Category: How To’s & Quick Tips

How To: Apply the Dry Brush Technique

Spruce up your plain wooden furniture with this beautiful, barely there paint finish.

How to Apply the Dry Brush Technique


Are you looking for an easy way to add years and visual interest to your basic wooden furniture? Grabbing a paintbrush and some paint—but not too much paint—may be just the ticket! A trendy painting method known as the dry brush technique carries just enough color from the can to the surface in order to create a shabby-chic finish on otherwise drab dressers, tables, and desks. The whimsical texture of uneven streaks is best achieved by using a partially loaded, practically-dry brush on painted or bare wood—a painting faux pas anywhere else. So, scrap everything you know about applying an even coat, and read on to learn how you can give your furniture a vintage makeover with dry brushing.

- Painter’s tape
- Sandpaper (150-grit or finer)
- Clean cloth
- Latex paint (one or two shades with a flat finish)
- 2 stiff-bristle paintbrushes
- Paper plate
- Paint stirrer
- Paper towel
- Clear water-based polyurethane sealant spray

Protect hinges, knobs, and other hardware from paint by detaching them from the furniture. Use painter’s tape to cover any areas of the piece you don’t want to paint.

You can apply the dry brush technique to either unvarnished or painted wood furniture. Surface preparation will vary slightly depending on whether the piece has been painted or not.

How to Apply the Dry Brush Technique


• If you’re applying the dry brush technique to an unvarnished piece, start by lightly sanding the wood with a 150-grit or finer sandpaper so that the surface is rough enough for the paint to adhere. Then, use a damp cloth to wipe away the sanding dust, along with any dirt and debris.

• If you opt to paint an unvarnished piece before dry brushing, sand it and apply the base coat of paint. You can choose a flat latex paint in any hue for the base coat, but we recommend selecting a darker shade that will contrast with the lighter shade you will use for the dry brush layer. Moving in the direction of the grain, brush paint over the surfaces and joints of the piece, and then allow the base coat to dry overnight.

With your surface prepped, you’re ready to paint the dry brush layer. Choose a flat latex paint in a white or light shade that complements the base coat. Then, use either of the following methods to dispense just enough paint for application to help ensure you do not load too much onto your brush at once:

• Pour a small amount of paint onto a paper plate. (Dry brushing should require only a few ounces.)

• Remove the lid of the paint can and lay it flat with the paint side up. Dip a paint stirrer into the open paint can, draw it out, and drizzle the excess paint directly onto the lid.

Then, lightly dip the tip of the brush into the paper plate or paint can lid until you see the color on the brush head. Make sure the bristles still appear separate instead of clumped together. For optimal results, the brush should be as dry as possible. Blot the brush on a cloth or paper towel to remove the excess paint while retaining a hint of color.

Place the brush near the top left or right corner of the piece and work your way downward, brushing on a single coat of paint with light pressure and short, fast strokes. You may choose to use multidirectional strokes for a more irregular finish or brush only in the direction of the grain for more uniform streaks.

When the piece is covered, examine it for any paint clumps. (If dried, these will both disrupt your intended design and likely chip!) Remove these with a damp cloth and then reapply paint to the affected area. Let dry overnight.

Spray two coats of a clear water-based polyurethane over the piece to preserve the dry brush effect without diminishing its color. Let the polyurethane dry per the manufacturer’s instructions. When you’re in the clear, replace the hardware to put the finishing touch on your flawless dry brushed piece!

How to Apply the Dry Brush Technique


The Dos and Don’ts of Bleaching Wood

Follow these best and worst practices of working with bleach to bring new, lighter life to old wood furniture.

Bleaching Wood - 11 Do's and Don'ts


When debating whether to stain or paint an old piece of wood furniture, consider this third, often overlooked alternative: bleaching wood. This finish can help you mirror Scandinavian design, which often features “blond” wood to bring a lighter look to your space. Plus, if your piece is blotchy or discolored, bleaching wood is a great way to prep it for a new stain. While bleaching isn’t difficult to DIY, it does put you in direct contact with some caustic stuff. For safe, effective results, keep these top tips in mind.

DO Know Your Bleaches

The types of bleach available at your grocery store have varying degrees of effect on wood furniture.

• Common laundry bleach or chlorine will effectively remove stain or dye color from wood, but will not affect the wood’s natural color.
• Peroxide-based “two-part” A/B bleaches refer to sodium hydroxide (caustic soda) and hydrogen peroxide. Combined, they cause a chemical reaction that creates bleach that will blanch the stain color and can also alter the color of the wood itself.
• Oxalic acid will remove water and rust stains, plus teak stain, and can be used to lighten the graying effect of weather-exposed wood. But note: Some restorers consider oxalic acid highly toxic, since the crystal form it typically comes in can be inhaled and cause lung bleeding. Many recommend using the A/B bleach for safer practices and greater overall bleaching power.


DON’T Pour Bleach into a Metal Vessel

Bleach can damage metal; glass or ceramic bowls are the best choices to contain bleach as you work it over wood.


Bleaching Wood - 11 Do's and Don'ts


DO Clean Your Wood

Wipe it down with water or mineral spirits on a clean, soft rag, then go over every surface with a dry cloth. Wait a day or two for it to dry thoroughly before bleaching.


DON’T Expect All Wood to React the Same

The best woods for bleaching include oak, beach, ash, and gum. Varieties like poplar and pine are already so light that removing further natural wood color might render them bland and lifeless. Others, like cedar, redwood, rosewood, and cherry don’t take bleach well.


