the building doesn’t absorb gallons of dirty water.”

VINYL
“There’s a reason vinyl has become the most popular type of siding in America,” Eldredge says. “It’s virtually maintenance-free.” Continuing, he notes that options like WeatherBeater vinyl siding, installed exclusively by Sears Home Services, actually “deliver the look of traditional wood siding, just without all the hassle.” For instance, vinyl doesn’t need to be refinished; it remains colorfast for years. Plus, vinyl is not susceptible to many of the factors that harm other materials—rot, for instance, and pests like termites. If your vinyl siding has gotten a bit dirty, don’t worry—cleanup couldn’t be easier. Even tough stains tend to come out with a solution of water and mild detergent, but as Eldredge attests, “more often than not, cleaning vinyl means nothing more than rinsing with a garden hose.” In the end, “that’s what makes it a great choice for people who don’t have the time or energy for home upkeep.”

 

When properly cared for, exterior siding can last for decades. But no siding lasts forever. There comes a time when cleaning and repairs won’t cut it anymore—a time when, in order to guarantee continued protection from the elements, you need to install brand-new siding. Fortunately, there are many benefits to be gained from an upgrade. Eye-catching curb appeal, higher home resale value, improved energy efficiency, and dramatically lower maintenance requirements are just some of the reasons homeowners choose a category leader like WeatherBeater. Though re-siding can be an overwhelming prospect, companies like Sears Home Services guide you through the entire project, all the way from selection of the new material to the final installation. Best of all, in contrast with many local contractors, the Sears brand offers a Satisfaction Guarantee. Schedule a free in-home consultation as soon as you’re ready.

Photo: fotosearch.com

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


Home Security 2.0: Design and Install Your Own Smart System

Let customizable, modular, and easy-to-use smart-home automation help you take control of your own home—turn on lights automatically, let you know whether you remembered to lock the door, alert you if there's an intruder while you're away, and even help you keep an eye on your pet in the backyard.

SHARES

Photo: sagebyhughes.com

Of all the rooms in the house, my personal office is where I spend the most time. Thickly carpeted and paneled in wood, it’s a tranquil, comfortable space. Here’s the catch: Some of its pros are actually cons. Because it’s located toward the back of the house, on the second level, the office sits apart from the majority of household activity, at least during the day. That means I can work undisturbed for hours at a time, but it also means that I don’t hear the goings-on downstairs. Is there someone at door? Has my wife gotten home from work? I don’t know unless I get up and go downstairs to check.

This frustrating lack of knowledge only intensifies when we go away for a few days, perhaps on a jaunt to our cabin. We’re left with plenty more, often quite worrying questions that I have no way to investigate. Is there a package waiting out on the front step, tempting a would-be thief? Or, wait a second, did I completely forget to lock the door? Has the place been ransacked for its valuables? We’re fortunate in that we’ve never had a problem. I’ve always been able to breathe a sigh of relief when we return home and find everything safe and untouched. Still, I’d like not to be so in the dark about the status and security of my greatest investment, my home.

Of course, one answer would be to bite the bullet and install a full-fledged security system, but the cost turns me off. Plus, I want versatility, and traditional security options aren’t known for their flexibility. I don’t want to end up overspending on bells and whistles that I don’t really need. That’s why, when I learned about SAGE by Hughes and its brand-new, innovative line of home automation and security products, I got excited. Its modular design would enable me to devise a solution customized to my needs, involving only those components that I’d actually use day to day.

Photo: sagebyhughes.com

SAGE by Hughes offers a full suite of sensors and cameras, locks and switches—indeed, all you could possibly need to make your residence smart and secure. You can install your chosen components all at once or, as I plan to do, add onto the system gradually over time. To get started, I chose not a set of individual components, but the SAGE Security Kit, a bundled package of essentials that I judged would be perfect for what I planned to devise: a system that would both reduce the isolation of my office while I’m working and provide peace of mind when we’re away on family trips.

First, I installed the Doorbell Sensor (with help from the step-by-step video instructions). The result? Now, it no longer matters if I don’t hear the doorbell, because an alert arrives on my phone, telling me there’s a visitor. Next, I installed the Door Sensor so that if someone enters the house, I know right away—again, thanks to a message sent to my phone. (Don’t worry—if you are expecting family members to be going in and out of the house all day, it’s easy to disengage the alerts.) Also in the kit: a Motion Sensor and an Indoor Camera. For now, I have both in the living room.

No matter the specifics of your individual solution, every SAGE setup has one thing in common—the hub. As the heart of the system, the hub connects to your TV, syncs all components, and becomes the command center. Here’s where you configure your SAGE and, by following intuitive prompts, define the rules that control its behavior. If, for instance, the Motion Sensor ever detects movement in the living room when I have set the system to vacation mode, the hub knows to activate the Indoor Camera and send me an instant notification.

