Category: How To’s & Quick Tips


How To: Clean an Iron

To keep your iron working well, you need to do more than just clean off the metal plate. Here, we'll teach you how to clean the outside and inside of this essential home appliance.

How to Clean an Iron

Photo: fotosearch.com

There’s nothing more frustrating than discovering that your iron is soiling your favorite clothes while you’re trying to press them. But this is one frustration that’s entirely avoidable. In fact, keeping your iron clean and in fine working condition is much easier than you may think. All you have to do is regularly (and properly) clean your iron to protect it against mildew and dirt and clear out the melted residue and fibers that build up over time. Proper maintenance involves more than just keeping the exterior plate, or soleplate, clean. You also need to deal with the dirt that collects on the plastic exterior and the mildew that can grow inside the water reservoir. That’s why we’ve pulled together this comprehensive guide to deep-cleaning your iron. So, grab your trusty iron and get started!

TOOLS AND MATERIALS
- Brown paper bag
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 2 tablespoons baking soda
- 1 tablespoon water
- Spatula
- 1/3 cup distilled water
- Damp cloths (2)
- Clean cloth
- Cotton swabs
- Paper towels (optional)

How to Clean an Iron - Starting with the Plate

Photo: fotosearch.com

CLEAN YOUR PLATE

1. Open up your ironing board and plug in your iron. Set the appliance on the highest cotton setting (without steam).

2. While the iron heats up, lay a brown paper bag flat on top of your board and cover it with a layer of salt. Make sure the paper is plain and without print, or else the ink might transfer to your plate—sticking you with an even bigger problem. Larger granules of kosher, rock, or sea salt work best.

3. Then, run the metal plate of the iron in a circular motion over the salt crystals. This action should dislodge any melted-on fibers left behind after previous jobs and allow them to transfer to the paper surface beneath. After a minute or two, let the iron cool down completely, then brush off any remaining crystals.

4. Repeat as needed. Refresh your salt supply and brown paper surface until all stains and residue have been absorbed and removed from the plates.

 

WASH OUT THE WATER RESERVOIR

1. Now, mix up a homemade cleaner to unclog the steam vents. Especially if you use tap water instead of distilled water, or regularly forget to empty the water reservoir after using the iron, mineral deposits can build up and obstruct these openings. To clean out the deposits, start by combining two tablespoons of baking soda and one tablespoon of water to make a paste. Use a spatula to spread the paste onto the metal plate, or soleplate, so that it seeps into the steam vents.

2. Wipe down the plate with a damp cloth and swab out the individual steam vents. A cotton swab dipped in distilled water (that’s key) will effectively rinse out the holes.

3. Refill the water reservoir with distilled water, plug in your iron, and turn it to the highest heat setting. With the steam on, press the clean cloth for two minutes to flush out any remaining mineral deposits. Unplug the iron and let it cool down a bit.

4. Empty out the liquid before moving on. This is good practice to continue after every afternoon spent pressing clothes. Simply open the cap to the water reservoir, then turn the iron upside down over the sink to allow any remaining liquid to drain.

 

A CLEAN FINISH

All you need to banish dirt from the plastic exterior is a damp cloth or paper towel. Use it to wipe off dust and buff out any dirty spots. After this, your hardworking clothes iron should now look—and perform—as good as new!


How To: Thaw a Frozen Pipe

When the temperatures drop precipitously, there's a risk that your pipes will freeze, leading at the very least to inconvenience and at the worst to a burst pipe and a lot of mess and expense. Learn the signs of a frozen pipe and how to defrost it before it can inflict real damage.

How to Thaw Frozen Pipes

Photo: fotosearch.com

Of all the challenges encountered in a severe winter, a frozen pipe may be the one that strikes the most fear into the heart of the typical homeowner. After all, the risk is real: If temperatures drop low enough, the water within a vulnerable pipe may freeze and expand, causing the pipe to rupture. Hours or days later, when the ice finally abates, freely flowing water can pour out of the compromised pipe, leading to a host of hazards.