DO Work in a Ventilated Open Space

As these bleaching agents are highly caustic, you have to take adequate steps to protect yourself. Start with the space: It should be well ventilated by open windows and operational fans, and, ideally, include a work surface that is concrete (the acidic aspect of bleach can damage many other materials). Always wear rubber gloves and eye goggles when bleaching wood—and, if using oxalic acid, also don a dust mask. Long sleeves and full-length pants will also help you minimize exposed skin.


DON’T Get Sloppy!

Apply bleach carefully and evenly with a clean, soft rag or paintbrush, in smooth, seamless coats. It’s difficult to correct uneven bleaching, so be mindful and wipe off any excess immediately with a dry rag.


DO Neutralize Wood Between Treatments

To get your desired shade, you may go from chlorine to a peroxide-based two-part bleach. Before moving from one to another, soak a clean rag in a 50-50 white vinegar and water solution. Apply with clean rags, then wipe again with plain water. Let dry thoroughly overnight before the next bleach process.


DON’T Pre-Mix Two-Part Peroxide-Based A/B Bleach

As soon as the agents mingle, the bleaching power is activated and begins to dissipate—meaning you’d have to work really fast. It is a fairly pricey product, so consider mixing smaller working batches of about one cup at time to ensure it stays active throughout the application.


DO Neutralize Your Finished Piece

Upon the last dose of bleach, let your project dry for at least four hours. Then, working quickly, wipe it down with a rag soaked in a 50-50 water and white vinegar solution. Next, wipe it dry with a clean rag, and finally wipe it down again with clean water, drying well with a clean, dry, soft cloth. Let dry completely for two days before applying a stain or other treatment. Neglecting to neutralize after your final application may leave lingering bleach to chemically react with whatever finishing stain or varnish you apply next.


DON’T Forget to Sand

Once you’ve bleached, neutralized, and dried the wood, you’ll find the grain has become coarse. Sand it with a 120-grit sandpaper then finish it with a 180- or 220-grit paper for a smooth finish.


DO Experiment with Bleach

Consider using bleach as a first step towards a final product, especially since bare bleached wood is susceptible to everything from scratches to water damage. The neutral palette of a freshly bleached wood can be the starting point of all kinds of funky wood finish treatments, like “bone” or “pearl.” “Blond mahogany,” a popular finish in the ’40s and ’50s that’s enjoying a bit of a comeback, is achieved by bleaching wood with a two-part A/B bleach, followed by a light sanding and a mustard-colored pigment stain. Whatever finish you choose will protect your piece and make it pop with new life.


Bleaching Wood - 11 Do's and Don'ts


DIY Lite: Make Graveyard-Inspired Candle Holders from Concrete Mix

These concrete candle holders look like they've been ripped from gargoyles or the nearest graveyard, making them a perfect addition to your DIY haunted house.

Concrete Candle Holders for Halloween

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila

Looking to make your own creepy decor for October’s main event? This easy DIY molds concrete into the shape of a cold, statuesque hand to hold mood lighting at your Halloween festivities. Rest the finished product on a table outside your door to light the way for trick-or-treaters, or have it haunt a dimly lit corner indoors. Wherever you set them up—we recommend making a batch of three of four, for all of your lighting needs—these concrete candle holders are sure to thrill.


Concrete Candle Holders - Supplies

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila

- Reusable rubber gloves (4 or more)
- Safety pin
- Concrete (about 2 pounds)
- Spoon
- Bucket
- Chip clip
- Medium-size disposable container
- Tapered candles (4 or more)
- Scissors
- Utility knife
- Tweezers
- Microfiber cloth
- Matches


Concrete Candle Holders - Step 1

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila

Hold up your reusable rubber gloves and, using the safety pin or a needle, prick a hole at the end of each finger. These holes will allow any air to escape once you start filling the glove with concrete, leaving you with a smoother appearance and fewer visible air bubbles.


Concrete Candle Holders - Step 2

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila

Pour your concrete powder with water in a bucket, according to the package’s recommended ratio, and mix with a spoon (preferably one that’s designated for crafts and won’t make it back to the dinner table) until its consistency looks like that of cookie dough.

Then, shovel the concrete into the opening at the base of each rubber glove. Wiggle each finger to ensure that the concrete travels all the way to the fingertips, and lightly shake the entire glove to prevent an excessive amount of air bubbles as the concrete cures.


Concrete Candle Holders - Step 3

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila

Once you’ve filled the glove, clamp the end with a long chip clip to hold the concrete inside.


Concrete Candle Holders - Step 4

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila

Take your filled glove and and place it on its side (pinky down) into a medium-size container. Then, stand a tapered candle between the fingers and thumb, and carefully curve the glove to grip the tall candle. Try not to fold the fingers too much, or else you might separate the concrete in the palm from the concrete in the fingers!

Once you are satisfied with the shape of the hand, eyeball each finger one last time to see that there is still enough concrete so that none snap when you peel away the rubber in the next steps.


Concrete Candle Holders - Step 5

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila

Leave the concrete to cure for the required amount of time specified by your mix (we let ours dry for two days). Once completely cured, you can undo the chip clip and begin to cut away the glove.

Hint: It will be easier if you can remove the candle from the clutch of the concrete hand, but that’s not always possible. Do your best, or snip the rubber off around the in-place candle, if needed.


Concrete Candle Holders - Step 6

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila

Be patient while removing the rubber between the fingers. Work with small scissors and a utility knife to snip the rubber free, and carefully lift away each piece using tweezers. Peel away rubber slowly and gently in order to avoid breaking any of the fragile concrete fingers.


