November 2011 Archives - 3/4 - Bob Vila

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Concrete Blocks: Foundations to Art

CKSinfo Concrete Block

Photo: CKSinfo

I know what you’re thinking—a concrete block. Big deal. But take a look at it. Solidly built. Produced with hollow centers to reduce weight, improve insulation, and, when filled, enhance stability. Made in various sizes and configurations to conform to specific construction requirements. When you consider its many different applications, you can begin to appreciate the appeal that this humble, inexpensive building block holds for builders, contractors, and DIYers the world over.

Strip away the bricks or stones covering your chimney and often you’ll discover concrete blocks. Move the earth away from your home’s foundation and, depending on when your house was built and whether or not it has a crawl space or basement, you are likely to find the same stalwart workhorse.

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Asphalt Shingles 101

Learn everything you need to know about asphalt shingles—their type, style, color choices, cost and durability.

Asphalt Shingles

CertainTeed Roofing Landmark Shingles in Hunter Green. Photo: CertainTeed

Economical to produce, relatively easy to install and widely available, asphalt shingles are today’s most popular roofing material—not only because they’re less costly than wood, wood shakes, tile, metal or slate, but also because their guaranteed life span pits them favorably against competitors. At least a dozen major U.S. and Canadian building-product manufacturers market asphalt shingles, including GAF, CertainTeed and Owens Corning.

Asphalt shingles come in two varieties: Fiberglass and organic.

Fiberglass shingles are made of a woven fiberglass base mat, covered with a waterproof asphalt coating, and topped with ceramic granules that shield the product from harmful UV rays. Because of the composition of the fiberglass mat, less asphalt is needed to give the shingles their durability and strength. The result is a lighter weight and thinner roofing material. Fiberglass shingles also have a higher fire rating than organic varieties and generally carry a longer warranty. Fiberglass shingles were developed in the 1980s, but have quickly become the roofing material of choice for most homeowners and contractors today.

The traditional organic mat-based shingles are made from a recycled layer of felt paper, asphalt-saturated for waterproofing, and coated with adhesive asphalt into which the ceramic granules are embedded. With 40 percent more asphalt than their fiberglass counterparts, the traditional organic mat-based shingles are heavier, thicker and more costly. While organic shingles are considered more rugged and more flexible, they are also more absorbent and can warp over time. The additional asphalt content also makes them less environmentally friendly.

Regardless of whether they are fiberglass- or organic-based, asphalt shingles generally measure 12 by 36 inches and are commonly manufactured in two different types:

Three-tab shingles are distinguished by cutouts—tabs—made along their long lower edge. The result, says Joan Crowe, a technical services director for the National Roofing Contractor’s Association (NRCA), is that “each shingle looks like three separate pieces when installed, but it’s only one.” Three-tab shingles have been around a long time and are still the most economical and most popular shingle today.

Architectural asphalt shingles contain no cutouts, but their lower portions are laminated with an additional asphalt layer. This creates the contoured, dimensional look that gives them their name. Asphalt sealant bonds the layers, reinforcing the shingles’ waterproof capability. Though durable, architectural shingles are not recommended for low-sloping roofs, which are more vulnerable to wind-driven rain.

Installed properly, asphalt shingles are no longer easy to identify. Why? Some are made to convincingly mimic the look of slate, wood shakes or even tile. And shingle shapes can be similarly varied; consider the scalloped-edge tabs that complement Victorian architecture or the square, slate-like shingles perfectly suited for Colonial homes.

Color choices are more varied than ever, depending on your taste and the style of your home. You’ll generally find tones ranging from pale gray, medium gray and dark gray to beige, reddish and medium brown to dark brown, plus shades of blue and blue green. There are also variegated looks achieved by mixing light and dark tones skillfully, plus weathered looks designed to make a new roof-look suit a vintage house. There are interactive tools online that can help you “try on” colors and styles to find the asphalt shingle best suited to your home.

