Category: Roofing & Siding

How To: Apply Stucco

Do as the contractors do in order to ensure quality results the next time that you apply stucco.

Here are the steps professionals follow to apply a stucco finish. After installing a 15-pound felt moisture barrier on the side wall, nail on wire-key lath, which looks like chicken wire. Next, apply a 3/8-inch-thick scratch coat. When cured, apply the textured brown coat. The 1/8-inch color coat goes on last.

For more on siding, consider:

Stucco 101
Applying Stucco (VIDEO)
Bob Vila’s Guide to Exterior Siding

Bob Vila Radio: Solar Shingles

It is now easier and more affordable than ever to purchase and install solar shingles on your roof, as a means of saving energy and reducing electricity costs in the long run.

When you think about solar power, do you picture bulky panels protruding from rooftops? If so, think again. With the advent of solar shingles—photovoltaic cells designed to look like asphalt roofing shingles—home-based solar power is becoming more appealing, both aesthetically and economically.

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Thanks to advancements in thin-film photovoltaics, these slim-profile shingles are lightweight and flexible. They integrate almost seamlessly with traditional asphalt shingles, although, because they tend to be dark in color, they blend in best with dark roofs.

Solar shingles are most commonly used in conjunction with the existing power grid. This ensures that your home has power even when the sun doesn’t shine. It also means that if you’re lucky enough to generate more power than you use, you may be able to sell the excess back to the power company.

Solar shingles must be installed by a qualified roofing contractor, and you’ll need an electrician to hook them up to your electrical system and install an “inverter,” which converts the direct current they generate to standard AC power.

These shingles make solar a more accessible and attractive option, but they’re still pricey. As with any big purchase, do a careful cost analysis, and don’t forget to look into solar tax credits.

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 75 stations around the country (and growing). You can get your daily dose here, by listening to—or reading—Bob’s 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day.

Quick Tip: Installing Clapboard Siding

If you're installing clapboard siding, these tips on hanging the material can help you ensure that it looks right and remains watertight.

When installing clapboard siding, it’s important to overlap all joints. Here’s a way to get started that will ensure staggered joints every time. Create a pyramid effect by cutting different lengths every 16 inches. We’ve chosen 16 inches, because we nail directly into wall studs, which are spaced 16 inches on center. This method also makes use of more of your siding material, leaving less waste.

For more on siding, consider:

Wood Siding Options
Bob Vila’s Guide to Exterior Siding
Installing Clapboard Siding and Cedar Trim (VIDEO)

Bob Vila Radio: Gutter Cleaning

When all the leaves have fallen, but before it gets too wet out, clean your gutters— and remember these helpful tips.

Cleaning the gutters tends to be a relatively inexpensive task to hand off to a professional, who has the equipment and the experience to get this messy job done quickly and correctly. But if you want to save some money and you’re nimble enough to climb a ladder up to your highest gutter, you can do it yourself. The most important thing is to do it regularly—you don’t want to wait until your gutters are overflowing to start unclogging them.

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Gutter Cleaning


What fills up gutters is a mix of leaves, twigs, dirt and other debris that runs off your roof during the rain or drops in from nearby trees. If you or your neighbors have trees that shed leaves in autumn, wait until the trees are bare before you clean your gutters, or they’ll just fill up again when the leaves start to fall.

You’ll need to scoop out all the gunk, so wear work gloves to protect your hands from the edges of the gutter and from any sharp objects inside. Use a large bucket to collect it all, then use what you’ve collected as mulch or dispose of it as you would grass clippings. When you’re finished scooping, use a hose to flush the last of the debris through the downspouts and make sure there are no clogs anywhere. Most importantly, be careful on that ladder!

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 75 stations around the country (and growing). You can get your daily dose here, by listening to—or reading—Bob’s 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day.

Clean Gutters Now to Avoid Big Problems Later

Gutters are crucial in keeping water away from your house, but to do their job properly, they need to be free of clogging dirt and debris. Fortunately, you have a number of options for cleaning them out—and some don't even require a ladder!

How to Clean Gutters


Of all the necessary evils that go into a diligent fall maintenance routine, cleaning the gutters may be the most dreaded of all. Tedious though this task is, homeowners are wise not to neglect it: Properly functioning gutters, after all, help ensure that storm water does not find its way inside.

There are several ways to get the job done. No matter your chosen approach, the first step is to assess the state of the gutters, determining whether any clogs exist, and if so, their cause. Twigs and dry leaves are easy enough to clear away, but if your gutters are obstructed by dirt or decomposed organic matter (or even small seedlings), a relatively aggressive removal method may be in order. Here are a few of the most common and effective ways to clean gutters:

How to Clean Gutters With a Leaf Blower
Many leaf blowers come with a nozzle attachment designed to release a narrow stream of air, perfect for the purpose of gutter cleaning. Position your ladder so that you can work gradually toward the downspout, blowing out obstructions as you go. (Be careful to avoid blowing leaves into the downspout.) As a final step, remove any lingering leaves or twigs with a hose. Don’t want to stand on a ladder? A specialized attachment can extend the reach of your leaf blower.

