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Problem Solved: A Cutting-Edge Cure for Household Hassles

Harness the power of smart technology to solve irritations and inefficiencies, both big and small, all around your home.


Photo: sagebyhughes.com

You live and learn—theoretically. But I’ve lived in my creaky old house for nearly 20 years, and I still haven’t mastered all its frustrating quirks. There is, however, one lesson that I absorbed early in my tenure here: Always turn the light on in the entry hall when going out for the day. Why? For some obscure reason that may have made sense to the builder (or previous owner), or perhaps for no real reason at all, there’s no light switch near the front door. That means that if I return after dark, I have to walk a dozen timid paces through the pitch-black foyer, risking life and limb along the way, before reaching the switch on the far wall. Hence, my simple workaround—just turn the light on before leaving. Unfortunately, experience has proven that, at least for me, it’s not so easy remembering to do that.

Time after time, preoccupied with where I’m going and what I’ll be doing, I get into the car, turn on the engine, exit the driveway, and proceed down the block. Then, as I pull up to the stop sign at the corner, I suddenly seize the steering wheel and ask myself, “Sarah, did you leave the light on?” I occasionally remember having done so, but much more often I’m not really sure. When there’s time, I drive back home to double-check, cursing myself for being so absentminded. If I’m running late, though, I have to drive on, cursing myself for the same reason. Why am I telling you this? Well, if what I’m describing sounds at all familiar, you may be interested to learn how I finally put this problem to rest. Spoiler: It wasn’t by pinning a note-to-self on the door (already tried that).

The solution: Home automation. It’s a hot topic these days, with many calling it the wave of future. Who knows? I’ve always harbored mixed feelings about the rise of digital devices in our lives, and I certainly never envisioned that smart-home technology would be of use to me personally. As I learned more about it, however, I discovered that the phrase “smart home” can mean very different things to different people. Some appreciate technology for its own sake and would embrace home automation whether or not it was truly practical. Others—me, for instance—appreciate technology only for its problem solving. What made me a believer? It wasn’t that automation magically made me remember to leave on the light. It’s that now, thanks to SAGE by Hughes, I no longer need to remember.

Photo: sagebyhughes.com

Brand-new SAGE by Hughes encompasses a suite of easy-to-use home automation and security products. In contrast to many of the expensive, elaborate whole-home systems that are out there, SAGE offers a modular solution, which means that you can choose the components you really want and ignore all the others. The modular system design also means that if in the future you decide to change or add onto the system, SAGE makes it easy to do so. The system can even move with you when you relocate to a new home. SAGE works with you, so you can use the technology to create your own personalized solutions. And that’s just what I did—after opting for the SAGE Automation Kit, I set out to settle my long, highly irritating struggle with the hall light.

Surprisingly, after all those years of cursing that hall light, solving the problem ended up being pretty painless! In any SAGE setup, no matter where you install the components or how you plan to use them, there’s one central piece—the hub. The heart of the system, the hub connects to your TV, which in turn becomes the command center where you configure and monitor the SAGE system. (If you choose to download the free SAGE app to your smartphone or tablet, you can also interface with the system whenever you want, wherever you may be.) Once I had the hub plugged in, I moved on to installing the SAGE Light Switch (the video instructions were nice to have, but not vital). Finally, I swapped out the standard bulb in the hall light fixture and screwed in the Internet-enabled LED Light Bulb. All told, the setup took only about 20 minutes.

With the hub, switch, and bulb taken care of, I sat next to the television and, following the intuitive prompts, used the SAGE remote control to sync up the Light Switch and bulb with the hub. Excited now, and a bit curious, I pulled out my smartphone, opened the SAGE app, and inspected the menu. A tap or two later, and I was turning the bulb on, then off again. A few more taps, and I was adjusting the brightness of the bulb. I walked out to the driveway and tried again—success!

Photo: sagebyhughes.com

Whereas it used to drive me bonkers, I now go days at a time without even thinking about the hall light. If it does happen to cross my mind, it’s only because I’ve pulled into the driveway at night and found that, sure enough, there’s a light on in the foyer, welcoming me home. In addition, I enjoy the comfort of knowing that if there’s ever a change of plan, no matter where I am—under the covers in bed or at my desk at the office—I can always pull out my smartphone to turn the lights on or off remotely, with just a tap. I’m even thinking about expanding my system to include switches and bulbs in every room, and possibly even incorporate the Deadbolt Lock. That way, I could make the lights in, say, the kitchen, den, and bedroom all turn on instantly and automatically the moment I unlock the door. Pretty cool, no?

