Home Improvement

11 Creative Home Library Ideas

A modern living room with a library full of books that are color coordinated in a rainbow spectrum.
Mark Lohman | Courtesy Kristy Kropat Design

Whether you’re a bookworm with a growing collection of works, or you’re just looking to add a smart focal piece to a room, here are some creative ways to create a library in your home.

Have you always dreamed of a library of your own, but don’t think you have the space for one? You can always get creative: A home library is more about organizing a beautiful display for your book collection and having a cozy spot to devour stories than about owning built-in bookshelves or dedicating an entire room to leather-bound volumes. You don’t need a large space, and you may not even need an actual bookcase.

Let’s take a look at some home library designs and ideas that’ll put you right in the mood to curl up with your favorite book.

Office Library

If you’ve got a spare wall in your home office, that’s a natural space to turn into a library. Being in a room intended for getting work done should inspire you to sit down and read as well. Fill up those shelves with books for work and for pleasure.

Faux Library

No built-ins? No matter. You can easily purchase multiple bookcases and line them up around a room to create the illusion of a wall with built-in shelving. Turn any spare room of your home into a library with this setup.

Corner Library

a midcentury modern style living room with a corner bookshelf.
Mark Lohman | Courtesy Kristy Kropat DesignLibraries don’t have to be expansive. A single armchair, lamp, and bookcase can transform any corner of the house into a comfortable reading spot and small home library. After all, it’s about having an inviting place to settle down with a riveting story.

ttic Library

Turn a narrow or slope-ceilinged attic into a cozy little library of your own. Adding some shelves and a comfy chair or window seat can transform your underused top floor into a welcoming living space.

Bedroom Library

A modern bedroom with a wall of bookshelves behind the bed.
Michael J. Lee | Courtesy Platemark DesignSerious readers will want to surround themselves with books all the time, even when they’re asleep. This charming setup ensures that a novel is always within arm’s reach, even when you’re feeling too lazy to get out of bed.

Hallway Library

Many homes have a long hallway or stair landing that’s basically dead space. Put it to work by turning the walls into shelves and lining them with your favorite stories. It’s a brilliant way to kill two birds with one stone.

Nook Library

A home library with a large window as the focal point.
Anthony TieuliIf you’ve got a bay window or space under the stairs (or even a large hall closet), you’ve got yourself a cute little nook library in the making. Just add some shelves, a bench, and a few comfortable throw pillows to make it official.

Sunroom Library

Who says libraries have to be dark and musty? A home’s sunroom lends itself nicely to being a library, as natural light is great for reading. Just make sure the sun isn’t shining directly upon your books, as that can cause the print on the covers to fade.

Kitchen Library

A modern kitchen with rustic wood accents. Books are stored in the kitchen island and on open shelving bringing a pop of color to the room.
Colin Poole/GAP PhotosShow off your extensive cookbook collection with a library situated right in your kitchen. (Even a regular kitchen cabinet with glass doors would work as a bookshelf!) Bright book jackets are a great way to add an unexpected pop of color to straightforward kitchen decor.

Floating Library

Tight on space? Create a floating library on wall shelves above your desk, sitting area, or any spot in the house, really. The best part is that your books can double as wall art—the kind that visitors will notice and want to discuss.

Library Ladder

A library in the hallway of a home, equipped with a ladder that allows you to get books from the upper shelves.
Anthony TieuliAdd a ladder to any floor-to-ceiling bookshelf and suddenly you have a bona fide home library. There’s something so fun and charming about this feature!

The possibilities for home libraries are endless. It’s all about getting creative with your space and personalizing it with your favorite books!

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Home Improvement

How to Install a Freezeproof Faucet

A step-by-step guide to protecting your exterior faucets from freezing and bursting

Most homeowners are prepared to deal with the occasional sticky doorknob or cracked floor tile, but even the most intrepid do-it-yourselfer shudders at the thought of a burst water pipe. If not immediately noticed, a ruptured pipe can be both expensive and time-consuming to clean up.

Fortunately, the pipe that’s most susceptible to extremely cold weather—the outdoor hose faucet—is also one of the easiest to protect from freezing. Here, This Old House plumbing and heating expert Richard Trethewey shows how to replace an existing hose faucet with a freeze-proof faucet.

Prevent outdoor faucets from freezing

Water expands when it freezes, and if that water is sitting in a pipe, the resulting pressure can be enough to crack it. Insurance companies say that just a ½-inch crack can cause enough damage to result in a $9,000 claim. Save your garden hoses, outdoor faucets, and their indoor pipes from freezing with these simple steps: Disconnect, drain, and store all hoses. Next, close the shutoff valve on the spigot’s water line inside the house, and open the faucet to let the remaining water drain outside. Leave the faucet slightly open until you plan to use it again.

Freezeproof Faucet Overview

Illustration by Gregory NemecA burst water pipe is a home-repair nightmare: When the temperature drops below freezing and the water in an exposed pipe freezes, it expands, rupturing the pipe. While most plumbing is protected by insulation or heating, an outdoor faucet is vulnerable to the elements.

Fortunately, this fixture is easy to protect with a freezeproof faucet (aka a freezeless or frostproof hose bib, sill cock, or faucet). A standard hose faucet freezes because the supply pipe connect to the faucet outside the heated house. This exposes the water to freezing temperatures. A freezeproof faucet, ranging from 4 to 24 inches in length, extends back into the house, and its valve seat—where the water stops when the faucet is off—is all the way inside. So once the handle is turned off outside, the water never makes it farther than the warm side of the wall; any water trapped in between just drains out the faucet.

Note that this installation presumes your house is plumbed with copper pipe. You’ll generally be able to follow these directions for other materials, although cutting and joining will be different. If you have galvanized steel pipes, don’t forget to use a dielectric union if you introduce copper pipe into the system.

CAUTION: This project involves soldering with a propane torch. Use extreme care when working with the flame: Wear eye goggles, protect combustible materials with fire-resistant cloth or sheet metal, and keep a fire extinguisher nearby just in case.

Step 1: Drain the faucet

Photo by Shaffer Smith PhotographyClose the water-supply shut-off valve nearest to the hose faucet to be replaced.

Go back to the faucet, disconnect the hose, and open the faucet so it drains.

