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- Interior Design >
- 4 Things to Do with an Unwanted Gift Card
4 Things to Do with an Unwanted Gift Card
Hanging on to any unwanted gift cards? Here's what to do when you've received a little extra spending money—for the stores where you're least likely to shop.
If Santa brought you a gift card you’re not eager to redeem right away, studies suggest you may never do so. According to CEB TowerGroup, about $750 million in gift cards went unredeemed in 2014. What a waste! Rather than let yours expire, read on to learn four productive things you can do with a gift card you don’t want.
1. SELL IT
Did you know that you can sell an unwanted gift card? Many websites buy them unused, or even partially used. Granted, you’re not going to get full face value for the card, but it’s not uncommon to recoup up to 93 percent. Visit Gift Card Granny to find out which of the many sites will pay the most for the card you were given.
2. TRADE IT
With a site like GiftCardSwapping.com, you mail in your unwanted card along with a form indicating which gift cards you’d prefer. The site takes of the rest, matching you with another person who wants your card and who has traded in a card of his own, one that you’d want. It may take some time for the perfect match to be made, but the weeks after Christmas are arguably the best time of year for a successful trade, simply because there are so many of gift cards floating around.
3. REGIFT IT
Why not re-gift the card on the birthday of a friend or family member you know would appreciate it more? Before setting the card aside, though, be sure to record the name of the person who gave you the card. After all, you wouldn’t want to lose track of things and end up giving the card back to person who’d given it to you!
4. DONATE IT
If the season of giving has an end date, it’s not until, oh, say, Valentine’s Day. So there’s still ample time to donate your gift card to someone in need. Your Sam’s Club gift card would be welcome at a food bank, while a certificate to a clothing shop would be well suited to a local shelter. Reach out directly to the charity of your choice, or leave the homework to a civically minded program like Gift Card Giver, which pairs unused or partially used gift cards with nonprofit organizations.
- Roofing & Siding >
- Bob Vila Radio: Locating a Leak in the Roof
Bob Vila Radio: Locating a Leak in the Roof
Before you can repair a roof leak, you first need to locate the problem. That sort of detective work is rarely a cinch, but these tips can help you crack the case more quickly.
The toughest part of fixing a roof leak is often to figure out where the water is getting in. It’s not uncommon for water to enter the roof at one spot before traveling, by dint of gravity, to the spot where you finally notice it as a stain on the drywall, for example, or as a saturated panel of fiberglass insulation.
Listen to BOB VILA ON LOCATING ROOF LEAKS, or read the text below:
The best way to spot a leak is to head up to the attic on a rainy day. Bring along a flashlight with a good, strong beam and use it to look for areas of wetness. Since water reflects light, so you should be able to find the spot pretty quickly. Once you’ve found it, remember to mark it so that you can find it again a day or two later.
When you have a clear day, make your way up to the roof. Meanwhile, ask a helper indoors to tap on the spot you marked in the attic. Working together, the two of you should be able to locate the shingles directly above the wet area. Communicating via speakerphone here may be prove faster than taking turns tapping.
If you don’t see signs of entry directly above the mark made in the attic, try looking a little further up the roof. Also, check to see if any of the “usual suspects” in roof leaks are located near to where you’re looking. These include dormer valleys, chimney flashing, and the gaskets surrounding pipes and wiring.
When it comes to making the repair, a little roofing cement can go a long way!
Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 60 stations around the country (and growing). You can get your daily dose here, by listening to—or reading—Bob’s 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day.
- Painting >
- The Right Way to Buy Paint
The Right Way to Buy Paint
With a little planning, accurate measurements, and careful calculations, you can ensure that your next paint project doesn't leave your basement littered with a slew of half-full paint cans.
Once you’ve conquered the often Herculean challenge of choosing a paint color, you must then figure out how much paint to buy. It’s a tricky calculation with a number of variables, ranging from your painting technique to the composition and condition of your walls. Buy too much paint, and you’ve not only wasted $30, but you’ve also got to store the surplus somewhere on your already crowded shelves. Buy too little, and on the day you finally work up the energy to paint, you’re delayed by needing to make a second trip to the local home center. Neither outcome is desirable, but fortunately you can avoid both with proper planning.
