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So, You Want to… Install a Laundry Chute

Installing a laundry chute requires planning, never more than when retrofitting a chute into an existing house. So before getting your heart set on one, review these project pointers on siting, design, and safety.

Laundry Chute

Photo: shutterstock.com

Perhaps the most tedious part of doing laundry—itself a tedious chore—is struggling down the stairs with a heavy and cumbersome hamper overflowing with stinky clothes. If you’ve done this on a weekly basis for a period of years, it’s no surprise you’ve neared the end of your rope. The rumors are true: A laundry chute really does make the laundry task less of a hassle, and although installing one is not rocket science, there are a few thing to know before moving ahead.

Build or Buy?
Sometimes it really does seem as though home centers stock literally everything. Believe it or not, you can even buy a laundry chute kit at your local box store. That convenience comes at a cost, though; it’s somewhat cheaper (but less quick and easy) to buy all the supplies separately. What sort of materials are we talking about? For one thing, there’s the chase—that is, the passage through which dropped clothing travels to the basement (or wherever your laundry area happens to be). Usually, contractors and DIY-inclined homeowners build the chase from the galvanized ductwork typically used in home heating and cooling systems. Though costlier, large-diameter PVC pipe also works well. Wood, drywall, and melamine are additional options, but these latter materials require joints, and with joints you run the risk of snags (the enemy of a successful laundry chute). Generally speaking, a wider chute is preferable to a narrow one. Shoot for a one-by-two-foot conduit. Fitting a chase of those dimensions entirely behind the plane of your existing walls probably isn’t in the cards. Instead, expect for the chase to punch at least a few inches into the rooms through which it’s going to run. Yes, you’re right—doing that is definitely going to complicate the job!

Location, Location, Location
Real estate and laundry chutes have at least one thing in common: For both, location is of key importance. Certainly, you want to find a place for the chute that’s going to be convenient in your day-to-day life, but the greater challenge is going to be finding a spot where the chase can fit into the framework of your house. While it’s easy enough to build a laundry chute into a new home or addition, integrating one into an existing house takes some doing. What you need to find is a stud bay that drops to the basement, with neither wiring nor plumbing in the way. Prepare to cut a few small exploratory holes if you never knew or have forgotten what lies behind this or that wall. Hallways are often a good bet, especially if their walls run parallel to underlying floor joists. Note that it’s possible for a laundry chute to bend slightly in its run so as to avoid an obstruction, but that bend must be gradual and of course is going to complicate matters.

Laundry Chute - Open Door

Photo: builtbylandmark.com

The Big Drop
The idea of a laundry chute appeals most to those who live in a multistory home. Bear in mind, however, that the risk of a snag increases in direct proportion with the length of the chase. There are worse things in the world than having a sock snag in your laundry chute, but the impetus for building one is to minimize hassle, and clearing a snag is nothing if not annoying. Most homeowners keep a pole or stiff wire on hand to deal with such a problem, but if you’re using a contractor, he or she may be able to design the chase in such a way that it allows for user-friendly maintenance over time.

Kid Stuff
Are there small children in the house? If so, position any upstairs entry doors to the chute high up on the wall, beyond the reach of kids who don’t know better than to send themselves (or the cat) on a ride to the basement. Alternatively or in addition, downsize the door so that no small bodies can fit through. Yet another child-safety option would be to put a lock on the door to the chute.

Fire Safety
Properly designed, a laundry chute provides unobstructed passage between floors. Many people believe that this chimney-like construction has the potential to turn a small fire into a really big and utterly devastating one. On the other hand, many builders and architects point out that stairways carry the same potential risk. And whereas stairways are typically open, laundry chutes are most often closed shut behind doors that can slow a fire’s spread.

Regardless, in some municipalities, there are strict fire codes prohibiting or restricting the construction of laundry chute. Before going ahead with plans, be sure to check with your local building authority.


Bob Vila Radio: Painting Pressure-Treated Wood

The process of painting pressure-treated wood isn't wildly different from painting other types of lumber. But there are special requirements here—most of all, the job calls for patience.

