Home Care

How To Paint a Brick Fireplace

A painted brick fireplace in a modern living room.
Suzanne Dhinoy

Brick fireplaces are great, but they often look dated, dark, and dirty. Instead of living with that drab, sooty look, learn how to paint a brick fireplace to give your space some fresh new style.

When it comes to fireplaces, brick is overwhelmingly the most popular material choice for the surrounding wall. It’s affordable, and its non-flammable properties make it a practical option. But, as brick ages, it deteriorates, loses its color, and captures dirt and grime. Give yours a fresh new look by learning how to paint a brick fireplace.

Learning how to paint a brick fireplace isn’t hard, but it does require certain tools and materials.

Tools for Painting a Brick Fireplace

Wire brushesWet-dry vacuumSpongeRespiratorRubber glovesSafety glasses3 or 5-gallon bucket
2-inch paintbrush (angled and stiff is best for this application)Paint rollerTwo ¾-inch nap roller coversPaint trayPaint tray linerLadder (for taller fireplaces)Materials for Painting a Brick FireplaceTrisodium phosphate cleanerPainter’s tapeDrop clothsBrick primer and sealerAcrylic latex paintNote: White is the most popular color for painting brick fireplaces, but the following steps are applicable for any color.

How to Paint a Brick Fireplace

Painting a brick fireplace shouldn’t take all day, but there is a certain order to follow to achieve the perfect painted brick fireplace look. The following steps will take you from preparation to the finished product.

1. Clean the fireplace

Even well-kept fireplaces are too dirty to paint, so a bit of preparation and cleaning is in order. Start by removing the fireplace surround, if there is one; this usually just requires loosening a few screws on the inside of the surround.

With the surround removed and all the brick exposed, take a wire brush and give the bricks and mortar joints a light scrubbing. This will loosen any debris, chunks of dirt, and loose mortar that would affect the paint job. Use a wet-dry vacuum to clean up the dust.

With the dust removed, it’s time to clean the surface to remove soot, chemicals, oils, and anything else that could be on the brick. Put on some rubber gloves, a respirator, and a pair of safety glasses and mix a solution of trisodium phosphate according to the directions. Use the bucket and sponge to scrub the brick.

2. Prepare the fireplace for paint

After all the loose debris, soot, and grime are removed, give the fireplace a few hours to dry. In the meantime, use tape and drop cloths to protect the wall, hearth, mantle, and any other surfaces you don’t want to paint. Take your time with this step, as the brick has to dry anyway and the more effort you put in now, the less cleanup you’ll have to do later.

3. Seal the brick and mortar

Before painting a brick fireplace, the porous surfaces in the mortar and brick need sealing. Using a product specially designed for sealing masonry will ensure that these pores don’t absorb the paint, requiring fewer coats and ending with a better result. And the sealer will prevent stains and create a uniform basecoat for a clean finish—particularly important if your color of choice is white.

Place a tray liner into the paint tray and pour about ¼ gallon into the tray. Use the paintbrush to work the sealer into the mortar, pushing it into any cracks and crevices with the bristles. Use the paint roller and the ¾-inch nap cover to coat the brick with the sealer. The thick nap should cover the brick quickly while getting plenty of sealer into all the nooks and crannies. If necessary, apply a second coat.

4. Paint the brick fireplace

Since you took the time to prime and seal it, painting the brick fireplace is fairly straightforward. While the sealer is drying, wash the paintbrush with soap and water. Also, change the liner in the paint tray, and swap a fresh roller sleeve on the paint roller.

Pour about ¼ gallon of acrylic latex paint into the paint tray, then use the brush to work the paint into the mortar joints, following up with the paint roller. Just go slower in this step than you did with the sealer, as it’s easy to miss a spot if you’re using white or light paint over the light sealer.

Repeat this step as many times as necessary until you’re happy with the coverage. Once the paint is dry, resecure the fireplace surround.

Maintaining a White Painted Brick Fireplace

While the main purpose of painting a brick fireplace white is to brighten a dark, dingy element within a home, easier maintenance is a secondary benefit. Warm water, a non-abrasive all-purpose cleaner, and a sponge are all it takes to keep a white-painted brick fireplace looking fresh and clean.

And, with the work behind you, it’s time to enjoy a fresh, clean, brighter space. Choose new decor items, house plants, and other touches to accent the painted brick fireplace for a totally new feel.

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Home Care

My Sweeten Story: A Retro Pink Bathroom Takes a Modern Turn

small-spaced bathroom remodel in Philadelphia maximizes every inch to fit a deep soaking tub

“After” photos by Kristina Kroot for Sweeten

Homeowners: Kait and Patrick posted their project on Sweeten as first-time homeownersWhere: Philadelphia’s Point Breeze/Newbold neighborhood, PennsylvaniaPrimary renovation: A full-scale rip-and-replace of the small outdated bathroom original to their 1920 homeSweeten general contractorSweeten’s role:Sweeten matches home renovators with vetted general contractors, offering advice, support, and up to $50,000 in financial protection—for freeWritten in partnership with homeowner Kait

Living with a yesteryear Philadelphia bathroom

Tiny pink south Philly row home bathroom needs a complete renovation, our Sweeten project post read. We attached photos, featuring not only the Pepto-toned tiles, but teal-colored rugs and seashell wallpaper. They’d been photographed three years earlier, but little had changed—proof that the project was way overdue. The bathroom hadn’t been renovated since the home was built in 1920.

