Bob Vila - 3/431 - The Dean of Home Renovation & Repair Advice

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Enter Bob Vila’s $3,000 Pick Your Prize Summer Giveaway Today!

Enter for your chance to win a gas grill from the Kenmore brand, a riding mower from Briggs & Stratton, or a $1,000 gift card to Wayfair!


With summer in full force, many homeowners spend weekends maintaining the yard, hosting neighborhood barbecues, lounging on the patio, or taking a dip in the swimming pool. To make the most of the season, you need quality outdoor accessories, which can cost hundreds of dollars. That’s why we partnered with the Kenmore brand, Briggs & Stratton, and Wayfair to give away $3,000 of prizes to use outdoors this summer!

Enter Bob Vila’s $3,000 Pick Your Prize Summer Giveaway today and every day this month, starting at 12:00 p.m. EST on July 31, 2017 through 11:59 a.m. on August 31, 2017. You could be one of three winners and receive a Kenmore Elite 4-Burner Stainless Steel Gas Grill ($1399.99), a Poulan PRO 6-Speed Gear Gas Front-Engine Riding Mower with a Briggs & Stratton engine ($999), or a $1,000 Wayfair gift card!


Kenmore Grill


Kenmore Elite 4-Burner Stainless Steel Gas Grill

Founded more than 100 years ago, the Kenmore brand is a leading provider of household appliances, including refrigerators, ovens, dishwashers, washers and dryers, grills, air conditioners, and more. The products are designed to improve daily life, allowing customers to maintain their home with ease. The Kenmore Elite 4-Burner Stainless Steel Gas Grill ($1399.99) is both stylish and functional, offering 536.25 square inches of cooking space with four burners and a cast-iron side burner. The sleek stainless steel grill also has a warming rack to maintain ideal food temperatures, a lighted control panel, and attached halogen lights that allow you to grill after the sun sets. Recently, a leading consumer magazine named the high-tech appliance a “best buy” for mid- to large-sized grills. By winning the grill, you’ll become a top-notch host for barbecues and other outdoor gatherings! To learn more about Kenmore, click here

Briggs and Stratton Mower


Poulan PRO 6-Speed Gear Gas Front-Engine Riding Mower 

Briggs & Stratton is the world’s largest manufacturer of small engines. In addition to making gasoline engines to power outdoor equipment, the company produces pressure washers, lawn mowers, generators, and more. The Poulan PRO 6-Speed Gear Gas Front-Engine Riding Mower ($999) comes equipped with a Briggs & Stratton 17.5 HP overhead valve engine for optimum power. The mower, which has a tight 16-inch turning radius, also features six-speed manual drive and a 42-inch mowing deck that can be easily adjusted to six different cutting positions with a deck lift. Homeowners will love the reverse mowing operation, which works up to 1.6 MPH. The mower can travel up to 5.1 MPH forward on nearly any terrain. To learn more about Briggs & Stratton, click here.

Wayfair Furniture


Wayfair Gift Card

Wayfair is a leading online marketplace for all things related to the home. The website offers more than eight million products, and their departments include furniture, home decor, lighting, bed and bath, kitchen, storage and organization, and home improvement. More than 10,000 suppliers have partnered with Wayfair, which contributes to its extensive selection of home goods. The winner of the $1,000 gift card can use the money for anything on – including products in their vast outdoor collection, which includes patio furniture, decor, storage solutions, lighting, heating, equipment for cooking and entertaining, garden accessories, and more. To learn more about Wayfair, click here


Enter today and every day this August to increase your odds of winning one of these three prizes!

Bob Vila’s $3,000 Pick Your Prize Summer Giveaway” is open only to permanent legal U.S. residents of the 48 contiguous states and the District of Columbia. Void in all other geographic locations. No purchase necessary. Void where prohibited. Contest Period for Prize runs from 12:00 p.m. (EST) Monday, July 31, 2017 through 11:59 a.m. (EST) Thursday, August 31, 2017. One entry per household per day on Must submit name and email address using the online “Bob Vila’s $3,000 Pick Your Prize Summer Giveaway” submission form. Alternative means of entry for Drawing is available by faxing your name and address to 508-437-8486 during the Entry Period. Odds of winning depend on the number of eligible entries received. By entering, all entrants agree to the Official Rules.

Video: How to Clean Grout

Gross grout? Bust away the stains with these helpful tips and tricks.


Stained grout ages your home and makes your kitchen and bathroom tile look dirty, even when not. If your previous attempts to whiten yellowed grout have failed, there’s hope. Take note of these tips and put them to the test during your next cleaning session. The results might just surprise you—and leave your home looking a lot cleaner.

For more cleaning ideas, consider:

7 Unusual Tricks for Your Cleanest Floors Ever

7 Surprising Alternative Uses for Clorox Bleach

12 Ways to Clean House with Citrus

Solved! What to Do When Your Lawn Mower Starts Smoking

A smoking lawn mower is never a good sign. Whether the smoke is blue, white, or black, here's how to identity and address the issue without the help of a professional.

Lawn Mower Smoking? What to Do About It


Q: Recently, my mower started billowing smoke when I powered it up, so I shut it off immediately. Why is my lawn mower smoking? And is it a fire hazard? I want to know how to proceed so I don’t harm the machine.

