How To’s & Quick Tips - 3/65 - Bob Vila

Category: How To’s & Quick Tips

How To: Put Out a Grease Fire

These kitchen conflagrations are serious, and taking the wrong action can make them worse! Learn the right moves here.

How to Put Out a Grease Fire


Not to scare you into ordering takeout more often, but more home fires are caused by cooking mishaps than anything else—and these cooking fires lead to more injuries than any other type of residential fires, according to the most recent United States Fire Administration data. Especially dangerous are grease fires, responsible for one out of every five at-home fire deaths. Knowing what causes this particular flame to form and how to put out a grease fire quickly could actually save your life.

More than 60 percent of grease fires occur on the stovetop, when fat or oil hits boiling state, then starts to smoke—and can predictably catch fire soon after. So the first and most important rule to preventing grease fires is to never leave a pan unattended: Simply stepping to the pantry while you’ve got a slicked-up pan on the heat could lead to big trouble. The smoking point ranges from 375 to 450 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on the fat or oil in question, but the first sign of smoke indicates the danger zone: Turn off the heat, move the pan to a cool burner, and place a metal lid on it to stop a fire from forming.

If a grease fire does start, never, ever douse it with water or any other kind of liquid in an attempt to extinguish it. Liquid vaporizes as it hits fire, instantly creating steam explosions in all directions and potentially engulfing a kitchen in flames. So cook with care, and keep the following information in mind—and supplies on hand—so you can stay cool should a grease fire ever ignite.

– Baking soda
– Table salt
– Pan or pot lid
– Cookie sheets
– Fire extinguisher (class K)
– Telephone

For a grease fire contained on the cooktop, turn off the stove immediately if you can safely reach it. Do not attempt to move the pan. Movement can cause the fire to get stronger and grow faster. If the fire has spread beyond the cooktop to anything nearby—curtains, counter, cupboard, wall—do not attempt to get near the stove. It takes less than five minutes for an entire room to become engulfed in flames, so grab your phone and leave the area, closing the door to contain the fire. Get out of the house and call 911.

If the fire is in the oven or microwave, do not open the door—that would cause oxygen to rush in and create a flame surge. Instead, turn off the appliance immediately and move to Step 5, calling 911.

If a small fire is contained within a pan, throw as much baking soda or salt as you have on hand directly on top of the fire. Do not throw flour, biscuit mix, or baking powder onto the flames, as all these substances are combustible; only salt and baking soda are safe for extinguishing a fire.

Do not throw salt or baking soda onto the flames from the side, which could cause the fire to leap out the back of the pan and catch elsewhere. Do not swat the fire with towels or an apron, which could also cause it to spread.

How to Put Out a Grease Fire


If salt or baking soda fail to quell the flames and you own a class K fire extinguisher, continue to Step 3; homeowners without a class K extinguisher should skip to Step 4. If the fire has been fully put out by salt or soda—no more flames or smoke visible—air out the room and proceed to cleanup.

Only a class K fire extinguisher can put out grease fires; other types contain water or other agents that could worsen the fire. The class K extinguisher will contaminate your kitchen and make for a huge mess, but if it’s a choice between a tough cleanup job and your house burning down, go for it! To use the fire extinguisher, remember P.A.S.S.: Pull the pin, aim the nozzle, squeeze the lever, and sweep the flames. Go here for more in-depth instruction.

If smoke or visible flames continue to come from the pan, cover it with a metal lid or cookie sheet to deprive the fire of oxygen. Never put a glass or ceramic lid, bowl, or plate over a grease fire; these could explode and become shrapnel, injuring you in the process. Should you need to adjust the lid or sheet, use metal tongs or a spatula—not cloth mitts or a kitchen towel, which could ignite. Once there’s no evidence of flames or smoke, move on to Step 6.

If you’ve covered the fire and it’s still actively smoking, leave the area, close the door, and go outside. Call 911 and report a kitchen grease fire. You’ll be asked what the flames are doing and what you’ve done so far, as the fire department is dispatched. The dispatcher, trained to confront fires of all kinds, may instruct you to take other fire-mitigating steps, so stay on the phone and follow the course of action. The dispatcher may ultimately cancel the response call if the situation is deemed safe.

Once you know the fire is out (911 dispatch will help you ascertain this safely, but a lack of new smoke is a good indicator), air out the kitchen by opening windows and doors. When the kitchen is smoke-free, breathe a sigh of relief. You’ll have a long day of cleanup ahead, but you saved your home, and yourself!

Easy Ways to Avoid a Grease Fire Altogether
• Never leave the stove unattended for any reason when cooking with grease. Smoke to fire can happen in less than 30 seconds if heat is high enough

• Keep baking soda and salt stored near the stove, but not so close to the cooktop that would prevent you from accessing them in a fire.

• Never store your cookie sheets in the bottom of your stove, so you’ll always be able to access them in case of a stove-top fire.

• Cook with a thermometer clipped into the skillet you’re deep-frying in to monitor the temperature. This will help you stay ahead of the smoking point, which all too quickly can become the flash point

• Get into the practice of always leaving your pot’s lid on the counter even when you don’t need it, or having a cookie sheet nearby, in case you must cover pans to prevent a fire from spreading.

How to Put Out a Kitchen Fire


How To: Cut Glass Tile

Glass tiles are an attractive option for backsplashes and bathrooms, but they can be easily damaged during installation. Here, review the right techniques for cutting glass tile for a project of any scale without shattering this beautiful, durable material.

How to Cut Glass Tile


Glass tiles are still enjoying their day in the sun as homeowners continue to incorporate these trendy tiles into their home renovation projects. With their easy-to-clean, glossy surface, durability, and versatility, glass tiles provide an attractive option for backsplashes, shower walls, and bathroom accents. What’s more, glass tiles have a clear or jewel-toned hue that radiates light, producing a shimmering effect you won’t find in ceramic tiles.

