Category: Walls & Ceilings

Bob Vila Radio: The Right Height for Chair Rails

Chair rails remain a popular option for dressing up interior walls, but while their installation can be straightforward, homeowners need to know where on the wall this type of molding looks best.


Chair rail molding adds a tasteful touch to rooms, especially when combined with wainscoting or crown molding. But if you’re thinking of installing chair rails, here are a few points to keep in mind.

Chair Rail Height and Width


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To be the most visually appealing, chair rails need to be installed at the right height. Most experts say that ‘right height’ is about one third the distance from the floor to the ceiling. So for a room with an 8-foot ceiling, you’d want to nail the molding about 32 inches from the floor.

The best width for chair rail molding will vary a bit, depending on the dimensions and the wall color of the room. Two to three inches is most common.

Chair rail-type moldings were used as far back as the Greeks and Romans. But the term ‘chair rail’ didn’t come into common usage until the 19th century. That was when Shakers installed pegs in their moldings. Their purpose? To hang chairs out of the way during sweeping and mopping!

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 60 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 Radio: The Tool-Free Way to Locate Wall Studs

Though an stud finder would make things a bit easier, not everyone has one—and the fact is that you don't always need one. Here's how to locate a wall stud without the aid of a tool.


If you’ve got a heavy mirror to hang on the wall, you’ll need to find a stud that will support the weight. The easiest way to do that is with a stud finder. Electronic and magnetic versions are both readily available at home centers.

Locating Studs

Photo: KStansley

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But if you’d just as soon stay home—and save some dough—try looking for nails in the baseboard. They are usually hammered into studs. Studs are usually spaced 16 inches from one center to the next. So if you find a nail in the baseboard, just measure over, in 16-inch increments, to where you want to hang the mirror.

Also remember that electrical outlets and switches are usually attached to studs, either from the left or the right side. Try knocking gently on the wall directly to the right and left of the outlet or switch. If one side sounds hollow, then the other side is where you can expect the stud to be.

Still can’t find a stud? Well, you can always drill a small test hole to make a way for a bent coat hanger, which you can then twist around until you knock against a stud. Aftewards, you’d repair the test hole with a little spackle and paint.

But if you’re going to go through the trouble of drilling, spackling, and painting, you might as well run to the store for a stud finder. Hey, you gave it your best shot.

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 60 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.

So, You Want to… Knock Down a Wall

Your quest for more light and openness might lead you to removing a wall (or several). Before you start swinging the sledge, make sure you understand what you're getting into.

How to Remove a Wall


You live in an older house populated by a warren of small, cozy rooms. Lately, you’ve been thinking of knocking down a wall or two to open up space and bring in more light. While it’s true that removing a wall can help accomplish that aim, there are several important factors to consider before taking your plans any further.

Is the Wall Load-Bearing?
First things first. Before you plow ahead, you must determine whether or not the wall in question is load-bearing. In other words, is it keeping the house standing? Here’s a quick way to find out: Inspect the floor joists beneath. If the joists run perpendicular to the wall, chances are it’s a load-bearing wall. That’s not to say that your dreams of an open floor plan are outside the realm of possibility. It only means that you must consult a professional—a reliable contractor or engineer—to help you devise a strategy for removing the wall that will not compromise your home’s overall structural integrity. In general, though, removing a non-bearing wall is a much more modest proposition.

How to Remove a Wall - Plan


What’s Inside the Wall?
OK, so it’s not holding the house up. That’s good. But what else is the wall doing? Is it hiding wires, gas lines, or heating ducts? If you jump the gun and saw right into plumbing, electrical, or HVAC work, you may suddenly find yourself dealing with a much more complicated (and expensive) job. Before you start demolition, be certain that you know exactly what you’re dealing with. Not sure? Look closely at your building plans or call in a contractor. It’s certainly possible to remove a non-bearing wall no matter what it contains, but a professional can help you figure out how to reroute those components without causing any lasting disruption to the normal operation of your house.

