June 2012 Archives - 4/13 - Bob Vila

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How To: Avoid Ice Dams and Water Damage

This winter, keep water at bay and home repairs away by following this guide.

Ice Dams

Photo: coolflatroof.com

What Are Ice Dams?
Many homeowners in the northern United States are all too familiar with ice dams. These are thick accumulations of ice that form over the eaves of a house. Water then collects behind the dam and gradually works its way beneath roof shingles through a cycle of freezing and thawing. The result can be leakage into the living areas of the home, which in turn can produce sagging plaster, stains, and other damage.

Low-pitched roofs are the most likely to be affected, but the cause is a warm roof. Heat escapes the living areas of the home and rises, warming the blanket of snow on the roof. As the snow melts, it flows down the slope of the roof only to refreeze on top of the unheated roof overhang. The ice builds up, the thawing and freezing cycle continues, and the flow begins.

Ice dams are preventable. If new roofing is being added at your home, make sure that proper precautions are being taken. The keys are these:

1) Ensure adequate ventilation.
The roof needs to be vented both at the eaves (usually in the soffits) and at the peak, either in the roof itself or via vents in the end walls of the house. An air space above the insulation in the ceiling or attic then allows cold air to move freely, keeping the roof cold and preventing the snow cover from melting. When a roof is being constructed, inexpensive Styrofoam baffles may be installed to ensure that there is a passageway for cold air from the eaves to the peak.

2) Seal off the house.
Proper insulation of the attic rafters or ceiling joists is another part of the solution. So is a tight vapor barrier to prevent moisture from passing from the living areas into and through the insulation.

3) Install a snow and ice shield.
There are a number of products on the market that, when installed immediately on top of the subroof and beneath the shingles covering the overhang of the roof, will prevent water from working its way into the home. A snow and ice shield consists of a bituminous membrane that seals the roof, forming a continuous barrier to water.

Quick Tip: Unclog a Toilet

Avoid potential disaster by being prepared and reading these essential tips for toilet repair.

How to Unclog a Toilet

Photo: American Standard

We all know that life would be very different without that wonder of modern science: the toilet. But when it acts up, we also know life can get pretty complicated in a hurry. Don’t wait until you have a houseful of guests to get prepared.

Key Toilet Repair Tools. Homeowners should own a full-sized plunger, an auger, a bucket and some rubber gloves.

Plunging a Toilet. In the event of a clog that is overflowing the toilet, shut off the water intake valve underneath the tank, then remove half the water from the bowl before plunging the drain opening rapidly several times. If the water goes down, plunge once more for good measure before turning the water back on and flushing.

Using an Auger. If plunging doesn’t work, the auger will. Cranking clockwise, feed the auger into the drain until it tightens at the clog; reverse a bit, then continue down as far as it will go, and pull the whole thing up at once. Remove that matchbox car that junior has been missing along with any other debris, and plunge again before you flush, just in case.

Be Prepared. As always, being prepared with the right tools can save the day!

Quick Tip: Choosing Child Safety Gates

Setting up safety gates to block entrances to stairways is one way to make your home much safer for young children.

Safety Gates

baby safety gates. Photo: From Bob Vila's Babyproofing the House TV Project: Bob Vila Season 2, Episode 7

Important Safety Tool
If you’re a parent, one of your many important jobs is making your home safe for your child. As your child grows, safety means different things. But of all the gadgets available to help you, one of the most important is the safety gate.

Choosing the Right Safety Gate
Because falling down the stairs is so common and so dangerous, start by looking for gates to fit both the top and bottom of all the stairs inside and outside your home. This might mean choosing several different types. If you have turned posts, angles or other complex trim details to contend with, look for a gate or adapters with angle-mounting brackets, a wood trim kit or straps to attach it firmly.

Fixed Gates Versus Tension-Mounted Gates
Generally speaking, even though they take a little longer to install, fixed gates will be more reliable than tension-mounted gates that hold to surfaces with rubber feet. A fixed gate doesn’t mean you’re stuck with it forever. If you’d like to be able to get it out of the way in a hurry for a party, for instance, choose a model with quick-release mounting hardware that allows you to remove and replace the gate panel without detaching the hardware from the wall.

