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The Cheapest Wall Art Option for Your Bare Walls

If you've ever purchased a posters or prints, you know they're not cheap. If you really want to save money on wall art, the place to go is your local copy center. Here's why.

Engineer Prints

Photo: eastcoastcreativeblog.com

Recently, a single painting—Georgia O’Keeffe’s Jimson Weed/White Flower No.1—sold for a record high of $44.4 million at Sotheby’s. That is, of course, a staggering sum. But even for those of us content to own anonymous prints and not original works by cultural icons, art can seem astronomically expensive.

With money saving in mind, you might have visited your local copy center to inquire about the fees charged for photo enlargement. After all, how much could it cost to have a favorite photograph blown up and printed on quality paper? Well, as you would have found out, it usually costs a whole lot more than expected!

It’s all so head-scratchingly frustrating. That’s why so many people have gotten so excited about engineer prints. Never heard of them? Here’s the skinny.

What’s an Engineer Print?
Simply stated, an engineer print is a low-cost, black-and-white photo enlargement option at your local office supply store or copy center, including chains such as Staples and Kinko’s. The name refers to its most common use, in the architectural and engineering professionals. But this year, the rest of the world caught on, in large parts thank to these prints’ affordability. For about $10, you can get any photograph blown up to the gigantic proportions of your choosing.

Before you run to get one, understand this: An engineer print is not a photographic reproduction. The paper is thin, similar to weight of newsprint, and the print process is halftone black and white. With a resolution around 600 dpi, you end up with something more similar to a photocopy than a photographic print. That said, many people are fond of its imperfection, and if you get a little experimental in your photography, an engineer print can look downright artsy.

Engineer Prints - Detail 2

Photo: eastcoastcreativeblog.com

So How Do You Get One?
You’re only a few steps away from affordable art:

1. Choose a photo without a busy background, since details are most likely to get lost in the grainy reproduction. Higher resolution photographs end up being less grainy, so if you’re shooting new photos for the purpose of achieving a satisfying engineer print, set your camera to its highest level of resolution.

2. Having imported the photograph from your digital camera to a computer, use photo editing software to convert the photo to black and white. In the color settings, play with the contrast and brightness until you’re happy with the the image.

3. Decide what size you would like the engineer print to be. Consider the size of the wall you’re going to hang it on. Also, weigh whether or not you plan to hang the print. The larger the frame necessary, the more it’s going to cost. There’s no sense saving money on a print if you’re going to spend a boatload on its frame.

4. Visit the copy center and hand off your image(s) for printing.

How Do You Display It?
Options abound. If you decide not to frame the print, you can always mount it on a plywood backing, propping it up on a shelf or mantel. You can even split a larger image into sections, printing them out as separate panels to display next to one another, mural-style. Yet another creative idea: Skip the wall entirely and decoupage the engineer print onto a large piece of furniture. The price encourages experimentation and no-regret replacements when the season changes, or your mood does. No matter where you put the print, it’s bound to command attention and start conversations. What are you waiting for?

Bob Vila Radio: The Right Height for Chair Rails

Chair rails remain a popular option for dressing up interior walls, but while their installation can be straightforward, homeowners need to know where on the wall this type of molding looks best.

Chair rail molding adds a tasteful touch to rooms, especially when combined with wainscoting or crown molding. But if you’re thinking of installing chair rails, here are a few points to keep in mind.

Chair Rail Height and Width

Photo: stephanechamard.com

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Listen to BOB VILA ON CHAIR RAILS or read the text below:

To be the most visually appealing, chair rails need to be installed at the right height. Most experts say that ‘right height’ is about one third the distance from the floor to the ceiling. So for a room with an 8-foot ceiling, you’d want to nail the molding about 32 inches from the floor.

The best width for chair rail molding will vary a bit, depending on the dimensions and the wall color of the room. Two to three inches is most common.

Chair rail-type moldings were used as far back as the Greeks and Romans. But the term ‘chair rail’ didn’t come into common usage until the 19th century. That was when Shakers installed pegs in their moldings. Their purpose? To hang chairs out of the way during sweeping and mopping!

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.

