Category: How To’s & Quick Tips


How To: Get Rid of Waterbugs

Whether you call them waterbugs, palmetto bugs, or cockroaches, you want them far, far away from your home. Get them out, and keep them that way, with these straightforward guidelines.

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How to Get Rid of Waterbugs

Photo: flickr.com via Insects Unlocked

When most homeowners refer to a “waterbug,” they’re actually employing a delicate colloquialism for an insect whose mere name induces squirms: the cockroach. (To be sure, there are actual water bugs—bugs that live in or on water. These true water bugs include insects of the infraorder Nepomorpha, some of which can grow to almost 5 inches in length. Be grateful you don’t see a few of those scurrying under the fridge when you turn on the kitchen light!) Our standard-issue household cockroaches earned the nickname “waterbug” for their tendency to cluster near water sources. This predilection is entirely understandable: A cockroach can live for a month without food, but it can’t last more than a week without water. While roaches (often also known as palmetto bugs) generally prefer to live outside, they are—much to the annoyance of homeowners everywhere—attracted to damp indoor environments, such as kitchens and bathrooms. Fortunately, a few key extermination practices and a few lifestyle tweaks might help rid you of this pest population for good.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
- Natural or synthetic pesticides
- Tight-fitting food storage
- Covered recycling containers and garbage cans
- Vacuum
- Rug cleaner
- Caulk
- Concrete sealant

How to Get Rid of Waterbugs - in the Bathroom

Photo: fotosearch.com

STEP 1
Before you begin launching weapons of mass insect destruction, be sure your adversary is actually a member of the roach family. Conduct a quick search online and in your state university’s insect database for “cockroach” and “palmetto bug” to be certain you’re not dealing with a case of mistaken identity.

STEP 2
As your waterbugs probably came in from the outdoors, search for nests and likely entry points into the house. This means you’ll have to poke around in those dark corners of the house that you rarely clean (and perhaps use only for long-term storage). Look for gaps around windows, doors, and pipes that penetrate the home’s exterior. Check for cracks in concrete floors and walls.

If you’re having trouble finding a nest, search at night in rooms that have been dark for a few hours, giving the bugs time to become active. Enter every room where you suspect they’re living, and turn on the light. If cockroaches are there, you’ll probably see them scatter. Watch where they go, and concentrate your eradication efforts there.

STEP 3
Once you’ve determined where your waterbugs are, it’s time to pull out the pesticides. One way that these chemicals work is by exploiting roaches’ natural habits. Interestingly, although we associate cockroaches with filth and disease, these insects groom themselves constantly—and that behavior is the ticket to their extermination. If a waterbug makes contact with a pesticide, whether natural or synthetic, the insect will consume it while cleaning itself. In other words, whatever is on the roach will soon be in the roach.

Effective roach pesticidal treatments run the gamut from otherwise innocuous natural products to hard-core chemicals. Proper application and placement are critical to success, which is why some people choose to hire pros for the job.

Natural pest killers include concentrated distilled white vinegar; a mix of equal parts sugar and baking soda; borax and boric acid, which destroy the insects’ digestive tract; and essential oils like citronella. Apply liquid products to the nests and to all drains—tub, toilet, laundry room, and dishwasher—using a spray bottle. To apply powders, sprinkle them on and near the nests and access sites. (Hint: Use only a thin dusting, because these wily insects avoid large clumps.)

Synthetic chemical treatments each feature an active ingredient that targets the insect’s nervous system to kill them. Read and carefully follow the directions provided with any such product, because the ingredients may be toxic to people and indoor pets as well as roaches. You can find chemical treatment marketed in the following forms:

Gels, which attract and kill the bugs. Baits in this form simplify application in hard-to-reach places, such as under the fridge or stove, or above or below cabinets.
Traps, like the boxed “roach motels” that lure and kill roaches out-of-sight.
Sprays, commonly used for DIY extermination. SC Johnson, the maker of Raid products, suggests sending pets and kids outside or otherwise away from the application area and sealing the space for at least 15 minutes before thoroughly airing it out.

Outside intervention by a professional exterminator may be necessary if you have a serious infestation or can’t find the nest or entry points.

