How To’s & Quick Tips - 3/72 - Bob Vila

Category: How To’s & Quick Tips

Video: Your Ceiling Fan Can Keep You Warm This Winter

Did you know that your ceiling fan can work year-round to maintain optimum indoor temperatures?


Ceiling fans: They’re not just for summer anymore. The fact is, these trusty cooling machines can also be used to warm a room. In the summer, a ceiling fan rotates in a counterclockwise direction to push cool air down into the home, kicking up a refreshing breeze. As outdoor temperatures drop, homeowners can switch the direction of their fan blades to move warm air from the ceiling down toward the floors. Curious about how it all works? Watch our video to learn more.

For more ways to keep warm this winter, consider:

Back to Cool: 10 Ways to Prep Your Home for Lower Temps

Drafty Windows? Solutions for Every Budget

Don’t Make These 7 Mistakes Prepping Your Home for Winter

These 8 Hot Gadgets Are the Holiday Gifts That Just Keep On Giving 

These impressive high-tech presents will delight everyone on your list—and the ENERGY STAR stamp of approval means they’ll be cheaper to run than less efficient, power-hungry models.

7 Ideas for the Best Tech to Give This Holiday


It’s no surprise that everyone’s holiday wish list includes the latest tech, from big-ticket items to stocking stuffers. What is news, however, is the fact that so many of these amazing electronic goods and gadgets actually receive ENERGY STAR certification.

That’s right: The Environmental Protection Agency program that you rely on when choosing highly efficient appliances that help you lower your household energy consumption applies to an even broader array of tech than you may have realized. And why not, when virtually every gadget we use day today requires some sort of energy source? Loads of cool products, from TVs and computers to wireless speakers and sound bars, are now also designed to conserve energy, and the blue ENERGY STAR label helps you identify the hot tech that should be at the top of your shopping list. After all, your giftees will be able to use their cool high-tech presents confident that they’re not racking up outsize utility bills. (How thoughtful of you!) Plus, each one is like a gift to the earth, too, by letting users enjoy the newest gadgets the market has to offer while keeping emissions to a minimum and helping to forestall climate change.

So, as you shop for the season, keep these seven great gift ideas in mind—and let the blue ENERGY STAR label guide your choices. You can save money and the planet with every present you purchase!

1. Smart thermostats
Keeping things toasty this holiday season—and ensuring an ideal temperature all year long, for years to come—is easy with a smart thermostat. These Wi-Fi enabled devices automatically adjust heating and cooling settings for optimal performance, passing the savings on to the lucky homeowner on your holiday list. The best news? This season, smart thermostats joined the prestigious ranks of ENERGY STAR certified products for the first time, so insist on the blue label when you shop.


Exclusively on, you can enter to win one of five ENERGY STAR certified ecobee4 thermostats to keep your home at the perfect temperature for years to come. The smart thermostat not only has room sensors to manage hot and cold spots, but it also comes with built-in Amazon Alexa Voice Service so you can ask it to order groceries, read the news, and more! For the best possible chance of winning, enter once a day, every day, until the contest closes on November 30—enter now!

2. Televisions
Got binge-watchers on your list? ENERGY STAR certified televisions have all the cutting-edge features they want while being 25 percent more energy efficient than standard models. Look for amenities like Automatic Brightness Control (ABC), which adjusts screen brightness relative to room brightness to drastically reduce power consumption. A home completely equipped with ENERGY STAR certified televisions and set-top boxes as well as a Blu-ray player and a sound system can save more than $140 over the life of the products.

3. Wireless speakers
These versatile speakers are in demand by audiophiles because they’re as great in the home as they are on the go. Plus, some wireless speakers are now multipurpose—they come with a built-in USB charging port that lets them power up a mobile device. And those with the ENERGY STAR stamp use 44 percent less juice without sacrificing functionality or sound quality.

4. Sound bars
Those skinny loudspeakers for your media system are the hottest gifts going—and those that are ENERGY STAR certified use some 70 percent less power than their conventional counterparts. Thanks to these sleek accessories, viewers can now enjoy surround sound with fewer speakers—and less extra energy use. Sound bars also have volume-leveling technology to ensure that those pesky commercials aren’t louder than the shows you love. A supersonic capability that holds down your impact on the environment? That really sounds good!

5. Digital media player
Folks love to use their digital media player (DMP) to stream their favorite shows and movies—or even listen to music, look at photos, or indulge in a little gaming—from their phone or tablet to the largest screen they’ve got, especially when it’s cold outside. So why not give an ENERGY STAR certified DMP that’s around 44 percent more efficient than standard versions? Some even deliver crisp picture quality that’s comparable to today’s 4K TVs. Plus, ENERGY STAR models often have a lower-power sleep mode. With this feature, if users really want to maximize savings, they can simply shorten the time it takes for the unit to go inactive.

6. Laptops or computers 
If some lucky person on your gift list is going to score a new laptop or desktop computer, be sure it’s a model that has earned the ENERGY STAR. These products are engineered with more efficient power supplies, so the computer will consume 60 percent less energy while the user still enjoys top quality and performance. If the proud owners of this new tech make smart use of power management features—for example, if they simply put the computer to sleep when it’s idle—they can save nearly $160 in energy savings over the life of the device. Just think! If all computers sold in the United States were ENERGY STAR certified, we’d prevent greenhouse gas emissions equal to those from 1.2 million vehicles. Ho-ho-whoa!

