How To’s & Quick Tips - 4/72 - Bob Vila

Category: How To’s & Quick Tips


How To: Wash an Electric Blanket

There's nothing cozier than snuggling up with your electric blanket on a cold day—but, eventually, there comes a time where it needs to be cleaned. If its cords seem to complicate the process, this guide has you covered.

How To Wash An Electric Blanket

Photo: istockphoto.com

Cleaning an electric blanket can seem intimidating, even hazardous. Mixing water with electricity? No, thank you. But an electric blanket should be washed every month, prior to being stored away, and anytime it gets soiled in order to keep it soft and cozy—it’s time to stop pretending you don’t notice that ice cream stain and learn the proper way to launder it.

Chris Galas, the marketing manager of Sunbeam, a major manufacturer of electric blankets, is here to help demystify the process. His first assurance: It’s actually not as hard—or as dangerous—as you think!

“While there’s a natural instinct to keep water and electricity away from each other, it’s a common misconception that it can be a safety hazard to wash an electric blanket,” Galas says. “The biggest concern is not that the blanket will catch on fire or electrocute you, but that you’ll actually damage the heating components by using harsh chemicals, high heat, or a drying technique that will pinch or warp the wires,” says Galas. With that in mind, we’ve rounded up three different (equally safe) methods for how to wash an electric blanket.

How To Wash An Electric Blanket

Photo: istockphoto.com

SPOT TREATMENT

You’re snuggled up on the couch under your electric blanket enjoying a warm drink and…spills happen. Here’s how to address a localized stain without having to throw the whole blanket into the wash.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS Available on Amazon
Butter knife (optional)
Soft white cloths (2)
Water
Mild fabric detergent

STEP 1
Before even addressing the stain, make sure you unplug the blanket. Once it’s safely turned off, gently scrape away whatever excess (or, if you’ve waited too long, hardened) debris using your fingernails or a butter knife.

STEP 2
Dip a white cloth in water and add a little mild fabric detergent to it. Rub it gently onto the spot until the stain comes up and transfers to the cloth. Once you’ve pulled up as much stain as possible, rinse it out.

STEP 3
Dip a second cloth in clean water, then rub it gently over the spot to remove any detergent. Repeat this until the detergent is gone.

STEP 4
Lay out the electric blanket flat and let it air dry completely before using it again. Do not fold or bend the bedding while it dries to avoid pinching or damaging the internal wires.

 

How To Wash An Electric Blanket

Photo: istockphoto.com

MACHINE WASHING & DRYING

If you’re dealing with more than a stain or your electric blanket is just due for a clean, you can put it in the washer and dryer. Just use short times and the coolest possible settings to make sure the wires are not damaged during the process.

Is your blanket too large to fit in your machines? Don’t take it to the laundromat, because those machines get too hot—instead, jump below for how to wash an electric blanket by hand.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS Available on Amazon
– Washing machine
– Dryer
– Mild fabric detergent
– Drying rack

STEP 1
Detach your electric blanket from the heating controller per the manufacturer instructions.

STEP 2
Place the blanket in the washer, add detergent, and fill the tub with cold water. Before running a cycle, let the blanket soak for 10 minutes so that the water and detergent can saturate the fabric.

STEP 3
After the 10 minutes, choose the gentle or delicates cycle and let it spin dry.

STEP 4
Place your electric blanket in the dryer and select the coolest possible setting. Let the blanket gently tumble dry for 10 minutes, while monitoring the machine to make sure it doesn’t get hot, as that’s one of the biggest hazards for the wires.

STEP 5
Take the blanket out while it’s still damp and hang to air dry completely. Avoid folding it over a clothesline and do not use clothespins, because they could pinch the electrical wires and damage them; it’s better to spread the electric blanket out over a drying rack.

 

How To Wash An Electric Blanket

Photo: istockphoto.com

HAND WASHING & DRYING

If you don’t have a washer and dryer at home that’s okay—follow these next steps for how to hand wash an electric blanket.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS Available on Amazon
– Large plastic bin
– Mild fabric detergent
– Drying rack

STEP 1
Detach your electric blanket from the heating controller per the manufacturer instructions.

STEP 2
Place the blanket in the plastic bin or tub, add mild detergent, and fill it with cool water. Let it soak for about 30 minutes, agitating the water occasionally.

STEP 3
Drain the tub and gently wring out the electric blanket to remove excess water, being careful not to pinch the wires.

