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Bob Vila Radio: Be Good to Your Garage Door

Up and down. Up and down. Through all your day-to-day comings and goings, the garage door rarely complains. That said, for the door to continue operating without a hitch, it needs a simple course of maintenance on occasion. Here's what to do.

No matter whether you use muscle or a motor to open and shut your garage door, it’s going to need TLC every so often to continue operating safely and smoothly.

Garage Door Maintenance Tips

Photo: fotosearch.com

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Listen to BOB VILA ON MAINTAINING YOUR GARAGE DOOR or read the text below:

To get started, stand inside your garage and, in the course of raising and lowering the door a few times, note all the moving parts, including hinges, springs, and rollers. You may want to wear a pair of safety goggles, along with a shop apron, as a way of keeping dust and oil off your clothes and out of your eyes.

Now, with the door closed, use a rag to wipe away any dust, grime, and cobwebs you can get at (you’ll probably need a step ladder to reach the overhead tracks). Next, squirt a bit of silicone spray onto all the moving parts of the assembly. Repeat the process with the door opened to about the halfway point. That’ll ensure the lubricant coats all the components involved in guiding the door on its back-and-forth journey.

Don’t forget: Pay some attention to the rollers. Use a straw applicator to send lubricant into their centers—the part the axles go through. As you go about this final task, keep a rag handy to wipe away the excess drips.

You see, it doesn’t take much effort to keep your garage door in tip-top shape. The hardest part is remembering to get out there and do it!

Bob Vila Radio is a 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day carried on more than 186 stations in 75 markets around the country. Click here to subscribe, so you can automatically receive each new episode as it arrives—absolutely free!

How Do Innovative Skylights Lead to Lower Bills?

Solatube's ingenious Daylighting Systems bring natural light into even the hardest-to-reach rooms, helping homeowners cut down on lighting costs while enhancing their interior spaces.

Photo: solatube.com

There’s been a lot of talk about light bulbs over the past few years. In 2012, after the new federal light bulb standards started to take effect, we all began to encounter a range of new options in the aisles of local home centers and hardware stores. Certainly, when compared with traditional incandescent bulbs, the latest CFLs and LEDs are substantially more efficient. But when it comes to operating costs, even the most advanced light bulb cannot compete with an age-old natural resource—sunlight. Budget-minded homeowners are realizing that in order to keep their lighting costs to an absolute minimum, there’s no better strategy than to forgo electric light altogether, at least during the day. With beautiful, abundant, and totally free sunshine pouring down on the roof every day, making the most of this light is only a matter of letting it inside.

Skylights have long offered an efficient way of pulling in sunlight, but installing a skylight used to be a major undertaking with a steep price tag. In the case of traditional skylights, installation remains cost-prohibitive for many homeowners, as the intensive work typically requires some not-so-minor structural modifications. As well, traditional skylights have always been limited in at least one key respect: They illuminate only those spaces situated directly below the roof. To brighten rooms located elsewhere in the house, homeowners have needed to continue using (and paying for) electric light. Fortunately, for those seeking to capitalize on sunlight as a way of lowering household energy bills, there’s a newer, next-generation option that’s both more affordable and more versatile—tubular daylighting devices from innovative manufacturers like Solatube International, Inc.

Photo: solatube.com

Whereas traditional skylights are basically windows on the roof, the Solatube Daylighting System works in a very different way. First, its leak-proof, impact-resistant, and self-cleaning optical dome harvests sunlight on the roof (even when the rays arrive at an angle, as they do in winter). Next, the sunlight travels down into the home through highly reflective tubing that not only extends to distances up to 40 feet, but also pivots easily around would-be obstructions like rafters and joists. In this way, thanks to their unique design, Solatube systems can deliver sunlight virtually anywhere in the home, even to first-floor bathrooms, hallways, and closets. Best of all, installation takes hours, not days, because the system requires neither changes to the house framing nor repairs to the ceiling or walls indoors.

Up until fairly recently, most people viewed skylights as luxuries—attractive and desirable, perhaps, but luxuries all the same. With the rise of Solatube and other makers of similar products, plenty of homeowners now see the practical, money-saving potential of daylighting. You probably don’t think twice about turning on a table lamp, wall sconce, or ceiling-mounted fixture, but the fact is that lighting your home has a considerable, often overlooked effect on your family finances. Last year, the U.S. Energy Information Administration estimated that lighting accounts for approximately 14 percent of residential electricity consumption. With the one-time installation of a Solatube Daylighting System, you can cut out the cost of electrical lighting during every sunny hour of every single day. The savings add up!

