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Weekend Projects: 7 Designs for a DIY Chair

In desperate need of extra seating? Don’t just sit there! Save money—and add personality to your space—by building one of these crafty DIY chairs.

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Whether you’re preparing to entertain a crowd or just looking to fill a sparse corner of your living room, a spare chair is just the ticket. But when you see that a store-bought seat rings up at a few hundred dollars, you may find that investing only a fraction of that cost—and a weekend of your time—sounds much more appealing. Building your own furniture is a simple, affordable, and rewarding project for any DIY enthusiast. With a few tools and some common materials (discarded pallets and standard two-by lumber from the local hardware store), you can construct anything from a set of patio chairs to a formal dining chair. Still skeptical? We’ve rounded up seven inspiring DIY chair options, which can be modified to fit your home’s needs, style, and available square footage.

 

ALL ABOUT ANGLES

DIY Chairs

Photo: instructables.com

Turning a set of chair plans into a striking seat took Instructables user diycreators little more than a bit of improvisation and a few of the usual suspects when it comes to building materials: 2×4 lumber, a router, a circular saw, a power drill, screws, a bit of wood glue, and the necessary products for protecting the final product against weather damage. The seat is supported by bolts in four places along the square-frame legs, so you can count on this modern two-toned chair to be sturdy.

 

WINGED OUT

DIY Chairs

Photo: addicted2decorating.com

This “made-from scratch” wingback chair required serious concentration and craftsmanship, a challenge that the DIYer behind Addicted to Decorating gladly accepted. And did she come through! To aid in finding the proper angles for the back legs and a perfect seat height, she traced one of her dining chairs onto some 2×6 lumber, and then cut. And, believe it or not, she drew the shape of the ever-classic wingback frame freehand and, as she did with much of the rest of the project, cut it out with a jigsaw. Contrasting upholstery patterns in bright colors offer an updated take on a traditional silhouette.

SIMPLE PLAN

DIY Chairs

Photo: ana-white.com

While it may seem too good to be true, Ana White built this DIY chair in just one hour, proving that furniture feats can happen and still leave you with plenty of time to accomplish the rest of your weekend to-do list. Her detailed cut list and set of diagrams can help you re-create this sturdy seat for around $20—all in less time than it takes to mow the lawn or cook a family dinner!

STICK TO IT

DIY Chairs

Photo: southernrevivals.com

These modernly rustic stick chairs have a secret superpower: they fold. Inspired by an interior design post on Instagram, the minds behind Southern Revivals constructed the seats with some power tools and pine (although cedar is also an option), using eight slats in the back, eight slats in the seat, and another handful for the legs. For a finish as dramatic as the design, each DIY chair was coated with black milk paint and sealed with tung oil.

ALL IN THE BAG

DIY Chairs

Photo: funkyjunkinteriors.net

This two-seat pallet chair from Funky Junk Interiors is a rough-and-tumble take on a traditional country love seat. Requiring only a shipping pallet, some reclaimed wood, foam, and burlap sacks, this project can be customized by printing a favorite logo or phrase on the back cushion. Or, simply embrace the weathering, printing, and stamping of your found wood and burlap to make your DIY chair the shabbiest of chic.

BOUNCE BACK

DIY Chair

Photo: instructables.com

In this fun and funky design, Instructables user wholman repurposed a length of rubber air hose of a type often found at construction sites as the support system for a DIY chair. Because it incorporates 45 feet of such a heavy-duty material, this chair is built to support—and it molds perfectly to the person sitting on it. In total, this whimsical project took around $20 and left behind little waste.

ROCK AND ROLL

DIY Chair

Photo: designsbystudioc.com

As it requires a certain amount of precision for maximum results, this rocking chair project puts a builder’s measuring skills to the test. Cher at Design by Studio C worked with scrap boards and lumber, relying on an extensive cut list, pocket-hole screws, and wood glue to bring her vision to life. The result: A classic homemade rocking chair that, if treated with care, can be handed down for generations to come.


Can You Have Solar Power Outside the Sunbelt?

Discover how homeowners can save on energy bills by harnessing solar power even on the shortest days of the year.

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Solar Power at Home

Photo: allearthrenewables.com

The desire for renewable energy has never been higher, which has made solar power more popular than ever. Yet, while traditional solar panels excel in the Sunbelt, they are less effective in northern climates where the days are shorter. Homeowners might well question whether installing panels in these colder climes can be cost-effective. In a quest to discover whether homeowners the Northeast could benefit enough from solar, or photovoltaic (PV), technology to offset the cost of installation, we caught up with Robert Fuller, the owner of Fullers Energy. His company specializes in renewable energy solutions for homes throughout the Northeast, including Bob Vila’s own New England residence. As Fuller explains, new “tracking” technology increases solar efficiency in regions north of the Sunbelt, making it possible for virtually any homeowner to benefit from a day’s worth of sunshine.

What’s the market like for solar panels in the Northeast?
When Fullers Energy first opened its doors, it was a great time for homeowners to purchase and install solar technology at home because the federal government had announced a 30 percent tax credit on renewable energy upgrades. In the past few years, the demand for solar in this region has only increased, due in part to lower costs and tax breaks, but also because solar technology is improving, specifically through solar panels that track the sun.

I was skeptical when tracking panels first hit the market. It was exciting for technology to be able to follow the sun’s arc and harness maximum power from it at any hour, but I wasn’t convinced that a solar system manufacturer in China—or even in California—could really relate to the specific needs of residents in the Northeast. Then, I discovered All Earth Renewables, a Vermont-based panel manufacturer and—after carefully vetting the company and their product—I was sold. We’ve had excellent results with their panels.