Concrete Candle Holders - Step 7

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila

Wipe off the dust with a microfiber cloth, replace the tapered candle, and strike a match! If you light their wicks early and let the flame go long enough for a few drips of wax to roll, your concrete candle holders will be looking their creepiest in time for the Halloween party.


Concrete Candle Holders with Taper Candles

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila

Concrete Candle Holders - Easy Halloween DIY

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila

Concrete Candle Holders - Easy Halloween Decorations

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila

Ama is a DIY addict and the creative mind behind Ohoh Blog. She likes home decor, lighting, and furniture projects that may involve painting, sewing, drilling…no matter the technique! Whatever she has on hand is inspiration to create, and fodder for her serious addiction to upcycling.


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How To: Winterize Your Sprinkler System

Prevent frozen water lines from damaging your sprinkler system by performing this crucial seasonal maintenance.

How to Winterize Your Sprinkler System


You rely on your sprinklers to keep your lawn looking great most of the year, but when autumn rolls along you need to take some time to empty and insulate them so they’ll be every bit as reliable next spring. If you fail to winterize your sprinkler system properly, when the cold weather hits, any water left in the lines can freeze, expand, and crack, potentially causing costly damage. For the various types of sprinkler systems in use today, there are two primary methods of releasing this water: draining it from the valves and/or using an air compressor to blow it out of the irrigation pipes. Because the consequences of leaving even the slightest bit of water behind in your pipes can be dire, sprinkler system manufacturers recommend that homeowners follow both procedures every fall before temperatures dip to 30 degrees Fahrenheit.

Depending on the type of drain valve your system utilizes, draining could be truly automatic, or it could be manual, requiring that you pull a few levers to get things moving. One way to tell if your system is manual-draining is if your sprinkler heads have check valves on them. Once you know what type of system you have, you can accomplish almost all the necessary winterization on your own with the information below—though, of course, you should keep your owner’s manual nearby for reference. Even still, it is strongly advised that you not neglect the pro portion of the process: That extra step (which costs a national average of about $85) could save you hundreds in replacement or repair of your sprinkler system later.

- Pliers (optional)
- Goggles
- Foam insulating tape
- Foam pipe covers

First, turn off the main water supply, often found near your water meter.

If your sprinkler has manual drain valves, also shut off the valves on the backflow preventer. A backflow device, typically located near the water main from which the sprinkler water is drawn, prevents pressurized, potentially contaminated water from mixing with the potable water supply. If you’re not using potable water for irrigation, your system may not include a backflow device, but if it does, turn it off via two valve shut-off handles on the separate pipes feeding into the device. Just turn these rectangular handles clockwise one-quarter to one-half turn; use pliers if the valves are too tight to turn by hand.

Your next move depends on the type of drain valve you have.

• If your sprinkler system uses an automatic drain valve, this spring-loaded drain valve will open every time the system shuts off because there is little to no water pressure running through the lines to press and close the valves. But this draining won’t release water trapped inside the valves themselves, so on each valve of the sprinkler system, locate the solenoid—which typically looks like a PVC cap with wires coming out of it—and loosen it by hand so air can flow inside the system. Once this is done, water should drain out from each zone of the system’s mainline.
• If your sprinkler system uses manual drain valves, locate the valve at the lowest point on your system’s mainline. Wear protective goggles for this, because the water can be under pressure and it’s possible to open valves before they depressurize. Next, turn off the the sprinkler system’s mainline shut-off valve. Then, open one of the control valves on the system. You may be able to do this from a controller, otherwise it’s a manual valve. Doing this will depressurize the sprinkler system mainline. Finally, slowly open the manual drain valve and allow it to drain fully. Follow this procedure for each manual drain valve on your system’s mainline. When all the water has drained, close each manual drain valve.

How to Winterize Your Sprinkler System


After emptying the mainline via automatic draining or manual draining, make certain that no water remains around the various valves that could expand when temperatures drop. Depending on your system, you may have a “boiler drain valve” or a “stop and waste valve,” which will turn off the local water supply and also allow for draining that pipe. Locate this valve’s drain cap and open the valve to drain the last of the water left between the irrigation system and the backflow device.

If you plan to hire professionals to perform a blow-out, proceed to Step 4; if you’re looking only to drain the pipes, you can proceed to Step 5.

STEP 4 (optional, but recommended)
Assuming that your sprinklers are relatively new and installed correctly with the irrigation pipes sloping downward toward the valves (where water can release at the lowest point in the system), gravity will guide nearly all the water out after you’ve relieved the pressure in the mainline. But it’s hard to know for certain that there’s not some left behind—say, caught around a dip or curve in a pipe that has shifted since installation. For this reason, experts recommend calling in a professional to take a further precaution that will release any last lingering water remaining in the sprinkler system: blowing out the pipes using an air compressor.

Sure, you might own a similar machine to power your nail guns and other air tools; perhaps it even boasts the capability to generate more than the recommended 50 pounds per square inch (PSI) needed to clear a sprinkler system’s worth of flexible polyethylene pipes, or the 80 PSI needed to blow out rigid PVC pipes. Still, experts advise against DIYing this next step for two reasons. First, safety: All kinds of potential injuries can arise in air compressor use, from valve tops blasting off to flying debris. Second, the typical at-home air compressor might generate roughly the same force but not the same volume as the professionals’ machine (a 10 cubic-feet-per-minute compressor). Theirs has the capacity to work more quickly and more thoroughly, whereas homeowners’ equipment can take significantly longer and potentially leave water behind—not a risk anyone should take.

