October 2011 Archives - 3/4 - Bob Vila

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How To: Cut Construction Costs


What if the sum your construction estimates total is greater than you had budgeted? Sit down with your designer, especially if he took part in the creation of that original budget. Review the estimates with him or her and see where the unexpected overages are.

Have separate meetings with both the architect and GC. Ask each for strategies for cost reduction. The first approach should be to work within the design you have. Can certain materials be changed to less expensive ones? Is there a portion of the job that can be postponed a year, such as leaving one of the new rooms as raw space until that next baby you’re thinking about having is more than simply a thought?

If none of you can devise a way to trim the existing plan, is there a logical portion of the design that can be dropped? The second bay in the garage? Do you need that extra deck off the second bedroom? When it comes to design changes, your designer is essential.

If you get contradictory advice from the contractor and architect, ask both of them to meet with you at once. Get a brainstorming session going. They can make their cases to each other, as well as you. Yours is the deciding vote.

A word of warning: Don’t be penny-wise and pound-foolish, as the saying goes. Don’t eliminate something very important to you just to trim the budget. That could defeat the purpose of the whole project. If you have a number of potential cuts from the project, make a priority list, and do your cutting from the bottom up.

Try to take a big-picture approach. Don’t end up compromising the whole just to save the hot tub. Consider adding later what you can’t afford now.

How To: Patch Plaster Walls

Repair holes in plaster surfaces using these steps.

How to Patch Plaster

Photo: DIYdiva

Finishing a new wall or room with plaster or joint compound takes practice. If you have no experience with plaster or its near relative, joint compound, don’t learn in your living room. Experiment first in a closet, the attic, or a workroom area where you can glean valuable dos and don’ts from the inevitable imperfections.

Another good approach is to try patching first.

Preparation. Remove all the old, loose plaster. When working directly on a masonry surface, use a club hammer and cold chisel; rake out the joints to a depth of a quarter inch so that the plaster can form “keys” in the joints, adding strength to the new surface. Replace damp or molding wallboard that sags. If necessary, add wooden nailing surfaces at the edge of the wallboard patch to be certain it remains flat and stable.

Reinforce the Patch. At the joint between the existing wall and the new patch, apply self- adhesive fiberglass mesh tape. This will help bond the old and new together. For large holes, you may wish to use a sheet of aluminum or galvanized screening.

Putting on the Plaster. Most commercial patching plasters require a thorough wetting of the surrounding plasterwork, though some do not (read and follow the instructions to be certain). If you are patching a larger void, a two-coat approach is probably best. Fill the edges of the hole with plaster, covering the tape or screening. Use a small filler knife, and bring the plaster just shy of the surrounding finish plaster. Let the newly applied patch set overnight.

Some shrinkage and cracking is likely, especially in large patches. After the plaster has set thoroughly, apply a second coat, using a wider knife or trowel, preferably one wide enough to sweep over the entire width of the patch. Some plasters set quickly, so don’t delay in feathering the plaster surface flush to the surrounding surface.

If you are using a two-stage patching plaster, you may be able to sponge on a small amount of water to gain added working time for further smoothing.

How To: Work with Plastic Pipe

Learn how to cut, fit, and fasten plastic pipe.

Photo: Flickr

Plastic pipe requires a mini­mum of tools and experience. If you can use a tape measure and a hacksaw, you can pro­bably cut, fit, and fasten plas­tic pipe.

There are a variety of types of plastic pipe on the market, most of which are joined using a glue-like solvent that, when applied to the pipe, ac­tually dissolves the surface and fuses the pipe and fitting, producing a bond not unlike that of a metal weld but without requiring any heat.

Preparing the pipe. Regard­less of the type of pipe you are using, the layout and preparation of the pipe and fit­tings are all important. Before you cement any of the fittings together, lay out the entire job and plan ahead.

Cutting the pipe to length. For some rigid plastic pipe you can use a tubing cutter, though a hacksaw will cut it easily as well. Be sure the cuts are square. Remove any ragged edges from the inside and outside of the cut, using a utility knife or plumber’s tape (an emery cloth sold in nar­row strips).