 

How do tracking panels differ from stationary, or “static,” panels?
The tracking panels we install are extremely unique. They feature dual-access trackers that are capable of following and aligning at a 90-degree angle to the sun’s rays. That results in a faster energy spike in the morning when the sun is lower in the sky and increased energy production later in the day as well. In this part of the country, tracking panels offer customers a 45 percent greater efficiency rate over traditional static panels, which face the same direction at all hours.

 

Solar Power Efficiency in the Winter

Photo: allearthrenewables.com

How do tracking panels perform in the winter? Are they as effective?
Shorter days in the winter mean less sunshine overall, so there will be some efficiency loss. (Though that shouldn’t dissuade homeowners too much; it’s best to gauge solar energy production on an annual basis if you want to see the system’s overall effectiveness.) But in addition to being designed to make the most of shortened daylight hours, tracking panels do have other distinct advantages over stationary panels. For example, at night when there’s no sun to track, or when the winds reach 30 miles per hour, the panels lay down to protect the structure. Then, after a heavy snow, the panels will actually stand up and turn to dump the snow off.

Storms with hail and flying debris are always a concern, but the structural integrity of today’s panels is much better than it was even a decade ago. The panels we install from All Earth Renewables are designed to withstand 1-inch hail at terminal velocity, and in testing they have even stood up to people walking across them. They’re pretty tough, which makes them a good choice for our area.

 

Do homeowners prefer solar to other forms of renewable energy?
I’ve found that they do, for a number of reasons. Overall, solar equipment is more stable. Without moving energy-generation parts—as compared to wind turbines, which are subject to constant movement—there’s no need for major maintenance. That’s a long-term cost benefit. Additionally, systems with moving parts tend to make noise, so neighbors are often more accepting of solar panels next door than windmills. The unobtrusiveness of solar tends to be more socially acceptable.

I’ve lived on Martha’s Vineyard my whole life, and while it’s extremely unique in many ways, it retains a homegrown-type feel. Residents here are interested in renewable energy, but they want to retain the beautiful aesthetics that make the island distinctive. We make that a priority here and at customers’ homes all over the Northeast, which is how we’ve installed more than a hundred different types of systems on homes on the island itself, and more on the cape.

 

Are there ever situations where you advise the homeowner not to install solar panels?
Absolutely. In order to work efficiently, the panels have to be able to access the sun’s rays. We recommend that homeowners create a clear perimeter around the panels by removing overhanging limbs and such, but sometimes an entire tree would have to be removed. Or, if we’re talking about installation on a roof, the roof should be structurally sound. If it’s not, I’d advise the homeowner to make repairs before installing panels.

 

Solar Panel Installation

Photo: fullersenergy.com

How can the average homeowner afford the initial cost of installation?
While solar has a significant start-up cost, its long-term payoff is what counts. For example, when I started Fullers Energy, I decided to use my own home to showcase the panels. I was so convinced of the energy payoff that I chose to invest my children’s college fund in the installation! What I saved monthly on utility bills, I used to repay the funds. On average, a 14 percent utility savings translates into the system paying itself off in an average of five years. That’s a pretty good return—better than investing in a long-term CD.

 

What advice do you have for customers on making the investment more affordable?
A number of cost-saving options are available. The customer should ask the solar installer about the availability of federal, state, and local incentives. Now, these incentives are subject to change, but they offer real savings. Some states permit homeowners to sell the excess energy they generate to the grid, and some homeowners can earn special energy “credits” that they can later sell on the open market. A good solar contractor will be able to tell you what is available in your area and how you can take advantage of it.

Another option available in some areas is the use of a power purchase agreement (PPA) that allows homeowners to lease the solar equipment. We don’t offer PPAs at Fullers Energy because I feel that the equipment can occasionally be a bit dated and therefore less effective, but it’s certainly an option.

Local banks and lending companies are often open to the idea of financing solar installation, so interested homeowners should give their bankers a call to find out what kind of financing terms are available.

 

What advice do you have for homeowners who would like to install solar panels?
Their first step should be to contact a couple of local solar integrators to come out and perform a free site assessment. Some companies look at the site only by satellite from their computers, but I firmly believe that going out in person is in the best interest of the customer. That’s what we do, and this allows us to discuss the customer’s specific needs and outline different options. A personal touch makes all the difference.


All You Need to Know About Mulch Types

If you plan to insulate your soil with mulch before the seasons change, first learn which type of material best meets your needs.

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Types of Mulch

Photo: istockphoto.com

Mulch may not be a miracle cure for all that ails your garden, but according to professional gardeners and arborists, it certainly comes close! A wide variety of materials fall under the heading of mulch, but they all share one basic purpose: improving soil conditions. Among its long list of benefits, mulch insulates the soil from temperature extremes, locks in moisture, keeps weeds at bay, prevents soil compaction, and protects sensitive plantings from damage by weed whackers and lawn mowers. Plus, virtually all types of mulch can give planting beds an attractive, manicured, and well-maintained appearance. Broadly speaking, homeowners select from two basic types of mulch: organic and inorganic.

Organic mulches—hardwood and softwood chips, bark, evergreen needles, leaves, grass clippings, compost mixes, newspaper and cardboard, and a variety of other plant byproducts—consist of materials that decompose over time. Work any of these into the soil and they can improve soil fertility, aeration, structure, and drainage as they decompose. Because organic mulches decompose, they must be replenished on a regular basis, but most landscape professionals prefer organic mulches because of the many benefits they bring to the soil.

Inorganic mulches, on the other hand, include various types of materials that do not decompose and therefore do not need to be replenished very often, if ever. These options include rock, stone, lava rock, crusher dust, pulverized rubber, landscape fabrics, and other man-made materials. Inorganic mulches are ideal for decorative use and controlling weeds. Because rocks and stones absorb and reflect heat, they have the advantage of warming the soil for early spring planting of fruits and vegetables, but can be detrimental to plants during periods of hot, dry weather.

