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Solved! The Best Wood for Burning in the Fireplace

Learn which species will imbue your hearth with warmth and beauty while minimizing hazardous creosote buildup.

The Best Wood for Fireplaces

Photo: istockphoto.com

Q: My wife and I just bought our first home, complete with wood-burning fireplace. We’re excited—but unsure exactly what kind of wood to stock. What do you recommend?

A: Congratulations on your new home and fireplace. The ambient glow and cozy warmth will make even the coldest nights a pleasure. On a practical level, a wood-burning fireplace may also help you lower your heating bills a bit, and will certainly come in handy in the event of a power loss.

Choose wood that provides maximum burn-time while minimizing the buildup of creosote. If left unchecked, the walls of your chimney will become coated with creosote—the highly flammable, blackish-brown tar residue of wood burn. This lining restricts air-flow and creates a fire hazard; creosote is also toxic and could negatively impact your health. So while you can clean a chimney with creosote remover, it’s wise to use wood that produces less of the noxious substance.

RELATED: 10 Things Never to Burn in the Fireplace

In general, hardwoods like oak, ash, and beech are more difficult to ignite, but they last a long time. Softwoods like fir, pine and cedar make more smoke, and therefore more creosote. That said, these evergreens contain fragrant resins and oils that easily ignite and are perfect for kindling. You can also try a commercial brand like Fatwood Fire-Starter ($44.95 for a 35-pound box at Plow & Hearth).

Always burn wood that is dry to the touch and seasoned (prepared for burning by allowing excess moisture to fully evaporate). Freshly cut green logs produce more smoke, making them hazardous, especially indoors. And only burn logs that fit easily into your fireplace. Logs thicker than five inches in diameter should be split before use. If you cut your own wood, remember it can take six months to two years to fully dry, depending on species. Wood purchased from a supplier should be fully seasoned and ready to use.

Purchase well ahead of the winter rush. There is no fixed cost for firewood; price fluctuates due to market factors, including weather, supply, and demand. A cord is the standard unit of measurement for firewood, and is equal to 128 cubic feet. Some suppliers also sell smaller quantities called “face cords.” A cord can cost a minimum of $225 for softwoods like fir. Mixed woods and hardwoods are approximately $300 to $600 per cord.

While you can purchase firewood online, it is best to find a reputable local supplier. This cuts down on shipping costs and helps prevent environmental damage. For example, buying special varieties from other states or countries can lead to invasive species being imported to your area. Seven states list their local firewood suppliers on Firewood Scout. Prices vary a lot, and local suppliers may not list prices online, so you’ll need to call first.



The Best Wood for Fireplaces

Photo: istockphoto.com

Now that you understand the basics, here’s the lowdown on the best wood for the fireplace.

1. Oak is one of the densest and highest-energy woods, making it a gold standard for wood fires.

The available heat content in firewood is measured in British Thermal Units (BTUs). Depending on the subspecies, a cord of oak can contain 24 to 39 million BTUs. Oak logs burn with a low flame and create a steady, hot fire. Freshly cut oak can take a year or two to dry, so make sure you are buying fully seasoned logs. Check for clues to dryness including radial cracks, dullness of color and smell, and loose bark.

Like all hardwoods, oak trees take much longer to grow than softer woods like pine or birch. Many old-growth forests are endangered, so you will want to make sure that your hardwoods are sourced sustainably. Look for the Forest Stewardship Council’s certification, which provides forest management standards internationally and in the U.S. Keep in mind that oak trees reproduce very slowly: Only about one acorn in 10,000 will become an oak tree! The best practice is to vary your firewood sources, using hardwoods like oak in winter, and softer woods for fall and spring.

2. Ash is one of the best overall choices, favored for its user-friendly nature.

The Best Wood for Fireplaces

Photo: istockphoto.com

It has an easy-to-split grain, low smoke levels, and long-lasting burn rate. Ash is harder to source than oak, so contact a local supplier and ask whether they include ash in their mixed-wood cords—and how much it costs. Complement ash with other hardwoods, like ironwood, elm, hickory, oak, maple, walnut, and beech.

Ash’s low moisture content means it doesn’t require a long drying time, but seasoned ash is still the safest and longest-lasting choice for an indoor fire. Seasoned logs smoke less and form less creosote. When buying logs, look for gray, dusty bark and lighter, whitish wood.

3. Douglas Fir is among the most popular softwoods for home fires and is plentiful throughout North America.

Because of their fast growth rate, Douglas firs are a favorite choice for reforestation efforts—making it easier to find sustainably sourced firewood. Douglas fir is also a high-energy softwood. A cord of fir contains about 26 BTUs. Fir splits easily and creates moderate, steady heat. It is an excellent choice year-round, and during the holidays, nothing beats its mild, evergreen scent. Contact a local supplier for availability and price.

4. Fruitwoods like apple, cherry, and pear wood produce hot, fragrant fires.

These hardwoods have low flames and generate high temperatures. Their energy content ranges from 20 to 26 million BTUs per cord. Fruitwoods are excellent for home fireplaces, as well as outdoor pits and grills (chefs enjoy the tangy, smoky flavor apple and cherry impart to meats and vegetables). Applewood fires in the home are especially noteworthy for their sweet, welcoming scent.

Apple, cherry, and pear are considered specialty woods—used primarily for special occasions like a dinner party or holiday. Commercial orchards are the primary source of fruitwoods, since fruit trees rarely grow in abundance in the wild, so their main downside is price: J.C.’s Smoking Wood Sticks, for instance, are available on Amazon for $37.99 for an 11-pound box. Consider contacting a local orchard or firewood supplier, especially if you want to use fruitwood for heat, not only grilling.

5. For milder fall and spring weather, select a lower heat, quicker burning softwood like birch.

That said, birch is a northern species, and is used by many people to keep warm in winter too. As a softwood, birch has a high energy content—about 20 million BTUs per cord, comparable with hardwood species like walnut and cherry. Birch fires contain beautiful blue flames, and the logs themselves are decorative, with silvery bark that can complement your home décor.

Depending on whether you use black, yellow, or white birch, burn times and heat levels will vary. The most important consideration is the dryness of the logs. Firewood should contain no more than 15 to 20 percent moisture content. For softwoods like birch, this means a curing process of at least three to six months.

Be mindful of your state’s laws and guidelines for purchasing firewood.

This Firewood Map will tell you exactly what you to look for in your locale, including pest information. You can also check the USDA’s Plants Database to make sure you are not accidentally buying an endangered species. Oleander and poisoned varieties of oak, ivy, and sumac should never be burned, because they release toxic substances.


How To: Match Paint

Find the exact shade of blue—or any other hue you have in mind—for your paint project with one of these seven color-matching techniques.

How to Match Color

Photo: istockphoto.com

Over time, walls throughout the home accumulate dings, nail holes, even random spots where some not-so-temporary tape pulled away a chunk of paint. That’s when you pull out the spackling compound, putty knife, and touch-up paint.

Not sure where that old can went? Or, maybe you found it, but the original paint is too old to use with any success. No matter—you can still get by matching what you need to a chip of paint.

Of course, that’s not the only time that knowing how to match paint can come in handy. The same process also aids homeowners who are restoring an older home to its original glory, replicating a hue seen on Pinterest, and framing an entire room’s color scheme around a single a color in a painting or even a throw pillow. Whatever your situation, there are several ways you can match paint to your desired color, even without knowing the paint’s brand or name. While a 100-percent match is not always possible, these tricks should get you as close as possible to the intended shade that no one will notice the tiny discrepancy except for you.





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METHOD 1: Eyeball It

If an absolute match isn’t critical, you might eyeball the paint options at the store and choose one that seems the closest to the color you want to match. Now, you’re unlikely to use this method when trying to match existing paint in a highly visible area—say, where your living room gallery wall used to hang—but it’s a perfectly acceptable option when you just want a color that comes close. For example, you might not need the precise robin’s egg blue you saw painted in an adorable nursery or the exact shade of navy spotted on a painted buffet via Instagram (but it pays to pick up a swatch and hang it up on your soon-to-be accent wall or piece of furniture destined for painting to make sure you’re happy with it before you start).

