Home Remodeling

Most-Wanted Tools and Accessories | Gift Guide 2018

TOH Facebook fans shared their most-wanted tools and workshop accessories DROP A HINT! See something you want? Use the social media buttons below to share on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest and drop a not-so-subtle hint

Festool TS 55 Track Saw

PHOTO: FESTOOLThis saw rides on a guide rail, or track, providing accuracy and versatility. The TS 55 track saw delivers precise, splinter-free, glue-ready cuts and only takes seconds to set up. Breaking down sheet goods? Cutting at an obscure angle? No longer is there a need to design a complex jig or move heavy material to your large shop equipment. See the Festool TS 55 Track Saw in action here.

About $590; Festool

Fiskars Precision Hammer

PHOTO: FISKARSStriking the ultimate balance in size, power and precision, this new hammer from Fiskars features dual, non-slip grip zones. Weighing in at an optimal 12 ounces, this tool also features a forged steel head for ultimate strength and durability, making it the ideal implement for complex DIY projects. A handle flare helps prevent slippage while striking. Use with the Fiskars Precision Nail Starter for more precise drives.

About $25; Fiskars


We’re giving away 3 prize packs from Fiskars! Follow us on Instagram to learn how YOU can score a Precision Hammer and Nail Starter prize pack on Black Friday

Kreg Mobile Project Center

PHOTO: AMAZONThe Mobile Project Center is a workbench, sawhorse, assembly table, and clamping station all in one. It’s easy to set up and store away, and provides a sturdy platform for all kinds of project tasks.

About $160; Amazon


Use the link above to get your Kreg Mobile Project Center with $40 worth of bonus clamping accessories

Leather Tool Roll

PHOTO: AMAZONHandmade with full-grain leather, this roll comfortably holds and protects 10 medium-sized hand tools, or a variety of small to medium-sized hand tools.

About $34; Amazon

Klein Tools Tradesman Pro Organizer Backpack

PHOTO: AMAZONThis tool carrier has 39 pockets for plenty of tool storage, and includes a hard, molded front pocket for safety glasses. Front-zipper pocket is perfect for storing loose parts. The bright orange interior makes it easy to find your tools faster and durable molded base protects from the elements on job sites. The 1680D ballistic weave allows for maximun durability and shoulder straps + handles feature extra padding for easy carrying.

About $90; Amazon

WORX Compact Circular Saw

PHOTO: AMAZONDIY-level makers can cut 2x4s in a single pass with an easily maneuverable compact saw that weighs 50% less than a traditional 7-1/4″ circular saw. Thin blade makes for less tool strain, resulting in full size circular saw cutting speed and performance. Cut wood, metal, tile or plastic with ease.

About $55; Amazon

Klein Tools Hard-Body Lineman Bucket

PHOTO: AMAZONTransfer your tools safely and securely with this heavy-duty lineman bucket. It features 15 interior pockets and 14 outside pockets. The tote is constructed of rugged polyester to resist wear and tear on the job site.

About $65; Amazon

Magnelex Magnetic Wristband

PHOTO: AMAZONThis stocking stuffer will add a measure of safety to your favorite tradesperson’s tool kit. Super strong magnets embedded in this wristband hold screws, nails, bolts and small tools to keep hands free while working on ladders and in tight spaces.

About $15; Amazon

Bosch 12V Max 3-Tool Combo Kit

PHOTO: AMAZONThis 3-tool, 12V max combo kit gives users a complete package with a powerful drill/driver, a compact reciprocating saw, a bright worklight, two rechargeable batteries, and a charger. Storage bag included.

About $200; Amazon

MobilePower Retractable LED Worklight

PHOTO: QVCWhether you’re working, just walking after dark, or need a bright flashlight during a power outage, you’re covered with this retractable LED worklight. Package Includes worklight, USB charging cable, micro USB cable, and DC charger adapter. Each charge provides 8 hours of runtime.

About $20 (limited-time clearance price); QVC

Teslong Digital Endoscope and Inspection Camera

PHOTO: AMAZONThis classic, waterproof industrial endoscope is widely used in home improvement. It features the smallest 0.15-inch diameter endoscope on the market and has a 9.8-foot soft cable. Also has a color LCD display, so you don’t have to connect to a smartphone or computer to do your inspection.

