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Solved! What to Do When Your Freezer Isn’t Freezing

Don’t lose your cool, even if your freezer has. Try these troubleshooting tips instead.

Freezer Not Freezing

Photo: istockphoto.com

Q: I’ve noticed that my freezer isn’t working as well as it used to. Is there any possibility of a quick fix instead of a big repair bill?

A: The good news is, there’s a high probability that your issue can be both quickly diagnosed and easily fixed. Because a typical refrigerator/freezer lasts 10 to 15 years before needing replacement, first consider your freezer’s age. If your appliance is well within that time frame and you’ve taken good care of it in general, you’re likely dealing with something simple, such as obstructed airflow, frost buildup, damaged gaskets, or dusty coils.

Freezer Not Freezing - Freezer

Photo: istockphoto.com

Clear the shelves. First, check to make sure you’re allowing enough air to circulate throughout your freezer. This may sound elementary, but a freezer that’s packed to the gills might be causing an airflow blockage, particularly if the evaporator fan is covered by a tub of ice cream or bag of vegetables. Rearranging or removing a few items may be all that’s needed to cool things down again.

Break the ice. If your freezer isn’t overflowing and you have a manual-defrost model, take note of the amount of frost on the interior walls—the buildup could be affecting your unit’s efficiency. If you notice a great deal of those telltale ice crystals, or if it’s been more than a year since you last defrosted the freezer, a simple defrosting will probably do the trick, letting your vents and coils breathe again and continue to do their jobs. If you have an auto-defrost unit, thick layers of ice could be a solid indication that a part or two may need to be replaced by a professional in the near future.

Check the seals. Another quick diagnostic involves checking your freezer’s gaskets (door seals) using the “dollar bill test.” Open the door, place a dollar bill flat against the seal, and close the door again. If you can easily pull out the cash, your seals are too loose. If, however, pulling the bill out requires a good deal of effort, the seals are probably fine. Be sure to test several sections of the gasket for good measure, and before you test them, wipe down any spills or debris that could be preventing them from locking together correctly.

Clean the coils. Last but not least, dirty coils may be the culprit. If you’ve cleared out, defrosted, and seal-tested your freezer and all seems well, try pulling the unit away from the wall and vacuuming the coils with the crevice or brush attachment. As dirty coils can restrict airflow, a quick cleaning may be just the ticket to chill things out again.

If none of these tips bring your ice cubes and frozen snacks back to their rock-solid consistency, it’s possible you have a larger issue on your hands and a repair call might be in order. Most likely, though, a bit of maintenance can return your unit to its optimal condition.

Dos and Don’ts of Repairing Drywall

Got a gouge in that gypsum board? Fix it the right way with these tips!

Repairing Drywall - Cracked Wall

Photo: istockphoto.com

Drywall is tough, but it’s not indestructible. Over time, gypsum-board walls can sustain ugly cracks or holes. Fortunately, drywall is fairly easy to repair, but there is an art to it. Here’s what to do—and what to avoid—when fixing drywall damage so it’s indiscernible to landlords, homebuyers, or visitors.

Repairing Drywall

Photo: istockphoto.com

DO use the right stuff.

When repairing minor scratches or dents smaller than ½ inch across, fill them with a thin layer of joint compound (also known as drywall mud). Apply using a 3- to 4-inch putty knife made for drywall work—rather than, say, the kind of narrow utility knife you’d use for wood putty—smoothing the filler till it’s flush with the wall. Cracks or holes larger than ½ inch require reinforcing mesh prior to spackling. If you apply joint compound directly to large gouges, the damage will reappear as the house settles and the joint compound dries and crumbles.

DON’T waste time.

Avail yourself of pre-made products designed to simplify repair tasks. Patch kits with reinforced center panels and self-adhesive tape work great for smaller holes. A drywall compound and primer combo (such as 3M Patch Plus Primer) leaves a surface that’s ready to paint.

DO remember neatness counts.

Use a box cutter or other sharp blade to cut random strands of mesh tape or frayed edges of wallboard paper around holes or cracks before applying joint compound. Otherwise your finished work will show bumps and other blemishes.

DON’T cut the cords.

Be safe and don’t cut into a wall to repair a hole until you verify that electrical cords and plumbing lines aren’t running through the cabinet behind it. If the hole is just a few inches wide, shine a flashlight into it to see what’s there. If you must enlarge the hole, carefully cut horizontally with a drywall saw—but avoid going deeper than an inch. It’s safe to assume that hot wires will be present near an electrical outlet, but don’t bet your life—or life savings—that homebuilders or renovators followed all electrical and plumbing codes. Wires and pipes are often found where they don’t belong.