Portrait of Sweeten homeowners

We’re Kait and Patrick, former renters who jumped to buy a fixer-upper as we watched housing prices tick up in our ideal Philadelphia neighborhoods. When we purchased our 1,400-square-foot row house in the southern Point Breeze/Newbold area a few years ago, we completed renovations including laying new floors, adding central air, skim-coating and painting the walls, and installing a new kitchen. But we didn’t have the budget to renovate the old bathroom.

Learning from past renovations

As anyone can see, the bathroom was ugly. The floor tile didn’t coordinate with the walls. Everything was old and stained; no amount of cleaning made it look presentable. But it was our only bathroom (unless you count the creepy basement toilet and slop sink). When the time came to remodel it, our immediate priorities were practical: finding a contractor who could complete the project in a reasonable amount of time and without sacrificing the quality of materials or workmanship.

Split images of the bathroom before renovation

Bathroom with pink walls and wooden vanity

Then there was the goal: To create something that would feel like a sanctuary. With that vision in mind, we put a lot of effort into interviewing contractors who responded to our Sweeten project posting and hired our general contractor. In our last renovation, honestly, we had terrible experiences. Like with the contractor who demolished our kitchen so prematurely that we lived without a kitchen for eight months. We were determined to prevent another debacle like that.

The bathroom was chaotic and we lived with it for a long time, but the chance to improve it came sooner than expected. After twice canceling our wedding due to Covid, we eloped and put the money saved towards the bathroom project. Our families and friends were generous with wedding gifts, further helping us fund the job.

Wood vanity with mirror and gold hardware

Shower with chevron tiling and bronze hardware

After twice canceling our wedding due to Covid, we eloped and put the money saved towards the bathroom project.

The small-spaced bathroom stays small

From the first planning phases, we knew we would have no layout changes. We didn’t want to expand into any of the bedrooms, so we agreed that the bathroom would remain really small. We set out to use every inch.

Making the bathroom functional—versus crammed—meant we had to be intentional with the size of everything. The original bathtub was designed for shorter people, so finding one that could fit my 6’3” husband was a must, and we eventually did. We chose a trim toilet and a vanity that is narrow, but offers storage. We opted for a barn door-style glass shower enclosure to let the light flow through and open up the space.

Vanity and mirror with bronze hardware

Choosing neutral with a pop

We also achieved a visual openness with color, or lack of it. We used a lot of bold hues in the rest of our house; we wanted this to be a departure from that, so we went with gray and white. But with this neutral tile choice, we started to worry that the bathroom would be boring—even if it did feel bigger, and calmer. We added the gold fixtures to give it a luxe feel. The pink paint is a sort of homage to the old bathroom.

The right renovation team

Throughout the project, our Sweeten contractor gave honest recommendations and feedback. He was straightforward about what tile and fixtures would work best and be most durable. We received a lot of check-ins from Sweeten as the project progressed; it was helpful to know we had extra support if we needed it.

Chevron tiles in the shower with built in shelving

Inside the chevron tiled shower with bronze hardware

We love the result. The super deep soaking tub is amazing and was absolutely worth the money. I love that, unlike with the previous bathroom, I’m not aggravated by the decor when I walk in. Long overdue indeed. We’re so happy we made the most of nearly two tough years and turned this bathroom into a peaceful haven we both love.

Thanks for sharing your bathroom remodel in Philadelphia with us, Kait and Patrick!

Renovation Materials

BATHROOM RESOURCES: Viviano Thassos polished marble floor tile: Floor & DecorAuteur Diagonals Pattern One, 9×9 porcelain wall tile in AshTileBarFour-piece brushed gold bathroom hardware set: WayfairAlignshower fixtures, Align 1.2 GPM widespread bathroom faucetMoenElan brushed gold adjustable frameless sliding tub door: VigoWalnut and white Render bathroom vanity: ModwayToilet:sourced by Sweeten general contractor. Seamless medicine cabinet: West Elm.

Sweeten handpicks the best general contractors to match each project’s location, budget, scope, and style. Follow the blog, Sweeten Stories, for renovation ideas and inspiration and when you’re ready to renovate, start your renovation with Sweeten

The post My Sweeten Story: A Retro Pink Bathroom Takes a Modern Turn appeared first on Sweeten.

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Home Care

Smart Home Security: Keeping Tabs on Your House

Courtesy Ring

Protect your property from porch pirates, intruders, and more with a smart home security system you can set up in an afternoon.

This story originally appeared in the Winter 2021 Issue of This Old House Magazine. Click here to learn how to subscribe.

After four years of living with a traditional wired security system at his Mariposa, CA, home, Jim Allen was ready for a change. “I was tired of walking through the door with my arms full of groceries thinking; I’ve got 30 seconds to turn o that alarm,” he recalls. So Jim canceled his service—which took nearly a week of customer service calls—and installed a smart home- security package himself. He was also paying $40 per month for professional monitoring, with a price hike looming.

DIY Smart Home Security Systems

Most smart home security is designed with DIY in mind. There’s generally no pro installation called for and no contract required. Homeowners affix sensors to doors and windows and set up motion detectors and cameras themselves; everything is connected to a Wi-Fi-enabled hub and controlled via a mobile app.

Unlike old-school security offerings, these smart systems give homeowners instant information about what’s going on in their homes via their smartphones. And they communicate wirelessly with monitoring and emergency services instead of relying on a landline that could be cut by an intruder.

