July 2011 Archives - 3/4 - Bob Vila

Welcome to Bob Vila

Quick Tip: Your Plants Can Cool Your House

Cut down on air conditioning costs by planting to provide shade.

Shade Your Home With Plants

Photo: flickr.com

Watch Where You Plant Your Trees
Most people know that planting a tree to shade your house is a great way to keep it cool. Plants have a kind of built-in air conditioning system called evapo-transpiration. But contrary to what you’d assume, the south-facing facade is not the best place for a tree. In winter, the south facade is the one that gathers the most heat, but that’s not true in the summer. To prevent the most summer heat gain, plant trees to the east or west of the house to block early and late-day sun.

Be sure not to plant trees where their roots could damage septic systems, water lines, or your foundation.

Think About Climate
Deciduous trees work best in colder climates since they obligingly lose their leaves at the start of the heating season.

Let Air Flow When You Add Yard Plantings
Foundation and yard plantings can really lower your home’s temperature if you keep shrubs a few feet away to allow air to circulate. And don’t plant a row of them where they block the flow of air from cooler areas like valleys, ponds, or woods.

Create Shade With Vines
Vines on a trellis set a few feet from the house or on a pergola over the patio will also create shade and cool the air naturally. Vines grow faster than trees and are great for color and privacy as well.

Turn Down the Heat With Ground Covers
Replacing paved or bare areas in your yard with low ground covers can turn down the heat by 10 degrees.

Work With Nature
But before you plant groundcovers, shrubs, or trees, find out which ones do best in your area. Hardy natives are more likely to thrive with less water and fertilizer. Work with nature rather than against it and stay cooler this summer!

Home Maintenance Checklist

Keep your home in shape year-round with this checklist.

Home Maintenance

Photo: flickr.com

1. Roof: Check the roof and around vents, skylights, and chimneys for leaks. Repair as necessary.

2. Attic: If there is no ridge vent, keep gable vents open year-round to ensure proper ventilation.

3. Gutters: Clean the gutters and drain pipes so leaves won’t clog them and be sure they drain away from the house. (Fall: In cold-climate areas) Drain outside faucets.

4. Fireplace: Clean the fireplace of ashes. (Fall) Check the chimney for loose or missing mortar. Have the chimney professionally cleaned. Make sure the damper closes tightly. (Spring) Leave the damper open for improved ventilation if the home is not air-conditioned.

5. Filters: Remember to clean or replace filters once a month, or as needed. Check and clean the dryer vent, air conditioner, stove hood, and room fans. Keep heating and cooling vents clean and free from furniture and draperies.

6. Safety Equipment: Ensure that all smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, and fire extinguishers are in good working order. Replace batteries in appropriate devices as needed, or at least twice each year.

7. Air Conditioner: (Fall: In cold-climate areas) Remove window air-conditioners, or put weatherproof covers on them.

8. Refrigerator: Make sure your refrigerator door seals are airtight. Test them by closing the door over a dollar bill. If you can pull the bill out easily, the latch may need to be adjusted or the seal may need to be replaced. In addition, if you have a coil-back refrigerator, vacuum the coils at least twice each year. Your refrigerator will run more efficiently with clean coils. Also, stock up! A full refrigerator uses less energy than an empty one.

9. Faucets: Check for leaky faucets in the kitchen and bathroom(s). Replace washers as necessary.

10. Windows and Doors: Seal drafty doors and windows. If you added up all of the small cracks where heating and cooling escapes from a home, it would be the same as having a window open. Replace seals as needed.

11. Storm Windows and Screens: (Fall) Take down screens (if removable type) and replace with storm windows. (Spring) Remove, clean, and store storm windows (if removable). Check and patch all door and window screens. Put screens up (if removable type).

12. Siding and Paint: Look for cracks and holes in house siding or paint. Replace caulk if necessary. A carpet knife can work well for cutting away old caulking from house siding. Slice down alongside it from both directions with the hook-like blade, then use the knife to lift out the old caulk bead intact.

13. Basement: Check the basement walls and floor for dampness. Be sure to clean the dehumidifier regularly, if you have one.

14. Heating System: (Fall) Have the heating system serviced. Change filters.

15. Hot Water Heater: (Fall) Drain the hot water heater. Remove sediment from the bottom of the tank.

Art Glass for Beauty and Privacy

Glass can transform space with color, light, and pattern. Used in doors as insets or panels, art glass allows light to penetrate interior spaces while capturing the eye and making an architectural statement.