A: Your lawn mower can emit smoke for numerous reasons—many of which don’t require the services of an expert. A homeowner can usually identify the reason for a smoking lawn mower by gauging the color of the cloud coming around the engine, then fix it accordingly before lasting damage occurs. Keep in mind that all mowers with internal combustion engines contain the same basic parts, but the configuration of those parts varies widely, depending on manufacturer and model. Consult your owner’s manual if you’re unsure how to access a specific part of your lawn mower’s engine.

White or blue smoke may indicate an oil spill on the engine. If you’ve recently changed the oil in your mower and the engine is emitting white or blue smoke, it’s possible that some of the oil spilled onto the engine. Similarly, you could’ve spilled oil on the engine by mowing on a slope greater than 15 degrees or tipping the mower on its side. The smoke may look disconcerting, but it’s completely harmless. Solve the problem by restarting the mower and allowing the spilled oil to burn off. If you tip the mower often for cleaning or maintenance, check your owner’s manual to determine the best way to reduce the risk of oil leaks.

Lawn Mower Smoking? What to Do About It


An overfull oil reservoir may also cause white or blue smoke. Ensure you didn’t overfill the mower by checking the oil level with the dipstick located on the reservoir. To do this, remove the dipstick cap, wipe off the stick with a rag, and reinsert it into the reservoir. Then remove the dipstick once again and determine the oil level in comparison to the recommended “fill” line on the stick. If the level is too high, drain the oil (consult your owner’s manual for instructions), then refill the reservoir with it. Start checking the oil level with the dipstick after you’ve added about ¾ of the amount recommended in the manual. Continue to add small amounts of oil until the level matches the recommended “fill” line. Also note that using the wrong grade of engine oil may cause blue or white smoke. Consult the owner’s manual for the exact type of oil recommended for your mower.

Black smoke may indicate that the mower is “running rich,” or burning too much gasoline. Your lawn mower’s carburetor regulates the ratio of gasoline to air mixture. If the carburetor isn’t getting enough air, the mixture has a higher percentage of gasoline, which can create black exhaust smoke. It’s possible that a dirty or clogged air filter is preventing sufficient airflow into the carburetor. Try replacing the air filter, then running your lawn mower for a few minutes. If the black smoke still appears, the carburetor might need to be adjusted in order to increase airflow. Either take the mower to a professional or adjust the carburetor yourself with instructions in your owner’s manual.

Take your mower to a repair shop if necessary. If the previous steps don’t correct blue or white smoke, your mower could have a more serious problem, such as an air leak in the crankshaft (the cast iron or cast aluminum case that protects the moving parts of a mower’s engine). Continuing blue or white smoke could also indicate that some of the engine’s components or seals are worn out and need replacement. Similarly, if black smoking still persists after you’ve replaced the air filter and adjusted the carburetor, you could be facing a more serious mechanical issue. All of these problems require the help of a professional. If your mower is still under warranty, check with the manufacturer for the location of the nearest servicing dealer; problems stemming from a factory defect or poor workmanship may garner free repairs. If your mower is not covered under warranty, a reputable small-engine repair shop should also be sufficient to get the job done.

Summer Is the Best Time for These 6 Home Improvements

The clock is ticking! Don't let these idyllic, warm-weather days slip by without scheduling one or more of these seasonal home repair and renovation projects.

Best Summer Home Improvements


If you’ve been thinking about tackling some home improvement projects this summer, don’t delay! The dog days of summer are heading our way, and before you know it the cold weather will be coming back. These all-too-brief warmer months are ideal for outdoor projects like updating your home’s exterior, and they’re great for any work that requires a well-ventilated work space. If you let these nice days slip by, colder temperatures at the end of the season could hamper your efforts—or, in some cases, even negatively affect the quality of the improvements. Fortunately, with help from qualified professionals, you can get through your home improvement to-do list without sacrificing all your summer Fridays! Here are just a few home improvement projects that are tailor-made for summer.


Best Summer Home Improvements - Replacing Windows


1. Replacing Windows
Old, drafty windows are a major cause of heat loss during the winter months. They result in higher heating costs and lower levels of indoor comfort. If last year’s annual autumn ritual of caulking around the windows didn’t do much to stop the chill from seeping through, it’s probably time to call in the professionals for a window replacement. Dave Lincon, Director of Product Management and Business Development for Sears Home Services, says, “Our team simplifies window replacement for our customers. From the initial assessment of a homeowner’s needs to measuring, ordering, and installation, we handle it all.”

Sears Home Services offers a comprehensive selection of window styles to suit every house and budget, with good, better, and best lines of energy-efficient, low-maintenance replacement windows. Choices include, but are not limited to, double-hung windows, sliders, geometric patterns, and even transom windows. “And, our windows have some of the best warranties in the industry,” Lincon adds.


Best Summer Home Improvements - Re-Siding the House


2. Re-Siding Your Home’s Exterior
If your home’s siding is starting to flake and peel just a few years after a paint job, the siding may be past the point where a mere cover-up will suffice. Old siding is notorious for developing rot, mold, and mildew over time, all of which make it difficult for the siding to hold paint. Worse yet, loose or missing boards reduce your home’s weather resistance and contribute to higher heating and cooling costs. Fortunately, as with most exterior updates, the reliably warm weather of summer provides the best time to re-side.