Installing glass tiles is a DIY-friendly project that requires little in the way of grunt work. That said, however, cutting the tiles to fit in corners or around outlets can be tricky, because the glass surface tends to shatter easily. The best tools to use for cutting glass tile depend on the size of the project and the type of tile you’re installing. To cover all possible scenarios, we detail below how to cut glass tile using four different tools: a wet saw, a manual scoring wheel, a bar cutter, and wheeled mosaic nippers.

– Wet saw
– Washable marker
– Rubber gloves
– Damp rag
– Glass scouring wheel
– Straightedge
– Grozing pliers or running pliers
– Rubbing stone
– Manual bar tile cutter
– Wheeled mosaic nippers
– Protective eyewear

Preparing to Cut Glass Tile

For best results, create a dry layout of your tile pattern before installation. This will allow you to adjust and finalize the placement of tiles before permanently attaching them to the wall. Position cut tiles in areas where the sliced edges will be least apparent, such as along the top portion of a backsplash where the tile touches the underside of the cabinets.

How to Cut Glass Tile


Cutting Glass Tile with a Wet Saw

A wet saw is especially helpful if you’re tiling a large area that requires many straight cuts, such as a shower. Using a wet saw is a time-effective method for achieving clean edges while reducing the risk of damaging the glass tiles. The saw releases a steady stream of water as the blade cuts through the tile, which decreases friction and cools the cut edge, resulting in a smoother cut with minimal breakage. These powerful saws range in price from around $100 for an inexpensive model to more than $1,000 for a high-end contractor-grade tool. If you don’t want to shell out big bucks for a saw you’ll use only once or twice, you can inquire at a construction tool rental store, or even your local big-box hardware store, about renting one. A quality wet saw that costs $500 to buy can often be rented for around $50 per day.

Measure the tile to be cut, and use a washable marker to draw a cutting guideline on its surface. Later on, after you’re done cutting, you should be able to easily wipe away any remaining marker line with a clean, damp rag.

Pull on rubber gloves (leather or fabric gloves will quickly become saturated with water) and then turn on the wet saw. Let it run for around 15 seconds, allowing the water to flow freely over the saw blade.

Align the glass tile with the cutting guide on the wet saw, and carefully cut along the guideline you drew. Feed the tile through the saw slowly, moving away from you with light but steady pressure until you’ve cut through. Power down the saw after the cuts have been made, and wipe away remaining traces of marker with a damp cloth.


How to Cut Glass Tile


Manually Score and Cut Glass Tiles

Before the invention of tile saws, artisans manually scored and cut thick glass to create stained-glass windows and glass mosaics. Cutting glass tiles manually takes longer than using a wet saw and is more likely to result in uneven breaks, yet professional tile setters still use this method today, particularly when cutting small tiles. Manual glass scoring wheels are inexpensive, with prices starting at around $15. You’ll also need a pair of grozing pliers or running pliers, which are glass-specific tools you can buy for under $20. Once you have the appropriate tools, practice scoring and snapping a few sample glass tiles before diving into the project to make sure you understand how much pressure you’ll need to use.

Place the glass tile on a flat surface, face up, and draw your cut line. Then, take a straightedge and align it over your cut line. Position the scoring wheel at the far end of the tile, then pull it toward you along the straightedge to ensure an even cut. Press firmly enough that you hear a distinct crackling sound as the scoring wheel rolls along the glass. The scoring wheel will create a weak line on the surface of the glass.

With the tile still facing upward, place grozing pliers on the section of glass you want to break off (positioned parallel to the scored cut) and snap downward. Alternatively, you can break the tile along the scored line with running pliers, which feature a slightly curved head that gently compresses the tile at the scored line. To use running pliers, place the center of the pliers directly on one end of the scored line, with the jaws of the pliers positioned perpendicular to the line, and press down. The movement will apply even pressure to the glass on both sides of the scored line, allowing the glass to split along the length of the line for a clean cut.

Smooth the cut edge of the glass tile, if necessary, with a rubbing stone before installing. A rubbing stone, which retails for around $7, is similar to a knife-sharpening stone, but with slightly larger grit for polishing away sharp edges of glass.

How to Cut Glass Tile


Cutting Glass Tile with a Bar Cutter

Using a bar cutter to cut glass tiles is more efficient than using a scoring wheel and pliers, because the machine can both score and cut the tile. (Some bar cutters only score the tile, while others include a pressure foot that snaps the tile along the scored line.) Inexpensive bar cutters start around $25 and go up from there according to weight and quality. More expensive models often come with measurement tools for cutting precise angles.

Measure the glass tile and mark the desired cut lines, then position the tile on the cutting pad of the bar cutter. Carefully align the marked line with the cutting guide on the bar cutter.

Score the glass tile by pulling the scoring handle (or knob) along the tile away from you.

If your tool is equipped with a pressure foot, use it to snap the tile along the scored line. Otherwise, you can manually snap the tile with running pliers or grozing pliers, as described above.

If necessary, use a rubbing stone to remove any shards, and wipe away the marker with a damp cloth.


How to Cut Tile


Nipping Glass Tiles with Wheeled Mosaic Nippers

Mosaic nippers are most often used to cut small, irregularly shaped pieces of glass tile to be used in artistic designs. While with any of the methods outlined here it’s helpful to practice on a few spare tiles before leaping ahead, practice is particularly important here. Nipping is not as precise as scoring or cutting with a wet saw. Wheeled nippers are similar to regular pliers, but instead of flat heads, this $15 tool features sharp upper and lower carbide wheels that cut through the glass.

Draw guidelines in marker on your glass tile.

Wear protective eyewear and don’t nip tiles while other people are nearby, as these cuts will send nipped glass shooting across the room. Hold the nippers in your hand (the same way you would hold ordinary pliers), keeping them close to your work surface, and position the edge of the wheels along the line you wish to cut.