Art Glass

Photo: flickr.com

Glass is more than functional—it is architectural. It gives the illusion of more space, increases natural lighting, and lends character to interior spaces. Architectural glass goes beyond architecture to become art, using textures, patterns, colors, and techniques to define and highlight individual tastes. Glass can incorporate Japanese rice paper for a softer look; be mouth-blown for a more authentic, vintage feel; or be rolled for a three-dimensional look. It can be practical, as with sleek, contemporary frosted glass that leaves no fingerprints behind. Glass can be patterned, laminated, frosted, or acid-etched, offering varying degrees of translucency for privacy and design.

Related: 10 Stained Glass Windows We Love

Patterned and Laminated Glass
Patterned glass is machine-made. Molten glass passes through steel rollers that impress the pattern into the glass. The glass is cooled slowly so that it can be custom-cut to size. With hundreds of patterns to choose from, homeowners can incorporate design themes ranging from geometric to natural. Lamination sandwiches a layer of decorative or high-strength material between two layers of glass. Laminating rice paper (with its wide variety of designs and textures), laminating frosted glass to standard glass, adding a colored interlayer, or combining two linear patterns at 90 degree angles give the homeowner a wide range of selections when it comes to patterned glass. Specialty glass companies will walk customers through the options and provide them with the cut glass ready to inset in a pre-measured door or window.

Art Glass and Reproduction Glass
Art glass is always decorative and sometimes hand-crafted. Stained glass is among the most popular forms of art glass. Sometimes referred to as leaded glass, stained glass is typically sold in large, colored sheets. While the designs made from stained glass are artfully crafted by hand, the production of the glass itself can occur in a studio using the mouth-blown technique or in a factory setting on an assembly line. The high cost of stained glass is due to the amount of time required to make it and the cost of materials.

Whether hand-made or machine-made, glass that is colored is typically made in smaller batches. Colors are created by mixing various metal oxides, such as gold or cobalt, into the raw materials prior to melting. Firing alters the color. For example, gold will yield a bubblegum pink color when cooled. Iron oxide is used to give reproduction glass its characteristic light green hue reminiscent of older glass.

Reproduction glass, with its bubbles and blemishes, is the preferred choice for glass replacement in an antique china cabinet or vintage cupboard. It also lends itself beautifully to more expansive historic renovations. Because it is mouth-blown, reproduction glass has a waviness that is not found in modern glass. Hand-made glass is not homogeneous, so it can’t be tempered. It can, however, be made safe through lamination.

Making It Safe
Safety glass is recommended for vulnerable areas such as doors. Safety glass is made in two ways, either through tempering or laminating. Tempered glass is made and cut to the specified thickness and size, then heated in a tempering oven where temperatures reach 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit. Through rapid cooling, the surface tension of the glass increases, making it four times stronger than standard glass. When tempered glass breaks, it dices or crumbles, leaving no sharp edges behind. Laminated glass, at its most simple, involves a plastic interlayer that is fused between two pieces of glass. When broken, the glass cracks but stays in place, giving it the added benefit of security.

Inset Glass for Pocket Door
In a Miami condo, Bob used glass inserts in the pocket door to divide the living room from the private quarters. Bob selected a leaf-patterned glass from Bendheim, a third-generation architectural glass company in New York City. The glass is patterned, so it allows light to pass through the panels and into the interior of the apartment while obscuring the view and allowing for privacy on both sides.

The glass design was an aesthetic choice, notes Bendheim Senior Vice President Donald Jayson. It marries elements from a bygone era with a more modern look. Going with pocket doors, however, was as much an aesthetic decision as a practical one. The doors make the 950-square-foot condo appear more spacious and allow for diffused, natural lighting while maintaining privacy. Bob also had the glass tempered for safety, according to Jayson. “This way, if someone runs into it, it won’t disintegrate. Whether it’s for residential or commercial applications, it’s always good to make sure that the glass is safety glass,” he says.

The door installation was a mix of pre-fab and custom. Project supervisor David Southard purchased a pre-fab pocket door frame from a hardware store, then commissioned Miami Beach door specialists House of Doors to construct and customize the inset-glass pocket doors. The end result is an exquisite room divider in rich cedar with full-length glass panels.