Thankfully, there’s a bit of good news: Not every frozen pipe ultimately bursts open and leaks. Indeed, if you’re at home and aware of the issue, you may be able to thaw a frozen pipe early enough to prevent any damage. Usually, homeowners discover that a pipe has frozen when they turn on a tap and nothing comes out, or when a toilet fails to refill after flushing. Sometimes, there are even signs in the pipe itself, such as an obvious bulge or a thin layer of frost covering the pipe.

Time is a factor here. If, according to the weather forecast, temperatures are going to remain low, you may have time to contract with a local plumber to safely handle the situation. If, however, temperatures are anticipated to rise in the near term, or if you simply cannot reach a qualified professional quickly enough, follow the steps outlined below to thaw frozen pipes on your own, using a few household items that you probably already own.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
- Bucket
- Mop
- Towels
- Heater (heating lamp, heating pad, hair dryer, or space heater)

How to Thaw Frozen Pipes - Damaged Section

Photo: fotosearch.com

STEP 1
Sometimes the hardest part is simply locating the frozen pipe. One trick is to open all the faucets in your home. If water doesn’t reach a particular faucet, trace its plumbing lines as they travel away from the fixture. Every few feet, inspect the plumbing with your hands (a frozen pipe literally feels ice cold), continuing until you locate the affected area. If none of your faucets are getting a flow of water, the problem may be with the main supply pipe. You can typically find yours in the basement or crawl space, on the side of the house that faces the street.

STEP 2
Once you have found and confirmed the frozen pipe, go to the main water supply valve and turn it clockwise to its “off” position. Next, open all the sink faucets and tub spouts in your home, draining what remains of the water in the system; flush your toilets as well. Now—armed with a bucket, mop, and two or three towels you wouldn’t hate ruining—return to the frozen pipe.

STEP 3
At this point, your mission is simple: Apply heat to the frozen pipe. To do so, homeowners typically use such things as hair dryers, heat lamps, and heating pads. Low-tech solutions can be equally effective. For instance, you can pour hot water over towels draped over the frozen spot. More important than your heat source is your technique. Remember that it’s best to begin heating near the edge of the frozen area, on the side closest to the nearest kitchen or bathroom. That way, any steam or water generated by the heating can escape the pipe. Continue heating, inching along the frozen pipe one section at a time. Alternatively, if you can’t directly apply heat to the frozen pipe, try running a space heater in the nearest accessible area. Another option: Turn up your thermostat by a few degrees. Any increase in your utility bill would be small in comparison with a costly repair.

STEP 4
Once you are confident the freeze has melted, return to the main water supply valve and turn it on—partially. Then go back to the pipe and inspect it for leaks. If it did rupture, turn off the supply again, call the plumber, and get to work cleaning up. If, on the other hand, the pipe appears to be channeling water properly, then go ahead and turn the water supply all the way on, and close any faucets or spouts that are still open.

To prevent a similar situation in the future, take steps to protect your at-risk pipes. There are several options available to the average homeowner that don’t involve rerouting the plumbing or modifying the heating system. First, consider insulating your pipes—if not all of them, then at least those in the coldest sections of the home, such as the basement, crawl space, attic, or garage. You can go a step further and install a heat tape, an electrical device designed expressly to prevent frozen pipes. At the very least, if you know that brutally low temperatures are coming, you can always open the cabinets under your sinks to warm the exposed pipes by a few degrees. And, finally, as a last-ditch effort, you can open all your faucets and spouts to a trickle, just to keep the water flowing through the pipes. Indeed, with preparation and forethought, you can ensure that you’ll never again find yourself crawling around the basement floor, cold and damp, with a hair dryer in your hand.


DIY Kids: Turn Your Christmas Tree into Its Own Ornaments

Transform a few rounds of wood, some everyday craft supplies, and a photo or two into homey, handcrafted keepsakes that you'll love to hang on the tree for years to come.