After the professionals connect their air compressor to the hose leading from the water main supply and blow out your sprinkler system zone by zone, they should also close the main shut-off valves. They’ll also drain any water that collected around your backflow preventer (the device that isolates the system’s backflow and keeps it safe from damage).

Some systems require that valves be stored indoors and pipes capped during the winter. Consult your owner’s manual to find out how to proceed. If storage isn’t necessary, go on to Step 6.

If your system—including pipes, backflow preventers, and main shut-off valves—is at all aboveground, it’s advisable to insulate the exposed parts. Your local hardware store should offer foam insulation tape, foam pipe covers, and other winterizing protection. Following package instructions for the foam insulating products, cover exposed pipes and other system parts to protect against freezing or cracking, taking pains not to block valves or drainage ports.

If your system is on a timer, shut it off for the season. (Remember to reprogram it in the spring!) It’s also possible that you have a “rain mode,” which stops the sprinklers without turning off the timer when you get precipitation during the regular season. You can turn rain mode on for the winter to prevent the system from watering at all. This way you can avoid shutting the system off and losing the programmed settings, which would leave you with the hassle of reprogramming come spring. The sensor uses such a small amount of energy that leaving it on through the winter won’t add to your energy costs. In the spring, simply turn off the rain mode and watering will resume like clockwork.

How to Winterize Your Sprinkler System


How To: Use a Fire Extinguisher

Here’s everything you need to know about getting the right fire extinguishers and using them effectively.

How to Use a Fire Extinguisher


Fire extinguishers are like insurance: You have it in hopes of never needing it (and there’d better be at least one in your home!). But if it came down to it, would you be able to use it? There’s no better time than the present—before a stressful situation with flames—to familiarize yourself with these must-have emergency devices. Ahead, you’ll find a crash course in the types of extinguishers and the fires they quell, followed by a step-by-step guide for how to use a fire extinguisher effectively.

Types of Fire Extinguishers

As you no doubt learned in high school science, fire needs oxygen, fuel, and heat to sustain itself. Remove any one of the three and the “fire triangle” collapses. Yet with different fuel sources, fires must be fought differently, so be sure your extinguisher has the correct agent—be it foam, water, dry chemical, or wet chemical—for the particular fire. Using the wrong extinguisher can make a dangerous situation worse.

• Fire extinguishers typically found in homes tend to be water- or foam-based. Industry experts recommend homeowners have an all-purpose ABC dry chemical extinguisher to handle a variety of fires, except kitchen grease fires.

• Class A fires involve common combustibles like wood, paper, plastic, cloth, and trash.
• Class B fires are caused by flammable liquids like gasoline, kerosene, and oil (but not cooking oil or grease fires).
• Class C fires begin with electrical sparks.

• Kitchen fires, known as Class K, should never be fought with water. To battle a small grease fire in a frying pan, turn off the heat and cover the pan with a metal lid or throw a large amount of baking soda all over it. If you regularly cook with big quantities of cooking oil, purchase a “wet chemical” extinguisher rated for grease fires (it will work on some Class A fires as well).

All extinguishers are only meant to deal with fires in the “incipient stage,” which is fire department lingo for “just getting started.” If the fire is as tall as you, leave the area immediately, close the door to the room, and call 911.


Using a Fire Extinguisher

How to Use a Fire Extinguisher


While there are different types of extinguishers, they all operate in essentially the same way, and there’s an easy anagram for their use. So should you be confronted by a small fire, grab the right fire extinguisher and think P.A.S.S.—“Pull, Aim, Squeeze, Sweep.”

Pull the pin, usually attached to a plastic or metal ring, put in place to prevent accidentally squeezing the lever. When pulling the pin, be careful not to press the lever yet or you’ll break the canister’s seal and decompression will begin.

Aim the nozzle or hose at the base of the fire. This is critical—blasting the flames won’t stop the source of the fire. Stand at least 6 feet away from the fire (extinguishers have a range of 6 to 20 feet distance for spray, so check your extinguisher for specifics).

Squeeze the lever to spray the extinguishing agent. An average extinguisher has around 10 seconds of spraying time, so you’ll need to be precise and fast.

Sweep the nozzle or hose side to side until the fire has been put out. Close in on the fire as it diminishes, watching closely for re-ignition. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire, so any smoke at all means the fire isn’t fully out yet. The best indication that the fire is out is that the area is cool to the touch. Proceed cautiously, holding out your hand to feel for heat, before you start touching charred surfaces.

If you’ve used your fire extinguisher, you can likely refill or recharge it. Contact the manufacturer or your local fire department to learn if that’s possible, and if so, where to go. If unable to refill it, let your discharged fire extinguisher rest for a few days to completely depressurize, then dispose of it in your trash, or contact your local fire department for info on recycling it. If necessary, purchase a new extinguisher without delay.

Experts recommend storing extinguishers mounted near a doorway. Never store an extinguisher near a stove and, because leftover chemicals and paints make garage fires potentially very dangerous, be sure to mount an extinguisher by the garage entrance.

Step 6
Check your extinguisher regularly, preferably monthly, to ensure the pin is in place and the pressure gauge shows either between 100 and 175 psi, or the needle is in a green “ready” zone. If not, replace it or contact your local fire department to see if they can recharge it or recommend where to go to have this done.

Now, armed with proper extinguisher knowledge, you’re ready to tackle any small fire. But remember, do not confront any fire as large as you. Fires can grow double in size every 60 seconds, so be smart, be safe, and protect yourself.