Asphalt Shingles

GAF Timerbline® ArniorShield Asphalt Shingles Colors. Photo: GAF

In addition to color and style, today’s manufacturers are also adopting energy-saving, cool-roof technology to help reduce the amount of heat absorbed by the roof. CertainTeed‘s Landmark Solaris, for example, is a steep-slope, solar reflective asphalt roofing shingle that contains advanced colored granules that reflect the sun’s rays and can reduce a roof’s temperature by as much as 20% in the summer. Similar ENERGY STAR-rated technology is available with Owens Corning ’s Duration Premium Cool Shingles and GAF’s Timberline Cool Series Energy-Saving Shingles.

Manufacturer warranties currently guarantee asphalt shingles a 15- to 30-year useful life. Why the wide span? Climate, weather and environmental factors. Homeowners in areas enduring long summers with high heat may need to replace roofing sooner than homeowners in cooler regions. Most damaging are sudden spiking temperatures—from 40 or 50 degrees at night to well over 100 by midday, for example. Similarly, in areas known for severe winters, ice dams formed as water freezes may aggravate tiny cracks and fissures that eventually necessitate repairs.

Roof pitch also affects shingle life. The steeper the slope, the likelier it is that water and ice can drain off quickly and not remain to become destructive. It is for this reason that architectural shingles, though durable, are not recommended for low-sloping roofs, which are more vulnerable to wind-driven rain and ice buildup.

Algae and fungus growth can also be potentially damaging for roofing in perennially damp or subtropical areas.  Depending on where you live, you might want to consider algae-resistant shingles, some of whose ceramic granules are coated with leachable copper to prevent discoloration and long-term damage from algae and moss growth. Keep in mind that algae resistance could add 10 to 15 percent to your materials budget.

Asphalt shingle pricing is influenced somewhat by geography but mostly by regional differences in labor cost. According to Tom Bollnow, senior director of technical services at the National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA), “Labor-wise, asphalt shingles are still the least expensive to install on a roof.” This, he believes, may be one reason nearly 70 percent of domestic roofing installations are asphalt shingles. Even so, price swings are notable. Says Crowe, “We tell homeowners all the time to get three or four contractor estimates. In the same region it’s possible to get different numbers.”

Slideshow: Asphalt Shingles: A Showcase of Styles, Colors, and Options

Generally speaking, the average cost of asphalt shingle roofing is $.80 to $1.20 per square foot for the materials.  According to, for a medium-pitch roof, the average cost will be somewhere between $100 and $200 per square for the shingles alone. (A square in “roofing lingo” is equal to the size of a 10’ x 10’ area, or 100 square feet.)  Making asphalt shingles even more desirable is the fact that they can be applied directly over old shingles, providing the roof deck is in good condition. If, however, there are already two or more shingle layers, or your existing roof is shake-shingled, it’s advisable to remove the old before applying the new.

No matter which type, style or color you select, you’ll want your asphalt-shingle purchase to include a long-life warranty. Be aware, however, that DIY-installed shingles may not be covered—and that warranty coverage can be nullified if the manufacturer determines its product was installed improperly. This is not to say that an experienced DIYer shouldn’t install roof shingles, only that choosing not to hire a licensed, certified and fully insured roofing contractor may involve more than just physical risk.

Warranties mainly cover defects—shingle cupping or curling, for example, plus granule loss and thermal splitting. Study the proffered warranty before making a purchase decision. Make sure you understand that your warranty may not include the cost of labor for shingle repair or replacement. Also, most warranties don’t cover the wrath of Mother Nature: earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, severe wind or hail storms. Note that if you sell your home during the warranty period, coverage will likely end.

Easy DIYs for Your Best-Ever Backyard

All of the Outdoor Design and DIY Tips from
With fair weather having arrived finally, it’s time to turn your home improvement efforts to the backyard and your deck, porch, or patio—the parts of the home built specifically to enjoy the extra hours of sunlight. Guided by these practical pointers and inspiring ideas, you can introduce beauty, comfort, and utility to your backyard and outdoor living areas, making them as inviting and enjoyable as your home interiors.

Transporting Eames

Eames House Living Room LACMA Exhibit

The recreation of the Eames House living room, with 1800 original objects, is on view at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art till June 3, 2012.

