March 2012 Archives - Bob Vila

Welcome to Bob Vila

The Basics of Paint Selection

Color, finish, quality, and personal taste are important factors in paint selection.

Paint Selection, Oil Based Paint

Photo: Flickr

There was a time when paint was nothing more than pigment and cow’s milk. When the milk dried, the pigment remained. Today, manufacturers put chemical additives into their products to give them gloss, washability, mildew resistance, and toughness. The very best paint jobs start with thorough preparation, so choose your products carefully to ensure a good beginning. When it comes to paint, one size does not fit all, whether working with wood or wallboard, ceiling or basement, kitchen or sunroom. A mismatch of paint with surface or interior conditions spells trouble down the road. So, do your research up front.

First look at what you plan to paint. Determine whether it is wood, metal, plaster, or drywall. Painting new drywall, for example, is entirely different from applying a top coat over existing paint. Going from light to dark, masking handprints, or painting high-traffic areas like banisters all require different approaches and products. If you don’t know what to use, don’t guess. Armed with a little knowledge, you can match the paint to the project and achieve the lasting finish you’re looking for.

Here are more details on the various factors involved in choosing paint:

Color. Pigment is color; it covers and hides the surface. All colors are born of the same base pigments: sienna, umber, titanium oxide, and zinc oxide. These pigments are ground into particles and stirred into paint. Since pigment is particulate, paint cans that sit for awhile need to be shaken to stir up color that has settled to the bottom.

Spreadability. Solvent is the industry term for spreading agent. Wax, water, and lime were once the dominant solvents used in paint. Nowadays water is the carrier for water-base paint, while petroleum serves as solvent for oil-base paints. The solvent may also be referred to as a medium, carrier, or thinning agent. The other ingredients are suspended in this liquid base, which thins the color mixture and allows it to spread evenly.

Adhesion. Paint is no good if it doesn’t stick and maintain a uniform appearance. The binder joins the pigment particles and gives paint its sticking power. It also dries into a protective finish. In water-based paints, the binder is usually a plastic, either acrylic, vinyl or a combination of both. The binder in oil-base paints is either a natural oil or a synthetic resin (alkyd). Paint is named for its binder, so latex paint is the common name for water base, while alkyd paint is the other name for oil base.

Oil-Base vs. Water-Base. An oil-base coat takes longer to dry than latex, but some painters prefer it for this very reason. The longer the drying time, the better the paint will flatten out to hide brush marks. The odor is strong, but for durability oil based paint is hard to beat. Use it on primed walls or woodwork and already-painted surfaces. Cleanup is trickier than for water base, and must be done with mineral spirits or turpentine.

If a people’s choice award was handed out for paints, however, water base would be the clear winner. It dries rapidly, so two coats can be applied in one day. Cleanup is done with soap and water. And, unlike petroleum-base paints, there is less odor when paint dries.

Gloss. Gloss, or finish, is determined by the ratio of pigment to binder. The more binder in a paint, the shinier the finish. Finish choices range from flat to high-gloss. Flat finishes are dull and hide imperfections. High gloss draws attention to itself, and imperfections, while giving off a brilliant shine. Low luster, eggshell, satin, soft gloss, and semi-gloss lie between the two extremes. Just as colors vary from brand to brand, so do finishes. When shopping for paint, ask to check the finish. Have the salesperson dab some paint on a mixing stick, then watch it dry.

Primer. Primer is like insurance: It seals any well-prepared surface, leaving a solid base ready for paint. Primers can be tinted and used to cover a darker shade. Primers can also hide slight imperfections in porous surfaces like new wallboard, patched drywall, wood, masonry, concrete, or metal. Always check, though, to see that the primer is made for the surface you’re covering.

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.

DIY Deals: Lawn & Garden


If you haven’t already started mowing the lawn, replanting the beds and cleaning your deck and patio in anticipation of the warmer months ahead, you soon will. Here are some weekend sales that could help you jump-start your lawn and garden improvements at considerable savings.

Black Friday Savings is back at Home Depot, giving you more “spring” for your dollar with 20% off select gardening, tools, plumbing, flooring, and electrical products; 40% off outdoor living; and up to 60% off select lighting and fans.