How to Use Fire Extinguishers


The Dos and Don’ts of Clearing a Clogged Sink

Unclogging your kitchen or bathroom sink doesn’t have to be a job for the professionals. Before you try breaking up the blockage yourself, consider these best practices to prevent damaging your pipelines.

Unclogging a Sink - The Do's and Don'ts


Most homeowners never think about maintaining their sinks—at least, not until it starts to drain agonizingly slow and the basin fills with dirty standing water. Unfortunately, kitchen and bathroom sinks are bound to be partially or fully obstructed at some point. A majority of back-ups originate from the trap, which is the U-shaped pipe located underneath the fixture. Although the trap is necessary to stop sewer gases from leaking into your home, the curved form of the pipe may cause quite the headache. If water isn’t flowing freely at your home, don’t call the plumber just yet. Most drain blocks are easy to fix without professional help. Follow this guide to save time and avoid costly mistakes when unclogging a sink.

DO Flush a Slow-Draining Kitchen Sink with Hot Water

Food residue can leave a buildup of grease in drainage pipes, especially if the drain is connected to your garbage disposal. If you suspect your slow-draining kitchen sink’s plumbing is lined with greasy sludge, pour about a tablespoon of dish soap and a large pot of boiling water into the drain. The hot water should cause the grease to break up and dissolve enough to unclog the sink. In the future, take care not to dispose of oil or food scraps in the garbage disposal or down the sink drain.


DON’T Add Water to a Completely Blocked Drain

Stop that faucet! If the standing water in your sink isn’t draining at all, the worst thing you can do is add more water to the basin. The additional water pressure won’t actually flush out the blockage, and you’ll have to bail it out before attempting a more effective de-clogging method.


DO Think Twice Before Using Caustic Chemicals

Many homeowners reach for a chemical drain cleaner upon discovering a clogged sink, but these caustic solutions can soften PVC pipes and even damage older metal pipes. And then there’s the personal harm it can cause: Stray chemical splashes can burn your skin and eyes. If you want to put a commercial drain cleaner to work, consider purchasing a biodegradable one, which utilizes enzymes to eat away at clogs. These biodegradable options don’t work quite as quickly as chemical cleaners, but they’re safer and will protect your pipes.


DON’T Ignore the Stopper/Strainer

Stoppers and strainers are common trouble spots in bathroom sinks, since hair can easily wrap around the strainer and trap soap scum. To loosen this sort of clog, bend a sturdy wire to form a hook at one end. Remove the stopper if needed by twisting it counterclockwise, pulling it upward, or using a screwdriver to unfasten it. Then insert the wire into your sink drain, twist, and pull the blockage out.


Clearing a Sink Clog - Do's and Don'ts


DO Try a Plunger on Light Clogs

If the clog is in the drainpipe, you might be able to loosen it with a standard cup plunger.  Some clogs simply need an extra “push” to get moving! Make sure the sink contains a few inches of water, and block the overflow drain with a wet rag so that water doesn’t leak out. Then place the rubber suction directly over the sink drain and firmly plunge up and down.

Warning: Only attempt unclogging a sink like this if you haven’t already poured chemical cleaner into the sink. Otherwise, as mentioned, the hazardous material can quickly splash onto your skin while you use the tool.


DON’T Plunge with Excessive Force

Should moderate plumbing fail to remove your sink’s clog, don’t force the matter. And in that same vein, refrain from using a drain bladder; also known as a blow bag, this garden hose attachment inserts directly into the drain and uses water pressure to clear it. Unlike bathtub and shower drain traps, which are permanently connected, sink drain traps connect with twist-off couplings. Excessive pressure can damage the drain line connection, resulting in leaks or a ruined trap.


DO Snake the Drain

A plumber’s drain snake, or auger, features a long coiled cable with a hook or sharp cutter on the end. You can purchase a manual auger at your local hardware store for about $30. To use one, remove the sink strainer and insert the tip of the augur down the pipe and twist the hand crank, which releases the wire cable. Keep feeding more of the snake into the drain until you feel resistance—this signals that you have reached the clog. Rotate the auger to break up the blockage.


DON’T Jam the Auger Deeper into the Drain

If your auger hits a blockage, don’t forcefully pound at the clog. This motion can damage your trap connectors or pipes. Obstructions that can’t be cleared with an auger should be handled using a different method.


Clearing a Clogged Sink - Do's and Don'ts



DO Remove the Trap to Clear Stubborn Clogs

The majority of sink clogs occur in the curved drain trap beneath the sink—the pipe is usually shaped like a P, S, or J. Removing the trap may be the easiest way to loosen the jam. Bail excess water from the sink, and then place a bucket under the drainpipes (since the trap holds water and will release it when undone). Twist the connectors loose and remove the trap. From here, you can clear away a clog by gloved hand. If you discover that the clog lies further down the drainpipe, stick in your auger and get to work.


DON’T Hesitate to Call Your Plumber

If the methods listed here don’t fix the problem, you could be facing a clog elsewhere in your home drainage system. This may require the help of a professional plumber, who could use a powered auger or other device on the main line. Incorrectly working with unfamiliar tools could cause damage to the drain lines, so it’s best to call for backup whenever you’re uncertain.

So, You Want to… Build a Ramp

Find out what you need to know to offer easy access to folks using a wheelchair or mobility scooter.

