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Bob Vila Thumbs Up: Announcing the Concrete Projects Competition!

Vote for your favorite among the six DIY concrete projects competing to win this month's Bob Vila Thumbs Up! competition!

Bob Vila Thumbs Up Concrete

DIY Concrete Projects

Every day, we see tons of incredible DIY projects. Some are done by seasoned veterans of the do-it-yourself world. Others are the result of hard work by total beginners. Indeed, no matter your skill level, there’s virtually zero cap on the creativity you can introduce to home projects.

By the same token, it seems like there’s no material that clever people out there haven’t found a way to make beautiful. For instance, concrete—that humble, utilitarian staple of the construction yard—is not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of furniture and decor. But around the Web, we’ve noticed DIY bloggers—a select few, in particular—using concrete to create highly functional or super eye-catching pieces for the home. And that—no doubt about it—deserves a thumbs up.

VIEW ALL PROJECTS NOW!

So this month, we’re shining the spotlight on some of our favorite instances of DIY brilliance with concrete. Vote for your favorite, and help us choose this month’s winner of Bob Vila Thumbs Up.

Each of these six special projects represents something extraordinary being made from perhaps the most quotidian building material. So they’re all winners, in our book. But only one competitor can win this month’s prize, a $250 gift card to The Home Depot, so we need you to vote for the one you think is most deserving. Thank you for helping us recognize the incredible work of DIYers like yourselves!

Congrats to last month’s winning blogger, Johnnie of Saved by Love Creations. Read more about her winning Bob Vila Thumbs Up project right here.

Would you like to recommend a blogger for the next Bob Vila Thumbs Up? Tell us about it on Facebook or Twitter!


A “Charged” Debate: Portable vs. Standby Generators

If the region where you live is subject to more than the occasional power outage, consider investing in either a portable or standby generator. These guidelines can help you choose between the two.

Photo: shutterstock.com

Major storms in recent years have spurred many homeowners to consider whether it might be wise to purchase a generator. If your area witnesses only brief, infrequent electrical outages, then you can probably continue to live quite happily without a generator. But if you’re losing power more frequently and for longer periods of time, then perhaps it makes sense to invest in a machine that produces electricity on demand, so you’ll be prepared for the next inevitable power failure. If you’ve researched the subject at all, then you know there are two main types of generators: portable and standby. Besides the obvious fact that both provide power, these two types of generators have remarkably little in common. The following can help you understand the important differences before selecting a generator for your home.

Portable generators: Labor-intensive but affordable
Smaller portable generators cost between $500 and $1,500, and are capable of powering your home’s essential appliances. These are considerably less expensive than standby generators—and all in all, they are fairly user-friendly—but a portable generator does require manual operation and close monitoring. What does that mean? For one thing, you must be at home to start the generator. So if you leave for vacation the day before a power outage, you’re likely to return home to an array of hazards and headaches ranging from a flooded basement (due to a failed sump pump) to a refrigerator full of spoiled perishables. By contrast, a standby generator—as you’ll read in the section below—offers the peace of mind of knowing that no matter where you are when the power goes out, the generator will come on automatically.

Further inconveniences of operating a portable generator stem from the fact that most such machines are powered by gas. Because a typical tank holds a finite quantity of gas—say, three or six gallons—you must periodically fill it, even during the worst winter weather. More seriously, due to the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning from engine exhaust, a portable must be placed at least ten feet away from the house, in an enclosure that protects the generator from the elements but also encourages the free movement of air. As tempting as it may be to run the generator in the garage with the garage door open, this is strongly discouraged. An open garage door does not provide adequate ventilation. Make sure you factor into your generator project budget the cost of a store-bought or DIY enclosure.

Photo: generac.com

Standby generators: Hands-off but expensive
Whereas a portable generator can handle the electrical demands of just a handful of appliances, a standby generator is brawny enough to power all the appliances your family has grown accustomed to using. So while the rest of the block is in darkness, your house would continue humming along as if nothing had happened.

Standby generators are quieter and safer than portables, and they operate automatically—you don’t have to lift a finger. Of course, that convenience doesn’t come cheap. Including professional consultation—which can be crucial in determining the appropriate-size generator—and installation, an average system costs about $10,000.

Making the price tag more palatable is the fact that standby generators tend to last a long time, about 15 years. And upon home resale, these machines recoup about 50 percent of their cost. Although maintenance is necessary every two years, licensed professionals can help ensure a unit’s reliability. And for some families, especially those who have vital medical equipment running in the house, the reliability afforded by a standby generator is virtually priceless.

