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    Desperate for an alternative to smelly, germ-filled kitchen towels and sponges, our writer discovers antibacterial dishcloths -- and a bunch of other easy ways to disinfect the kitchen.

    dishcloths, disinfect your kitchen
    Photo Credit: SuperL, flickr

    I have three small children, so a game of "what's that smell?" is not uncommon in our home. A sippy cup hiding in the toy box or forgotten snacks in the backpack are typical culprits. But often, that smell could be traced back to the kitchen sink.

    Within a day or two, a perfectly fresh dishcloth can turn into something icky, slimy, stinky and disgusting. Even if I stay on top of the situation, all it takes is one child cleaning up spilled milk and not rinsing the cloth -- or worse, hiding it somewhere, only to be found later during another epic game of "what's that smell?" -- to set off my olfactory alarm. It had gotten to a point where smelly dishcloths were taking over my kitchen and it was driving me crazy. I'd even thrown out a few particularly rank towels just to avoid dealing with them.

    It wasn't just the embarrassing smell that eventually got to me, but also the idea of how truly unhygienic it was to have these nasty cloths in my kitchen. In a report by the Hygiene Council - a panel of the world's leading microbiologists and virologists, kitchen towels are notorious for harboring and spreading bacteria. According to George Szatmari, a microbiologist at Mcgill University, "the kitchen sink is 6,000 times more contaminated than the average toilet". Ew.

    This kind of thing can make a person sick -- literally. Even small amounts of bacteria, particularly those transfered from the foods we prepare, can lead to illness. And let's not leave sponges out of this equation -- those soggy germ incubators masquerading as cleaning tools. Sanitizing your dishcloths and sponges properly (or getting rid of them altogether!) is crucial to keeping bacteria away and maintaining a flu-free home.

    So one day, on the advice of one very wise friend, I switched to antibacterial microfiber cloths in the kitchen. The change has had a tremendous impact on how I use my kitchen and how I feel about the cleanliness of my space.

    The Norwex line of antibacterial cleaning cloths and kitchen cloths are my favorite. They work amazingly well, can stand up to my neglect, and actually come with a two-year warranty. They combine an environmentally friendly antibacterial silver-based agent with a typical microfiber cloth. The silver-based agent destroys the bacteria that it picks up, so you're not just transferring the problem; you're actually killing it. You can rinse out the cloth and use it over and over, which means less laundry to boot!

    If you want a less expensive, store-bough solution, rumor has it that the Clorox brand cloth works wonders. (If you've tried them, let me know what you think!) The Clorox cloth works differently, but does the same job, using a patented coating that binds chlorine-based bleach to the cotton cloth. The bleach stops bacteria growth. Every time you rinse the cloth, the coating is reactivated so, like the Norwex cloth, you can use it repeatedly. Fewer green points here, but a far better solution than bleach sprays and disposable sponges.

    Antibacterial dishcloths may have changed my entire kitchen experience, but they certainly aren't the only way to get a germ-free kitchen.

    Here are five easy ways to disinfect your kitchen:

    dishcloths, dirty dishes, disinfect your kitchenGetty Images

    1. Get rid of that sponge. Seriously. Even if you've switched to antibacterial cloths, it's tempting to keep the sponge around, just in case. But a sponge is a hotbed of bacteria. You don't need it. If you simply must have a sponge in the kitchen, wash it properly and replace it regularly. You can heat a damp sponge in the microwave or run it through the dishwasher to kill the bacteria.

    2. Stop using antibacterial hand soap. In an effort to get rid of bacteria, we run the risk of welcoming even stronger bacteria into our kitchens by using antibacterial soap. Proper handwashing is sufficient.

    3. Keep the sink clean. Bacteria thrives in wet kitchen sinks and drains, so keep your sink clean by emptying it, wiping it down and drying it daily. Every week, give it a more complete cleansing by filling it with hot water and one cup of vinegar. Let it soak for an hour, rinse it out and dry it thoroughly.

    4. Replace your plastic cutting board with a wooden board. It was once believed that the porous nature of a wooden cutting board would provide a dangerous breading ground for bacteria. But on the contrary, studies have shown that bacteria dies off quickly on wood surfaces. It remains -- and in fact multiplies -- on plastic surfaces. Remember to use separate boards for meat preparation.

    5. Don't forget the can opener. It's easy to forget about the can opener because it doesn't get visibly dirty, but it's a great hideout for bacteria to grow. And speaking of neglected bacteria hotspots in the kitchen, don't forget your fridge door handle, microwave handle, coffee pot, and oven knobs.

    For chemical-free ways to clean and disinfect your kitchen appliances, check out this video:


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    Haven't picked out a Valentine's Day gift yet? No sweat. Celebrate your love with these last-minute homemade gift ideas from around the web.

    Apartment Therapy

    Get back to basics this Valentine's Day with a simple arrangement of flowers, but punch them up with creative packaging. Turn recycled plastic and glass bottles into colorful vases with nothing more than primer, paint and ribbon. Then head back to grade school and craft a homemade card out of construction paper. Do you like me? Check yes or no. [Apartment Therapy]

    Martha Stewart

    These stamped soaps add a touch of romance to any shower. Just like those iconic candy conversation hearts, each soap heart features a personalized message you can create with metal letter stamps. Dare we suggest, "Wash You Up in My Love"? [Martha Stewart]

    Nate Berkus

    Don't let the bling fool you, magnet brooches are inexpensive and easy to make. You can turn your old jewelry into chic, decorative magnets by simply using a wire cutter and glue. Remove the pin hardware and add a magnet with a glue gun or Gorilla Super Glue. These magnets are the perfect touch of love for your sweetheart's fridge. [Nate Berkus]

    Real Simple

    One man's trash is your sweetie's treasure. Random household items make for cute greeting cards, such as the pictured sponge, dead AAA batteries ("I get a charge out of you") and stray keys ("the key to my heart"). Couple your DIY cards with custom candy hearts made with the help of food-coloring markers. [Real Simple]

    Country Living

    Repurpose an old frame into a message board. Add photos, nostalgic items and messages of love. [Country Living]

    Crafts by Amanda

    Use egg cartons, paint and cupcake liners to make these cute lollipops treats. This is an excellent DIY project to complete with the kids this weekend. [CasaSugar via Crafts by Amanda]


    Sometime's a store-bought card can't convey how you feel. For these moments, grab an X-Acto knife to carve any message your heart fancies. Instructables has step-by-step instructions to create a cutout card that says it all. [Instructables]


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    Your fireplace is probably getting a workout this winter, leading to soot buildup on your mantel and surround. Here's one reader's suggestion for bringing back the elegant finish of marble fireplaces.

    marble fireplacesAlamy

    My marble fireplace adds sophistication to my living room. But soot stains on the stone's surface can really put a damper on things. I restore a beautiful finish to the marble with natural ingredients and a series of simple steps.