Weekend Projects: 5 Ways to Make Your Own Snow Globe

Bring a touch of whimsy and magic to your decor with a custom snow globe that you can probably put together with items you have lying around the house.

Whether a memento of a wonderful vacation or an interactive addition to your holiday decor, a snow globe is a magical miniature world that never ceases to delight both children and adults. Store-bought options are beautiful, but with a DIY snow globe, you get complete control over both the container and its contents. Scroll down now to see five equally inventive approaches to the project. None require special tools, and all involve stuff you probably have already!



DIY Snow Globe - Mason Jars

Photo: make-haus.com

For her DIY snow globe project, Heather at Make+Haus chose an assortment of mason jars to house plastic greenery from the local craft store. Hot-glued to the jar lids, the faux foliage sits within a mixture of water and glycerin, while glitter and confetti swirl around.



DIY Snow Globe - Light Bulb

Photo: magicaldaydream.com

We love the concept of repurposing light bulbs, but as Mariëlle attests on her blog, it can be tricky to detach the metal base from the glass. From there, it’s easy: Choose your decorations, add glitter and H20, then glue the globe shut with a bottle cap of the appropriate size.



DIY Snow Globe - Salt Shaker

Photo: makelyhome.com

If you’d prefer not to include water, don’t! Over at Makely School for Girls, Lindsay made a suite of waterless DIY snow globes, each in a different glass vessel. Inside every one sits a bottle-brush Christmas tree and—quite fitting for the salt shaker theme—several teaspoons of Epsom salt.



DIY Snow Globe - Plastic Wine Glass

Photo: mysocalledcraftylife.com

Party supply stores sell plastic wineglasses that substitute superbly for vintage bell jars. Once you’ve removed the wineglass stems, you’re left with small bowls that need just a few finishing touches to become tabletop ornaments. Visit My So Called Crafty Life for a full how-to.



DIY Snow Globe - Terrarium

Photo: pinkpistachio.com

Sculptural apothecary jars, beautiful on their own, are even more so when converted—at low expense and with minimal effort—into small-scale winter vignettes, such as these from Pink Pistachio, who illuminated her grouping with string lights that only add enchantment.

Bob Vila Radio: An Easy DIY Way to Seal Your Garage Door

Cold air and moisture often infiltrate at the point where the garage door meets the concrete floor. With this trick, you can seal the garage door with little effort and at next to no cost.

Though garage doors do a pretty good job of keeping bad guys away from your car, they’re not so good at keeping out the elements. That’s especially true if the floor in your garage is uneven.

Seal Garage Door

Photo: shutterstock.com

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Listen to BOB VILA ON SEALING GARAGE DOORS or read the text below:

Try this: Open the garage door so that the bottom is about head high. Cut a length of 3/4″ foam pipe insulation to fit the width of the door. Then position the insulation against the bottom of the door with the slit facing down.

Next, spread the slit in the insulation and use a screw gun or electric drill to attach the insulation to the bottom of the door. To keep the screws from tearing through the insulation, you’ll probably want to add washers around the heads of the screws.

Pipe insulation doesn’t exactly add to curb appeal. So if you don’t want it poking out the bottom of the door so it’s visible from the street, just drive your screws a little more toward the backside of the door than the front.

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: Season Cast Iron

The king of the kitchen, cast-iron cookware gives you crispy fried food, a succulent sear on your steak, and a quick cleanup after cooking—as long as you season your pan correctly. Fortunately, these four steps make the process really easy.

How to Season Cast Iron

Photo: shutterstock.com

Cast iron, properly cared for, can last a lifetime at least in the kitchen. Apart from cleaning your pan or skillet after each use, seasoning cast iron ranks as the most important step you can take toward maintaining this type of cookware. Seasoning is a simple process that leaves a natural nonstick coating, one that makes cooking with cast iron not only more enjoyable, but also much more convenient. How do you season cast iron? Continue reading to learn the steps involved!

To get started, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit before washing the cast iron thoroughly. Use a combination of warm water and dish soap to eliminate any residue that’s built up over time. Once done, rinse with water and dry the pan or skillet with a soft cloth. In the future, remember not to use dish soap when cleaning your cast iron, as the soap diminishes the effect of seasoning. After use, simply rinse the cast iron with water and wipe it down with a kitchen cloth.