DO keep it light.

Less is generally more when it comes to joint compound. A thin coat is easier to sand, and you’ll be less likely to remove too much while sanding and expose the patch. Also, for joint compound to appear flush with the wall near the damage site, “feather” the mud as you apply it. Hold the knife at a 70-degree angle, pressing harder on the outer edges of the mud as you move away from the center.

DON’T skimp on sanding.

If you cut corners on sanding, the repair site will be noticeable, so take your time. Once the repaired area is dry, use a fine-grit (100 or 120) sandpaper. After the first round of sanding, add a second layer of mud, spreading it about 2 inches beyond the boundaries of the first layer. Once dry, re-sand.

DO use protection.

The fine particulate of drywall compound could injure your lungs if inhaled. So always wear a dust mask when sanding drywall compound. Disposable gloves are also a good idea to protect your hands from the dehydrating effects of gypsum dust.

DON’T forget to inspect.

Think you’re done? Not so fast! Run your hands over the repair to ensure that it feels smooth. Then, with your temple against the wall, look for humps that might need more sanding.

Repairing Drywall - with Spackle

Photo: istockphoto.com

Once you’re satisfied with the look and feel of your patch job, prime and paint the area. No one will ever know your secret!

How To: Refinish Rusty Old Patio Furniture

Why replace your rusted metal outdoor furniture when you can refresh it instead? Using an inexpensive all-star tool and few other supplies, you can scrape away seasons' worth of rust and refinish your existing set—and put all the money you saved toward more exciting home improvements.

How to Refinish Patio Furniture

Photo: fotosearch.com

Although metal patio furniture is elegant and durable, it can over time become a rust-coated symbol of neglect. Instead of offering an inviting spot to relax on a warm summer afternoon, corroded furniture merely reminds you of better days gone by. But if underneath all that rust the essential frame of each piece is structurally sound, why spend money to replace the set? Consider the much more affordable alternative of refinishing your metal furniture. Using the right tools and easily mastered techniques, you can restore those rusty eyesores to near-new beauty.

Before you begin, know this: Refinishing iron patio furniture isn’t the kind of project you can spread out over a few days. Once you start removing the rust, you have to continue until the entire piece has been cleaned and treated with a rust-resistant primer. If you remove the rust and head for the hammock too soon, a condition known as “flash rust” can cause the flaky, reddish coating to reappear as quickly as the name implies—sometimes in a matter of hours. After the coat of primer is in place, however, you can move on through the rest of the job at a more leisurely pace.

- Nonslip drop cloth
- Cinder blocks
- Protective gloves
- Protective goggles
- Respiratory mask
- HYDE 3-in-1 Paint Stripping Wire Brush
- Muriatic acid or another rust-remover solution (optional)
- Old towels
- Rust-converter solution
- Paintbrushes (optional)
- Rust-inhibiting metal primer
- Rust-inhibiting metal paint

Streamline your patio-refinishing project by choosing the right spot for the job and preparing it properly. A shady, protected corner of your yard or an empty garage works best. Above all, avoid priming or painting the furniture outside on a windy day or in direct sunlight—either can cause the outer layer of the paint to dry too rapidly and thus reduce the lifespan of the paint. Protect the ground or concrete floor with a nonslip drop cloth, and keep a few cinder blocks handy for elevating the patio furniture so you’ll be able to reach the bottoms of the legs without tipping the pieces over.

Before you start, gear up with some old clothing, goggles, a respirator mask, and gloves. If you use a chemical to assist in rust removal, your goggles will need to protect your entire eye area from splatters, and your gloves should be chemical-resistant.


Photo: hydetools.com

For this next part, all you need is a talented multi-tool like the HYDE 3-in-1 Paint Stripping Wire Brush to remove the flaking coating. Scrub the flat surfaces on your patio furniture with the rectangular brush; its dense wire bristles quickly remove light rust and loose paint. Reach rust in nooks and crannies using the narrow wire bristles on the tip of the tool. Finally, turn the tool around to use the flat scraper at the end of the handle to remove larger sections of peeling paint. One tool, three functions—all you add is elbow grease!

If the rust and paint come off with ease, count your lucky stars and continue to brush all surfaces until completely clean. (Here, it really helps to elevate the piece you’re cleaning on cinder blocks so you can reach the bottoms of the legs.) When you’re done, you can skip ahead to Step 6.

