Welcome to Bob Vila

When the Clothes on Your Back Are a Tool for the Task

Setting out to make a repair on his roof, our blogger expected to use a handful of familiar, basic tools. By the end of the day, though, what had proved the most useful wasn't a tool at all!

Drip Edge Repair

Photo: MFranco

Look at any flat roof and, along the edges, you’re likely to see a special type of flashing—the drip edge. Though nothing more sophisticated than a profiled length of aluminum or galvanized steel, the drip edge performs a critical set of functions. For one, it closes up the space between the roof deck and fascia board, protecting the two components from the weather (and from each other). Second, the drip edge guards the roof deck from exposure to wind-driven rain. But most important, the drip edge, true to its name, encourages rain to shed outwards and away from the building, not down the side. Finally, although it’s primarily intended to prevent water damage, the drip edge provides a decorative bonus—it lends an attractive, finished appearance to the roof.

How do you know if your drip edge has been doing its job? Check the fascia board, or in some cases, the underside of the roof overhang. Here, if you notice water stains, you can probably blame the drip edge. But stains are not the only sign of a drip-edge failure. As I discovered on a recent visit to my summer house, some signs are much more dramatic. As I pulled into the driveway, I didn’t see any water stains. No, what I saw was the drip-edge flashing hanging down the side of the garage, having become almost fully detached! My best guess was that high winds caused an outdoor cable to snag the flashing and wrench it out of position. I’m just glad I stopped by the house at the right time. Had I not been there to put the drip edge back into place, a leaking roof or a flooded basement—or both—may have been waiting for me on my next visit.

Of course, I was on vacation and not eager to work on anything (other than my suntan, that is). But knowing that, without the drip edge in place, the house would be vulnerable to damage from heavy summer rains, I had no choice but to move forward with the repair. Within minutes, I’d rounded up the basic tools I’d need. But as it was such an exceedingly hot day—and because I would be working with sharp-edged metal—I had to put extra thought into my choice of clothing. In my experience, when you’re tackling a tough task or working under difficult conditions, your gear can make or break your ability to perform. For that reason, I was happy to test a couple of pieces from the Wrangler® RIGGS Workwear® line—a collection designed specifically to provide durability and comfort on the job site.

Photo: MFranco

The Wrangler® RIGGS Workwear® collection includes everything from jeans and overalls to long-sleeve shirts and button-downs. Because I was facing an outdoor job—in summer, no less—I chose the Short Sleeve Pocket T-Shirt. Though I had read the label and understood the shirt is made entirely from seven-ounce cotton jersey, I was still surprised by the balance struck between its rugged construction and loose-but-not-too-loose fit. Aside from the vented taped side seams and taped neck seam, I also loved the tagless label, because when I’m on a ladder, the last thing I want to worry about is a scratchy collar. Along with the T-shirt, I wore the Ripstop Ranger Pant, named for the durable ripstop fabric that makes the garment not only extraordinarily tough, but also quite comfortable and, in my experience, miraculously breathable.

Back to the job at hand: The initial step was to remove the damaged drip edge and closely inspect its condition. While the wind had done most of the work for me, taking down all but one portion of the flashing, there were still a few nails left to remove. Using pliers, I pulled out the nails, then carefully carried the drip edge down to the ground, where I had set up a rudimentary workbench. If the flashing had been irretrievably damaged, I could easily have gone out and purchased a replacement. After all, home centers typically stock drip-edge flashing in 10-foot sections, in multiple colors and in multiple profiles. But lucky for me, the damage was minimal. In relatively short order, I was able to smooth out the few dents simply by running a block of wood over the metal on both sides. In other words—so far, so good!

Up to this point, what I loved most about Wrangler® RIGGS Workwear® wasn’t that it had resisted tears or allowed freedom of movement. It did do both of those things, but I was most impressed with the breast pocket of the T-shirt. Unlike most breast pockets, this one isn’t merely for show. On the contrary, the pocket was strong enough to hold the pair of pliers that I used on the roof. Plus, inside the pocket there’s a hidden utility loop—the perfect spot to stash a carpenter’s pencil. Those are the kinds of little details that mark the Short Sleeve Pocket T-Shirt as having been pragmatically designed with real working people in mind. Something else I liked: Despite the intense heat, I was managing to stay cool thanks to the vents that are let into the pant just below the reinforced knees. Certainly, the ripstop material is breathable on its own—more breathable than I expected—but the extra airflow goes a long way toward ensuring comfort.

