July 2011 Archives - Bob Vila

Welcome to Bob Vila

My “Green” Nursery Challenge

With a budget of $2,000, determination and a dream, I took the first steps to creating the ultimate 'green' nursery!


Green Nursery

Photo: Jessica Provenz

In the third trimester of my pregnancy, I never ate pickles or missed sushi. Sure, my stomach honked the horn by itself, and my toes were a vague memory, but this was not my primary concern.  I was fixated on one thing: the nursery! I could no longer focus on world events, books, or even mindless television. In those final weeks of pregnancy, preparations for our baby boy’s arrival became urgent and all consuming. The nursery would be safe, healthy and, of course, adorable. It would be bright, airy and unique for our little boy.

Read the rest of this entry »

Light Bulbs: The Shape of Things to Come

GE light bulb incandescent Despite what you may have heard—the incandescent light bulb is not going the way of the dinosaur.  “It will, however, need to become more energy efficient to conform to new Federal Energy Efficient Lighting Legislation adopted by The Department of Energy (DOE),” according to Jim Crowcroft, Vice President of Marketing, Technical Consumer Products, Inc.

The Legislation, which took effect in California this January and starts rolling out to other states next year, will begin phasing out the current incarnation of incandescent bulbs by 2014. The upside is that it will require both manufacturers and consumers to look at bulbs in a whole new light.

Related: Which Lighting Where? 9 Pro Tips for Improved Illumination

If you are serious about saving energy—and money on your monthly utility bill—you don’t need to wait until 2014 to take action.  There are a variety of innovative products on the market today, including new incandescents, that offer the same lumens (the true measurement of light output and brightness) as the standard light bulb, with the added benefits of longer life (10,000 hours and up) and reduced wattage (the energy required to generate lumens).  Here’s what you need to know:

EcoSmart CFL 14-Watt Light Bulb Home Depot

EcoSmart CFL 14-Watt Light Bulb

Compact Florescent Lights (CFL)  Unlike earlier versions of these lamps—which emitted a florescent-like glow—the new varieties offer the same amount and quality of illumination as the standard incandescent, but with 75% less energy.  They are available in a wide range of wattages, from 5 to 68 (equivalent to today’s 25 to 300-watts), come in three color temperatures—soft white, bright white and daylight—and last approximately 10 times longer than current incandescent bulbs.  They are also dimmable with standard light dimmers.  The EcoSmart CFL 14-watt (60-watt equivalent) Spiral Light Bulb is available in a four-pack for $5.85 at The Home Depot.

Philips LED 75-watt Light Bulb, Home Depot

Philips 17-Watt LED Light Bulb

Light Emitting Diodes (LED)  LED bulbs—which employ a semi-conductor technology to provide illumination—use 85% less energy than incandescents and 50% less than CFLs to produce the same amount of light; making them the highest lumen per watt in class.  LEDs offer precise color quality and come in a range of light temperatures from soft ambient to daylight. They are fully dimmable, although they may require a LED-supported dimmer switch, like those from Lutron, for best performance. They are pricier than CFLs, but given their long life (25 times that of standard bulbs) and energy savings, LEDs may well be worth the initial outlay. The new Philips 17-watt LED bulb (75-watt equivalent) is available at retail for $39.97.

And, for those who find it hard to imagine using anything but the familiar bulb shape, there are new varieties on store shelves today that offer improved energy savings, like the EcoVantage Halogen bulbs from Philips. At 43-watts (380 Lumens) and 1,000 life hours, the bulbs are equivalent to current 60-watt incandescents with 28% greater energy savings. You can pick up a 2-pack for $2.99.

Philips EcoVantage 43-Watt Halogen Light Bulb

Philips EcoVantage 43-Watt Halogen Light Bulb

For more on lighting and home energy savings, consider:

The Basics of Lighting Design
The Lighting Designer
Choosing the Right Energy-Saving Bulb and Fixture

Titcomb Cabin Rises from the Ashes

Titcomb Cabin, log home, Darmouth

Photo: Lucas Schulz

Thanks to the determination of six enterprising coeds at Dartmouth College, a landmark cabin razed by fire was rebuilt the old-fashioned way—one log at a time.

In 2009, when Greg Sokol, a student at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, discovered that a nearly 60-year-old cabin owned by the college’s Ledyard Canoe Club had burned to the ground, he knew he had to do something. Like scores of undergraduates before him, Sokol had used the humble cabin on the Connecticut River’s Gilman Island as a base camp during canoe-club outings.