About $250; Amazon

Multi-Function Cutting Tool

PHOTO: QVCCut, trim, pare, score, and more through do-it-yourself projects, crafts, or even pro jobs. This 15-piece cutting system takes on wood, metal, tile, glass, and other materials.

About $20 (clearance price); QVC

Panther Vision Lighted Safety Glasses

PHOTO: QVCKeep your eyes protected and your hands free, while shedding some light on home projects, hobbies, and repairs with these “LightSpecs” LED-lighted safety glasses.

About $18 (clearance price); QVC


Check out some other gift-worthy tools to give or get this holiday seasonExplore our FULL Holiday Gift Guide>*This post includes affiliate shopping links

What’s on YOUR wish list? Tell us in a comment below

Home Remodeling

How to Move a Hot Tub by Yourself

A round, wooden hot tub bubbles and steams next to a wet deck.
iStockIf you’re moving to a new house and want to take your hot tub with you, there are two basic options: hire a moving company (or add the tub to the list for the company that’s moving the rest of your belongings), or move it yourself…

And I don’t mean try to move it all by yourself—you’ll need help, at least three or four friends with strong backs. An empty hot tub can weigh between 500 and 1000 pounds. The most important thing is to first devise your plan and route. If you can’t find enough helpers or if the route is too complicated, do yourself a favor and hire professional movers.

What you’ll need

A pickup or moving truck
Four-wheeled furniture dollies (at least two)Nylon moving strapsTwo 8-foot 4x4sRampMeasuring tapeFour strong friendsTwo or three sheets of ½-inch plywood (if you’ll be moving across grass)

Steps to Move a Hot Tub

First, unplug the power cord from the tub. If it’s hardwired, you’ll need an electrician.Measure the dimensions of the tub so that you can rent or borrow the right-sized truck. Know that it’s possible to move a tub in two positions—on the flat or on edge. The first option is easier—positioned flat, the tub will be more stable when it’s being moved. The second option should only be considered if you can’t find a truck wide enough. Still, if you work carefully, a hot tub can be moved on edge.
Drain the tub. Open the access panel and connect a garden hose to the drain, checking the tub’s manual for any instructions. Allow yourself ample time for all the water to drain out. Now’s a good time to clean the tub, too.Once the tub is empty, check the manual to remove the tub’s cover, and pack it separately. If you have to remove any screws, put them in a plastic bag and tape it to the cover so you’ll have them when it’s time to reattach the cover.Take time to plan your entire moving route so that it’s as direct and barrier-free as possible. Check any gates or other passageways to ensure that you’ll have enough clearance, both in the old and new locations. Plan carefully: a hot tub is cumbersome and heavy, and you want the move to go as smoothly as possible—for your sake, for your crew’s sake, and for your tub’s sake.

How to Pick up a Hot tub

When you’ve procured a truck, a crew, the necessary materials, and assured your route is clear, it’s time to move.

Moving on the flat

With as many helpers as it takes, lift one side of the tub high enough so that you can slip a 4×4 underneath the tub’s edge. Repeat on the opposite side. Next, slide a furniture dolly under one end of the tub between the two 4x4s and slide the second dolly in place opposite the first. Remove the 4x4s. Using moving straps, tightly secure the tub onto the dollies.Position a helper on either side to stabilize the tub and start to slowly roll it toward the truck. Maintain the balance by reassigning helpers as you go.
Note: If you happen to be moving across an area of lawn, it’s best to place a sheet of plywood on the grass so the dolly wheels don’t sink into the ground. If you’re moving across an expanse of lawn, you can “leapfrog” the plywood sheets ahead of your progress as you go.When it’s time to push the tub up the ramp into the truck, be careful to keep the dolly wheels on the ramp. Once the tub’s in the truck, secure it by tying it with ratcheting straps to the inside of the truck box.
Note: Most rental trucks have rings bolted to the box sides for this purpose. Cover the tub with moving blankets to protect it during the trip.