Thinking of putting some paint on that deck you just built? If you used pressure-treated lumber, you’ll need to approach the job a bit differently than you ordinarily would.

Painting Pressure-Treated Wood

Photo: the-lumber-outlet.com

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Listen to BOB VILA ON PAINTING PRESSURE-TREATED WOODor read the text below:

First, put a coat of preservative on the wood. And not just any preservative. Home stores carry preservatives especially formulated for pressure-treated wood.

The next thing you’ll need to apply is a bit of patience. That means waiting about three months before you paint. That’ll give the chemicals in the wood time to dry properly.

Once the wood has finished curing, it’s time to head to the paint store. Choose a paint that’s specially formulated for covering pressure-treated wood. Although you can use either oil- or latex-based, latex is probably the better choice, since it expands and contracts with the wood and is less prone to cracking and peeling.

Avoid the temptation to apply all the paint in one thick coat. You’re better off applying several thinner coats, using a brush and—if practical—a roller with medium-to-long nap. Make sure that between coats, you allow plenty of time for drying.

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.

How To: Clean a Stovetop

When weeks of hasty dinner prep leave your stovetop in a state, never fear: A combination of common pantry items can restore the shine to your appliance and a sense of order to your kitchen.

How to Clean a Stovetop

Photo: shutterstock.com

On those busy nights when you’re lucky to have found just 20 minutes to put toward preparing a one-pot meal, cleanup seems like it can wait. Regret only sets in days or a week later, when you’re bent over, scrubbing away splatters of caked-on grease or drippings. No matter your homekeeping style—whether you prefer to do a little bit every day or a giant deep-clean once in a blue moon—these tips can help you clean a stovetop effectively, and without going nuts in the process.

1. Take off removable parts. These include such things as the grates over gas burners or the coils on some, not all, electric stoves. If the control knobs on your appliance come off, remove and deposit them—along with the grates or coils—in a bucket or sink filled with hot, soapy water. If your knobs don’t budge, clean them in place with a soapy sponge. (Though people often praise ammonia for its grease-cutting, its use here runs the risk of erasing the knobs’ markings.) Towel away any soap suds left on the knobs, then dry them off before being sure to double-check that all the knobs are set to the off position—safety first!

How to Clean a Stovetop - Dirty

Photo: shutterstock.com

2. Address caked-on spills. You can always use a store-bought cleaner that’s been formulated for use on stovetops. But if you’d rather not spend the money—or hesitate to expose yourself to toxic chemicals—you can brew a potent cleaning solution from natural items you likely already have in your pantry. Try this: Mix equal parts water, baking soda, and salt to create a mild abrasive paste. Apply the paste to any splotches on the stovetop, then wait a few minutes. The paste should work to soften even the most stubborn stains. Finish by firmly rubbing the dirty areas with a sponge or a microfiber cloth. Once clean, buff the stovetop dry.

3. Revisit removable parts. In Step 1, you probably left several components to soak in soapy water. Now go back to those, and you should find their grime has loosened up. Scrub each piece with a sponge—or with a stiff-bristled brush—until clean. Rinse off, dry, and replace the parts where they belong on the stove.

Additional Notes
- If you own a gas stove and have noticed that one of the burners no longer performs as it once did, the problem may be a clogged fuel port. With the grates off, take a closer look, using a flashlight if necessary. If you spot a blockage, use a bent paper clip to gently dislodge the offending debris.

Now that your stovetop sparkles, the trick is to maintain its state of cleanliness. The best way to do so is by wiping down the grates/coils and the surface of the appliance after every use. Add stovetop clean-up to your post-dinner routine, if you can. Spending two minutes a day ultimately takes less time than periodic deep-cleaning—and the former definitely involves less hassle and labor than the latter.


How To: Fix Cracks in Concrete

They are not only a tripping hazard, but cracks in your concrete patio, driveway, or walkway can really compromise the curb appeal of your home. You've left these imperfections linger long enough. Here's how to fix them—easily!