The major paint manufacturers each provide an online calculator aimed at helping consumers decide how much paint they need. For a ballpark figure, visit:
As handy as they are, online calculators sacrifice precision for convenience. Though more tedious, handling the calculations yourself enables you to purchase exactly the right amount of paint—no more, no less. The math isn’t difficult to do, and all you really need, besides a pencil and sheet of paper, is a tape measure.
THE SCOPE OF THE PROJECT
You first need to determine which surfaces you want to paint. Think it through: Are you going to paint the ceiling? What about the baseboards? Once you know exactly which surfaces you’re going to paint, figuring out the amount of paint to buy is a simple matter of calculating the square footage of those surfaces. You’ll also need to account for the fact that a satisfactory paint job usually requires at least two coats, particularly if you’re painting a lighter color over a darker one.
MEASURING SOLID WALLS
Doors and windows tend to complicate things; solid walls are the easiest surfaces to deal with in terms of paint project planning. For each solid wall, simply multiply the width by the height to get the total surface area. For example, a solid wall that measures 12 feet by 10 feet would have an area of 120 square feet. If a second solid wall totals 100 square feet, the two solid walls together would be 220 square feet. Be sure to omit the trim—baseboards, crown molding, and so on—from your measurements.
MEASURING AROUND WINDOWS
To calculate the square footage to be painted on a windowed wall, first measure the wall to find its total area, then subtract the area of each window—just the window frame and the glass; leave out any molding. So for a 12-by-10-foot wall with one 4-by-6-foot window, you’d subtract 24 (the area of the window) from 120 (the total area of the wall), which would leave you with 96 square feet to be painted (120 – 24 = 96).
MEASURING AROUND DOORS
Follow a similar procedure to determine the surface to be painted on any wall with a doorway. First, measure the length and width of the wall and multiply those two measurements together to get the wall’s square footage. Next, calculate the area of the door panel only; for now, ignore the case molding. So for purposes of explanation, if a 12-by-10-foot wall has one door that measures 3 feet wide by 6 feet tall (or 18 square feet), then you’d subtract 18 from 120, leaving 102 square feet to be painted (120 – 18 = 102).
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
Once you’ve measured every wall and subtracted the area of any windows and doors, you know the total wall surface area to be painted. Let’s say that, according to your calculations, you need enough paint to cover 500 square feet. How many gallons do you need to buy to get the job done?
Manufacturers typically say that one gallon of paint covers 250 to 400 square feet. That’s a pretty wide range, largely due to the fact that different surfaces take paint differently. If you are painting a smooth surface, chances are you can stretch a gallon to cover 400 square feet. If the surface is rough, textured, or previously unpainted—or if you’re making a dramatic color change—that gallon may cover only 250 square feet.
Let’s assume that, based on the condition of the walls in your home, a gallon can cover 325 square feet. You’ve determined that there’s 500 square feet of wall surface to cover. Those walls will require two coats, so you’ll ultimately be covering 1,000 square feet. At 325 square feet per gallon, you’ll need a little over 3 gallons (1,000 ÷ 325 = 3.08 gallons, to be precise).
In general, it’s rarely a mistake to round up and purchase slightly more paint than the math indicates you’ll need. Not only may your surfaces drink up a little more paint than you anticipated, but any extra paint will also be helpful for future touch-ups. But as rounding up to 4 gallons from 3.08 may leave you with more leftover paint than you really want, in this instance I’d suggest buying 3 gallons and 1 quart.
ALLOWING FOR CEILINGS AND TRIM
If you’re painting the ceiling, chances are you’re planning to use a color other than the one you’ve chosen for the walls. If that’s the case, simply measure the length and width of the ceiling, and multiply the two measurements together to find the square footage. If the ceiling encompasses an area of, say, 100 square feet, you know that you need enough paint in the second color to cover at least that area.
As it happens, a quart of paint typically covers about 100 square feet, so if you’re planning on just one coat, you may be able to get away with that smaller container size. But if you’re doing two coats, you’re going to need at least two quarts. The store salesperson is likely to remind you that two quarts usually cost the same as one gallon, so you might as well spring for the larger size, particularly if you’re planning to use the ceiling color elsewhere in your home.
