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How To: Remove Scratches from Stainless Steel

Get those brushed metal surfaces back in shape with the right materials and these tips.

How to Remove Scratches from Stainless Steel

Photo: istockphoto.com

From sinks to appliances, counters to cabinet hardware, stainless steel remains a popular kitchen trend, favored for its sleek look and durability. Yet, sturdy as it is, stainless can acquire unsightly scratches in the course of everyday activity. Fortunately, it’s totally possible to minimize these signs of wear and tear, even successfully remove scratches from stainless steel altogether.

Look close and you’ll see that stainless steel has brush marks on the surface—this is called the grain, a result of the manufacturing process. Whichever scratch removal method or product you use, it’s essential to rub only in the direction of the grain; go the wrong way, you’ll worsen the problem. Also, do not apply the techniques described here on stainless that has a protective clear coat or synthetic surface applied, or you’ll do more damage. With those caveats in mind, collect your materials and start restoring your stainless steel. It may not come out looking brand spanking new, but it will certainly revive the appearance of your kitchen and keep it that way for years to come.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
- Stainless steel scratch removal compound
- Water
- Microfiber cloths
- Stainless steel scratch removal kit

FINE SCRATCHES

How to Remove Scratches from Stainless Steel

Photo: istockphoto.com

Use a non-abrasive compound such as Bar Keeper’s Friend, Revere Stainless Steel and Copper Cleaner, or even whitening toothpaste.

STEP 1
If you’re using a powdered stainless steel scratch removal compound, add enough water—a few drops at a time—to it to create a paste roughly the consistency of toothpaste. If your compound of choice is cream-based, proceed to the next step.

STEP 2
Apply a small amount of the scratch remover compound to a microfiber cloth and then very gently rub it back and forth over the scratch, working in the direction of the metal’s grain. Continue until the scratch buffs out.

STEP 3
Gently wipe the surface with a fresh, barely damp microfiber cloth to remove any compound residue. Dry with another fresh microfiber cloth. Repeat Steps 2 and 3 if needed to completely remove scratches from stainless steel surfaces.

 

DEEPER SCRATCHES

For larger imperfections that cannot do not respond to the compound, use a stainless steel scratch removal kit such as Scratch-B-Gone or Siege 63001 Stainless Steel Sink and Cookware Scratch Remover. Scratch remover kits generally contain a polishing compound and a set of abrasive pads. You’ll work from the coarsest grit to the finest to remove scratches from the stainless steel and restore the surface. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s directions specific to your kit.

STEP 1
Read through the manufacturer’s instructions completely. Identify the direction of the grain in your stainless steel.

STEP 2
Starting with the appropriate grit pad recommended for the specific scratch you aim to banish, rub the scratch with the grain, in one direction only—going back and forth with an abrasive could cause unattractive circular marks. Use only as much pressure as is needed to remove the scratch; don’t be overzealous or go deeper than necessary.

STEP 3
Move to a smoother grit pad, if recommended by the manufacturer, and continue the buffing process, adding water, or any compounds included in the kit, as called for.

STEP 4
Wipe the surface down with a microfiber cloth to finish the process, buffing the steel to a clean shine.

To keep your metal surfaces looking so new that you never have to ponder how to remove scratches from stainless steel again, avoid using abrasive substances or steel wool for regular cleaning and maintenance. Protect your stainless steel sink with a rubber dish mat when washing heavy pots or cast iron. Just be sure to remove the mat when finished washing up so that water won’t remain trapped underneath, where it can cause discoloration.

 

How to Remove Scratches from Stainless Steel

Photo: istockphoto.com


How To: Clean a Wooden Cutting Board

Step away from the dishwasher! Instead, use this DIY technique to clean your sullied wooden cutting boards and achieve safe and spotless results.

How to Clean a Wooden Cutting Board

Photo: istockphoto.com

Your hardworking cutting board constantly plays host to meats, veggies, and herbs. Over time, however, such unsavory characters as bacteria, stains, and odors are bound to make an appearance. Regularly sanitizing your cutting board is key to preventing cross-contamination and food-borne illness. The proper method of disinfection depends on the board’s material. Plastic cutting boards are easy to clean in the dishwasher, but the soft surface tends to develop bacteria-trapping knife scratches over time. Durable wooden cutting boards don’t scratch as easily, which cuts down on the number of germs that collect, but the boards can’t withstand a run through the dishwasher. The porous wood surface will warp and crack from the machine’s high temperatures.

So, how do you sanitize a wooden surface? Here’s how to clean a wooden cutting board with materials you already have on hand.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
- Plastic spatula
- Spray bottle
- White vinegar
- Soft cloth
- Hydrogen peroxide (3% concentration)
- Soft sponge
- Sea salt or baking soda
- 1 lemon
- Mineral oil

STEP 1
Use a plastic spatula to scrape off any chunks of food lingering on the cutting board, and discard them in the trash. If you used the board to cut raw meat, move clean dishes away from the sink to prevent contaminating them with salmonella, E. coli, and other microscopic culprits that may be on the wooden cutting board.

Once the sink is clear, rinse the top, bottom, and sides of the wooden cutting board in tap water for several seconds before air-drying it completely. Avoid submerging the board in a sink basin full of water. The dingy liquid can not only permeate and warp the wood, but also recirculate bacteria back onto the surface.