Return to the shut-off valve and check its side for a small nut, or drain cap. If you see one, hold a bucket under the valve and loosen the nut with your fingers or a pair of pliers. Any water tapped between the faucet and the shut-off valve will drain out.

Step 2: Cut the supply line

Photo by Shaffer Smith PhotographyOn the inside of the wall, find the horizontal pipe coming from the hose faucet. Estimate where the new freeze-proof faucet will reach, add 6 inches, and make a mark.

If the pipe is copper, use emery cloth or 100-grit sand-paper to clean this area.

Cut copper pipe at the mark with a mini hacksaw, tubing cutter, or close quarter tubing cutter.

Tip: When using a tubing cutter, make at least one full revolution around the pipe before tightening its knob a turn.

Step 3: Take out the old faucet

Photo by Shaffer Smith PhotographyGo outside and remove the two screws holding the old hose faucet to the house.

Carefully pull the faucet out of the wall. If its flange is trapped behind a piece of siding or trim, use a pry bar to work the flange free.

Tip: Don’t discard the old faucet just yet. You may be able to use the part of the supply pipe that’s attached to it to connect the new freezeproof faucet.

Step 4: Remove the new faucets stem assembly

Photo by Shaffer Smith PhotographyUse an adjustable wrench and pliers to remove the stem assembly from the freezeproof faucet. Twist off the retaining nut and slide out the assembly.This is necessary to prevent the stem’s rubber seat from melting during soldering.

Test-fit the new faucet into the hole in the house wall. If it doesn’t quite fit, enlarge the hole with a drill and 1-inch-diameter spade bit.

Step 5: Install the new faucet

Photo by Shaffer Smith PhotographyWrap the threaded end of the new faucet with Teflon plumber’s tape, then slide it through the hole and press the flange tight against the siding. Don’t screw it in place just yet.

If the hole is a bit too big, pull ou tthe faucet a few inches and fill the space around the pipe with a thick bead of adhesive caulk. This will help to seal out the cold.

Now, move inside and bring with you all the fittings and tools for making the plumbing connections.

Step 6: Fit the pipe connection

Photo by Shaffer Smith PhotographyThread a 1/2-inch female copper adapter onto the end of the freezeproof faucet, then tighten it with a wrench.

Meaure the gap between the adapter and the water-supply pipe you cut; add 1/2 inch and cut a length of new pipe to fit or use what’s attached tot he old faucet.

Tip: Fit an adjustable wrench on the wrenching surface, next to the threads, to hold the faucet steady as you tighten the adapter.

Step 7: Solder the connections

Photo by Shaffer Smith PhotographySlide a 1/2-inch coupling over the end of the water-supply pipe.

Insert the short pipe section into the coupling at one end and the adapter at the other.

Solder the three joints using a propane torch and lead-free solder.

Wipe the joints clean with a thick cloth, being careful not to touch the hot pipe with your bare hand.

Tip: Remember to clean all the pipe endsand fittings with emery cloth and a wire fitting brush, then apply flux to all connecting surfaces before soldering.

Step 8: Reinstall the stem assembly

Photo by Shaffer Smith PhotographyNow you can secure the faucet to the house with two 1 1/2-inch long weather-resistant screws. Drive the screws through the mounting holes int he flange.

Slide the stem assembly into the faucet and tighten up with pliers.

Close the drain nut on the shut-off valve, then open the valve and check for leaks.

Now go back tot he new faucet and turn it on. Allow the water to run for a few seconds to flush out any excess flux.

Tip: For extra weather protection, wrap the faucet’s pipe with pre-slit foam or fiberglass pipe-insulation tubes.


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Home Improvement

203(k) Loans: What to Know When Clients Use Them

203(k) loans come with strings attached. Understand how they work, and when they can—and can’t—be used.

In addition to cash, home equity loans, and home equity lines of credit, many homeowners pay for their renovations with Federal Housing Administration 203(k) loans.

How do 203(k) loans work?

These federal loans come with strings attached: they can only pay for specific categories of work, they release funds in two lump payments, and they often require the client to hire a HUD consultant. They pay a maximum of $35,000.

FHA 203(k) loans can be used to:

Improve a home’s functionality or attractivenessEliminate health and safety hazardsRehab the plumbing or sewer systemsInstall or repair the roof, gutters, and downspoutsInstall or replace the flooringImprove major aspects of the landscaping
Ensure accessibility for a disabled person
Make a home more energy-efficient

FHA 203(k) loans can’t be used to:

Make structural repairs or improvements
Work on a rental property
Build new construction / room additions
Build new swimming pools
Build tennis courts, gazebos, or bathhouses
Build other “luxury items”

Payment schedule

The FHA will pay the homeowner a partial sum when the 203(k) loan is approved, and the remainder at the conclusion of the project, typically after all required inspections. You won’t be able to negotiate for payments in-between these official ones.

How to handle 203(k) loans

First, decide if you’re willing to accept them at all. You’ll get more work if you do, but you’ll have to be ok with the payment schedule, and possibly additional paperwork. 

Whether you choose to accept 203(k) loans or not, bring up the topic early in discussions with a potential client, before submitting an estimate. 

If the client plans to use a 203(k) loan, this will put hard constraints on the project scope, the budget, and the payment schedule. You’ll have to figure all of this out before you draft the contract. 

You absolutely don’t want to have a signed contract in hand, and then hear, “By the way, we’re paying with a 203(k)!”

Questions? Contact [email protected].

The post 203(k) Loans: What to Know When Clients Use Them appeared first on Sweeten.

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Home Improvement

Mobile Workbench with Tool Organizer

Jenn Largesse

In part two of this mobile workbench series, House One Editor and DIY Expert Jenn Largesse shows how to add tool storage to the base.

Although I am thankful to have a large collection of drills, drivers, saws, and more, they often end up piled in an open cubby somewhere as most of them lack dedicated homes. To resolve this issue, I’m building shelves with slotted dividers to hold each individual tool.

In part one of this series, I showed you how to create the shell of a 4×8 mobile workbench. In this video, I’ll demonstrate how I added tool organization to one of the cabinets.

For the cut list, tools, and materials needed for this project, scroll down to the bottom of this page.