The same advice applies to trim—assuming that you are going to paint it something other than the color you’ve chosen for the walls, measure trim separately from the rest of the room. Once you know how much surface area the trim covers, calculate how much paint you will need in order to give the trim two coats.
- Contests & Give-Aways >
- Bob Vila Thumbs Up: The Plywood Competition Starts Today
Bob Vila Thumbs Up: The Plywood Competition Starts Today
Vote now—and vote daily—to choose your favorite among the plywood projects competing to win this month's Bob Vila Thumbs Up competition!
When it comes to choosing wood for your next DIY project, plywood might not be at the top of your list. But maybe it should be. Although plywood is not considered the most elegant of materials, its versatility makes it an easy choice for this month’s Bob Vila Thumbs Up competitors, all of whom have transformed and elevated this humble material in fascinating ways.
By using completely different methods, finishes, and power tools, these bloggers have showcased the diverse design opportunities that plywood offers—and they all get points for creativity. But only one can win this month’s prize—a $250 gift card from True Value.
So cast your vote today and every day in January to help your favorite blogger win the prize and be the first Bob Vila Thumbs Up winner of 2015. After all, it’s your vote that determines the outcome of this competition.
- Roofing & Siding >
- How Much Snow Can a Roof Hold?
How Much Snow Can a Roof Hold?
Unusual amounts of snow lead to many things—stalled cars, snowball fights, and airport closings. They also lead to many homeowner concerns over the roof's ability to hold the weight. Find out what you can do to identify or prevent problems.
Late last year, Buffalo, New York, recorded a record amount of snow—and winter hadn’t even begun yet. More than a few homeowners in the city may have been concerned that their roofs would collapse under the strain of a surprising snow load. Roof collapse is something that many people worry about, with or without several feet of snow heaped up beyond the front door. How much snow can a roof hold, anyway? And are there steps you can take to avoid a worst-case scenario?
Because there are so many variables involved, this isn’t a simple topic to address. The weight of the snow is a critical factor; half a foot of wet snow tips the scale about the same as a yard of dry, fluffy snow. And everything from a roof’s structural design to its shingling material ultimately influences its ability to support the weight. Generally speaking, steep and smooth roofs shed snow more easily than flat, or only slightly pitched, roofs. But ultimately, what amounts to a dangerous accumulation of snow on one roof would be just fine on another roof down the block. Like each snowflake is different, each roof can hold a different amount.
While you can draw some conclusions by looking at your roof from the curb, it’s indoors where you’ll find the most instructive clues to a potential problem. Head up to the attic and examine the rafters for any noticeable bends or cracks. If you find anything that gives you pause, bear in mind that it’s not necessarily, and most likely isn’t, a sign of impending roof collapse. There are many possible explanations for damaged rafters—for example, termites. And even if snow is to blame, you may be looking at damage from a previous winter. In any case, ask a licensed structural engineer to evaluate the problem promptly.
Elsewhere—particularly on the upper floors, toward the middle of the house—keep an eye out for new cracks in the drywall or plaster surrounding interior door frames. If those doors are suddenly sticking when they used to open and shut with ease, this could be an indication that the frame of your house has shifted due to a structural issue. Again, wall cracks and sticking doors are not cause for panic; rather, they are reasons to seek out the advice of a licensed professional.
Some experts maintain that it’s unnecessary to remove snow from the roof, because any home built to the standards of the local building codes should be structurally equipped to handle virtually any snow load. Still, many homeowners wish to take every available precautionary step. Be aware, however, that climbing up on the roof is precarious in any weather; in snow, it’s almost definitely not a wise course of action unless you absolutely know what you’re doing. For everyone else, the safest path is to hire an insured pro, someone who has not only the proper equipment, but also the right experience for the job.
If you have a single-story house, though, one whose roof you can access while keeping your feet firmly planted on the ground, then a roof rake can be an effective, user-friendly way to clear excess snow. Roof rakes are readily available online and in most brick-and-mortar home center. Before you start raking away, take heed of this important point: Don’t try to remove all the snow. In doing so, you could damage the roofing material, which would leave the roof vulnerable to leaks. To prevent this from happening, some roof rakes are fitted with rollers that keep the edge of the rake safely away from the shingles.