Another important factor to consider: With Solatube, you’re not saving money on lighting only to lose money on heating and cooling your home. For years, traditional skylights were plagued by flaws that allowed heat gain in summer and heat loss in winter. Solatube sidesteps those issues with products that have been designed and manufactured for optimal thermal performance. Indeed, select Solatube systems are rated by Energy Star for their ability to deliver daylight without upsetting the temperature of the home. Compared with a fixture that generates an equivalent amount of light, a Solatube device actually generates less heat. So, on top of saving you money on lighting, this one solution can also save you money on air conditioning throughout the summer months.

A host of customization options and add-ons are available across the Solatube line of products. For instance, there’s an optional Daylight Dimmer that enables you to control the brightness of the incoming sunlight. You can also choose from a variety of warming and softening Effect Lenses to modulate the color temperature of the light so that it suits your personal preferences or matches up with your interior design goals. It’s also well worth mentioning that if you’re hesitant to clutter your ceiling with multiple fixtures, Solatube makes it easy to streamline. The optional Light Kit embeds an incandescent or CFL bulb within the light-channeling tube, giving you a multifunctional fixture that responds to your around-the-clock lighting needs.

Photo: solatube.com

If you’re really serious about cutting your lighting costs, check out the Solatube Smart LED. Compared with a traditional light source, the Smart LED offers up to 94 percent greater efficiency: During the day, when the device operates in daylighting mode, you’re spending $0. When light levels recede—at night or in the presence of cloud cover—the system automatically switches over to LED, a technology that runs on dramatically less energy than incandescent bulbs. Combine free sunlight with high-efficiency, low-cost LED lighting, and you’re paying next to nothing for the illumination supplied by a one-of-a-kind hybrid solution. Want your Smart LED to save you even more? Go for the optional occupancy sensor. Depending on whether or not the sensor detects someone in the room, it activates or deactivates the integrated LED bulbs accordingly. That way, you never waste electricity. You pay only for the LED lighting you actually need and use. The occupancy sensor option doesn’t just mean savings, though—it also means the convenience of never having to remember to hit the light switch on your way out!

In the end, there are many ways to slim down your household energy bills. But of all the improvements you might make in the name of efficiency, only Solatube stands to leave your home looking brighter, feeling airier, and seeming more cheerful. You’re saving money and making your home more beautiful. It’s a win-win.


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

Pet-Proof Your Yard with 5 Tips from a Pro Trainer

Now your furry family members can enjoy your outdoor space—without making a mess of your hard yard work. Victoria Stilwell of Animal Planet’s It’s Me or the Dog is here to teach you some new tricks for making your lawn and garden pet-friendly.

Puppy Proofing - Dog-Friendly Backyard

Photo: fotosearch.com

The great outdoors is great for everyone, particularly your four-pawed pals. “The home can get boring for pets,” says trainer extraordinaire and Animal Planet star Victoria Stilwell, “so being outside is important for both physical exercise and stimulation of the senses, which lends emotional stability.” But with the fresh air also comes the potential for those cold, wet noses to get into trouble. Left alone, your lawn could endanger your furry friend—or your pet might undo hours of yard work. Avoid these issues and more when you follow Stilwell’s five key guidelines to creating a fun, safe animal Eden that will always look groomed, even if you’ve got the friskiest pet on the block.

1. Install the best boundary.
To ensure that animal companions won’t get lost or run off, the right yard enclosure is crucial. For canines, Stilwell approves of any “good, solid fence,” be it wood, metal, vinyl, whatever. But as a big believer that kindness—not dominance—is the key to positive pet parenting (hence her website, Positively.com), she vehemently opposes invisible electric fences for the pain and anxiety they cause. “Even a single shock can rewire a dog’s brain,” she explains, “making him fearful or aggressive.”

Because cats are such skillful climbers, corralling them gets trickier. “Roller bar attachments that jut out a bit on top of your fence work well,” says Stilwell, whereas other fence-toppers like spikes or wire netting (which a cat could get tangled in) may inadvertently wound your animal. Stilwell’s favorite option: sturdy kitty enclosures, either ready-made or assembled from a DIY kit. Just make sure yours is long enough to offer some running space, high enough to hold a cat tree, and walled with feline-safe screens.