7. LED lights
When holiday shopping includes decorations, make your next set of string lights ones that have earned the ENERGY STAR. These celebratory staples not only use 75 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs, they can also last up to 10 times longer—so you can help save the planet by wasting less juice and keeping dead strings of lights out of landfills.

But LED bulbs go far beyond seasonal décor of string lights. ENERGY STAR certified LED bulbs make great stocking stuffers and, at about 2 bucks a pop, they also give back to you. They come in all shapes, sizes, and colors, and they make great eco-conscious stocking stuffers for people of all ages. Even better, ENERGY STAR certified LED bulbs are a gift that keeps on giving: Each bulb uses about 70 to 90 percent less energy and lasts 15 times longer than traditional incandescent bulbs, saving about $80. Plus, some of the new smart LED bulbs available that have earned the ENERGY STAR will really make cool gifts and brighten the holidays for sure!

8. Air purifiers
Nothing says you care like clean air—but with continuous use, a clunky old air purifier can suck up as much energy as a fridge! When shopping for an ENERGY STAR certified unit for someone you love, bear in mind that the higher the Clean Air Delivery Rate (CADR), the quicker the air will be filtered. Also, be sure to purchase a unit that’s properly sized for the room it will be operating in. Any new ENERGY STAR certified air purifier you give will be 40 percent more efficient than standard versions and save the user some $220 over the model’s lifetime.

For more information about these and other best gifts that do great things, visit


The Best EnergyStar Electronics to Give This Holiday Season


This article has been brought to you by ENERGY STAR.

How To: Use a Fireplace

Add ambience and save on heating costs by utilizing your fireplace this winter. Here's all you need to know about the proper technique and safety precautions.

How to Use a Fireplace


During the colder months, nothing beats warming the house with a crackling fire. But while wood-burning fireplaces should give you long-lasting and evenly burning flames, one simple mistake can fill your living room with smoke—or even spark a dangerous house fire. Here’s the proper technique for how to use a fireplace, with safety precautions every homeowner should know.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS Available on Amazon
Smoke detector
Carbon monoxide detector
Fire extinguisher
Flashlight (optional)
Hardwood or softwood kindling
Newspaper (optional)
Fireplace gloves
Metal fireplace poker
Metal fireplace shovel
Metal box for fireplace ashes

STEP 1: Stay Safe
Before bringing out the lighter, it’s vital to understand safety precautions for using a fireplace. First, always double-check that your fire extinguisher, smoke detector, and carbon monoxide detector are each in working order (check those batteries!). Remove anything flammable within three feet of the fireplace in case stray sparks escape the hearth, and use a fireplace screen as well. Make sure the flue isn’t blocked by obstructions like an animal’s nest, especially if this is your first time using the fireplace. If the system hasn’t been recently inspected, hire a chimney sweep certified by the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) to do the job.

STEP 2: Gather the Kindling
Gather kindling in a variety of sizes (small, medium, and large) for the proper fire-building technique that is outlined below. To emit less smoke and soot, make sure the wood is dry, well-seasoned, and split a minimum of six months ago. You can choose either hardwood or softwood for the fire; while hardwoods like oak or maple burn longer and create more sustained heat, softwoods like cedar or pine start fires easier because they ignite quickly. Whatever you don’t use can return to the firewood rack, best stored outdoors in an elevated and covered location.

Note: Never burn trash, plastic, painted materials, or anything with chemical treatment like scraps of pressure-treated wood—these materials can release harmful chemicals into your home.

How to Use a Fireplace


STEP 3: Open the Damper
The damper is a movable plate inside the flue. When opened, it allows the smoke and ash to travel safely up the chimney. If you start a fire with a closed damper, however, the smoke will have no escape route and circle back into the house.

Adjust the damper as needed with the handle located inside of the chimney. It will move either front to back, left to right, or in a clockwise or counterclockwise rotation. Check to make sure you opened it properly by sticking your head in the flue and looking upwards, using a flashlight if necessary. You should see up the flue without any obstructions if the damper is open; a closed damper will block your view entirely.

STEP 4: Prime the Flue
Now, gauge the temperature. If you feel a rush of cold air (which usually occurs if the chimney is built on the outside of the house), then you need to prime the flue—in order words, you need to preheat it. Otherwise, the cold draft may cause smoke to blow into the room. Light a roll of newspaper and hold it against the open damper to send warm air into the flue. The draft should reverse after a few minutes, making your fireplace ready for action.

STEP 5: Build the Fire
While there are multiple ways to build a fire, the CSIA recommends the top-down method, which produces less smoke and requires less tending. Start by donning thick fireplace gloves and grabbing a metal poker. Position large pieces of wood in the bottom of the fireplace in one row, perpendicular to the opening of the fireplace. Next, take mid-sized pieces of wood, and stack four or five rows on top of the base layer in alternating directions. Make sure the stack takes up no more than half the height of your fireplace. Now add your smallest pieces of wood, making sure these pieces are very dry. The tiniest bits (which can take the form of wood shavings or bunched-up newspapers) should be at the very top.