Bobbye Tigerman, assistant Curator of Decorative Arts & Design at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), is on a post-installation high. The last five years of her career, along with head curator Wendy Kaplan, have been spent visiting libraries, museums, and octogenarian and nonagenarian California designers in order to piece together the most comprehensive retrospective of California mid-century design to date. “California Design 1930-1965: Living in a Modern Way” features 350 objects spanning categories of home décor, fashion, sports, advertising, and architecture. Paramount to the exhibit is the faithful recreation of Charles and Ray Eames’s twenty foot-high living room from the iconic 1949 Pacific Palisades home also known as “Case Study House 8.”

Flickr-Dystopoe Eames House Exterior

The colorful exterior of the steel-framed Eames House

The house was built as part of Art & Architecture Magazine’s post-war Case Study Program, which sought to build low cost, high quality, mass-producible homes with readily available industrial components. Though largely glass and steel, Lucia Dewey Atwood, the Eames’s granddaughter, notes that the living room had a “wonderful loving warmth,” a vibe attributed not only to the characters who dwelt within, but to the use of off-the-shelf components in thoughtful and beautiful ways, the connection of the interior space to the outdoors, and to the more than 1800 handmade objects and folk art accumulated over 39 years.

Related: California Design: Living in a Modern Way

Moving the contents of the living room to LACMA was no small undertaking. It was a strategically planned two year process beginning with the curators’ proposal to the Eames Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving, protecting, and sharing the Eames legacy. “The challenge was finding an interior that had not been altered or updated,” Tigerman said, explaining the attraction to the site. Objects, lined up on bookshelves and arranged on tables, maintained fastidiously to this day by Teresa, the Eames’ trusted housekeeper, had been left either intact or repositioned in a way that Ray would have approved.

Eames Living Room LACMA Exhibit

With the contents of the house cleared, restoration work, planned to preserve and protect the California landmark for the next 25 years, can begin.

“We were ecstatic when LACMA took the contents of the living room,” says Atwood. The serendipitous opportunity afforded the Foundation the space to make necessary renovations to the house including removal of the vinyl asbestos floor tile, implementing a climate/moisture control system, and fortifying the window frames which had undergone damage in some of L.A.’s more powerful earthquakes. Packing up the living room, once a daunting undertaking, became a smooth and faultless operation in the hands of capable crews comprised of curators, archivists, conservationists, and skilled handlers.


A paper conservationist fortifies a 32” Japanese Andon paper lantern before transporting it.

“They moved things with the highest standards,” touts Lucia who, though entirely grateful, was also quite nervous during the process. On-site restoration work was done prior to transport to ensure that certain objects would survive the journey. In addition, to safeguard against potential infestation, all organic materials such as textiles and books were stored in a freezer for five days prior to finding a temporary home at the museum.

Eames Living Room Installation LAMCA Exhibit

Re-installing the Eames living room at the Museum was a time-consuming process.

Though awed by the larger and historically significant furnishings at the house, Tigerman was enamored with the Eames’s collections of smaller objects often brought back from travels abroad. “What was most interesting to me were the well-made and humble objects such as little bird sculptures,” she says. From these anonymous carvings to a pair of wooden leopards once belonging to director Billy Wilder, Tigerman says it is impossible to put a monetary value on the contents of the space because the provenance of each piece is irreplaceable.

Eames Living Room LACMA Exhibition with Folk Art Grasshopper

Charles and Ray had a lot of folk art animals including this grasshopper.

This long and rewarding project has left Tigerman invigorated and deeply educated about California designers. She is presently putting the last edits on a handbook that features 141 bios and images of important California craftspeople, designers, and manufacturers. Of the designers she was lucky to meet, Tigerman says, “Their spirit and creativity has not diminished.” Of Charles and Ray Eames, however, she’d love to ask one last question: “What creation are you most proud of?”

“California Design” is part of Pacific Standard Time, an unprecedented collaboration of cultural institutions across Southern California telling the story of the origin of the LA art and design scene. Pacific Standard Time is an initiative of the Getty.

To watch a fun time lapse video of the packing process, click here.