Also this weekend, save 20% on Craftsman power lawn and garden products at Sears. Or buy any lawn tractor—like the Craftsman model below, $1659.99 (reg. $1989.99)—and save an additional 10% on attachments through 3/31.

Craftsman 42 In. Turn Tight Lawn Tractor

Choose from 30 groundcovers and landscape roses, specially priced at $15.50 each, over at Heirloom Roses (through 3/8). There, you can also pick up great tips for planting, caring and pruning.

Hayneedle is taking 30% off all outdoor items this weekend, from Weber Genesis grills to the Fiji Bay All-Weather Wicker Sectional. Join the site and earn 3% back in Haybucks on every purchase.

The Easy Spring Gardening collection from Plow & Hearth features many discounted pieces for your lawn, including the folding steel garden wagon below, on sale for $129.99 (reg. $159.99).

Plow & Hearth Folding Steel Garden Wagon

Plow & Hearth Folding Steel Garden Wagon is celebrating its Spring has Sprung event with 10% savings on entire orders, plus an additional 10% off select window boxes and troughs. Just in time to fill them with budding perennials.

Top 5 Tips for a Greener Lawn
Quick Tip: Shopping DIY Online
Tour Weston Nurseries in Hopkinton, MA

House Envy: Brick Beauty in TX


HOUSE STYLE: Neoeclectic


PRICE: $295,500

HOUSE STATS: 2,176 sq. ft., 3 bedrooms, 2 baths

The Open Plan. You’d never know it from the exterior but inside this bulky, brick home are tall, arch-topped portals mark the transition from one airy room to the next. While encouraging family interaction, this layout also accommodates the need for privacy, especially in the tucked-away bedrooms. Throughout, the high ceilings slope at a irregularly pitches, adding a further dimension to the home’s fluid feel and making it seem larger than the modest footprint would lead you to expect.

Read the rest of this entry »

The $20 Japanese Pull Saw: A DIYer’s Best Bang for the Buck

Dozuki Japanese Pull Saw From BigStock


This is not dedicated to the woodworkers, the gear hounds or the power tool junkies. This isn’t for the contractors, the rehabbers or those who won’t touch anything that couldn’t be described as a “fixer-upper.” This is a song for average homeowners willing to get their hands dirty, who are interested in simple solutions that work and in always getting the best bang for the buck. And that bang is the Japanese pull saw.

Western saws typically have teeth that cut on the push stroke; their thick, rigid blades create a large kerf (space left by the blade). Japanese-style pull saws are just the opposite. Their thin blades that cut on the pull, the benefit being less required force and greater precision.

Read the rest of this entry »

My Favorite Room in the House: The Walk-In Pantry

Walk-In Pantry


When we lived in our tiny Manhattan apartment, we had 48 inches of total counter space and one 18-inch-wide pantry cabinet. Needless to say, food and supplies were stuffed into every conceivable space available—above cabinets, under beds and everywhere in between. Having come from such small urban quarters, maximizing space was our top priority as the floor plan for our new-construction home was being finalized.

My husband spotted an “Optional Storage” area in the garage, which could be put to good use as a mud room and expanded pantry (original floor plan detail below).

In cooperation with our builder, we adjusted the floor plan, first by pushing the entry stairs farther into the garage, then by swapping the position of the refrigerator and pantry. The result? A genuine walk-in pantry that’s bigger than the bathroom in our former NYC digs! I absolutely love this pantry; it’s got room to store everything and then some (revised floor plan detail below).

Having lived with my pantry for five months now, there are many things I’m happy we remembered to ask for, plus a few things I’d like to someday change or add on. Here’s what I’d recommend considering when planning a walk-in pantry space:

1. Make sure you have good overhead lighting.

2. Add an electrical outlet for a mini-vacuum, paper shredder or other small appliance.

3. Plan enough room to house your recycling bins. It saves a lot of trips to the garage.

4. Solid vs. Wire Shelving: It’s a personal choice, but if you plan to use wire shelving, make sure it’s installed with enough support to hold heavy cans, liquor bottles, cast iron pots/pans or multiple bags of flour and sugar. The longer the run of shelving the more support it needs.