Squeeze the nipper’s handles forcefully to cut through the tile.

How to Cut Glass Tile


Cutting Curves in Glass Tile

If you’re laying glass tile around a pipe or other curved object, straight lines just won’t do. You can, however, achieve a smooth curve by using a scoring tool, wet saw, grozing pliers, and a rubbing stone in combination, and blending some of the methods detailed above.

Draw the curved line on the glass tile in washable marker, then carefully pull the handheld glass scoring tool toward you along the marked guideline. Since you’ll likely be doing this freehand, without the equivalent of a straightedge to guide the tool, work slowly and precisely.

With a wet saw, make multiple straight cuts (approximately 3/8 inch apart), starting from the edge of the portion of the tile that you’re planning to discard, to the scored line, working perpendicular to the scored line. These cuts will result in narrow spokes of glass. As you near the edges of your curve, your straight cuts will shorten.

Snap off the skinny rows of glass one at a time using grozing pliers until you’re left with just the curved glass tile.

Smooth and polish the cut with a rubbing stone. Once you’ve wiped away the glass shavings and marker with a damp cloth, the tile is ready to be installed on your sleek new surface.

Bob Vila Radio: Melt Driveway Ice the DIY Way

Sometimes the snow and ice come faster than we can prepare for. If that's the case, don't worry! You already have the supplies for homemade ice melt.

Winter storms sometimes have a way of sneaking up on us. If that happens, and you get another surprise—no ice melt on hand!—don’t despair. Chances are you already have the makings of homemade ice melt on the shelves of your pantry or garage.

Homemade Ice Melt


Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.


Although rock salt works better than table salt for melting ice, the stuff you add to your soup can help out. Either type of salt has to permeate the ice, so it does the best job if you pour hot water over patches of ice before spreading the salt.

A common ingredient in commercial fertilizers—ammonium sulfate—also helps in a pinch. It works by effectively lowering the temperature at which ice melts. Careful, though: You’ll want to go easy on use of fertilizer in areas that might drain into municipal sewers and end up in waterways.

Rubbing alcohol is another alternative. You can either pour it on straight or mix it with water in a spray bottle.

Regardless of which method you use, it’s best to include some cupfuls of sand or kitty litter to help with traction.

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: Make Windshield De-icer Spray

Don’t let ice or snow keep you from driving where you need to go. Get a clear windshield and stop refreezing with this simple, price-wise formula.

Homemade Deicer


A dirty, grimy windshield is bad enough, but nothing will slow you down more than one covered in ice and snow. Using a scraper will clear the windshield, but the effort and awkward reaching required can be troublesome and time-consuming, especially if working on a high SUV or van. Add in blustery wind or still-falling snow, you might be inclined to just stay home! Not an option? Then mix up some of this inexpensive, hard-working windshield cleaner and de-icer spray. The simple two-ingredient spray will make short work of your windshield woes and get you on the road in no time

This de-icer can also do good to manage other another hang-up before a snowy commute: If you wake up to frozen car door locks one morning, simply spray it on the locks, wait 10 to 20 seconds to melt the ice, and insert your keys, and your lock should move fine. If you do this frequently in the winter, don’t forget to occasionally spray a little WD-40 or other lube into your lock (or on your key before inserting it into the lock) to keep the lock’s inner-mechanisms functioning smoothly

– Spray bottle
– 91% isopropyl rubbing alcohol
– Liquid dish hand-washing detergent (optional)
– Water
– Permanent marker
– Windshield ice scraper

Note: The de-icer spray’s active ingredient is good old rubbing alcohol, found at drugstores for around $2.50 a pint. Also known as isopropyl and isopropanol, it has a freezing point of -128 degrees Fahrenheit, so it won’t refreeze once the windshield has been cleaned.

Homemade Deicer For Windshield


Fill a spray bottle with two parts rubbing alcohol to one part of water. Add ½ teaspoon of liquid dish detergent for every 2 cups. Shake well. Label it as de-icer spray with your marker.

Generously spray the mixture onto an iced-over windshield. Spritz a bit on your door locks too, to free them of ice. Wait just a minute or so as it softens the ice, or melts it altogether.

For extra-heavy ice on windows, you may need to do a little scraping. If so, grab your scraper to clear away the thicker patches

Turn your windshield wipers on and with a couple good swishes, your windshield should be de-iced, clean, clear, and ready for some driving!

To keep your windshield wiper lines clean and clear of ice, mix isopropyl rubbing alcohol in your windshield wiper fluid at a 50:50 ratio. It’ll keep you ice-free when you need to clean your windshield of sandy, salty snow-splatter spat up from vehicles ahead of  you on roadways, and help keep streaks to a minimum.

Genius! An Invention to End Smashed Groceries

Ready to stop digging through that muddled mess of groceries and sports gear in the back of your car? Turn the trunk into an organizational oasis with this unbelievably easy-to-build pop-up shelf!

DIY Trunk Storage

Photo: user Beetlesmart

If you’re regularly tagged with grocery duty, you know that the most perilous part of a trip to the supermarket is the car ride home. With overstuffed bags haphazardly stacked in the trunk of your vehicle, fragile foods like bread, fruits, eggs, and chips all too often roll over, fall down, and get crushed under the weight of heavier products. The back of your car inevitably turns into a sticky mess of smashed food, sometimes warranting another costly grocery store trip to repurchase the ruined items. Tired of wasting money and exerting energy digging through the overwhelming stockpile in her SUV trunk, Instructables user Beetlesmart fashioned a wire rack and a handful of common materials into a multi-use pop-up shelf. The storage solution can be easily recreated for a fraction of the cost of your average grocery store haul.