STEP 4
After you’ve completed your chosen method of extermination, take steps to prevent future infestations. Obviously, you’ll want to caulk or otherwise seal all gaps and cracks that invite roach infiltration—but that’s just the beginning. Make sure that roaches have no reason to enter your home, and nowhere to hide should they get in. You can reduce the risk of attracting waterbugs by incorporating these practices into your daily routine:

• Carefully seal and store your food; don’t leave any out overnight.
• Put tight-fitting lids on recycling bins, and empty them at least once a week.
• Remove garbage daily, if neighborhood covenants permit.
• Confine meals to one part of the house.
Vacuum regularly to eliminate crumbs and other debris, and thoroughly clean the kitchen, including all appliances, with a disinfectant.
• Clean rugs and carpets annually with a steam cleaner.
• Fix leaky interior and exterior faucets, and repair basement walls where water is seeping in.

It takes commitment and vigilance to keep waterbugs from staging a counterattack, but it’s worth the effort to purge your home of this creepiest of all crawlies.


Genius! The Indoor Clothesline You Didn’t Know You Needed

Chores will always be a drag, but they don't have to be expensive. Save space with this fresh DIY twist on a laundry staple—and stay green without wringing out your wallet.

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DIY Clothesline

Photo: notrashproject.com

Homeowners know that even energy-efficient washers and dryers drive up electric bills, and renters are even worse off, stuck with hauling heavy bags to the nearest laundromat and emptying a pocketful of quarters for every load. Colleen, a resourceful renter on a budgetand the brains behind the lifestyle blog, No Trash Project—shared the same pricey problem. Her solution? Turning to and modernizing a generations-old technique of line-drying.

For most of the year, the clothesline outside her building was a convenient way to dry her laundry on a dime. But winter, along with its snowstorms and freezing rain, posed a whole new problem: It exposed her wardrobe to water damage and mold. For the first few weeks of the season, Colleen hung her wet clothes on every doorknob and drawer pull in her apartment. Still, the fix was far from perfect, as her damp laundry hung too close to the floor and didn’t get the proper air circulation. Coupled with longer drying time and limited space, it was impossible to do all of her laundry at once.

So with a length of rope in her junk drawer and a simple fix in mind, Colleen made her own indoor clothesline that stretched across her living room. She twisted a heavy-duty screw hook into each of the space’s two door frames (located at opposite sides of the room) and strung rope taut between the pair. Hovering about 75″ above the floor, the new clothesline exposed wet clothes to moving air from the radiator and windows, cutting down on drying time and preserving the fabric.

Beyond simply cutting out the need for extra quarters, the DIY clothesline is easy to take down, wrap up, and store for the next wash—a serious space-saver in a tiny apartment. Reusable and environmentally friendly, this fresh spin on a classic makes laundry day a cinch.

FOR MORE: No Trash Project

DIY Clothesline - Indoors

Photo: notrashproject.com


How To: Get Rid of Carpet Beetles

Stop the insect invasion that’s intent on destroying the textiles in your home.

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How to Get Rid of Carpet Beetles

Photo: flickr.com via Jean-Raphaël Guillaumin

They enter your home in a myriad of ways—hitching rides on cut flowers, clothing, or pets, or simply flying though open windows. Once inside, carpet beetles (Dermestids) can settle in and lay eggs, and their larvae can really wreak havoc on rugs, curtains, upholstery—even your clothing. Banish the little buggers with this multipronged strategy.

Meet the Enemy
In the adult stage, these creepy culprits are less than ¼ inch long and either black or a combination of tan, white, and black. They tend to congregate around windows and doorways—so check these areas if you suspect an infestation. While irksome, the adult carpet beetles are harmless; only in the larva stage are they a threat to natural fibers. The tiny worm-like larvae favor dark areas like closets and behind baseboards, and they’re difficult to spot with the naked eye. Sometimes the only way to know you’ve got ‘em is by the damage they cause, such as bare spots in rugs, holes in packed-away clothing, or wormholes in books. The good news is that once you’ve identified their presence, you can usually get rid of them without the expense of an exterminator.

Make a Clean Sweep
Need an excuse to do spring cleaning? This is the time of year carpet beetles beeline for your home. Since dust bunnies, cobwebs, dead insects and tufts of shed pet fur are an open invitation to larvae, get busy with the duster, vacuum and broom. Next, go through stored clothing to check for damaged or infested items. Laundering kills active larvae but any wool, leather, fur or delicate items that you can’t throw in the washer require professional dry cleaning.

