Author Archives: Bob Vila

About Bob Vila

Bob Vila

You probably know me from TV, where for nearly 30 years I hosted a variety of shows—This Old House, Bob Vila’s Home Again, Bob Vila, and Restore America with Bob Vila. (You can now watch my full TV episodes online!) But I’ve spent my career helping people upgrade their homes and improve their lives. Before my life in broadcasting, I launched my own residential remodeling and design business. Earlier still, I served as a Peace Corps volunteer, building houses and communities in Panama. I learned first-hand about home building from my father, who hand-built our family home. I’ve written 12 books about remodeling your home, buying your dream home, and visiting historic homes across America. It’s fair to say that buildings, especially homes, are my life’s work. Over the years I've also supported many causes dealing with housing and architectural preservation. I've been actively involved with Habitat for Humanity and helped them blitz build a house in Yonkers, NY, which we put on TV. I worked for years with the National Alliance to End Homelessness, supporting the work of many organizations throughout the country. In the last several years I've been helping out with the restoration of Ernest Hemingway’s home and collections at Finca Vigía near Havana, Cuba. This place was his home from 1939 until his death and he left it to the Cuban people to be run as a museum. This project has allowed me to visit my parents' homeland several times. Now it's this website that I am passionate about and the chance to share my projects, discoveries, tips, advice, and experiences with all of you. I’ve always believed that a little sweat equity goes a long way toward making a house a home, and that's exactly what my website helps homeowners do. You can connect with me on my own site and on Twitter. I look forward to the conversation and to getting to know you.

The Best Tool Boxes for Weekend DIYers

Keep your tool collection organized with one of these top-notch tool box picks.

BobVila.com and its partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links.

Best Tool Box

Photo: istockphoto.com

Without tools, you can’t finish (or even begin) many projects. So, what’s the best way to store, organize, and transport your tools?

For generations of tradespeople, the answer has always been the same. Once you accumulate more tools than you can comfortably fit on your belt and in your pockets, it’s time to invest in a well-made tool box.

But tool boxes aren’t a one-size-fits-all solution. When choosing the best tool box, consider several factors, including type, material, size, weight, portability, security, organization, and more. Read on to decide which tool box is the right one for you.

  1. BEST OVERALL: DEWALT TSTAK Tool Storage Organizer
  2. BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: BIG RED TB101 Torin 19″ Hip Roof Style Tool Box
  3. BEST FOR SMALL PARTS: Keter 22 Inch Resin Cantilever Tool Box
  4. BEST FOR ORGANIZING: Keter Masterloader Resin Rolling Tool Box
  5. BEST ROLLING: Milwaukee Electric Tool Packout, 22″ Rolling Tool Box
  6. BEST METAL: Homak 32-Inch Industrial Steel Toolbox
  7. BEST BAG: Klein Tools 5109P Wide Straight Wall Bucket
  8. HONORABLE MENTION: Trusco ST-350-B 2-Level Toolbox
The Best Tool Box Options

Photo: amazon.com

Types of Tool Boxes

Before shopping for the best tool box, become familiar with the various types on the market, ranging from the classic red metal box to full-blown workstations that can organize an entire workshop. This section will explain the different types of tool boxes and what DIYers need to know about them.

Hand Carry

The classic metal tool box with a flip-open lid is a hand-carry tool box. Tough, durable, and classic, these sturdy boxes are excellent for pros and homeowners alike.

These boxes come in a range of lengths and depths. Old-school carpenters like long, tall boxes to fit their hand saws, while plumbers might prefer a more compact box for pipe wrenches and pump pliers. A DIYer might prefer a box in the middle: long enough to hold a box saw, but compact enough to not be too cumbersome.

Rolling

Rolling tool boxes help take the load off—literally. Instead of lugging a heavy tool box around, simply push a rolling tool box back and forth.

The first type of rolling tool box is the kind in a mechanic’s shop or a building maintenance department. These tool boxes have several drawers, allowing tool storage in separate areas of the box. They often have several thin drawers for wrenches, sockets, and pliers, but they also may have a large, open section with a lock for larger tools like drills and saws.

The other type of rolling tool box is the rolling workstation. These tool boxes organize tools and parts, but their plastic resin construction makes them light, making them work well for DIYers. These boxes unfold or unstack, revealing all the tools and parts for easy use.

Truck Mounted

Truck-mounted tool boxes help transport tools. These large, lockable, heavy-duty boxes offer plenty of storage, security, and protection from the weather. Manufacturers generally make them from aluminum, the least expensive option, or from stainless steel.

Most truck-mounted tool boxes don’t offer much in the way of organization. They’re cavernous inside, and small hand tools can easily make their way to the bottom. They work best for large power tools.

Bag/Bucket

A bag or bucket is one of the best ways for DIYers to transport their tools. These lightweight tool storage options provide quite a bit of organization, with built-in pockets, slots, and loops for specific tools. They come in stand-alone bags that mimic the shape of a classic wooden tool box with a top handle and open-tray design. Other versions loop around the lid of a bucket.

Heavy-duty classic tool bags with plenty of storage also are available. These bags often have leather bottoms to make them more resistant to the sharp points of screwdrivers and other pointy tools.

What to Consider When Choosing the Best Tool Box

When choosing the best tool box, keep a few things in mind. The following section outlines all the important factors to consider when shopping for a new tool box.

Size and Weight

Two of the most important factors to consider when shopping for the best tool box are size and weight. Most DIYers need a tool box large enough to carry the tools they will use most often. Carpenters, electricians, and plumbers have different needs in tool boxes, which means many different sizes are on the market. Weight is an important part of the selection. Even when empty, some tool boxes are unwieldy and heavy.

Material

Manufacturers use different types of materials to build tool boxes, usually plastic or metal. Some plastic tool boxes are very durable, and they have many benefits: They don’t dent or rust, and they won’t dull sharp tools like chisels and saws. Look for a model made from a durable resin.

A metal tool box is an old-school tool storage option that can hold a lot of weight. Stainless steel and aluminum are rust-resistant but expensive, while steel is affordable but can rust when scratched.

Drawers and Dividers

Those looking for lots of organization need a toolbox with drawers and dividers. Many plastic models come with removable compartments with snapping lids that help secure smaller bits, pieces, fasteners, and hardware. Some tool boxes have removable trays, which help keep smaller hand tools organized while leaving the bottom open for larger tools like hammers and saws.

For the ultimate in organization, consider a rolling workstation. These options often have tiered or modular boxes that divide tools into several smaller boxes, with power tool storage underneath.

Wheels

Almost all tools are made from durable steels or other metals, so adding even a few of these to a tool box can make toting it around difficult. Wheels can make a big difference.

For a mechanic’s tool chest, look for durable ball-bearing style casters that roll easily and swivel. These casters allow the tool box to roll and maneuver easily.

Rolling workstations often have large plastic resin wheels. These wheels are usually durable enough, and their large size makes it easier to pull them over a ledge or threshold.

Workbench

Rolling toolboxes sometimes include a flat surface on top to use for holding tools or small pieces. Some even come with hardwood inserts to prevent sharper tools from getting dull.

While these tool boxes aren’t ideal for loading in and out of a truck or transporting to a job site, the added work surface can be a significant advantage over other boxes. For the best of both worlds, choose a rolling box with a work surface and a smaller portable tool box to transport tools.

Locking Mechanism

Most tradespeople know that tools have a tendency to “walk away” from the job site. Prevent this from happening by choosing a lockable tool box.

Locking mechanisms come in many shapes and forms. Some have built-in tumblers that lock and unlock with a key, just like an entry lock on a door, while others have a hasps to lock with a padlock. Some plastic tool boxes have simple holes to slip a lock through to shut the lid.

Waterproofing

While old-school metal boxes work well to store tools, new heavy-duty resin models also protect tools from the elements, an important consideration for those whose tool boxes will spend a lot of time in the bed of a truck.

These tool boxes have seals and sturdy latches that clamp down to prevent water, snow, or moisture from damaging valuable tools. This kind of tool box may be particularly attractive for craftspeople with expensive hand tools (like carvers or woodworkers); the box won’t dull the tools but will help prevent them from oxidizing from the weather.

Our Top Picks

The following is a list of some of the best tool boxes on today’s market. Keep all of these important considerations in mind while comparing products to find the right storage option for your tools.