Which type of generator is right for you? That largely depends on your needs. In choosing between a portable and standby generator, try to strike a balance between what is essential for your comfort and safety, and what your budget allows.

 


Bob Vila Radio: Installing Toggle Bolts

Planning to support a heavy load, be it shelving or a framed mirror, on plaster wall? The best starting point is to install toggle bolts. Here's how.

Installing wall hooks or fasteners into plaster walls isn’t difficult—that is, if you use the right approach. Probably the best type of anchor to use is a toggle bolt; they’re the ones with the threaded “butterfly” that’s spring-loaded.

Toggle Bolt

Photo: homedepot.com

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Listen to BOB VILA ON ANCHORS FOR PLASTER or read the text below:

First, use two pieces of painter’s tape to mark an X over the spot where you plan to drill. That’ll help keep the plaster from cracking.

Using a drill bit that’s just slightly larger than the butterfly on your bolt, drill through the tape and the wall, then gently withdraw the bit straight out and remove the tape. Slip your fastener onto the toggle bolt.

Next, thread the butterfly onto the bolt, squeeze the butterfly, then pass it through the hole until you feel the butterfly open. Use your fingers to tighten the bolt, then finish with a screwdriver. Be careful not to over-tighten the bolt, or you could crack the plaster.

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 75 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: Make Your Own Insect Repellent

To keep pesky pests at bay, without resorting to foul-smelling repellants, make your own homemade bug spray with all-natural ingredients. Here's how.

Homemade Bug Spray - Sprayer

Photo: shutterstock.com

There’s great satisfaction in making something you could just as easily purchase ready-made. Besides that special feeling of pride, there are many benefits of making your own bug spray. The biggest? Your homemade bug spray will contain only those ingredients you choose to add; that means no harsh chemicals. Follow the simple instructions detailed below, and soon you’ll be able to actually enjoy spending time out on on your deck, porch, or patio. Happy summer!

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
- Essential oil
- Oil base
- Spray bottle

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Homemade Bug Spray - Essential Oil

Photo: shutterstock.com

STEP 1
With homemade bug spray, the “active ingredient” is essential oil. What kind? That’s entirely up to you. In India, many people swear by the effectiveness of neem oil, which comes from the seeds of a particular species of evergreen tree. But a wide variety of other essentials have been reported to work, with varying degrees of success. These include:

• Clove oil
• Citronella oil
• Geranium oil
• Orange oil
• Cedar oil
• Lavender oil
• Rosemary oil
• Thyme oil
• Eucalyptus oil
• Lemongrass oil

If you already have one of these in your medicine cabinet or kitchen pantry, give it a try. If purchasing a new bottle of essential oil, you’re probably going to find the best selection online or in a local health-food store.

STEP 2
Here’s a good general rule of thumb: For eight ounces of homemade bug spray, you need between 20 and 60 drops of essential oil. A greater number of drops will probably produce a more effective insect repellent, but a higher concentration of essential oil may irritate sensitive skin. Bear in mind that you might get good results by mixing oils. If you want to repel mosquitoes, a potent combination is eucalyptus oil, geranium oil, and lavender oil in equal measures.

STEP 3
Homemade bug spray isn’t just essential oil. In fact, in an eight-ounce batch, the vast majority of the liquid will be your chosen base—that is, an oil that’s safe and comfortable for application to skin. Coconut oil, jojoba oil, and almond oil are all popular.

STEP 4
After cleaning out the spray bottle you wish to use as your repellent dispenser, pour in the base oil, then add drops of your chosen essential oil or oils. That’s it!

Additional Tips
- If you don’t like the feeling of oil on your skin, try mixing water and alcohol (or witch hazel), then add in your choice of essential oils.

- For ants, combine water (or vinegar) and detergent. Some essential oils, such as peppermint and eucalyptus, are said to work well too.

- Are bedbugs your problem? Spray any you encounter with pure alcohol. Bear in mind that for the alcohol to work, you need a direct hit.

Keeping pests at bay is an ongoing battle. Experiment with different ingredients, then report your findings. We’re eager to know what worked for you!


How To: Defrost a Freezer

Defrost older freezers from time to time, not only to keep the appliance working efficiently, but also to prevent ice from hogging the storage space within. It's a simple task—you'll just need a few towels, a little time, and some heat.