Looks and Flexibility
Safety gates are available in several colors and now even in high-end natural wood finishes to fit most decors. Some can grow with your child and expand up to 41 inches. Some can expand lengthwise to fit around fireplaces or in wider openings like the stairs off an outdoor deck.

Easy for You, Tough for Kids
Beyond looks, you want to find safety gates that make it impossible for a toddler to figure out but easy for adults to operate with one hand. Self-closing mechanisms are another great feature, especially in households with other children who might forget that a safety gate can only do its job if it’s closed!

Installing Safety Gates: Read the Instructions
Be sure you follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully when you install safety gates.

DuPont’s Drive to Zero

DuPont Drive for Zero

DuPont's bins for recycled Corian

In a major push to green its global operations, DuPont Building Innovations, the makers of Corian and Tyvek building materials, eliminated 81 million pounds of manufacturing waste a year—and made trips to the landfill obsolete.

Some companies don’t fool around. Back in 2009, DuPont Building Innovations—manufacturer of Corian and Zodiaq solid surfaces and Tyvek building products—decided to alter its eco-footprint in a very big way.

The company announced its Drive to Zero landfill initiative and set as its goal the elimination of all 81 million pounds of waste it sent to landfills each year. No small order, considering that the company’s 15 production facilities span the globe from Buffalo, New York, to South Korea to Guangzhou, China.

For the past three years, “we’ve been on a sustainability mission,” said company president Timothy P. McCann, who notes that collaboration with supply-chain partners was key to tackling the company’s zero landfill goal.

As part of the initiative, everything at DuPont Building Innovation’s global manufacturing sites—from unusable raw materials and product scraps to construction debris, manufacturing byproducts, and even food waste from the company’s cafeterias—has become fair game for reuse or recycling.

Sanding waste from the shaping of Corian and Zodiaq now gets new life as a filler replacement in concrete, while crushed scrap Corian is used in landscaping stones and as a sub-base material for roadways. Once viewed as disposable, shipping pallets are now routinely repaired and reused. And Corian that doesn’t meet the company’s manufacturing standards gets ground up and incorporated into new sheets of solid surfacing.

DuPont Drive to Zero

DuPont Corian® Terra Collection

Indeed, the company’s Corian Terra Collection has also benefited from the zero landfill initiative. Five of the 33 colors in the line (white jasmine, rice paper, raffia, silver birch, and dove) contain at least 20% pre-consumer recycled resin content, a boon for renovators and builders looking to earn LEED points for material and resources with recycled content.

This spring, McDonald’s (which uses Corian solid surface materials in its North American fast food franchises) presented DuPont Building Innovations with its first-ever Supplier Sustainability Award.

“When we launched our three-year Drive to Zero landfill initiative, we knew that being environmentally responsible was the right thing to do for DuPont and something our customers would value,” said McCann. “This award is evidence that one of our most important customers does, indeed, appreciate our work to become a more earth-friendly business. I’m proud of the fact that through our efforts to completely eliminate landfill—not just reduce it—DuPont Building Innovations has created a new standard for our industry.”

For more on sustainability and green building, consider:

Learning to Love Recycling
7 DIY Small-Space Recycling Centers
The Meaning Behind “Green”: Guide to Certification Labels

Bob Vila Radio: Natural Pesticides

Encouraging birds and bats to visit your yard is a great way to keep BUGS down without spraying.

Natural Pesticides

Photo: kwaree.com


Listen to BOB VILA ON NATURAL PESTICIDES, or read text below:

You can get specially made bat houses from natural gardening websites and install them in the yard, to discourage bats from finding ways into your attic. Bats actually avoid people, and they eat their weight in mosquitoes every night, so they’re great to have hanging around!

Birds go where the food is, and they eat lots of insects as well, so keeping the birdfeeder and birdbath full can help protect your plants, and you, from insects.

If you still need more help, start with non-toxic solutions like dish soap and water to kill larvae, baking soda and water to kill fungus, and garlic granules to repel mosquitoes.

Avoid killing the good guys by using toxic chemicals only where they’re needed and following the directions as you would for prescription drugs. Too much or too little can make your pest problem worse.