STEP 4
Hang the blanket out to dry completely. Avoid folding it over a clothesline and, again, skip the clothespins. You wouldn’t want your electric blanket to survive the water and suffer actual damage from having its electrical wires pinched with a clothespin.

 

Cleaning Tips for a Spotless Home

All of the Essential Cleaning Advice from BobVila.com
There’s no way around it: Keeping the house clean demands your time, your energy, and even some of your money. Fortunately, this arsenal of cleaning tips can help you finish the housekeeping more quickly—and with fewer commercially sold products.


Solved! What 12 Different Electrical Wire Colors Actually Mean

Wiring a light fixture or new appliance? Don't be confused by the number of electrical wire colors you find—we've got just the guide to help you decipher their color coding.

Solved! Electrical Wire Colors and What They All Mean

Photo: istockphoto.com

Q: I’m replacing the heating element in my electric water heater. The wires running to the element are black and white, but the white wire is wrapped with red tape. I’m confused—I thought white was always considered a “neutral” wire. What do these electrical wire colors mean, and what would the red tape indicate?

A: You’re right, white sheathing does generally indicate a neutral wire, but it’s not always so simple to decipher. In this case, your water heater is probably wired with two-wire flexible armor-clad “BX” or “MC” cable—that’s a factory-made cable with a metal jacket protecting a black, white, and bare copper wire. The hot or “live” conductor sheathed in black typically carries power to a 110-volt light or receptacle, while a neutral conductor would carry energy away and a bare copper ground wire can conduct any excess energy that might otherwise be a shock or fire hazard. However, when sized appropriately for the load, two-wire armored cables can also be used to provide power to 220-volt appliances like a water heater or well pump, which is where things get tricky. Since those appliances don’t require a neutral but use two current-carrying conductors and a ground wire, an electrician may repurpose the white to carry the secondary phase (also called a “secondary leg”) of the 220-voltage. That’s allowed by code as long as the wire is marked with red or orange tape or paint to alert future service people, electricians, or knowledgeable do-it-yourselfers that the wire is not a neutral but rather a current-carrying conductor.

In newer homes, you’ll find more instances of repurposed wires that would seem to disregard the traditional meaning behind electrical wire colors. That’s not a mistake: New constructions are often wired with pre-made cables and, while more convenient, they come in fewer wire color options. As seen with the electric water heater, electricians often have to repurpose the white wire to act as current-carrying conductors and should color-code appropriately depending on the new designation. Before pre-made cables were the norm, though, electricians would run empty tubing between the main panel and the wall and ceiling boxes and filled the tubing with a variety of different wire colors like blue, red, orange, yellow, brown, and violet—a setup still seen in older homes today. Below, we dive into what to expect from these different electrical wire colors, whether they’re color-coded by sheathing or tape.

Proceed with caution when observing and interacting with wires, no matter the color. The National Electrical Code contains strict wire color rules for grounding and neutral conductors, but it’s less rigid when it comes to other colors. We’re listing the typical uses for wire colors based on common industry practice, but you shouldn’t assume that the wiring in your home was done correctly by a professional electrician. To protect yourself:

• You must shut off power to the circuit (or the entire house) and assume that all wires are live even if this guide says they’re not.

• Always use your electrical tester to confirm that the power is really off at each wire before disconnecting any wires.

What The Individual Electrical Wire Colors Indicate

Solved! Electrical Wire Colors and What They All Mean

Photo: istockphoto.com

Green, green with a yellow stripe, and bare copper wires can only be used for grounding purposes. A ground wire can never be used as a neutral, even though it connects to the same bus at the main panel—that’s a huge safety violation that can cause electrical shock, serious injury, or death. Still, many older homes don’t have neutral wires, and some inexperienced do-it-yourselfers will connect the white neutral wire from a new switch to the ground conductor to make do. Don’t make this mistake. If you see a ground wire connected to a current-carrying screw or terminal on a switch or outlet or to a white, black, or any other color wire, stop immediately and call an electrician to sort it out.

White and gray wires are normally used as neutral conductors. The 2011 National Electrical Code required a neutral in every switch box to accommodate new devices like motion sensors, occupancy sensors, home automation switches, and dimmers. If your switch box doesn’t have a neutral wire, find a device that doesn’t require a neutral or have the box rewired by a professional electrician.

