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.


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.

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

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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

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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.


How To: Get Rid of Gnats

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.

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.

1

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

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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?

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.

Solved! Does Grass Seed Go Bad?

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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

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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

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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

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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

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.

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.


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

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.

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

Photo: depositphotos.com

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

Photo: depositphotos.com

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.


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

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.

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

Photo: deere.com

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

Photo: deere.com

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.


5 Things to Know Before You Replace a Garage Door Spring

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.

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

Photo: istockphoto.com

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.

The Dos and Don’ts of Sealing the Deck

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.

The Dos and Don’ts of Sealing the Deck

Photo: istockphoto.com

A backyard deck is the perfect platform for good times, but that wooden surface needs a proper sealant to protect it against the ravages of sun, rain, and temperature fluctuations. While you can hire a decking contractor to seal the surface, many homeowners opt to tackle the task—and save between about $550 and $1,260, according to HomeAdvisor. While sealing a wooden deck isn’t the toughest DIY project, there are definitely tricks and techniques that help ensure quality results. So consider these dos and don’ts for sealing a deck so you’ll get the job done right the first time.

DO wait 30 days before sealing a new deck.

If you’ve just put in a new deck, you’re no doubt itching to finish the job by sealing it. But preservatives in the wood often require about 30 days’ dwell time before the deck can soak up the sealant. After a 30-day period, pour some water on your deck. If it beads up, the wood is still too wet to seal, but if the water is absorbed, it’s ready to seal. Be sure to apply sealant as soon as the wood is ready; leaving the deck exposed any longer increases the likelihood of both ultraviolet (UV) and moisture damage.

DON’T confuse paint, stain, and sealant.

Sealing the Deck: Difference Between paint, stain, and sealant

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Sealant, stain, and paint can all be applied to a deck for different degrees of protection.

  • Sealants are primarily used to protect against moisture damage. They contain waterproof or water repellant properties and have a thicker viscosity than stains. Unlike stains, sealants lack pigmentation and generally provide less UV protection than stains.
  • Stains always include pigmentation, which adds color to the deck and helps protect against UV damage. Even the best deck stains generally offer only moderate moisture protection.
  • Paint, be it latex or oil-based, can protect against both UV and moisture damage, but the best deck paint generally doesn’t hold up as long sealant or stain. Also, if there’s any lingering moisture in the wood during application, paint will be susceptible to bubbling and chipping.

Bottom line: A combined stain-and-sealant product offers durable, moisture- and UV-protection with the least drawbacks. In lieu of that, you can apply a simple stain to the deck and, after 48 hours, apply sealant for a similar level of protection.

RELATED: What’s the Difference? Painting vs. Staining the Deck

 

Wash Before Sealing the Deck

Photo: istockphoto.com

DO repair, wash, and sand your deck before sealing.

Proper prep is key to successfully sealing a deck. Repair or replace any loose or broken boards, so that future breaks or cracks won’t create hazards. Then, wash the deck using a power-washer to scrub the surface clean. Allow to dry for 24 hours, then sand the surface with between a 60 to 150 grit sandpaper or sanding disk. Use a powered sanding tool to remove the top layer of wood, which could act as a barrier to the sealant.

On a previously stained deck, also be sure to sand the entire surface—areas where the sealant has worn away as well as those that still have moisture protection intact. This moisture protection would prevent new sealant from being absorbed, so sand evenly to ensure a clean, bare surface.

Finally, sweep or vacuum thoroughly. Even a brand new deck will need at least a brief washing and drying to banish any dirt and grime accumulated during the initial 30 drying period.

DON’T apply sealant to damp or frosty surfaces.

Applying sealant to a damp or frosty deck will lead, at best, to an uneven, splotchy seal that can’t effectively protect your deck. At worst, the sealant will bead up on the water and fail to be absorbed, creating a messy, dangerous slipping hazard. Always allow the surface to dry for at least 24 hours after a rainfall before sealing a deck.

 

Apply Proper Technique When Sealing the Deck

Photo: istockphoto.com

DO use proper tools and technique for sealing a deck.

Deck sealant can be applied using a roller, a paint brush, or even a paint sprayer. You can work from a standing position with a pole or on your hands and knees (kneepads highly recommended). Work slowly enough to ensure that every inch of the deck gets an adequate amount of sealant.

Overly thick sealant is prone to peeling and chipping, so avoid oversaturating the surface by applying only one coat of sealant at a time. In most cases, all you’ll need is one coat, but should you wish to apply a second coat, wait at least 24 hours.

DON’T disregard temperature and time of day.

Plan to seal your deck when temperature and time of day are ideal. Aim for a pleasant, not-too-windy day between 50 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Get to work in the morning, as the hot sun of a summer afternoon can cause sealant to evaporate quickly, preventing adequate absorption.

