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All You Need to Know About Slate Floors

Weigh these important considerations before shelling out for this favorite flooring material.

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All You Need to Know About Slate Floors

Photo: istockphoto.com

Natural texture, super strength, stain resistance, and blend of vibrant hues are all reasons that slate tile—the thin, uniform-cut sheets of metamorphic rock—ranks high on the wish list of flooring choices. But as far as a rigid flooring product goes, this sought-after material isn’t suitable for all homes. If you’re considering installing slate floors in the kitchen, bath, mudroom, or patio, first consult our guide so that you have a better idea of what to expect out of the material.

NATURAL BEAUTY
Known primarily for its charcoal hue and grooved texture, selecting slate for your interior or exterior flooring opens a much wider variety of choices in terms of shade and pattern. This stone boasts texture in both coloring—which can include mixtures grays, tans, rusty browns, olive greens, and even specks of purple and cyan—as well as contouring. You can keep it more natural by embracing the physical texture (and enjoy the added bonus of some slip resistance), or opt for slate tiles that have been sanded smooth. No matter your preference, all variations on the earthy material effectively bring the outdoors in wherever homeowners choose to incorporate the stone.

Their creation also contributes to the strength of the surfaces. Forged from natural minerals like quartz and calcite in extreme heat, slate is an extremely durable and solid surface that withstands everyday wear and tear. If you do accidentally drop something heavy and chip the floor, you won’t see quite a contrasting color difference as you would with ceramic or porcelain tile. One caveat: Slate is slightly softer than some other stones, so it scratches relatively easily. This makes it an unsuitable choice for floors subject to heavy abuse, like those within a garage or warehouse. However, slate remains a great choice for kitchens and bathrooms.

All You Need to Know About Slate Floors

Photo: istockphoto.com

A PRETTY PENNY
Like other natural stone flooring, mined slate is a costly investment to purchase and install within the home. Experienced do-it-yourselfers can save a substantial amount of money by forgoing a call to the professionals and laying the floor on their own, leaving the bulk of the budget for the cost of materials themselves. These stone tiles range in price depending on how much effort was required to quarry, from around $2 per square foot (stone mined closer to the earth’s surface, and therefore easier to acquire) to as much as $10 per square foot (often a higher-end stone that is mined underground)—still a fair amount less than the price for marble or granite flooring.

If you do choose professional installation, know that the materials are the least expensive part of the cost of your new slate floors. The cost of labor typically runs two or three times the price of the tile, because the contractor has to prepare the substrate in multiple layers. Thoughtful patterns in the tiled floor will also increase the bill.

STRUCTURAL CONCERNS
Before you commit to slate tile, take a closer look at your floor system to be sure it is adequate to handle the new flooring. Slate is both heavy and brittle, so sponginess or bounce in your existing floor could result in cracked or popped tiles—not at all what you want to see in such a big investment.

Your floor system, which consists of the framing and the subfloor, must be structurally sound and rigid enough to support the heavy weight of the slate tile. Both stick-framed and manufactured floor systems might require reinforcement and/or stronger underlayment before you can install slate tile. To be on the safe side, have an engineer or the inspector for your local building authority, assess your floor system and make recommendations, if necessary, for beefing it up before installing tile.

FYI BEFORE YOU DIY
As mentioned earlier, installing rigid slate floors is a pricey professional job because it’s an involved process—this challenge may not be for the faint of heart. Should you choose to install the floor yourself, be sure to stock basic carpenter hand and power tools in addition to some specialty tools, such as cement board clippers and diamond blade for your circular saw. A wet tile saw will make cutting the slate simpler and far less dusty. You may also wish to buy or rent a hand-held oscillating saw for undercutting the bottoms of doorjambs and casings so you can slide the tiles beneath rather than having to notch around them.

Your slate floor will be only as good as the substrate beneath, which must be rock-solid. Five individual layers are necessary for a structurally sound slate floor. From the bottom, the layers consist of: the subfloor, thin-set mortar, cement backer board, another layer of thin-set mortar, the top layer of slate tile. Installed correctly, the substrate is optimal and the floor will last for many years.

Grouting between slate tiles on the top-most layer is generally completed after the thin-set mortar sets. Since slate is slightly porous, it’s a good idea to apply a penetrating stone sealant to the tiles before grouting. Otherwise, bits of grout that get on the tile in the next steps could be very difficult to remove and mar your otherwise sophisticated surface.

 

All You Need to Know About Slate Floors

Photo: istockphoto.com

LOW-MAINTENANCE LUXURY
Overall, homeowners who choose slate will be happy to know that this high-style flooring material is relatively low maintenance. Though the dark and textured surface won’t quickly reveal tracked-in grime, a quick daily sweeping with either a broom or dry mop will eliminate its most damaging culprit: dust and dirt. Left to collect for weeks at a time, these particles might scratch the soft stone.