Moving on the edge

If you can’t find a truck wide enough for your hot tub, you may have to move it upright on its side.

Get half of your crew on one side of the tub. When you’ve raised it, you don’t want to have the weight of the tub resting on the access panels or electrical connections, so plan accordingly. Place a furniture dolly alongside the chosen edge of the tub, and station two people at the dolly. Have everyone lift up the opposite side until the tub’s edge is fully resting on the dolly. Secure the tub to the dolly with straps, and, monitoring the tub’s balance, start to move the tub as described above.Once you have the tub loaded on the truck bed (assuming the truck is a pickup), use straps to secure it so it can’t move from side to side. To protect it, use moving blankets and drive slowly, exercising extra caution on sharp turns.Before leaving, be sure to take with you all the 4x4s, plywood, and anything else that you’ll need to unload and move when you arrive at the tub’s new location.When unloading the tub, make sure to have crew members stabilizing both sides of it as it comes down the ramp.After you’ve wheeled the tub to its new location, reverse the dolly-loading procedure to offload it, and begin the installation. Then have a soak.

Did you miss our previous article…

Home Remodeling

How to Install a Window AC Unit

The exterior of a house with a brand new AC unit in the window.

Window air conditioning units may seem intimidating, but they’re actually quite easy to install. With a bit of background knowledge, the right tools, and a guide to show the way, cooler temperatures are on the horizon—even when it’s boiling outside.

When the hot weather hits, we all need a bit of reprieve. Unfortunately, many older houses and apartments don’t have central air, which means window AC units are an absolute necessity. But these units can be heavy, and the idea of hanging an expensive appliance out of a window can seem intimidating. With this guide on how to install a window AC unit, you’ll be able to cool down in no time.

How to Mount an AC Unit in a Window

You’ll need a few items in order to install a window AC unit correctly. Most DIYers will have them on hand already:

A sturdy stool or bench to place the AC unit onUtility knifePower drillScrewdriverTorpedo levelTape measureIt can also be handy to have a helper for larger AC units, as they can be heavy. One person can hold the unit while the other lowers the window to lock it in place.

What to Know About Window AC Unit Installation

Older homes might not be great candidates for window AC units. This is especially true if the sills aren’t in good shape or the sashes aren’t as structurally sound as they used to be. A window-mount AC unit can cause more damage, and damaged windows can prevent the installer from securing it in place.

Before attempting to install a window AC unit, ensure that it will fit. If the AC unit is new, check the specs on the box to ensure that it’s the right size for your window. If the air conditioner is pre-owned, measure the unit itself, as well as the distance the side panels extend, and compare the dimensions to the window opening.

Also, understand that window AC units come in different outputs, known as BTUs. Different BTU values can cool differently-sized spaces. The best resource is the manufacturer, but here’s a quick, rough guide:

5,000 to 6,500 BTUs for rooms 100 to 300 square feet in size7,000 to 8,500 BTUs for rooms 250 to 500 square feet in size9,800 to 12,500 BTUs for rooms 500 to 900 square feet in size Window AC units are designed to work in double- or single-hung windows. Casement and sliding windows will complicate things and require additional hardware. Be sure that there is an outlet near whichever window you choose, or purchase an AC-rated extension cord.

Steps to Install a Window AC Unit:

Step 1: Prepare the window for the AC unit

The first step in installing a window AC unit is to prepare the window. Remove any items from the window sill, open the window completely (from the bottom), and remove the screen. It’s also a good idea to place the stool or bench near the window, to provide a nearby place to rest the AC unit without putting it on the floor.

Some alarm sensors might get in the way, so be sure to assess yours. Temporarily removing them might be in order.

Step 2: Unbox and assemble the window-mount AC unit

Window AC units typically come in boxes with Styrofoam bottoms. Place the box on the stool so you’re not working on the ground. Cut the cardboard along the dotted line to remove the box and reveal the AC unit.

The back of the window AC unit will contain aluminum fins, and they’re sharp. They’re also easy to crush, which will reduce the AC unit’s effectiveness. Ensure yours aren’t crushed and be careful when removing the unit from the box.