Brace Yourself for Dust
No matter how you slice it, the job of removing a wall is a messy one. Be prepared for dust, and lots of it. Because that dust can do nothing but harm to your belongings, be sure to partition off the work area, using tape and plastic sheeting. Move everything you want to protect beyond the partition, and then cover it carefully; it’s amazing how much of that fine dust can make it past even a conscientiously devised and well-executed partition.

Beware of Hidden Hazards
Was your house built before the 1980s? If so, lead may be present in old layers of paint on the wall you’re removing. Hiring a professional inspector can be pricey, so check into some of the test kits readily available at home centers. The results are generally reliable, especially if you cross-test with a couple of kits that use different methods of detection. If you discover that lead is indeed present, follow the EPA guidelines for proper disposal.

Pull a Permit
Before you or a contractor you’ve hired actually picks up a saw or sledgehammer, be sure that you’ve secured all the necessary permits. Some municipalities charge stiff fines for undertaking projects without proper permitting.

All those considerations aside, there’s no doubt that removing a wall can dramatically transform the look of an interior. It can be a big job, but if you’ve done your homework, you’ll efforts will probably be well worth the result.

Bob Vila Radio: Pros and Cons of Cathedral Ceilings

There are many reasons to love cathedral ceilings—and one big reason to temper your affection.


Vaulted ceilings, also called cathedral ceilings, have some great attributes, but others you may not be so fond of. On the one hand, they do give your room a light and airy feel, and they can make a small room appear bigger than it really is.

Cathedral Ceilings


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But when it comes to energy efficiency, cathedral ceilings a bit of a bust, especially during the winter. That’s because air you’ve spent your money to heat ends up at the peak of the ceiling, not down where it can keep you warm (although a ceiling fan can help with that).

As an energy-saving alternative, you might consider what’s called a ‘tray ceiling.’ Tray ceilings look like conventional flat ceilings, except all but the outer part of the ceiling is raised a foot or so. The reduced height of a tray ceiling can help keep your heating bills within reason, but you’ll still get some of that light-and-airy feel.

Before you start cutting into collar ties, be sure to check with a contractor or structural engineer.

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 60 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.

How To: Hang Picture Frames on a Brick Wall

It's not hard to hang picture frames on a brick wall. First, read through our simple instructions. Then grab your drill, some wall anchors, and a friend—and get to work!



Although exposed brick offers a warm, appealing aesthetic redolent of history, many homeowners are puzzled by the question of how to hang pictures on a brick wall. If you’ve never done it before, this may seem like a daunting proposition. Whereas drywall or plaster yield easily to a nail, bricks and mortar obviously require a different approach. And yes, the steps involved are different, as are the necessary tools and materials, but even a beginning do-it-yourselfer can hang pictures on a brick wall. Simply follow the instructions detailed below.

- Chalk
- Spirit level (optional)
- Drill
- Masonry bit
- Wall anchors
- Flush-mounting picture hooks or screws
- Screwdriver

You may never before have considered picture hanging a messy project, but when you’re working with brick, there’s the risk of dispersing dust around the work area. So before you begin, it’s a good idea to cover fragile items nearby with either plastic sheeting or a drop cloth. Doing so will minimize the amount of time you’ll need to spend cleaning up once you’ve completed the job.


Use chalk to mark the location (on the mortar, not on the face of a brick) where you want to install the picture hook. Don’t worry—chalk can be rubbed away when you’re done.

Ask a friend to stand in the middle of the room while you hold the picture frame over the chalk mark you’ve made on the mortar. Taking into account the manner in which the frame is going to hang—from a wire or by means of a D-ring or sawtooth hanger— confirm that you’ve chalked the correct spot. If you are hanging multiple pictures, you may want to break out the spirit level so you can make sure everything aligns.