One last word of caution: Pay attention to where the snow you’re pulling off the roof is likely to wind up. You’ll want to pick a landing spot other than your head or the heads of bystanders!
- Lawn & Garden >
- Bob Vila Radio: Is It OK to Cut Protruding Tree Roots?
Bob Vila Radio: Is It OK to Cut Protruding Tree Roots?
When tree roots surface, a portion of your property can be rendered more or less unusable by their protrusion. In weighing your options, here are few rules of thumb to remember.
You love that tree in your backyard. But one of the roots is protruding above ground, creating a sure toe-stubber, and you’re wondering if you can cut it without harming the tree. Here’s some advice from the experts.
Listen to BOB VILA ON CUTTING TREE ROOTS, or read the text below:
If the root is large—say, four or five inches in diameter, or more—you should avoid cutting the root, as doing so could cause irreparable harm to the tree.
Here’s another guideline: Measure the diameter of the trunk, in inches, and multiply that figure by eight. That total represents the number of inches from the tree’s trunk that you should leave undisturbed.
If you do decide to cut a root, first dig out the soil all the way around the root, then make a clean cut using either a sharp hand saw or a reciprocating saw. Once you’re done, refill the hole with soil and make sure the tree gets plenty of TLC over the next several months.
Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 60 stations around the country (and growing). You can get your daily dose here, by listening to—or reading—Bob’s 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day.
- How To's & Quick Tips >
- 3 Ways to Make Your Own Ice Melt
3 Ways to Make Your Own Ice Melt
Chances are you already have the necessary ingredients for the homemade ice melt that can free you from the big freeze this winter.
Solid ice can bring your everyday life to a grinding halt, if you don’t have the means to get rid of it. Sure, you rely on shovels and picks to remove ice, but it’s a laborious process that can damage the underlying concrete or stone. And while ice melt works wonders, you’re out of luck if a storm catches you off-guard. The next time that happens, try homemade ice melt. Read on to learn three ways to make homemade ice melt with ingredients homeowners often keep on hand.
Scattering handfuls of salt over an expanse of ice isn’t going to do you much good. To be effective as an ice melt, salt must permeate the ice, not rest on top of it. For that reason, it’s best to spread salt while pouring hot water over the ice. As the hot water melts the ice, the salt kicks in to prevent the liquid water from re-freezing. You can use ordinary table salt, but the best option is rock salt, which in addition to the other role it performs, provides traction for shoes and tires.
Note: The salt-and-hot-water method works to unstick tires, but do not use very hot water on a car windshield; the sudden temperature increase might cause the glass to crack. Also, bear in mind that high salt concentrations can be toxic to plants (though not as toxic as most store-bought ice melts).
A common ingredient in commercial fertilizers, ammonium sulfate works by lowering the temperature at which ice melts. In other words, it doesn’t melt ice immediately, but it hastens the process. And unlike salt, it can be spread over the ice surface. Check your garage to see if you have any fertilizer left over from spring, and on the package label, confirm that ammonium sulfate is listed as a component.
Note: While fertilizer may be safely used as a homemade ice melt for lawn and garden areas, it’s best not used on driveways, paths, or in any instance where the fertilizer, once it combines with liquid water, might land in the municipal sewer. Famously, fertilizer runoff is an environmental concern.
3. Rubbing Alcohol
At -20 degrees, rubbing alcohol has a much lower freezing point than water. For that reason, alcohol often appears as one of many ingredients commercial ice melts. But if you have rubbing alcohol in the home for sanitary purposes, you can harness its ice-melting potential in a couple of ways. First, you can simply pour the alcohol on any icy areas you wish to break up. Or you can combine the alcohol with water in a spray bottle, creating a longer-lasting and easily portable ice-melting solution. Keep it in your car and use it the next time your door gets stuck or your windshield gets frosted over.
No matter your chosen homemade ice melt, it’s best to simultaneously lay down a substance that adds friction, at least to surfaces anybody might walk upon. Sand and salt—and kitty litter—all do the trick.
- Kitchen >
- How To: Clean Stove Burners
How To: Clean Stove Burners
Return a messy stovetop with grease-covered burners to like-new condition in under 30 minutes. Here's how.
