July 2012 Archives - 4/8 - Bob Vila

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Top Tips for Adding Cabinets in the Bathroom

Small Bathroom Storage Ideas

Keuco's Edition 300 Mirrored Medicine Cabinet


You’re stuck with a small bathroom. Well, that doesn’t necessarily mean you can't fit in everything you need. Where square footage falls short, creative bathroom storage solutions go the extra distance. In a small bathroom, furniture elements like vanities often eat up what little available floor space there is, and they provide too little usable storage in return. Look instead to the walls and other underused surfaces. Put up shelves or mount hooks or rails. Make use of behind-the-door storage, over-the-toilet units, and corner towers. Judiciously placed baskets and other attractive containers for toiletries and towels are also smart amenities for small bathrooms. The good news: Many of these small bathroom storage solutions are budget- and DIY-friendly projects.

Traditionally, bathroom cabinetry was limited to small medicine cabinets above the sink and sink vanities with limited storage space. That’s changing.

In small bathrooms today, homeowners are putting in space-saving plumbing arrangements in order to use every cubic foot of their vanities. It takes some ingenuity, but if you can install the drain, trap, and supply lines and valves close to the wall, then you can buy a vanity with several deep drawers that slide under the sink. Drawers allow better organization of miscellaneous bathroom items—hair dryers and tissue boxes, etc. Drawers also make it easier to see and reach stored items.

If you don’t want to buy a new vanity, or if rearranging plumbing is not your cup of tea, one option is to install a pull-out drawer under the trap with shelves to either side of it. (ShelvesThatSlide.com sells DIY kits at a fair price.)

Replacing a small medicine cabinet with a larger one adds a surprising amount of shelf space. In the past, medicine cabinets were installed in the void between studs in the wall behind the sink, severely crimping their storage capacity. Newer models hang on the wall and tend to be much bigger. A cabinet that’s three feet tall is not uncommon. Be forewarned that such units are heavy, especially those with mirrored doors are mirrors. Hanging one may require the installation of blocking between studs inside the wall (which in turn usually requires the removal of some wallboard); the cabinet can then be screwed securely to the blocking.

Another strategy for small bathrooms is to install an over-the-toilet cabinet, making use of space normally wasted. These cabinets are typically shallow (only 8- or 9-in. deep) to allow adequate head room, but they’re ideal for storing small items. Some incorporate a towel bar for hanging hand towels.

In large bathrooms, double-width vanities with two sinks are popular. In really large bathrooms, there may be room for base cabinets that flank the vanity and have wall cabinets above. In such cases, the old medicine cabinet is eliminated and replaced with a lockable drawer.

Large bathrooms often incorporate tall cabinets or corner cabinets, and just as as often these serve as linen closets. Before storing linens in a bathroom, however, make sure you have a vent fan (a properly functioning one). The vent fan should run for 5 or 10 minutes after showers and baths to keep humidity low (installing a timer switch is a good idea). Linen cabinets include various combinations of shelves, drawers, and hampers.

For more on bathroom storage, consider:

Bathroom Flooring: A Wealth of Options
15 Ways to Make a Small Bathroom Big
Planning Guide: Bathroom Remodeling

The New Bronze Age for Fixtures

After so many years of classic chrome and nickel faucets dominating in kitchens and baths, bronze finishes are finally starting to get their due. While the sleek, silvery look will never go out of style, homeowners have a lot more choice now that manufacturers have embraced bronze and keep introducing new variations on the finish. As real bronze ages, the color can change dramatically, and these finishes reflect that unique quality of the metal.

Bronze Fixtures

Symmons' Elm Collection lav faucet in Seasoned Bronze finish

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Bob Vila Radio: Cool Roofs

When it comes to keeping your home cool this summer, your roof—not your air conditioning system—IS YOUR first line of defense.

Photo: greenupgrader.com

At Home with Bob Vila – Cool Roofs

Listen to BOB VILA ON COOL ROOFS, or read text below:

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Shopping for a Swing Set

Shopping for a Swingset

Photo: Kids Creations

One thing we miss about living in New York is the awesome city playgrounds. You could walk to a different one every day of the week—and we did. On the upside, now we have enough space to put up our own little playground in the backyard. We’ve been planning to do so since we moved into our house nine months ago, but we never thought the shopping process for a swing set could get so complicated! There are a stunning number of choices and gradations in quality. It’s very hard to decide. After three or four months of research, here’s what we think are the most important considerations when choosing:

Think long-term. Try not to buy something that’s “perfect” for your kids right now, because in a year or two, they will have outgrown it. A bigger set requires more vigilance in supervision early on, but pays off in the long run. Consider buying a modular set that you can add pieces onto in the future.

