Other Rooms - Bob Vila

Category: Other Rooms


Buyer’s Guide: Air Mattresses

Give guests a great sleeping experience at a price that won’t keep you up nights!

Best Air Mattress Options

Photo: istockphoto.com

We’ve all got friends and relatives, but we don’t all have a guest room for their overnight visits. On that safe assumption, the air mattress business was born. Fortunately, these blow-up beds have advanced quite a bit from the flimsy models you’d inflate with a bicycle pump—or by mouth until you were dizzy. Seemingly without fail, air mattresses of old deflated in the middle of the night, and the poor soul sleeping on them would wake up on the floor, cranky and achy. Today’s top models are less likely to leak, and the best air mattress options are designed with internal baffles to better support a sleeper.

Of course, it’s tough for even the best air mattress to compare with a real one, and cut-rate versions are still on the market, so before you buy, do your research here. We’ve outlined exactly what to look for in a comfortable, convenient air mattress, and pulled our top three consumer picks in a reasonable price range. You’ll be prepared the next time your college buddy or in-laws come to town—not to mention equipped for your next camping trip—with an air mattress that’s a dream come true!

Height matters. Raised air mattresses, up to three times higher than the standard 8-inch mattress height, make it easier on the knees and the back when getting in and out of bed. Reviews website The Sweethome tested a number of air mattresses and found that 18 inches is the most comfortable height for adults.

The sag truth. Sadly, some sagging is inevitable with even the highest quality air mattress. This isn’t due to air escaping but to the material, polyvinyl chloride (PVC), stretching under pressure. Some manufacturers claim that their mattresses are more likely to stretch when new; after they’ve been slept on a few times, the sag factor should decrease.

Pump improvements. No one wants to spend a lot of time filling or emptying an air mattress, so choose one with a quick-inflate pump that will get it to optimal firmness in a few minutes. Internal electric air pumps offer fastest inflation, but they’re only suitable for in-home use. If you want a mattress for camping, buy one with a battery operated pump (take plenty of extra batteries) or a manual pump. “Always on” electric pumps can sense a pressure drop and add air as needed to keep the mattress firm—nice, but pricey. Manual pumps, operated either by foot or hand, are the least expensive option.

Dollar values. You get what you pay for with air mattresses, but only to a point. Those no-frills $50 air mattresses tend to get low consumer ratings because they simply don’t stand up to frequent use. Air mattresses can run as much as $300 dollars, but at that price you pay for bells and whistles, such as portable frames, remote control pump operation, and foam toppers. According to The Sweethome, the best air mattress typically won’t cost more than $150; after that, you’re most likely purchasing perks that won’t enhance your sleeping comfort.

Get a warranty. A one-year limited warranty is standard with the purchase of better air mattresses, but manufacturers warn that using their product as a regular bed will void its warranty. Most makers only guarantee against factory defects of the mattress and the pump.

DREAMIEST OPTIONS

We’ve rounded up the top models based on the criteria above as well as reviews from consumers and experts alike so that you don’t have to lose a single night’s sleep when shopping for the best air mattress.

 

Best Air Mattress - SoundAsleep Dream Series Air Mattress with ComfortCoil Technology

Photo: amazon.com

Perfect for a Pair: SoundAsleep Dream Series Air Mattress with ComfortCoil Technology ($120)
With a thick flocked sleeping surface, and ComfortCoil technology that distributes air evenly throughout, the SoundAsleep Dream Series Air Mattress wins top honors from The Sweethome. This queen size air bed is a very comfortable 19 inches high, measures 78 inches by 58 inches, and supports up to 500 pounds of sleeping weight, making it perfect for a couple of overnight guests. Its high-capacity internal electric pump inflates the mattress in just four minutes, and more than 11,000 enthusiastic Amazon buyers gave it a robust 4.4 out of 5 stars. Reviewers raved about its stability (virtually no jiggle) and noted only minimal sagging. The mattress comes with its own storage bag and weighs in at 19 pounds. Available from Amazon.

 

Best Air Mattress - AeroBed One-Touch Comfort Air Mattress in Double High, Twin

Photo: amazon.com

Quick and Comfy: AeroBed One-Touch Comfort Air Mattress – Double High, Twin ($130)
For a single guest, the AeroBed One-Touch Comfort Mattress inflates to a lofty 17 inches high in just two minutes, while the Whoosh® valve makes deflation just as quick the next morning. The internal electric pump has a control wand that lets the sleeper add air pressure without getting out of bed, and a patented stability base increases firmness. The mattress offers a generous 39-inch by 74-inch surface to accommodate a sleeper up to 300 pounds, and features an antimicrobial surface to resist mildew. Target shoppers gave the AeroBed a wholehearted 5-star rating based on its easy setup, high level of sleep comfort, and minimal sagging. It weighs 15 pounds and comes with its own stow bag and a two-year limited warranty. Available from Amazon.

 

Best Air Mattress - Coleman Airbed Cot, Twin

Photo: amazon.com

Best for Camping: Coleman Airbed Cot, Twin ($109)
The battery-operated Coleman Airbed Cot means sweet dreams inside and out! While the mattress is only eight inches high when fully inflated, the included portable cot raises the entire bed to 22 inches, making getting in and out of bed a pleasure. The mattress inflates and deflates with the included 4D battery pump (batteries sold separately), boasts stable, supportive ComfortStrong Coil construction, and features an Airtight® system guaranteed by the manufacturer not to leak. The Airbed, which got 4.4 stars from Amazon buyers, is 45 inches wide and 74 inches long for a sleeper up to 300 pounds and its removable cover is machine washable. The cot collapses for easy storage in its own bag, and has a one-year limited warranty. Weighing in at 30 pounds, it’s probably too heavy for remote backpacking but a great pick for tent camping near your vehicle. Available from Amazon.