    First, lightly moisten a soft cloth with warm water. Wipe the surface of the marble down with this cloth to remove any grit or grime on the surface.

    If this does not completely remove the soot stain, soak a small washcloth with hydrogen peroxide. Lay the cloth directly onto the surface of the marble where the stain is. Apply a bit of plastic wrap over the washcloth and secure it in place with packing tape around the edges. Leave the washcloth and plastic to set for 24 hours.

    Remove the cloth and plastic. Wipe the surface again with a damp cloth to rinse all residual peroxide. Your marble fireplace should be restored to its elegant finish!

    Want the secrets to a "never-fail" system for starting a fire? Check out this video!


    Decorating a Fireplace Mantel (ShelterPop)
    Limited Edition Swarovski Fireplace (Luxist)
    Fireplace Maintenance and Safety (HGTV)


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    Think a renovation is out of your reach? It's not! We lay out some kitchen remodel ideas for every budget, from $50 to $10,000.

    kitchen remodel ideasCorbis

    It's not necessary to spend an astronomical amount of money on a kitchen remodel. Whether your budget is small or sizable, it's possible to get the kitchen you yearn for at a price you can afford. In fact, you can begin making improvements for as little as $50. Remodeling in stages is an excellent way to update in a manner that will fit your budget. But make sure you tackle projects in a logical order, or you could end up wasting a ton of money. For example, if you plan to rearrange cabinets and appliances, hold off on replacing the flooring. Similarly, don't install a new sink or faucet if replacing the countertop is also on your to-do list.

    Use this road map to create the kitchen of your dreams -- no matter the reality of your budget.

    Paint is the easiest, least expensive way to transform a tired looking kitchen. Choose a semigloss latex paint, which will allow you to easily sponge off the inevitable food splashes and spatters. Also, opt for a semigloss finish on the trim, such as the baseboard and around windows and doors. For best results, don't skimp out on prep work. Kitchen surfaces accumulate grime, so be sure to wash all walls and the ceiling with a TSP (trisodium phosphate) or a TSP substitute before painting. This will help clean and prepare the surface so that the paint adheres to it properly.

    kitchen remodel ideasSchulte

    Now matter how expensive your cabinets and countertops are, an organized and tidy kitchen will always be an instant upgrade. If your budget is $100, it will be well spent on organizers.

    Pot racks, lid holders, shelving, drawer organizers, pullout trays, and utensil crocks are affordable ways to keep clutter at bay and let the charm of your kitchen shine greatly. Open shelving takes advantage of empty walls and gives the kitchen an airy feeling. Stretch your makeover dollars by DIYing your storage organizers.

    kitchen remodel ideasMCT

    Another quick, inexpensive way to update a kitchen is with the right lighting.

    Replace those dim CFL floods with halogen floods. You'll still save energy over traditional incandescent bulbs, and the light will be a substantial improvement. Install a dimmer switch so that the halogens last a longer and save even more energy. As for those still-good CFLs, don't toss them. Save them for use in utilitarian spaces, such as the garage, basement, attic, or closets. Add under-cabinet lighting to existing kitchen cabinets and bring countertop work areas out of the shadows. Use decorative lights over kitchen tables to change the mood when it's time to dine.

    kitchen remodel ideasGetty Images


    Cabinets are often the most expensive items in any kitchen makeover. If yours look worn and have become soft and gummy around the pulls, consider refinishing or repainting the doors and frames instead of replacing the entire units. This will make a big impact in your kitchen at the fraction of the cost of brand-new cabinets.

    - Refinish: Use a furniture refinisher, such as the one made by Formby's or Minwax, to strip off most clear finishes. Refinishers often remove some of the stain, too, so you may have to even out the remaining stain color by rubbing on one or more coats of a matching stain. Once the color is to your liking, allow the stain to dry, wipe carefully with a tack cloth, and apply a new clear protective coat. Just be sure to protect yourself from fumes; use a respirator (with the correct cartridge), allow for plenty of ventilation, and work in a dust-free environment as possible when reapplying the clear coat. Follow the manufacturer's instructions carefully, especially with regard to health and safety, as these products are flammable and poisonous.

    kitchen remodel ideasEmily Farris

    - Paint: If you want to repaint cabinets, be sure to prep surfaces by cleaning them thoroughly and sanding them with a fine-grit sandpaper so that the paint sticks. Virtually any surface can be painted, but some are better suited to it than others. Metal, solid wood, and plywood cabinets take paint well. Thermofoil cabinets, which are made of MDF that's wrapped with vinyl laminate, may not. If the laminate is loose or bubbled, painting is not a good option. Even if the paint adheres to the vinyl, the vinyl will probably continue to delaminate. In some cases, it may be possible to peel the laminate off the cabinets, prep, and then paint the underlying MDF.

    Check out this video demonstration of how to paint kitchen cabinets:

    Regardless of the surface, use a high quality primer and a durable topcoat, such as Benjamin Moore's Impervo (alkyd) or Impervex (latex). Apply paint to the rails and stiles (cabinet framework) with a high-quality brush or foam roller. For an extra smooth finish on the doors, remove them from the cabinet frames and take off all hardware. Number the doors and cabinets to make rehanging the doors easier. Then rent a compressor-powered sprayer to apply the paint. This will minimize those annoying brush strokes in the finish. Be sure to practice on scrap wood first to master the spraying technique. Apply several coats for best results. Sand lightly with a very fine abrasive paper and wipe off dust between coats.

    - Hardware: Clean cabinet knobs and pulls thoroughly and buff with a clear wax. If your hardware is dated, replacement pulls, knobs, and hinges can be purchased online or at many home centers. Swapping out tired old hardware can give your kitchen a facelift on the cheap.

    kitchen remodel ideasGetty Images

    BUDGET: $500 - $1000: NEW FLOORING
    Refresh your kitchen flooring for a brand new look.

    Vinyl floor tiles are not only affordable, but have come a long way in terms of style and ease of installation. This type of flooring is comfortable to walk on, easy to clean, and durable. To install, you no longer have to deal with messy adhesives; the floors float atop the underlayment. At less than $2 per square foot, you can put a vinyl floor in just about any kitchen for $500.