How to Clean Gutters With a Wet/Dry Vacuum
To remove heavier debris from your gutters, experiment with a wet/dry vacuum. Your local home improvement retail store likely carries the hoses and curved attachments you need to reach the obstructed gutters from a standing position on the ground. Stubborn, stuck-on dirt may need to be moistened before it succumbs to the vacuum. Again, once you’ve removed the bulk of the material, flush the gutters and downspout with water from a garden hose.

How to Clean Gutters - By Hand


How to Clean Gutters With a Power Washer
Has it been a long while since you last cleaned your gutters? A layer of dirt and debris may have built up over time. Blast it away with the fine-spray nozzle of your power washer. (This type of cleaning can get messy; be prepared to rinse the roof and exterior walls afterward.) For clogged downspouts in particular, there’s no better recourse than a power washer. Simply point the nozzle down the hole and rinse the shaft until water can run freely through it.

How to Clean Gutters With a Garden Hose
So long as they are not thoroughly clogged, you can clean your gutters successfully with a garden hose. If the hose is equipped with the right attachment (a rigid tube with a curved end), you can stand on the ground, not on a ladder, as you work. Again, start at the end farthest from the downspout and flush the length of the channel; remove any residual material by hand before it dries out.

How to Clean Gutters by Hand
To clean gutters by hand, you’ll need a ladder, bucket, gutter scoop (or garden trowel), and heavy-duty gloves. Little by little, take out the leaves and debris, placing what you remove into the bucket. Finally, flush the gutters and downspout with water until you are certain both are functioning properly. Tip: If your downspouts are clogged and you don’t have a power washer, try busting through the obstruction with a plumber’s snake, then rinse with a hose.

Consider installing a screen or barrier on top of your gutters to prevent leaves and debris from accumulating over the course of the year. Remember what they say about an ounce of prevention!

Stone Veneer 101

Rock your home and garden makeovers with the natural look of stone veneer—a material that's surprisingly manageable for determined DIYers who have a little time or patience.

Installing Stone Veneer


The pharaohs capitalized on the beauty and strength of stone, overseeing the construction of architectural gems whose magnificence has endured into the modern age. Fortunately for do-it-yourselfers, stonework has changed a great deal since Ancient Egypt, and we no longer toil with monolithic blocks hewn from raw earth. Today, stone veneer is a lightweight and user-friendly option for home interiors and exteriors, and available in numerous colors and textures.

You can add stone veneer to a host of surfaces, both inside and outside your home. One popular choice is to use stone veneer to cover a fireplace mantel for an earthy look of permanence. Elsewhere in the home, stone veneer can be used to stunning effect in kitchen islands, eye-catching backsplashes, and spa-like showers. Stone veneer succeeds equally well as a house siding material, imparting an Old World look even to new construction. Yet another area where stone veneer can be put to good use is the backyard, where it can soften the transition between natural surroundings and manmade features, such as the patio or pool.

There are essentially two types of stone veneer. The first involves genuine stone, so it comes at a relatively high cost. For those with deep pockets, however, it’s a gorgeous, long-lasting choice. Traditionally, natural stone veneer has been heavier than engineered products, but recent advancements have all but eliminated that issue. Manufacturers nowadays are able to cut the stone so thinly that its weight is not out of line with that of its artificial cousins.

Faux stone, sometimes known as cultured stone, is the second type available to homeowners. In years past, artificial stone veneer looked, well, artificial, but times have changed. To the eye and even to the touch, manmade stone veneer now convincingly emulates the real thing. (Sure, you can tell the difference if you look closely, but you really have to look closely.) Lighter and a little tidier to work with, cultured stone veneer is the more DIY-friendly of the two options.

Installing Stone Veneer - Fieldstone


The process of installing stone veneer remains the same, more or less, whether you are applying a natural or cultured stone product, and whether you are working inside or outside the home.

First things first: The surface to which you are adhering the stone must be clean and free of paint, dust, or dirt. If the stone veneer is going to cover an installation of brick or concrete, it can be directly applied. Any other surface must be sheathed beforehand with metal lath. Note that on exterior walls, it’s recommended that a weather-resistant vapor barrier be installed behind the lath.

Next, apply a scratch coat of mortar composed of two parts washed sand to one part Portland cement. Layer on a thickness of about a half inch. While the mortar is still soft, use a metal scraper to lightly carve horizontal grooves across the surface. Then allow the scratch coat to cure for 24 hours.