Install the extendable side panels and corresponding brackets according to the instructions. This will usually require a screwdriver. If you use a drill, lower its torque to prevent it from stripping the AC’s housing.

Step 3: Place the AC unit in the window opening

With the brackets attached, face the front of the window AC unit and lift it from the left and right sides. Air conditioners can be heavy, so be sure to lift with your legs as much as possible to prevent back injury.

All window AC units have a bracket of some sort on their bottom side. This is often the bracket into which the extendable side panels slide. This bracket must sit on the outside of the window’s bottom lip. There is also a bracket on the top of the unit, and it must be inside the window.

With these points in mind, lift the air conditioner and place it in the window. Steady the unit with one hand while lowering the window sash with the other. If you have a helper, ask them to lower the sash for you. Be sure that the back of the top bracket sits flush against the bottom of the window sash before letting go of the AC unit.

Check to ensure that the unit is centered in the window. Place a torpedo level on top to ensure that it’s level side to side, as well as pitched backward so water will drain outside, rather than in.

Step 4: Extend and secure the side panels

With the AC unit sitting properly in the window, extend the side panels so they block the openings on either side completely. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for securing the side panels. This will involve either attaching brackets to the window sash or running screws through holes in the panels and into the window sash.

Step 5: Screw the window AC unit in place

The unit is mostly in place at this point, but manufacturers typically include brackets to anchor it down.

The installation kit will almost certainly include at least one L-shaped bracket. This bracket keeps the window sashes locked in place, and it installs where they meet. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to ensure it’s installed properly; installation generally involves placing the bracket on top of the lower sash and attaching it to the upper sash with a screw. This will lock the AC unit in place and prevent it from falling out of the window.

Step 6: Plug in the window AC unit

The only thing left to do is plug the AC unit into an outlet and turn it on. Don’t be alarmed if it takes a few minutes to produce cool air; AC condensers often need a few minutes of running before they kick on and pump refrigerant through the lines.

With your window AC unit installed, you’ll be able to benefit from cooler, more comfortable temperatures when the weather is brutal. Kick back, grab a cold drink, and enjoy the cold air pumping from your newly installed air conditioner.

Did you miss our previous article…

Home Remodeling

How to Prevent House Fires



Unsure where to begin when it comes to preventing a house fire? Start with the action items here.

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

Your home is your haven, a place of comfort and security. But in one respect, it may hold hazards you haven’t thought much about. “People feel safest from fires when they’re at home, but in reality, that’s where they are at greatest risk,” says Susan McKelvey of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

Every year, firefighters respond to some 353,000 house fires, primarily caused by cooking, space heaters, and faulty wiring. And with the prevalence of synthetic building materials and furnishings, combined with open floor plans, today’s fires burn faster than ever. “Together, these things create an ideal environment for fires to grow and spread quickly,” McKelvey says.

The Science of House Fires

Firefighters practice putting out flames.
Courtesy ULMuch of what we know about how house fires spread comes from research done at the Underwriters Laboratories Fire Safety Research Institute. At this 75,000-square-foot facility in Northbrook, IL, mock rooms and even entire houses are built, lit on fire, and safely observed.

Here, a few things they’ve learned in the last 60 years.

Synthetic and engineered-wood furnishings, such as sofas manufactured with polyurethane foam and MDF TV stands, burn eight times faster than items made with natural materials such as cotton batting and solid wood. As a result, homeowners today have an average of 3 minutes to get out of the house safely during a fire, compared with 17 minutes 40 years ago.Fiber cement is one of the most fire-safe siding options available: It can be exposed to direct flames for more than 15 minutes without igniting. Vinyl siding, by contrast, catches fire in as little as 40 seconds.In an attic fire, rigid closed-cell foam board (expanded polystyrene) ignites about seven times faster than open-cell spray foam insulation.A closed door can reduce the temperature in a room by 900°F and keep carbon monoxide levels 10 times lower during a fire. That’s why experts recommend sleeping with bedroom doors shut.

Tips for Preventing House Fires

Luckily, preventive measures and simple maintenance tasks can make your home significantly more firesafe.