How to Defrost a Freezer

Photo: shutterstock.com

Have you got a freezer full of frost? That’ll happen. Fortunately, defrosting a freezer isn’t as big a deal as people make it out to be. Yes, it’s a bit of hassle, but there are definitely benefits. Once you’re done, you can expect the appliance to run more efficiently, which can mean lower electricity bills. And you’ll win back precious freezer space for storing microwave pizzas and pints of ice cream. Rather than put off the chore for another month (or six), scroll down now to learn how painlessly simple it can be to defrost a freezer.

Preparation
At the outset, you face perhaps the most difficult step in the process: Because food must be removed from the freezer before it’s defrosted, you’ll have to somehow keep everything from thawing out in the interim. If you can’t borrow space in a neighbor’s freezer, the best alternative is to place frozen food into a cooler (or even an airtight plastic bag), together with a suitable number of ice packs. Of course, another way to handle the problem is to plan far enough ahead so that you can eat up a good portion of your stock of frozen food in the weeks before you defrost.

Next, turn off the freezer before taking out all the removable parts inside, such as shelves, drawers, and trays. (Some parts may be so covered in ice that they refuse to budge; in that case, wait until the ice has melted enough to release its hold.) Before you move on, pile up old towels or dishrags beneath the freezer door to soak up the water that inevitably drains out of the chamber during the defrosting process.

How to Defrost a Freezer - Appliance Detail

Photo: shutterstock.com

Melting the Ice
To persuade the ice within the freezer to melt faster, there are at least a couple different strategies you might try:

• Place bowls of hot water into the freezer. The heat from the steaming water will get the ice melting. Replace the bowls every five minutes or so to sustain the momentum.

• Use a hairdryer to blow hot air over the ice. For safety’s sake, move the hairdryer around so that no one area gets too hot, and be absolutely certain that the melting ice comes nowhere within reach of the electrical outlet you’ve plugged the dryer into.

Of course, if you’re in no hurry, you can simply wait for the ice to melt on its own!

Cleaning the Interior
Once the ice begins to melt, break it up into pieces and remove them with a plastic spatula. Don’t scrape too hard—and definitely don’t use a metal tool—or you could damage the interior of the freezer. As you pull out chunks of ice, put them in the sink or a large mixing bowl. All the while, try to keep dripping water contained to the towels you’ve placed at the base of the appliance.

With the ice gone, proceed to clean the freezer. Dry it completely before turning the appliance back on. If there are water droplets in the chamber when the freezer returns to operation, ice is just going to accumulate again, and quicker than you might expect.

The more often you defrost the freezer, the less time-consuming the process will be.


What Would Bob Do? Painting a Deck

Perhaps the simplest part of finishing a deck is actually applying the paint or stain. Choosing a finish, on the other hand—well, that can get tricky. These tips can help you make sense of it all.

How to Paint a Deck

Photo: shutterstock.com

First-time deck painter here. I have prepared my deck as well as possible, scraping away old paint and sanding the wood. I am just wondering what is the best and most efficient way to tackle the job. Is it better to go with a brush, a roller, or another option that I haven’t considered? Is there anything else I should keep in mind?

Deck painting is a classic summertime project. For any homeowner, no matter his experience level, the key to success lies in the prep work. It sounds as if you’ve given due attention to this important early yet critical phase; others would be wise to follow your example. Once existing paint has been scraped away and rough patches have been sanded, the deck must be thoroughly cleaned. Only then is it ready to accept paint.

On all but the most compact decks, the best tool for the job is a paint roller. Yes, keep a paintbrush within reach, and use it to work paint between boards and to cut in around posts. But the roller makes quick work of covering the flat, easily accessed portions of the structure.

Many homeowners stumble over the question of whether to apply paint or solid-color stain. To an extent, it’s a matter of taste. But I’d opt for paint because it’s thicker and more durable; stain must be renewed more frequently. Also, paint does a better job of disguising imperfections. If, say, you weren’t able to remove all the paint from a previous paint job, stain would reveal the transitions between bare wood and areas of the deck that have residual paint. That’s the case even if you apply primer—and you should, whether you choose paint or stain.

That said, if your deck runs close to the ground, particularly if it’s suffered from peeling paint in the past, then go for stain. A lofted deck with air circulation from below is less likely to harbor the trapped moisture that compromises the performance of a paint job over time. In other words, the choice between stain and paint isn’t only a matter of aesthetics; different finishes are better suited for different types of decks.