To find our more about the Eames Foundation, click here.

For highlights from the exhibit, check out this California Design: Living in a Modern Way slideshow

All You Need to Know About Generators

Prepare for unexpected electrical outages with an emergency gas-powered backup generator.

Home Backup Generators


A power outage that lasts a few hours is often nothing more than an inconvenience, requiring some flashlights and a little patience. But when a major storm knocks out electricity for days, life without a generator can become real bleak, real fast. Food spoils, mold grows, and basements prone to flooding are robbed of their working sump pump and begin to take on water. Extended power outages in the winter can be even more dangerous. Plummeting temperatures and a home without heat can be a deadly combination, especially to the oldest and youngest residents in the home. In these situations, a backup power solution can literally be a lifesaver.

Related: The Power Outage Survival Guide

Despite the fact that power outages have been taking place in the U.S. since the creation of the power grid, there’s still plenty of confusion among homeowners when it comes to their residential generator options. Whether it’s educating the public on proper use of a portable generator or instructing consumers on how to properly size for a permanent generator solution, the generator industry has its work cut out for it.

To make matters even more challenging, today’s home gobbles up electricity like never before. Also, many home also contain sensitive, high-tech appliances and electronics that can be inoperable or even damaged by “unclean” power from a generator. Fortunately, the generator manufacturers seem to have all of these bases covered. Not only are they making it easier for homeowners to choose the right emergency power solution, the solutions are keeping up with the needs of the modern home.

Sizing Simplified
When looking into a generator purchase, one of the biggest challenges facing the curious consumer is proper sizing. “The two questions people ask are ‘How do I select a product?’ and ‘How much is it going to cost me?’” says Mike Betker, marketing manager for Briggs & Stratton, an engine manufacturing company headquartered in Milwaukee, Wis. Briggs & Stratton recently signed on to manufacturer a line of GE-branded residential standby generators. “Today’s generators can do more with less,” adds Betker. Both standby generators (also known as “permanent” generators) and portable generators are rated by their kilowatt (kW) output. To match a generator to the home’s needs, a homeowner can begin by totaling up the wattage needs of the appliances that will be powered during an outage. Special attention needs to be given to the startup wattage of bigger appliances like refrigerators, which are always going to use more than the running wattage.

To jump-start the sizing process, generator manufacturers like GE, Generac, and Kohler all feature handy sizing tools on their websites. Consumers enter the square footage of the home and check off from a list the appliances, devices or systems,such as the refrigerator, microwave, central air, and TV,that are to be powered by the generator during a power outage. To test Kohler’s Sizing Calculator, an imaginary home measuring 2,000 square feet was inputted. Among the items to be powered during an outage were the refrigerator, microwave oven, range, TV, personal computer, central air, dehumidifier, fan, security system and a few other essentials. The Calculator tallied the total wattage of the selected units as well as the start-up volt-amps and determined that the Kohler 15 kW Residential Generator would be a good fit for the fictitious home. “The selection guide walks consumers down a path,” says Betker. “You don’t have to fret the solution.”

Of course, homeowners who are still uncertain about matching a generator to the home using an online resource or prefer talking to an expert can always consult one. Some manufacturers recommend it, like Jake Thomas, product manager for Generac, who says,The best way to choose a standby generator is to have an electrician size it.

Sensitive New-Age Generator
Electronic items like plasma TVs, computers and the complicated controls often found in today’s HVAC systems can be sensitive to the power used to run them. When powered by grid-supplied electricity, these devices operate without an issue. But generators all produce something called harmonic distortion, which can confuse or even damage the plugged-in sensitive devices. The total harmonic distortion, or THD, of a generator will determine the potential for issues with high-end or sensitive electronics during a power outage.

“Generator power is not utility-grade power,” says Thomas. “A high THD can mean that the controller for the high-end HVAC system doesn’t recognize the power or the plasma TV has a line running through it.” The THD issue has been a hot one in the generator industry and has led to new models of generators that minimize the THD to levels that won’t negatively affect the sensitive electronic items and systems in the home. Homeowners shopping for a backup power generator should consider a generator with a THD of five or six percent or below if sensitive electronic devices are going to be powered.