I haven’t gotten that far yet. For the moment, I’m still experimenting with the SAGE Automation Kit, which, alongside the Light Switch and LED bulb, also includes the Appliance Switch. Any appliance that I plug into this clever device can be remote-controlled via the SAGE app (or through the TV in my living room). At least for now, rather than pairing the switch with a single appliance, I’ve been using it for a range of different purposes. Recently, I connected it to the slow cooker in my kitchen and, after putting in all the ingredients, left for work. If I’d begun cooking right then and there, the meal would have been overcooked by the time I got home. By starting the cooker around noon, from miles away, simply with a tap in the SAGE app, I was able to ensure a delicious dinner, cooked to perfection.

You can view and purchase the full line of home automation and security solutions at SAGEbyHughes.com. Besides being a storefront, the website provides access to customer service, an array of instructional videos, and helpful advice in plain English on how to get the most utility out of the kits or individual components you ultimately choose. The ordering process isn’t complicated—like the products themselves, it’s all very intuitive and seamless. As you browse, go ahead and consider your life at home and the often irritating hassles we all encounter every day, sometimes multiple times a day. Does the new world of automation offer a solution to these annoyances? Maybe, like me, you’re going to find that the little problems and inefficiencies that once seemed inevitable are simply no match for the best of digital technology.

Photo: sagebyhughes.com

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

Weekend Projects: 5 Dreamy Designs for a DIY Crib

Want the perfect place for a new baby to bed down? Rest easy by constructing one of these handsome—and handmade—cots for your tot.


Whether you’re a parent-to-be or simply wish to give a new mom and dad something special, consider crafting a DIY crib. Here, you’ll find designs and directions for four wonderful (and wonderfully sturdy) woodworking projects, plus a way to spruce up a bare-bones, store-bought crib with a handmade headboard. Your results will be as safe and solid as they are unique and charming, so that incoming bundle of joy will be snug and secure. With just a few select materials and a little ingenuity, you can custom-make the crib of your dreams over the weekend. Pick the project that suits you best, and then just add lullabies!


DIY Crib - Farmhouse Style from DIYstinctly Made

Photo: diystinctlymade.com

For a crib to suit a farmhouse-style nursery, check out these detailed plans from the budget-minded twosome behind DIYstinctly Made. The frame, constructed from humble pine boards, evokes a distinctly rustic feel thanks to the V-shaped design of mitered side planks attached with wood glue and finish nails. After building the crib, forego potentially harmful chemicals and seal it with an earthy, all-natural stain-and-polyurethane combo.


DIY Crib - Walnut and Maple Crib from Matt Cremona

Photo: mattcremona.com

Segueing from a crib to a toddler bed can be monumental for tots and parents. But this easily disassembled DIY design from woodworker extraordinaire Matt Cremona can ease the transition with a mattress platform that lowers as your child grows. From first night home to first words, your precious cargo will be safe and sound in the crib’s warm walnut frame, accented with maple spindles and angled sides that lend the lofty crib a modern yet down-to-earth feel.


DIY Crib - Co-Sleeper from Rebecca's Garden and Homestead

Photo: rebeccasgardenandhomestead.com

Babies who sleep within their mother’s reach may settle more quickly and even grow up to be more independent, but letting Baby sleep in bed with you is discouraged by medical experts and considered dangerous. The solution? This pretty ivory co-sleeper that fits alongside your bed, the brainchild of the blogging mother at Rebecca’s Garden and Homestead. Easy? Well, Rebecca put it together while eight and a half months pregnant! All it takes is pre-cut and drilled scrap wooden boards—enough for the front, sides, legs, and railing guard. Securely bound on three sides, it offers you easy access to your sleeping beauty.


DIY Crib - Baseball Bat Crib from Reality Daydream

Photo: realitydaydream.com

Hit a home run for your little one with this ingenious baseball-inspired bed. Designed by the cute couple bloggers of Reality Daydream, the sporty sleeper repurposes 24 blemished baseball bats for its railing guard, inexpensively sourced online from a bat factory. The rest of the DIY crib itself consists of economical pine wood boards assembled into a frame with screws and wood glue.


DIY Crib - Tufted Crib Update from All Things Thrifty

Photo: allthingsthrifty.com

If a woodworking project isn’t within your bandwidth right now, why not dress up a plain crib—be it a hand-me-down or a store-bought basic—with a cute and comfy headboard? The bright blogger at All Things Thrifty traced a pattern to mimic the shape of her existing crib, then cut MDF board to the exact length and curvature. The tuft stuff was sourced from an ordinary mattress topper, adorned with fabric buttons and simply stapled in place. Plush, stylish, and costing just over $40—talk about starting a kid off with an appreciation for affordable luxury.