Beyond the five-minute sweep on a daily basis, you’ll want to schedule a deeper clean every few months. Simply mopping up slate floors with a sudsy mixture of warm water and mild dish detergent, a neutral pH floor cleaner, or a solution designed specifically for use on stone and tile should prevent any oily build-up from exposure to kitchen grease or bare feet. And make short work of any spills by resealing twice a year: Keeping in mind that this surface material is indeed slightly porous, mop or roll on a good slate sealer in order to prevent spills from seeping into the stone and staining.


How To: Edge a Lawn

Why edge your lawn? It’s the difference between just mowing a lawn and manicuring it. Maybe time-consuming initially, maintenance will be infrequent, quick, and rewarding.

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How to Edge a Lawn

Photo: istockphoto.com

Beautifully mowing a lawn without edging the perimeter and beds is like getting an amazing haircut but leaving an overgrown beard unkempt. You could do that, but why would you? We all know the guy with the perfect lawn, the golfing-green grass with perfectly-edged sides. That guy. Guess what? His secret’s out, and it’s not hard. The peekaboo glimpse of soil in edging looks sharp and snazzy, but it also helps prevents grass from invading your garden beds, sidewalk, or driveway. It doesn’t take a horticulture degree to edge a lawn! All you need is time, the right tools, and patience.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
- Power-edger
- Manual edging tool (optional)
- Weed whacker and/or hand shears
- Spade
- Rope or garden hose

Tool notes: Some power-edgers are great with curves and some are abysmal; for the latter, you’ll want to switch to the manual edger anyhow for clean cutting. Rather than stock two tools, it’s worth spending more for power that’s both great on curves and makes a big yard a much smaller task.

How to Edge a Lawn

Photo: istockphoto.com

STEP 1
Just like taping before painting, it’s best to know what you’re after with edging. If this is your first time edging your yard and making new beds, mark out a path by using a rope or garden hose laid where you want your edging cuts made. (You will edge between your chosen guide and the pavement or flower bed, so place your guide accordingly.) Some advise spray-painting your path, but this can cause as many problems as it solves, if your spray gets unruly or a wind gust blows unexpectedly.

If edging is obvious, like along sidewalks, you may feel comfortable skipping this step.

STEP 2
For straight edging, start at an end. For curved edging, you may find it easier to control the shape if you start in the center then work out on either side. Depending on the type of edger you’ve invested in, your technique will vary slightly.

• For power edging, assume a good stance that allows you to walk forward slowly while firmly controlling the path of your edger. Engaging your core and watching your posture will keep you in better control. If new to this, make your first practice edge in the backyard so you get the hang of it before the front yard for all to see. Go slowly, because the faster you go, the more likely you’ll go awry and get a wobble cut or go off-track.

Manual edging uses a tool that looks like a shovel with a half-moon blade. Firmly but gently push it in with your feet and rotate the blade left-to- right or vice versa to get your cut. Be sure to use the same procedures as you would with shoveling to avoid straining your back. Overlapping cut marks with each incision may help you stay straight.

STEP 3
With either method, cut only about 2 inches deep, and be wary of buried pipes and cables. This depth may seem arbitrary, but it’s one most power-edgers reach and tends to be sufficient for controlling root spread. Two inches is a rough guide, but it’s your choice. See what depth will be easiest to handle throughout.

STEP 4
Periodically remove cut turf to ensure you’re making clean lines. Stand back for a good look and make corrections where you may have wobbled in or cut inconsistently along the way.

STEP 5
If it’s garden beds you’re edging, grab the spade and deepen edged cuts to about 4 to 6 inches if your flower beds are sunken. If raised, then choose a depth that works aesthetically for your bed. Cut into the bottom from inside the beds for easy turf removal. Some prefer a 90-degree angle for this, but really, it’s about consistency from one end to the other, so pick an angle and carry through.

STEP 6
Ah, the reward! It’s time for perfect edges. Bust out the weed whacker or the hand shears! The goal here is to get the grass cut back perfectly in line with the trench edge. The weed whacker could be overzealous, so proceed cautiously. Hand shears will do a beautiful, meticulous job. Repeat this task as needed throughout the season.

STEP 7
Be nice to your tools. Before you put them away, clean and dry any blades, and follow manufacturer’s maintenance suggestions on your power tools. In general, manual edgers can be filed or sharpened when you find it laborious to use, but cleaning after every use will prolong their sharpness. Power-edgers are similar to lawnmowers—blades should be fine for up to three years, but look for nicks and other damage that may require replacing. Look for blades of grass that seem torn rather than sheared off as a clue that your blades need attention. Now grab a chair and enjoy the beauty of a well-edged yard.