Solved! What to Do When the Washer Won’t Spin

Clothes shouldn’t be sopping wet after a run in the washer. Repair your machine's spin cycle with these quick tips–and learn when to call the pros.

Washing Machine Won't Spin

Photo: istockphoto.com

Q: I went to transfer a load of laundry to the dryer, and to my chagrin the clothes were sopping wet! Why didn’t the washer spin the water out? Should I call a repair person?

A: Not yet. If your washer won’t spin, it might signal a malfunction that requires a repairman, but oftentimes a simple DIY fix can get your washing machine working once more. Read on to determine the cause of your washer woes and which of them you can solve without hiring professional help. Note that some of these repairs may require you to remove the back of the washing machine to check internal components; this should only be done after the machine is unplugged and the water source is shut off.

Redistribute an off-balanced load of laundry. An unbalanced load of laundry is one of the most common causes of an inadequate spin cycle. Sometimes clothing can settle on one side of the drum, throwing off the motion of the washing machine. (This happens most often when washing large and heavy items like comforters or heavy coats.) Moreover, some newer machines won’t reach high speeds with off-balanced loads, which leaves clothes dripping wet. If you suspect a distribution problem, try rearranging your clumped-up wet laundry and running the spin cycle again.

Level an off-kilter washer. If positioned unevenly on its adjustable pedestal, your washer won’t spin properly. Look for other signs of an unlevel machine—excess noise and vibration during the washing process—and, if they confirm your suspicion, adjust each individual leg higher or lower until the washer is completely level.

Check the power source. While it may seem like a no-brainer, double-check that the washer is plugged in. A mid-cycle bump or jiggle could have caused the plug to work its way out of the outlet, and a re-plug might put you back in business. If the power cord is secure in the outlet, check your home’s circuit panel to ensure that a breaker didn’t trip.

Washing Machine Won't Spin

Photo: istockphoto.com

Stop using an extension cord. The heavy-duty power cord to your washer should be plugged directly into an outlet—not into an extension cord. Many extension cords can’t conduct enough electricity to power the washer’s motor, which can subsequently overheat and shut itself off. The washer will probably function again after the motor cools, but the problem will likely occur again. Plus, relying on an extension cord will shorten the useful life of the washer. If you can’t move the washing machine closer to an outlet, have a new outlet wired within a reasonable distance.

Inspect the spin switch. In a top-loading washer, a small protrusion on the underside of the lid depresses a switch when you close the lid, serving as a safety precaution to detect when the lid is closed. If the protrusion has bent out of shape, it may not trigger the switch as intended. Test the theory by opening the lid, selecting the spin cycle on your washer, and then manually depressing the switch with a finger. If the machine starts spinning normally, simply re-bend the protrusion so it triggers the spin switch properly. Did your washer not spin when you pressed the switch manually? The problem could stem from a defect in the switch itself. Fortunately, replacing a broken spin switch can be a DIY-friendly project, depending on the washing machine brand and model. Consult your owner’s manual for instructions.

Stick to high efficiency detergent with a front-load washer. You may not realize it, but most front-loading washers require high efficiency (HE) detergents with low foaming action. Otherwise, non-HE detergents may produce so many suds that the machine’s sensors perceives the washer as too full. As a result, the washer won’t reach adequate spin speeds, leaving your clothes dripping wet at the end of the cycle.

Undo any kink in the hose. This would hinder water flow to and from the appliance, resulting in a washer that starts the spin cycle but never picks up speed and doesn’t drain water. Pull out the washer to look behind it and check that the hose is kink-free, then carefully push the machine back into place so that you do not inadvertently crimps the hose again.

Track down a blockage in the drainage system. Small items—like pennies, keys, buttons, or clothing clips—can fall out of pockets and off of clothing, then lodge themselves in the hoses that attach the washer to the drain pump. Ultimately, the blocked drainage prevents the machine from spinning. In some washers, the drain pump (typically located in the back of the washer, near the floor) can be accessed without removing the back of the washer, and other models require you to detach the washer back. Consult your owner’s manual for model-specific instructions. Then remove the clamps that hold the hoses in place, clear any clogs that you find, and reattach the hoses.

Replace or readjust the drive belt. A broken drive belt, or one that has slipped off the pulley wheel, can cause the washer to agitate during the wash cycle and yet—despite the noise of the motor running—the drum remain still during the spin cycle. To determine if this is the case, remove the back of the washer and visually check to see if the belt is still on the pulley. If not, you may need to replace the drive belt. Be sure to purchase one that’s made specifically for your brand and model of washer.

If still stumped, call in the pros. The following causes require additional expertise when it comes time to address:

• The drain pump may be to blame when water won’t spin out. If you know how to use a multimeter, you can perform a continuity check on the drain pump’s motor connections to see if they’re still viable. However, that’s as far as the DIY job goes; non-functioning drain pumps will have to be replaced by a repairman.

• To determine whether the motor coupler (a small rubber and plastic connector piece located between the washer’s motor and its transmission) has broken, conduct this simple test: Set the dial on your washer to a wash cycle and turn it on, allowing the drum to fill with water. When the water reaches the fill level, agitation should begin. If you hear the motor kick on but the center agitator does not move, your machine needs a new coupler. While a replacement is in the ballpark of a mere $20, this fix is only DIY-friendly for those who are skilled in small motor repair.