White and gray wires may be repurposed as current carrying conductors if they’re marked at both ends with tape or paint. The new color should follow the common industry practices outlined here, but do be sure to include a notice at the main electrical panel or sub-panel indicating what the markings mean.

Black wires are used to provide power in the circuit. Always assume black wires are live.

Red or orange wires are often used to provide the secondary phase voltage in a 220-volt application. Always assume that a red or orange wire (in addition to the black wire, which provides the primary phase voltage) is live. You’ll find black and red or orange wires connected to 220-volt appliances like electric water heaters, well pumps, and older electric ranges. However, those same 220-volt appliances can be wired with a black and white wire, where the white wire had been marked with black or red tape at both the appliance and in the main panel to indicate that it has been re-purposed as a current-carrying wire. In that wiring scheme, assume the black and re-marked white wires are live.

Red or orange can also be used as a second “switched” power wire in a 120-volt application. When installing a ceiling fan, you’ll often find that the black wire coming from the wall switch provides switched power to the fan motor. If your new ceiling fan has a light, a red wire from a second switch in the same wall box can provide switched power to the fan’s light. Assume the red and black wires are live.

Red can also be used as a “signal” or “trigger” wire in three-wire interconnected smoke detector applications. The trigger wire is used to activate all the interconnected smoke detectors the instant one detector senses smoke or fire. In that wiring setup, the smoke detectors get power and neutral from the black and white wires, while the red wire connects each hardwired detector. Each detector brand and model series uses a different signaling technique and voltage, so refer to the manual when connecting. Always assume the red wire in those applications is live.

Blue, yellow, violet, and brown wires often act as the “travelers” to transfer power between the switches in 3-way and 4-way switch applications. In other words, blue, yellow, violet, and brown wires come into play when you have multiple wall switch locations—two in a 3-way switch or three in a 4-way switch—that control the same set of lights. Since they carry current between each of the switches, you should always assume those colored wires are live. Alternatively, wires in these colors can also be used to carry power in 220-volt applications; here, too, you should always assume they’re live.


Video: How to Ward Off Pranksters This Halloween

Homeowners, beware and be prepared for neighborhood ne'er-do-wells who come out to play at this time of year.

SHARES

Halloween night (and Mischief Night, celebrated on October 30th) can turn ordinary kids and teens into neighborhood goblins. Typical Halloween pranks range from the fairly innocent—forks in the lawn or toilet paper in the trees—to criminal property damage. Even if you and your neighbors haven’t experienced any issues on your street before, it never hurts to take a few precautions to protect your home from mischief-makers. Here are a handful of things you can do to safeguard your home during the spookiest season of the year.

For more Halloween advice, consider:

12 Brilliant Hacks for Your Best-Ever Halloween Pumpkin

15 Easy Ways to Terrify Trick-or-Treaters This Year

Your Post-Halloween Cleanup Guide


Video: The Top 10 Home Projects for October

Put down that pumpkin spice drink and start planning your fall home improvement project with the help of our quick video guide.

The month of October is full of autumnal joys like rust-colored leaves, Halloween preparations, and crisp, cool air. As you’re enjoying all that this season has to offer, make sure you’re taking care of important maintenance work around the home and yard. This is the moment to pack up your summer gear and button up the house for winter. Take a look at our video to see the top projects you should undertake at this time of year.

For more seasonal advice, consider:

15 Tricks to Know If You Hate Fall Yard Work

21 Ways to Color Your Yard This Fall


How To: Rust Metal

Lend a centuries-old look to metal accents in under an hour with this rusting tutorial.

How to Rust Metal (on Purpose!)

Photo: istockphoto.com

Though unwelcome on most functional gardening tools and patio furnishings, rust isn’t always something to remove. In fact, with rustic and industrial decorating schemes trending, more and more people are embracing the look of aged metal to the point of encouraging corrosion on newer metal housewares. Metals made of iron or iron alloys like iron and steel will, of course, rust naturally with enough exposure to moisture and oxygen, but savvy do-it-yourselfers can speed up the process and nab aged metal accents sooner by whipping up a secret rusting solution.

Whether you wish to rust hinges and hardware to further disguise the age of distressed wooden chest or you prefer the look of older metal candlesticks atop your farmhouse table, follow these easy steps for how to rust metal and you can transform any object around your home. It only takes an hour to add years to your metal accents!