You now have a masonry surface over which you can install stone veneer. Here’s the procedure.

1. Mix an appropriate quantity of mortar using two parts washed sand to one part Portland cement. Stir the mortar for at least five minutes, until it has a thick and creamy consistency.

2. Lay out the stones in the pattern you wish. If necessary, trim individual stones to a usable size by means of a masonry hammer (or a skilsaw outfitted with a masonry blade).

3. Remove all dust, dirt, and loose particles from the stones, washing with water if needed. Once the stones are clean and dry, moisten (but do not saturate) their rear sides with a masonry brush. Doing so helps to ensure a strong bond between the stone and mortar.

4. Spread a half inch to one inch of mortar over the back of the stone. Press the stone to the wall. As you press, rotate slightly, forcing some of the mortar to squeeze out around the edges of the stone. Before the mortar has a chance to set, remove any excess from the surface of the stone with a rag or brush. Keep the joint lines as narrow as possible between adjacent stones for the most attractive appearance.

5. Once you have installed the stone veneer over the scratch coat using the technique described in Step 4, proceed to grout any large gaps between the stones.

Approximately four weeks later, apply a quality sealer to the stone veneer in order to protect the surface. Once applied, the sealer must be reapplied periodically, especially in an outdoor installation. Keep in mind that a sealer may change the coloring of the stone, so experiment with the sealer first in an inconspicuous area; if you aren’t thrilled with the result, try a different product. One great thing about stone veneer is how easy it is to clean: If the hose fails to do the trick—or if you’re cleaning indoors—water and a stiff brush will almost always produce satisfactory results.

How To: Clean Gutters with a Wet/Dry Vac

Believe it or not, you can use a wet/dry vac to make quicker and easier work of the fall maintenance task that homeowners love least—gutter cleaning.

A wet-dry vac is a great tool to have—and not just for cleaning up the workshop. They come in handy for those tedious seasonal chores, as well. With a few special attachments like these, cleaning the leaves out of your gutters becomes much easier, often eliminating the need for ladders, gloves, and an extra mess to clean up.

For more on seasonal maintenance, consider:

Gutters 101
Bob Vila Radio: Fall Checklist
10 Fall Home Maintenance Musts

Quick Tip: Metal Roofing

An alternative to asphalt shingles and other popular materials, metal roofing offers high performance under harsh conditions and can last as long as a lifetime.

When roofing your house, consider using a metal roof. Available in a variety of colors and styles, metal roofing is made of recycled materials and can be recycled itself, saving space in landfills. A metal roof lasts four to five times longer than asphalt and it performs better in fire, snow loads, hail and high winds.

For more on metal roofing, consider:

Metal Roofs 101
Metal Roofs on the Rise
Debunking 5 Metal Roof Myths

Bob Vila Radio: Siding Alternatives

Tired of the traditional vinyl and aluminum siding of the past? Look into these new eco-friendly and low-maintenance siding alternatives.

If you’re old enough to remember the aluminum siding that was all the rage in the 1960s, you may have an understandable bias against any home siding that’s not wood. But wood needs regular painting to protect it from the elements and keep it looking fresh. If that kind of upkeep is not in your budget, you may find yourself thinking about maintenance-free alternatives.

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Alternative Siding


One common option, vinyl siding, arouses environmental concerns, so what’s a homeowner to do? Fortunately, there are several good eco-friendly and low-maintenance alternatives for your home.

The material known as fiber cement is manufactured from cement, sand, and cellulose, and it can be made to look like horizontal lap siding, vertical boards, or shingles. Fiber cement is energy efficient and durable, and it comes prefinished in a wide range of colors that may never need repainting, or you can paint it yourself.

Stucco, an alternative to siding, can be applied to a home’s exterior, but it works best on certain styles of home, like Tudors. It’s virtually maintenance free once applied.

Stone and brick veneer have become more popular recently—they, too, provide insulation, are easy to install, and require almost no maintenance. It all depends on your style sense and budget—you really can have an eco-friendly, low-maintenance exterior!

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 75 stations around the country (and growing). You can get your daily dose here, by listening to—or reading—Bob’s 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day.

Bob Vila’s Guide to Roofing

To help you decide which of today's many roofing materials will work best on your home, take a look at our quick, cut-to-the-chase rundown of the most common options.

Roofing Materials - Slate


Whether you are building a new house or renovating your current home, the roof will be one of the most important choices you make. Aesthetics are important, but so too are your roofing material’s cost, weight, installation requirements, and suitability for your climate. More often than not, if you are remodeling, the existing roof will determine your choice of material. In addition, the condition and geometry of the existing roof may affect the cost. For example, if old roofing needs to be removed or the roof deck needs repair, or if your home has multiple chimneys, intersecting rooflines, skylights, or other elements, you can expect to pay for the additional work required for a quality installation.

