May 2012 Archives - 3/11 - Bob Vila

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Garage Door Openers 101


For decades, homeowners interested in automating their garage doors had three choices: chain-, belt- or screw-driven openers. That has changed with the introduction of residential jackshaft and direct-drive models. Some of the conventional wisdom about the three standard options has changed, too.

Standard Garage Door Openers

Craftsman Chain Driven Garage Door Opener

Craftsman Chain Driven Garage Door Opener

Chain-driven models include a chain—similar to a bicycle chain—that pushes or pulls a trolley (carriage) that connects to a metal bar, called a J-arm, that is affixed to the garage door. If your garage is situated under a bedroom, the noise generated by metal-to-metal contact and vibration may be a nuisance. If the garage is detached, it probably isn’t. Newer chain-driven units with DC motors and soft start-and-stop technology are significantly quieter than older units.

Belt-driven openers are similar in design to chain-driven models, except a reinforced belt is what pushes or pulls the trolley. The belts may be made of fiberglass, polyurethane, or steel-reinforced rubber. Belt-driven openers are just as reliable as chain-driven openers but quieter. The negative for belt-driven openers is that they cost about $30 to $60 more than chain-driven units.

Related: Product Showcase: Garage Doors

With screw-driven openers, the trolley rides on a threaded-steel rod as a motor rotates the rod. Because this design has fewer moving parts, manufacturers claim that it requires less maintenance than other systems. Screw-driven openers, however, have run into trouble in regions that have large swings in temperature from summer to winter. In addition, they are noisier than belt-driven openers. That said, manufacturers of screw-driven openers have recently made improvements with regard to temperature sensitivity and noise. In addition, screw-driven openers are among speediest these days as well, opening a door at 10- to 12-in. per second compared to the standard 6- to 8-in. per second. (For safety, all garage door openers close doors at a slower 7-in. per second.)

Jackshaft and Direct-Drive Garage Door Openers

Raynor's Prodigy Wall-Mounted Jackshaft Garage Door Opener

Raynor's Prodigy Wall-Mounted Jackshaft Garage Door Opener

Jackshaft openers, unlike the other systems, mount on the wall beside the garage door. A 24-v DC motor drives pulleys and cables that turn the torsion bar and raise the garage door. When the motor is reversed, cable tension is loosened and the door lowers. This system is reliable and quiet. In addition, it keeps the ceiling free for overhead storage and is well-suited to garages with high or low ceilings. Jackshaft openers are more expensive than most other types of openers.

Direct-drive units are claimed to be the quietest of all garage door units, because there is only one moving part—the motor. Developed and manufactured in Germany, the motor (not a trolley) travels along a stationary chain that is embedded in an overhead rail. A J-arm links the moving motor to the door. Direct-drive units cost about the same as belt-driven units and come with lifetime warranties.

DC-Powered Garage Door Openers

Chamberlain DC Garage Door Opener

Chamberlain DC Garage Door Opener

DC motors are quieter, faster, smaller, lighter, smoother operating, and more efficient than AC motors. Many come with variable speeds, enabling soft-start and soft-stop technology. They can also be equipped with battery backup systems. With newer units, the battery is integrated with the opener motor housing. When the power fails, your garage door openers will continue to function for up to two days, depending upon how often you open and close the door. Battery backup will also ensure the continued operation of other functions, including garage lighting, security, and safety alerts. DC motors with brushes do not have the same life expectancy as AC motors, but brushless DC motors do.

For more on garages, consider:

Picking the Right Garage Door
Quick Tip: Garage Storage Solutions
Video: Dream Garage and Boat Storage

Bob Vila Radio: Curb Appeal

Curb Appeal

mp3 link

Listen to BOB VILA ON CURB APPEAL, or read text below:

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Wandering Through “Wood-Land” at ICFF

The International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF) is one of my favorite trade shows.  It is the one show in the country where, over a period of four days, designers from around the world reveal some of the most inspirational, innovative and ingenious modern furnishings, seating, wall and floor coverings, lighting, outdoor furniture, accessories, kitchen and bath, and residential home/office.