If, however, you run into some more heavily rusted patches, you’ll need the assistance of muriatic acid or another rust-dissolving solution, both of which are readily available at home improvement centers.

Apply rust-removing acids or solutions as directed by the manufacturer, and use the formulas in conjunction with the HYDE 3-in-1 Wire Brush to scrub away the most stubborn rust. Some rust-removing acids and chemicals must be hosed off after application, so be prepared to move your item to a spot where you can wash it off without worry of the runoff damaging grass or other plants.

Dry the item thoroughly with old towels. Any moisture left on the bare iron can lead to new rust, even if the furniture is only slightly damp. Because your clean patio furniture is highly vulnerable at this point, complete the drying step and proceed quickly to the next.

Apply a rust-convertor solution to the clean patio furniture using either a spray can or paintbrush. Rust convertors are different from rust removers in that they contain polymers and tannic acid, which chemically convert trace bits of residual rust into iron tannate—a solid substance that coats, seals, and protects the iron furniture. If you’ve inadvertently missed rust lodged in joints or tight spots—which is easy to do—a rust converter acts like an insurance policy against rust developing under your new paint job.

Prime the patio furniture with rust-inhibiting metal primer and follow up by painting with rust-inhibiting metal paint. (Both must be suitable for exterior use.) The trick to getting a great finish is to apply both the primer and the paint in multiple, very thin coats. Because iron patio furniture often features intricate patterns and weaves, it’s usually better to spray both the primer and paint rather than brush them on. If you don’t want to use paint that comes in spray cans, you can rent or purchase a sprayer to apply another suitable variety of rust-inhibiting primer and paint.

Count on applying at least three thin coats of primer and three or more thin coats of paint; if you apply the coats too heavily, you’ll end up with paint runs. Once the primer has been applied, feel free to take breaks between applications to tend to other around-the-house activities—you’ll want to wait at least the minimum amount of time recommended by the paint manufacturer before applying another coat, anyway. Once again, don’t forget about the bottoms of the legs!


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


3 Fixes for a Mosquito-Filled Backyard

Mosquitoes can quickly transform the outdoors from a relaxing retreat into a nightmare of itchy, pest-ridden discomfort. Take back your backyard with one of these three DIY traps.

DIY Mosquito Trap

Photo: istockphoto.com

Their vampire-like tendencies and itchy bites make mosquitoes a nuisance in any setting, but they’re especially aggravating when they violate your backyard. And because some species transmit human pathogens, including West Nile virus, malaria, and the Zika virus, these bloodthirsty bugs are more than annoying—they’re also a health hazard. If you want to enjoy your yard without first having to bathe in bug spray, try one of these homemade weapons of mass mosquito destruction, all of which can be made from materials typically found at home.



DIY Mosquito Trap - Bottles

Photo: instructables.com via ShiftyTips

This simple snare exploits mosquitoes’ attraction to carbon dioxide to lure them to their doom. You’ll need a cup of hot water, 1/4 cup of brown sugar, a gram of yeast, and an empty two-liter plastic bottle to craft this concoction. First, cut the bottle in half around its middle. Heat up the water, then dump in the sugar and let the granules dissolve. Once the solution has cooled, pour the mixture into the bottom half of the bottle, and add the yeast to begin the carbon dioxide reaction. Remove the cap, flip the top of the bottle upside down, push it into the bottom half of the bottle to create a funnel, and then tape the two pieces together. To increase the effectiveness of the trap, secure a black sock, cloth, or piece of paper around the outside of the assemblage.

The mosquitoes will be attracted to the CO2, prompting them to enter through the funnel, where they’ll then drown in the water. Suspend the trap in a shaded part of the yard away from any gathering spaces to avoid bringing the unwanted guests even closer. Empty the bottle and add more mix every two weeks or as needed.



DIY Mosquito Trap - Ovitrap

Photo: instructables.com via jfulop10

Ovitraps operate on the kill-’em-before-they-multiply principle. These dark, water-filled containers imitate the breeding environment that mosquitoes favor—only this nursery is actually a morgue. When females lay their eggs on the container’s sock-lined rim, the larvae will fall through the screen and into the water. When they’re fully grown, they will be too big to crawl back through the mesh and will be stuck beneath the screen. (You can guess what happens next.)