Handling Your Hand Saw

How to Use a Hand Saw

Photo: wikimedia.org

How to Make a Crosscut
Crosscuts are cuts that go against the wood grain. Once you’ve properly measured and marked your piece of wood, guide the side of the handsaw blade with the knuckle of your thumb. Start the cut by pulling your hand saw up two or three times, then push the saw blade forward at about a 45-degree angle. It is preferable to begin your cuts on the side of the wood that will show less when the project is complete.

How to Make Rip Cuts
Rip cuts are cuts that go with the wood grain. After proper measurement and marking has been made, carefully use your thumb to guide your saw with two or three short upward strokes. Once the cut is started hold the saw at a 60-degree angle to the wood and make smooth, full downstrokes. If making a long cut, use a wedge to spread the wood apart, to help prevent any binding.

How to Saw a Splinter-free Cut
Here’s a fast and easy way to reduce the amount of splintering that occurs when cutting wood with a hand saw. Apply a strip of masking tape along the cutting line on the backside of the piece. You’ll notice a significant improvement. Another way is to use a utility knife to score the cut. This will give you an accurate measurement and make the cut smoother.

More Teeth or Fewer Teeth?
You should choose a hand saw based on the type and size of solid wood you’re cutting. Saws with fewer teeth per inch provide a faster, but rougher cut. When cutting thicker pieces, a saw with more teeth per inch will produce more debris than it can handle, causing it to clog and bind. That same saw, however, will do a superb job on softer, thinner woods.

Hand Saw Maintenance
Quality hand saws are designed to provide years of good service. By wiping the entire surface of the saw blade with an oily rag, you will maximize your saw’s performance and extend its life. Craftsman hand saws come with a protective tooth cover. Don’t throw this away. It will protect the teeth from any harm that could occur in a busy workshop. If you can’t find this cover, cut and slice open a piece of an old garden hose and use it to cover the entire length of the blade.

5 Simple Ways to Save H2O at Home

Save Water at Home

Photo: shutterstock.com

Although roughly 75 percent of the Earth is covered with water, the reality is that less than 1 percent of that water is fresh and readily available to humans—making conserving the planet’s most precious resource more important than ever. Happily, changing water-guzzling habits doesn’t require herculean sacrifices or big investments, just modest changes. Bonus: saving water saves money, too!

Delta, water saving, shower head

Photo: Delta


Fact: On average, a five-minute shower uses 25 gallons of water. That’s about 175 gallons per week per person—or 2,800 gallons a month for a family of four!

Reality: Cutting that number in half is as easy as installing a low-flow showerhead, most of which look and perform just like standard models. Delta’s Water-Amplifying Showerhead (model 75153) delivers a steady, satisfying stream and costs just $12.75 at homedepot.com.


Fact: Leaving the faucet running while polishing your pearly whites (or shaving) wastes 2 to 4 gallons of clean water each and every time you brush.

Reality: If you brush twice a day, simply turning off the faucet will save up to 56 gallons of water a week! Get extra points if you install an inexpensive faucet aerator, which slows the flow even more.

water saving toilet conversion kit


Fact: Toilets use 27% of the water in the average home. Older models fare the worst, using up to 7 gallons per flush.

Reality: If your toilet predates 1992, when energy-efficient models were introduced, replace it with a new high-efficiency model that uses just 1.28 gallons a flush or consider installing a flush toilet conversion kit, such as MJSI’s highly rated One2Flush Dual Flush Toilet Conversion Kits ($29.95; amazon.com). The simple device allows less water into the tank per flush, for an average saving of about 30 gallons of water a day per four-person household. Another option: place a 2-liter plastic bottle filled with water into the tank. The container takes up space, so the tank fills faster and uses less water.


Fact: According to the EPA, leaks in American homes account for 1 trillion gallons of wasted water per year—or the annual water use of Chicago, Los Angeles, and Miami combined!

Reality: Fixing easily corrected leaks—drippy faucets, faulty sprinklers, old toilet flappers—can save homeowners more than 10% on monthly water bills. The best way to figure out if you have a leak is to check your water meter, then turn off all water sources for two hours. If the meter moves at all, you’ve got a leakage problem somewhere.

watergeegs, garden hose, nozzle, water saving

Photo: WaterGeeks


Fact: More than 12 gallons of water travel through a regular garden hose per minute.

Reality: Investing in an H20-conserving hose attachment, such as WaterGeeks’ Water-Saving Nozzle ($3.99 each), allows gardeners to turn water on and off as they work and adjust the flow and volume of the water according to the job at hand.