Titcomb Cabin, log cabin, Darmouth, Lucas Schulz

Photo: Lucas Schulz

Up to that point, Sokol, an engineering major, hadn’t built much of anything. Nonetheless he secured the administration’s permission to reconstruct the cabin on its original footprint and recruited five of his fellow canoe club members to help with the project. Sokol, who admits he and his crew lacked log-cabin expertise before they started, chose his team because they shared his desire “to build something beautiful and long-lasting.”

Just over a year later, the students got started by choosing 97 pine and spruce logs culled from a woodlot owned by the school and removing their bark. Then the wood, along with most of the students’ building supplies—toolboxes, plywood, cement mixer, chainsaw, etc.—were floated downstream via canoe and non-motorized boats to the worksite. Once on dry land, a Grip hoist helped the team haul the logs up the island’s steep embankment.

Just like early pioneer builders, the students learned to scribe, notch, and fit the logs together through trial and error. When the several hundred pound logs didn’t fit seamlessly, a 60-pound mallet nicknamed “Gorgeous George” was used to nudge the wood logs an inch or two for a snugger fit.

Titcomb Cabin, log cabin, Darmouth, Lucas Schulz

Photo: Lucas Schulz

After erecting the structure’s four walls, the crew hoisted a 21-inch-diameter ridgepole into place to support the peak of the roof, which was later covered in green metal roof panels. By the second summer, a covered front porch had taken shape, doors and windows were fitted, gables were shingled, and a wood stove and hearth for both heating and cooking was installed. The log cabin’s exterior was stained, and oak flooring—one of the team’s last major projects before graduation— now covers the ground level (there’s a sleeping loft upstairs).

Titcomb Cabin, log cabin, Darmouth, Lucas Schulz

Photo: Lucas Schulz

After two summers of intense work, the little log cabin in the woods, built by hand by an enterprising young DIY crew, will now welcome the next generation of Dartmouth students ready to set out on bold new backwoods adventures.

To learn more about Titcomb Cabin, visit rebuildingtitcomb.blogspot.com or watch this time-lapse YouTube video:

For more on historic preservation, consider:

Historic Paint Colors
A Farm Grows in Brooklyn
Decorative Woodwork Restoration

How To: Install a Faucet

How to Install a Faucet

Photo: Kit Stansley

Changing or installing a new faucet is a fairly simple home improvement task, even if it does require contorting your body into a pretzel-like shape under the sink temporarily.  If you can avoid needing to be hoisted out from under the cabinet and being put into traction (I recommend stretching first) this type of project should take less than an hour.


All sinks consist of the same basic parts:
–  Hot and cold water lines underneath the sink, usually with shut-off knobs located on each
–  Drain pipe
–  Sink basin (with anywhere from 1-4 holes–important to note when purchasing a new or replacement faucet)
–  Faucet

If you have to remove an existing faucet, it’s always a good idea to assess the situation before you start. If the sink and faucet are old or rusted it may take more time and tools to remove it.  (I always like to keep a sledgehammer nearby. You know, just in case!)

What you will need:
–  Faucet (to fit number of holes in sink) and accompanying parts
–  Teflon tape
–  Plumber’s putty
–  Wrench (a basin wrench works best for those tight spaces)

Most faucets are attached to the sink by a plastic nut—or a metal one in older models. There are also faucets that mount with bolts on the top, but more than likely you will need to wedge yourself inside the cabinet under the sink to accomplish this project.

How to Install a Faucet - New

Photo: Kit Stansley

To remove an old faucet, shut the water off at the pipes under the sink or at the main shut-off to the house. Then remove the water connections and the nuts securing the faucet to the sink.


Step 1: Adding the Gasket
Before the faucet is attached, there should be a seal between the faucet and the sink. Some faucets come with a plastic or rubber gasket. If not, you can make a snake from plumbers putty (just like you did with Play-doh as a kid), and put it on the sink where the faucet will sit.

Step 2: Positioning the Faucet to Sink
Attaching the faucet to the sink is pretty easy. Just set the faucet into the proper holes (once the gasket or putty is in place), position yourself under the sink, and screw on the plastic nut. If you’ve used plumbers putty you can clear away the excess with a spackling knife or use a finger.

