October 2012 Archives - Bob Vila

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Bob Vila’s 5 “Must-Do” Projects for November

Take this month to make sure your house and yard are ready for winter.

November Home Improvement

Photo: Owens Corning

November is often a busy month, bringing with it a change of weather and a change of focus. Be sure your fall exterior maintenance is complete and that your home is weather-tight—you’ll be grateful to have taken these steps now when lower energy costs kick in during the winter. And if you were among the millions affected by Hurricane Sandy, be sure to promptly deal with any flooded areas of your home. Dampness promotes moisture-related issues from mold and mildew to rot and decay, so do everything you can to dry out wet basements now. Here are my 5 “Must Do” Projects for November

Whether you live in a hot or cold climate, the most important area in your home to insulate is your attic floor. This fully insulated “buffer zone” will not only help keep heat where you want it, but will also keep the lid on your energy costs.

The basic principle of good insulation is that you want to keep heat energy from doing what it does best—escaping. The goal is to trap a layer of unmoving air next to the heat source, which in this case is your heated home. In new framing, sprayed-on polyurethane foam, fiberglass, or cellulose insulation products—even recycled denim—all do a good job of trapping air in the wall cavity. If you’re retrofitting, you can have insulation blown in or lay batts yourself between floor joists to achieve the recommended R-values for your area.

The R-value of insulation is the measure of its resistance to heat flow. The higher the value the more effective it is. To see the recommended insulation R-values and cost estimates in your zip code, visit the Department of Energy. And be sure to eliminate drafts. Even a small draft can make your insulation less effective. Seal gaps around electrical outlets, ducts, windows and doors with foam sealants, caulking, or weatherstripping.

Autumn leaves are a gift to your garden that literally fall out of the trees, but leaving them untouched may smother the grass and lead to a variety of insect and disease problems. Instead, put them through a leaf shredder (or just run over them a few times with the mower), rake them up, and use them as fall mulch on flower or vegetable beds with a little fertilizer. Add compost and the leaves become soil by spring.

Plow And Hearth Circle Bird Feeder Bob Vila20111123 36322 Mycy5s 03. HANG A BIRD FEEDER
Sure, the majority of birds head south for the winter, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to stop buying birdseed. According to the Audubon Society, more than a hundred bird species supplement their natural diets with food offered at feeders, and when food is scarce in winter, human assistance is especially important. Feeders also provide pit stops for birds on the way to warmer climates, or returning home when spring finally arrives. Providing for your feathered friends means offering fresh water, shelter, and the right mix of quality seed. See our how-to for more details.

With colder temperatures on the horizon, getting your car into the garage is not only desirable but necessary. So while the weather remains mild, take a weekend to restore some order. Begin by clearing the clutter and taking stock of everything you want to keep. Next, figure out a plan that puts frequently used items close-at-hand and seasonal items (e.g., holiday decorations) in places that may be harder to reach. Finally, put your plan into action with smart organizational products that require minimal effort to use, like these 10 “Neat” Garage Storage Solutions. And remember to think vertically: taking advantage of both wall- and ceiling-mounted options makes good storage sense.

If you’ve still got an old mercury or mechanical contact thermostat, it’s easy to forget to adjust it when you leave the house or go to bed. Electronic programmable thermostats allow you to set target temperatures for each day of the week and each period of the day, depending on your schedule. According to the Department of Energy, you can save 5% to 15% a year on your heating bill by turning your thermostat back 10° to 15° for 8 hours (a savings of as much as 1% for each degree, provided the setback period is eight hours long). And if you are a confident DIYer, you may be able to install the device yourself.

Say Yes to Salvaged Wood


Photo: Fieldstone Hill Designs

When you enter my neighbor’s house, you are greeted with a warm wall of rustic and variegated wood. Framed in the center is a beautiful photograph of their children. As if that photograph weren’t inviting enough, the wall itself is a work of art. It is simple and elegant. The wood was salvaged from an old barn is one of many unique and personal details gracing their home.

Related: 11 Ways to Use Salvaged Wood

Salvaged wood—also called reclaimed, recycled, vintage, antique or just plain “old and used”—is one of the hottest trends in green design, and interior design in general.

Artists, builders, and regular Joes and Janes have found a zillion ways to use salvaged wood, from barn door dining tables to staircases made entirely of apple crates. The possibilities are limitless. And with a crowd of Pinterest boards dedicated to the topic, almost anyone can upcycle old wood into something useful and beautiful for their home.

If that’s not enough to convince you, here are some more reasons why you should consider salvaged wood for your next DIY project.

Project by Joanne Palmisano Photo Susan Teare

Project by Joanne Palmisano / Photo: Susan Teare

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Solar Power On the Go from Solio

Solio Classic 2 Solar Charger

Solio Classic 2 Solar Charger

When you lose power, as many people have recently in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the lights going out isn’t the only issue. Our reliance on mobile phones means that, when their batteries run cold, we’re really left in the dark.

Perhaps the solution is simply tapping into the power source that predates our oldest ancestors—the sun.

