December 2011 Archives - 3/5 - Bob Vila

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Adding a Basement Bathroom

Adding a basement bathroom can be a plumbing challenge, but remodelers have options for underground plumbing.

Basement Bathroom

Photo: Flickr

Adding a basement bathroom adds value to the home, but installing toilets and sinks in a belowgrade environment takes more than a basic knowledge of drainpipes and sewer lines. Transporting waste to the sewer run is challenging because the gravity assist that works for upstairs waste removal will work against waste flow belowgrade. Fortunately there are a number of options that fall into the DIY category. New plumbing must meet code requirements, however, so do some homework and consider a master plumber for final connections.

Belowground Water and Waste Pipes
For some homes, moving belowgrade bathroom waste to the sewer, septic, or sanitation line is not a challenge because their lines are deep enough for add-on fixtures to benefit from gravity-assisted disposal. A call to the public works department will determine general sewer-line depth. Information specific to a home’s septic lines should be readily available to the homeowner. Consult a plumber or plumbing contractor to determine flow rates and whether the system can effectively remove waste from basement fixtures. If waste water drains by gravity into municipal sewer lines, install a backwater valve to prevent sewage backup in the basement. A backwater valve may require a permit, so check with your local building department and consult a plumbing contractor before you begin.

Aboveground Solutions
Transporting bathroom or basement wastewater to sewer or septic lines can be achieved in a number of ways. Aboveground solutions include the “upflushing toilet,” freestanding sewage-ejector systems, and composting toilets. Aboveground solutions are those that do not require the homeowner or installer to cut through any existing basement slab, resulting in lower installation costs. Upflushing toilets vary in look and operation, but generally include a pumping mechanism hidden within or behind the toilet. Some upflushing toilets permit additional waste-producing fixtures, like sinks and shower units, to drain into them.

Upflushing toilet systems are expensive, but money is saved on installation costs. “Upflushing toilets sit on top of the floor, you don’t have to break the concrete, and servicing them is easy,” says Larry Sturm, a master plumber in Pennsylvania and owner of Sturm Plumbing, the Faucet Doctor plumbing supply store, and, an online retail store. “Tie-ins take about a half hour, and recovering accidentally flushed items is pretty easy.”

Macerating and Composting Toilets
Some upflushing toilet systems include a macerating or grinding feature that reduces waste into smaller pieces prior to pumping, eliminating clogging issues. The Saniplus macerating toilet from Saniflo is an upflushing toilet system with a toilet bowl, toilet tank, and macerating unit. The macerating unit (which also houses an electrically powered motor and pump) can be placed in the bathroom or behind the wall, and is capable of pumping waste twelve feet vertically and/or 150 feet horizontally. The Saniplus allows for accompanying sink and bath/shower graywater discharge as well, costs around $900, and is easily installed and serviced.

Composting toilets are also viable solutions for belowgrade situations, but they are meant strictly for toilet waste. Composting toilets require little or no water, and must be vented to the outside for the composting process to work. The Envirolet MS10 Composting Toilet runs on electricity, is self-contained, rests on the floor, and uses heat and a dual-fan system to evaporate liquids. These environmentally friendly toilets reduce water waste, and do not use chemicals for the composting process. There is a limit to how much material can be composted in a day, so use must be monitored and the unit must be emptied. Composting toilets can cost over $1,000.

Sewage-Ejector Systems
The freestanding or aboveground sewage-ejector system is another waste removal option that does not require cutting through concrete. These systems are typically housed within an enclosure, and the toilet (usually not included) sits on top. These systems are essentially mini septic tanks. The toilet, sink, shower/bath, and washing machine can drain into these holding tanks, which also house the pump to discharge the waste up and into the home’s drainage lines. Because sewage-ejector units sit aboveground, fixtures like toilets and showers or baths will have to be elevated about six inches to gravity-drain into the tank. The Up Jon system from Zoeller sells for around $600, but does not include a toilet. Saniflo also sells similar graywater and sewage-ejection systems designed specifically for bathtubs, showers, laundry units, and kitchen sinks.