Attach a masonry bit to your drill/driver and proceed to drill a hole into the mortar where you marked it with chalk. Drill deep enough to accommodate a wall anchor, but not so deep that you might puncture any wires or pipes behind the brick.

Place a wall anchor into the hole you’ve drilled. Next, screw a picture hook into the embedded wall anchor. Finally, hang the picture frame over the hook you’ve secured into place. Now you’re done. Last but not least: Stand back to enjoy the view!

Additional Tips
- Choose a masonry bit that’s the correct size for the wall anchor you’re using.

- Use two wall anchors to safely secure a heavy, glass-fronted picture frame.

- When drilling, be careful to protect your eyes from the dust that may scatter.

How To: Patch Drywall

If you're setting out to patch drywall, whether the problem at hand is a few nail holes or a large gash, these simple tips can help you restore a smooth surface ready for paint.

How to Patch Drywall


Sooner or later, most of us need to patch drywall, whether for purely cosmetic reasons—filling nail holes, for example—or for comfort or safety—say, a hole has left wiring exposed. Although accomplishing the latter requires more materials and a greater investment of time, rest assured that a do-it-yourself solution exists, no matter the scale of the repair. Read on for guidelines for patching drywall in small-, medium-, and large-size projects.

Tools and materials:
- Sandpaper
- Spackling paste
- Putty knife

The smaller the hole, the easier it is to patch. Start the process by sanding the area smooth. Next, load a bit of spackling paste onto your putty knife and apply the product directly to the hole. Work in enough of the paste so that it leaves a small mound over the hole, then press the flat side of the knife firmly against the mound in order to flatten it. Finally, swipe the blade in a broad motion across the repaired area, leaving the filled-in hole perfectly level with the finished drywall. Allow the spackling sufficient time to dry. Dry times vary, so refer to the manufacturer’s instructions for an accurate estimate. Sand lightly when dry.

Tools and materials:
- Sandpaper
- Putty knife
- Joint compound
- Drywall mesh tape

If you want to patch a somewhat larger hole—an area with a diameter of one or two inches—the process becomes slightly more complicated, if only because it involves a material you might not have on hand: mesh tape. (You can buy mesh tape either as a roll or as a precut square.) After sanding the area to be patched, completely cover it with mesh. This now becomes the base to which you’ll add joint compound, a product that goes on like spackling paste but achieves a stronger result. As you spread the joint compound, pay special attention to the seams where the mesh tape meets the surrounding drywall. Once you can no longer see the tape, use the putty knife to flatten the mounded joint compound, then scrape the surface in wide, smooth side-to-side movements that create an even finish. Finally, allow the joint compound to dry for about eight hours—consult the manufacturer’s directions—before sanding and repainting the wall.

How to Patch Drywall - Large Hole


Tools and materials:
- Drywall panel
- Utility knife
- Drywall saw
- Drywall screws
- Screwdriver
- Drywall mesh tape
- Putty knife
- Joint compound
- Sandpaper

A larger patch involves a commensurately greater commitment of time and effort to complete. In fact, the patching process here is not very different from the one that was used to install your drywall in the first place. Begin by using a drywall saw to cut evenly around the problem area. You should be left with a hole that’s rectangular in shape; use a utility knife to clean up the edges, if necessary. If possible—and to do this, you may need to make the hole larger than seems strictly necessary—make your hole big enough to expose one of the wall studs. Failing that, you’ll need to run a wooden member horizontally between the two closest studs. Why? You’re going to fill the hole in the wall with a piece of new drywall, and that piece needs a surface to which it can be securely attached.

Next, use a drywall saw to cut out a section of the drywall panel you’ve procured either from the surplus in your garage or from the aisles of your local home center. Measure and cut carefully, as the piece must fit perfectly into the rectangle you’ve cut in the wall. Once you’re certain that you’ve got a snug fit, use drywall screws to attach the new drywall to the stud (or horizontal member).