So, You Want to… Remove a Load-Bearing Wall

Get up to speed on some of the considerations, caveats, and planning involved with the decision to remove a load-bearing wall.

How to Remove a Load-Bearing Wall

Photo: istockphoto.com

In the old days, homes were built with a warren of smaller, sharply delineated rooms, each devoted to its own distinct purpose. Homeowners today often prefer open, fluid floor plans, at least on the ground level. For that reason, many renovations call for the removal of a wall, be it shear or load-bearing. No question, shear walls are a lot easier to knock down. Provided you take the necessary safety precautions and follow local building regulations, you might even be able to do it yourself. That’s definitely not the case with a loading-bearing wall. For a successful result, you must work with a reliable contractor, structural engineer, or both.

There are two common approaches. Both rely on the addition of a bearing beam to take on the load that had been absorbed by the wall being removed. The two approaches differ when it comes to the handling of the beam itself. The less ambitious and less expensive method involves leaving the beam exposed. You can paint the beam or box it in, but the discerning eye will probably notice it’s there. More complicated, labor-intensive, and expensive is to conceal the beam so that it runs between, not beneath, the ceiling joists. This approach leaves behind no visible sign that the load-bearing wall has been removed, only a flat, smooth ceiling.

How to Remove a Load-Bearing Wall - Demolition Work

Photo: istockphoto.com

Because it affects the structural integrity of your home, removing a load-bearing wall isn’t a casual undertaking by any stretch of the imagination. But for professionals in the building and remodeling industry, it’s more or less routine. That said, because every home features its own set of idiosyncrasies, strategies vary. Well before work begins, contractors and/or engineers have to confront a number of questions, chief among them: What type of beam should be employed? Each has its own pros and cons.

Dimensional Lumber: Are you removing only a portion of a load-bearing wall, perhaps to accommodate a new doorway? In that situation, the hired pro may recommend a beam made of standard dimensional lumber (provided doing so would be permissible under the relevant building codes). To create the beam, boards are typically bolted together, with a half-inch layer of plywood between. If you need to support a span wider than a doorway, though, dimensional lumber typically won’t cut it.

Laminated Veneer Lumber: In private homes, pros employ laminated veneer lumber beams (LVLs) perhaps more than any other type. Why? First and foremost, because they comprise multiple wood strands bonded under high heat and pressure, LVLs are exceptionally strong. In addition, as they’re factory-made, LVLs are both uniform and stable. Uniform sizing means LVLs are relatively easy to work with, and their stability (resistance to warping, splitting, and shrinking) makes them ideal for framing.

Steel I-Beams: Laminated veneer lumber has virtually eliminated the need for steel beams in average residential settings, but there are exceptions. For instance, as steel beams are more compact than LVLs, they are sometimes specified in situations where limited headroom exists. I-beams are costly, though. For one thing, they are heavy, which means that installation requires both manpower and heavy equipment. Plus, steel beams arrive on site in one piece, which, depending on the length of the beam, may or may not fit easily into the building.

Are vertical supports necessary to support the new beam? That depends on the length and type of beam, the existing framing, and a host of other factors. An engineer would perform a series of load calculations to arrive at a recommendation, which might call for vertical supports on their own, or possibly entail additional concrete footings at foundation level. A general rule of thumb: The larger the load-bearing wall, the more complex its removal, particularly if the goal is to create sweeping, open space interrupted as little as possible by visible structural elements.

If planning plays a critical role in removing a load-bearing wall, so does prep work. The most visible, dramatic changes take place at a relatively late stage, but a much more modest yet absolutely essential effort goes on at the start—bracing. Here, contractors carefully prop up the ceiling joists on both sides of the work area, using temporary support beams in combination with adjustable jacks. Once set, the bracing more or less prevents the building from collapsing when the bearing wall comes down. The demolition? That’s easy. It’s everything else that’s hard.

Cool Tools: A Trusty Go-To Gets a Brand-New Twist

That trusted product you've relied on for decades is now armed with an innovative extended applicator that helps you lubricate tricky spots quickly and easily.


Photo: wd40.com

It’s nothing new. The problem is familiar to anyone whose projects often involve WD-40® Multi-Use Product. In the course of its decades-long history, the penetrating oil and lubricant has earned its place as a toolbox staple, but in tight spots—beneath the sink, for example, or within a lawn-mower engine—it’s not always easy getting the formula precisely where you want it to go. Most of the time, the stiff, stubby red straw applicator does the job just fine. Now and again, though, its rigidity slows you down.