To make the handy system, Beetlesmart first purchased a wire closet rack to use as the car trunk organizer. She then gave her project legs—two locking metal seat legs, to be exact—which she fastened to the rack with zip ties. A layer of attractive auto-grade fabric sewn to the rack seamlessly blends the shelf into the existing fabric of the car interior. The prolific DIYer secured the pop-up piece to the rear seat back with two cup hooks so that it’d always be nearby and ready for use.

When collapsed, the slim shelf rests flush against the back seat of a vehicle, leaving ample room for luggage, camping gear, and other bulky cargo. If you need sturdy, stackable storage at a moment’s notice, simply lift up the rack and lock the legs into the vertical position. The top shelf is a prime drop-off zone for delicate foodstuffs, which will stay secure without getting smashed from heavier groceries or shopping bags placed underneath. Or, rely on the top shelf to separate muddy footwear from other items in your trunk. The space below the shelf comes in handy even if you don’t have a full load: Valuables like purses placed in the compartment will be hidden from car windows, leaving your vehicle’s back-end looking virtually empty. By recreating this handy car trunk organizer, you won’t have to wish for more storage space ever again!


DIY Trunk Storage

Photo: user Beetlesmart


DIY Projects Anyone Can Do

All of the Best Hands-on Tutorials from
Get the nitty-gritty details you need—and the jaw-dropping inspiration you want—from our collection of the favorite projects ever featured on Whether your goal is to fix, tinker, build or make something better, your next adventure in DIY starts here.

How To: Descale a Keurig

Give your hardworking Keurig a pick-me-up—and improve the taste of your favorite decadent drinks—with this quick and easy descaling routine.

How To Descale a Keurig


Whether your daily drink of choice is a frothy latte, creamy hot cocoa, or an old-fashioned cup of Joe, the Keurig can satisfy your caffeine cravings in record time, all without leaving pesky spills behind. But after serving up buzzworthy beverages around the clock, even a no-fuss, no-mess coffee dispenser like the Keurig requires a routine cleanup to keep up with your coffee habit and keep out the most unsavory of intruders: limescale.

Limescale can take up residence on the inside of any heated appliance when hot water evaporates and leaves behind solid white calcium deposits. If left untreated, the chalky culprit can diminish the look of your coffee maker and produce a bitter aftertaste in your morning Joe—even prevent your Keurig from heating up. Fortunately, even stubborn limestone breaks down when exposed to the acetic compounds found in store-bought descaling solution or the household equivalent, vinegar. Use your preferred solution when you follow these instructions for how to descale a Keurig, and follow through with the routine every three to six months (some of the company’s newest coffeemakers even remind you to do so with an alert!). You’ll not only improve the taste of brewed beverages, but also extend the life of your Keurig.

– Soft cloth
– 14-ounce bottle of Keurig Descaling Solution
– Distilled vinegar (optional)
– Large mug
– Filtered water
– Clean pitcher or tall glass

If your Keurig model has the auto-off capability enabled, disable it according to the owner’s manual. Then, power off and unplug the brewer before descaling.

When the brewer is cool to the touch, remove any detachable parts, including the Keurig water reservoir, lid, water filter, drip tray, and brewing pod holder. Empty residual water from the water reservoir into the sink, and discard any used brewing pods and their grounds in the trash. Then, wipe down the interior and exterior of the water reservoir and other loose parts with a damp, non-abrasive cloth. Dry and reinstall all detached parts except for the water filter. Never submerge the electrical components of the brewer underwater.

Descale Keurig


To loosen and lift built-up limescale from your brewer, fill the water reservoir with the descaling solution of your choice and then replace the reservoir lid. You can opt for the company’s specially formulated descaling solution or a handy homemade equivalent:

• If using Keurig descaling solution, pour equal parts descaling solution and water into the water reservoir to fill it. Depending on the model and size of your brewer, this could range anywhere from one-third of the bottle to a full bottle of Keurig’s 14-ounce descaling solution, followed by an equal amount of water.

• If you prefer a DIY descaling solution, pour equal parts water and distilled vinegar into the reservoir until full.

Plug in and power on the brewer. Then, place a large mug on the machine’s drip tray. Without inserting a Keurig beverage pod, lift and lower the brewer handle. (If on a smaller Keurig appliance the water reservoir is not detachable, allow five to 10 seconds here for any descaling solution to drain into the appliance before lowering.) Select the largest brew size and then press the Brew button to start a cleaning brew cycle using the reservoir filled with descaling agent. When the cleaning cycle is complete, remove the mug and discard the hot water in the sink.

Repeat this step until the appliance prompts you to refill the water reservoir, or there is no more visible scale in the water reservoir. Then, power off the brewer and wait for 30 minutes before removing and discarding the contents of both the mug and the water reservoir.

Reinstall the water reservoir in the brewer. Without exceeding the maximum fill line, fill the reservoir with fresh, filtered water from a clean pitcher or glass. Power on the brewer and return the mug to the drip tray. As in Step 3, start another cleaning brew using the largest brew size to rinse away any residual build-up or vinegar odor from inside the Keurig.

Repeat the fresh water rinse cycle at least three and as many as 12 additional times for heavily scaled brewers, refilling the depleted water reservoir with fresh water as needed to complete the brew. More is better: You will not want any lingering vinegar or descaling solution to taint a future cup of coffee.

When you’re finished rinsing the brewer, power it off and discard the residual water from the water reservoir. Rinse the reservoir with filtered water, then air-dry it before reinstalling it in the brewer. Regular cleaning of your Keurig will allow you to enjoy your favorite hot drinks the way they were meant to taste.

How To: Use a Chainsaw

This tool is famously fast and forceful, but extreme power requires extreme care. Stick to these safety guidelines, and follow our smart usage tips to stay injury-free.