Photo: sagebyhughes.com

Although I sincerely hope an alert never comes, what if one did? What if, on a day when I was traveling, SAGE alerted me to an intruder? Unlike other smart-home security options, SAGE offers a unique feature, MyLocal911, as part of its entirely optional $9-per-month Premium Service. Here’s how it works: If I have reason to believe my home is in jeopardy, I would immediately call the police. But if I’m at the family cabin, dialing 911 would connect me to the force nearest the cabin, not the force nearest the break-in. MyLocal911 simplifies the situation, connecting directly to the appropriate police station. Clever.

Already, after only a few weeks with SAGE, I’m thinking about adding more components. One possibility: Outfit the entry hall with the SAGE Light Switch and LED Bulb. That way, I can have lights turn on automatically whenever the front door opens after, say, 5 o’clock in the evening. Another idea: Install the Outdoor Camera so I can check to make sure the dog’s OK without having to go out into the yard. As the online purchasing process is as seamless as the system itself, it’s tempting to envision new ways to put the SAGE solution to work in my home.

I’ve been stunned to discover how easy (and frankly, fun) it can be to gain control over the household inefficiencies and anxieties that used to drive me batty. Now, I really believe it when I read an article or see something on TV about home automation being the wave of the future. I think of it like this: In recent years, technology has been making our lives easier and more enjoyable in so many ways. And now, thanks to systems like SAGE, we can use technology to solve those problems, large and small, that we encounter all the time in our own homes. It’s a bright future, indeed!

HURRY: Until April 30, 2016, you can enter to win SAGE by Hughes kits and components in the Easy Is Awesome sweepstakes—go now!

 

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of SAGE by Hughes. The opinions and text are all mine.


3 Fixes for a Lawn Mower That Won’t Start

If your lawn mower just can't get going, try one of these quick fixes to put it back to work.

SHARES
Lawn Mower Won't Start

Photo: fotosearch.com

Lawn care can be a tedious chore, but once the grass starts growing in the spring, mowing becomes an inevitable fact of life. When you finally muster the strength to tackle that first cut of the season, there are few sounds as disheartening as that of an engine that revs, but doesn’t start. Before you drag the mower in for repairs, or invest in costly replacement parts, first make sure that a clogged air filter, soiled spark plug, or contaminated gas isn’t to blame. Check out these possible perps by working through the following steps, and you may be able to get your puttering grass guzzler up and running again in no time.

 

UNFIT FILTER

Lawn Mower Won't Start - Air Filter

Photo: instructables.com via seamster

Your lawn mower’s air filter guards the carburetor and engine from debris like grass clippings and dirt. When the air filter becomes clogged or too dirty, it can prevent the engine from starting. To keep this from happening, replace paper filters—or clean or replace foam filters—after every 25 hours of engine use. The process for removing the filter depends on whether you are operating a riding or push lawn mower. For a riding mower, turn off the engine and raise the parking brake; for a push mower, pull the spark plug wire from the plug. Then, lift the filter from its housing. For a paper filter, your only choice is replacement. If you’re cleaning a foam filter, wash it in a solution of hot water and detergent to loosen grime. Allow it to dry completely, and then wipe fresh motor oil over the filter, replace it in its housing, and power up the mower—this time to the pleasant whirring of an engine in tip-top condition.

 

LOST THE SPARK

Lawn Mower Won't Start - Spark Plug

Photo: instructables.com via Sedgewick17

Is your lawn mower still being stubborn? The culprit may be the spark plug, which, as the name indicates, is responsible for creating the spark that ignites the fuel in the engine. If it’s loosened, disconnected, or coated in water or carbon residue, the spark plug may be the cause of your machine’s malfunction. Locate the spark plug, often found on the front of the mower. If it is connected, remove the plug wire beneath the plug cap and unscrew the plug with a socket wrench to reveal the electrode and insulator. If you see buildup, spray brake cleaner onto the plug, and let it soak for several minutes before wiping it with a clean cloth. Reinstall the plug, first by hand, and then with a socket wrench for a final tightening. If the problem persists, consider replacing the spark plug.

 

RUNNING ON “E”

Lawn Mower Won't Start - Gas

Photo: fotosearch.com

An obvious—and often overlooked—reason your mower may not be starting is if the gas tank is empty, or contains gas that is either old or contaminated with excess moisture and dirt. If your gas is more than a month old, use an oil siphon pump to drain it from the tank. Then, refill with fresh fuel and a fuel stabilizer to extend the life of the gas and prevent future buildup.

If that doesn’t do the trick, see if your lawn mower has a fuel filter (not all do) and whether or not it’s functioning properly. When clogged, the engine can’t access the gas that makes the system go. To check the status of your fuel filter, remove the fuel line at the carburetor. If gas doesn’t flow out, confirm that the fuel shutoff valve isn’t accidentally closed, and then remove the fuel line that’s ahead of the fuel filter. Gas should run out freely, assuming that the problem is with the fuel filter; consult your owner’s manual for specific instructions on replacing the filter and reassembling your mower. With no more excuses, go back out there and get your grass in shape for summer!