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Find Out Which Renowned Homes Were Practically Uninhabitable

They're dream homes for fans of architecture, but for the people who actually live in them, groundbreaking designs can be a real nightmare.

Pushing the envelope always entails risk. But much more often than you might have expected, works of architecture that succeed aesthetically ultimately end up failing to keep out the weather. The use of cutting-edge materials in new forms: While on the one hand it leads to progress, it also invites trouble.

 

Frank Lloyd Wright was famous for his leaky roofs.

Famous Houses' Leaky Roofs - Richard Lloyd Jones

Richard Lloyd Jones House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, and built in 1929. Photo: flickr.com

When client Herbert “Hib” Johnson was deciding whether or not to hire Frank Lloyd Wright, he visited the Lloyd-Jones House, a home Wright had designed in Tulsa. Arriving in a downpour, Johnson found that it was raining indoors, too. The floor was dotted with containers strategically positioned so as to catch the drops. Mrs. Lloyd-Jones dryly observed, “This is what happens when you leave a work of art out in the rain.” The prospective client nonetheless commissioned a house.

 

“If the roof doesn’t leak, the architect hasn’t been creative enough.”

Famous Houses' Leaky Roofs - Glass House

The Glass House, designed by Philip Johnson, and built in 1949. Photo: wikimedia.org

So said another Johnson, the irreverent Philip. He once told an audience at Yale that he regarded Wright’s iconic Fallingwater as a “pioneer work.” In a typically witty aside, Johnson observed that it was “a seventeen-bucket house.” He then had the good grace to admit that his own Glass House was “a six-bucket house.” A rather unusual rating system?

 

Madame Savoye declared her Le Corbusier masterwork “uninhabitable.”

Famous Houses' Leaky Roofs - Villa Savoye

Villa Savoye, designed by Le Corbusier, and built in 1931. Photo: flickr.com

Within a week of moving into the home Le Corbusier had designed for her family, Madame Savoye found that its roof leaked everywhere. “It’s raining in the hall,” she wrote Corbu. “It’s still raining in my bathroom….” The “rain” actually gave her only child an illness from which it took him a year to recover. In the end, Madame Savoye demanded that Le Corbusier pay for the repairs. Otherwise, she threatened, she would contact her lawyers and take him to court.

 

The problem is forever.

Famous Houses' Leaky Roofs - Attingham House Picture Gallery

Picture Gallery of Attingham House, designed by John Nash, and built in 1805. Photo: attinghamparkmansion.wordpress.com

Such problems show no sign of going away. Witness the fact that MIT recently sued Frank Gehry when the Stata Center, built in 2004, sprouted leaks and an epidemic of mold. Likewise, leaky roofs at the leading edge of architecture are by no means a contemporary phenomenon. At the Attingham House, a grand country estate in Shropshire, England, Regency architect John Nash used skylights and cast-iron roof ribs in the picture gallery. Revolutionary for 1805, the room inspired a new breed of building, but it stopped leaking only decades later once a completely new roof had been added over the old one.

Buildings are supposed to keep us out of the rain. But when designers explore bold new ideas? Keep a mop at hand.


How To: Make Your Own Furniture Polish

A coat of polish adds shine to furniture, restoring luster you didn't even know was lost, while preventing the wood from drying out and becoming brittle. Here's how to save money and make your own polish.

Homemade Furniture Polish

Photo: shutterstock.com

Wood furniture is no small investment. In covering the expense, we are comforted knowing that what we are buying can last a lifetime or longer. For that to be true, however, a modest degree of care is required. The benefit of polishing is twofold: Not only does it add shine to the wood surface in the short term, but it also prevents the wood from drying out and becoming brittle, which benefits the piece over the long haul. Of course, anyone can buy a product in the local hardware store, but homemade furniture polish is so easy to make that you might consider spending your money, not on polish, but on more furniture!