As for smart security cameras, they are evolving rapidly, most notably with improvements in night-vision technology. Grainy black-and-white footage is being replaced by crisper, high-resolution infrared video and newer full-color modes. Thanks to new facial recognition technologies, in the not-so-distant future, cameras will be able to tell not just that someone is approaching but whether they’re a stranger or part of the family, reducing false alarms.

The Smart Security Difference

“I appreciate that I can see what’s going on in my home no matter where I am—one time I checked in from a cruise ship,” says Jim, who set up a SimpliSafe system. “And when I arrive home, I can disarm the system and unlock the door from my driveway.” A smart alarm can be voice-controlled, too, if connected to a voice assistant such as an Amazon Echo or a Google Nest device.

Systems also can be customized with add-ons that traditional wired alarms don’t offer, such as water-leak and smoke detectors, as well as temperature sensors that send you a smartphone alert if your pipes are at risk of freezing and bursting. Jim upgraded his own with leak sensors at his sinks and smoke sensors that alert him if a fire ignites.

Some companies, such as Ring, also include a feature in their mobile app that lets neighbors share and comment on one another’s videos, creating a virtual Neighborhood Watch.

What to Look for in a Home Security System

The easiest and most cost-effective solution for most homeowners is a whole-house smart security system. It comes with a hub or control panel with a siren, a handful of magnetic sensors that are triggered when a door or window is opened, a motion sensor that detects movement in a room, and sometimes a security camera.

But if you only need to monitor a small area, such as a sliding patio door, a front entryway, or part of the backyard, there are also stand-alone options that can be purchased à la carte, such as iHome’s iSB01 motion sensor ($30; ihomeaudio.com), which detects unexpected activity in a room, and the affordable Wyze Cam v3 ($30; wyze.com), a simple indoor/outdoor camera.

Be sure any camera installed outside is rated for outdoor use; you can also check the IP (ingress protection) rating, which indicates how well it will stand up to the elements, including water (look for IP55 or higher). If the camera requires AC power, consider how you’ll run a line to the power supply when deciding where to place it. If it’s battery-powered, mount it where it can be easily retrieved for periodic recharging. Most major brands offer monitoring as an upgrade. This can be worth paying for, especially if you travel frequently or are often out of wireless range.

For as little as $4.99 a month (with the option to cancel anytime), most monitoring companies will call if an alarm is tripped and will send first responders to your home if you don’t answer within a set amount of time or if you request help.

For Jim, the money he’s saving is a major plus, but what he likes most about his smart home security system is that it keeps him informed and in control 24/7. “I can always check my phone to see exactly what’s going on in my house,” he says. “I have total access.”

Comparing Smart Home Security Systems

These popular whole-house systems all offer starter packages with hubs and door/window sensors, plus plenty of extras, but their prices and features vary widely.

Blue by ADT


Blue hub by ADT
Courtesy ADTWhat you get: The Starter System ($220) comes with a hub and two door/window sensors.Add on options: Doorbell, outdoor and indoor cameras ($200 each); motion sensor ($25); flood and temperature sensor ($35).Pros: Access to the same quality monitoring service ($20 per month) used by wired-alarm customers.Cons: No smoke sensor available. Utilitarian design.



SimpliSafe Security Base
Courtesy SimpliSafeWhat you get: The Essentials package ($259) comes with a hub, three-door/window sensors, and a motion sensor.Add on options: Doorbell, outdoor and indoor cameras ($99–$170 each); glass-break sensor ($35); smoke detector ($30); carbon monoxide sensor ($50); temperature sensor ($30); water sensor ($20); smart lock ($99).Pros: Established brand with dependable, relatively stylish hardware.Cons: Monitoring service is pricey at $25 per month. Indoor camera feels flimsy.



Wyze Security Hub
Courtesy WyzeWhat you get: The Core Starter Kit ($70) has a hub, two door/window sensors, and a motion sensor.Add on options: Doorbell, outdoor and indoor cameras ($27–$51 each).Pros: Very good video quality despite the reasonable price tag. Sleek hardware design. Professional monitoring is only $4.99 per month, the most affordable on the market.Cons: No smoke sensor available.

Ring Alarm


Ring alarm hub
Courtesy RingWhat you get: The Alarm Security Kit ($200) comes with a hub, one door/window sensor, and a motion sensor. Monitoring is $20 per month.Add on options: Doorbell, outdoor and indoor cameras, some with motion-activated lights ($60–$250 each); a smoke alarm listener that sends an alert when existing smoke alarms go off ($35); flood and freeze sensor ($35).Pros: Compatible with other brands’ “Works with Ring” devices.Cons: Extra door/window sensors are pricey at $20 each.



Vivint Home Security System
Courtesy VivintWhat you get: The Starter Kit ($599, plus $45 per month for monitoring) includes a hub, two door/window sensors, a motion sensor, and a leak detector. Or sign a five-year contract and pay $60 per month.Add on options: Doorbell, outdoor and indoor cameras ($200– $400 each); smoke and carbon monoxide detectors ($100); glassbreak sensors ($100); smart lock ($180).Pros: Sophisticated, easy-to-use equipment. Works with third-party Z-Wave devices.Cons: Expensive. Pro installation required.

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Home Care

Open House | Dangerous Staircases


This Old House Production

Ask This Old House general contractor Tom Silva analyzes a staircase that is not to code for prospective homebuyers.

What to Do if Your Stairs Aren’t Up to Code

It is important to note that code requires stair railings to be between 34”-38” away from the stair treads. With open risers, the maximum gap allowed between treads is 4”. To tighten a gap, close in the riser or add material to the top of each step. Balusters and cable railings also need to be a maximum of 4” apart.