How to Get Rid of Carpet Beetles - Carpet Beetle Larvae

Photo: flickr.com via pasukaru76

Do DIY Extermination
Vanquish carpet beetles without calling in a pro! Here are three ways to attack destructive larvae, plus a treatment to get rid of adult bugs for good.

• Insecticide: Stop an active larvae infestation by treating carpet or upholstery with an insecticide that contains at least one of the following ingredients: deltamethrin, bifenthrin, or cyfluthrin. Test a small inconspicuous area before treating the entire carpet to ensure the product won’t stain. Many insecticides warn against use around people and pets so follow the manufacturer’s safety precautions carefully.

• Boric acid: Boric acid, which acts as a poison on insect metabolism, is only hazardous to humans if ingested or inhaled in large quantities. Find it at pharmacies and sprinkle it in powder form lightly and evenly on carpet, then use a broom or brush to distribute it into the fibers. Wait several hours and vacuum thoroughly. You may also prepare a larvae-killing spray by adding one tablespoon of boric acid to two cups of hot water and stirring until the powder dissolves. Fill a plastic spray bottle with the solution and mist curtains, upholstery, baseboards, and dark nooks and crannies where carpet beetle larvae hang out.

• Diatomaceous earth: Another natural product, diatomaceous earth (available at agricultural-feed stores) is a desiccant that quickly kills larvae by dehydrating them. Treat rugs in the method described for boric acid above, and also sprinkle some in the back of cabinets and closets and in pet beds. Choose “food grade” diatomaceous earth, which is safe for pets and humans, but wear a respirator or mask to keep from inhaling the fine dust particles when applying.

• Fog (for adults only): Although they’re no longer chewing your possessions, adult female carpet beetles lay eggs and can start the whole nasty process again. Use a flying insect fogger to effectively eradicate adult beetles, and keep flying insect spray on hand to attack any strays or newcomers.

Fend Off Future Infestations
The best cure is always an ounce of prevention. Stop adult carpet beetles from entering your home by hanging sticky flypaper strips near windows to catch them. If you find yourself dealing with repeated infestations, place sticky pheromone-type traps on windowsills and in closets to stop carpet beetles before they have a chance to lay eggs.


DIY Kids: Craft Your Own Tabletop Easel

With a tabletop easel, you can take your art to go! Look tempting? Let this photo tutorial walk you and your family through the steps of making your own DIY art station.

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DIY Easel - How to Build a Table-Top Easel

Photo: bobvila.com

Nothing makes a young, aspiring artist feel accomplished quite as much as having an easel to work on. But a traditional easel can be bulky, and as a result it can end up largely confined to a basement or craft room. To give my two arts-and-crafts-loving girls the freedom to always be able to take advantage of the best natural light, we DIYed an on-the-go tabletop easel that’s easy to transport anywhere—to the kitchen, the back porch, or even outside.

Thanks to our careful planning, this easel is suitable for all sorts of projects: We coated one side in chalkboard paint and outfitted the other with clips that can hold paper as large as 18 inches by 24 inches. The little tray at the bottom of this MDF beauty can even switch from holding a paintbrush or chalk to steadying a canvas! This portable easel is exceptionally customizable, so feel free to adapt it to your family’s needs.

SKILL LEVEL: EASY
With only three cuts (which, by the way, big-box hardware stores are generally happy to make for you), this project involves just painting, drilling a few holes, and driving a few screws.

 

DIY Easel - Supplies

Photo: bobvila.com

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
- 2′ x 4′ project board of 1/2-inch MDF
- Tape measure
- Pencil
- Circular saw
- Screw gun
- 5/8-inch spade bit
- Sandpaper
- Rags
- Primer
- Paintbrushes
- Spray paint
- Chalkboard spray paint
- Tarp or old sheet
- 2 low-profile clipboard clips
- 3/8-inch screws (4)
- Phillips-head screwdriver
- Drywall screws (8)
- Hinges with screws (2)
- 1/2-inch braided poly rope (5 to 6 feet)
- Scissors
- Lighter

 

STEP 1

Cut 3 inches from the width of the MDF project board so you’re left with two pieces: a larger board of 21 inches by 4 feet and a skinnier length that’s 3 inches by 4 feet. On each board, measure and mark the midpoint of the longer, 4-foot, side; the midpoint will be 2 feet (24 inches) in from either end. Saw the boards exactly in half at this point. You’ll be left with four pieces—the pair of 21-inch by 24-inch boards will become the panels of your tabletop easel, and the two 3-inch by 24-inch boards will be the trays for resting art supplies.