For more information, visit water.epa.gov/action

For more on saving water and energy efficiency, consider:

Low-Flush Toilets Save Money and Water
Quick Tip: Solar Hot Water Systems Save Money
Quick TIp: Save Energy at Home

Some Final Notes on Finishing the Job

It's important to expect, and have solutions for, final challenges when finishing a job.

Finish Work

Photo: flickr.com

How long should the finish work take? That depends on the job, of course. When the job involves plastering and painting, each of those steps will take a few days. Given the work that comes before and after, finish work will require a minimum of two weeks. On big renovations, two months may be more reasonable.

Before your contractor has completed his job, he should clean up his mess. There shouldn’t be chunks of wood left embedded in the soil (they’re lures for ter­mites). All tools and equipment and materials should disappear along with the con­tractors and their workmen. The bathtub shouldn’t be left with a gritty layer of grout in it, and you should be able to see yourself in the mirror. There also should be no tools or materials tucked away in a comer of your basement or garage.

But let’s suppose the paint is dry, the toilets flush, and the contractor’s tools are finally gone. Even the bills are paid.

This is really the best part. By this point you will have made it through many sleepless nights, confronted some expenses that astonished you (and been surprised at the reasonableness of some others), and been struck dumb by one or more of the magicians who can take a pile of materials and turn it into a key part of your home.

Expect to have a few second thoughts. Having now lived in our Cambridge house for a couple of years, we’re very happy there. But I have a few small complaints. One is that our kitchen cabinets are too shallow to accommodate large serv ing platters and other bulky items. The approach our architect took is that such rarely used items ought to be stored downstairs in the cellar. But since we entertain often, that doesn’t really suit our lifestyle. So I keep an heirloom nest of platters in the top drawer of a secretary in the front hall, just off the kitchen. We all adapt one way or another. I hope that your worst problem is no more serious than that.

So have a seat. Relax. Enjoy the feel and comfort of what you have wrought. And promise me something, okay? Don’t even think about your next project. For at least a week.

How To: Install Door Hardware

How to Install Door Hardware

Photo: KStansley

As a person who has recently upgraded from living in a garage to living in a half-constructed house, the novelty of having multiple doors to open and close on a whim cannot be overstated. Over the last several weeks, I’ve gotten used to the convenience of hooking a finger through the empty hole to swing the door open and closed. On the plus side, there’s no knob to turn or lever to push, and you can always see when the bathroom is occupied by peering through the open hole. (Listen, when you spend a year living in 400 square feet with another human being and a cat, privacy becomes a moot point.)


Here’s what basic cylindrical interior door hardware looks like.

How to Install Door Hardware - Getting Started

Photo: KStansley

It consists of a latch assembly, a handle attached to the cylinder, a second handle and face plate.

What You Will Need
Installing an interior door handle is a pretty easy task and doesn’t require any fancy tools.  Here’s all you will need:

– Door handle hardware and accompanying screws
– Screwdriver and/or drill (if you’re impatient)
– Chisel (optional)


1. Installing the Latch Assembly. The only trick here is to make sure the beveled side of the latch faces the jamb so that it pushes the latch back when you close the door. If you do this backwards, you’ll have to turn the handle to get the door closed each time.

How to Install Door Hardware - Latch Assembly

Photo: Kit Stansley

Most doors come with space removed to accommodate the face plate. If not, you may need to trace the size of the plate onto the door (making sure it’s centered and level) and then remove some of the wood with a chisel so the face plate sits flush.  Once the latch assembly is in place, wait until the rest of the handle is installed to screw the face plate in place.

2. Installing the Handles. With the latch assembly in place, slide the door handle with the attached cylinder into place.  It must line-up with the holes in the latch assembly to function properly.  When in place, position the opposite handle to secure the connection.  The handles can now be fastened with two screws; generally located on the “locking” side of the door. With lever style handles, like these, you may need to “swap handles” so that they are facing the correct direction. Most models can be released with a small button on the base of the handle.

3. Fastening the Face Plate. Bringing our exciting adventure in door hardware installation to a close, just a few screws into the face place, and voila! Securely closed doors and no more peeping toms.

How to Install Door Hardware - Face Plate

Photo: Kit Stansley

For more on doors, consider:

How to Install a New Door
Hanging Old Doors and Installing New Door Trim
Installing Restored Brass Hardware

Quick Tip: Boost Your Home’s Resale Value with Paint

Paint your house to increase its value without spending too much.