Belowground Options
Belowground sewage-ejector systems are the least expensive option, but are complicated to install. These tank-and-pump units are designed to sit in a hole in the basement floor, allowing floor fixtures to gravity-drain into the tank. These units vary in size, but are typically twenty inches in diameter and thirty inches in depth. The holding-tank capacity generally ranges from thirty to forty gallons. “The nice thing about these systems is that they come as a package,” adds Sturm. “It used to be that you’d have to buy the parts separately and put it together. Now you can pretty much drop it in the ground and tie it in.” Homeowners should expect to pay around $400 for a belowground system. The true cost, however, is in the installation. Cutting through a concrete slab to dig the hole for the unit, as well as any drainage pipes from additional basement fixtures, will set the homeowner back a pretty penny. ”It can easily cost thousands of dollars to install,” says Sturm. “And if you flush something down the toilet by accident, recovering it can be a very messy job.”

DIY Projects Anyone Can Do

All of the Best Hands-on Tutorials from
Get the nitty-gritty details you need—and the jaw-dropping inspiration you want—from our collection of the favorite projects ever featured on Whether your goal is to fix, tinker, build or make something better, your next adventure in DIY starts here.

Today’s Holiday Give-Away from LOWE’S


Today, December 15, is the fifteenth day of Bob Vila’s 24 Days of Holiday Give Aways and your chance to win a $1,000 Gift Card from Lowe’s. But, you must ENTER TODAY to be eligible to win.

Whether you are looking to repaint a room, upgrade a kitchen or bath, or find helpful storage solutions, Lowe’s knows that homeowners “never stop improving.”  And, while you’ll find an extensive range of home improvement products, materials and services, dont overlook good quality tools–like Kobalt–to help you finish your projects like a pro. Lowe’s launched Kobalt in 1998 as a line of mechanics tools and re-launched an expanded selection in 2004 as demand grew for the brand. Earlier this year, the first Kobalt Power Tools became available in stores nationwide. Kobalt is exclusively sold by Lowe’s and offers more than 1,700 well-designed, durable and tough tools.

For official rules and entry, click here.  To see what other fabulous prizes will be offered tomorrow and throughout the remainder of the contest period, check out the Bob Vila 24 Days of Holiday Give-Aways slideshow.

To find out more about Lowe’s and Kobalt tools, visit the manufacturer’s website.

Quick Tip: Choosing Sandpaper

Which grade of sandpaper is right for your project?

Choosing Sandpaper


Sandpaper isn’t made of sand, of course, but of fine grains of the natural mineral garnet, or of synthetics like silicone car­bide, aluminum oxide, or alumina-zirconia (zirconium). The ground-up materials are sifted though graded screens. The smallest particles are used in making the finest papers, the coarsest grains for coarse “coated abrasives,” as sand­paper is technically known today. The size of the grit is identified by a number.

The fine, medium, and coarse papers (there are, by the way, more precise gradations within these three main subdivisions) are used for different kinds of tasks. The standard grades of papers are these:

Extrafine. This grade of sand­paper is used between coats of paint or varnish. Grits of 240, 320 and 400 are termed very fine, while extra- or superfine sheets with grits of up to 600 are avail­able for polishing jobs.

Fine. Fine abrasive papers have a grit in the range of 120 to 220. For most home work­shops, fine will suffice for final sanding before the work is finished.

Medium. Some final shaping can be done with medium, which has a grit range of 60 to 100. General sanding work is often best done with medium-grade sandpaper.

Coarse. Rough shaping is the strong suit of coarse paper, as is the removal of previous fin­ishes. The grits are typically in the 40 to 50 range.

Extra coarse. This stuff is really rough, usable for removing paint and varnish that you think might never come off. The sanding of old floors too, sometimes requires the abrasiveness of extracoarse sandpaper. Don’t even think about using it on any but the toughest jobs.

Today’s Holiday Give-Away from HAIER


Today, December 14, is day fourteen of Bob Vila’s 24 Days of Holiday Give-Aways and your chance to enter to win a 24-Bottle Wine Cellar, valued at $299 (MSRP), from Haier. But, you must ENTER TODAY to be eligible to win.

The Haier Wine Cellar is a free-standing unit that uses a compressor cooling system to keep red and white wines at their ideal temperatures. It features an adjustable electronic temperature control with LED temperature display, double-pane tinted glass door, comfortable recessed handle, and automatic settings for reds and whites. Three full-depth and two half-depth chrome storage racks accommodate up to 24 bottles, while a soft interior light serves double-duty showcasing the wines and making selection easier.  In addition to quiet-operation, the Haier Wine Cellar provides a vibration-safe environment—critical for proper wine storage.