As always, if you don’t have a circular saw at home, check with your home improvement store where you pick up the MDF to see if they can make the cuts for you.

 

STEP 2

DIY Easel - Mark Holes for Drilling

Photo: bobvila.com

This portable easel is carried by a rope handle, and lengths of rope also supply tension between the two panels so they won’t slide all the way open while your kids (or you!) are working on the easel. So, your first step is to drill holes in the panels to feed the rope through.

Start by stacking the panels exactly on top of each other. Remember, your easel will be a little wider than it is tall, so the holes for the handle will will go through one of the longer, 24-inch, sides, and the holes for the ropes that hold the easel open will go through the shorter, 21-inch, sides. Orient the boards accordingly, and on the top board measure and mark for one hole on each 21-inch side, halfway down and about 1 inch in from each edge. These will be the holes that hold the tension rope. Next, mark the holes for the handle at the top of the panel by measuring to find the center (which should be 12 inches from either side), then marking two holes 1-1/2 inches to either side of the center and 1-1/2 inches down from the top edge.

 

STEP 3

DIY Easel - Drill Holes for Rope

Photo: bobvila.com

Using the 5/8-inch spade bit, drill the holes while the boards are stacked so the holes will match up perfectly. Clean up any rough edges around the drill holes with sandpaper.

 

STEP 4

DIY Easel - Prime the Boards

Photo: bobvila.com

Now, wipe the panels down with a barely damp rag to remove the dust. Because it’s porous, MDF needs to be sealed, so be sure to prime both sides before painting it. Lay out an old sheet or a tarp so you don’t leave behind any unwanted splatter, and get to work! One helpful hint: Chalkboard paint will cover better over a darker colored primer.

 

STEP 5

DIY Easel - Spray Paint the Boards

Photo: bobvila.com

After the primer has dried, spray-paint all pieces (both sides) the color of your choice. Again, allow them to dry thoroughly before doing more work. When they’re dry, spray one side of one panel with chalkboard paint.

 

STEP 6 (optional)

DIY Easel - Take Apart Clipboard

Photo: bobvila.com

You can either purchase clipboard clips online or get a couple of cheap clipboards and drill the rivets out of the clips to remove them. The rivets are aluminum and softer than any drill bit. Just find a drill bit that is slightly smaller than the rivet, and drill at it from either side. It should come loose fairly easily.

 

STEP 7

DIY Easel - Drill for Clips

Photo: bobvila.com

Place the clips (store-bought or “stolen”) onto one side of the panel without any chalkboard paint—this side of the easel will be used for takeaway artwork, the kind you can frame or stick on the fridge! Position the clips at the top of the panel (the end that has the pair of holes for the handle), placing each one 3 inches from the top and 4-1/2 inches from the sides. This should leave enough room for the clips to hold a large piece of newsprint.

Use a pencil to mark the clips’ holes, then predrill the holes for the 3/8-inch screws, and screw each clip in place.

 

STEP 8

DIY Easel - Attach the Trays

Photo: bobvila.com

Attach a 3-inch tray piece to the bottom of one panel using four drywall screws. Repeat on the second panel.

 

STEP 9

DIY Easel - Add Hinges

Photo: bobvila.com

Now, turn both panels face down—the chalkboard and clips will be resting on the floor or work surface—with their top edges touching, and connect them using two hinges. Position each hinge approximately halfway between one of the rope handle holes and the outside edge, then screw one plate of each hinge to the top of the chalkboard side, and the other to the clip side.

 

STEP 10

DIY Easel - Thread Rope

Photo: bobvila.com

Knot one end of the rope and thread it through the front of one easel panel, then measure 2 feet out on the rope and cut it. Thread the cut end through the other panel (this time through the back and out the front), and make a knot, leaving about 14 to 18 inches of rope between the two knots. Repeat the process on the other side.

DIY Easel - Burn Poly Rope to Melt Ends

Photo: bobvila.com

Trim the rope at each knot, then either wrap a piece of tape around the ends or melt them with a lighter to keep them from fraying. Note: You can melt poly rope but not ropes made of natural fibers. Go with tape if you’re using the latter.