In the final phase of the flashing repair, I had to reinstall the drip edge. To keep it in place over the long haul, I ran a bead of roofing cement along the side that would sit against the roof deck. The cement would help the flashing withstand the next gust of wind or tug from a cable. Once I’d done that, there was only one step remaining—climbing the ladder and repositioning the drip edge. Under normal circumstances, I would have expected to make a few trips up and down the ladder, but here’s where the many thoughtful, practical details in the design of the Ripstop Ranger Pant really surprised me. In the end, I had to make only one trip, because everything I needed to complete the project fit handily on the garment. On the right side, a loop provided a place to hang my hammer. A smaller pocket proved to be the exact right size for a tape measure. With my caulking gun secured in one of the belt loops, I jammed a handful of nails into the cargo pocket, confident that their sharp points would not poke through.

Atop the ladder, I completed the rest of the work pretty quickly, securing the flashing with roofing nails at intervals of about three inches. Then, to finish the job, I ran a second line of roofing cement, this time along the seam where the flashing came into contact with the roof. At any point in the process, the clothes I was wearing could have slowed me down—or simply made the project more of a pain. It’s happened before. But if anything, wearing Wrangler® RIGGS Workwear® helped me take the job from to-do to done faster than I anticipated, with plenty of time left over in the afternoon to enjoy the nearby beach. Best of all, I know that if I’d encountered any problem at all with my clothing, it wouldn’t have been a problem for very long. That’s because the full line of Wrangler® RIGGS Workwear® comes protected by a lifetime warranty. OK, seriously, how many T-shirts or pairs of pants do you own that are covered by a warranty? That’s what I thought.

Photo: MFranco

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Wrangler. The opinions and text are all mine.


The Little-Known Importance of Attic Fans

Want to keep your house comfortable year-round while protecting the attic and roof from a battery of hazards? An attic fan may be just what you're looking for.

Attic Fans

Photo: solatube.com

It’s midsummer, and for hours and days, sun has been beating on the roof of your home. Measurements have shown that, given the right weather conditions, typical roofing materials can reach up to 150 degrees Fahrenheit. That heat eventually transfers from the outside of the roof to the sheathing. From there, it penetrates the insulation and roof framing materials, raising the temperature of the attic to a precarious extreme.

But summer isn’t the only season during which the attic faces a threat. In winter, when windows are shut tight, there’s considerably less ventilation for the humidity generated by cooking, laundry, and showers. With nowhere else to go, that moist air accumulates in the attic, where it can bring about a battery of risks.

Indeed, no matter the time of year, there are good reasons to give extra attention to your attic and the stresses that it undergoes.

A blisteringly high attic temperature isn’t uncomfortable only for the unfortunate soul standing in the unfinished space. If it goes high enough, the temperature in the attic can influence other rooms and make them hotter. Such inefficiency forces the air conditioning system to work harder than would otherwise be necessary, and of course, you must pay for that extra effort when the energy bills arrive every month.

Beyond the extra cost, trapped heat and moisture can end up doing real damage to your home by fostering mold growth. In extreme cases, excess moisture can even rot away portions of the key structural framing found in the attic.

Another possible consequence of runaway attic temperatures: The most common types of shingles—asphalt shingles—are plenty capable of withstanding heat when it comes from the sun. But when heat comes into contact with their undersides, those same shingles can fail prematurely.

Fortunately, there’s a straightforward solution to heat and moisture problems on and under the roof. For money savings, a more comfortable home, and reliable protection for your roof (both its structure and shingles), consider installing an attic fan. Designed to reduce both heat and moisture, a roof-mounted attic fan operates by a simple principle. The fan pulls warm air out through a roof vent, drawing in cooler outdoor air through existing vents located along the soffits (on the underside of the roof overhang). That exchange of stale, warm air for fresh, cooler air relieves the added pressure that had been put on the air conditioning. Now, the system can run more efficiently—and you can pay less on your monthly utility bill.

In the past, attic fans were always hardwired into the home and powered by electricity. Many homeowners saw that, while the attic fan may have been saving them some money, those savings were being erased by the cost of installing and operating the fan. Thanks to industry innovators like Solatube International, Inc., that’s no longer an issue. You can now keep all your savings by installing the Solar Star attic fan, which runs not on your home’s electrical system, but on free and abundant natural sunlight.

Attic Fans - Solatube Diagram

Photo: solatube.com

The Solar Alternative
Even as it keeps your attic cool and dry, the Solar Star requires no hands-on operation or maintenance. In fact, it’s likely that you’ll never even notice it’s running. For one thing, Solar Star has been designed and manufactured to resist everything nature might throw its way, from wind and rain to snow and hail. Its power source—a series of small photovoltaic panels—is located right on the exterior cap of the fan. Made of durable composite, the cap reliably shields the more vulnerable components, ensuring powerful ventilation year-round. The brushless motor and lightweight, noncorrosive fan blades work in concert to keep the operating noise level down to a whisper. While you may not be aware of the fan’s operation, you’re very likely to notice the benefits of having chosen Solar Star to regulate your attic temperature.