Mobile Workbench with Tool Organizer, finished
Jenn Largesse

Steps for Adding Tool Storage to a Workbench

1. Measure and size your cabinet

Rip each shelf to size to fit inside the depth of your cabinet. I tested some spacing and found that about 4-inch cubbies work for my tools, but you can fine-tune this spacing to the tool you plan to store in each cubby. I’ll be making the dividers from ¼-inch plywood.

There are a lot of ways to cut the slots into the shelves like a router or even a circular saw paired with a straightedge and set to a shallow depth, but I used a table saw. I don’t have a dado stack, so I ran the boards through twice with a bit of spacing to create the ¼-inch wide groove. Next, I drilled pocket holes along the ends of each piece, so I could easily screw it into place inside the cabinet.

2. Create your dividers

The top opening has dividers placed every four inches, while the middle opening only has two dividers to separate my larger saws. The lowest opening has no dividers since that’s where I plan to house my awkwardly sized sander. Next, I cut the dividers to size, clipping the front edge of each divider at an angle to allow my hand to more easily reach in a grab each tool.

3. Install shelves

To install the shelves, I applied glue to each slot, placed the dividers, squared up the assembly, and clamped the pieces in place. Once dry, I removed the clamp and lowered the assembly into the cabinet. If I wasn’t able to easily remove the benchtop, I also could have removed the doors to slide it in from the front.

Once in position, I screwed the shelves into the walls of the cabinet with pocket hole screws. I then added the lower shelf and dividers using pocket hole screws and glue.

4. Place your tools in their new home

Finally, I slid my tools into place and closed the cabinet doors on yet another storage solution solved in this ultimate mobile workbench.

To see the other customizations I made to this bench, click the links below this video:

Building a Mobile Workbench with Built-In Table SawBuilding DIY DrawersCreating a Dust Collection SystemAdding a Downdraft Sanding StationAdding a Clamp Rack

Cut list

House One, Mobile Workbench Tool Organizer cut list drawing
¾” Plywood Shelf – 1 @ 28 ¾” W x 5” D¾” Plywood Shelf – 2 @ 28 ¾”W x 13 ¼” D¼” Plywood Dividers – 8 @ 12 ½” H x 13 ¼” DNote: ¾-inch plywood shelves are made from scrap pieces from the mobile workbench frame


(1) ¼” x 2’ x 4’ plywoodWood glue1 ¼-inch pocket hole screws
Primer and paint>


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Home Improvement

Tankless Water Heaters: What You Need to Know Before You Buy

Tankless Hot Water Heaters
Nat Rea

Tired of running out of hot water? That’s not a problem with one of these compact, ultra-efficient units that heat water as you need it. Here’s what you need to know about choosing, installing, and living with a tankless water heater.

Think about it: The way most households in this country heat water is absurdly wasteful. We fill up big 40- to 50-gallon storage tanks, then pour energy into them 24/7, year in and year out, to make sure we have hot water at the ready whenever we want it.

But often it doesn’t work out that way. If a teenager takes a long shower, or a spouse settles in for a tub soak, there can be a long wait for that emptied tank to reheat. Then there are the nagging worries: Is it filled with energy-robbing sediment? Will it spring a leak? Both are reasonable concerns, as tanks generally fail in 8 to 12 years.

Tankless Water Heater Installation: Is It Worth It?

These are the arguments for investing in a tankless water heater. It generates hot water only when you need it—and for as long as you need it—saving 27 to 50 percent of fuel costs over tank-type heaters. (A typical gas-fired tank wastes 40 to 50 percent of the fuel it burns.)

And because there’s no tank to fail, there’s almost no chance of a catastrophic leak. What’s more, since their introduction in the United States in the 1990s, tankless heaters have become increasingly sophisticated, with features like built-in recirculating pumps (for “instant” hot water), and wireless connectivity that tells you via smartphone exactly when a unit needs maintenance.

Below is our guide to tankless water heaters. In it, we’ll explain how a tankless water heater works, tell you what you need to know before you buy one—and before the installer arrives—and let you in on the units’ operating quirks, so there won’t be any surprises if you go tankless.

How Does a Tankless Water Heater Work?

Tankless Water Heater Diagram
Illustration by Doug AdamsIt all starts when you turn on the hot-water tap (1)A flow sensor (2) detects water coming into the heater and sends a signal to the control panel to start producing hot water.In a gas-fired unit, the control panel (3) turns on the fan (4), which draws in outside air, opens the gas valve (5) that lets in the gas, and ignites the burner (6)The heat exchanger (7) captures heat from the flames and transfers it to the water moving through the exchanger’s tubing.The mixing valve (8) tempers the superheated water exiting the exchanger. If the temperature sensor (9) detects that the water exceeds or falls short of the desired setting, the panel will adjust the gas valve, the mixing valve, and the flow-regulating water valve (10) accordingly.A sealed vent (11) (or pair of vents) through a roof or outside wall carries away exhaust gases and conveys combustion air to the burner.Thanks to: Phillip Maxwell, Residential Product Manager, Rheem; Eric Manzano, Product Training Supervisor, Noritz; Joe Holliday Senior Director, Product and Business Development, Rinnai; Fred Molina, Water Heater Products Manager, Bosch Thermotechnology

What to Know About Tankless Water Heaters

Man Sets Noritz Tankless Water Heater
Courtesy of Noritz

How Much Does a Tankless Water Heater Cost?

Prices range from about $170 for small gas-fired units to more than $2,000 for high-output heaters that can supply two showers at the same time; $1,000 is about average.

Tankless electric heaters run between $90 and $900. First-time installation costs run more than a simple tank replacement. (See subsection below, entitled “Electric Tankless Water Heater Installation.”)

How to Install a Tankless Water Heater

This is definitely a job for a pro, as it involves making leak-free water, vent, and gas connections, in the case of gas or propane units, or upgrading the wiring and circuit-breaker panel, in the case of electric units.

Tankless Water Heater Maintenance

Sign up to have a pro provide annual service, including cleaning or changing water and air filters and checking the burner. In areas with hard water, a vinegar flush every 500 hours keeps mineral buildup—scale—from clogging the heat exchanger. That 20-minute task can be done by either a pro or a homeowner.