When topped off, the Solio Classic 2 solar charger can give you enough juice to revive a smartphone up to three times (before the charger itself needs to be recharged).

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Bob Vila Radio: Patching Drywall

Drywall has been the wall finishing material of choice for most of a century, because it’s so easy to install and finish. And when it’s damaged, it’s easy to repair.

Patching Drywall

Photo: charlesandhudson.com


Listen to BOB VILA ON PATCHING DRYWALL, or read the text below:

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Renovation Road Trip: Framing a Switch Box in Oregon


For our final stop on the Renovation Road Trip, we made the long trek from Racine, WI to Portland, OR, where we met Heather from Just a girl with a hammer.

Yes, it was our final stop, but the very first time on our journey that we were tripped up by a project. Heather had a couple electrical questions, one of which involved a ceiling-box-shaped patch in her living room ceiling. She was hoping it could be used for a light.

Uncovering the box was simple enough. First I scored a line around the perimeter of the patch. Then I used the claw end of a hammer to gently break away the drywall.

Framing a Switch Box - Ceiling Box

Photo: Meryl Rose Phillips

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5 Things to Do with… Empty Wine Bottles

Wine bottles, though made of glass, are actually quite strong. For durability and as a safety precaution, manufacturers make them from very thick, shatter-resistant glass.

Can they break? Sure, but usually on account of a person’s carelessness. Picture frames, vases, and other home accessories made of glass are more likely to be unsafe. So, what’s the point? You should use wine bottles to build stuff in your home. Here are five inspiring DIY ideas to get you going.



Wine Bottle DIY - Lantern

DIY Wine Bottle Lantern

Kristina from BobVila.com came up with this simple yet conversation-starting wine bottle lamp project. The trick? A speciality drill bit designed for tile and glass.



Wine Bottle DIY - Drinking Glasses

Repurposed Wine Bottle Drinking Glasses

Tyler from Plastolux used a vintage bottle cutter (check a secondhand store or eBay) to create these bold drinking glasses out of spent wine bottles.



Wine Bottle DIY - Torch

DIY Wine Bottle Torch

With a few fittings from the hardware store, an old wine bottle becomes an excellent, outdoor-use torch (download the free plans or purchase an easy-to-assemble kit).



Wine Bottle DIY - Planter

Repurposed Wine Bottle Planter

Claire from She Knows Living figured out a great way to upgrade an old wine bottle into a hanging planter, complete with a mini beer bottle partner.



Wine Bottle DIY - Chandelier

DIY Wine Bottle Chandelier

Having spotted a wine bottle chandelier that was $400 from a chain store, Caitlin and Brandon did what any good DIYers would do—made one themselves (and for a mere $50)!

For more on repurposing, consider:

5 Things to Do with… Bottle Caps
20 Clever Ideas for Repurposed Storage
20 “Why Didn’t I Think of That” Ways to Decorate with Rope

Bob Vila Radio: Protecting Woodwork

Remodeling projects and furniture moving can sometimes have not-so-welcome side effects. Here’s how to protect your banisters and woodwork from damage while work is going on in your house:

Scratched Woo

Photo: bohemianhellhole.com


Listen to BOB VILA ON PROTECTING WOODWORK, or read the text below:

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Award-Winning Budget-Friendly Kitchen Makeover

See how designer Cheryl Hamilton-Gray turned a dated California kitchen into a budget-friendly dream come true for the owner.

Budget Kitchen Makeover

Designer Cheryl Hamilton-Gray's award-winning budget kitchen makeover. Photo: previewfirst.com

Besides wanting a budget-friendly, easily maintained kitchen with clean, contemporary lines, the owner of this 1950s-era bungalow had few instructions for designer Cheryl Hamilton-Gray, CKD, of Hamilton-Gray Design in Carlsbad, CA.

The rather generic-looking one-story house had a neutral style that could easily be adapted to the midcentury modern aesthetic the young homeowner prefers. Revamping the floor plan was the first step. Opening the kitchen to the living room flooded the space with natural light and created “a great-room effect,” says Hamilton-Gray.

Budget Kitchen MakeoverSmart shopping and attention to detail were key to the project. Hamilton-Gray made her way to IKEA, where she knew she’d find items to fit the homeowner-approved black, white, and gray color scheme. “IKEA cabinets are very reasonable, and if you buy cleverly and get a good installer, it’s a great product,” she says. 

There are plenty of convenience features behind the sleek surfaces, such as a floor-to-ceiling pull-out pantry, a roll-out trash-and-recycling unit, and deep drawers providing practical storage for everything from pots and pans to dishes and plastic containers.

Milk-glass door fronts on the upper cabinets surrounding the sink yield “a lovely element of reflection” that lightens and brightens the room, and makes the window appear larger, Hamilton-Gray says.

Besides the cabinets, Hamilton-Gray found the stainless steel sink at IKEA—“I was so impressed with the value and the design!”—as well as the appliances. The under-counter microwave is less expensive than similar drawer units, and its brushed metal controls and door handle blend with hardware on the cabinets and other appliances.