Solar Star only becomes more effective with its add-ons. One such option is a thermal switch that automatically activates the fan once the attic temperature reaches a certain threshold. A similarly handy extra: If you live on a shady lot and worry that Solar Star won’t get enough sun to operate throughout the day, check out the add-on solar panel. An ingenious solution to the problem of tree cover—and for that matter, cloud cover—the supplemental panel can be placed on the sunniest part of your roof to ensure continuous operation. It’s ironic: Problems caused by the sun—ranging from mere discomfort to devastating damage—can be solved with a Solar Star that relies on the sun!

Attic Fans - Solatube Cutaway

Photo: solatube.com

A Year-Round Solution
While most discussions of attic fans tend to focus on their summertime benefits, ventilation can be critically important in winter too. After all, that’s when the moisture created by the humdrum events of daily life—showering, for instance, or doing the laundry—rises up through cracks and gaps only to wind up in the attic. If trapped and unable to vent, attic moisture can invite the growth of mold, or cause damage to insulation and framing.

There’s also another less obvious but more potentially destructive problem—ice dams. The attic space is usually warmer than the outside, or roof, temperature. This heat transfers through the roof structure and can melt snow accumulated on the roof.

From there, melted snow trickles down until it reaches the eaves. Because the eaves do not come into contact with the attic space, they are colder and cause the melted snow to freeze. This forms an ice dam, a ridge of ice near the edge of a roof, adjacent to the gutters. Later, when more snow melts, the ice dam prevents the water from running off the roof. With nowhere else to go, it can get behind the shingles and cause an extensive, expensive leaking and roof damage. Because Solar Star equalizes indoor and outdoor temperatures, it can counteract the formation of ice dams as well as protect the home in myriad other ways.

One Size Fits All?
For maximum effectiveness, a Solar Star attic fan must sized to supply adequate ventilation for the space. How much ventilation does your house need? That depends on the size of your attic. Solar Star attic fans come in two sizes and can be installed in multiples to meet ventilation demand. The RM 1200 model works best for small attic spaces in moderate to mild climates. The more powerful RM 1600 makes a better choice for large attics and less temperate, more extreme climates.

Either model can be installed on all types of roof materials and mounted in one of three ways:

• The sleek and unobtrusive low-profile mount is ideal for most pitched-roof applications.

• If a roof accumulates a great deal of snow, go with the high-profile mount, which raises the solar panel and fan well above the roof plane.

• The pitched-roof mount orients the solar panel to maximize exposure to the sun.

Indeed, with attics of any size or roofs of any profile, there’s a way for Solar Star technology to provide powerful, effective ventilation. And it’s well worth mentioning that if your attic already happens to be fitted with a passive vent, you can turn it into an active, solar-powered ventilation system with the IM 1200. Unlike the others in the Solar Star line, the IM 1200 mounts indoors, directly behind the passive vent opening. Whatever your needs, Solar Star can match them.

Dollars and Sense
Accurately sized and properly installed Solar Star ventilation can trim your energy bills by as much as 25 percent. Also remember that until 2016, the federal government is offering a 30 percent tax credit for systems that rely on solar photovoltaic technology. Consider those savings alongside what you stand to save from month to month. Right now seems like a fine time to start protecting your attic and roof from year-round stresses, while also enhancing your family’s comfort!

Attic Fans - Roof Mounted

Photo: solatube.com

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

Protect Appliances and Electronics Against Their Silent Killer

Though a power surge might only last a split second, it can easily ruin the sophisticated but delicate circuitry that now exists in everything from computers to refrigerators. While some of your equipment may be protected from damage, chances are that most of your critical appliances are totally vulnerable to devastation. Find out how to protect all those appliances and electronics that you've spent a small fortune to bring under your roof.

Whole House Surge Protection from Intermatic

Photo: intermatic.com

Look around. From the refrigerator in the kitchen to the computer in the den, our homes are chock full of appliances and electronic devices. Who knows? Maybe their prevalence symbolizes something about the central role of technology in today’s world. But for the average homeowner, all of those impressive gadgets and gizmos represent something else, something more personal and immediate: a hefty financial investment. Just think of everything you own that either plugs into an outlet or is hardwired into your electrical system. Now think of how much it all cost! Having put thousands of dollars toward creating a comfortable, convenient, and entertaining place to live, any conscientious homeowner wants to protect what he owns. But maintenance efforts too often focus on the obvious problems, the ones you can plainly see—a dusty TV screen, for example, or a dirty microwave. We forget that, because they run on electricity, our appliances and electronics are vulnerable to an invisible threat: dramatic power fluctuations and surges. Indeed, most people never even think about surge protection—that is, until it’s too late.