DIY Ornaments - Photo Christmas Tree Ornaments

Photo: bobvila.com

The holidays are all about making and enjoying memories. Almost every ornament on our Christmas tree holds a personal meaning, which we revisit as we hang it on the limbs of our carefully selected evergreen. This year, we started a new tradition: When we went to the Christmas tree farm to pick out our specimen, we asked them to cut a few extra slices off the bottom of the trunk. That strategic slicing provided us with rounds of wood that we could craft into new keepsakes. I made one for our family tree, and each of our daughters made one that will hang on our tree for now, and then travel with them when they leave home.

 

SKILL LEVEL: EASY
This project can be as involved or as inexpensive as you want it to be. You can use a drill to make a hole to string ribbon or twine through the ornament for hanging, but if you’d rather not handle power tools, you can put a small screw eye into the top.

DIY Ornaments - Supplies

Photo: bobvila.com

TOOLS AND MATERIALS
- Wood slices
- Sandpaper or palm sander
- Pencil
- Sharpie markers
- Small cookie cutters
- Stamps and ink
- Photos
- Scissors
- Hole punch
- Mod Podge
- Small foam brush
- Drill with wood bit
- Screw eyes
- Twine

 

STEP 1

DIY Ornaments - Step 1

Photo: bobvila.com

No matter how careful you are when you cut, your wood slices will probably still be a little rough. Use some sandpaper to clean them up and smooth them out. If you have a palm sander, the job will go even more quickly.

 

STEP 2
Now, it’s time to decide how you want to decorate your ornament. You’ll see that we used three different approaches: Hand-drawn, stamped, and decoupaged.

DIY Ornaments - Step 2A

Photo: bobvila.com

• If you’re drawing on your ornament, first lightly sketch out your design in pencil. A helpful trick for young artists: Small cookie cutters make great guides for shapes like trees, candy canes, and gingerbread men. Once you’ve mapped out your design, color it in with markers. Remind your kids (and maybe yourself) that it doesn’t need to be perfect. Its homemade quality will make it even more meaningful to you 20 years from now.

DIY Ornaments - Step 2B

Photo: bobvila.com

• If you’re stamping, the process is pretty self-explanatory: Load up your stamp with ink, and press firmly onto your wood round. Ta-da! Continue until your design is complete. You can go back over with marker to fill in whatever colors are missing.

DIY Ornaments - Step 2C

Photo: bobvila.com

• If you’re attaching a photograph, place your wood slice over your 4″ x 6″ photo so that it covers the portion of the image you want to appear on your ornament. Trace the outline with a pencil, and cut out the photo with your scissors.

 

STEP 3

DIY Ornaments - Step 3

Photo: bobvila.com

Prep the ornament for hanging by either drilling a hole through the top of the round or attaching a screw eye to the top (see below for more information). For photo ornaments, if you’re planning on drilling a hole, first hole-punch the very top of your picture and use this cutout as a guide. Simply line the photo up with the wood round and mark the hole using a pencil. Then drill the hole in the wood slice before you adhere the photo with Mod Podge in the next step.

If you choose to go the screw eye route, you may have trouble getting the screw started. If so, first make a guide hole by lightly tapping in a small nail at the top of the round where you want to affix the screw eye. Remove the nail to reveal the guide hole.

 

STEP 4

DIY Ornaments - Step 4

Photo: bobvila.com

Mod Podge works wonders in preserving these ornaments and preventing the design from fading or getting dirty, which is important as you’ll want to hang them season after season.

For a photo-covered ornament, apply a layer of Mod Podge to the wood slice and lay your photo on top of it. Then, apply another two to three coats of Mod Podge on top of the photo, allowing the glue to dry between applications. Two to three coats of Mod Podge should offer sufficient protection for marker- and ink-decorated wood slices.

 

STEP 5

DIY Ornaments - Step 5

Photo: bobvila.com

You’re almost ready to hang! Whether your ornament has a drilled hole or screw eye, thread a piece of twine (roughly six to nine inches in length) through it and tie the ends together in a knot. Use this loop to hang your creation wherever you please.

DIY Ornaments - Homemade Christmas Tree Ornaments

Photo: bobvila.com

Now that we’ve finished our first batch, I can’t wait make a set of these ornaments every year—one for me to keep for the family collection, and one for each of my daughters to take with them when they set up their own Christmas trees. By the time the girls leave home, we should have quite a collection—both of ornaments and of the memories they represent!