Best Overall

The Best Tool Box Option: DEWALT TSTAK Tool Storage Organizer
Photo: amazon.com

The DEWALT TSTAK line of tool organizers includes a variety of tough, tried-and-true options for specialized needs, plus at least a few everyday tool boxes.

The TSTAK Tool Storage Organizer is a standout. With a deep central storage bin, the Tool Storage Organizer accommodates larger tools, including some power tools, while its segmented top tray accommodates small parts. Added bonus details include rust-resistant metal latches and a long, easy-carry handle.

Best Bang for the Buck

The Best Tool Box Option: BIG RED TB101 Torin 19 Hip Roof Style Tool Box
Photo: amazon.com

For a traditional approach to store tools and parts, the Torin 19-inch Hip Roof Style Tool Box from Big Red is worth a look. This steel tool box features a durable powder coat finish for longevity and durability. The Torin has a large removable tray for organizing smaller hand tools, with plenty of storage for larger hand tools underneath.

The Torin has a top-mounted, riveted handle, as well as two integrated handles on each end. It features a lockable hasp in the center to keep tools safe and secure.

Best for Small Parts

The Best Tool Box Option: Keter 22 Inch Resin Cantilever Tool Box
Photo: amazon.com

Organizing the small bits and pieces for a DIY project can be quite a headache. Instead of throwing those pieces in a brown bag, organize them with the Resin Cantilever Tool Box from KETER. This two-tiered system has 27 removable bins in two different sizes to keep small pieces separate and easy to find.

While this KETER is plastic, it’s a durable resin. Its clear plastic lid reveals the items in the top tier, while the two lower-tier hasps grab onto it to ensure it doesn’t pop open in transport. It also has a durable top-mounted handle that folds flat, and folding legs keep this cantilever box from tipping backward when open.

Best for Organizing

The Best Tool Box Option: Keter Masterloader Resin Rolling Tool Box
Photo: amazon.com

Keep hefty tools organized while trucking them from project to project with the KETER Masterloader Resin Rolling Tool Box. This heavy-duty resin tool box provides up to 66 pounds of tool-hauling capacity, allowing for the transportation of hand tools, power tools, and hardware. The polypropylene resin is weather-resistant to protect tools from the elements.

The Masterloader features a telescoping handle and two 7-inch heavy-duty wheels for easy pulling. The two top storage boxes slide out of the way, providing access to the tools below. One of those wings has a clear plastic lid and plenty of storage for odds and ends like screws and nails. The Masterloader also features a top-mounted lock for securing tools.

Best Rolling

The Best Tool Box Option: Milwaukee Electric Tool Packout, 22 Rolling Tool Box
Photo: amazon.com

Those looking to customize a rolling tool box system might find Milwaukee Tool’s Packout Rolling Tool Box is the right choice. This rolling tool box features an industrial-grade extension handle and 9-inch all-terrain wheels, allowing it to handle up to 250 pounds of tools and hardware.

While the Packout is the foundation for a completely customizable modular tool box system, it provides a lot of storage on its own. It has metal reinforced locks and corners to keep gear safe and secure. Its built-in hardware functions as a tie-down, and the IP-65-rated seals keep water, dust, and dirt from getting in.

Best Metal

The Best Tool Box Option: Homak 32-Inch Industrial Steel Toolbox
Photo: amazon.com

For a tried-and-true tool box design, check out Homak’s 32-Inch Industrial Steel Toolbox. This all-steel tool box is the style used by hardworking tradespeople for generations. It comes in a 20-inch size as well, but this version provides plenty of storage. Users can fit a 30-inch saw, framing hammer, pry bar, and other typically-hard-to-store tools in this box.

The Homak’s construction is all-steel, making it tough and durable. It also features three hasps, one of which locks. It comes with a removable tray for screwdrivers, wrenches, and smaller tools. The top-mounted handle helps carry the weight, and it also has two handles, one on each end.

Best Bag

The Best Tool Box Option: Klein Tools 5109P Wide Straight Wall Bucket
Photo: amazon.com

Sometimes, the best tool box isn’t technically a box. Consider the Wide Straight Wall Bucket from Klein Tools. This durable canvas bag can carry up to 75 pounds. A high-density polyethylene top ring offers additional strength and chemical resistance, and a strong, weather-resistant shoulder strap makes it easy to tote around. Use the inside pocket to store hardware and smaller hand tools.

Honorable Mention

The Best Toolbox Option: Trusco 2-Level Cantilever Toolbox
Photo: amazon.com

Finished in a spiffy blue enamel, the Trusco 2-Level Toolbox features side hinges that allow the top to open in two directions, revealing a tiered interior storage area you can customize with reconfigurable metal dividers. If there’s a downside, it’s the relatively light-gauge metal the tool box is made of. You may not mind if you’re a casual DIYer. However, if want a tool box you can toss around and still rely on for years, look elsewhere.

FAQs About Your New Tool Box

Even after learning about these essential features to look for in a tool box and reviewing the best tool boxes available, you might still have some questions. The following is a list of the most frequently asked questions about tool boxes.

Q. What should I look for in a tool box?

Look for a tool box that’s large enough to hold everything you need, but still light and durable enough to hold up. Steel construction is great, but hard-working resins are also useful, and they’re usually much lighter.

Q. Why are most tool boxes red?

Tool boxes are red so they’re easy to see on a construction site. Workers carrying lumber or plywood can trip over a heavy box if they can’t see it.

Q. Who makes the best mechanic’s tool box?

One of the best manufacturers of mechanic’s tool boxes is CRAFTSMAN. Check out the CRAFTSMAN Tool Chest CMST82764BK for a quality option.

Q. How do I organize a tool box?

If it’s a tool chest, separate your tools into drawers, with ratchets and sockets in one drawer, wrenches in another, screwdrivers in one drawer, and hammers and mallets in another. If using a portable tool box, put longer items in the bottom and use the removable tray to store screwdrivers, chisels, wrenches, utility knives, and other small items.

Q. How do you clean a tool box?

Clean your tool box with a degreaser or dishwashing detergent. Just make sure that the tool box is dry before restoring the tools to the box.

How To: Replace a Toilet Shut-Off Valve

When that old shut-off valve behind the toilet finally gives up, don’t call in the pros. Put your checkbook away and get out your toolbox to handle this repair yourself.

BobVila.com and its partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links.

Replace a Toilet Shut-Off Valve

Photo: istockphoto.com

That inconspicuous toilet shut-off valve doesn’t see much action. In fact, that valve may sit for years without ever being closed. That’s not a good thing. After going unused for so long, the valve’s rubber washers begin to dry rot so that when you finally give it a turn, it leaks. And since the valve is usually only closed when the toilet isn’t working, a leaking shut-off valve often adds insult to a repair that’s already in progress.

This guide shares how to replace a toilet shut-off valve to get that leak fixed and your porcelain throne back in service as soon as possible.

BEFORE YOU BEGIN

Replace a Toilet Shut-Off Valve: Inspecting the Pipes

Photo: istockphoto.com

It’s vital to assess the type of plumbing you have before getting started with a toilet shut-off valve replacement.

  • If you live in a home built before 1980, chances are you have iron pipes. Corroded iron pipes can break and crumble when you attempt to remove an old shut-off valve, turning what was supposed to be an easy repair project into a DIY nightmare. For that reason, it’s best to hire a professional if you’re dealing with old cast iron plumbing.
  • You may also encounter copper plumbing. Copper pipes are often joined to toilet shut-off valves through a process called sweating, which involves soldering the joint with a blowtorch. This isn’t necessarily an obstacle for DIYers. You can easily cut a sweated copper joint and replace it with a compression connection, avoiding the need to wield high-intensity flames and combustible gas. But, if you want to “sweat” the new joint, it’s best to go with a professional plumber.

Finally, keep in mind that, like many plumbing projects, once you begin to replace a toilet shut-off valve, your home will be without water until you complete the repair. Make sure you have all the proper supplies before you start, so you can finish the repair as quickly as possible and get your bathrooms back in service. Your family will thank you later.

STEP 1: Cut the water supply.

Depending on how well you know your home, you may have to do some hunting to locate the water main shut off valve. The valve is usually located in the basement but may be found in various places, including the laundry room, under the kitchen sink, or in a bedroom closet. You may even need to venture into your yard to locate the water main shut off. Once you’ve found it, tighten the valve to shut off the water.