“Surges are the silent killer,” explains Kim Durkot of Intermatic, a leading manufacturer of energy management solutions. That’s because while adequate surge protection eliminates the threat, the average homeowner has instituted either no protection or too little protection. After all, power strips can only safeguard what you plug into them. So if you’ve been careful to plug your stereo into a power strip, then it’s safe. But what about your washer and dryer? As Durkot says, “Think about the can lights that cost $50 each, the garage door, the gaming consoles—these are some of what’s typically not plugged into a surge strip.” Sure, you can buy a power strip for every room, but you be overlooking that many critical appliances don’t plug into the wall; they are hardwired directly into the electrical system.

Homeowners who want a comprehensive solution invariably choose a whole-house surge protection. Such devices connect directly to the electrical panel in your home and from there, guard all of your equipment, whether it’s plugged into the wall or hardwired. When surges occur, the surge protector absorbs the excess electricity, never allowing it to reach and cause damage to the belongings you love, rely on, and spent a small fortune to purchase and bring under your roof.

Whole-House Surge Protection from Intermatic - Electrical Illustration

Photo: intermatic.com

Though you can protect your home from power surges, you cannot prevent them. They are virtually inevitable. It’s a common misconception that surges only occur as a result of lightning. To be sure, it’s wise to shield your stuff against damage from lightning, but you might be surprised to learn that lightning plays a role in the minority of cases. 60% to 80% of electrical surges occur, not because of storms, but as a result of everyday activities. According to Durkot, even “turning on the coffee maker” or “running the vacuum cleaner” can upset the steady voltage flow in the electrical system. Outside factors contribute, too. From “power grid switching by the electric company” to a “car accident striking an electrical pole down the street”, any number of seemingly unrelated events can impact your home and its contents. So if you thought the odds of a power surge in your house were on par with a bolt of lighting hitting the roof, it’s time to reassess your exposure to the genuine risks.

Homeowners with conventional whole-house surge protection don’t have to worry—most of the time. The device might work faultlessly for some time, but no matter what type of protection you’ve got, every surge take its toll. Specifically, the main components of a surge protection system, the metal-oxide varistors (MOVs), are rendered ineffective by successive surges. So eventually there would come a point when the homeowner would have no choice but to replace the entire system. And that’s assuming he even noticed a replacement was necessary. Plenty of homeowners think they’re protected, when in fact their systems have, in effect, expired. That’s what sets apart the Intermatic Whole House Surge Protection Device with Consumable Modules. Unlike inferior products, the design of the Intermatic device accounts for the fact that MOVs do not last forever. Cleverly, the company uses consumable modules that the homeowner can quickly and easily replace when necessary. “Because the modules can be replaced by the homeowner,” Durkot points out, “there is no need to purchase another main unit, no costly calls to the electrician, and no lapse in protection.”

It’s dead-simple to replace a module. “Anyone who has ever replaced an ink cartridge in a printer can replace a module in the system,” says Durkot. When the LED status lights on the device indicate that the module must be switched out, the homeowner simply snaps in the new one. The process takes about 30 seconds. It’s not the sort of task you need a professional to do on your behalf. The only time to involve an electrician is when installing the base unit. In a typical home, installation takes 60 to 90 minutes. When the alternative would be to purchase (and pay for installation on) a new surge protection device every time the old one terminates, you can see why the Intermatic option makes so much sense. Though its upfront purchase price may be somewhat higher, it proves its value over the long term.


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

Pro Tips: A Concrete Master Shares 5 Secrets to Success

Conquer your fear of working with concrete! The bulky DIY material may look intimidating, but Bob Vila Academy professor Pete Sveen shares his secrets for making it one of the easiest to manipulate.

Working with Concrete - DIY Pete

Photo: diypete.com

The industrial vibe of concrete is currently in vogue in the design world, from sleek, austere countertops to geometric planters and much more. Although working with the material might seem messy and even a little scary, we’ve got great news for DIYers: There’s no need to be quaking over the difficulty of a concrete project. Professional-quality projects are totally accessible to the average maker, as long as you have the means and the know-how. We cornered Pete Sveen, a professor in concrete at Bob Vila Academy and the man behind DIYPete.com, and asked him to spill the trade secrets that make working with concrete easier—and make the results far more attractive than you’d ever imagine.

1. Include an additive to make your concrete easier to mix.
Some people think you need to spring for a more expensive concrete, but most DIYs can start with a bargain five-dollar bag from the hardware store. “For simple projects, you can stick to the standard mix, no additives required!” says Sveen. “If you’re doing a larger, more complicated project, try adding a plasticizer. It helps the concrete mix flow into a mold easier, ensuring that the concrete gets into all of the nooks and crannies.”