MATERIALS AND TOOLS Available on Amazon
 Paint stripper (optional)
 Paint scraper (optional)
 Sandpaper (100grit or higher)
 Plastic bin
 Gloves
 Safety goggles
 Plastic spray bottles (2)
 White vinegar
 Hydrogen peroxide
 Table salt
Clear acrylic spray sealer

How to Rust Metal (on Purpose!)

Photo: istockphoto.com

STEP 1
Move the metal object you want to rust out to a yard or open garage on a hot day. Direct sunlight helps speed up the rusting process. Plus, hydrogen peroxide and vinegar can give off a moderate level of fumes, so you’ll want to work in a well-ventilated space anyway.

STEP 2 (optional)
If your metal is painted, apply a paint stripper to the entire surface of the object according to the manufacturer’s instructions to remove this layer of color. Gently scuff off any remaining flecks of paint using a paint scraper.

STEP 3
Lightly sand the entire surface of the metal with a fine-grit sandpaper to shed any protective coating present that might prevent the object from rusting. Place the sanded object in the center of a plastic bin that’s rested on either hard ground or a flat work surface in the garage.

STEP 4
Donning gloves and goggles to protect yourself from splashes, pour white vinegar into a plastic spray bottle, then generously spray the metal.

Let the object air-dry in the sun (five minutes or longer depending on the size of the object). As it dries, the acid will begin to corrode the surface of the metal and you will start to see rust appear.

STEP 5
Pour two cups of hydrogen peroxide, four tablespoons of white vinegar, and one-and-a-half teaspoons of table salt into a plastic spray bottle. Vigorously swirl the bottle to mix the contents. Once the salt has dissolved, spray the solution over the object to coat it partially or completely, depending on the desired effect. The peroxide should begin to bubble on contact with the metal, and rust will start forming immediately. Let the object air-dry in the sun for another five minutes or longer, depending on the size of the object.

A single application of the solution should produce a subtle rusted patina on your metal object. For a deeper and more distinct patina, though, repeat the application of this rusting solution up to four more times.

STEP 6
Remove your rusted metal from the plastic bin, then fill with water to dilute whatever rusting solution has collected in the bottom from your thorough sprays. Discard the contents of the bin into a sink drain or toilet basin, and flush with additional water.

STEP 7
Finally, spray a thin coating of clear acrylic sealer to the dry rusted object. Though the aerosol can might specify that your chosen sealer prevents rust, it won’t undo your work. It will set the rust and preserve the aged appearance for years to come while providing an acrylic barrier that keeps it from inadvertently staining any other metal or wood with which it comes into contact in the future.

 

How to Rust Metal (on Purpose!)

Photo: istockphoto.com


How To: Unshrink Clothes

Undo the damage of dryer mishaps with these simple steps to stretch your favorite garments back to their original size.

How to Unshrink Clothes

Photo: istockphoto.com

Have you ever reached for a favorite sweater or pair of jeans only to find that its last spin in the hot dryer caused it to shrink? Before you deem it a lost cause and toss it into the donation bin, try the technique here. With a few household items and a little care, it’s often possible to relax the fibers of the garment enough to make it fit comfortably again.

This method for how to “unshrink” clothes works especially well with looser weaves like cotton, wool, or jersey, since the fibers in those fabrics relax and stretch relatively easily. Tighter weaves, such as silk and synthetics, are more resistant to stretching, but it’s worth a try, especially if the original shrinkage was minimal. (Just take care not to tug too zealously and overstretch items!) Follow these steps to make those wardrobe go-tos comfortable and flattering again.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS Available on Amazon
Large bucket or sink
Water
Gentle hair conditioner
Baby shampoo
Large, absorbent bath towels (2)
Spray bottle (optional)
Clothing iron (optional)
Several heavy books or paperweights

STEP 1
Fill a large, clean bucket or plugged sink with lukewarm water. For every quart of water, pour in about a tablespoon of gentle conditioner (one labeled as “for sensitive scalps” will not contain a lot of extra ingredients) or baby shampoo and stir until you see a few bubbles. Conditioner, used to soften and relax hair, can have the same effect on clothing fibers and allow them to stretch. In the case of baby shampoo, its extra soothing formula can accomplish similar results.

STEP 2
Immerse the article of clothing completely in the lukewarm water and let it sit undisturbed for between 30 minutes and one hour.

STEP 3
Remove the garment, and give it a minute for excess water too drip back into the sink or bucket. Do not wring or rinse—let the hair product remain in the clothing to continue to relax the fibers.