• A motor that doesn’t run at all, despite good connections to the power source and breaker, could prevent a washer from spinning. Some motors contain carbon brushes that wear out over time, and those can be replaced inexpensively. However, the problem could be more extensive than a worn carbon brush, and it’s impossible to know without removing the motor and testing it. Even with the washer unplugged, induction-type motors that contain capacitors can give you quite an electric shock, so motor testing and repairs are best left to the pros.

Some washers feature electro-mechanical transmission shifters or clutches that, when worn out, can result in a washing machine that drains water from its drum despite a drum that will not spin. This issue also requires attention from a repairman.

Photo: istockphoto.comWashing Machine Won't Spin

Photo: istockphoto.com


Buyer’s Guide: Standing Desks

Don’t just sit there! Learn everything you need to know about these workplace wonders that may help you stay healthy on the job.

Best Standing Desk Roundup

Photo: istockphoto.com

Sitting at a desk all day had long been associated with “secretary’s spread,” but doctors at the Mayo Clinic point out more serious health risks associated with spending long hours in a chair, including increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, abnormal cholesterol levels, even cardiovascular disease. If you’re like most people, you can’t very well become a professional hiker, so the most sensible way to get off your derriere may be with a standing desk. Though not new—Leonardo da Vinci and Benjamin Franklin were said to be proponents—today’s best standing desk options have come a long way. So if you’re considering purchasing one for your home office (or appealing to your office manager to supply one at work), read on to learn what to look for and check out some top-rated picks.

The Right Desk for You
Just as endless sitting can be detrimental to your health, standing for long periods can be hard on your legs, lower back, and feet. The solution, say experts, is to frequently alternate between standing and sitting—which is why there are several types of standing desks available.

• A stand-only desk is handy if you also have a separate traditional desk nearby, but if you work at a PC, it can be bothersome to move your monitor and keyboard every time you want to switch positions. Stand-only desks are best suited to busy offices with multiple workstations where employees freely move from one area to another without interrupting productivity. This line of desks start around $200 for the bare bones and run as high as $1,000 for hardwood models.

• A sit-stand desk is adjustable, either manually or by motor. Budget-friendly manual models adjust upward and downward by turning a crank or by loosening a knob and then pulling or pushing the desk surface to the desired position. Powered models often come with presets so you needn’t fuss to suit your height every time you change. Convenient adjustment comes at a cost: Manually adjusted sit-stand desks range from about $200 to $800, depending on size and manufacturer, while motorized versions start at around $600 and run upwards of $4,000 for executive models that incorporate even more bells and whistles (read: Wi-Fi and artificial intelligence).

• A sit-stand conversion desk is used in combination with an existing desk. They’re extremely popular because they let you keep your existing desk, with all your pens, paperclips, and other office supplies at your fingertips, with the added benefit of an adjustable desk surface. Conversion desks may be motorized or manual, and range from $200 to more than $1,000, based on brand and power options.

WHAT GETS A STANDING OVATION

These top models have got reviewers—everyone from the experts who tested selections out on a quest to find the best standing desk to the consumers who put them to task every day—up out of their seats.

Best Standing Desk - Ergo Desktop's Kangaroo Pro Junior

Photo: amazon.com

Ergo Desktop’s Kangaroo Pro Junior ($424)
In the sit-stand conversion desk category, the Kangaroo Pro Junior comes highly recommended by Forbes. After years of testing various models in their own workspace, Forbes chose the Kangaroo Pro Junior for employees who like their existing desks but want versatility. The Kangaroo Pro Junior is a non-attached unit that rests securely on the desk surface but can be lowered or even set aside when necessary. It comes with a work surface and a separate monitor mount that adjust independently for a custom fit. The main work surface is 24 inches wide and 18 inches deep, big enough to comfortably hold a laptop or keyboard. You can manually elevate the work surface, via lifting, up to 15 inches above your existing desk surface. Amazon buyers give the Kangaroo Pro Junior an enthusiastic 4 out of 5 stars for portability, stability, and quick manual surface adjustment. Available from Amazon.

Best Standing Desk - LUXOR 48" Crank Adjustable Standup Desk

Photo: luxorfurn.com

LUXOR Standup-CF48-DW Desk ($335)
For sturdiness, spacious design, durability, and ease of adjustment, the Jerusalem Post made the LUXOR 48” Crank Adjustable Stand-Up Desk its top pick. The non-slip desk surface measures 29.5 inches deep and 47.2 inches wide, giving the user ample room for a laptop, widescreen monitor (or dual monitors), keyboard and other desktop essentials. The working surface adjusts from 29 inches to 42 inches in height and its generous size and smart design make it perfect for the highly motivated to pair with a treadmill or stationary bike. With 3-inch rolling casters, it can easily be relocated without scratching floors; once in place, locking brakes keep it from moving. Amazon buyers give the LUXOR Standup desk 4.6 stars; one buyer notes that the desk can be lowered, via manual crank, from standing to sitting in less than 30 seconds, making it a snap to adjust. Available from Amazon.