    Want a more natural flooring material? Choices include wood (solid or engineered), cork, and bamboo. You'll have to shell out two or three times the price of vinyl, but the finish can not be beat. Avoid laminates, which are susceptible to moisture damage. Also, try to steer clear of ceramic tile, which is cold and hard to the touch, plus cracks easily.

    kitchen remodel ideasCorbis

    Sinks and countertops bear the brunt of work in the kitchen. As a consequence, they can look very worn after 10 or 15 years. A new sink, faucet and countertops are within this budget -- providing you choose economical materials for the countertops, such as plastic laminate or wood. You can dress up the former with a beveled or rounded hardwood molding along the front edge. Or fake the high-style look of granite, marble, or soapstone with affordable laminate. Butcher block, long neglected as a countertop material, is again in vogue and quite functional. It will need periodic sealing with mineral oil, but can be easily renewed with a sander when needed.

    kitchen remodel ideasA green kitchen in Windermere, FL. Photo: Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda/Orlando Sentinel/MCT

    BUDGET: $5000 - $7,500: A RECYCLED KITCHEN
    Now that we're talking about serious money, you can consider buying a complete recycled kitchen, often with the appliances included. Check out Green Demolition at and similar organizations that accept and resell used building materials. Green Demolitions' New York metropolitan area showrooms offer entire kitchens that have been donated by homeowners who are about to remodel. The donors get a tax deduction, and the purchasers get kitchens at prices that are a fraction of the original list price. Everybody wins, including the environment.

    kitchen remodel ideasGetty Images

    BUDGET: $7,500 - $10,000: NEW CABINETS
    This budget range will allow you to purchase new kitchen cabinets. Stock cabinets for a 10 x 12 kitchen start at about $5,000. Custom cabinets, that are built to order, cost $8,000 and up. Solid wood, plywood, and stainless steel cabinets are best. Cabinets made of MDF (medium density fiberboard) are good. Avoid cabinets made with particleboard. Look for well-crafted rabbeted or dovetail joints, especially on drawers. They should be carefully glued and fastened. You may also be able to replace your old countertops in this budget range, but most likely not with granite or other synthetic stone materials. To keep this remodeling project under $10,000, you'll have to do much of the work yourself and minimize changes to plumbing, venting and electrical systems.

    - Consult with a pro: If your budget is in this range, do yourself a favor and spend some of it on a professional designer. If you have a pretty good idea of what you want, $500 spent on consultations and plans can go a long way. An experienced designer has seen it all and will likely be able to help you avoid costly mistakes. In addition to suggesting an efficient layout for cabinets, counters, and appliances, a designer will help you create free-flowing traffic patterns to dining rooms and to outdoor entertainment areas. They can help with a lighting plan, mudroom or kitchen-office solutions, color selection, material and appliance choices. A good designer will suggest ways to minimize changes to your kitchen's footprint that can add significant cost to your project.

    DIY Kitchen Islands
    Refacing Kitchen Cabinets
    Minute Makeover: Remove Kitchen Cabinet Doors (ShelterPop)
    Makeover Inspiration: Color in the Kitchen


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    They may not last forever, but your Valentine's Day flowers can stay vibrant for quite a while with these DIY cut flower tips.

    rose care, valentines flowers, cut flowersGetty Images

    Score a bouquet of Valentine's Day flowers? Lucky you! Now, before you just plop those babies in a vase, take note: there are a few tried and true flower care tips -- and some not-so-ordinary ideas -- that can keep cut roses and other buds looking as fresh as a daisy for a week or more.

    As soon as you receive a bouquet of flowers:

    1. Use garden shears or a sharp knife to cut about one inch off of each stem at a 45-degree angle. Do not use a regular pair of scissors; the pressure will damage the stems.

    2. Fill a vase (or try an unexpected vessel like a metal bucket or a pitcher) two-thirds of the way with lukewarm water.

    3. Remove any leaves and foliage from the stems before placing them in the water. Decomposing leaves can contaminate the water.

    Adding a preservative to the water is a smart way to keep it bacteria-free, and to provide the cut flowers with enough nutrients to hold out a bit longer than they might otherwise. If you don't have store-bought flower preservatives on hand, try one of these DIY preservatives:

    Add a few tablespoons of sugar to a vase filled with lukewarm water. The sugar acts as the plant's food, long after the root supply has been cut off.

    Add an aspirin and a penny to the water to keep the flowers bright and perky for a few extra days. The aspirin lowers the water's pH level, warding off bacteria, and the penny serves as a fungicide.

    Add a bit of bleach to the water. Yes, this last one sounds dangerous, but lots of people swear by it. Be conservative: about 1/4 tablespoon of bleach per quart of water is more than enough. If used in moderation, the bleach helps purify the water and kill bacteria.

    Need some guidance for arranging your Valentine's Day roses in the vase? Check out this video!

    Got any tips for keeping Valentine's Day flowers fresh? Share your ideas in the comments below!


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    Three HGTV designers offer fresh ideas for a bathroom remodel on all different budgets. How much are you ready to spend?

    We couldn't believe how many great tips were packed in a minute and a half.

    If you have $50, $200, or $500 to devote to bathroom remodeling, you can not only freshen up your space, but give it a whole new look, according to designer Sabrina Soto. Crisp new linens and a mirror can be great upgrades for the $50 budget -- just make sure the mirror matches your style. Even better, make sure it's the width of your sink and use sconces to flank the mirror. Great light lets great design shine.

    For the $200 budget, designer Taniya Nayak has one thing on her mind: Fixtures. A new faucet, light, and/or hardware bring new life to any sink, wall and tub. You can go modern with chrome or brushed nickel -- just make sure you match your finishes.

    Our favorite remodeling tip: Use pressed tin as tiles. Designer John Gidding shows us that they are not just for ceiling decoration. By using a few rows of the tin, which runs around $2.50 a square foot, you can retile around a sink, tub or on a wall. Just paint it a high gloss white to make it pop!

    For more great ideas, check out: 8 Easy Bathroom Updates on a Budget.


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    In the second installment of our Humidifier 101 series, we take a closer look at home humidifiers. Here are some DIY ways to humidify your home on the cheap.

    home humidifiers, DIY humidifiers, humidify your homePlacing bowls of water around your home is a simple way to add moisture to the air -- without the cost of buying a humidifier. Chimpr, Flickr

    The cold winter weather outside, coupled by indoor heating systems, easily sucks all the moisture out of your home. Low humidity levels can also lead to a host of problems including dry skin, sore throats, along with cracks in paint and wood furniture. Adding a humidifier is an easy way to replace this lost moisture in your home, but at times humidifiers can require high maintenance and more space and money than you would like to expend. Luckily, even on the tightest of budgets, there are inexpensive tricks to humidify your home.

    Essentially a humidifier boils water and evaporates it into the air. These basics make it easy to achieve the same effect without purchasing another gadget. Keep in mind that there are store-bought humidifiers that can be attained at affordable prices, plus have a greater reach than homemade options. But if you're in a pinch or need relief ASAP, these DIY humidifiers will do the trick:

    home humidifiers, DIY humidifiers, humidify your homeGetty Images

    - Boil a large pot of water on the stove. This releases moisture into the air in the form of steam; the same way as a humidifier. The downside to this method is that the moisture is limited to the area in close proximity to the stove. If you want to circulate the moist air, add a fan next to the stove to blow the air out and away, increasing it's reach.

    home humidifiers, humidify your home, diy humidifiersGetty Images

    - Run hot water in the shower to produce steam. Alternatively, if you take baths, leave the water in the tub after you've finished bathing. Both are short-term solutions that can help those suffering through a cold. However, they're not without their drawbacks. First, you're wasting quite a bit of water, which can be expensive. In addition, the steam won't extend a great distance from the bathroom. So a fan is also needed or you'll have to sit in the bathroom to absorb the increased humidity. Like boiling water on the stove, you cannot run your shower all night. Therefore, this is a very short-term option that can be much more expensive and wasteful than purchasing an inexpensive humidifier.