If you come across a house with a staircase that isn’t to code, you can either ask the seller to fix the staircase or negotiate a lower selling price accounting for the amount it will cost to fix it.

Why Stairs Should Meet Code

These code violations are particularly dangerous for the elderly and for infants. The stair railing needs to be easily grasped, especially in case of a fall. Toddlers can get their heads stuck between railings and treads and suffocate if the gaps are more than 4”.

If you don’t have young children or an elderly person living with you, you could always consider moving in at your own risk. However, this is an issue that should definitely be resolved at some point once you’re in the house.

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Home Care

Low-Light Plants Great for Any Home

A living room filled with houseplants and a cozy chair.

Want to bring life into your space? If lighting is an issue, these indoor low-light plants are best.

There’s no better, or less expensive, way to do get closer to nature than to incorporate houseplants into your home. If your space lacks natural light, though, that can be tricky. But not impossible. To up the green in your life, try growing a few of these low-light houseplants in your home.

Best Low-Light Plants

Cast-iron plant—aspidistra elatior

Native to China and a member of the lily family, the cast-iron plant is as strong as, well, cast iron. Robust, with dark green leaves and small purple flowers, the cast-iron plant thrives in low indoor light and doesn’t require regular watering. Propagated by division, disease and pest resistant, and also suitable for outdoors, this plant grows to a mature height of about two feet.

Lucky bamboo—dracaena sanderiana

Lucky bamboo sitting in a dish in a living room.
iStockLucky bamboo requires very little light, growing best in low, indirect lighting. It’s also frequently grown in one to three inches of water. If growing in water, always make sure the roots stay covered and you change the water every two to four weeks. Or, you can grow lucky bamboo in well-drained soil, watered frequently.

Spider plant—chlorophytum comosum

A small spider plant in a blue pot sitting on the corner of a table.
Friedrich Strauss/GAP PhotosAptly named for its many “legs,” the spider plant grows best in in direct lighting. Use well-draining soil and water regularly and evenly all around the pot. Happy spider plants will send out shoots with tiny white flowers and baby spiders. Fertilize twice monthly through the spring and summer and plan to repot once a year. Snip off the baby spiders and pot separately to propagate.

Rattlesnake plant—calathea lancifolia

Two rattle snake plants sit on a sideboard in a living room.
Friedrich Strauss/GAP PhotosA striking variety of Calathea, the rattlesnake plant bears long, slender leaves in a medium green shade with dark green edges and spots. The underside of the leaves is a purplish red. In late spring, it produces bright, yellow-orange blooms. Grow in indirect lighting using a mixture of potting soil and sand for adequate drainage. With light, even watering, your rattlesnake plant could grow to over 30-inches tall.

Kimberly queen fern—nephrolepis obliterata

Close up of a kimberly queen fern on a shelf.
iStockIndigenous to the Kimberly region of Australia, this regal fern grows outdoors in warm weather, or indoors all year long. Provide moist, well-drained soil in a humid, partial to low-light location with adequate water, and your fern will thrive. Never allow the soil to dry completely. Water thoroughly when the top inch or two of soil is dry. Also, keep away from drafts.

Marimo moss ball—aegagropila linnaei

This exotic “pet” moss plant isn’t what you customarily think of when shopping for houseplants. Actually, it’s not moss at all. These interesting aquatic additions to any low-light area are actually strands of algae rolled into a ball. Hence the name marimo, Japanese for ball of algae. If you’re into the curious and unusual, get a marimo ball and keep it in regular tap water that you change every two weeks. Also, don’t let direct sun hit the glass vessel it’s in; marimo is native to the cool lakes of Japan and Northern Europe, and direct light can heat the water up and turn your marimo brown.

ZZ plant—zamioculcas zamiifolia

A small zz plant sits on a window sill in a white pot.
iStockIt’s no mystery why the ZZ plant is wildly popular with plant lovers everywhere. It’s drought-tolerant, thrives in low-light situations, and its wide, dark green leaves have a smooth, waxy surface that reflects light to make you smile. Many varieties of ZZ plant exist and generally reach two to three feet in height and width. Grow in standard potting mix and propagate by separating the rhizomes.

Dumb cane plant—dieffenbachia amoena

The dumb cane will grow up to six feet and sport wide, bushy leaves. The best part? It’s not picky about anything. If conditions aren’t optimal, it still grows, just not as tall. For best results, grow in half potting mix, half peat. Place in bright, indirect light in a warm location, and keep the top inch of soil moist.

Chinese evergreen—aglaonema

This tropical low-light plant will make you look like a charter member of the Green Thumb Society. The Chinese evergreen thrives in low-light conditions and prefers well-draining soil, temperatures no lower than 60 degrees, and humidity (We did say tropical, yes?). Otherwise, it’s pretty tough, and doesn’t like too much water. In love already? Propagate with cuttings, which root easily in water.

Lack of sunshine is no reason to keep the life out of your home. These ideas will get you started, and a visit to your local nursery will provide even more options for that low-lit corner or entryway.

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Home Care

5 Shower Bench Ideas for a Bathroom Remodel

The shower bench: A bathroom detail to add for relaxation and functionality

The bathroom remodel holds second place as the most popular project in the home. (The kitchen is the most popular.) While choices for tile, layout, and storage are usually top-of-mind, adding details like a shower bench can also make a big impact.

For many, shower benches are a nice add-on as they provide both form and function. They can help people with mobility challenges. Provide a special place for relaxation. Add a unique design perspective to the room. Or, all of the above. Here, five shower bench designs from Sweeten renovations show the comfort of taking a seat.