Photo: wd40.com

But not anymore. In a clever, innovative solution to a longtime source of frustration, the new WD-40 EZ-REACH delivers the same product you’ve always depended on, but substitutes the traditional straw for an eight-inch-long, flexible metal hose. Bend it however you like, and the hose holds its shape until you bend it into a new one. Now, you can easily and accurately reach the nooks and crannies that used to be virtually unreachable, and you can speed through steps that used to take you far too much effort and time.

It’s a welcome upgrade, largely because tight spots, close quarters, and lack of access characterize so many of the scenarios where you’d typically use the product. Take, for example, household plumbing: Systems are designed to stay out of the way, hidden behind walls and inside cabinets. To make repairs, you need to get on your knees, on your back, or on tiptoe. It’s never easy, but with WD-40 EZ-REACH and its bendable applicator, those tricky jobs don’t have to be so utterly taxing.

Imagine that you need to lubricate the upper hinge of a tall entry door. In the past, you would have had to travel all the way to the truck or garage, haul out the ladder, and spend at least a few moments setting it up safely. Armed with WD-40 EZ-REACH, the same fixes that used to take several minutes can be done in seconds flat. To get to that top hinge, you’d simply bend the metal hose into a downward-pointing U shape, extend your arm overhead, and press the trigger on the can. That’s it! You’re ready to move on.

Cleanup, too, becomes a breeze. It used to be that pros and do-it-yourselfers would apply WD-40 liberally, spraying the formula all over the general area, hoping that at least some would land on the problem spot. Does that sound familiar? And afterward, you probably went back to wipe up the overspray. This is certainly not the most efficient process. Thanks to WD-40 EZ-REACH and the accuracy it provides, you can skip the cleanup altogether and put your valuable time to much better use.

An added bonus: Because the new design enables you to apply the right amount of WD-40 exactly where you need it, you’ll no longer be tempted to use more of the formula than is strictly necessary for the task at hand. In other words, WD-40 EZ-REACH eliminates waste, which means that a single can will probably last longer than ever before, so you may be able to go longer between replacements. Over time, those costs really add up, making WD-40 EZ-REACH a first choice not only for ease of use, but for savings as well.

In the end, WD-40 EZ-REACH delivers on a simple promise to all those who have made the product a household name by relying on it, whether on the job or around the house, for more than six decades. You get the same formula you know and love—the one that has proven itself indispensable time and time again—only now, it’s better than ever, allowing you to reach the formerly unreachable. The stiff, red straw could take you only so far, but with the new flexible hose, there’s no limit on where you can go.

Purchase WD-40 EZ-REACH today.

Photo: wd40.com

This post has been brought to you by WD-40®. Its facts and opinions are those of BobVila.com.

How To: Clean Exterior Siding

Even the sturdiest siding requires some regular maintenance and attention. Here's how to keep the most common siding materials clean and in tip-top condition.

How to Clean Exterior Siding

Photo: fotosearch.com

Day after day, year after year, exterior siding protects your home from the elements. It’s the first line of defense against an array of natural challenges, including howling winds, driving rain, hot sun, and bitter cold. Under the circumstances, it’s no wonder that grit and grime tend to accumulate over time. Savvy homeowners, as a result, incorporate exterior cleaning into their semiannual maintenance routines for a number of compelling reasons.

First, it cannot be ignored that the condition of your siding significantly influences the curb appeal of your home—that is, how it appears to visitors and casual passersby. Second, giving your siding a good once-over a few times a year gives you the chance to identify and address any problems early on, before they pick up steam and become extensive, expensive-to-resolve headaches that could steal years from the expected lifespan of the siding.

Indeed, from both an aesthetic and pragmatic perspective, it’s never wise to go long without giving a thought to the wood, brick, stucco, or vinyl that clads your home. Generally speaking, experts recommend seasonal inspection and cleaning as needed. But according to Jim Eldredge, a product manager with Sears Home Services, it’s essential to remember that “different siding materials carry different—often very different—care requirements.”

Continue reading below for expert advice on cleaning and caring for many of today’s best-known and most widely installed types of exterior siding.

Photo: fotosearch.com

A perennial favorite, wood siding boasts timeless, undeniable beauty, but of all siding types, Eldredge says, “it’s probably the most demanding.” For one, it needs to be painted (or stained) approximately every five years. Also, because wood naturally expands and contracts, “you regularly need to check all the windows and doors, reapplying caulk if and when appropriate,” he adds. Plus, for wood siding to not only perform well but look good too, it requires annual or twice-yearly cleaning. Mostly, Eldredge says, “you can get away with using soapy water and a soft-bristle brush.” But in special cases—say, to remove mold, mildew, or algae stains—you need to scrub with a solution of bleach (one part) and water (four parts). A note of caution: “Don’t use a pressure washer,” Eldredge warns. “It’d be faster and easier than cleaning by hand,” he continues, “but a lot of times, it does way more harm than good.”