Best Standing Desk - Stir Kinetic M1 Sit-to-Stand Desk

Photo: amazon.com

Stir Kinetic M1 Sit-To- Stand Desk ($2,990)
Macworld calls the motorized, tech-savvy Stir Kinetic “the smartest desk $2,990 can buy.” Its embedded touch screen allows finger-swipe control as the desk quickly and smoothly adjusts from sitting to standing height. At 33 inches deep, 66 inches wide, and adjusting up to 36 inches in surface height, it also boasts an ergonomically curved desk front with gently sloping sides for ultimate standing comfort. There’s a cable slot and four AC power outlets to accommodate a laptop, monitor, peripherals, even a plug-in a desk lamp. Amazon buyers give the Stir Kinetic a full 5 stars for sleek design and cutting-edge technology. The desk is Wi-Fi- capable, offers cloud storage, and features an integrated fitness app designed to sense your presence and coax you into healthier work habits. You can program it to gradually increase your standing time and to adapt to your personal habits. Available from Amazon.


The Essential Guide to Winter Home Improvement

Give your home the gift of comfort, performance, and beauty this winter by calling in the experts at Sears Home Services for all your seasonal repair and replacement needs.

Photo: istockphoto.com

When the cold weather kicks in, many homeowners find themselves snowed under by a host of holiday to-dos. Whether you’re preparing to feed and entertain guests, or simply buttoning up the house for a cozy winter, you’ll want to make sure your home is up to the challenge. Get your home ready to greet this busy—and chilly—time of year by inspecting your heating system for signs of weakness and prepping your kitchen for the heavy use (and abuse) of the holiday season. Now is the time to repair faulty HVAC units, or replace them with high-performing models that keep your home warm and comfortable. Then, head to the kitchen to take stock of your cabinetry and work surfaces. Are your countertops looking the worse for wear? Will your cabinets hold up to the storm of guests coming through your kitchen this season? If you find that your HQ could use a little TLC, turn to these insights from the experts at Sears Home Services. With their help, you should be able to zip your way through any holiday home improvements, so you can get back to family, food, and fun.

HVAC

Neglecting a faulty or inefficient HVAC unit can send it into overdrive, or worse, leave you without heat on the coldest day of the year. Inspect your heating unit now for the sights, sounds, and smells of trouble, and repair or replace underperforming units to make sure your family stays warm all season.

Furnace upkeep: Although “a surprising number of homeowners rarely even go near the furnace,” says David Kenyon, a product manager with Sears Home Services, that’s exactly what it takes to identify early signs of exterior damage or underlying performance issues. Now is the right time to get a closer look. First, check for cracks or corrosion on the unit, then listen for sounds of squealing, screeching, or frequent cycling on and off. While you’re at it, “pay attention to how the furnace room smells,” as a musty aroma that lasts more than a few days can indicate trouble. If you see, hear, or smell anything out of the ordinary, call in a professional to repair or replace the unit. Even if you don’t detect any obvious trouble, keep in mind that an older furnace may operate inefficiently. “The typical unit lasts about 15 or 20 years,” says Kenyon, with older units being less energy- and cost-efficient. While “repair may be able to deliver an efficiency boost,” Kenyon advises that the higher operating costs involved with an older unit could be reason enough to install a newer, more-efficient model. New furnaces deliver better performance and energy efficiency, so you’ll be able to maintain warm indoor temperatures while consuming less energy.

Radiant heating: Do you feel a noticeable difference in temperature as you walk from room to room? Uneven heating, “the hallmark of single-speed blower furnaces,” according to Kenyon, can be remedied by replacing outdated heating technology. As far as replacement HVAC systems go, a radiant heating system is an interesting choice, one that can heat your home more uniformly, reducing those frequent trips to adjust the thermostat. Unlike forced-air systems that blow warm air into a room only to have that heat rise above your head, radiant floor heating emanates heat from the ground up, warming you from toe to top. There’s much to be said for the comfort and energy efficiency that today’s advanced electric or radiant floor systems offer. Let the experts at Sears Home Services walk you through the basics of installing radiant heating, or other HVAC options, by scheduling a free in-home consultation.

Photo: istockphoto.com

COUNTERTOPS

Whether your kitchen can withstand the frenzy of holiday meal prep will depend largely on the condition of your countertops. Soft or porous materials can take a real beating over the holidays, suffering from scuffs, stains, burn marks, and other unsightly accidents. Upgrading your countertops, either as part of a full kitchen renovation or as a stand-alone project, can enhance the elegance of your kitchen while providing you with a resilient work surface that will continue to perform for years to come.

Materials: Replacing outdated countertops with modern surfaces gives you the opportunity to improve both the utility and aesthetics of your kitchen. This is why in choosing a countertop, “homeowners often look for a material that provides the best of both worlds—that is, something that looks great and performs even better,” says Joe Maykut of Sears Home Services. Whether you opt for warm hardwoods, sleek solid-surface countertops, or modern cultured or natural stone countertops like quartz or granite, Maykut recommends consulting professionals. Experts at Sears Home Services “bring the showroom to your home,” giving you the advantage of “seeing the products in the setting where they would be installed.”

Durability: The beauty of newly installed countertops can quickly fade if the surfaces aren’t built to last. That’s why it’s so important to factor durability into your choice of countertop material. Opt for kitchen surfaces that can withstand the daily stress of kitchen prep with minimal wear and tear. Quartz and granite, which Maykut predicts will continue to dominate kitchen design trends beyond 2016, are both easy on the eyes and hard to damage. Their rugged composition, resistant to heat, scratches, and stains, makes them well suited for hardworking kitchens.

– Cleaning and disinfecting: Regularly maintaining your countertops is the best way to prolong their life and protect your investment. In the kitchen, where “maintenance really matters,” according to Kenyon, you want countertops with minimal care requirements. Cleaning sealed granite and quartz, for example, is often as simple as wiping down the surface with a soapy sponge. These nonporous materials also have better-than-average resistance to food-borne bacteria, so they’ll keep your kitchen more hygienic throughout the holiday rush. Renovation experts at Sears Home Services can help you choose the low-maintenance materials you need to build the no-fuss kitchen of your dreams.