Puppy Proofing - Pet-Friendly Garden

Photo: fotosearch.com

2. Plant with pets in mind.
Sturdy vegetation with soft foliage—artemisia, canna, and lilac, to name a few—will stand up to roughhousing. But stay away from azalea, rhododendron, foxglove, and lily of the valley, which are all unsafe for an animal to digest. Stilwell also notes that grass should be for rolling in, not munching on. “Some varieties can be difficult to digest,” she explains. While catnip is indeed a healthy habit for felines, she knows of no canine equivalent. “Some trainers use anise because dogs like the smell, but I don’t see them going crazy for it,” she says.

But it’s not just the plants’ toxicity you should worry about when planning your landscape; also watch what you spread around in the garden. “Cocoa Mulch, a by-product of chocolate, contains theobromine, a compound toxic to cats and dogs—and its sweet smell can be irresistible,” Stilwell warns. “Once, we took our Chihuahua to a neighbor’s home, and he ate the pellets they used to get rid of gophers!” The little guy is fine, thanks to emergency medical care, but Stilwell now knows to ask friends about potential yard hazards before bringing her pups for a visit.

3. Minimize messes.
“Pets are naturally inquisitive, so to keep them from wreaking havoc among your flowerbeds, don’t leave them up to their own devices,” Stilwell says. Her go-to for occupying any pooch is a treat-packed Kong toy (available on Amazon), as long as you monitor him lest the toy roll somewhere you’d rather he didn’t romp. Got a digger on your hands? Consider installing a sandpit where he can burrow to his heart’s content. Above all, Stilwell says, “Play with your pets! That’s the number one way to bond with them while supervising their behavior.”

On a more delicate note, should you hope to prevent pets from doing their business on your turf, “Walk your dog and be sure he ‘goes’ before letting him in the yard,” Stilwell suggests. “Likewise, cats should use the litter box prior to an outing.” Stilwell concedes that some animals tend to “mark” their territory, even after they’ve been neutered, as the behavior is habitual as well as biological. Try a sculptural piece of driftwood to serve as a marking post-cum-lawn ornament.

4. Watch out for wildlife.
“Dogs and cats are natural predators, and, even though we’ve bred the desire to kill out of dogs, they’re still predisposed to chasing,” Stilwell explains. Pets could get hurt tussling with a raccoon, squirrel, even a possum, while hawks and owls could potentially take off with your little buddy. “You can’t count on vaccinations to protect against everything,” she adds. To safeguard Rufus and Roxy, have them stay inside at dawn, dusk, and overnight, when most wildlife feeds. And on the flip side, keep kitty from littering the lawn with songbirds by trying the clownish, brightly colored anti-predation collars made by Birdsbesafe.

5. Be a good neighbor.
It’s not just you and your pets on the planet. “Not everyone likes cats or dogs, and you must respect that even if you don’t understand it—especially in regard to their property,” Stilwell says. “Letting pets roam loose is reckless and irresponsible, not to mention against the law.” If a pet does happen into a neighbor’s garden, respond calmly and clean up promptly.

Barking is another large concern, especially as it’s one of the worst noise pollutants in a neighborhood. “A dog that barks relentlessly is either bored, lonely, or hungry, so it’s negligent to leave him chained up outside unattended.” If your dog is barking, see to him immediately—and if a neighbor practices poor pet ownership in that regard, alert your block association, the police, or animal control.

All-Purpose Transfer Pumps Move Water with Ease

Though invaluable for cleaning up in a wet basement, these pumps are actually handy for a broad variety of household tasks. Learn the basics here.

What Is a Transfer Pump?

Photo: supplyhouse.com

Sure, there may be calm before the storm, but afterward, once the dark clouds have given way to sunshine, there’s often the stress and labor of cleaning up—at least for those plagued by seemingly intractable drainage issues. You’ve checked and rechecked the gutters. You’ve shored up the foundation. Maybe you’ve even brought in an excavator to adjust the slope of your site. In short, you’ve consulted the experts and done everything right, yet your water woes persist. Indeed, for some homeowners there’s nothing left to do but deal swiftly and diligently with standing stormwater, both in and around the home. Sump pumps go a long way toward preventing basement floods, but for a versatile, all-purpose weapon in the war against moisture, you may want to consider arming yourself with a transfer pump.

Also sometimes known as utility pumps, transfer pumps perform one simple but critical function: They move water from one place to another. Straightforward though it may be, a transfer pump’s functionality proves handy in any number of ordinary homeowner situations, including but not limited to storm cleanup. If, for instance, you wanted to empty out your water heater for maintenance or repair purposes, a transfer pump would enable you to get the job done effectively and with minimal mess. Likewise, if your swimming pool cover had begun to sag under the weight of an oversize puddle, you could use a transfer pump to relocate the water to a storage container or, better yet, your thirsty lawn or garden. In other words, a transfer pump makes it easy to handle otherwise unwieldy watery tasks.