When you’ve decided you’re ready to start reaping the many benefits of mulch, you’re not limited to just the standard by-the-bag chips from your local home improvement center—you’ve got options! Homeowners have access to a wide range of mulch types. Select one that best suits your landscaping project based on its local availability, cost, appearance, quality, and durability. Here are some of the types of mulch that should be on your radar.

 

Types of Mulch - Wood Chips

Photo: istockphoto.com

ORGANIC MULCH: Wood Chips, Nuggets, or Bark
Both hardwood and softwood bark, chips, and nuggets—byproducts of the lumber and paper industries—are typically aged and dried, and sometimes even dyed red or black, then sold in bags. Hardwood works best around trees, shrubs, and in perennial beds, while softwood (typically made from pine) should be reserved for use around large trees and shrubs. Pine tends to be slightly more acidic and therefore takes longer to decompose than other organic mulches. Check with your local municipality before you head to the home improvement center; many offer freshly ground tree mulch to homeowners at no charge. This fresh material is neither dried or aged, so use it only for walkways, as it leaches large amounts of nitrogen from the soil as it decomposes.

 

Types of Mulch - Straw

Photo: istockphoto.com

ORGANIC MULCH: Straw
Clean wheat, barley, or oat straw is ideal for lightly mulching newly seeded lawns. The straw mulch keeps the grass seed from washing away, deters feeding birds and rodents, and, until it decomposes, conserves the moisture the seeds need for good germination. When you’re shopping for mulch, don’t confuse straw with hay. You should avoid the latter, which contains seeds that could sprout up as weeds in your garden.

 

Types of Mulch - Grass Clippings

Photo: istockphoto.com

ORGANIC MULCH: Grass Clippings or Shredded Leaves
No need to shop around—you can make your own organic mulch using nothing more than grass clippings or shredded leaves. Leaf mulch is ideal for use in garden beds and around trees and shrubs, while grass clippings may be spread in thin layers across vegetable and perennial beds and then turned into the soil at the end of the growing season. Be careful not to apply in thick layers, or else the material will mat. Also, don’t save the clippings from lawns that have been treated with herbicides or insecticides.

 

Types of Mulch - Shredded Newspaper

Photo: flickr.com via jannanab

ORGANIC MULCH: Newspaper or Cardboard
Shredded black-and-white newspaper or undyed natural cardboard can be used as an effective weed suppressant. Apply two to three layers at a time, then cover with another heavier organic material, such as leaves or grass clippings, to hold the lightweight mulch in place. Take care not to mix in colored newspaper or coated cardboard; these do not decompose readily and may even expose your garden to toxic dyes.

 

Types of Mulch - Cocoa Shells

Photo: bandbbedding.com

ORGANIC MULCH: Cocoa Chips
Popular for their rich color and pleasant scent, cocoa bean hulls are lightweight, easy to handle, and appropriate for all planting areas. Don’t apply more than one inch or water excessively, because cocoa chips already decompose quickly—and since they’re a pricier option, you won’t want to have to do more than an annual application. If you have pets or wildlife, you should avoid cocoa mulch, as chocolate and its byproducts can be fatal to animals if consumed.

 

Types of Mulch - Composted Manure

Photo: istockphoto.com

ORGANIC MULCH: Composted Animal Manure
Nothing beats well-composted, nutrient-rich animal manure when it comes to mulch for vegetables. Two words of caution, however, before you add this type of mulch to your garden bed: Fresh manure burns plant roots, and dog, cat, and pig manure can harbor disease-causing organisms—avoid all of the above!

 

Types of Mulch - Lava Rock

Photo: istockphoto.com

INORGANIC MULCH: Rock or Crusher Dust
Lava rock, crushed gravel or crusher dust, marble chips, and pea gravel will not break down, making them a popular option for walks and pathways, thanks to their one-time investment of cost and labor. Avoid using stones around trees, shrubs, and other plants, however, because they won’t effectively retain moisture and can cause heat stress on plants through reflection as well as ground heating, which can burn roots.

 

Types of Mulch - Landscape Plastic

Photo: istockphoto.com

INORGANIC MULCH: Landscape Plastic or Fabric
Plastic polyethylene film is impermeable, which means that water and other nutrients cannot pass through. While this quality makes it ideal as a short-term weed killer, plastic is not suitable for long-term use. If you employ it to warm the soil around fruit and vegetable plants, you’ll have to install an irrigation system under the plastic, or water your plants by hand to make sure they get adequate moisture. Remove the plastic at the end of the growing season to keep it from deteriorating in the sunlight, and then replace it the following year.

Landscape fabric is a better choice for long-term use, as it suppresses weeds but also allows air and water to pass through; however, it is a more expensive material. Landscape fabric is best used with a layer of organic mulch, such as wood chips, on top.

 

Types of Mulch - Rubber

Photo: istockphoto.com

INORGANIC MULCH: Rubber
Rubber mulch—manufactured from recycled, pulverized tires—is inexpensive and highly durable, which makes it perfect for high-traffic areas, such as playgrounds. Leave it out of your home landscaping projects, though; rubber mulch does not decompose, and some studies indicate that toxins found in the rubber can actually leach into the soil.

 

Beginner mulchers, beware: There can be too much of a good thing. Over-mulching, especially erecting “mulch volcanoes” around the bases of trees and shrubs, can lead to problems with insect and rodent infestation. Plus, mulch that is too deep can cause a buildup of excess moisture in the root zone, which can stress the plant and lead to root rot. Most professionals recommend limiting your layer of mulch to a depth of between two and four inches.


How To: Clean a Fireplace

Before you snuggle up in front of the hearth, be sure to banish ashes, stains, and creosote build-up.