How to Season Cast Iron - Skillet Isolated

Photo: shutterstock.com

Next, choose an oil to use in your seasoning. Some experts say that refined flaxseed oil does the best job. It’s far from being the cheapest option, though. Crisco or lard work well, but really any vegetable oil will do, so long as its smoke point—the temperature at which it starts to smoke—is above your normal cooking temperature. Above all, make certain not to use any oil that boasts a strong flavor.

Pour in the oil of your choice, spreading it around to evenly coat the pan or skillet. For best results, rub in your chosen oil with either a cloth or paper towel. Cover every square inch of the cooking surface.

Place the cast iron, upside down, into the preheated oven, resting it on the oven rack with a piece of aluminum foil beneath it. The goal here is for the pan or skillet to heat until the oil has reached its smoke point. Then and only then is there a chemical reaction that results in the desired nonstick coating. Different oils have different smoke points. To bring flaxseed oil to its smoke point, turn your oven up to its maximum heat seating. If you’re using vegetable oil, keep it at 350 degrees. Bake the cast iron for about an hour, then turn off the heat and allow the metal to fully cool before removing it.

Additional Tips
Eventually, the cast iron will need to be seasoned again. To put that off for as long as possible, remember not to use dish soap when cleaning the cookware. Simply rinse it off with water, wiping it down with a soft cloth, not a scourging pad. Add a little salt for scrubbing power, if necessary. When the cast iron surface becomes dull and sticky, you’ll know that the time to season has come again.

How To: Paint Fabric

Paint can transform any surface, even walls. Here, brush up on the tips and techniques that can help you paint fabric like a pro.

How to Paint Fabric

Photo: shutterstock.com

We’re no strangers to the power of paint. It brightens dark rooms, adds interest to walls, and transforms furniture. It’s no surprise that paint can work wonders on textiles too. Though you might never have considered it before, you can introduce color and pattern to a wide array of fabric items in the home, including but not limited to furniture upholstery, curtains, throw pillows, wall hangings and more. Continue reading to learn how easy it can be to paint fabric successfully.

The first thing to know is that fabric paint comes in two main varieties—opaque and transparent. The former is more commonly used and behaves similarly to the wall paints you’re used to, while the latter helps do-it-yourselfers achieve subtle more effects, particularly when applied to light-colored fabrics.

In addition to choosing a type of fabric paint, you must also decide which tools to employ. While brushes, rollers, and sprayers are par for the course in wall painting, a different set of options are more useful here. As is so often the case in home improvement, the best tool for the job depends on the task at hand.

- Markers and pens are easy to work with and offer the sort of precision that lends itself well to detail work.

Sprays work best in situations when you’re coating large swaths of fabric (e.g., curtains).

- Brushes are more difficult to master, but they allow you greater freedom in the mixing of colors. Different styles of brushes are suited to different purposes. While flat, so-called “shader” brushes create broad lines optimal for filling in a design, thinner brushes execute the long, thin strokes necessary for outlines.

- Stencils can help even inexperienced fabric painters achieve sharp edges and uniformity. For lettering and repetitive patterns, they are highly recommended.

- Sponges leave a more bubbled texture than markers and brushes create. In some cases you may want to keep that texture; in other cases, you may wish to minimize the texture by layering on additional paint. Use a sponge for a medium-to-large fabric surface areas. It’s also recommended for work with a stencil.

How to Paint Fabric - Tube

Photo: shutterstock.com

Gather the fabric you’re planning to paint. Both natural and synthetic fibers can be painted, though keep in mind that paint spreads most easily on lightweight fabrics an least easily on heavy materials like cotton duck. If the fabric must remain washing machine-friendly, be sure to put it through the washer at least once prior to painting, using regular detergent but skipping the fabric softener. Shrinkage is likely to ruin a fabric paint job, so the goal is to get the initial shrinkage out of the way.

Place a piece of cardboard directly beneath the fabric to be painted, thereby protecting against bleed-through. To keep the fabric from shifting while you work, secure it to the cardboard by means of pins.