A centuries-old siding material that typically lasts a lifetime, brick has long thrilled homeowners with its historical appearance, stately impression, and aura of strength. That said, as durable as brick may be, Eldredge points out that “its longevity partly depends on annual cleaning.” Under ideal conditions, so long as the siding remains in decent condition—with neither chipped, flaking brick nor cracked, crumbling mortar—maintenance involves thoroughly spraying down the entire house. Complicating matters is that, according to Eldredge, “parts of the structure that don’t receive much sun may get mold, mildew, or moss growth.” Double-check those shaded areas, and if you discover a problem, don’t hesitate to bring out the bleach. After thoroughly soaking the area to make the brick more absorptive, scrub in a mixture of bleach and water—about a cup of the former and a gallon of the latter.

Portland cement, sand, and lime or gypsum combine to create stucco, a material with an ancient heritage that today remains as popular ever. Versatility ranks as one of its main advantages—the material can take on a wide variety of colors and textures. The downside? Its rigid composition makes it vulnerable to chipping and cracking. Competent do-it-yourselfers can patch small areas on their own with store-bought stucco fillers, but for larger repairs, “it’s wise to hire a pro,” Eldredge recommends. Like plastering, properly applying stucco takes, as Eldredge puts it, “the kind of skills you develop only after years of experience.” You don’t need to be an expert to clean the material, though. Spray the exterior with warm, soapy water. It’s important to “start at the foundation level and work upward,” he says. “That way, the stucco near the base of the building doesn’t absorb gallons of dirty water.”

“There’s a reason vinyl has become the most popular type of siding in America,” Eldredge says. “It’s virtually maintenance-free.” Continuing, he notes that options like WeatherBeater vinyl siding, installed exclusively by Sears Home Services, actually “deliver the look of traditional wood siding, just without all the hassle.” For instance, vinyl doesn’t need to be refinished; it remains colorfast for years. Plus, vinyl is not susceptible to many of the factors that harm other materials—rot, for instance, and pests like termites. If your vinyl siding has gotten a bit dirty, don’t worry—cleanup couldn’t be easier. Even tough stains tend to come out with a solution of water and mild detergent, but as Eldredge attests, “more often than not, cleaning vinyl means nothing more than rinsing with a garden hose.” In the end, “that’s what makes it a great choice for people who don’t have the time or energy for home upkeep.”


When properly cared for, exterior siding can last for decades. But no siding lasts forever. There comes a time when cleaning and repairs won’t cut it anymore—a time when, in order to guarantee continued protection from the elements, you need to install brand-new siding. Fortunately, there are many benefits to be gained from an upgrade. Eye-catching curb appeal, higher home resale value, improved energy efficiency, and dramatically lower maintenance requirements are just some of the reasons homeowners choose a category leader like WeatherBeater. Though re-siding can be an overwhelming prospect, companies like Sears Home Services guide you through the entire project, all the way from selection of the new material to the final installation. Best of all, in contrast with many local contractors, the Sears brand offers a Satisfaction Guarantee. Schedule a free in-home consultation as soon as you’re ready.

Photo: fotosearch.com

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

Check Out What’s In the Works for Bob Vila Products

Streamline and simplify your DIY to-do list with a new line of problem-solving tools, each hand-picked by the most trusted name in home improvement.

Bob Vila Products

Photo: bobvilaproducts.com

With April’s showers behind us, we’re looking forward to two things: the promise of May flowers soon budding and blooming in the garden and this season’s must-see event, the National Hardware Show. Over the course of three days—Wednesday, May 4, through Friday, May 6—throngs of industry professionals will fill the trade show floor in Las Vegas to get the scoop on the latest and greatest home improvement innovations from beloved brands like Bob Vila. That’s right: This year, Bob Vila will be in attendance representing an exciting new product line bearing his name. Designed in partnership with Viatek, an industry-leading consumer products company, these smart tools combine Vila’s years of hands-on experience with Viatek’s ingenuity to simplify life for both handy homeowners and renters just like you. “My partnership with Viatek will assure that what I am offering is of the highest quality and something people can rely on,” Vila says.