This year’s show, featuring 535 exhibitors (171 of them first-timers) from 34 different countries, was no exception.  And, while there were many discoveries and trends worth reporting, I couln’t help but see this year’s show as a Wood-Land of sorts–with wood making a statement in every conceivable design category.  Here’s a sampling of what was on display:

Sliced Beam Table by Wisnowski Design

Sliced Beam Table by Wisnowski Design

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Top Tips for Growing Tomatoes

Growing Tomatoes


There’s really nothing better than a vine-ripened tomato plucked from the plant in your vegetable garden and still warm from the sun. Well, that will come later this season. Now it’s time to get your tomato seedlings into the ground, so that you’ll have a plentiful harvest in a few weeks and you can start serving all your favorites: BLTs, caprese salad, homemade tomato sauce… better start growing!



Make sure they have good drainage: Tomatoes need well-draining soil or a raised bed for proper drainage. They grow best in slightly acidic soil that’s been enriched with compost.

Keep them in the sun: Tomatoes need 8 hours of strong light a day.

Give them plenty of water: Keep them watered, especially as the summer months dry out the soil.

Provide an early support system: Be sure to introduce support even when the plant is still short, so that you don’t accidentally damage the roots. Tomato cages are the easiest to use—try galvanized steel for high yielding plants. Or get stackable tomato ladders for tall, indeterminate breeds.



There are hundreds of tomato varieties out there. What’s the best for your needs? Here are five picks that will satisfy.

Growing Tomatoes - Beafsteak

Hook Mountain Growers' Bush Beafsteak Tomato

An early-ripening variety: With an average ripening time of only 60 days, Bush Beefsteak is a great choice for those with a short growing season. It’s a small plant that yields satisfying, hearty fruit.


Growing Tomatoes - Sun Gold Hybrid

Burpee's Sun Gold Hybrid Tomato

A great container choice: ‘Sungold’ is an apricot-color cherry with round, 1 1/4″-large globes that are as sweet as you could ask for. The determinate plant is bred to grow to a compact height.


Growing Tomatoes - Anna Russian

Landreth Seeds' Anna Russian Tomato

Best tasting: A lovely indeterminate plum, ‘Anna Russian’ plants produce through even the hottest summer and are crack-resistant. The juicy fruit is delicious and shaped like a heart.


Growing Tomatoes - Cherokee Purple

Burpee's Cherokee Purple Tomato

A color other than red: The rich, namesake color and its sweet taste make ‘Cherokee Purple’ stand out among the traditional reds.


Growing Tomatoes - San Marzano

San Marzano Tomato

Paste tomato: Great for making sauce or for canning whole, ‘San Marzano’ is a plum determinate variety that is very meaty and dry.


For more on landscaping and gardening, consider:

38 Ideas for a Peaceful Garden Refuge
Bob Vila Radio: Garden Journals
Landscaping Made Easy

Bob Vila Radio: Composting

No fertilizer can do your garden as much good as compost can. It’s impossible to overfertilize with it. Even in colder climates, you can add to your compost year-round. And it puts worms to work for you in the garden!




Listen to BOB VILA ON COMPOSTING, or read text below:

Composting is not the same as rotting, and it shouldn’t be smelly. Keep it moist but not soggy and turn it every week to keep it processing evenly. It won’t attract animals if you keep it tightly covered and never add meat or fatty kitchen scraps.

Good composting requires four things: carbon, nitrogen, water and oxygen. To balance the carbon and the nitrogen, think of them as “brown” and “green.” Brown materials have lots of fiber like straw, fallen leaves or woody plant stalks. Green materials have lots of nutrients like kitchen scraps and lawn clippings.  Balance three parts brown to one part green, and in a few weeks you’ve got “gardener’s gold”!

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 60 stations around the country (and growing). You can get your daily dose here, by listening—or reading—to Bob’s 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day.