What Is a Transfer Pump? - Pony Product Isolated

Photo: supplyhouse.com

Daniel O’Brian, a technical specialist with SupplyHouse.com, points out that transfer pumps’ designs are as varied as their potential applications. “Transfer pumps can be submersible or non-submersible, portable or permanently installed. And while many run on electricity, there are gas-powered and manually operated models as well.” Despite their differences, most transfer pumps operate in a broadly similar way, by creating a difference in pressure that pushes the water from the inlet to the outlet. Typically, a standard garden hose can be hooked up to either side (if not, use lengths of plastic tubing of the type you can find at any home center). Simply place the inlet hose in the water you want to remove, and position the outlet hose to direct the water wherever you want it to go. Activate the pump, and you’re on your way.

When choosing among the many transfer pumps on the market, base your selection on how you plan to use the equipment. If you need to shift volumes of water only between locations that are for the most part dry, then opt for a standard, non-submersible model. If your needs are more demanding—if, for example, your goal is to pump water out of a pond or hot tub—then go for a submersible model, one whose motor sits within a special watertight housing. Also, be sure to consider the fact that transfer pumps range widely in terms of overall capacity. The pumping power of any given model is influenced by two key measurements—the horsepower generated by its motor and the amount of water the pump can move (measured in gallons per hour). Generally, you need to pay more for more power.

Modestly sized transfer pumps are relatively inexpensive. For instance, you can purchase the Little Giant 360 Transfer/Utility Pump for about $90. Portable and lightweight, the non-submersible, electrically powered Little Giant 360 boasts a 1/10-horsepower motor, capable of drawing liquid from as many as seven feet below and pumping it up as high as 48 feet. By comparison, the Liberty Pump 331, which sells for a little over $200, offers 1/2 horsepower and can pump water up to 100 feet overhead. As is to be expected with any product, transfer pumps each come with their own pros and cons. For help navigating the wide variety of available transfer pumps, don’t hesitate to reach out for advice, custom-tailored to your individual needs and goals, from the experts at SupplyHouse.com.

What Is a Transfer Pump? - Liberty Product Isolated

Phtoto: supplyhouse.com

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

How To: Get Rid of Dandelions

Dandelions may be a delight for the kids, but they can be a nightmare for your lawn. Get rid of these common yellow intruders by following this natural routine.

How to Get Rid of Dandelions

Photo: fotosearch.com

Though young children love dandelions for their bright yellow flowers and their irresistibly entertaining, fluffy seed heads, most lawn-tending grown-ups dread the sight of them. Dandelions are among the subset of weeds called broadleaf perennials, which are notoriously challenging to remove. Once a dandelion plant has fully established its 10-inch-long taproot, the weed will come back year after year, spreading its spawn across your lawn in perpetuity. That long root is the key to total extermination. If you want to truly rid yourself of a dandelion, you must kill or remove all of the taproot, or the unwanted sprout will come back again with a vengeance.

The quickest and least labor-intensive method of getting rid of dandelions is to spray them with a broadleaf herbicide that will kill the entire plant, not just the leaves, without harming the surrounding grass. But plenty of people would rather skip the harmful chemicals and take a more natural route. If that’s your desire, you should consider this long-term, multipronged approach to ridding your yard of dandelions.

- Watering can filled with water
- Weed knife
- Natural weed killer (either commercially purchased or homemade)
- Pre-emergent herbicide

How to Get Rid of Dandelions

Photo: fotosearch.com

Start by digging up the plants. As any plant is more easily pulled from the ground if the soil is moist, first use the watering can to dampen the soil around the dandelion, and wait a few minutes for the moisture to settle in. Then, work a weeding knife down along the the base of the dandelion in two or three places. Push the soil away from the root of the plant by wiggling the knife. Finally, grasp the base of the plant between your fingers and gently pull. If it still feels stuck, work the weeding knife around some more, and then gently pull out the entire taproot with the dandelion.

Any portion of the dandelion’s taproot that remains will grow into a new plant again, so you must kill whatever is left. Most natural herbicides you’ll find at the store are nonselective, meaning they will kill any plant that comes into contact with them (including your grass). Keeping that in mind, carefully apply herbicide only into the hole from which you just pulled the dandelion.