How to Build a Wheelchair Ramp - Out of Concrete


Opening your heart and home to a mobility-challenged loved one is a beautiful thing. And one way to make it easier on everyone is with a wheelchair ramp that leads straight to your door. But before you DIY or hire a builder to construct one, learn the basics on rules, safety, and materials so that comings and goings will be as smooth as possible.

Check in with both the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and local authorities as your first step. You’ll probably need to obtain a permit to install a ramp from your local building authority. It may also be necessary for you to comply with ADA standards. Not all states or communities enforce ADA standards for residential ramps, but following its guidelines will ensure that your ramp is wheelchair user safe. While the ADA states that ramps must be a minimum of 36 inches wide, check local building codes, too, because some states enforce wider ramp widths. Also note that any ramp that rises more than 6 inches in height must also have 36-inch high handrails on both sides for safety.

The ADA requires a ramp rise, in height, not more than 1 inch per every 12 inches of run, written as a 1:12 slope. For example, if you need a ramp to reach a 30-inch high porch, you’ll need a minimum of 30 lineal feet for the ramp.

How to Build a Wheelchair Ramp


Those lacking adequate lineal space can design a ramp with turns or switchbacks. But at every turn, the ADA requires a minimum 60-inch-by-60-inch level landing as a wheelchair rest. The ADA also requires a minimum 60-inch-by-60-inch landing at the bottom and at the top of the ramp. A ramp cannot begin to slope right outside the door; a level landing on the porch is necessary.

No ramp should rise above 30 inches without a level landing. For example, if your porch is 48 inches high, you’ll need 48 feet of lineal ramp and a 60-inch-by-60-inch landing somewhere along the ramp before it rises 30 inches. On a straight ramp, this could be accomplished by building a landing off to one side; on a switchback ramp, the landing could be at the turn. If you aren’t mandated to follow ADA rules, this particular guideline is less important for a person with a power chair, yet for someone operating a wheelchair by hand, a resting spot is essential.

Wood is most commonly used in residential ramp construction, but it’s not your only option.

• Wood: With basic carpentry knowledge you can DIY a wood ramp. You’ll sink support posts of approximately 30 inches into the ground and secure them with concrete. Treated wood is popular for wheelchair ramps, but composite planking for the floor may reduce warping. All wood surfaces should be sealed, and it’s wise to put non-skid strips on the floor planks to avoid slippery-when-wet conditions. You can also put indoor/outdoor carpet on the ramp floor. For extra durability, consider installing metal handrails; wood handrails have a tendency to splinter after a few seasons.

• Concrete: Framing and pouring concrete is a technical undertaking, and wet concrete isn’t forgiving of mistakes, so concrete ramps are best constructed by a pro. Concrete ramps require footings and stem walls, and are typically filled with compacted sand before they are poured. Reasons to go with concrete include permanence and durability; you can even embed heat strips to prevent ice buildup in winter. Concrete is also a good choice for a ramp rise of only a few inches. If pedestrians will be using a low-rise ramp, go with a gentler, 1:18 slope, which makes walking more comfortable.

• Earth-berm: For aesthetic appeal, an earth-berm ramp can be worked into your landscape to look like meandering path that slowly rises to the porch. But this type of ramp requires compacting a lot of soil to build the berm (the ramp itself should be poured concrete). And while you can lay berm soil against masonry, such as a concrete or brick porch, soil should not come into contact with wood due to the risk of rot and termite infestation.

Premade ramps: For a quick fix—or if you have difficulty obtaining a permit to build a wood or concrete ramp—a premade wheelchair ramp could be a smart solution. Premade ramps are typically removable, so they’re considered “private property” rather than “real estate,” and therefore not subject to building codes. Generally fabricated from aluminum or galvanized metal and designed to fit over existing steps, they start at a few hundred dollars for bare-bones models but could run into the thousands for higher quality and custom designs.

How to Build a Wheelchair Ramp - Out of Wood


The Essential Guide to Fall Home Improvement

For no-hassle home improvement this fall, entrust one company with all your repair, replacement, and remodeling needs.


While you were on summer vacation, your home was hard at work battling the elements. After enduring intense heat or seasonal thunderstorms, your home deserves a little TLC to get it ready for the colder months ahead. With fall on the way, now is the time to inspect windows and HVAC systems for signs of distress, and repair or replace them for improved operation and aesthetic appeal. While you’re at it, perhaps it’s a good idea to freshen up the bathroom as well, in preparation for the hordes of overnight guests the holidays bring. With expert recommendations from Sears Home Services, you can make short work of these traditionally time-consuming tasks and add an extra dose of comfort to your home.


Don’t wait for frost to set in before you winterize your windows. Structurally compromised windows invite cold air in and let warm air escape, forcing your HVAC system to work extra hard to keep your home at a comfortable temperature. Put a stop to winter drafts by inspecting and replacing inefficient or outdated windows to ensure comfortable indoor temperatures and lower energy bills all winter long.

Cold resistance and energy efficiency: If your living room feels like a freezer, your windows may be to blame. Drafts can enter your home through cracks in window casings, jambs, or windowsills, so it’s important to check these areas, and seal cracks and any rotted spots. Yet, as important as it is to winterize your existing windows, sometimes the best course is to replace them. Inefficient, outmoded single-pane windows let in more cold air than their modern counterparts. “Put your hand to an old window, and it’s cold to the touch,” says Dave Lincoln of Sears Home Services. If your single-pane windows are keeping your house cold and your energy bills high, it may be time to make the switch to new double-paned windows. One option is the Sears Weatherbeater window, a double-paned model with a layer of argon gas in between the plates of glass. That important feature gives you an extra buffer against the cold, and can help produce warmer indoor temperatures, better energy efficiency, and lower energy bills. “New windows keep the cold out and warm in—the way it should be,” says Lincoln.