RELATED: 10 Color Mistakes Everyone Makes

METHOD 2: Paint Matching Apps

Many of the larger paint companies—including Behr and Sherwin-Williams—offer mobile apps to make paint matching a breeze. Each works a little differently, but the gist is the same: Download to your smartphone, snap a photo of the painted surface you want to match (in natural light, for best results), upload it to the app, and voila! You’ll get that manufacturer’s closest colors. Bonus: You’ll even be able to preview recommended accent colors and design the perfect palette from the comforts of your own home.

METHOD 3: Pull From a Fabric or Thread

7 Methods for How to Match Paint Color

Photo: istockphoto.com

Maybe you don’t have a sample of paint, but you do have a swatch of fabric, a spool of thread, a favorite shirt, or a throw pillow in your desired color. Just bring this “sample” to your local paint store and let the technicians there use their color-matching wizardry to find the closest matching hue of paint. Just about every paint store has a spectrophotometer, which is a device that breaks down color into its various wavelengths, and then analyzes them to determine the exact combination of paint pigments needed to recreate the desired color. Then, the technician can match the findings to the closest color of that brand’s paint.

METHOD 4: Take a Photo

Even without using a color app, go ahead and take a picture with your phone (again, while the object or room is illuminated with natural light) and bring that photo to your favorite paint store. They’ll be able to match the color very closely with their in-store spectrophotometer. Keep in mind that, other than eyeballing, this is the option likeliest to be a little off, due to variations in color display on phone cameras. Still, if you’re not dead-set on a perfect match, you should get satisfactory results.

METHOD 5: Compare to Paint Chips

7 Methods for How to Match Paint Color

Photo: istockphoto.com

Want to match that pale yellow, bright blue, or stormy-sky-gray wall or furniture? Then head to your favorite paint store, and gather up a selection of paint chips close to the hue you are trying to match. Bring the chips home and hang them on the surface whose color you want to duplicate, then observe in multiple lights, including daylight and lamplight. Whichever chip matches most closely is the winner.

RELATED: The Most Popular Paint Colors in America



7 Methods for How to Match Paint Color

Photo: amazon.com

METHOD 6: Enlist a Color Matcher

Once only within the budgets and skillsets of scientists, handheld color analyzers—one popular model is the Color Muse, which sells for around $60 on Amazon—are now usable by anyone and within the budget of most do-it-yourselfers. These small gadgets, which work in tandem with an app, are quick and easy to use: Press the sensor against the colored item—be that painted wall, a swatch of fabric, even the surface of something more natural like a leaf—and the sensor does the rest. By isolating the color, it blocks all sources of external, ambient lighting (which varies throughout the day) and uses its own consistent internal light to get a precise read. Give it a minute, and you’ll get an analysis of the color’s makeup. Most of these devices, including the Color Muse, also allow you to compare colors, create palettes, and browse through “inspiration galleries” on the gadget’s corresponding mobile app.

METHOD 7: Cut Your Own Sample

When all else fails and you need a perfect match for an already-painted wall, collect a sample to take to the paint store. Using a sharp utility blade, score a small square on a section of painted drywall that’s not too terribly conspicuous. You’ll need a chip that’s at least one-inch square for the best results.

At the paint store, staff will use their spectrophotometer to analyze the chip and match it to their brand’s closest color. Be aware, however, that because most of the big-name brands of paint do their best to avoid duplication by using proprietary formulations, you might not be able to get a 100-percent match, although you should be able to get close enough to fool just about any casual eye.

Once you have your new paint, remember to patch the spot where you took the sample. Use spackle to fill in any depressions or gouges, smooth it with a scraper or dull blade, and let it dry completely before painting the wall.


The Best Tools for Tackling Every Clog

Whatever the cause or location of the clog you're dealing with, you'll find the right fix in this capable collection of plumbing tools.

The Best Tools for Tackling Every Clog

Photo: istockphoto.com

Whether it’s water rising dangerously high in a toilet bowl or a child’s pronouncement that the bathtub water just won’t go down, discovering a clog is often the start of hours spent experimenting with coat hangers, plungers, and caustic chemicals.

But the professionals know better. When asked about the best ways to successfully remove clogs, Daniel O’Brian, technical expert for leading online plumbing retailer SupplyHouse.com, first stressed the importance of using the right tools. “Homemade contraptions to remove severe clogs not only take time to put together but can also damage or get stuck in pipes, potentially making the situation worse.”

When it comes to removing clogs, it’s tough to beat augers (also called “snakes”), which are available in a range of price points and power points. They’re just what you want close at hand when you’re confronted with a clog. And whether you’re looking for a reliable way to remove clogs around the house, or you’re looking to invest in powerful tools for your plumbing business, SupplyHouse.com has the solutions you need. Here are their recommendations for the best drain snakes for tackling common clogs.

CLOGGED CONDITION: Toilet

BEST TOOL: TRAPSNAKE 6-foot Toilet Auger (Milwaukee)

The Best Tools for Tackling Every Clog

Photo: supplyhouse.com

When the toilet threatens to overflow, the first thing most homeowners grab is the plunger. Plunging works well for removing simple waste clogs, but a plunger is only going to add to the problem if the clog is a little more serious. (If, for instance, little Tommy has flushed his T-shirt down the toilet.) As well, vigorous plunging can be messy—and it can also dislodge the wax seal beneath the fixture or force whatever’s clogging the toilet deeper into the drainpipe.

If a couple of quick plunges don’t work, you need an auger. To choose the right auger for your household, O’Brian recommends finding one that’s in line with your budget and is also “a good fit for your toilet and easy to store”—such as the Milwaukee TRAPSNAKE 6-foot Toilet Auger (available from SupplyHouse). The TRAPSNAKE is available in either a manual hand-crank or a battery-powered option and features a telescoping extension that helps you insert the 6-foot cable through the toilet’s trap. Like most augers, it has a “forward” and “reverse” setting that makes it easier to maneuver the cable through the drain and break up or remove the clog. This tool is perfect for homeowners who suffer from frequently clogged toilets as well as building maintenance workers who need to maintain heavily used public toilets.

Pro Tip: Ease the cable through the trap, but don’t force it—feeding it through may take a little finessing. Remember: Porcelain toilet bowls are not impervious to cracking.

CLOGGED CONDITION: Sink Drain

BEST TOOL: M12™ AirSnake™ Drain Cleaning Air Gun Kit

“Sink clogs can be caused by putting things down the drain that shouldn’t go down there, from grease and food particles in the kitchen to hair and excessive amounts of toothpaste in the bathroom,” O’Brian says. Fortunately, most sink clogs are simple fixes, requiring nothing more than disconnecting the P-trap beneath the sink, where many clogs settle. When the clog lies beyond the trap, however, compressed air is a great way to clear it.

The Milwaukee M12 AirSnake Drain Cleaning Air Gun (available from SupplyHouse) uses air to remove even stubborn clogs, and it does the job so well that it will even work through drain covers. The AirSnake’s pressure—which you can see in action in this video—can be adjusted from 0 to 50 psi, providing the appropriate pressure for dislodging small or large clogs up to 35 feet from the drain. But the AirSnake’s utility isn’t limited to sink drains: With special attachments, you can use the AirSnake to clear clogs from toilets and showers too. If you’re looking to add a powerful clog-blasting air gun to your plumbing arsenal, you can’t beat the AirSnake for power and versatility.

Pro Tip: Always put a bucket under a sink trap before applying pressure to the drain. If the trap is old or loose, there’s a chance it could break, and you’ll want to catch the mess.



The Best Tools for Tackling Every Clog

Photo: supplyhouse.com

CLOGGED CONDITION: Tub or Shower Drain

BEST TOOL: Hair Snake

The Best Tools for Tackling Every Clog

Photo: supplyhouse.com

When you find yourself standing in a couple of inches of water during your shower, it’s time to clear the drain. “As anyone with field experience can attest, clogs can be caused by almost anything. However, hair is the most common culprit,” O’Brian says. When you’re almost up to your ankles in water, hair, and soap scum, you can often unclog the drain with a simple hair snake, such as the 20-inch Hair Snake by Brasscraft (available from SupplyHouse). Its plastic rod features tiny hooked barbs that grab on to hair masses and pull them easily from the drain.