Now, there’s no magic mix-in for a quicker project, says Sveen. ”You’re never going to want to add anything that will slow down or speed up the drying time.” If, however, you are working in hotter temperatures, he recommends using a tarp to cover the mold as it cures—it keeps the concrete at a cooler temp, and the slower the concrete cures, the better. The tarp prevents cracking and makes for an all-around better cure.

2. Perfect your pour for a better consistency and curing.
The biggest key to a successful project is to reach the right texture when you make your concrete batch. “When you’re mixing concrete, shoot for a cookie dough consistency: not too runny or too dry, otherwise you can end up with cracks or voids in the concrete,” says Sveen. When you pour the concrete into a mold, employ a vibration technique—just tap a rubber mallet against the sides and bottom of the mold as you pour, instructs Sveen. “This eliminates any voids or bug holes from the concrete, which you’d otherwise have to fill once it dries.”

Working with Concrete - Caulk a Concrete Mold

Photo: diypete.com

3. Choose the right mold for the right results. 
While you may be tempted to use a number of different materials as molds—cardboard or recyclable plastics, for starters—the ones that produce the best results are made out of melamine. With a porous material like cardboard, the water from the concrete will seep out and create a rougher finish; in a melamine structure, the water has nowhere to go. Instead, the concrete mimics the melamine’s smooth appearance, resulting in a picture-perfect finish without the extra work. When creating a custom cast from the material, “piece together the strips using screws, then run a thin layer of silicone over any cracks so no water seeps through,” says Sveen. Just remember to make a mold that is sturdy enough to hold the heavy concrete.

4. Take advantage of the material’s impressionable quality.
While it’s still soft, you can press rocks, coins, fossils, broken tiles, pieces of glass, and any other decorative elements into poured concrete. “Your options are pretty limitless,” says Sveen. “You can do everything from integrate trivets into a concrete tabletop or imprint a shape to create customized spaces within the piece.” To facilitate mise en place, you can craft a recess in a desktop or bathroom countertop by placing the desired object—be it a pen holder or soap dispenser—onto the concrete structure with a very thin layer of 100 percent silicone in between to hold it in place. When dry, your item will pop off of the DIY.

5. Choose the right finish to make this construction staple luxe.
So many people think that they have zero options when it comes to the look of concrete. The truth? “There are simple solutions to make concrete look more custom and expensive: Acid stains, concrete dyes, and stamping all can create a uniquely finished look,” says Sveen. “For a beautifully smooth finish, though, try polishing it with an orbital sander and then sealing with three to four thin coats of a water-based acrylic sealer.” In only 20 to 30 minutes, your concrete structure will look ultra-sleek—and even be easier to clean!

Working with Concrete - Bob Vila Academy

Photo: bobvila.com/academy

For more concrete tips from Pete Sveen, check out the course he teaches at Bob Vila Academy.

How To: Clean an Air Conditioner

Help your hard-working air conditioner keep you cool this season and the next when you give your unit a much-needed scrub down.

How to Clean an Air Conditioner

Photo: amazon.com

Air conditioners are our saving grace during sticky summers—there’s nothing quite like the relief of walking into a room that has the cool air blasting after hours in unrelenting 70-degree-and-sunny heat. But while we appreciate our ACs, we don’t often give them the treatment they deserve. Keeping your air conditioner clean not only benefits its efficiency, but it also improves the overall air quality in your home. Follow these simple steps to get your unit in tip-top shape.

How to Clean an Air Conditioner - Cleaning Supplies

Photo: fotosearch.com

- Dish soap
- Warm water
- Vacuum with brush attachment
- Fin comb
- Soft cloth

It’s incredibly important to start by unplugging the air conditioner before you even touch any cleaning tools—not doing so could put you at risk of an electrical shock. Once you’ve disconnected your unit, use a moist, soft cloth and a little bit of dish soap to rub off dirt or stains on the front and surface of the air conditioner. Avoid using spray cleaners on the front of the air conditioner, and don’t put too much water on the cloth, as it can drip into the unit and cause damage.

Remove the front cover. Some will come off simply with your hands, while others will require a screwdriver. Take note of where the screws belong, as they will need to be replaced the same way for the unit to fit together correctly. Carefully remove the filter and wash it using a mild dish soap and warm water. Give it a final rinse, then shake the excess water from it and let the filter air-dry. (If you are short on time, you can skip the suds and instead vacuum the filter using the brush attachment.)

When you’re done with the filter, check the fins to see if any are bent; if so, use a fin comb to straighten them out. The fin blades are extremely sharp, so proceed with caution when working with them.