    - Place bowls of water around your home. Similar to the way houseplants emit water vapor like living humidifiers, the water from the bowls will evaporate and add moisture to the air. Increase the humidity even more by placing a water bowl on top of a radiator to heat the water. Avoid placing the water bowls near electrical devices.

    Humidifiers 101: Say Goodbye to Dry Air
    5 Humidifiers to Consider [Apartment Therapy]
    How to Humidify Your Home [Lowes]
    Controlling Humidity Levels at Home [Re-nest]
    The Best Humidifiers [Switch]


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    Painting the walls? Don't let a cumbersome radiator get you hot under the collar. Here are some foolproof tips and techniques for painting behind a radiator.

    So you're painting your living room. You're excited, too. This is going to turn out great.

    You've bought everything you'll need. A bountiful heap of plastic shopping bags full of drop cloths, roller frames, paint pans, a 5-in-1 tool, and, of course, paint brushes -- and not just any old brushes; you need good paint brushes: watch this video to learn how to choose!

    You've also got just the right color picked out. And because it's an older place, you've tested for lead paint.

    As you paint your way around the room, you first realize the radiator in your charming old place is at first in the way. Then, as you get right up to it with the brush you realize, "Wait a minute. I can't really get the brush back there. What the heck?"

    And all your good karma turns sour because you now dread an ugly, slathered paint outline around the radiator.

    That's usually how the scenario plays out. So whether you've found yourself there already or you had the foresight to research the problem before it actually became a problem, here's the best approach to painting behind a radiator.

    Should You Remove the Radiator?
    Let's get this out of the way early. Our advice: Don't even think about it. This is a professional plumber's job (the Washington Post agrees). Still want to attempt it yourself? We suggest at least consulting a professional plumber first.

    Get Yourself Some Radiator Rollers and Radiator Brushes

    painting techniques, radiator brush, radiator cover, painting behing a radiator(Left to right) Amazon; Ace Hardware

    The easiest way to paint behind a radiator is to head back to the store (turn the heat off before you go; you'll see why later) to get what's called a "mini-long-handled roller." You can find this long, slender type of paint roller at practically any paint store or big box home center. Some manufacturers call them "radiator rollers."

    You'll probably find two types at point of sale: one with a sponge roller cover (the part you put the paint on) and one with a microfiber roller cover. For what it's worth, I've had the best luck with the microfiber covers, but both work for this application.

    Though I've never tried them, some people use radiator paint brushes too, which are designed to be long and slim enough to fit in tight quarters (same idea as a radiator roller).

    Also, grab a box of contractor grade trash bags while you're there (you'll want them later for all the paint cans and debris that'll stretch your kitchen bags past the breaking point.)

    When you return home, slide a contractor bag over the radiator -- which should be cool by now -- and snug tight with tape or string (or just have someone hold it taught). This is to protect the roller from all the dust bunnies and debris back there.

    Then, load your radiator roller with paint and sneak it down between the bag and the wall. Paint what you can but if it won't go all the way down, let it be. You won't be able to see that far behind the radiator anyway -- nor can you see through most radiators, for that matter.

    Unlike standard size roller covers, I clean out mini roller covers in my utility sink. Why not just throw them out? First, they're not all that cheap, so I tend to reuse them. Second, unlike full-size roller covers, they clean up fairly easily so it isn't a hassle at all.

    Or You Could Just Build a Radiator Cover
    If for some reason you can see through the radiator to the unpainted wall behind but can't paint there's another other option: building a radiator cover. These are a really fun projects. However, we bring it up here only as an option. How to build them is another kettle of fish entirely.

    In this video, DIY Network's Marc Bartolomeo demonstrates how to make a radiator cover out of wood and leftover soapstone countertop:


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    Is there a better way to heat your home? Radiant floor heating is a very viable option: it's clean, evenly distributed and energy-efficient.

    It's the heart of winter and by now we're all familiar with it: the flaky, cracked skin that comes from being cooped up all day surrounded by dry air. The kinds of heating systems that most of us have -- forced-air systems (think furnaces and radiators) -- breed this kind of environment.

    But radiant floor heating offers a very attractive alternative to the dusty vents and radiators we're used to. By installing plastic tubes underneath your actual flooring, your house gets warm from the ground up, and the heat is distributed throughout the house evenly and without the dryness and dust of forced air systems. Plus, they actually save energy by allowing you to turn down your thermostat a few degrees and still feel the same amount of coziness.

    Would you make the switch?

    Cheap Ways to Heat Your Home
    How to Heat Your Home Eco-Consciously


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    Before you dig into spring gardening, spend these last weeks of winter getting a headstart on weed control with these eight deadly weed killers.

    weed controlWeeds start to sprout as soon as winter's frost disappears. Photo: Art Smokes, Flickr

    If you're like most avid gardeners, you can't wait for the first signs of spring to surface. Unfortunately, that includes garden weeds, which start to emerge as soon as the last frost of the year is gone. Use these last weeks of winter to practice some necessary weed control before digging into your spring gardening checklist.

    We rounded up the best organic weed control methods and products in three categories: home remedies, weed barriers and eco-friendly weed killer.

    Pick your poison based how extensive your weed problem is and how much you're willing to spend.

    The easiest weed control products to use (and the least expensive) are the ones you already have on hand. The one draw back with organic weed killers is that they're not designed to protect plants like certain store-bought weed killers, so be careful to sidestep the plants you want to keep alive when applying these chemical-free weed control solutions.

    Vinegar works against pesky weeds but may require multiple applications to do the trick. It works better with the help of some sun. But be sure the forecast doesn't call for rain; the vinegar needs some time to set in.

    Cornmeal prevents weed seeds from germinating when sprinkled on the soil. It's best to wait until after your seeds sprout to make sure the cornmeal doesn't harm your new plants. In addition to its weed control properties, cornmeal attracts worms, which loosen up the soil.

    Boiling water is probably the simplest thing to use, but make sure not to douse your plants - or burn yourself.

