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Bob Vila Radio: Sump Pumps Need Maintenance, Too

Periodic maintenance ensures that your sump pump remains a first line of defense against the extensive, expensive damage caused by basement flooding.

With melting snow and spring rains just around the corner, now is the most important time of year for sump pump maintenance.

Sump Pump Maintenance

Photo: basementsystems.com

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Listen to BOB VILA ON SUMP PUMP MAINTENANCE or read the text below:

First things first, remove the cover on the sump pump pit, check the interior, and get rid of any debris that’s settled there. To test the pump, simply pour some water into the pit. Once the water level reaches nine inches or so, the pump should kick on and send water out of the house via the exit pipe.

Provided the sump pump itself is working as it should be, give a little thought to the exit pipe. Lots of folks install flexible hoses on the end of their exit pipes to help move pumped water even farther away from the house. In winter, those hoses are often removed to prevent damage from freezing. The trouble is that if the pump runs during the winter (without the extension hose in place), water exits right next to the foundation. To get around that problem now or in the future, keep a couple of hoses on hand. If you notice the sump pump running a lot during a period of freezing temperatures, simply reattach one of the hoses to the exit pipe. If it freezes, switch it with the other hose. It can also help to wrapping some pipe insulation around the hose.

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.

Induction Cooktops 101

With many compelling benefits, as well as some real drawbacks, induction cooktops are an intriguing alternative to the traditional gas or electric range.

Photo: geappliances.com

Picture this: You put a large pot of water on the stove and within only a few minutes, the water has rolled to a boil. That’s the magic of an induction cooktop. Compared with conventional gas and electric ranges, induction cooktops boast enhanced, even revolutionary, speed. But it’s not just about power; induction cooktops also offer a high level of precision. In other words, there’s no delay when you turn the dial up or down; the technology responds immediately to your adjustment and holds, without deviation, the desired temperature. Though induction cooking has existed for decades, it’s really started to gain traction in the last few years, having become a viable alternative to the conventional heating appliances we all grew up with. Even so, induction cooktops account for less than 10 percent of the market in the United States, and a great deal of confusion remains as to how the technology works and what it offers the home cook.

The Science
Unlike any range you’re likely to have used before, an induction cooktop does not give off heat. Rather, its burners are essentially electromagnets that transfer energy to the cookware. That energy, in turn, causes the cookware—and the food within it—to heat. So even when a pot of water is boiling vigorously, the cooktop itself stays relatively cool. If it warms at all, it’s only because the hot pot has sat right over the induction cooktop surface for a prolonged period of time.

Photo: geappliances.com

Induction cooking is fast, responsive, and precise, and for these reasons many professional cooks have adopted the technology. But even for the average homeowner, there are at least a few benefits to consider beyond the bounds of meal preparation. For instance, because there are no hot surfaces (except those directly under active pots and pans), induction cooktops are a safe option in homes with children. As well, the smooth glass-ceramic surface of an induction cooktop is very easy to clean, with no grates, drip pans, or awkward gaps to collect crumbs or splatters. And because the cooktop does not get hot, spills do not burn and become caked on—they come right off, with no need for scrubbing.

Energy Efficiency
According to the Department of Energy, a conventional electric or gas stove fails to transfer about 60 percent of the energy it consumes. Induction cooktops are nearly twice as efficient. While it’s certainly true that—compared with, say, heating and cooling—cooking accounts for only a small amount of the energy used in the average home, many like the fact that induction cooktops save energy by cooking faster and that they waste a minimum of energy in the process of doing so.

Induction cooking takes some getting used to, and some cooking methods simply may not translate. Any technique that requires an open flame—grilling, for example, or even toasting—is not possible with induction cooking. There’s also the possibility that you would need to replace some or even all of your nonmagnetic cookware. Cast iron, enamel, and stainless steel are often suitable, but copper, glass, ceramic, and aluminum are not. When in doubt, touch a magnet to the bottom of the pot or pan in question. If it sticks, then you’re in business. If not, the cookware unfortunately won’t work.

One final drawback: Although induction cooktops have recently come down in price, they can still be pretty expensive (though budget options are out there). Then again, for those entranced by the magic of induction cooking, cost may be secondary to the many performance and lifestyle benefits.

How To: Clean a Shower Curtain

Say goodbye to soap scum-covered shower curtains and mildewy liners! A cleaner bathroom is just one load of laundry away.