How To: Clean a Glass Cooktop

Your glass cooktop is often the first surface in your kitchen to experience the thrills—and the spills—of a dinner party, large or small. Render it spick-and-span again using this easy, all-natural approach.

How to Clean a Glass Cooktop

Photo: frigidaire.com

Many homeowners invest in glass cooktops because their modern, flat surface makes them both easy on the eye and easy to clean. Or so they think, until they realize that overzealous cleaning techniques and chemical-laden scrubs can damage the pristine finish of their cooktop. Fortunately, you don’t need specialized cleaners or abrasive chemical solvents to solve the messy problem of cooktop spills. Follow this step-by-step tutorial to removed baked-on, caked-on residue from your glass cooktop using only natural ingredients that will maintain the surface’s longevity—and your sanity during the busiest time of the year.

TOOLS AND  MATERIALS
- Rubber gloves
- Water
- Dishcloth or paper towel
- Dishwashing liquid
- Baking soda
- Cloth rags or old T-shirt
- Dish sponge
- Microfiber cloth
- Vinegar (optional)

How to Clean a Glass Cooktop - After Dinner

Photo: fotosearch.com

STEP 1
Ensure that the cooktop is set to off and completely cool to the touch. Using a dishcloth or paper towel, gently wipe away any loose debris or liquid from the surface of the cooktop. Do not attempt to buff or scratch off any hard-to-remove grit; leave this stubborn residue to the hardworking homemade cleaner you will prepare later.

STEP 2
Put on the rubber gloves so you won’t scald your hands when preparing the cleaning solution. Then, fill a large bowl, bucket, or the kitchen sink (remember to stopper it first!) with hot tap water. To the hot water, add 1 to 2 tablespoons of dishwashing liquid. Mix the dishwashing liquid with the water until the solution is combined and frothy. Submerge the rag or T-shirt in the bowl, bucket, or sink, and allow it to soak up a fair amount of the hot, soapy water.

STEP 3
Sprinkle 1 cup of baking soda in a roughly even distribution over the entire surface of the cooktop. Then, remove the wet rag from the cleaning solution and wring out approximately half of the excess moisture with your hands. The rag should be wet but not dripping. Set aside the remaining cleaning solution, but do not discard it. Cover the entire cooktop with the rag(s) or T-shirt, and let it sit for 15 to 30 minutes to allow the baking soda to settle into any stubborn grit on the cooktop. The wet rag will create a moist environment that will prevent the baking soda from drying onto the cooktop.

STEP 4
Lift the rag from the cooktop and submerge it once more in the remaining cleaning solution. Remove the rag and again wring out half of the excess water. Finish by gently wiping the rag over the entire cooktop using small, circular motions. The rag and the baking soda will together act as a gentle scrub, dislodging and sloughing off any debris without damaging the delicate surface of the cooktop. Now that the cleaning solution has done its duty, you can pour the remainder down the drain.

STEP 5
Soak a clean dish sponge in cold water, and lightly squeeze out the excess water. Wipe the nonabrasive side of the sponge over the cooktop to clear away any lingering debris or baking soda. When the cooktop is free of residue, use the microfiber cloth to buff the cooktop and give it a sophisticated polish. Work a splash of vinegar into the cloth for a more sparkling, streak-free shine.

Now, you’re ready to get cooking for a crowd! Going forward, aim to wipe your glass cooktop after each use rather than at lengthier intervals. This will spare you the extra time and elbow grease of a deep clean and preserve the spotless finish of your cooktop year-round.


Quick Tip: A Sweet In-a-Pinch Kindling Substitute

Celebrate the season with a new way to stoke the fire in your wood stove. A handful of orange peels instead of your typical kindling will create a cozy home that smells citrusy and fresh.