How to Clean a Fireplace

Photo: istockphoto.com

Curling up in front of a fire is a thoroughly delightful aspect of fall and winter. But fires can be a messy business, and neglecting a fireplace leads to dark stains not just in the wood burner but also around the hearth and mantel. Aesthetics aside, cleaning the fireplace is a matter of safety: The National Fire Protection Association recommends both your chimney and fireplace be inspected for soundness and cleaned annually, as build-up of creosote (an oily wood-tar by-product found on chimney walls) can cause fires to flare out of control. Here’s how to clean a fireplace and sidestep potential fire hazards all season long.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
- Drop cloths or plastic sheeting
- Knee pads
- Towel
- Rubber gloves
- Old clothes
- Dust mask or respirator
- Nylon bristled scrub brushes (2)
- Scrubber (optional)
- Hand broom and dustpan
- Liquid dish detergent
- Rags
- Vacuum with nozzle attachment
- Trisodium phosphate (TSP)
- Household bleach
- Spray bottles (2)
- Bucket
- Disposable rags
- Paper towels
- White vinegar

STEP 1
Wait at least 12 hours after your last fire before attempting to clean a fireplace in order to give it a chance to cool down fully. Clear a working space and cover the area around the fireplace and nearby furniture with drop cloths or plastic sheeting (not newspaper—the ink can transfer onto carpets or upholstery). Don’t skimp on protection, as this promises to be a sooty project. Wear old clothes, which are sure to get stained, and rubber gloves. Don a dust mask to avoid inhaling potentially carcinogenic dust. If you don’t have kneepads, work on a thick folded towel to avoid painful pressure.

STEP 2
Remove all the ashes and dust from the fireplace, using a small shovel or hand broom to collect it on a dustpan. Dispose of the mess in a heavy paper bag or garbage can. Sweep dust and ashes off the andirons or grate, then take them outside to clean.

STEP 3
To remove soot from the grate/andirons, apply a few teaspoons of dish detergent to a water-dampened scrubbing brush, wet the grate/andiron with water, scrub until sudsy, and rinse well. Dry the grate/andiron off with the clean rag, and leave it aside until you clean the fireplace.

How to Clean a Fireplace

Photo: istockphoto.com

STEP 4
Using a dry bristle brush or hand broom, start at the top of each wall and sweep down to remove ashes and creosote. Repeat as many times as necessary. Sweep out the ashes and debris, and place them in the paper bag or dust bin. For good measure, you may wish to vacuum the area for any remaining dust.

STEP 5
Mix 3 tablespoons of TSP (a neutralized combination of phosphoric acid using sodium hydroxides), ½ cup of bleach, and a quart of hot (not boiling) water in a bucket. Fill a spray bottle with this cleaning solution and generously spray fireplace walls and floors. Let it sit for five minutes, then spray again for scouring.

STEP 6
To scour the fireplace, dunk the bristle brush in the remaining solution and scrub the walls, starting at the top and working down. Occasionally spray with cleaning solution, both as a rinse and cleaning aid. Use the old rags to wipe after scrubbing, and spray and repeat scrubbing process if required. Scrub the fireplace floor, sopping up the extra cleaning agent with rags.

STEP 7
If your fireplace has glass doors, mix a 50-50 white vinegar and water solution in a fresh spray bottle (you’ll need about a cup). Spray glass doors and some folded paper towels with the vinegar solution, then sprinkle some ashes onto the toweling to act as a light, natural abrasive. Gently scour the doors, and repeat the process with fresh paper towels.

STEP 8
If you have a brick fireplace front or facing that’s more than 50 years old, vacuum the area to pick up soot and dust. Do not scour it, as that could cause old brick to crumble.

For all other facings, mix ¼ cup liquid dish detergent and a gallon of water in a fresh bucket. Put clean, fresh water in a spray bottle and spray down the facing. For wood and brick, the water spray will prevent the cleaner from soaking in too deeply, too fast. For marble and tile, spraying will serve as a presoak.

STEP 9
Dip your brush in the bucket of detergent water and lightly scrub the facing surface. Accept that some stubborn stains will remain; overzealous scrubbing can do more harm than good. Spray the facing front with plain water and wipe dry with clean, dry rags, or paper towels.

STEP 10
Replace the grate or andirons. Clean your brush and broom with liquid dish detergent and water. Starting from the perimeter, gather your drop cloth or plastic sheeting up in a ball and throw it out.

STEP 11
Before you toss the ashes, consider spreading them over your garden: Ashes (not creosote) are a great source of calcium, potassium, and other nutrients for plants that like low-acidity, high-pH soil. And if you have issues with slugs, snails, or other soft-bodied pests, lay ashes around plant bases as a deterrent. Store ashes in a dry, air-tight container and you’ll have them on hand to replace after rainfalls, which will wash away the ash salt that repels invaders.

 

How to Clean a Fireplace

Photo: istockphoto.com


Are Gutters Actually Necessary?

The seemingly simple fixture that runs along the edge of your roof is tasked with a most important responsibility. Read on to learn why gutters are so essential—and how you can make sure yours do the best job possible.

The Purpose of Gutters

Photo: istockphoto.com

Those new to homeownership and home maintenance may question whether gutters are an absolutely vital component of their homes’ exteriors, or just some sort of decorative element. While it’s true that professionally installed gutters create a crisp, clean edge around your home’s roofline, their main purpose is far from mere adornment. Contractors install a gutter system on every new house they build because its job—guiding rain and storm water off the roof and away from the foundation of the house—is essential to the home’s structural well-being. That is, when the gutter is kept clean and free from debris.

A Little Water Never Hurt Anyone, Did It?
No matter how gently rain falls onto your roof, the water builds up as it runs off and creates a powerful surge that, if not diverted, can hammer the ground next to your foundation—and water and foundations do not mix. Pounding water along the foundation line erodes the soil and can seep down along the foundation, increasing the risk of basement leaks and structural instability.