How to Fix Cracks in Concrete

Photo: shutterstock.com

Installations of concrete can last hundreds of years, but sooner of later, most end up developing small cracks and gaps, holes and crevices. If your concrete path, patio, or driveway has begun to show its age, make the necessary repairs sooner rather than later. After all, what’s a small problem today is only going to get bigger and more difficult (or expensive) to fix. While in some cases it takes a pro to work successfully with concrete, almost anyone can fix cracks in concrete. Here’s how it’s done.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
- Concrete repair mix
- Hammer
- Chisel
- Wire brush
- Mason’s trowel (or putty knife)
- Protective gear

How to Fix Cracks in Concrete - Putty Knife

Photo: shutterstock.com

STEP 1
Concrete surfaces cannot be repaired with concrete. Instead, use a concrete repair mix; these are readily available at most home improvement retail chain stores. Options include epoxy compounds, latex patching material, and mortar mixes. This last option works best to fill large cracks (or chipped edges), while the other products are suitable for cracks in concrete that are 1/8 inch wide or narrower.

STEP 2
It’s important to prepare the cracked area for patching. First, use a small hammer and chisel in combination to knock away any cracked, crumbling, or loose concrete. Chip to a depth of about one inch below the surface plane. Then, rinse the area thoroughly, scrubbing with a wire brush to dislodge any loose, lingering particles. Bear in mind that this is dusty work. To facilitate cleanup, you may wish to spread a tarp beneath the work area. Most important, be sure to wear the proper protective gear.

STEP 3
Epoxy or latex. To cracks 1/8 inch wide or narrower, apply an epoxy or latex patching product, mixed according to the manufacturer’s specifications. The material goes on either with a mason’s trowel or a putty knife. Force it all the way into the crack, then smooth the product level with the surrounding concrete. Different mixes cure differently; again, consult the directions listed on your chosen product.

Mortar mix. For larger imperfections in concrete, use a mortar mix. Creating your own mix is as simple as combining one part Portland cement, three parts masonry sand, and just enough water to form a thick paste. Moisten (but do not drench) the problem area, then apply the mortar mix with either a mason’s trowel or a putty knife. As you work, take pains to eliminate air pockets by pressing down firmly on the applied product. Finally, smooth the patch so that it’s level with the surrounding concrete. Let it cure for about two hours, then cover the area with plastic sheeting to keep it moist. Sprinkle water under the plastic every day for a few days or until the surface has hardened up.


What Would Bob Do? Solving a Yard Drainage Crisis

Does your lawn turn into a swampy mess every time it rains hard? If so, pursue one of these yard drainage solutions, not only to allay your aesthetic concerns, but also because standing water can pose serious problems.

Yard Drainage Solutions

Photo: shutterstock.com

Please help. My yard stays wet when it rains. I live in a subdivision with flat terrain. Is there a solution that does not cost a lot of money?

You have a few options, but none of them are cheap. First, I would invite a full-service landscaping company to examine your property, diagnose the problem, and submit an estimate. Even if you opt not to hire the company, the consultation would help you to understand the cause (and potential consequences) of the problem. Knowing only the basics of your situation, I can offer some general info on yard drainage solutions, but you really should talk to a pro in your area.

Poor yard drainage isn’t only an aesthetic issue. For one thing, standing water seriously jeopardizes the health of your lawn and landscape plantings. Another frustration: When your property is a swamp, you simply cannot enjoy it. Meanwhile, standing water can actually be a health hazard, as it gives rise to mosquitoes and other pests. Not to mention, excess storm water may ultimately find its way into your basement, where it creates a host of other costly-to-fix issues.

Usually, there’s a solution to yard drainage problems. Topography is the key thing to consider. A well-draining property slopes gently and gradually away from the house, descending six inches over the initial ten feet surrounding the foundation (with another foot of slope over the next 100 feet). If that’s not true in your case—if, say, your property actually sits below that of the neighbors’ and the street—re-grading the terrain is the logical step, but it’s not a do-it-yourself job.

After an abnormally heavy rainfall, any yard can be expected to be a bit swampy, but if yours consistently hosts standing water, then you’re right to pursue yard drainage solutions. Each of these are designed to divert excess water from where it poses a problem to an area where it can more freely seep into the soil.