We’ve all been there: It’s the end of a long day, and rather than wipe up the splatters on the range, you decide the mess can linger for a day. A week later, you still haven’t cleaned the stove burners, and—largely thanks to the pasta sauce you’ve just brought to a low simmer—the situation has only gotten stickier. OK, it’s time. All it takes is one deep cleaning to restore the stovetop to its pristine state. Follow these steps to clean stove burners quickly and with a minimum of hassle.
MATERIALS AND TOOLS
- Dishwashing soap
- Baking soda
- Scouring pad
- Ammonia (optional)
- Clean cloth
Before going any further, wait until the burners have completely cooled. Next, remove the grates (for a gas range) or burner coils (for an electric range). In the latter case, it takes only a little tug-and-lift motion at the point where the coils connect to the sockets on the stove. If those coils don’t budge, refer to your appliance manual in order to avoid causing any damage. Once the grates or coils are off, move them over to your countertop to be cleaned separately.
Combine lukewarm water and a bit of dishwashing soap in a bowl. Dip a cloth or sponge into the solution, then proceed to scrub the burners. (With an electric range, do your best to avoid getting the sockets wet.) If you’ve cleaned the burners somewhat recently, you may have luck with this approach.
To tackle tougher stains, enlist the abrasive power of baking soda. Mix a handful of baking soda with a little bit of water to form a thick paste. Coat your burners in the paste and let them stand for about 20 minutes. Once that time has passed, caked-on residue should have become soft enough to be removable with a sponge. Lastly, rinse off the burners to make sure that none of the paste remains.
STEP 4 (optional)
If neither of the above has worked to clean your stove burners, there’s one more method to try. Place each burner into its own plastic bag, along with a quarter-cup of ammonia. The goal is not to cover the burners in ammonia, but simply to seal them in with the ammonia fumes. Let the plastic bags sit overnight in your sink, in case of a leak. On the next day, with proper ventilation in the kitchen, open the bags and now—finally—the burners should come clean under a sponge. Once the burners are no longer caked in residue, remember to rinse them thoroughly to remove all traces of the ammonia.
Pat down the burners with a clean cloth or paper towels and let them air-dry. Before reconnecting the coils on an electric range, be certain that both the coils and the stove sockets are both completely dry.
One trick for everyday cleaning is to spray the burners with vinegar. Let them sit for a while (perhaps while you put dishes in the dishwasher), then wipe down the vinegar-treated burners with a clean cloth or paper towel. Cleaning burners after each use of the range makes it so grease and food residue cannot accumulate, and that negates the need for a deep cleaning like the process laid out in the steps above.
- Tools & Workshop >
- DEWALT Inspection Camera Gives You X-Ray Vision—Almost
DEWALT Inspection Camera Gives You X-Ray Vision—Almost
Though inspection cameras are not new, they've never been less expensive, or more fun, than right now.
It’s the next best thing to X-ray vision. With a mini camera fitted to the end of a flexible, three-foot-long cable, the DEWALT Inspection Camera enables you to see behind walls, under floors, and above ceilings—just about anywhere, so long as there’s an opening of at least 17 millimeters (or a hole that small could could be made). Since the camera and cable are waterproof—and since the product features an integrated LED bulb—you can even see into operational plumbing. In other words, the tool enables you to see parts of your home that would be impossible to see otherwise, at least not without considerable hassle and disruption.
Inspections cameras are not new, but today’s models are much more portable and much less expensive than their predecessors. While some no-frills models can be found for about $70, only the DEWALT tool boasts 3x zoom and image capturing. That means the camera takes photos and videos and saves them to a removable microSD card. You can review them later, whether on your laptop or smartphone. Or you can send them to your contractor, so he can have a look, too.
As useful as an inspection camera might prove for a serious home improvement project, the tool can also come in quite handy on an everyday basis, helping you locate and retrieve lost items. Because not only does the camera give you the ability to see under heavy, unwieldy furniture, but with its hook and magnet attachments, it can even work to snag an errant earring from under the bed, or an elusive cat toy from behind the media cabinet in the living room.
Purchase the DEWALT DCT410S1 12-Volt Max Inspection Camera Kit, $254.99
- How To's & Quick Tips >
- DIY Plywood Strip Desk
DIY Plywood Strip Desk
When Sarah found herself with a heap of unused plywood piling up in her basement, she hatched an extraordinary idea. What resulted was a desk we can't help but admire.