Gutters that safely manage storm water do more than simply protect your house. They also preserve your yard and your neighborhood. Without fully functioning gutters and downspouts to control runoff in a safe manner, rainwater could cut pathways through your yard as well as your neighbor’s, creating ditches, pooling in low-lying areas, and even killing lawns, flowers, and other vegetation.

 

Cleaning Gutters by Hand

Photo: istockphoto.com

Maintaining Your Home’s Main Defense
When you fail to clean your gutter system you’re inviting problems, because clogged gutters can be nearly as bad as having no gutters at all. Rainwater trapped in a clogged gutter or downspout has nowhere to go but over the edge of the trough, rendering your gutter system virtually useless. And if the leaves, twigs, and other debris remain during winter, snowmelt can pool and refreeze in the gutters, potentially weighing them down so much that they can pull free from the house. Clogged gutters also increase the risk of ice dams forming at the edge of the roof.

If you have traditional gutters on your home, you should clean them at least twice a year: once in the spring and again in the fall, before winter arrives. With traditional gutters, you have two maintenance options: You can haul a ladder over to the side of your house and clean out the debris by hand, which saves you money but can be dangerous. Or, you can pay to have a professional gutter-cleaning crew clear the gutters and downspouts.

A third option, however, can save you from ever having to worry about your gutters again. Instead of performing regular maintenance, you can alter the structure itself: Install a patented seamless gutter system that never clogs and never needs cleaning.

 

LeafGuard Gutters Funnel Rainwater Without Debris

Photo: leafguard.com

A Work- and Worry-Free Option
LeafGuard Brand gutters, as the name suggests, combine the funneling functions of the traditional gutter with a patented curved-hood design that shields against leaves, twigs, and other debris. Roll-formed from sheet aluminum, the LeafGuard gutter hood arcs over the top of the gutter, directing runoff from the roof into the gutter while blocking airborne debris from entering. Even leaves that fall onto the roof and are washed off slip right over the edge of the gutter and down to the ground below. The result is a clean, clear gutter that never clogs.

This system features an unparalleled durability, which is recognized and backed by the Good Housekeeping Seal. The sheet aluminum used to make LeafGuard gutters is thicker than the aluminum used in traditional gutters, and trained installers secure the gutter with internal hanging brackets for extra stability. Ultimately, all these factors combine to create a system that can handle up to 32 inches of rain per hour—virtually any rain Mother Nature can dish out. Moreover, the gutter can run from one corner of your house to the next without any seams, thereby eliminating the risk of leaks at connection points. This feat is possible because the entire gutter trough is extruded—right on site—from a single sheet of aluminum to fit your house’s specific dimensions.

To top it off, LeafGuard‘s innovative design boasts good looks too. The one-piece construction eliminates unsightly seams, and the gutters come in a variety of colors that can complement, even enhance, your home’s aesthetic appeal. The ScratchGuard paint finish on them comes with a lifetime warranty so that they always look as good as the day they were installed.

If you’re tired of cleaning your own gutters twice a year, or having to shell out for a professional crew to do it, it’s time to consider the third option of LeafGuard’s cutting-edge gutter technology.

 

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


How To: Remove Scratches from Stainless Steel

Get those brushed metal surfaces back in shape with the right materials and these tips.

How to Remove Scratches from Stainless Steel

Photo: istockphoto.com

From sinks to appliances, counters to cabinet hardware, stainless steel remains a popular kitchen trend, favored for its sleek look and durability. Yet, sturdy as it is, stainless can acquire unsightly scratches in the course of everyday activity. Fortunately, it’s totally possible to minimize these signs of wear and tear, even successfully remove scratches from stainless steel altogether.

Look close and you’ll see that stainless steel has brush marks on the surface—this is called the grain, a result of the manufacturing process. Whichever scratch removal method or product you use, it’s essential to rub only in the direction of the grain; go the wrong way, you’ll worsen the problem. Also, do not apply the techniques described here on stainless that has a protective clear coat or synthetic surface applied, or you’ll do more damage. With those caveats in mind, collect your materials and start restoring your stainless steel. It may not come out looking brand spanking new, but it will certainly revive the appearance of your kitchen and keep it that way for years to come.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
- Stainless steel scratch removal compound
- Water
- Microfiber cloths
- Stainless steel scratch removal kit

FINE SCRATCHES

How to Remove Scratches from Stainless Steel

Photo: istockphoto.com

Use a non-abrasive compound such as Bar Keeper’s Friend, Revere Stainless Steel and Copper Cleaner, or even whitening toothpaste.

STEP 1
If you’re using a powdered stainless steel scratch removal compound, add enough water—a few drops at a time—to it to create a paste roughly the consistency of toothpaste. If your compound of choice is cream-based, proceed to the next step.

STEP 2
Apply a small amount of the scratch remover compound to a microfiber cloth and then very gently rub it back and forth over the scratch, working in the direction of the metal’s grain. Continue until the scratch buffs out.

STEP 3
Gently wipe the surface with a fresh, barely damp microfiber cloth to remove any compound residue. Dry with another fresh microfiber cloth. Repeat Steps 2 and 3 if needed to completely remove scratches from stainless steel surfaces.

 

DEEPER SCRATCHES

For larger imperfections that cannot do not respond to the compound, use a stainless steel scratch removal kit such as Scratch-B-Gone or Siege 63001 Stainless Steel Sink and Cookware Scratch Remover. Scratch remover kits generally contain a polishing compound and a set of abrasive pads. You’ll work from the coarsest grit to the finest to remove scratches from the stainless steel and restore the surface. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s directions specific to your kit.