As is the case with exterior siding, the style of your house will influence your choice of roofing material. Know, however, that many different types of roofing materials offer similar looks—composite shingles can look like slate, metal roofing can look like wood shakes, and some asphalt shingles can even provide solar benefits. Use this roofing guide to familiarize yourself with the options, then talk with a qualified roofing contractor who can explain the differences between the materials and outline their benefits and costs.


Clay and Concrete






Asphalt shingles have long been the go-to standard in residential roofing, and with their affordability, easy installation, and wide availability, their popularity hardly comes as a surprise. Although they used to be considered plain-Jane, these days asphalt shingles can be made to mimic the look of slate, wood shakes, or even tile.

  • Fiberglass shingles are made of a woven fiberglass base mat covered with a waterproof asphalt coating and topped with ceramic granules that shield the product from harmful UV rays. They are available in a full range of styles and colors to complement any home’s architectural style.
  • Traditional organic mat-based shingles are heavier, thicker, and more costly. They are also more absorbent and can warp over time; the additional asphalt content also makes them less environmentally friendly.
  • Manufacturer warranties generally guarantee a lifespan of 15 to 30 years, depending on factors like climate and roof pitch.

Tile roofs, commonly associated with Southwest-style and Mediterranean-inspired homes, are extremely durable, lasting for centuries in some cases. Whether made of concrete or clay, individual tiles are often molded in barrel shapes for secure, interlocking installation.

  • Clay tiles are more colorfast, durable, and costly than their concrete counterparts.
  • Weight will be an issue, so be sure to ask a structural engineer if your roof framing will support a tile application.
  • While both clay and concrete offer top fire and impact ratings, they are more difficult to install and repair.

Wood roofs are made from cedar, spruce, or treated pine, and are especially appropriate for older homes and those based upon historical styles. There are two types of wood roofing: shingles and shakes. Wood shingles are machine-cut and tapered for a trim, crisp appearance. Wood shakes are hand-split, giving them a more rustic appeal.

  • Wood shingles last about as long as asphalt shingles (about 30 years) but can cost six times more.
  • Shakes and shingles have their own specific installation requirements, making them more difficult to install but relatively easy to repair and replace.
  • Wood shingles and shakes require periodic treatments with preservatives and fungicides in order to keep from drying out, warping, cracking, and being attacked by mildew and fungus.

Slate quarried for roofing is dense, sound rock, and is exceedingly tough and durable. Although it is labor-intensive and costly to install, a natural slate roof will give a building character that can’t be achieved by any other roofing material.

  • Slate roofing is noncombustible and waterproof, and it requires little to no maintenance over the course of its long life.
  • Most slate roofs have an extended lifespan; those from Vermont and Virginia can last more than 50 years.

Metal roofing is generally made of steel, aluminum, or copper, and can be stamped into many shapes and styles. There is no material more capable of protecting a structure from wind, rain, hail, fire, or rot than a durable and energy-efficient metal roof.

  • For decades, metal roofs meant corrugated panels, which looked like they belonged on sheds or barns. Today, metal roofing products are available in a variety of styles—from standing seam to shingles—to suit a wide range of architectural styles.
  • Metal roofs are lightweight, allowing them sometimes to be installed directly over old roofs.
  • They are effective in preventing the spread of fire when hot embers fall on them (for example, from brush and forest fires); some insurance companies will give you a discount if you have a metal roof.

Composite shingles are newcomers in the roofing arena. Made from poly-based products, they are lightweight, fade resistant, fire safe, and generally warrantied for up to 50 years. Some composites are so realistic that they have been approved for use in historic preservation.

  • Several companies have developed composite shingles that successfully mimic everything from slate to wood.
  • Top-tier manufacturers generally boast high fire ratings and impact resistance.
  • Composites can carry a high price tag, and in some regions you may find it difficult to locate a certified installer.

Finding increasing use in both rural and urban areas, green roofs are living systems of soil, compost, and plants. In addition to filtering pollutants and offering added insulation, they absorb storm water instead of allowing it to run off. Their requirements are many, however.

  • A green roof system typically comprises as many as nine layers. These include structural support, a vapor-control barrier, thermal insulation, waterproofing, drainage, a filter membrane, a growing medium, and, finally, the vegetation itself.
  • Whether you are able to install and cultivate a green roof will depend on the slope of your roof, the amount of sunlight the rooftop receives, and the structural support available to hold up a living roof.
  • Depending on where you live, government grants may be available to help you offset the cost of installation, and some cities even offer a tax break.

For more on roof maintenance and repair, consider:

Inspecting your roof
Cleaning gutters
Avoiding ice dams
Repairing a leaky roof
Removing old shingles