CABINETS

Your cabinets are the face of your kitchen. If cosmetic imperfections or dated designs are turning your kitchen into an eyesore, consider refinishing or replacing your cabinet doors. This relatively simple upgrade will roll back the years and restore a youthful facade without the investment of time and money that a full cabinet replacement requires.

Materials: For homeowners whose cabinets are in good shape structurally, refreshing only the cabinet doors while keeping the frames intact can “save a small fortune on labor and material costs,” says Maykut. Your options for updating cabinet doors “depend on what material the cabinets are made of.” Wood cabinet doors, for example, can be easily refinished with a new coat of stain or paint. But Maykut acknowledges that “traditional refinishing isn’t always possible,” in which case homeowners may want to add a veneer to the doors. If the existing style or condition of the cabinet doors is less than optimal, replacing them with all-wood, wood veneer, or laminate doors can restore a like-new appearance to the kitchen. To ensure a professional and cohesive look, consult with the experts at Sears Home Services on cabinet material selection.

Door styles/hardware: After you’ve selected a material for your cabinetry, choose door styles and hardware that complement the overall ambience you hope to establish in your kitchen. Shaker-style doors with traditional nickel knobs, for example, accentuate the natural undertones of all-wood cabinetry, making them a perfect choice for rustic kitchens. On the other hand, flat-panel doors with stainless steel bar pulls deliver a more modern aesthetic. Homeowners can even play with color on cabinet doors to highlight subtle details in the hardware, or color-match their cabinetry with other amenities in the kitchen. Maykut notes, however, that “many choose to contrast light-colored cabinetry with darker countertops, flooring, and accents” to achieve a balanced—and still beautiful—look.

Photo: istockphoto.com

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

 


Buyer’s Guide: Room Humidifiers

A heated home doesn't have to go hand in hand with dry air. Pick out the perfect room humidifier with the help from our guide, and you'll rest comfortably indoors all season long.

Best Humidifier – Buyer's Guide

Photo: istockphoto.com

Heating and air conditioning strip your home’s air of its natural humidity. The result: An uncomfortable dryness that leaves your skin feeling dehydrated, contributes to sinus and respiratory problems, and even promotes static electricity—that annoying shock you get every time you cross a carpeted room and touch the television. A little added moisture in the air helps alleviate dust mites and soothes irritated nasal passages. In addition to a handful of household hacks, homeowners can rely on humidifiers to help the situation. Humidifiers have been around for decades but today’s models offer more choices than ever before. We’ve done the legwork and found out what features buyers want most in room humidifiers as well as which models they rate as the best room humidifiers.

Best Humidifiers – Buyer's Guide

Photo: istockphoto.com

Demystify cool mist versus warm mist. Both cool mist and warm mist humidifiers add much-needed moisture to dry indoor air, with slight differences.

• A standard warm mist humidifier brings its water to a boil to inject the room’s air with a little extra moisture; this high heat reduces the risk of bacterial transmission, leading it to be considered slightly healthier. Warm mist humidifiers are also typically quieter to operate since steamy mist naturally rises, eliminating the need for an internal fan. They do require additional cleaning, however, because the boiling process leaves behind mineral deposits.

• A cool mist humidifier uses a fan to blow air through a damp wick, so it can be noisy when it turns on. Cool mist humidifiers are preferable to warm mist humidifiers, however, in homes with small children since undo the dry air without presenting a risk of steam burns to little fingers.

Understand ultrasonic technology. Ultrasonic humidifiers—the new kids on the block—can disperse a warm mist or a cool mist, or both. Cool mist option is more common, but some models include an internal heater that facilitates a cool mist in the summer and warm mist in the winter. Instead of utilizing a strong fan, as your standard cool mist humidifier might, an ultrasonic humidifier breaks up water droplets into mist using a ceramic diaphragm that vibrates at a frequency too high to be audible to the human ear. Best of all, most ultrasonic humidifiers are whisper-quiet, so they won’t interfere with your sleep.

Size up your needs. A humidifier that is too small may not be sufficient, while one that’s too large could add so much moisture in the room that droplets appear on furniture and other surfaces. Fortunately, humidifiers are rated by intended room size. A small room humidifier effectively treats rooms with less than 400 sq. ft. of floor space. They are often portable and lightweight, making them a good choice for bedrooms, nurseries, kitchens, and other small rooms. Medium-size room humidifiers treat rooms between 400 to 900 sq. ft. and are only semi-portable. For a room with 1,000 sq. ft. or more, look for a large room humidifier. Large room humidifiers feature bigger water reservoirs and therefore are stationary.

TOP PICKS TO CONSIDER

Here’s what reviewers—everyone from the experts who tested selections out in their laboratories to the consumers who have grappled with the pros and cons to find the best room humidifier long before you—said about today’s top models.

 

Best Humidifiers – Buyer's Guide

Photo: amazon.com

 

Vicks Warm Mist Humidifier with Auto Shut-Off ($30)
In the warm mist humidifier category, SweetHome recommends one of the oldest names in the vapor industry, Vicks. The Vicks Warm Mist Humidifier with Auto Shut-Off is a small, affordable choice for those who prefer warm mist. This model holds one gallon of water and runs for up to 24 hours before needing to be refilled. For extra decongestant and sinus-soothing power, fill the built-in medicine cup with Kaz Inhalants or Vicks Vaposteam. This model’s lower noise level and soft nightlight option earn the machine a strong 4-star rating on Amazon. The auto shut-off feature turns the humidifier off if the reservoir runs dry. The medicine cup, removable tray, and mist chimney are dishwasher safe for easy cleanup. Available on Amazon; $29.86.

