Category: How To’s & Quick Tips

How To: Get Rid of Centipedes

Centipedes may not be the most harmful household pest, but they can certainly be an unappealing nuisance. Here's how to quickly and easily evict these leggy lodgers from your home.

How to Get Rid of Centipedes - House Centipede

Photo: via prkos

Centipedes, with no shortage of legs and alarming speed, seem to have been designed to make squeamish homeowners shriek. But despite their somewhat frightening appearance, centipedes are—for the most part—harmless, even somewhat helpful. They won’t damage your foundation, siding, or furniture; they’re not interested in the food in your pantry; and they come out at night and eat the terrible bugs that you don’t want hanging around, like termites, moths, roaches, and even bed bugs. If you’re not squeamish, you might consider just leaving centipedes alone to do what they do best—killing destructive pests with poisonous venom and then considerately gobbling them up so you have nothing left to clean. But if you find creepy-crawlies just too disturbing to live with, there are several things you can do to rid your spaces of centipedes.

How to Get Rid of Centipedes - Centipede Outdoors



If centipedes have already made themselves comfortable in your humble abode, here are a few ways to eliminate them:

Capture: Centipedes are fast, but they don’t generally invade in large numbers. If you can trap the ones you see and either squish them or relocate them outside, you’ll be well on your way to controlling the problem. To transfer a centipede to the yard, trap one under a jar or cup, slide a piece of paper underneath the opening to keep the bug in the jar, then take it outside. Do not touch a centipede with your bare hands—they do bite. Although they are not prone to attacking humans, one might bite in self-defense; the bite would feel similar to a bee sting.

Trap: Sticky traps, such as those used for other insects and rodents, are effective at catching centipedes. Place traps next to the baseboards in the corners of your rooms to capture not only the multilegged creatures but also the bugs they’ve been feasting on—which, incidentally, could help uncover your underlying pest problem.

Spray: If the idea of using insecticides inside your home makes you less squeamish than the presence of centipedes, consider eradicating them with any number of sprays or dusts. (There are also a few nontoxic varieties available.) Before buying, check the label to ensure that the formulation targets centipedes and is safe to be used indoors. Then, apply it according to the manufacturer’s instructions around baseboards, doors, windows, and any cracks and crevices where centipedes might gain entry.



The best way to reduce your home’s centipede population is to prevent the pests from entering in the first place. Here’s how to create an inhospitable home:

Outdoors: Centipedes like to hide and breed within leaf litter, grass clippings, and other damp yard materials. Clear away this outdoor debris and keep it a fair distance from your house. If you store compost or firewood, move it at least 30 feet away from your home’s perimeter.

Inside: Use an expanding foam spray to seal up any gaps, cracks, and crevices around your windows, doors, siding, pipes, and wiring. Doing this will keep out not only centipedes, but rodents as well. Centipedes love damp areas like bathrooms, basements, closets, and even attics; in fact, they’ll dry out and die without moisture. Invest in a dehumidifier, and install exhaust fans in your bathrooms or attic if you haven’t already done so.

Finally, if you can figure out which bugs the centipedes are feeding on and eradicate them, your centipedes will move on to locations where the food supply is more dependable—like, perhaps, your neighbor’s house. And then you can clue him into the combination of prevention and control that saved you from those frightening confrontations with the “hundred-legged worm.”

Quick Tip: The Simplest Way to Clean a Dusty TV Screen

If dust is as glued to the tube as you are, check out the small-screen talents of these everyday cleaning companions that can keep your binge-watching crystal clear.

Cleaning a Flat Screen TV


Cleaning a Flat Screen TV - Dusting


One of life’s simplest pleasures is plopping down in front of the TV to watch your favorite show. But sometimes when you tune in to your beloved comedies, mysteries, and old westerns, you may notice that your flat-screen TV is mired in a dust bowl drama of its own, with accumulated dirt, debris, and fingerprints fading its shine and clouding your view. While the glass screens of old-school TVs  can handle Windex and other store-bought products, the LCD screens of today’s models have delicate pixels that can be damaged by many common cleansers. Before you reach for a chemical-laden specialty cleaner, try using humble materials already under your roof to bust the dust on your flat-screen.

To start, turn off your TV and let it cool to reduce the risk of static shock and also to make the imperfections easier to see. Because paper towels and hand tissues have wood-based fibers that can wear away the screen’s antiglare coat, choose a clean, lint-free microfiber cloth or a cotton T-shirt to do your dirty work. Dab or spray a well-mixed solution of equal parts vinegar and water onto your cloth—never spray liquid directly onto the TV—and, using moderate pressure, gently wipe the cloth over the screen from left to right and then top to bottom before tackling the frame. Vinegar, however, isn’t the only kitchen staple that can destroy dirt on contact: Using the same motion, you can slide an unused coffee filter over the screen to capture dust and cut screen static faster than you can make a cup of joe!