Don’t remove so much material from the pipe that the fitting becomes liable to leak. To be sure, check the fit of each pipe into a fitting. It should be snug; if the pipe is loose or slides easily, try another fitting or cut another piece of pipe.

Cementing the fitting. Use the solvent that was formu­lated for the type of pipe you are using (polyvinyl chloride or PVC; acrylonitrile- butadiene styrene or ABS; chlorinated polyvinyl chloride or CPVC; or one of the several other types). Follow the instructions on the con­tainer, which may require the use of a primer to clean and prepare the area to be bonded. There may also be temperature restrictions, as some solvents do not bond properly at cold temperatures.

In most cases, the primer is ap­plied to the inside of the fit­ting and the outside of the pipe to be joined and, ten or so seconds later, the solvent is applied to the same surfaces.

The pipe is then inserted into the fitting in a twisting motion that helps assure the cement is spread evenly. Excess ce­ment will squeeze out around the edge of the fitting, but there’s no need to wipe it off.

Black Roof Stains? Check for Algae

Black Roof Stains? Check for Algae

Photo: waynickpressurewashing.com

It’s not mold. It’s probably not soot. The black spots discoloring your asphalt roof are more than likely the pervasive and prevalent algae known as Gloecapsa Magma.  These roof-invaders require a moisture-rich environment, usually supplied by dew and shade. The first stains usually appear on the north-facing sides of a roof, which receives less light, and in areas with heavy tree coverage. Algae travels through the air, so if one neighbor receives a few spores, the whole neighborhood will soon be sporting the black streaks.  Unfortunarly, they love to feed on the calcium carbonate contained in most asphalt shingles.  According to Tom Bollnow of the Asphalt Roofing Manufacturers Association (ARMA), “The algae is mostly an aesthetic nuisance, although with time, the moisture retained in the algae can prematurely age the shingles.”

No matter how tempting, don’t attack the discoloration with a high-pressure washing system, which will affect the integrity of shingles. Instead, William Woodring, the Director of Technical Services at GAF, suggests gently spraying on a solution made from one cup of trisodium phosphate (available at most hardware stores), one gallon of bleach, and five gallons of water and letting it sit for about twenty minutes. “Apply the treatment on a cloudy day so the liquid doesn’t just evaporate,” says Woodring. Be sure to protect the plants and bushes that might be affected by the bleach runoff with plastic tarps. Then, rinse with a soft-pressure wash.

Roofcleaninglongisland.com Algae-stained Asphalt Roof Shinglesm Bob Vila

Photo: Roofcleaninglongisland.com

Of course, cleaning the roof doesn’t keep the mold from reoccurring. You might have noticed how the shingles near metal, like around skylights or chimneys with copper flashing, aren’t affected by the algae. That’s because the water running off contains minute traces of metal that stops its growth.  A similar solution can be created by installing copper or zinc strips under the full course of shingles at the ridge of the roof.  As rainwater washes across the metal it will create an uninhabitable environment for future spores.

Use strips that are six or seven inches wide and ten feet long, fastened with low profile, round-head ring-shank nails or screws made of compatible metal.  Or, if starting from scratch is an option, re-shingle the roof with shingles that have metal granules to exact the same effect as the metal strips—manufacturers of algae-resistant shingles include Owens Corning, CertainTeed, and GAF. They cost a few dollars more per square foot, but ensure at least ten algae-free years.

If what you have are green stains, instead of black, then the culprit is moss, usually spread from overhanging trees. The solution is the same as with the algae, although a broom might be used to help gently dislodge the clingy spores. The same metal strips prevent the green vegetation from returning, but you can always help the process along by trimming overhanging trees and foliage away from the roof.

For more on roofing and seasonal maintenance, consider::

Asphalt Shingles 101
Quick Tip: Roof Repair or Replacement
Fall Home Maintenance Tips

MyLowe’s: Managing DIY Projects and Dreams

myLowes Key FOB Bob Vila

This is a test: What type of filter does your furnace or air conditioner require?  What is the paint color of your living room walls?  What is the finish of that paint—is it eggshell, semi-gloss, satin, flat or high gloss?  What is the square footage of your kitchen?  Your bathroom?  Where is the warranty for your refrigerator or the owner’s manual for your Kobalt circular saw?  What size light bulb does your ceiling fan require?  How many bulbs does it need?