STEP 1
Read through the manufacturer’s instructions completely. Identify the direction of the grain in your stainless steel.

STEP 2
Starting with the appropriate grit pad recommended for the specific scratch you aim to banish, rub the scratch with the grain, in one direction only—going back and forth with an abrasive could cause unattractive circular marks. Use only as much pressure as is needed to remove the scratch; don’t be overzealous or go deeper than necessary.

STEP 3
Move to a smoother grit pad, if recommended by the manufacturer, and continue the buffing process, adding water, or any compounds included in the kit, as called for.

STEP 4
Wipe the surface down with a microfiber cloth to finish the process, buffing the steel to a clean shine.

To keep your metal surfaces looking so new that you never have to ponder how to remove scratches from stainless steel again, avoid using abrasive substances or steel wool for regular cleaning and maintenance. Protect your stainless steel sink with a rubber dish mat when washing heavy pots or cast iron. Just be sure to remove the mat when finished washing up so that water won’t remain trapped underneath, where it can cause discoloration.

 

How to Remove Scratches from Stainless Steel

Photo: istockphoto.com


How To: Clean a Wooden Cutting Board

Step away from the dishwasher! Instead, use this DIY technique to clean your sullied wooden cutting boards and achieve safe and spotless results.

How to Clean a Wooden Cutting Board

Photo: istockphoto.com

Your hardworking cutting board constantly plays host to meats, veggies, and herbs. Over time, however, such unsavory characters as bacteria, stains, and odors are bound to make an appearance. Regularly sanitizing your cutting board is key to preventing cross-contamination and food-borne illness. The proper method of disinfection depends on the board’s material. Plastic cutting boards are easy to clean in the dishwasher, but the soft surface tends to develop bacteria-trapping knife scratches over time. Durable wooden cutting boards don’t scratch as easily, which cuts down on the number of germs that collect, but the boards can’t withstand a run through the dishwasher. The porous wood surface will warp and crack from the machine’s high temperatures.

So, how do you sanitize a wooden surface? Here’s how to clean a wooden cutting board with materials you already have on hand.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
- Plastic spatula
- Spray bottle
- White vinegar
- Soft cloth
- Hydrogen peroxide (3% concentration)
- Soft sponge
- Sea salt or baking soda
- 1 lemon
- Mineral oil

STEP 1
Use a plastic spatula to scrape off any chunks of food lingering on the cutting board, and discard them in the trash. If you used the board to cut raw meat, move clean dishes away from the sink to prevent contaminating them with salmonella, E. coli, and other microscopic culprits that may be on the wooden cutting board.

Once the sink is clear, rinse the top, bottom, and sides of the wooden cutting board in tap water for several seconds before air-drying it completely. Avoid submerging the board in a sink basin full of water. The dingy liquid can not only permeate and warp the wood, but also recirculate bacteria back onto the surface.

How to Clean a Wooden Cutting Board

Photo: istockphoto.com

STEP 2
Spritz enough white vinegar onto the board to coat all exposed surfaces. Allow the vinegar to sit for five minutes, then wipe it off with a damp cloth.

While white vinegar suffices as a regular cleaning treatment for your wooden cutting board, it’s wise to follow up with a more potent antibacterial method if the board frequently touches raw fish, poultry, or other meat. Flood the top of the board with hydrogen peroxide. Then, using a clean sponge, evenly distribute the liquid over the top, bottom, and sides. Let the hydrogen peroxide sit for 5 to 10 minutes before rinsing the board under water and patting dry with a clean sponge.

STEP 3
To rid your wooden cutting board of stubborn stains from poultry or pungent odors from food like fish, garlic, and onions, generously sprinkle a few tablespoons of coarse sea salt or baking soda over all surfaces of the board. Then gradually scrub the grains with a halved lemon, juicing the fruit as you go in order to mix the salt or baking soda with citric acid. Let the mixture settle into the board for at least 10 minutes (or overnight if your board is particularly musty) before wiping away the residue with a damp cloth and air-drying.

STEP 4
Conditioning your wooden cutting board will help it last longer. Start by dipping the tip of a soft cloth into a half cup of a food-safe mineral oil, preferably walnut or almond. (Avoid using vegetable or olive oil, which can break down, turn rancid, and leave an unpleasant odor on your cutting board.) Working in the direction of the wood grain, use the cloth to buff the oil into the top, bottom, and sides of the board.

Let the oil harden for at least six hours before storing the board in a location that receives plenty of air. This will prevent the growth of bacteria that thrive in moisture-rich environments. Performed on a quarterly basis, this conditioning ritual will prevent fractures from forming in the wood and preserve the beauty and durability of your wooden cutting board.


Bob Vila Radio: 3 Bright Ideas for Beating the Winter Blues

SAD is a fun acronym, but there's nothing lighthearted about its symptoms—or the depression it can cause. If you or someone you love has been diagnosed, try out these easy design tricks to combat SAD this winter.

You’ve probably already heard of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), the illness triggered by a lack of light during the season of shorter days.  What you may not know, though, is that your home can help you fend off its symptoms, including low energy levels and depression.

seasonal-affective-disorder

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Listen to BOB VILA ON SEASONAL AFFECTIVE DISORDER AT HOME or read on below:

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The end of Daylight Savings Time can mark the onset of SAD symptoms for millions of Americans every year. If you’ve been diagnosed, start in your bedroom to maximize those morning rays. Spray both sides of your bedroom windows with glass cleaner, and wipe them clean with a microfiber cloth to dissolve dirt and grime. You might want to install larger windows or add a skylight down the line, but there are a few wallet-friendly fixes to try first.

Start with blue bulbs, which mimic daylight and can be added to the overhead lights and lamps you already own. Light therapy boxes are the next step up, with most containing several high-output fluorescent tubes that provide 100 times more light than normal fixtures. Even a half hour in front of the lamp each morning will help alleviate SAD symptoms.