 

Best Humidifiers – Buyer's Guide

Photo: istockphoto.com

 

Luma Comfort Cool and Warm Mist Humidifier ($110)
Home Depot reviewers give the Luma Comfort Cool and Warm Mist Humidifier an enviable 4.5-star rating. This preferred table-top model’s reservoir is just under one gallon and easily humidifies a room up to 538 sq. ft., making it suitable for any mid-size room in your house. Running on its lowest speed, a single fill-up can last up to 40 hours. You can set the timer for up to 12 hours, and with the Luma’s built-in hygrometer, you can select the level of humidity you prefer, from 30% to 70% relative humidity. While the Luma Comfort humidifier tops the charts in cool mist humidifiers, it has the additional advantage of being able to switch over to warm mist if desired—its demineralization cartridge reduces hard water deposits formed from the boiling water, make cleaning a snap. Available at Home Depot; $109.99.

 

Best Humidifiers – Buyer's Guide

Photo: kohls.com

 

Boneco Air-O-Swiss® 7144 Digital Warm & Cool Mist Ultrasonic Humidifier ($230)
Good Housekeeping puts the Air-O-Swiss 7144 at the top of the list of best-performing ultrasonic humidifiers. This model earns high praise for its large, easy-to-see digital display and the use of silver ions that reduce microbial bacteria transmission. With a hefty 3.5-gallon tank capacity and high output, the Air-O-Swiss easily humidifies rooms up to 650 sq. ft. for up to a week on a single fill. That sort of capacity makes it ideal for larger mid-size rooms, like great rooms or recreation rooms. In addition, this model is virtually silent, so it won’t disrupt sleep or study. It comes with the ability to disperse either warm or cool mist, and you can set the timer so it turns on and starts emitting comfort an hour or so before you’re due to arrive home. At just over $200, it’s the most expensive model in our roundup, but customer reviews, at 4.3 stars, indicate it’s worth the extra money. Available at Kohls; $229.99.


Solved! What to Do About Squirrels in the Attic

If you’ve got uninvited visitors overhead, a little patience and a handful of smart strategies can prevent damage to your home and restore peace and quiet up above.

SHARES
squirrels-in-attic-1

Photo: Flickr via tammra

Q: I keep hearing noise coming from upstairs and am fairly sure that a family of squirrels has taken up residence in my house. Short of setting traps, what’s the safest way to tell that there are squirrels in the attic and get rid of them? 

A: They might make cuddly cartoon characters and leave your backyard feeling like a magical forest, but squirrels that move into your house are a little less whimsical. Left unchecked, these real-life pests can poke holes in your siding, damage insulation, and even chew through electrical wiring.

First, find out what you’re dealing with. If you’ve heard skittering, scratching, or rolling noises from your ceiling, there’s a good chance you’re harboring some kind of wildlife in your attic, but it may not necessarily be a squirrel. To pinpoint the type of pest, pay attention to when you’re hearing the commotion. Generally, squirrels are active during the day, so noises in the evening hours are more likely to come from nocturnal animals like rats and mice. If the strange sounds have occurred between the months of March and October, it might even be that a mother came to nurse her newborn squirrels in the attic and out of the elements. In that case, you may find that the family leaves on their own within a few weeks.

squirrel-in-attic-2

Photo: istockphoto.com

If you’re still uncertain, check the tracks. You can capture paw prints with the help of a pantry item or two. Spread a dusting of flour over a piece of cardboard, and place it inside the attic’s entryway or near the suspected access point. Leave it there for a day or two, and then inspect the surface for the prints. Most squirrel tracks look like small feet and are around 1 to 1 ½ inches long. (Alternatively, footprints double that size might belong to a raccoon, while mice prints are far smaller and rat tracks feature fine points created by their claws.) A foul smell or droppings littering the floor could signal a longstanding infestation, so it’s important to move quickly once you’ve identified the type of critter you’re dealing with.

Don’t supply their snacks. By reining in their food supply, you’ll eventually send these freeloaders off in search of a more comfortable crash pad. And if you have a bird feeder in your yard, stop stocking it with squirrel favorites like corn, sunflower seeds, and nuts.

Try a one-way door. If you’ve managed to track down the critters’ access point, consider installing a one-way cage door or funnel just outside of it. Secured to the home’s exterior, these additions can catch squirrels on the way out of the attic for food or, in the case of funnels, allow them to leave but prevent return through the same hole. After setting up a live-catch trap, check the contraption twice daily and be prepared relocate it to somewhere at least 3 miles away should it prove successful. All in all, this is one of the more effective and humane ways to send squirrels scurrying away for good. That said, check your city, county, and state’s wildlife ordinances before proceeding with one of these measures to make sure you’re adhering to local laws and protocol. In California, for example, it’s illegal to trap gray squirrels without a permit.

Close off any roads that lead back to your place. Send the visitors a strong message by spraying a liquid taste-based repellent on your lawn, soil, and trees to make the yard less inviting, and double down by sprinkling a granular version around the perimeter of your yard to light up the proverbial “No Vacancy” sign. If you have a garden, consider planting daffodils around your home’s foundation, since they’re a natural deterrent. Likewise, if you have a tree branch that hangs over your roof (or within 8 to 10 feet of it—remember, these little guys are talented jumpers!), cutting it back can make it harder for other squirrels to crawl into your attic while you work on solving the problem from within.