How to Clean a Wooden Cutting Board

Photo: istockphoto.com

STEP 2
Spritz enough white vinegar onto the board to coat all exposed surfaces. Allow the vinegar to sit for five minutes, then wipe it off with a damp cloth.

While white vinegar suffices as a regular cleaning treatment for your wooden cutting board, it’s wise to follow up with a more potent antibacterial method if the board frequently touches raw fish, poultry, or other meat. Flood the top of the board with hydrogen peroxide. Then, using a clean sponge, evenly distribute the liquid over the top, bottom, and sides. Let the hydrogen peroxide sit for 5 to 10 minutes before rinsing the board under water and patting dry with a clean sponge.

STEP 3
To rid your wooden cutting board of stubborn stains from poultry or pungent odors from food like fish, garlic, and onions, generously sprinkle a few tablespoons of coarse sea salt or baking soda over all surfaces of the board. Then gradually scrub the grains with a halved lemon, juicing the fruit as you go in order to mix the salt or baking soda with citric acid. Let the mixture settle into the board for at least 10 minutes (or overnight if your board is particularly musty) before wiping away the residue with a damp cloth and air-drying.

STEP 4
Conditioning your wooden cutting board will help it last longer. Start by dipping the tip of a soft cloth into a half cup of a food-safe mineral oil, preferably walnut or almond. (Avoid using vegetable or olive oil, which can break down, turn rancid, and leave an unpleasant odor on your cutting board.) Working in the direction of the wood grain, use the cloth to buff the oil into the top, bottom, and sides of the board.

Let the oil harden for at least six hours before storing the board in a location that receives plenty of air. This will prevent the growth of bacteria that thrive in moisture-rich environments. Performed on a quarterly basis, this conditioning ritual will prevent fractures from forming in the wood and preserve the beauty and durability of your wooden cutting board.


Bob Vila Radio: 3 Bright Ideas for Beating the Winter Blues

SAD is a fun acronym, but there's nothing lighthearted about its symptoms—or the depression it can cause. If you or someone you love has been diagnosed, try out these easy design tricks to combat SAD this winter.

You’ve probably already heard of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), the illness triggered by a lack of light during the season of shorter days.  What you may not know, though, is that your home can help you fend off its symptoms, including low energy levels and depression.

seasonal-affective-disorder

Photo: istockphoto.com

Listen to BOB VILA ON SEASONAL AFFECTIVE DISORDER AT HOME or read on below:

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The end of Daylight Savings Time can mark the onset of SAD symptoms for millions of Americans every year. If you’ve been diagnosed, start in your bedroom to maximize those morning rays. Spray both sides of your bedroom windows with glass cleaner, and wipe them clean with a microfiber cloth to dissolve dirt and grime. You might want to install larger windows or add a skylight down the line, but there are a few wallet-friendly fixes to try first.

Start with blue bulbs, which mimic daylight and can be added to the overhead lights and lamps you already own. Light therapy boxes are the next step up, with most containing several high-output fluorescent tubes that provide 100 times more light than normal fixtures. Even a half hour in front of the lamp each morning will help alleviate SAD symptoms.

Position mirrors to bounce sunlight around the room, and hang a colorful painting or two for for visual stimulation on grey days. Finally, surround yourself with living things: a hardy houseplant or a well-stocked terrarium are low-maintenance picks, and they’ll remind you of the sunny days right around the corner.

Bob Vila Radio is a 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day carried on more than 186 stations in 75 markets around the country. Click here to subscribe, so you can automatically receive each new episode as it arrives—absolutely free!


How To: Remove a Broken Bolt

Don’t let a defunct fastener foul you up. Follow these steps to take it off neatly without damaging the threaded hole.

How to Remove a Broken Bolt from Wood

Photo: istockphoto.com

In theory, metal bolts—headed fasteners with external threads that fit into suitable non-tapered nuts—can be removed and even reattached as needed. Unfortunately, when over-tightened or otherwise forced, bolts can seize and break, making them a challenge to remove. Stuck wondering how to remove a broken bolt? With the right gear and technique, a broken bolt can be extracted successfully to let you insert a new one.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
- Hammer
- Center punch
- Variable-speed reversible electric drill
- Left-handed drill bit
- Extraction drill bits kit
- Vise grip pliers
- Magnet and/or compressed air

How to Remove a Broken Bolt

Photo: istockphoto.com

STEP 1
Place the center punch as close to the middle of the broken bolt as possible. Hit it squarely with the hammer to create a starting point for drilling a pilot hole. A precise pilot hole is critical to help you to avoid damaging the threads of the broken bolt when you extract it. If the threads on either the bolt or the bolt hole are damaged, it may make bolt removal impossible. Furthermore, if the threading on the bolt hole is damaged, you may be unable to use a new bolt once the old one is extracted.

STEP 2
Check the table on your extraction kit to select the proper-sized left-handed drill bit to make a pilot hole in this broken bolt. If you’re picking up a kit for the job, invest in quality; the last thing you need is a cheap bit breaking during this process.

Set your drill on reverse and as slow a speed as possible (ideally, 20 RPM), and insert the left-handed drill bit. The torque of drilling in reverse (i.e., counter-clockwise) will prevent you from further tightening the threads on the bolt. Now, place the drill bit on the punch mark you made and, holding the drill securely, slowly reverse-drill a small pilot hole in the bolt, about ¼-inch deep. Hopefully, reverse-drilling your pilot hole will loosen the bolt enough to let you use vise grip pliers to remove the bolt. Remember, “righty-tighty, lefty-loosey”—turn the bolt left (counter-clockwise) to remove it. If the bolt hasn’t loosened at all, proceed to Step 3 for extraction.