How to Paint a Deck - Deckover

Photo: behr.com

If your deck has splintered wood and gaps between the boards—if, in short, it’s seen better days—then you may want to consider a new crop of outdoor finishes that not only add color and protection, but also correct minor flaws. Offered by a handful of manufacturers, these thick stains have a consistency reminiscent of cake frosting.

For instance, Behr makes a product called DeckOver, which the company claims can fill cracks up to a quarter inch wide. Unlike earlier incarnations of similar deck stains, DeckOver and its competitors can go right over old paint and stain, so there’s no need to spend hours laboring with a scraper. (Giving the deck a thorough cleaning, however, remains absolutely necessary.) Other selling points: DeckOver can be used on composite decks and concrete patios or walkways, and it comes in 50 colors; custom mixes are available too.

That level of convenience comes at a price. A gallon of DeckOver covers 75 square feet, and you’ll need two coats. At $37 per gallon, the job is going to cost roughly $1 per square foot. Meanwhile, a gallon of regular deck paint or stain would cost less and would typically cover about 350 square feet. If your deck is truly in rough shape and you have little time to put toward revitalizing it, DeckOver and similar products are probably worth the money. On the other hand, if your deck is in good condition, a regular paint or stain would do just fine.


Bob Vila Radio: Battery-Powered Lawn Mowers

In the market for a new lawn mower? If you're wondering whether a battery-powered model would be right for your property, these pros and cons can help you decide once and for all.

With the cost of gasoline continuing to rise, battery-powered lawn mowers have been getting a lot of attention lately. And there are some good reasons for that.

Photo: shutterstock.com

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Listen to BOB VILA ON BATTERY-POWERED MOWERS or read the text below:

They’re quieter than gas mowers; they’re often lighter to maneuver; they need less maintenance; and they don’t spew noxious fumes. Still, they do have their drawbacks. They’re often a bit more expensive to purchase than gas mowers. And some battery-powered mowers just aren’t as powerful as comparable gas mowers. That’s especially true of the low-end models, many of which run on 18-volt  batteries.

On the other hand, higher-end models that get their juice from beefier batteries may do as good a job—or even better—than their gas powered cousins. If you do decide to go with a battery-powered model, you’ll probably want to pick up an extra battery, to be sure you can finish the job in a  single session.

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 75 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.


Weekend Projects: 5 Easy and Creative DIY Lamps

There are roughly five billion ways to make a lamp. Some are quite challenging and require an expert's hand, but many are easy enough for a novice to do within the space of single weekend. Here are some of our favorite simple DIY lighting projects.

In any room, in any house, lighting is key. Besides its practical importance, lighting is one of the main factors influencing the ambiance of a space. With insufficient lighting, an otherwise cheerful living area might feel oppressively gloomy. On the opposite end of spectrum—pun!—an overload of light in the bedroom would make it virtually impossible to relax or get really comfortable. If you’ve spent any time shopping around for the right fixture, you’ve probably discovered what is for me one of life’s great frustrations: nice-looking lighting costs a pretty penny. But if you pursue any of the following project ideas, you can design and make a lamp on your own, without spending much money or time. Yes!

 

1. ROPE IT OFF

Photo: blogalacart.com

Ash from Blog A La Cart came across an “epic ball of repurposed rope” online, and she bought it, not with a specific project in mind, but with confidence that one day, she’d find a way to celebrate the material’s patent awesomeness. Ultimately, she used it to make this lamp shade.

 

2. GET RESOURCEFUL 

Photo: apartmenttherapy.com

Look for opportunities to veer away from the traditional bulb-within-a-lampshade arrangement. One surefire way to achieve a unique design is by repurposing an old container or vessel as the base for the lamp you are making. Dabney did so with a candle holder; the result is so very cool.

 

3. BOTTLE IT UP

Photo: dearemmeline.blogspot.com

Light up your living room with a lamp made from an unlikely object—an oversize glass jug. Search for one at local thrift stores and flea markets, if you don’t have the perfect specimen collecting dust in your attic. Meantime, check out Dear Emmeline to see how she managed to make hers.

 

4. BE GRATE

Photo: camillestyles.com

Rather than hit the stores to seek out a new lighting fixture, why not shop your own home? Survey what items you’re not using, and consider which would lend themselves to a second life as a lamp. Claire had the brilliant idea of capitalizing on the hollow middle of a cheese grater!