Put a Fire Extinguisher in the Kitchen

To lower the risk of a cooking fire, keep the cooktop clean, grease-free, and clear of clutter. If one does break out, don’t douse it with water; if grease or oil has caught fire, water will only spread the flames.

Instead, turn off the heat source, cover the flames with a pan lid, or smother them with salt or baking soda. In the unsuccessful event, it’s a good idea to have a fire extinguisher on hand. The NFPA recommends a multipurpose model that can be used on all types of fires; a 5-pound unit should be easy to maneuver but large enough to put out a small kitchen fire.

“When fighting a fire with an extinguisher, make sure everyone else is getting out of the house, and don’t put yourself in a situation where you block yourself from exiting,” warns McKelvey, who suggests asking if your local fire department offers training on how to use an extinguisher.

Upgrade Your Smoke Alarms

If it’s been years since you’ve replaced your smoke alarms, know that standards have changed. Fire code now mandates that they be interconnected. “These provide the best protection because when one alarm sounds, they all do,” McKelvey says. Older homes can use battery-operated smoke alarms that communicate wirelessly. Hardwired smoke alarms, which rely on batteries only as a backup if the power fails, are mandated in new construction and may be required during a major renovation.

All smoke alarms use photoelectric or ionization sensors to detect smoke whatever their power source. Photoelectric sensors respond faster to smoke from a smoldering fire; ionization sensors respond faster to smoke from a flaming fire. Because there’s no way to predict the type of fire that might break out, the U.S. Fire Administration recommends installing both kinds or choosing dual-sensor alarms. Since steam and moving air can trigger false alarms, mount them at least 3 feet away from forced-air registers, ceiling fans, and the entries to kitchens and full baths.

Protect Against ARC Faults

Electrical short circuits, in which current is accidentally discharged from an exposed wire, can create sparks hot enough to start a fire. Also known as arc faults can be caused by a frayed power cord or by hitting a wire when driving a nail into a wall. “This type of damage easily goes unnoticed, so it’s important to take preventive measures,” says TOH master electrician Heath Eastman.

Peter SucheskiAFCIs, or arc-fault circuit interrupters, monitor the current in a circuit; if they detect an arc fault, they shut off the power along that circuit. A 2020 update to the National Electrical Code requires AFCIs in nearly every part of the house, including closets, laundry rooms, and hallways; bathrooms and garages are exempt but require ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs).

AFCIs can be installed in a circuit-breaker panel by an electrician to protect the whole house or added as AFCI outlets. The latter can be a DIY fix. Not every outlet needs an upgrade; if installed on the first outlet of a circuit branch, the AFCI will protect the entire branch. If you tackle the work yourself, be sure to turn off power at the breaker to that particular outlet, and use a plug-in circuit tester to verify that the outlet is not powered before proceeding.

Once installed, AFCIs will signal you if there’s a problem. “AFCI outlets are very homeowner-friendly,” says Heath. “If everything is working properly, a green LED light at the bottom will be lit. If there’s an arc fault, the device will trip, and the green light goes out.” At that point, you should contact a licensed electrician to track down the source of the problem.

Use Space Heaters with Care

Space heaters are the second leading cause of house fires. Look for a model that has fire-prevention features such as a tip-over safety switch and overheat protection; it should also be UL or ETL listed, which means it has passed independent safety tests.

Fan-assisted heaters with ceramic or metal heating elements are good choices: They warm up a room effectively while maintaining a low operating temperature. Avoid kerosene heaters; because they use active combustion instead of electricity, they’re a fire hazard and generate emissions.

When using a space heater, follow the manufacturer’s instructions to the letter: Keep it at least 3 feet away from anything that can potentially catch fire, and never leave it unattended, including while sleeping. It should be plugged directly into a wall outlet that’s not being used to power anything else. Never plug a space heater into a power strip or extension cord; connecting a device that draws more power than the cords are designed to handle increases the electrical resistance. This, in turn, can cause them to overheat, melting the insulation and exposing the wires, which can spark and cause a fire.