 

Easy DIYs for Your Best-Ever Backyard

All of the Outdoor Design and DIY Tips from BobVila.com
With fair weather having arrived finally, it’s time to turn your home improvement efforts to the backyard and your deck, porch, or patio—the parts of the home built specifically to enjoy the extra hours of sunlight. Guided by these practical pointers and inspiring ideas, you can introduce beauty, comfort, and utility to your backyard and outdoor living areas, making them as inviting and enjoyable as your home interiors.


How To: Get Rid of Ladybugs

These insects are cute as can be—until they take over your home! Follow these tips to rid your space of the pretty little pests and keep them from coming back.

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How to Get Rid of Ladybugs

Photo: istockphoto.com

A healthy outdoor ladybug population is a good thing. Gardeners appreciate their voracious appetite for the destructive likes of aphids and scale, while kids of all ages can’t resist counting the spots on their bright bodies. Yet too many coccinellidae—especially if they’ve made their way into your living space—is a sign of potential infestation. The little beetles generally enter homes to hibernate over the winter and can multiply by the thousands, ultimately emerging from the wall structure as an overwhelming nuisance. So don’t be lulled by their cuteness! Debug your place with these techniques.

GET LOST, LADYBUGS!
Due diligence is required to send the pests packing. Remove the ones you see inside immediately with any or all of these effective methods.

How to Get Rid of Ladybugs

Photo: istockphoto.com

Vacuum with vigilance. Notice ladybugs in your domicile? Vacuum them up without delay, then dispose of the bag or empty it outside. You can avoid that messy chore, if you own a canister model with a hose, with this trick: Cut the foot section off an old sock and attach it to the end of the hose with a rubber band. Turn the vacuum on, and the fabric will enter the hose (but not the bag). As you suck up ladybugs, they’ll get caught in the sock attachment—then simply remove the sock and empty it outside.

Turn on a light trap. If ladybugs have infested a dark area, like an attic, use a light trap. Purchase one for about $35 or DIY your own out of a plastic jug, a light bulb, and transparencies typically used for overhead projectors. Once trapped, release the ladybugs outdoors.

Get professional help. If the pest problem is already severe, call a pest control pro to get rid of ladybugs. Over-the-counter insecticides aren’t recommended to control ladybug infestations, but exterminators know what to use and how to use it.

Keep your hands off. Though ladybugs don’t bite or carry disease, you should avoid picking them up individually with your fingers, or even sweeping them into a dustpan. When stressed, ladybugs secrete their blood, a yellow, smelly substance that can stain skin, fabrics, and painted surfaces.

 
STAY AWAY, LADYBUGS!
In fall, ladybugs look for warmth—and your house is an inviting prospect. They’ll enter through any hole, crack, or gap they can find. Keep ladybugs at bay with these preventive measures.

Fix screens. Repair breaks or tears in all screens and don’t leave doors or windows without screens open.

Install weather stripping. Gaps under doors make an easy entry point for ladybugs. Weather stripping on all doors is an excellent barrier (and it helps keep your energy bill down, too).

Seal gaps. Apply high quality silicone caulk to exterior cracks and crevices, in any gaps in your siding, and around window frames, doorframes, and utility pipes. Ladybugs can also enter through cracks in mortar, so if your home is of brick construction, check the pointing and repair with mortar or cement where necessary.


Genius! Scrub the Tub with… Your Drill?

Cleaning the bathroom will always be a chore, but it doesn't have to slow you down. Here's how to power up your routine—and blast through stains and build-up faster—with your cordless drill!

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how-to-clean-a-bathtub-2

Photo: themanlyhousekeeper.com

When his wife started her new job as an attorney, Mark Evitt took on a different role, too: househusband. Since he was still studying journalism in graduate school, Mark had flexible hours—and more time to tackle the household to-do list. As a homemaker, he learned that he loved organizing and baking bread from scratch. He didn’t even mind most of the housework, but cleaning the bathroom was especially tiring. Whether he used a sponge or a brush, wiping out old stains and grime on the tub was a tough job. To make it feel less like work, he got some how-to help from a friend and devised a homemade bathtub cleaner that hooks up to any cordless drill or driver.

For under $6, Mark collected everything he needed to convert the power tool into a power cleaner: a threaded lag bolt, small drill bit, and a cheap round scrub brush. After prying the bristled bottom apart from the handle, he drilled two centered pilot holes: one through the top piece, and another that stopped halfway through the scrubber’s base. With the halves snapped back together, he finished by screwing the bolt into the pilot hole and fastening the other end to the nut driver—now, when the driver rotates, the scrubber spins on its own! (If you have a newer cordless model, you might even try attaching the bolt directly to your chuck to save time so that you’re not switching between drill and driver for each use.)

Since magnets bond the driver with your bolt, you’ll want to keep your brush perpendicular to the tub in order to blast away built-up soap scum and stains. The spinning scrubber will do the rest in record time, saving you the fatigue and soreness caused by scouring. And because you can swap out the versatile brush like a drill bit, you’ll always be ready for your next repair.