Pro Tip: Always use a strainer or hair catcher in the bathtub, and clear it out after every use. You’ll cut down on clogs and probably keep your tub cleaner too.

CLOGGED CONDITION: Sewer Line

BEST TOOL: P-SE2-E Speedrooter 92

The Best Tools for Tackling Every Clog

Photo: supplyhouse.com

The last thing any homeowner wants is sewage backing up in a shower or sink, but that’s exactly what can happen if the main sewer line—the line that runs underground from the house to the municipal sewer line—becomes clogged. Tree roots are a major cause of sewer line clogs, especially in homes with old sewer lines. Once roots fill the line, they block drainage and cause sewage to back up.

Household augers just aren’t powerful enough for removing clogs in buried sewer lines. When it comes to cutting through fibrous tree roots, General Pipe Cleaners’ P-SE2-E Speedrooter 92 (available from SupplyHouse) won’t let you down. Its drum holds 100 feet of 5/8-inch or 3/4-inch cable, and the tool features a 30-inch guide tube that reduces cable whipping and keeps your hands safe during operation.

Pro Tip: Older homes may not have a clean out (access to the main sewer line inside the house), in which case you can remove one of the toilets in the house and use that as the entry point for the auger.



The Best Tools for Tackling Every Clog

Photo: supplyhouse.com

CLOGGED CONDITION: Vent Stack

BEST TOOL: M18™ Switch Pack™ Sectional Drum System

While homeowners don’t often associate that large pipe that extends from their roof with their home’s drainage system, it plays an integral role. Each plumbing fixture (sink, tub, toilet, and so on) connects, via a vent pipe, to the main vent stack that exits the roof. When a clog forms in the vent stack, it blocks the free flow of air, which creates a vacuum in the vent pipes and slows (or prevents) drainage from any fixture in the house. Gurgling noises coming from behind the walls can be signs of a vent stack clog. The culprit could be a wasp’s or bird’s nest, or even the carcass of a small animal like a squirrel or rat that fell into the pipe and became trapped.

Snaking a vent stack from the roof would entail carrying a heavy auger up there and running an extension cord to power it, but Milwaukee Tool recently launched a revolutionary idea in augers. The M18 SwitchPack Sectional Drum System (available from SupplyHouse) is equipped with backpack straps to help pros carry the equipment—leaving hands free to hold on to ladder rungs—and a battery to eliminate the need for an extension cord. As seen here, the combination makes it much easier to transport a powerful auger not only up to vent stacks but also down to crawl spaces. The versatile auger is powerful to boot, and you can switch between 3/8-inch, 1/2-inch, and 5/8-inch cables to tackle snaking jobs of any size.

Pro Tip: Rubber gloves can become twisted in a cable when it’s spinning, so opt for cotton gloves. Or, if you prefer wearing rubber gloves to protect your hands from coming into contact with disagreeable substances, slip a pair of cotton gloves on top.



This article has been brought to you by SupplyHouse.com. Its facts and opinions are those of BobVila.com.


All You Need to Know About Window Seats

Create a comfy zone that lets you stay warm while gazing at the outside world.

All You Need to Know About Window Seats

Photo: istockphoto.com

When it comes to coziness, nothing compares to a window seat. Nestled against the glass, bordered on both sides by narrow walls, and amply supplied with cushions and pillows, these benches offer comfort and relaxation while providing a view to the outside world. If the idea of curling up with a good book or a bite to eat in the warmth of a window seat has you longing to add one to your home, keep reading. We’ll let you know how to create a wonderful window seat—on just about any budget.

Whence the Window Seat?

The popularity of the window seat is nothing new. The first ones—small, ornate, backless sofas positioned in front of tall multi-paned windows—were all the rage among the elite during Britain’s Georgian era (1714 to 1830). They boasted tufted seats upholstered in luxurious fabrics often chosen to match the draperies of parlors and sitting rooms.

The timeless allure of a comfortable spot in front of a window isn’t limited to that British period—classical, contemporary, and even rustic American architectural styles all make use of window seats. Those built into homes today are perhaps even more appealing than their predecessors, because they’re often set into recessed alcoves, bringing a greater sense of privacy and security.



All You Need to Know About Window Seats

Photo: Zillow home in Piedmont, CA

Design Details

When designing your window seat, incorporate details that make it feel warm and welcoming. The following design and décor suggestions
will help get the creative juices flowing.

All You Need to Know About Window Seats

Photo: istockphoto.com

• Consider adding drawers or cubbies under the bench to stow books, toys, sewing, or other items. You can also sneak in storage with recessed shelving on the inside of alcove walls. It’s convenient to have things you’ll use while sitting there handy, but with storage at a premium in most homes, that area beneath a window seat shouldn’t go to waste.

• Don’t skimp on the stuffing. A seat cushion should be a minimum of three inches thick, and you’ll want to add large pillows if you plan to sit sideways and lean back against one wall. Bolster rolls are great additions to the sides.

• Enhance the appeal of the window seat with a bulkhead—a dropped (lower) area of the ceiling. Bulkheads over window seats are often arched for a secluded feel, but they can also run straight across from one side of an alcove to the other.

• Trim a built-in window seat with molding that matches the rest of the room for cohesion—you don’t want the seat to look like an afterthought. Use the same baseboard around the bottom of the seat and paint or stain the wood to match. Matching the fabric of the window seat cushion to pillows or draperies also unifies the look.

• Install a deep windowsill. A sill that’s eight to 10 inches wide offers additional room for books, potted plants, or vases.

• Attach built-in benches along the window side of a breakfast nook to serve as informal seating for one side of your table.

Install blinds or light-blocking curtains that can be closed during the hottest part of the day if you have a south-facing window.

• Fake a seat. Can’t manage a built-in alcove? Create the snug allure of a window seat with smart decorating techniques. Simply placing two tall objects, such as bookshelves, cabinets, or highboys on either side of a window, and positioning a bench or even a sturdy cedar chest in between, will bring the feel of a window seat to a room.

All You Need to Know About Window Seats

Photo: istockphoto.com

Cost Considerations

The price you’ll pay for a new window seat varies widely, based on size, material, and whether you build it yourself or hire a carpenter. A basic, professionally installed five-foot window seat in a recessed alcove will run you between $2,500 and $3,500 and get you a painted unit made from finish-grade plywood; expect to pay an additional $300 to $1,500 for stained hardwood. When you start adding custom features and intricate trim, such as built-in bookcases, electrical outlets, and reading lights, you could easily pay up to another $1,000.

Building the window seat yourself will save you a substantially. The simple five-foot window seat described above will run approximately $250 in materials for painted plywood and $500 to $1,000 for hardwood. Installing pre-made cabinets for the seat will save you some labor, but will add another $100 to $350, depending on the cost of the cabinet. Of course, if you rearrange tall furniture to create a faux alcove and use Aunt Mary’s cedar chest for the seat, you’ll only be out the cost of the cushion and pillows.



DIY Tips for Building Your Own Window Seats

If you’re someone with finish carpentry skills, you should be able to construct and trim out a DIY window seat you’ll be proud of as the room’s focal point. Window seats are usually scratch built from hardwood or plywood, but pre-made cabinet bases and benches can also get you a great look. Keep the following tips in mind to get off to a good start.

• The height of the bench should not exceed the bottom of the window. If it’s any higher, the bench will show through the window from outside. It could also create a safety issue if the person on the seat leans on the window. Ideally, the window should be a minimum of six inches above the bench.

• The most comfortable height for a window seat (with cushion on) is between 16 and 21 inches. Standard chair seat height is right around 19 inches from the floor, so you have a little leeway here when constructing the bench.

• Minimum seating width (one side of the bench to the other) should at least 32 inches, which will allow one person to sit and face forward. If you plan to sit sideways, with your back against one wall of the alcove, the seat should be at least 48 inches wide. Don’t be afraid to go wider, however, if you have the room. A window seat that is 60 inches wide or more will offer additional seating.