STEP 3
For a stubbornly entrenched bolt, you’ll need an extraction bit. Check your extraction kit’s table for the right size bit for the bolt size. The extraction bit is also a left-handed drill bit (but with a different purpose) so you’ll continue using the reverse drilling setting. Exchange the first bit for the extraction bit in your drill, insert it in the pilot hole, and very gently tap your drill and the bit snuggly into place with a hammer.

STEP 4
Still using a very slow reverse-drilling setting, such as 20 RPM, begin drilling into the pilot hole. Slow and gentle is critical here: The bit is likely made of hardened steel, and if it breaks off during this process, you’ll face an even more challenging extraction. The broken bolt should soon “grab” onto the extraction bit while reverse drilling, and begin extracting. Continue slowly and steadily until the entire bolt has been fully extracted, ideally salvaging the threading so you want can put a new bolt in. Phew!

STEP 5
Any metal shavings or filings left in the threaded hole must be removed before inserting a new bolt. Set a powerful magnet over the hole to attract the loose bits, or use compressed air to blast the threading clean. Don’t skip this step or a new bolt could seize or sheer off.

The tried-and-tested method you just learned ought to safely remove any broken bolt, while ensuring you can later reuse the hole to insert a new one. If not, contact a local welding shop, which ought to have the skills and tools to remove a broken bolt. And remember, insert all bolts slowly and carefully in the future, to avoid seizing and the top of the bolt snapping off.


Buyer’s Guide: Fire Starters

Light the grill or fireplace fast with a single flammable pellet or package! We guarantee you'll warm up fast to any of these 7 top-rated fire starters.

SHARES
Best Fire Starter for Lighting a Fire

Photo: istockphoto.com

While a toasty fire is a welcome addition to any chilly evening, wrestling with wet wood or crumpled-up newspapers to get the first flames going—and the wait time that follows—is not so much. You’ll eventually get something more than a smoking, smoldering pile of timber, but wouldn’t it be better to go right to a roaring blaze? That’s where fire starters come in.

Originally marketed and sold to the specialty camping, hunting, and fishing crowd, commercial fire starters are now a must-have accessory for anyone with a fireplace, wood stove, fire pit, chiminea, hibachi, food smoker, or even a trusty old-fashioned charcoal grill. Sure, you could fashion your own homemade fire starters from used dryer lint, cardboard egg cartons and candle wax, but commercial fire starters are fairly inexpensive and much less of a hassle than making your own. And since fire starters are readily available at hardware stores, home centers, and garden shops, there’s really no reason not to keep a case or two on hand throughout the year, to be ready whenever you need get the grill going or want to relax in the warm glow of the firelight.

Not all fire starters are created equal, however. Before you buy in bulk, mind these considerations—and product recommendations—to make sure you get the best burn for your buck.

Size matters. Fire starters are handy to have around, but the last thing you want is a large box that rivals your stack of firewood detracting from the attractive environment you’ve created around your fireplace. Fortunately, some of the best-reviewed fire starters are lightweight and compact, ranging from 3 to 6 inches in length, since most were originally developed to be tucked into a hiker’s backpack. Typically sold in cases of 12 or 24, these pocket-sized pouches, pods, or cubes can be stored in plain site in a basket or tucked out of sight.

Look for lengthy burn time. Highly flammable, fire starters are meant to speed through the painstaking process of starting a fire with wet wood, charcoal, or even coal alone by providing a persistent flame that can then catch on nearby kindling. To do so, the fire starter has to burn long enough to actually get the fire established. The best fire starter burns from 10 to 30 minutes, ensuring that you achieve a robust blaze.

The nose knows. A big barrier to the adoption of early, camping-oriented fire starters for home use was the smell. Older fire starters were impregnated with flame-inducing chemicals that smelled awful. Today’s best fire starters are nearly odorless—a big plus for using fire starters as an alternative to lighter fluid when starting the grill or food smoker.

Pick what’s best for the planet. You’re not the only one who benefits from abandoning fire starters that utilize noxious chemicals. The best fire starter burns clean thanks to environmentally-friendly flammable materials, be it wood waste (sawdust or shavings), non-toxic wax, recycled paper, waste textile fibers—or, for fireplace purists, all-natural fatwood. Fortunately, you won’t have to look too hard: Nearly all commercial fire starters have no byproducts or waste, because the paper packaging burns up right along with the fire starter. Plus, using fire starters typically results in faster and more complete ignition, thereby reducing emissions of particulate matter and carbon monoxide.

Brightest of the Bunch

We’ve done the dirty work for you and scouted the market for the handy nuggets, cubes, and packages worth stashing by the grill or fireplace. Keep reading for which options have been reviewed as the best fire starter in the business by consumers who have tried them all—as well as where you can stock up.

 

Best Fire Starter - Light-a-Fire by Vision Home Products

Photo: amazon.com

Light-a-Fire by Vision Home Products, $17.99 for 30
Listed as Amazon’s “Best All-Natural Fire Starter,” these pods received 4.9 out of 5 stars from customers who praised the compact cubes for being “remarkable,” “simple,” and “easy and safe to use.” Only one pod from the bucket supply of 30 is needed to instantly light a grill, campfire, or fireplace, and it will burn for 15 minutes to ensure your fire roars. Made from wood shavings and food-grade wax, these pods are totally odorless, non-toxic, and environmentally safe. Available on Amazon.

