June 2011 Archives - Bob Vila

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Shedding “New Light” on Recycling: Innovative Eco-Friendly Fixtures from Graypants

recycled, lighting, cardboard, graypants

Photo: Graypants

The International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF), held at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City each May, has become the premier North American showcase for modern design. It is the place to see new products, discover emerging trends, and learn about the latest “green” initiatives and innovations. It is also the place to meet the bright new stars in contemporary design, like Seth Grizzle and Jonathan Junker, co-founders of Graypants, a Seattle-based architecture and design firm.

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Climate-Right Exterior Siding

Fiber Cement Siding

Photo: James Hardie

Home exteriors take a beating—from humidity, dry heat, rain and snow, salty air, freezing temperatures, and other unfriendly elements. But because different areas of the country experience different weather patterns, the seasonal assaults your home goes through will change depending on where your home actually is. Location is a variable that can play into your building or home improvement decision-making. After all, the siding that performs well in the Texas heat may not—in fact, probably won’t—do as good of a job in the snows of Massachusetts.

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How To: Replace a Door Closer

How to Replace a Door Closer

Photo: homedepot.com

The door closer on my front porch—that mechanical cylindrical device that keeps the door from flying open too far and then automatically closes it afterwards—had seen better days.

With numerous furniture and building material deliveries over the years, the “hold-open” washer had begun failing to do its job. And the door itself had become so misaligned that it remained slightly ajar even when closed. The solution? Replacing the door closer.

Changing a door closer couldn’t be an easier DIY project, particularly if you install one that duplicates the style and size of the one you are replacing.

I brought the old door closer to my local ACE Hardware to make certain that the one I purchased was, if not exactly the same, as close as could be to the original. I hoped by doing so I would find one that could be re-installed using the same screw holes. The one I settled on was a Post-Glide Door Closure from National Hardware ($13.49 + tax).

Here’s all you need to do:

How to Replace an Old Door Closer

Photo: LABworks360

1. Once you have removed the old hardware, secure the Jamb Bracket (the larger, angled mounting hardware) to the door frame with the large screws provided.  If the holes do not align exactly, or this is a first-time install, follow the manufacturer’s instructions for positioning and mounting the bracket hardware.

How to Replace a Door Closer - Step 1

Photo: LABworks360

2. Slip the small metal “hold-open” washer on the protruding end of the cylinder. This will enable you to keep the door open when necessary.

How to Replace a Door Closer

Photo: LABworks360

3. Position the extended end of the door closer so that it aligns with the holes in the Jamb Bracket. Once it is aligned, simply insert the anchor pin into the hole. This will hold the closer in place.

How to Replace a Door Closer - Step 3

Photo: LABworks360

4. Close the door and see where the door bracket needs to be installed to secure the other end of the door closer. If the existing holes align, simply secure the door bracket with the screws provided. If not, you will need to follow the instructions for drilling holes in the door. Once installed, align the holes with the cylinder (as you did on the other end) and insert the anchor pin.

How to Replace a Door Closer - Complete

Photo: LABworks360

That’s it. Test the door and make certain that it opens and closes. You can adjust the screw on the end of the cylinder to make it close slower or faster.

I told you it would be simple!

For more on doors and hardware, consider:

Selecting the Right Front Door
How To: Install a New Door 
Bob Vila Radio: Locksets

Fans vs. Air Conditioners

Fans vs Air Conditioners

Photo: Shutterstock

Fans vs. Air Conditioning
Photo: LABWorks360

Last week, the New York Times featured a Home Section article on fans and/or air conditioning–depending on where you stand in the debate.  The author, Michael Tortorello, reported that the number of people who prefer fans over air conditioning is less than 2%, according to ten years of research conducted by the Solar Energy Center in Florida.  I, like the author, are among that Lilliputian population.  What the article reveals is that we are essentially a nation addicted to air conditioning regardless of need.

Oddly enough, I spotted this window unit on the street where I live, and came to the realization that there could be an even more serious addiction to air conditioning than the article hints.  What saddened me most was knowing that the energy I’m saving by not running an air conditioner, is being consumed just a couple doors away by someone who really, really loves air conditioning.  (A colleague of mine likened this photo to people who, years ago, placed a smaller, portable television on top of their older, bulkier console units.)