• The depth of the seat (front to back) should be at least 16 inches for comfortable forward-facing sitting. It can be deeper if space allows. At 39 inches deep, built-in daybeds serve as side-sitting window seats, and they can double as an extra bed for guests, but the extra depth makes forward-facing sitting difficult unless you add extra cushions to the back of the seat.

• Don’t skip the electrical outlets. You may want to recharge your smartphone or work on your laptop while enjoying your window seat. Most local building codes require electrical wiring to be done by a licensed electrician.


Dos and Don’ts of Finishing Basement Walls

Find out what it takes to successfully “finish” a basement’s concrete walls to create a comfortable living space down below.

8 Dos and Don'ts for Finishing Basement Walls

Photo: istockphoto.com

With the cost of living space going up, many homeowners are looking down—creating a “finished” basement—to expand their home’s square footage. This can be an affordable solution to cramped quarters, but a basement’s concrete walls require special attention. Basements are surrounded by soil, allowing moisture to leak through cracks or seep through the concrete itself, resulting in damp or humid conditions. Read on for must-know info on what to do (and not do) when finishing basement walls to achieve quality, comfortable conditions.

RELATED: 12 Finishing Touches for Your Unfinished Basement

DO pull a permit before making major changes.

While community building rules differ, in general, you will not need a permit just to seal or paint the concrete basement walls. If you’re going to build new walls inside the existing concrete walls, however, and/or run wiring or plumbing in the walls, you probably will need a permit. Because basement remodels are not visible from the curb, some homeowners may consider skipping the permit application, but failure to obtain a permit can result in a number of problems. You may need to pay a steep fine or have to remove the walls if the local building authority finds out. What’s more, not getting a permit can hold up the sale of your home: When prospective buyers discover that your basement doesn’t match the description recorded in the county records, they may be unwilling to make an offer.

DON’T finish walls until the basement is dry.

Even if your basement walls have no visible cracks or leaks you may still have moisture issues. A simple DIY test will help you to find out. Tape a one-foot by one-foot square of plastic sheeting (plastic kitchen wrap will do) to the concrete wall in your basement with duct tape, and leave it in place for 24 hours. Then remove the tape and examine the sheeting. If condensation is present inside of the plastic, there’s a humidity problem.

If the moisture test showed condensation but the walls feel dry to the touch, the solution might be as simple as rolling on a coat of masonry sealant, such as DRYLOK Masonry Waterproofer (available from The Home Depot) on the concrete walls. In some cases, taking steps to keep water away from the foundation, such as installing gutters and downspouts, will reduce basement humidity. For visible leaks and standing water, waterproof your basement walls, which may include filling cracks or having an interior drain installed beneath the floor to direct water from leaks and seepage to a sump pump that will pump the water out.



8 Dos and Don'ts for Finishing Basement Walls

Photo: istockphoto.com

DO use wall construction materials designed for basements.

Building new walls inside the existing concrete walls is the standard way of finishing basement walls. Such a project requires a working knowledge of construction, so many homeowners hire a professional carpenter for the job. But if you’ve got the carpentry skills and want to DIY, know that local building codes often require the use of moisture-resistant and rot-resistant building materials in the basement.

• Use treated wood if the wood will come into contact with concrete, such as the wood floor plates of framed walls, or wood furring strips that attach directly to basement walls.

• Wood treated with alkaline copper quaternary (ACQ), a chemical that reduces rot, will corrode ordinary nails and screws, so all fasteners should be ACQ-compatible.

• If installing drywall panels, use moisture- and mildew-resistant drywall.

• When insulating concrete basement walls (a good idea because concrete basement walls are often cold), use rigid foam board insulation if the insulation will come into direct contact with the concrete wall. Fiberglass batt insulation can be damaged by moisture.

DO make allowances for wiring and pipes in new walls inside concrete walls.

If you want to run electricity in your basement wall, local codes will determine how many outlets you must install, and who can install the wiring (usually a licensed electrician). The standard rule here is to run the electrical wire through the ceiling joists above the wall, and then drop wiring down between the wall studs.

Existing pipes that run along the inside of concrete basement walls (a common issue) often create another problem. This can be solved by simply leaving the pipe in place and building the new wall just inside the pipe. For example, if the concrete wall has a three-inch drain pipe running along its face, build the new wall 3.5 inches from the concrete wall. You’ll lose those inches in living space, but it’s far simpler and less expensive than rerouting pipes.

DON’T forget to install an egress window if you’re adding a bedroom.

8 Dos and Don'ts for Finishing Basement Walls

Photo: menards.com

International Residential Code (IRC) requires the installation of an escape window in all basement bedrooms. The window opening should be a minimum width of 20 inches and at least 24 inches in height. In total, the window should offer 5.7 square feet of escape space, and the bottom of the window must be no higher than 44 inches off the floor. Installing an egress window involves excavating the soil away from the foundation, cutting through the basement wall, and installing the window and a window well, making it possible for a person to climb out. Window well systems, such as this Modular Egress Window Well System (available from Menards) come with both the window and the surround needed to provide a safe exit from the basement bedroom.

DON’T build “tip up” walls if the concrete floor is out of level.

The most common way of building a new wall is to construct it on the floor and then tip it up and attach it. That’s not the best way, however, if constructing a wall in a basement where the concrete floor is out of level, because the wall may be too high or too low in spots when tipped up. A better way is to first attach the top plate to the ceiling joists and then install the bottom plate to the concrete floor. After the plates are in place, measure and cut each vertical stud individually. This will give you a wall that fits perfectly. It’s a little slower, but you’ll get an exact fit.



8 Dos and Don'ts for Finishing Basement Walls

Photo: istockphoto.com

DO consider a modular basement wall system for a more DIY-friendly alternative.

You really need good carpentry skills to construct finished basement walls in the traditional way described above. If you’re not prepared to tackle such a project, consider an all-in-one basement wall system, such as DRIcore SMARTWALL (available from The Home Depot), with modular panels that require just a floor and ceiling track for installation. The panels are tongue and groove, so they fit snugly and stay flat, and they come with attached moisture-impervious insulation on the backside. Once installed, the panels can be painted, and you can install crown molding and baseboard for a finished look. The cost to finish your walls with DRIcore panels runs about $1.70 per square foot.

DON’T overlook professionally installed basement finishing systems.

While any competent general contractor or carpenter can install traditional walls, as discussed above, homeowners do have another option. Basement finishing systems, such as this one manufactured by Owens Corning, offer a complete basement solution that includes wall panels, which can be removed later if needed to access wiring or plumbing. The panels are mold and mildew resistant, and they damper sound as well. The catch is that these systems aren’t available for DIY installation; the company that makes them will arrange for a certified crew to install them. A professionally installed Owens Corning basement system could run as much as $30,000, but keep in mind that they finish the entire basement to above-grade quality, including installing flooring and ceiling materials.


Which Finish Is Right for Your Hardwood Floors?

Whether you're protecting brand-new wood floors or refinishing ones that are decades old, the task starts with selecting the right top coat. Get to know the differences between eight popular finishes to decide which one works best for your project.

8 Types of Hardwood Floor Finishes

Photo: istockphoto.com

You finally decided on the perfect hardwood for your floors—whether that’s a deep, rich walnut, a warm cherry wood, or a rustic oak. While there are many species of hardwood fit for flooring, each with its own look and own beauty, they all share one thing in common: They need a protective finish to keep them looking their best.

RELATED: 11 Tried-and-True Ways to Care for Hardwood Floors

Choosing the right top coat for newly installed wood floors or refinishing boards that are a little worse for the wear, however, can be a little intimidating. Hardwood floor finishes have varying levels of ease, durability, even glossiness—one of the most important aesthetic considerations after choosing your preferred wood. Make your decision a little easier by brushing up on the basics of the eight most popular types of hardwood floor finishes, all outlined below.