Repeat this ritual at least once a week to maintain the crystal-clear finish of your flat-screen. Don’t forget to extend the same consideration to your TV’s hardworking partner—the remote control. Using a cotton swab saturated in rubbing alcohol, sweep dust from the crevices of the clicker. And when you’re all done, press the power button and get settled in for an ultra-vivid TV marathon!

How To: Remove Soap Scum—Once and For All

Use one of these methods to get rid of that gross, filmy layer coating your tub, shower, and tile, then try out our tips for eliminating it forever!

How to Remove Soap Scum - Clean Bathtubs and Showers

Photo: Zillow Digs home in Franklin Park, NJ

If you bathe your body at all, you’ll inevitably encounter soap scum. It’s a sad irony of housekeeping that a substance that gets you clean every day can make your shower or tub so grungy. While that stubborn, scaly buildup forms when the fatty acids, talc, and other ingredients in bar soap react with the minerals in hard water, soap scum also contains body oil, dirt, bits of dead skin, and bacteria. Gross. Making the situation even less appealing, if soap scum is left to harden, it’s incredibly difficult to remove from your tub or shower. But fear not! There are many successful methods for removing soap scum. Read on to find the approach that’s right for you.

How to Remove Soap Scum - Caused by Bar Soap



Store-Bought Cleaners
Some popular commercial cleaning products, such as Dow Scrubbing Bubbles, have cracked the code on soap scum. If these appeal to you, the process is straightforward: Spray your tub and shower walls with the product, and give it a few minutes to cut through the greasy grime of the soap scum. Then, rinse and wipe down the surfaces with a sponge, scrub brush, or cloth. Follow up with a clean towel to get everything dry—remember, moisture attracts yucky buildup.

Homemade Cleaners
If DIY cleaners are more to your liking, here are a couple of recipes you can try.

Baking soda and vinegar. Pour a cup of baking soda into a small bowl and add enough white vinegar to make a paste. Once the mixture stops fizzing, use a sponge to apply it to your shower and tub, then let it set for about 15 minutes. Wipe the surfaces down with a non-scratch sponge, rinse thoroughly with water, and then dry.

Vinegar and dish detergent. Combine equal amounts of vinegar and water into a spray bottle, then add one tablespoon of dish detergent. Spray the solution on the soap scum, and allow it to sit for about 15 minutes. When you return, scrub it with a soft-bristle scrub brush, and rinse with hot water. Dry thoroughly.

Elbow Grease
If you have a porcelain tub, you can use a wet pumice stone to remove soap scum—so long as you work carefully. Improper technique or a dry stone can scratch glass doors or tile. To give it a try, wet both the pumice stone and the surface you’re working on. Then, very gently rub the wet stone over the soap scum. As the soap scum transfers to the pumice stone, use a stiff-bristle brush to clean it off, then go at it again. Alternatively, on a surface with very bad soap scum, you can try scraping it off with a razor. But avoid using any abrasive technique on a fiberglass or acrylic tub or shower.


How to Remove Soap Scum - Wipe Down the Tub



As in most activities, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. These top tips can help you manage buildup by preventing soap scum from forming in the first place.

1. Use liquid soap instead of bar soap. It’s the talc and fatty acids in bar soap that cause soap scum, so if you switch to liquid soap or shower gel, you should see a significant decrease in filmy residue.

2. Keep your shower and tub dry. Squeegee and/or towel dry your shower and tub after every use. You’ll be wiping away a good portion of the soap scum-creating particles left behind after you bathe, so you won’t experience the same level of buildup.

3. Soften your water. Soap scum thrives on hard water, so one way of thwarting it is to install a water softener, which will remove those minerals in your water that react with soap to make soap scum. If you’re not up for purchasing a water softener, consider adding Epsom salts to your bathwater to help soften it and keep soap scum under control. As a bonus, the Epsom salts will also soothe your sore muscles.

4. Use a daily shower cleaning product, or invest in an automatic cleaner. We live in a beautiful world where automatic shower cleaners exist. If you use one, you’ll notice a big reduction in soap scum, and you’ll be relieved of the arduous chore of removing it.

Solved! What to Do About a Smelly Washing Machine

Restore your washing machine’s squeaky-clean reputation with these must-do tips for removing musty odors.