    Salt is another simple solution but needs to be applied carefully because salt can poison the soil. A spoonful is all that's needed to kill dandelions and other similar weeds but it's best restricted to gravel areas and those not intended for plants. Salt can kill plant roots and important organisms like fungi and earthworms. So target its application and use sparingly to areas where runoff won't kill your other plants. WEED CONTROL BARRIERS
    This style of weed control is a bit more involved, but the effects can last longer. The barrier keeps out light and must be heavy enough to prevent weeds from growing through it.

    Newspaper forms a natural barrier against weeds, but be sure to remove the color pages because the chemicals in the colored ink will get into the soil.

    Garden mulch spread on top of weed control fabric produces a similar effect. It will not prevent tough weeds from growing through but it can prevent weed seeds from sprouting. And on top of the fabric, mulch decomposes more slowly, helping to keep the soil moist for plants.

    A variety of environmentally friendly weed control products exist on the market. To be the most effective, chose one that targets the stubborn weeds in your garden.

    Burnout is an organic horticultural vinegar comprised of 20 percent vinegar rather than kitchen vinegar's five percent. It's a good alternative to toxic weedkillers.

    Weed-Aside Herbicidal Soap
    is a fatty acid weed killer that dehydrates plant tissue. It works on weeds, unwanted grass, algae and moss that have already sprouted.

    Here are some more great gardening tips from DIY Life:
    Weeds: If you can't beat 'em, have 'em for dinner
    Make Weeding Easy and Satisfying
    Avant Yard: Crabgrass Control

    And check out this video:


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    Got holes and torn drywall? Here's an easy way to repair and patch drywall messes.

    drywall repairHere's an easier way to achieve perfect patches in drywall. Photo: Carl Weese, Home & Garden

    Patching drywall looks simple, but a truly seamless repair takes considerable skill and care. Any irregularities due to excess compound, fasteners, tears in the drywall covering, or uneven joints will show up after you paint, when it's too late.

    Here's a foolproof method for drywall repair that's as close to perfect as possible.

    Tools and Supplies:
    - Drywall saw
    - Pencil
    - Carpenter's square
    - Drywall saw
    - Drywall tape
    - Drywall compound
    - Mud pan
    - 120-grit sandpaper
    - Sanding block
    - Utility knife with a sharp blade
    - Drill
    - Drywall screws
    - 1 x 4 pieces of scrap wood
    - 6-in. taping knife
    - 10-in. taping knife
    - 12-in. or 16-in. taping knife
    - Vacuum

    drywall repair

    1. Take a new piece of drywall and cut out a patch.
    You can pick up a 2' x 2' piece of drywall at your local home center; it's large enough for most repairs but won't leave behind a lot of wasted pieces. Be sure it's the same thickness as the drywall you're patching. Most drywall is 1/2" thick, but some is 3/8" or 5/8". If you're not sure, remove a switch plate and measure.

    drywall repairPlace the patch over the damage and trace the shape of the patch. Carl Weese, Home & Garden Editorial Services

    Your patch should be at least a couple of inches bigger than the damage in all directions. Mark the cut lines with a pencil, then score along those lines with a utility knife guided by a straightedge, such as a carpenter's square. Rest the drywall on a worktable and snap along the scored line as pictured above. Cut the paper backing with the utility knife.

    drywall repairAfter reaching inside the hole to check for electrical wires or other obstructions, cut away the damaged area along the lines you have traced using a drywall saw. Carl Weese, Home & Garden Editorial Services

    2. To ensure a tight-fitting patch, use the patch itself as a template.
    Cover the damaged area with the patch and trace the shape with a pencil. Try to avoid covering any area that's backed by a stud, or else cutting away the damaged area will be a bit more difficult. Use a drywall saw to cut around the damage.

    drywall repairInstall nailers using drywall screws and a drill. Carl Weese, Home & Garden Editorial Services

    3. Cut and attach wooden nailers to the opening.
    Cut two nailers (pieces of wood) from 1 x 4 pine scrap. Using nailers eliminates the needs to find wall studs for attaching the patch, and makes cutting out the damaged area an easier task. The nailers should be a few inches longer than the opening on top and bottom. Mount the nailers to the inside of the wall as shown below. This provides a secure platform to mount the patch over the hole.

    drywall repairInstall the patch by fastening it to the nailers with drywall screws. Carl Weese, Home & Garden Editorial Services

    4. Mix and apply drywall compound.
    Thoroughly mix the drywall compound to begin taping over the patch. Mix for at least five minutes. If you have self-adhering tape, as shown, run it over the patch joints as shown.

    drywall repairSelf-adhering nylon mesh tape makes taping a bit easier than using paper tape. Use a sharp blade to prevent ragged tears when cutting to length. Photo: Carl Weese, Home & Garden Editorial Services

    Next, apply a coat of compound over the mesh tape. Make it as smooth as possible and just thick enough to cover the ridges of the mesh. Once dry, use a clean taping knife to "knock down" any ridges or burrs in the first coat.

    drywall repairApply a thin coat of drywall compound over the mesh tape. Carl Weese, Home & Garden Editorial Services

    Apply a second, wider, coat using a 10" taping knife (inexpensive plastic taping knives will bring down the cost of this repair, but if you expect to do more taping in the future, invest in good knives). Feather the edges of the joints so they appear flat. Once dry, scrape the surface to remove burrs and high spots.

    drywall repairAllow compound to completely dry between coats. The compound will turn bright white when dry, usually after 24 hours. Carl Weese, Home & Garden Editorial Services

    Then, apply a third still wider coat with a 12" or 16" taping knife. If necessary, scrape and sand lightly with 150-grit abrasive paper until perfectly smooth. Lastly, paint the patched area with drywall primer first, paint finish coats and you're done!

    drywall repairAvoid sanding the drywall's paper facing or fibers will tear and be more difficult to paint. Carl Weese, Home & Garden Editorial Services

    Note: If you opt to use paper tape instead of self-adhering mesh tape, lay down a 1/4" thick bed of compound using a 6" taping knife. The bed of compound must be wider than the tape and not contain any voids. Then embed the tape by pushing it into the compound with your fingers. Make sure the tape is centered over the joints. Use the taping knife with light pressure to squeeze the compound from under the tape and to scrape away the excess. If you notice air bubbles under the tape, or folds or wrinkles, remove the tape and start over! Then allow the compound to dry before applying the second layer of compound.


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    Taken a shine to your new granite countertops? Keep them sparkling 24/7 with these tips on how to clean and maintain granite.

    Unless you've been hiding under a rock (pun intended), you know that granite countertops are one of the most popular luxe upgrades for a home.

    And what's not to love? Granite is one of the hardest of types countertop stones and is remarkably resistant to scratches and heat. The minerals in granite are also resistant to almost all chemicals commonly found in the home.

    Still, stains happen, especially in the kitchen. So we consulted with the Marble Institute of America to find out how to tackle some of the trickiest stains -- and what you should know about resealing granite countertops so they stay as good as new.