Sweeten matches home renovation projects with vetted general contractors, offering advice, support, and up to $50,000 in renovation financial protection—for free.

Eye-catching wraparound shower bench seating

bathroom wet room

One way to make a statement is with a long shower bench that wraps around the area. It gives the space an almost spa-like feel. This Sweeten homeowner took it even a step further. She elevated the design by adding in under-mounted lights. This larger-sized bench allows for extra storage as well. This Sweeten homeowner keeps a handy shower caddy at the ready. But others have been known to use it as a way to add interesting accents, like candles or even plants.

pulldown shower bench with a purpose

Sometimes you just don’t have enough room to add a built-in shower bench. Don’t worry: you still have options! Smaller spaces can accommodate drop-down shower bench seats. These are great additions if you have mobility challenges (for example, for recent injuries or are elderly). They provide a safe spot to steady yourself or take a rest. This Sweeten renovation combined two crowded bathrooms to create a larger, more accessible one for a father’s limited mobility. Now, his wheelchair and walker can fit and move with ease. The shower needed to be safe and comfortable with a shower bench and grab bar. Mission accomplished!

luxuriously long bench

walk-in shower with bench and marble tiles on walls and recessed shelves and glass door after renovation

If you do have the space, consider putting in a long shower bench—one that runs the length of your shower. This is a luxurious addition to any bathroom design. It will provide you with space for a basket of shower accessories. Or, just use it as a place to sit and relax as you enjoy the steam of a hot shower. Like the wraparound bench, it provides a visually appealing design element to the space. This Sweeten homeowner updated her bathrooms with resale in mind and felt that this added feature would be a draw.

versatile freestanding shower bench

frameless glass sliding doors to a walk in shower with steel bathroom fittings and open shelves after renovation

For Sweeten homeowners, Olivia and Greg, it was the upcoming birth of their first child that sparked a remodel. They wanted an overall update to their prewar co-op and to be more versatile. Olivia pictured a bathroom that would be a place she could retreat to. “We wanted something that looked good, but was also functional so that I could shave my legs and relax during a hot shower,” Olivia said.

functional floating bench

The aesthetic of a floating shower bench is streamlined but functions like all other shower benches. When installed properly (it is important to hire an expert contractor for the project!) a floating shower bench can hold up to 400lbs. Sweeten homeowner Megha added this feature to her bath without using up a lot of space. Since it is open underneath, she could store toiletries and other necessities.

Finding the right general contractor to add a shower bench

Having a successful bathroom remodel depends on the expertise of the right general contractor, and architect or design team. Are you looking for general contractor experts near you? Sweeten matches homeowners with vetted general contractors, offering guidance and financial protection—at no cost to the homeowner. Start by posting your project on Sweeten today.

Sweeten handpicks the best general contractors to match each project’s location, budget, and scope, helping until project completion. Follow the blog for renovation ideas and inspiration and when you’re ready to renovate, start your renovation on Sweeten

The post 5 Shower Bench Ideas for a Bathroom Remodel appeared first on Sweeten.

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Home Care

Improve Your Attic Ventilation with Soffit Vents

Nancy Andrews

Here’s how to install soffit vents step by step to improve the airflow in your attic.

If you’re looking to install new ventilation in your house, you might want to consider a soffit vent.

Should I Add Soffit Vents?

If your home is fitted solely with small gable-end vents or a ventilator high in the roof, you might want to consider adding soffit vents to increase airflow. These vents allow outside air to enter the attic at the lowest point of the roof—along the underside of the eave. They’re most effective when used in conjunction with a continuous ridge vent.

Soffit vents come in several sizes and styles, including small round discs and rectangular grilles. We opted for aluminum strip vents that measure 3 in. wide x 8 ft. long. This style vent provides a quick way to ventilate every rafter bay. Strips vents come in white, brown, and silver; you’ll pay less than $3 for an 8-ft. length.

How to Install Soffit Vents

Step 1: Make Two Parallel Lines

Person marking ceiling to prepare for soffit vent installation.
Start by using a chalk reel to snap two parallel lines down the center of the soffit. Space the lines 2 in. apart, allowing the vent to overlap the cutout by ½ in. on each edge.

Step 2: Cut Parallel Lines

Person cutting a soffit vent with a circular saw.
Photo by Merle HenkeniusNext, bore a 3⁄4- or 1-in.-dia. hole through the soffit right between the lines and measure the thickness of the soffit panel (probably 1⁄4 or 3⁄8 in.). Then set your circular saw to that depth and cut along the chalk lines.

Cut the two parallel lines with a portable circular saw. Set the blade depth to cut through the thin soffit material barely.

Step 3: Connect the Two Cuts

Person using a hammer and chisel on the ceiling.
Photo by Merle HenkeniusWhen you near the end of the soffit, stop short and connect the two cuts with a sharp chisel or sabre saw. Once all cuts are made, use a thin pry bar to remove the 2-in. plywood strip. Pull any nails that remain in the soffit framing with a cat’s paw.

Then inspect the length of the vent cutout. If there’s any insulation clogging the slot, pull it out or shove it back up.

Step 4: Raise the Vent up to the Soffit

Person raising a vent to improve attic ventilation.
Photo by Merle HenkeniusNext, lay the strip vent down on a flat wood surface, such as a plywood sheet or long 2 x 4, and drill 1⁄8-in.-dia. screw holes through both flanges. Space the holes 12 to 14 in. apart. With the help of an assistant, raise the vent up to the soffit and center it over the cutout slot.