FOR MORE: The Manly Housekeeper

how-to-clean-a-bathtub-3

Photo: themanlyhousekeeper.com


How the Historic Hemingway Home Beats the Florida Heat and Humidity

How do you seamlessly and unobtrusively install air conditioning in a home built before the technology was even invented? It's a dilemma faced by old-house owners and preservationists alike. Keep reading to discover the solution employed by the curators at The Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum in Key West.

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Photo: Rob O'Neal Photography

Fans of Ernest Hemingway remember him not only for his classic books, but also for his larger-than-life persona and his legendary adventures around the globe. International cities like Havana, Pamplona, and Paris figure prominently in any biography of the author, but in the United States he remains perhaps most closely associated with Key West. Here, he lived off and on in an 1851 Spanish Colonial-style house that, following renovations made by Hemingway and his wife, would be ahead of its time in many ways. For example, it was among the first homes in Key West with indoor plumbing and the very first to boast an in-ground pool. Air conditioning, however, which would eventually become a vital component of any South Florida home, was—in 1931, when Hemingway first moved in—still decades away from going mainstream.

Certainly, the local weather didn’t keep Hemingway from writing. It was in Key West where he completed some of his most enduring works. That’s part of the reason why every year, thousands of tourists flock to the home, which is now a National Historic Landmark open to the public as the The Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum. Though the house and its grounds offer a great deal of insight into Hemingway and his home life, longtime curator Dave Gonzales reports that until recently, the lack of air conditioning detracted from the experience. It was so uncomfortable on tours during the busy and extremely hot summer months, at least one visitor would faint each week.

Photo: The Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum

Something clearly needed to be done, not only for the comfort of museum visitors, but also for the preservation of the Hemingway furniture and memorabilia contained inside. Of course, today, unlike in the 1930s, there’s nothing extraordinary about air conditioning, but museum officials worried that a modern AC solution would compromise the historic integrity of the building. Window air conditioners were ruled out for their anticipated negative aesthetic effect on the exterior. Traditional central air wouldn’t cut it either, because in order to accommodate the necessary ductwork, installers would need to build soffits, drop ceilings, and open up walls, effectively remodeling the building. Gonzales and his fellow stewards did not want to see the home changed in any outward, visible way. It wasn’t only a matter of the curators’ preference, though. It was also a practical matter, as the Hemingway Home team knew that, in order to gain approval from the Key West Historic Architectural Review Commission and the National Park Service (which oversees National Historic Landmark properties), any proposed plans would need to satisfy the stringent requirements set forth by each agency.

Photo: The Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum

Finally, in 2015, they struck upon the only truly workable solution—the innovative Unico System. The aha moment came when the Hemingway museum learned that at a similar property nearby—the Harry S. Truman Little White House—conservators had managed to implement central air conditioning unobtrusively, without harming the features that made the winter residence of the former president so special. Unico stands apart from other HVAC options as one of the few systems designed to integrate into the home seamlessly and more or less invisibly. Unico’s flexible, small-diameter ducts can snake behind or through walls, crawl spaces, and ceiling cavities, eliminating the need for invasive changes.

Photo: The Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum

Indeed, the Unico System has been carefully engineered to require as few building alterations and attract as little attention as possible. One example: The air handler is so compact that in the Hemingway Home it could be slotted into the master bedroom closet, completely out of sight—a clever outcome not only by its size but also its unique, vertical orientation. Likewise, the intake air box fit into a bathroom closet, and the return air box was hidden in existing cabinetry (here, louvers were added to allow for airflow, as shown in the above-right photo, to the right). What about vents? In stark contrast to the prominent grilled vents seen in homes with conventional forced air, Unico instead provides circular or slotted wooden outlets, which can be finished to match the surrounding decor. At the Hemingway Home, for example, the outlets are hardly noticeable, because their stain color perfectly matches the red oak flooring.

Photo: Rob O'Neal Photography

Guided tours at the Hemingway Home start every 20 minutes, with as many as 25 visitors per tour. Noise generated by the air conditioning system was a foremost concern. According to Gonzales, though, noise isn’t an issue. “We can hardly hear it,” he reports. Unico owes its whisper-quiet operation in large measure to insulation. Not only do the insulated ducts absorb sound, but they also create efficiency. In conventional forced air, ductwork can be leaky enough to compromise system efficiency by 25 percent or more. By encasing its ducts in dual-layer insulation, Unico promotes savings by virtually eliminating air leaks and wasted energy. Gonzales said their utility bill hasn’t gone up nearly as much as they thought it would.

Photo: The Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum

Another energy-saver is the built-in humidity control of the Unico System. It removes 30 percent more moisture from the air than a conventional HVAC system, allowing homeowners to set the thermostat a few degrees higher and still feel quite comfortable. In the high-humidity climate of Key West, the Hemingway Home is kept cool at a lower cost. Humidity control also helps preserve the home and its contents for the enjoyment of visitors in the future. The Unico System helps maintain a low-moisture environment that prevents the growth of mold and mildew.