Homemade Kindling - Throw Orange Peels in Your Fire

Photo: fotosearch.com

The fall season has been mild this year, but chilly temperatures are right around the corner, especially with the official start of winter on December 22. What better way is there to brave the winter temperatures than to park yourself beside the fire? Sure, you’ve probably stocked up on firewood (and maybe even chopped your own), but just in case you’re running low on kindling, we’ve found reason to reconsider how you stoke the flame in that wood stove or fireplace. For this aromatic substitute, all that’s required is a love of citrus—in particular, that of delicious, vitamin C-packed oranges.

Homemade Kindling - Peeled Orange

Photo: fotosearch.com

Here’s what you do: The next time you’re at the grocery store stocking up on your daily dose of fruit and vegetables, make sure to drop some extra oranges into your cart. Then, when you’re looking ahead to a weekend in front of the fireplace, simply remove the peels from the oranges (you can snack on the slices) and set them out uncovered on a sheet pan or cooling rack for 24 to 48 hours to dry them out. When they’re ready two days later, mix these scraps in with your kindling rather than old newspaper to ensure you get a roaring flame. The oil in the skin of the orange actually fuels the fire. Even better, it won’t release any chemicals as might be found in a wad of newspaper—just their fresh, citrusy smell—effectively keeping your chimney cleaner. Now that sounds like a win-win-win scenario, if we had ever heard one.


How To: Make Your Own Drain Cleaner

The next time your sink or tub drain is clogged, forget those caustic commercial products and try this homemade drain-cleaning recipe instead.

Homemade Drain Cleaner - For the Bathroom Sink

Photo: fotosearch.com

When your sink or shower drain gets clogged, it’s pretty easy to figure out the cause. The perp is usually a disgusting mixture of hair and soap scum that’s built up over time. The quick fix often involves shelling out cash for a caustic, potentially toxic drain cleaner, but even that provides—at best—only temporary relief. It doesn’t have to be this way! The next time you’re stuck with a clog, don’t race out to the hardware store. Instead, scour your kitchen cabinets for a few basic materials and mix up your own cheaper, chemical-free concoction that’s guaranteed to break up even the worst drain buildup.

 

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
- Bucket
- Paper towels
- ½ cup baking soda
- ½ cup salt
- 1/8 cup cream of tartar (approximately 2 tablespoons)
- Mason jar
- 2 cups boiling water
- Rubber gloves

STEP 1
First, use a small bucket to shovel out any accumulated water in the sink or tub (you can transfer to the toilet). Then take off the drain cover and clean around the inside edges of the top of the drain using any old bathroom cleaner. If you notice any hair or soap scum close to the surface, take a paper towel to reach in and pull it out.

STEP 2
Combine the baking soda, salt, and cream of tartar in the mason jar. The salt and baking soda will help break up the clog, while the cream of tartar—which is probably hanging out on your spice rack or with your baking supplies—cleans metals. Put the lid on the mason jar and give the mixture a good shake before pouring half of it down the drain. Save the other half for your next drain cleaning.

STEP 3
Pour two cups of boiling water down the drain (this is easiest to do if you heat the water in a teakettle), and let everything sit for at least an hour. You may want to put on rubber gloves before pouring the water down the drain so you don’t get scalded.

STEP 4
After an hour has passed, run the sink or tub tap for a few minutes to clear the homemade cleaner from your drain and make sure the clog is gone. Use paper towels to wipe up any residual powder. And now that you have such a quick, low-cost solution at the ready, keep future clogs at bay by making cleaning your drain part of your regular routine.


DIY Lite: The One Christmas Tree That’s Not a Pain to Store

This season, set up a fake tree that won't give you headaches to store the rest of the year. Utilizing an unlikely garage staple, this space-smart design marries whimsy and practicality.

How to Make a Christmas Tree - Out of Pegboard

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila

Every December—occasionally as soon as the day after Thanksgiving—holiday-loving home decorators divide into two groups: team live evergreen versus team easy, artificial tree. While nothing can replace the fresh scent of pine, we’ve crafted a fake tree so stunning and simple that it can give homeowners ready to chop down their fir reason to reconsider. (But, really, who is to say that you can’t have both?) This season, transform an unlikely multi-tasking material into the beginning of a new tradition: the pegboard tree. The elegantly minimalist design mimics a cartoon tree in shape, using its trademark holes to easily hang hooked ornaments. And after the holiday passes, this snow-white tree disassembles into two 4-foot boards for compact storage, both sturdy enough to last for years. It’s a Christmas miracle!