Yard Drainage Solutions - Curtain

Photo: wikimedia.org

Curtain Drain. This won’t work if your property has a lower elevation than all of the land surrounding it, but if the street or an adjacent woodland are below the grade of your flooded yard, you’re in luck. You can set a perforated pipe into the ground, running from the problem area to the safe zone. The pipe draws in water through its holes and by the power of gravity, carries water away from your home.

Drywell. If there’s nowhere it would make sense to drain the storm water, your best bet might be to install a dry well. Basically, a dry well is a holding tank for excess runoff. The container fills during a storm, then in the hours and days afterward, it drains into the soil beneath and next to the well adjacent. One advantage is that a gravel-filled dry well may be covered over with soil and grass.

Sump Pump. If you’re willing to throw money at the problem, go for a sump pump (like that used to keep a wet basement dry). A sump pump corrals excess runoff and pumps it away. That means it can deposit the water somewhere that’s uphill from your property. The catch? A sump pump isn’t cheap: There are not only installation costs to weigh, but also the ongoing costs of running the machine.

As mentioned, a full-service landscaping company would have a great deal of experience handling situations such as the one you’ve described. But it’s important to note that if you believe municipal engineers are in any way responsible for the issue you’re facing, then your local government may be willing—or legally obligated—to solve it. Talk to your neighbors. If they too are experiencing drainage problems, approach city hall as a group to maximize chances of your voice being heard.


Weekend Projects: 5 Ways to Set Up a Home Recycling Station

Recycling is the right thing to do, but it isn't always the easiest, with unsightly bins hogging precious space in your kitchen. Streamline the effort with one of these DIY sorting station projects, any of which you can make before Monday.

If you live in one of the many municipalities encouraging—or even mandating—an effort to recycle, your day-to-day now includes a new task—collecting recyclable materials. As you dutifully sort glass, plastic, and paper, all that waste quickly accumulates until the night before pick-up, by which point the recycling seems to have taken over a sizable portion of your kitchen real estate. Reclaim floor space and organize the process more neatly with a homemade sorting station. It couldn’t be easier to set one up, although depending on your skill level and ambition, you may wish to build something on the more elaborate side. Check out these DIY recycling bins we culled from around the Web. Copy your favorite approach, or draw ideas on how to customize a design that perfectly meets your own needs.

 

1. RECYCLING FOR RUGRATS

Photo: handmadecharlotte.com

This kid-friendly sorting station not only serves as a temporary storage place for recyclables, but it also encourages the use of scrap materials in future arts and crafts. By incorporating a pegboard and simple tools, Handmade Charlotte invites her children to imagine fun uses for things otherwise destined for the dump.

 

2. LEVERAGE LABELS

DIY Recyling Bins - Labeled Buckets

Photo: sarahhearts.com

If you didn’t receive blue bins from your local government—or if you’re looking for a solution that would look equally at home on the curb and in the kitchen—take a look at how Sarah Hearts spruced up a trio of easily affordable, readily available buckets with no-cost printables that clearly mark the contents of each container.

 

3. FILE AWAY

DIY Recycling Bins - Filing Cabinet

Photo: growandmake.com

As we rely less and less on printed paper, filing cabinets are becoming a thing of the past. So you’ve got to love the poetic justice of recycling one such cabinet into a sorting station for recyclables. Kristina at Grow and Make offers instructions on updating any file cabinet into a cheery-looking, effortlessly mobile home helper.

 

4. GO INCOGNITO

DIY Recyling Bins - Converted Cabinet

Photo: projectophile.net

Green bottles, red plastic cups, and paper in every hue—left out in the open recyclables create visual clutter. For maximum camouflage, build a sorting station that matches the decor elsewhere in your home. The crafty homeowners at Projectophile did just that, converting an old cabinet into a new and stylish drop zone.