Step 3: Connecting to Water Lines
Some faucets (Delta Faucet brand, for example) come with flexible PEX lines connected to the faucet already, which makes this step much easier as the hoses just need to be connected down at the water lines. For other types of faucets, you’ll need to attach flexible piping (available at hardware and plumbing supply stores, lumber yards, and home improvement centers) at your line and then to the faucet.

How to Install a Faucet - Connecting Water Line

Photo: Kit Stansley

When attaching water lines, wrap a bit of Teflon tape around the threads to give everything a tight seal.

If you do have to attach the water lines to the faucet behind the sink basin near the top of the cabinet, it will be well worth your while to use a basin wrench. Or you can struggle through with a regular wrench. I did it and it works, but there’s always the off chance your fingers go numb and you drop a wrench on your head. Not that I would know first hand . . .

Once this step is complete you can turn the water back on, check for any leaks, and enjoy having running water in your sink!

How to Install a Faucet - Complete

Photo: Kit Stansley

For more on kitchen and bath projects, consider:

Green Bathroom Makeover
Quick Tip: Budget Kitchen Remodeling
Bathroom Trends

Quick Tip: Patching Damaged Drywall

Follow these step-by-step DIY methods for repairing small and large holes in your drywall.

Patching Damaged Drywall

Photo: flickr.com

The Virtues of Drywall
Drywall has been the wall finishing material of choice for most of a century because it’s so easy to install and finish. Another of its virtues is that when it’s damaged, it’s easy to repair. For scratches or small dents, a quick swipe of joint compound with a 3- or 4-inch putty knife and a bit of sanding before priming and painting will do fine. For small holes up to 3 inches, self-adhesive plastic mesh tape and then a coat or two of patching compound will work. For medium-sized holes between 4 and 6 inches, try a drywall bandage.

Patching Drywall
Check to make sure there is no electrical wiring in the area first, then use a keyhole saw to cut the hole into a neat square or rectangle. Transfer that shape onto a piece of new drywall, add 2-inch margins and cut out the larger patch piece. Trim off the back and gypsum in the 2-inch margin but leave the face paper uncut. Spread patching compound around the outside edges of the hole and press the bandage into it, feathering the edges. Let it dry. Then sand and re-coat with compound. Finally, sand again, prime and paint.

Patching Large Holes
For really big holes, you can use the tie and twist bracing method. Cut a piece of drywall or a length of 2×4 a few inches larger than the hole. Drill two small holes in the center and loop a 2-foot string through it like a button. Tie the ends around the middle of a stick. Apply adhesive to the back edges of the hole inside the wall. Adhere the patch piece and twist the stick from your side of the wall until it holds tight. Then, fill the remaining space with drywall patch pieces and mesh tape. Finish with compound as usual, cutting the string and pulling it out just before it dries.

Patching Super-Size Holes
For super-large holes bigger than a foot wide, cut the drywall back to the two nearest studs and expose them halfway. Cut a new panel of drywall to fit and attach it as you normally would with drywall screws, joint compound, and tape.

A Year of Planning: The 12-Year Kitchen

Kitchen Remodel

Photo: Shutterstock

We never had any doubt about what architect we wanted for our kitchen makeover.



The existing kitchen layout, with the first proposed layout

The dotted line here shows the original layout of the kitchen, along with Norm's first proposed layout.

Norm Davis had done the plans for our bathroom project ten years earlier, and we’d found him to be a wizard at space design. He was also in synch with our philosophy of home renovation – we wanted modern convenience that still showed respect for the origins of the house.

Lucky for us, in the fall of 2009 Norm agreed to take the job. We knew from experience that the planning stage would take a while – not only is he extremely busy, but he needs a lot of rumination time. In our initial meeting, we gave him our wish list:

Cabinets – our current kitchen had storage only in the butler’s pantry.

Countertops – believe it or not, our existing kitchen had zero counter space. A microwave cart and the top of our portable dishwasher were the only work surfaces in the room.

A refrigerator in the same room as the other two sides of the work triangle – a luxury!

A ground-floor powder room – which guests, wet kids, and muddy gardeners (us) could use without traipsing up the center stairs.

A mud room – or at least somewhere to drop the coats and boots and backpacks that were cluttering up our front entryway.

Read the rest of this entry »

What’s Your Tool I.Q.?