    How to remove oil stains: As with any stain, it's recommended to clean up the spill as soon as possible. Oil-based stains include everything from cooking oil to milk. An oil stain can darken the stone so it must be chemically dissolved so the stain can rinse away. Clean the surface gently with a household detergent or ammonia or mineral spirits. A poultice of baking soda and water is an eco-friendly solution that often works on oil-based stains.

    How to remove organic stains (think coffee and tea): Fruit, coffee, tea, food, and paper can cause a pinkish-brownish stain on the stone, which may disappear after the source of the stain is removed. It's recommended to use a solution of hydrogen peroxide and a few drops of ammonia to remove the stain.

    What to know about sealing granite
    Sealing granite countertops ensures a further resistance to moisture migration into an already moisture-resistant surface. In fact, before 1995, there were very few quality sealers on the market, yet there were still few cases of staining. Once properly sealed, the granite is more resistant to everyday dirt and spills. Sealers have a lifespan of about 10 to 15 years. In today's market, most granite automatically receives a resin treatment at the factory, so you don't have to worry about sealing your granite countertop.

    For more information on caring for your granite countertops, check out the Marble Institute of America's consumer site.

    Want to fake a granite countertop? Try painting your laminate countertops to look just like granite! It really works; just check out this video demonstration.


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  • 02/25/11--16:55: Pruning Apple Trees
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    With the coldest part of the winter behind us, it'll soon be peak season for pruning apple trees.

    pruning apple treesPruning apple trees can begin as early as January, as seen in this photo, but is recommended for early spring. Photo: AP/Jessica Hill

    If you have an apple tree in your backyard, now is the time to start thinking about pulling out the pruners. Don't worry about a surprise March or April snowstorm. A cold snap is the issue for apple trees -- you can get damage with severe cold temperatures because the buds on the apple tree are less hearty. Snow is actually a good insulator, so it's not an issue. We asked Mike Biltonen, VP of farm operations for Red Jacket Orchards, an orchard and juice company located in New York state, to share tips on the best way to prune apple trees - and why you should take the time to prune.

    Pruning apple trees is an essential part of renewing the wood that bears fruit. When branches get older they become less productive, and the fruit quality tends to decrease.

    Pruning also helps sunlight penetrate the tree. The more light and air get into the tree, the higher quality of apples you'll harvest; fruit simply grows better in good light.

    By opening up the tree for light penetration, you're also reducing the wood's microhabitats -- insects that can harbor disease -- so tree disease is less likely to occur. You also want to prune at this time to remove any dead and diseased wood.

    pruning apple treesSummer apple tree pruning should start in July, when your tree has decent growth. Photo: drugspr, Flickr

    There are actually two times a year to prune:

    At the start of spring, after the cold snaps, you want to do your dormant pruning.

    By early July -- as soon as you get some decent growth -- you can start summer pruning, in which you take out succulent growth from the trees so you can get more air and light penetration to the fruit. Summer pruning is recommended for larger apple trees, in order to get a good crop.

    you need four basic tools depending on the size of the apple tree.

    For big trees, Red Jacket Orchards uses chain saws.

    For smaller trees and detailed pruning, they use pruning loppers, hand shears, and a hand saw.

    Always start with the big cuts first and then move to more detailed pruning. "Ultimately, you want to get a Christmas tree shape out of it," says Biltonen. You want the bottom branches to be longer than the top branches.

    And you don't want any branches growing straight up or down, which can create structural issues. Branches growing straight up will function like a wall, and you won't be able to get good light to the fruit. If your branches are hanging down too much, your wood gets weaker, which affects your fruit quality.

    Ideally, you want the branches at a 45 degree angle off of the trunk, which will be strong (like the wings of an airplane). The biggest mistake people make with pruning apple trees is pruning too much or not enough. "There's a balance you want to achieve," says Biltonen. "Know your tree and your objectives of pruning."

    Extra tip: Apple wood burns wonderfully, so you can use it for firewood!

    Want to know how to add an apple orchard to your urban landscape? Check out Garden Girl's tutorial for planting an urban orchard!


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    With incandescent bulbs phasing out, it's easy to get confused by the variety of energy-saving alternatives in stores. Here's how to compare and shop for the new light bulbs.

    energy saving lightbulbsMost new energy-saving lightbulbs use 25 percent to 30 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs. Photo: AP

    Traditionally, we're used thinking about light bulbs in terms of wattage: denominations of 40, 60, 75 and 100 watts are common. But times are changing, thanks in part to new laws requiring manufacturers to phase out incandescent bulbs for more efficient versions, such as compact fluorescent light bulbs, or CFLs. As a result, wattage is fading as a measure of energy in favor of lumens: units that measure the perceived brightness of light.

    Manufacturers are going to be making more efficient, lower-watt bulbs, so when comparing different types of bulbs (halogen, CFL, LED, etc.), it's more helpful to look at the number of lumens produced (usually indicated on the bulb packaging) than watts. For example, an 18-watt compact fluorescent and a 12-watt LED bulb can produce lumens equal to a 100-watt incandescent bulb. Use this chart to help you choose equivalent lighting when purchasing an energy-saving bulb.

    energy saving  lightbulbsWith incandescent bulbs phasing out, consumers can replace them with alternatives such as compact fluorescent bulbs and light-emitting diodes, or LEDs. Getty Images

    Here are the basics you should know before shopping:

    Don't Be Ambushed by Less Output
    When shopping for bulbs, you'll often see equivalent wattages indicated on the packaging. These indicate incandescent wattages that produce roughly the same amount of light as the bulb you're buying. However, it's important to note that LED and CFL "equivalents" sometimes do not match incandescent outputs. In one case, I found an LED bulb that claimed to be equivalent to a 65-watt incandescent flood but produced only 575 lumens. In another, an LED bulb for a candelabra produced 30 lumens, but the packaging suggested it was a replacement for a 15-watt, 110 lumen incandescent bulb. LED and CFL equivalents will use fewer watts per lumen and will therefore be more efficient -- but they may not deliver the same amount of light as the incandescent to which you're accustomed. It's best to check lumen output before you buy.

    energy saving lightbulbsHozae, Flickr

    Comparing Efficiency Is Easy
    The lumens and wattage will often be given on the packaging or on the bulb itself. To compare bulbs for efficiency, determine the number of lumens the bulb will produce per watt by dividing the lumens by watts. The lower the result, the more efficient the bulb. For example, an 8-Watt, 450-lumen LED bulb produces about 56 lumens per watt (that is 450 divided by 8). A common 40-Watt, 495-lumen incandescent bulb produces only 12 lumens per watt.