Nothing increases curb appeal quite like new siding. The right style can transform a tired-looking house into the best-looking home on the block—and Sears Home Services is committed to offering styles to suit every homeowner. Customers can choose from a wide variety of colors, textures, and styles, from traditional horizontal board siding to siding that mimics wood-look shakes or even scalloped shingles. “We also offer high-quality, durable vinyl siding that comes with closed-cell foam backing for enhanced insulation,” Lincon says. “And, we warranty our siding against fading.” You can trust that a siding project completed this summer will give your home a sharper appearance and offer structural benefits to boot.


Best Summer Home Improvements - Replacing the Front Door


3. Swapping Out Your Entry Door
No matter how much time you spend pruning the hedges and mowing the yard, your home’s curb appeal will hold steady at mediocre if an eyesore of a front door detracts from the otherwise tidy appearance. Cracked, warped, or weathered entry doors not only look dismal, they often frustrate homeowners by sticking when opened or closed, or letting in drafts through a loose seal in the jamb. Sometimes, it’s a hassle just locking them! If you’re struggling with an entry door that’s seen better days, take care of it this summer so you’ll have a new door in place before the weather turns cold.

“In my experience, the best replacement doors are made from 100 percent fiberglass and composite,” Lincon claims. “And, that’s all we sell and install. Our doors are prehung and secure, they meet forced-entry standards, and they won’t warp, swell, or split like traditional wood doors can.” In addition to offering a wide variety of entry door designs that incorporate sidelights, glass patterns, and stylish accents, Sears Home Services sells a nearly infinite array of door hardware that’s both secure and decorative—the perfect complement to your curb appeal investment.


Best Summer Home Improvements - Refacing Cabinets


4. Refacing Cabinets
If you’re tired of your worn-out-looking kitchen but you like the configuration of your kitchen cabinets—and they’re in good condition—refacing might be the right choice for you. Cabinet refacing involves replacing cabinet doors and drawer fronts and installing matching veneer on the face of the cabinet bases. When the project is done, your kitchen will look fresh and new at a fraction of what it would have cost to completely replace the cabinets. The best part of scheduling these major kitchen updates in the summer is that the project will be finished before holiday cooking and entertaining starts in earnest!

Sears Home Services believes in bringing the showroom to the customer,” Lincon says. “Customers don’t have to visit a commercial kitchen showroom to see their refacing options; we show them all their choices right in the comfort of their own homes.” By being able to examine and compare a host of cabinet door styles and veneer samples against the backdrop of your own kitchen, you’ll get the best idea of how the finished job will look.


Best Summer Home Improvements - Installing New Countertops


5. Installing New Countertops
While installing new countertops seems like a project that’s fine to do any time of the year, it’s actually a smart one to schedule well before the first frost. When you consider the fact that installation professionals need to haul the old countertop out of your home and carry in the new (and often very heavy) countertop materials, you can see that icy sidewalks and frigid temperatures are not ideal for all this indoor-outdoor foot traffic.

Again, working with Sears Home Services simplifies the selection process by enabling you to choose the countertop materials that best match your kitchen design right in your own home. Sales consultants will bring samples of all the various countertop colors and materials you can choose from. “We offer solid-surface countertops in addition to quartz and granite in a wide variety of colors and edge options,” Lincon says. “We can also install a laminate countertop if that’s what the customer wants.”


Best Summer Home Improvements - Replacing Roof


6. Replacing a Roof
Contending with a leaky roof or missing shingles? The average lifespan of a roof is 15 to 20 years, according to Lincon. The warmer months are the best time for a roofing project, because new shingles require heat in order to form a weathertight seal. In fact, wintry conditions and reroofing simply don’t mix. Here again, Sears Home Services can make the process easier. Homeowners can choose from budget-friendly three-tab shingles, super-laminate shingles, or architectural shingles as well as a variety of other shingle options. Sears professionals handle everything from the initial roof assessment to permit-pulling and all installation services.

To protect homeowners from the possibility that some damaged roof areas could be overlooked, Sears Home Services installs shingles directly onto the roof deck only and does not do roof overlays, which involve adding a layer of shingles over an existing layer. “It’s just too risky,” Lincon says. “If you don’t tear off the existing layer of shingles, you can’t determine the condition of the existing roof deck.” During tear-off of the existing shingles, if any rot or damage to the roof deck is found, Sears Home Services repairs the damage before installing the new shingles to safeguard the roof’s structural integrity for years to come.


This post has been brought to you by Sears Home Services. Its facts and opinions are those of

Buyer’s Guide: Tower Fans

Want to cool down your home quickly and efficiently? Check out our guide to find the best tower fans on the market today.

Best Tower Fan – Buyer's Guide


During the summer months, many homeowners use a fan to assist in circulating indoor air and increasing the comfort level of a too-warm room. Of all of the different types of fans exist on the market—window, pedestal, box, and wall-mount varieties—tower fans often rise above the rest. Its combination of high efficiency, space-saving design, surprisingly quiet operation, and impressive features are to thank for that. If you’re looking to buy one, keep reading for the key shopping considerations and three top-rated picks for the best tower fan money can buy.


Before making a purchase, consider the following factors to choose the best tower fan for your needs.

Size: Tower fans have a tall and narrow design, allowing them to distribute airflow over a large area while taking up minimal floor space. On average, most tower fans stand 30 to 40 inches tall, and the base takes up about one square foot. Homeowners can easily position the fan in narrow spaces and corners, where it won’t interrupt a room’s foot traffic.