Washing Machine Smells - How to Deodorize Your Washing Machine


Q: Lately, every time I open my washing machine door, I detect a foul-smelling odor—not the fresh scent of clean clothes. Help! How do I get rid of it?

A: Sorry to hear your sniffer is suffering! It looks like it’s your washer that is in need of a washing. Odors that waft from your washing machine are commonly caused by a combination of the following contaminants: mold, mildew, and bacteria.

Over time, soap scum, dirt, body oil, and hair get trapped inside the washer’s seals, gaskets, and dispensers. Without regular cleaning, your washer ends up smelling about as disgusting as that collection sounds. Combine that toxic concoction with your laundry room’s constant humidity, and you end up with an ideal environment for bacterial growth. And therein lies the irony: The machine you rely on day after day—cycle after cycle—to remove soil and stains now smells worse than your dirty laundry. Sometimes, even the hardest-working appliances need a little TLC to get back on track. To remove those foul odors, use the following three-step process to restore your washing machine’s clean, fresh scent: scrub, sanitize, and deodorize.

Washing Machine Smells


To begin cleaning, remove the soap, bleach, and softener dispensers so you can scrub them individually. When water gets splashed into any of these parts, it is often left behind as standing water between cycles—a breeding ground for mildew. Use an old toothbrush to get inside the cracks and crevices, and a pipe cleaner to dig out buildup lodged inside the pipes of the dispensers—that’s a sneaky source of moldy smells. If you have a front-load model, also wipe around the rubber seal with a wet cloth, and use a Q-tip to remove accumulated gunk around the gasket. On top-load models, pay special attention to the cracks and crevices around the doors where dirt tends to hide. When you’re done scrubbing the parts, it’s time to move on to the tub.

To sanitize the machine, keep chlorine bleach on hand as your “go-to,” as it’s the absolutely best solution for killing mold and mildew. Just be sure to take precautions when using this product and, for safety reasons, don’t mix it with other cleaners. Now, set the washer to the highest possible temperature setting. The amount of bleach you should use depends on your appliance: Add four cups bleach to a top-loading machine or two cups to a front-loader, then start a cycle. Let the tub fill, and stop the wash cycle once the agitator has mixed in the bleach. Allow the bleach water to sit for 30 minutes, and then resume the cycle. One more run of the rinse cycle should remove all traces of bleach.

Once the bleach has done its job sanitizing, move on to vinegar to remove any last lingering smells. Vinegar is not only an excellent deodorizer, but the acidic quality of the liquid removes hard water buildup as well as any leftover bacteria that may have survived the bleach. To begin, set your washer on its hottest setting. Add four cups of plain white vinegar (not balsamic or apple cider) to a top-load machine or two cups to a front-load model. Don’t use laundry detergent or anything else in this cycle—vinegar acts alone! The process from this point should feel familiar: Allow the tub to fill, then stop the wash cycle once the agitator has mixed the vinegar and water. After 30 minutes, turn the washer back on and allow the cycle to resume until complete. The next time you open your washing machine door, don’t be afraid to breathe in deeply! Instead of that foul-smelling odor, you’ll enjoy the sweet smell of success.

3 Fixes for Ink Stains

Don’t have an inkling as to how to remove ink stains from your clothing, carpet, or couch? Skip the store and use one of these three household remedies instead.

How to Remove Ink Stains


DIYers usually welcome a sudden burst of artistic creativity—except when it means their pen goes awry, leaving a splotch of ink on nearby fabric, flooring, or upholstery. Once this colorful liquid takes up residence in the fibers of your clothing, carpet, or couch, it can seem downright impossible to remove. Instead of crying over spilled ink, use one of these three simple but effective household ingredients to make stains fade or vanish altogether!



How to Remove Ink Stains - With Hairspray


Ready, aim, spray! Hairspray may be your go-to for style setting, but this sticky substance can also play an active role in removing ink stains from clothes.

Before you bid goodbye to blots, first protect your work surface by covering it with a paper towel or two; these will absorb the ink as you treat. Lay the soiled portion of the material directly over the paper towels, and then coat the spot liberally with hairspray. Dab (don’t rub!) with a damp towel to remove any residue, repeating the process as necessary until your item has returned to a blank canvas. Toss the garment into the wash on cold with a mild detergent to banish any residual markings. Finish by drying on high heat for a literally spotless finish. (Note: Don’t dry unless the ink is completely gone—otherwise the heat will set the stain!)