Light the top of the stack with a single match. The fire should travel down, igniting the pieces underneath without prompting. Let the fire burn for as long as you’d like. Don’t close the damper until the fire is completely out and all the embers have stopped burning.

STEP 6: Clean the Ashes
The CSIA says you can leave a bed of ashes between one to two inches in the fireplace as an insulating layer, which helps the next fire to burn. But when you need to dispose of ashes, proceed with caution. Coals may take several hours or several days to completely cool, and ash could still be burning during that time. Using a metal shovel, scoop ashes into a metal container with a tight-fitting lid. Store the container outdoors away from the house, and not in garages or on decks.

How To: Remove Lead Paint

Rid your home of this toxic additive to keep your loved ones safe from exposure.

How to Remove Lead Paint


Adding lead pigment to paint started way back in the Colonial era, as it made paint extremely durable. By the mid-1900s, however, health officials became aware of the hazards of lead exposure, including brain and organ damage. Lead paints began to be removed from the market, and were completely banned in 1978—yet lead-based paint can still be found on door and window trim, and on painted stairways, in many homes built prior to that time. If you own an old home and think it may be present in the old, untouched paint jobs, you can actually test for lead paint to confirm your suspicions.

The mere presence of lead paint in your home doesn’t necessarily indicate a health risk, though. If the paint is still in good shape, it can simply be repainted to protect residents from exposure. The danger from lead paint increases when it’s peeling or otherwise deteriorating, which can lead to the inhalation of lead dust or the swallowing of lead-based paint chips.

The good news is that you needn’t pay a lead abatement contractor big bucks to banish deteriorating lead paint in your home. If you’re the handy type, you can follow this guide on how to remove lead paint yourself, using safe and approved methods. While it’s not a difficult process, it does require careful preparation to prevent exposing other parts of your home to lead dust and debris. You’ll also need to clean up after the job with a HEPA vacuum designed for lead dust removal—not your home vacuum with a HEPA filter. HEPA vacuums designed for lead dust removal resemble shop-type canister vacuums; you can purchase one (starting at around $300) or rent from a construction rental store for $35 to $45 per day. (Note: Some local community health centers loan out HEPA vacuums at no charge, or for a small fee, as part of a lead remediation program.)

Carefully reading through the following steps for how to remove lead paint before picking up the special tools and diving in. You’ll breathe easier knowing you’ve protected your family from the dangers of deteriorating lead paint.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS Available on Amazon
6 mm plastic sheeting
Clear plastic tape or duct tape
Large plastic bucket
Spray bottle
Hand scraper
Sanding sponge
HEPA Vacuum
Leadrated respirator mask
Disposable rubber gloves
Old clothing that can be discarded
Protective goggles
Large garbage bag(s)

Remove furniture, area rugs, and all other items from the room you’ll be working on. Unless the house is vacant, it’s a good idea to limit lead paint removal to one room at a time to reduce the risk of spreading hazardous dust to other rooms.

Spread 6 mm plastic sheeting over the entire floor, using duct tape to secure it at the edges to the bottom of the walls or to the baseboards. This prevents lead paint chips and dust from contaminating carpeting or sifting through the gaps in hardwood and laminate flooring.

Turn off your HVAC system and use clear plastic or duct tape to cover heating vents and registers. This will keep lead dust from entering your home’s ventilation system. Close any windows in the room to prevent drafts, which can distribute lead dust.

Fill a large plastic bucket halfway with warm water, and put it in the room—along with a sponge or rags—where you’ll be removing lead paint. Then seal off adjacent rooms by covering doorways with 6 mil plastic sheeting and clear plastic tape.

How to Remove Lead Paint


Protect yourself before you attempt to remove lead paint by wearing a lead-rated respirator mask (not a dust mask), fitted with an approved HEPA (High-Efficiency Particulate Air) filter. You’ll also need to don goggles and rubber gloves and be sure to wear old clothing that you can dispose of when you’re done.

Spray areas of chipped or peeling paint thoroughly with a spray bottle filled with water. The key to removing lead paint is to “work wet,” which reduces the risk of inhaling lead dust. Keep your work area relatively small, approximately two to three feet or so, to ensure that the area you’re working on remains wet at all times.

Scrape away loosened bits of paint with a hand scraper. It’s not necessary to remove all the lead paint, just the paint that is peeling or deteriorating. The paint that is still firmly attached can be painted over without scraping.

Spray the area you’re working on with water again, and then sand with sanding sponges if necessary to smooth down rough areas caused by scraping. The same rule applies here: Keep the area wet while you’re working. Wet sanding takes a little longer than dry sanding but it won’t create toxic lead dust.

Wipe and clean the area with a dampened sponge as you go. This will help remove residual lead dust and debris safely. Change the water in the bucket frequently to keep it clean.

Clean up your work area when you’re done scraping and sanding by vacuuming thoroughly with a certified HEPA vacuum—and, we repeat, not a household vacuum with a HEPA filter. Using the wand and nozzle attachment, vacuum right over the plastic sheeting to remove as much loose dust as possible.

Carefully remove the plastic sheeting covering the floor and doorways. Fold its edges into the center to trap any remaining paint chips or particles before rolling up the sheeting and placing it in a garbage bag. It may be permissible to put the bag in your outdoor garbage can for pickup, but it’s a good idea to check with your local waste authority first—a different disposal method may be recommended or required.