With the drywall patch firmly in place, apply mesh tape over all the seams between the patch and the existing drywall. Then load up your putty knife with joint compound and proceed to cover the mesh completely. (Don’t forget to smooth compound over the drywall screws, too.) Use the blade of the putty knife to flatten out the compound in any spots where it’s mounded, then scrape across the seams in wide strokes, either side-to-side or top-to-bottom, depending on the orientation of the mesh. Allow the compound to dry for about eight hours before you begin the final stage: sanding the patched area and repainting the freshly repaired drywall.

Bob Vila Radio: Removing Popcorn Ceilings

Once popular, popcorn ceilings have fallen out of favor with many homeowners. Read on to learn how you can get rid of these textured applications yourself.


So-called “popcorn ceilings” became popular back in the 1950s and 60s, because they hid imperfections in ceiling surfaces and added some soundproofing between floors. Unfortunately, they often contained asbestos fibers, which not only helped them fall out of fashion but also made them tricky to remove.

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Popcorn Ceilings


The potential for asbestos makes it critical that you have your popcorn ceiling tested before you even think about removing it. If your ceiling tests positive, this is not a DIY project. Call in the pros to remove the material safely.

If you’re lucky enough to have an asbestos-free popcorn ceiling, you can take it down yourself. It’s not difficult work, although it can be messy. Remove all furnishings from the room and cover the floor with plastic. Cover doorways with plastic sheeting as well to cut down on dust throughout your house.

Using a spray bottle, spray a five-square-foot section with water. The goal is to saturate the popcorn layer without damaging the ceiling underneath. Wait 15 minutes for the water to penetrate, then start scraping. Keep working in small sections, so that only one area of the ceiling at a time is wet. Continue until the entire ceiling is scraped, then allow to dry overnight.

To finish the job, you’ll need to sand the ceiling, fill in any gouges with drywall compound, and finally prime the ceiling for the paint that will be eventually applied. It’s a tough job, but the results are really worth the effort.

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.

How To: Clean Baseboards

It's not a glamorous task, but cleaning the baseboards goes a long way toward making a room look tidy and dust-free. Follow our suggestions for cleaning your baseboards more thoroughly—and less often—than ever before.

How to Clean Baseboards


You can spend hours washing the floor, dusting the furniture, and vacuuming the nooks and crannies in any given room, but so long as its baseboards are dirty, they are going to attract attention and create an overall impression of shabbiness and neglect. It’s by no means difficult to clean baseboards; this is not one of the great housekeeping challenges that you will face in life. Indeed, the trickiest bit is overcoming inertia. So if you’re actually reading this, the hard part is over!

- Vacuum (with brush attachment or duster)
- Sponge
- Dish soap, vinegar, or wood cleaner
- Cotton swabs
- Dryer sheets

Rather than set out to clean the baseboards in every single room of your house all at once, make an agreement with yourself: Each and every time you break out the sponge and plastic gloves, you will clean the baseboards thoroughly in one room only. That way, the task of cleaning baseboards never becomes overwhelming. Also, remember that baseboards accumulate the dust and dirt that housework stirs up. Save the baseboards for last—don’t waste effort cleaning the same thing twice.

How to Clean Baseboards - Detail


Begin the process by removing as much dust and dirt as you can from the area. If your vacuum has a brush attachment, use it to suction along the length of the baseboards, paying special attention to the crevice where the trim meets the floor. In lieu of a vacuum, you can rely on a duster to do a decent job of freeing up debris, which you can then corral and remove with a broom and dustpan.

Once you’ve removed all loose dirt and dust, you can begin to address stains and stuck-on grime. (Particularly in the kitchen, baseboards are the notorious hosts of unidentifiable splatters.) Dip a sponge into a mixture of warm water and dish soap (vinegar works well too), then go about scrubbing any marks that you can find. Note that if the baseboards in the room you are cleaning are stained, not painted, it may be preferable to use a cleaning solution formulated specifically for that application.