Start painting the fabric at its top, working your way down section by section. Doing so helps minimize the risk of accidentally smudging any areas you’ve already painted. Once finished, to be on the safe side, let the paint dry for a little longer than the amount of time recommended by the manufacturer.

STEP 6 (optional)
Go over the fabric with a hot clothing iron to prevent the paint from coming off in the wash. But rather than bring the iron into contact with the paint, hold it just above the surface, hovering a couple inches above. Alternatively, iron the opposite, non-painted side of the fabric, if possible, for identical results.

Additional Tips
Practice your design on surplus fabric before you begin painting in earnest. That can give you a feel for how the paint takes to the fabric, while allowing you to gain comfort using your chosen paint tools.

Wash your hands and tools thoroughly between coats, if you decide multiple applications are needed.

To avoid mishaps with a stencil, remove it along with any tape as soon as possible after painting.

The Resurrection of a Gloriously Derelict Castle in France

An Australian couple has begun the long journey toward restoring Chateau de Gudanes, a centuries-old house, long-neglected in the south of France.

Chateau de Gudanes

Photo: chateaudegudanes.org

Five years ago, Karina and Craig Waters—a tax accountant and a urologist, respectively, in Perth, Australia—began looking for a vacation home in the south of France. Karina says she envisioned “a small farmhouse,” the sort of simple, “shabby-chic” cottage so often invoked in fantasies of French countryside living. On their real estate hunt, however, the Waters couple visited a long string of homes whose rural charm had been replaced by modern luxuries. Whereas they had set out seeking worn, weathered floorboards and casually planted, wonderfully scented gardens, they found sleek, blemishless finishes and infinity pools.

Related: House Tour—A French Castle Rises from Its Ruins

That was when their son, 15 years old at the time, stumbled onto an Internet listing for what appeared to be, from the aerial views provided, a grand, albeit ramshackle, estate. Intrigued, Karina and Craig decided to check out the chateau on their next trip to France—and they did, driving 500 miles in a single day to arrive at its iron gates. What they discovered there in Chateau-Verdun, a tiny town perched high in the Pyrenees, utterly captivated the couple. ”We fell in love with this chateau and the region,” she says. After two long years of negotiations, the Waters family finally purchased the 96-room Chateau de Gudanes.

Chateau de Gudanes - Interior

Photo: chateaudegudanes.org

Move-in condition? Not quite. During a prolonged period of neglect, several portions of the roof had collapsed into the 43,000-square-foot building. Many floors in the five-level structure had caved in too. On their first survey of the property, the couple wore hard hats, and for safety reasons could walk only into a handful of rooms. Trees were growing inside, and everywhere there was dirt, rotten wood, rust, mold and mushrooms. Still, amid the rubble, Karina and Craig saw ample evidence of the chateau’s former glory—centuries-old stained glass, painted frescoes, gilt-framed mirrors, ornamental plaster, and artisan-carved woodwork.

Chateau de Gudanes - Stained Glass

Photo: chateaudegudanes.org

Chateau de Gudanes dates back to the mid-1700s. Its architect, Ange-Jacques Gabriel, was the most prominent of his time. His high-profile commissions included the Place de la Concorde, a major public square in the French capital city, as well as the Petit Trianon, built for Louix XV’s mistress, Madame de Pompadour, on the grounds of Versailles. In its heyday, the Chateau de Gudanes hosted lavish parties frequented by the cultural elite, including Voltaire.

Chateau de Gudanes - Upper Floor

Photo: chateaudegudanes.org

Once the Waters family took ownership and work got under way, more of the chateau’s history began to emerge. For instance, Karina and Craig had assumed that nothing remained of the medieval fort that originally stood on the site. It was believed to have been destroyed in the late 16th century, during the French Wars of Religion. As workers began digging, however, they soon uncovered two of the fort’s towers. They later discovered a 10-foot-deep hole in the floor, which lead to a previously unknown, largely inaccessible portion of the basement. Karina thinks it may have been an escape for the owners during World War II.