As the story of the Hemingway Home attests, no matter the age of your house, you can catapult its indoor environment into the present day with high-performance, all-but-invisible small-duct HVAC. But even if you don’t live in an old home and are planning to build a brand-new residence, there are compelling reasons to consider a climate-control solution that does not dictate design, but instead adapts to the design you envision, no matter how bold or creative. Perhaps like no other system, Unico makes it possible to live in a home where HVAC adds energy-efficient comfort but subtracts neither square footage nor design integrity.

Photo: istockphoto.com

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


DIY Lite: The Easy Way to Build Better Backyard Privacy

Do you wish your backyard was a little more shaded and secluded? Simply follow these steps, and you can be chilling out in a private outdoor oasis right on your property in less than a weekend.

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DIY Outdoor Privacy Screen

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila

Are your neighbors so close that it feels like you practically share a backyard? There’s no need to fence off your property! In fact, we may have an even easier solution that defines your outdoor space, establishes privacy, and even creates some extra shade in an otherwise sunny garden. Simply follow our step-by-step and you can build yourself a suitable privacy screen and canopy—all out of less than a dozen wooden planks.

 

DIY Outdoor Privacy Screen - Supplies

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
- 8-foot-long 2×4 lumber (6)
- 8-foot-long 2×2 lumber (5)
- Measuring tape
- Pencil
- 2-inch metal brackets (16)
- 3-1⁄2-inch screws (44)
- 1-1⁄2-inch screws (98)
- 12-inch ornamental brackets (8)
- Cordless drill/driver
- Wood tie plates (8)
- Palm sander
- Brush
- Exterior wood stain
- Varnish (optional)
- Outdoor fabric (2-1⁄2 yards by 8 yards)
- Ribbon (2 yards)
- Sewing machine (optional)

 

STEP 1

DIY Outdoor Privacy Screen - Step 1

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila

Let’s start by making the roof out of five 8-foot pieces of the 2×2 lumber and two 8-foot pieces of 2×4. For easiest assembly, find a flat surface large enough to accommodate the finished 8-foot-square DIY outdoor privacy screen.

Place the two 2×4 lumber parallel so that 3-1⁄2-inch sides (remember, a 2×4 isn’t exactly 2 inches by 4 inches) face one another and the narrow 1-1⁄2-inch sides lie flat against the ground; separate them by 8 feet. Then, set the five 2×2s perpendicularly in that open space—these will connect the 2×4s. Check against a measuring tape to ensure that you space them equidistantly, leaving 2 feet between each. Position a 2-inch metal bracket inside the corner of each rectangle you’ve created.

 

STEP 2

DIY Outdoor Privacy Screen - Step 2

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila

Take note of how, laid out on the flat surface, the 2×2 lengths are about two inches shorter than the 2×4s on either end—that’s not a mistake! Keeping the bottoms flush will ensure the positioning is the same at every intersection and that your roof doesn’t inadvertently end up crooked.

Where each end of a 2×2 meets with a 2×4 wood plank, fasten using two 3-1⁄2-inch screws. (Tip: Whenever you’ll be inserting screws in this project, first drill pilot holes in order to help guide the fasteners and prevent the wood from splitting in the process.)

Work your way down one length of 2×4 and then repeat along the other to build the top of your DIY outdoor privacy screen.

 

STEP 3

DIY Outdoor Privacy Screen - Step 3

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila

Screw 2-inch metal brackets at every intersection of lumber. Two brackets (which use four 1-1⁄2-inch screws apiece) will secure both sides of every 2×2 end, except at the outer corners where you can only place one.

 

STEP 4

DIY Outdoor Privacy Screen - Step 4

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila

The four remaining 2×4 planks will make the DIY prviacy screen’s legs. Cut a foot from each length so that they’re only 7-feet tall. (You can get this done at a big box hardware store at the time of purchase, or saw them off yourself at home.)

Then, while the roof is still laying on the floor, prepare to attach the legs to it using eight 12-inch ornamental brackets, or two in each of the structure’s corners.

• Start by attaching the ornamental brackets to the roof’s 2×4s. Pencil a mark 3-1⁄2 inches from the end of one of the 2×4s in order to leave enough space for a leg. Position one bracket so that its corner aligns with your pencil mark (the decorative part will face the opposite end), and attach using 3-1⁄2-inch screws. Repeat at the opposite end of this length, then complete the second 2×4 in the same manner.
• Next, place the remaining 12-inch brackets at the ends of the outermost 2×2s; they’ll be perpendicular to the ones already installed. Push each right to where the 2×2 intersects the 2×4, and use 1-1⁄2-inch screws to fasten to the roof lumber.

