August 2011 Archives - 2/4 - Bob Vila

Welcome to Bob Vila

Milwaukee Tool Introduces a Refreshed Lineup

I traveled to Milwaukee, WI, a couple weeks ago to visit the headquarters of the Milwaukee Electric Tool Corporation and check out their latest product lineup, including some awesome new “top secret” introductions.

MILWAUKEE®, founded in 1924, definitely caters to the professional user–electricians, plumbers and contractors–but their cordless lineup of power tools continues to grow. They showed us some new tools that any homeowner-DIYer would covet, many of them “coming soon” to a Home Depot near you.

The M12 cordless platform is one of the fastest growing segments for the company and this year they will introduce a compact jigsaw (pictured above)—one of the first of its kind. Our on-site testing of the tool showed it to perform extremely well. We were able to cut puzzle pieces out of particleboard with ease.

Read the rest of this entry »

How Green Is Your Town?

The question—How Green is Your Town?—is not a competition but rather a rally call to help build more sustainable communities around the country and, ultimately, a “greener” America for the future.

The challenge is one that is at the core of GreenTowns, a nationwide, community-based website that aims to connect, celebrate, and empower individuals to become more active in their hometown’s efforts to reduce waste, conserve energy, shop local, build greener and, in effect, live more earth-friendly lives.

How Green Is Your Town?

Read the rest of this entry »

Proper Sanding Techniques

Follow these sanding techniques and get the smooth finishes you've always wanted.


Photo: Flickr

While there are many different products you can use to sand (a palm sander, a block, or sand­ing with paper in hand), the process is basically the same for all of them. Follow these steps, no matter the tool and you can sand like a pro.

Prepare the Surface First. Remove all tape or staples from the surface to be sanded. If necessary, scrape off blobs of plaster, paper, or flooring residue, glue, or any other material. Set all nails beneath the surface; one nail or staple can tear and ruin a fresh piece of sandpaper instantly.

Sand in Sequence. In smooth­ing a rough surface, you will need to use a sequence of two or three sandpapers, moving from coarse to fine. A medium-coarse paper of 80 to 100 grit might be an appro­priate starting point for most sanding projects, followed by a finer paper in the 120 to 180 range to smooth the surface to the touch.

Protect Yourself. If you’re sanding old paint or plaster or sanding a great deal of any­thing, wear a mask or respirator. Some sanding dust is toxic; even when it isn’t, inhaling the dust is a choking, unpleasant sensa­tion and potentially damaging to your lungs. Wet/dry sandpaper is an option, too, for limiting the amount of dust generated.

Clean the paper periodically. It will clog with dust, reducing its efficiency. Simply tapping the paper will cause most of the dust to fall free of the paper’s surface. That way, you can ensure all the elbow grease you used is actually making a difference on the surface.

Making Drawings

Use our simple tips to help you draw out your project.

Photo: Flickr

Making professional working drawings takes training and practice. For many simple, around-the-home kinds of jobs, however, even the in­experienced hand can devise working plans. With the invest­ment of a few dollars and given a minimum of practice, useful drawings can be made—and later mistakes avoided. 

The Drafting Board. While elaborate drafting tables can cost many hundreds of dol­lars, you may opt to purchase a portable drawing board, some of which these days come with a handy, built-in T square. Another option for the occasional draftsman is to use a desk or tabletop.

The Equipment. A basic draw­ing kit need only consist of a T square, a triangle, some graph paper, a roll of masking tape, and pencils.

Getting Started. For the beginner, graph paper makes the process a great deal easier. Tape a sheet to your working surface, aligning it with the T square. Identify the longest dimension of the object you’re drawing, then deter­mine the largest scale you can use to fit the object onto the sheet. Depending upon the size of the object to be drawn, the scale could be one square to a square foot, one square to a square inch, or whatever proportion makes sense.

Turning Pro. Once you’ve mastered some of the basic skills, you may decide to leave the graph paper behind and confront the somewhat in­timidating emptiness of a plain sheet. If you do, you’ll need a scale (it’s a triangular ruler with different scales along each edge). There are plenty of other fancy imple­ments to help, too (among them pencils with leads of varying softness for darker or lighter lines), but such sub­tleties aren’t required to master the basics. 

Small Choices, Big Decisions: The 12-Year Kitchen

Wood Flooring Options

Photo: Shutterstock

If you had asked Margaret and me five years ago what our new kitchen would look like, we’d probably have both said it would have white cabinets and a black-and-white checkerboard pattern floor – classic, traditional, in keeping with the character of the house. The essence of that vision remains, but we took some turns along the way.

Kitchen design productsThe first to go was the floor choice. Our “temporary” black-and-white checkerboard floor had the right look, but was impossible to keep clean. The tiniest speck of flour or sugar showed up prominently on a black square, and any scuff or crumb on a white square announced its presence loudly. And with two small children in the house, we had our share of specks and scuffs.

After looking at dozens of other flooring options, we decided to go with wood. Our next-door neighbor has a fir floor, and advised us to get something in a harder wood – softer woods simply scratch and dent too easily. Since the rest of the main floor is oak parquet, oak was the natural choice. We worried about being able to scrub it, but we learned (correctly, we hope!) that we could get a marine finish on it, a polyurethane finish so tough it’s used on boats.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Crib and Bedding: My “Green” Nursery Challenge

In week two of my “green” nursery challenge, I purchased the “Rolls Royce” of organic mattresses.  Now I needed a crib and bedding worthy of it. The crib needed to be baby-safe, eco-friendly, and fit for the prince of the nursery.  Plus, it must meet Federal Safety regulations, be free of lead and phthalates (substances added to plastics to increase their flexibility, transparency, durability, and longevity), have a non-toxic finish, and be made of sustainable or recyclable materials.