There are improvements I’d like to make in my walk-in pantry in the future, but it’s still currently my favorite room in the house. Organizing and finding things is a cinch. It’s also a popular destination during our frequent after-dinner games of Hide-and-Seek with our two young girls. After living with a kitchen where there was absolutely nowhere to hide, it’s a very a welcome change.

Painting Tools and Materials

Here’s a list of essential tools and materials to help you get started on your next painting project.

Painting Materials, Painting Tools

In addition to top-quality application equipment, you may need some of the painting tools and painting materials listed below in order to successfully complete your painting project. If you are like many homeowners, you already own some of these items. Depending on the nature of your painting project, you may consider investing in some of the items below.

  • Step ladders and extension ladders – to help you reach elevated areas
  • Paint scraper – to remove loose or peeling paint from wood, plaster, and
other surfaces
  • Triangular-load scraper – to remove paint in small or tight areas
  • Steel wool – to remove corrosion from metal surfaces
  • Bristle brush – to clear loose material from masonry
  • Wire brush – to remove efflorescence and loose material from masonry, or to remove loose, flaking paint
  • Putty knife – to scrape away loose paint, or to apply filler
  • Broad putty knife – to fill in and smooth patching compounds in plaster and
  • Glazing compound – to replace cracked, broken, or missing panes of glass
  • Spackling paste – to fill nail holes and small imperfections in walls
  • Long-handled brush – to clean large exterior surfaces
  • Scrub brush – to remove mildew and dirt
  • Sandpaper (various grits) – to smooth and feather previously painted surfaces, or to roughen glossy surfaces so paint will adhere better
  • Sanding block – to hold sandpaper and help you sand surfaces to an even finish
  • Caulking gun – to apply caulk to cracks in walls, gaps, and seams in woodwork, and the junction of different surfaces (e.g., wood siding and stone)
  • Tubes of caulk – same as above (note that all-acrylic and siliconized acrylic caulks are paintable; silicone caulk is not)
  • Masking tape – to protect window panes and trim from paint
  • Paint guide – to protect carpets and walls when painting baseboards and other trim
  • Roller tray and grid – to load rollers with paint
  • Brush comb – to clean paint brushes
  • Paint pail – to mix paint and carry it to the worksite
  • Drop cloths – to protect furniture, floors, and shrubbery from paint


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.

In Step with the Times: A Case for Updating Your Stairs

Updating Your Stairs

Photo: Shutterstock

It’s easy to take the staircase for granted, at least until a problem arises. But as one of a home’s finest architectural features, the staircase deserves a homeowner’s special attention sooner rather than later.

GSteves Stairway Original

The original staircase

The beautiful curved staircase in my ‘new’ old home is one of the reasons I fell in love with the place. After multiple trips up and down during the move-in and remodeling process, though, it was clear the staircase (and I) needed some help.

My contractor agreed with my assessment of the stairs’ structural condition. The outer strings were separating from the inner string and needed to be re-attached (this commonly occurs after years of wear and heavy traffic). By bolting the offending strings back together from underneath, the steps would provide surer footing and much-improved stability.

Read the rest of this entry »

Concrete, Block, and Slab Foundations

Climate, including high water tables, frost lines, harsh winters, and vulnerability to storm surge and high winds, will determine whether a slab or below-grade foundation is chosen.

Concrete Foundations, Block Foundations, Slab Foundations


When building a house, two main types of foundations are used: slab-on-grade or below-grade foundations with a basement slab. Climate, including high water tables, frost lines, harsh winters, and vulnerability to storm surge and high winds, will determine whether a slab or below-grade foundation is chosen.

Poured Footings
Poured and block foundations both sit on concrete footings, or poured pads that serve as a base for the walls. Footings are constructed in trenches dug beneath the level of the basement floor. These trenches are wider and longer than the walls they support and function like feet to distribute the weight of the wall and the structure above it. Footings provide a firm surface to resist sinking or shifting into the ground or substrate. A footing trench ranges from six inches to three feet deep, depending on the building size and soil characteristics.

