September 2012 Archives - 4/8 - Bob Vila

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20 “Why Didn’t I Think of That” Ways to Decorate with Rope

‘Knot’ just for sailing fanatics or decorating summer beach houses anymore, rope has found its way into homes of every style. Typically made from cotton or hemp that’s been braided or twisted, rope combines industrial functionality with a homegrown, natural look and feel. As an added bonus, it wears well and ages beautifully.

Whether used as dresser pulls or a stairway banister, rope can be simultaneously decorative and practical. The opportunities to use it in your home design are limited only by your imagination—or by your glue gun!

1. Rope-suspended bunkbeds

Rope Beds


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How To: Dry Hydrangeas

How to Dry Hydrangea


The end of the summer is just days away but instead of celebrating the season, the last bright blooms are starting to look like a symbol of summer’s end. If dried now though, hydrangeas—one of summer’s most decadent ensigns—can decorate your home throughout winter. There are a few ways to do it, all simple.

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Bob Vila Radio: Mechanical Ventilation

Until very recently, homes were built to breathe. Insulation was seldom used, windows were single-pane and drafts were just part of life. Home heating systems had no problem finding oxygen for combustion, attics were naturally ventilated and fresh outdoor air always found its way in somehow.

Mechanical Ventilation



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App Review: DIY Kids

DIY App for Kids

Social media doesn’t have to be an inactive activity. is a good example of social media that works best when participants actually move away from the computer and do something—in this case, build projects.

Aimed at children as young as six years old, the website presents its members with a very large collection of building challenges, many of which would even keep an adult interested. You build projects and share the results (as photos or videos) with other community members.

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Heat Up Kitchen Resale Value

Kitchens sell houses. That’s still true. But if you are remodeling your kitchen with an eye towards recapturing your investment, you’ll want to concentrate money on the elements that deliver the best return.

Kitchen Resale


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Bob Vila Radio: Tankless Water Heaters

If your home is like most in the U.S., you’re spending a fifth of your energy dollars heating your water. If your water heater needs replacing soon or you just want to reduce your energy footprint, tankless water heaters are a great investment.

Tankless Water Heater



Listen to BOB VILA ON TANKLESS WATER HEATERS, or read the text below:

Also known as instantaneous water heaters, tankless units work only on demand. Rather than storing and constantly re-heating a 40- to 80-gallon tank of water and incurring a 20% standby energy loss, they fire only when the hot water is called for at a tap or by an appliance.

Smaller homes are well-served with one mid-sized tankless heater, but a larger unit can provide 8.5 gallons per minute, making the cold shower a thing of the past. A tankless heater can also give a solar hot water system the boost it might need in a colder climate without using much fuel at all.

Some are electric, but gas-fired tankless units can save 40 percent over conventional electric water heaters. They hang on the wall, so you can reclaim some space in your closet or basement. and choosing a unit with an energy efficiency of .8 or more may earn you a tax credit!

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 water heaters, consider:

Smart Water: Faucets, Heaters, and Systems
Installing a Tankless Water Heater
Eliminating Basement Moisture

Bob Vila Radio: Roofing Options

Whether you like the classic look of slate or the long life of metal, when it’s time for a new roof, there’s something for everyone.

Roofing Options



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Bob Vila Radio: Water Spots

Water spots on ceilings and walls aren’t just unsightly–they can be a symptom of a much bigger problem that needs attention. Blistering or peeling paint, loose plaster, yellow or brown streaks, and spotting are all caused by chemicals in the wall material reacting to water that shouldn’t be there.

Water Spots



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Enter Week 3 of our GE Appliances Give-Away Now!


Today marks the start of WEEK 3 in our four-week GE Appliances Home Improvement Give-Away. If you weren’t lucky enough to win the first week’s GE Hybrid Stainless Steel Interior Dishwasher ($699 MSRP) or last week’s GE Profile Slide-In Double Oven Electric Range ($2,799), perhaps this will be your lucky week!

ENTER TODAY and every day (through midnight EST Friday, September 21) to be eligible to win a new GE GeoSpring Hybrid Electric Water Heater, valued at $1,299 MSRP.