Photo: chateaudegudanes.org

Chateau de Gudanes - Restorationists

Photo: chateaudegudanes.org

So far, much of the effort has gone into removing—by hand, pulley, and cart—the mixed debris that had accumulated during the building’s abandonment. In addition, steel I-beams have been installed to replace rotted the wood joists that once ran under floors of layered lime and flagstone. It’s deliberate, slow-going work, primarily because the couple intends to restore the chateau, not completely redesign it.

On the blog that she began to chronicle the project’s progress, Karina writes, “Our aim is to tread lightly and gently, to preserve the atmosphere and authenticity of the Chateau and region as much as possible. [The Chateau] will be renovated but her rawness, wear and history will not be erased…”

Related: House Tour—A French Castle Rises from Its Ruins

With the help of an architect and the cooperation of the French architectural preservation authority, Monuments Historiques, Karina says, “We’re developing a plan to give the Chateau a sustainable future.” Opening the house to the public is definitely part of that plan, but the details are, for the moment, fuzzy.

Would there be a café, guest rooms, outdoor concerts, community events? None or all of those? The Waters family hasn’t decided. One thing is certain: “The Chateau won’t be a pretentious museum piece.”

For a bird’s-eye perspective on the Chateau de Gudanes, its grounds, and the surrounding area, don’t miss this high-definition video, captured by a camera-equipped aerial drone!


J. Michael Welton writes about architecture, art, and design for national and international publications. He also edits and publishes an online design magazine at architectsandartisans.com

Weekend Projects: 5 Ways to Make a Snow Sled

Whether you're planning on tackling bunny hills or serious slopes this season, there's a DIY sled built for the ride. Check out these five favorites, and get ready for your next snow day.

Mere days away from the official start of winter, we’re eagerly anticipating some of the activities that only snowy weather affords. At the top of the list? Sledding. We’ve always loved the simple thrill of coasting down a hillside, and introducing children to the experience is magical. While sleds of all sorts are readily available for purchase, creating your own can be a test of ingenuity that’s fun for all ages. Scroll down to see five favorite DIY sled designs now!



photo: instructables.com

Can you believe this DIY sled used to be an IKEA stool? We’ve seen IKEA hacks before, but this one might take the cake. Perhaps most impressive is how it uses every piece of the IKEA stool—plus a few 3D-printer-generated plastic parts! Though it may not be a family-friendly project, it’s certainly an inspiration to turn a creative eye to furniture you already have on hand.



photo: instructables.com

No fancy-pants parts needed here. PVC plumbing pipes, low-cost and readily available, combine (via nuts and bolts) with half-inch plywood to make a DIY sled that, at least according to its creator over on Instructables, steers better than the molded plastic variety you’ve likely seen on the slopes in the past. Give it a try!



Build Your Own Pallet Sled

Photo: instructables.com

Wood shipping pallets have so many great qualities. They’re free of charge, ubiquitous, and endlessly versatile—and they also happen to come preassembled as sled-like platforms. Armed with basic tools, a competent DIYer needs to make only a few strategic modifications to complete the job. For best results, sand the contact points and add paint to reduce friction.



DIY Sled - Cardboard

Photo: designboom.com

Ah, cardboard—a classic makeshift sled material, right up there with cafeteria lunch trays. With a sleek profile made possible and fortified by packing tape, this enclosed toboggan features extra layers of cardboard at its base, strategically positioned there to keep the sled from getting soggy too quickly. Smart.



Photo: builtbykids.com

Among the countless creative projects over on Built by Kids, we found this rather ingenious approach to a DIY sled. Incorporating scrap wood, hardware, a wheelbarrow bucket, and kid-length skis, the design seems destined to pick up speed, while the rope handle makes it easy to pull the sled behind you.

Bob Vila Radio: Bleach + Vinegar = Toxic

Power tools can be dangerous, but so too are combinations between common household chemicals. Do you know which substances not to mix?

When I talk to homeowners about safety, the discussion often centers around using tools and ladders and so forth. But there are a lot of other ways you may be injured in your home, and one of them is by mixing the wrong chemicals.

Bleach and Vinegar

Photo: shutterstock.com

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Listen to BOB VILA ON HAZARDOUS HOUSEHOLD CHEMICALS or read the text below:

You’ve probably heard that you shouldn’t mix bleach with ammonia. That’s true. It produces vapors that can damage your lungs and possibly even kill you, especially if you’re in a confined space.