Best Tower Fan – Buyer's Guide


Airflow Velocity: A fan’s airflow velocity is measured in cubic feet per minute (CFM), or how many cubic feet of air the fan can move per minute. Most of the time, consumers can find this information on the manufacturer’s packaging, or by researching consumer reviews of the fan. Tower fans generally produce less airflow velocity than other types of fans, since the blades on a tower fan (which are housed within the vertical unit) are much smaller, and therefore move less air. But keep in mind that a tower fan will still meet or surpass the needs of most homeowners.

Speed Settings: Most tower fans have at least three speed settings: low, medium, and high. However, many offer additional settings that allow you to finely tune the amount of air circulation in the room.

Noise: Since tower fans have smaller blades, they’re typically quieter than other types of fans. Most produce a low “humming” noise as opposed to the louder “whooshing” noise of fans with larger blades. The sound isn’t loud enough to impede on conversation, and it’s ideal for those who enjoy sleeping with white noise. On lower settings, tower fan will typically emit even less sound, leading some manufacturers to use terms like “whisper-quiet” and “calm.” If you don’t like noise, stick with a tower fan that has a lower decibel rating.

Oscillation: A majority of tower fans oscillate, or rotate from side to side, in order to direct airflow over a wider area. Consumers will typically find tower fans with an oscillating arc of 90 degrees or 95 degrees. A handful of tower fans on the market can oscillate a full 360 degrees, but unless you plan to place the fan in the center of a room, full-circle rotation is probably unnecessary. Some models also come with the ability to select the width of the oscillating arc.

Added Features: Many tower fans have added features that increase their appeal to consumers. For example, remotes allow a user to start the fan, adjust the speed, and control the oscillating function from anywhere in the room. Some tower fans come with air filters that prevent dust, pollen, and pet dander from recirculating. Additionally, some models have ionizers that purify the air as it circulates through the fan.


Looking to cool down your home with a tower fan? Here are our top three picks for the best tower fan, based on consumer reviews and expert opinions.


Buyer's Guide – Best Tower Fan


Seville Classics UltraSlimline 40” Tower Fan ($58.58)
In their own firsthand testing, The SweetHome selected Seville Classics UltraSlimline 40″ Tower Fan as “the best fan for most people.” It wasn’t one single feature that sold The SweetHome testers on the Seville tower fan, but rather a “balance of price, power, noise level, and convenience.” The Seville was significantly quieter than other fans they tested, especially on its lowest settings. Its contemporary black satin finish complements nearly all room styles, and it comes with four operating speeds: high, medium, low, and eco, which provides a gentle breeze and reduced energy consumption. The fan features a lighted control panel for easy operation at night, a programmable timer, and a 75-degree oscillation arc. With a height of 40 inches, the Seville weighs in at just under 11 pounds and takes up less than one square foot of floor space. Available on Amazon.


Best Tower Fan – Buyer's Guide


Vornado NGT33DC Energy Smart Tower Fan ($139.99)
The Vornado NGT33DC Energy Smart Tower Fan is a favorite of Amazon customers, who award it an impressive 4.6 stars. Measuring 33 inches tall, it’s slightly shorter than our other picks, and it also doesn’t oscillate. Instead, homeowners can adjust the width of the airflow to any of its 99 settings, achieving anything from a narrow direct path up to a full 90-degree span of sustained airflow coverage. The fan features a brushless motor, and the manufacturer claims that it uses up to 80 percent less energy than competitive tower fans. Additional features include a remote control, a timer that’s programmable up to 12 hours, and quiet operation. Weighing only 7.6 pounds, the Vornado can be easily moved from room to room, and like most tower fans, it takes up less than one square foot of floor space. Available on Amazon.


Best Tower Fan – Buyer's Guide


Dyson Air Multiplier AM07 Tower Fan ($397.78)
Our most expensive pick, the Dyson Air Multiplier AM07 Tower Fan, wins honors from Your Best Digs, who describe it as “the best fan if money is no object.” In testing, the Air Multiplier demonstrated “the ability to generate the most cooling power at the lowest noise levels.” The fan has innovative bladeless technology, 10 speed settings, an oscillation arc that adjusts up to 90 degrees, and a magnetized remote that attaches firmly to the unit. Other features include a timer with preset intervals and a wipe-clean surface to keep the Air Multiplier looking sleek and shiny. The fan weighs in at 12 pounds and stands 39.6 inches high. Amazon customers give the Air Multiplier an enviable 4.4-star rating, and they especially like its whisper-quiet operation. Available from Amazon.

How To: Level a Yard

Is your grass lumpy and bumpy? Learn how to level out an uneven yard with a few simple steps.

How to Level a Yard


A yard with lumps and bumps is not only unattractive, it’s also a potential safety hazard with ample opportunity to cause trips, falls, and sprained ankles. Many events can cause an uneven yard—including drainage issues, leaks in pipes lying beneath the surface, and lawn pests like grubs or moles disturbing the root structure of the turf—but none need to derail your landscaping efforts altogether. Before you start working to level your lawn’s surface, troubleshoot the underlying problem so it doesn’t reoccur in the future. Then tackle these steps for how to level a yard to turn your lawn into the smooth, lush, green landscape you’ve always wanted.