Poured Concrete Walls
Poured concrete is more popular for basement construction than block because it is seamless and resists water intrusion. When pouring an integral foundation, aluminum or insulated wall forms are placed on the footings, clamped together, and supported to maintain their shape while the concrete is poured.

Once the forms are set, rebar is placed vertically inside the wall channel to support and add additional strength to the concrete wall once the molds are removed. Concrete is then poured into the mold to form the walls.

Concrete walls should be created as a continuous pour to ensure good bonding and avoid seam cracking where a first concrete layer has already set.

Cement can be poured in place with a cement-pumper truck, or offloaded down the chute of a ready-mix truck if it can get close enough to the foundation. Set-up time depends on the slurry used, the time of year, heat, and humidity. Temporary forms are usually taken down after one week, at which time the concrete is cured enough to support itself. The concrete will continue to cure and emit moisture for much longer. When using insulated concrete forms, they remain in place and insulate the home.

Reinforced Block and Concrete Walls
Block foundations use cinder blocks (8 x 8 x 16 inches) that are stacked on each other and cemented in place with mortar. The process starts on the top of the footings with each row forming its own course. The blocks are then reinforced with rebar placed vertically in the holes or cells and filled with concrete.

Block walls can also be used to form stem walls that support a slab above. When building stem walls, block courses on footings are set below grade and reinforced with rebar before concrete is poured in a continuous pour for a seamless, integral slab. Stem-wall slab foundations prevent water intrusion and the separation of the slab from the substrate that can be caused by uplift or hydrostatic pressure.

Both poured and block foundations are reinforced with rebar. With poured walls, a pencil vibrator is inserted into the slurry to vibrate the concrete into place and ensure there are no air pockets or voids left in the wall.

Finishing the Basement Floor
When building slab foundations, the concrete pour comes after the footings have set and before walls are erected. Dirt is compacted and backfilled with four to six inches of gravel. Typically, a six-mil polyethylene sheet provides a vapor barrier between the soil and the slab. A two-inch layer of sand goes on top of the vapor barrier, followed by a 6×6-inch wire-mesh grid that reinforces the concrete. If radiant in-floor heating will be used, the plastic tubing is placed on top of the wire mesh. Once the tubing is pressure-tested, the four-to-six-inch concrete slab is poured.

When building with poured walls, the basement floor is prepared as if it were a slab floor, often with the concrete floor poured after the top floors are in place and the roof, windows, and doors are set.

Basement plumbing for floor drains and piping must be roughed in before the pour. Like a slab floor, the basement floor will be lined with a six-inch aggregate bed followed by a six-mil polyethylene vapor barrier. One to two inches of foam board can go on top of the vapor barrier for insulation and further waterproofing. Wire mesh comes next for structural strength, and flex tubing is set in place if using in-floor radiant heating. Finally, the concrete is poured on top and leveled with a screed.

Spring Home Maintenance Checklist

As winter ends, give your home a complete physical—inside and out—to ready it for those warm-weather months ahead.

This year, many parts of the country have enjoyed such a mild winter that even in the Northeast, spring weather seems like it’s just around the corner—if it hasn’t arrived already.

Spring Home MaintenanceTake advantage of the moderate temperatures to get a head start on what should be an annual spring home maintenance routine.


“It’s good to do a walk-around of your property, especially after a storm,” says Curtis S. Niles, Sr., owner of Armored Home Inspections, Upper Darby, PA, and president of the National Association of Home Inspectors (NAHI). “Winter is tough on roofs and chimneys.” It can also take its toll on windows, walls, foundations, gutters and decks.

Roof. You don’t need to climb up there yourself; with binoculars and a keen eye, you can probably spot trouble. Do you see any shingle-shift, suggesting that some fasteners may have failed and need replacing? Any cracked or missing shingles? What about nail-pops? “We call them eyebrows,” Niles explains. “It’s when nails push the tabs of the shingles up, allowing water to get in where those nails are coming through.” All will need to be addressed to keep your roof at peak performance.