1. Water-Based Polyurethane

Best for: Floors in need of a clear finish that dries quickly
Pros: Easy application and cleanup; low odor and low VOCs; very smooth and shiny finish; no yellowing
Cons: High-gloss water-based polyurethane magnifies every scratch and scrape

Although water-based polyurethane sometimes looks a little milky in the can, it dries clear and resists yellowing over time. While most homeowners prefer a high-gloss water-based polyurethane, you’ll also find satin and semi-gloss options. Made with synthetic resins and plasticizers, water-based polyurethane is a very durable finish that resists moisture fairly well (although you’ll still want to mop up any spills or leaks ASAP). Otherwise, it’s easy to care for floors with this finish—a broom and a damp mop is generally all you’ll need. Never wax polyurethaned floors, as that can dull the finish.

These are just a few of the qualities that make water-based polyurethane one of the most popular hardwood floor finishes for the home. Water-based polyurethane also scores high in the environmentally friendly category, releasing far fewer volatile organic compounds (VOCs) than many of the other options. It has little odor during application, which is a big benefit if you plan on finishing the floors yourself. It dries quickly, too: You’ll typically only need to wait two to four hours between coats (three to four coats total is the usual recommendation). After that, you’ll be able to walk on your new floors within a few hours, although you should wait at least 48 hours before moving all furniture back into place.



8 Types of Hardwood Floor Finishes

Photo: istockphoto.com

2. Oil-Based Polyurethane

Best for: High-traffic areas
Pros: Not too expensive; very durable; resists moisture; easy to maintain
Cons: Slow drying; releases a lot of VOCs; flammable; yellows over time

Oil-based polyurethane consists of linseed oil, synthetic resins, and plasticizers. Its strength and durability make it a popular finish for commercial properties, but many homeowners like to use it in high traffic areas inside the house, as well. Luckily, those same hardwearing characteristics mean you won’t have to refinish the floors as often as with some of the other options. And it’s easy to maintain—just sweep or vacuum regularly, and clean away dirt with a damp sponge.

Oil-based polyurethane has a slight amber or yellowish tint and can yellow even more over time, which adds a bit of rich, warm, amber color to the floors if that’s your goal. You’ll find it in high-gloss, semi-gloss, and satin sheens.

This finish has a very strong odor and releases a high level of VOCs, so you’ll need to don a respirator to protect your lungs if you plan on finishing the floors yourself. You’ll also need to allow quite a bit more time for the project than with water-based polyurethane and clean up with mineral spirits rather than soap and water. Generally, it takes eight to 10 hours for each coat to dry (two to three coats total is the usual recommendation). After the last, you’ll need to wait at least 48 hours before walking on the floors in shoes and four days to fill the rooms with furniture once more.

3. Moisture-Cure Urethane

Best for: Situations requiring the toughest floor finish
Pros: Extremely durable
Cons: Very high VOCs; difficult to apply

Originally created for use in bowling alleys, moisture-cure urethane is extremely tough and durable after it dries to a very high shine. It resists moisture, scratches, stains, and general wear. Its difficult application makes it less of an option for a do-it-yourselfer, though. Plus, the very high level of VOCs it releases can linger in the air for weeks, so all household members will need to relocate for as long as two weeks after application.

As the name might suggest, moisture-cure urethane draws moisture from the air to cure, which means that it’s affected by the humidity on the day of application. If the air is very dry, the finish won’t cure or dry evenly. Too humid, and it can start to dry before it’s spread evenly across the floor. An even application of this fickle finish requires a quick hand and an experienced touch.

Because of the many downsides of the finish, moisture-cure urethane is mostly used in commercial settings such as bowling alleys, dance halls, and restaurants—all places where its resistance to wear and moisture, high-gloss appearance, and strength outweigh its downsides.



8 Types of Hardwood Floor Finishes

Photo: istockphoto.com

4. Wax

Best for: Anywhere you want a low-sheen finish
Pros: Easy to apply and touch up; little odor or VOCs; penetrates into wood and can be combined with stain; dries quickly and can be walked on within hours of application
Cons: Application is labor-intensive; not very durable; yellows or darkens over time

Prior to the development of polyurethane finishes in the 1960s, wax was the hardwood floor finish of choice and had been so for hundreds of years. Even today, it’s still a popular option for historic homes and is also frequently chosen by do-it-yourselfers who like its low-sheen, natural appearance. You’ll find liquid and paste wax; both require several coats that are buffed in by hand, but liquid wax is usually applied with a wool applicator while paste wax is applied with a rag. You can even mix wood stain in with the wax to color your floors while you finish them.

On the flip side, waxing hardwood floors doesn’t create a very durable finish. Exposure to water can create white marks, so wax isn’t the best floor finish for bathrooms or kitchens. It’ll scuff and scratch, too, though these are fairly easy to buff away and hide under another coat of wax.

Be aware that wax sometimes yellows or darkens over time, so it’s best used over wood that already has a warm cast. And if you decide you want to replace your wax finish with polyurethane, you’ll need to completely strip the wax from the floor.

5. Shellac

Best for: Floors where you want a natural product that doesn’t emit a lot of VOCs and dries quickly
Pros: Natural, sustainable product; easy to repair or touch up; adheres well to oily tropical woods
Cons: Very flammable; not easy to apply evenly; far less durable than many other options; needs to be freshly mixed before application

Made from denatured alcohol mixed with secretions of the lac bug, an insect found in Asia, shellac has been used to seal and finish wood for hundreds of years. Shellac naturally dries to with an orange tint and high-gloss finish, although it can be bleached or tinted as well as mixed with extra denatured alcohol to create a more matte surface. Because shellac dries quickly, it can be difficult to apply without leaving visible lap lines.

This particular hardwood floor finish also tends to stain and water spot, and it’s vulnerable to damage from alcohol and ammonia. It doesn’t hold up to foot traffic nearly as well as polyurethane, but touching it up is fairly easy; just buff in a new coat of shellac when necessary.

While you can buff wax over shellac, you cannot apply one of the polyurethane finishes over it, so if you decide to change your floor’s finish, you’ll need to completely strip away the shellac first.



8 Types of Hardwood Floor Finishes

Photo: istockphoto.com

6. Penetrating Oil Sealer

Best for: Creating a low-shine finish that highlights the grain of the wood.
Pros: Natural product; fairly easy to apply; brings out wood’s beauty
Cons: Not very durable; requires recoating every couple of years; expensive

Very popular prior to the introduction of polyurethane floor sealers in the 1960s, penetrating oil sealers aren’t used much today but are still favored by some homeowners who love the way that oil brings out wood’s grain, beauty, and depth without adding high shine or gloss. It’s also a great choice if you are restoring a historic home.

Penetrating oils—there are several types, but tung oil is the most common—soak into the wood’s pores, helping prevent scratches and other damage. Unlike most other hardwood floor finishes, penetrating oils don’t leave a hard “shell” on top of the wood; for this reason, a final coat of wax often tops the oil for extra protection.

While penetrating oil sealers give wood a naturally lovely appearance, they don’t hold up well to foot traffic, so be prepared to re-oil your floors every three to five years if you choose this option. You should also be aware that water and chemicals can spot or damage oil-sealed floors, so you’ll need to use wood floor cleaners specifically formulated for this type of finish. If your floors get a scratch, it’s an easy job to touch them up, though; just buff more oil into the damaged spot.

Penetrating oils generally dry very slowly—often requiring an entire day between coats—so this isn’t a quick do-it-yourself project.

7. Acid-Cured Finish

Best for: Exotic wood floors or those with elaborate patterns, such as parquet flooring
Pros: Extremely durable; dries quickly
Cons: Very high VOCs; highly flammable; expensive; pro-only application

The crème de la crème of hardwood floor finishes, acid-cured finish (also called Swedish finish or conversion finish) is even more durable than the polyurethanes. It has an alcohol base and uses acid for the curing process, creating a shiny finish that is extremely durable and resistant to chemical damage, scratches, and scuffs. Still, the finish highlights the wood’s grain, color, and natural beauty.