Having dug up the dandelion, you now have in your lawn an open spot with loose soil, which is vulnerable to other aggressive weeds. To discourage a new enemy from taking root, fill this hole as well with pre-emergent herbicide. Even varieties of natural pre-emergent herbicide are nonselective, so it won’t be worth your while to try to plant new grass in the area. Instead, hope that runners from your already-established turfgrass plants will eventually fill in the spot.

Finally, after battling your weeds, take the time to strengthen your lawn. A strong and healthy lawn will be less susceptible to weed invasion, because vigorous turfgrass plants don’t leave much room—or nutrients—for tricky perennial weeds like dandelions to take hold. So, for the long term, follow these standard practices for good lawn care:
• Water deeply but infrequently to encourage a strong, deep root system.
• Cut no more than a third of the length of the grass blades at any one time; this allows for good photosynthesis and keeps grass from drying out too quickly.
• Properly schedule your fertilizing based on your grass type—fall for cool-season grasses like fescues, spring for warm-season grasses like zoysia and Bermuda.

This routine for eliminating dandelions is time-intensive, but it has great appeal if you want to avoid toxic chemicals. Consider incorporating these activities into your regular lawn maintenance routine so you can regulate and deal with dandelions on a smaller scale. With a little diligence and patience, you can banish these garish troublemakers for good.

Bob Vila Radio: Your Quick Guide to the Contour Gauge

Recreate the precise shape of corners, edges, and curves on wood, tile, and other materials with a simple, low-tech tool that couldn't be easier to use. Learn more now.

Cutting flooring or siding to fit around curved surfaces can be tricky, especially if you don’t have the right tool. In this case, what you need is a contour gauge.

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Listen to BOB VILA ON CONTOUR GAUGES or read the text below:

Contour gauges look a bit like a hair comb, but with teeth protruding from both sides of the handle. Rather than being fixed and stationary, those teeth slide smoothly through the handle, molding to the contour of whatever profile you set the gauge against.

Using the tool is dead-simple. First, lightly press the teeth against a flat surface to make sure the ends are in line. Then nudge the gauge up against whatever shape you wish to duplicate. Once you’ve got it, lay the contour gauge onto the material you’re working with. Trace the shape dictatated by the teeth of the gauge, then make your cut with a jigsaw, bandsaw, or coping saw.

Bob Vila Radio is a 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day carried on more than 186 stations in 75 markets around the country. Click here to subscribe, so you can automatically receive each new episode as it arrives—absolutely free!

Building Your Dream House? Choose Unobtrusive and Efficient HVAC

Most of us must to learn to live with the heating and cooling that a previous homeowner chose. But if you're building a home from the ground up, you get the rare opportunity to select that system that not only provides the year-round comfort you need, but also meets or exceeds your design and efficiency goals. Read on to learn more about the next generation of HVAC.

Mini Duct HVAC

Photo: zillow.com

When you step into a beautiful custom-built home, nothing ruins the effect quite like the sights and sounds of a traditional HVAC system. In addition, due to the space-hogging bulk of their ductwork, run-of-the-mill climate control setups actually place limits on architectural and interior design possibilities. It’s true: More than you may realize, the appearance of any given home, inside and out, often depends at least to a degree on the type of heating and cooling components used.

If you’re working with a team of professionals to build your dream home from scratch, don’t make the mistake of leaving HVAC as an afterthought. Not all systems are created equal, and your choice really makes a difference, not only for comfort, but also for aesthetics. Plus, with rising energy costs, the efficiency of your HVAC must be considered too—for environmental reasons but also for your bottom line. With the right system, you can minimize your energy expenses, whereas with an inefficient choice, you’re more or less dooming yourself to pay a small fortune in bills each and every month. On the market today, surprisingly few HVAC options combine efficiency with an unobtrusive installation that allows for total design freedom. Perhaps the best of the bunch is the Unico System. Compact enough to stay out of sight—and out of the way of your builder or architect—Unico boasts silent, efficient operation, even while it delivers unparalleled comfort.

Mini Duct HVAC - Unico System Glass House

Photo: unicosystem.com

Less Is More
Picture the average air duct: It’s metal, rigid, and though sizes vary, HVAC ducts are often quite large in comparison to the room dimensions they service. It’s on account of their bulk that builders and remodelers often hide ducts in soffits, drop ceilings, chases and other special accommodations that steal square footage from other otherwise usable living space. If you specify the need for a first-floor bathroom, that will obviously influence the design and approach of your architect or builder. The same goes for conventional ductwork; it’s a factor that you’ve got to work around.