How to Clean a Shower Curtain

Photo: shutterstock.com

Though your shower curtain performs a valuable service, preventing water from cascading across your bathroom floor, you’ve no doubt noticed a paradox: The more showers you take, the more gross the shower curtain gets. Before you replace it, thinking the mildewed and soap-scummy plastic or fabric cannot be salvaged, hang on a minute. You may be able to clean the shower curtain, after all—quickly and easily—by running it through the washing machine. The only trick is that, when you clean a shower curtain in the washer, it’s best to bolster the detergent with a couple pantry staples or, in extreme cases, bleach.

How to Clean a Shower Curtain - Bathroom Corner

Photo: shutterstock.com

Baking Soda and Vinegar
Place the shower curtain into your washing machine and throw in a few soiled towels. These create the agitation necessary to separate the mildew from where it has lodged. Start the machine, and when it comes time to pour in the detergent, be sure to add a half-cup of baking soda. At the start of the rinse cycle, follow up with a half-cup of vinegar. If there’s any mildew remaining, the vinegar can be expected to kill it. (If there’s a great deal of mildew, ratchet up the vinegar dose to a full cup.) Finally, before the spin cycle gets going, pull out the shower curtain and inspect its condition. If you approve, hang it back up in the bathroom. There’s no need to put the curtain in the dryer.

If you’re dealing with a great deal of mildew and soap scum, and if your shower curtain is white or transparent, reach for a bottle of bleach. Place the curtain in the washing machine along with some towels (white towels, that is). Start the machine, and as the drum begins to fill with water, pour in a half-cup of bleach and a quarter-cup of detergent. From here, let the washer do the work. Then, before the start of the spin cycle, pull out the curtain and check to see how it looks. If it’s cleaner but not satisfactorily clean, consider repeating the process above. Also note that at this point, you may be able to finish up by hand, using mild soap in combination with a sponge or cloth rag.

Additional Notes
Be proactive in keeping your shower curtain clean. The following tips can help you to prevent mildew from taking root and proliferating in the future:

Most bar soaps generate soap scum. Body wash, on the other hand, rinses away without buildup.

After bathing, spray the area with homemade shower cleaner. The next time you shower, the water will wash away the cleaner, along with collected grime.

Use a scrub brush to loosen mildew as you wipe down the curtain as part of your regular weekly bathroom cleaning routine.

How To: Choose a Water Filtration System

Concerned about household water quality? There are a number of ways to approach the selection and installation of a water filtration system. Which is best depends on your needs.

How to Choose a Water Filter

Photo: supplyhouse.com

In the United States, we are fortunate not to have to think much about water quality. Most of us simply turn on the tap and cook, clean, or bathe with whatever comes out. Due to a variety of factors, however, your tap water may host problems ranging from a bad taste or foul odor to unseen (and unhealthy) bacteria. If you have any reason to doubt the quality of your well water or municipal supply, then it’s time to give serious thought to installing a water filtration system.

According to Daniel O’Brian, a technical expert from online retailer SupplyHouse.com, there are warning signs to watch out for. These include rust stains or scale buildup on kitchen and bathroom fixtures as well as other similarly obvious clues you can see and touch. But there are also more subtle indications of poor water quality. For instance, when showering, do you ever have “a hard time developing lather with soap”? If so, O’Brian says impurities may be to blame. “Calcium, iron, chlorine, sulfur, lead, and decaying organic compounds” are only some of the impurities that people seek to banish through filtration.

How to Choose a Water Filter - Housing Isolated

Photo: supplyhouse.com

Basically, water filtration systems remove impurities in one of three ways. Some products physically block the passage of contaminants by means of a filter medium. Others filter by means of a chemical process. Still others work via ultraviolet light. No matter the design, water filters tend to come in either a plastic or stainless steel housing, and though some filter media last comparatively longer, all lose effectiveness over time and must be replaced periodically.

You may be familiar with pitcher-style water filters or devices that attach to the faucet. In homes with known water problems, however, you may wish to go a step further. Of the multiple options that exist, point-of-use filters are perhaps the most common. Installed under the sink, such products feature either single- or multistage filtration. Similar in-line filters hook up not to the sink, but to the hot water heater, enabling you to bathe in clean, pure filtered water. There are even filters designed specifically for appliances with ice and water dispensers.

The most comprehensive solution is a whole-house filtration system, installed at the point where the water supply enters the home. By intercepting water right before it reaches your home’s plumbing, whole-house systems go a long way toward protecting pipes from the damaging effects of hard water, scale, and the miscellaneous chemicals and compounds—such as acids and tannins—that can spell trouble for the critical components of a plumbing system.