As you’re already crouched over cleaning the baseboards, you might as well do as good a job as possible. For those hard-to-reach spots—the crevice between the trim and flooring, for example, or around any imperfections that appear on the wood surface—use a cotton swab dipped in the cleaner.

Protect the baseboards’ newly acquired cleanliness by rubbing them with a fresh dryer sheet. Not only will this leave a fresh laundry scent that lasts a few days, but also—and more importantly—the sheet’s antistatic properties actually repel dust. Perhaps it sounds like overkill, but going this one step further can really pay off.

Unless you live in a fraternity house, you’re unlikely to find that your baseboards need to be cleaned weekly. In the grand scheme of housekeeping, baseboards are rather low maintenance. If you’re like me, you probably notice baseboards only when they are not clean. So if on each occasion that you clean, you live up to the promise of doing the baseboards in one room only, you may never notice them again!

Cleaning Tips for a Spotless Home

All of the Essential Cleaning Advice from
There’s no way around it: Keeping the house clean demands your time, your energy, and even some of your money. Fortunately, this arsenal of cleaning tips can help you finish the housekeeping more quickly—and with fewer commercially sold products.

How To: Remove a Popcorn Ceiling

Popcorn ceilings can make a room appear dated and dark. Fortunately, you can remove all that textured coating to reveal the smoother surface below. Here's how.

How to Remove Popcorn Ceiling


For a significant chunk of the 20th century, from the 1950s through the ’80s, the ceilings in many new homes—particularly in bedrooms—came with a rough, stippled texture that become known as a “popcorn” finish. People tout the sound-dampening properties of popcorn ceilings, but I think they really caught on for a pretty simple reason: They hide imperfections and made life a little easier for professional builders. One major drawback is that, because they don’t reflect very much light, popcorn ceilings tend to eat up the light in a room. Another con is that many homeowners consider popcorn ceilings to be just plain ugly. Fortunately, it’s easy to remove popcorn ceilings, and although it can be a very messy and labor-intensive affair, the transformative results can make the effort well worth it.

- Plastic sheeting
- Masking tape
- Dust mask
- Protective goggles
- Wide putty knife
- Ladder
- Garden sprayer
- Metal file
- Paint

Before doing anything else, it’s critically important that you get the popcorn tested by an EPA-certified laboratory. In homes built before 1982, asbestos was a main ingredient in spray-on ceiling textures. If yours turns out to contain asbestos, then I very strongly advise you to bring in trained professionals who are licensed to deal with hazardous materials. If, on the other hand, the test indicates that your ceiling has a paper-based popcorn treatment, you can handle its removal the do-it-yourself way. Because the process involves water, however, it’s prudent to cut electrical power to the room where you’re going to be working.

How to Remove a Popcorn Ceiling - Detail


There’s no getting around it: To remove a popcorn ceiling, you’ve got to make a mess. By properly preparing the room beforehand, however, you can minimize the amount of cleanup required once the project is completed. After you have removed all furniture from the room, cover the floor—and the bottom 16 inches of each wall—with thick plastic sheeting. Secure that sheeting in place with masking tape.

Upper walls too must be protected; do so by applying a strip of tape around the perimeter of the room, one quarter-inch below the ceiling. Then fasten plastic sheeting to that initial strip by means of an additional tape layer. Bear in mind that ceiling fixtures may hinder progress, so if there’s a ceiling fan, medallion molding, or hanging light fixture in the room, you may wish to take it down at this early stage.

Divide the ceiling into four-foot-square sections. Next, using the garden sprayer, thoroughly moisten the initial section, letting the water soak in for 10 or 15 minutes. After enough time has elapsed, position the ladder under the moistened section, put on your dust mask and protective goggles, then climb up. Holding a putty knife at a 30-degree angle to the ceiling, commence scraping the popcorn away. The method is to spray, wait, and then scrape. In this manner, work your way around the room, one section at a time.