How Long Do Tankless Water Heaters Last?

Gas-burning tankless water heaters should operate for 20 years or more, two or three times longer than tank-type heaters. Tankless electric units have shorter life spans, on the order of 7 to 10 years.

Where Can I Buy One?

Plumbing supply stores, big-box stores, and online retailers all carry these heaters. Or order one through your plumber.

Pros and Cons of Tankless Water Heaters

Man Looks Inside Tankless Water Heater
Courtesy of Noritz

PRO: They’re Compact

Newer tank-type water heaters have grown bigger as federal regulations now require thicker insulation to reduce standby heat loss.

So they may not be able to fit into spaces where an old heater of the same capacity could go. Tankless gas heaters are about the size of a suitcase and hang on the wall.

PRO: They’re Safer

Unlike a tank-type heater, they won’t spill gallons of water if they spring a leak, or harbor Legionella bacteria, or tip over in an earthquake. And because the air supply and exhaust vents are sealed, carbon monoxide can’t leak into the house due to backdrafting.

PRO: They’re Easy to Winterize

Owners of vacation homes know well how long it takes to drain a water-heater tank before closing up a house for the winter. With a compressor, you can drain a tankless heater in a few seconds; then you just unplug it.

CON: They’re Sensitive to Slow Flow

If there’s too much scale buildup in the pipes, or faucet and showerhead aerators are clogged, or a turned-down faucet reduces water flow to about 0.3 gpm, these units automatically shut off.

CON: The Payback Takes Awhile

Compared with a tank-type heater costing $400 or so, a $1,000 tankless gas heater may save a household only about $100 per year, depending on how efficient it is and how much hot water is used.

But because these tankless gas units last longer, the savings kicks in after six years, about when many tanks are nearing their demise.

New Tankless Water Heater Technology

Tankless Water Heater That Is Wi-Fi Compatible
Courtesy of NoritzTankless technology is constantly improving. Here are some of the latest refinements:

Higher Efficiency

Condensing gas heaters can extract up to 96 percent of a fuel’s heat—a 17 percent improvement over first-generation tankless units—thanks to a second heat exchanger that captures much of the exhaust heat before it goes out the vent.

They’re about 25 percent more expensive than noncondensing heaters, and they create an acidic condensate that has to be neutralized. If a heater isn’t equipped with a built-in neutralizing cartridge, the installer has to add one.

Instant Hot Water

Tankless units take about 15 seconds to bring water up to temperature, but you still have to wait for that hot water to arrive at your shower head or faucet, just as you do with a tank-type heater.

When the distance between heater and fixture exceeds 50 feet, look for units with a built-in recirculation pump, which saves water and reduces waiting time. The pump, which can be turned on by a timer, a push button, a motion sensor, a smart speaker, or a smartphone (above), pushes the cold water in the pipes back through the heater.

After about a minute, the pump shuts off and you get hot water seconds after opening the tap.

Wi-Fi Compatible

Tankless units with digital connectivity let you adjust the temperature and monitor gas and hot-water usage on your phone.

More important, the unit can identify the source of a problem. Relay that information to your plumber and he or she can show up knowing exactly what needs to be done. That feature also eliminates any guesswork about when it’s time to descale.

Tankless Water Heater Rebates: A Great Way to Save

Richard Tretheway, TOH Plumbing And Heating Expert
Photo by Carl Tremblay“Condensing tankless water heaters are so efficient, they’re certified by the federal Energy Star program, making them eligible for utility rebates across the country. These rebates are often enough to bridge the difference in price between the more expensive condensing units and the cheaper noncondensing ones. Then it’s basically a free or low-cost upgrade that will save money for the next 20 years or more.” —Richard Trethewey, TOH plumbing and heating expert

What Size Tankless Water Heater Do I Need?

Sizing Formula For Tankless Water Heater
Here’s how the pros make sure your heater delivers enough hot water.

It takes a big burst of BTUs for a tankless heater to turn cold water into hot water in just a few seconds. But if a heater’s Btu output can’t keep up with demand, it will cut back the flow, or, worse case, deliver lukewarm water.

To determine whether a heater will be able to meet a household’s needs, a plumber looks at three factors:

The temperature of the water coming into the heaterThe peak demand for hot water in gallons per minute (gpm)The heater’s efficiency, as indicated by its Uniform Energy Factor, found in the product specs.The first step: A pro finds out how many Btus per gallon a heater needs to raise the incoming water to 120 degrees (see the map in the next slide).Next comes peak demand, the sum of the flow rates for every appliance and fixture that could be using hot water at the same time. (Those rates are listed in the next slide.) The total gets shaved by 20 percent, since we don’t bathe or wash in 120-degree water. You can reduce peak demand by upgrading to low-flow fixtures and water-saving appliances, or by holding off on the washing when the shower is in use.Total Btu output is calculated by plugging the Btus-per-gallon and peak-demand figures into the formula. If that output falls between two models, get the one with the higher Btu rating. And if the output exceeds 198,000 Btus, the maximum for residential gas heaters, you’ll need two smaller units that work in tandem.

Btus Output Estimate

Don’t want to do the math? Use these figures to estimate how much heater output you’ll need.

1 bathroom, 1–2 people: 140,000 Btus2 bathrooms, 2–3 people: 190,000 Btus3 bathrooms, 3–5 people: 380,000 Btus

Btus Per Gallon by Region

Average Groundwater Temps For U.S. By Region, BTUs Per Gallon

Fixture flow rates

Showerhead: 1.25–2.5 gpmKitchen or bath faucet: 1.5–2.2 gpmTub filler faucet: 4 gpmDishwasher: 1–2.5 gpmWashing machine: 1.5–3 gpm

How to Determine gpm?

To find the actual gpm of a fixture, time how many seconds it takes to fill a bucket to a 1-quart mark. Dividing 15 by that number of seconds equals gpm.

Electric Tankless Water Heater Facts

Electric Tankless Water Heater
Courtesy of Stiebel and EltronHomes without a gas line or propane tank can also enjoy the advantages of on-demand hot water by installing tankless units powered by electricity. These units, which heat water with thick copper rods, are quieter and about a third smaller than gas or propane tankless heaters. And because they don’t need vents, they can be installed almost anywhere, including under sinks and in small closets.