Different types of water filters and media are best suited for different types of water problems. For example, hard water responds best to an ion-exchange softener. For water that tends to have sediment, reverse-osmosis systems are recommended, as these employ a semipermeable membrane to prevent particles from moving beyond the filter medium. If the goal is to target organisms in the water, ultraviolet filters sterilize bacteria and viruses, as do chlorination filters. For improved taste or to eliminate odors, concentrate on oxidizing or activated-carbon filters. Perhaps the best option of all is a multistage water filter, which combines several technologies.

“Different methods and types of filters are available depending on your needs,” notes O’Brian of SupplyHouse.com. “It is important to confer with a company that can test your water and help you determine the best course of action for tackling any impurities that may be present. In addition to the contaminants you’re trying to eliminate, your usage habits and patterns may affect what you ultimately decide is the best product to purchase and install.”

How to Choose a Water Filter - Ultraviolet

Photo: supplyhouse.com

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

This Company Turns Centuries-Old Barns into Contemporary Homes

One Texas-based company has built a thriving business by turning empty old barns into modern dwellings for today's homeowner.

Photo: heritagebarns.com

As agriculture has morphed into big business and populations have shifted from the countryside to urban centers, timber-frame barns have become rare. Thanks to companies like Heritage Restorations, however, many historic barns are being repurposed in exciting ways that their original builders could not have foreseen.

Based in Texas, Heritage Restorations has spent the last 20 years acquiring, carefully dismantling, skillfully rebuilding, and creatively integrating centuries-old barns into stunning new buildings—commercial spaces, event centers, and yes, even private homes. Combined with the best of today’s energy efficient materials, timber barn frames have made for jaw-dropping superstructures in residences across the country. It seems that whereas historic barns no longer fit the bill for 21st-century farmers, they provide much of what contemporary homeowners want—ample square footage, open floor plans, and timeless, authentic style.

Photo: heritagebarns.com

As alluring as the barns may be in their patinated, hand-hewn beauty, their histories are even more engrossing. Many of these barns survived the Civil War; some are considerably older, dating back to the Colonial era. In fact, in the process of dismantling one barn, Heritage Restorations uncovered a Revolutionary War bayonet hidden behind a wall. Whereas barn-style homes are by no means unprecedented, Heritage Restorations takes a unique approach. Aware of these barns as outstanding examples of early American craftsmanship—and, indeed, as history embodied—the company seeks to preserve as much as possible of the original.

When it began business, members of the company would drive along the backroads of upstate New York and rural New Jersey on the hunt for disused barns. When they found one, they would simply go knock on the door of the adjacent house. In time, and with improved technology, Heritage Restorations adopted more sophisticated methods. The team now uses Google Earth to explore rural areas, narrowing their eyes in search of certain telltale rooflines. But even with satellite imagery available, the company has not outgrown, and perhaps never will, advertisements that list their phone number under a simple message: “We Buy Barns”.

Photo: heritagebarns.com

Some customers buy only the timber frame, opting to work with their own trusted architect and/or contractor. In that case, Heritage Restorations, besides fumigating the wooden members, provides third-party advice gleaned from the many dozens of barn homes the company has helped to realize in the past. Since working around a reclaimed wood frame presents some challenges, and differs substantially from conventional modern framing, there are bound to be questions.

Other customers retain Heritage Restorations for its in-house architectural services. The company has overseen projects large and small, deploying at least a few different design strategies. One option is for the home to be fully contained within the original barn frame. For additional square footage, multiple frames may be combined into a single building. And in still another permutation, the barn frame may be supplemented by one or more conventionally framed additions. Though specifics change, of course, from site to site and project to project, there’s one commonality in all: hundreds of years after its raising, the barn still stands.

Photo: heritagebarns.com

For more information, visit Heritage Restorations.

Quick Tip: Renew Dull Wood Finishes with Mineral Spirits

Wood worse for wear? Even if you someday plan on refinishing tired furniture or trim, right now you can revitalize the material, quickly and easily, simply by using mineral spirits.

Renew Wood Finishes with Mineral Spirits

Photo: shutterstock.com

As you go about your spring cleaning routine, take a few minutes to inspect the condition of your wood furniture and trim. Are any of the finishes looking dull, murky, and tired? Though you may choose to refinish worse-for-wear woodwork at some point in the future, in the meantime you can try an easier way of revitalizing it. In many cases, simply applying mineral spirits—otherwise known as paint thinner—goes a long way toward restoring warmth and shine to surfaces.

Renew Wood Finishes with Mineral Spirits - Table Detail

Photo: shutterstock.com

If you don’t have mineral sprits on hand, check your local hardware store or home center. Widely available, this stuff also boasts the virtue of being inexpensive. When you’re ready, douse a clean and absorbent cloth in the mineral spirits, then wipe down the wood whose finish needs a refresh. As a solvent, mineral spirits work to cut through stubborn grime and buildup from polish, wax, and oils.