Bob Vila Products - Signature Workman's Multitool

Photo: bobvilaproducts.com

For more than four decades, Bob Vila has been a trusted household name, a home improvement icon, and, above all, a DIY coach dedicated to inspiring and instructing homeowners on how to build their dream houses. His upcoming line of tools was conceived with that same can-do, do-it-yourself approach to home improvement in mind. Whatever the scope or scale of your next project, this new and creative collaboration between Bob Vila and Viatek will assist you in completing tasks more easily, efficiently, and economically.

The Bob Vila Products currently in development are designed to tackle the wide range of home remodeling, renovation, and redesign projects—from landscaping to room refreshes—that may be in your near future. Sculpt a smart-looking topiary in the yard using the 20’ Pruning Tool. Can’t take the summer heat? Cool off indoors while you spruce up bland walls with a Painter’s Palette that saves you from spills. Or, head to the workshop and sharpen your woodworking skills using the Portable Chainsaw and an Autofeed Hammer. When you’re finished creating your masterpiece, get surrounding surfaces spotless with the Microfiber Towels. Then, call it a day by storing all of your new tools and accessories—these and more—in a Signature Series’ Workman Tool Bag.

The development of uniquely handy products is the next logical step for Vila, who still provides the know-how necessary to safely and smartly use tools of the trade daily at BobVila.com. With his tried, true, and trustworthy advice already available at your fingertips and soon these quality tools in your shed, you’ll have all the resources to go to town on your to-do list. Stay tuned to the website to learn about when and where you can purchase Bob Vila Products!

How To: Polish Stainless Steel

Stainless steel is a popular choice for sinks, appliances, mixing bowls, and more. Its strength, durability, and luster are universally appreciated, but even this go-to material requires a bit of work from time to time to keep it looking new.

How to Polish Stainless Steel - Kitchen Sink

Photo: istockphoto.com

Thanks to its ability to resist corrosion, withstand heat, and handle all sorts of chemicals, stainless steel is a common constituent of appliances, sinks, and cooking implements. Increasingly, with the proliferation of sleek, professional-look kitchens, stainless steel is also often incorporated in larger fixtures such as countertops and backsplashes. While stainless steel is a rugged and reliable material, it’s not impervious to the effects of use or age, and it does have an unfortunate tendency to dull over time. But it’s fairly simple and straightforward to resurrect the original gleam of your stainless steel surfaces. Follow the handful of steps below to defeat the dullness and make your stainless steel shine again.

- Dish detergent
- Dish sponge or brush
- Microfiber cloths
- Olive oil
- Flour
- Stainless steel polish (optional)
- Handheld power buffer with pads (optional)

Note: In most cases you can polish your stainless surfaces using only ingredients pulled from the pantry. Tougher jobs may require an extra trip to the store for a specialty solution and, possibly, a handheld power buffer to restore that sparkly magic, but even then the process is still fairly quick and easy.

How to Polish Stainless Steel - Polishing a Stainless Steel Stovetop

Photo: istockphoto.com

Before you polish stainless steel, it’s important to make sure that the surface is clean and free of stuck-on gunk. Give the stainless steel a gentle but thorough washing with dish detergent, warm water, and a dish sponge or brush. Once you’ve cleaned the surface, rinse it off with fresh water and pat to dry. (For large, freestanding appliances, be sure to lay down a few towels first to protect the floor around the appliance from water damage, and be diligent about mopping up spills.)

Don’t worry if you see any streaks or smudges after you’ve dried the stainless steel surface; they’ll be taken care of later in the process.

Olive oil, which is readily available in most kitchens, can be a surprisingly effective polishing agent for stainless steel. Pour just a dot or two onto a microfiber cloth—or a bit more if you’re working with a large surface, such as a refrigerator or farmhouse sink—and use the cloth to spread a very thin layer of oil over the entire stainless steel surface of the fixture or appliance you’re polishing.

Once the whole surface has been lightly covered with oil, use moderate pressure to buff it, making small circles with the oiled part of the cloth. Work your way across the entire surface until it feels smoother than when you began. This should take just a couple of minutes.

After you’ve finished buffing, go over the entire surface once more, this time with a clean, dry cloth, using the same circular motion and pressure. It’s important to get rid of excess oil, which can leave a sticky residue and, over time, dull the shine again. If you’re happy with the shine you’ve uncovered, then congratulations—you’re done! Otherwise, if you think that the stainless surface could use a bit more work, never fear: Read on for two more solutions you can try.

If olive oil didn’t produce the results you wanted, try another common pantry dweller: flour! Start by covering the entire stainless steel surface with a thin layer of flour—just a fine coating, without any clumps. For reference, it takes about one-quarter cup of flour to completely cover a standard kitchen sink. Using this as a gauge, adjust your measurement accordingly. Once you’ve thinly covered the whole surface, repeat the buffing process, but this time with a dry cloth.