 

5. TRANSFORM A VASE

Photo: brightboldbeautiful.com

Chances are you’ve got more than a few vases you rarely use; consider transforming one into a lamp. Of course, vases come in a nearly infinite variety, with different designs requiring slightly different DIY strategies. But for a general idea of the process, visit Bright, Bold & Beautiful.


How To: Polish Silver

With these simple, totally DIY-friendly tips, you can keep your silver clean, shiny, and tarnish-free with a minimum of elbow grease.

How to Polish Silver

Photo: shutterstock.com

Gleaming silver exudes refined charm, yet over time that lustrous beauty gradually fades with the accumulation of tarnish, the product of a naturally occurring chemical reaction between the metal and the air. To look their best, silver candlesticks and vases, table knives and serving spoons all need regular upkeep. You can choose from several effective ways of polishing silver. While each method differs somewhat, they do share a common starting point: The first step in polishing silver properly is to deal with any tarnish that’s been allowed to build up. It’s only when the tarnish is gone that you can really get down to the business of polishing silver. Fortunately, you more than likely already have on hand the ingredients needed for tarnish removal.

1. Line a saucepan with aluminum foil, fill up the pan with water, then switch on a burner on your range.
2. With the water simmering, add in a teaspoon of salt and a teaspoon of baking soda. Stir until both have dissolved.
3. Place the tarnished silver in the water, leaving it there for about three minutes.
4. In that time, the tarnish should disappear, leaving the silver looking much brighter.

Note that if your silver has a dark patina you would like retain, skip this step and go straight to the act of polishing. The process outlined above tends to work well—too well, in some people’s opinions. Yes, there are those who’ve tried this technique and been unpleasantly surprised by how silver their silver turned out!

How to Polish Silver - Detail Work

Photo: shutterstock.com

Commercial Polish
When you’re shopping for silver polish in your local hardware store or home center, remember that silver is quite different from copper and brass and other metals. That being the case, it’s important to use a polish formulated for use specifically with silver. Apply the polish by means of a soft sponge or cotton ball, rubbing the silver (not the applicator) repeatedly back and forth (not in circles). Don’t rub too hard, and use a toothbrush if the object you are polishing has any hard-to-reach areas. When you have finished polishing, rinse the silver under running water before drying it with a soft, clean cloth.

Homemade Polish
Tempted to experiment with homemade silver polish? Many homeowners swear by one or another ingredient (or mixture of ingredients), and these techniques often filter down through multiple generations of a family. If you’re looking to establish a new tradition with an easy, fail-safe homemade silver polish, look no further than your bathroom cabinet. It turns out that toothpaste—yes, toothpaste—works wonders. There’s only one catch: Make sure to use nonwhitening toothpaste, as whitening formulations typically include abrasives that can leave scratches on silver, a soft metal.

Preventing Tarnish
Polishing your silver as often as once a week is one way to prevent a deep layer of tarnish from setting in, but without a butler at your service, sticking to that sort of regimen is virtually impossible, no? The next best thing is to store your silver with care. After each use, place the silver in tissue paper and then inside an airtight container (for example, a Ziploc storage bag). This may seem like overkill, but such precautions drastically slow down the rate at which silver tarnishes—and don’t you just love it when your silver gleams?


Bob Vila Radio: Finishing a Deck

Before choosing a finish for your worn-out deck, consider the maintenance requirements of paint versus stain.

Painted decks are nice to look at, but they can require a lot of maintenance. Constant exposure to sun, water, and foot traffic will challenge even the best paint job.

Finishing a Deck

Photo: shutterstock.com

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Listen to BOB VILA ON PAINTED DECKS or read the text below:

When it does come time to paint—and that may be every year or two—you can take the quick route and use a belt sander to remove just the paint that’s peeling. Or using a chemical paint stripper and pressure washer, you can take the whole deck down to bare wood.

You’ll want to use tarps to protect the house and plants from paint chips and chemicals. Once that’s done… you wait. The surface needs to be completely dry before you apply primer and paint. That may take several days.

At some point in the paint-and-peel cycle, you may want to strip the deck and apply a stain instead of paint. Stain penetrates the wood rather than sitting on top. You’ll still have some maintenance to tend to, but it won’t take as big a bite out of your time.

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 75 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.