Replace a Toilet Shut-Off Valve: Drain the Supply Line

Photo: istockphoto.com

STEP 2: Drain the water lines.

Before you remove the toilet shut-off valve, you’ll need to drain the supply line to prevent the water remaining in the pipe from gushing out onto your bathroom floor. Open a faucet that is below the level of the toilet valve you’re replacing. This step allows excess water to drain out of the water lines above it, including the pipe that supplies your toilet with water.

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STEP 3: Disconnect the supply line.

The toilet supply line is the flexible metal hose that runs from the toilet to the valve. Place a small bucket on the floor under the valve to catch any excess water that escapes from the line before you remove it. Use a crescent wrench to remove the bolt that connects the supply line to the valve. Then disconnect the line from the valve.

Replace a Toilet Shut-Off Valve: Remove the Old Valve

Photo: istockphoto.com

STEP 4: Remove the old toilet shut-off valve.

The process for removing the toilet valve varies depending on the type of connection:

  • For compression joints, use a crescent wrench to unscrew the bolt connecting the pipe to the existing valve while holding the pipe with a pair of pliers. The pliers will prevent the pipe from being twisted or bent as you apply pressure with the crescent wrench to loosen the bolt. Once you’ve removed the nut, pull the old valve off of the pipe. Then remove and discard the nut and compression rings.
  • For sweated copper joints, place a tube cutter over the copper pipe as close to the old valve as you can. You need to leave enough pipe extending from the wall to have room to install the new fitting. Tighten the pipe cutter and rotate until it cuts completely through the metal, and then remove the valve.

STEP 5: Install the new shut-off valve.

If you’re installing the new valve to a copper pipe, use a deburring tool to remove the sharp edge created when you cut it. Push the tool into the pipe firmly and turn a few revolutions until the edge is smooth. Skip this step if you’re working with a PVC pipe.

Next, slide the compression nut onto the copper or PVC pipe with the threads facing towards you. Then push the compression ring onto the tube. Slide the new valve over the pipe until it stops, ensuring the valve’s outlet is correctly oriented upward to receive the toilet’s supply line.

Hand-tighten the compression nut onto the threading of the new valve’s input. Then use two crescent wrenches, one to hold the valve body in place and the other to engage the nut, to tighten the nut another half turn.

STEP 6: Attach the toilet supply line.

Connect the toilet supply line to the new shut-off valve. If the supply line includes a compression nut, you can remove and discard the nut included with the new valve. Thread the nut onto the valve output. Hand-tighten the nut, then use a crescent wrench to tighten it another half turn.

If you can’t get the supply hose to line up with the new valve, you’ll need to loosen the valve nut and reposition it, so it lines up with the supply line. Make sure you adequately tighten all nuts before proceeding to the next step.

Replace a Toilet Shut-Off Valve: Turn on the Water

Photo: istockphoto.com

STEP 7: Turn on the water.

Open the water main in the house then loosen the toilet shut-off valve by turning it counterclockwise. As the water begins filling the toilet’s tank, check for leaks around the new valve.

If there is a leak, shut off the water, empty the lines, and unscrew the valve’s compression nut. Add plumbers tape or plumbers putty to the threads on the valve. Reinstall, making sure to tighten all compression nuts, and recheck the fitting.



Replacing a leaky toilet valve is a repair that most DIYers can complete in a few short hours. By following these simple steps, you can ensure that your toilet valve replacement will go smoothly, eliminating the offending leak and allowing you to get your toilet back into service.

This project is one that most DIYers can handle, but remember not to bite off more than you can chew. Wrestling with old corroded iron plumbing is a recipe for DIY disaster. You can manage the PVC and copper repairs yourself but call a plumber for the old stuff.

Some jobs are better left to the pros
Get free, no-commitment estimates from licensed plumbers near you.
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How To: Get Rid of Gnats

There’s a reason these little buggers are referred to as pests. Try a few of our easy solutions to banish them from every room of your house—and fast.

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How to Get Rid of Gnats in the House

Photo: flickr.com via Martin Cooper

Although they can’t really harm you, gnats are certainly annoying. The mere presence of these pesky insects in your house can leave you feeling twitchy and wondering what brought them inside in the first place. Rotting fruit is a common culprit, but it isn’t the only one. Dirty dishes, trash bags with spoiled food, and even damp potting soil can cause gnats to congregate and drive you crazy.

The good news: There are a handful of clever tactics for how to get rid of gnats in your house that require nothing more than ingredients that you probably have in your kitchen cabinets, pantry, and fridge. What follows is a room-by-room breakdown of gnat-removal strategies that will help you fix the problem before it gets worse.

First, a brief summary of how to get rid of gnats:

  1. Lure and kill gnats with a mixture of apple cider vinegar, water, sugar, and dish soap. (Alternatively, achieve the same result simply by combining red wine and dish soap.)
  2. Pour diluted bleach down the sink or tub drain, if you find gnats hovering near plumbing fixtures.
  3. Mash rotten bananas into a bowl, stretch plastic wrap over the top, and poke holes in the plastic.
  4. Kill individual gnats by employing a spray bottle filled with water, vinegar, and dish soap.

Continue reading for details on the above-mentioned methods.

How to Get Rid of Gnats in the House - On the Wall

Photo: fotosearch.com

Removing Gnats from the Kitchen

Have a few gnats hanging around your fruit basket? Here’s a tried-and-true way to get rid of them. To pull it off, you’ll need apple cider vinegar, sugar, dish soap, water, and a container. Simply mix approximately two tablespoons of vinegar with one liter of water. Add a tablespoon of sugar and a few drops of dish soap, stir it all together, and set the container near the fruit. The insects will be attracted to the scent, then when they make contact with the solution they’ll get stuck in the soap and drown.

Removing Gnats from the Dining Room

The next time you’re sipping a glass of red wine at the dinner table and notice the occasional gnat hovering around, get ready to set out an extra glass. Gnats are attracted to the sugary, fermented beverage, so use it to lure them to their death. Simply pour a small amount of wine into a glass, and add a dash of liquid soap—just be sure you don’t get confused and drink out of the wrong glass! The gnats will fly right in, get stuck, and collect in the alcohol.

Removing Gnats from the Bathroom

Gnats that swarm around the sink or above tub drains are particularly aggravating. Unfortunately, in these instances, apple cider vinegar or wine isn’t always enough to handle the problem. If some hover near the surface of the drain, try this trick to get rid of the gnats: Dilute some bleach with water, and then pour it down the drain. One-half cup of bleach to one gallon of water should be enough. (Be sure to wear protective gloves and a mask so you don’t inhale the fumes.) Repeat as needed until you don’t see any gnats.

Removing Gnats from the Pantry

Sure, rotten fruit attracts gnats, but it’s also something you can use to beat them at their own game. The next time you have a rotten or overripe banana, mash it into a container, such as a mason jar. Next, put plastic wrap over the top of the jar before puncturing the plastic with a scattering of holes. Gnats will wiggle through the openings to get to the fruit, but the transparent cover will prevent them from flying back out.

Removing Gnats from the Living Room

If you notice just a gnat or two circling the room, this method is for you: Fill a spray bottle with a mixture of one cup of water, one tablespoon of vinegar, and a few drops of dish soap. The next time you see a gnat flying around, zap it in the air with a spritz. And don’t worry—this solution won’t harm your indoor plants.

Solved! Does Grass Seed Go Bad?

Heed these simple storage solutions to help your leftover grass seed last until next season.

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Solved! Does Grass Seed Go Bad?

Photo: depositphotos.com

Q: I purchased two bags of grass seed last spring, and I am finally getting around to using them. However, one of the bags now has a musty odor. Does grass seed go bad?

A: Everyone wants a lush lawn with minimal effort and minimal expense, and planting grass seed can be a cost-effective solution. Known for its resilience, grass seed can typically last anywhere from two to 10 years, although the germination rate presented on the seeds’ package drops by 10 percent every year.

As well, it’s crucial that the seeds are stored in a dark, cool, and humidity-free space to keep them fresh and ready for germination, but you’ll read about in more detail below. So whether purchased from a wholesale distributor or your local home and garden shop, here’s what you need to know when solving the mystery, Does grass seed go bad?