To make the trap, drill two holes just big enough to accommodate some thin-gauge wire on opposite sides of a plastic container. Drill two larger holes below the hanger holes to serve as overflow drains. These will prevent the water that fills the trap from reaching the screen that locks in the grown mosquitoes. Next, glue the toe of a black sock to the bottom of the inside of the container. After the glue is completely dry, pull the rest of the sock up over the rim so that it completely covers the outside of the container, and glue the sock into place. Then, cut a fine-mesh metal screen to the same circumference as the top of the container, and press it into the opening so it sits directly above the overflow holes. Feed wire through the small holes at the top to make a hanger. Finally, pour some stagnant water from the backyard—or a similar homemade concoction made by adding grass clippings or dog kibble to fresh water—into the trap and all over the sock so that it’s moist. If the container doesn’t refill naturally through rainfall, add more water any time you notice the sock is dry.



DIY Mosquito Trap - Fan

Photo: instructables.com via NightHawkInLight

The fan trap has many iterations, but the simplest uses a 20-inch metal-frame box fan, metal mesh (the kind used on window screens), and magnets strong enough to secure the screen to the fan’s frame. If you can’t get ahold of metal mesh, you can instead attach mosquito netting or even tulle to the back of a box fan using glue. After cutting the netting of your choice to size and securing it in place on the back of the fan, simply switch the fan on and let it do the work.

When deployed near places that mosquitoes like to inhabit (think bright lights or ponds), the fan will suck them in, where they will be trapped by the netting and eventually dry out and die. If you check the trap and notice any survivors, spray them with a 50-50 blend of 70 percent isopropyl alcohol and water to finish them off, but avoid drenching the fan’s motor.

How To: Clean a Gas Grill

Backyard grilling is a beloved summer pastime. Keep the tradition burning bright and uphold your grill master title by putting in a little time and effort to give your gas grill a thorough cleaning.

How to Clean a Gas Grill - Before Cookout Season

Photo: istockphoto.com

It’s one of the most loved rituals of summer—friends and family gathering together in the backyard to enjoy some hot-weather fun and feast on succulent delicacies fresh from the gas grill. But if that gas grill hasn’t been cleaned in a while, those fire-roasted treats may leave a lot to be desired. Accumulated residue can make food stick to the grates, contribute to flare-ups, and even lead to grease fires. For the most delicious—and safe—cookouts, it’s a good idea to perform a thorough cleaning once or twice a year, either in preparation for the grilling season or before you store the grill for the winter. By following the simple steps outlined below, you’ll be able to extend the life of your gas grill and ensure plenty of summers’ worth of tasty meals.

- Large buckets or basins (2)
- Liquid dish detergent
- Warm water
- Strong cotton or terry cloth rags
- Wire-bristle brush

How to Clean a Gas Grill

Photo: istockphoto.com

If your gas grill hasn’t had a good cleaning in a while, start by filling two large buckets or basins with warm, soapy water. Dish detergent is your best bet here, because it works well on metal. Before cleaning the grill, make sure the valve on the propane tank is closed. Though this should go without saying, clean your grill only when it’s completely cool to the touch and, ideally, hasn’t been used that day. (You’ll have a tough time flipping all those meats and vegetables later on if your hands are covered with second-degree burns!)

Remove the grates and submerge them in the water, letting them soak for a while. Also take off any other removable parts, such as the drip pan and heat shields, and set them aside for now.

Taking care not to jostle any of the grill’s connections to the propane tank, use a rag to clear out loose ash and debris from the inside of the grill. Then, go back over your work with a wire-bristle brush to scrub off any caked-on char, grease, and other residue. Remove as much of this as possible from the grill’s interior.

Go back to the grates you’ve been soaking in the warm, soapy water. The gunk should have started to loosen and fall away, but you’ll probably have to put in some elbow grease to get the grates clean. You may need to use a combination of rags and the wire brush to remove the greasy residue, but concerted effort should eventually give you the results you want. When you’ve finished, allow everything to dry completely.

Once all the grill’s parts are dry to the touch, it’s time to put them back in place. Then, open the valve on the propane tank, then turn on the burners to make sure they’re working properly and that the heat shield(s) are correctly positioned. When you’ve confirmed that the grill is in good working order, you can consider it a job well done—which, some rare-steak lovers might insist, is the only acceptable way to use those words around a grill.

Regular maintenance is important to keep your grill operating at its maximum potential, extend its lifespan, and ensure the best flavor from your grilled foods. Every time you grill, start by preheating the grates and brushing them clean with a wire-bristle brush; after cooking, brush off obvious clumps of food. Periodically sweep debris and grease out of the cooking chamber, and empty the drip pan frequently. If you stick with this simple cleaning routine, your end- or beginning-of-season overhaul will be a breeze, giving you more time to enjoy those precious summer days.