For official rules and entry, click here.  To see what other fabulous prizes will be offered tomorrow and throughout the remainder of the contest period, check out the Bob Vila 24 Days of Holiday Give-Aways slideshow.

To find out more about Haier’s products, visit the manufacturer’s website.


Today’s Holiday Give-Away from CASABLANCA


Today, December 13, is day thirteen of Bob Vila’s 24 Days of Holiday Give-Aways and your chance to enter to win a Vita Ceiling Fan from the Casablanca Ceiling Fan Co., valued at $928.50 (MSRP). But, you must ENTER TODAY to be eligible to win.

The Vita Ceiling Fan, with its 52″ blade span and cherry bronze finish, is the first of the company’s contemporary products to offer both uplight and downlight features. The fan’s integrated 100-watt halogen downlight and 90-watt incandescent uplight can be independently controlled to offer a fully adjustable range of room illumination. In addition to its sleek contemporary styling, glass globe and outer ring, the fan operates from a high-tech Advan-Touch six-speed wall control, that features an LCD display screen with full-range light dimming and reversing capabilities. The XLP Plus motor that powers the fan comes with a lifetime warranty.

For official rules and entry, click here.  To see what other fabulous prizes will be offered tomorrow and throughout the remainder of the contest period, check out the Bob Vila 24 Days of Holiday Give-Aways slideshow.

To find out more about Casablanca’s full line of ceiling and portable fans, visit the manufacturer’s website.


The multi-plane is the muscle-driven equivalent of the router.



The multi-plane is truly the muscle-driven equivalent of the router. Its handle is of wood, but that’s where its resemblance to traditional hand planes ends. It is a highly machined, complex assemblage of adjustment screws, stops, fences, depth gauge, and interchangeable cutters, all of which enable it to plane grooves, rabbets, dadoes, sash moldings, reeds, concave and convex curves, and even stair nosing. A turn-of-the-century model was sold with more than fifty cutters supplied, and another forty-plus available as options.

Clearly, this is one plane that could – and still can – do a lot of different jobs. The multi-plane looks a bit like Henry Ford’s answer to the antique plow plane. And those who elect to buy and use one today are more than a bit like people who collect other antiques, be they Model Ts or whatever. Multi-planes are expensive (the better part of’$500 is a typical price for reproduction models).

Several English companies continue to make multi-planes. I’ve included this tool here because, in a sense, it exemplifies the best of the old ways and the new. The body of the plane is flanked by an adjustable fence, but its chassis is iron, as is the fence. What gives the plane its flexibility is the variety of cutters, which are easily inserted into the body.

Combination Planes. This one is something of a crossbreed, being a near relation of both the metal-bodied plow plane and the multi-plane. The combination plane cuts rabbets and grooves with the grain, and its interchangeable cutters allow it to cut beads as well. But its primary distinction from the plow plane is that it has an additional cutter mounted near the toe.

Called the spur, this vertically mounted knife cuts the grain ahead of the plane cutter, which means that a combination plane can cut across (as well as with) the grain. The spur prevents the cutter from tearing out when crossplaning.

Quick Tip: Tool Maintenance

Proper tool maintenance depends on keeping your tools clean and storing them safely.

Basic Tools

Tool Maintenance. Whatever your storage arrangements, keep your tools clean. After use, remove any sap or resins from cutting tools (kerosene or ammo­nia will do the job).

A tack rag is handy, too. Dampen a piece of cloth slightly with a mix of turpentine and shellac. It will wipe away oily sawdust from blades, housings, and other parts of hand and power tools. Store the rag in a sealed jar or plastic bag for future use.

Rust is prevented in two ways: one, by keeping the tools dry (that means out of the rain and in dry storage areas); and, two, by applying a light film of machine oil wiped on with a cloth. If your workshop is in a cellar, garage, or another damp space, consider buying a dehumidifier to reduce the humidity in the area. However, if your workshop is only occasionally wet and you don’t have a dry alternative, try storing your tools in a tight toolbox, perhaps one made of plastic. Add weather stripping, if necessary, and moisture absorbent. For power tools with steel surfaces, a paste wax coating is easy to apply and helps prevent rust.

Scrap Storage. Racks or bins are essential if you have more than a hand­ful of odds and ends and off-cuts around.

If the ceiling overhead is unfinished, joists or rafters can be turned into storage. Use lag bolts to fasten two or three two-by-fours perpen­dicular to the ceiling members, and you’ll have individual bays for or­ganizing, as well as storing, your moldings and other stock.