How To: Make Concrete Pumpkins

This Halloween, it's all treats and no tricks! You'll have no need to worry about smashed or rotting pumpkins when you create a jack-o'-lantern from classic candy pails.

How to Make Concrete Pumpkins with Quikrete


If you love having a cheerful jack-o’-lantern (or two) on your front porch, but you’re tired of all the mess and hassle of pumpkin carving, we’ve got just the thing: concrete pumpkins made from your kids’ favorite candy pails! Molding concrete into a jack-o’-lantern shape is an easy and inexpensive project that the whole family can enjoy. Be forewarned, though: While the mixing and casting part of the project takes less than 20 minutes, the concrete will need an additional day or two to harden before you can decorate your jack-o’-lantern. Plan on getting started on the next crisp fall weekend and splitting the work into two parts.

These concrete pumpkins are trending because they’re so easy to make, and they come out looking every bit as happy and welcoming as the gourd that inspired them—only they last a lot longer! With the concrete version, you won’t have to worry about protecting your pumpkin from rot or marauding squirrels. You just need to decide which pail to use, how to decorate it, and how to display it. You can paint your jack-o’-lantern in the colors of your favorite sports team, use it as a planter for potted mums, or place a battery-operated tea light in its center to create a soft glow after dusk. Can’t decide? Well, you’re in luck! One 80-pound bag of Quikrete concrete mix can fill up to four average-size pumpkin pails (roughly eight inches in diameter), so you’ll be able to cast a few of these cool concrete pumpkins to welcome all the little ghosts and goblins to your house on Halloween night. The full instructions appear below, and you can even follow along in the viral Facebook video by Mother Daughter Projects that started it all.


How to Make Concrete Pumpkins with Quikrete

Photo: G Taylor

TOOLS AND MATERIALS Available on Amazon
Plastic pumpkin pails
 Plastic tarp
Dust mask
Waterproof gloves
Old clothing
 Quikrete 5000 Concrete Mix
 Quikrete Countertop Mix (for a smoother concrete surface)
Large bucket
Quikrete Liquid Cement Color (optional)
Medium bucket (optional)
Hand trowel
Disposable plastic cup or bottle
Paper towels
Large brick
Utility knife, fitted with hook blade
Paint (optional)
Plant (optional)
Batteryoperated tea light (optional)

Prepare your work area. Concrete is heavy, so you might want to work on the ground rather than having to lift and pour the concrete mix at table height. To prevent wet concrete spills from marring a sidewalk or patio, put a tarp down first. You’ll also want to wear a dust mask, waterproof gloves, and old clothing when working with the dusty concrete mix.

Use scissors to cut and remove the handle from the pumpkin pail.

Pour dry concrete mix into a large plastic bucket or tub. (It has to be big enough also to hold the water, which you’ll be adding in the next step.) Quikrete 5000 is a good all-purpose concrete mix for casting jack-o’-lanterns, but if you’re looking for a super-smooth surface, try Quikrete Countertop Mix instead—its gravel and sand are very fine, so you won’t notice any large gravel pieces on the exterior of your concrete pumpkins once they have cured.

The amount of concrete you’ll need for each pumpkin depends on the size of your pumpkin pail, so follow the mixing instructions on the bag. You can even use the pumpkin pail as a measure: Fill it completely with the dry mix, and then dump that amount into your mixing bucket or tub. If you’re making multiple jack-o’-lanterns, you can mix the concrete for all of them at the same time.

STEP 4 (optional)
If you know you want to add color and don’t want the extra step of coating a whole pumpkin in paint, you can inject the color right into the wet concrete mix! Fill a medium bucket with the amount of water recommended for your particular bag of Quikrete, adjusting the amount according to the size of the project, then stir in Liquid Cement Color—you can see what that process looks like here. It takes at least half of a 10-ounce bottle to color a 60-pound bag’s worth of concrete, or you can use the whole bottle if you’re looking for some truly intense coloring.

Add water (colored or plain) to the large tub filled with dry mix. Again, the amount of water you will need depends on the amount of dry mix (which, in turn, depends on the size of your pumpkin and whether you’re making multiple pumpkins), but err on the side of too little water rather than too much, and add water a little at a time.

Mix thoroughly and quickly using a sturdy hand trowel until you get a consistency of thick brownie batter. If it’s too thick or thin, add water or dry mix until the mixture reaches the correct consistency. Resist adding too much water to the concrete mix. Wetter concrete is easier to handle, but if the mix is too wet, your concrete pumpkins are more likely to crumble and crack. See how the concrete pros mix by hand in this video.


How to Make Concrete Pumpkins with Quikrete

Photo: G Taylor

Using the hand trowel, spoon or pour the wet concrete into the plastic pumpkin pail. Push it down with the trowel as you go, working the tool through the wet concrete in a chopping motion to remove all air bubbles.

Fill it up quickly, but not all the way to the top—leave about one inch of space near the top of the pumpkin.

Insert a disposable plastic cup (or a plastic bottle) into the center of the wet concrete mix, pushing it down until the top is level with the top rim of the bucket. This will create a recess so you can fill your jack-o’-lantern with a tea light, flowers, or whatever else strikes your fancy. The concrete will rise as it is displaced by the cup. Wipe away any overflow using paper towels.