Use the brush attachment to vacuum away any dirt or debris covering the interior evaporator or condenser coils. For a more intensive clean, spray specialized coil cleaner (found at your local hardware store) on the coils, and let them soak for approximately 10 minutes. Then, rinse the coils off with water, but be careful not to get water on any nearby electrical parts of the unit. Next, move on to the outside of the unit and clean the exterior condenser coils with the brush attachment. Gently wipe down the fan blades with household cleaner or a soft cloth.

Make sure everything is fully dry, and then carefully reassemble your unit. Although your air filter should be cleaned every month during the warm-weather season, you might also consider completing this deep-clean process at the beginning and end of each summer to extend the life of your air conditioner.

Are You Spending Way Too Much to Operate Your Swimming Pool?

This summer, take a serious look at the cost of operating and maintaining your pool. You may find that a pump upgrade could provide as much relief to your wallet as your pool provides to your family's comfort and happiness.

Photo: fotosearch.com

For those who are lucky enough to own a swimming pool, this is the best time of year. But as you soak in the sun, your pool’s impact on your household budget may be more than you bargained for. The alarming fact is that if you have a conventional pool pump, you are very likely paying too much—much too much—in monthly operating costs.

Data shows that in homes with pools, the pump typically ranks only behind heating and cooling in terms of overall energy consumption. You’ve probably noticed that your energy bills rise during those months when your family enjoys the pool. What you may not have realized is that in a given year those costs add up to $460, on average. Well, that figure might make anyone consider cutting their losses, but don’t drain the pool just yet! According to ENERGY STAR, the solution is simple. Ditch the outmoded pump and replace it with a high-efficiency model. ENERGY STAR pool pumps are independently certified to save energy and money – they typically use about 70 percent less energy, saving the average household between $280 and $340 annually.

“Replacing your old pool pump with one that has earned the ENERGY STAR has obvious financial benefits for families across the country,” says ENERGY STAR Labeling Branch Chief Ann Bailey. “But it also has a big-picture impact for the environment. If all pool pumps sold in the U.S. were ENERGY STAR certified, the energy cost savings would grow to about $165 million each year, and three billion pounds of annual greenhouse gas emissions would be prevented, equivalent to the emissions from nearly 280,000 vehicles.”

Photo: fotosearch.com

Why do conventional pool pumps waste so much energy? The answer is simple: They run at only one speed. That wouldn’t be a problem if pool pumps performed only one role, but standard setups put the pump in charge of multiple functions, each of which calls for a different flow rate. For instance, filtration can often be accomplished with half the flow rate needed for vacuuming. Though the different functions have different requirements, a single-speed pump would apply the same flow rate in both cases. For vacuuming, the flow rate would probably be appropriate, but for filtration, it would definitely be overkill—expensive overkill. That’s why only those pumps that run at two or more speeds earn the ENERGY STAR. With these newer and more sophisticated pumps, you can be sure that the pump always responds with just enough—but not more than enough—power to accomplish the desired function. After installing a variable-speed pool pump, you shouldn’t notice a difference in water clarity, but when you open your utility bill at the end of the month, you should notice what a big difference a little energy efficiency makes.

Even in today’s energy-conscious world, many pool contractors do not assume the homeowner wants a variable-speed pump — which cost roughly $550 more than their single-speed cousins. While it’s certainly true that high-efficiency pool pumps aren’t cheap, an ENERGY STAR-certified unit can pay for its additional upfront cost in less than two years. From that point on, for the lifespan of the product, savings go right into your pocket on average. Tom Cucinotta, owner of Cucinotta’s Pool Service in Boynton Beach, Florida, regularly installs variable-speed pumps and attests to their return on customer investment. “Here in Florida, energy costs are approximately 15 cents per kilowatt hour. If your pumps run on 1-1/2-horsepower, 10 hours a day, it’s going to cost about $1,232 a year. With a variable-speed pump cutting as much as 91 percent off that energy bill, it would cost about $125 a year. Huge savings.” Cucinotta also points out that if you have two conventional pumps, both single-speed, you can replace both with just one variable-speed unit.

Pool pump lifespans range pretty widely, as a number of variables come into play. But eventually, any pool pump must be replaced. Of course, if the unit doesn’t start, that’s obviously a problem—but there are much subtler signs that you need a new pool pump. For instance, if the unit hums, buzzes, or otherwise makes a racket, repair or replacement may be in order. You might also notice the pump starting slowly and operating at low power. Another bad sign is for the pump to get hot and shut down. In any of these situations, the time might be right for an upgrade to a variable-speed, ENERGY STAR-certified pump. Your local home center or pool supply store probably stocks a range of efficient options from leading manufacturers Pentair, Hayward, and Jandy. In stores and online, you can also find models made by Blue Torrent Pool Products, Speck Pumps, and Waterway. No matter your chosen product, it’s well worth mentioning that if you install a high-efficiency pump, you may be eligible for state or local utility rebates. To view the available incentives, check out the ENERGY STAR Rebate Finder.

