Author Archives: Sarita Harbour

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5 Things to Do with… Filing Cabinets

Metal file cabinets are becoming a casualty of our new, almost-paperless lifestyle. Don't consign yours to the landfill before checking out these clever DIY conversions.

Whereas our desks were once crammed with 8.5″ x 11″-inch documents, sheets of loose-leaf paper, and manila folders, nowadays we need a computer and little else. Indeed, the term “desktop” no longer means what it used to, and technology has redefined home office furniture. If thrift stores and flea markets provide any indication, metal filing cabinets have fallen completely out of favor with homeowners. If yours are standing empty, consider these creative DIY file cabinet projects, each designed to give renewed life to those old hallmarks of the paper age.



DIY File Cabinet Projects - Kitchen Island


You wouldn’t expect to see office furniture in the kitchen, but in this DIY project from Curbly, the filing cabinet looks right at home. Prep meals on the butcher-block top, hang utensils from the side racks, and store rarely used or awkwardly shaped appliances in the unit’s deep drawers.



DIY File Cabinet Projects - Garage Storage


Although intended here for garage storage, the design of this Trash to Treasure DIY project is appropriate for many uses. Want your own? Remove the drawers from a cabinet, tip it onto its back, then apply a coat of paint. Add pegboard to one or both ends for additional storage, and attach casters to the bottom so you can move it around easily.



DIY File Cabinet Projects - Bar Cart


More compact than traditional filing cabinets are those meant to hold index cards. Shop for one online, Remodelista suggests, then place your vintage find within the frame of an open, metal cart. What you get is a simple, industrial-style serving bar, as trendy as it is portable.



DIY File Cabinet Projects - Planter


From Boopy Projects, here’s a DIY file cabinet project idea for the great outdoors! Where once there were bills and memos, there now grow flowers and herbs. Painted in a bold color, a repurposed file cabinet looks rather convincingly like a store-bought planter—only it costs a lot less.



DIY File Cabinet Projects - Desk


For a frugal yet functional desk, set a couple of file cabinets beneath a tabletop of your choosing, be it a piece of plywood, an old door, or a cut-to-size pane of glass. Homeowners have long loved this classic DIY approach because it so easily enables them to customize their own workspaces.

5 Things to Do with… Baby Cribs

Metal file cabinets are becoming a casualty of our new, almost-paperless lifestyle. Don't consign yours to the landfill before checking out these clever DIY conversions.

If your child has outgrown her baby crib, you may have found it’s a tough piece of furniture to dispose of. Even thrift stores don’t accept older cribs, because in 2011 federal safety regulations changed, making it illegal to sell models now considered substandard. Rather than storing your crib or throwing it away, why not try committing it to a new purpose? For inspiration, scroll down to see five favorite repurposed crib ideas, none of which requires advanced skills or tools.



Repurposed Crib - Craft Center


Here, a repurposed crib becomes a kid’s crafts center, and it takes only a few steps. After removing the mattress and one side of the crib, insert a panel of chalkboard paint-coated particle board. Completing the setup are a couple of toddler-size chairs, plus a few hooks and containers for art supply storage.



Repurposed Crib - Magazine Rack


Here’s another way to get years of further use out of your child’s baby crib—and as DIY projects go, it doesn’t get much easier. Remove one side of the crib and lean it against a wall (in your bedroom, den, or library) so that the rails are horizontal. Add magazines and voilà, you have an upcycled crib magazine rack.



Repurposed Crib - Plate Rack


Spindled cribs make for pretty plate racks. Now is your chance to use up the scrap lumber that’s been lying around the workshop. First, build a box in the dimensions of the crib panel you’ve detached, then attach the panel to the box with glue and nails. Install shelves, apply paint, and as a final step, add your plates!



Repurposed Crib - Wagon


Ingeniously, Cami from tidbits came up with the concept for this fun and functional kid mover, the perfect accompaniment for walks to the playground. Two panels from the repurposed crib were used to build the four wagon sides, and a deck of pine boards forms the bottom, which is outfitted with a quartet of rubber tires.



Repurposed Crib - Side Table


A repurposed crib can serve as a side table suitable for any room. Whether you opt for a glass top or a table surface painted to match the color of the crib, start by removing one side of the crib. Lay that side horizontally into the crib to form a useful storage shelf, and then add the tabletop you have selected.

Earthbound: 5 “All Natural” House Styles

Metal file cabinets are becoming a casualty of our new, almost-paperless lifestyle. Don't consign yours to the landfill before checking out these clever DIY conversions.