One drawback to electric units is its limited output, which tops out at 36 kilowatts, or about 123,000 Btus. That may be enough to supply a whole house in areas with warm groundwater, but in colder climes they’re better suited to point-of-use service, where the demand for hot water doesn’t get too high. Whichever type you choose, it will need sufficient amperage at the main panel and heavy-gauge wires.

Also, electric heaters last only about half as long as gas units: Typical warranties are three to five years. Once the heating elements fry, it usually costs about as much to replace the entire heater as it does to swap in new elements.

Tankless Water Heater Installation

Electric Tankless Water Heater Installation Diagram
Illustration by Doug AdamsWhat you and your plumber need to assess before installation day:

Gas Line

For the burner in a tankless heater to perform properly, it has to be hooked up to a gas-supply line that delivers enough volume at sufficient pressure. In many cases that means the diameter of the supply pipe has to be increased to 3⁄4 inch. And if the pressure falls short, the gas company will have to adjust the regulator on the meter.

FYI: Some tankless units, such as those made by Rheem, are able to work with a standard ½-inch gas line, provided it isn’t longer than 24 feet.


Noncondensing tankless gas heaters use stainless-steel vents that can withstand high exhaust heat. Condensing units have a cooler exhaust, and use less expensive PVC pipes. A concentric vent, which has an exhaust pipe inside a larger air-intake pipe, simplifies installation because only one hole needs to be cut in the wall.

FYI: Typically, vent runs have been limited to just 10 feet. But more powerful fans, like those in Rinnai’s Sensei series, now allow vents to run up to 150 feet.

Water Hardness

Scale deposits that form in a heat exchanger (or on electric heating elements) slow down heat transfer and constrict water flow. Scale won’t be an issue if you already have whole-house water-softening. But if your water isn’t being softened, and its hardness exceeds 120 milligrams per liter, then it’s worth investing in a treatment system.

FYI: A dedicated, point-of-use cartridge like the TAC-ler water conditioner (Stiebel Eltron) alters hardness without adding salt or other chemicals.

Outdoor Tankless Water Heater

Outdoor Tankless Water Heater
Photo by Matt RisingerConsider the advantages of hanging a heater outdoors, if your climate and local codes permit.

Saves space: That’s one less appliance you have to make room for inside.Simple to install: The built-in exhaust vent eliminates having to cut a big hole (or two) through the side of the house.Easy to service: A plumber can get to it at any time, whether you’re home or not. But keep in mind…Building regulations: You may need permission from your local building department to put it outside.Cold weather: Internal heaters keep components toasty down to −22-degrees F, but exposed water pipes must be insulated and wrapped in heat tape that turns on automatically in freezing temperatures. Frozen pipes are less of a concern south of the Mason-Dixon Line.

Tankless Water Heater Venting

Richard Tretheway From This Old House
Photo by Carl Tremblay“Old tank-type gas water heaters commonly funnel their fumes into chimneys, but that’s no place to vent a tankless gas heater. It must be connected to dedicated vent pipes that exit through a roof or an outside wall.” —Richard TretheweyLooking for help with repairs around your home? A home warranty may help. Check out these in-depth guides from the This Old House Reviews Team:

Best home warranty companiesAmerican Home Shield reviewsAFC Home Club reviewsSelect Home Warranty reviewsChoice Home Warranty reviews

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Home Improvement

Upgrades That Can Reduce Home Insurance Costs

Peter and Maria Hoey

Read these home improvements that reduce risk and yield lower home insurance costs.

Making small upgrades to your home can help you save on home insurance costs.
Peter and Maria HoeyThis story originally appeared in the Winter 2021 Issue of This Old House Magazine. Click here to learn how to subscribe.

An older house can be expensive to insure. If you want to be able to replace distinctive building materials and architectural features in the event of a loss, you may need to increase your policy limits for the structure or add optional coverages.

“There definitely are concerns for older homes that often lead to higher costs,” says Karen Collins, assistant vice president of personal lines at the American Property Casualty Insurance Association, a trade group. “Being able to access the materials or the craftsmanship needed to re-create your home can drive up costs.”

That’s not the only challenge to finding affordable insurance. Even if your home is just 30 or 40 years old, an outdated roof, plumbing, or electrical system can raise the cost of insurance, or even make qualifying for a policy difficult.

Simple Upgrades That Will Save You Money on Home Insurance

Making upgrades that leave your home safer from accidents, break-ins, and natural disasters can help.

Know Your Home’s History

If you haven’t owned your house for long, you may not know what problems the previous owners experienced—but your insurer does, and a spotty history could translate to a higher premium. Insurers look for problems that could be recurring, like burst pipes, kitchen fires, or break-ins in a high-crime area.

You can see what insurance claims have been filed in the past by requesting a free copy of your Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange (CLUE) report (order one at consumer.risk.lexisnexis.com). Treat that as a guide to what you may need to get fixed. “When insurers see that the house has had losses, they will ask if repairs have been made that would prevent similar ones in the future,” says the Insurance Information Institute’s Janet Ruiz.

Beef Up Safety and Security

Upgrades that will alert you to safety problems quickly can earn you a discount on your homeowners policy. For protection against break-ins, that can mean cameras and an alarm system, especially if it’s connected to local authorities. A home security system may qualify you for a discount of up to 5 percent on your premiums, says Ruiz.

Insurers like to see hardwired smoke detectors throughout and a fire extinguisher in the kitchen. A sprinkler system can also earn you a better rate.

Watch for Water Leaks

Old pipes and valves in your home raise the risk of leaks and water damage. “People underestimate how frequently water damage occurs and how significant it can be,” says Sarah Jacobs, vice president of personal lines product development at Nationwide. Nearly a third of home insurance claims are from water damage, Jacobs adds, with the average running around $10,000.

Many insurers will offer a discount for installing water-leak detectors near the kitchen sink, washing machine, water heater, and other flood-prone spots—even as much as 10 percent. By alerting you to a minor drip early, these monitors can limit the damage; some even shut off the water. As smart home technology becomes more widespread, some insurers are also starting to offer discounts for monitoring systems that connect to an app on your phone.