Add this combination to the “don’t mix” list: bleach and vinegar. When combined, they give off a chlorine vapor similar to the poison gas used against Allied troops in World War I. Bleach shouldn’t be combined with toilet bowl cleaners, either; that combination can also produce toxic fumes.

Finally, steer away from combining highly acidic products with products that are highly alkaline. Mixtures of the two can cause serious chemical burns if they come into contact with your skin.

Before using any household product, it’s best to check the label. Potentially harmful interactions are often listed there.

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 Does Radiant Heat Operate 25% More Efficiently?

Although it still seems newfangled to many homeowners, radiant floor heating has not only been around for a while, but it also offers an attractive combination of comfort and savings.

Photo: warmboard.com

Most people assume radiant floor heating costs a fortune. Perhaps that’s because, compared with radiator or baseboard heat, radiant systems are rare. But there’s reason to suppose that in the years to come, radiant heating may enjoy much greater popularity, at least in new construction or homes undergoing renovation, because of its potential to save homeowners money on monthly heating bills. According to a recent study conducted by Kansas State University in conjunction with the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), a radiant system can operate 25 percent more efficiently than a forced-air system. So in a sense, the technology benefits from being the new kid on the block, as it seeks to improve in areas where traditional systems stumble.


Photo: homelinkmag.com

Heat loss occurs through uninsulated walls, attic, or basement space, and also through gaps in windows and around exterior door frames. In traditional heating systems, heat loss can also occur within the system itself, with heat dissipating on the journey between its source (i.e., the furnace) and the home’s conditioned space. In a forced-air system, such heat loss occurs most of all in ductwork, where even misaligned joints can leak to a considerable degree. To maintain a comfortable indoor temperature, therefore, the furnace must work harder and consume more energy to make up for the lost heat. With radiant heat, heat loss isn’t an issue, so you don’t have to pay for the system to work overtime.



Photo: warmboard.com

If you’ve ever walked into a heated room, you know that it’s warmest directly next to the radiator, baseboard, or heating vent. The farther you venture from the unit, the more likely you’ll feel the need to turn up the thermostat. By contrast, radiant flooring does not create pockets of warm and cool air; it distributes warmth evenly across the entire room. Neither too hot nor too cold, you remain comfortable enough to leave the thermostat in the money-saving range. Another advantage of even heat distribution: You can place furniture wherever you want, instead of carefully arranging things around the radiators, baseboards, or vents. In other words, radiant heat allows for design freedom, whereas many traditional systems place limits on your options.



Photo: soa.utexas.edu

Not every radiant heating system maximizes homeowner savings. Yes, the system design alone, no matter the individual components, offers advantages. But the individual components in a radiant system can make a big difference too—and that’s where the products offered by different manufacturers begin to diverge.

In a typical radiant heat setup, hydronic tubes (or electric coils) are embedded within a slab of gypsum concrete, a material that, in its sluggishness, is not perfectly suited to home heating. First of all, it takes a long time to heat up, and homeowners tend not to appreciate the wait. Second, concrete very slowly releases any heat it has gained, so if a homeowner decides the temperature has risen too high, his quickest, most effective recourse is to open the windows to bring down the temperature. That doesn’t sound so terrible, but where savings are concerned in home heating, efficiency counts—and opening windows in winter is the opposite of efficiency!

Warmboard offers innovative hydronic radiant heat panels that hinge not on concrete, but on highly conductive aluminum. Conductivity translates into savings in two ways. First, because the aluminum so effectively transfers heat from the hydronic tubes in the panels to the living spaces in your home, the boiler can heat the water to a lower temperature than other systems would require. Second, you can turn the thermostat down—for instance, when you go to sleep for the night—and when you raise the heat upon waking up, the change registers in minutes. There’s nothing new about adjusting the thermostat, when possible, to save money. But unlike many of its competitors, Warmboard lets you capitalize on the latest energy-efficient technology without forcing you to sacrifice tried-and-true methods.


Photo: warmboard.com

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