This is nothing new: For thousands of years, people have been living in shelters made from earth-based building materials—that is, homes more or less made from dirt. As sustainable practices have surged into the mainstream, natural modes of construction have found (or returned to) popularity.

Related: 12 Hobbit Houses to Make You Consider Moving Underground

Featuring thick walls that absorb sunlight, earthen homes remain cool through summer and stay warm through winter. Since they are not built from wood, they are not as vulnerable to termites and fires, though in comparison to traditional stick-built structures, they are more prone to dampness.

Scroll down to read about five different earthy approaches to building eco-friendly homes for today.



Earth Homes - Cob


In Britain, there are some cob homes that have remained standing for hundreds of years. In 1997, the region welcomed the first new cob home to have been built in over 75 years. Though cob homes of old often included dung as a key ingredient, today’s iteration is built from clay, sand, straw and water. (The straw performs the same role that re-bar does in concrete.) That mixture is molded to create solid and smooth structures, which often have rounded corners.



Earthen Homes - Bermed


An earth-bermed shelter is built into or against—you guessed it!—the earth. In essence, the topography of a building site, whether naturally formed or shaped by men and machines, allows for habitable space to be carved out in the creation of a semi-subterranean dwelling. Champions of earth-bermed construction praise the quality of insulation that soil provides.



Earthen Homes - Adobe


If you’ve been to the Southwest, you’re familiar with the beauty of adobe architecture. Adobe, long used by indigenous groups like the Anasazi, is water, straw, sand, and clay, a mixture that is formed into bricks and then sun-dried. Adobe is particularly well suited to hot climates; the material absorbs heat from the sun, fostering a cool interior.



Earthen Homes - Rammed Earth


The walls of rammed-earth homes are built from dirt that is packed (by hand or by tamper) into small blocks or bricks. It’s a “dirt cheap” material, provided that your building site makes available a sufficient amount of soil that is usable for the purpose.



Earthen Homes - Earthbag


Here’s another type of building that lives up to its name: Earthbag construction, a relatively recent technology, depends on polypropylene bags (or tubes) filled with dirt that is sourced either from the site or imported from elsewhere. No special binding or molds are required; each row of bags is laid, then compacted from above and left to cure to a hard finish.

5 Keys to Understanding Geothermal Heat Pumps

Metal file cabinets are becoming a casualty of our new, almost-paperless lifestyle. Don't consign yours to the landfill before checking out these clever DIY conversions.

Geothermal Heat Pumps


There’s been a lot of chatter about the energy-saving potential of geothermal heat pumps over the long term.

Also known as ground source heat pumps, these instruments leverage a resource that is free to use—the steady temperature below ground—but getting started isn’t cheap, and payback does not arrive swiftly. For the right homeowner, however, a geothermal heat pump (GHP) helps offset heating and cooling costs.

1. The “No Electricity” Myth
A common misconception is that GHPs heat and cool without drawing any electricity. That may be true with a complete geothermal system, but a standalone heat pump does not generate any electrical power. Even so, the Environmental Protection Agency says that heat pump-equipped homeowners can reduce the amount paid for monthly utilities by up to 44 percent.

2. Landing (or Not) in Hot Water
As it cools the house in summer, a geothermal heat pump creates a useful byproduct: The hot air it removes may in turn be used to heat water (thanks to something called, impressively, a desuperheater). The downside is that during the winter months or in cooler parts of the country, a conventional unit cannot produce enough hot water to meet the average family’s demands. Consequently, a supplementary source of hot water is needed.

3. Sticker Shock
Make no mistake: This is not a DIY. Adding a geothermal heat pump requires the services of a certified installer, and the drilling aspect alone can end up costing tens of thousands of dollars. In fact, the sheer invasiveness of the project entails labor fees so high that for owners of existing homes, it may not make financial sense to pursue a GHP.

4. Bigger House, Bigger Savings
Who stands to save the most on utilities over the long term with a GHP? The owners of large homes already incurring steep month-to-month heating and cooling bills. The only hitch is that for a geothermal heat pump to adequately serve a big house, it needs a proportionately larger area of ground from which to draw heat; on a modestly sized lot, that presents a dilemma. One possible solution is to install pipes vertically, not horizontally, but the costs associated with running vertical pipe are often prohibitively high.

5. The Long Term
Though installing a geothermal heat pump requires a significant initial investment, doing so may be a wise course for homeowners who plan to stay put indefinitely. Ongoing maintenance costs compare favorably to those for traditional heating and cooling systems, and efficiency claims appear to be well founded. In 2009, researchers at the Oregon Institute of Technology found that with a GHP, homeowners could save anywhere from 20 to 60% annually.