The GE GeoSpring Hybrid Electric Water Heater combines innovative heat pump technology with standard electric elements to deliver all the hot water you need at a fraction of the cost of traditional electric models. Using a heat pump as the primary means of heating, the unit absorbs heat in ambient air and trasnfers it into the water. Since the electric elements are only used when a faster recovery is required, the GeoSpring uses 62% less electricity than the conventional electric water heater. And that translates into annual savings of as much as $325 for the average homeowner (even more for those who qualify for Energy Star incentives and rebates).

GE-GeoSpring-Hybrid-Electric-Water-Heater-ControlPanelAdditional features of the GeoSpring include:

• An integrated control panel that offers exclusive features, like a “vacation mode” that lowers water temperature while you’re away and automatically restores it the day before your return.

• The GeoSpring offers greater control over water temperature, allowing you to adjust in one degree increments between 100 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit.

• Featuring the same footprint and connections as conventional electric water heaters, the GeoSpring can be installed quickly and easily.

For official rules and entry, click here. Be sure to enter Bob Vila’s GE Appliances Home Improvement Give-Away daily to increase your odds of winning—and come back next week when one lucky winner will have the chance to win a GE Profile Front-Load Washer with Steam and SmartDispense™ technology (MSRP $1,299) and companion dryer (MSRP $1,099).

To learn more about the new GE GeoSpring Hybrid Electric Water Heater and other innovative products, visit GE Appliances.

The “Bob Vila GE Appliances Home Improvement Give-Away” sweepstakes is open only to permanent legal U.S. residents of the 48 contiguous states and the District of Columbia; residents of Alaska and Hawaii  are not eligible. Void in all other geographic locations. No purchase necessary. Void where prohibited. Contest Period runs from 12:00 a.m. (EST) Saturday, September 1, 2012 through midnight (EST) Friday, September 28, 2012. One entry per household per day on Alternative means of entry for Drawing is available by faxing your name and address to 508-437-8486 during the applicable Entry Period. Odds of winning depend on the number of eligible entries received. See Official Rules.

MERV Ratings: What Do They Mean?

MERV Ratings


When we set out to build a new construction home, we had a lot of research to do. Having lived in NYC apartments for the previous 20 years made the job a lot harder. We’d always relied on a superintendent to think about the furnace, the water heater, and all the other systems that made our building run. So we had a lot of catching up to do.

Related: The Meaning Behind GREEN

Now that our home has been built, we have begun doing regular maintenance on our HVAC system. In the process, we’ve been faced with something called a MERV filter. MERV? Like, Griffin? Or is that some robot from Star Wars? I had no idea. So for the uninitiated (like I was), here’s a quick primer on MERV ratings and what they mean:

What Is MERV?
MERV stands for Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value. Or in English, “how effective is your air filter?” MERV ratings range from 1-16. The higher the MERV rating on a filter, the fewer dust particles and other contaminants can pass through it. The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) designed the MERV scale to represent a filter’s worst possible performance at removing particles .3 to 10 microns in size (that’s really small!).

Some of the common particles that filters are tested for include pollen, dust mites, textile and carpet fibers, mold spores, dust, pet dander, bacteria and tobacco smoke. Most residential systems can adequately remove airborne contaminants with a filter rated MERV 7-12. MERV 13-16 is typically found in hospital and general surgery settings.

What do MERV Ratings Mean?


Higher Is Not Better
You might think that a higher MERV rating would automatically be better, but it’s not. The higher the MERV rating, the smaller the pores are for air to flow through an HVAC filter. This can create more resistance in airflow than a system is designed to manage, thus making it inefficient. Reducing the air flow in your system can actually worsen the air quality in your home and put a damaging amount of pressure on the fan of your furnace or AC system. So it is worth doing some research. Find out what the highest MERV rated filter is that still allows for maximum airflow in your system.

Change Filters Often
Filters with higher MERV ratings need to be changed more frequently (at least every three months) to avoid restricted airflow that can cause your system to work inefficiently or possibly even damage it.

We discovered that our MERV filters are a custom size, which makes them about three times more expensive than standard-size filters you can buy at big box stores. When you’re changing filters four times a year, that really adds up. So if you’re working with a builder to design a system, keep that in mind. As has happened so many times in this home-building journey, I discover I don’t even know what I don’t know! But figuring out what that MERV rating on my filter actually means does make me breathe a little easier.

For more on HVAC filters, consider:

How To: Choose the Right Furnace Filter
What You Might Not Know About HVAC Filters
Quick Tip: Improve Your Home’s Indoor Air Quality