How To: Make an LED Marquee Letter

Really personalize the lighting in your home when you make an lit-up marquee letter in your own monogram.

DIY Marquee Letter - Make a Faux Metal Light with Wood

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila

Hunting for a statement piece that really speaks to you requires a certain amount of time and patience. Fortunately for those of us lacking in the latter, there’s often a homemade alternative to customizable to our exact vision to speed things along. Rather than resorting to picking through every estate sale for the large marquee letters, symbols, and full signs that can be found trending in interior design today, this LED-powered version emulates the typical reclaimed style in whichever design you desire. Though this DIY project appears to be made from weathered metal, you can actually recreate its vintage vibe using mere plywood. Fashion one or enough to spell out the family name following these straightforward steps.


DIY Marquee Letter - Supplies

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila

- 6 mm plywood
- Pencil
- Ruler
- Jigsaw
- Drill
- Palm sander
- Sandpaper
- Hot glue gun
- Wood glue
- Clamps
- Wood putty
- Black spray paint
- Silver hammered spray paint
- LED string lights



DIY Marquee Letter - Step 1

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila

First, dream up the design for your three-dimensional, light-up sign. We made two: a 16″-tall “B” and a sun with a 20-inch diameter. Whatever you choose, opt for angles over curves. This swap enhances the rough industrial appearance of your finished work, but more importantly it simplifies the processes of cutting the plywood and framing its edges.

Once you’ve decided the shape you want to build, sketch it on the back of a 6 mm plywood sheet, using a ruler for optimal straight edges. Tip: For best results when it comes time to insert the light bulbs, scale your design so that its dimensions in inches are multiples of two.



DIY Marquee Letter - Step 2

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila

Cut along the penciled perimeter of the shape using the jigsaw.

If your design includes a hole cut from the center (like the two small rectangles to make the openings in the letter “B”), drill holes in each corner of the interior shape and cut along the lines with the jigsaw so that it pops out easily.



DIY Marquee Letter - Step 3

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila

Smooth all sides and edges of the plywood with either sandpaper or a palm sander to remove every splinter.



DIY Marquee Letter - Step 4

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila

Use your ruler to determine the location of each bulb on the marquee letter and mark. (You may find it helpful to first pencil in lines of the path they will follow and then plot the holes.)

Aim to space bulbs over the width and length of the marquee letter so that they are equidistant. In our case, we placed the first bulb two inches from the edge and set the rest 2 inches apart from one another, but the distance may vary depending on the dimensions of your marquee letter and the size of the bulbs.



DIY Marquee Letter - Step 5

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila

For every mark, drill a hole. The drill bit size must match the size of the base of the bulb so that it can pop through. Here, we used a 3⁄8-inch drill bit.



DIY Marquee Letter - Step 6

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila

Add depth to your three-dimensional marquee letter by creating an edge with a shadowbox effect to run along its perimeter. Start by cutting the project’s leftover plywood into a strip or two, each 3 inches wide and as long as the board. Now, position a 3″-inch wide strip along the top side of your marquee letter to match it in length exactly; mark the length on the plywood strip, cut, and stand it up on edge against the marquee letter.

Working clockwise, lay the remaining 3-inch plywood length against the side that connects on the right. This time, adjust ever so slightly—by roughly 6 mm, the thickness of the plywood—so that this length overlaps the edge of the last strip you cut and spans to the end of this side of the letter. (This little bit of overlap minimizes gaps at at the corners between edge pieces.) Mark where you’ll want to make your cut, use your jigsaw, and stand this second edge up just the same. Repeat this process as you work your way around the marquee letter. The final side should be long enough to cover its side and the extra 6 mm of plywood at both ends.

Now, prepare to glue. You want the marquee letter’s 3″-wide casing to stick out 2 inches in front and 1 inch in the back (that’s how you’ll hide the cord), so it may be helpful to pencil a line length-wise along each plywood strip to guide your gluing. Then apply either hot glue or wood glue to the strips along the drawn lines, and press them to their coordinating sides. Hold the sides with clamps while the glue dries.



DIY Marquee Letter - Step 7

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila

Apply some wood putty using a putty knife to fill in and smooth over any remaining gaps at the corners. Once completely dry, sand the edges to remove any blemishes.