Homemade Furniture Polish, Unscented
You will need:
- Oil (preferably pomace or jojoba)
- White vinegar

Mix either pomace or jojoba oil (both of which are cheap, non-food-grade oils that have long shelf lives and little color) with white vinegar. A ratio of around ¼ cup of oil to a few drops of vinegar is standard, but you can vary the amounts to experiment with the consistency of the polish. The more oil you add, the more lubricating the polish. Just know that using too much oil can leave the homemade furniture polish a bit oily to the touch. Increasing the amount of vinegar gives the final product a sharper scent and improves its cleaning ability.

Homemade Furniture Polish, Lemon Scented
You will need:
- Lemon oil
- Squeezed lemon
- Oil (preferably olive or jojoba)

Homemade Furniture Polish - Detail Ornament

Photo: shutterstock.com

Make a small amount of scented polish using 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, 2-3 drops of lemon oil, and 2-3 drops of oil (again, we suggest pomace or jojoba oil for their long shelf lives and colorlessness). You can double or triple the batch depending on the size of your project. Combine the ingredients well to make a homemade furniture polish that leaves a lingering citrus scent.

Applying the Polish
Simply dip a soft cloth into the homemade furniture polish, using the moistened cloth to rub down your wood furniture, always in the direction of the grain. You should see the furniture start to regain its luster almost immediately. So as not to miss a spot, be certain to rub the polish thoroughly into any intricately carved areas. Once finished, leave the wood to air dry.

Additional Notes
Before you polish, check the wood for any water marks; these often appear as white spots or rings from where a hot plate or a cool glass sat on its surface. One popular method of removal involves a little mayonnaise. Squirt a dot of the real, full-fat variety—not a light version or a mayo substitute—and gently rub it into the stain. Let the condiment sit for 15 minutes (or a few hours, if it’s a stubborn spot), then wipe it away. The mayonnaise should pull the moisture out of the wood’s surface. When the wood is clear again, proceed to polish the table in the manner described.


How To: Paint IKEA Furniture

If your IKEA furniture has seen better days, or it's outlived your love of its look, maybe all it needs is a new coat of paint?

How to Paint IKEA Furniture

Photo: shutterstock.com

Years ago, you purchased particleboard furniture at IKEA. Maybe it’s begun to show its age, or maybe you simply no longer like the color. Either way, you can—contrary to popular belief—renew your furniture’s lease on life with a fresh coat of paint. The work demands a certain amount of preparation; paint projects always do. But it’s eminently possible to get the job done successfully, transforming the look of the Lack or Expedit you’re still not (or never will be?) ready to part with.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
- Cleaning supplies (clean cloths and dishwashing detergent)
- Fine- and medium-grit sandpaper
- Oil-based primer
- Oil- or water-based paint
- Paintbrush

STEP 1
When you set out to paint IKEA furniture, start by pulling off all the removable pieces. That includes such things as shelves and doors (components that are easier to paint separately) and hardware, such as hinges and knobs. Label each piece as you set it aside so that once finished, you’ll know what goes where.

How to Paint Ikea Furniture - Detail Shot

Photo: shutterstock.com

STEP 2
Next, use a clean cloth to wipe down all surfaces with a mixture of warm water and a small amount of dishwashing detergent. The aim here is to eliminate any built-up grit. As you clean the particleboard, be very careful not saturate the material. Clean only the laminate portions of the furniture, not the pressed wood. Once you’ve finished, go over the piece with a dry cloth to remove any lingering soap residue.

STEP 3
Having allowed the IKEA furniture enough time to dry completely, proceed to sand the surface with 120- or 140-grit sandpaper. Here, scuff the laminate enough so that the primer coat can adhere. Steer clear of sanding too aggressively, which can leave the surface uneven or cause the particleboard to deteriorate.

STEP 4
When you’ve finished sanding, wipe the sanding dust off the furniture and vacuum the work area so that the dust doesn’t find its way back. Now, with a quality paintbrush, apply a coat of oil-based primer and let it dry.

STEP 5
Sand the furniture a second time, this time with 400-grit sandpaper. Clean the sawdust off the furniture and work area before applying the second coat of primer. Before you proceed to the next step, be sure to wait a few days—or as long as a week—for the primer to fully cure.