The Unico System places no such restrictions on home design, because its ducts are remarkably small, measuring only three-and-a-half or four inches in diameter. Not only are they mini, but they are also flexible. Capable of bending around impediments like studs and joists, these flexible mini ducts introduce versatility to heating and cooling. So whatever your design priorities, chances are that, along with the system’s small-scale air handler, Unico ducts can be configured in a way to make your design vision a reality. The same cannot be said for full-size ducts, which are rigid and inflexible.

Creative Outlets
Even where the ducts terminate in the conditioned space of the home, the Unico System always remains unobtrusive, thanks to its low-key, hardly noticeable outlet vents. Unlike conventional HVAC vents, with their unsightly grillwork, the Unico System comes with small, circular, discreet vents that can be installed wherever would be least conspicuous—on the ceiling, floor, or wall. Those outlets come in a wide of variety of styles, a broad enough spectrum of colors and visual textures to ensure a perfect match for the surrounding finishes in the room. Alternatively, outlets can be custom painted or stained precisely to suit your tastes. That’s a far cry from HVAC systems, which often force homeowners to make sacrifices in style to gain comfort. With Unico, you don’t need to make any sacrifices when it comes to aesthetics: Your home can look great and feel comfortable all at once.

Sound of Silence
Do you want peace and quiet in your dream home? Thought so. With Unico heating and cooling, as much as you don’t see evidence of the technology at work, you don’t hear much of it, either. Whereas conventional HVAC creates a considerable amount of background noise, the Unico System operates at a whisper-quiet level. That’s because the ducts feature an outer layer of sound-dampening insulation, and the air handler has been specially designed to keep noise transmission to a bare minimum. Let music, laughter, and conversation fill your home—not the roar of conventional heating and cooling components.

Efficient Performance
Most HVAC systems send blasts of air into the room, creating turbulent conditions in which one part of the space might be perfectly comfortable, while others would feel too warm or cool. The Unico System ensures even indoor temperatures by introducing conditioned air to the home in such a way that it draws the ambient air into its stream. The result? A draft-free dream home with consistent, uniform temperatures in every part of the room—top to bottom, wall to wall.

Best of all, though the Unico System provides unparalleled comfort, its efficient design means you won’t be paying an arm and leg to enjoy its performance. On the contrary, because its mini ducts are insulated, the Unico System sidesteps the main problem that takes away from the efficiency of conventional heating and cooling—that is, leaky ductwork. Believe it or not, leaky ducts can decrease the overall efficiency of a traditional system by as much as 50 percent. But with the insulated ducts that play a central role in the Unico System, there’s no wasted energy. In other words, you get precisely the climate control that you’re paying for.

A new offering from Unico, the iSeries outdoor heat pump (used for both heating and cooling), allows you to achieve even greater savings because of its high efficiency. The Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating (SEER) of this unit ranges from 16.5 to 20, far exceeding traditional heat pumps.

In the summer, the Unico System further outpaces older technologies. With its advanced cooling coil, Unico proves 30 percent more adept at removing moisture from the air in the home. Of course, lower humidity translates to a higher degree of comfort, but it can also bring extra savings. How? It’s simple. Homes with low humidity feel cooler. For that reason, you can set the thermostat a few degrees higher than you normally would. With every degree you raise the target temperature, you conserve about three percent in terms of energy consumption. Capitalize on the opportunity, and savings are bound to add up from year to year.

What all this engineering adds up to is an invisible, whisper-quiet, efficient HVAC system that can save you significant energy costs. And if that’s not cool, what is?

Mini Duct HVAC - Unico System Modern Interior

Photo: unicosystem.com

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

Quick Tip: This Simple Trick Helps Plants Water Themselves

DIY Self-Watering Panter

Photo: instructables.com via kriste3582

There are lots of household chores to take care of before going on a vacation: board the dog, clean the fridge, empty the trash, and so on. Yet another must, at least during the gardening months, is asking a friend or family member to water your plants—there’s nothing more discouraging than nurturing blooms all season long just to have them wither while you’re away. But now, with this DIY self-watering system, you can cross that one off your to-do list. Sound complicated? Not in the least. All it takes is a capped bottle and some good old-fashioned H20.