DIY Marquee Letter - Step 8

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila

Finally, the key to transforming the plywood structure into a metal-look marquee like lies in the two-part painting technique. First, completely coat the piece with black spray paint and let dry.



DIY Marquee Letter - Step 9

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila

After your black paint has completely dried, apply a top coat of silver hammered spray paint. This round, it’s less important to cover completely; the black paint peeping through—in addition to the metallic spray paint’s unique finish—will visually age the marquee.



DIY Marquee Letter - Step 10

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila

Unscrew the LED bulbs from their string, and place one in each hole with a little glue. When dry, you can reconnect the string lights to their bulbs from the back. Then take your one-of-a-kind marquee letter and display it either standing upright or hung on the wall. The unique design is sure to brighten up—quite literally—any shelving arrangement, bar cart, or gallery wall.


DIY Marquee Letter - Completed Lighting Project

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.

How To: Strip Wire

Kick off any easy, do-it-yourself electrical project with one of these three simple ways to strip wire. Think you need new tools? Think again: We guarantee you already have all you need on hand for at least one of these methods!

How to Strip Wire

Photo: istockphoto.com

Whether you’re rewiring an old lamp, installing a new doorbell, or adding another outlet to a wall, the first step to this sort of do-it-yourself maintenance project often involves stripping the sheathing from the wire. While this introduction to electrical work may seem scary, it’s a skill that’s not hard to master. Specialty tools can help you with the task, but aren’t a necessity—you can still get by just fine without them with a little bit of practice. Learn how to strip any type of wire with whatever tools you have on hand, and you’ll soon be tackling future home wiring tasks with confidence.

- Wire stripping tool
- Utility knife
- Scissors

Using Wire Strippers

How to Strip Wire - Using a Wire Stripper

Photo: istockphoto.com

A wire stripper can make DIY electrical work especially easy for a beginner, outfitted with several notches that correspond to various wire gauges. To strip wire using this specialty tool, first identify the gauge of the wire you plan to strip by comparing it to the guide along the side of the stripper. Then place the tip of the wire (about 1-½ inches) into the jaws of the wire stripper, notched in the appropriate space for its gauge. Close the wire strippers around the wire so that it cuts through the wire’s exterior sheathing. Then, with the jaws of the wire strippers still closed, pull the sheathing off the end of the wire.


Without Wire Strippers

If you don’t have a specialty tool for the job, don’t dismay. A resourceful DIYer can still strip just about any wire as long as he or she has an implement sharp enough to cut the sheathing, like a utility knife, a pair of scissors, or even a sharp pocket knife. The process is similar, but takes a little more practice to get just the right touch—enough pressure to cut off the sheathing without damaging the actual metal wires.

How to Strip Wire - Using a Utility Knife

Photo: istockphoto.com

When working with a utility knife…
Lay the wire across a workbench or piece of wood. In one hand, hold the utility knife so that its blade gently rests on the wire’s sheathing at the exact point you intend to cut to strip it off. Use the other hand to roll the wire across the work surface so that the blade scores the sheathing all the way around the wire. Pull the sheathing off with your fingers, and inspect the wire beneath to make sure no damage has been done.


How to Strip Wire - Using Scissors

Photo: istockphoto.com

When working with a scissors…
Open the scissors halfway and fit your wire as close as possible to where the blades meet. With just the slightest pressure, begin to close the scissors—you want to bite into the sheathing but not cut through the wire. Use your fingers to twist the wire around within the open scissors so that the sheathing gets completely scored by the pair of blades. Once the end sheathing has been separated, go ahead and pull it off.

It really is that simple. As mentioned, take care to not be so overzealous with the task that you accidentally nick or the insulation or wiring beneath the sheathing. Worst case scenario, you can lop off the end of the wire and start over. With a little bit of practice, some concentration, and a steady hand, you’ll be able to strip the sheathing off of any wire quickly and cleanly.

How To: Make Your Own Mulch

Protect plants and nourish soil—for free!—with this DIY guide.

How to Make Mulch

Photo: istockphoto.com

Treating your trees, garden, and landscaping beds to mulch helps retain soil moisture, suppress weeds, and arm plants against extreme temperatures—plus, it makes these features look fresh and well groomed. Organic mulch has the added benefit of encouraging helpful garden organisms like earthworms and returning nutrients to the soil as it decomposes. But there’s no need to buy the stuff! You can make your own from yard waste you might otherwise haul away. Whether you mulch in the spring or in the fall, follow this plan to save money and use the planet’s resources efficiently.