Chimneys. If you have a masonry chimney, check the joints between bricks or stones. Have any fallen out? Is there vegetation growing out of them? Each signals water infiltration. Also, look for efflorescence—”a white calcium-like deposit that indicates your masonry joints are no longer repelling water but absorbing it,” says Niles. Consider re-sealing masonry with a clear, impermeable or water-resistant barrier material (like Thoroseal products). Brush it on, small areas at a time; let it absorb for 15 minutes, then reapply—it may need a couple of applications.

Exterior Walls. Whether you have wood siding, stucco or brick, look for trouble spots, especially under eaves and near gutter downspouts. Water stains normally indicate that your gutters are not adequately containing roof runoff. If you have wood siding, check for openings, damaged areas or knots that have popped out, making way for carpenter ants, woodpeckers and other critters that may nest in or burrow through.

Foundations. When inspecting the exterior of your home, be sure to examine the foundation from top to bottom for masonry cracks. “Routine caulking by homeowners won’t do the job,” says Niles. “Hire a foundation specialist who can employ a two-part epoxy injection system that will bond cracks chemically,” he adds.

Windows. Leakage around windows will admit warm summer air and let cooled indoor air escape, so be sure to check that any caulking and weather stripping you have in place has remained intact. “A tight seal is the first line of defense against air and water,” says Marty Davis, marketing manager, Simonton Windows, Columbus, OH. If you experienced condensation inside the glass on double- or triple-glazed windows during the winter months, the weather seal has been compromised, and either the glass or the window will need to be replaced.

Spring-clean your windows—inside and out—with a store-bought or homemade window cleaner (one cup rubbing alcohol, one cup water and a tablespoon of white wine vinegar will work just fine) and either a squeegee or a soft cloth. Never use abrasive cleaners or a high-pressure spray washer. You don’t want to scratch the glass or crack the caulking around each unit. If screens were on all winter, remove and clean them with mild detergent. Lay them on a dry surface, like a driveway to air-dry before putting them back on. “Never power-wash screens,” urges Davis, “it could damage the mesh.”

My Blessed Life Spring Cleaning SuppliesINTERIOR MAINTENANCE

General Cleaning. Spring is a good time to clean areas of the house that often go neglected. Dust or vacuum chair rails, window casings, tops of wall-mounted cabinets and ceiling fans. Launder or dry-clean fabric draperies and use a damp cloth to clean wood and vinyl blinds. Vacuum upholstered furniture and mattresses and consider renting a carpet cleaner—anything you can do to remove settled dust, mites, and allergens will make for a cleaner, and healthier, home.

If you detect grease residue in the kitchen, consider washing cabinets, backsplashes and walls with warm water and mild detergent. The same is true in the bathroom, where soap residue and fluctuations in heat and humidity combine to create the perfect breeding ground for mold and mildew. While you’re cleaning tile, look for areas of worn or missing grout, as these may lead to more serious water damage if not repaired.

Air Conditioning. Just as you readied your furnace for fall, now is the time to make sure that air conditioning units are in good working order for the warmer months ahead. Change the filter, check hose connections for leaks, and make sure the drain pans are draining freely. In addition, vacuum any dust that has settled on the unit and connections; over time it can impact the air conditioner’s effectiveness. If you suspected problems with the efficiency or performance of the unit last summer, now is the time to call in a professional to check it out.

Attics. Search for signs that indicate insects and critters have colonized. Also, search aggressively for mold, which often takes the form of “gray or black blotches that look like staining,” according to Tim Gentry, vice president of technical services, DaVinci Roofscapes, Kansas City, KS. Proper insulation and good ventilation will deter mold growth in the attic, so take action now to prevent the problem from developing in the warmer months ahead.

Basements. The basement—prone to dampness and insects—must be part of any thorough seasonal maintenance effort. Dampness suggests higher than normal relative humidity, inadequate ventilation and the need for a dehumidifier. Check the base of poured-concrete walls. “Cracks start from the bottom up, not the top down,” Niles points out. “If there’s water penetration, it’ll show at the bottom of those cracks.” And be sure to use a flashlight to examine exposed framing. “If you see even a quarter-inch or so of tunneling on the wood,” says Niles, “call a pest control company immediately.”