 

STEP 11

DIY Easel - Knotted Handle

Photo: bobvila.com

Finally, thread a length of rope through the holes in the top of the easel panels and tie the ends together to create a handle.

DIY Easel - Completed Project

Photo: bobvila.com

With the handle in place, you’re ready to carry your DIY easel wherever you want to paint or draw. After your art session, your easel can be folded up flat so that it can stand unassumingly in a corner, at the back of a closet, behind a door, or anywhere you choose to stash it until the creative impulse strikes again.

DIY Easel - Finished Artwork

Photo: bobvila.com


How To: Clean Plexiglass

Learn how to keep plexiglass—a safe, glare-free glass substitute—clean and scratch-free with these crystal-clear instructions.

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How to Clean Plexiglass

Photo: fotosearch.com

Commonly used to construct everyday items from shower enclosures to tabletops, plexiglass (also known as acrylic) offers many advantages over actual glass. Though the two share a similar appearance, plexiglass is lighter, tougher to crack, and easy to cut to size for use in a variety of applications around the home. The transparent acrylic material also boasts a crystal-clear benefit of even better transparency than its competition with less glare. What’s more, it’s incredibly easy to clean and maintain that prized transparency—if you know how to treat it, of course.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
- Blow dryer (optional)
- Lint-free microfiber cloth
- Gentle acrylic cleaner (such as Brillianize or Novus No. 1) or mild dish soap
- Clean water

How to Clean Plexiglass - Shower Door

Photo: fotosearch.com

STEP 1
Begin by removing excess dust or dirt from the surface of the plexiglass, but not with your usual duster. Making direct, dry contact with surface particles using your hand or a cloth can actually grind them into the material itself.

Instead, use air to clear the surface, either by blowing across the pane (close your eyes first!) or briefly using a blow dryer set to its coolest, lowest setting—never, ever heat plexiglass. If you choose to go with the latter method, hold the blow dryer at a 45-degree angle several inches away from the plexiglass and run side-to-side down the surface.

STEP 2
Once excess grime has been removed, spray a nonabrasive acrylic cleaner, such as Brillianize or Novus No. 1, onto a one- or two-foot-square section of plexiglass. (For an on-hand alternative, a solution of mild dish soap and water works well too.)

Once the cleaner has been applied, use a soft, lint-free microfiber cloth—or, in a pinch, a disposable diaper—to gently wipe the surface down, again being careful to make contact only with the portion of the surface that already has cleaner on it. Continue applying the cleaner and wiping it off in small sections until you’ve finished the entire surface.

STEP 3
If you’re in the mood to be ultra-thorough, you can rinse out the cloth, soak it in plain water, and go back over the plexiglass once more. This step isn’t critical, but it might help you clean anything you missed. If it’s possible to simply run water over the surface without causing a slip hazard—for example, by spraying a shower nozzle on a low setting on the inside of a shower enclosure—you’ll ensure a brighter shine. Always remember: The less pressure, the better.

 

Above all, as you care for your plexiglass, be sure to avoid the three A’s: ammonia, abrasives, and aromatics. For all its conveniences, plexiglass is a sensitive material. It’s prone to scratching and tends to hang on to scented solutions used on its surface. Skip all-purpose cleaners when you clean, which can do more harm than good, for something even more mild or specialized. And, as already mentioned, never wipe down plexiglass with a dry cloth, or brush over it with a bare, dry hand. So long as you keep these restrictions in mind and maintain a simple, straightforward cleaning regimen, you should be able to keep your plexiglass windows and shower enclosures scratch-free and spotless for years to come.


3 Fixes for Dust Mites

These tiny pests thrive in the warmth and comfort of your favorite resting places, including your bed and your upholstered furniture. Keep the little critters under control with one of these easy solutions.

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How to Get Rid of Dust Mites

Photo: fotosearch.com

Though far from pleasant to think about, there’s a good chance your home is ridden with dust mites—microscopic organisms that feed off the steady supply of dead skin cells coating our carpets, couches, and most unsettling of all, our beds. While you can’t ever completely eliminate these extremely common household pests, you can control them, which can go a long way toward alleviating the congestion, sneezing, and coughing that plague those who suffer from dust mite allergies. To help keep your spaces—and your family—healthy, try one of these easy solutions that can minimize your mites.