Handle Workshop Combustibles Safely

Although it’s rare, piled-up oily rags can spontaneously combust: As the oil dries, it releases heat that can build up in an enclosed space. TOH general contractor Tom Silva recalls a near miss on a job site back when he was working for his dad; they had worked for hours refinishing cabinets with teak oil. “We spent the day soaking rags in teak oil, rubbing them on the cabinets, and throwing them in a pile,” he recalls. “Later that night, the homeowner called and said she smelled something funny. We drove back over and saw that, in the corner, the rags were smoldering. Another couple of minutes and they would have gone up in flames.”

Tom recommends laying individual oily rags out flat or hanging them up until dry. The dry rags should be soaked with water before disposal as a further precaution. Piles of sawdust can also spontaneously combust, and under the right conditions, airborne sawdust can be ignited by a spark. To prevent sawdust buildup, work in a well-ventilated area and thoroughly vacuum all surfaces with a wet/dry vac on a regular basis.

Maintain the Fireplace

All fireplaces should get annual maintenance. With wood burners, cleaning the chimney flues once a year avoids the buildup of creosote, an oily by-product of wood fires that accumulates in chimneys and is flammable. “This is especially important in homes with older masonry chimneys,” says Charlie Halbert, a veteran home inspector based in Connecticut.

Mortar between the bricks deteriorates over time, resulting in gaps; if creosote residue in the chimney catches fire, the flames can spread through those gaps to the wood framing, Halbert explains. To keep your flues clean, find a chimney sweep who is certified by the Chimney Safety Institute of America (csia.org). And make sure your hearth setup is code compliant, with all combustible trim, including wood mantel and surround, located at least 12 inches away from the top edge of the firebox.

Keep the Dryer Duct Clear

Airflow becomes restricted when a dryer’s lint trap or the exhaust duct is clogged by lint. This can cause the dryer to overheat, igniting the accumulated fibers. Clear the lint-trap screen after every load of laundry, and vacuum the slot it slides into periodically with a flexible crevice attachment.

The dryer vent should get a thorough cleaning at least once a year and as often as two or three times a year in a busy household. After disconnecting the dryer from its power source, detach the duct from the dryer. Use a dryer vent brush, available at most hardware stores, to remove lint from the full length of the duct; there are also kits with extension poles and rotary brush heads that can make the job easier.

If you still have an accordion-style dryer duct made of vinyl or flexible foil, replace it: These trap lint in the folds and are not fire-resistant. A rigid aluminum duct, installed in the shortest run possible, is safest. As a bonus, this will make the dryer operate more efficiently by decreasing airflow resistance.

Renovating? Consider a Sprinkler System

If installed during construction, a sprinkler system costs an average of $1.35 per square foot. Currently, sprinkler systems for new one- and two-family homes are code-mandated in a few states, and experts expect the list to grow.

Residential systems are usually “wet pipe,” with sprinkler heads connected to pipes that offer a continuous supply of water. The pipes are either a closed or stand-alone system or integrated into the house’s plumbing. Both types rely on the house’s water supply, but a stand-alone system is often connected to a dedicated reservoir tank when drawn from a well. The sprinkler heads release water once they reach a certain temperature. The entire system doesn’t get activated when one sprinkler head goes off— only heads triggered by heat will spray.

Retrofitting a sprinkler system when you’re not renovating is more complex, as it requires opening up walls and ceilings and drilling through framing. As a result, the cost when major work isn’t already under way is about double, says Vickie Pritchett of the National Fire Sprinkler Association. But the expense may very well be worth it when you consider that fire sprinklers reduce the risk of dying in a house fire by more than 80 percent. As Pritchett says, “There’s no better peace of mind.”

Special thanks to First Alert

Home Remodeling

Before & After Kitchen: Making Every Inch Count

Nathan Kirkman

A design pro upgrades her family’s cook space, improving its function, flow, and finishes while making the most of its existing footprint.

A kitchen renovation that aims to improve a family’s cook space.
Nathan KirkmanOn the homeowners’ list of musts: keeping the original wood casement windows above the sink and adding a lighter look overall. Painting the windows white to match the cabinets, running the marble counters onto the backsplash and up to the ceiling, and swapping a soffit for a trio of black library-style sconces accomplished both goals.