Continue until you have removed the popcorn ceiling to reveal the drywall surface beneath. Given that you’ve put so much work into preparing the room, fastidiously covering the walls and floor with plastic sheeting, now would be an opportune moment to prime and paint the ceiling. If you decide to go this route, wait until the final coat has dried before removing the sheeting. But whatever you decide, don’t forget to reinstall ceiling fixtures and restore power to the room. In the newly popcorn-free space, you should notice that everything seems a lot brighter. Isn’t that so? Enjoy it!

What Would Bob Do? Installing a Drop Ceiling

Although drop ceilings have a bit of a cringe factor, they can be useful for hiding that tangle of pipes and wiring that inhabits the upper reaches of the basement. If you're trying to fix up a downstairs space, a drop ceiling may be your best option. Read on for the installation basics.

How to Install a Drop Ceiling


I’m interested in installing a drop ceiling in my basement rec room. Do you have any helpful hints for a do-it-yourselfer taking on this project for the first time?

A drop ceiling—also known as a suspended ceiling—conceals the plumbing or electrical work running overhead while allowing easy access to those elements in the future, should any adjustments or repairs become necessary. If you’re familiar with drop ceilings, then you are likely aware that some people dislike how they look. When the choice is between a drop ceiling and a messy warren of exposed mechanicals, however, homeowners often treat the former as a necessary evil.

We tend to think of ceilings as being solid and permanent, closely related to the structure of a home. But a drop ceiling isn’t that; rather, it’s a screen formed by a metal grid and the movable ceiling tiles placed into that framework. When it comes to the tiles, you have lots of choices. Countless textures and patterns are available, some even resembling tin or wood. In addition, many tiles feature soundproofing properties, valuable in a basement workshop or kid’s playroom.

It’s certainly possible to purchase the parts of a drop ceiling in an à la carte fashion, piece by piece—and you may wish to do so if you’re working in a compact utility space. But most of the time it’s cheaper to opt for the grid kits commonly available online and in local home improvement centers. Bear in mind that because one kit typically covers an eight-by-eight ceiling expanse, you’ll probably need to buy several if you’re trying to properly outfit an entire basement or a large garage space.

How to Install a Drop Ceiling - Detail


The average drop ceiling kit includes the following:

Wall molding—L-shaped metal strips that run along the ceiling perimeter, supporting tiles on one edge

Main beams—panel supports that span the distance from wall to wall and run perpendicular to the joists

Cross tees—panel supports that are installed parallel to the joists and between the main beams of the grid

Hanger wire and fasteners—hardware that ties the main beams of the grid to the wood ceiling joists

Installing a drop ceiling yourself? Rest assured that the process isn’t overly difficult, but for best results be sure to start with a detailed plan. If you’ve ever laid a floor, then you know the trick is to arrange the boards in such a way that you don’t end up with small, narrow pieces around the perimeter. The same principle applies here.

On graph paper, sketch the ceiling to scale. Include the location of any ceiling fixtures that need to be taken into account (for example, recessed lighting or ceiling fans). Continue sketching different arrangements until you strike upon one that allows for ceiling tiles with the widest possible diameter to go around the edge of the space.

Most ceiling tiles can be cut to size with a simple utility knife, if necessary. During installation, I recommend using a stepladder with an integral paint tray that can hold your tools and materials, saving you the hassle of repeatedly climbing up and down. Also, it’s wise to wear safety glasses; you’ll be directly below the action.

A parting thought: If all you’re looking to do is hide a cracked or stained ceiling—in other words, if there are no pipes, cables, or ducts to accommodate—then you may want to check out many of the direct-to-ceiling products on the market today. They don’t hang on a grid; instead, they install directly to the ceiling via adhesives, screws, or a combination of clips and tracks. In the right context, they can be real time- and effort-savers.