How to Unshrink Clothes

Photo: istockphoto.com

STEP 4
Lay the item completely flat on a large, absorbent bath towel. Then, roll up the towel as if making a jellyroll with the clothing as the filling. Let this roll sit for only 10 to 15 minutes so that the towel doesn’t dry out your sweater or shirt. The clothing should still be damp, but not soaking wet.

(Note: If clothes become too dry for the stretching process in the next step, try spritzing it from a spray bottle full of the water and conditioner/shampoo solution, or using the steam of an iron.)

STEP 5
Spread a second dry bath towel on a flat surface and place the clothes on top.

Now, focus on one section of the clothing. With a firm but gentle grip, tug at opposite sides of that area on the shrunken apparel with your hands and hold each stretch in place for a few seconds. (For example, you may grasp at both side seems near the bottom hem of a shirt to “unshrink” the waist, or tug at the shoulder and the wrist of a long-sleeved sweater in order to lengthen the arm.) Be sure to work carefully so the clothing will not only stretch but remain proportional.

Once you have the size you want, lay that part flat against the towel and immediately place a heavy book or a large paperweight on top of that section in order to hold the stretch in place.

Repeat this process for every section you hope to unshrink until you have a blouse, sweater, cardigan, T-shirt, or pants covered in books.

STEP 6
Keep the books or paperweights in place until the clothes completely air dry. Afterward, its ready for wearing! The stretched clothes shouldn’t feel stiff or soapy; if you notice the texture has changed a bit, feel free to wash it before use. Only, this time, check the care label inside to avoid the same dryer mishaps that shrunk it in the first place.


How To: Remove Ink from Leather

Has your leather couch, purse, or car seat been tarnished by an unsightly ink stain? Reverse the damage with one of these four easy DIY solutions.

How to Remove Ink from Leather

Photo: istockphoto.com

Leather goods are investment pieces that require delicate care, which is why it’s frustrating when they get stained with pervasive, tough-to-treat ink splatters. Whether a pen burst in your handbag or a felt-tip marker leaked on your car seat, you need to act quickly when ink hits leather to prevent lasting discoloration. Fortunately, any of these four DIY methods for how to remove ink from leather use only household products you likely already have on hand, saving you a trip to the store.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS Available on Amazon
Water
Mild liquid soap
White rags
Qtips
Rubbing alcohol
Isopropyl alcoholbased hairspray
Liquid cuticle remover
Leather conditioner

Before You Begin
We recommend using the following remedies only on finished leather, which has a protective coating that blocks the ink from being completely absorbed. Naked or unfinished leather, on the other hand, will deeply soak up the ink, necessitating professional help to eliminate stains. To determine whether your leather is finished or unfinished, drop a little water on an inconspicuous area. If the water rolls off, then your leather is finished; if the water is soaked up, your leather is unfinished.

Also note that several variables affect how leather will react to different cleaning agents, from the type of dye your leather is treated with to how regularly the leather has been conditioned with a protective substance. Before you start to remove ink from leather, it’s critical to test each cleaning method on an inconspicuous spot of the to make sure it will not cause lasting damage to your couch, handbag, car seat, wallet, or jacket.

How to Remove Ink from Leather

Photo: istockphoto.com

Remove Ink from Leather with… Liquid Soap
As a first step, try eliminating the ink from leather with a mild liquid soap. Apply a few drops of soap to a white rag (colored rags can transfer dye to the leather) and blot the ink stain with it. Never use harsh solvent-based cleaning products and avoid scrubbing the spot, which may spread the damage further.

Remove Ink from Leather with… Rubbing Alcohol
If blotting with a soapy rag proves ineffective, try using isopropyl alcohol (also known as rubbing alcohol) instead. Dip a Q-tip or white cloth in the isopropyl alcohol and gently dab the stain, taking care not to spread the ink around. Isopropyl alcohol is a powerful cleaning agent, so keep a light hand. Follow up with a leather conditioner—which you can find at most big-box and home improvement stores or make yourself—to put some moisture back into the affected area.

Remove Ink from Leather with… Hairspray
This popular hair styling product can work wonders on ink stains. Apply a small amount of alcohol-based hairspray to a Q-tip or white rag, wait a few seconds, and carefully blot the stain away. Always test the hairspray on an unconscious part of leather before use; ingredients vary between brands, and some types may leave behind an unsightly stain. Follow this method with leather conditioner if you notice the leather surface looks dry or cracked.