When you’re finished buffing, wipe away any excess flour. Your stainless steel should now be in good shape, but if it’s still dull, or if you notice scratches that need to be smoothed out, you may need to resort to one final option, a tool-assisted fix that’s described in the next step.

For a difficult polishing job plagued by pesky scratches and an elusive shine, you can always turn to a handheld power buffer and commercial stainless steel polish. The point here is to get tough with the material, so you’ll need to use a pad that’s slightly abrasive. Affix the pad to the buffer and apply polish to the pad according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Then, plug in the buffer, turn it on, and begin buffing. Start at the edge of the surface, work in small circles, and let the buffer apply the pressure for you as you proceed.

If you’re trying to buff away scratches, be sure to buff the entire area—not just the scratched sections—to ensure a uniform finish. Once you’ve finished with the buffer, grab a clean, dry cloth to go over the entire surface lightly one last time, making sure you’ve completely removed the polish.

When you’ve finally achieved the sparkling surface of your dreams, look deeply into your handiwork and give your reflection a thumbs-up. You’ve finished!

How To: Get Rid of Voles

Say “Vamoose!” to these underground varmints before they wreak havoc on your landscape.

How To Get Rid of Voles

Photo: fotosearch.com

If you’ve never actually seen a vole, it’s not surprising. The 7-inch-long rodent also known as a meadow mouse is rather shy. Yet evidence of the pests’ presence is unmistakable: Their maze of 2-inch-wide tunnels leads to dying plants and displaced grasses. So don’t wait to roll up the welcome mat! Follow these do-it-yourself control methods before you’re faced with a full-scale vole invasion.

How To Get Rid of Voles - Backyard Rodent

Photo: fotosearch.com

Be a Bad Host
Active year round, voles multiply rapidly, producing up to 100 offspring annually. With adequate shelter and a plentiful food supply, a colony will thrive. So your first move is to eliminate environments that make voles feel at home: excess brush and mulch, leaf piles, wood stacks, and tall grasses. If there are fruit trees on your property, clean up fallen fruit immediately, and rake up pine needles around evergreen trees as well. By cleaning up prospective nesting areas and removing food sources, voles ought to decide that the grass looks greener on the other side and decamp.

Fence Them Out
Vole “runways” tend to be less obvious in landscapes with loose topsoil. But if you notice plants suddenly drooping for no apparent reason, it’s safe to suspect you’re the victim of voles. Your best defense is a good mesh fence. To protect roots and bulbs, install rolls of ¼-inch wire mesh secured with stakes throughout your garden. Because these pests are diggers, be sure to bury the fencing at least a foot down. The good news is they don’t like to climb, so fencing need only be a foot tall.

Trap and Release
Although it’s illegal to kill voles in some parts of the country, relocating them is fair game—and entirely humane. The steel trap made by Havahart, available at home improvement stores, and the Sherman Trap (SNG model), available online, are both effective choices that hold up to 15 voles. Bait traps with peanut butter or apple and set them at a 90-degree angle to the vole “runway.” Once you’ve captured the critters, release them far from residential areas—and at least half a mile from your home.

Go Natural
Non-toxic ways to ward off voles include castor oil, derived from the seeds of the castor plant, and capsaicin, an oil found in hot peppers. Spraying either substance on your greenery provide a smell and taste voles are sure to find unpleasant. Try this approach in a small garden; for greater expanses, pick up coyote or fox urine, available at home improvement stores and trapper supply houses (typically priced at $15 for an 8-ounce bottle). The scent of predators can send voles scrambling.

Give a Hoot!
Owls also prey on voles, and unlike coyotes and foxes ought to be welcome in your yard. To encourage their nesting, mount owl nest boxes in your trees (purchase premade boxes or plans to build your own from sources like The Hungry Owl Project). Although these beautiful birds won’t eliminate a vole population entirely, they will reduce their numbers. Don’t rely on outdoor cats to be of much help, though—they can’t be bothered going after pests who spend most of their time underground.

If possible, avoid extermination. Poison can be viable against voles, but toxins may pose a risk to children, pets, and other wildlife. If you have exhausted all other methods of control and extermination is your only option, the safest, most effective poison baits are those that contain Warfarin, a slow-acting anticoagulant that prevents the animals blood from clotting, eventually leading to death. Laying the traps during the fall and winter season when food is scarce increases the likelihood that the voles will take the bait. Before administering this type of treatment yourself, consult a pest control specialist for the safest, most effective outcome.