Step 5: Attach the Vent to the Soffit

Person using a drill to install a soffit vent.
Photo by Merle HenkeniusUse a cordless drill/driver to secure the vent to the soffit with ½-in.-long No. 4 sheet-metal screws. Continue installing additional strip vents until you reach the far end. Trim the last vent to length using aviation snips.

Step 6: Remove Any Insulation From the New Vent

Person checking attic insulation.
Photo by Merle HenkeniusThe soffit vents are now installed, but you still need to make sure there’s no insulation blocking the new vents. If the attic is insulated with fiberglass batts, just pull back any that are blocking the flow of air. If there’s blown-in insulation, like ours, rake back the fluffy stuff with a 3- or 4-ft.-long 1 x 6, or use a garden rake or hoe.

Step 7: Install the Ventilation Baffle

Person stapling a ventilation baffle to wall.
Photo by Merle HenkeniusFinally, to ensure that the airway to the vent remains open, staple a ventilation baffle to the plywood sheathing in each rafter bay. The molded polystyrene baffles, available at home centers and lumberyards for about $1 each, form channels that hold insulation at bay and direct incoming air upward.

Can You Have Too Much Ventilation in Your Attic?

For most of us, the attic is a place to store clothes, luggage, and old family photos, but for energy researchers, it’s a hot topic of discussion. Building codes have called for increased attic insulation in the last several decades.

Most experts contend that a well-ventilated attic keeps the house more comfortable in summer and guards against moist, heated air building up in winter. There are also dissenting voices who say that the benefits of ventilation are overrated.

Who’s right? More research is needed, but here’s what we do know:

Don’t avoid ventilating your attic for fear you’re letting cold air into the house. Your actual living space is sealed and insulated at the attic floor—the attic is outside this envelope.If there are asphalt shingles on your roof, the attic must be ventilated to comply with the terms of the manufacturer’s warranty.One reason for the lack of agreement over attic ventilation is the tremendous variation in climate across North America. Rarely will you find a building practice that works everywhere.For instance, attic ventilation is used widely in cold climates to evacuate the warm, moist air that escapes from the living space below. If this air lingers, it can condense on the underside of the roof sheathing and rot it. A healthy airflow also helps with ice dams, which begin to form when warm air in the attic melts the snow from beneath and creates runoff that refreezes on the colder eave. Great, but neither of these problems is experienced in warmer climates.

Home Care

How to Prevent Condensation on Windows


Window condensation is an ideal breeding ground for mold and mildew. Read this guide to prevent these potentially harmful species from entering your home.

Are fogged-up windows keeping you from enjoying the view from your home? There are several ways to stop window condensation from forming, and the first step is to identify the cause of the problem. Then you can easily prevent moisture from accumulating.

What Causes Condensation on Windows?

Condensation happens when there’s a significant difference in temperature between two sides of a glass surface. Think of a glass of ice-cold water on a summer day; the water’s temperature is considerably lower than the hot air, so the glass starts to “sweat.” The same thing can happen with your home’s windows.

Window condensation isn’t necessarily a big deal and often doesn’t require attention as it generally disappears on its own. But if you’re not able to easily wipe the moisture away, you might have a problem to address. Let’s examine the possible scenarios.

Where is the Condensation Coming From?

First off, determine whether the condensation is happening on the outside or inside your windows by trying to wipe the moisture away. If it’s on the outside, it isn’t a problem—the wetness is just the dew that naturally forms when the window is colder than the dew point.

If the condensation is forming on the inside, that’s an indication that the relative humidity level in your home is too high. Excessive indoor condensation is a potential issue because it could result in dangerous and destructive mold and mildew growth, and constantly exposing a wooden window frame to water can cause it to blister, crack, and warp. The moisture can also spread to the wall surrounding the window, leaving unsightly water stains and eventually causing the drywall to disintegrate.

If you can’t wipe away the moisture from the outside or the inside because it’s stuck between the panes of your window, that’s a problem. This means the seal between the panes has been broken, or the desiccant (an absorptive material) between the panes is oversaturated and needs to be replaced. This issue will not resolve itself, and to get rid of the condensation, you’ll need to either reseal the window or replace the panes. If the panes are too old to be replaced, you’ll have to replace the entire window.

How to Prevent Outdoor Condensation

Since outdoor condensation is a natural occurrence, there’s no real need to address it. The sun should evaporate the moisture as the day goes on. If you’re eager to see outside first thing in the morning, however, you can apply a windshield water repellent like Rain X to prevent condensation from forming on the exterior of your windows. Water repellent works by encouraging droplets to gather and run off the surface.

How to Prevent Indoor Condensation

Condensation on windows
iStockIf your window is sweating from the inside, this indicates that the humidity level in your home—or a particular room—is too high. The ideal relative humidity level is around 30 percent in the winter and 50 percent in the summer and should not exceed 60 percent. You can measure the relative humidity in your home with a hygrometer or by checking the humidity meter built into most smart thermostats.

To remedy the issue of indoor condensation, here are some things to try:

Lower the humidifier

A humidifier surrounded by plants
iStockIf you’re running a humidifier, try turning it down as many people do in the winter. As mentioned, the relative humidity in your home shouldn’t exceed 60 percent, at which level the humidity can damage your walls and encourage mold growth.

Circulate the air

Turning on a ceiling fan or running a room fan is an easy way to remove excess humidity.