DIY Self-Water Planter - Terra Cotta Container

Photo: fotosearch.com

Before you can begin, you’ll need to saturate the soil in all of your planters. Next, gather your bottles: You can use virtually any bottle with a cap, keeping in mind that 8- to 12-ounce bottles work well for smaller-size pots, while a wine bottle will better quench the thirst of larger planters. Make a small hole in the cap or cork by hammering a nail all the way through. Fill your bottle to the top with water and place the cap back on. Then flip the bottle upside down and bury it about two inches into the soil. As the soil dries out from your last watering, fluid will slowly drip from the bottle into your soil, ensuring that your plant receives just the moisture it needs to thrive.

A standard-size bottle should last about three days in a small- to medium-size planter, but if your trip is a bit lengthier, consider adding a second bottle on the opposite side. Once the system is in place, all that’s left to do is enjoy your time jet-setting!

Meet the Man Behind Your Favorite New Home Accent

From the heart of the Catskill Mountains, one man is creating a sense of wonder in rustic, handcrafted home goods.

Photo: GrayWorks Design

Many homeowners turn felled landscaping trees into cheap firewood, piling up split logs by a backyard shed or in front of the living room hearth. But for Andrew Gray, these old trees are the beginning of something a little more magical. With a wood drying and milling operation out of Woodstock, New York, his company turns ordinary reclaimed lumber into stunning housewares and furniture. Distinguished by a meticulous yet rustic sense of craftsmanship, GrayWorks Design has become one of the Hudson Valley’s leading makers. Here’s what Andrew had to say about how he got started and the surprises he’s found along the way.


Photo: Grayworks Design

How did you get involved in this line of work? How long have you been at it?
I had a background as a carpenter and worked for general contractors. Around here we call it a hired gun carpenter. I’d jump from one crew to another. I struggled to reinvent myself a bit. And the reinvention was to go into sculptural furniture making. There’s this desire to take trees that landscapers and tree services people cart away and do something with it. That’s a big part of how I got involved with this type of woodworking.

It’s been about 10 years since I started making furniture, and the main product has been this footed platte that we sell on Etsy. Yesterday, I had this couple come into my shop and it was the only thing I had to show them but they walked out with 6 pieces, so it’s a good seller.


Photo: GrayWorks Design

You’ve been featured in a lot of places like Martha Stewart Living and O, The Oprah Magazine. How did that happen?
I had sold my product pretty successfully at crafts fairs but when I brought it to Etsy I had a friend who helped me with the photography and the copy. Etsy really responded to the effort and they gave us a featured seller position within 3 months of being on the site. After that they put publishers in touch with us. At first it was hard to tell what people were responding to. I think people were definitely responding to the good photography, but also the products that we’re making. They come from a place that I think resonates with a lot of people.


Photo: GrayWorks Design

These products are clearly very carefully made. What kind of place do you think handcrafted home goods have in today’s market?
One of the things I can’t do at this scale is offer a production line where I can make thousands of products at a time. I haven’t built that kind of a business. But what I can do is give a sense of luxury to the buyers. That luxury is really more about evoking a feeling; it’s more than just the primary function of the piece. These are products people can use daily that give them a feeling that they’re connected to nature.

I’m trying to offer these products at price points that are not exclusive. Handcrafted furniture can be much more expensive. But housewares are sort of this meeting ground that’s much more accessible. A lot of people can, at some point, comfortably afford to buy a $100 to $300 item for themselves or for others.

I like the idea of creating objects that can transform an entire room without the homeowner needing to redecorate everything. This is sort of how sculpture works. It augments everything else in the room but you don’t need 10 of them. One of them does the job.


Photo: GrayWorks Design

You show your work at craft shows in the Hudson Valley and the Berkshires. What kind of reaction does your work receive?
I do about six shows a year. What it does is it punctuates my year. I know a lot of these vendors, so I almost feel embarrassed if I show up with stuff I had the last time. I’m there to show people what I’m doing now, and I’m able to gauge the reactions I’m getting from people. A lot of times I make things that are sort of whimsical, but people get it right away.


hand carved bowl

Photo: GrayWorks Design

Have there been any surprises along the way?
The footed platte was a bit of a surprise. The first one I ever made was done on the fly for an art show to serve cheese and hors d’oeuvres. I actually gave the first ones to the couple that had put on the show. Then people kept asking me about them for the next year.

For a little while I was selling a 3-foot-long by 14-inch-wide footed platte. It got picked up by the Kitchn and they were calling it a polenta platter. I guess the idea is to pile a bunch of polenta on it, vegetables, meats off the grill—it’s an old Italian tradition to serve these meals on a wooden platter. There have been a few different things like that that have happened where I’ve worked on a design in isolation, brought it out into the world, and then people identify it for me.