 

STEP 5

DIY Outdoor Privacy Screen - Step 5

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila

Now, you will need help of at least two strong friends for this step. Raise the roof structure and flip it so that the ornamental brackets face down. Ask your assistants to hold the roof structure while you attach the exposed halves of the brackets to the four legs with 1-1⁄2-inch screws. (The lumber should fit neatly in the space you left for each leg in Step 4.)

 

STEP 6

DIY Outdoor Privacy Screen - Step 6

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila

Reinforce the structure where the roof and the legs meet by screwing 2-inch by 4-inch wood tie plates over the outside of each corner, one on each side. If you can use an L-shaped tie plate, even better!

 

STEP 7

DIY Outdoor Privacy Screen - Step 7

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila

Congratulations! You’ve just built the bulk of your DIY outdoor privacy screen, and you’ll be sitting shaded from sun and neighbors soon enough. Round up your friends, and—each one taking a foot—move the soon-to-be shelter to its destination in your yard.

 

STEP 8

DIY Outdoor Privacy Screen - Step 8

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila

Sand the entire structure, then apply a coat of exterior wood stain in the direction of the grain. The brush you use to do so will depend on your stain of choice: Work with a natural-bristle brush for oil stains and a synthetic-bristle brush for latex stains. Stir the stain periodically so that the color remains well mixed as you apply it to the large structure. Then, leave the wood to dry for the product’s recommended amount of time (likely 24 hours).

If you don’t have a specially formulated exterior wood stain to help weatherproof your backyard project, you  can choose a standard stain followed by at least two coats of varnish to protect it over the outdoor season.

 

STEP 9

DIY Outdoor Privacy Screen - Step 9

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila

In order to cover not only the sides of our backyard privacy screen but also shade the top, we purchased a piece of fabric that was 2-1⁄2 yards wide by 8 yards long. A simple cotton fabric works well, but outdoor fabric—resistant to fading, stains, and mildew—is even better for this sort of use.

Sew a small, 1⁄2-inch seam all along the fabric edges to avoid fraying. (If you don’t own a sewing machine, check if your fabric store might for a small fee.) While you’re at it, attach a 20-inch ribbon at each corner to tie down the fabric around your canopy’s feet.

 

STEP 10

DIY Outdoor Privacy Screen - Step 10

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila

Finally, attach the canopy by weaving it through the 2×2s in the structure’s roof (over one, under the next, and so on). Drop the fabric on the sides and make a knot with the ribbon around each foot to hold the shade in place. With that, your private outdoor room awaits! And whenever you want to invite a large party of guests over to admire your latest backyard addition, simply raise one fabric side and tie it to a tree to increase the shaded area. (Trust us, you’ll want to invite the guests over.)

DIY Outdoor Privacy Screen - Completed Project

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila

DIY Outdoor Privacy Screen - Expanded Shade

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.

 

Easy DIYs for Your Best-Ever Backyard

All of the Outdoor Design and DIY Tips from BobVila.com
With fair weather having arrived finally, it’s time to turn your home improvement efforts to the backyard and your deck, porch, or patio—the parts of the home built specifically to enjoy the extra hours of sunlight. Guided by these practical pointers and inspiring ideas, you can introduce beauty, comfort, and utility to your backyard and outdoor living areas, making them as inviting and enjoyable as your home interiors.


The Truth About Clog-Free Gutters

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As the first line of defense against stormwater damage, gutters play a vital role in the infrastructure of just about any home. The catch is that, in order to function as designed, gutters require regular care. In fact, to ensure that rain can run freely through the gutters and downspouts—without encountering clogs or other impediments—prudent homeowners perform maintenance as often as twice per year, in fall and then again in spring.

No doubt, there are plenty of ways to rid gutters of leaves and twigs, pine needles and other yard debris. Some prefer to do the work manually, while others rely on gizmos like scoops, tongs, or even shop vac attachments. No matter the method you choose, however, chances are good that, if you live in a multi-story house, you’re not going to be able to get the job done unless you risk life and limb scaling a full-size extension ladder.

When you consider the nature of gutter cleaning, and when you think about the very real physical dangers associated with working high up on a ladder, it’s easy to see why so many dread the task. Fortunately, a suite of products known as gutter guards can reduce or nearly eliminate the need for it. Perhaps the best-known are LeafGuard Brand Gutters—a seamless, one-piece system that has inspired many imitators over the years.

LeafGuard features an ingenious design that leverages the principle of surface tension. As water meets the hood of the system, it flows around the curved lip and into the trough of the gutter. Leaves and debris, meanwhile, meet the hood and bounce right off, leaving the gutters clog-free. Properly installed, an effective gutter guard option like LeafGuard eliminates the need for gutter cleaning by preventing clogs from ever forming in the first place.

Learn more about the dangers of clogged gutters, and explore the benefits of gutter guards by reading the graphic below.