- Sound reduction: Do you wish you could live in a quieter neighborhood free from the sounds of traffic or noisy neighbors? You may be able to get your wish without having to change your address if you’re willing to change your windows. “Time and time again I work with clients who report that after replacing old windows, their living spaces seem quieter and more peaceful—like it’s the same house, but in a new location,” says Lincoln. Double-paned windows, such as Sears Weatherbeater windows, put another layer between you and the sounds on the street while they insulate your home from the cold, meaning you’ll reap double the benefits from a single installation.

Home Air Filter Replacement



As you brace yourself for freezing temperatures, take some time to inspect your HVAC system. It’s better to discover any weak spots in your cold-weather defense now than have to deal with a broken furnace, heat pump, or boiler in the middle of winter.

- Furnaces: If your home is heated by a furnace, the most effective winter prep task involves replacing your furnace filters with high-efficiency versions to keep dust, germs, and other particulate matter out of your indoor air. Know that “high-efficiency filters must be cleaned or replaced more often, about every three months,” according to David Kenyon, an HVAC specialist with Sears Home Services. After swapping the filters, continue your preseason furnace checkup by inspecting the internal components to ensure proper functioning. If you don’t have much experience working with HVAC systems, you’ll benefit from making a quick call to a pro, who can do the inspection for a small fee. On the other hand, if you suspect that your old or underperforming furnace won’t last the season, consider replacing it now rather than later. The experts at Sears Home Services can provide you with a free consultation to review your home heating options.

- Heat pumps: When it’s doing its job right, a heat pump is the unsung hero of ductless heating and cooling systems, drawing thermal energy from the cold outdoors and turning it into warm, comfortable indoor heat. But when the heat pump experiences problems, such as cycling on and off, making loud noises, or failing to heat or cool, it certainly makes its presence felt. Take precautions by having your heat pump inspected and, if necessary, repaired or replaced by trained HVAC experts like those at Sears Home Services.

- Boilers: Many homeowners rely on a boiler for heat, sometimes using the appliance to both heat water and warm the house. Although boilers are highly energy efficient and have relatively few mechanical components, they are still prone to the occasional failure. When your boiler doesn’t fire up, doesn’t heat water effectively, or begins to leak, your heat could cut out just when you need it most. For that reason, it’s a good idea to get your boiler inspected early in the season. Trained technicians, like those from Sears Home Services, can diagnose problems, repair boilers made by any of the major brands, or, if necessary, install a brand-new boiler.


According to the old real estate adage, kitchens sell houses, but surely the bathroom is almost as important to a home’s value. When done well, a bathroom renovation can increase your home’s resale price while adding a touch of modern convenience to your everyday life. Renovations come in all sizes, both large-scale and small. Even if you can’t commit to a full bathroom remodel today, keep in mind that you can start by replacing just one outdated fixture at a time.

-Toilets: Most often, toilet trouble can be resolved with a simple fix, swapping out the handle, for instance, or replacing the flapper. In other cases, your time and money may be better spent replacing the fixture. You may want to opt for replacing rather than repairing a toilet if it has a crack in the porcelain, clogs frequently, has poor water efficiency, or suffers from some other costly problem. These functional faults, however, aren’t the only reasons to invest in a new toilet. Even if you’re simply tired of looking at cosmetic imperfections like chips, scratches, or stains, it may be time to replace a decades-old toilet. To help you navigate your bathroom remodel, consider calling on the experts at Sears Home Services, who can advise you on selecting a new, efficient, ergonomically friendly toilet that fits your style and budget.

- Showers: Nothing ages your bathroom like a stained bathtub or discolored grout and tile in the shower. Putting in a new tub and tile gives you a fresh look and a new chance to banish mold and mildew from the bath. To take your project one step further, consider replacing the existing flooring in your bathroom. New tile floors can “boost home resale value,” according to Joe Maykut of Sears Home Services. Even if you’re not planning on selling your home anytime soon, you can still benefit from a modest makeover. Tiny changes like swapping a lime-covered shower head for an easy-clean model can make a big difference to your daily quality of life. Whatever the scope of your bathroom renovation, you can look to Sears Home Services for a range of showers, tubs, and accessories as well as the trained professionals who can install them.

- Cabinets: Whether your bathroom cabinets are part of the sink vanity, installed over the toilet, or mounted on another wall, they may benefit from a quick spruce-up. Particularly if the cabinets are intact but in need of a new finish, you’ll get a “tremendous bang for the buck” by refacing them, says Maykut. On the other hand, if the cabinets are structurally deficient, “refacing them would be beside the point,” Maykut advises. In that situation, cabinet replacement may be a worthier investment. If you’re not sure which approach is best for your bath, call the experts at Sears Home Services to schedule a free in-home consultation.


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

How To: Clean a Shag Rug

High pile is back in style! So keep yours fresh with these simple steps.

How to Clean a Shag Rug


Shag rugs are enjoying a resurgence, thanks to their groovy textured looks and comfy feel underfoot. The potential bummer? Those long tendrils catch dirt and dust particles quickly. Whether made of wool or synthetic fibers, a shag rug requires more frequent, conscientious cleaning. A rule of thumb is to double the care you’d give traditional rugs, both for vacuuming and deep cleaning. But since calling a pro can be pricey, try the four-step process here and you’ll find that owning a shag needn’t be a drag!