How To Use a Chainsaw


The chainsaw—a portable power tool that cuts wood via a fast-moving chain that rotates around a guide bar—can make short work of pruning, felling, limbing, and bucking trees. It also ranks as the most dangerous power tool available without a license. While it’s designed to cut with either the top or bottom of the blade, just about anything that comes in contact with the top half of the end tip of the blade (known as the kickback zone) can change the cutting momentum and cause the saw to slam back against you. Kickback can lead to catastrophic injury, so users must take extra precaution and always follow proper form for how to use a chainsaw in order to avoid disaster.

You can minimize chances of kickback by keeping the chain sharp and tensioned, and always cutting below shoulder height. As well, today’s lower-powered chainsaws (including electric models)—developed not for pro lumberjacks, but for DIYers who want to get their own firewood and keep their property pruned—rely on a low-kickback chain that grabs less fiber as it rounds the kickback zone, minimizing the likelihood of kickback. Before you pick up any chainsaw—high power or low, gas or electric—take the risks very seriously. Familiarize yourself with the safety considerations reviewed here before attempting to operate a chainsaw, and then follow our practical tips for safe, effective cutting.


• Whether you’re learning how to use a chainsaw for the first time or on a routine job, never operate this power tool alone. When something goes wrong, it happens fast. Having a friend nearby can save your life. If you’re working in the woods, set a traffic safety flag by your car. Make sure someone knows where you are and when you intend to return. Have a complete first-aid kit on hand with at least one blood-clotting bandage.

• Wear all necessary personal protective equipment, including chaps, a chainsaw helmet with face guard, gloves, and either steel-toed or logging boots. Never wear loose clothing, as it can get caught in the teeth of the saw.

• Find a comfortable stance, and keep both feet firmly planted as you work. Hold the chainsaw with two hands and at an angle or a little to one side rather than directly in front of you, in case of kickback.

• Never operate a chainsaw on a ladder, and never cut limbs that are higher than your shoulder. (If you’re looking to cut something higher, consider an altogether different tool: a manual rope saw.) To remove lower branches and buttress roots prior to felling a tree, slice downward and use the pulling chain—that’s the portion of the chain as it wraps the bar’s bottom. If the tree is on an incline, always work uphill from it.

• Be aware of the location of all power lines, and never fell a tree where there are utility lines, vehicles, buildings, and especially people within two-and-a-half tree lengths.

• Use the right-size chainsaw for the job. If you’re renting a chainsaw, discuss the scope of the job with the staff to learn what size motor they recommend, as blade size is relative to engine horsepower. Generally, the blade should be two inches longer than the wood it’s cutting. Light-duty cutting of firewood and such can be accomplished by a 14-inch blade, and 16- to 20-inch blades are appropriate for medium-duty cutting. The longer a blade, the harder it is to control, so novices should stick to blades less than 20 inches in length.

• It should go without saying, but we’ll say it anyway: Always be stone cold sober when operating a chainsaw!

– Chainsaw helmet with face guard or goggles
– Nonslip/gripping work gloves
– Protective chaps
– Steel-toed or logging boots
– Earmuff hearing protection
– Gas
– Two-stroke engine oil
– Chain oil

Familiarize yourself with your work area. Be aware of your “escape routes”—places you can safely move to once the tree begins to fall. Your tree could fall in an unexpected direction, so it’s best to be prepared for any possible scenario. Chainsaws are called “widow-makers” for good reason—they can be hazardous to operate. Be sure to have a plan and understand the terrain you’re working on.

Don all of your gear, from head to toe. Check your saw to ensure that the chain has good tension. If you can tug the chain up from the guide bar and disengage the chain links from the guide or the “nose,” it’s too loose. You’ll need to tighten the tension to prevent injury. Check your machine’s maintenance guide for instructions on tightening the chain. Most of the time, you’ll use the “scrench” (screwdriver/wrench) that comes with the machine. A properly tightened chain should give slightly when pulled but should not become disengaged from the guide.

If you have a gas machine, check the gas levels and fill the tank before you start. With a two-cycle engine, the gas and oil will likely require mixing in the tank. Buy two-stroke oil and add it to the tank at the manufacturer’s recommended ratio (usually a ratio of 50:1, or about 2.6 ounces of oil to a gallon of gas). Fill the chain lube reservoir with chain oil.

How To Use A Chainsaw Safely


Set your chainsaw flat on the ground, with the bottom down. Push the chain brake forward until it locks. The chain brake, which is usually a separate lever located between the top handle on the chainsaw and the blade, prevents the chain from spinning until you release the brake and apply the throttle.

If you’re using a gas-powered saw and it has a choke, turn it on. If there’s a primer button, push it four to six times to pull gas into the carburetor, then turn the power switch on. If your chainsaw is electric, all you need to do is depress the safety switch and flip the power switch on.

Those with electric chainsaws can move on to Step 7. For those with gas chainsaws, put your right foot through the back handle and put your weight down on the handle to secure the saw. Use your left hand to hold the front handle firmly in place. With your right hand, pull the starter rope out sharply to its full length. It will usually take four or five pulls to start the engine. If the engine is “firing” but not engaging, adjust the choke by pulling it out halfway.

Even after the engine has started, the chain won’t be turning. You’ll need to press the trigger or throttle to get the chain moving. First, position yourself properly with feet planted firmly and a strong grip on the saw. Always cut with the saw off to the side or angled away from you to minimize injury in the event of kickback.

When you’re ready to cut, release the chain brake and fully engage the throttle. Lay the saw where you want to cut. Don’t apply pressure—the momentum of the chain and blade will draw the wood in.  Never, ever force it. If you’re using a corded electric saw, always make sure you’re aware of the cord, and don’t let it get in your way.

Maintain a strong, steady grip and keep the throttle fully engaged for the duration of the cut. Release the throttle only after you have cut through or removed the blade from the cut (if you’re making carved-in cuts for tree felling).

To power off the saw, simply switch it to “off.” Let the saw cool down before storing it.