Leaks. Spring is a good time to check for leaky faucets, clogged drains and sweaty pipes. Check under the kitchen and bathroom sink to make sure connections on pipes and hoses are properly sealed, and look for any wetness around the dishwasher that could signal an existing or potential problem. The same is true of your laundry room; check washer machine hoses for cracks, bulges or dampness. The same is true for hot water heaters, which may show sign of corrosion and leaks.

Spring Home Maintenance

Photo: Mark


Lawns. Rake the lawn to remove any branches, debris and leaves that you might have missed in the fall; if left, they can suffocate the grass beneath. During the winter, soil compaction, along with chemical changes altering your soil’s PH, may have left your lawn vulnerable to weed growth and other issues. Even if you can’t see weeds, they are more than likely waiting for optimum conditions to propagate. If you want to prevent them from germinating, consider an organic herbicide; fertilizers are better suited to the fall.

Make sure outdoor water systems—pipes, faucets, and in-ground sprinkler systems—are in working order. Once the ground thaws completely, start preparing new garden beds for summer plants. And take stock of your garden tools and lawn-maintenance equipment, including lawn mowers, trimmers and hoses.

Decks and Patios. Look for warped, loose or splintered boards, and do a good sweep to remove any leaves and debris accumulated in the space between boards. “Whether it’s wood, plastic or composite, a deck should be cleaned every year to extend its life,” says Chuck Harris, owner, Custom Lumber Manufacturing Co., Dothan, AL. If the finish on your wood deck is faded or worn, now is the time to clean, stain, and reseal it. If you have composite decking, follow manufacturers’ recommendations on seasonal care. The same is true for wood and composite fences, pergolas, trellises and other structures. If you have a stone patio, a simple hose down provide be all the maintenance required (unless you detect moss or staining, in which case a more serious cleaning may be necessary).

Outdoor Furniture. If you stored your lawn furniture for the winter, bring it outdoors and give it a hose rinse, or wash it with a mild detergent. For metal furniture, check for signs of rust or paint erosion; a simple remedy of spray enamel will prevent further damage from sun, rain and humidity in the months ahead.

Grills. If your gas grill has remained idle over the winter months, check burner jets for clogs and obstructions, and be sure that gas hoses and connections are sound and secure. You’ll also want to check for propane. For charcoal grill owners, make certain your grill is clean of ash and free of grease residue. It’s a good habit to adopt throughout the grilling season, not just in the spring.

For more on spring home care, check out our Spring Home Maintenance slideshow.

DIY Deals: Spring Edition


Spring has officially arrived, making this weekend the perfect time to make that overdue purchase, or to consider a sunny-weather indulgence or two, either for inside or out (deck chairs, anyone?). Here’s just a sampling of the wonderful sales going on this weekend, but hurry: like the fleeting spring season, these DIY deals won’t last forever!

Target’s Mix or Match Home Décor Event is in full swing, both in stores and online. Buy one select home décor item and get 50% off the next. Also, save big online when you shop for furniture; the company is offering 20% off purchases of $150 or more for select kitchen, dining and home office furniture. Both sales end at 11:59 p.m., 3/24.

DIY Deals

Oswald Squint Sofa, $5,945.75 (Reg. $6,995)

The Conran Shop is selling scores of upholstery items at a 15% discount until April 1. Snatch a unique piece, like the Oswald Squint Sofa (above).

Visit Sherwin-Williams online to print out an in-store coupon for 30% off paints and stains (plus 15% off painting supplies) until April 1.

Don’t miss this weekend’s Super Saturday Event at Macy’s. The online-only sale is offering markdowns on everything from bed linens to kitchen appliances. Plus, you can receive an additional 25% off clearance items. Pay special attention to the 3-Day Specials; serious deals are on offer—the Cuisinart 7-Cup Food Processor, for instance, is usually $149.99 but will be available for $69.99. Saturday’s sale ends at midnight; 3-Day Specials conclude March 25.

DIY Deals

Bouganville Canvas Cushion, $180 (Reg. $225)

Textile master John Robshaw is holding his Spring Sale until March 29. Shop online to save 20% on his unique bean bags and upholstered footstools.

Shopping DIY Online
Plant Shopping with Martha Stewart
Quick Tip: Shopping for Green Products