Shopping for a Swing Set

Photo: Kids Creations

Space. Swing sets require six feet of clearance around them for safety, so factor that in when you’re thinking about size. Also, think about orientation. Will you be able to see the slide from the kitchen window?

Construction. There are oodles of variations in materials and construction. Wooden sets blend into your landscape nicely but require staining each year to look nice. Sets made of recycled materials take less maintenance and won’t give your kid splinters, but they are much more expensive. Softer woods get easily dinged. Hardware strength and quality is important. Do your research.

Swing Set

Photo: Kids Creations

Installation. Delivery and installation can cost as much as the swing set itself. Some installers charge by the hour, and some charge by the number of steps in the instructions. Beware—many sets take up to 40 man hours to install! If you plan to do it yourself, know what you are getting into. It’s apparently more challenging and time-consuming than most people expect. So if you think your marriage may not survive the task, look to purchase something that includes installation in the price.

Timing. Play set sales are cyclical. You’ll pay top price shopping in early spring for an early summer installation. You’re more likely to get a discount at the end of the season as dealers unload their inventory, or you might get a deal on an older demo as new models come out.

We are hoping to grab a deal sometime in September/October, when we may be able to get more for our money than we could earlier in the season. Until then, we’ll continue to mull over the endless options. Whatever we decide on, we know it will be a worthwhile investment in years of fun for both our kids and for us.

For more on the swing sets/play sets featured, visit Kids Creations.

For more on kids’ outdoor entertainment, consider:

Creative Kids’ Spaces
How To: Make a Tire Swing
How To: Make a Kid’s Teepee

How To: Match End Grain with Side Grain

End Grain

End grain close-up of unfinished white pine. Photo: hobbithouseinc.om

As you may recall from science class as a kid, wood is a collection of fibers that run in the same direction. Basically, it’s a collection of the tree’s xylum, all stacked up next to and on top of each other, like a bunch of drinking straws arranged in a grid pattern. So the side grain of wood represents the side sections of these fibers, whereas the end grain represents their ends.

And just like the drinking straws, when applying liquids like stain or oil finishes (or even glue) to wood, the different sections of the grain absorb the liquid differently, often resulting in a different color on the side and end grain. Fortunately, there’s an (easy) extra step you can take to guarantee even color and tone anywhere on the wood.

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Bob Vila Radio: Installing a Garbage Disposal

A garbage disposal really keeps things flowing in the kitchen, and installing one isn’t a tough job for a do-it-yourselfer with moderate skills.

Installing a Garbage Disposal

Photo: dexknows.com


Listen to BOB VILA ON INSTALLING A GARBAGE DISPOSAL, or read text below:

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Vaux & Olmsted’s “Other” Central Park

Downing Park

Photo: NewYorkPictures.org

Incredible garden inspiration can be just around the corner, especially if you live in a city that is graced with a park designed by legendary landscape architects Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted.

Nestled in the heart of Newburgh, NY is Downing Park, a 35-acre landscape filled with hills, valleys, streams, a pond, and a rich variety of native wildlife and vegetation. Opened in 1897, Downing Park has been a recreational retreat for Newburgh residents throughout its 115-year history, serving as a living memorial to Newburgh native Andrew Jackson Downing, the highly charismatic writer and landscape architect known as “The Father of American Landscape Architecture.”

Related: Touring Fairsted, Frederick Law Olmsted’s Home (VIDEO)

Downing was one of the earliest proponents of creating common green spaces for all citizens to enjoy. In his role as publisher of The Horticulturist magazine, he heavily promoted the idea of New York City’s massive Central Park. After meeting Vaux and Olmsted for the first time, Downing encouraged the pair to enter the competition to design Central Park. But five years before his dream of a public park became a reality, Downing tragically died in a Hudson River steamboat explosion.

Downing Park

Downing Park Pavilion, Newburgh, NY / Photo: images.mitrasites.com

“Downing Park has serpentine paths and picturesque vistas—features very similar, though on a different scale, to those of New York City’s Central Park,” points out Christopher Tripoli, executive director of the Downing Park Planning Committee, which oversees and maintains the park. “Andrew Jackson Downing was Olmsted and Vaux’s mentor and lived in Newburgh his whole life. This was the last park that Olmsted and Vaux designed together and the only park that they collaborated on with their sons, John Olmsted and Downing Vaux.”