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


Bob Vila Radio: Extinguishing Fire Ants

With few natural predators, one or two fire ants can quickly turn into an invasion. If you already have a problem, their burning bites might be the least of your worries. Here's what you need to know to plan your attack—and stamp them out once and for all.

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Although fire ants are more common in southern states, they can thrive nearly anywhere. Ranging from reddish brown to reddish black in color, you’ll find their nests in large dirt mounds around your property.

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Listen to BOB VILA ON GETTING RID OF FIRE ANTS or read the text below:

Injecting pressurized insecticide to get rid of these painful pests is very effective, but don’t forget to wear safety goggles and protective clothing—and before you spray, check the pressurized equipment for air leaks.

Most exterminators prefer a “broadcast” application, where granules of insecticide are thrown around the nest—similar to how you would spread chicken feed. Some pesticides are available at the hardware store, but the most potent are available only to licensed exterminators. Calling in the pros can be expensive (often upwards of $500 per acre) but if you have a large, persistent infestation, that may be your only option.

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 Long Does an Air Conditioner Last?

Air-conditioning systems keep getting better with each passing year, but of course not even the best can last forever. Continue now to learn how long cooling technologies typically last—and why, if your old system fails, you may view it as a new opportunity.

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How Long Does an Air Conditioner Last?

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Many who belong to the current crop of homeowners weren’t alive during the days before air conditioning became commonplace. That may be why so many take the technology for granted today, regarding AC almost in the same vein as running water—as a fundamental feature of any home, modest or grand. Indeed, in some regions, homeowners consider air conditioning not as a comfort luxury, but as a bona fide necessity for daily survival. However, despite the vital role air conditioning plays in the modern home, we tend to see it as a source not only of cooling, but also of mystery and frustration. Air conditioning systems are complex, after all, leaving the average homeowner without a clear perspective on seemingly simple yet undeniably important issues of performance and longevity.

Simply put: How long does an air conditioner last? Like so many other questions in home improvement and repair, the answer depends on a host of variables. David Kenyon, a product manager with Sears Home Services, points out that different variables determine long-term performance to different degrees. Usage matters perhaps most of all. ”The more often you use the system, the more wear-and-tear it withstands,” Kenyon says, noting that systems can endure for decades in a temperate region like New England, while lasting not nearly as long in the desert of the Southwest. In and of itself, heavy usage does not doom a cooling system, but if the homeowner relies on it daily, for months on end, while ignoring its maintenance, Kenyon says, “it’s only a matter of time before system fatigue sets in.”

For peak performance, now and into the future, Kenyon advises homeowners with AC to seek professional system maintenance on a regular, annual schedule. It’s the best thing you can do to prolong the life of your air conditioning, Kenyon says, while clarifying that it’s not always an elective measure, as “many manufacture warranties require it.” Note that care of a cooling system calls for not only regular maintenance, but comprehensive maintenance. To service a system properly, according to Kenyon, technicians must go well beyond “a quick, visual inspection” to address all “key components,” from the compressor-condenser to the fan and blower (and sometimes even ducts). The fact is that, like cars in the driveway, the AC system typically cannot fulfill its expected lifespan without adequate service.

How Long Does an Air Conditioner Last? - Side View

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A well-made, well-maintained central air-conditioning system under average demand typically lasts 12 to 17 years, Kenyon estimates. If yours was installed recently, it may be a decade before you start considering an upgrade. But if you suspect your system may be nearing failure, set aside a few minutes to monitor performance. Does the system grate, grind, rattle or whine? Does your home feel humid (or does the thermostat report a relative humidity over 50%)? Do you notice an unusually large amount of dust on household surfaces? Such warning signs “indicate the possible need for repair, if not replacement,” Kenyon says.

Of course, air conditioning systems are also vulnerable to plenty of problems that the average homeowner wouldn’t necessarily notice. For instance, most cooling systems are designed to run in a cyclical pattern, intermittently delivering conditioned air to the living spaces. If the length of those cycles are uncommonly short or long, a system component may be compromised. Depending on the issue (“and what it would cost to fix,” Kenyon adds), you may choose to forego repair in favor of an upgrade. In fact, far from being a sunk cost, a “new high-efficiency air-conditioning system can save you money in the long run,” according to Kenyon.

In recent years, with rising energy costs and mounting environmental concerns, manufacturers have launched fleets of HVAC equipment that boast superior energy efficiency. Between the latest technology and that of even 10 years ago, “there’s a night-and-day difference,” in terms of running costs, Kenyon says. In fact, for its ability to run up the monthly utility bill, Kenyon says, “often the most expensive system a homeowner can choose is the one already in the home.” Eventually, in other words, continued reliance on an older inefficient system becomes more expensive than upgrading to a new high-efficiency one.