STEP 6
Lightly scuff the primed surfaces with medium-grit sandpaper, wipe away the sanding dust, then apply the first coat of paint in the color of your choice. Do so in a thin layer, allowing a day or two of drying time.

STEP 7
Lightly sand the first coat of paint, wipe away the sanding dust, then brush on the second, final coat. Give it a couple of days to dry, reassemble the furniture, replace the hardware, and you’re all done!


Genius! DIY Murphy Bed

What makes a Murphy bed? Have you ever wondered that? Wonder no more. Follow along as one genius blogger shows you how to build your very own.

DIY Murphy Bed - Open

Photo: creativedecorbybrooke.blogspot.com

There’s something kind of fascinating about the Murphy bed. Is it a bed? Is it a closet? And just how do you manage to get that hefty mattress so tidily tucked away and out of sight? Yes, the Murphy bed is pretty cool, enabling you to convert a home office or craft area into a mini hotel room. Best of all, you can reclaim the room for your own purposes as soon as your guest leaves. Genius.

So when we saw this DIY murphy bed by Brooke at Creative Decor by Brooke, we had to know more. Here’s what she had to say about the project.

“We just worked on it in our garage, because we don’t have a wood shop. It took us approximately eight hours to build, and then I painted it and that took about three hours.” If that sounds do-able to you (this is not necessarily a beginner project), Brooke recommends that you remember, “the most important thing in making a Murphy bed is the mechanism…. I would search online and find the mechanism you want, then it will have instructions on making the bed to the right size.”

If you’re not quite ready to build your own DIY murphy bed, follow Brooke’s advice. “I started off small with a drill and scroll saw… and advanced to table saw and router, as I got more courage and wanted to try making bigger things.” If you want to increase your skills, “start small and master one tool at a time,” she says.

Take a lesson from Brooke and remember: safety first! “I drilled through my hand one day…. I was holding a piece of wood in my hand and drilling…. The drill hit a soft spot in the wood and zipped right through, and because I was holding it, my hand was next.” She was fine, luckily, but adds, “Just learn from your mistakes and be safe.” Truer words were never spoken.

Take a look at Brooke’s simply genius DIY Murphy bed. Who knows, maybe it will inspire your next project!

DIY Murphy Bed - Opening

Photo: creativedecorbybrooke.blogspot.com

MATERIALS
- Spring mechanism
- Wood (to measurements)
- Crown molding
- Cabinet hardware
- Paint and primer
- Paintbrush
- Mattress

STEP 1
This is where it all started. We purchased the mechanism for the Murphy bed and with it came instructions on making it and the wood we needed to purchase.

DIY Murphy Bed - Frame

Photo: creativedecorbybrooke.blogspot.com

STEP 2
Screw together the wood pieces according to your measurements.

DIY Murphy Bed - Process

Photo: creativedecorbybrooke.blogspot.com

STEP 3
So when the bed is up in the cabinet, the front is supposed to look like an armoire. You can have cabinet doors made, but that is expensive, so I decided we could make fake doors and drawers with just some trim and fake drawer fronts. Use crown molding along the top of the Murphy bed to create the look of cabinet doors. Put handles and knobs on them, and they look real.

DIY Murphy Bed - Pre-Paint

Photo: creativedecorbybrooke.blogspot.com

STEP 4
I then started the yucky job of painting. I hate to paint. I decided black was the color.

DIY Murphy Bed - Painting

Photo: creativedecorbybrooke.blogspot.com

STEP 5
Do a little sanding around the trim (I mean doors) and crown molding.

STEP 6
Then I put two coats of polyurethane in satin finish. It recommends three coats on the can, but I had had enough!

DIY Murphy Bed - Polyurethane

Photo: creativedecorbybrooke.blogspot.com

STEP 7
“Where is the mattress?” you ask. Well, we had to order it, because it is a full/double size, and the store we went to didn’t stock them because they aren’t that popular. I do love how it looks in the room, and it will be great for an extra bed when needed.

DIY Murphy Bed - Complete

Photo: creativedecorbybrooke.blogspot.com

 Thanks, Brooke! If you loved this post, check out her site for even more inventive DIY projects.