Relics from the 1960s, slab-front maple cabinets stained a dark, orangey-brown closed in the small space. White laminate counters and basic ceramic tiles were equally dated. 
Courtesy Rachel and Chad AlcornBEFORE: Relics from the 1960s, slab-front maple cabinets stained a dark, orangey-brown closed in the small space. White laminate counters and basic ceramic tiles were equally dated. This story originally appeared in the Winter 2021 Issue of This Old House Magazine. Click here to learn how to subscribe.

Bumping out, adding on—big changes like these can really blow a budget. So it was a given when Rachel and Chad Alcorn renovated the kitchen in their 1928 Tudor-style home in Glen Ellyn, IL, that they would not be adding square footage or moving walls.

“We wanted to add storage, prep surfaces, light, and a more open feel, but we didn’t have unlimited funds,” says Rachel. Also key: retaining treasured original details, including a trio of casement-style sink windows and a dining nook with an arched opening.

Luckily, as an interior designer, Rachel knew just how to maximize the existing 200 square feet, trading dated finishes for a character-rich look that includes a pine-paneled ceiling, blue base cabinets, and counters made of pale marble that continues up the walls.

Chad and Rachel Alcorn, and their children, (from left) Charlotte, Soren, and Mira, lived with the existing kitchen for six years before tackling the renovation.
Nathan KirkmanChad and Rachel Alcorn, and their children, (from left) Charlotte, Soren, and Mira, lived with the existing kitchen for six years before tackling the renovation. First, to brighten the space and add an airier feel, Rachel removed the upper portion of the range wall that’s shared with the dining room, where light streams in from a bank of tall windows.

Left: Sink; Right: Stove and countertops
Nathan KirkmanLeft: “A backsplash can look too busy in a small kitchen, so we carried the marble from the counters up to the ceiling for simplicity and to create a cohesive look,” says Rachel. Right: Removing much of the wall between the kitchen and dining room opened up a sight line from the range wall through tall dining room windows. A rich blue paint on the base cabinets “adds color without overwhelming,” says Rachel.On the dining room side, a raised walnut breakfast bar adds more casual seating. Just inside the entry to the room, right off the foyer, she built in an antique pine cabinet to serve as a pantry, another warm wood accent that makes the new kitchen feel as though it was added onto over time.

“Forget ‘bigger is better.’ Think carefully about how a space is used, and by whom, to guide you toward optimal square footage when renovating.”—RACHEL ALCORN, owner and principal, Two Hands InteriorsNow the space seems larger and functions better, yet still feels cozy. “We love that the kitchen is eclectic and warm, with improved flow, way more counter space, and updates that are in character with our home’s architecture,” Rachel says. A perfect fit all around.

Nathan KirkmanLeft: After removing the old maple cabinets, Rachel brought back the warmth and charm of wood with a tongue-and-groove pine ceiling and a large 19thcentury cupboard. Base and crown were added to build in the 8-foot tall cabinet, which, at 3 feet wide and 2 feet deep, serves quite well as pantry and microwave storage. Right: The arch-top alcove is a favorite homework station for the Alcorns’ three kids. New built-in benches topped with easy-clean cushions add hidden storage on either side of the new walnut trestle table.On the homeowners’ list of musts: keeping the original wood casement windows above the sink and adding a lighter look overall. Painting the windows white to match the cabinets, running the marble counters onto the backsplash and up to the ceiling, and swapping a soffit for a trio of black library-style sconces accomplished both goals.

The doors on the uppermost cabinets to the left of the sink are inset with antiqued mirrors to help bounce light around the room. The glossy clear coat on the ceiling adds another reflective surface. Right: Newly refurbished, the kitchen’s original exhaust fan turns on automatically when the door is opened with an oak-handled iron hook. “It has a pretty strong draw so it can clear out cooking fumes,” says Rachel.
Nathan KirkmanLeft: The doors on the uppermost cabinets to the left of the sink are inset with antiqued mirrors to help bounce light around the room. The glossy clear coat on the ceiling adds another reflective surface. Right: Newly refurbished, the kitchen’s original exhaust fan turns on automatically when the door is opened with an oak-handled iron hook. “It has a pretty strong draw so it can clear out cooking fumes,” says Rachel. “It works great!” The narrow cabinet below it, also original, holds shelves for spices.