Remove Ink from Leather with… Cuticle Remover
You can also remove ink stains from leather with paint-on cuticle remover, which is typically found in the beauty section of most drugstores. Choose a cuticle remover has a non-oil based formula, and apply a thick layer over the stain. Let it soak in for up to 24 hours before dabbing away with a white rag to reveal ink-free leather.

 

If you’ve banished all remnants of ink from leather and it still appears dingy, restore its luster with these tips for care and maintenance:

 

Cleaning Tips for a Spotless Home

All of the Essential Cleaning Advice from BobVila.com
There’s no way around it: Keeping the house clean demands your time, your energy, and even some of your money. Fortunately, this arsenal of cleaning tips can help you finish the housekeeping more quickly—and with fewer commercially sold products.


How To: Clean Refrigerator Coils

All it takes to keep this big-ticket appliance running smoothly is a simple maintenance task you can complete in less than 15 minutes. How cool is that!

How to Clean Refrigerator Coils

Photo: istockphoto.com

The refrigerator is arguably the most important major appliance in the kitchen, and it’s often the most expensive one as well. Because you naturally want the best performance from your fridge, why not extend its life and increase its efficiency by periodically cleaning its condenser coils?

Located at the base of the fridge, or behind it, depending on age and brand of the unit, these coils are filled with refrigerant that cools the air inside. Condenser coils are exposed, not in a sealed casing, and therefore vulnerable to dust buildup. Dirty coils force a fridge to work harder keeping food cold, resulting in higher energy costs and a reduced lifespan for the pricey appliance.

Fortunately, cleaning your refrigerator’s condenser coils is a simple task for do-it-yourselfers. Put it on the calendar to complete at least once a year, or twice a year if you have pets that shed. Keep reading to find out just how to clean refrigerator coils—and how easy it is to help keep your fridge functioning at its peak.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS Available on Amazon
Dust mask
Flashlight
Vacuum with narrownozzle hose attachment
Coil condenser brush

STEP 1
Unplug the unit (the first rule of any appliance maintenance, upkeep, or repair job). This may require pulling your refrigerator out from the wall if the power outlet is located behind it. Don’t worry about spoilage: The coil-cleaning process is quick (15 minutes or less) and the doors will remain closed, so your cold foods will keep.

How to Clean Refrigerator Coils

Photo: istockphoto.com

STEP 2
Locate the condenser coils at the base of the fridge in front, behind a toe-grill that snaps off. If your fridge doesn’t have a toe-grill, you’ll find the condenser coils located on the back of the refrigerator. Condenser coils are metal tubes, wound in a U-shaped grid pattern. If the refrigerator’s coils are on the back, you’ll need to pull the fridge fully away from the wall to clean them.

STEP 3
Don a dust mask. (Most dust/debris will get vacuumed up, but some will no doubt become airborne.) Using a flashlight to help you see the coils if they’re located beneath the fridge, vacuum loose dust and debris along the inside of the toe grill or from the backside of the fridge.

STEP 4
Brush away the dust with a coil condenser brush, which you can find for about $10 from DIY stores. Measuring approximately 27 inches long with short bristles on the top one-third, its cylindrical design lets you easily slip it between the spaces in the coil grid. Work it back and forth to remove dust, and try gently twisting it to get into corners and tight spots. Keep the vacuum running as you brush. If cleaning coils located on the back of the fridge, hold the narrow end of the nozzle close to the brush with one hand and brush with the other. If cleaning coils at the base of the fridge, it’s easier to alternate brushing and then vacuuming up the dust.

STEP 5
Vacuum any errant dust that might have gotten on the floor. Replace the toe-grill (it should snap on easily) and push the fridge back in place if necessary. Plug your refrigerator’s power cord back in, and you’re good to go!

 

Cleaning Tips for a Spotless Home

All of the Essential Cleaning Advice from BobVila.com
There’s no way around it: Keeping the house clean demands your time, your energy, and even some of your money. Fortunately, this arsenal of cleaning tips can help you finish the housekeeping more quickly—and with fewer commercially sold products.


So, You Want to… Build an Outdoor Fireplace

Before you put any marshmallows on a stick, read this to determine if a DIY hearth is a project you’re prepared to take on.