The slide-in stove is “an affordable way to get the built-in look.” The refrigerator, too, mimics the appearance of a built-in model. “There was enough depth in the wall to inset it,” Hamilton-Gray says. “It’s not counter-depth, but the installation gives it the look without the price.”

Budget Kitchen Makeover - NKBA 1

The aluminum toe-kick, which gleams like stainless steel, complements appliances, sink, and hardware. It provides the space with “a nice lift, contrasts with cabinet finish, and gives the base cabinets a wonderful floating effect.”

The homeowner fell in love with the sculptural faucet and made it the number one item on the his short wish list. Rather than spring for a pricey unit from a designer showroom, Hamilton-Gray found this affordable model at Home Depot; even better, it was marked down as part of a closeout sale.

The granite countertops were another closeout. “Most stone yards have what they call the ‘bone yard.’ It’s full of scraps, many of which are big enough for an island, a backsplash, or a contrasting accent piece.” Hamilton-Gray found this granite—which is similar to styles labeled Kashmir White or Azul Platino—in the bone yard. The vendor had discontinued it, because it wasn’t a big seller, but “it’s a great neutral [that] you can put it with anything.” It works especially well with this color combination.

Budget Kitchen Makeover - NKBA 2The cork floor tiles are as gentle on the feet as they were on the wallet. The durable, easy-maintenance squares, installed like vinyl or carpet tile, are a good choice for do-it-yourselfers. “There are such great possibilities with cork, it should be investigated for its great value,” she says. “And the color is a warm anchor for what could be a sterile black-and-white kitchen.”

Textured porcelain tile installed on the wall to the left of the refrigerator provides a nice break from the kitchen’s slick surfaces and “fits the look so beautifully.” The tiles cover the brick backside of the living room fireplace, since as Hamilton-Gray points out, “brick didn’t work with the crisp, clean look we wanted.”

Besides living up to its owner’s expectations, this attractive, easy-care, and high-functioning workspace won the National Kitchen and Bath Association’s 2012 National Design Competition’s Budget-Friendly Kitchen Award.

Cheryl Hamilton-Gray, CKD, of Hamilton-Gray Design, offered the following budget kitchen makeover strategies:

• Negotiate: Ask everyone you deal with if there’s any flexibility in their pricing.

• Set priorities: Choose a couple of materials or design elements that are most important to you and make them your splurge items. Be flexible with all other choices.

• Save on appliances: Consider black or white appliances to avoid paying the premium for stainless steel. Remember that black appliances are easier to match than white, which varies somewhat between manufacturers.

• Salvage sources: Explore alternative shopping sources like Habitat for Humanity’s Habitat ReStores, salvage yards, thrift and antique stores, eBay—even yard sales and estate sales.

• Retails discounts: Ask vendors about overstocks, closeouts, floor samples, showroom models and upcoming sales.

• Shop for seconds: Handcrafted items such as ceramic tiles gain charm and character through slight variations in shape, color, or pattern.

• Do it yourself: Savings add up if you paint, hang wallpaper, or install floor tiles; advanced skills make an even greater bottom-line impact.

Visit Hamilton-Gray Design for more inspirational photos and info about the San Diego, CA-based firm.

Riding Out the Storm

Photo: csmonitor.com

If you are riding out the storm in a single-family home, make sure you have a plan for the worst-case scenario. A blown-out window or garage door opening can create a serious hazard for the entire house. Changing air pressures can literally take the roof off a home.

Sandy’s wind speeds don’t seem to compare with those of Hurricane Andrew in 1992, but the size and strength suggest it may rank among the worst US storms. Take steps now to secure doors and windows and tape large expanses of glass, particularly picture windows and patio doors. Keep window treatments closed and identify a safe room where the family can huddle in the event of a blow-out.

If your house becomes uninhabitable, wait for the eye of the storm to bring a brief lull, which might allow you to seek shelter with neighbors.

For more on hurricane preparedness, consider:

Waiting for Sandy
Be Prepared for Natural Disasters
Hurricane Sandy: Disaster Preparedness

Waiting for Hurricane Sandy

Waiting for Hurricane Sandy

Photo: David Gard/The Star-Ledger

[Editor’s Note: At time of posting, Hurricane Sandy is still hundreds of miles off the Atlantic coast and has yet to make its expected landfall in central New Jersey. Bob Vila Nation contributor John V. of Our Home from Scratch blogs from a Philadelphia suburb in South Jersey, where he’s spent the last 48 hours readying his home for the storm. What follows is John’s latest blog post.]

Hey guys!  Hope this weather filled week finds you well. Lisa and I are pretty much smack dab in the middle of the path of Hurricane Sandy.

Hurricane Sandy Trajectory

Photo: Weather.com

It’s not supposed to get terrible until sometime tomorrow. We’ve heard the eye of the storm will make landfall around Ocean City, NJ sometime in the early hours of Tuesday morning (1:00 AM or so). This is really the first major hurricane we’ve ever experienced. Last year we had Irene, but I think that was a tropical storm by the time it reached us. Here’s how our Hurricane Sandy preparation is going… Read the rest of this entry »