The key is to use hairspray with a formula that features alcohol as a main ingredient, which helps to draw out the liquid. If the brand you keep at home doesn’t contain alcohol, check your medicine cabinet for another substitute, straight rubbing alcohol, and follow these instructions using a cotton ball soaked in it.



How to Remove Ink Stains - With Cornstarch


Don’t confine cornstarch and milk to the kitchen! When their talents are combined, this domestic duo can eliminate stubborn ink stains from carpets. To put the power couple to work in your living room, family room, or bedroom, start by mixing a small amount of cornstarch and milk in a bowl until they form a paste. Apply your homemade cleaner to the ink stain, and leave it to dry for at least a few hours, or until it hardens on the stain. Using a dry toothbrush, gently brush the concoction off the carpet fibers. Vacuum the area to fluff up the carpet and reveal a spot-free surface.



How to Remove Ink Stains - With Sandpaper


When it comes to removing ink from delicate suede or leather upholstery, you need a cleaning companion that’s gentle enough not to damage the material, but gritty enough to obliterate the stubborn stain. There’s no better tool for the job than fine-grit sandpaper. First, test the sandpaper on an inconspicuous area to ensure that your item won’t be damaged. Then, gently buff away the stain, taking care not to abrade the fabric. When it looks like most of the ink has been lifted, gently scrub the spot with a soft-bristle brush doused in white vinegar. Finally, use a dry toothbrush to give the material a final clean sweep that lasts!

Is Varnish or Polyurethane the Right Finish for You?

Learn the pros and cons of polyurethane and varnish—and which of these popular finishes can best preserve your next woodwork of art.

Varnish vs Polyurethane - What Wood Finish to Choose


A coat of durable wood finish on your hardwood floors, fine furniture, and outdoor decking can mean the difference between a long, lustrous lifespan and one cut short by the passage of time and exposure to the elements. Given the unattractive consequences of poorly protected wood surfaces and the annoyance of frequent refinishing, it’s smart to do your homework first to ensure that you’re doing your best to preserve these valuable features. Polyurethane and traditional varnish are two popular finishes that cure into durable protective coats when applied. But although they’re often referred to interchangeably, each one has distinct uses and offers varying levels of protection from environmental elements. Up your woodworking IQ and learn which product is best suited for your next project, so you’ll be able to attain the perfect protection from start to finish.

Varnish vs Polyurethane - Water-Based Polyurethane



Polyurethane is like a liquid plastic, often either a pure synthetic plastic or a blend with resin. There’s an option for everyone: DIYers have the choice of a water- or oil-based resin (and one in between) as well as sheens from flat to satin to glossy. Despite its sometimes milky appearance in the can, polyurethane goes on clear and—in just one or two coats—cures into a scratch- and abrasion-proof hard plastic that is versatile enough for most indoor projects.

The Best Uses
With so many options, how can you pick the right polyurethane for the job? The choice of sheen, from glossy to something more flat, comes down to personal preference, but there are certainly common usages where one is preferable to another. Review these guidelines before making your final selection at the home improvement store.

• Completely clear when dry, water-based polyurethane is ideal for indoor use, on pieces like nightstands, desks, photo frames, and coat racks that already have a stunning natural hue and simply need a revitalizing finish. Perhaps its biggest selling points, however, are that it’s lower in toxicity than its counterparts and requires only soap and water for cleanup.
• Often used to finish hardwood floors, the newer water-based oil-modified polyurethane lends a more robust level of protection than traditional water-based poly. However, any water-based polyurethane is more susceptible to cracking from heat and UV damage, so intricate wood carvings or surfaces that will be exposed to the outdoors may be better protected by an oil-based product.
• Finally, more heat-tolerant but also higher in toxicity, oil-based polyurethane goes on with a subtle amber tint that can beautifully enhance the underlying wooden tones of kitchen tables, bar tops, and cutting surfaces.

The Application
The process of applying polyurethane varies depending on the product’s base.

• Fast-drying water-based polyurethane and its newer water-based oil-modified cousin can be applied with a fine-bristle brush, foam roller, spray, or rag. If applying over an oil-based stain, rough up the stain with a little bit of steel wool so the new coat of polyurethane will adhere better. Also, keep in mind that the more watery the polyurethane, the thinner it is—and the more coats it will require.
Oil-based polyurethane uses similar methods: a natural-bristle brush, a spray can for larger projects, or a rag for an elegant, hand-rubbed finish. While any polyurethane application requires an open window and good ventilation, because this particular category of finish is higher in VOCs, when you’re applying it indoors you should use a respirator and ensure that the surrounding area remain well-ventilated throughout the lengthier drying time.