Open the curtains

If your curtains or drapes are shut, they could be trapping the heat by the window. Open them to release the warmer air.

Use an exhaust fan

Rooms like the kitchen and bathroom are prone to excessive moisture, and a boiling pot or hot shower will fog the windows up quickly. Run the exhaust fan to help control the humidity level in these high-moisture rooms.

Remove plants and firewood

Plants and firewood release moisture, so keeping them indoors may be the source of your problem. Try removing these items or moving them away from the window to see if that mitigates the condensation.

Use a moisture eliminator or dehumidifier

To directly dehumidify an area, you can purchase a moisture eliminator like Damp Rid, a product consisting of crystals that attract and absorb moisture, or a dehumidifier.

Taking these steps can go a long way in preventing condensation from forming on your windows—and you’ll be able to enjoy clear views of the outside again!

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Home Care

How to Fix a Screen Door



If the screen in your sliding door has a hole, it’s time to repair it. Keep the insects out with a few simple tools and some new screening.

Maybe the dog wanted to tell you that he needed to go out, or maybe the cat decided to sharpen her claws. Or you were distracted and didn’t see the sliding patio door until you walked through it. Whatever the reason, your screen door is now damaged—instead of preventing insects from entering, large birds can come and go as they please.

You could take the door down to your local hardware store and have them replace the screen, but why deny yourself the pleasure of installing a new screen? Here’s how to do it.

What You Need to Fix Your Screen

When you go to the hardware store or home center, you’ll find an assortment of screening materials in a few different sizes, everything from 24- to 96-inches wide. You also get to choose the style of the screen to match the existing screens at home. Do you need fiberglass? Black? Charcoal or silver? A fine weave that keeps fruit flies out and is easy to see through? Or how about a heavy-weave pet screen that will stand up to lions, tigers, and bears? There’s also aluminum that is rugged and long-lasting. Just make sure that any roll you choose is big enough to cover the door.

While you’re at the store, you’ll also want to pick up a few other essentials. You’ll need new spline material that’s about the same diameter as the original, so bring your original sample as a gauge. You’ll also want a splining tool, a sharp utility knife, and some spring clamps.

Steps for Fixing a Screen Door

Step 1: Prepare a work surface

First, you’ll need a work surface to support the door or screen panel. This surface could be a workbench, a pair of sawhorses covered with some plywood, or even your picnic table.Remove the screen door and lay it out on the work surface with the spline side up. (The spline is a thin piece of flexible plastic, usually black, that’s jammed into the perimeter slot to hold the screen in place.)

Step 2: Measure

Now measure the width and length of the door. Plan on buying screening material wide and long enough so you have an extra 2 inches or so of the screen on all sides.

Step 3: Pry out the spline

Use a flat screwdriver or knife to pry out one bit of the spline, then pull the rest out. Remove the screening and throw it away but keep a small sample of the spline material to bring to the store.

Step 4: Unroll the screen material over the door

Give yourself a couple of inches of overlap, or as much as possible, around the perimeter of the door. Use spring clamps to secure the screen to the door; start on one long side, clamping the opposite side to make the screen taut, then clamp one short side.

Step 5: Cut the spline

Cut the spline into lengths that roughly match the screen’s perimeter, giving yourself a little extra to trim later. Starting on one corner of the unclamped short side, use the spline tool’s concave wheel (it fits snugly over the spline) to press the spline material into the screen and spline groove.You may find that you need to roll the wheel back and forth as you go to set the spline. With your other hand, keep the spline aligned in front of the tool. Work slowly towards the opposite corner, making sure that the screen is pulled tight and the spline is pushed down all the way into the spline groove. As you progress, try using a spring clamp just in front of your work to keep the screen taut as you install the spline. When you get to the opposite corner, use the utility knife to carefully trim the excess spline, cutting away from the screen, toward the outer edge of the screen panel.

Step 6: Repeat on the long sides

Now move your spring clamps from the opposite short side and spline that section. Once the short sides are complete, repeat the process on the long sides. When splining the last side, try to smooth out any wrinkles as you go. Here, and any time during the process, if you end up with a sag or wrinkle, you can always pull the spline out in that area, make everything tight, and re-install the spline. Now go back over the entire perimeter and check that the spline is pushed down all the way.

Step 7: Trim excess screen

Once the entire perimeter is splined, you’ll need to trim the excess screen. Put a new sharp blade into the utility knife. Start in one corner of the spline, and as you did when trimming the spline, orient the blade so you don’t accidentally slice the screen. With a bit of pressure, cut slowly toward yourself along the outer edge spline. (You may have to bear down a little more when cutting aluminum.) Don’t rush this part—you also don’t want to cut the spline. Or yourself. Remove the waste.Congratulations! You have a new screen door. Put the door back in its place and enjoy the breeze. Now that your interest is piqued, if you’d like to tackle making a custom window screen, check out This Old House editor Chris Ermides’ video here.