How to Build an Outdoor Fireplace—and Extend Patio Season

Photo: istockphoto.com

It’s the ultimate in backyard entertaining—an outdoor fireplace where friends and family gather to share good times and delicious food cooked over an open flame! The ambiance and dramatic appeal of such a device put it at the top of many a homeowner’s wish list, but do-it-yourselfers should know what they’re getting into before attempting this heavy construction project. Ahead, we’ll help you navigate preliminary issues, explore the various styles and materials available, and offer some tips on building your own outdoor fireplace.

Codes and Considerations
Rules will surely apply to ensure the safety and structural integrity of your outdoor fireplace. Some communities require special licenses and permits while others may specify the type of fuel you can use (wood or gas). Nearly all communities have ordinances about how far the fireplace must be away from structures, trees, and fences (often a minimum of 10 feet). Chimney height may also be regulated. Most rules that relate to outdoor fireplaces are for safety reasons but others ensure the structural integrity of the fireplace.

Place a call to your insurance agent to see if your existing homeowners’ policy will cover any damages caused by an outdoor fireplace. Make another call to DigSafe (811), which will prompt your local utility companies to check the locations of their buried lines so you don’t accidentally disturb them during construction. Once the red tape is out of the way, you can start planning for your fireplace.

How to Build an Outdoor Fireplace—and Extend Patio Season

Photo: istockphoto.com

Design Decisions
Fireplace design should reflect your reasons for wanting this backyard addition. Will you use it to prepare food or entertain large groups? Perhaps you prefer a cozy, romantic spot to snuggle.

Also think about how your fireplace will enhance your landscape and the architectural style of your home. A classic red brick fireplace will look great paired with a Greek revival or colonial style home, while an adobe one will be more in keeping with a southwestern style or ranch home. While you’re in no way limited to a specific style, you should make sure your fireplace complements, rather than detracts from, your overall home theme.

Imagine how your fireplace will look from different vantage points. A large fireplace is a major investment and you’ll probably want to be able to see it from inside your house.

Give yourself enough room to fully enjoy the fireplace. The general rule is to allow a minimum of five feet in front of your fireplace for the sitting area. This allows for a space of two feet between the fireplace and the fronts of chairs or benches. Any closer and guests may get too warm, but any farther away may leave them chilly.

Material Matters
All fireplaces must be constructed of heat-safe materials, which usually mean brick, block, concrete, or stone for the exterior. Depending on the design, the interior frame of the fireplace may include cinder blocks for support. The firebox (where the flames actually burn) must be constructed from steel or fire-rated bricks that will withstand extreme heat. A traditional fireplace with a chimney will require a fire-rated flue pipe that leads from the top of the firebox to the top of the chimney.

Cost Considerations
Backyard fireplaces run the gamut in cost, with portable chimineas starting around $100 and decorative gas fireplaces running between $300 to $700. The nice thing about a portable model, obviously, is being able to position it in different areas of your yard and patio.

Open-pit fireplaces may also be portable, but more often they’re constructed in place and designed to be a permanent fixture. If you do the work yourself, you could spend as little as $150 to $200 for stackable cinder-bricks, a fireproof pit bowl, a grate, and a domed cover. If you prefer the look of real stone, you can purchase a fireplace kit with all the materials you’ll need for around $750.

While designing and building your own large stone or brick fireplace will certainly cost less than hiring a contractor, for the best results, you should have basic construction and masonry knowledge. As a rough example, a standard, 5-foot by 4-foot brick fireplace with a 12-foot chimney will set you back approximately $1,500 dollars in materials. That includes standard house bricks, fire-rated bricks for the firebox, a clay flue, mortar and refractory mortar (required for the fire box), and an iron grate. A fireplace of this size requires a structural base (see DIY Directives, below), which could add another $200 to $400. Material costs will vary based on the price of the bricks or stones used to construct the fireplace.

A professional mason may charge anywhere from $5,000 to $12,000, or more, for a similar brick or stone fireplace depending on size, material choice, and design details. If you want a large fireplace and you’re not DIY-inclined, this is a project best left to the pros.

High-end fireplace kits from manufacturers like Unilock are designed to be installed by contractors or construction-savvy DIYers. Unilock’s Tuscan pre-built fireplace runs $7,700 for materials; if hiring a contractor to install it, expect to pay another $1,500 to $3,000, depending on labor costs in your area.