Vaux and Olmsted were well known for creating open spaces that promoted the well-being of the public, and they favored naturalistic, rustic, and curving landscape designs. Downing Park embodies many of these principles, as it features structures of natural stone and an astonishing variety of trees, shrubs, and flowers. Indeed, Downing Park is home to the only dedicated ornamental daylily garden in New York (donated and maintained by the Iris and Daylily Society). “There are also amazing specimen trees here in Downing Park. The most popular plantings were red oak, ginkgo, sycamore, American chestnut, a variety of maples, willow, and a rare yew tree that is well over 100 years old,” Tripoli points out.

The highest point in the park commands amazing views of the Hudson River, with local landmarks West Point and Bannerman’s Island visible to the south. This site originally housed an Observatory, but the structure was torn down in 1959.

Downing Park

"The Polly" and Shelter House at Downing Park, Newburgh, NY / Photo: Flickr-joseph a

The park also boasts a 2 ½-acre pond, known as “the Polly”, which is home to myriad local species, including a wide variety of fish, great blue herons, mute swans, mallard ducks, and Canadian geese among others. The Polly’s natural stone Shelter House was added in 1934 and designed by local architect Gordon Marvel as a place for visitors to change into skates and enjoy cups of hot chocolate during the cold winter months.

“Downing Park has played a vital role in the history of Newburgh; it has continuously been a gathering place for residents,” Tripoli notes, adding that the park is still central to Newburgh’s residents today, hosting a wide array of community events, including a farmers’ market, band concerts, theater presentations, and many other popular events.

The park relies heavily on volunteers to help maintain the existing landscape and plant new gardens, ensuring this natural treasure will survive and thrive for future generations to enjoy.

For more on landscape design, consider:

30 Landscape Design Ideas
Top Tips: Creating Lovely Outdoor Environments
Touring Fairsted, Frederick Law Olmsted’s Home (VIDEO)

What You Need to Know Before Buying a Sump Pump

Have a serious flooding problem at home? A sump pump could help. Find out whether one is right for you—and what to consider when buying one.


If you’ve ever wondered, “What is a sump pump?” then you’re lucky, because you probably don’t need one. But for the unlucky owners of wet basements, here’s the scoop: A sump pump sits in the basement, either beneath (in the case of a submersible pump) or above the floor. It pumps out water that collects in the sump basin, discharging it to the outdoors.

Sump Pumps - Flooding

Photo: waterfirerestorationatlanta.com

You’ll never have to buy one if you purchase a house that never floods. And even if you do buy a house with a water problem, there may be several ways to correct it before resorting to a sump pump and pit. Should you decide to invest in one, put your money toward a model that is high-quality and well-reviewed—in fact, it may make sense to buy two or three!

I’ve been lucky with basements in the past. Having purchased five houses in my life, not one has been wet. Some dampness in summer, yes, but nothing a dehumidifier couldn’t handle! The secret: When being shown a house by an agent, try to begin your tour in the basement. If there’s evidence of a significant water problem (such as an active sump pit and pump or high-water marks on the walls), walk away before you fall in love with the kitchen or master suite. A wet basement is going to cause all sorts of problems beyond water—rust, rot, mold, and unhealthy indoor air.

Related: 7 Ways to Avoid Basement Flooding

If the house is too good to pass—or you’re dealing with flooding after having already purchased and moved in—consider all available options to stop water from entering. Installing a sump pump can be messy, so another solution may be just as efficient. I’ve known homeowners who put in one only to abandon its use after installing an outdoor curtain drain that diverts water to a pond.

Similarly, installing or repairing gutters so they don’t drain near your foundation can also make a big difference. And if a walkway, patio, or pool deck slopes toward your house instead of away from it, they are contributing hundreds of gallons of water to your problem. Some services can re-level slabs so they drain away from the house, and many types of patios can be removed and reinstalled with the proper slope without too much expense.

Sump Pumps - Diagram

Photo: Umbrella Plumbing

Selecting Sump Pumps
If your water problem is serious (e.g., a high water table that gets higher when it rains), there’s no getting around it: You will need a sump pump. Here are some quick tips on choosing the right one for your needs:

• Choose a submersible pump over a pedestal pump if your sump basin has the space. Submersible pumps allow the sump pit to be covered with a lid, reducing pump noise and stopping debris from falling into the pit. An airtight lid also helps keep moist air from being released into your home.

• Buy a pump with a cast iron core, not one made of plastic. Cast iron helps to dissipate heat to the surrounding water, lengthening the life of the pump.

• To minimize the chance of clogs, the pump should have a no-screen intake design coupled with an impellor that can handle solids up to ½-inch in diameter.

• The switch should be mechanical, not a pressure switch, and the float should be solid so it can’t become waterlogged, fail to switch off, and burn out the pump.

• Look for one with an alarm to alert you when the water reaches a certain level.