 

Best Fire Starter - Zip Premium All Purpose Wrapped Fire Starters

Photo: amazon.com

Zip Premium All Purpose Wrapped Fire Starter, $4.84 for 12
These individually-wrapped fire starters are formulated to light in even the most difficult and damp conditions, earning them praise as a “surefire way to start a fire” and 4.8 out of 5 stars from Amazon shoppers. The cube design was formulated specifically to burn hotter for longer, up to 18 minutes of burn time. The cubes are safe, odorless, and convenient—just light the wrapper to see. Available on Amazon.

 

Best Fire Starter - Pine Mountain ExtremeStart Firestarters

Photo: amazon.com

Pine Mountain ExtremeStart Firestarter, $4.99 for 12
This multipurpose fire starter ignites firewood or charcoal fast and burns for 20 minutes, garnering 4.5 out of 5 stars from Home Depot shoppers, who rave that it’s “long-lasting, so you only need one.” The small, pocket-sized logs create a clean burn—odorless and perfect for tailgating, campfires, or a quiet evening in front of the fireplace. Simply light the paper wrapper, and you’re on your way to a comfy fire. Available on Amazon.

 

Best Fire Starter - Duraflame Firestart Firelighters

Photo: amazon.com

Duraflame Firestart Firelighters, $20.30 for 24
Well known for manufacturing colorful fire logs, Duraflame also secured a solid reputation for its fire starters, which are rated 4.6 out of 5 stars on Amazon and 4.7 out of 5 stars on Home Depot. The 6-ounce, individually-wrapped fire starters made from blend of wax and renewable, recycled biomass fiber ignite easily with a single match and burn up to 30 minutes, long enough to start even stubborn wood fires. Consumers even say, “they work so well, you can cut them in half.” Available on Amazon.

 

Best Fire Starter - Lightning Nuggets

Photo: lowes.com

Lightning Nuggets, $10.99 for 35
Just one small nugget is all it takes to light a fire, earning the product 4.5 out of 5 stars from Lowes shoppers. Consumers called it “the easiest way to get charcoal started,” and even raved that there’s “no more messing with newspaper or kindling.” Each Lightning Nugget burns for 15 minutes, thanks to a blend of all-natural, recycled, and non-toxic flammable materials, and this 2-pound supply provides enough to ignite the next 35 fires in your future. Available at Lowes.

 

Best Fire Starter - QuickFire Instant Fire Starters

Photo: amazon.com

QuickFire Instant Fire Starters; $9.99 for 25
These innovative compressed oil pouches are 100 percent waterproof with an infinite shelf life, and, come time to use them, the packaging material itself acts as a wick. Light and corner and a pack’s 10-minute burn will effortlessly start fireplaces, grills, campfires, fire pits, wood burning stoves, and more—all without odor or toxicity. Amazon users rated these fire starters 4.3 out of 5 stars for their “speed,” “convenience,” and “easy of use.” Available from Amazon.

 

Best Fire Starter - L.L. Bean Fatwood

Photo: llbean.com

Fatwood; $39.95 for 25 pounds
L.L. Bean calls this found-in-nature fire starter “the most efficient kindling,” and its customers don’t disagree. Fatwood—typically sticks cut from the stumps of pine trees that contain a high concentration of natural resin—garners 4.4 out of 5 stars from reviewers. It ignites quickly, burns cleanly, and smells naturally fragrant. The resin in the sticks burns extremely hot for 10 to 15 minutes, even when wet, to get the fire going in no time. Available at L.L. Bean.


Buyer’s Guide: Faucet Water Filters

Hundreds of pollutants can contaminate your tap water, but one inexpensive kitchen addition will ensure that yours is clean for drinking and cooking: a faucet-mount water filter. Here, how to choose one fit for your needs—and your sink.

Best Faucet Water Filter

Photo: istockphoto.com

More than four out of every 10 Americans use a home water treatment unit of some sort, according to the Water Quality Association and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)—and for good reason. Clean drinking water is an essential building block of general health. With hundreds of pollutants in most drinking water, including lead and arsenic, finding and installing the right filter is one of the most important things you can do to your home to ensure wellness in your household.

While available in a variety of types—carafes, faucet attachments, under-sink mounts, and countertop varieties—the water filtration system that proves most versatile and easy-to-install is one that mounts to any standard kitchen faucet and filters right as the water flows. (By contrast, an under-sink model requires a direct hookup to your plumbing system, and a carafe has to be refilled almost constantly, occasionally making you wait for cool water to filter through the full pitcher before you pour a glass.) So if ease and convenience is up your alley, look no further than this variety. As you select one to fit your kitchen sink, consider the following key variables as well as the best faucet water filter options to date.

Find the right filter for your needs. Water contaminants vary by community, and knowledge is power. Start by researching what’s affecting your own water supply through the National Drinking Water Database created by the Environmental Working Group (EWG). Once you have an idea of the contaminants you’re exposed to daily, you’ll be better able to determine your needs.

When it comes to the mechanism that makes water filters work, there are two types: reverse osmosis and carbon.