 

Sealing the Deck Is Required Once a Year

Photo: istockphoto.com

DO apply a sealant-and-stain product once a year.

Consider this a general rule, depending on climate and the age of your deck. In sunnier regions, adhere strictly to a once-a-year schedule to protect the wood from powerful UV rays. Northern regions may get away with a two- or even three-year cycle; however, these regions are more susceptible to moisture damage, so be vigilant about sanding the deck before sealing to ensure that the sealant is able to soak into the wood to provide long term protection against melting snow and other moisture damage.

DON’T use the deck for 48 hours.

While sealant is normally dry to the touch within a few hours, for a proper seal that protects the wood, stay off your deck for two full days. To remind family members, put yellow caution tape across the access routes to the deck. After 48 hours, let the partying begin!


5 Signs It’s Time to Replace a Subfloor

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.

5 Signs It's Time to Replace a Subfloor

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It’s difficult to know everything that goes on below your flooring. Underneath the hardwood, laminate, tile, or carpet lies the subfloor, and it’s a component that only gets attention during a full-scale renovation or a full-blown problem. Even some of the telltale signs are easy to ignore. By the time that the issue becomes apparent, it might be too late for your subfloor.

A subfloor is the structural sheathing that spans the floor joists. It’s almost always completely hidden under some type of finished-flooring material. Depending on when a home was built, a subfloor could be made from softwood boards like pine or fir, plywood, or OSB (oriented strand board). OSB is a composite of glue and strips of scrap wood, in sheets 4 feet wide and 8 or 12 feet long. OSB is fast to install and less expensive than real wood or plywood, making it the go-to material for modern subfloors.

Subflooring can last a very long time. Under normal conditions, a subfloor can last as long as the house itself. However, should a subfloor be damaged or defective, it may only last 20 to 30 years. Should this be the case, a homeowner might need to peel back the layers of flooring and get to work. Here are five signs it’s time to replace a subfloor.

1. Those squeaks could be calling for your attention.

Squeaks Might Indicate That It's Time to Replace a Subfloor

Photo: istockphoto.com

It’s not uncommon for flooring to have a little squeak to it. Often, it’s so typical that it goes completely unnoticed. If your floor is starting to sound like the Tin Man without his oil can, however, it might require some attention. Squeaking occurs when the wood in your subfloor rubs against a nail. Under ideal circumstances, the nails hold the subfloor firmly to the joists, avoiding any squeaking issues. Should that subfloor begin to warp or twist (especially common in softwood subfloors), nails will begin to work themselves loose from the joists and those squeaks will begin to speak up.

2. Sinking sections are tell-tale signs of subfloor failure.

Issues with a subfloor become far more apparent when walking through a living room feels more like a stroll through rolling hills. If a floor begins to sink between floor joists, it’s a sure sign that there is an issue. This is commonly caused by moisture issues deteriorating the wood, but it can also be caused by improper installation. When subfloors are installed, any end-to-end joints between boards or sheets are supposed to meet on top of a floor joist. Should that joint be off by only an inch, over time foot traffic will cause the end of the sheet to sink.

3. Moisture could be causing your cupping floorboards.

There aren’t many things in a home more beautiful than a well-maintained, well-polished hardwood floor. Even a small area of cupped floorboards can take away from the pristine appearance. Cupping occurs when hardwood floorboards begin to curl along the length of the board, somewhat like a taco shell but less pronounced. It’s most often caused by moisture. The moisture issue probably isn’t being caused by the subfloor but if the hardwood flooring above is cupping, it’s a safe bet that the subfloor is suffering as well.

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Cracked Tiles Might Indicate That It's Time to Replace a Subfloor

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4. Cracked and popping tiles could be a material issue.

Cracking and popping tiles are a sure sign that something isn’t right. A properly-adhered tile should go in and out of style a few times before it works itself loose. If the back of the loose tile has dried thinset covering it completely with no signs of trowel marks, you’ll know that this is going to be a subfloor problem. While moisture can certainly be the suspect, it’s also common to find that the wrong material was used for the subfloor. Cement board (a sheet of lightweight concrete and fiberglass mesh) should be laid over top of the subfloor for any tile project. It strengthens the floor, removes bounce, and gives the tile a better substrate to stick to. Regardless of the reason, cracking and popping tiles are a sign that something’s going on with the subfloor beneath.

5. Possible water damage is always a concern.

Clearly, water is a floor’s mortal enemy. If there’s been water sitting in between the finished flooring and subfloor, there’s a good chance there’s some damage. If there was a leaking drain in the wall or a leaky sink nearby, or if there was a section of the roof that was leaking during the last storm, your subfloor might’ve taken on some water, and it’s time to investigate the extent of the damage.