- Yard waste (leaves, grass clippings, fallen branches, etc.)
- Lawn mower
- Rake
Pitchfork or shovel

How to Make Mulch - Homemade Mulch in the Backyard

Photo: istockphoto.com

To make mulch out of fallen leaves, turn to your trusty lawnmower for shredding power—without it, they’re bound to blow away. Rake them into piles and run over them several times with the mower. (To beef up leaf mulch, you can mix in grass clippings before chopping with the mower.) Aim for pieces are about the size of a dime. The leaf mulch is now ready to use, but if you have wood material on hand, proceed to the next step.

If you’ve pruned trees or had branches come down during a storm, put this wood to good use by adding it to your leaf mulch. Wood chips decompose more slowly than leaves, so wood mulch requires less care and can extend the aesthetic appeal of mulch in your yard.

To create wood mulch, rent a wood chipper for about $75 a day—a worthwhile investment when you consider that mulch can cost from $22 to $30 a yard. (One cubic yard of mulch will cover an 80-square-foot area at a 4-inch depth.) Follow the manufacturer’s instructions on the chipper to turn twigs and branches into small pieces. Once you’ve converted your stash, add to leaf mulch and mix it together with a shovel or pitchfork.

Now that your mulch is good to go, keep these two crucial tips in mind for making it work harder for you, protecting and pampering your landscape:
Weed first, or unwanted greenery will benefit from the nutrient-rich mulch, too!
• Mulch planting beds and trees at a depth of 3 to 4 inches. 
Avoid piling mulch up around the base of trees and the crowns of plants, which inhibits oxygen flow and could potentially cause them to suffocate and rot.

Going forward, plan ahead and make mulch, not waste! Your landscape will love you for it.

Genius! The Soundproofing Solution That Doubles as Wall Art

Stop losing sleep over noise in a neighboring room when you try this quick and easy DIY soundproofing technique.


Photo: ikea.com

The struggles of sharing a home aren’t limited to arranging furniture or dividing up a chore chart among the household; they also extend to the clamor and clangor that come along with the habits of our everyday lives. Whether because of the TV volume, drum practice, slamming doors, or the traffic outside, getting a good night’s sleep can seem next to impossible—especially if you’re tossing and turning over the steep costs of putting in soundproofing. Luckily, there’s another way to reap the benefits of some much needed peace and quiet without shelling out for materials and installation.

This noise-reducing paneling is both easy on the eyes and easy enough for any homeowner or apartment dweller to make in an afternoon. Start by finding the wall closest to the source of the sound. (Hint: It could be the exterior wall facing the street, or it might be the wall you share with a teenager turned budding musician.) Take measurements, and pick up as many large frames as you’ll need to cover the space. You’ll find an assortment of oversized frames priced in the $5 to $10 range at donation-based shops like Goodwill, or you can achieve a more uniform look by picking up a bulk supply of your favorite style, like these from IKEA. Lastly, gather some fabric in a print you love, craft-store batting, scissors, and a roll of tape.

The key to transforming these function of these frames is in how you fill them. Replace the glass or plastic that typically protects an art print with a sheet of batting slightly smaller than the frame and a piece of fabric slightly larger than it. The padding is thick enough to absorb some of the sound before it enters the space. Since you’re working with cushy materials, arrange the layers on a smooth surface in this order for easiest stuffing: fabric on the bottom, batting in the middle, and the picture frame backing on top. Then, fold the fabric over the batting and backing—similar to wrapping a present—and tape everything down. Pop the layers into the frame, hang it on the wall, and repeat until you’ve effectively padded the problem area.

For a small cost, this DIY has a big payout. In addition to its quieting benefits, the framed fabric fronts also double as memo boards for tacking notes and photos (not to mention a way to add texture and color to an otherwise vanilla room). Once everything is in place, crawl under the covers and prepare yourself for a night of uninterrupted sleep—just don’t forget to set an alarm.


Photo: ikea.com

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3 Tips for Smarter Home Security in the Digital Age

As more and more of our lives are lived online—both on the Web and through smarter technology throughout the home—our personal information has become more vulnerable to thieves. Keep your identity secure by following these three safety measures.