• Reverse osmosis is considered to be the Cadillac of water filtration—superior at removing contaminants (including those too small for other filters to catch, like arsenic and perchlorate) but pricier and so bulky that they’re often installed under-sink. These are not an option for faucet water filters, but available to you should you decide that the filtration best meets your household needs.

• Carbon filters still remove a handful of noteworthy contaminants (pesticides, disinfection byproducts, and—depending on the model—possibly lead, as well as protozoan cysts like giardia and cryptosporidium) from your drinking and cooking water, but at a much more affordable cost and in more convenient models. And, ultimately, mounting a carbon filter to your faucet for $20 to $50 makes your drinking water far safer than the tap water that currently flows.

Always check a unit’s package or online information to make sure the contaminants you’re most concerned about won’t make it through the system you end up investing in. Regardless of which microscopic materials they’re best at keeping out of your glass, a vast majority of faucet-mounted filters considerably improve the taste of your H2O.

Ease of setup. A faucet-mount attachment generally offers a quick installation. Unscrew the aerator, swap in an adapter provided with the faucet-mount water filter (models often include multiple sizes to find one that best fits your faucet), then snap the body of faucet-mount filter into place. Manufacturer instructions will also cover how to check that the filter inside the model is good to go. In most cases, it’s only a matter of minutes to get the filter fully functional. Once installed, many faucet water filters offer the option to toggle between filtered and unfiltered water.

Note: While some custom faucets and pull-out models may not allow for a perfect installation, faucet water filters are made to fit most standard kitchen sinks. When in doubt, check with the filter unit’s manufacturer before you buy.

 

The Best Bets

When it comes to reputable filters, most carbon-based point-of-use attachments will protect your water (and you!) from a great number of unwelcome ingredients. We’ve scouted the market for you for which models have been reviewed as the best faucet water filter in the business by experts and consumers alike—as well as where you can get your own.

 

Best Faucet Water Filter - Brita On-Tap FF-100 Faucet Filter System

Photo: brita.com

Brita On-Tap FF-100, $48
The no-tools-required assembly of the popular Brita FF-100 faucet filter make it a favorite among Home Depot shoppers, not to mention the fact that it’s 40 percent more space-efficient than competitors on the market. While it’s highly effective at removing lead and chlorine, in particular, the faucet water filter greatly improves water’s taste as well. And since a filter does no good without regular replacement, its handy green light indicates when the carbon filter needs replacing—a process that’s as simple as just one click. Available at Home Depot.

 

Best Faucet Water Filter - PUR Advanced Faucet Water Filter FM-3700B

Photo: amazon.com

PUR FM-3700B, $25
Reducing or entirely eliminating lead, mercury, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, and more than 60 other particulates, the PUR FM-3700B has garnered glowing reviews from more than 2,000 consumers for its sleek design, one-click installation, 360-degree swivel, and general durability. Adept at improving water’s taste as well as quality, its only real drawback is the fact that it won’t work with pull-out or hand-held faucets. It comes with a two-year warranty. Available on Amazon.

 

Best Faucet Water Filter - Culligan FM-15A Advanced Faucet Filter Kit

Photo: walmart.com

Culligan FM-15A, $27
After weighing t his models pros and cons thoroughly, the team at ConsumerSearch declared the Culligan FM-15A faucet-mount filtration unit a top-of-the-line model. While it lost points for aesthetics and low flow (both common issues cited with faucet-mounted filters), the unit’s durability, cost, ease of installation, and simplicity of use earned it high marks—as did the fact that it vastly improved the way water tasted. In a nutshell, the ConsumerSearch editors conclude, “Bells and whistles take a backseat to filtering performance.” Unfortunately, this unit doesn’t fit all faucets, so buyers would be wise to check with Culligan’s customer service about compatibility first. Available on Walmart.com.


How To: Insulate Windows

Before the mercury really plunges, get your windows ready for winter by eliminating drafts and maximizing heat retention with this guide to window insulation.

How to Insulate Windows

Photo: istockphoto.com

Though in wintertime a window seat affords postcard-perfect views of snow-covered tree branches, it’s not necessarily the most comfortable perch on a cold day. During the chilly season, so much heat can escape through the panes of glass as well as through any cracks or gaps around the window frame that you’ll want to wrap up in a blanket, or at least put on a sweater, before you risk sitting so close to a window. The Energy Information Administration reports that the average home loses as much as a third of its energy as a result of poor window insulation. Luckily, there are several ways to mitigate this loss. Follow these best practices for how to insulate windows, and you can secure a warmer winter with just one weekend of work.

TOOLS AND MATERIALS
- Putty knife
- Clean rag
- No-drip caulking gun
- Exterior-grade caulking (preferably with 100 percent silicone sealant)
- Claw hammer
- Paper towels
- Household cleaner
- Tape measure
- Weatherstripping
- Scissors
- Utility knife
- Insulating window film
- Heavy curtains

////////////

Insulate Window Exteriors

Decades of exposure to the elements can wear away one of your main defenses against heat loss: exterior caulking. Once this begins to crumble, cracks can start to form around the window frame. If you feel drafts coming from your closed windows, take swift action to replace the exterior caulking along the window frames before the weather takes a turn for the worse.

How to Insulate Windows by Re-caulking the Exterior

Photo: istockphoto.com

STEP 1
Check the weather before you begin the process. For successful application of caulking, you’ll want clear skies for 24 hours—no snow or rain—and, ideally, temperatures above 45 degrees Fahrenheit.