Place a large brick or another heavy item over the opening of the pumpkin to weight down the plastic cup. This prevents the pressure of the heavy concrete mix from pushing the plastic cup up and out of the pail.

For the smoothest surface possible, work air bubbles out of the concrete by carefully bumping the filled pumpkin on the ground and tapping it repeatedly (and firmly) on all sides with the back of the hand trowel. For the best results, don’t skimp on this step—the more you tap, the smoother the final product will be.

Put the pumpkin aside and allow the concrete to set for at least 24 hours.

Use a utility knife that’s fitted with a hook blade to cut and remove the plastic pumpkin pail. Proceed cautiously: Stand over the pumpkin and position the tip of the blade at the bottom of the pumpkin (in one of the grooves) and pull slowly upward. The plastic is quite thick, so cut slowly and carefully. After you’ve made a couple of slices, you can peel the plastic away.

Remove the plastic cup or bottle from the center by making a single cut along the inside edge, then breaking the cup and pulling it out. If there are any rough edges you’d like to get rid of, simply smooth using sandpaper.

Allow your concrete pumpkins to dry out another day or so (a week, even, if you can contain your excitement!) before adding any paint or glue-on decorations. The longer you wait, the further along your concrete pumpkins will be in their monthlong curing process, which means that the paint will be less likely to peel. We colored ours with milk paint!

A great thing about these concrete pumpkins is that they’re built to last and can adorn your front porch all season long—not just through Halloween. Make your concrete project even more versatile by choosing to decorate with harvest colors that mimic the changing leaves like goldenrod yellow, sunset orange, cranberry red, and wheat brown. Or, just turn your jack-o’-Lantern’s goofy grin the other way and you’ve extended your porch decorations through Thanksgiving!


How to Make Concrete Pumpkins with Quikrete

Photo: G Taylor


DIY Concrete Pumpkins for a Fall Front Porch

Photo: G Taylor

Pro Tips for Pouring and Casting Your Concrete

• If you intend to use your concrete jack-o’-lantern as a planter, drill a couple of drainage holes in the bottom when you remove the plastic mold. At this point, the concrete is still green—concrete actually takes a full 28 days to cure—and you can drill through it with relative ease. If you wait even a couple of days, it becomes more difficult to drill through and may then require a masonry bit.

• Unless you’re using the countertop mix, you’ll probably see a few holes on the surface of your concrete pumpkins. Don’t sweat them! They just add to the character of the jack-o’-lantern.

• Are you already committed to casting multiple concrete pumpkins? For bigger projects, it’s a good idea to mix the concrete in a wheelbarrow and use a hoe to stir it.


This content has been brought to you by Quikrete. Its facts and opinions are those of

Sanded vs. Unsanded Grout: Which Do You Need for Your DIY?

Don’t get caught at the home center trying to discern the difference between sanded and unsanded grout. Find out which type is right for your project with this guide.

The Difference Between Sanded and Unsanded Grout


Any homeowner undertaking a DIY tiling project will work with grout, a putty-like mixture that fills the space between tiles and keeps them securely in place. But while grout is commonly used for home improvement, many do-it-yourselfers don’t realize that it comes in two varieties: sanded and unsanded. Whether you’re installing a kitchen backsplash or laying an entryway floor, read on to see these options go head-to-head—sanded vs unsanded grout—so that you can make the right decision when it comes time to select your supplies at the home improvement store.


The Difference Between Sanded and Unsanded Grout



As its moniker suggests, sanded grout is held together with fine particles of sand. The sand gets suspended in place as the grout cures, leading to increased stability, better resistance to cracking, and less grout shrinkage. Sanded grout is widely available at home improvement stores. The gritty mixture is budget-friendly (since sand is a cheap filler) and typically comes in many different color options. Reach for sanded grout for any of the following scenarios:

• Flooring applications. Sanded grout is the standard option for interior flooring. It’s durability and stability allow it to stand up to the pressure of foot traffic.

• Thick joints. Since sanded grout bonds better and offers less shrinkage than unsanded options, it’s ideal for any tile with joints ⅛”- to ½”- thick. Trying to fit the bulky material into thinner joints may result in a messy and imprecise finish that’s prone to cracking. Another concern is that contractors may add too much water to sanded grout in order to achieve a better consistency for smaller joints. This often results in pinholing, which occurs when the excess water evaporates and compromises the structure of the grout. Also note that for joints 3/8”-thick or greater, you will specifically need a “wide-joint mixture” grout that is more heavily sanded.

The Difference Between Sanded and Unsanded Grout



Even though sanded grout has greater stability, some cases require the use of unsanded grout instead. This variety has a smoother texture because it doesn’t contain sand grains. However, it’s also more expensive, since pricier polymers are used as a bonding agent. Opt for unsanded grout if you encounter any of these scenarios:

• Narrow joints. Unsanded grout is thinner than sanded grout, so it’s easier to work into narrow joints. Therefore, homeowners should use unsanded grout for any joints less than ⅛”-wide.