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Easy Bathroom Makeover


Easy Bathroom Makeover — Plans


bathroom, makeover, paint, tile, paneling, tub, windowWhen I first purchased my weekend house in Upstate New York, I knew that the bathroom would need to be remodeled.

There were many things that I liked about the room, including the old-fashioned soaking tub, the dormered ceiling (although it makes standing up after bathing impossible), and the simple, square hinged, nine-pane glass window.

What I didn’t like about the room was the dated paneling and mosaic tile floor.

My initial thought was to remove both—to tear off the paneling, skim coat the walls with fresh plaster, and replace the tiles with a more contemporary floor covering.

I opted for a much easier—and less expensive—solution… a can of Ralph Lauren Paint.

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House Style: Foursquare

Here's how to spot this basic house with room for living.

Foursquare House in Melrose, MA. Photo: from Bob Vila

How to Recognize a Foursquare House
It’s easy to tell if you’re in a Foursquare house, if you can count to four.  Four is the number of equal-sized rooms on the first and second floors.  Beginning in the 1890s, the Foursquare was a popular American house.  Stroll through any century-old neighborhood and you’ll find they’re easy to spot.  From the sidewalk, you will see a cube-shaped structure with a pyramidal roof and central dormer.  There is often a wide one-story porch, too.

How Did They Get So Popular?
The Foursquare was a reaction against the exuberance of the Queen Anne style.  Rectilinear was in and rambling asymmetry was out. Because they could be sited on small lots they were a favorite with the budget-conscious.  Another reason for their ubiquity: Sears Roebuck and other mail order retailers sold pre-fabricated houses in the Foursquare style.  Between 1908 and 1940, Sears Roebuck sold 75,000 pre-fabricated houses in 370 designs.  Foursquare designs were in the company’s 20 best-selling house designs.

Variations on a Theme
Not all Foursquares are alike.  The basic four-plus-four floor plan was often modified.  In some cases, the living room occupied half of the ground floor.  In others, the ground floor was extended to accommodate the kitchen and pantry.  The bathroom was located on the second floor—assuming, of course, the owner wanted one. In one early Sears plan, the space was labeled “toilet or store room.”

There are also stylistic differences. Homeowners wanted some frills to enliven the functional and efficient floor plan. The Colonial Revival Foursquare has a portico or pediment while the Craftsman version is identifiable by the exposed rafters and beamed ceiling. Sears sold a Mission-style Foursquare, the “Alhambra,” which had stucco siding and curvilinear parapets.  On the ground floor was the “solarium,” a room that in less exotic Sears Foursquares was designated the “parlor.”

Foursquare Houses Today
By 1930, Foursquares were no longer being built.  Plenty remain, though, to tempt the amateur restorer. Whether it’s made of wood, brick, or stucco, the Foursquare has an important place in the history of American domestic architecture.

House Style: Georgian Colonial

Here's how some revivals were based on the real thing while others departed from the script.

Georgian Colonial

Georgian Colonial house in Westchester, NY

Early Colonial Revival Houses
The Colonial Revival was inspired by patriotism, nostalgia for the pre-industrial past, and appreciation of traditional craftsmanship.

Beginning in the 1880s, fashionable architects were commissioned to design Colonial style houses.  The typical 18th-century Georgian house is a one or two-story box.  It is two rooms deep and has symmetrical windows. The Classical details include pedimented doorways and dentil cornices.  But this was too simple for the Victorians, who favored asymmetrical floor plans and lots of period detail—Chippendale fretwork, turned balusters, and Palladian windows.  The first Colonial Revival houses were more opulent and fanciful than the real thing.

Later Colonial Revival Houses
By contrast, the Colonial Revival houses that were built between 1915 and 1935 were based on the careful study of Colonial architecture.  Thanks to the publication of photographs, drawings, and floor plans, architects developed a deeper understanding of Colonial Georgian.