 

How to Make a Christmas Tree - Supplies

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila

TOOLS AND MATERIALS
- White pegboard
- Tape measure
- Pencil
- Jigsaw
- Sandpaper
- Cloth towel
- Newspaper
- Paint primer
- White spray paint
- Green acrylic paint
- Foam brush

 

STEP 1

How to Make a Christmas Tree - Step 1

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila

Cut your 3/16-inch white pegboard into two rectangles, each 4 feet by 3 feet. (When we’re finished, these dimensions will produce a tree that is 4 feet tall and 3 feet in diameter.) Don’t hesitate to ask for these cuts at the hardware store where you purchase your boards—smaller pieces will be even easier to carry home!

 

STEP 2

How to Make a Christmas Tree - Step 2

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila

Pencil in the outline of your Christmas tree on one board. First make a triangle: Find the center at the top of the board, and use a tape measure or yardstick to help draw a line from this point to each of the bottom corners. Then, use the triangle as reference to draw the tree tips; we made each “branch tip” extend two holes from the initial triangle. As best as you can, try to make the dimensions even.

 

STEP 3

How to Make a Christmas Tree - Step 3

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila

Use the jigsaw to cut out your tree shape. Always start from the side and cut towards the drawing, not toward yourself.

 

STEP 4

How to Make a Christmas Tree - Step 4

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila

Once the first two-dimensional tree is completely cut out, lay it on top of the second pegboard and trace its shape. That will ensure that you create two identical pieces. Use the jigsaw to cut out the second tree, as you did in Step 3.

 

STEP 5

How to Make a Christmas Tree - Step 5

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila

For easy assembly, make a 2′-long notch in each tree. On one, cut from the tip to the very center of the tree; on the other, make the cut extend from the bottom to the center. The slit need to be a little wider than the thickness of the pegboard (say, 1/4-inch wide) to make it easy for the pieces to slide together.

 

STEP 6

How to Make a Christmas Tree - Step 6

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila

Sand all edges and the notch of each piece so that your holidays don’t include any splinters. Then, wipe down each shape with a slightly damp cloth to remove all the dust and dry.

 

STEP 7

How to Make a Christmas Tree - Step 7

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila

For a completely uniform tree, the back of the pegboard needs a quick paint job to match its white front. Cover your work space in old newspaper, and get to work! We used a spray paint, but you could also opt apply a coat of white acrylic using a paint roller. Regardless of how you go about it, start with one coat of primer and then cover with at least two topcoats for the brightest white.

 

STEP 8

How to Make a Christmas Tree - Step 8

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila

After the white has dried completely, highlight the tree’s shape by painting the edges of each board a holiday green. It’s helpful to first stand the tree, which you can do by sliding the tree with the notch in its bottom half over the tree with the notch at its top. Now pick up a foam brush dipped in paint, and apply carefully to the pegboard’s edging so that it doesn’t smear onto the sides. If you like, you can use painter’s tape to protect the white surfaces.

 

STEP 9

How to Make a Christmas Tree - Step 9

Photo: Ohoh Blog for Bob Vila

Once the paint is dry, you’re ready to decorate! You can hang any kind of ornament in your modern white tree by pushing hooks through the holes in the pegboard. Then, when it comes time to stow all the seasonal decorations, just remove your ornaments and pull apart the two panels. They stack easily on top of one another for flat, effortless storage 11 months out of the year.

 

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.


Quick Tip: Detect Air Leaks for Only $1

Identifying the air leaks in your drafty home doesn't have to involve an expensive inspection. It only takes a dollar to start winterizing your home and saving big bucks this season.

Air Leak Test - Door Draft Stopper

Photo: flickr.com via CraftNClutter

When you’ve moved your plans indoors to escape the seasonal chill, a draft to send you back under the blankets is the last thing that you need. Worse than compromising your comfort level, air leaks also take a toll on your energy bill. If not properly insulated, your home’s heating system works harder to compensate for the lost heat—with its extra effort escaping right out the window, too, so to speak. Fortunately, saving some serious cash on your energy costs this winter can start with a single dollar and a candle.