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 to—or reading—Bob’s 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day.

For more on natural pesticides, consider:

Quick Tip: Design a “Green” Garden
Natural Fertilizers and Non-Toxic Pesticides
How To: Make a Birdhouse

New Product: Kohler StereoStik

Kohler Stereostik

KOHLER StereoStik

While people of good faith will forever debate whether reading materials should occupy a bathroom, there can be no logical argument about the manifest virtues of listening to music or the spoken word while in the bathroom.

Short of installing a whole-house system with recessed speakers, there are few elegant ways of achieving this modest goal.

Kohler, of all companies, has an answer. It’s the StereoStik ($227), a digital-tuning FM/AM radio and clock/alarm that amplifies music from your MP3 player.

It probably should be StereoStiks, plural, as it’s a two-piece device that bolts onto either side of a 26″ x 36″ x 4 5/8-inch wall-mounted medicine cabinet.

Read the rest of this entry »

How To: Replace a Window Screen

Replacing a damaged window screen is a simple, low-cost project that even a novice DIYer can do successfully.

How to Replace a Window Screen

Photo: lowes.com

The screens on your windows are there for a purpose. If they get a snag, a tear or a hole, they lose their effectiveness of keeping insects out. Don’t despair. You can change the screening easily—and with little cost for materials and tools—by following these basic instructions.

Spline (plastic cording)
Rolling spline tool (often packaged with the spline cording)
Nail punch or small flathead screwdriver
Small clamps or tape
Utlitiy knife


1. Remove the old screen. The screen is held in place with a plastic cord (spline) that runs in a channel around the perimeter of the metal frame. Use a small flat-head screwdriver, nail punch, or sharp object to lift the spline out of the channel. Remove the old screen and discard it along with the old plastic cording. If the frame is dirty, now would be a good time to wash it down.

How to Replace a Window Screen - Cut Excess

Photo: lowes.com

2. Size the new material. Place the metal frame on a flat surface and roll out a length of screening material to cover the entire frame. Leave a 2” border around the perimeter and cut the screen to size.

3. Position the new screen. Lay the newly sized screening material over the frame, making sure that the material overlaps the metal on all four sides. (Note: since the screening material was rolled, consider placing it with the curved side down. It will make it easier to work with.) Pull the screening taut and tape or clamp to the top and bottom of the frame.

4. Insert the new spline. Starting at one side and working your way around the perimeter of the frame, use the convex wheel of the rolling tool to push the screen into the channel of the frame. Be sure to keep the material taut as you work your way around, then use the concave side of the same tool to insert the plastic spline. Once you have installed the spline, trim the excess material with a utility knife and install your new replacement screen in the window.

Photos courtesy: Lowes Creative Ideas

Want more How To? Browse all projects in 30 Days of Easy Summer DIY

Max Efficiency: Replacing AC Pipe Insulation

Replace Pipe Insulation - Before

Degraded conduit pipes' insulation

An imperative “rite of spring” in our house is checking our two central air conditioning systems to make sure they are working properly. This involves eliminating any dirt or debris that may have accumulated during the winter as well as checking the hoses and ductwork.

This year, the main AC didn’t seem to have the cooling power it should, so we decided to have it checked out by a professional. As it turns out, this was an excellent idea.

Related: 9 Ways to Lower Cooling Costs in Rising Heats

The technician checked our coolant levels and did a thorough inspection of the system, quickly discovering the source of our trouble: the insulation on the cooling conduit pipes between the inside and outside units was disintegrating. This lack of insulation was compromising the integrity of the whole system, the technician said. We were losing a good 10 degrees of cooling power!

Always eager to maximize energy efficiency and save ourselves money, we gave this project top priority and headed off to the home improvement store to do some research on pipe insulation.

There are various materials available—including fiberglass, foam rubber, and polyethylene foam—all offered in various diameters to fit different pipe widths.

We felt the foam had several advantages, the first being that it was easy to measure and cut. Also, the foam lengths looked easy to install, because they featured a split all the way down the length, with self-sealing, sticky edges that would form a tight bond once the protective backing was removed. Finally, the foam was inexpensive, so we could buy extra in case we needed more than we estimated.