For more on lawns and gardens, consider:

Quick Tip: Compost
5 Ways to a Greener Lawn
Quick Tip: Design a “Green” Garden

5 Great Backsplash Ideas

Prior to April, I was a “tile virgin.” But then I went to Coverings, the tile and stone industry trade show. With over 800 exhibitors in 300,000 square feet of space, I was over-stimulated, overwhelmed, and amazed at the size, innovation, and passion of this high-performance industry. Of course, any time you gather a lot of Italians under one roof, there’s gonna be passion!

Related: 11 Backsplashes for a Unique Kitchen

There’s a lot of product news to relay from Coverings, and I am going to start with a few spotlight-stealers that would make beautiful backsplashes. Gale Steves, author and trend spotter, believes the backsplash is often an afterthought for kitchen remodelers. I venture to say that the tiles below might actually drive the design and mood of the entire kitchen.

Backsplash Ideas

The Patchwork Backsplash
The tiles at Oscar & Izzy are exciting and unique, fun and folksy. The designer is Amy Mescia, a brand specialist who turned her talents from advertising to tile after being randomly invited to participate in an “Extreme Home Makeover.” Amy created this patchwork backsplash, which combines a love of modern and retro patterning with bright, happy color. Her simple and bold designs are printed atop Daltile solid ceramic tiles and are for indoor wall applications. A 4.25” square graphic tile is $20.00. Oscar & Izzy is named for her great grandfather and his wife.

Backsplash Ideas

Mirrored Backsplash
Artistic Tile’s Charleston Collection takes basic classic subway tile to a new level of glam. Each glass tile is hand-silvered in a meticulous way that gives the mirror an antique appearance. The 3″ x 6″ beveled tile is $91/sq. ft. Straight-edge tiles, 9″ x 18″, are also available for $70/sq. ft. Both styles are 3/16″ thick.

Three-Dimensional Backsplash
Remember when the world was flat? Well, the world of tile was flat once too, but companies are now manipulating materials to bend, twist, and curve. In collaboration with Giugiaro Design of Volkswagen fame, Mosaico+ launched Pulsar, a rounded and sintered glass tile that is ultra-slick and color-rich. There are four layouts and ten colors available for this extremely durable tile made from recycled glass.

Backsplash Ideas

Matte & Shiny Backsplash
The juxtaposition of satin and gloss-finish tiles creates an interesting optical effect; shiny tile pops as the matte ones appear to recede. Red Rock Tileworks explores this combination of sheens in the Tuxedo Zig Zag pattern, featuring a new parallelogram-shape ceramic tile that comes in 48 colors and costs $24 per linear foot.

Backsplash Ideas

It’s Hip to Be Square
Squares-within-squares were a dominant geometric theme at the show. The sculptural “Syncopation” motif at Lowitz & Company calls to mind mid-century Miami architecture. Under the direction of painter/designer Ted Lowitz, tile makers manipulate clay purely with their fingertips, pushing, pulling, and defining the design. Two white, matte glazes are offered with this collection and were especially developed to complement stone and marble.

Backsplash Ideas

Backsplash Designing Tool
Aside from the selection of stone, ceramic, porcelain and glass, make sure to check out Crossville’s interactive online backsplash design tool. Backsplash Builder allows the user to key in most of Crossville’s porcelain or glass tile designs, trying different patterns and colors. The user puts in project dimensions and then starts selecting tile and grout color.

For more on tile and kitchen backsplashes, consider:

DIY Network Backsplash Kit
Backsplash Idea: Faux Stone Re-Finish
The Backsplash: A Kitchen’s Most Underutilized Real Estate

Patio Pavers 101

Versatile, beautiful and DIY-friendly, today's patio pavers are an ideal choice for any hardscape plan.

Installing Pavers


Pavers are a versatile, DIY-friendly, landscaping material that can be used for laying paths, steps, driveways, pool surrounds, and patios around your yard. Pavers have been used for thousands of years to improve comfort when walking outside of homes and for creating places in which friends and family can gather.