Put a Lid on It
One of the necessary evils of a standby generator is the routine “exercise” mode. To ensure that the generator will provide immediate power during an outage, units are programmed to run themselves for a short amount of time on a regular schedule. While this mode provides peace of mind to the homeowner, it also means a regular interruption to the peace and quiet around the home. Generators are engines, and engines produce noise. The decibel (dB) level of a generator is another comparison point that manufacturers are addressing in newer models. Generac’s Quiet-Test® feature lowers the generator engine speed during the weekly test-run, reducing the noise to the level of an idling car. “The engine runs at two-thirds of the normal RPM,” says Thomas. “This reduces decibel levels, uses less fuel and means less emissions.”

Other solutions to the noise issue include improving the generator enclosure. “Our SoundVault® Enclosure bounces air and sound through a compartment,” says Betker, speaking to the sound attenuating characteristics of the Briggs & Stratton, GE-branded standby generators. The Enclosure, coupled with the automotive-style exhaust system and foam dampeners that are part of the Briggs & Stratton SoundShield® Technology, help reduce its GE-branded 10-45kW standby generators’ running sound level to 65dB.

To further minimize the effect that the frequent test runs have on the peace and quiet around the home, most standby generators enable the homeowner to set the time of the day that the generator will perform this function.

More for Less
“One of the biggest improvements in generators has been larger kilowatt developments,” says Dan Giampetroni, marketing manager for Kohler. “Today’s generators have more horsepower, so they can handle homes with large AC systems.” Kohler’s line of LP and natural gas-fueled standby generators range from smaller 8.5-kW systems to a whopping 125-kW system. But, as Giampetroni points out, “as the power has gone up, the prices have gone down.” Four years ago a 12-kW standby generator would have cost close to $4,400, not including the necessary transfer switch, which could have added another $1,000 or more, or installation costs. “Today an 18kW Kohler standby system has an MSRP of $4,769, which includes the transfer switch,” Giampetroni adds.

The increased affordability of the permanent generator systems could see more homeowners, especially elderly ones, considering this option over the less-convenient, less-powerful portable generators. A permanent standby generator that starts automatically during a power outage powers the home’s vital components and can be purchased for an affordable price can seem like a sensible investment for any home, but particularly for elderly homeowners who might find an interruption in power to be as much a safety and health concern as an inconvenience.

Smart Features
In addition to all the improvements in power output, sound attenuation and affordability, the modern generator is also getting a technological makeover. In today’s “smart home,” advanced controls and wiring connect the home’s subsystems (lighting, heating and cooling, security, etc.) to one another and to the Internet. The smart home can now add the generator to the list of Internet-ready devices. Some of Kohler’s newer models of standby generators have Ethernet ports to bring the generator online. According to Giampetroni, a connected generator, used in conjunction with Kohler’s OnCue Home Generator Management System software, can send an email or text message to the homeowner or installer when the generator comes on.

Homeowners away on vacation can access their generator online to run a diagnostics and check that the generator is prepared for an impending storm or outage. This kind of remote access feature adds additional assurance to homeowners that their generator will be ready to operate when needed.

Generac has also added a technological boost to their generator package. Rather than forcing the homeowner outside to check on the status of the permanent generator, Generac’s wireless remote monitor feeds real-time information from the generator to a small, battery-operated control device that can hang on the wall or be placed in some convenient location. From the device, homeowners can run a test on the generator or check to see if the unit needs maintenance.

Wood Templates

Wood templates are patterns or models used in the making of curved or irregularly designed workpieces.

Woodworking Templates


Wood templates are patterns or models used in the making of specific pieces, usually those with curved lines or irregular designs and shapes. If, for example, you are making a set of chairs with shaped seats, legs, or back splats that are supposed to match, templates can be used as patterns to ensure that all the chairs have matching elements.

The template is laid down on the raw stock and the pattern is traced; then the workpiece is cut to match the master. Such patterns can be made from cardboard, plywood, hard-board, or scrap stock around the workshop. They save considerable layout time and produce more consistent, accurate results.