Know when you’ve lost the battle. If you’ve inspected your attic, removed any possible food sources, and tried the store-bought remedies without ousting your unwanted guests, pick up the phone and call in a professional for backup.


How To: Make Your Own Fabric Softener

Stop worrying about the potential allergens and irritants in store-bought fabric softener—and save a little money—by switching to a homemade version of this laundry staple.

Homemade Fabric Softener - For Your Load of Laundry

Photo: istockphoto.com

By adding a cap of liquid fabric softener to certain loads of laundry, you condition the clothing fibers and textiles running through that cycle. Maintaining the quality of the material, removing static, and sometimes even scenting your wash can be exactly what your favorite T-shirts need. Unfortunately, many store-bought softeners can contain harsh dyes and chemicals that can irritate sensitive skin and provoke allergies. Like making your own laundry detergent, and DIY-ing liquid fabric softener can be just as easy. By mixing together a few simple ingredients, you’ll have complete control of what cleanses the clothes on your back and the sheets on your bed—even save some money along the way by eliminating one more pricey laundry staple from your grocery bill. This popular recipe for homemade fabric softener calls for store-brought ingredients that you probably have at home already.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
– Pitcher
– Large bowl (optional)
– Funnel (optional)
– Saucepan
– Water (6 cups)
– Hair conditioner (2 cups)
– Vinegar (3 cups)
– 1-gallon plastic bottle
– Fabric softener dispenser ball (optional)

How to Make Homemade Laundry Detergent

Photo: istockphoto.com

STEP 1
Pull out a large container in which to mix up the homemade fabric softener—either a 1-gallon pitcher or a bucket will work just fine. The pitcher’s spout will make for easy pouring into another bottle for storage after you thoroughly combine all of ingredients; otherwise, if you stir up the components in a bowl, you’ll also need a funnel.

STEP 2
Heat 6 cups of water on the stove using a saucepan or kettle until it boils.

STEP 3
Combine the hot water and 2 cups of hair conditioner in your container. (No need to limit yourself to a pricey professional brand—that will negate some of the cost-saving benefits of the DIY. Almost any generic brand will do, as long as you like the scent and have carefully read the ingredients to rule out potential allergies.) The hot water will help thin out the thick conditioner so that you can easily combine the two ingredients—and stir out any lumps—using a spoon.

STEP 4
While your mixture is still warm, add the 3 cups of vinegar next (a go-to natural laundry ingredient that will remove odors and soften fibers) and continue to stir. Be careful not to shake the mixture, or else your conditioner might get sudsy!

STEP 5
Transfer the finished product from your pitcher or bowl into an old fabric softener bottle (again, using a funnel if you need one). No bottles on hand? Any clean, gallon-sized container with a resealable lid, like a milk jug, can sub in—just choose something that will facilitate an easy pour into a measuring scoop come laundry day.

When it comes time to put your homemade fabric softener to the test, use this mix on appropriate fabrics the same way you’d use its store-bought counterpart—about a quarter- or half-cup will do the trick, inserted at the start of the rinse cycle. Most machines have a dispenser, but you could also opt to distribute throughout the contents of a top-loading washing machine using a automatic fabric softener–dispensing ball to make laundry day even less of a chore.

 

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 a Dryer Vent

A dryer vent that's clogged with lint can reduce the appliance's efficiency and could be a potential fire hazard. Here’s how to get your vent clean—and keep it that way.

How to Clean a Dryer Vent - Laundry Room Maintenance

Photo: Zillow Digs home in Medina, WA

If you’ve recently noticed that your clothes are taking longer to dry than they used to, you may need to look no further than your dryer vent for the cause. A vent that’s clogged with lint can make for a longer drying cycle, but it can also trigger a much more serious problem—a dryer fire. In fact, clogged dryer vents are one of the top causes of dryer fires. And, although this is a much less dramatic concern, an inefficient dryer can also cost you both time and money, tacking on as much as $20 a month to your utility bill. Sure, you could hire a professional to clear out the vent for you, but this is a job that you can do yourself. Read on to learn how to get your dryer vent clean—and keep it that way.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
– Vacuum cleaner
– Screwdriver
– Wire hanger
– Work gloves

How to Clean Dryer Vent - To Prevent a Fire Hazard

Photo: fotosearch.com

STEP 1
The first and most important step is to unplug the dryer. You don’t want to do any work on the vent while the appliance is plugged into the wall.

STEP 2
Pull the dryer out from the wall as far as your vent hose will allow (typically, about one to two feet), then use a screwdriver to loosen and unscrew the clamps that keep the dryer vent hose attached to the wall.

STEP 3
Remove the vent hose and use the crevice attachment of your vacuum cleaner to reach into the hole on the back of the dryer and suction out the lint. Proceed to vacuum out the hose as well, working from both ends of the hose until all the lint and debris have been suctioned out. Be gentle—you don’t want to damage the hose. If you encounter serious buildup in the middle of the hose, you may need to snake it out. A wire hanger works fine for this, but be careful not to scratch the sides with the wire, which could cause a leak in the hose.

STEP 4
Reinsert the vent hose and reattach it with the clamps, then slide the dryer back into position against the wall. Once the dryer’s in place, head outside to clean the exterior vent. Start by removing the cover, then put on some work gloves and clear out any accumulated lint. When the vent looks clear, go back inside the house, plug the dryer back in, and run the empty machine on the air-dry setting for about 20 minutes. Check outside to make sure that both air and any remaining lint are blowing out of the vent before turning off the dryer and replacing the outside vent cover.