If you’re using a gas saw, before you put it away you need to decide what to do with any fuel left in the tank. If you’re planning on using the chainsaw again in the near future, it’s fine to leave leftover fuel in the tank for up to four weeks, but if you wait longer than that, the ethanol in the fuel could clog or gum up the works (meaning you’ll need to disassemble and thoroughly clean the carburetor before your next use). To empty the tank, take the chainsaw to a well-ventilated place and drain any remaining fuel into a plastic container. You can often dispose of leftover fuel at a local automotive shop, but never pour this flammable substance into the soil, storm drain, or garbage, as these practices are dangerous and illegal. Once the fuel has been drained, fire up the engine once more (as in Steps 4 and 5) and run it until it dies, just to use up the last of the fuel in the carburetor.

No matter whether your chainsaw is gas or electric, store it in a case or with a bar cover to keep it safely stowed away and to prevent dust and debris from settling on the chain.



To keep your chainsaw running well, refer to your machine’s instruction manual to learn about two best practices:

Tensioning. Check the chain’s tension around the guide bar every time you use the saw, as improper tension will have an impact on the machine’s performance. A chain that’s too tight runs the risk of breaking, and one that’s too loose can come right off the bar and cause injury. Your chainsaw should come with a maintenance guide and a “scrench,” the combo screwdriver-wrench designed for adjusting the tension of the chain.

Sharpening. Many electric saws are self-sharpening. On gas saws, however, the chain should be sharpened if it’s not drawing itself into the wood when making cuts, if it bounces around while you’re cutting, or if it seems to cut unevenly or on an angle. Sharpening may be required every three to four tanks of gas, but exactly how often will depend on the kind of wood you’re cutting, so pay close attention to changes in performance to help you determine when to sharpen.

How To: Use Muriatic Acid

Don’t play around with this strong stuff! Learn what it’s good for—and the right way to use it.

Muriatic Acid Uses


Muriatic acid, a less-pure variant of hydrochloric acid, is available in high concentrations for use in a host of home restoration and maintenance projects. While this powerful chemical agent runs cheap—about $10 a gallon at home centers and hardware stores—it’s still very caustic stuff, capable of corroding everything from some plastics and metals to clothing and skin. In fact, working with it poses numerous health risks: Momentary skin exposure can cause severe burns, inhaling its fumes can burn lung and nose lining, and contact can also cause irreversible eye damage or blindness. Homeowners should never reach for muriatic acid lightly. Instead, consider it a “last resort” when less toxic products fail to do the trick in cleaning, prepping, deoxidizing, or removing mold from masonry, concrete, metal, and swimming pools. Before you begin any project with this multipurpose substance, read on, first for guidance in using it safely, and then for its range of practical applications around the house.

Must-Practice Safety Measures with Muriatic Acid

Due to all of the damage this chemical could cause in one wrong move, extreme caution is mandatory when using, storing, and disposing of muriatic acid. Adhere to the following best practices before beginning any project that involves the acid:

• Wear full-face protection, a respirator, thick, full-coverage clothing, and acid-resistant protective gloves when working with muriatic acid.

• Muriatic acid must be diluted in water. Though degree of dilution will vary depending on the job, the general formula is one-part muriatic acid to 10 parts water.

• When making a dilution, slowly and carefully pour the acid into the water. Never add water to acid, as an exothermic reaction will occur, propelling the acid out of the container and onto you.

• Never pour muriatic acid into an empty vessel. Fill the container with the right amount of water before adding the acid.

• Never mix muriatic acid with other acids.

• Only mix muriatic acid in a glass or acid-resistant plastic container (find a list here).

• Always store muriatic acid in the container it came in.

• Keep a supply of baking soda or garden lime nearby in case you need to quickly neutralize muriatic acid. While sprinkling these substances full-strength will work, the best plan is to mix ½ cup of baking soda and a quart of water in a sealed spray bottle and keep it nearby.

• Work with a hose or large container of water nearby to wash skin in case of accidental splashing.

• If using muriatic acid on large surface areas, it will need to be applied with a plastic sprayer. The plastic is bound to deteriorate quickly, so you’ll likely need more than one to complete the job.

• Contact your local recycling center for instructions on safe disposal of muriatic acid in your area.



An Effective Last Resort

Practice all the safety precautions above, and you should be able to use muriatic acid with great success. Here are six projects where you might find it indispensable:

Neutralizing alkalinity in masonry. Masonry alkalinity can discolor or burn off paint finishes. Washing brick, concrete, or stone with muriatic acid can neutralize alkalinity, allowing paint finishes to last for years. Brush or spray on a 1:10 diluted mix of acid in water onto the surface, allow to sit for up to 10 minutes, but no longer, then spray it with a solution of 1 cup ammonia in a gallon of water to neutralize the acid. Allow the surface to dry completely before applying paint or other treatments.

Removing efflorescence and prepping masonry for paint. Efflorescence refers to the white crystalline blooming that can occur on masonry surfaces, including brick and concrete. Often a sign that masonry contains too much moisture, efflorescence may indicate that a sealant is needed to contain moisture issues. Prior to applying sealant, however, efflorescence must be removed. Likewise, if you want to paint masonry, the surface needs to be “etched.” You can remove efflorescence and etch a masonry surface in one shot: Apply a 1:10 dilution of muriatic acid to water, let sit for a few minutes until you see the efflorescence lifting, then brush with a stiff nylon brush to remove residue. Spray down the surface afterwards with a 1:16 ammonia-water neutralizing solution.

Basement makeover. Fight mold and mildew in your basement while restoring surface appearance with muriatic acid. Just be sure to ventilate the basement as much as possible, and wear a respirator. Apply a 1:9 acid-to-water dilution, scrub visible mold patches on hard surfaces like concrete, bricks, and on some glazed tiles and grout, with a stiff nylon brush, and rinse thoroughly by hosing down with water. Use a wet vac to suck up excess water. Air the basement out for a few hours after this task is completed.