Once you’ve rid your outdoor space of uninvited guests, replace the plants they’ve ravaged and otherwise spruce up the area. Then why not ask people over to enjoy your gorgeous garden!

Bob Vila Thumbs Up: The Outdoor Furniture Competition Starts Today

Vote today and everyday this month to help your favorite blogger win the May Thumbs Up challenge.


Photo: fotosearch.com

The warm breezes and longer days signal that we can finally escape to our decks, patios, and porches to bask in some much needed sunshine. And how could we enjoy our outdoor structures without an assortment of chairs, tables, and other furnishings? To welcome spring, and to inspire you to spruce up your own spaces, we’re showcasing some of the best outdoor furniture projects on the web for this month’s Bob Vila Thumbs Up competition.


Bob Vila Thumbs Up recognizes some of the very best DIY projects around, and this month we’re shining the spotlight on amazing outdoor furniture projects. Each of these bloggers wins points in our book for creativity but only one can win the Bob Vila Thumbs Up competition and the $250 gift card.


So cast your vote today and every day through May 31st to help your favorite outdoor furniture project become this month’s Bob Vila Thumbs Up winner. After all, only you and your vote can determine the outcome of this competition.

Congrats to last month’s winning blogger, Prodigal Pieces. Read more about the winning Bob Vila Thumbs Up project here.

Is Your AC Safe from Brownouts and Power Surges?

This summer, consider installing a simple device that can protect both your air conditioning system and your family's comfort from the ups and downs of the power grid.

HVAC Surge Protection - Air Conditioner Compressor

Photo: fotosearch.com

It’s almost impossible to overstate the importance of electronics and appliances in our lives today. We are sounded by equipment that beeps and whirs, blinks and buzzes. From the systems that provide our entertainment to those that keep our homes comfortable year-round, the great advances in technology over the last century have made life easier, more enjoyable, and simply better all around, in ways both major and minor.

In the typical home, one finds a host of appliances, each designed for a different purpose. Despite their variety, most of these appliances have one thing in common—a need for a steady, uninterrupted electrical current. That’s a problem. To a far greater extent than most people appreciate, the power grid isn’t perfect, and when it inevitably hiccups, it endangers the appliances you depend on and for which you spent a small fortune.

According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, power disturbances cost homeowners a whopping $79 billion each year. The reason? Power surges, brownouts, and blackouts do not discriminate—and appliances, no matter their sticker price, are equally vulnerable. If a power surge fries your coffeemaker, you might not hesitate to replace it. But what will you do if a power surge ruins your central air conditioning system?

Spikes, limits, or breaks in electricity pose a particularly acute risk for a key component of a conventional central air conditioning system—the compressor. Typically situated in the yard, the compressor performs the pivotal role of controlling the flow of refrigerant through the system. In effect, it’s the engine that drives your air conditioning. Perhaps needless to say, compressors don’t come cheap, and replacing one requires the services of a pro (another charge).

HVAC Surge Protection - Compressor Defender

Photo: intermatic.com

Homeowners would be wise to protect their investment in central air conditioning, particularly given the fact that a power disturbance may strike at any time, incurring considerable out-of-warranty costs. While there are various options for safeguarding your system from damage, many homeowners choose to install the innovative Compressor Defender™. Easy to set up—it can be fully operational in 10 minutes—it provides years of defense against all types of potentially destructive electrical events.

Available at Lowe’s, the Compressor Defender™ takes the hit so your air conditioning equipment doesn’t have to. With the Compressor Defender™ standing guard, you can avoid the hassle and expense of AC replacement. And almost as important, the Compressor Defender™ lets you count on your central air conditioning to keep your home comfortable through the hottest months of the year, no matter how many surges or brownouts the summer season brings.

Like other devices of its kind, the Compressor Defender™ isn’t invincible. With exposure to multiple power disturbances, its internal metal-oxide varistors gradually deteriorate, although thanks to its state-of-the-art TPMOV® Technology, the Compressor Defender™ eliminates many potentially hazardous failure modes associated with older, increasingly outmoded electrical protection options. Another improvement: Compressor Defender™ reports on its own status, via LED indicators, letting you know when the unit must be replaced. That way, you find out before it’s too late.

Bear in mind also that the Compressor Defender™ comes with a three-year warranty covering all electronic, connected equipment parts up to $7,500. Simple and effective, with painless maintenance requirements and a no-nonsense warranty, the Compressor Defender™ removes worry. And with the power grid under increased strain due to mounting electricity demand and the upswing in extreme weather, don’t we all want a little peace of mind?


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