• Scratchable surfaces. Always use unsanded grout when working with a soft, smooth, polished tile like limestone or marble, since abrasive sanded grout will likely scratch its surface. If the joints between the tile are 1/8”-wide or larger, look for an epoxy-based unsanded grout, which is extremely durable and better suited to the larger joints. Keep in mind, however, that epoxy-based options are less pliable than the cementitious varieties and will generally be pricier.

• Vertical installations. The absence of sand makes unsanded grout especially sticky, so it will stay put when tiling a shower wall, backsplash, or other vertical surface. Also, since vertical installations don’t need to stand up to the pressure of foot traffic, they can handle the decreased durability of unsanded grout without any issues.

Solved! How High to Install a Light Switch

Before you get to wiring and mounting a light switch in a newly added or recently converted space without a wall outlet, learn how high to install the light switch for easy access and mounting.

The Ideal Light Switch Height, Solved!


Q: Our screened-in porch is undergoing some updates, including the installation of overhead lights and addition of a small outdoor kitchen set. Is there standard light switch height I should keep in mind?

A: There’s no hard and fast rule for the correct light switch height; rather, how high you should install your own will depend on your local electrical code ordinances and federal laws governing accessibility. Additionally, you may want to make adjustments to depending on its location in relation to other fixtures or switches in the room and the heights of those who will be using the switch most.

Find out if your local electrical code requires a specific light switch height. The National Electric Code (NEC) doesn’t set forth a specific minimum light switch height, but your local electrical code may prescribe its own standard—you can usually find the electrical code on your city’s website. Keep in mind that not every city requires a specific minimum height.

The ideal light switch height is 48 inches from the ground. Builders generally use this standard since this height can be reached as comfortably from the standing position as from the sitting position. Moreover, it falls in line with light switch height ranges prescribed by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Fair Housing Act (FHA). Even if your local electrical code doesn’t require a specific minimum height, these acts offer guidance when installing your light switch: According to ADA guidelines, wall controls and outlets that can be reached from a forward position need to be a minimum of 15 inches and a maximum of 48 inches above the ground to be easily reached from a seated position.

Now, the ADA accessibility guidelines apply to public buildings and very rarely to private residences, and the FHA accessibility guidelines apply to covered multi-family dwellings rather than detached single-family homes. Nevertheless, staying within their light switch height range regardless of your dwelling type is a mindful consideration that allows for easier accessibility when aging in place or recovering from an injury, should a household member ever spend time in a wheelchair—not to mention ensures the accessibility of your property for future owners or tenants.

The Ideal Light Switch Height, Solved!


Adjust the height of switches mounted over countertops. When mounting a light switch over a countertop—for example, in an indoor or outdoor kitchen, an art studio, or a craft room—reduce the standard wall mounting height to 40 inches. This lower light switch height will allow you to avoid interfering with higher-up obstructions on the wall like backsplashes or cabinetry, while still hovering four inches above the top of a standard 36-inch-tall counter.

Make accommodations for children or adults of smaller stature. The 48-inch standard works well for anyone aged 12 and above. For light switch installations in rooms used primarily by kids (like a new playroom), the ADA recommends different ranges for minimum outlet and light switch heights:

• 20 to 30 inches above the floor for kids aged 3 to 4

• 18 to 40 inches above the floor for ages 5 to 8

• 16 to 44 inches above the floor for ages 9 through 12

Likewise, if some adults in your household are of a more petite stature that prevents them from easily accessing a light switch positioned 48 inches off the ground, consider reducing the height to something lower within the ADA-acceptable range that they can more comfortably reach.

When cutting drywall, remember that your desired light switch height will be where you position the centerline of the switch and plate. The ADA light switch height ranges refer to the recommended distance from the floor to the operable part of a light switch, rather than the top or bottom of the cover—usually the centerline for standard light switches. When installing, you’ll measure 48 inches above the ground from any point on the floor and mark the spot on the wall. Then, before you cut out a wall outlet opening in existing drywall, place an old-work box (also known as a remodeling box) backwards on the drywall so that the centerline of the box aligns with the mark you made on the wall. Trace the perimeter of the old-work box, then remove your template. From here, enlist a drywall saw to cut out the outlined area in the drywall.

Wire and mount the light switch. Once you’re sure that power is shut off to the wire that will be fed into the old-work box, insert the old-work box into the drywall opening with the power wire running through the drywall opening and fed through the old-work box with at least six to seven inches of the wire exposed (you can use a wire stripper to strip the wire). Secure the old-work box to the drywall with screws, wire and mount your new light switch into the old work box, and then secure it to the wall with screws. Restore power to the power wire and switch the light on and off to test your handiwork.

How To: Preserve a Pumpkin

Keep your pumpkins looking plump and porch-perfect throughout fall with these proven preservation techniques.