Before you select it for its resilience, know that acid-cured finishes release very high levels of VOCs and have a very strong odor. In the event that you apply it, you, your family, and your pets will need to stay elsewhere for several days while the floors cure. It also requires excellent ventilation during application, along with a full-face respirator. Once applied, it’s not easy to touch up or refinish an acid-cured floor, but you shouldn’t be troubled with damage or wear under most normal circumstances thanks to its durability.

8. Aluminum Oxide

Best for: High-traffic areas or anywhere you want supreme protection from wear and tear
Pros: The hardest, most long-lasting type of finish; low maintenance; available in several levels of glossiness
Cons: Difficult to touch up or refinish; only available on prefinished wood planks

Aluminum oxide is a naturally occurring mineral that provides an extremely long-lasting protective coating on hardwood floors. It protects the floor from scratches, fading, water damage, scuffs, and general wear and tear without changing the color of the wood or hiding its grain. Available in several levels of shine, it can go on as matte or as shiny as you’d like. You won’t apply this yourself, though; aluminum oxide is only available as an option on prefinished flooring planks.

On the downside, it’s not easy to remove or restore the aluminum oxide finish if there comes a time that you eventually want to touch up damage or switch to a different finish. You’ll need to call in pros to tackle the job, possibly even replace the floorboards. Still, if you want the most durable hardwood floor finish—it can last up to 25 years—that’s also low maintenance and you like the idea of installing wood flooring that’s already finished and ready to go, aluminum oxide is a good choice.


Solved! The Best Bathroom Lighting

Reach the right decision for your bathroom lighting design with these bright ideas.

The Best Bathroom Lighting, Solved!

Photo: istockphoto.com

Q: I’m redoing my master bath and am overwhelmed by illumination options. How do I decide on the best bathroom lighting design for my needs?

A: Lighting design that enhances décor and aids in your ablutions can make the bathroom a more versatile, attractive space for everyday “me time.” But there’s quite a spectrum of bathroom lighting design choices, including fixture type, style, and placement, color, and illumination output needs. Ahead, all the info you need to achieve the best lighting for your personal space.

RELATED: 15 “Under $100” Lighting Solutions for Every Room

Choose fixtures based on function.

Light fixtures play one of three roles in a bathroom: ambient, task, or accent lighting. Take your specific needs into account, choosing fixtures designed to serve those functions.

The Best Bathroom Lighting, Solved!

Photo: istockphoto.com

Ambient lighting, usually soft overhead lighting, acts as the main source of illumination in a bathroom. Ambient light fixtures include recessed lights mounted inside shallow openings in the ceiling, flush-mount fixtures that mount to the ceiling with a small gap between the fixture and the ceiling, and ceiling fans with attached lights.

Task lighting, brighter illumination usually restricted to a small area such as beside the sink mirror, helps you perform for detail-oriented tasks like applying makeup or shaving. Wall sconces, pendant lights that hang from the ceiling, and track lights (long multi-bulb tracks that can be mounted to a wall or ceiling) are commonly used as task lighting.

Accent lighting falls between ambient and task lighting in brightness and is used to accentuate architectural details or showpieces. Examples include cove lights built into the ledges of a ceiling, mirror lights (bulbs that frame the outline of a mirror to backlight it), and rope lights (flexible, rope-shaped circuit boards with built-in bulbs).

Take a layered approach.

Single-function lighting might suffice for a half bath, but in standard or master bathrooms used for multiple purposes, one type of lighting will result in zones that are overly bright or dim for a given activity. To avoid this, employ a layered lighting design that incorporates fixtures from all three functional areas. For example, in a master bathroom, the best bathroom lighting design might feature recessed ambient lighting, pendants for tasks, and rope lights in the toe-kick area at the base of a bathroom cabinet as accents.

RELATED: 8 Common Lighting Mistakes Almost Everyone Makes

Calculate light output requirements based on size and functional area.

The Illuminating Engineering Society (IES) Lighting Handbook recommends between 20 and 50 lumens (a measure of light output) per square foot in the bathroom. Aim for 40 to 50 lumens per square foot in the task area where you’ll need the most light, a more moderate 30 lumens per square foot in areas that require accent lighting, and a softer lighting of 20 lumens per square foot or ambient lighting.

To determine how many bulbs to buy to meet your light output needs, multiply the lumens guideline by the square footage of the functional area. Let’s say you need 650 lumens to supply task lighting for a 13-square-foot vanity (50 times 13). Using the Energy Star lumens-to-watts conversion chart to work out the equivalent bulb wattage, you can see that a single 60-Watt incandescent bulb supplies 800 lumens of light output—more than enough for your needs. To lower your electricity bills, use an energy-saving 10-Watt LED or 14-Watt compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulb to deliver the same 800 lumens. The packaging of LED or CFL bulbs may only state the lumens rating, in which case you can simply look for a bulb that delivers 650 lumens of output (or use two 325-lumen LED or CFL bulbs).

Make sure that the total wattage or lumens of all the bulbs you install in a fixture doesn’t go over the maximum rating of the fixture (most fixtures will note the rating on the package), or you risk sparking a fire or damaging the fixture’s lightbulb sockets or wiring. For example, if a fixture has a rating of 75 Watts, a 60-Watt Incandescent bulb would work, but two 40-Watt Incandescent bulbs would exceed the threshold.

Position each fixture based on its type and function.

Ideally, ambient lighting will cast light evenly onto all four corners of the bathroom. So if you choose, for example, a ceiling fan light assembly or a flush-mount fixture, mount it to the center point of the ceiling. If mounting multiple recessed lights, install a single light in the middle of the ceiling and work your way outwards for the remaining lights, leaving a distance between the lights amounting to half the height of the ceiling (e.g., space lights five feet apart in a room with a 10-foot ceiling).

Task lighting should shed light on your face during grooming, which makes side lighting your best bet. Wall sconces that act as task lighting should optimally be mounted at eye level (roughly 60 inches above the ground for the average adult) on either side of a mirror above the vanity. Positioning either a recessed light or a wall sconce that consists of one bar of light above the vanity is a poor choice because it will cast shadows under your eyes; instead, mount a multi-bulb wall sconce or track light above the vanity (75 to 80 inches above the ground) so that light falls across your face in a continuous stream that minimizes shadows.

Position accent lighting to capture the most flattering details of the object it’s meant to accentuate. You might position a pendant light directly above the basin of an old-fashioned vessel sink to show off its vintage charms, or install a wall sconce at an angle above the shower to cast light directly onto a section of decorative tiles.



The Best Bathroom Lighting, Solved!

Photo: istockphoto.com

Choose from styles that synch with the existing space.

Bathroom light fixtures come in a variety of styles and finishes, be they flush-mounts with a dome-shaped shade made of frosted or clear glass, wood or stone teardrop pendant lights, or lengthy track lights finished with brushed nickel, bronze, or chrome. When choosing between these options, take an inventory of the existing appliances and hardware in your bathroom, including tub and shower materials, door knobs, cabinet and drawer pulls, and sink and tub faucets. Opt for light fixtures with a similar look for a sophisticated, seamless effect. Or incorporate a complementary style not already present in the bathroom—for example, dark wood pendant lights in an industrial-style bathroom with black appliances—for an unexpected, yet still cohesive, aesthetic.

Choose bulbs that emit white-colored light.

To capture your skin, hair, and outfits in detail and with a similar color accuracy as in daylight, opt for incandescent, LED, or CFL bathroom light bulbs with a color temperature of 3500K-4100 Kelvins (K) (usually labeled “Cool White/Bright White” on the packaging) or 5000K-6500K (labeled “Daylight”). Additionally, look for bulbs with a Color Rendering Index (a measure of how well a bulb can illuminate the full spectrum of colors) of 90 to 100, where a value of 100 is the CRI of daylight at midday.

Keep electrical safety in mind.

Using safe wiring practices is imperative when installing new light fixtures in the water-prone turf of the bathroom, as moisture that comes into contact with internal light fixture components or light switches can cause electrocution or short circuits that lead to fires. The circuit that supplies power to light fixtures in the bathroom should be separate from those that supply power to outlets used for other electronics in the bathroom (e.g., hair dryers and curling irons). Light switches should be grounded so that they divert stray voltage directly to the ground rather than through you. Lastly, bathroom lighting fixtures should be wet-rated (usually, this means the wires of the fixture are protected by metal.)