Adding more mineral spirits to the cloth as necessary, continue rubbing the wood until the cloth no longer picks up any residue. To access detailed or hard-to-reach areas, such as the carved portion of a fireplace mantel, use an old toothbrush or a pad of fine steel wool. For something even gentler than mineral spirits alone, some restorers cutting the solvent with a mild soap (e.g., Murphy Oil Soap). Apply the solution by means of a sponge or a paintbrush, before wiping it away with a clean cloth.

Though relatively potent, mineral spirits do not cause any damage to clear wood finishes and are therefore at least worth experimenting with. You may be pleasantly surprised by the results. Be careful, however, not to use a stronger solvent, as doing so might remove the finish altogether.

Since there are fumes to wary of, take pains to ensure there’s sufficient ventilation in your work area. Also, bear in mind that mineral spirits are flammable. So once you are finished with the job, be conscious of where you put the cloths used in the process (or in what manner you dispose of them).

Compared to stripping and refinishing woodwork, applying mineral spirits is quicker and much, much easier. But of course, even after renewing the finish, you may still feel that the furniture or trim still needs to be refinished, but at least you can save that work for another day—or maybe next year!

Bob Vila Radio: Child-Safe Power Outlets, Reinvented

A promising new company seeks to provide families, finally, with a safe and reliable child-proof power outlet.

You can’t possibly pick a more important job to do around your home than keeping your family safe. And of course many families include little ones who are toddling or crawling around the floor.

Child-Safe Power Outlets

Photo: briohouse.com

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Listen to BOB VILA ON CHILD-SAFE POWER OUTLETS or read the text below:

While past attempts to protect kids from electrics hazards have met with only limited success, a promising new “smart” outlet has arrived on the market.

Made by a company called Brio, the child-proof outlet installs much like a regular one, but it behaves much differently. In fact, it automatically withholds power to the outlet until it confirms an actual plug has been inserted—not, say, a screwdriver that had been left lying around.

If you decide to make the switch, make sure you turn off the appropriate breaker in your electrical panel before doing any electrical work. Shocks are serious for anyone, children or adults!

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.

5 Things to Do with… Eggshells

The incredible, edible egg, indeed—even the shells serve up extra usefulness! Put your breakfast remnants to work in the kitchen, garden, and even the first aid kit with one of these five hacks.

Delicious and versatile, eggs are on the ingredients list for countless favorite recipes. But while the yolks and the whites go into breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, the eggshells typically go nowhere but the garbage bin. All those wasted shards add up, apparently. According to Earth911.com, Americans trash about 150,000 tons of eggshells each and every year! Things would be different if everyone knew that you can actually use eggshells for a variety of tasks both in and around the house.



Uses for Eggshells - Seedlings

Photo: shutterstock.com

If you’re itching to start gardening indoors before spring officially arrives, remember that eggshells make an excellent vessel for seedlings. When your plants finally outgrow their temporary homes, you can transplant them, shells and oil, directly into the soil, because the shells biodegrade. Read all the details at Instructables.



Uses for Eggshells - Natural Bandage

Photo: shutterstock.com

The next time you nick a finger while slicing and dicing in the kitchen, rest assured there’s a natural bandage within easy reach. It so happens that in a hardboiled egg, the membrane between the shell and the white can help stop the bleeding and serve as a makeshift Band-Aid until you can give your injury proper attention.



Uses for Eggshells - Sidewalk Chalk

Photo: shutterstock.com

Believe it or not, you can make sidewalk chalk out of eggshells. First, grind the eggshells into powder. Next, mix the powder with tap water, flour, and food coloring (in your favorite bold hue), forming a batter-like paste. Finally, add the mixture to a silicone mold. For step-by-step instructions, head over to Pink Stripey Socks.



Uses for Eggshells - Sharpen Blender Blades

Photo: shutterstock.com

You already know that ice cubes sharpen the blades in your blender But did you know that eggshells do the same thing? Why not save the shells in your freezer, pulling them out whenever your blender needs a performance a boost? Just make sure to clean the blender afterwards, so you don’t get any crunchy surprises.



Uses for Eggshells - Get Rid of Snails and Slugs

Photo: shutterstock.com

Gardens are gorgeous; unwanted snails and slugs are not. To get rid of these slimy creatures without resorting to chemical pesticides, simply spread crushed eggshells in a circle around your plantings. Rather than crawl over the jagged edges of the shell flakes, the pests would rather crawl back to where they came from.