How to Replace a Subfloor

Photo: istockphoto.com

How to Repair or Replace a Subfloor

Digging into the structure you normally stand on may be an overwhelming thought for some DIYers, but with a little knowledge and planning, it’s often a navigable course. Taking the job step-by-step is the trick to keeping a job like this manageable.

Assess the damage.

If you have the ability, the easiest thing to do is to get a look at your subfloor from underneath. This could mean bringing a flashlight into the basement, cutting some drywall from the ceiling underneath, or even heading to the crawlspace and pulling some insulation out of the way.

A quick inspection of your subfloor might reveal all there is to know about your problem, and the least invasive method is usually best. There may be a point where it’s necessary to remove a finished floor to truly understand the severity of the issue so be sure to understand that ahead of time. In the case of a dry subfloor with cracking tiles, it’s almost certain that you’ll need to remove the tile to come to a resolution.

Determine the Type of Damage Before You Replace a Subfloor

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Determine the type or cause of the subfloor’s damage.

Is this a water issue and if so, where is it coming from? Is this the result of a poorly-laid floor and the framers missing the joists when they laid down the sheathing? Has a joist broken due to a structural defect like a large knot? It’s important to know what you’re working with.

Stop the leak before you get started. If you have water damage, the cause of the water has to be resolved before taking any steps toward fixing the floor. Fixing the floor before fixing the moisture issue is like putting the cart before the horse. There’s a process that needs to be adhered to, so once you’ve identified the source, repair it before beginning any work on your floor.

Water damage. Resolving water damage is dependent on a lot of factors, but the most important of those factors is time. How long has the floor been getting wet? Long enough for the material to begin to deteriorate? Is there evidence of mold? The answers to these questions will determine the next steps.

If the water damage was a one-time thing, say from a heavy spill, a window left open during a storm, or other accidents, the current subfloor is most likely salvageable.

  • Start exposing the floor to fresh air by removing any rugs or furniture. Mop up all the standing water.
  • Any wet drywall needs to be removed anyway, so remove the ceiling drywall below the damage to expose the floor joists.
  • Create air movement with box fans (available on Amazon), both on top of the finished flooring and the floor below. This will help to promote drying before anything can start to mold.
  • Utilize a dehumidifier for a few days to draw out the rest of the moisture.

If the water damage has been occurring for a while and there are signs of flaking wood or mold, the only option may be to replace the affected section of subflooring.

  • Start by removing the finished floor (hardwood flooring may be reusable once it dries, so be careful in the removal process) and exposing the subfloor.
  • Assess the damage and cut around it, then remove the damaged subfloor. When you replace the subfloor, the new ends have to sit on the joists, so cut out your wet subfloor along two joists on either side of the damage. Make sure to get all of the damaged or moldy subfloor to prevent it from coming back. Also, keep the cut as square to the joists as possible—this will save you a headache in the next step.
  • Measure the opening and cut a piece of OSB or plywood of the same thickness and dimensions as the subfloor you removed. Test fit it in the hole to be sure that the ends meet on a set of joists.
  • Using some construction adhesive like Loctite PL Premium (available on Amazon) in a caulking gun, run a small bead of adhesive along the top of the floor joists.
  • Lower the piece of subfloor you just cut into the opening, screwing it into the joists below. This is also a good time to screw as much of the original subfloor down as you can. Screws hold much better than nails and won’t start squeaking.
  • If this is for a tile floor, this is the point that you’ll want to screw down the cement board.

There’s also a chance that your subfloor suffered water damage and has since dried itself out. If that’s the case, the subfloor might be fine as far as mold and moisture are concerned but still feel a little soft. To remedy this situation, cut a piece of joist material (2×8, 2×10, or 2×12 depending on the circumstances) to fit crosswise between the two joists under the soft flooring. Drive some screws through the joists and into the ends of the new board you’re installing. This will add all the structure necessary to stiffen up the subfloor.

Loosened nails. As mentioned earlier, squeaks are caused by the subfloor rubbing against nails. These nails work themselves loose as a subfloor ages and sinks, despite retaining its structural integrity. Fixing this scenario can be as easy as running some extra screws through the subfloor and into the floor joists below.

If the bounce and squeak is caused by a broken floor joist, sistering or laminating a new joist to the old broken one is a good option. It can be a challenge to maneuver a joist into place over a bearing wall on one side and a top plate on the other, so employ the help of a friend. Once in place alongside the broken joist, glue and screw the new joist to the old broken one. Screw the subfloor material down to the new joist, and say goodbye to that bounce and squeak.


3 Ways to Cut PVC Pipe

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.

3 Ways to Cut PVC Pipe

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PVC (polyvinyl chloride) pipe is a type of plastic tubing commonly used for drains. These are the white pipes with purple primer often seen in residential basements. Ambitious DIYers attempting a kitchen or bathroom renovation, as well as those who like to tackle their own plumbing repairs, will likely have to work with PVC pipe. Moving a shower, sink, or toilet—even simply replacing a rusty sink trap—will require some PVC know-how.