Such household details are not meant to remain top-of-mind.  But when you are shopping to replace that air filter, or pick up another gallon of that living room color, or find a new blade for that circular saw, these details become paramount.

One of the best introductions at Lowe’s this fall may well be its innovative home management platform, MyLowe’s—an online service designed to help customers manage their projects, purchases and home improvement dreams in a more practical and serviceable way.

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An Interview with Mark Diaz—Miami’s Hot “Design Star”

Photo: Jane Dagmi

I sat down recently with Mark Diaz, the second runner-up in HGTV’s recently concluded “Design Star.” After watching Season 6, I was eager to meet the talented man who always looks so very ‘GQ’ on the show, sporting his signature ski cap, Wellies, and tool belt. Naturally, I wanted some juicy gossip, but Mark is still under contract and could not dish. Still, he had plenty of good things to say about his first major cable television experience.

Auditioning for “Design Star” wasn’t exactly Mark’s idea, but after several friends coaxed him, Mark drove 14 hours from Miami to reach the casting call in Atlanta. Pressed for time, Mark completed the application by copying in transcripts from assorted phone conversations that his girlfriend helped to transcribe. By the time Mark arrived for the audition, it was almost too late, but with a smile and gentle plea, he managed to charm the receptionist.

Though a tad disappointed by the final results, placing third did not dampen Mark’s winning spirit. With “Design Star” host Tanika Ray’s words, “Sorry, Mark, we will not be producing your show” fading into memory, Mark is confident he will have a show down the road, that he will build his own home, and that he will launch a community program that engages at-risk youth in the world of design.

JD: Now that you’re a star, did you get stopped a lot on the way to meet me?
MD: Yes, as soon as I walked in the front door. Every few feet.

He is smiling.

JD: Why do you think you lost the “Design Star” title?
MD: The biggest competitor I had was my own time management. I wasn’t worried about being out-designed, but I knew since I delve into a concept, create with purpose, and usually make my furniture from scratch, I would be challenged when put against other decorators. I’m not much of a shopper!

JD: What did you learn from your experience on the show?
MD: I learned how to go with my gut instinct and make on-site, on-the-spot decisions. I couldn’t always make my own furniture. I had to adapt. I gained the skill of instantaneous selection as in, “I’ll take that, and that, and that.”

Mark Diaz

Photo: HGTV

JD: Who taught you to make stuff?
MD: My family. My grandfather was an engineer. My father was a mechanic, firefighter, and entrepreneur, and he would always say, ‘Come here, I want to show you how to do or make something.’ Now when I design a piece of furniture, I build it with my fabricators. The more I understand and know the building process, the better designer I am.

Mark earned a Bachelors Degree in Architecture and Design from Florida International University.

JD: How did you come up with the name for your company—MAD2DESIGN?
MD: I am mad to design. The one phrase that best describes it is: I have an aggressive passion toward edgier design.

JD: What do you mean by edgier?
MD: Thinking outside the box. Creating things that have a visceral effect.

Mark pulls a small rectangular box out of his leather case. He opens the box.

MD: What do you see?
JD: Brass knuckles.

He removes the object from the box, and slips his fingers through the round openings.

MD: All this is, is architectural hardware. Fits like a brass knuckle, sure, but it’s a drawer pull… or elements of a light.

This object figures into the design of the lighting collection he aptly named “Bully.” Ideally, Mark wants to engage at-risk youth in making these chandeliers, replacing hand-to-hand combat with hands-on creativity.)

MD: The idea behind “Bully” is to transform dark to light, to take something destructive and use it for creation.

Mark Diaz Bully Chandelier

Photo: MAD Design Group

JD: I like that. What else do you repurpose?
MD: Lots. I’ll typically take something off the street and transform it before buying new. For the Electric Pickle Lounge, I pulled about some trashed pallets and incorporated them into the space. I’m up-cycling bike parts and some found Harvard law books into light fixtures too.

Mark is a tri-athlete and constantly burns through bike parts. He and his pedaling friends save their worn parts.