Bob Vila Radio: How to Hush a Noisy Radiator

If your steam-heat radiator is keeping you up all night, banging and clanking, here are a few quick fixes.

Steam-heat radiators may be good at keeping you warm, but their banging and clanking can also sometimes keep you up at night.

Noisy Radiotor

Photo: shutterstock.com

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Listen to BOB VILA ON NOISY RADIATORS or read the text below:

Most steam radiators are connected to a pipe that’s fitted with an intake valve. That pipe doesn’t only feed steam in; it’s also supposed to release the steam that’s condensed into liquid water. When enough water accumulates to block steam from entering the radiator, that’s when you hear noises.

So if your radiator starts serenading you, try tilting the radiator slightly toward the intake valve. You can do that by inserting a couple of shims under the end that’s opposite the valve.

If that doesn’t work, it could be the steam is losing heat and condensing before it even gets to the radiator. Think that’s your problem? Try insulating the pipes.

Another possible cause: The steam vent on the radiator isn’t working properly. Replace it.

Chances are one of those fixes will work and you’ll soon be getting your shut-eye.

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.


This House in Navajo Nation Wears a Sombrero

A team of students from the University of Colorado Building Workshop use their heads to shade a desert home and open it up to monumental views.

Skow Residence

The Skow Residence stands on a parcel of land located within the Navajo Nation. Photo: Jesse Kuroiwa

Out in the blazing hot, red-tinted desert 15 miles southwest of Bluff, Utah, stands a house inspired by a wide sombrero.

Three years ago, Harold Skow, a member of the Navajo Nation, leased a parcel of land from his tribe. He planned to live there with his family, in a kit home like the others many Navajos occupy nearby. The Skows built the foundation, before deciding they didn’t like the type of house the kit was intended to build.

Related—House Tour: Skow Residence

They “were kind of stuck,” says Eric Sommerfield, director of the University of Colorado Building Workshop. At the Skows’ invitation, Sommerfield and a group of students visited the property, intent on coming up with a new design that would use only the materials meant for an entirely different house style.

On their first visit to the site, Skow showed everyone around. “He was wearing a big sombrero, trying to create as much shade as possible,” Sommerfield remembers. “He looked at a student and said, ‘You could use a sombrero.’ The student looked back at him and said that his house could use a sombrero, too.” And that conversation is how the home came to have the distinctive, sun hat-style roof that so defines, not only its look, but its climate performance.

Skow Residence - Kit Home

Kit homes of traditional style dot the desert landscape. Photo: Jesse Kuroiwa

Of course, the house would sit on a site with splendid views of the famed Monument Valley. To enjoy the panorama, the Skow family wanted a front porch where they could sit in comfort and gaze out. They also hoped the house would respond to, and not always be in contention with, the challenging weather.

Sifting through the kit and its materials, the students found a set of roof trusses and hit upon the idea of inverting them. Turned upside down, the roof structure would, like a sombrero, cool down the indoor spaces, while helping to create outdoor living areas shielded from the full force of the brutal sun.

Meanwhile, in a way that signals the extent to which the house harmonizes with nature, the students slightly tilted the trusses so that the roof would collect rainwater, directing it toward a storage barrel. As the rain barrel refills with each storm, the Skows now have a supply of fresh water always at the ready.

Related—House Tour: Skow Residence

Below the roof, there are no superfluous features; climate considerations informed every design decision. For instance, glass comprises most of the southern exterior wall. And while the glazing affords views, it simultaneously performs the arguably more important role of maximizing heat from the winter sun.

Cooling was equally important and here, too, the windows play a critical role by working to leverage the prolific desert winds. On the windward side, the windows appear low on the wall to catch as much of the moving air as possible. On the leeward side, they are close to the ceiling, allowing hot air to escape.

“We just wanted the house to open up to the landscape, and be extremely efficient in its environment,” Sommerfield says.

Fortunately, his students were brimming with ideas.

Skow Residence - Office

Windows not only frame views, but also help the house remain comfortable in its climate. Photo: Jesse Kuroiwa

J. Michael Welton writes about architecture, art, and design for national and international publications. He also edits and publishes Architects and Artisans.