 

IN HOT WATER

How to Get Rid of Dust Mites - Wash and Dry

Photo: fotosearch.com

The most effective tactic for getting rid of dust mites is also the easiest: Wash your sheets, comforters, and pillowcases at least once a week in hot water (at a temperature of at least 130 degrees Fahrenheit), then machine dry them. Beyond your weekly load of linens, you’ll also want to toss your pillows in the dryer for about 15 to 20 minutes once a month to prevent dust mites from getting too cozy.

If getting into your clean routine doesn’t provide any relief from buggy nightmares or allergens, consider also changing out down pillows or comforters, as they attract the most dust mites. For especially sensitive sinuses, allergy-proof bedding may be a worthy investment; these sets can prevent the dust mites from burrowing into your slumber station and minimize the number of times you need to wash your bed linens.

 

VACUUM SEAL

How to Get Rid of Dust Mites - Vacuum

Photo: dyson.com

Unfortunately, dust mites don’t just like to kick back in your bed. These creepy critters will make themselves comfortable in carpets and furniture upholstery as well. Bid them goodbye by simply sticking to a regular vacuuming schedule. Make sure to hit every textile-covered element in a room, including couch cushions, rugs, throw pillows, and curtains. If you con’t already own one, consider upgrading to a vacuum with a HEPA filter. This attachment makes a huge difference by trapping both dust mite waste and eggs—something that most non-HEPA models cannot accomplish. If you already have a HEPA-equipped vacuum but can’t remember when you last replaced the filter, swap in a fresh one to ensure that you’re sucking up as much dusty debris as possible.

 

FREEZE THEM OUT

How to Get Rid of Dust Mites - Freeze

Photo: fotosearch.com

For delicate materials or precious items like the kids’ stuffed animals (yep, dust mites hang out on them, too) that you’d rather not risk damaging in the washing machine, give dust mites the cold shoulder with this next easy, effective method. Drop the item in question in a large zip-lock bag, and pop it into the freezer for about 48 hours—it’s that simple. Dust mites love warm, humid conditions, so the freezer is just about the last place they’re likely to survive. You can also try setting up a dehumidifier or two at home to render your spaces inhospitably dry. Maintaining a humidity level below 50 percent should make dust mites’ lives intolerable, and yours much more comfortable.


Solved! What to Do About Flickering Lights

If you’re frustrated by flickering lights, you’re not alone. Read the following response to a question posed by a reader with the same concern.

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Flickering Lights - Change Lightbulb

Photo: fotosearch.com

Q: Help! The lightbulbs in our fixtures keep flickering on and off. As far as I know, my house isn’t haunted, but I’m spooked that this could cause a fire. Am I being overly cautious, or do I need to call an electrician?

A: It appears you’re having a “lightbulb” moment. Unfortunately, it’s not the kind that sparks a brilliant idea, but rather, a problem that requires an immediate repair. Short of festive holiday lights or decorative faux candles, a flickering light in a standard fixture is not normal. Although electrical problems should always be taken seriously, you can discern the quick fixes from the causes for concern with these helpful tips.

Flickering Lights - Switch

Photo: fotosearch.com

Start at the source—of the bulb, that is. Florescent bulbs have a propensity to flicker frequently, due to a variety of everyday factors, including cold temperatures, the bulb burning out while in the socket (tip: replace the tubes to stop this from happening), and the general way that phosphors power up their maximum level. If your florescents flicker every now and again, it’s probably not a huge concern.

For LED bulbs, the most common cause of flickering relates to dimmer switches. These dimmers are manufactured to handle higher electrical loads that don’t always coincide with the lower voltages of LEDs. Before swapping out your standard lightbulbs, take an inventory of your existing dimmer make and model, and then cross-check the compatibility to ensure everything will work seamlessly.

Sometimes the solution is as simple as a quick “righty-tighty.” How many homeowners does it take to screw in a lightbulb? The answer is one, but that one person needs to screw it in correctly to avoid any flickering. The solution to your horror story lighting scheme could be as simple as twisting the bulb so that it sits tightly enough into the socket to make the necessary connection.

A faulty fixture switch or a lose light plug can also cause difficulties. It’s all about the connections: A loose one between the on/off switch on your lamp or light fixture and the lightbulb itself could be the culprit. Wiggle the switch gently to see if it evokes a flicker; if yes, simply replace it to stop the strobe light effect. The issue could also arise from a loose connection between the plug and the outlet. Unplug your lamp, adjust the metal prongs, and then plug it back in. If that does the trick, it may be that the two just needed a more secure fit.