Secondary and Backup Sump Pumps
A secondary pump installed right next to the first is a good idea too, especially if your basement has been converted to living space or if you store valuables there. If your primary pump fails or is overwhelmed, the back-up pump automatically takes over.

For extra insurance, a battery backup pump can also be installed. When the power goes out, as it often does in a storm, the battery-powered pump can continue pumping for up to two days, depending upon the demand.

Combination packages with two or three pumps are available. A less costly option is to install a water alarm and to keep a spare pump on hand should the primary pump fail.

Once you’ve invested and installed any necessary sump pumps, test them regularly and make sure the check valve is functioning, so water doesn’t flow back into the basement.


Easy DIYs for Your Best-Ever Backyard

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

Bob Vila Radio: Composters

I get alot of questions from folks who want to improve their garden soil with compost, but aren’t sure which kind of composter to buy.


Photo: products.bigfrogmountain.com


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

Traditionally, compost was made in a heap or a chickenwire cage, but now you can find molded plastic models that keep pests away. Some have drawers for easy access to finished compost. The newer rotating models help speed up the process because turning your compost is so easy; some you can even roll around the yard like a beach ball!

Set up your composter where it’ll get plenty of heat from the sun, and within range of your garden hose.

Layer yard waste with kitchen waste, and sprinkle it with water if it gets a little dry, but you don’t want it too wet. Composting is not the same as rotting, and it shouldn’t smell bad. Turn it each time you add to it to keep things processing evenly.

Don’t put away the composter once summer’s over; you can keep composting all year round!

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 compost, consider:

Quick Tip: Compost
5 Ways to a Greener Lawn
Quick Tip: Mulch

The New Apron-Front Sinks

Apron Front Sinks - Whitehaven

Kohler's “Whitehaven” sink with short apron, from $990 for 30” wide and $1090 for 36” wide. The enameled cast iron finish resists scratches, stains, and burns, and comes in 18 color options.


Apron-front sinks—also known as farmhouse sinks—can pose significant installation challenges. But as these farm sinks have grown in popularity, in part due to their vintage charm, manufacturers have stepped up and made these country kitchen staples much easier to incorporate. In the past, in order to accommodate the size and considerable weight of apron-front sinks, installation required either custom cabinetry or custom modification to standard base cabinets. Many newer models are simpler to retrofit. In addition, apron-front sinks now come in a wider range of materials, among them enameled cast iron, fireclay, stainless steel, and even copper or stone. Before you buy, however, consider this: The deep basin of a farm sink can hold large pans and its design also saves you from having to lean over. But the very same features that make it appealing for some homeowners might actually make the sink difficult for some people to use comfortably.

Apron-front sinks, once a great spot to scrub a deep pot, soak dirty dishes, or even wash the baby or pet, are a staple of traditional country style. Today’s models are now easier to retrofit or install in standard cabinets. Instead of a deep apron-front sink requiring a custom base cabinet, innovative manufacturers like Kohler and Native Trails have created shallower versions to fit in standard base cabinets with ease.

Kohler makes two shallow apron-front sink models—the cast iron “Whitehaven”, shown above, and the stainless steel “Vault,” below. To install these sinks, make a rough cut in a standard 30”- or 36”-wide sink base cabinet where the false drawer fronts usually appear. Because the apron is self-trimming, the cuts are hidden once the sink is in place; no gaps and no need for trim work. And even though it’s shallower than some apron front sinks of old, a 9” interior depth will easily accommodate taller pots, especially when paired with a gooseneck faucet.

Apron Front Sinks - Double

Kohler's “Vault” 36” Stainless Steel Sink, $750

One thing to note: The “Vault” requires top-mount installation, making it great for remodel scenarios involving existing cabinetry and laminate countertops. The installed sink sits flush to the counters. Crumbs can be easily brushed inside, so cleaning up is a snap.

Apron Front Sinks - Paragon

Native Trails' “Paragon” Sink in Antique Copper, $2,990

Native Trails specializes in hand-hammered copper sinks, and the “Paragon” apron sink is no exception. Created in 16 gauge hand-hammered recycled copper, the sink comes in Antique Copper and Brushed Nickel finishes. Measuring 33” wide with a generous 10″ interior depth, its apron measures just 6.5” high but provides plenty of style.

Note: Native Trails’ “Paragon” sink and Kohler’s “Whitehaven” sinks are undermount applications, as shown, so they are best for situations where new countertops will also be installed over the sink’s top edge for a clean look.

Visit Kohler and Native Trails for more information and where to buy.

For more on kitchen remodeling, consider:

Bob Vila Radio: Kitchen Sink
Cabinet Door Styles: What’s Yours?
Bathroom Essentials: Tubs, Showers and Sinks