The word template is also used in reference to the guides used with routers. Cut with a saber, jig, or band saw, the template can be just about any shape. Don’t forget, however, that you must allow for the distance between the bit and the baseplate of the router.

Pegboard: Still a Classic Storage Solution for Today

Pegboard Storage

Photo: Flickr

As a kid growing up, I remember visiting my grandparents’ house and heading straight for granddad’s garage. It was immaculate, had all kinds of fun stuff, and everything was ALWAYS in its place. He didn’t have closets where he could hide everything from A to Z, but he did have Pegboard from floor to ceiling. It was a dull brownish shade and definitely not pretty, but it did serve the purpose of keeping all of his Sears tools organized, visible and always at the ready.

Related: Pegboard Storage: A Classic for All-Time

Although Pegboard—popularized in the 1950s—has taken a back seat to more recent storage/organizing innovations, it is still a clever, simple, and inexpensive way to keep everything from tools to crafts to kitchen cookware and utensils in place.

For some back history: Pegboard—a brand name—is essentially a composition hardboard with an overall grid pattern of pre-drilled holes. The practice of placing a hook in the board, hanging a tool, and tracing an outline with a Magic Marker made it a big hit for homeowners in the 1950s. Of course, America’s love affair with the automobile during the same period may have helped fuel the board’s popularity, according to Kenneth Allender, a Home Depot How-To Community Expert.  “The American garage needed organization and Pegboard was the answer,” he says.

Lowes Pegboard Organizer Kit

Lowe's 43-piece Pegboard Organizer Kit

Today’s Pegboard is not just for the garage anymore. It now comes in pre-finished colors, in thicknesses of 1/4″ and 1/8″, with a variety of reconfigurable hooks, and even mounting rails for support and framing options. You can even find plastic and metal variations. Best of all, it’s inexpensive.  A standard piece of  4′ x 8′ Pegboard retails for about $40 and you can pick up a 43-piece set of hanging hardware for under $12 at Lowe’s.

I started thinking of all the ways that Pegboard would help me organize my life. My dog’s leash, which I am forever misplacing, would have a permanent place. I could install some shelves to hold old books and magazines.  And, it would definitely help me keep my tools and other items organized in my garage and basement. The more I think about it, I realize that the possibilities are endless. Granddad would be proud!

To see how Pegboard is being used for storage solutions today, check out Pegboard Storage: A Classic for All-Time

For more on storage and organization, consider:

Quick Tip: Garage Storage Solutions
Organize your Home
Easy Laundry Room Storage Solutions

Floored, at the 11th Hour: The 12-Year Kitchen

Oak floor with second coat of finish

From our vantage point on the staircase, the oak floor looked great as it dried. Once we got up close to it, though, the flaws were obvious.

We were so close. The cabinets were in place, the appliances and lights installed, and we’d moved in—our beautiful new countertop and backsplash were now truly work areas. We’d had our first home-cooked meals again and had been enjoying our icemaker and water dispenser (cold water, after eight months!). We’d sent out the invitations to a little cocktail party to thank our friends and neighbors for eight months of support (dinners when we couldn’t cook; play dates when we needed the kids out of the house for a few hours; the use of their driveways when we had three contractors at the house at the same time).

All that was left was the final coat of finish on the oak floors. We’d had the stain and first coat put on before the cabinets went in, but waited on the final coat until everything was done, so the finisher could buff out any of the inevitable scratches from the installation. That was set for Tuesday, leaving us four full days to get ready for our Saturday soiree—doing the wall hangings, final painting, and all the other finishing touches we didn’t want to put in place before the sanding machine was done kicking up dust.

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Choosing a Paint Sprayer

With little time to spare and a painting project to tackle, choose a paint sprayer with the right pump, tip and features to get the job done fast.



It’s estimated that a paint sprayer can apply a coating ten times faster than brushing and four times faster than rolling. Paint sprayers give a uniform finish and are easy use in tight areas. Some even offer a pressure roller attachment.