Muriatic Acid Pool


Busting rust. The use of muriatic acid to remove rust on metal is a contentious topic, as the substance can potentially lead to more rapid oxidization in the future. So the cautious DIYer should only use it only on stainless steel (and never cast iron) that will be painted after rust removal. Brush the acid on at a 1:10 acid/water dilution and scrub with a nylon brush. Immediately after removing rust, neutralize the acid with a baking soda-water paste (1:1). Apply paste generously so it thoroughly coats acid-washed and let sit for 10 minutes and then rinse with water, dry, and prep for paint. (Find more specific how-to info here.)

Swimming pool maintenance. Muriatic acid can get your swimming pool’s surface looking like new again. Spray a 1:16 acid-to-water diluted solution on the drained surface of the pool, let it sit for 10 to 15 minutes. For stubborn stains, scrub with a nylon brush. Rinse thoroughly with plain water.

Swimming pool pH balance. If the pool’s pH level is too high, muriatic acid can bring balance to the water. Purchase “swimming pool acid” for this maintenance task. Though nothing more than muriatic acid—and the same price—it will have thorough instructions and formulas for use in your particular pool. You’ll added it in, re-test the pH levels after a few hours and once it’s back in range, you’ll be ready for that dip!

Solved! How Long a Water Heater Actually Lasts

Avoid an unpleasant, unexpected dose of cold water by keeping tabs on your hot water heater's age and condition so you'll know when to replace it. Among the benefits of the timely installation of a new water heater, you'll probably enjoy lower energy bills—as well as uninterrupted access to hot showers.

How Long Does a Water Heater Last


Q. We just bought a house, and the previous owners told us that the water heater is about six years old. Does that mean we’ll have to replace it soon? How long does a water heater last?

A. As long as it’s still heating water sufficiently, without leaks or strange noises, you might still get a few more years of service from it. A water heater’s useful life varies, depending on the type of water heater, the quality of the unit, and how well it’s been maintained.

A traditional tank-type water heater lasts an average of eight to 12 years. Inside the tank, an anode rod protects the interior lining by attracting all corrosive particles to itself through a process called electrolysis. When the rod has corroded to such an extent that it can no longer do its job, those particles settle at the bottom of the water tank, where they eventually destroy the lining. Once corrosion starts inside the tank, the water heater has entered into its final stage of life.

How Long Does a Water Heater Last If It's Tankless


A tankless water heater can last up to 20 years, sometimes even longer. Also called “on-demand” water heaters, these appliances do not work continuously to maintain a supply of hot water—and, as a result, they last longer than their tank-style counterparts. Eventually, though, tankless water heaters (which do not use anode rods) will also suffer from corrosion and require replacement.

Your existing water heater’s serial number holds the clue to its age. Even if you can’t track down the documentation for your current appliance, you can examine the serial number, which consists of a letter followed by a series of numerals, located on the upper portion of the water heater to determine when it was manufactured. Typically, the letter stands for the month—“A” for January, “B” for February, and so on, through “L” for December—and the next two numbers indicate the year it was made. A serial number that leads with “A10,” for example, was manufactured in January 2010. This rule of thumb applies to most hot water heater manufacturers, but you can confirm this on the company’s website if you have any doubts.

As you enter the second half of your water heater’s life, watch for the signs of an aging appliance. Should you notice any of the following, start shopping for a replacement before you get caught by surprise.

• A banging or rumbling noise often occurs near the end of a heater’s lifespan. While manufacturers recommend annual flushing of a tank-style water heater—and it’s a requirement for keeping a warranty in effect—few people actually follow that suggestion, so calcium buildup from hard water collects in the bottom of the tank. The sediment builds, hardens, and eventually forms a thick crust that can cause the water heater to creak and bang when in use.

• Tinted hot water, either red or dirty yellow, coming from any faucet could mean rust. It’s important to determine whether the discoloration also appears when the cold water is running; if not, your problem probably originates inside the water heater rather than within rusting galvanized piping.

• A drop in water temperature: If water doesn’t heat up as much as it used to or for as long, the water heater may be nearing the end of its service life.

• Water pooling around the base of a water heater tank also suggests bad news. First, check to make sure the leak isn’t coming from a fitting or valve that just needs to be tightened or replaced; call in a professional to check out the problem and perform any necessary maintenance. If you find the leak comes from the tank itself, it may be cracked or corroded internally.

Water quality and location can affect a water heater’s life. Hard water wreaks havoc on a water heater and can reduce its service life by two or more years. Likewise, water heaters located in garages or crawl spaces, where the temperature drops significantly, have to work harder to heat the water, and they tend to wear out more quickly than units installed in a temperature-controlled house. If either of those elements factor into your setup, start looking for end-of-life warning signs earlier than the manufacturer recommends.

Call the manufacturer if the water heater is still under warranty. While the above issues can signal the end of an aging water heater’s life, if your unit is only a few years old, the problem could be repairable. It may be worth calling the manufacturer or a plumber to check the appliance out before you invest in a new model.

Start thinking about replacing your water heater two years before the end of its predicted lifespan. When a tank-style water heater approaches eight to 10 years of age, or a tankless water heater approaches 15 to 18 years of age, it’s time to start thinking about replacing it—not only to avoid the annoyance of breakage and the inconvenience of having no hot water, but also to minimize energy consumption. After several years of use, either type of water heater is subject to mineral deposits and sediment buildup that can cause it to require more power to heat water, reducing the appliance’s overall efficiency. Install a replacement, though, and the combination of a decade’s worth of technological advances and the new model’s clean interior mean that your utility bill is sure to drop in the months to follow.