Prevent a Crisis: This Fall, Give Your Furnace a Tune-Up

Don't get left out in the cold! A little maintenance and attention now can keep your furnace chugging away all winter long.

Furnace Cleaning and Maintenance

Photo: trusthomesense.com

Don’t wait until temperatures plummet: Now is the absolute best time to perform basic furnace cleaning and maintenance. By tuning up your heating appliance, you can save the time and money that might have had to go into addressing a crisis—and of course, you can avoid the inconvenience (and downright danger) of leaving your family without heat during the coldest part of the year. Also, by performing these very basic furnace cleaning and maintenance tasks, you can actually prolong the life of your furnace and coax it into operating at maximum energy efficiency. Follow these steps now to keep the unit in tip-top shape through the winter.

Furnace Cleaning and Maintenance - Diagram

Photo: coservicetechs.com

Combustion Chamber
Before doing anything else, cut both the electrical power and fuel supply to the furnace. Accomplish the former by toggling the on-off switch on the unit itself. To do the latter, first find the fuel shutoff valve. (Depending on your fuel source—oil or gas—the valve should either be near the oil tank or on the incoming gas pipe.) Next, remove the door to the combustion chamber and proceed to vacuum the interior. Inspect the chamber for holes created by corrosion. If you find any, be sure to cover them with foil tape.

Blower Compartment
Lift off the door to the blower compartment and thoroughly vacuum inside. As you did in the combustion chamber, look here—and in the exhaust flue—for holes. Cover any holes with foil tape before replacing the door. Perform the same inspection on all ductwork, including the return air ducts, patching if necessary.

Furnace Filter
Basic furnace filters are designed to trap dust, dirt, and airborne particulates before they can enter the furnace and potentially damage its components. During heating season, clean or replace the furnace filter every one to three months (some filters can be cleaned, while others can’t). Note that because today’s homes are so tightly sealed, most indoor air circulates through the HVAC system. For that reason, it’s generally worthwhile to spend a bit more on a furnace filter that not only protects the appliance itself, but also enhances air quality by trapping bacteria and pollen as well as mildew and mold spores. If yours is an oil-fired furnace, remember to replace the oil filter as well as the air filter; the oil filter should be replaced annually.

Motor Bearings
Many older furnaces have two motor bearings and two blower-shaft bearings. Both sets need to be oiled at least once per year. Start by using a clean cloth to wipe the caps over the bearings. Next, remove the caps and apply two or three drops of lightweight machine oil to each bearing,being careful not to over lubricate. Finish by restoring the caps to their original positions.

Hire a Pro?
Although basic furnace maintenance can be handled by most homeowners, there are some instances in which it only makes sense to hire a professional—for instance, if you’ve noticed the furnace rumbling and can’t figure out why. Any of the below situations usually call for a consultation with a HVAC pro.

Excessive soot: If in the course of cleaning the combustion chamber you notice that an excessive amount of soot has accumulated, that indicates that the burners need adjustment or that the heat exchanger must be replaced. Call in a pro to diagnose and fix the problem.

Irregular flame: The pilot light flame should be blue, not yellow. If yours is faint or irregular, it can be a sign of dirty burners or a cracked heat exchanger. Again, hire a pro to diagnose and fix the problem. The hazards involved make such work ill-advised for do-it-yourselfers.

Short cycling: Is your furnace running for a short period of time only to shut off suddenly? That’s known as “short cycling” and may be caused by an out-of-whack thermostat or an overheating exchanger. Retain the services of a pro to investigate and solve the problem.


Is Now the Time to Replace Your Front Door?

Swap out your current front door in favor of one that not only looks better from the curb, but also functions better day to day.

Photo: pella.com

Everyone knows the importance of making a good first impression. Yes, that’s advice for first dates and job interviews, but it also applies to home design and remodeling. And while curb appeal depends on many factors—landscaping and siding, lighting and lawn care—the front door, the focal point of the facade, trumps the others in terms of importance. It also has essential daily functions to perform, keeping out the weather and intruders, while also resisting more wear and tear than most other components are subject to. Despite its prominence, we rarely think twice about the entryway. Perhaps it’s time that we gave it our full attention.