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Home Care

My Sweeten Story: A Loft-like Garage in LA Brightens Up

This garage remodel in Los Angeles increased the home’s square footage by nearly 40 percent

“After” photos by Luminous Vision for Sweeten

Homeowners: Saima and Tom, two UCLA administrators, found their general contractor by posting their garage remodel in Los Angeles on SweetenWhere: LA County in Inglewood, CaliforniaPrimary renovation: A freestanding two-car garage converts to live-work square-footage with storage and an electric car charging outletSweeten general contractorSweeten’s role:Sweeten matches home renovators with vetted general contractors, offering input, support, and up to $50,000 in renovation financial protection—for free.Written in partnership with homeowner Saima

n old Los Angeles garage finds new use

We’d been living in our house for about three years when we started the garage remodel. The home, built in 1936 and located in Inglewood, a suburb of Los Angeles, is a bungalow-style cottage. The most recent appraisal said it comprised 690 square feet; the unattached garage added an additional 260 square feet of “unofficial” usable space. In a house this small, you can’t afford to take a single square foot for granted. 

garage orange leather counch

Open garage revealing living room

My partner, Tom, and I both work in research administration at the University of California at Los Angeles; I recently completed a certificate for interior design and am in the midst of changing careers. We knew we could benefit from a secondary live-work area. We realized the garage could be it, and that transforming the space could be a rewarding project.

Hiring a general contractor with Sweeten

Knowing we would renovate the garage, we’d agreed it would have to be phase two. We made the first round of renovations out of sheer necessity after buying the house with a long list of structural and systemic issues. The experience of trying to line up dependable contractors had been stressful—even getting quotes. We’d hired the one contractor we could pin down. It was that experience that prompted us to work with Sweeten this time around.

Natural toned garage living room

Garage work space and orange leather couch

We renovated the garage when we did because we planned to sell the house. But working from home during Covid made us realize that room to spread out would benefit us while we still lived there. We posted our project and waited to see what contractors we’d match with.

Inspecting the garage’s structure

The job wouldn’t be easy. We needed to solve the garage’s long-standing structural issues. The building was more than 80 years old; the roof had begun to sag and we were unsure of the extent of the damage. Perhaps the job would involve replacing the ceiling’s support beams and installing a new door. Or it might require an entire rebuild. We needed someone to inspect the structure and advise us of what was needed.

Luckily, that wasn’t as difficult as we anticipated. The Sweeten contractor we chose determined that the original beams had been too narrow, and spaced too far apart, to fully support the garage’s ceiling. He also informed us that the two existing single-car garage doors were rotting away and termite-ridden. Our biggest question was, “Do we have enough money” to fix the problems? Turned out the answer was yes, and then some!

Garage white cabinets with television

Creating a new living/working space in the garage

We had several goals beyond shoring up the garage. First, we wanted to replace the existing two one-car garage doors with a fully automated two-car door. Second, we needed to install a new outlet for plugging in our electric car charger. Finally, we sought to create a space that would be more than a storage area—as comfortable as our living room, but (because local building codes required it) still functional as a garage. No layout changes would be necessary.

We decided to give the space the look of a loft. We envisioned exposed wood beams lining the ceilings, crisp white walls, and a lot of natural light. In keeping with that aesthetic, we used a lot of the existing materials, including the wood ceiling beams (they are the actual structural supports that already existed with some additional wood reinforcing them) and the original concrete slab floor (we filled in cracks with a special cement caulk and painted it gray).

The walls looked so smooth for a dwelling built in 1936, that has been flexing and shifting with every earthquake for the last 80 years.

Custom doors for a small space

One big challenge was the garage door. We have discovered that with a small house comes the joy of everything being undersized and therefore not standard. Doors and windows had needed customization, and the garage door was no different—it was narrower than the norm. In addition, we discovered that the garage floor sloped, necessitating a custom panel on the bottom of the door that sloped side-to-side with the floor, ensuring a weatherproof seal. The panel, though surprisingly expensive, has been worth it.

The walls offered no straight lines, either, but our drywall installer was a true artist. The walls looked so smooth for a dwelling built in 1936, that has been flexing and shifting with every earthquake for the last 80 years. There wasn’t a single straight, vertical wall, and some bowed or curved. The cabinetsprovided a good deal of storage and brought a domestic air to what might otherwise just feel like a garage. The countertop is an unfinished pine board and is, like the ceiling, a little rustic.

natural toned garage living room

Blue garage with closed door

The right contractor, the right partner

Our Sweeten contractor had a clear communication style and was immensely helpful throughout the process. We could always count on him to respond promptly when we sent him a text or email. More often than not he’d call us back to talk via phone, which I appreciated. He kept us informed of when the subcontractors were going to be working and who specifically would be at our house. And best of all, he stayed on budget.

Our contractor was so good that we didn’t need Sweeten’s support too much. But it was nice to know that Sweeten was there if we needed them. It was like knowing you have an insurance policy in case of problems; you hope to never use it, but it gives you peace of mind knowing it’s there.

The space in our new garage feels generous and comfortable, and the light inside is beautiful throughout the day because of all the windows. The built-in cabinets are attractive (the black pulls provide a nice contrast to the white and wood surfaces in the room) and also bring a ton of much-needed storage. Even though the garage is now a living space, we also needed to make sure there were attractive places to store things.

Thanks for sharing your new garage renovation story with us, Saima and Tom!

Renovation Materials

GARAGE RESOURCES: Garage doors: Garage Doors and Gates 4 Less. Windows: HD Supply. Paint in Chantilly Lace: Benjamin MooreSektion base cabinets with Haggeby doors; Nydala pulls in black; paper lantern with light kit light fixture: Ikea. Pine countertop: The Home Depot. Concrete/masonry sealer floor paint in Cape Cod Gray: Permaguard.

Sweeten handpicks the best general contractors to match each project’s location, budget, scope, and style. Follow the blog, Sweeten Stories, for renovation ideas and inspiration and when you’re ready to renovate, start your renovation with Sweeten

The post My Sweeten Story: A Loft-like Garage in LA Brightens Up appeared first on Sweeten.

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