– Lawn mower
– Thatch rake
– Dethatching machine (optional)
– Sand
– Topsoil
– Compost
– Shovel
– Bow rake
– Push broom

Start by mowing your lawn. Cut it short, but not so short that you scalp it. If you cut it so that grass blades stems become visible, the grass is vulnerable to drying out.

Take a closer look at your grass roots, and determine the amount of thatch on your lawn. Thatch is the layer of decayed grass and other organic material at the base of the turf. A quarter to 1/2-inch of thatch is acceptable, but any more than that will prevent the grass from getting adequate air and water. If you have more than 1/2-inch of thatch, remove (or at least significantly loosen) it by systematically running a thatch rake over the surface to pull it up. Or, if your lawn is larger, run a dethatching machine over it. You can rent a dethatching machine from a home improvement store, and it will make the process much quicker.

How to Level a Yard


Make a top dressing mix to fill in the area beneath the grass in sunken areas of your lawn from two parts sand, two parts topsoil, and one part compost. The sand helps maintain a level yard because it doesn’t compact easily, while the soil and compost contain nutrients that your grass needs to thrive.

If you have any low spots or divots deeper than two or three inches, you should remove the grass on top of them before filling the holes. Dig up the sod by putting the blade of a shovel into it at the outside of a low spot, and sliding it down and under about two or three inches to get under the grass roots. Then pry the grass up with the shovel to expose the dirt beneath. Fill the hole with the top dressing mix, and put the grass back into place on top of it.

Once lowest patches are filled, use a shovel to disperse the top dressing mix across your entire lawn to a depth of about ¼ to ½ inches. Even if you think your grass needs more than that depth to even out, err on the side of caution and keep to a thin layer—a heavier layer could choke your grass. If necessary, you can repeat this process (see Step 7) to add a second layer.

Then, spread the top dressing mix evenly across the grass by pulling and pushing it around with the back of a bow rake. Work the mix into the gradual low spots and pockets in your lawn. If the grass blades are completely covered by the mix, the grass will suffocate from deprivation of light, so follow up with a push broom to further work the mix into the soil at the base of the turf grass and reveal the blades.

Water your lawn to help the top dressing mix settle into the grass and fill any air pockets. This step should also revitalize your lawn because it will jumpstart the infusion of nutrients from the compost in the mix.

You may need more than one application of top dressing to completely smooth out your lawn. Apply the second layer following steps 5 and 6 once you see the grass start to actively grow, or when you can no longer see the first top dressing application you put down.


Easy DIYs for Your Best-Ever Backyard

All of the Outdoor Design and DIY Tips from
With fair weather having arrived finally, it’s time to turn your home improvement efforts to the backyard and your deck, porch, or patio—the parts of the home built specifically to enjoy the extra hours of sunlight. Guided by these practical pointers and inspiring ideas, you can introduce beauty, comfort, and utility to your backyard and outdoor living areas, making them as inviting and enjoyable as your home interiors.

Solved! What to Do About Brown Grass

Fix the common problem of unsightly patches on your once lush, green lawn with this set of solutions.

7 Things You Never Knew Cause Brown Grass (and How to Fix Them)


Q: I started seeing brown patches on my lawn at the end of spring. They seem to have grown in size and number since then. What’s causing this, and how can I correct it before it takes over my turf?

A: Brown patches of dormant, dead, or dying turf is hardly unusual, as they plague grasses of all varieties and can be caused by a number of factors ranging from extreme weather and poor soil conditions to pests and fungus. Whatever the culprit, brown grass should be assessed and addressed ASAP: If the underlying problem is severe enough, the pesky patches could eventually destroy your lawn. So find out the cause early and treat your turf accordingly to restore it to its former green glory.

Wait out drought—or water properly. If brown grass appears or worsens with scorching temperatures, and fallen tree leaves on the surrounding lawn have shriveled, this can be a sign that the problem is drought. It’s natural for grass to go dormant to conserve water during periods of limited rainfall, and drought-induced brown grass should turn green on its own as the weather cools and rainfall increases. You can also restore your lawn by giving it an inch of water on a weekly basis with your lawn sprinkler. You may need to adjust a sprinkler head to ensure that there are no spots on the lawn that the sprinkler isn’t reaching. Remember to water early in the day, before the sun’s heat burns off the water.

Restore your soil’s pH balance. When soil pH is too “alkaline” or acidic, iron chlorosis, a type of iron deficiency affecting plants, can take root in your lawn and lead to yellow—or in severe cases, brown—patches. Check your soil pH is with a home soil testing pH kit available at your local home center or nursery for about $10. If the pH is higher than 7.2, apply sulfur to your lawn as a short-term solution for lowering soil pH and improving the color of grass. Generally, the higher the starting soil pH and the “loamier” or more clay-based the soil, the more sulfur it needs. Sandy soil with a starting pH of 7.5, for example, only needs 10 to 15 pounds of sulfur per 1,000 square feet to reach an optimal soil pH of 6.5, while a loamy soil of the same pH needs 20 to 25 pounds of sulfur per 1,000 square feet. As a long-term solution, reduce the frequency with which you water the lawn, as over-watering reduces iron uptake in grass and can lead to repeat cases of yellowing or browning.