Consumer Sprayers
Heavy-duty professional sprayers are often used for whole-house interiors. These paint guns use high-pressure air from a compressor to atomize the paint or stain and provide a fine finish.

Consumer products, or “airless” sprayers, are electric- or gas-powered products that mechanically pump paint or stain into a sprayer. Fluid is pushed through the tip, causing it to atomize and become a spray. Spray tips vary and are chosen based on the type of fluid used, the surface to be sprayed, and the power of the spray gun.

It takes practice to develop an easy, effective painting motion, because you must spray side to side, overlapping on each pass. Sprayers are not intended to cover on the first stroke. A good way to practice is to spray water on a board to check how the machine performs and how effectively you cover the surface.

Selecting the Right Paint Sprayer
Choosing an airless sprayer means deciding which combinations of pump, gun, tip, and hose are right for you and your projects.

If speed is your priority, consider horsepower. “The larger the horsepower, the more gallons per minute and the faster the project gets done,” says Steve Mahacek, e-marketing/PR manager for Wagner Spray Tech Corp. But don’t get more power than you can reasonably handle.

The type of coatings you intend to use also plays a role in selecting a sprayer. Thicker coatings require a bigger tip. Sprayers are rated for the pressure they produce and the tip size they can support. Units with more pounds per square inch, gallons per minute, and horsepower can spray thicker coatings. A paint gun that does not have enough force to handle a larger tip may have problems with clogging.

Project size also determines how much power you need. A large project requires a broader spray pattern and more pressure behind it. A smaller project may only need a self-contained handheld unit.

Paint Sprayer Tips and Sizes
To select the right model and tip size, look at two things: the coating to be sprayed, and the sprayer’s maximum recommended tip size. Coatings can be thinner, like stains, or thicker, like exterior latex paint. Stains require smaller tip sizes and less pressure, but paints and heavier coatings need larger tip sizes and more pressure.

A sprayer’s tip size can refer just to the size of the opening, as in a .015 tip. It might also indicate the fan size in inches, along with the tip opening, such as a 515 tip. In this example, the spray pattern will cover 5 inches and the tip opening is .015. These are the numbers you use when matching the paint to the sprayer tip and determining how thick the coating you use can be. Typical exterior latex sprayers may come with a .015 tip and accommodate a 0.17 tip.

Each tip size comes in various spray-pattern widths. After deciding on the tip size needed for the paint, choose the pattern width required for the job. Widths can vary from about 6 inches to 14 inches wide. Smaller surfaces, like fence rails, use a smaller pattern width. Ceilings, walls, and larger surfaces use a larger pattern width.

Tips wear out, and when they do, the flow rate increases but the fan width decreases, which means more paint is spraying over less surface. Tips also come standard or reversible. A reversible tip can be unclogged easily by turning it around and blowing out the blockage.

Costs and Safety Concerns
For a project that can be done in one day, renting may be wise. Rental units are typically higher-production machines and won’t have to be stored after the project. The cost to rent a sprayer typically runs between $70 and $100 a day. A sprayer built for ongoing use costs from $225 to $400 or more.

Sprayers require respect. Always read and follow the manufacturer’s safety, setup, and operating instructions. Use a respirator mask and proper eye protection when spraying, and never spray at a person, animal, or window.

Cover or mask off anything in the vicinity of your project, including windows and trim, because vaporized paint gets into everything. If spraying outside, cover plants and avoid painting on windy days.

How to Pick the Right Sprayer

  • Sprayers with 25 feet or more of flexible hose or a long extension cord are best for jobs that require distance, like painting a fence. An extension cord makes cleanup even easier at the end of the job.
  • If you need to carry your paint supply a long distance, consider a unit with wheels or a backpack.
  • Determine your paint capacity and how often you’ll need to refill. You might opt for a larger hopper or a unit that draws straight from the can.
  • Think about cleanup and whether you want a unit that comes apart for easy cleaning. Smooth interior surfaces and units that draw from the can make cleaning easier, too.
  • Consider an adjustable pressure control with high, low, cleaning, or roller settings to help extend the life of your spray tips.
  • Check how loud the sprayer is when operating.
  • A sprayer that takes tip extensions is great for high ceilings, foyers, and hard-to-reach spaces.
  • Make sure replacement parts are available.
  • Ask if there are digital how-to manuals, online resources, or support lines for your product.