Smarter Home Security for Connected Households

Photo: istockphoto.com

Once upon a time, the only type of theft a person had to worry about was the old-fashioned kind, in which someone might physically break into a house and steal material possessions that aren’t theirs to take. But as life has become increasingly dependent on the digital realm, and every company, service, and product pushes you to connect via a new app, identity theft and online fraud have risen exponentially, changing the ways in which we keep our lives and resources secure. Luckily, although thieves today may be more tech-savvy than ever before, so are the tools we can use to protect what we care about, even as we spend more and more of our lives plugged in. Read on to learn three key tips for smart home security in a digitally insecure age.

1. Keep your machines clean.
A 2015 survey conducted by the National Cyber Security Alliance and ESET, an antivirus software developer, reports that one in five Americans already uses a mobile device to access at least one device in the home—say, a thermostat, cable box, or lighting system—while away. Moreover, nearly every household these days is connected to the Internet, probably through its own Wi-Fi network. We’ve entered the age of the Internet of Things, when a growing network of physical objects—from phones and watches to home security systems and cars—is embedded with technology that enables these objects to connect and exchange data with one another and with us. So, it’s important to take control of that data and the things that collect it.

Stronger Home Security for Smart Homes

Photo: istockphoto.com

If you’re using devices and apps to control your home’s temperature, security, lighting, or television recordings—or even if you’re simply monitoring a pet’s location—start by programming those apps with strong passwords, then keep your login information (both usernames and passwords) close to the vest and your router secure at all times. “It’s important to be vigilant about actively protecting your identity,” says Paige Hanson, chief of identity education at LifeLock, a leading security brand.

It’s also crucial to keep your software up to date. “Updating the software, apps, and operating systems you use in a timely manner will also ensure that the latest security issues will have been addressed,” Hanson continues. In other words, the fact that you bought or downloaded something and gave it a password isn’t enough on its own; indeed, the more technology you use, the more vulnerable you are. It’s absolutely worth going an extra step or two to make sure you’re not falling behind the times. Stay on top of everything to make certain you’re not leaving yourself open to security breaches. Hackers work around the clock to steal your information, so diligence is key.

2. Pay attention to what you’re sharing (and who you’re sharing it with).
In this era of social media, online banking, and constant connectivity, it’s easy to forget the full reach of the Internet. When you post a photo to Facebook, you may think you’re simply sharing it with a few dozen or hundred acquaintances, but you may in fact be sharing it with anyone and everyone who happens to click on your profile—identity thieves included. The same goes for listing your phone number, home address, and other sensitive information on networking sites that feel personal but are often very public. Privacy settings on social media channels are a constantly moving target, so it’s essential to check all your profiles on a regular basis to ensure that your audience is as limited as you’d like it to be, and that if something changes, you’re sharing only information you’re comfortable having out there. Set a monthly (or even more frequent) calendar appointment with yourself to run a quick security check, making sure you’re really as locked down as you think you are.

Pay particular attention to your smart devices, many of which collect more data than you may realize. Take time to read up on each device and understand how your information is being stored and used. Can it be sold to third parties? What happens if you decide to discontinue its use? Knowledge is power when you’re deciding how and where to allow your data to be shared, so do your homework by reading the fine print and diving into user reviews before committing to a new technology that might not have your best interests in mind.

3. Invest in a theft prevention system.
If you really want to ensure that all your assets—from the heirlooms in your closet safe to the very last penny on your credit card balance—are protected, it may be wise to explore a theft prevention system. Consider subscribing to a service like LifeLock that specializes in protecting your personal identity and can provide protection services for consumers as well as consumer risk management services for enterprises. Covering everything from proactive identity alerts and threat detection to comprehensive remediation services, a theft prevention system leverages unique data, science, and patented technology to offer protection that goes far beyond the scope of simpler services like basic credit monitoring.

“At the core, our products help detect identity-related incidents, alert members to suspicious activity that is detected within our network, and address fraud-related issues on behalf of victims,” Hanson says. “In the event that identity theft occurs, LifeLock provides an award-winning member service team and a $1 Million Total Service Guarantee.” Choosing to invest in a service like LifeLock at all—but particularly sooner rather than later—is an intelligent strategy, especially if you’re planning to add more technological devices to your home in the future. As smart homes become the norm rather than the exception, it’s wise to set a system in place that captures and monitors everything you add, the moment you add it, from here on out.

The old saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” certainly applies here, but in this case it’s not disease you’re trying to keep at bay, but rather all those high-tech thieves who are determined to take what you’ve earned. By entrusting an expert to stay two steps ahead of them on your behalf, you’re free to devote your time and energy to the people and activities you enjoy, confident that your home, possessions, and identity are being diligently protected.


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