Tool IQ

Photo: Shutterstock

We are excited to introduce a new addition to the Bob Vila toolbox—a Trivia Quiz.  Produced by Triviasnaks, the quizzes provide a fun way for you to test your home building/DIY knowledge about everything from tools and techniques to care and repair.

tools, quiz,Questions are selected randomly during every game, so the more you play the more you learn.  Your score will also rank you with other players and move you to higher levels as you continue to progress.  Best of all, every quiz answer links to articles and videos on the site where you can discover additional information.

In the months ahead we will be featuring more quizzes, including one where you can test your wits with Bob himself in “What Would Bob Do?”.  For now, though, we are challenging you to test your knowledge of hand and power tools.

So, strap on your tool belt and click here.  You can play as a guest or log on through your Facebook account. It’s time to play “What’s your Tool I.Q.?”

For more on tools, consider:

The Essential Toolbox
Choosing Essential Tools for Woodworking
Squares Levels and Plumbs

The Three P’s in Supervision

Keep these considerations in mind as you supervise workmen on the job.


Photo: flickr.com

As your renovation or construction project is going on, you will have to deal with the workmen. Even if you feel comfortable with them—and especially if you don’t—it is important that you keep a couple of considerations in mind.

The Professionals
These men and women are pros in their own worlds. You need them. You wouldn’t dream of buying a car and assembling it yourself, would you? In the same way you leave a mechanic to do his job himself, let the carpenters and electricians and plumbers do theirs. Watch if you wish, but don’t interfere.

Step back, count to ten, think before you speak. Speak your mind but with a little perspective. Don’t violate chains of command. Yes, you’re the boss but unless you are also acting as your own GC, you are not the only boss.

Be polite and complimentary. Even if you are not totally satisfied with the work, you are better off finding something good to say about part of it (to the fellow wielding the hammer, as well as his boss) and then, through the proper channels, for the problem areas to be corrected. It is human nature to want to do better work for someone who appreciates it and, conversely, to be less inclined to work for the person who doesn’t know how to do anything but complain.

The Construction Schedule

Use these guidelines to estimate how long each step of constuction will take.


How long do the steps take? No two jobs are the same, but here are some reasonable estimates of what will be required for each stage. Do keep in mind, though, that even the best organized job will, occasionally, have quiet days when work is on hold because of scheduling conflicts, delays in deliveries, and the rest.




Surveyor staking foundation location

V2 day


Excavation and, if necessary, clearing and tree removal

1-2 days


Footing and foundation work, including time for curing concrete, installing drain tile, waterproofing, back filling, etc.

2-3 weeks



1-3 weeks


Roofing and flashing work, chimney installation

1-2 weeks


Window, exterior door installation, siding, trim

2-4 weeks


Electrical, plumbing, other rough-ins (overlaps with Step 6) and insulation

1-2 weeks


Walls and ceilings

2 weeks


Finish work: interior trim, doors, floors, cabinets, painting, set fixtures, etc.

2-8 weeks


Punch list, final inspection, etc.

1 week

The Insurance Certificate

Don't risk a liability claim in the event of any personal injury or property damage. When you hire a GC, subs, and other on-site workers, ask whether they have insurance coverage.

When you hire a GC, subs, and other on-site workers, ask whether they have insurance coverage. Each should have a blanket policy that covers them—and you—in the event of personal or property loss. (Such policies are often referred to in shorthand as PL/PD for personal liability/personal damage insurance.) You don’t want to be at risk for a liability claim in the event of any personal injury or property damage. Be sure as well that the contractor has workman’s compensation to cover his employees in the event of an injury. Ask him to be sure that his insurance certificate cites the workman’s comp coverage, too.

Ask each contractor to provide you with a copy of his Certificate of Insurance together with his or her estimate. When you sign a contract, addend the copy of the contractor’s insurance certificate to the agreement, together with words to the effect that the contractor will not hold the homeowner responsible in the event of an insurance claim. Just to be safe, call the insurance carrier cited on the Certificate of Insurance to make sure the insurance coverage is in effect. If the contractor has missed a payment, the coverage may have lapsed.

If the contractor doesn’t have insurance coverage? Preferably, get another contractor. At the very least, discuss with your insurance broker adding construction coverage to your homeowner’s policy.

Change orders don’t have to be complicated, but if the job changes, then the change orders must be done. They are a key part of the paper trail you are creating in order to control your project.