Properly maintained, a quality door can last for decades, but there comes a time when it makes more sense to replace it than to repair it. If you’re trying to figure out whether or not that time has come for your entryway, take a close look and ask yourself the following questions:

• Is your front door weathered, scratched, or dented?
• Are there cracks or breaks along the door’s edges or within its panels?
• Does the door let in drafts?
• Have you encountered difficulty getting the door to hang level on its hinges?
• Is it often a hassle to close and lock the door?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, then it may be wise to consider front door replacement. Think about not only the problems that exist with your current entryway, but also the advantages to be gained from putting in a new one—improved appearance, energy efficiency, security, ease of operation and more. Best of all, research suggests that when you move out, you are very likely to recoup most of what you spend on a new door. According to the Remodeling magazine 2014 Cost vs. Value Report, front door replacement ranks as the single most cost-effective home upgrade, returning more than 95% of the investment!

Photo: pella.com

Of course, deciding to replace the front door isn’t the only choice to be made. Exterior doors differ in size, architectural style, and accessories. They also differ in material, and for many homeowners, differentiating between wood, fiberglass, and steel often ends up being the most challenging part of the process. Selecting one is a matter of your budget, and of weighing the pros and cons of each material. Here’s what to know:

Heavy in feel and inviting to look at, wood doors are generally the most traditional, often including rich details and decorative, light-admitting glass inserts. Typically, they’re most at home in heritage house styles (e.g., Craftsman, Colonial, and Victorian), but since they are available in such a wide assortment of finishes, you can bet there’s a wood door out there that would work perfectly as the portal to your place.

Fiberglass doors are significantly more affordable than wood, but equally appealing to homeowners are their low maintenance requirements. And while wood doors last a long time, fiberglass doors are also quite durable, being resistant to dents and cracks, rot and rust. You can get them in a virtually any finish you can think of, which means that no matter what sort of house you live in, fiberglass remains a top option.

Now if security is the main thing you want, nothing beats steel doors. These are the strongest of all, deterring not only intruders but also fire and moisture degradation. Often forgotten, too, is that most steel doors contain an insulating foam core, which means they excel in energy efficiency. Pre-primed, steel doors can be finished with any exterior paint in the color that best complements the outside of your home.

Once you’ve chosen a material, there are plenty of ways you can customize your chosen front door. For instance, there are glazing options, such as glass inserts, sidelights, and transoms. And there also countless styles and finishes available in hardware—door knobs, handles, and lock sets. To see a comprehensive collection of all the different looks you can achieve in your entryway, visit the Pella Photo Gallery.

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


Wait, Is It Actually a Mistake to Rake Leaves?

Don't rake 'em, mulch 'em! Your back will thank you, and you'll be able to spend your autumn mornings sipping cider instead of bagging leaves.

Mulching Leaves

Photo: shutterstock.com

Every year, fall reintroduces us to a raft of pleasures that we get to experience in no other season—hot apple cider, pumpkin carving, and so on. But fall also signals the return of one chore many of us dread: raking leaves. As surely as the seasons change, autumn mornings witness homeowners bent over rusty-tined rakes, endlessly scraping withered foliage onto tarps and into heavy-duty garbage bags. Imperfect though it may be, that’s the world I’ve always known.

Consider my surprise when I learned that, according to lawn care experts, leaf-raking is an optional exercise. Certainly, a thick layer of leaves should not be left to smother the grass growing beneath. But raking isn’t the only—or even the easiest—method of protecting your lawn’s health. It turns out that mulching leaves—that is, mincing them to shreds with your lawn mower—is what’s best for the health of your lawn. And compared with raking, mulching leaves is much less work.

Mulching Leaves - Close-Up Shot

Photo: shutterstock.com

There are plenty of mowers with mulching capability on the market today. As well, you can easily outfit a conventional, non-mulching mower with a serrated blade specially designed for mulching. But neither is strictly necessary. You can mulch leaves with any type of lawn mower, although it might take a few passes to do the job well. No matter what type of mower you own, prepare by setting the blade to its highest setting and removing the bag that collects clippings.