Air Leak Test - Winter Window

Photo: fotosearch.com

First investigate the cracks around your doors and windows, often the easiest access to potential drafts. To aid you, open up your wallet and grab a single. Then, slip the dollar bill in an open doorway, and close the door with your paper money in place. If you can’t tug the bill out, your entrance has a tight, winter-ready seal; if there’s enough give to wiggle it out, though, you’ll want to reseal as soon as possible.

But don’t stop at the obvious entrances! Wait until the next windy day to locate other potentially leaky areas around the house. Tightly seal up your home at the windows, doors, and fireplace flues, and shut off any combustion appliances (like a gas furnace or water heater) as well as any exhaust fans that might interfere with the results of your test. Once you’ve prepped the place, light a candle from your household emergency kit, and hold it very steadily in areas prone to air leaks—windows and doors, yes, but also outlets, recessed lighting, attic hatches, and basement rim joists, any of which might be in need of a little extra insulation. If the candle’s smoke or flame wavers, you likely have a leak.

Even if your tests turn up a problem area or two, don’t fret yet—in fact, go ahead and crack a smile. By addressing these leaks early with energy-efficient fixes, you’re basically locking in a lower energy bill than the one last winter. Plus, the market offers solutions to fit every home and every budget. If you’re not quite ready to invest in Energy Star–certified windows and doors, a little weatherstripping and insulation film on your windows can still go a long way. Bottom line: The sooner you’ve identified all of your home’s air leaks, the better prepared you will be for the season ahead.


How To: Bleed a Radiator

Your heat is cranked up, but one of your radiators is still ice-cold. Don’t fret—this is a common problem. Good thing there's a quick fix!

How to Bleed a Radiator

Photo: fotosearch.com

Now that the temperature is falling, you may have cranked up the heat in your house only to find that one (or more) of your hot-water radiators remains cold. If a single radiator isn’t generating heat when the rest of your system seems to be working fine, your problem may be air trapped inside the radiator—a common issue with hot-water heating. Before you call the plumber, try your hand at solving the problem yourself by bleeding the radiator. It takes just a few simple steps, and the tools required are minimal. Give it a shot! You’ll have the place all warmed up in no time.

TOOLS AND MATERIALS
- Protective gloves
- A radiator key (or, alternatively, a screwdriver or a pair of needle-nose pliers)
- A dry cloth
- Small bowl

How to Bleed a Radiator - Water Radiator

Photo: fotosearch.com

STEP 1
Before you get started, it’s important to make sure your heat is turned off. If you leave it on during this process, there’s a chance that you’ll actually introduce more air into the system.

STEP 2
Next, find the radiator’s bleed valve. This small valve is usually located at the top of one side of your radiator. Once you find it, you’ll need your radiator key (available in a variety of sizes at your local hardware store).

If you can’t find the key, you can try using needle-nose pliers to turn the valve. As well, some valves are slotted and can accommodate a flathead screwdriver.

STEP 3
Slowly turn the radiator key (or pliers or screwdriver) counterclockwise about half a turn to release the air pressure. You’ll know it’s working if you start to hear a hissing sound as trapped air leaves your radiator—that’s just the sound of air escaping and hot water coming in. Don’t be surprised if a little bit of water starts dripping out. Just grab your dry cloth (or small bowl) and use it to catch the drops.

STEP 4
When the bleed valve suddenly releases a steady stream of water instead of smaller, air-filled drops, you’ll know you’ve gotten rid of the excess air. Turn the bleed valve clockwise to tighten it, and you’re done!

STEP 5
Go ahead and repeat this process on the other radiators in your home—even the ones that are working fine. It’s good to get into the habit of bleeding your radiators because it reduces the overall pressure on your heating system. After you bleed your radiators, keep tabs on the boiler to make sure it’s functioning properly and maintaining proper pressure. Follow the basic guideline of one pound of pressure for every two feet of rise, which, for a standard two-story house, translates to about 12 psi to 15 psi.