    Estimating Cost Savings
    In my home, we burn recessed incandescent floods in my kitchen ceiling. They burn 65 watts per hour, last for about 2000 hours each, and cost $6 each. I'm considering replacing them with LED bulbs that burn only 15 Watts per hour, last 50,000 hours, and cost $40 each. The cost to operate the incandescents for 50,000 hours is roughly $325. The cost to operate the LED bulb is $75. Add in the price of 23 incandescent bulbs ($138) to the operating cost of the incandescents and the total cost for 50,000 hours is $463. Add the price of the LED bulb ($40) to the operating costs for the LED and the total is $115. The projected savings works out to $348 ($463 - $115).

    I burn my lights about 3 hours per day, or about 1100 hours per year, so I would not live long enough to realize the full savings of the LED bulb, which would last me about 45 years! All of this assumes that the cost of electricity and bulbs remain the same. But increases in the cost of electricity or decreases in the cost of LED bulbs (safe bets) would only result in greater savings. It also assumes that the quality of the light produced by long-lasting bulbs will not degrade substantially over the years and force an early replacement.

    Remember: It's important to dispose of CFLs the right way, so you can keep yourself and your environment safe. Skip to 1:00 in the video below to learn how:

    DIY Product Review: ESL Lightbulbs
    Energy Saving Lightbulbs [Shelterpop]
    CFL vs. LED Lights [Popular Mechanics]


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    Thinking of installing new kitchen flooring in time for spring? In this five-part kitchen flooring series, we'll lay the groundwork -- and you make the decision.

    ceramic floor tile,  kitchen flooringCeramic floor tile. Photo: Getty Images

    Is ceramic tile the best kitchen flooring option for your home? Photo: Getty Images

    The tracking of winter's elements (snow, slush, mud...ack!) can take quite a toll on your poor kitchen floor. So if installing new kitchen flooring is on your DIY agenda this year, you're in luck.

    We've taken the five most popular kitchen flooring options -- ceramic tile, hardwood, laminate, linoleum and vinyl -- and broken them down according to their pros, cons, cost, durability, and DIY-ability (of course).

    In this first installment, we take a closer look at ceramic tile for the kitchen. See if it's right for you!


    How It's Made: Constructed of natural clay, ceramic floor tiles are glazed on one side and then fired under extreme heat for resilience.

    How It's Sold: They're available in either a glossy or matte finish. Ceramic floor tiles are typically sold in ½-inch to ¾-inch thick four-by-four squares, but can be much larger (even up to 24 by 24 inches).

    Pros: Extremely durable and dent-, water- and stain-resistant.

    Cons: Although durable, ceramic tile is susceptible to cracking, so be sure your subfloor is level and can accommodatesthe thickness of the tile you choose. Ceramic tile can be slippery when wet (consider slip-resistant textured tiles), hard on legs and cold underfoot.

    DIY Degree of Difficulty: Challenging but Doable
    Although many homeowners successfully install ceramic kitchen flooring on their own, this job isn't for everyone. Because tiles usually require cutting to fit, precise measurements, mortar mixing and grout application, the entire process can be very time-consuming. Detailed designs require advanced DIY skills.

    kitchen flooring, ceramic floor tileCleaning ceramic tile is as simple as using a damp sponge. Photo: Getty Images

    Care & Maintenance: Dust-mop and/or sweep with a soft-bristled broom. Vacuum with the soft floor attachment (but be careful; the ends of certain attachments can scratch delicate finishes). Wash tiles by hand with a natural vinegar-based solution or use a damp mop as needed.

    Cost (per square foot): From $4 to $8. Contractors generally charge about $5 (installation only, excluding tile and grout).

    Remember to...
    o. Only choose ceramic kitchen tile with a number three (for medium to heavy traffic) to five (for extra-heavy traffic) rating as recommended by the Porcelain Enamel Institute: It's a cumulative measure of the tile's hardness, how much water it will absorb, and how well it will wear.
    o. Buy extra tile so you'll always have spares on hand to replace cracked pieces.

    Tip: Ripping up your old flooring? Expect to pay $2 per square foot for its removal.

    Check back next week when we explore another great kitchen flooring option: Vinyl.

    If you do choose ceramic tiles for your kitchen, watch this video to learn perfect grouting techniques:


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    Inexpensive coffee filters have lots of of uses beyond the daily grind.

    Each morning you wake up, prepare a pot of coffee and going about your routine. But while you're doing the daily grind, you're actually taking for granted a useful, multipurpose household tool that's right under your nose: the coffee filter!

    In this video, you'll see coffee filters uses for everything from preventing rust and grease buildup to cleaning windows and gardening.

    Got any other uses to add? Let us know in the comments below!

    Cleaning a Coffee Maker
    (Martha Stewart)
    How to Get a Coffee Stain Out of the Carpet (Good Housekeeping)


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    Aren't those super small screws so annoying when you're trying to assemble furniture and accessories? We offer up a few tips for dealing with small screws when you're at your wit's end.

    small screwsSmall screws are one thing, but screws that are the size of a grain of rice? Now those are frustrating. Photo: gribley, Flickr

    DIY Life reader Jesse Schmitt has had it *up to here* with the teeny tiny screws that come with his ready-to-assemble furniture. Jesse says:

    It seems to me that everything that "requires some assembly" also requires the superhuman ability to carefully handle objects the size of your eyelash. And I don't know what perverse law of physics controls tiny objects, but they always manage not just to fall, but to fling themselves from your grasp into a shag rug or vat of lava or something. Some manufacturers are starting to include spare screws for people like me. But any given DIY project includes at least a 10-minute search-and-rescue operation for Tiny Part 00b-4X.

    We hear you, Jesse! In fact, we're excited to announce our new column here on DIY Life; we're calling it "My DIY Dilemma" -- and your little DIY nuisance is our first topic!

    In the following video, DIYer Danny Lipford and his right hand man show you two cool tricks for working with very small screws. They're both simple and effective. Try them out and tell us what you think!

    Got a DIY Dilemma you want us to address in a future post? Write to!


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    DIY projects don't need to be elaborate, back-breaking endeavors. Check out simple projects from around the web that repurpose everyday items into something fabulous.