Did You Know?
Homeowners who install ENERGY STAR-qualified geothermal heat pumps are eligible for a 30% federal tax credit.

5 Ways to Clear Summer Sports Clutter

Geothermal heat pumps are more widely discussed than ever, but could installing one really help you save money on utilities?

Sports Storage


Summer brings flowers and sunshine, but it also has a way of dragging outdoor sports right into your front hall. Fortunately, there are a lot of ways for homeowners to get things under control for little money, and with a minimum of elbow grease. Start with these five ideas.


1. Park Sports Gear in the Garage

Sports Storage - Garage


Relocate sports storage from your front door area to the garage, where your family members can easily retrieve or replace whatever they need upon exiting, or climbing into, the car.

Bungee cords, scrap lumber, and existing studs make for a readymade framework to organize bicycles, skateboards, tennis rackets and other miscellaneous pieces. Alternatively, choose from a vast selection of retail garage storage systems.


Sports Storage - Laundry Bins


2. Laundry Bins Labeled by Sport
One of the cheapest and easiest ways to create instant sports storage is by applying homemade labels to heavy-duty laundry baskets.

Place the baskets on built-in or modular shelves wherever you can spare the real estate. As they’re returning from the field, your family members can toss their things into the appropriate baskets.

Of course, each family is different, so consider whether labeling the baskets by sport or by family member makes the most sense in your household.


3. All-in-One Standing Organizer

Sports Storage - Organizer


A no-frills organizer is perfect for families in which several members participate in different summer sports. Choose whether to set yours up in a central location or an out-of-the-way corner. When the season is over, collapse the assembly and store it until next summer, or swap in skiing, hockey, and ice-skating gear.


Sports Storage - Basket

Photo: the

4. Basket Wall
Wall-hung baskets systems have become increasingly popular options for storage around the house, be it in the bathroom, mudroom, laundry room or even the entry hall.

Shop online or visit your local home improvement center or hardware store to find an inexpensive, ready-to-install system, one that fits neatly into the space you have available.

Slidable hooks in combination with mesh or wire baskets enable you to customize sports storage for the specific needs of your family.

The feature I like best is that each basket’s contents are clearly visible, which means I don’t have to waste time digging around in search of that elusive lacrosse ball.


5. Contain Clutter in a Closet

Sports Storage - Closet


Get soccer cleats and roller blades off the foyer floor, where they are not only unsightly, but also a tripping hazard for family members and guests. Use hooks, rods, bins and shelves to transform a closet into a sports storage zone that’s out of the way of both eyes and feet.

A basket on the inside of the closet door works well as a holder for awkwardly shaped items, such as helmets, while hooks fixed to the rear wall keep field hockey sticks and golf clubs in place.

If there’s no better place for them, put balls on the closet floor, nailing a two-by-four across the foot of the space in order to keep them from rolling out the door. Oh, and remember to add some air freshener or potpourri to mask the inevitable odors!

Top Tips for Growing a Vertical Garden

Geothermal heat pumps are more widely discussed than ever, but could installing one really help you save money on utilities?

Vertical Gardens - Succulents


Want to test your green thumb but lack the space for a traditional garden? It may be time for you to try vertical gardening.

Of course, we’re all accustomed to seeing vegetable patches and flower beds that spread out horizontally over the ground. A vertical garden grows—you guessed it!—vertically, often within new or repurposed containers or specially designed holders.

A close cousin of so-called living walls, vertical gardens may be planted anywhere that offers enough space (indoor areas included), so long as the essentials are present: nutrient-rich soil, water, and sunshine.

Vertical Gardens - Indoors


Benefits. Vertical gardens are excellent for apartment dwellers as well as homeowners with poor soil, limited green space, or in some cases, an unsightly fence or shed wall that would benefit from some camouflage. Vertical gardens not only add visual interest to patios and decks, but they also attract butterflies, contributing to pleasing outdoor living areas, even as they enable you to grow your own vegetables and herbs.

Related: 10 Great Ways to Grow Your Walls Green

Possibilities. Whether a novice or experienced gardener, you can grow a wide variety of things in vertical gardens. Keep in mind that root vegetables (e.g., potatoes, carrots, and beets) require containers deep enough to hold their extensive root systems, while other veggies, such as lettuce, are shall0w-rooted.