Seed quality is a major influence on germination rate (and how soon seeds expire).

Does Grass Seed Go Bad: Seed Quality Impact

Photo: depositphotos.com

The grass seed germination rate—or the number of seeds that actually sprout in a season—is impacted by production location, harvesting conditions, and seed quality before you even bring home a bag. If the seeds were harvested in sub-optimal conditions, even in the best storage environments, the seeds’ germination rate will be significantly reduced.

When shopping, keep in mind that store-bought grass seed is packaged with a tested date and a germination rate, which will likely measure at 80 percent or higher. You can expect your seed to germinate at this rate when used within the first year post-packaging.

Buying seed from reputable distributors ensures you’re getting a quality product that was packaged and stored according to industry standards. And what about that bag of grass seed you inherited when your neighbors moved? Well, unless it’s unopened and in its original packaging, you might want to use it for nonconsequential seeding projects, such as overseeding.

The average time grass seed can last depends primarily on storage conditions.

According to the lawn-leader Scotts, grass seed can be stored for two to three years, that is if stored properly. However, even in ideal environments, the germination rate tends to decrease after storage. You should expect the initial germination rate to decrease by 10 to 20 percent for each subsequent year of storage. As the rate decreases, more seeds are required during sowing to fill the planting area.

The type of storage will affect the seeds’ longevity. If the seeds were placed into sealed containers immediately after harvesting, they will enjoy longer viability. Bagged seeds, on the other hand, tend to more quickly succumb to the negative effects of humidity. You can still use seed that’s been stored for longer periods of time, but more seed may be required to compensate for its reduced germination rate.

Avoid moisture, humidity, direct sunlight, and rodents when storing grass seed.

Excess moisture from rain and humidity increases the chances of fungal infection, molding, and premature sprouting. Rodents and other pests also present a problem because they feast on the seed, but leave its husk behind, which can be misleading to an untrained eye as the seed container still appears full.

While grass seed is reported to survive freezing temperatures in non-humid environments, it’s best to avoid temperature extremes as well––which means outdoor storage is not ideal. In addition, grass seed cannot tolerate being exposed to direct sunlight or rain for long periods of time.

Does Grass Seed Go Bad: Storing Grass Seeds

Photo: depositphotos.com

Maximize grass seed shelf life with the right container and strategies.

Ideal conditions for seed storage begin with a dry, cool, and dark space. Seeds are a magnet for moisture, so drying the seeds and placing them in a sealed container is recommended for long-term storage.

Still, bulk storage bags will do the trick if you intend to plant the seed in the coming season. These bags have perforations that permit trace amounts of humidity to enter, reducing germination over time. Placing storage bags in a space with airflow can help limit the effect of moisture exposure. If you’re storing left-over seeds in a breathable sack, such as burlap, try placing an opened box of baking soda in the area to keep moisture at a minimum. As well, make sure to date and label leftover seeds. And always check the seeds for signs of excess moisture and mildew before use.

Does Grass Seed Go Bad: Inspecting Grass Seeds

Photo: depositphotos.com

So, how can you tell if grass seeds are expired?

Everything comes with an expiration date these days––grass seed included. Seed bought from your local home and garden shop will display a sell-by date. If your seeds have surpassed their sell by date, they are not expired in the same way that we think of expired milk––it simply means that germination will be reduced. Even so, don’t neglect visual inspection because the presence of mold/fungus can indicate the grass seed has been damaged by moisture.

Performing a DIY germination test can also determine the seeds’ viability. Simply place 10 seeds on a damp paper towel inside a sealed plastic bag. Place the bag in a warm area for 10 days and watch for germination. If you find that fewer than five of the seeds sprout, the seed has a less than 50 percent viability rate. At a 50 percent viability, you’ll want to plant double the recommended amount.

The Dos and Don’ts of Vinyl Fence Installation

Installing a vinyl fence yourself can provide much-needed privacy, keep the family dog corralled, and add to the aesthetic appeal of your home for many years to come. You may even save some money in the process—but only if you follow the proper installation procedures.

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The Dos and Don'ts for a Successful Vinyl Fence Installation

Photo: istockphoto.com

Although few do-it-yourselfers relish the prospect of a weekend spent mixing hundreds of pounds of concrete and digging numerous post holes, most can handle a vinyl fence installation. In fact, according to the data collected by HomeAdvisor and its network of service professionals, these handy homeowners can save up to a third of the expense of a new fence by replacing professional labor costs with a little elbow grease.

Before diving into a project unprepared, consider the most common pitfalls. Overlooked building regulations, poorly set posts, and insufficient prep work can create problems that quickly eat into those savings and shorten the life of a fence. If you want your vinyl fence project to stand as a testament to your DIY abilities for a long time, you’ll need to make sure you follow some important dos and don’ts.

DO prepare the yard.

Vinyl Fence Installation: Digging the Post Hole

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Begin prepping your yard for the installation by calling 811 (or visiting call811.com) to schedule times for your utility companies to visit. They often bury lines around your home, so you’ll need representatives from each to mark the location of said lines. The process takes about a week, but don’t skip it. Digging without knowing what’s below is dangerous. Hitting a utility line with a shovel can result in serious injury or even death.

If you plan to erect the fence along the edge of your yard, verify the property line by checking your deed or by visiting the local assessor’s office. While this step may seem inconvenient, it’s certainly preferable to digging up a fence you inadvertently built on your neighbor’s property!

Once you’ve located the utility lines and established your property line, mark the perimeter of your fence with a can of brightly colored spray paint. Finally, clear away any rocks, plants, or debris that might be in the way.

DON’T install posts too close together.

Vinyl fencing will bend without breaking, allowing it to withstand high winds and minor impacts. This flexibility depends on proper vinyl fence installation. Install the posts too close together, and the vinyl fence panels will fit so tightly that they become rigid. This limits the vinyl’s ability to bend, increasing the likelihood that high winds or an errant object will damage the fence. You can avoid this issue by spacing the posts a full panel’s width apart and avoid having to cut a panel to a smaller size wherever possible.

Also, keep in mind that, like wood, vinyl fencing also expands and contracts. While wood swells when exposed to moisture, vinyl expands during hot weather. If you fit the fence panels too tightly between the posts, there will be no room to accommodate this expansion, which could result in warping or buckling. To prevent this from happening, each panel should have a few millimeters of wiggle room when installed.

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DON’T dig shallow holes.

Your fence is only as strong as the posts holding it up, so set each post securely in the ground—especially if you are in an area with high winds or soft soil. Posts with shallow holes are more likely to eventually lean under the weight of the fence or even blow over altogether in extreme weather.

So, how deep should fence posts be exactly? Although depth requirements vary depending on soil conditions and climate, you generally want a third of the post length to be in the ground. You also need to account for an additional 6 inches of gravel, which provides a base that will help drain water away from the post. So, if you’re planning on setting a post 3 feet deep, you’ll need to dig a hole that is 3 feet 6 inches deep to account for the gravel layer.

Vinyl Fence Installation: Depth of the Post Hole

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DO install end and corner posts first.

Lining up the posts accurately is critical to a successful vinyl fence installation. Given how difficult the process of installing posts can be, you don’t want to have to dig out a post and reinstall it because you didn’t correctly align it with the other posts. Eliminate the guesswork by installing the end posts and corner posts first. Once in place, stretch a string line between the posts, making sure the line is taut. Then use the string line as a guide for all of the posts in the middle.

DON’T neglect a level.

While you may want to save time by eyeballing whether or not your posts are level, don’t do it. The only accurate way to determine if each post is straight in the ground and even in height with the other posts is to use a quality level.

After installing a post and before the concrete has set, check that it is plumb by placing a level on two adjacent sides or by using a post level. To ensure the posts are even in height, run a tight string line between corner posts and end posts. Use a string line level or bench level to make sure the line is level, then check to see that each post in between meets the string line, adjusting the post heights where needed.

DO install one panel at a time.

Compared to the laborious process of setting posts, installing the vinyl panels is pretty easy: It typically involves snapping pieces together by hand with minimal need for tools. While this process might bring back memories of those snap-together model kits you built as a child, don’t get lulled into thinking you can speed through this portion of the vinyl fence installation.