STEP 2
Use a strong putty knife to scrape window edges clean of the old caulking and peeling paint. Then, wipe the surface clean of any remnants with a damp rag. Let the surface dry for a few hours so the new caulking will readily adhere. It’s best to start the project early in the day to allow enough dry time. You could also leave it to dry overnight, but depending on the outside temperature, you could be in for a cold, cold night after having scraped off the old caulking.

STEP 3
Load your no-drip caulking gun with a cartridge of exterior-grade silicone caulking and hold it at a 45-degree angle in order to get deep into the cracks around the window frame. Apply a solid, continuous bead of caulking between the frame and the siding, all the way around the window. Any caulk that oozes out of the crack should be pushed in gently with a putty knife. Allow this to cure overnight to provide the best protection from wind and moisture.

 

Insulate Window Interiors

The sash—the part of the window that moves to open and close—is the spot most people zero in on when they’re trying to improve window insulation. While insulating here is important, don’t neglect the glass itself or ignore other draft-curbing solutions. Take a three-pronged approach to insulating the inside of your windows by employing weatherstripping, window film, and energy-smart window treatments.

How to Insulate Windows with Weatherstripping

Photo: istockphoto.com

STEP 1
If your weatherstripping is worn or crumbling, it’s time to remove and replace it. Adhesive-backed stripping can simply be pulled up by hand. If the weatherstripping is attached with nails or screws, however, you must first remove the fasteners with a claw hammer or drill before you can lift it away. Once you’ve pulled the weatherstripping off, wipe down the window sash with a damp rag or paper towels and household cleaner. Allow it to dry thoroughly.

STEP 2
When you’re selecting replacement weatherstripping, closely consider the pros and cons of each material. As with many building materials, you get what you pay for in terms of lifespan. Felt, for example, is a common pick for its low price, but it can fail within only a few years. Adhesive-backed foam and tubular gasket stripping, on the other hand, are both cost-effective compression seals that work reliably and provide three to five years of protection from the cold.

Measure your sash carefully, then cut the weatherstripping of your choice to length. Start as close as you can to the end of one side of the sash, peel off any adhesive backing, then carefully press the weatherstripping into place on the sash, making your way carefully to the other end.

STEP 3
With the new weatherstripping in place, you’ll want to double up your efforts with an insulating window film. In addition to retaining up to 55 percent of your home’s heat in winter, this type of window covering will reflect heat and block UV rays from passing through uncovered windows—lowering indoor temperatures in summer and saving energy costs year-round. Before you proceed, check to see if your windows are still under warranty; the addition of window film may void the contract. If you’re in the clear, select the best quality insulating window film you can find for the job. Cheap versions can make the outdoors seem darker and even somewhat blurry. While that’s not a big issue for windows in some rooms, for more prominent windows, you may want to invest in higher-quality film that causes little to no loss of clarity and light.

Note: Cheaper methods that produce a similar insulating effect involve heat-and-shrink film or even bubble wrap, but these are often less attractive options that hamper or prevent the use of the windows, or hinder visibility. These inexpensive fixes, however, can be effective, easy-to-apply, and energy-efficient solutions for basement or attic windows.

Whatever method you choose, installation instructions vary from product to product. In general, start by washing the windowpanes so that no dust or lint gets trapped during application, then precisely follow the manufacturer’s directions to affix the film.

STEP 4
For one last defense against heat loss and drafts, hang thick, full-length curtains. For best insulating effects, make sure that your curtain rod is installed above and extends past each window on either side so the curtains fully cover the window frame. If it’s not appropriately installed, make adjustments to the rod’s position to maximize heat retention. While other window treatments like blinds or sheers offer some protection from drafts, a set of heavy curtains that you draw shut after dusk can cut heat loss by up to 17 percent.

 

Whether you ultimately decide to complete just one or all of these steps, you’ll still reap benefits. The more solutions you employ, however, the greater heat retention and energy savings you’ll see, and potentially not just in winter, but all year-round.


How To: Choose a High-Efficiency Mini-Split System

Anyone who's renovating or building new has to give a lot of thought to the best way of keeping those spaces warm in the winter and cool in summer. If you're looking for a system that offers exceptional versatility and efficiency, maybe it's time to learn more about an HVAC option that you may not have considered before.

How to Choose a Mini-Split

Photo: istockphoto.com

If you live in a mild climate, consider yourself lucky. Everyone else? You know that whenever the temperature soars or plummets, you always face an impossible dilemma: Either you commit to paying more than you may feel comfortable spending on your monthly energy bill, or you make the choice to shiver or sweat in the name of cost savings. It’s a lose-lose proposition that, in the age of whisper-quiet dishwashers and self-cleaning ovens, endlessly frustrates today’s homeowners, who are accustomed to appliances that deliver a considerably higher level of satisfaction. If you’re at your wit’s end with your current HVAC system, or if you’re planning a brand new custom home, take comfort from the fact that you can choose a heating and cooling system that won’t force you to constantly make sacrifices of one kind or another.