JD: What materials inspire you?
MD: The basics: wood, metal, stone. Right now I’m very much into distressed wood and raw steel. I love wood because it’s renewable.

JD: You seem like you’re pretty much of a minimalist. Do you collect anything?
MD: I have a collection of baseball cards from the 50s and 60s from my grandfather, books, leather suitcases, vintage furniture, tools. I collect feathers—ones that I find when I’m our walking my dog. And, um, pens… I’m always accidentally stealing pens.

JD: What is your favorite example of local architecture?
MD: Hands down, Miami Marine Stadium. It is a completely aired cantilevered hyperbolic structure, shut down after Hurricane Andrew, and named as one of the top American architectural sites to preserve.

JD: What’s your philosophy about design, about life?
MD: I like the quote: Fight for your limitations and they’ll be yours.
JD: I like that quote too.

For more on architecture and design, consider:

Miami Beach’s Newest Green Home Goes For Platinum
Shoreline House Tour of Miami
Touring Art Deco Architecture in Miami Beach

Happy Birthday Bon Ami!

Photo: flickr.com

For 125 years, this hardworking household cleanser has been keeping America’s kitchens and baths sparkly clean—without harsh chemicals or dyes.

Bon Ami Cleaning - Advertisement 2

Photo: Bon Ami 1940 Advertisement

I bought my first can of Bon Ami powder cleanser when I moved to New York City two decades ago. I’d just rented a studio apartment and wanted to give it a good clean, but I didn’t want to use chlorine bleach or toxic chemicals to get the job done.

Related: Cleaning Green: Eco-Friendly Products for Your Home

Up until that point, I’d been mixing my own vinegar-based cleaning products, but my new digs called for something stronger to get through the thick layers of accumulated grime left by the previous tenant. The man at the hardware store suggested Bon Ami when I vetoed some harsher brands, and my enduring relationship with a cleaning product was born.

It took a little elbow grease, but the powder lifted the greasy gunk off the ancient stovetop, and erased the stubborn soap scum on my chippy claw-foot tub, all without leaving a gritty residue. And best of all, the powdery powerhouse was cheap and worked way better than my earlier eco-friendly concoctions.

Bon Ami Cleaning - 1886 Formula

Photo: Bon Ami 1886 Formula

As I’ve come to find out, Bon Ami’s fans go way back. In fact, 2011 marks the family-owned company’s 125th year in business. “A lot has changed over the years. Bon Ami’s weathered the Depression, the chemical revolution, and endless fads, but our commitment to products that are effective, ecological, and affordable has remained a constant,” says Carolyn Beaham West, a fifth-generation family member and spokesperson for the brand.

Indeed, a 14-ounce can of their workhorse scrub still costs less than a buck in supermarkets and hardware stores. And the cleanser’s formulation—coconut and corn oils, a little bit of baking soda, a touch of soda ash, and gentle abrasives like limestone and feldspar, a waste product of quartz mining that would otherwise go to the landfill—remains as pure and simple as when it was first develop in 1886.

To meet growing demand for its earth-friendly products, the Missouri-based Bon Ami recently expanded its line to include dish soap, all-purpose cleaner (good for everything from floors and walls to vinyl car seats), and a liquid cleanser that’s easier to apply to vertical surfaces like shower stalls and bathroom walls, where soap residue and hard-water deposits can be a problem. Packaged in bottles made from 100 percent post-consumer recycled plastic, the new cleaners are also free of phosphates and chlorine. Plus they boast a fresh tangerine-thyme scent that’s derived from essential oils, not artificial fragrances—a boon for anyone with chemical sensitivities.

Bon Ami Cleaning - Products

Photo: Bon Ami

As my relationship with Bon Ami has matured—and my address has improved— I’ve come to rely on the inexpensive cleanser for a lot more than cleaning tubs, sinks, and countertops. I’ve used it to scrub the oxidation from metal fireplace tools scored at an antiques fair, to give my stainless pots and pans like-new sparkle, and to spruce up crusty outdoor grills and plastic patio furniture. I’ve even been told the powder makes a pretty good silver polish when mixed into a paste with water. I’ll let you know how it works if I ever get around to shining up my great-grandmother’s sterling tea set.