 

5. CUSTOMIZE A CABINET

Cabinet Recycling Center

Photo: manmadeDIY.com

In kitchens with limited floorspace, consider housing your DIY recycling bins on top of, or even within, those elements of the room that are not going anywhere (e.g., cabinetry). Bruno at ManMade DIY custom-fit two corrugated plastic bins into the bottom half of his pantry. Stenciled symbols indicate what goes where.


Bob Vila Radio: Give Your Garage Floor a Makeover

Does your garage look a little like a dungeon? Coat the floor with colorful (and highly durable) epoxy paint. Here's how.

Looking to make your garage a little snazzier? Dressing up the concrete floor with colorful epoxy paint may be just the ticket. Besides looking sharp, epoxy resists grease and oil. Plus, it’s easy to clean.

How to Epoxy Garage Floor

Photo: diamondcutgaragefloors.com

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Listen to BOB VILA ON EPOXY PAINT or read the text below:

As with any paint job, preparation is key. First, wait for mild weather. Epoxy doesn’t bond well in extreme temperatures.

Next, remove any existing paint. Use a degreaser to clean up oil stains, then an electric scrubber to clean the whole floor. Wet vac the floor to get up as much water as you can, then sprinkle a mix of muriatic acid and water on the floor and go over it again with the scrubber.

Rinse thoroughly and allow the floor to dry completely.

You’ll need to apply at least two coats of epoxy. Be sure to allow plenty of time between coats. And don’t forget to wear protective gear during the job, as epoxy fumes can be toxic.

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 60 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.


5 Things to Do with… Shoeboxes


Take a few old shoeboxes from the dusty stack in your closet and with a little creativity, transform them into stylish yet functional everyday objects for the home.

There’s something about the size, durability, and versatility of shoeboxes that compels us to keep them long after our footwear has done its walking. If you’ve still got a shoebox (or four) lying around, your hoarding instincts were right-on—that box retains plenty of potential. Many simple and quick projects can breathe new life into your old shoe storage, whether you’re looking for pure function or something more fun. Here are five favorite shoebox crafts to help get you started.

 

1. STORE SPOOLS

Shoebox Crafts - Spools

Photo: justcraftyenough.com

The one pitfall of having a large inventory of ribbon for wrapping and embellishing? The inevitable tangle that occurs when your ribbons aren’t in use. But with a shoebox and some basic crafting tools, you can keep your trimmings tidy. To make an organizer of your own, follow the step-by-step at Just Crafty Enough.

 

2. WAKE UP YOUR WALLS

Shoebox Crafts - Canvas

Photo: cremedelacraft.com

For budget-friendly decor, try these trendy color-blocked “canvases” with a twist: Instead of using pricier pulled canvas, create the same dimensional effect using a covered shoebox lid. Grab some painter’s tape and a few spray paints in your favorite colors, and follow these easy instructions from Creme de la Craft.

 

3. START A PUPPET THEATER

Shoebox Crafts - Puppet Theater

Photo: handmadecharlotte.com

Create a charming shoebox puppet theater guaranteed to make little ones smile. While an adult should take care of the handiwork (involving an X-acto knife), smaller children can help with the puppets—and, of course, run the show. Miniature LED lights adds a final magical touch. Handmade Charlotte has the tutorial.

 

4. CORRAL CORDS

Shoebox Crafts - Organizer

Photo: tashachawner.com

Cord clutter? Put a shoebox to work as a charging station, which keeps tangled cables out of sight. This one, shared by Tasha Chawner on her lifestyle blog, took just 30 minutes to build. Tasha simply cut holes for the cords to poke through, painted the box red for a pop of color, and framed the slots with metal bookplates.

 

5. MAKE A PLANTER

Shoebox Crafts - Planter

Photo: magilkey.com

Take a tip from Laura Gilkey at Michael A. Gilkey, Inc. and upcycle your extra shoeboxes into a container garden. This project is a snap, requiring only a little potting soil and your choice of small plants, flowers, or herbs. The best part? You can plant the whole box, if you choose, as cardboard is often biodegradable!


Bob Vila Radio: Emergency Generators

If you've been thinking about purchasing an emergency generator, don't wait until after the lights have gone out. Start your research now.