5 Reasons to Choose the Kitchen Peninsula

An island can hog precious real estate in a cookspace, so consider this three-sided workstation, storage, and snacking solution.

5 Reasons to Choose a Kitchen Peninsula

Photo: istockphoto.com

The kitchen is a home’s heartbeat, the place where family gathers and guests gravitate, and so it should be welcoming—not an obstacle course of people and appliances. To improve flow and add structure to an open-plan living space, consider the kitchen peninsula. In addition to or, more frequently, instead of an island, this connected half-wall adds counter space, storage, and seating. It also divides the room nicely, creating one side for food prep, the other for relaxing, while music and conversation freely circulate.

Sometimes, however, a peninsula makes a kitchen feel cramped; it is, after all, a protrusion that can create a bottleneck effect. To minimize this, choose space-saving features, like a built-in microwave to save counter space and even transparent bar stools that “dissolve” into their surroundings. In fact, with a little design ingenuity, a peninsula can help small kitchens function more efficiently.

RELATED: 11 Inspiring Kitchens That Defy Their Small Size

If you’re planning a cook space for a new home or a remodel, here are five reasons why a kitchen peninsula may be perfect.



5 Reasons to Choose a Kitchen Peninsula

Photo: unsplash.com via iAlicante Mediterranean Homes

1. Ease of Appliance Installation

While islands—the freestanding counter/storage/seating stations often situated in the center of the room—are popular for spacious kitchens, they can present engineering challenges. For example, installing an oven, stovetop, or sink on an island requires running water, gas, and/or electricity to the middle of the kitchen—a more complicated proposition than putting pipes, cables, and wires into a kitchen peninsula that backs up to the walls.



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2. Smart Use of Small Space

Unlike an island that commands center stage and ample surrounding space for walkways, a kitchen peninsula takes up less real estate. It can often be situated out of the way of a traditional stove-sink-fridge triangle workstation while providing an additional food prep area in the kitchen.



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3. Multipurpose Design

Seating beneath the countertop overhang makes a perfect breakfast or beverage bar. A combo of cabinets and drawers—even custom-designed refrigerator and freezer drawers—in the base of the kitchen peninsula vastly increase storage options. And because this room has evolved into more than a cook space, a peninsula supplied with outlets, charging stations, and other “smart” innovations can function as a home office or homework area that’s happily convenient to snacking.





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4. Extra Entertainment Options

Peninsulas can separate kitchens from living rooms and dining areas, creating the ideal surface for hors-d’oeuvre, appetizers, and beverages. Guests can select their eats and drinks, then move easily around the room. Rather than feeling isolated and apart from the action, the host can participate in conversations and easily refill the buffet. A kitchen peninsula also means you can entertain larger groups without being limited by the number of seats at the dining room table.





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5. Added Home Value

A well-designed kitchen increases your home’s resale value, and a peninsula can contribute, especially if you optimize its function and attractiveness. Because a peninsula layout generally allows only one main entrance/exit, ensure that this passageway is at least 32 inches wide and is kept unobstructed. Enhance any natural window light with warm, ambient recessed or pendant lighting on dimmers. If you already have a kitchen peninsula and are in the process of selling your home, use it artfully in staging: Keep it clear of clutter and arrange fresh flowers or a bowl of fruit for a welcoming touch.


9 Tips for Removing Scratches from Wood Floors

Check out these tried-and-true methods for banishing marks, gouges, and scuffs to revive the beauty of wood floors.

10 DIY Tips for Wood Floor Scratch Repair

Photo: istockphoto.com

Wood floors bring beauty and value to a home—as long as they are well-maintained. Natural wood is at constant risk of surface wear, water marks, and deeper damage. Prevention, of course, is key: Use area rugs and soft protective pads to move furniture, remove shoes as much as possible, and keep pet nails trimmed.

10 DIY Tips for Wood Floor Scratch Repair

Photo: istockphoto.com

Your floor’s finish works to protect it from everyday wear and tear, but it’s important to know what kind of finish you’ve got in order to maintain it. Consider, for example, a wood floor installed prior to 1970, which was probably finished with varnish or shellac. You can add luster to such a finish with paste or liquid wax, or oil. If your older finish is noticeably scratched, it can be stripped or sanded down, then refinished with a polyurethane-based product—a highly durable finish, resistant to abrasion and easy to clean—just be sure to use only a water-based silicone polish on polyurethane-finished floors.

RELATED: 11 Tried-and-True Ways to Care for Hardwood Floors

When widespread wear and tear is visible, the time- and labor-intensive process of total floor refinishing may be necessary, and in most cases, that’s a job best left to the pros. Fortunately, you can minimize or even completely eradicate less serious marks and discoloration with the scratch repair tips below—and restore your wood floors to their former glory.

1. Clean hardwood floors gently.

Lackluster wood can magnify the appearance of scratches and worn areas—not to mention that dirt particles ground into hardwood floors can lead to worse scratches—so your first line of action should be thorough but gentle cleaning. Avoid brooms or abrasive scrub pads, and never soak a floor with water or liquid cleaner. Instead, use a soft mop or vacuum (with the appropriate attachment) to remove dust, hair, and surface debris. To clean, add two to four drops of liquid soap to a quart of water, mix in a spray bottle, and mist your polyurethane-finished floor, then distribute the solution with a dry microfiber mop. Next, lightly spray with fresh water and buff with a soft, dry cloth. Commercial non-toxic wood cleaners (water-based, with a biodegradable cleaning agent) safe for polyurethane-finished floors are also available.

2. Sand out the scratches.

A little elbow grease can bring life back to wood floors. A fine-grained sandpaper is all you need to buff out damage. First, sand the floor in the direction of the grain. You’ll need to reapply stain that you’ve buffed away in the process, so choose a hidden area (under the bed, in a closet) to patch-test a wood stain that matches your floor color. After you find the right stain, patch test a urethane finish. A water-based urethane dries quickly, with a clear, shiny finish ideal for newer floors—but it may create too much contrast if floors have darkened with age. Oil-based urethanes are strong-smelling, but they dry with a yellow tinge that darkens over time, which may better suit the color of an older floor. Make sure your sanded area is smooth and thoroughly clean before you stain and finish.

3. Try nature’s remedy.

Walnuts contain excellent natural emollients and brown dyes that both repair and enhance the look of worn, scratched wood. Warm up the oil in the nut with your fingers, then rub into worn areas of the floor using small circular motions. Let the oil sit for a few minutes, then buff with a soft cloth. Coconut oil can also minimize scratch marks on unfinished or freshly sanded floors. Apply a thin coat of coconut oil with a brush or sponge, let it dwell for five minutes, then buff with a soft cloth for richer-looking wood.

4. Make an effective refresher from pantry ingredients.

A combo of baking soda and olive oil can help reduce and remove scratches from wood. Vacuum your floor thoroughly, then apply baking soda moistened with several drops of olive oil to marred areas. Wait five minutes, then buff in gently, using a soft sponge. Clean thoroughly with a damp cloth and dry with a towel.

5. Consider commercial products.

Good for scratch repair on both wood and laminate floors, Scratch Away ($6.99 for eight ounces, available from Lumber Liquidators) cleans, polishes, and reduces the appearance of scratch marks caused by dirt, shoes, pets, and furniture scrapes. Another well-reviewed product is Old English Scratch Cover ($4.82 for eight ounces, available on Amazon), available in both light and dark wood tones. This nourishing oil both protects and hides unsightly scuff marks. All you need is a soft cloth to apply on clean wood surfaces.



10 DIY Tips for Wood Floor Scratch Repair

Photo: istockphoto.com

6. Color it in.

Minimize the appearance of deep scratches with wood stain, which comes in oil-based, water-based, gel, and combination varieties. Oil-based stains dry slowly and can be difficult to work with but provide the richest, longest lasting color. Water-based stains are available in many shades, and make for easy application and clean up. Combination stains are designed for polyurethane finishes, while gels don’t penetrate and so can be used on a variety of materials, including previously painted wood. Choose the right stain formula for your wood’s finish, and fill in the scratch completely with the liquid color. Use a Q-tip to remove any excess stain and let dry. You can also find stain markers and blending pencils, though you may have to play with color combinations to find the perfect match for your floor. Apply to the scratch according to package directions, wipe away any excess, and allow to dry thoroughly.