In Cucinotta’s experience, “a variable-speed pump saves money every time,” but he points out that there are indeed additional ways to minimize pool maintenance and operation costs. A pool cover, for instance, helps reduce nighttime heat loss, which would mean lower costs if you run a pool heater. Meanwhile, keeping the intake grates and drains clear of debris also goes a long way toward benefiting overall system performance. But if your monthly pool costs really seem to have spun out of control, don’t hesitate to investigate the cause or causes. “I urge homeowners to do an energy audit on their pool,” says Cucinotta. Since upgrading to an ENERGY STAR-certified pump may already require a visit from a pool specialist, consider inviting yours to suggest additional tweaks to your system—a different filter perhaps, or a programmable pump timer. But,in the end, replacing a single-speed pump is likely to make the biggest difference of all. As Cucinotta sums up, “Many people with older pool pumps are just tossing money away.” Want more information? Visit ENERGY STAR today.


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

Quick Tip: Plant Your Garden in… Diapers?

Diaper duty takes on a whole new meaning with this unorthodox soil solution that's perfect for keeping moisture in your garden.

Diapers for Gardening - Supplies

Photo: instructables.com, via The King of Random

Yes, we’re just as shocked as you! But anyone who lives in an area that’s incredibly dry or has serious water restrictions knows how difficult it can be to maintain moisture-rich soil, and diapers can offer an easy solution to that problem. While we don’t spend much time pondering the power of the diaper (and understandably so), these top-notch absorbers can hold a pretty impressive amount of liquid. Skip the expensive products from the home and garden store, and turn to this unexpected—and budget-friendly—method the next time your leafy greens need a little TLC.

Diapers for Gardening - Gel Crystals

Photo: instructables.com, via The King of Random

First, pour about four cups of water into the middle section of an unused diaper. Once the water has been absorbed, pull back the top layer of the middle portion to reveal the moisture crystals, which will have a gel-like texture. (Keep in mind that the blue color seen here is used only to highlight the gel—the crystals will actually be white unless dyed otherwise.) Scoop the gel out of the diaper and pour it into a bowl. Slowly add more water to the bowl, stopping when the crystals no longer absorb liquid. Combine equal parts potting soil and gel to create a super soil that can now be used in all your gardening endeavors. One adult-size diaper makes about 12 cups of gel, so keep that in mind when planning how much soil you’ll need. Because the gel has such an incredible ability to retain liquid rather than letting it slip away in the soil, you can worry less about watering your plants, which is great for thirsty roots—and busy summer days!

Next-Generation Ductless HVAC Brings Home Total Comfort

Homeowners have always been frustrated by the intermittent and uneven heating and cooling of traditional forced-air HVAC. Even in the process of running less expensively, today's cutting-edge ductless systems deliver superior, customizable comfort.

Ductless HVAC Benefits - Kitchen Comfort

Photo: mitsubishicomfort.com

You are reading one installment in a ten-part series devoted to exploring Mitsubishi Electric ductless heating and cooling. See all.

In today’s energy-conscious world, homeowners understand the critical importance of efficient heating and cooling. But if you’re upgrading your HVAC system, though it’s important to understand the yearly operating cost of a given appliance, it’s also critical to understand what it means for your comfort level. After all, lower utility bills are attractive only so long as they do not come at the expense of your ability to enjoy time spent in your home. Of course, we’ve all grown accustomed to imperfect heating and cooling. Traditional forced-air systems have frustrated homeowners for years, being both expensive to run and inconsistent in performance. Next-generation technologies promise superior efficiency, and among those, Mitsubishi Electric stands out for its assurance of total comfort. Thanks in large part to their innovative ductless design, Mitsubishi Electric systems are able to save homeowners 30 to 40 percent on monthly heating and cooling bills compared with forced-air systems. Yet, even with dramatically lower energy consumption, Mitsubishi Electric still manages to deliver unparalleled comfort.



Ductless HVAC Benefits - Bedroom Comfort

Photo: mitsubishicomfort.com

In a forced-air system, conditioned air intermittently blasts right into the room, but in a wholly undirected way. By contrast, a Mitsubishi Electric ductless system distributes air through an indoor unit whose fan ensures controlled, even distribution throughout the square footage. Plus, because the indoor unit actually mounts within the space that it’s conditioning, the system accurately monitors the ambient temperature and regulates to match the heating or cooling demand. Working in concert, fan distribution and continuous adjustments succeed in preventing any areas from becoming too hot or too cold. The stop-and-start operation of forced-air systems leads to rollercoaster-like environments, while Mitsubishi Electric ductless systems offer smooth and steady climate control.