The first step was to carefully remove all of the old insulation from the pipes using a razor knife. We wiped down the pipes and then wrapped the new lengths of foam insulation around the pipes, one piece at a time, starting at the roof and working our way to the edge of the outside unit.

Replace Pipe Insulation - Installation

Installing the foam replacement insulation, prior to sealing

Once we had all of the foam on the pipes, we removed the protective backing from the sticky edges of the slit pieces and pressed the edges together to seal them. We worked with one segment at a time, and where two pieces joined together, we wrapped the edges with electrical tape.

The result: it not only looks better, but both air conditioning units seem to be running less often and cooling more quickly! In the future, you can be sure that we’re adding “inspect pipe insulation” to our annual to-do list for air conditioning maintenance.

For more on energy-efficient home cooling, consider:

New Air Conditioning for Old Houses
Bob Vila Radio: Window AC Checklist
Quick Tip: Alternatives to Air Conditioning

Bob Vila Radio: Bath Flooring Options

Bathrooms are, like it or not, wet areas. Even if the rest of your house has gleaming hardwood floors, they’re not the best choice for bathroom floors.

Bathroom Flooring


Listen to BOB VILA ON BATH FLOORING OPTIONS, or read text below:

Read the rest of this entry »

How To: Make a Kid’s Teepee

Build a backyard teepee with your kids this summer. It's easy and fun and the ideal summer craft project for the whole family.

How to Make a Teepee

Photo: ziggityzoom.com

A basic teepee is not hard to make, provided you keep it simple and fun, as I discovered when I created this project for ZiggityZoom. After consulting a few websites to understand the basics of construction, I assembled the materials and tools and—in an afternoon’s time—came up with this easy, kid-friendly summer DIY craft project. Want to learn how to make your very own backyard teepee? Just follow the steps below:

Nine 10′ poles (bamboo poles are best; we used 1″ metal conduit)
Canvas painter’s drop cloth (12′ x 15′ heavyduty)
Lightweight cord or rope
Five sticks 9″ long
Two sticks 6″ long
Garden clippers
Permanent colored markers

1. Collect thin, sturdy branches and using garden clippers, cut five branches to 9″ long and two branches to 6″ long. The collecting is a fun activity for kids. If desired, taper the ends slightly by rubbing them on the sidewalk or a piece of sand paper.

2. Lay the canvas drop cloth flat on the grass. Find the center-top of the long end of the cloth and make a mark. Tie a marker onto the end of a string and holding the marker upright at side-top of the cloth’s long end, stretch the string to the center point and cut it. Your string should be 7.5′ long. Hold the string at center point firmly, while a second person makes an arc with the marker to denote the cut line. (The finished cut size equates to the length being twice as long as the width.)

How to Make a Teepee - Assembly

Photo: ziggityzoom.com

3. Choose a spot for the teepee and set the first three poles in place as your teepee base, crossing the tips of the poles at the top, as if you are making a tripod. Now add two poles between each of the base poles; try to position them sturdily by paying attention to how they cross at the top. Add the last pole to the ‘back side’ of your teepee. Spread the pole bottoms evenly around the ground.

4. If you don’t have someone tall to reach up and place the top-center of the cloth near the cross poles, remove the last pole from the back side and attach the top-center of the cloth about a foot from the top. Since this is temporary, you can just make a ring of duct tape and attach the inside of the cloth to the poles.

5. Pull the sides of the cloth around the poles, overlapping at the top of the teepee’s front. Make two slits to accommodate each 9″ stick, making sure the cuts go through both pieces of overlapped cloth. Slits should be about 3″ to 4″ apart. Weave a stick into the openings and secure the teepee front.

6. To make the teepee opening, fold the side flaps open and make two slits to accommodate the 6″ sticks.

7. Use markers (or paint, if desired) to decorate the outside of your teepee. Let the kids decorate however they want, and show them some American Indian designs as inspiration. This is a perfect time to teach kids some Native American history and the symbolism of Native American designs.

Want more How To? Browse all projects in 30 Days of Easy Summer DIY