The Unexpected Causes of Brown Grass


Lay off the fertilizer. Excess salt from fertilizer can build up in grass, scorching it and turning it brown. Your lawn might have this “fertilizer burn” if brown spots appear one to two days after fertilizing the lawn and the spots follow the pattern of where you applied the fertilizer. Act fast to beat the burn, watering until the ground is thoroughly saturated to help leach excess fertilizer out of the grass’ root zone. Then apply an inch of water to the lawn each day for the next seven days to flush out the fertilizer salts from the grass roots. If grass fails to re-grow completely, you can either sow new grass seeds or lay sod over dead turf spots. In the future, avoid over-feeding the lawn by applying fertilizer only in the manufacturer-recommended amount and frequency. Choose slow-release fertilizers to improve absorption and reduce the risk of fertilizer burn.

Weed wisely. Weeds and tree roots siphon vital nutrients from fertilizer and water that would otherwise go to grass, leaving you with a dry brown lawn. To treat, dig up the weeds or spray the lawn with a selective herbicide that targets weeds but leaves the grass undamaged. Follow up weed removal by spraying pre-emergent herbicide over the lawn to prevent new weed seeds from sprouting.

Fight the threat of fungus. Fungus thrives in hot, humid, moisture-rich environments, and stagnant water on your lawn helps it fester. Once conditions like Brown Patch Disease take root, you might notice thinned-out brown grass in a ring-like pattern, possibly affecting a large area of turf. If you spot these symptoms, apply fungicide to smaller affected areas, or call in a lawn care specialist if the problem is widespread. Avoid over-dousing your lawn, and stick to a morning watering schedule, to keep fungus at bay. To reduce the risk of fungal disease, mow the lawn weekly, aerate it twice a year, and clear thatch (shoots, stems, and roots that accumulate on the soil surface) when it rises to about an inch in height.

Don’t let your lawn be grub for grubs. Grubs, the larvae of beetles, spend their summers feeding on the roots of turf grass—and as the grass decays, brown areas emerge. To determine if this is a problem, simply dig into one of the brown patches and look for milk-white creatures curled up into a C-shape. If you spot 10 or more of these grubs per square foot of sod, a grub infestation is the likely culprit of your lawn’s brown patches. To be rid of the pests, apply either a chemical like carbaryl or natural grub control like nematodes (roundworms) over the lawn. In two to three weeks, new green shoots should start to emerge.

Have pets do their business elsewhere. You love your furry friends, but canine and feline urine contains salts that can kill grass and leave behind round, brown dead patches that aren’t likely to go green on their own. Revive dead turf by covering it with a layer of ground limestone (2 to 5 pounds per 100 square feet) to restore the soil’s pH balance, then let the limestone sit for a week before covering it with topsoil and planting new grass seeds. In the future, you can replace an area of your lawn with mulch and let your pets “go” there—or better yet take them for walks!

How To: Remove Sweat Stains

No matter how many times you run your shirt through the wash, a regular rinse just won’t get out unsightly armpit stains. But don't sweat it! Keep reading to learn how you can clean up your favorite shirts.

How To Remove Sweat Stains


Yellowing on your favorite dress shirt or old tee typically suggests that it’s time to add it to your rag collection. Though it’s common to call sweat the culprit behind these unsightly stains (especially those around the armpit areas), the real reason is more than just salty water. “Those ‘sweat stains’ are made from a combination of things—not just perspiration, but also body oil, skin flakes, and any chemicals in your deodorant,” said Mary Gagliardi, also known as Dr. Laundry. Because of that, Gagliardi recommends pre-treating any affected areas with an enzyme-based stain remover before laundering them as the most effective means of how to remove sweat stains.

Alternatively, you can use a combination of baking soda and hydrogen peroxide—two all-natural powerhouse cleaners—for a homemade stain treatment that can break down the buildup and get your shirt to look new again. Follow the steps below on any clothing with dingy or even crusty yellow stains, and you may just save it from the toss pile!

– Large plastic bowl
– Gloves
– Tea kettle or microwavable liquid measuring cup
– Small bowl
– Baking soda
– Hydrogen peroxide
– Scrub brush
– Laundry detergent

How To Remove Sweat Stains


Place your shirt into the large, empty bowl inside out. Make sure the shirt is situated with the underarm stains facing up.

Check to see if your shirt has any spandex in it before soaking the sweat stains with water.

• If it’s made with spandex, dampen with cold water—boiling water can damage those fibers—and proceed to Step 3.

• Otherwise, hot water is most effective for removing stains: Bring water to a boil either on the stovetop or in the microwave and, wearing gloves, pour this hot water onto the yellowed spots. This should start to melt (and therefore loosen) the sweat stains.

In the small bowl, thoroughly mix a solution of one part baking soda, one part hydrogen peroxide, and one part water. The baking soda draws the sweat stains out and traps it, while also whitening the fabric and absorbing odors; meanwhile, the hydrogen peroxide is used as an oxidizing agent that disinfects. About 1/4 cup of each ingredient is needed for one shirt. Unlike other homemade cleaning solutions, this is not one to be made ahead and stored. Instead, keep each key ingredient handy in the laundry room for use.

Scoop out the liquid solution onto the stain. Let it sit for a few minutes, gently work it into the stained area with a scrub brush, then rinse it away.

Launder the shirt as you normally would, and check the stain. If it isn’t all the way gone, repeat Steps 1 through 4 then run it through the wash again. Otherwise, you run the risk of setting the remaining sweat stains with the heat of the dryer. Only dry once you see the yellow stains are gone.