As if that wasn’t a tall enough order, a crib designed to “grow” with the stages of the baby’s development made the best fiscal and environmental sense.  I wanted a design where the mattress could be raised for easy access to my baby (Stage 1); lowered when he was able to sit unassisted  (Stage 2); and, eventually, converted into a toddler bed (Stage 3)—with guardrails.

Since I robbed the piggy bank purchasing an organic mattress, I needed to be fiscally responsible this week.  But first, I got mired in crib envy:Vetro baby crib

Read the rest of this entry »

Look Ma—No Wheels: The Hovering Mower

I had the pleasure of touring the Husqvarna Research & Development headquarters in Charlotte, NC a few weeks ago and even the intense Carolina heat couldn’t keep me away from the opportunity to test their latest outdoor power equipment.

One of the most interesting products shown was the new HVT52 Hovering Trimmer. It operates like a lawnmower as you guide it from a push bar in the back but functions more like a trimmer; a large impeller fan underneath provides the lift while a motorized, rotating trimmer line cuts the grass and weeds.

Read the rest of this entry »

Quick Tip: Hire a Home Inspector Before You Buy

Find out everything you can about the true state of the house’s condition, before you buy.

Home Inspection

Photo: From Bob Vila's Basement Finishing and Family Space

Search for Hidden Problems
Now, more than ever, buyer beware. Most sellers just aren’t motivated to do expensive repairs in this market, so problems sometimes get painted over or hidden, and it’s up to you to find them.

Work with a Home Inspector
Your best bet is to hire a certified home inspector. If you get a recommendation from your realtor, check references; you want an independent and unbiased opinion.

Your inspector should look at the house thoroughly with you and give you a written assessment of the house’s condition from top to bottom, including windows, doors, trim, siding, roof and chimneys. The report should include an assessment of the building’s structure and mention any signs of settling or instability. It should cover the siting of the house on the lot and tell you if there are any drainage issues you should be worried about. And it should give you an idea of the age and safety of all the mechanical systems in the house and whether anything is unsafe or needs to be replaced.

Negotiate with Power
The inspector’s report gives you leverage to negotiate a lower home price, have repairs made before closing or back out if you don’t want to deal with serious problems.

The Cost of Inspection
Depending on where you live, whom you hire and how long the inspection takes, the report will cost you anywhere from $200 to $700, but it can save you thousands. It’s definitely money well spent.

What Lies Beneath: The 12-Year Kitchen

Our kitchen renovation project started out with a couple of hidden land mines, and moved quickly into a series of hidden works of art.

Fortunately for us, we were working with an architect and contractor who knew how to anticipate landmines, and we’d been living in the house long enough to know where the likely locations were. We’d had trouble with termites before, particularly on the side of the house where we were about to build, and Keith had seen lots of houses with termite damage. So our contract anticipated having to replace lots of old wood—and it’s a good thing, because there certainly was termite damage.

Termite damage in the floor under our refrigerator

Photo: RHenry

It was hard to believe the old extension was actually standing at all—we discovered that it was held up at each corner by a single 2×4 planted on a brick.  And the extent of the termite damage was simply amazing—one of those corner 2x4s was chewed through to almost nothing. Entire chunks of flooring were eaten through—including the floor right under where our refrigerator had been standing.

Since so much of the damage was in the extension that was coming down anyway, we could just marvel at it as it was carted away. But the sill under the main house had evidence of termites, too, along with signs of water damage from a long-ago leaky sink, so that all had to be repaired or replaced. We unearthed the old gas pipes, fortunately empty and disconnected, that once fueled the lights in our house. Two mysterious water pipes reached high up the kitchen wall—we theorize that they once fed a wall-mounted heater, and we’re grateful they were no longer connected to anything.

The hidden works of art lay in the framing and roofing that Keith built over the next few weeks. Norm’s plan had called for a walk-out bow window, a single unit we could order from a window manufacturer. Keith was worried about how he’d be able to match the existing casing on such a unit, so he asked us to order three individual windows instead. Then he went to work framing it—by hand, calculating angles and miters in the rim, joists, and studs, and cutting everything with amazing precision.

Framing for the new kitchen extension

Photo: RHenry

That was impressive enough until I watched him creating the new hip roof. Also by hand, also one angle and miter cut at a time—now I find myself looking at hip roofs in a whole new way. They are amazing structures indeed, and it’s a shame nobody gets to see the craftsmanship that goes into building a great one. And we have a great one! (We threw Keith a curve ball by deciding we wanted a skylight in it, but he never missed a beat.)

Keith Mazzarello framing the hip roof on our kitchen extension

Photo: RHenry

The down side is that doing things right takes time, and we were well into May by the time the walls and rafters were done. We still needed plywood sheathing, and windows and door installed, before we’d be enclosed. I will be eternally grateful that we had taken Keith’s advice and waited on the start date—we ended up open to the elements from the first week in March until the second week in June, more than three months. I shudder to imagine those months if they’d been December, January, and February!

The hip roof, complete

Photo: RHenry

Next: Small Choices, Big Decisions—and Hoping It All Comes Together

For more on kitchen remodeling, consider:

2011 Kitchen Trends
Create an Outdoor Dream Kitchen
Quick Tip: Budget Kitchen Remodeling

New Product: The Flux Chair


Flux Chair plastic seating

We at are dedicated to bringing you the most practical home improvement advice.  This new chair from Flux struck us as the ultimate in smart design and small space solutions.  Shown at the New York International Gift Show this week, the flat sheet of plastic on the right assembles into the chair on the left in just a few minutes (check out the video below).  When we tried it out, we were amazed by its comfort and stability.  You can buy cushions for the seat—though the chair was plenty comfortable without one—and wall hangers are available to store it flat.

Read the rest of this entry »