Update the Infrastructure

“Once a home hits forty years,” says Ruiz, “the plumbing, electrical, and foundation are considered old because of changes in building codes and upgrades in materials.” An older home might have corroded valves and leaky pipes, or outdated wiring. If you can show your insurer that you’ve made upgrades, you could save as much as 5 percent on your premium. In rare instances, old wiring might make your home uninsurable—say, if a high percentage is knob-and-tube or aluminum.

The average life span for a roof will depend on the material and the weather in your area, and can be as little as 20 years (for asphalt shingles) and as long as 50 (for slate and tile). “Newer roofs can earn discounts with most carriers, often those no more than ten years old, especially in states prone to hailstorms or high winds,” says Collins.

Another problem with an old roof is that if it’s damaged in a disaster, your insurance may not cover the full tab to replace it. “Insurers are really penalizing people with roofs older than ten years,” says Amy Bach, executive director, United Policyholders, a consumer advocacy organization based in San Francisco. Policies often pay the depreciated cash value of a roof, not the replacement value, leaving you on the hook for much of that cost, Bach says. The same goes if you have to replace old electrical and plumbing systems—so make sure your policy will pay to install a system that’s up to today’s standards.

Prep for Natural Disasters

In areas of the country prone to natural disasters, such as hurricanes, earthquakes, or wildfires, certain home improvements may lower the price of insurance. “Mitigation that helps reduce your risk of loss or the extent of damage may earn a discount,” says Collins. In high-risk areas, some insurers might require certain mitigation to allow you to qualify for a policy in the first place.

In hurricane regions, your roof is key, and in addition to having a newer one insurers may want to see it tied down. In areas where earthquakes are common, your foundation is important, and may need to be retrofitted with braces and bolts, says Ruiz. (California residents may qualify for state funding to help cover the cost.) You also might earn a discount for adding a seismic shutoff valve on your gas line.

The recent rash of wildfires in western states is upending the insurance market there. “People are getting dropped in fire-prone areas,” says Bach. “It doesn’t matter what you’ve done, it’s where you are.”

Taking steps to harden your home against a wildfire probably won’t mean a better price, but it may be the only way to get a policy. That means building with a fire-resistant roof and deck materials, landscaping safe zones near the house and adding water storage tanks, mesh over vents to keep out embers, and dual-pane heat-resistant windows.

“We’re frustrated that insurers are not rewarding people for wildfire risk reduction,” says Bach. “But we are putting pressure on them to take risk-reduction measures into account, and the tide is turning.”

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Home Improvement

How to Get Rid of Pet Odors in Your Home



No one will know a pet is in the house when you take these steps to remove odors from furniture, flooring, and the air.

Few things are worse than returning home to the unpleasant smell of… dog? Cat litter box? Hamster cage? Do not fret. Here, we have a comprehensive guide to eliminating pet odors from your home.

Preventing Pet Odors in Your Carpets and Furniture

Nothing holds a doggy smell like fabric. The best way to keep your carpets and furniture from holding onto Fido’s funk is to prevent it from happening in the first place. Here are our top prevention tips:

Never let your wet dog on the carpet or furniture. You know they love to rub down after a bath, but don’t allow them in a carpeted room or on the couch until they’re completely dry. If you’ve come in from a wet walk, dry off with an old towel at the door. Use a blow dryer if you have to.Purchase a vacuum with a washable filter and wash the filter after each use. Keep a supply of extra filters, so you always have a clean one handy. Also, vacuum furniture and carpets at least once a week. If possible, remove the cushions from the couch and vacuum underneath and in all crevices.Use a slipcover. If your furry friend must lounge on the couch or has claimed the recliner as their own, use a washable slipcover to keep hair and dander off the furniture. Once a week, shake it vigorously outside and wash it in hot water.

Removing Pet Odors from Carpet

If you have a puppy or senior pet, accidents will happen. In that event, it’s essential to remove the waste, and accompanying odor, as soon as possible.

Use paper towels or newspaper to soak up as much of the urine as possible. Step on and apply pressure to the paper to soak up even more. If possible, place an old (but clean) towel under a rug, too. Odors like to linger in carpets, though. Here are a few ways to make sure you thoroughly remove it.

Baking soda

An all-natural odor neutralizer, baking soda helps remove pet odors from carpeting. Sprinkle a liberal amount on the affected area and let it sit overnight to do its magic. Thoroughly vacuum to remove.

Dry carpet cleaner

If you have newer carpet, the manufacturer may discourage using baking soda on it. In that case, consider a dry carpet cleaner. A granular product with a sawdust-like consistency, it works its way into the carpet fibers to absorb spills, odors, and stains. Since it’s dry, you don’t have to stay off the floor, and once it’s done its magic, you vacuum. Host Dry Carpet Cleaner is safe for wool, sisal, and oriental rugs.

Spray odor neutralizers

Once you’ve soaked up as much of the urine as possible, apply a high-quality pet odor neutralizer. A few highly rated options include:

Simple Solution Extreme Pet Stain and Odor RemoverResolve Urine DestroyerRocco & Roxie Professional Strength Stain & Odor Eliminator

Get Pet Odors Out of Furniture

If, despite all your preventative measures, you still smell Fifi on the couch, follow these odor-busting steps.

Vacuum thoroughly.Following the manufacturer’s instructions, wash everything washable, including throw pillows.Apply a pet odor neutralizer (see list above).Give cushions an airing. Take them outside and let them sit in the sun for the afternoon.If all else fails, have your furniture professionally cleaned.Pro tip: Always clean urine-soaked fabric with cool water. And whatever you do, avoid using steam. The heat sets odors and stains by bonding the proteins in the urine to the fibers in the fabric.

Get an Odor-Free Litter Box

Cats pose a problem all their own, the litter box. If you use the best odor-eliminating litter that money can buy and the smell of cat still greets you at the door, here are a few tips that’ll help:

Scoop daily. Removing the source of the odor at least once a day is the best way to combat lingering smells.Wearing gloves, wash the litter box every week with plain soap and water.If the clean box still smells, replace it with a new one.Add a layer of baking soda under the litter.