Proceed to mow the lawn just as if it were any other day, not the most exciting day of your life—the day you finally break free from the tyranny of raking. The goal is to cut the leaves into shreds that are about a half-inch in diameter (more or less the size of a dime). As mentioned, depending on the volume of leaves that have fallen on your lawn, it might take more than one pass to get the shreds to the desired size. When you’re done, the leaf shreds should have fallen between the blades of grass to reveal much of the lawn. A passerby might easily be fooled into thinking that you had raked!

If when you’re done you look at the shredded leaves scattered across your lawn and think, “I can’t see any grass whatsoever,” then do this: Reattach the bag to your lawn mower and go over the grass one last time. In the process, you’ll collect a surfeit of mulched leaves that you can add either to your garden beds or compost pile. Consider mulching on a weekly basis during the height of the season so there’s not enough time between mowings for a challenging amount of leaves to accumulate.

As the mulched leaves decompose, they enhance the soil with valuable nutrients that feed the microbes and worms present in any healthy lawn. Arguably, the nitrogen boost that results from mulching is such that you don’t even have to fertilize in the fall. This means that compared with raking, mulching leaves isn’t only easier and more lawn-friendly, but it’s also less costly, saving you both the money and time spent on fertilizing. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to look at leaves the same way again. It’s a shame for them to sit by the curb all wrapped up in tightly knotted plastic bags when they could be gracing your grass with nourishment.


This Fall, Tune Up the Engine That Drives Your Hydronic Heating

At the heart of a hydronic heating system is the circulator pump. Check yours in fall to be sure it remains in good working order.

Circulator Pumps

Photo: supplyhouse.com

Colder temperatures mean one thing: Winter looms on the horizon, so the time has come to make sure that your heating system remains in good working order. For a hydronic system, maintenance must include the circulator pump, as it’s essentially the “engine” of it all and arguably the single most important component.

Though other parts are more vulnerable to failure, circular pumps are by no means invincible. “A number of things can go wrong,” explains Daniel O’Brian, a technical expert from online retailer SupplyHouse.com. What types of problems should you look out for? Well, that depends on the design of the pump.

The main pump types are three-piece circulators and cartridge circulators. Of the two, three-piece circulators are more problematic. O’Brian says, “Three-piece circulators are more of an ‘old school’ style and have more replaceable parts, which need to be oiled on a regular basis, particularly at the start of each heating season.” Homeowners should listen for indications of a problem. ”If it suddenly starts making odd or annoying noises, something may be off,” O’Brian says.

Circulator Pumps - Replacement Cartridge

Replacement Cartridge for Taco Series 1600 Pumps. Photo: supplyhouse.com

Cartridge circulators, meanwhile, are water-lubricated. “These do not require oil and have very few replaceable parts,” O’Brian says. “Cartridge circulators may need a new cartridge every now and again,” but there’s not often cause to replace the pump itself. For that reason, cartridge-type circulators have become standard.

If a homeowner sees the day when his circulator pump must finally be replaced, it can be a simple DIY. But choosing the right replacement pump requires an understanding of several factors:

• Different pumps feature different flow rates. Measured in gallons per minute (GPM), the flow rate of a pump refers to the maximum volume of water it can circulate at a given head range.

• The head range is the number of feet a pump can raise or lower a column of water at atmospheric pressure.

• In a closed-loop hydronic system, the circulator pump can be cast iron, because the water used is de-oxygenated to prevent rusting. By contrast, in an open-loop hydronic system, where there’s a steady flow of oxygenated water, the circulator pump must be made of either bronze or stainless steel to prevent corrosion.

• Some pumps offer variable-speed functions that accommodate for changes throughout the day in a home’s heating load. Use a variable speed pumps in a zone valve system or with radiant heat that depends on a single manifold for multiple zones.

Online retailer SupplyHouse.com offers a large selection of circulator pumps from industry leaders Taco, Bell & Gossett, Grundfos, Wilo, and Armstrong, and features a variety of informative tools on its website, including this helpful video:

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