Going forward, make sure you pretreat any problem areas—like the underarms or the back of the shirt—regularly before laundering. By catching the sweat stains early, you can have an easier time removing them. Another way to prevent stains is to choose a deodorant with low-aluminum, which is an ingredient that contributes to these yellow stains.

New AC? 5 Top Factors for Sizing Up Your Needs

To make sure that you're cooling your house as efficiently as possible, why not call in a pro who can weigh some key considerations and come up with the right size AC unit for your home?

How to Choose the Most Efficient AC Size


Do you find yourself raising your eyebrows at higher-than-normal energy bills? If your old air-conditioning system seems to be costing more to operate than it did summers past, yet your home still isn’t quite comfortably cool, it may be time to think about investing in a newer system. (A few other red flags that your AC system may be nearing the end of its useful life: increased humidity in your house, banging or other noises coming from your system during operation, and increasing repair costs.)

Even if your old system seems to be humming right along, it may be worth a review. The U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Star division recommends having HVAC systems that are 10 years old or older professionally checked to assess their efficiency. Today’s new air-conditioning systems offer much more efficient cooling power than ever before—so long as you select the right size to meet your home’s needs.

First, Understanding AC Measurements
Air-conditioning systems are rated by the seasonal energy-efficiency rating (SEER) and measured by tonnage. The SEER rating indicates how energy efficient the unit is—the higher the SEER rating, the more efficient the unit. Tonnage, meanwhile, indicates the operational size of the unit. A single AC ton is equivalent to 12,000 Btu per hour (Btu/h), or approximately the amount of coolness emitted by 1 ton of ice melting over the course of one day. An average 2,500-square-foot home might require a 3.5- to 4.5-ton unit, but there are many variables, and getting the tonnage exactly right is vital to both controlling cooling costs and maintaining comfort.


How to Choose the Most Efficient AC Size


Why Size Matters
Even though it may run constantly—and run up your energy bill in the process—an undersized AC unit is unlikely to cool a house adequately. It simply doesn’t have the power to do the job. But bigger isn’t always better in the case of a new AC unit, according to Dave Lincon, Director of Product Management and Business Development for Sears Home Services.

“When an AC unit is too large, it will cool your house quickly,” Lincon explains, “but then it will shut itself down because it’s reached the desired temperature. While that might not sound so bad on the surface, you’ll soon realize that your home never quite reaches the comfort level you expect.”

If an oversized unit cools the air and then shuts off too soon, it never has the opportunity to dry the air effectively, leaving much of the humidity (and general stickiness) unresolved.

To ensure that homeowners purchase the right size system for their houses, the professionals at Sears Home Services use Manual J (Residential Load Calculation)—a precise formula determined by the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA)—to compute an individual home’s cooling needs. Nothing is left to speculation. From a home’s floor plan to its geographical location and even its method of construction, all relevant details are analyzed to come up with the correct system size. Among the many variables the formula factors in, the following five may be the most significant for determining the correct tonnage needed for a given house.

How to Choose the Most Efficient AC Size


1. House Size
Your home’s size offers a good starting point for determining cooling needs. During the initial home analysis, Sears Home Service professionals will not only measure your home’s square footage, but they will also measure the height of your ceilings to determine your home’s cubic foot volume. A home with high, vaulted ceilings requires more cooling power than a home with standard 8-foot ceilings.

House style is also an important factor. A two-story home and a ranch-style home may have similar square footage, but their cooling needs will differ for a variety of reasons, including the fact that the ranch home could have twice as much roof as the two-story house.

2. Location
“A house in Colorado will have different cooling needs than a similar-size house in Texas or Florida,” Lincon advises. Typically, houses located in hot and humid climates require larger AC systems than houses in cooler, drier regions.

And while the prevailing climate in your geographical region is a major component of “location,” the term also encompasses considerations specific to your property: Is your yard full of large trees that offer midday shade? Does your house lack any protection from the harsh rays of the sun? How is your house oriented toward the sun?

3. Number (and Type) of Windows
Windows bring in light and offer wonderful views of the outdoors, but in many homes they’re a source of energy loss, which translates into increased cooling needs. According to Lincon, not only does the number of windows in your home affect the size of the AC system you’ll need, but the type of windows also matters.

When performing a Manual J load calculation, Sears Home Services representatives will make note of how many windows your home has, their dimensions, and their type. Single-pane windows are less energy efficient than double-pane, triple-pane, or low-e windows (low-emissivity film-coated windows that reflect the sun’s heat away from your home). The presence of energy-efficient windows can reduce the tonnage requirement.

4. Existing Insulation
Insulation plays a major role in keeping outdoor heat from penetrating your home on a hot summer’s day. Sears Home Services reps will note both the type and the amount of insulation in your home’s attic and walls. Insulated entry doors will also be taken into account.

Most communities have building codes that require a minimum amount of insulation in both walls and ceilings, but older homes that were constructed before the codes went into effect may have inadequate insulation. These older structures could require a larger AC system to keep the home comfortably cool.

5. Existing Ductwork
The type and condition of your home’s current ductwork is another consideration in sizing an AC system. A certified Sears Home Services contractor can connect a new central-air system to existing ductwork, or even install new ductwork if the existing ducting is leaky or poorly situated.