Infrequent shakiness might mean your large appliances are to blame. Pay attention to the patterns: If you notice your lights flicker consistently when large appliances such as your air conditioner are running, the problem could be that your overall voltage is fluctuating too often, or that you have too much sensory overload on the same circuit. Although slight fluctuations are normal, your home should register between 115 and 125 volts. Purchase a voltmeter at your local hardware store to gauge your home’s output, or hire an electrician to take a look.

Old wiring, breakers, connectors, and switches are cause for concern. Loose or outdated wiring is one of the leading causes of house fires. If you try the above troubleshooting techniques and your lights still flicker, this could be a sign of loose service conductors in your main electrical panel, an outdated breaker box with worn connectors, or a switch failure. In any event, whether it’s a system-wide problem or confined to one location, these problems can quickly turn into a fire hazard; call an electrician to pinpoint the problem.

And don’t forget about the neighbors. Your home shares a transformer with surrounding homes, so a cause of flickering lights may be your neighbors’ heavy electrical usage, or damage caused by downed trees or power lines. An electrician (and a little patience to see if the problem resolves itself!) is your best bet for identifying, locating, and repairing the issue.


Bob Vila Radio: Solving a Ladybug Infestation

In your summer garden, ladybugs are an asset, feeding on plants' natural enemies. In the winter, however, ladybugs can become an unwelcome nuisance indoors. Dealing with an infestation? Read on.

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This winter, you may find yourself with uninvited guests—orange-red Asian ladybugs. Imported to combat garden pests, Asian ladybugs like to spend the cold season indoors, where they favor light-color walls that receive plenty of sunshine.

How to Get Rid of Ladybugs

Photo: fotosearch.com

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Listen to BOB VILA ON KEEPING LADYBUGS OUT or read the text below:

Since they leave pheromone trails, Asian ladybugs typically return to the same site to hibernate year after year. They pose no danger to you or your property, but when upon invading your home, their sheer numbers can be overwhelming. To end the problem, simply vacuum and then release the bugs outdoors. Careful—don’t sweep up the ladybugs, because when stressed, they secrete a smelly yellow liquid capable of staining walls and floors.

To keep the bugs from finding their way back into the home, use weatherstripping and foam insulation to seal any cracks around doors, windows, and eaves. Also, note that it can be effective to spray insecticide, not in the garden, but against the home exterior, including the siding, trim, attic vents, and roof overhang.

Bob Vila Radio is a 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day carried on more than 186 stations in 75 markets around the country. Click here to subscribe, so you can automatically receive each new episode as it arrives—absolutely free!


How To: Get Rid of Bagworms

If you don't keep a weather eye out for these voracious little critters, you may wind up with brown, damaged, or even dead trees or shrubs. Learn how to recognize bagworms and eradicate them from your yard, before it's too late!

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How to Get Rid of Bagworms - In a Tree

Photo: flickr.com via NY State IPM Program at Cornell University

Notice an inexplicable mass destruction, yellowing, or defoliation in your evergreens? A close and careful look through the branches might reveal the culprit in clever camouflage: bagworms. These destructive insects attack many species of tree or bush, but are most often found on conifers like juniper, pine, arborvitae, cyprus, cedar, and spruce. They’re called “bagworms” because after the larvae feed on plants and trees, they encase themselves in cocoon-like “bags” constructed from twigs, leaves, and self-spun silk. Once in its bag, a female bagworm can lay 500 to 1,000 eggs—escalating your bagworm problem to an serious infestation fast. Each egg will hatch into another bagworm primed to defoliate whatever it’s near. The worst part? Your problem may go unnoticed until too late because these bags assume the appearance of conifer cones. Should you find yourself with a bad case of bagworms, follow this thorough guide to get rid of them.

How to Get Rid of Bagworms - Bagworm Cocoon

Photo: fotosearch.com

HANDPICKING
If you find just a few bagworms, you may have caught the infestation early that you can effectively control the situation by handpicking the bags off the plants and submerging them in a bucket of soapy water to suffocate the larvae. This will work, however, only if the larvae haven’t yet left the bags to go out to feed. Hatching generally happens in late May to early June, so do your handpicking of bagworms from late fall to early spring.