Forced air, the dominant mode of heating and cooling for much of the last century, may have surpassed older technologies, but it also reinforced the idea that you can enjoy comfort or save money, but never both. Only now are homeowners seeing a new way forward. Thanks to a recent wave of innovation—the rise of mini-split systems, most notably—the market finally includes options that manage to combine top performance with money-saving efficiency. Already common in Europe and Asia, mini-splits are still relatively rare in the United States. But with awareness spreading about alternatives to forced air, mini-splits are rapidly gaining popularity. For more background on the technology, and for details about the features that distinguish different systems, continue reading.

 

VERSATILITY AND CUSTOMIZATION

How to Choose a Mini-Split - Floor Plan Drawing

Photo: istockphoto.com

At the outset of an HVAC project, it’s important to define your needs, because mini-split systems—the iSeries from Unico, for example—offer a great deal of flexibility. You can employ the technology on your terms, adapting its capabilities to provide climate control in a space of any size, be it one small room or an entire multilevel home. The versatility of the system stems from its unique, streamlined design. At its simplest, a mini-split system consists of only two components—an outdoor compressor (to condition air) and an indoor evaporator (to distribute air). Here’s the key: A single outdoor unit can typically support multiple indoor units, and for even greater capacity, there’s the option of installing an additional compressor. The technology scales up or down as needed with ease.

Homeowners who install only one indoor unit often do so to add extra comfort in an area underserved by the main HVAC system. The technology can also provide whole-home climate control by dividing the home into HVAC zones, each of which gets its own thermostat. This allows the homeowner to target temperatures on a zone-by-zone basis. That may not sound like much, but consider that zoning lets you cut back on energy costs in any room you aren’t occupying. Second, in a zoned home, family members with different temperature preferences can all be comfortable at the same time in different rooms. It’s a win for your bottom line and your family’s comfort.

 

ENERGY EFFICIENCY AND SAVINGS

How to Choose a Mini-Split - iSeries Efficiency

Photo: unicosystem.com

Mini-splits save you money in lots of little ways, but in the context of their high-efficiency performance, one innovation stands out most of all. Whereas traditional forced-air systems were designed to stop and start over and over in an energy-devouring cycle, mini-splits conserve by running continuously. That doesn’t mean the compressor operates at full capacity around the clock, but rather that it modulates itself to match the heating or cooling demand at any given time. In the process, the variable compressor driving the mini-split system goes a long way toward minimizing energy usage and maximizing savings. In fact, best-of-breed mini-splits often boast a Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) high enough to qualify homeowners for any number of coveted certifications, including LEED and Net Zero Energy.

A second way in which mini-splits keep down costs: Because their installation doesn’t involve ductwork, mini-splits sidestep the air leakage and thermal energy loss for which air ducts are infamous. After replacing a traditional ducted forced-air system with a ductless mini-split, homeowners notice almost immediate reductions in their utility costs, sometimes up to 25 percent or more. The catch? Short runs of ducts often prove necessary in whole-home applications. Don’t fret, though: Just as so many other HVAC components have improved by leaps and bounds over the years, so, too, has one particular type of ductwork: a tubular, small diameter, high velocity (SDHV) system. The Unico System features small ducts encased in two layers of closed-cell insulation, effectively eliminating the risk of air leaks, energy loss, and wasted money. Plus, Unico’s iSeries outdoor unit can match up to Unico ductless and ducted systems at the same time. You can connect up to four indoor ductless units to one outdoor unit, or a combination of up to four ductless and ducted units to one outdoor unit.

 

AESTHETICS AND PERFORMANCE

How to Choose a Mini-Split - iSeries Head Unit

Photo: unicosystem.com

HVAC isn’t known for its looks. Equipment manufacturers have usually focused on performance instead. It’s a different story, however, with mini-splits, largely because the system design situates the indoor unit within the space it conditions. Years ago, there was no other option but to mount the indoor unit right on the wall, but today manufacturers typically offer at least a couple of comparatively discreet alternatives. One popular style of indoor unit sets into the ceiling, leaving only its air distribution vents exposed. Another style slots into the floor or in a soffit. There’s only one problem: Not every home—and not every room in every home—has enough clearance in its cavities to accommodate a recessed HVAC component. In other words, it may be feasible to install your choice of indoor unit, or it may not.

Are you looking to knock out both heating and cooling in one punch? Many of the best mini-split systems are capable of delivering both. To cool a space, the technology pulls heat from the home and expels it outside. For heating, the system operates in reverse, drawing heat from the air surrounding the home and sending it indoors. In fact, the Unico iSeries has been tested and verified to operate at peak efficiency even when temperatures drop as low as -35 degrees Fahrenheit. When the seasons change, or on an unseasonably warm or cold day, switching modes requires nothing more complicated than the push of a button. Indeed, while homeowners are accustomed to viewing heating and cooling as separate and distinct, mini-splits serve as evidence that HVAC has changed—dramatically, and for the better.

 

Excelling where forced air fell short, mini-splits may be different enough from older technologies to warrant a reevaluation of everything you once took for granted about HVAC. That said, despite the evolution of climate-control technology, one thing remains as true today as it was 20 or even 50 years ago: Homeowners devote a great deal of thought, time, and effort (and, of course, money) toward shaping their homes to reflect their style sensibilities and priorities in life. Though any mini-split system can deliver the up-to-now elusive combination of comfort and savings, only the iSeries from Unico gives homeowners the option to operate both ductless and ducted systems from the same outdoor unit. This high efficiency solution means lower energy bills and a zoned home where everyone is more comfortable.