Keep an Odor-Free Rodent Cage

If your furry friend lives in an enclosure, your battle has a unique set of circumstances. These tips are your best defense:

Choose an enclosure with plenty of ventilation, like a wire cage. The deep, solid walls of an aquarium prevent airflow that keeps urine dry and less smelly.Use absorbent litter such as wood shavings or sawdust. And don’t be stingy with it either. The deeper the layer, the happier the critters and the more odor it will absorb.Scoop daily. That’s right, just like the cat litter box, the daily removal of soiled litter will keep your hamster’s cage fresher longer. Because rodents tend to use one or two corners of the cage, this isn’t as hard as you think.Wash the cage and all toys every week in plain soap and water. Rinse thoroughly as the smell of detergent bothers small pets.

How to Keep Your Whole House Smelling Fresh

Once you have the surfaces covered, you want to do something to keep the air you breathe smelling its freshest. The simplest way to do that is to introduce fresh air. That’s right, open the windows and turn on the fans. But if the weather doesn’t cooperate, here are a few other things to consider:

Charcoal bag: A natural ingredient, charcoal absorbs odors and odor-causing moisture. Placing a charcoal bag, like the Moso Natural, in each room is the safest way to combat the lingering smell of dog, cat, or rodent.Odor neutralizing spray: An odor neutralizer, like Angry Orange Odor Eliminator, does more than mask odor with another scent. Odor neutralizers contain chemical compounds which form a ring around odor-causing molecules, so they can’t activate your olfactory nerves.Use an air purifier: An air purifier with a HEPA filter will remove airborne pollutants that cause odors. When set to run continuously, they can purify the air in a room once every hour.Remember, prevention is key to having a fresh-smelling home. But when accidents occur, you now have the tools to tackle their attendant odors the right way.

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Home Improvement

6 Practical Wood Shed Ideas


A close up stack of cut wood

Firewood requires dry storage and plenty of airflow for optimal burning. These wood shed ideas offer options—and add a certain cozy, rustic touch to your property.

In order to burn well, firewood needs to be dry and seasoned. Logs on the ground will rot and deteriorate and wood with too high a moisture content won’t burn efficiently. Wet wood can also cause dangerous buildup in a chimney flue. The good news is these woods shed ideas will protect your firewood and prevent some of these common problems.

Wood Shed Ideas

From full-blown standalone structures to repurposed existing spaces, there’s a creative wood shed design on this list for any scenario.

A firewood storage unit made of recycled pallet wood.
GAP Photos

Build a wood shed from pallet wood

Believe it or not, shipping pallets are a seriously versatile building material, and DIYers use pallets to build the wildest of structures. Although they’re not always pretty, they’re durable and come in a handful of relatively standard sizes, making them easy to work with. And, one of the best uses for recycled pallets is building a wood shed.

There are two main options: using the pallets as they are, or breaking them down board by board. Wood shed builders can screw pallets together to form three walls around a pallet floor, and top it off with a fourth pallet for a roof. Otherwise, cutting the pallets apart with a reciprocating saw and building from scratch with the usable lumber is always an option.

Build a lean-to next to an existing structure

A covered lean-to structure containing firewood.
iStockIf you have an existing structure such as a garage or fence, consider using it as the back wall of a lean-to wood shed. This is one of the easiest, most affordable, and space-saving wood shed ideas, as the back wall is already in place.

One of the most practical aspects of a lean-to design is that it doesn’t have to be attached to the structure. Airflow is critical to wood seasoning, so simply build it adjacent to the existing structure and add a roof to keep the wood dry.

Consider A-frame wood shed designs

There’s a reason why so many mountain homes are designed as A-frames: they’re excellent at beating the weather. The dramatically-sloped sides keep rain and snow from accumulating on top. You can replicate that design with your wood shed and enjoy its benefits.

A-frame wood sheds are fairly easy to build. Starting with a pallet base, the framework consists of a few 2x4s and some roofing material (which can range from wood boards to metal sheets). Due to their design, these wood sheds will quickly shed rain and snow, ensuring you always have dry firewood on hand.

Build a pole barn-style wood shed

If there’s one way to take advantage of airflow for drying and seasoning firewood, a pole barn-style wood shed would be it. Typical pole barns feature open walls with support posts roughly eight feet apart. The posts support the roof, leaving the interior of the barn completely open for farm equipment and vehicles, or in this case, firewood.

Don’t worry, your wood shed needn’t be as large as a typical pole barn. In fact, a pole barn-style wood shed that measures 4-feet wide by 8-feet long by 4-feet high will hold an entire cord of wood. With such material-friendly dimensions, it’s an especially economical and efficient wood shed design.

Repurpose an old shed

An old log cabin shed repurposed to store firewood.
iStockIf there’s an old shed on the property, don’t knock it down to make room for a new firewood storage solution. Instead, breathe new life into that old structure and repurpose it as a wood shed.

Usually, all it takes is removing one side of the shed to allow for access and airflow. Perform any necessary small repairs and give the structure a fresh coat of paint, and this wood shed will look like you planned it that way.

Keep it simple

Just because you’re using a structure to house and season firewood doesn’t mean it has to be a full-blown wood shed. There are some simple wood shed designs that don’t take a lot of effort and make perfect sense. For instance, a neatly stacked pile of firewood on a front porch will season wood just as well as a standalone shed in the yard. And, wooden crates turned on their sides and stacked on top of each other beside the door add a cozy rustic touch.

If you have an elevated deck or overhang, take advantage of the space underneath. By placing a few boards on concrete blocks, or laying a pallet on the ground, the space under the deck becomes a wood shed in seconds.

Wood can season anywhere with sufficient ventilation and protection from the rain. With these creative wood shed ideas, you’ll be able to choose the best design to fit your budget and your home’s style.

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Home Improvement

9 Steps to a Lush Lawn


Want to create a lusher lawn? Read these tips from This Old House landscape contractor Roger Cook.

American homes are host to more than 30 million acres of lawns, which will play host to countless barbecues, picnics, and Frisbee games in the coming months. With proper care, your lawn will look great despite endless hours of barefoot traffic and blazing sun.

This Old House landscape contractor Roger Cook tells us what we should do to keep the grass greener.