How To: Split Firewood

Splitting wood doesn’t have to be a backbreaking experience. Start with the right tools, the proper technique, and the following tips, and chopping logs will feel like a labor of love.

How to Split Wood

Photo: fotosearch.com

Fireplace season has at long last arrived: Time to gather around the hearth, hunker down, and embrace the warmth of the flickering flames. But before you do, check that you’ve stockpiled enough seasoned firewood—logs that have been dried at least six months—to last the winter, because running out of fuel in the middle of a blizzard is less than ideal. If your stores of wood are lacking, it’s time to get to work: chop-chop! Once you’ve wrangled a steady supply, follow the instructions below to split the logs for better burning. Get ready to channel your inner lumberjack and practice the time-honored tradition of log-splitting to keep the fires burning all winter long.

TOOLS AND MATERIALS
- Protective clothing (safety glasses, long pants, sturdy boots)
- Splitting maul
- Chopping block (tree stump or short, wide round of wood)
- Rubber auto tire
- 2 wedges
- Sledgehammer (optional)

How to Split Wood - Stack for Firewood

Photo: fotosearch.com

STEP 1
First, check that you’ve got the proper equipment. To the novice woodcutter, an ax may seem like the best choice of tool for splitting logs, but it’s not. While it’s great for chopping down trees and cutting smaller pieces of wood, the maul—with its wider head and heavier weight—is the expert’s choice for splitting firewood. To deal with gnarly logs riddled with tough fibers and tree branch notches that make splitting more difficult, you should also have a wedge or prying triangle on hand to help.

Before you begin swinging any tools around, change into your protective gear (safety goggles, long pants, and sturdy boots) to avoid injury.

STEP 2
Wherever you plan to do your work, set up a short chopping block—consisting of either a large, level tree stump or a similarly short and wide chunk of wood—to increase effectiveness and decrease the chances of damaging the maul. The chopping block helps absorb the force of each blow and provides a spot for the blade to drive into when the maul breaks through the wood or you miss your mark.

STEP 3
Nothing is more frustrating than having to bend over to replace a log every time you miss, or to pick up sticks once the wood splits. Solve this common problem by placing one large “round” or several smaller logs together inside the opening of a tire (a 15-inch car tire works well), then setting it on top of your chopping block. Not only will this keep your logs in place when you swing, but it will cut down on the number of times you need to reset the log or pick up wood pieces, thereby decreasing the stress on your back.

STEP 4
Find the weak spots in your log, points where the wood naturally wants to split, and strike at these first for an easier cut. For example, cracks that radiate from the center are an optimal place to start. If none exist, the best strategy is to aim straight down the middle, using the proper technique described in the next step.

STEP  5
And, finally, the swing! Contrary to popular belief, splitting wood is not about brute force; instead, its success hinges on proper placement and the sheer velocity of the swing.

Using the correct stance—feet spread shoulder-width apart—face the “round” and place the maul head on the spot you plan to strike first, with your arms fully extended. Then, step back a half step. Holding the maul horizontally—waist high—bend your elbows and raise the maul over your head. As you bring your arms down, concentrate on driving the head of the maul straight through the log with Zen-like precision. Let the weight of the tool and the force of gravity do the work for you. Don’t make the common mistake of swinging the maul like a pendulum; instead, come down through the log in a vertical line—no arcing.

STEP 6
If your log is covered with knots or is too thick to split after a few strikes from the maul, it’s time to insert the splitting wedges. Using a sledgehammer (or the flat striking face on the maul) drive the wedge down deep into the crack to increase the size of the split. The added force of a single wedge should do the trick; if not, drive a second wedge into a crack on the opposite side of the log to create another splinter. With any luck, this combination should work.

STEP 7
Know when to quit: When you’re tired, it’s time to stop. That’s when injuries occur. Save some energy for the next day when, given all this practice, you should be well prepared to pick up where you left off. Meanwhile, grab a bundle of your split wood, head inside, and light a fire to enjoy the fruits of your labor.