Just about any kind of study support will suffice that keeps the stock flat, off the floor, and out of the way.

Hardware Storage. There’s only one trick, really. That’s to be able to find what you’re looking for with a minimum of time and frustration. Easier said than done.

A couple of rules: Apples go with apples, oranges with oranges. Cleanliness probably isn’t holy, but it sure is a handy trait.

If you can’t look through it (as with clear plastic or glass jars) to identify the contents of a container, label it.

I could go on and on about storing your tools and supplies, but the key consideration is matching your storage facilities to your space and needs. Just keep in mind that the basic rule is to keep it at hand, but not underfoot.

Today’s Holiday Give-Away from SHERWIN-WILLIAMS


Today, December 12, is day twelve of Bob Vila’s 24 Days of Holiday Give-Aways and your chance to enter to win a $250 Gift Card from Sherwin-Williams. But, you must ENTER TODAY to be eligible to win.

Sherwin-Williams is the nation’s largest specialty retailer of paint, stains, coatings, wall coverings and related products, and its collections allow you to mix and match colors with ease. Among the company’s many collections is the new Kids’ Colors line designed to help growing families turn a spare bedroom into a nursery or transition a child’s room for a growing teen.  The popular HGTV®HOME Collection features eight unique, designer-inspired color collections, each of which highlights 20 perfectly coordinated colors with design tips from the pros.

Sherwin-Williams also offers a wealth of tools to simplify color selection, including a ColorSnap mobile app that allows you to use your phone to match colors, and an online color visualizer that helps you apply colors to an image of your room.  And, when in doubt, you can always pick up a trial size Color-To-Go sample to test!

For official rules and entry, click here.  To see what other fabulous prizes will be offered tomorrow and throughout the remainder of the contest period, check out the Bob Vila 24 Days of Holiday Give-Aways slideshow.

To find out more about Sherwin-Williams paints and products, including a retail store near you, visit the manufacturer’s website.



Today’s Holiday Give-Away from CARHARTT


Today, December 11, is the eleventh day of Bob Vila’s 24 Days of Holiday Give-Aways and your chance to enter to win a $250 Gift Certificate from Carhartt—a leading manufacturer of premium work wear since 1889.  But, you must ENTER TODAY to be eligible to win.

Combining exceptional durability, comfort, and quality construction, the Carhartt brand continues to offer “best-in-class” clothing for the active worker.  Perhaps best known for its traditional, built-tough cotton duck outerwear—like the classic Carhatt jacket here—the company has expanded its offerings to include a full line of warm and cold weather clothing for men, women and children.  Choose from a wide assortment of stylish jackets, pants, jeans, overalls, thermals, scrubs and accessories.  The Carhartt name is your assurance of quality–and always has been.

For official rules and entry, click here.  To see what other fabulous prizes will be offered tomorrow and throughout the remainder of the contest period, check out the Bob Vila 24 Days of Holiday Give-Aways slideshow.

To see more of Carhartt’s line of men’s, women’s, and children’s clothing and accessories, visit the manufacturer”s website.

Today’s Holiday Give-Away from KWIKSET



Today, December 10, is day 10 of Bob Vila’s 24 Days of Holiday Give-Aways and your chance to enter to win one of two Kwikset SmartCode Touchpad Electronic Deadbolts, valued at $109 each (MRSP).  But you must ENTER TODAY to be eligible to win.

The Kwikset SmartCode is the only product in its category to feature a motorized deadbolt for convenient one-touch locking. By entering a personal code on the keypad, the door locks and unlocks making the need to carry house keys all but obsolete. The Kwikset SmartCode—which has passed the most stringent lock-picking tests—is easy to install, requires no hardwiring, and operates on four AA batteries.

Among its other innovative features, the Kwikset deadbolt includes a backlit panel for increased visibility and an automatic door locking system that offers a 30-second activation/deactivation delay. Featuring Home Connect Technology, the Kwikset lock offers the added convenience of remote operation.  Just what you would expect from the leading authority in residential lock systems. Each of the two winners will have the choice of Lifetime Brass, Venetian Bronze or Satin Nickel finishes.

For official rules and entry, click here.  To see what other fabulous prizes will be offered throughout the remainder of the contest period, check out the Bob Vila 24 Days of Holiday Give-Aways slideshow.

To learn more about Kwikset residential locking systems, visit the manufacturer’s website.