We used to think of late summer and early fall as the storm season, but with all the unpredictable weather lately, it’s best to be prepared year ’round. For many people, part of being ready for anything is to own a generator.

Photo: shutterstock.com

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Listen to BOB VILA ON EMERGENCY GENERATORS or read the text below:

What type of generator should you choose—portable or stationary? Here are some points to consider…

Most portable generators crank out somewhere between 3,000 and 10,000 watts. That’ll probably be enough to run most of your lights and plug-in appliances, but only the large portables can feed power-eaters like central air or electric ranges. Portables are relatively inexpensive, though, and they’re a good bargain if you just want to power the essentials.

Stationary generators, on the other hand, are permanently installed outside the house and run on propane or natural gas. The largest standby generators put out 15,000 watts or more and can virtually power your whole house. That power doesn’t come cheap, though. Expect to pay $5,000 to $10,000 plus installation.


A Coffee Table Quest Ends at Sauder

The quest for a versatile, attractive coffee table lead this writer to Sauder, the well-known manufacturer of ready-to-assemble furnishings—and to a few new pieces that have quickly become part of her family.

Photo: JNoonan

Three years ago, our family moved from a tiny New York City apartment to a sprawling 3,000-square-foot house in Delaware. In the time since, we’ve been slowly furnishing the rooms of our new home as we better understand our needs and find the time to shop (with two kids under 6, that can be difficult).

Apart from the kitchen, the living room is where we find ourselves spending most of our time. Activities include working on the computer, family game-playing, and entertaining guests. So I had been looking for a storage-friendly coffee table with the versatility to accommodate all the different ways that we use the room.

That’s when I found Sauder. Founded in 1934, the company has been making furniture in Archbold, Ohio, ever since. Navigating the many options might have been tough—Sauder offers 30 distinct collections—but then I found the fun and quite instructive Find Your Furniture Style on the easy-to-use Sauder site.

Photo: Sauder.com

Somehow the tool determined that my taste is “transitional.” That seemed exactly right (and the thrill of a computer understanding my style preferences was something akin to having a fortune-teller correctly guess my birthday). Sauder’s site then recommended sets of furniture with transitional design features. I began to explore.

Quickly, I found the perfect piece—the Lift-Top Coffee Table from the Edge Water Collection. I love how the hinged top swings up to create a higher surface, perfect for typing on a laptop. Meanwhile, beneath the tabletop sits a hidden storage area, and at the base there are three open cubbies. You know how books and board games, remote controls, and DVDs create clutter in the living room? I couldn’t wait to neatly corral these things in the roomy nooks provided by the coffee table.

Photo: Sauder.com

If anything were to change—and with a growing family, that’s always a distinct possibility—there are at least two or three other settings in which I could envision using the lift-top coffee table. Confident I was making the right choice, I went ahead and ordered the piece, along with three accompanying storage ottomans (we need the storage—and places to put our feet up). The online ordering process was simple, and within a week, four boxes arrived on my doorstep.

The ottomans were a cinch to assemble. It took me all of three minutes. Boom!

Photo: JNoonan

Then it was time for the coffee table. Inside the heavy-duty cardboard box, I found the wood pieces, hardware, and instructions I would need. The cam-and-dowel assembly, I knew, would be nearly invisible after construction but would create joints that, while strong and lasting, could be easily taken apart later.

Photo: JNoonan

Having experience building similar pieces in the past certainly made things easier, but the instructions from Sauder were as clear as one could hope. If I had needed any help, I could have contacted customer service, online or by telephone, anytime Monday through Friday, between 9 a.m. and 5:30 p.m.

All told, there was only one hitch: A single piece arrived damaged. Remedying the situation was painless and took only a few minutes. On the Sauder site, I placed an order for a replacement part, and it was delivered to my door free of charge.

Photo: JNoonan

The coffee table is now sitting where I’d envisioned it, in the middle of the living room, and I couldn’t be more pleased. When my daughters want to play a game of Uno after dinner, they pull the storage ottomans up to the sides of the table, and it all works. We’ll be enjoying these pieces from Sauder for a long time.

Photo: JNoonan

 

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