How to Preserve Pumpkins to Last all Fall


The scariest sight on your porch on Halloween might not be the ghoulish grin on your Jack-o’-Lantern’s face, but rather the rot, mold and mildew, and creepy crawlers that inevitably invade. Like most produce, even whole pumpkins decompose naturally with exposure to air, water, and pests, and the openings in carved pumpkins cause them to decay even more quickly. Luckily, anyone who is eager to make his or her porch decoration last through Thanksgiving—or even just till the neighborhood trick-or-treaters arrive—has the means to do so already at home. You can slow its decay, maintain its looks, and prolong its life with one or more of these methods for how to preserve a pumpkin.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS Available on Amazon
Large bowl
Wet/dry shop vacuum
Spray bottle
Peppermint castile soap
Trash bag
Bleachbased spray (optional)
Floor wax

How to Preserve Pumpkins to Last all Fall


1. Preserve a Carved Pumpkin… by Removing the Pulp

A pile of pulp in a carved pumpkin is an invitation for fungi, bacteria, and fruit flies and other pests to enter through the openings and feed on your Jack-o’-Lantern. Prevent your pumpkin from turning into a rot-, mold- and pest-riddled mess by scouring the pumpkin walls and base with a spoon to loosen the fibers and seeds, then turning the pumpkin upside down over a large bowl and dumping out the contents. If you don’t have any plans to eat the pumpkin pulp after carving, you can just as easily siphon out the pumpkin guts with a wet vac. But don’t let that pumpkin pulp go to waste—it makes excellent food for your garden later if you drop it into the indoor composting bin or backyard pile.

RELATED: 29 Bewitching Ways to Decorate a Pumpkin

2. Preserve a Carved Pumpkin… with a Little Lubricant

The water- and freeze-proof alkanes (hydrocarbons) in WD-40 can help keep your carved pumpkin shiny and hydrated while warding off fungi, frost, and even creepy crawlers. Put the superhero solvent to use by liberally spraying the entire exterior (including the inner grooves of the carved openings) of a gutted and carved pumpkin with WD-40. Wipe off any excess lubricant dripping from the surface with an old rag, then let the pumpkin dry for at least 24 hours before placing any candles inside. Keep in mind that WD-40 is considered flammable, so avoid spraying it on a pumpkin while a lit candle burns inside it—that’s a house fire waiting to happen.

RELATED: 52 Unexpected and Amazing Ways to Decorate Pumpkins

3. Preserve a Carved Pumpkin… with DIY Anti-Fungal Spray

Extreme weather is the enemy of carved pumpkins, causing it to decay at a faster-than-average rate. If temperatures in your area are above 70 degrees Fahrenheit or below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, don’t leave them out on the porch overnight. Every night, dry the outside of the pumpkins with an old rag, then lightly spray the inside of the pumpkin with this homemade anti-fungal solution: one tablespoon of peppermint castile soap and four cups of plain water shaken up in a plastic spray bottle. Tie up the soap-soaked pumpkin in a trash bag and then store the bag in your fridge overnight (a secondary fridge in the basement or garage is a great option for when your main fridge is full). When you retrieve your pumpkin in the morning, it will look as fresh-faced as the day you brought it home.


How to Preserve Pumpkins to Last all Fall


4. Preserve an Uncarved Pumpkin… with Bleach

Bleach can scare off fungi and bacteria from your uncarved pumpkin before they transform into mold and rot. Dilute one tablespoon of bleach in four cups of water in a large bucket, then soak the pumpkin in the bleach solution for 20 minutes before removing and drying the pumpkin. If you decorated your uncarved pumpkin, skip the soaking and enlist a can of bleach-based spray to spray the entire surface of the pumpkin before letting it dry.

RELATED: 30 Easy Painted Pumpkins to Perk Up Your Halloween

5. Preserve an Uncarved Pumpkin… Using Floor Wax

When you’re not putting it to use in the interior to lend a long-lasting luster to floors, enlist leftover acrylic liquid floor wax to protect your uncarved pumpkins from mold and rot. Apply a tablespoon of floor wax to a water-dampened rag, then wipe down the entire surface of your uncarved pumpkin, leaving behind a thin film of wax. When the wax cures on the pumpkin, it will act as a barrier to moisture that prevents the growth of mold and keeps your pumpkin hydrated. Even better? The wax will lend your pumpkin an attractive sheen that lasts four weeks or longer.

Video: How to Keep Your Home Warm This Winter

Brrr—it's cold inside! Or it very soon will be. Check the cold at the door with these quick tips.

Winter is coming. That means ice, snow, and cold mornings that make you want to never get out of bed. Are you ready? Scratch that—the better question is this: Is your home ready?

If you perform several key home maintenance tasks now, you’ll defend your house (and all of its inhabitants) from chilly weather and blustering winds. So take a look at our video to get the details on which chores you should add to your must-do list this season.

For more winter-proofing advice, consider:

8 Wise Ways to Winter-Proof Your Home for Practically Nothing

Drafty Windows? Solutions for Every Budget

8 Quick Tips for Solving Winter Woes

6 Ways to Stop Chimney Fires Before They Start

Enlist these techniques to reduce the likelihood of a chimney fire starting on your watch.

6 Things Every Homeowner Can Do to Prevent Chimney Fires


There are more than 25,000 chimney fires incurring $125 million-plus in property damage every year in the United States. That damage is largely due to flames in the lower chimney migrating upward to crack, warp, melt, or otherwise negatively affect the masonry or metal chimney walls. In the most severe cases, chimney fires can destroy houses and put lives at risk. These tragedies are often preventable: Failure to regularly inspect, repair, and clean a chimney can cause it to malfunction or collect dangerous build-up that puts your family at risk.