7. Shine and revive with a different sort of commercial care product.

Minwax Hardwood Floor Reviver ($24.97 for 32 ounces, available on Amazon) can help restore beauty and luster to hardwood floors without sanding or buffing. Clean the surface of dust and debris, then apply a single coat with a clean paint pad (like this product recommended by Home Depot shoppers) and let dry. Available in both high- and low-gloss—choose the sheen that’s right for you—and formulated to last three to six months.



10 DIY Tips for Wood Floor Scratch Repair

Photo: istockphoto.com

8. Strip it off and start anew.

If wood floors are in pretty sad shape, covered by layers of polyurethane, wax, or even paint, you can strip them to reveal their unfinished beauty. Choose a liquid stripping agent, such as low-fume 3M’s Safest Stripper ($14.02 for 32 ounces, available on Amazon). Follow product instructions carefully to apply, then use fine-grade steel wool, rubbing in the direction of the grain, to remove any excess stripper. If you intend to strip only a small section of your flooring, make sure you’ve also patch tested a matching stain and polyurethane coating to apply after the stripping process is complete.

9. Patch and mend.

For deeper gouges in your wood, try a product like Bondo ($18.15 for one ounce on Amazon)—a wood filler that can be sanded and stained, or painted. You can also use a pre-colored latex wood filler like DAP Plastic Wood ($9.48 for 32 ounces from DAP). Fillers come in a variety of colors and may need to be blended to match your floor exactly. This option is best for small, deep holes that can then be filled, sanded, stained, and finished, leaving your floor flawless once more.


How To: Polish Marble

Has your shiny marble has lost some of its luster with use? It's not uncommon for dull spots to show up on polished marble—in fact, the occasional imperfection is easy enough to fix yourself. Read up on how you can restore its good looks using just a few specialty stone products.

How to Polish Marble

Photo: istockphoto.com

Marble—a white or uniquely variegated type of limestone that has been exposed to extreme heat and pressure—has a long history of being favored by artisans and builders, from Michelangelo’s David and Moses sculptures to The Taj Mahal. So it’s no wonder that marble in the modern home is both prized and expensive. Its natural beauty, depth of pattern, and unique markings make it an elegant, luxurious choice for flooring, countertops, tabletops, and vanities.

However, soft and porous marble counters have their downsides, and chief among them is their tendency to stain or etch. The latter problem, etching, refers to dulled spots that sometimes appear pitted and feel slightly rough to the touch. These may occur after exposure to acidic or highly colored foods (red wine, tomatoes, vinegar, and citrus) and even acidic or abrasive cleaning products. While a matte marble finish can minimize the appearance of imperfections, the glossy finish that most homeowners prefer on their countertops often shows off every etch and stain.

Still, the beauty of marble—and the value it adds to your kitchen or bathroom—makes it worth a bit of extra trouble. When your marble surfaces have lost their shine, the following procedures will bring back the glory of this classic stone.

But first, is your surface polished marble?

Before tackling the cleaning and shining of your marble counters, it helps to understand the two different marble finishes before you fruitlessly try to restore a shine to one that’s not designed to be glossy.

How to Polish Marble

Photo: istockphoto.com

Honed marble has been sanded to create a velvety finish—not quite matte, but definitely not shiny. Less slippery than polished marble, honed marble is very well suited for floors. Some homeowners also prefer honed marble for their countertops, as it’s less likely to scratch than polished marble and hides etching better than a shiny surface.

Still, polished marble is the more common choice for the kitchen countertops or table inlays. The less porous option, this finish won’t stain as easily as honed marble might and does not demand the same frequency of sealing. Plus, its shine offers a semi-reflective surface that is both attractive and helps to make a small kitchen appear larger than its footprint.

While it is possible to transform a polished marble counter into a honed surface, or vice versa, the project requires skill and experience and special equipment—in other words, it’s best to leave this job to a professional with a stone polishing machine. If you’re looking to restore shine to your polished marble counter or tabletop, though, you can do so with these accessible supplies and steps.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS Available on Amazon
Soft rags
Sponge
Commercial marble cleaner
 Mild dishwashing liquid
Chamois or microfiber cloths
Ammonia
Hydrogen peroxide
Baking soda
Paintbrush
Plastic wrap
Tape
Razor blade
Marble polishing powder
Marble sealer



How to Polish Marble

Photo: istockphoto.com

STEP 1: Start with a clean slate: Brush off crumb and dust particles, spray with a mild cleanser, and wipe.

The first step to restoring your marble’s shine is to clean them. Of course, you probably whisk away crumbs regularly and quickly wipe up any spills or splatters, but when it’s time to really polish up your marble’s finish, you’ll go a little deeper than that.

Wipe your marble with a soft dry rag to remove dust and crumbs, then wet the surface with a damp sponge. Next, apply a manufacturer-approved commercial marble cleaner or, alternatively, add a couple of drops of mild, nonabrasive dishwashing liquid to your damp rag to use as a cleaner. Whichever you choose, distribute the cleaner across the marble, buffing away any spots of food or other debris.

NOTE: Never use vinegar, bleach, scrubs, or other harsh chemicals to clean your polished marble. Doing so can etch the polish, leaving you with dulled spots.

RELATED: 10 Ways You’re Accidentally Ruining Your Countertops

Use a clean, damp rag, wipe the cleaner off the marble. Dry with a chamois or an unused microfiber cloth.

STEP 2: Remove stains with a commercial or homemade poultice left to sit overnight.

If your marble counters have discolorations left behind by food or other household items, you’ll need to treat them before moving on to polishing. While there are commercial marble stain removers—often called poultices—you can also make your own by slowly mixing one tablespoon of ammonia into a half-cup of hydrogen peroxide and slowly adding just enough baking soda to make a thick, creamy texture.

Now, spread the poultice over any stained areas using a clean paintbrush and cover with plastic wrap (edges taped down). Leave the poultice in place for 12 to 24 hours, after which you can remove the plastic wrap and leave to dry out completely.

Carefully scrape the crumbly poultice away with a razor blade without gouging or digging at the marble surface. Clean away any remaining poultice residue with a damp cloth, and then wipe the marble dry.



How to Polish Marble

Photo: istockphoto.com

STEP 3: Buff out etching with a polishing powder.

While very severe etching requires a professional’s touch, you can often remove minor etching from acidic foods and cleansers yourself with a polishing powder from any old home improvement centers (just be sure to check with the marble manufacturer on which they recommend). Wipe the etched areas with a water-dampened cloth, and sprinkle a small amount of marble polishing powder onto the etched spots. Gently buff the powder into the blemishes with your damp cloth according to the product’s instructions. Follow with a clean, damp rag to remove the powder residue, then wipe the marble dry to reveal its restored shine.



How to Polish Marble

Photo: istockphoto.com

STEP 4: Seal the marble for shine and resistance to future staining and etching.

While sealing won’t completely prevent staining, this act will help your marble resist major stains and boost its glossiness. Generally, you should seal your marble counters at least twice per year, although performing the task each season will keep your counters looking their best. Consult your countertop’s manufacturer for product and application recommendations specific to your marble.

Read the directions on your marble sealer carefully, and apply as directed. Most specialty marble sealers (available from the manufacturer and at home improvement centers) spray or pour directly onto the marble’s surface. Spread the sealer across the entire marble countertop with a clean, dry cloth and let the sealer soak into the marble for the length of time specified on the product’s container (typically less than five minutes).

Use another clean, dry cloth to buff the sealer into the marble, using circular motions. Continue to buff the marble until the sealer is completely soaked into the stone, and the marble feels dry. If the surface has a tacky or sticky feel, continue to buff until the marble is smooth to the touch, and has a high level of shine.