Install one panel at a time, and keep your trusty level handy. Check to make sure each panel is level once installed. If your vinyl fence panels are in individual pieces, check the top and bottom rails as you connect them to make sure each is level. Level the panel as needed by hammering the high post lower before the cement fully sets. Correcting the fence as you go is much easier than attempting to level an entire fence later after the concrete has had an afternoon to cure.

DON’T hammer the material.

In many respects, vinyl is more durable than conventional wood fencing. Even so, it does not hold up well against blunt force impact. While it would be inaccurate to label vinyl fencing fragile, a miscalculated hammer swing can easily crack vinyl or even punch a hole in it. You can limit the use of one while installing a vinyl fence, but you can’t avoid it altogether. You need a hammer to lower posts that do not align properly with other ones.

There is, however, a safe way to do this. Instead of directly hammering the post, use a 1×4 or 2×4 block as a buffer. Rest the block on top of the post, then strike the block to drive the post deeper. The block will blunt the force of the blow while distributing the impact more evenly over the vinyl, preventing it from cracking.

DO check local regulations.

There’s nothing worse than completing a major fence building project only to receive a letter a few weeks later demanding you remove it because you’ve violated local zoning laws or your homeowner’s association’s covenants. (For example, many municipalities limit fence heights to 4 feet in the front yard and 6 feet in the backyard.) Do yourself a favor, and check all local regulations before proceeding with your project. This may mean submitting your plans to the HOA for approval or checking local zoning laws to ensure the new fence will be compliant with city regulations—it could save you a lot of grief and money in the long run.

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Solved! The Best Time to Spray Fruit Trees

Here’s how to know when to spray fruit trees for a delicious backyard crop of apples, peaches, or pears.

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Solved! The Best Time to Spray Fruit Trees

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Q: There are several fruit trees and vines in my garden that I would love to pick fruit from. Unfortunately, the fruit doesn’t grow very well and the leaves look bad. I probably need to spray but don’t know much about it. Can you tell me when to spray fruit trees?

A: Caring for fruit trees is a year-round job that includes pruning, fertilizing, removing diseased fruit, and spraying multiple applications at different times of the year. Timing is critical for each of these tasks. Pruning takes place in midwinter and late summer to stimulate vegetative growth and increase fruit production. Growers should fertilize trees during their growing season because it is during active growth that they absorb and use the nutrients.

To know when to spray fruit trees, you first need to know what threatens the tree and when the threat is active. An insect egg can lie dormant in the bark of an apple tree all winter, only to hatch and feed on the leaves in spring. Or a particular fungal spore might infect a peach tree only while the flowers are open. Knowing the timing and types of threats for each kind of fruit tree helps you to spray for maximum protection and minimal waste.

When to Spray Fruit Trees: Types of Sprays

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Dormant spray, insecticide, fungicide, or general-purpose spray? Know what to spray and when to spray it.

Spray applications are timed to control disease and insect pests. Timing coincides with plant and fruit development. Climate and weather play a huge role in the timing of fruit tree growth and development. Growth stages to watch for include dormancy, preblossom, blossom, petal fall, and fruit formation. Each stage has specific, observable characteristics.

Dormancy is the time before buds begin to swell in spring. Preblossom stage includes five distinct growth stages that are observed on the tree buds before the flowers open: silver buds, green tips, half-inch green, tight cluster (of flower buds), and pink (but not yet open) flower buds. Blossom is the stage from the time the first flower opens until the last petal drops. Petal fall is the time after blossom, before the first tiny fruits begin to develop. Fruit formation is the final stage, which lasts until harvest.

Avoid spraying while flowers are open, since insecticides sprayed at that time kill bees and other pollinators. Read and follow all safety precautions to minimize personal exposure to pesticides. Always follow pesticide mixing instructions. Increasing the concentration of the chemical in the spray solution does not kill insects faster. In fact, doing so kills more nontarget species and increases the likelihood of runoff contaminating local streams and groundwater.

  • Dormant spray, or dormant oil, refers to the timing of an application of horticultural oil. When sprayed on dormant fruit trees, horticultural oil kills overwintering scale insects, mealybugs, mites, aphids, and other pests on the bark of the tree. Depending on the manufacturer, horticultural oil has either a mineral (petroleum) or plant base. One application per year, or less, is typical.
  • Insecticidal sprays kill insect pests, especially those that feed on foliage, bore into trunks, or spoil developing fruit. Most fruit crops require multiple applications through the growing season for protection against different bugs. Avoid spraying insecticides while flowers are present, as these products also kill pollinators.
  • Fungicidal sprays control the spread of fungal and bacterial diseases in fruit trees. You might need to apply fungicide several times throughout the growing season to protect against different diseases. Although fungicide is not rated for control of insects, many of these products can damage or kill pollinators, so avoid spraying fungicide while flowers are open.
  • General-purpose sprays control most insect and disease pests of fruit trees. Simply spray a single product at defined intervals throughout the growing season. There is no need for specialized knowledge of plant diseases or insect life cycles. On the downside, using only general-purpose fruit tree spray increases unnecessary pesticide exposure. There are times when only a fungicide or an insecticide is required, but this product contains both. Further, general-purpose sprays might not control some problematic insects and diseases.
  • Foliar fertilizer sprays of micronutrients like zinc, copper, magnesium, molybdenum, boron, and calcium can aid fruit development where these nutrients are lacking or unavailable due to soil alkalinity. These elements mix with water for applying directly to the leaves, which absorb the nutrients and efficiently move them to developing fruits. Strictly follow label instructions to avoid damaging trees. Major nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and calcium should be applied to the root zone.
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When to Spray Fruit Trees: General Purpose Fruit Tree Spray During the Growing Season

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Use general purpose fruit tree sprays during the growing season to protect against insects and diseases.

General-purpose fruit tree sprays conveniently cut spray application time in half. A powerful mix of broad-spectrum insecticide and fungicide is the key. Active ingredients might include organic products like pyrethrins and neem oil, or inorganic chemicals like malathion, carbaryl, and captan.

Apply general purpose fruit tree spray at one- to two-week intervals following key plant development observations. The first application is at green tip, followed by pre-bloom, full pink, petal fall, first cover (one week after petal fall), and second cover (two weeks after petal fall). Trees might require additional treatments. Consult the product label for detailed directions because some chemicals can go on a fruit tree up to the day of harvest, but others indicate “do not spray within __ days of harvest.” Each product varies.

Fertilize during early fruit development.

If your fruit trees show symptoms of deficiency in zinc, copper, magnesium, molybdenum, boron, or calcium, a foliar application of one or more of these micronutrients may help. Foliar spray of micronutrients aids fruit development where certain micronutrients are lacking in the soil or are unavailable due to soil alkalinity. Apply foliar sprays of micronutrients on a cool, overcast day at or near the petal drop stage. Be cautious with this approach as unnecessary or excessive application of these nutrients can damage fruit trees.

Foliar fertilizer cannot replace proper soil fertility. The major nutrients that trees need cannot be absorbed in sufficient quantities through foliage, and fertilizer applied to foliage does not travel throughout the body of the plant.

The best time to fertilize fruit trees is in early spring. Apply granular fertilizer across the root zone around the time the leaf buds open. This is the signal that the tree is ready to actively grow. The first flush of growth in spring comes from energy stored in the roots. By the time the fertilizer penetrates the soil into the root zone, the tree is ready to take up the nutrients for optimum growth and fruiting.

Avoid fertilizing after mid-spring. A spike in soil nutrients during fruit development can cause trees to abort fruit to produce more vegetative growth.

When to Spray Fruit Trees: Dormant Spray in Late Winter

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Use dormant sprays in late winter to kill overwintering insect pests on fruit trees.

Apply dormant oil in late winter or early spring if there was intense pest pressure during the previous growing season. This treatment normally goes on every three to five years. Unless pest populations spike, it is not necessary to spray dormant oil every year.

You must complete dormant spraying before buds begin to swell. Air temperature is critical during application to ensure complete coverage and avoid damaging the trees. The temperature must be above 40 degrees Fahrenheit during application. While spraying, be sure to fully coat all surfaces of the tree, paying close attention to undersides of branches and branch crotches.

Use fungicidal sprays during the growing season to protect fruit trees against diseases.