Fortunately, if you practice the prevention tips here, that hard-working column above your fireplace or wood stove should continue to do its job of ushering smoke and other by-products out of your home, so you and yours can safely enjoy cozying up in front of the flames. Keep reading to understand what causes chimney fires and the six best steps you can take for preventing them.

1. Minimize creosote build-up.

The main culprit of chimney fires is creosote. This highly flammable, dark brown substance coats chimney walls when by-products of a fire (smoke, vapor, and unburned wood) condense as they move from the hot fireplace or wood stove into the cooler chimney. If the temperature in the chimney flue (the space inside the chimney) is high enough, and the creosote build-up thick enough, creosote can catch fire—and that fire can spread and move up the flue.

To minimize creosote build-up, only burn seasoned hardwood that has dried for at least six months and contains a moisture content of no more than 20 percent, which you can easily test with a wood moisture meter (available at hardware stores for $40 and up). And remember to always keep the damper (a metal plate in the flue that regulates the draft) open during a fire to maintain adequate airflow.

And if your chimney’s flue liner (the layer between the flue and chimney walls) is uninsulated, it’s recommended to insulate it by either wrapping a heat-resistant insulation blanket around the liner or pouring an insulation mix like vermiculite (available at hardware stores for $10 at up) into the space between the flue liner and flue. An insulated flue liner will prevent flue temperatures from getting too cool—a condition that could encourage fire by-products to condense and form creosote.

6 Things Every Homeowner Can Do to Prevent Chimney Fires


2. Schedule an annual chimney inspection.

Because many defects that lead to chimney fires, such as a cracked flue liner, aren’t visible to the naked eye, it’s crucial have a Chimney Safety Institute of America-certified chimney sweep inspect your fireplace or woodstove, chimney, and venting system once a year. This pro will inform you of any damage and, if desired, repair it as well as remove soot, creosote, or obstructions such as bird nests.

There are three levels of chimney inspections:

• Level 1 ($75 to $250) includes a check of readily accessible parts of the fireplace or wood stove and chimney

• Level 2 ($100 to $500) includes video scanning of internal chimney surfaces

• Level 3 ($1,000 to $5,000) includes Level 1 and Level 2 inspection, plus a partial chimney tear-down to inspect for more serious damage.

Consult your chimney sweep company about which inspection level is recommended for your chimney and venting system.

3. Clean your chimney when walls have 1/8 of build-up.

If when you scratch a finger against a chimney wall and uncover one-eighth of an inch of build-up, it’s time for a cleaning. A professional chimney cleaning costs between $100 and $350 and usually includes a sweep of the outside of the chimney along with the firebox, the smoke shelf, the smoke chamber above the firebox, the flue, and the flue liner. However, budget-conscious DIYers willing to get up on a ladder can also clean their chimney without professional help by using a wide chimney brush.

4. Install a chimney cap.

Leaves and animal nests inside a flue can quickly fuel a chimney fire when touched by loose embers from a fire. A chimney cap on the crown around the outside opening of the flue will keep debris and critters out. The cap will also prevent “back puffing,” whereby escaped smoke from a fire re-enters the chimney and then the home. Caps also prevent acidic rainwater from entering and corroding the chimney. Expect to spend anywhere from $50 for galvanized metal caps to $500 or more for decorative models. While some homeowners opt to put in a chimney cap themselves, self-installation may void the warranty—it may be worth it to call a pro.

6 Things Every Homeowner Can Do to Prevent Chimney Fires


5. Use safe fire starters.

Always stick to the best fire starters when selecting fuel, kindling, and tinder. Well-seasoned hardwood or CSIA-approved logs are the only fuels you should use in your fireplace or wood stove. Never use gasoline and kerosene to start a fire—these liquids are highly flammable and combustible and can quickly create a conflagration. Likewise, don’t burn coal unless you’ve got a coal-burning wood stove because it can significantly raise the temperature of the flue, increasing the risk of a chimney fire. For kindling, stick to dried twigs or branches. Cloth is a poor choice—it gives off large amounts of smoke when it burns. Use torn or crumpled old newspaper or pine cones for tinder. Never use cardboard or glossy paper (like magazine pages) as tinder because both contain chemicals that can emit toxins into the chimney and the home when burned.

6. Employ clean burning techniques.

Low-temperature, slow-burning fires, particularly those left to smolder overnight, produce more smoke and leave behind more unburned combustible material. When that hardens into creosote on the chimney walls, there’s an increased risk of chimney fires. Hot, fast-burning fires, on the other hand, leave far less smoke, vapor, and unburned wood behind, so little to no creosote forms. The best way to burn a clean fire is to use the top-down burn method: Place the large logs vertically at the bottom of the fireplace or wood stove (with the bottoms of the logs facing you), add four to five horizontal layers of kindling, then top with tinder and light.

And, before retiring for the night, always extinguish the fire: Spread out the wood and embers with a fireplace poker, then cover them with the ash lying at the bottom of the fireplace using a fireplace shovel. Then douse the cooled wood and embers with enough baking soda to cover them completely—the sodium bicarbonate will extinguish any remaining embers. After the firebox cools (for a minimum of three hours, but preferably eight), shovel the ashes into a metal container. Fill the metal container with water and store it outside the home away from other flammable materials until you’re ready to discard them.