BIOLOGICAL CONTROL
Sometimes it’s not feasible to handpick bagworms, particularly when you’re dealing with tall trees. But if you can harness the power of creatures that feed on bagworms, you may still be able to control your bagworm population.

Bacteria: Bt, the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis, is effective at controlling bagworms if it’s applied as soon as the eggs hatch in the spring. Don’t wait too long—this bacteria won’t be as effective when the larvae have grown large. Follow the application instructions on the product you buy, and apply it with a garden sprayer. Follow up and reapply every 7 to 10 days until the bagworms are gone.

Birds: Sparrows are predators of bagworms, so you may be able to keep the bagworm population down by attracting sparrows to your yard. To make your property more appealing for the birds, provide water at ground level (a low birdbath) as well as materials and places for nesting (thickets and trees). Sparrows also appreciate shelter to flit between, so brush piles and shrubbery can be assets, as can dusty areas for dust-bathing.

CHEMICAL CONTROL
An insecticide with malathion, diazinon, or carbaryl can rid you of a bagworm problem if applied to bushes and trees when the worms are still young larvae. So, aim to spray in late spring, just after the bagworms have hatched and begun to feed, and always follow the insecticide manufacturer’s instructions.

No matter where or what time of year you find bagworms, don’t wait to start formulating a plan to eradicate them. Left unchecked, they can completely defoliate and kill your yard’s trees, bushes, or hedges.

How to Get Rid of Bagworms - Bagworm in Its Shell

Photo: flickr.com via Dick Culbert


How To: Get Rid of Gnats

There’s a reason these little buggers are referred to as pests. Try a few of our easy solutions to banish them from every room of your house—and fast.

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How to Get Rid of Gnats in the House

Photo: flickr.com via Martin Cooper

Although they can’t really harm you, gnats are certainly annoying. The mere presence in your house of these pesky insects can leave you feeling twitchy and wondering what brought them inside in the first place. Rotting fruit is a common culprit, but it isn’t the only one. Dirty dishes, trash bags with spoiled food, and even damp potting soil can cause gnats to congregate and drive you crazy. The good news: There are a handful of clever tactics for removing them from your house that require nothing more than ingredients that you probably have in your kitchen cabinets, pantry, and fridge. Here is a room-by-room breakdown of gnat-removal strategies that will help you fix the problem before it gets worse.

How to Get Rid of Gnats in the House - On the Wall

Photo: fotosearch.com

KITCHEN
Have a few gnats hanging around your fruit basket? Here’s a tried-and-true way to get rid of them. To pull it off, you’ll need apple cider vinegar, sugar, dish soap, water, and a container. Simply mix approximately two tablespoons of vinegar with one liter of water. Add a tablespoon of sugar and a few drops of dish soap, stir it all together, and set the container near the fruit. The insects will be attracted to the scent, then when they make contact with the solution they’ll get stuck in the soap and drown.

DINING ROOM
The next time you’re sipping a glass of red wine at the dinner table and notice the occasional gnat hovering around, get ready to set out an extra glass. Gnats are attracted to the sugary, fermented beverage, so use it to lure them to their death. Simply pour a small amount of wine into a glass, and add a dash of liquid soap—just be sure you don’t get confused and drink out of the wrong glass! The gnats will fly right in, get stuck, and collect in the alcohol.

BATHROOM
Gnats that swarm around the sink or above tub drains are particularly aggravating. Unfortunately, in these instances, apple cider vinegar or wine isn’t always enough to handle the problem. If the gnats are hovering near the surface of the drain, try this trick: Dilute some bleach with water, and then pour it down the drain. One-half cup of bleach to one gallon of water should be enough. (Be sure to wear protective gloves and a mask so you don’t inhale the fumes.) Repeat as needed until you don’t see any gnats.

PANTRY
Sure, rotten fruit attracts gnats, but it’s also something you can use to beat them at their own game. The next time you have a rotten or overripe banana, mash it into a container, such as a small mason jar. Next, put plastic wrap over the top of the jar before puncturing the plastic with a scattering of holes. Gnats will wiggle through the openings to get to the fruit, but the transparent cover will prevent them from flying back out.

LIVING ROOM
If you notice just a gnat or two circling the room, this method is for you: Fill a spray bottle with a mixture of one cup of water, one tablespoon of vinegar, and a few drops of dish soap. The next time you see a gnat flying around, zap it in the air with a spritz. And don’t worry—this solution won’t harm your indoor plants.