Pavers are typically made from concrete, clay, and stone. They can also be made from recycled materials (in which case they are known as composite pavers). Concrete pavers can be dyed to almost any color. In addition to looking like concrete, they can be molded to look like clay bricks, cobblestone, flagstone—you name it. The shapes are usually rectangular, but other shapes, including hexagons, interlocking, and irregular shapes are available. A nice feature with many concrete pavers is the molded-in spacers that make laying them easier.

Ep Henry Coventry Brick Pavers 1 RevBrick pavers are made from clay that has been fired to a high temperature in order to harden it. They are typically 2-1/4- x 4 x 8 rectangles in the U.S. and available in many colors from white and yellow to a multitude of shades of red and red-brown. Sometimes used brick is available at little or no cost. While the aged look is often desirable, bear in mind that you may need to chip old mortar from used brick with a hammer before you can use it.

Stone pavers are quarried and cut to standard sizes and thicknesses. They are made from marble, travertine, limestone, granite, bluestone, and many other stone varieties. Colors are naturally earthen but do range from light to dark, including yellow rose, blue gray, and more. While real stone pavers are generally more expensive than concrete lookalikes, there’s no mistaking the authenticity once you see the finished job. In addition, stone is available in larger formats than concrete and in many finishes. The more textured finishes are recommended for outdoor use to help prevent slipping when the surface is wet. They include tumbled, saw cut, acid-etched, bush-hammered, and flamed finishes.

Composite pavers are made from used plastics and scrap tires and release less carbon and use less energy in their manufacture than concrete and brick, according to Vast Enterprises. The shapes are typically brick-like and are set upon a modular plastic grid. In addition, composite pavers are light, only nine pounds per square foot, versus about 30 pounds per square foot for concrete pavers. Their weight makes them especially suitable for green roofs and for resurfacing wood decks. Composite pavers cut easily with circular saws of various types.

Patterns and layouts
Pavers can be laid in any number of patterns and layouts, including rectangular and curved. The latter will require more cutting and fitting but is well within the capabilities of a homeowner with a heavy-duty circular saw that’s fitted with a diamond masonry-cutting disk. For larger patios, consider renting a table-style brick saw. Brick and brick-shaped concrete pavers can be arranged to create many patterns, including herringbone, basket weave, running bond, and stacked bond. In recent years, concrete paver combinations of varying sizes, colors, and textures have been used to create more complex patterns.

Installing Pavers - Installed


Pavers may be laid upon a concrete slab, bedded in mortar, or dry-laid on a prepared base of gravel and bedding sand. The latter requires the least amount of work and skill and is best suited to the do-it-yourselfer. Every installation begins with laying out the area that’s to be paved and marking it with marking spray. A garden hose may be used to help you envision the contours of curved elements, such as paths and driveways.

Excavation to accommodate several inches of gravel and sand, and to level the grade if necessary, comes next. Avoid digging down farther than necessary. It’s important to keep the subsoil undisturbed and stable to prevent depressions from forming later. Next, the excavated surface is leveled and a landscape fabric is laid in place for weed prevention. Then comes a three- or four-inch layer of gravel, compaction, and more leveling. (Compaction, either with a manual tamper or gasoline-powered compactor is critical.) After that comes a one-inch layer of bedding sand or stone dust, more compaction, and leveling.

String lines (mason twine run from wood stakes) help guide the placement and setting depth of pavers. Caution: Before any sort of excavation work, check to be sure there are no utility lines—such as gas, water, and electrical lines—buried below. (A nearby lamppost is a good clue!) Also, check for subsurface drainpipes, cisterns, and tanks. A safe way to do this is to call 811 to have your underground utility lines marked for free.