Even while requiring less energy (and less money) to power their normal output, the best AC systems today still manage to achieve all-around better results. For one thing, “you get less obtrusive air conditioning” with more recently manufactured models, thanks to a broad push in the industry toward quieter functioning. For another, HVAC filtration has advanced by leaps and bounds over the years, helping climate control systems work not against, but in defense of indoor air quality and healthy living. Finally, there’s the fact that, with systems engineered to combat humidity more effectively, spaces air-conditioned by newer technology often feel more comfortable.

In short, there are good reasons not to dread the prospect of a breakdown in your air conditioning, but rather to embrace the opportunity. Before doing anything, though, you need to determine the status of your existing system. For an evaluation, seek out a local HVAC contractor or go online to schedule a free in-home consultation with Sears Home Services. Besides reporting on the condition of your system, Sears project consultants can discuss your options and, if desired, guide you from start to finish through the repair or replacement process. Another advantage: Sears backs up all its work with a Satisfaction Guarantee—a commitment to your project success that remains intact even after technicians leave. When it’s the comfort of your family on the line, there’s no substitute for peace of mind.

How Long Does an Air Conditioner Last? - Thermostat Bottom

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


Solved! What to Do About Wasps

They’re the stuff of nightmares for many of us, but when it’s time for a war against wasps, here’s how to keep the upper hand.

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Wasps in House - Wasps' Nest Under Roof Eaves

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Q: I’ve found not one but multiple wasps hanging out inside my house over the past few days, but no nest. Where could they be coming from? And—more importantly—how do I get rid of them?

A: As far as desirable neighbors go, let’s face it: Wasps are pretty far down on the list. Luckily, once you’ve figured out where they’ve made their home on your property, getting them to buzz off is rarely a difficult procedure. More often than not, your biggest challenge will be to conquer your fears of getting stung. Follow these careful guidelines , and you should remain unscathed.

Wasps in House - Wasp Emerging from Nest

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First, make sure you’ve checked around every point of entry to your home. Inspect under any eaves, along the mortar between bricks, around all beams and supports in your garage, porch, and attic—wasps in your house tend to build their nests any place overhead with exterior access. Still no luck? Try your trees. These insects often make themselves comfortable up in tree limbs, primarily because wood is their home-building material of choice.

Once you’ve found it, make sure it’s actually a wasps’ nest and not a wild beehive. If it’s a honeybee hive with telltale hexagons, it’s important to leave it alone; these pollinators are an important yet critically endangered part of the food chain. A wasps’ nest will be constructed from shavings of dead wood, often making it grey or light brown in color and with some swirls in its texture. When you identify the nest, proceed with caution.

Know when to call in a professional. Never, ever attempt to remove a wasps’ nest yourself if you are allergic to wasp stings or your nest is out of reach. If you have a serious allergy, getting rid of wasps on your own could put you in a life-threatening position. Check with your doctor to make sure you’re in the clear before moving forward. Equally high-risk are wasp nests that require a ladder for removal. A swarm of wasps could easily cause you to fall from as high up as the second story, promising injuries and medical bills that cost much more than what an exterminator would charge. In either case, your only option is to call in a professional to remove the wasps’ nest on your property.

Should you opt for DIY extermination, your level of involvement in destroying the nest will depend largely on the time of year. Wasps tend to build their homes in the spring, inhabit them throughout the summer months, and die off once the temperature dips. So, if you’re just noticing a problem at the end of summer and can handle a few more weeks of pesky backyard guests, nature will do the job for you soon enough. Earlier in the season, though, you’ll want to exterminate using a wasp-specific pesticide.

Choose an insecticidal aerosol spray or dust designed specifically to kill wasps, including the colony’s queen. You can purchase one at any hardware store. Administer it only at night, when wasps are less aggressive and slower to react. Dress in protective clothing (ideally covering as much skin as possible with long pants, long sleeves, socks, and footwear to prevent any stings) and be sure to follow the insecticide’s instructions to the letter. The aerosol spray can likely be applied from afar, while the dust will probably require you to get up close and sprinkle it around the nest’s opening. Whichever method you choose, have an escape plan ready in case you get swarmed.

Once you’ve done the deed, return to the nest in the morning and knock it loose using a long stick or broom handle. No matter how high the hive is, stay off of the ladder—you won’t want a still-live wasp buzzing out and around you while you’re stuck at the top of an unstable stepladder. Keep your distance at first, stay aware, and know your escape route so that you can reach safety quickly. Cautiously dislodge the wasps’ nest from where it hangs. When it drops to the ground, break it into pieces using the same stick, and reapply your pesticide of choice on the inside of the pieces. Then dispose of the nest and any dead wasps immediately.

Whether it’s a DIY operation or you need to call for backup, good luck and be safe out there! After you’ve taken care of the source of the wasps in your house, wrap up by proactively closing up any potential entry points to the inside of your house—cracks around doors and windows, loose exterior siding—so you won’t have a repeat of the situation next season.

Wasps in House - How to Get Rid of a Nest

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