Vegetables that do particularly well in vertical gardens include:

  • Leafy greens (chard, kale, spinach)
  • Tomatoes
  • Peppers
  • Beans
  • Peas
  • Small cucumbers

For a garden that is both beautiful and useful, intersperse edible and ornamental species. Other plants with which you may enjoy experimenting include:

  • Trailing flowers (verbena, geraniums, impatiens)
  • Herbs (oregano, cilantro, parsley, basil)
Vertical Gardens - Soda Bottle Planters


Positioning. Vertical gardens typically appear outdoors, but provided there is adequate light, you can also plant vertical gardens indoors. In either case, choose a sunny wall that is sheltered from gusts of wind. For convenience, plan vertical gardens so that reaching their top levels isn’t discouragingly difficult.

Necessities. One approach to vertical gardens is to treat them as a form of container gardening. For the purpose, upcycle everyday objects like soda bottles, juice cartons, and paint cans into DIY planters. Or if you prefer, buy or build a vertical garden installation with burlap, canvas, or felt shaped into a hanging pouch system, one that resembles closet shoe organizers. Additionally, you’ll need potting soil, liquid fertilizer, seeds or seedlings, and a watering can or gardening hose (although some readymade vertical garden kits come with a built-in automatic drip hose for irrigation).

Aggressive Energy Savings of Passive House Design

Limited green space? Explore the phenomenon of vertical gardens, increasingly popular in both homes and apartments.

Passive Houses - France Residence


More and more renovators, house hunters, architects and construction companies are paying attention to energy-saving standards. Of the many certifications that are relevant to green building today, it may be the Passive House designation that carries the most demanding standards.

Green Building, Big Business
In the U.S., green building comprised twenty percent of new residential construction last year—that’s $25 billion worth of real estate!—according to industry research firm McGraw Hill Construction. As housing continues its recovery, many experts anticipate that sustainable design will underpin an increasing share of the new construction market, between 29 and 28 percent by 2016.

From Germany with Love
While its principles date back to the ancient world, modern Passive House certification coalesced with the 1996 launch of the PassivHaus Institute in Frankfurt, Germany. The movement quickly spread to nearby Scandinavia, with its worldwide popularity rapidly burgeoning in recent years.

Passive Houses


Exceptional Energy Efficiency
A certified Passive House (or Passivhaus) uses 60 to 70 percent less energy than a traditional home, according to the Passive House Institute US (PHIUS). Perhaps most impressive, passive design accounts for a heating energy reduction of 90 percent.

Specialized construction materials and renewable energy sources are hallmarks of the Passive House standard, which includes specifications for any or all of the following components, depending on the climate where the home is located:

  • Windows
  • Roofs
  • Lighting
  • Insulation
  • Ventilation

Powering a Passive House
To achieve the Passive House designation, a home must draw the majority of its energy from alternative sources, such as:

  • Solar
  • Body heat from occupants
  • Waste heating from household appliances
  • Passive shading for cooling in hot climates

Strategic design and innovative materials minimize the home’s heating requirements to the point where, even in extreme cold, only a small amount of energy must be expended to keep occupants comfortable.

“The remaining heat can be provided by the supply air if the maximum heating load is less than 10W per square metre of living space,” says Dr. Wolfgang Feist, a Passive House founding father. “If such supply-air heating suffices as the only heat source, we call the building a Passive House.”

Passive Houses - New England Retreat


Passive House Standards in Practice
The European climate is more temperate than that of other continents, but the ideas that define passive design are as applicable in the U.S. as they are anywhere else. PHIUS is currently developing climate zone standards that respond to the climactic variables present in different regions around the country.

Seeking Certification
Homeowners pursuing Passive House certification must pay a fee and present the required documentation. Apply directly to the Passive House Institute or seek assistance from a Certified Passive House Consultant. The documentation you submit must include, among other things, a project description, an energy model, a completed Passive House Planning Package (PHPP), architectural drawings, and a HERS index score. The certification process also includes four site visits.

The 5 Apps You Won’t Want to Renovate Without

Limited green space? Explore the phenomenon of vertical gardens, increasingly popular in both homes and apartments.

Renovation App


If your file folders are bursting at the seams with to-do lists, contractor quotes, spec sheets and inspirational clippings from interior design magazines, it may be time to think about organizing your project with a renovation app on your mobile phone or tablet.

Remodeling work can be overwhelming at times, whether you’re tackling the entire house or one room only. Save time and money—and minimize your stress level—with a suite of well-chosen apps. Here are five of our favorites for compiling and managing all the information you need to make the most of your effort.