To learn more, visit Bon Ami.

For more on green, consider:

Prevent Mold and Mildew
Green Bathroom Makeover
Quick Tip: Improve Your Home’s Air Quality

Counter Attack: The 12-Year Kitchen

Han stone quartz countertop

The marbled white quartz from HanStone looks cool and clean against the green cabinets. But what a journey to get here! Now please, people, can someone help us pick a wall color?

We finally hit the milestone we’ve been waiting for: the countertop is in!

This was a big one—the finish line has been in sight, but unreachable, until now. Everything that needed to be done has been done, except for what depended on the counter. For the last two weeks, every conversation has included the phrase “but not until the countertop goes in.” We’re chomping at the bit, ready to roll, ticking off the days.

In retrospect it seems so easy. But it was a tough one–deciding on material, color, edge, size… it was difficult. Honestly, right now, I can’t believe it’s done.

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Winterizing Your Patio Furniture

How to Winterize Patio Furniture

Photo: shutterstock.com

As sad as it is to move indoors after enjoying your outdoor furniture all summer, taking a little extra time to care for your patio set now will keep everything pristine for spring’s return. While most patio and lawn products are manufactured to remain outside for the winter, some precautions may still be required for harsher weather conditions.  Here’s a general breakdown of how to treat the common materials that show up on your patio, porch or deck.  For more specific guidelines, check with your furniture’s manufacturer.

O.com Five-piece Wrought Iron Patio Set Bob Vila Fall Maintenance

o.com Five-piece Wrought Iron Patio Set

Most aluminum furniture has been powder coated, keeping it from rusting.  Zac Bryant, the Vice President of Product Development and Merchandising at Lane Venture, a manufacturer of outdoor furniture, suggests washing aluminum and then applying a coat of automotive wax for extra protection.  Touch up any scratches with car paint in the appropriate color.

Despite wrought iron furniture’s sturdy structure, it is susceptible to rust. Remove any that’s accumulated with a wire brush and then coat with an exterior spray paint designed for wrought iron, before covering with a quality tarp until spring.

Plastic needs little care—a blast with the hose and a good toweling off—but because of its potential brittleness, it also needs to come indoors for the winter.

Designed to deter mildew, acrylic fabrics can still harbor mold if the fabric remains dirty. To avoid black spots, vacuum or shake off your cushions and umbrella at the end of the outdoor season, and keep anything stuffed with foam in a dry space for the winter. For tough stains, use a bleach/detergent mix (one cup bleach to a gallon water, with a squirt of detergent), but don’t use bleach on any cotton or printed fabrics. For those, just use soap and water.

Natural materials  
Teak is the most durable of woods used to make patio furniture, turning an elegant silver with time and exposure to the elements. If you want teak to maintain its original color, apply specialty oil at least once a year. Other painted woods will lose their color in the sun; replenish a faded coat with an acrylic paint recommended by a quality paint supplier.

Synthetic wicker can stay outdoors year-round, but natural rattan needs to be kept in a dry, dark space. Before storing, check the wicker for damage and repaint any areas that are flaking.

How to Winterize Patio Furniture - Camino

Photo: overstock.com

Finally, always store any patio furniture that features mosaic tops—a good freeze in January will dislodge all those tiles.

For more seasonal maintenance, consider:

Fall Home Maintenance Checklist
Planning Guide: Wood Decks
Fall Home Maintenance Tips

The Final Word: My “Green” Nursery Challenge


JProvenz-Maximus Bob Vila My Green Nursery Challenge

I had 8 weeks and $2,000 to transform our storage room into a green nursery. After sanding, painting, drilling, and otherwise making a 9-month pregnant spectacle of myself, I finished 2 days ahead of schedule and $94 over budget. I remember that, when I finished, I looked around the nursery and told the baby that I was finally ready, he could come now. Maximus Rhys Claburn arrived the next morning.

Pregnancy made me more cautious and more crazy.  I used to hold my breath when I passed a smoker on the street or the exhaust from a truck. Extreme, I know, but I didn’t want the baby exposed to anything impure. I realized I couldn’t protect him forever, but this green nursery was my effort at giving him a safe and healthy start.

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