Test Your Soil

A soil test takes the guesswork out of lawn care, giving you precise measurements of pH as well as the quantity and availability of nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus (home kits are usually reliable for pH only). Contact a cooperative extension service to conduct the test; they cost around $20.


There’s no one-size-fits-all formula for springtime—it all depends on the soil and the type of grass you have. Your soil test will offer tips on what amendments to add, or take the results to a gardening center and get their advice.

Opt for a slow-release, organic fertilizer, and apply it to the outer edges of your lawn, then cover the middle, overlapping each pass by a few inches. You may have to mow more frequently afterward since you’re adding nutrients at a time of rapid growth.

Watch Your Calcium Intake

Up to 90 percent of common lawn weeds are linked to a lack of calcium in soil. Ideally, you should have a calcium-to-magnesium ratio of 7 to 1. If yours falls short of that target, spread high-calcium lime over your lawn, which will boost its ability to absorb nitrogen and synthesize proteins, robbing weeds of food.

dd Organic Matter

Early-season grass benefits from added compost, whether you make it yourself or get it from your home center or town. Apply a ½-inch layer over your lawn and rake it into the surface. Finished compost should smell earthy and slightly sweet; avoid using compost that’s still steaming, which indicates it’s not fully decomposed yet. One yard (or 27 cubic feet) will cover 600 square feet.

Stop Crabgrass In Its Tracks

Crabgrass germinates when the soil temperature reaches about 56 degrees F, which happens in mid-April in many regions. Wait until your soil reaches this mark for a few consecutive days, then apply a pre-emergent herbicide (or use corn gluten if you prefer a natural product, available at Bradfield Organics. Crabgrass doesn’t grow well in the shade, so you don’t need to add chemicals in well-shaded parts of your yard.

Pull Up Weeds

Ever notice that weeds pop up right after a spring rain? That’s your cue to pull them—if they’re small and the soil’s moist, they should come out by hand.

Get Your Mower in Shipshape

Dull mower blades tear off grass rather than cutting it clean, leaving ragged tips that invite disease to set in. Holding the blade in a vise, sharpen it with long, smooth strokes using a Dremel blade sharpener or a 10-inch bastard mill file, following the manufacturer’s instructions for the proper angle. During the growing season, sharpen the blade after you’ve used your mower for about 8 to 12 hours.

Let the Grass Grow…a Little

Your grass might be as short as a putting green, but don’t keep it that way. Let it grow to a length of about 3 to 3½ inches, and maintain that height all season. This lets the grass blades shade out weed seeds, and in the summer it shades the soil, reducing evaporation.

Come fall, you can go back to cutting it short—weed seeds aren’t as abundant then, and evaporation is less of a concern. Two exceptions are Bermuda and seashore paspalum grasses, found in the South, which can be kept at a height of 3/4 to 1 inch.

Get Your Sod On

If you’re starting a lawn from scratch, April is the month to lay down sod, when it’s cooler and there’s time for the grass to take root. Ask your seller for grass that suits your yard’s conditions, whether sun, shade, or a combo.

Sod should be fresh when you lay it; beware the rolls that have been sitting outside for a while. Prepare to water, water, water when it’s installed. Your garden center can recommend an appropriate schedule.

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Home Improvement

Save This Old House | Historic Shotgun in Kentucky


Courtesy The Kentucky Trust

Save this historic shotgun house with deep roots.

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

The History

The house, which was relocated across the street, is being offered for sale with the lot adjacent to it, the former site of the Winnie A. Scott Hospital, established in 1915 and seen here in an undated photo. The nine-room hospital was built to serve the then predominantly Black community, and continued to fulfill that mission until 1959. 
Courtesy Kentucky Historical SocietyLocated in Kentucky’s state capital, this simple two-story house was built in 1894 as a parsonage for the First Corinthian Missionary Baptist Church. From 1951 to 1960 it was home to Rev. Charles King, a World War I veteran who gained national renown, becoming the first Black elected to a high office in the historically white Southern Baptist Convention.

The house, which was relocated across the street, is being offered for sale with the lot adjacent to it, the former site of the Winnie A. Scott Hospital, established in 1915 and seen here in an undated photo. The nine-room hospital was built to serve the then predominantly Black community and continued to fulfill that mission until 1959.

In April, the house was moved across the street to make way for a planned community center. Its new lot adjoins the one on which the Winnie A. Scott Hospital stood; both are included in the sale.

Why Save It?

 The three-bedroom, two-bath house still bears the I-beam supports that allowed it to be lifted and relocated via flatbed truck; these will be removed and the foundation made whole before the sale. The porch and chimney, removed for transport, will need to be rebuilt. Most of the remaining windows and trim are original 
Courtesy The Kentucky TrustThe three-bedroom, two-bath house still bears the I-beam supports that allowed it to be lifted and relocated via flatbed truck; these will be removed and the foundation made whole before the sale. The porch and chimney, removed for transport, will need to be rebuilt. Most of the remaining windows and trim are original The 1,580-square-foot house, part of an architecturally diverse historic district and located five blocks from the state capitol and the Governor’s Mansion, is one of the last remnants of a significant Black enclave. Many of its original interior features remain, including windows, five-panel doors, stair balustrades, heart-pine floors, and trimwork.

Together, the properties, which sit alongside an active riverside park, measure about 160 feet wide by 65 feet deep, offering room to expand the house. Located in what is considered the city’s most desirable neighborhood, the house is less than 30 miles from Lexington and within an hour’s drive of Louisville.

What It Needs

The relocated house rests on a new concrete-and-block foundation that allows space for a half basement. The chimney, porch, and entry steps need rebuilding. Removing the vinyl siding will reveal original poplar clapboards ready to be restored.

Kentucky Save This Old House, Winter 2021
Courtesy The Kentucky TrustInside, the house awaits all-new systems, a kitchen, and baths. Preservation covenants apply, and state and federal tax credits are available. A new owner who embraces the community’s past—and present and future—will enjoy the house’s simple charms, and guarantee its meaningful place in history.

House Stats

Interested in saving this old house?

Price: $85,000
Location: Frankfort, KY
Contact: Franklin County Trust for Historic Preservation; [email protected]

Got a House? If you know of an old house for sale that should be saved, write to This Old House, 262 Harbor Dr., Stamford, CT 06902 or [email protected]

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