Targeted, stand-alone fungicide treatments significantly improve fruit quality when applied at the proper time. Fruit disease spores infect their hosts when environmental conditions are ideal. Some fungal spores activate during cool, wet spring weather. Other diseases spread in hot, humid summer conditions. It is important to anticipate plant diseases and begin treating them just before they arrive.

Each kind of fruit tree has its own ideal fungicide spray schedule based on the diseases that threaten it. Fungicide applications are most critical during the green tip through petal fall stages of apple and pear trees. Peach trees and plum trees require spring, summer, and fall disease control treatments for best results. Find application timing on the product label for the prevention of specific diseases.

Use insecticidal sprays during the growing season to protect fruit trees against insects.

Apply insecticidal sprays at 2-week intervals from green tip until bloom, and from petal drop until harvest for general insect control. It is possible for insects to build up tolerance to even the best insecticide if it is used repeatedly. The solution is to alternate applying insecticides with different active ingredients. If you primarily use a general-purpose spray to kill insects and diseases, alternate the scheduled treatments using a different kind of insecticide to eliminate the risk of pests building up tolerance to either chemical. Read the active ingredients on the label to be sure.

When to Spray Fruit Trees: Combination Spray During the Growing Season

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Use combination sprays during the growing season to target both insects and diseases.

Combination sprays are two different pesticides sold individually, normally an insecticide and a fungicide, mixed into the same sprayer and applied at the same time. Like mixing your own general-purpose fruit tree spray, this practice is a way to customize an application and save time. Combination spraying is a way to do an all-in-one spray with a single application if your normal procedure is to alternate pesticides.

Not all products are compatible, and some mixtures can be dangerous. Read both product labels before mixing to ensure that mixing the two is safe and allowable.

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How To: Overseed a Lawn For a Lush, Green Yard

Overseeding improves the condition of your lawn by choking out weeds and clover and filling in bare spots.

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How To: Overseed a Lawn For a Lush, Green Yard

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A full, green lawn creates curb appeal and makes you feel like sipping an iced tea on the back patio. But if bare spots peek through and weeds overpower the grass, the lawn might be more of an eyesore than a point of pride. Overseeding chokes weeds and fills out the grass until it’s thick and lush. If you’re not sure how to overseed a lawn, all it takes is the right tools, smart timing, and a little knowledge about your local climate.

At its most basic, overseeding adds more grass to a lawn without turning the topsoil. For many homeowners, overseeding is part of general lawn maintenance. Some lawns might need overseeding once a year if drought or disease threaten the grass, and other lawns might need it every few years only to brighten the grass and keep it full. A few basic tools like a lawn mower, seed spreader, fertilizer spreader, and rake make up the basics needed for overseeding. With the right grass seed and timing, overseeding will restore the lawn and make it hard to resist spending the day lounging in the yard.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS Available on Amazon
Lawn mower
Rake
Soil test kit (optional)
Seed spreader
Fertilizer spreader
Hose
Sprinkler

How To Overseed a Lawn: Aerating Before Overseeding

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Before You Begin

If the lawn has thatch (a compact layer of grass and soil), it might need aerating before overseeding. Otherwise, the grass seed used in overseeding won’t reach the soil to germinate and take root. Aerating creates holes in the grass and soil through which water, oxygen, and vital nutrients can reach the new grass seed and the roots of the existing grass.

How to Overseed a Lawn

STEP 1: Mow and rake the lawn.

The goal of overseeding a lawn is to get the grass seed in contact with the soil. To do that, the first step is to mow the lawn. Mow it shorter than usual so the grass seed will have a better chance of reaching the soil. Make sure to bag the clippings so they don’t come between the seeds and soil.

After mowing, rake the entire lawn to remove dead grass, rocks, sticks, and any other debris. This process removes any final barriers between the grass seed and soil while also loosening the soil in preparation for seeding and germination.

How To Overseed a Lawn: Amend the Soil

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STEP 2: Amend the soil.

Soil amendments are different from fertilizers in that amendments have specific nutrients and chemical compositions for specific soil types. For example, lime, wood ash, and poultry manure raise the pH level of acidic soil to make it more suitable for certain plants and grasses. Sulfur amendments, on the other hand, add acidity to alkaline soil. Additions of peat moss for clay soil and compost for sandy soil also can improve the nutrients in and condition of the lawn.

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If a lawn has not been growing and greening as it should, doing a soil test can determine the soil type and pH. The test results will identify what, if any, types of amendments the soil needs for grass to develop. Keep in mind that if the soil has a neutral pH and is fertile, it likely needs no amendments.

How To Overseed a Lawn: Add the Seeds

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STEP 3: Add the seeds.

Load the grass seed into a seed spreader and spread about 16 seeds per square inch of soil. The right seed density will depend on the thickness of the existing lawn, so some lawns might need less. You also can spread grass seed by hand if you don’t have a spreader.

Choose a grass seed designed for your climate or region and that complements the existing grass. Lawns with cool-season grasses thrive in variable temperatures like those found in the Northeast and Pacific Northwest. Warm-season grasses grow best in a climate like that of the southern United States. Consulting the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map can help determine the average local climate to choose the appropriate grass type. Look for grass seed that’s rated by the National Turf Evaluation Program because these varieties have been tested and found resistant to disease, drought, and common pests.

STEP 4: Apply fertilizer.

Select the best fertilizer, and load it into a fertilizer spreader. Then, scatter around the perimeter of the lawn first to make sure fertilizer reaches the edges. Next, follow a pattern similar to a mowing pattern by moving in straight rows until the entire lawn is fertilized.

There are different types of fertilizer spreaders, including a broadcast spreader, handheld spreader, snap spreader, drop spreader, and liquid sprayer. Fertilizing small yards often requires a small handheld spreader only, while larger yards will take less time and effort with a broadcast spreader. The yard size and fertilizer type will determine which type of spreader is best. For example, liquid fertilizer requires a liquid fertilizer spreader like one of these quality backpack sprayers, and mid-sized yards are more easily fertilized with a snap or drop spreader.

How To Overseed a Lawn: Water the Lawn

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STEP 5: Water the lawn.

After fertilizing, water the lawn for a short time each day. Water in the morning to maximize the water intake. More evaporation occurs during the afternoon and evening, which means it will take more water to get the same benefits. You don’t want to overwater, since this can wash the seed away, prevent germination, or encourage thatch development and the growth of fungus and weeds. If there are puddles or the ground feels spongy, cut back on the watering time.

RELATED: Solved! How Long Does Grass Take to Grow?

Part of learning how to overseed a lawn requires knowing when to overseed, which depends on the climate and grass type. Cool-season grasses seed best in the late summer and early fall. The cooler temperatures slow the growth of the existing grass but give the seeds time to germinate and grow before the grass goes dormant. Warm-season grass does best when seeded in the early spring to the early summer. In this case, the seed has time to germinate and grow before the warmest summer temperatures hit.

This method of overseeding should successfully fill in the lawn with lush, green growth. Remember to choose a grass seed intended for your climate and perform a soil test to determine whether the lawn needs any extra nutrients to germinate and thrive. Finally, water the lawn for a short time each day and don’t mow until the new growth reaches 1 to 2 inches in height.

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Zero Turn vs. Lawn Tractor: The Right Mower for Large Yards

Zero-turn mowers and lawn tractors provide the wide decks and speed needed to maintain large yards. However, they have their pros and cons, which could make one a better choice for your yard.

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Zero Turn vs. Lawn Tractor: The Right Mower for Large Yards

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Lawns over half an acre give you plenty of space to play and lounge in the great outdoors. However, when it’s time to mow, you’re looking at a major commitment. Factor in landscaping like flower beds and trees, and you’ll likely add some trimming and spot mowing to your to-do list. The power machines of the landscaping world—zero turn vs. lawn tractor—can keep you from spending the better part of every Saturday behind a lawn mower.

A lot of factors go into determining which type of mower would be best suited for your lawn. Your yard’s size, incline, and landscaping all come into play. Before choosing between the two most common lawn mower types for large yards, get to know the biggest differences between zero-turn mowers and lawn tractors. This guide lays out the pros and cons of each to help you avoid making a mowing mistake with the wrong mower.

Zero-turn mowers are better for lawns with curves.

If your yard spans ½ an acre or more and is dotted with trees, bushes, and flower beds, a zero-turn mower will save you time when it comes to your lawn care routine. Zero-turn mowers have dual-hydrostatic transmissions controlled by two levers, which are key factors in their responsiveness and tight turning radius.