Dealing with PVC can be a bit tricky. While you’ll have no trouble finding the necessary fittings and cements to bond pieces of pipe together, the difficulty often comes when cutting PVC pipe l. Poor technique tends to leave the cut ends off-square with pesky burrs bound to hinder a would-be plumber’s progress. The good news is that with the proper method and tools, you can cut PVC pipe for square, smooth results.

There are three tools that will allow you to cut PVC pipe with enough accuracy to ensure a tight seal: a PVC cutter, a handsaw, and a miter saw. Depending on the space you’re working in and your comfort level with tools, you might find one a better fit over the others. No matter your preference, you’ll find instructions for how to cut PVC pipe with the tool of your choice ahead.

Before You Cut

Choose a Lubricant Before Cutting a PVC Pipe

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Almost all materials benefit from a little lubrication during the cutting process, and PVC pipe is no different. Lubricants keep friction down, which allows the blade to glide easier. Lubricants can also keep dust and particulates from getting into the air.

When cutting PVC pipe, choose a lubricant with a silicone base like WD40 Specialist Spray Lubricant (available on Amazon) or a food-grade lubricant like cooking oil. These oils are safe for plastic, so they won’t eat away at the pipe as some other solvents will. Applying a quick spray directly on the pipe is all it takes. Any more than a short burst will make the job messier than necessary.

How to Cut a PVC Pipe Using a Pipe Cutter

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Using a PVC Pipe Cutter

Using a PVC pipe cutter (such as this Ridgid ratcheting PVC cutter available on Amazon, good for up to 1⅝-inch pipe)—which looks like a pair of pliers with a very sharp, thick blade fitted on one side—is by far the quickest, most convenient way to cleanly cut PVC pipe. Operation is simple: Place the pipe on a stable surface like sawhorses or a workbench (even a cabinet will do), line the blade up on the cut mark, hold the tool square, and then squeeze the handles together to push the blade through the PVC. Pro Tip: Keep your PVC cutter blade sharp and use it in temperatures above 50 degrees; below that, PVC becomes brittle and a dull blade can crack the pipe.

Note: Squeeze-style cutters are only capable of cutting PVC pipe with smaller diameters. For pipes 2 inches in diameter and larger, a rotary-style cutter (a far more expensive tool) is required. The Ridgid Plastic and Copper Tubing Cutter (also available on Amazon), for example, will work for plastic pipe up to 4 inches in diameter.

 

How to Cut a PVC Pipe Using a Handsaw

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Cutting PVC Pipe With a Handsaw

Just about every DIYer has a hacksaw or carpenter’s handsaw. To successfully cut PVC pipe squarely with either of these basic tools, use a guide for the blade to follow. One way to accomplish this is with a miter box, like this Great Neck model (available on Amazon), which provides a built-in square angle to guide the saw blade. (Bonus: The miter box comes with a saw suitable for cutting PVC pipe.)

Be sure to go slowly to help ensure that the blade stays perfectly on course. Don’t jam the blade into the PVC pipe, just guide it back and forth. This is what tradesmen mean when they say, “Let the saw do the work.”

Cutting PVC Pipe Using a Miter Saw

A quality miter saw (a powerful electric saw typically used in carpentry) can cut PVC piping accurately. The cuts are nearly guaranteed to be square because miter saws lock into place at preset angles, one of which being 90 degrees. Position the pipe against the fence of the miter saw so the cut mark is easily seen, line up the blade with the desired cut mark, lift the saw up and start the blade, and slowly lower the blade into the PVC pipe until it cuts all the way through. If the miter saw doesn’t cut all the way through in the first attempt, let the blade come to a stop, then twist the pipe so the remaining material can be cut with a second drop of the blade. Twisting the pipe while the blade is running is unsafe and hardly ever accurate.

Pro Tip: For fewer burrs on the cut ends of the pipe, use a fine-toothed blade, such as the Freud 10-inch Thin Kerf Plywood Blade (available on Amazon), in the miter saw. To minimize burrs even more, install the blade backward and lower it through the PVC very slowly.

Cleaning Burrs

No matter what tool you use and how carefully you cut, there will still be some burrs left behind. These errant bits of material can hamper a perfect fit and, later, potentially clog up filters and screens down the line. There are two quick ways to remove these burrs:

  • Run a sharp utility knife around the inner and outer rim of the cut. Hold the blade at a slight angle to allow it to run smoothly along the rim and shed off the tiny burrs.
  • Sand the inner and outer rim slightly with 120-grit sandpaper or plumber’s cloth. Don’t go overboard; only rub off enough to smooth away burrs. Any more than that runs the risk of a poor fit.