House Painting

Photo: flickr.com

New Coat of Paint, Better Home Price
How do you ensure you’ll get the selling price you want for your home in a buyer’s market? Now is not the time to install those granite countertops you’ve been dreaming of because you probably won’t get your money back. To get the best price you can without breaking the bank, grab a roller or hire a painter. Paint is the tried-and-true, budget home improvement that realtors recommend.

What Do Buyers Notice?
Pay special attention to the areas that potential buyers will see first. On the front facade or even just the area around the front door, scrape and repaint any peeling or flaking areas to improve that all-important first impression. Be sure to repair any damage, nail holes or cracks, and choose an eggshell or a matte paint finish to take the focus off any imperfections.

Go Neutral
If the paint is still in good condition, a light pressure wash will brighten it up and welcome visitors. If your front door is purple or your wallpaper saw Nixon impeached, now is the time to go for cream, white or beige. Some realtors even recommend repainting the whole interior in off-white to provide a clean slate. It might not be your style, but the more neutral your home’s color palette, the more possibilities a buyer will see there, and that’s where your work will pay off.

Quick Tip: Improve Your Home’s Air Quality

Combat air pollution and remove harmful chemicals with these helpful tips.

Indoor Air Quality

Photo: flickr.com

Poor Air Quality Threatens Health
The American Lung Association reports that the death rate from lung disease has risen faster in the last decade than any other major disease. Countless days of school and work are missed due to respiratory illnesses every year. The EPA ranks poor indoor air quality as the fourth largest environmental threat to our country.

Pollution in the Home
Some of the worst polluters of the air you breathe hit right where you live. Biological particles like mold, animal dander, dust mites, bacteria and viruses occur naturally in substances. But in homes that aren’t properly ventilated, or when filters aren’t regularly cleaned, their concentrations can build up and make them into major irritants.

Combustion Dangers
Products of combustion from heating systems, gas appliances, fireplaces and wood stoves include poisonous and carcinogenic particles as well as carbon monoxide and nitrous oxide.

Tobacco Smoke
And tobacco smoke has proven to be the last thing you want in your indoor air. Make sure your appliances are properly vented, install carbon monoxide detectors and ban smoking in your house to keep your family safe.

Harmful Chemicals at Home
Volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, have also been linked to lung disease. They off-gas from a huge range of building products like engineered lumber, adhesives, carpets, paint and upholstery. But did you know they can also come from dry-cleaned clothing, synthetic lawn and garden fertilizers and pesticides? Other harmful chemicals can off-gas and accumulate from seemingly innocent cleaning products, air fresheners, candles, even personal care products. The best solution is to use natural alternatives wherever you can.

Lead Dust and Asbestos Dangers
Believe it or not, airborne lead dust and asbestos are still causing health problems. If you suspect your home contains exposed lead paint or asbestos that’s been disturbed, get a professional inspection immediately.

New Product: Tyroc Sub-Flooring

Tyroc Subfloor Panels

Tyroc Subfloor Panels

The basic requirement of any floor surfacing material—from ceramic to wood—is that the subfloor remain free of moisture build-up. This is particularly true for basements where concrete, a porous substance that needs to breathe, can develop moisture as room temperatures fluctuate. The moisture that forms between the concrete and flooring will not only compromise the floor’s performance but contribute to mold, mildew and poor indoor air quality over time.

Tyroc, a new, green sub-floor panel system, is the latest innovation in concrete floor coverings. Each panel has two layers: a surface board made from compressed magnesium oxide (a natural inorganic material that offers exceptional moisture resistance) and a molded base made from recycled rubber tires and recycled plastic.  A groove-pattern on the underside of the panel is designed to allow moisture to move freely to floor drains, provide a water-proof barrier and permit airflow underneath to reduce the potential for mold and mildew.

In addition to being an environmentally safe and sustainable product, Tyroc is DIY friendly.  It lays flat on uneven floors, can be cut with a table saw, circular saw or jigsaw, and comes in easy to carry, lightweight 16” x 48” panels.  It can be used as a sub-flooring material for any surfacing product, according to manufacturers, including ceramic tile, sheet linoleum, laminate, bamboo, natural and engineered hardwood floors, and carpeting.  It can also be used over radiant heat installations.

To learn more about Tyroc, including an installation video, visit the company online.

For more on flooring, consider:

Soundproofing Your Floors
Green Home: Flooring
Building a First Floor Slab and Concrete Walls