To move forward in a straight line, you press both levers forward, making sure to keep them even. To turn the mower, you either slow or stop power to one side by pulling the lever back, while the other side continues to move forward, giving the mower the ability to do a zero (or near zero) radius turn. This gives zero-turn mowers a mowing pattern that leaves far fewer missed patches of grass at the end of the swath or around curves and corners.

In comparison, lawn tractors have a wide turn radius, which leaves a patch of grass at the end of every swath. You can either come back around on a second pass to get those missed patches or stop and reverse to cut every blade of grass.

 

Zero Turn vs. Lawn Tractor: Slope Mowing

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Lawn tractors power over slopes and hills.

Lawn tractors have a front-wheel drive that allows them to inch up slopes and hills with relative ease. In contrast, a zero-turn mower’s rear-wheel drive may be difficult to control or lose traction on uneven ground.

However, a word of caution: Both types of mowers can tip over on extreme slopes, which is anything over 15 degrees. Some lawn tractors and zero-turn mowers have roll bars and seat belts, but you’re better off using a push mower or a trimmer on extreme slopes.

A lawn tractor’s steering wheel provides intuitive control.

For those who want to jump on the lawn mower and go, a lawn tractor’s familiar steering wheel and gas pedal will take little if any time to get used to. Basically, you push the gas pedal and go, just like you would in a car. When you want to slow down, you release the gas and press the brake.

The differential speed control offered by a zero-turn machine’s dual-hydrostatic transmission, on the other hand, can take some practice. On these models, you control the speed by pressing the control levers forward rather than using a foot pedal. Hydrostatic transmissions can be touchy, so there may be some lurching and sudden stops until you get a feel for the speed control.

You also have to learn how to time the manipulation of the levers (one pressing forward, the other pulling back) when making turns. Considering that zero-turn mowers can go faster than lawn tractors as well means you’ll be trying to learn how to control the machine at higher speeds.

If you’re nervous about controlling a zero-turn model, a few newer machines have joystick control, which is much easier to use but still requires practice to master.

 

Zero Turn vs. Lawn Tractor: Deck Size

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Deck size makes a difference, but the winner will depend on your yard.

The wider the deck, the fewer swaths it will take to cover the lawn, and the faster you can mow your full property. Lawn tractors have decks that range from 42 to 54 inches, while zero-turn mowers have decks from 42 to over 60 inches.

Choosing the appropriate deck size (and the mower or tractor that provides it) not only involves considering the size of your yard but also the width of the narrowest spaces you’ll need to mow in between or around. To maintain tight spaces between trees or flower beds, you’ll need a narrower deck. However, if you have a flat yard that’s 2 or 3 acres without obstacles, choose the machine with the widest deck you can afford.

Zero-turn mowers go faster, but slower speeds leave a cleaner cut.

Zero-turn mowers offer clean cuts at 5 miles per hour (mph) and can reach speeds of more than 10 mph. In comparison, lawn tractors mow at about 4 mph with a top speed of around 7 mph. However, in some circumstances, such as on sloped or hilly terrain, lawn tractors may be able to maintain their traction and speed better and, therefore, may occasionally mow faster under certain circumstances.

Know that cut quality goes down the faster you mow, whether you’re on a zero-turn or lawn tractor. Even if you have a zero-turn mower, the top speeds are generally used for traveling to another part of the yard rather than actually mow the lawn.

 

Zero Turn vs. Lawn Tractor: Price

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Both types of mowers are pricey, but zero-turn models rise to the top.

When it comes to price—zero turn vs. lawn tractors—both top the price charts. However, lawn tractors are the more affordable of the two, and they’ll earn their keep. They may also be used to pull carts, sprayers, spreaders, and other yard equipment. For the right buyer, a lawn tractor may be a smart investment. A base model starts around $1,200, but any extra accessories like a bagging kit, trailer, or sprayers must be purchased separately.

Zero-turn mowers start around $2,500 and go well above $5,000, and you may have to buy a bagging kit separately. If your yard spans several acres and/or has a wide range of trees and flowers you need to mow around, a zero-turn model may be well worth it for the time it saves.

How To: Remove Stain from Wood

Removing wood stain may seem like a daunting task, but it can be a simple DIY project with the right know-how.

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How To: Remove Stain from Wood

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If you’re updating hardwood floors or refinishing a piece of furniture, for the best results, you need to remove the existing stain first. Removing wood stain can be an involved process since it absorbs into the grain of the wood.

Most stained wood has a coat of protective varnish that must be eliminated as well. So, technically you must first use the chemical stripper to clear away the varnish (and some of the stain will lift, too), then sand away a thin layer from the surface of the wood to remove most of the stain. You can also sand away minor scratches and fill in deep gouges. Then, apply a fresh coat of stain and varnish to make your piece of furniture or wood flooring look brand new.

Removing wood stain is an easy home improvement project that first time DIYers can tackle in an afternoon. Learn how to remove stain from wood with some pro tips to help get the job done right.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS Available on Amazon
Drop cloth
Chemical resistant gloves
Safety glasses
Respirator mask
Natural bristle paintbrush
Chemical wood stripper
Plastic scraper
Steel wool
Rags
Medium grit sandpaper
Fine grit sandpaper
Electric hand sander

STEP 1: Prepare your work area.

Before you get started, it’s important to know that most wood strippers (and even paint strippers designed to handle varnish) contain harsh chemicals that are dangerous to breathe in and should not touch your skin. If possible, work outdoors. If your wood piece is too large or not movable, make sure windows are open and the room is well-ventilated. Lay down a drop cloth to protect the work area (if you are stripping stain from a piece of furniture).

STEP 2: Organize the tools and materials.

Have the paintbrush, stripper, and plastic scraper within reaching distance. Put on protective clothing such as a long sleeve shirt, long pants, and closed-toe shoes. Before you open the stripper, put on the chemical resistant gloves and safety glasses. You do not want any of the stripper to come into contact with your skin or splash in your eyes. Finally, put on the respirator.

Pro Tip: Read the manufacturer’s instructions for the chemical stripper. They may offer specific recommendations on the proper protective gear to use.

STEP 3: Pour the stripper in a smaller container.

Only use a container that is designed specifically to hold corrosive solvents such as a disposable aluminum pan or a metal bowl. Pour the stripper into the container carefully so you don’t get any on your clothes or the floor.

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How To Remove Stain from Wood: Applying Stripper

Photo: istockphoto.com

STEP 4: Apply a thick layer of stripper.

Dip the paintbrush in the container of stain stripper and apply a thick layer of the stripper to the wood. Carefully brush it across the surface of the wood until the entire surface is covered. Be sure to keep the layer of stripper even and thick.

Pro Tip: If the piece of furniture you are working on is large, it’s easier to strip the stain off a small area first as opposed to the whole piece at once.

STEP 5: Let it soak.

The stripper needs to soak for a good 15 to 20 minutes. However, it’s best to read the label on your stain stripper for specific timing instructions. Check on it every few minutes. If you notice any dry areas, apply more stripper.

STEP 6: Scrape the stain stripper off the wood.

Use a plastic scraper to scrape the varnish and stain. Start at one edge and gently push the scraper across the surface of the wood in a straight line. Scrape off the debris, and repeat in a different spot. Continue until all the stain stripper has been scraped off the surface of the wood.

STEP 7: Wipe down the surface.

Dip a steel-wool pad in the stripper and wipe down the surface. Follow the direction of the grain. Be sure to get into every nook and cranny. Once you are satisfied that all the protective coating has been removed, wipe down the surface of the wood with a wet rag. Allow the piece of wood to dry for 24 hours.

How To Remove Stain from Wood: Sanding the Surface

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STEP 8: Sand your surface.

Once the wood is dry, sand the surface with medium-grit sandpaper. If working on a large area, use an electric hand sander. Continue sanding until you remove all traces of the varnish and stain. As you continue to sand, the existing stain will fade away, and the raw wood beneath will be exposed.

Follow up with fine-grit sandpaper to smooth out any scratches made from the coarse sandpaper. Once you are satisfied with the color of the wood, wipe the surface with a damp rag to remove the wood dust. Now, the piece of wood is ready for a new stain and protective finish.