These principled adaptations were built first in wood and later brick.  They often had picturesque anachronisms like bay windows and door sidelights.  Another innovation relates to the double-hung sash windows.  In the Colonial version, each sash has multi-panes, but in the Colonial Revival version, often only the upper sash has multi-panes and the lower sash has a single pane.  Compare, too, the entrances. The broken pediment, which is a common feature of the Colonial Revival style, was rare back in the 18th century.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Newer Technologies
Because Colonial Revival houses were built with machine-made materials they lack the charming irregularities of old Colonial buildings. At the same time, they offer modern conveniences like central heating and electricity.

Quick Tip: Why Home Staging Pays

Read our guide for simple home staging suggestions to help your home increase its resale value.

Home Staging

Photo: newhomessection.com

Inviting Spaces Sell
Staging your home or creating a clean, well-presented space that draws positive attention can add 15 to 20 percent to the selling price. You can hire a professional stylist or do it yourself. Here are the basics.

Clear Away Clutter
First, clear the junk. Ruthlessly trash clutter and pack away personal items like family photos and knickknacks. Rent a self-storage space for half your furniture. Empty closets and most of the kitchen cabinets and rearrange rooms to show more floor space. Extra storage space in sheds, attics, basements and garages is a very good selling point, so clear them out as well.

Aim for a Clean, Fresh Look
Re-paint areas that show wear and tear or where expressions of personal taste might be distracting, and make the obvious repairs like leaky faucets and cracked window panes. Junk removal services can save a lot of backache and disposal hassles. Scrub everything, including the windows, and let in light and fresh air. Open the drapes. If they’re worn or outdated, take them down.

Set a Nice Stage
Imagine you’re taking photos for a magazine: Fluff the pillows, set the dining room table and never underestimate the power of fresh flowers. Don’t forget the yard. Get rid of any piles of debris, re-seed the lawn, weed the garden and lose that old patio furniture.

Who knows, after all that, you might not want to move!

Holiday Gifts: Five Rules for Tools

As you do your holiday shopping, remember these five rules for selecting the best gifts.


Photo: fotosearch.com

Rule 1: Buy the Basics
You can’t go wrong with basic tools that will be used again and again. Good choices include wrenches and screwdrivers, a drill and a circular saw, and other multipurpose tools. In other words, you’d be better off buying a random-orbit sander that can be used for both rough and finish work than a high-powered belt sander that will only come in handy once.

Rule 2: Purchase Locally
You may be thinking about buying from a catalog or mail-order supplier, and in terms of the initial purchase price, this plan makes sense. But many craftspeople recommend buying from local dealers. When the time comes to repair the tool, your gift recipient will appreciate that you’ve established a relationship with a local dealer.

Rule 3: Make Sure the Tool Fits
There is no substitute for examining a tool in person to discover its feel, size, weight, and quality of manufacture. In particular, a hand-held tool like a plane or a chisel needs to feel like an extension of the hand. Since you’re making a purchase for someone else, consider placing a gift certificate under the tree rather than the tool itself. Let the gift recipient go to the local store and try out the tool firsthand.

Rule 4: Choose Quality
When shopping for tools, take a close look at those on display. Here’s what to check for: double-insulated bodies, quality casting, a sturdy look and feel. One way to spot good-quality power tools is to check that they come with heavy-duty cords of reasonable length. The less expensive a tool, the greater the likelihood it is made of inferior materials or filled with manufacturing defects. A cheap chisel won’t hold an edge and the motor on a cheap power tool can burn out fast.  Best to go with quality, brand-name tools that have earned their good reputations.

Rule 5: Look for Multipurpose, Not All-Purpose
You can save money by buying fewer tools that are more versatile. Look for those with attachments, say a router that with a simple adapter becomes a biscuit joiner and also cuts mortises. But stay away from tools that claim to do everything. Why? Because they probably can’t. I’m sure you’ve noticed that hammers and chisels still exist long after their invention. The best new tools are usually refinements of earlier ones versus gimmicky new designs.

The E.D.G.E.

E.D.G.E. House

Photo: Revelations Architect

For many city apartment dwellers, living in a small, confined space is hardly cause for celebration. But this year, the American Institute of Architects’ Small Project Awards honored the E.D.G.E.—an inventive 360-square-foot modular prototype that explores the concept of living well—and living green—with less space.

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