If new ductwork is necessary, Sears will install it in accordance with the ACCA’s Manual D (Residential Duct Design) standards. As these may be more stringent than your local building standards, homeowners can rest assured that they’re getting not only the right size AC system, but optimal ducting as well—and new ducting is yet another factor that could reduce the required size of an AC unit.

All the Other Little Details
While these five factors are important, they’re far from the whole picture. In using the Manual J formula to determine AC system sizing, Sears Home Service reps will need to gather many other details. For example, Lincon brings up the “human factor,” which includes such variables as the number of residents currently living in the home and the existence of either “hot spots” or spaces that never seem to cool adequately. Even the presence and types of window treatments can be a sizing consideration.

As you can see, AC sizing can be a complicated calculation. Certainly, shopping for a new AC system isn’t everyone’s idea of fun, but professionals like those at Sears Home Services can help simplify the task so you can find the right size unit, keep your family comfortable, and maybe even see some savings on your next energy bill.


This post has been brought to you by Sears Home Services. Its facts and opinions are those of

Old House, New AC: Your Best Bet for a Seamless Retrofit

If you're planning on updating an older home so you can enjoy state-of-the-art heating and cooling, look into a system that won't make you choose between charm and comfort.

The Unico System Installed in Older Architecture


Having once lived in a charming and historically significant Victorian home, I’m quite familiar with the compromises those old houses require. Built in 1870, ours was one of the first to adopt Edison’s newfangled electric lights, and it still had the original knob-and-tube wiring throughout its three stories. Just as electricity was an afterthought, so were heating and air conditioning. The house was designed to be heated by its numerous fireplaces, which had mostly been replaced with cast-iron radiators. But air conditioning? Forget about it! At the time, our only relief from the sweltering summers were a bunch of bulky, noisy, energy-gobbling window units that detracted from the aesthetic appeal of the house and impinged upon the lovely natural light from the eight-foot-tall windows.

Anyone who falls in love with an older or architecturally sensitive house faces a similar conundrum: How do you achieve up-to-date comfort and convenience in cooling and heating without compromising the architectural integrity of the structure? The most popular and prevalent HVAC systems in America—central air conditioning and forced-air heating—often rely on a network of bulky air ducts that are tough to incorporate into an existing home. In the past, retrofitting central air conditioning into an older home meant hiring a pricey contractor to open up walls, ceilings, and floors to route the system from room to room. Adding insult to injury, the rigid, unwieldy ductwork often takes up more space than the gaps in your walls and ceilings can accommodate, necessitating soffits, chases, and dropped ceilings that steal space from the home’s interior. In the end, to keep your family comfortable, you compromise the overall appearance and aesthetics that made you fall in love with your older home in the first place.


Installing AC in an Old Home


Nearly Invisible HVAC
Fortunately, there is an innovative and viable alternative to both conventional HVAC systems and inefficient window units: A newer technology known as high-velocity mini-duct HVAC allows cooling and heating to blend unobtrusively into the interior design without marring historic charm. The low-profile and versatile Unico System distributes comfort through cylindrical ducts that measure merely two to two and a half inches in diameter. Small and flexible, these mini ducts easily slide in behind walls and snake around and between joists where traditional metal ducting cannot fit, eliminating the need for altering your home in any significant way. The Unico System also features highly efficient air handling units that are compact enough to fit into tight spaces but deliver up to three times as much cooling power as larger, conventional units.

The rest of the system is just as inconspicuous. While most traditional HVAC systems rely on a variety of unsightly components—radiators, baseboard units, large metal vents—the Unico System maintains the attractive design aesthetics of your home by squeezing even its “big” pieces into the existing walls, and connecting to small, discreet outlets. The parts you do see—either 5-inch round or 8-by-1/2-inch slotted vents—can even be painted or stained to make them blend even further into the room’s overall design scheme. Meanwhile, the system’s whisper-quiet operation will preserve the peaceful charm of your old house, thanks to Unico’s impressive insulation: The mini ducts are constructed with nylon inner cores that muffle the movement of air, and the air handlers are housed within a cloak of closed-cell, sound-deadening insulation.

Advanced Comfort and Convenience
By opting for a high-velocity mini-duct HVAC in an older home, you’re not just bringing the place up to date, you’re also priming it for the future with cutting-edge energy efficiency. Whereas conventional HVAC installations can lose energy—as much as 25 to 50 percent—through typically leaky ductwork, the insulated mini ducts in the Unico System keep thermal loss close to none. Additionally, the system helps you lower your utility bills even further by removing 30 percent more humidity from the air than a conventional central air-conditioning system does, making the house comfortable even with the thermometer set slightly higher.

This combination of flexibility, painless installation, and advanced energy efficiency has made the Unico System the go-to retrofit for numerous historic and architecturally significant homes across the country, including the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum and the Harry S. Truman Little White House, both located in Key West, Florida; President Lincoln’s Cottage in Washington, D.C., his seasonal residence; the Petersen House in Washington, D.C., where Lincoln died after being shot at Ford’s Theatre; and the 277-year-old Orrin Hoadley House of Branford, Connecticut, an architectural gem built decades before the United States was even a country. So, if you are looking to add comfort and value to your older home, consider choosing an option that has been vetted by the National Park Service and has garnered the approval of architectural review boards in communities across the country. If it’s good enough for a presidential residence, isn’t it the right choice for your own palace?



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