Bob Vila’s Toolbox is your ultimate guide to the essentials of remodeling and repair. Specially designed and built for the iPad, Toolbox teaches you the fine art of choosing and using the right tool for the job. As you gear up to tackle your next project, wouldn’t you feel more confident with Bob Vila at your side? DOWNLOAD



Evernote - Renovation App


Though not marketed expressly for remodelers, Evernote excels as a tool for collecting and collating notes, images, web addresses, video clips—you name it, you can save it. Just as important, you can easily find your stored data when you need it again in the future. While the free version is plenty powerful, consider opting for the paid version if you want to upload large files, work offline, or invite others to edit your plans.

For both iOS and Android (free/$5 a month for Premium)



Renovation App - Handyman Calculator

Google Play

A five-star renovation app available for Android devices, the Handyman Calculator offers a wide variety of customizable calculators to help you determine the quantity of materials required for whatever job you’re planning. In addition, you can use the app to create shopping lists and based on your input, measurements are converted from metric to imperial.

For Android (free/$4.99 for Pro)



Renovation App - Color Capture


Struggling to find a paint color resembling that of your favorite flower? Snap an image with your smartphone and run it through Color Capture, Benjamin Moore’s free paint-matching app. Available for both iPhone and Android, this tool gives users the power to identify which of Benjamin Moore’s 3,300 paints most closely corresponds to any one color in your supplied image.

For both iOS and Android (free)



D-Photo Measures


Looking for a fast and easy way to save and share things like room dimensions, door and window sizes, or cabinet lengths? Forget your notepad and pencil! Instead, use an app like D-Photo Measures for Android, which lets you mark up photos on your phone with measurements and notes. (It also calculates angles based on measurements). For iOS devices, an analogous app is Photo Measures.

For Android (free/$2.99 for Pro)




The Mark on Call iPhone and iPad app enables you to map out the floor plans of rooms based on their real-life dimensions. Further, you can enrich those layouts you create with such fine details as furniture, window and door placement, and flooring types. Doing so gives you the “big picture”—indeed, it’s a great way to compile all the information you’ve gathered in other apps into a single vision.

For iOS ($4.99)


For more on digital tools, consider:

Productivity Tools for Smartphone
Top 3 Apps to Help You Plan a Remodel
App Review: Houzz Interior Design Ideas

5 Simple Ingredients for Successful Rainwater Harvesting

Limited green space? Explore the phenomenon of vertical gardens, increasingly popular in both homes and apartments.

Rainwater Harvesting - Rain Barrel

Photo: Flickr / Simply Bike

People have been harvesting rainwater for thousands of years. In the last decade, the practice has emerged as a popular way to cut costs and help the environment. A variety of kits exists on the market, but if you have the luxury of a free afternoon, it’s easy to devise your own setup. You only need five ingredients, the bulk of which you probably own already. Follow the recipe below:

1. Roofing

First things first, you need a roof—any roof, in just about any size or shape. The pitch of your roof will partially determine the amount of rain available for collection. Two other important determining factors are the climate and average annual rainfall in the region where you live.

2. Gutters

Normally the downspouts of gutters empty onto the ground a few feet away from the foundation. A typical rainwater harvesting system links gutter discharge to a collection area. Because gutters are prone to collecting debris, plan to keep them clear with regular maintenance or by installing gutter guards.

Rainwater Harvesting - Distribution


3. Collection Area

If you intend to harvest rainwater for use in the garden, be prepared to purchase or make a rain barrel. Position the barrel on level ground, and as it fills up with water, remember that the barrel will become harder to move. As the season progresses, it may be necessary to adjust the connection between your downspout and barrel.

Caution: Limit the top opening of your rain barrel to a narrow diameter so that neither thirsty animals nor curious children are at risk of falling in.

Alternatively, skip the rain barrel altogether and angle your downspouts towards those sections of the landscape in need of water. The velocity of water exiting the downspouts may create furrows in the earth; adjust their placement accordingly.

4. Distribution System

Don’t let the term “distribution system” intimidate you; it’s as simple as a garden hose or watering can. The ideal approach depends on the design of your rain barrel.

5. Filtering System (Optional)

Want to drink the rainwater that you’re collecting? Consider either floating filters or a sand filtration system. Homeowners harvesting water for personal use are advised to review relevant state regulations.

Great Expectations

There’s little need to worry about gathering too little rain to justify the effort. According to Water Wise at the University of Arizona, one inch of rain on a 1,000-square-foot roof results in up to 600 harvested gallons!

Further Resources

Rainwater harvesting may qualify you for a tax incentive. Visit these sites for more information on financial incentives and making the most of your collection system:

  1. Rainwater Harvesting at North Carolina State University
  2. The Texas Manual on Rainwater Harvesting
  3. Urban Waterways/Rainwater Harvesting: Guidance for Homeowners