How To: Test for Asbestos

Discovering if this highly toxic, widely used material is present in any area you may want to demo is absolutely necessary. Learn why—and how—right here.

How to Test for Asbestos Before Demolition


For a century, the naturally occurring fibrous silicate mineral asbestos was a mainstay of the building industry, used to create products of all kinds. Due to its strength and heat-resistance, it was widely used in flooring (including vinyl tiles), popcorn ceilings, insulation, concrete, ductwork, and much more. Like a sleeping monster, asbestos lurking in building materials poses no risks unless and until it’s disturbed, when its dust becomes extremely dangerous—so it’s crucial to test for asbestos prior to any demolition. Otherwise, the microscopic fibrils in asbestos are so abrasive once broken down that, if inhaled, they can cause lung-scarring illnesses and even lung cancer.

Because asbestos can’t be seen with the naked eye, materials must be submitted to an EPA-certified laboratory for testing prior to a remodel. Even removing a sample to send to the EPA requires stringent precautions, and in many states it’s illegal to do sample removal yourself. In nearly all states, if you live in an attached house, testing and sample removal generally requires EPA-certified contractors. If your state does allow self-gathering of samples in detached housing, you can purchase a kit for between $30 to $60 or pick up the supplies to do so yourself, making sure to follow these instructions for how to test for asbestos to the letter.

Note: Despite evidence of toxicity first arising in 1899, asbestos remained widely in use in a vast number of construction materials until the 1980s and continues to have construction applications to this day (see a complete list here). Keep in mind that asbestos use was so pervasive and insidious, it could be in nearly anything but the wood in your home—from countertops to insulation, wiring, carpet underlay, and more. If you have widespread asbestos concerns, the wisest move is to have a contractor perform a thorough testing before any demo begins.


– Disposable facemask
– Disposable rubber gloves
– Disposable coveralls and shoe covers (optional)
– Vacuum
– Plastic sheet
– Spray bottle
– Utility knife or chisel
– Wet wipes
– Pliers
– Heavy-duty or freezer-grade zip-locking plastic bags
– Permanent marker
– Disposable rags
– Duct or packing tape
– Vacuum bag
– Paint
– Old or disposable paint brush
– Garbage bags

Step 1
Do not attempt to clean any item or area you intend to collect a sample from, in case asbestos also exists in the surface dust. Ensure dead, still air in your work area so that any potential fibers, which can be microscopic, won’t become airborne. Shut all the windows and doors and turn off all fans, heaters, and air conditioning systems that can circulate air.

Step 2
Don all of your protective gear: face mask, gloves, coveralls (or long sleeves and long pants), and shoe covers. You’ll need to discard whatever you’re wearing during asbestos removal, so spending $5 to $10 on disposables is well worth it. Do not allow anyone in the area who is not wearing protective gear.

Step 3
Lay plastic sheeting around the work area to catch any potential asbestos dust that may settle. Spray the entire area thoroughly with water, so that all the surfaces are misted and the air is humid. This will help ensure that any dust created will quickly subside.

Step 4
Working as passively as possible to minimize dust, use a chisel or utility knife to loosen a sample of the material you want tested. The sample must weigh between 5 grams and 100 grams (just under ¼ lb). Without touching or disturbing the loosened sample, spray it down with water, and mist the air around you.

Step 5
Place a wet wipe in the mouth of the pliers, which will prevent microscopic fibers from sticking to the pliers. Carefully pick up the sample with the pliers and place it inside a zip-locking plastic bag. Drop the wet wipe in as well.

How to Test for Asbestos and Remove Health Hazards Before Demo Day


Step 6
Seal the plastic bag. At the top of the bag, neatly print the following information in reasonably small letters: where the sample was taken, the date of collection, and what the sample contains. Now place this sealed bag into a second zip-locking plastic bag to be sure it stays secure. Mist the air one more time to ensure dust settles.

Step 7
Carefully fold up the plastic sheeting and dispose of it in a plastic trash bag. Fold down the top of the plastic bag and securely tape it shut to contain any fibers.

Step 8
Thoroughly vacuum the area. Once done, carefully replace the vacuum bag and dispose of the old one in a plastic trash bag, taping the bag shut as you did with the plastic sheet, to contain particles. If you use a bagless vacuum, put the canister inside a trash bag and carefully tap out all dirt and dust. Use a wet rag to thoroughly wipe the canister down. Dispose of this rag in a plastic trash bag. Repeat the wipe-down with a wet wipe or two, just to be thorough. Dispose of these along with the rag.

Step 9
Clean the entire work area and anything nearby where dust may have landed with another wet rag. Dispose of the rag with the others, and tape that bag closed.

Step 10
Seal the area from which you took the sample by applying a thick, thorough coat of any kind of paint. When the paint dries it will prevent any more dust from kicking up. Discard the paintbrush in a plastic bag.

Step 11
Carefully remove your coveralls or clothes, facemask, and gloves, and dispose of them in the trash bag with the paint brush and tape it up. Dispose of all trash correctly.

Step 12
Check the National Voluntary Laboratory Accreditation Program’s website for an EPA-certified asbestos-testing lab that will take your sample. You may require a printer to print out a submission declaration form. Follow their instructions for submitting your samples. It can take three weeks or more for a response to a sample collected by a homeowner, so plan ahead, and be patient. Samples collected by EPA-certified professionals can be tested in as little as 48 hours, which may make the premium of paying a pro worth it for you.

If your sample tests positive for asbestos: Find an EPA-certified contractor to begin asbestos removal. It is illegal in many states to do asbestos removal yourself, and you can be heavily fined for doing so. Removal of, or simply sealing up and disposing of asbestos (since you can’t take just it to a landfill), requires a special contractor’s license in most states. The many uses of asbestos in homes, its insidiousness, and the complicated process of delicately removing it mandate that it is not a project even the most ambitious of DIYers should ever undertake.