Position mirrors to bounce sunlight around the room, and hang a colorful painting or two for for visual stimulation on grey days. Finally, surround yourself with living things: a hardy houseplant or a well-stocked terrarium are low-maintenance picks, and they’ll remind you of the sunny days right around the corner.

Bob Vila Radio is a 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day carried on more than 186 stations in 75 markets around the country. Click here to subscribe, so you can automatically receive each new episode as it arrives—absolutely free!


How To: Remove a Broken Bolt

Don’t let a defunct fastener foul you up. Follow these steps to take it off neatly without damaging the threaded hole.

How to Remove a Broken Bolt from Wood

Photo: istockphoto.com

In theory, metal bolts—headed fasteners with external threads that fit into suitable non-tapered nuts—can be removed and even reattached as needed. Unfortunately, when over-tightened or otherwise forced, bolts can seize and break, making them a challenge to remove. Stuck wondering how to remove a broken bolt? With the right gear and technique, a broken bolt can be extracted successfully to let you insert a new one.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
- Hammer
- Center punch
- Variable-speed reversible electric drill
- Left-handed drill bit
- Extraction drill bits kit
- Vise grip pliers
- Magnet and/or compressed air

How to Remove a Broken Bolt

Photo: istockphoto.com

STEP 1
Place the center punch as close to the middle of the broken bolt as possible. Hit it squarely with the hammer to create a starting point for drilling a pilot hole. A precise pilot hole is critical to help you to avoid damaging the threads of the broken bolt when you extract it. If the threads on either the bolt or the bolt hole are damaged, it may make bolt removal impossible. Furthermore, if the threading on the bolt hole is damaged, you may be unable to use a new bolt once the old one is extracted.

STEP 2
Check the table on your extraction kit to select the proper-sized left-handed drill bit to make a pilot hole in this broken bolt. If you’re picking up a kit for the job, invest in quality; the last thing you need is a cheap bit breaking during this process.

Set your drill on reverse and as slow a speed as possible (ideally, 20 RPM), and insert the left-handed drill bit. The torque of drilling in reverse (i.e., counter-clockwise) will prevent you from further tightening the threads on the bolt. Now, place the drill bit on the punch mark you made and, holding the drill securely, slowly reverse-drill a small pilot hole in the bolt, about ¼-inch deep. Hopefully, reverse-drilling your pilot hole will loosen the bolt enough to let you use vise grip pliers to remove the bolt. Remember, “righty-tighty, lefty-loosey”—turn the bolt left (counter-clockwise) to remove it. If the bolt hasn’t loosened at all, proceed to Step 3 for extraction.

STEP 3
For a stubbornly entrenched bolt, you’ll need an extraction bit. Check your extraction kit’s table for the right size bit for the bolt size. The extraction bit is also a left-handed drill bit (but with a different purpose) so you’ll continue using the reverse drilling setting. Exchange the first bit for the extraction bit in your drill, insert it in the pilot hole, and very gently tap your drill and the bit snuggly into place with a hammer.

STEP 4
Still using a very slow reverse-drilling setting, such as 20 RPM, begin drilling into the pilot hole. Slow and gentle is critical here: The bit is likely made of hardened steel, and if it breaks off during this process, you’ll face an even more challenging extraction. The broken bolt should soon “grab” onto the extraction bit while reverse drilling, and begin extracting. Continue slowly and steadily until the entire bolt has been fully extracted, ideally salvaging the threading so you want can put a new bolt in. Phew!

STEP 5
Any metal shavings or filings left in the threaded hole must be removed before inserting a new bolt. Set a powerful magnet over the hole to attract the loose bits, or use compressed air to blast the threading clean. Don’t skip this step or a new bolt could seize or sheer off.

The tried-and-tested method you just learned ought to safely remove any broken bolt, while ensuring you can later reuse the hole to insert a new one. If not, contact a local welding shop, which ought to have the skills and tools to remove a broken bolt. And remember, insert all bolts slowly and carefully in the future, to avoid seizing and the top of the bolt snapping off.


Buyer’s Guide: Fire Starters

Light the grill or fireplace fast with a single flammable pellet or package! We guarantee you'll warm up fast to any of these 7 top-rated fire starters.

SHARES
Best Fire Starter for Lighting a Fire

Photo: istockphoto.com

While a toasty fire is a welcome addition to any chilly evening, wrestling with wet wood or crumpled-up newspapers to get the first flames going—and the wait time that follows—is not so much. You’ll eventually get something more than a smoking, smoldering pile of timber, but wouldn’t it be better to go right to a roaring blaze? That’s where fire starters come in.

Originally marketed and sold to the specialty camping, hunting, and fishing crowd, commercial fire starters are now a must-have accessory for anyone with a fireplace, wood stove, fire pit, chiminea, hibachi, food smoker, or even a trusty old-fashioned charcoal grill. Sure, you could fashion your own homemade fire starters from used dryer lint, cardboard egg cartons and candle wax, but commercial fire starters are fairly inexpensive and much less of a hassle than making your own. And since fire starters are readily available at hardware stores, home centers, and garden shops, there’s really no reason not to keep a case or two on hand throughout the year, to be ready whenever you need get the grill going or want to relax in the warm glow of the firelight.

Not all fire starters are created equal, however. Before you buy in bulk, mind these considerations—and product recommendations—to make sure you get the best burn for your buck.

Size matters. Fire starters are handy to have around, but the last thing you want is a large box that rivals your stack of firewood detracting from the attractive environment you’ve created around your fireplace. Fortunately, some of the best-reviewed fire starters are lightweight and compact, ranging from 3 to 6 inches in length, since most were originally developed to be tucked into a hiker’s backpack. Typically sold in cases of 12 or 24, these pocket-sized pouches, pods, or cubes can be stored in plain site in a basket or tucked out of sight.