Varnish vs Polyurethane - Varnish



You may have heard varnish used as a generic term for any finish, but traditional varnish describes an older form of finish that contains alkyd resin, oil, and solvents. When applied to wooden surfaces indoors or out, varnish cures into a thin and glossy film with a faint yellow or amber tint, similar to the finish achieved with oil-based polyurethane.

The Best Uses
The high solid content and water resistance of varnish make it particularly apt for use on water-exposed outdoor decks, deck chairs, and boats. Its low toxicity, however, means that it’s equally safe to use near the entryway on exterior doors and trim. A variant of varnish known as spar or marine varnish offers both UV protection and flexibility, which makes it a favorite among DIY woodworkers, who can confidently apply it to soft woods like pine that bend under extreme conditions.

The Application
Despite its ability to serve as a wood sunblock, it’s not all sunny when it comes to varnish. If varnish is not applied correctly or dried completely, it can peel, crack, or form bubbles that leave wood more susceptible to environmental damage. For optimal results, apply varnish in several layers using a natural-bristle brush. Then, allow this traditionally slow-drying finish to sit for at least six hours under fair weather conditions to give your wood surfaces a photo finish!

Weekend Projects: 5 Doable Designs for a DIY Firewood Rack

If you have an abundance of spare firewood but no place to stash it properly, look no further than these easy and affordable log racks that you can make in a weekend.


There’s nothing more comforting on a cold winter’s night than curling up in front of a crackling fire. But it takes fuel to keep those home fires burning, so you need to make sure you have logs on hand. The trouble is, when you have more wood than you can burn—and nowhere to store it—the excess is often scrapped or improperly left on the wet ground, where it can rot from exposure to heat, water, and pests. Fortunately, there are a number of DIY storage solutions that can shelter your firewood from the elements. We’ve handpicked five that will keep your stash safe and sound—sleeping like logs, you might say.



DIY Firewood Rack - Made with Wire


This midcentury-inspired firewood holder from The Nest brings modern sophistication to old-world fireside traditions. Cleverly constructed from two tomato cages that have been clipped to size and welded together with epoxy, this holder gets a chic touch with a few coats of high-gloss black spray paint. After all the elements have dried, connect the circles together with a strip of leather cord, and finish by placing the log rack atop wooden blocks for greater style and stability.



DIY Firewood Rack - Concrete


Invigorate your hearth and home with an industrial-vibe log holder that’s modern and utilitarian, and won’t tempt pesky termites. To re-create this sleek, minimalist design from DIY Pete, first construct a concrete form by cutting a melamine sheet into pieces to be assembled into an inner and outer box. Connect the two boxes together to make the form, and then fill it with Quikrete mix. Once the concrete has cured, remove the form and sand down the concrete, and affix both a wooden top and four feet for a rustic finishing touch.



DIY Firewood Rack - Rolling Cart


This crafty rolling firewood rack not only makes the process of loading and retrieving wood super simple, it also lends some style to your hearth or backyard. To build something similar to this piece that was created by the blogger at The Wood Grain Cottage, cut redwood into planks, then secure them together with a nail gun to form the frame. Next, cut the sides of the cart from smaller wooden planks and connect them to the base. Attach slats from old pieces of wood or fence pickets, add casters, and finish with a few coats of paint to give your firewood a fun and functional home.



DIY Firewood Rack - Grate


If frequent backyard gatherings have you at a loss for not only where to stash extra wood, but also where to keep your spare grill grate, then this solution from Bower Power Blog has everything you need. To form the frame, saw 2×4 boards of pressure-treated lumber into planks for the top, base, and upright supports. Then, assemble the rack and stain as desired. Lay the grill grate over the top, giving you a place to store this unwieldy extra as well as a one-of-a-kind landing spot for outdoor odds and ends.



DIY Firewood Rack - Window Well


Let your logs hibernate all winter long in this sheltering firewood nook from Lowe’s, fashioned from metal window wells and pressure-treated wooden boards. Start by constructing and assembling the shelf and base from cut wood. Then, attach the flanges of each window well to the sides of the shelf. Finally, drive in screws with washers to fasten the shelf to the base. With bricks or pavers placed underneath, this roomy storage unit will stand at the ready whenever you need to add fuel to the fire!

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


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!

- 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



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.



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.



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


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.

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

How to Thaw Frozen Pipes - Damaged Section


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.

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.

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.

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


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.


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


- 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



DIY Ornaments - Step 1


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.


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


• 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


• 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


• 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.



DIY Ornaments - Step 3


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.



DIY Ornaments - Step 4


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.



DIY Ornaments - Step 5


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


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!