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5 Things to Know Before You Replace a Garage Door Spring

Safety and caution take precedence when getting your garage door back into shape.

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5 Things to Know Before You Replace a Garage Door Spring

Photo: istockphoto.com

A garage door spring is one of those household items you probably never think about. Until it’s broken, that is, and you’re stuck in the garage with a door that won’t open and a car that can’t get you to work.

When you’re faced with a this snag, you have a couple of options: calling a pro or replace a garage door spring yourself. Getting a professional to replace the spring can cost between $200 to $300, while undertaking this DIY project yourself can cost $30 to $100 in parts. While replacing the spring yourself may save you a few bucks, having a pro do it will save you from the hazards that come with this task, particularly if you’re a less experienced DIYer.

If you want to try tackling this project on your own, or if you’d like to know more about what’s involved before you decide whether to pick up the phone or head to the hardware store, the following tips will help.

1. Know the different types of garage door springs.

Replace a Garage Door Spring: Different Types of Springs

Photo: istockphoto.com

Before attempting to replace a garage door spring, verify the type of spring that you need to replace. These springs fall into two main categories:

Extension Springs

Long, skinny springs that run parallel to the door’s horizontal tracks, extension springs store energy by extending or stretching when the door is moved. They can be open-looped, double-looped, or clipped-end.

  • Open-looped extension springs are the weakest style of extension spring and rely on an open wire at the end. If this wire is broken, the entire spring needs to be replaced, even if this is the only part of the mechanism that is faulty.
  • Double-looped extension springs are stronger than open-looped, featuring two coils at the end of the spring that connect to the pulley and eyebolt.
  • Clipped-end extension springs are the most robust of the three. They tend to last longer and are frequently used on garage doors that weigh more than 200 lbs.

Torsion Springs

A garage door can have between one to four torsion springs, depending on the size, weight, and strength of the door. These springs are broad and can be found on a metal shaft directly above the door opening. Aluminum drums are placed on either end of the metal shaft and the springs are wound to a specific torsion setting in relation to the assembly. They can be standard, early-set, steel rolling-door, or torque-master springs.

  • Standard torsion springs are frequently found on residential garage doors, with lighter doors only requiring one spring for effective operation.
  • Early-set torsion springs are similar to standard torsion springs, except that they are mounted in the middle of the torsion shaft.
  • Steel rolling-door torsion springs are normally seen in commercial and industrial buildings. These springs are contained within the torsion barrel.
  • Torque-master torsion springs are enclosed in the torsion shaft and are held in place by a winding cone that sits at the end of each torsion rods.

For residential replacements, the most common spring types are any of the extension springs, and either the standard or early-set torsion springs. Steel rolling-door and torque-master springs tend to be used only in commercial and industrial applications with much heavier garage doors.

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2. You can source replacement springs online or from hardware stores or manufacturers.

Finding a replacement spring for the garage door shouldn’t be difficult, provided you’ve taken measurements beforehand and determined which type of spring you need. You can purchase torsion and extension springs online or find them at various hardware stores, including The Home Depot and Lowe’s. However, the spring manufacturer or a professional garage door repair company may be a better option if you are not sure what you are looking for. They will likely carry the exact spring you need and will be able to answer any questions you have before you begin your project.

For those looking to hire a company to replace the spring, it is always better to have the professionals bring their own materials so that there is no discrepancy with parts once they are on site.

3. DIYers should proceed with care and caution.

Garage door spring replacements fall into two categories of hazard severity, depending on whether the springs are extension springs or torsion springs.

  • Extension springs can be replaced relatively easily by a DIYer with basic knowledge of garage doors. The dangers to be aware of during this replacement include falling garage doors, activated openers during replacement, and minor cuts due to old or rusted metal.
  • Torsion springs are heavy metal springs that are under considerable tension. Working with springs under tension can pose serious hazards, including flying metal if a winding cone or spring breaks, risk of minor to severe cuts, falling garage doors, and activated openers during replacement.

While it is possible for you to replace either type of garage door spring by yourself, unless you’re a very experienced DIYer, torsion spring replacements are best left to the pros.

Replace a Garage Door Spring: Extension Garage Door Springs

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4. Replace extension garage door springs by following these steps.

Extension spring replacements are common projects for DIYers, as they are relatively simple and safe tasks that do not involve the dangers of managing spring tension. The following steps will walk you through how to replace an extension garage door spring.

  1. Open the garage door to remove all spring tension and clamp it in place. Once in place, disconnect the garage door opener.
    Use a piece of tape to mark the current placement of the pulley so that it can be reinstalled at the same place.
  2. Disconnect the spring from the track bracket and the spring pulley.
  3. A safety cable is threaded through the spring to hold it in place.
  4. Disconnect the safety cable from the bracket and remove the old spring.
  5. Identify the spring replacement that you will need. For extension springs, they have been color-coded with a repeating pattern that indicates the amount of weight they can lift. Simply reference the color of the current spring to figure out what spring to purchase:
    • Tan: 100 pounds
    • White: 110 pounds
    • Green: 120 pounds
    • Yellow: 130 pounds
    • Blue: 140 pounds
    • Red: 150 pounds
    • Brown: 160 pounds
    • Orange: 170 pounds
    • Gold: 180 pounds
    • Light Blue: 190 pounds
  6. Purchase a new spring that matches the old spring.
  7. Thread the safety cable through the new spring and attach the spring to the track bracket.
  8. Reattach the safety cable and the pulley, ensuring that the wire from the pulley is kept away from the safety cable. Use the piece of tape that you attached before removing the pulley to make sure that the pulley is installed in the correct location.
  9. Remove the clamps and connect the garage door opener.
  10. Test the garage door to be sure that the replacement worked. If the door doesn’t close all the way, or closes too quickly, inspect the location of the pulley and the extension spring hardware, adjusting as necessary.

 

Replace a Garage Door Spring: Torsion Garage Door Springs

Photo: istockphoto.com

5. Replace torsion garage door springs by following these steps.

Replacing torsion springs is the more difficult and potentially dangerous task. Attempt the following steps only if you are a very experienced DIYer. In particular, you should undertake steps 2 and 3 and steps 13 through 16 with extreme caution. If in doubt, leave the job to a pro.

  1. Unplug the opener and clamp the garage door to the track so that the door cannot open when the tension is released on the springs.
  2. Climb up on a sturdy ladder beside the winding cone at the end of the spring. Insert a winding bar (available on Amazon) into the winding cone to hold the spring in place. Test the force that you will be working with by pushing the winding bar up one quarter turn and then bringing it back down. Once satisfied with the grip on the winding bar, loosen the screw set.
  3. Keep one bar in the cone at all times to prevent it from rapidly unwinding and potentially injuring you.
  4. Lower the winding bar to the top of the garage door, then insert a second winding bar.
  5. Remove the first winding bar and lower the second bar to the top of the garage door, then insert the first winding bar into the next hole. Repeat steps 4 and 5 until the spring is completely unwound.
  6. Loosen and remove the torsion hardware that secures the center stationary torsion cones to the spring bracket.
  7. Remove the springs, cables, and cable drums.
  8. For torsion springs, measure the wire size, inside diameter of the spring (most springs have a 2-inch inside diameter), spring length, and determine the winding orientation (whether the spring is left-wound or right-wound).
  9. Purchase a new spring that matches the old spring in type, size, and orientation.
  10. Slide the new left spring onto the torsion tube with the stationary cone facing the center bracket, then reinstall the cable drum.
  11. Install the center bearing and the new right spring and then secure the cones.
  12. Thread the cables and tighten the drums. Make sure that the tension is equal on both sides to prevent the door from opening unevenly.
  13. Using the winding bars, begin winding the spring in the opposite direction as it was unwound. Ensure that at least one winding bar is in the winding cone at all times.
  14. Wind the spring as many turns as is recommended by the supplier.
  15. Using a hammer, tap the winding bar to stretch the spring out ¼-inch.
  16. Tighten the set screws on the winding cone.
  17. Lubricate the spring with garage door lubricant, then remove the clamp from the garage door.
  18. Test the spring by lifting the door about 3 feet. If the door remains in place, the replacement was a success. If the door falls, you’ll need to tighten the spring by a quarter turn until it stays open on its own. If the door opens, you’ll need to loosen the spring by a quarter turn until it remains in place.
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