Bob Vila Radio: Restoring Rattan

With care and attention—and in some cases, the help of a professional—you can bring back the beauty of rattan furniture. The next time you go flea market shopping, keep these hints in mind.

Vintage rattan furniture is getting harder to come by, so if you happen to run across a nice piece at a garage sale, you might want to snap it up and take it home for restoration.

How to Clean Rattan

Photo: shutterstock.com

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Listen to BOB VILA ON RESTORING RATTAN or read the text below:

If the rattan has been neglected, mix some gentle cleaner in water, then apply the suds to the dingy spots using either a soft cloth or a toothbrush. Avoid getting the rattan excessively wet, as that can damage the material as well as the cane wrapping that holds it together. Also avoid stripping the rattan, as you would do with wood; that, too, would likely cause damage. Instead, if some of the finish has been worn bare, you can work with an experienced restorer to create a custom stain that’ll return the piece to its original warm hue. Periodic application of lemon oil will also help protect the finish.

Once the restoration is done, position your vintage prize where it won’t get too much sun or moisture, as the elements can quickly undo even the finest restoration.

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.

Before & After: The Bathroom a Whole-House Renovation Built

Work with what you've got—that's the motto of these intrepid homeowners, who rejiggered the floor plan in order to create a spacious master bathroom with timeless design.

Small Bathroom Makeover

Photo: anurseandanerd.blogspot.com

Husband and wife Michael and Laura Blough bought their home sweet Cape-style home in 2013. Formerly a rental property, it had spent the previous ten years being treated rather roughly, so the house was, according to Laura, “screaming” for update. Rather than revamp one room at a time, the Blough couple stripped the entire interior down to the studs, opting instead to start over from scratch. For the new and improved home design, the Bloughs had several things on their wish list. At the top? Creating a master bedroom suite. Had they stuck with the original layout, the bathroom would have needed to be accessed through the hall. So as part of the renovation, the Bloughs removed or reconfigured walls, closets, and doorways in order to integrate the new bathroom with the new master suite. To say that they were successful would be an understatement. So complete, so jaw-dropping, was the transformation that we just had to learn all the details.

Small Bathroom Makeover - Before

Photo: anurseandanerd.blogspot.com

How would you describe the original bathroom?
When we bought our home, the bathroom looked like most every other room in the house, like it hadn’t been cleaned in a while, or updated ever. It had a squishy floor, loose tiles, a narrow layout and inefficient closets.

Why did you choose to rearrange the layout?
Early on, we decided that we wanted a true master bedroom, with an attached bathroom. The only way to make that happen was to rearrange the floor plan. So the spare bedroom became the master, and the hall bathroom became the master bathroom. To enlarge the bathroom and connect it to our new master bedroom, we had to absorb a lot of closets… but it was worth it.

Small Bathroom Makeover - Layout

Photo: anurseandanerd.blogspot.com

Did you learn anything along the way?
We were 25 years old when we bought this house and started renovating. What did we know about renovating and designing? Not much. But we had great help along the way from highly-skilled family members and a number of professionals. I definitely recommend using your resources, whether they’re family or friends, Pinterest or blogs. And paint your beadboard before it goes up on the wall. Just a little something else I learned.

What was the inspiration for the new look?
I love things that feel timeless. If I am going to put time, energy, and finances into a project, I want to know that I am going to get the most longevity out of it that I can. So I decided white cabinetry and classic tile would be the way to go. When we were house-hunting, we had seen a 1940s house that still has its original black-and-white basketweave mosaic tile. I just absolutely loved it! (If something is over 70 years old and I still love it, that’s what I call a classic.) So I found something similar for our bathroom floor. We also went with clean white subway tiles in the shower. And of course, what’s more timeless than a claw foot tub?

Small Bathroom Makeover - Shower

Photo: anurseandanerd.blogspot.com

Any advice for homeowners attempting a bathroom renovation of their own?
Use your resources—plan, plan, plan—and shop around. We saved over a thousand dollars by shopping around for our fixtures, not buying them all in one place.

Do you now use the space any differently than you did before?
We love having a large shower and a double vanity. When we first got married we were living in married student housing. The entire apartment was only 500 square feet, so the bathroom was tiny. The shower head only came up to Michael’s shoulders—he’s tall, but not that tall! Having enough space in the bathroom for both of use to use it at the same time has been really, really nice.

Small Bathroom Makeover - Storage

Photo: anurseandanerd.blogspot.com

See even more photos of this before-and-after over at A Nurse and a Nerd!