Can you believe this stunner only cost $53 to make? We couldn’t either. Using scrap wood, a set of spare hairpin legs and a lot of ingenuity, Sarah—of Sarah’s Big Idea—made this incredibly sophisticated and modern desk. Find out how she did it by reading her how to.
MATERIALS AND TOOLS
- Plywood scraps
- Hairpin legs
- Wood glue
- Whitewash stain
- Drawer handles
- Spray paint
Plan. This all started a couple of weeks ago, when I took my design into the American Workshop to ask, “Is this possible?” I had my doubts. Would glued-up plywood strips be strong enough to make into furniture? If so, was it possible to get the “infinity” look I wanted on the corners? Jim assured me it was, and helped me solidify my plan. I came back a few days later with my final measurements, and got down to business.
Cut. I started by cutting all my scraps into 1-inch-wide strips. I figured that once everything was glued together and sanded smooth, I’d still have 3/4-inch of material left.
Lay it out. This was putzy. Being the obsessive-compulsive perfectionist that I am, I wanted each row to be made up of the same type of plywood, so that the stripes would match all the way across. Then I cut each joint at a 45-degree angle, to make the joints tight and minimize interruptions in the pattern.
I kept going until I had just over 6 feet x 3 feet of material, when all compressed together.
Glue and clamp. This went super fast. It was a 2-person job. Actually 3, because there was one good Samaritan standing by with clamps at the ready. (I’m sorry, good Samaritan, I don’t know who you are, but thanks for your help!)
Jim used a 3-inch paint roller and a tray full of glue to roll the glue on, while I brought all the pieces over to the gluing table and kept them in order, and helped slap the pieces into place after they were rolled with glue. Once every single piece was in place, we clamped. The whole process took about 15 minutes.
Sand. After 24 hours, I took the clamps off and went about making a desk-worthy surface out of my plywood slab. The surface was totally uneven, since the strips were not all level with each other, and the glue had stuck to the waxed paper that we had used to protect the table underneath.
Luckily, American Workshop has a 36-inch belt sander. It took a lot of passes, but within 30 minutes we had a smooth surface. Before the final sanding, I used wood filler to fill in all the little holes that you’ll find inside plywood.
Cut all your pieces. Remember, I was going for an infinity look on the desk—I wanted the lines to be as uninterrupted as possible. I figured the best way to do that was to make one single slab, and cut the individual pieces out of it. I don’t know anything about joinery, so… let’s just say, I’m glad I had help.
Assemble. This was pretty straightforward, because in the process of cutting the pieces, I had finally started to understand the plan. But it was another 2-person job—a fact that I discovered after I managed to drop one of the side pieces. Twice. And it broke. Twice.
Work of art destroyed? No big deal. Put some more glue on it.
Drawers. I learned how to build drawer boxes with rabbets instead of butt-joints! Now there’s a sentence that only makes sense in context. The drawers just sit on wooden slides. Super simple design. Underneath the desk, there are a couple of blocks of plywood that add stability, but also provide a place to attach the drawer slides.
Drawer fronts. This was the hardest part of the entire desk-building process. The drawer fronts were cut directly out of the front piece, so that the pattern would line up. Getting them placed perfectly on the drawer boxes so that the lines looked continuous, and so that the gaps around the drawers were as small as possible, took some trial and error… and a little double-stick tape. But in the end, it turned out just about perfect.
Finish and screw up. I started with a good sanding and a coat of clear satin polyurethane. And the poly did exactly what I expected it to: it brought out all the gorgeous details. Unfortunately, it also added waaaay more of a yellow tint than I wanted. So I sanded the whole thing down and started over.
Take Two: Minwax White Wash, and its recommended top coat, Polycrylic (instead of the regular oil-based poly I used for my first attempt). I brushed the stain on and wiped it off almost immediately; I didn’t want to end up with a white desk. And I didn’t want to take the chance of obscuring the wood grain.
And in between coats, I spray painted a pair of cheap IKEA handles.
Wonderful—thanks for sharing, Sarah! For even more incredible DIYs, visit Sarah’s Big Idea.