 

How to Clean a Dryer Vent - Dryer Vent Tube

Photo: fotosearch.com

It’s important to clean your dryer vent at least once a year. If the buildup is so great that you can’t break through the lint, hire a professional or invest in a dryer vent cleaning kit. A thorough yearly cleaning isn’t quite enough, however. It takes regular maintenance to help keep your dryer vent clear and safe.

• Limit the number of dryer sheets you use. Fabric softeners and dryer sheets can clog your dryer’s lint filter and leave behind small amounts of potentially flammable chemicals that can accumulate over time.

• Hang heavy bedding outside to dry. Duvets, bedspreads, and other heavy linens require much more heat and drying time than the average load, and this translates into more lint.

• Clean the lint trap after every use. You can usually remove the lint with your hands, but from time to time you should rinse off the screen and vacuum out the compartment that holds it. Remember: If the lint trap is full, the lint has nowhere to go but onto your clothes or out into the vent!


3 Fixes for Scratched Glass

Don't let unsightly scratches mar your favorite glass surfaces. Here are three ways you can restore your tabletops, windows, and other glass accents to their gleaming glory.

How to Remove Scratches from Glass

Photo: flickr.com via Rachelle Rose

Whether in the form of a windowpane, shower wall, or tabletop, glass serves as a durable and glamorous surface almost anywhere in the home. But while glass may appear crystal clear when you first install it, normal wear and tear can create unsightly scratches that diminish its shine and style. Consulting a professional glazier is your best bet for repairing gouges deep enough to feel with the tip of your fingernail, but you can remove superficial scrapes using three ordinary materials and these extraordinarily effective techniques.

 

CLEAN AND CLEAR

How to Remove Scratches from Glass - Toothpaste

Photo: fotosearch.com

Toothpaste doesn’t just keep your teeth squeaky clean. When activated with a bit of elbow grease, the minty refresher offers an easy and economical way to fix and smooth tiny scratches in glass. After thoroughly cleaning and drying the surface, apply a dot of white, non-gel toothpaste (preferably containing baking soda) to a damp, lint-free cloth. Using small, circular motions, rub the paste into the scratch for about 30 seconds. Wipe off the excess toothpaste with the cloth, and inspect for signs of improvement. Reapply the paste as many times as needed to minimize the scratch’s appearance. Finally, give your newly pristine glass a once-over with a damp cloth to clean off any residual paste and restore its natural sheen.

 

TOUGH AS NAILS

How to Remove Scratches from Glass - Nail Polish

Photo: fotosearch.com

For scratches that require a more controlled application of remover, you need look no further than your medicine cabinet. A bottle of clear nail polish packs potent ingredients that can diminish flaws and beautify glass without fading or damaging it. Use the polish’s applicator brush to spread a thin layer over the entire scratch. The clear polish will fill in any grooves, dissipating visible dings. Let the polish dry for about an hour so it can cure over the glass, then wipe it away with a clean, dry cloth dipped in nail polish remover to dissolve any polish left behind on the surface of the glass.

 

PERFECTLY POLISHED

How to Remove Scratches from Glass - Metal Polish

Photo: www.2spi.com/

Another way to render your glass surfaces scratch-free is to softly sand and buff them bright with a little metal polish. First, clean the area and wipe it dry to get rid of any dust or debris that could further damage the surface. Next, apply the polish to a cotton ball or clean cloth, and gently rub it into the scratch using a circular motion. Follow up with a clean, damp cloth to remove any of the remaining solution and reveal a smooth, like-new product. Remember to avoid extra application of the metal polish, as its abrasive qualities could end up doing more harm than good.


Genius! A Space-Smart Drying Rack Hack

Save money and space while extending the life of your clothes with this simple laundry hack! How can you resist?

DIY Drying Rack - Wall-Mounted and Open

Photo: twoityourself.com

Americans may not agree on political issues, reality television, or eating their vegetables, but we do share one sentiment: We hate doing laundry. A recent PopSugar poll put laundry in the top-three tier of most-hated household chores. Washing and drying clothes in a small space makes this must-do even more of a hassle, as DIY blogger Melissa of Two It Yourself was quickly learning. It was hard to be happy about the laundry closet in her new place when her old house had a whole room for laundry, complete with plenty of space for folding. Melissa knew her laundry situation was getting desperate when, after washing a load of delicates, she was “forced to to hang all of [her] unmentionables all over the door knobs on the second floor.” So, using her old wooden drying rack, she crafted herself an ultra-slim, wall-mounted version.

The magic of the retractable rack is simple: Like nesting tables or a desktop that folds down, it expands only when needed. When your clothes are finished drying, it folds back up. And when it’s closed, the rack extends only an inch or two from the wall. Because it never touches the ground, this DIY rack saves floor space and sanity!

If you’re in need of a quick and functional solution like Melissa, begin by turning a standard drying rack on its side. Starting at the bottom, pull out the bottom four dowels and and four legs by hand, one at a time. You’ll then use a jigsaw to shorten the bottom two front legs, leaving the two back legs long for securing to the wall with plumber’s tape. The rest of the rack stays as is and pulls out at eye level so you can drape delicates over the remaining dowels. For detailed diagrams and instructions on cutting and mounting the drying rack, check out Two It Yourself‘s full tutorial. Even if you’re not short on space, a functional drying rack is well worth having—not only for items that require hang drying, but also because going pioneer-style once in a while saves you some bucks on your electric bill.

FOR MORE: Two It Yourself

DIY Drying Rack - Wall-Mounted and Closed

Photo: twoityourself.com