Dry-laid paths and patios may be edged with staked-in boards, metal strips, or with brick set in a two-inch-deep bed of mortar. Edging is important, because it keeps the pavers from shifting. Fine masonry sand is swept into the joints to lock the pavers in place. Follow with a spray of water to settle the sand; add more as necessary. Use polymeric sand, if you don’t want to have to renew joint sand in the future. It contains a bonding agent that helps to keep the sand from getting washed away during rainstorms.

Today’s Rents for Yesterday’s Houses

Renting Your Home


Renting is suddenly cool: these days, renting is about lifestyle and flexibility, says Jane Hodges, author of the newly published Rent vs Own (Chronicle). And because renters just want to have fun, they often are willing to pay a premium for a nicely restored vintage house.

That’s important to know if you are calculating the cash flow you could capture by placing your historic house on the rental market. Renting is a viable alternative to selling outright if you must move on account of a job transfer, family demands, or other factors. And if you are thinking of buying, improving, and renting a vintage house as an investment, market rent is the key factor in capturing your return. (Note: Check back with us next week when Money Matters Monday reveals the formula that institutional investors use to estimate cash flow and return on residential properties.)

As she surveys the rental and ownership housing markets, Hodges has noticed a sea change in the motivations of renters. “In the past, people rented until they bought a house because they were getting married or having kids,” she  says. “If they wanted a house, they had to buy a house.”

But more people, including former homeowners, are now renting for a variety of reasons. They might have sold their properties and are taking time to scope out their next purchase. They might be trying out different neighborhoods. Or they might have decided that the life of a corporate nomad is more in sync with renting than constant ownership churn. They might be interested in renting with the possibility of buying. Or not.

When people who could buy decide to rent, the economics of investing in rental properties change fundamentally. These days, institutional investors expect annual returns of at least 20% on their portfolios of rentals, so that’s a good way to frame up your own investment parameters.

If you’ve got a polished vintage home, you likely can get top dollar for it in today’s market, even if you are competing with new apartments and rental condos, says Hodges. Lifestyle renters want a brag-worthy home.

She recommends these four tactics for capturing top dollar for your historic rental:

1. Compare local rentals, weighing lifestyle amenities as well as raw price per square foot

2. Check with property managers to see what neighborhoods and types of houses are most in demand

3. Contact corporate relocation experts and agencies to get your house in front of executives who want a pretty place to park

4. Consider working with a real estate agent who specializes in ‘luxury properties’

“Owning a home is part of the American dream,” says Hodges. “But these days, if you’re well off, you don’t have to own the house to prove you’ve made it. You can rent it.”

For more on homeownership and retails, consider:

Fee for All: How to Keep More Equity
The Rising Cost of Low-Rate FHA Loans
Words to Sell By

Bob Vila Radio: Cleaning Saves

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 60 stations around the country (and growing). You can get your daily dose here, by listening—or reading—to Bob’s 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day. Today, it’s all about how Cleaning Saves.

Cleaning Saves


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Bob Vila Radio: Kitchen Sink

If it’s time for a new kitchen sink, first consider your countertops.

Kitchen Sink



Listen to BOB VILA ON THE KITCHEN SINK, or read text below:

If they’re laminate, you’ll need a top mount or drop-in sink. You could consider an undermount sink with stone or integrate it seamlessly with solid-surface countertops.

Stainless steel sinks are popular and durable, and coordinate well if you have stainless appliances. Cast-iron, porcelain-glazed in a variety of colors, is a good bet for timeless designs like the apron sink. If you’ve got the budget, copper, zinc or soapstone will make your kitchen sink a conversation piece. If you have the room, consider a three-bowl model, integrated drainboard or flexible bowl configurations for the way you work.

Be sure to order your sink with the right holes for the faucet and accessories–strainers, cutting boards, soap dispensers—that’ll make it a more useful tool!

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 60 stations around the country (and growing). You can get your daily dose here, by listening—or reading—to Bob’s 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day.

For more on the kitchen sink, consider the following Bob Vila articles:

Quick Tip: Budget Kitchen Remodeling
How To Install a New Kitchen Sink
Create an Outdoor Dream Kitchen