Look for lengthy burn time. Highly flammable, fire starters are meant to speed through the painstaking process of starting a fire with wet wood, charcoal, or even coal alone by providing a persistent flame that can then catch on nearby kindling. To do so, the fire starter has to burn long enough to actually get the fire established. The best fire starter burns from 10 to 30 minutes, ensuring that you achieve a robust blaze.

The nose knows. A big barrier to the adoption of early, camping-oriented fire starters for home use was the smell. Older fire starters were impregnated with flame-inducing chemicals that smelled awful. Today’s best fire starters are nearly odorless—a big plus for using fire starters as an alternative to lighter fluid when starting the grill or food smoker.

Pick what’s best for the planet. You’re not the only one who benefits from abandoning fire starters that utilize noxious chemicals. The best fire starter burns clean thanks to environmentally-friendly flammable materials, be it wood waste (sawdust or shavings), non-toxic wax, recycled paper, waste textile fibers—or, for fireplace purists, all-natural fatwood. Fortunately, you won’t have to look too hard: Nearly all commercial fire starters have no byproducts or waste, because the paper packaging burns up right along with the fire starter. Plus, using fire starters typically results in faster and more complete ignition, thereby reducing emissions of particulate matter and carbon monoxide.

Brightest of the Bunch

We’ve done the dirty work for you and scouted the market for the handy nuggets, cubes, and packages worth stashing by the grill or fireplace. Keep reading for which options have been reviewed as the best fire starter in the business by consumers who have tried them all—as well as where you can stock up.

 

Best Fire Starter - Light-a-Fire by Vision Home Products

Photo: amazon.com

Light-a-Fire by Vision Home Products, $17.99 for 30
Listed as Amazon’s “Best All-Natural Fire Starter,” these pods received 4.9 out of 5 stars from customers who praised the compact cubes for being “remarkable,” “simple,” and “easy and safe to use.” Only one pod from the bucket supply of 30 is needed to instantly light a grill, campfire, or fireplace, and it will burn for 15 minutes to ensure your fire roars. Made from wood shavings and food-grade wax, these pods are totally odorless, non-toxic, and environmentally safe. Available on Amazon.

 

Best Fire Starter - Zip Premium All Purpose Wrapped Fire Starters

Photo: amazon.com

Zip Premium All Purpose Wrapped Fire Starter, $4.84 for 12
These individually-wrapped fire starters are formulated to light in even the most difficult and damp conditions, earning them praise as a “surefire way to start a fire” and 4.8 out of 5 stars from Amazon shoppers. The cube design was formulated specifically to burn hotter for longer, up to 18 minutes of burn time. The cubes are safe, odorless, and convenient—just light the wrapper to see. Available on Amazon.

 

Best Fire Starter - Pine Mountain ExtremeStart Firestarters

Photo: amazon.com

Pine Mountain ExtremeStart Firestarter, $4.99 for 12
This multipurpose fire starter ignites firewood or charcoal fast and burns for 20 minutes, garnering 4.5 out of 5 stars from Home Depot shoppers, who rave that it’s “long-lasting, so you only need one.” The small, pocket-sized logs create a clean burn—odorless and perfect for tailgating, campfires, or a quiet evening in front of the fireplace. Simply light the paper wrapper, and you’re on your way to a comfy fire. Available on Amazon.

 

Best Fire Starter - Duraflame Firestart Firelighters

Photo: amazon.com

Duraflame Firestart Firelighters, $20.30 for 24
Well known for manufacturing colorful fire logs, Duraflame also secured a solid reputation for its fire starters, which are rated 4.6 out of 5 stars on Amazon and 4.7 out of 5 stars on Home Depot. The 6-ounce, individually-wrapped fire starters made from blend of wax and renewable, recycled biomass fiber ignite easily with a single match and burn up to 30 minutes, long enough to start even stubborn wood fires. Consumers even say, “they work so well, you can cut them in half.” Available on Amazon.

 

Best Fire Starter - Lightning Nuggets

Photo: lowes.com

Lightning Nuggets, $10.99 for 35
Just one small nugget is all it takes to light a fire, earning the product 4.5 out of 5 stars from Lowes shoppers. Consumers called it “the easiest way to get charcoal started,” and even raved that there’s “no more messing with newspaper or kindling.” Each Lightning Nugget burns for 15 minutes, thanks to a blend of all-natural, recycled, and non-toxic flammable materials, and this 2-pound supply provides enough to ignite the next 35 fires in your future. Available at Lowes.

 

Best Fire Starter - QuickFire Instant Fire Starters

Photo: amazon.com

QuickFire Instant Fire Starters; $9.99 for 25
These innovative compressed oil pouches are 100 percent waterproof with an infinite shelf life, and, come time to use them, the packaging material itself acts as a wick. Light and corner and a pack’s 10-minute burn will effortlessly start fireplaces, grills, campfires, fire pits, wood burning stoves, and more—all without odor or toxicity. Amazon users rated these fire starters 4.3 out of 5 stars for their “speed,” “convenience,” and “easy of use.” Available from Amazon.

 

Best Fire Starter - L.L. Bean Fatwood

Photo: llbean.com

Fatwood; $39.95 for 25 pounds
L.L. Bean calls this found-in-nature fire starter “the most efficient kindling,” and its customers don’t disagree. Fatwood—typically sticks cut from the stumps of pine trees that contain a high concentration of natural resin—garners 4.4 out of 5 stars from reviewers. It ignites quickly, burns cleanly, and smells naturally fragrant. The resin in the sticks burns extremely hot for 10 to 15 minutes, even when wet, to get the fire going in no time. Available at L.L. Bean.