How to Choose a Mini-Split - Unico Cutaway Diagram

Photo: unicosystem.com

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


How To: Get Rid of Spider Mites

Keep these creepy-crawlies from wreaking havoc with plants, indoors and out, using this all-natural battle plan.

How to Get Rid of Spider Mites

Photo: istockphoto.com

Tiny, sap-sucking arachnids known as spider mites can be a problem any time of year, out in your garden and plaguing houseplants and greenhouse varieties, too. With females able to lay as many as 300 eggs every few weeks, spider mite populations can explode in a matter of days. Tell tale signs that you’ve been infested include speckled leaves or brownish webbing on the surface of leaves. Unfortunately, employing chemicals to control them can be a two-pronged problem: First, mites can develop resistance, and second, pesticides often kill such beneficial insects as ladybugs that like to feast on mites. Instead, go with the simple techniques and non-toxic remedies outlined here for in this guide on how to get rid of spider mites.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
- Magnifying glass
- White paper
- Hose with spraying attachment
- Spray bottle (optional)
- Sponge
- Bucket
- Pruning shears
- Plastic bags
- Rosemary oil
- Lemon-scented liquid dish detergent
- One-quart jug

How to Get Rid of Spider Mites on Plants

Photo: istockphoto.com

STEP 1
Your plants are in trouble: Leaves may be blotchy, be-webbed, streaked with silver or gold, or turning brown and falling off. But are spider mites to blame? These pests are less than a millimeter long, so grab a magnifying glass and inspect the underside of leaves, where they congregate. If you can’t see the culprits, place a piece of white paper under foliage and shake the leaves, then examine what falls on the sheet. Slow-moving, eight-legged pests—red, yellow, brown, or green in color—mean you’ve got spider mites. Two-spotted spider mites, so called for the duo of dots on their backs, are deemed “particularly troublesome” by experts, but diligent treatment can curb their invasion.

STEP 2
Simply wash the buggers away! Pressure-sprayed water is a surprisingly effective against spider mites, whether using a power spray from your hose outside or just a strong stream from a spray bottle on houseplants. Blast plants from below to hit the back of leaves. Then, take a clean, water-dampened sponge to wipe the backs of leaves, rinsing the sponge after each wipe by dipping it in a bucket of water.

STEP 3
Prune any leaves and stems spider mites have attacked, placing the clippings in a plastic bag and putting it in the trash, not your compost (eggs can lay dormant until the perfect hatching climate arises). If the entire plant has evidence of mites, or its health seems too far-gone to bounce back, consider pulling it completely to prevent infestation from spreading to neighbors.

STEP 4
Mix this all-natural, non-toxic solution that’ll banish the invaders without harming phytoseiulus persimilis, a beneficial mite that snacks on spider mites.
• ½ ounce rosemary essential oil (found in natural health stores)
• 1 quart tap water
• 1 teaspoon of lemon-scented liquid dish soap

A soap-and-water combo is often used as a repellent on its own, but rosemary oil helps emulsify the solution, making it easier to spray. Combine all ingredients in a jug, shake well, and fill a spray bottle. Shake thoroughly before use, spraying plants either early or late in the day, avoiding the hottest periods. Spray plants (and surrounding soil) daily for at least four days, then on alternate days for two weeks. Once you’ve got the situation thoroughly under control, continue spraying once a week to keep plants healthy.

STEP 5
For outdoor plants, consider introducing predatory mites, ladybugs, lacewings, and other beneficial insects (find them online or at nurseries) once you’ve gotten the problem in hand. They’ll eat the spider mite larvae, mite adults, and all mites in between that try to muscle in on your restored territory. You may also want to put in companion planting, interspersing Chinese parsley, chives, dill, chrysanthemums, garlic, and onion throughout your garden to repel spider mites.

STEP 6
When plants are stressed, they’re more prone to invasion by spider mites and other opportunistic feeders. So keep them watered per their needs and ensure excess water drains well. Use nutrient-rich soil and vary feeding accordingly as seasons change. Be sure plants have the right light conditions for their species. Then be vigilant, inspecting for early signs of infestation and doing what it takes to nip it in the bud.


Bob Vila Radio: The Cost-Cutting Secret Only Contractors Know

Sticking to a tight budget on your home remodel? Planning ahead only goes so far to keep those costs under control. Luckily, it turns out there's a season for savings—and we're in it!

There’s no reason to wait until spring to tackle that home improvement project. In most areas of the country, winter is the slow season for construction, which makes it the best time to start (and save!) on a major renovation or remodel.

winter-remodeling

Photo: istockphoto.com

Listen to BOB VILA ON WINTER REMODELING or read on below:

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Since contractors take on fewer jobs in the cold months, you’ll have a better chance of hiring your first choice—and they’ll have more time to plan and discuss all of the details with you. Government agencies aren’t as busy either, and permit applications will probably be processed and approved faster. Another plus? Appliance suppliers often slash prices when temperatures drop, making any kitchen remodel more affordable.

As long as it’s not snowing or raining, consider tackling exterior projects like pouring a patio, staining your deck, or building an addition. The winter chill will keep you cool while you work on your outdoor oasis—and with the head start, your backyard will have a brand-new look by the time warmer weather rolls back around.

Bob Vila Radio is a 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day carried on more than 186 stations in 75 markets around the country. Click here to subscribe, so you can automatically receive each new episode as it arrives—absolutely free!