Photo: GrayWorks Design

What’s ahead for GrayWorks Design?
For a while I was holding onto the idea of getting my architecture degree and trying to elevate myself in the design field. Over the last year some architects have reached out to me looking for accent pieces. Right now it feels like the architects in the design field are reaching down to me and lifting me up and bringing me into their world, which is really exciting. Every opportunity I get to collaborate with an architect is like going back to school. It’s a great way to pick up a lot of information quickly and learn about other possibilities.


Photo: GrayWorks Design

To see even more work from GrayWorks Design, check out their website and Etsy shop.

DIY Lite: Upgrade Simple String Lights on a Shoestring Budget

Enhance ordinary string lights with a festively floral makeover that will brighten your space—and mood.

DIY Outdoor Lighting - Easy String Lights

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila

Thoughtful lighting is key to evoking a desired ambience in nearly any space. (They don’t call it “mood lighting” for nothing.) Cords of twinkling lights—a festive decorating favorite—are particularly versatile. They’re small enough to store, powerful enough to brighten dark corners, and easy to hang both outdoors and in. Use them to dress up your porch, patio, windows, trees—you name it. For a design that radiates a little more energy than your standard set, read on to learn how to upgrade the miniature lights you probably have left over from holiday celebrations, using merely recycled plastic bottles and a little imagination.


DIY Outdoor Lighting - Supplies

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila

- Plastic bottles
- Scissors
- Spray paint
- Utility knife
- String lights



DIY Outdoor Lighting - Step 1

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila

First, round up your collection of recyclables for the week and pull out all the plastic bottles—any size will do.

Using a pair of scissors, cut the bottom two-thirds off from each bottle. In Steps 2 through 8, you’ll transform the end with the cap into one of a variety of flowers. (You can toss the other end back into the recycling.) We’ll show you three petal options here, but if you get creative, you can design numerous other styles.



DIY Outdoor Lighting - Step 2

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila

For the look of a spiny succulent, cut the plastic into skinny strips, working from the fresh edge in toward the bottleneck.



DIY Outdoor Lighting - Step 3

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila

Then, when all strips have been cut, bend them outward to create a flower shape.



DIY Outdoor Lighting - Step 4

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila

To make a daisy, cut another cone-shaped bottle top into eight strips of equal width.



DIY Outdoor Lighting - Step 5

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila

Fan the strips outward, then use your scissors to trim each strip into a rounded petal shape.



DIY Outdoor Lighting - Step 6

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila

To make a bellflower, cut the bottle top into six equal strips.



DIY Outdoor Lighting - Step 7

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila

Then, cut each petal end into a teardrop-like point; don’t open up this particular bloom. Repeat Steps 2 through 7 to make as many flowers as bulbs on your string of lights (or only half, if you decide that you’d like a little extra buffer between buds).



DIY Outdoor Lighting - Step 8

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila

Lay all the cut plastic flowers and their caps out on a newspaper-covered work surface, and spray them with paint. Be sure to use a paint that will adhere to plastic. When that coat dries, you can add some details to the flowers with a targeted second coat of spray paint. For example, paint the center a different color, or add pattern to the petals’ edges in a darker hue. These flourishes will give the flowers more depth and are a whimsical nod to the authentic inspiration.



DIY Outdoor Lighting - Step 9

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila

Gather all the caps, and carefully cut a cross in the center of each, using a utility knife.



DIY Outdoor Lighting - Step 10

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila

You should be able to push each tiny bulb through the cut section of a cap, from the top to the underside. If the plastic cap is still too hard to work with, open up the cut with the tip of a pen, and then try pressing the light through again. Put a cap on every (or every other) light bulb.



DIY Outdoor Lighting - Step 11

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila

Screw a plastic flower onto a cap, hold it out to enjoy the effect, and proceed to attach the rest of the flowers to the caps. Now, for your next celebration, be it birthday or backyard barbecue, this tropical touch you’ve fashioned for an otherwise simple strand of string lights will really amp up the energy.


DIY Outdoor Lighting - Completed Garland Lights

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila


Ama is a DIY addict and the creative mind behind Ohoh Blog. She likes home decor, lighting, and furniture projects that may involve painting, sewing, drilling…no matter the technique! Whatever she has on hand is inspiration to create, and fodder for her serious addiction to upcycling.