All of the Expert Painting Advice from
Of all the options available to remodelers, paint provides the quickest, easiest, and most affordable way to achieve a transformation, inside or out. Ready to look at your home in a new way? Click now for the color ideas to make your project beautiful.

How To: Use a Paint Spray Gun

How to Use a Paint Spray Gun


Are you tired of using a brush and messing with a tray whenever you paint? Consider investing in a paint spray gun. Some of the newer models are a great value and can save you time on your next paint job. But it does take a little practice to learn how to use these tools properly.

A spray gun works great for coating uneven surfaces like door frames and window shutters, but because properly cleaning one takes a considerable amount of time and effort, you might want to consider using a paint sprayer exclusively for bigger jobs.

Below are some tips to help you use a paint spray gun successfully:

Air or airless
We are talking about air sprayers here. Airless sprayers take even more training to use and typically aren’t appropriate for home projects.

What are you painting?
Keep in mind what type of surface you are painting and what type of paint you are using. Not all paint guns are the same, and they all have different settings. Check the thickness of the paint and the volume of the spray. You can also adjust the angle from a wider spray to a narrower pattern.

Technique is everything
First, test your technique and the sprayer itself by running water through it. You want an even application best achieved by keeping the sprayer level while moving your body, not just your arm, along the path of the spray. If you only move your arm, the distribution of paint will not be even.

Take it slow
You’ll be tempted to finish a job quickly but if you start to rush, it’ll show up in your work. And you’ll waste paint. Paint dispenses from a sprayer at a higher rate than you’d expect, so take it slow.

For more on painting, consider:

Weatherproof with Paint
Choosing a Paint Sprayer
Painting the House: Should You Hire a Pro?

How To: Care for Winter Birds

How to Care for Winter Birds


Sure, the majority of birds head south for the winter, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to stop buying birdseed. According to the Audubon Society, more than a hundred bird species supplement their natural diets with food offered at feeders, and in winter, when food is scarce, human assistance is especially important. Feeders also provide pit stops for birds on the way to warmer climates, or returning home when spring finally arrives. Providing for your feathered friends means offering fresh water, shelter, and the right mix of quality seed.

How to Care for Winter Birds - Feeder


To battle the cold, birds need a high calorie, high fat birdseed mix. If you incorporate only one bird feeder into your yard, go with a sunflower-seed tube feeder that has metal ports around the seed dispensers—these will attract small birds like chicadees, titmice, nuthatches, and goldfinches. Hang feeders at least five feet off the ground, and for your own enjoyment, near a window.

Another great winter food is suet, which you can hang from a tree in an onion bag, or a cage-like feeder (make your own out of half-inch hardware-cloth). Chicadees, woodpeckers, wrens, and warblers love to feast on suet.  Just make sure any food source is out of the wind, which will keep away visitors. For ground feeding species, like doves, juncos, sparrows, and towhees, a feeder with a screen-bottomed tray that sits a few inches off the ground is a great option, but don’t be surprised if you wind up with some happy squirrels as well.

Even more than food, birds need a reliable source of unfrozen water. Try a heated birdbath, or just put out a plastic dish every morning in a protected area of your yard.

Finally, build your landscape with birds in mind. Viburnum not only makes for a great shrub border, but birds love the bright red berries it produces. Birds love the protection that any evergreen foliage gives: Ilex (Hollies) is a great option and its red berries come around Christmas time, appropriately festive. For orange berries that double as a nutrient source, go with Firethorn (Pyracantha coccinea), which keeps its fruit even after the foliage drops.  Finally, Mountain Ash trees have great clusters for berries perfect for a bird snack. It just takes a little effort to make your yard bird friendly, and the enjoyment their presence brings through the drab winter is more than worth it.

If you’re looking for a bird feeder, we have a showcase of some of the best in our For the Birds slideshow.

For more on how to prepare your yard—birds or no—check out the Fall Maintenance Checklist.