 

How to Build an Outdoor Fireplace—and Extend Patio Season

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DIY Directives
If you’ve decided to build your own outdoor fireplace, consider these general guidelines:

• Brick and stone construction is extremely heavy and requires a solid base to keep the fireplace from settling. For a permanent stone fire-pit, excavating to a depth of nine inches, then filling the hole with 6 inches of pea gravel and topping it with a 3-inch concrete pad is probably sufficient.

• A larger fireplace may require a structural footing, which involves pouring a concrete footing below frost level (the depth to which it freezes in your area). Depending on the size of your fireplace, an existing patio may not be sufficient to support the weight. Check with your local building inspector if you’re unsure.

• Constructing a fireplace from a pre-built kit that comes with step-by- step instructions simplifies installation. All the necessary materials are included and the manufacturer will specify the type of foundation required to support the fireplace.

 

Easy DIYs for Your Best-Ever Backyard

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


How To: Get Rid of Squash Bugs

Protect your cucumbers, pumpkins, squash, and other gourds from squash bugs with these simple tips for removal and prevention.

How to Get Rid of Squash Bugs

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If you pride yourself in growing your own pumpkin—or cucumbers, squash, and other gourds—then you might be familiar with this particular pesky garden nemesis. Tiny, flat, and brownish-gray in color, squash bugs take root on the underside of leaves or near the crown of the plant where they’ll lay clusters of oval-shaped, copper-brown eggs. Their appearance, half-inch size, even the unpleasant odor emitted when squished cause many homeowners mistake them for stink bugs—but these pests are their own evil entity. Squash bugs inject toxins into plants and suck moisture out of the leaves, causing them to wilt, blacken, dry up, and turn brittle.

If you spot squash bugs or their eggs on your gourds, act quickly to prevent a full-blown infestation. Mature bugs can be difficult to kill, but with a bit of diligence, homeowners can protect their prized pumpkins and savory squash from damage. Here’s how to get rid of squash bugs and keep them from harming your harvest in the future.

STEP 1: REMOVAL

If you discover squash bugs your garden, follow one of these three methods to get rid of them.

Scrape off the eggs. Remember: Squash bugs lay eggs in clusters on the undersides of leaves and at the crown of the plants, so be on the lookout. If you spot them, scrape them off using a butter knife and dispose of them in the trash can. Squash bug eggs hatch about every 10 days, so you need to check the plants weekly for new batches. Otherwise, you may instead discover a new generation of destructive troops in your garden.

Pick and flick adult bugs. If you find a handful of squash bugs on your plants, simply pick them off by gloved hand and flick them into a container of soapy water. The pests will get trapped and drown, ensuring that your harvest will remain undamaged throughout the season. Repeat this process every few days until all squash bugs are eliminated.

How to Get Rid of Squash Bugs

Photo: istockphoto.com

Set a nighttime trap. Squash bugs tend to gather on the underside of logs or wooden boards at night, so set some bait to catch them all at once. Place a shingle or a board in the garden during the evening, and check underneath it for squash bugs in the morning. If you’ve attracted any bugs, immediately place the board or shingle onto a hard surface and step on it, smashing the bugs underneath. You’ll need to do this daily until you don’t see any more squash bugs on your plants.

STEP 2: PREVENTION

After following the methods listed above for how to get rid of squash bugs, homeowners can take several precautions to prevent their return. Keep reading for three ways to deter squash bugs from your pumpkins, squash, and other gourds.

Lay row covers over plants. Keep the insects away from your plants by covering them with floating row cover material (available from a nursery) or a lightweight landscaping fabric (available at home improvement stores) in early spring. Secure the edges of the fabric with dirt, bricks, rocks, or other heavy objects. If you’re working with taller plants, lay the row covers over hoops (available from a grower’s supply or home improvement store) set three to five feet apart. The spun fibers of row covers let in water, air, and light, but inspects like squash bugs can’t penetrate the surface. Leave the covers on for about one month, and uncover the plants when they start to blossom.

Plant resistant varieties of squash. Some types of squash—like butternut, royal acorn, and early summer crookneck—tend to resist squash bugs. If your garden has a history of infestation, stick with these varieties of squash.

Make your garden inhospitable for overwintering. Squash bugs can overwinter in many areas of your landscape, like in squash vines and mulch. Prevent the pests from finding shelter by making your garden inhospitable to them. Clear all squash vines at the end of the season, either by burning them or disposing of them in garden bags picked up by your municipality. Also, avoid putting mulch or straw around the base of your plants.

 

Easy DIYs for Your Best-Ever Backyard

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