Ductless HVAC Benefits - Room by Room Comfort

Photo: mitsubishicomfort.com

Some homeowners choose a ductless system to provide supplemental climate control in those peripheral rooms that rarely stay comfortable—an attic bedroom, for example. Equally common is for the ductless technology to serve the entire home. Here, rather than designate a single thermostat to control the temperature in all rooms, on all floors, Mitsubishi Electric makes it possible for the homeowner to establish zones. For each zone, there’s a different indoor unit, and for each indoor unit, there’s a different controller. That means that, in a multizone home, the master bedroom can be set to one temperature and the living room to another. Heating and cooling no longer entail the discomfort of a one-size-fits-all approach. Zoning can accommodate the temperature preferences of every member of the household.



Ductless HVAC Benefits - Air Quality Comfort

Photo: mitsubishicomfort.com

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, indoor air pollution ranks among the top five environmental health risks. Astounding but true: The air in our homes often contains more airborne hazards than the air outdoors. Mitsubishi Electric ductless systems combat contaminants through advanced multistage filtration. Not only do these filters remove irritants and allergens like dust, pollen, and dander, but they also reduce viruses, bacteria, and odors. Remember that in conventional HVAC systems, the ducts often end up collecting and spreading impurities. Mitsubishi Electric offers a breath of fresh air, by comparison. Rather than compromise it, a Mitsubishi ductless system works to improve indoor air quality, providing peace of mind and a healthier, more comfortable living environment.


In the average home, heating and cooling contributes more than anything else does to the family’s utility bills, so it’s hard to overstate the importance of choosing an efficient solution. Fortunately, like most other technologies, HVAC has progressed by leaps and bounds in recent years. On the leading edge, options like Mitsubishi Electric ductless systems simply need much less energy than their predecessors. But the best part about a Mitsubishi Electric system is that, even as it runs less expensively, it still manages to outperform older heating and cooling appliances. There’s no longer a need to sacrifice comfort for savings, or vice versa. With a system from Mitsubishi Electric, you can experience the most comfortable climate control of your lifetime, very likely for less money per month than you’re currently paying.

Ductless HVAC Benefits - Open Plan Comfort

Photo: Mike Crews Photography

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

Bob Vila Radio: A Simple Tweak for Any Caulk Gun

Given its purpose and common applications, caulk often needs to go places where the gun doesn't fit. In those situations, you can extend the reach of the tool using this simple, ingenious trick.

Your good old caulk gun is a user-friendly tool—until you need to use it in a tight spot (say, the back side of a toilet). What to do? Here’s one idea: Make yourself a flexible extension to attach to the nozzle.

Caulking Toilet

Photo: fotosearch.com

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

Listen to BOB VILA ON CAULKING HARD-TO-REACH PLACES or read the text below:

It’s simple! Head to the hardware store and pick up some clear plastic tubing at least a foot-and-a-half long. Choose tubing with an interior diameter of a quarter inch.

Gently work one end of the tube onto the tip of the caulk, then cut the other end of the tube at an angle—the same angle you’d cut into the dispensing tip of a normal tube of caulk.

Now, squeeze the trigger of the caulk gun until you see the caulk nearing the end of the extension tube. Bend the tube to your target area and dispense as usual. If the tight quarters produce some wobbles in your line of caulk, no worries. Just use a wet finger to smooth the imperfections.

Done? Finish by detaching the extension tube and cleaning it with a small wooden dowel. That way, the tube will be clear and ready for use next time.

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!

Bob Vila Academy—Enroll Today!

Become a student in Bob Vila Academy and learn the basics of home improvement the fun and easy way.

Bob Vila Academy

When it comes to home improvement, we could all use a mentor—someone to guide us through the process and offer hints and tricks along the way. Well, the help we all need has finally arrived—Bob Vila Academy. A brand-new digital workshop, Bob Vila Academy includes exclusive, project-based video courses hosted by the next-generation of DIY experts. Gain new skills, raise your confidence level, have fun and—yes—make things. We’ll help!


Bob Vila Academy already offers a range of courses, with new ones every month. Enroll in your favorites today, and let the instructor of each course take you through every step of the project, from start to finish, while teaching you the techniques needed to succeed. Courses include:

• Building a concrete top for your bathroom vanity. Course instructor Pete lays out the basics of working with one of the most versatile and durable materials on the planet.

• Crafting a new wall sconce. Here, course instructor Isabelle explains how to weave your own stylish shade and wire up a light fixture, without having to hire an electrician.

Creating functional wall art. Discover the fun of working with reclaimed wood, as course instructor Tanya demonstrates how to build a home accent you can proudly put on display.

What are you waiting for? Visit Bob Vila Academy to preview each course and enroll!

Bob Vila Academy - Coin Vault