    everyday itemsCurbly

    A beautiful headboard can make a big impact to any room. While there are plenty of store-bought options at your disposal, you can easily make your own headboard out of everyday materials. Wood, paint, upholstered panels, and doors are some of the many items you can use to craft grand headboards. [Curbly]

    everyday itemsApartment Therapy

    Wooden pallets -- those flat, portable platforms used to transport goods -- are one of the most readily available, inexpensive DIY materials. Simply visit a local pallet company, and you can pick up hundreds of these platforms free. They can then be used to craft a unique, rustic wall. The process is simple, consisting of separating the wood planks from the pallets and using nails or glue to attach each plank onto the wall. [Mom and Her Drill via Apartment Therapy]

    everyday itemsApartment Therapy

    For some it's hard to wrap their head around this concept: you don't need to spend a lot of money for statement furniture pieces. These plain, affordable IKEA cabinets are given a new look with an easy wallpaper application. [Apartment Therapy]

    everyday itemsShelterPop

    For most homes, a desk is an essential piece of furniture. Before you buy one, check out creative ways you can craft a custom-make desk. ShelterPop features three DIY desks created from floating shelves, bookcases and cinderblocks (yes, the same cinderblocks you used in college). [ShelterPop]

    everyday itemsMartha Stewart

    Brighten up a room with mirrored furniture that won't break the bank. Upgrade a coffee table or end table by topping them with custom-cut mirror glass. [Martha Stewart]

    everyday items, diy pendant lampsBetter Homes & Gardens

    Take your bowls out of the kitchen and into the bedroom with these charming pendant lamps. Drill a hole in the bottom of the bowls and insert a halogen accent light. Use grosgrain ribbon and bows to dress up the cord. [Better Homes & Gardens]

    everyday itemsYoung House Love

    Save money on artwork by painting large canvases with interior latex paint. This is an inexpensive way to add a splash of color to bland to walls. [Real Simple]

    Young House Love may take top prize for best 15-minute DIY project. The adorable couple, Sherry and John, crafted a chic side table from a luggage rack and faux leather tray. Using a stroke of genius they attached the tray to the luggage rack with simple Command removable adhesive strips. [Young House Love]


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    Drilling into concrete and masonry can be a disaster if you're not using the right tools. Here's some breakthrough advice on getting the job done right.

    driling concrete, drilling masonryGetty Images

    So here's a call I received once at the headquarters of MyFixitUpLife, where my wife Theresa and I offer insights into building, designing, and living through renovations as professionals and as a family. The call came from a friend who was having the darndest time trying to hang some shelves on a garage wall.

    His was frustrated because the wall he was trying to drill into was made of concrete. Just as he'd seen me do on other projects, he picked up some masonry bits from the store for his cordless drill, but when he tried sinking holes in the wall the bits turned cherry red and left nary a mark on the concrete. He was at a loss and didn't know what to do.

    The short answer is that drilling holes in concrete requires the right tools and bits. And, ironically, as they work together they don't "drill" in the same sense a wood bit does. What's happening when you use a concrete drill is that the tool and bit are pulverizing the concrete in front of the bit while the dust is getting pulled up and out of the hole by the flutes on the bit. This is why you'll see the term "hammer" on a tool that drills holes in concrete and masonry -- because hammering is what it's really doing.

    There are two types of hammers for drilling concrete: A hammerdrill is for drilling small holes (roughly a half-inch or less) and a rotary hammer is for drilling large holes (roughly larger than a half-inch, depending on the tool). And while the rotary hammer, which is a professional tool, can also drill small holes, a hammerdrill can't drill large ones, so it's important to buy or rent the right tool for the job.


    drilling concrete, drilling

    When people ask me to give a list of the five essential tools to have around the house or shop, an 18-volt drill/hammerdrill almost always makes the short list. All the majors make them (here's a Porter-Cable model at left as an example) and they're ideal for drilling small holes for small expansion anchors -- what some people call "moly bolts."

    Drill in moly bolts for light-duty connections to concrete and masonry -- everything from hanging vinyl shutters from a stucco house to attaching metal shelf brackets to a concrete or block wall. We've had good performance over the years with Red Head Poly-Set anchors for chores like this. We've even had great luck using hammerdrills on plaster-on-block walls that are as hard as concrete.

    NOTE: If your plaster is over lath (a thin, narrow strip of wood; knock, and if it sounds hollow and/or doesn't break your knuckle it's probably over lath), try drilling first in non-percussion mode with a hammerdrill bit to see if the bit will drill out the plaster. Using the drill in hammer (percussion) mode might blow out the plaster because there's nothing behind it but air.

    What's particularly efficient about using a drill/hammerdrill is that you can use the same tool to drill the anchor hole, then drive the anchor (in this case a screw). Drill/hammerdrills are also a good go-to for drilling holes in concrete floors for metal thresholds.

    The tool's impact mechanism (called a "gubbins" for tool geeks like me) works like two poker chips spinning against each other, causing vibration at high speeds. This tool isn't for all-day drilling and driving by any means, but it'll get the job done for smaller projects like hanging a light fixture on a brick house. The tool vibrates quite a bit and the sound it makes is pretty loud. The hole goes down, but you know the tool's working -- and so do your neighbors.

    Rotary Hammer
    The rotary hammer is the Rolls Royce of the concrete-drilling world. Oversimplifying it somewhat, they work like jackhammers. A piston drives the bit forward which pulverizes the concrete or stone in front of it more effectively and much more quietly than a hammerdrill. As a result, you can work faster and drill significantly larger holes with these tools.

    While we'd recommend renting them for most homeowners because they're both specialized and expensive tools (with their own dedicated and expensive bits) they are the go-to implement if you have to drill half-inch or larger holes. Say, for example, you're building a deck on a stone house or drilling a hole for a dryer vent in a block house. Rotary hammers come in many sizes from small to mondo so when you rent one make sure to tell the rental salesman exactly what you're doing so he can select the right hammer for you. At MyFixitUpLife headquarters, we've had good luck on the smaller end of the weight scale - about 12 pounds - for most of the concrete drilling we do on our professional job sites.

    Some rotary hammers also come with a chipping function (again, think handheld jackhammer here). The effectiveness of this is commensurate with the size of the hammer you're using, but if you have to chip concrete for some reason - maybe for eliminating an old clothesline footing, an obsolete planter, or blob of concrete ancoring a fence post - you can break the concrete up using this tool.

    So whether you plan to hang shelves or build a deck, whenever you come across concrete, the shortest path to success is using the right combination of bits and tools to get the job done right.

    Mark Clement is a contractor and all-around DIY pro. See more of his advice and projects at

    Here are some more tips from DIY Life about choosing the right drill:
    In The Workshop: Cordless Drills
    In The Workshop: Drill Bits
    Drilling Masonry: Avoid Disaster with the Right Tools

    Want to know more? Check out this video on drilling:


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    Dryer lint is disgusting, and your first instinct is probably to toss it. But here's an idea: save it up and use it to start a fire in your wood stove fireplace. Here's how.

    dryer lint, dryer lint usesDryer lint and egg cartons to start a fire in your fireplace. Who knew? Photos: dumbeast, Flickr; Getty Images

    Nobody knows what to do with old dryer lint -- aside from the throw it away, of course -- but here's how to reuse it in a fun and creative way!

    Save up your empty cardboard egg cartons and mix a combination of melted candle wax and dryer lint into the egg cups. Break the cups apart and you have a dozen firestarters to toss into your wood stove or fireplace! Add essential oils or other scents to the wax for an added bonus.

    Watch this video to learn the right way to clean your dryer vent of lint (which can impede your dryer's performance if it builds up):

    Got any other uses for dryer lint? Let us know in the comments below!


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