- Plain white vinegar
- Water
- White microfiber cloth
- Mop or broom
- Vacuum cleaner
- Vacuum cleaner upholstery attachment
- Dry carpet shampoo (optional)

How to Clean a Shag Rug


Ideally, you’ll use this method to treat a spill before it has a chance to set in, but even if it’s dry before you get to it, there’s still hope. Combine equal parts plain white vinegar and room-temperature water, and pour directly onto the affected area. For a small stain caused by a few tablespoons of spilled liquid or food, start with ½ cup of each ingredient to form the mixture, making more if necessary.

Work the solution into the stain with a white microfiber cloth—better than a rag because it won’t stain or leave lint behind—using some elbow grease to release it from the fibers. Once you’ve eliminated the stain entirely, hang the clean shag rug in a well-ventilated area to dry completely.

Take the dry rug outside where you can shake it vigorously to release loose dirt and dust.

Next, if the shag rug is smaller than 3 or 4 feet wide, fold it in half, face-down, over a clean porch railing or the back of a chair and use a mop or broom handle (not its business end) to whack the rug from the back side to release stubborn dirt particles. Put enough muscle into it to shake spare dirt loose, but mind your aim and be careful not to damage the railing or chair in the process.

Cleaning professionals advise against vacuuming a shag rug, as suction could break the long fibers. However, it’s highly effective to turn the rug face down and vacuum its back side, keeping the pile safe while further removing deep-down dirt. This will also redistribute the tendrils from behind to fluff them up again. For an extra-deep clean, use an upholstery attachment, which offers stronger suction in a concentrated area.

If things are still looking dingy and you’re willing to take a risk, consider cleaning with dry carpet shampoo. Shake or spray a small amount onto the least-visible area of the shag rug, making sure to use a product safe for its content (some shampoos are better for wool while others suit synthetics) and following package instructions to the letter.

Carefully vacuum over the shampooed portion only; a handheld vacuum is ideal because it gives you complete control. If any pile breaks off, stop and take the shag rug to a carpet cleaning pro. If all is well, though, proceed with caution and repeat the process until your rug is as shagadelic as ever.

How To: Descale a Kettle

Say goodbye to those stubborn limescale deposits in your teakettle with a low-cost DIY solution.

How to Descale a Kettle


As temperatures chill, who can resist a piping-hot cup of tea? But beware! If you fall into the tea habit, over time you’ll discover that the interior of your kettle will gradually become coated in limescale. These white calcium deposits form on the inside of kettles, both electric and stovetop varieties, when hot water evaporates and leaves solid minerals behind. The results are both unsightly and unsavory. Plus, if neglected too long, limescale can shorten the life of your kettle. While you can certainly use commercial products to descale your kettle, everyday acids are equally effective—and often more affordable.

- Cloth
- Soft sponge
- Dish soap
- White vinegar
- Lemon or lime (optional)

Safety comes first. Before descaling, make sure to first unplug an electric kettle or turn off the heating element under a stovetop model. When the kettle is cool to the touch, discard any remaining liquid, remove the lid, and rinse the interior under cold water.

In order to remove exterior grime or grease, gently wipe the sides and base of the kettle using a soft sponge saturated with water and dish soap. Because copper and stainless steel kettles tend to scratch easily, use only nonabrasive sponges or cloths to remove caked-on residue. Avoid wire brushes or scouring pads that can damage or discolor the kettle. Dry the kettle with a soft cloth.

When you’re dealing with an electric kettle, exercise caution to avoid exposing the electrical components or the socket to water. Never immerse an electric kettle in water. If your electric kettle is equipped with a built-in water filter, don’t forget to clean grime from the filter itself. Remove the filter according to the manufacturer’s instructions, and then rinse it under hot water. Gently wipe the filter with a soft cloth before drying and pressing it back into place.

How to Descale a Kettle


Fill the kettle halfway with a solution of equal parts cold water and white vinegar, a natural descaling agent. As an alternative, citric acid can also break down limescale; just fill the kettle with the juice of one fresh lemon or lime topped with enough cold water to reach the halfway point of the kettle.

Turn on the stove under the kettle, or plug in your electric kettle, and bring the solution to a boil. Once the water is boiling, turn off the heat, be it a burner or the electric power. (If your electric kettle has an automatic switch-off feature, let it turn off on its own.) Allow the vinegar-water (or citrus) solution to sit in the kettle for 30 minutes to an hour.

TIP: While either diluted vinegar or lemon is gentle enough for most kettles, you should reference the manufacturer’s instructions to avoid exposing your kettle to liquids that could cause damage. If you’re unsure how your kettle will react to an acid, test a drop of the solution on an inconspicuous area before proceeding with the full soak.

With the decalcifying stage complete, you can now pour out the vinegar-water (or citrus) solution. When the kettle’s empty, remove the lid and rinse the interior under cold water. Any lingering limescale can be wiped away with a clean, damp cloth. Because the acetic acid in vinegar is powerful enough to dissolve limescale, vigorous scrubbing is neither needed nor recommended.

Though you may have successfully descaled a kettle, that mean it is ready to boil water for your next beverage. Prevent any vinegary aftertaste from seeping into future cups of tea, fill the kettle halfway with cold water. Turn on the stove or plug in the electric kettle, and boil the water in the kettle to deodorize it. When the odor is gone, discard the water and air-dry the kettle before its next use.

Repeat this routine to descale the kettle once every month or so, depending on how often you use your kettle, and you’ll keep contaminants at bay while your beverages remain fresh and flavorful.