Get This Look

Period-style pieces from different eras mix with timeless finishes for an easygoing, eclectic look.

1. Space-age lighting

sixties-style sputnik chandelier
Courtesy Arhaus“A sixties-style chandelier can be a star in the kitchen where other lighting is simple,” says Rachel. Sputnik Chandelier, $599; arhaus.com

2. Iron-look pulls

Matching black knobs and pulls
Courtesy Signature HardwareMatte black hardware offers a handsome counterpoint to glowing brass accents. Hadey Iron Cabinet Pull, $14, and Cast Iron Round Knob, $10; signaturehardware.com

Left: blue paint ; Right: gold faucet
Courtesy Kingston Brass

3. Blue cabinet paint

“Deep blue is a good choice for base cabinets—it’s grounding, yet adds personality,” Rachel says. Try Duration Home Interior Acrylic Latex in Loyal Blue, from $73 per gallon; sherwin-williams.com

4. High-shine faucet

A gooseneck spout with lever handles and a side spray in a glossy brass finish has a traditional look that suits many vintage homes. Widespread Kitchen Faucet in Polished Brass, $370; kingstonbrass.com

Floor Plans

Floor Plans
Ian WorpoleNot altering the existing footprint preserved the scale of the 1928 house. Maximizing every inch added storage and prep space; removing a wall added light and air.

Built in a cupboard opposite the basement door to serve as a pantry and hold the microwave, adding base and crown molding stained to match its antique pine. Removed about 14 feet of wall to open up the kitchen to the dining room and its wall of windows; added base cabinets and counters on either side of the range, plus a breakfast bar for more prep space and seating.Shifted the range about 2½ feet away from the passageway to the dining room, adding landing space on either side and drawer storage.Removed a ceiling soffit and valance over the sink; put in three sconces for task lighting.Relocated the fridge to the right of the sink, where a built-in pantry had stood.Added hidden storage with hinged-top benches built in on both sides of the dining nook.

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Home Remodeling

Save This Old House: Brick Italianate in a Historic River Town

Fall 2021 Save TOH, front exterior
The five-bedroom, three-bath house sits on a large, raised corner lot. Its one-story wraparound porch with round columns was an early-20th-century addition. | Evan Hale/Indiana Landmarks

An historic Italianate near the Wabash River is ready for new owners to restore it to its old glory.

This article appeared in the Fall 2021 issue of This Old House Magazine. Click here to learn how to subscribe

bout This House

This handsome Victorian-era house was built for Frank Morse, a prominent banker, and his wife, Florence, circa 1885. Morse, a Union Army commander during the Civil War, later worked his way up from cashier to vice president at the First National Bank of Wabash.

The Morses owned the house until 1919; about a year later it was converted into rental apartments. The house changed hands six times before Indiana Landmarks took ownership in 2020, as part of a neighborhood revitalization project, and restored its single-family layout.

Why Save It?

Fall 2021 Save TOH, bedroom fireplace
Evan Hale/Indiana LandmarksThe 4,000-square-foot house retains signature Italianate features that make it one of the most architecturally important in the East Wabash Historic District. Of particular note are its ornate bracketed cornice and tall, pedimented windows.

Inside, three cast-iron fireplaces, original oak floors, walnut millwork, and the winding main staircase remain. A spacious attic could be finished as a third floor. The house is just a 5-minute walk from this picturesque city’s downtown, located on the banks of the Wabash River.

Above: This coal-burning bedroom fireplace is one of three that remain­—the second is in another bedroom and the third in the front parlor. All have their original cast-iron summer fronts in place.

What It Needs

Fall 2021 Save TOH, exterior cornice brackets
Evan Hale/Indiana LandmarksThe house is structurally sound but requires all-new HVAC, plumbing, and electrical systems, as well as a new kitchen and baths. The fireplaces should be inspected. Built-in gutters are in need of major repair, and parts of the cornice require restoration. All the exterior woodwork needs repainting, and the brick needs repointing. Exterior covenants do apply, and the house must be owner-occupied as a single-family dwelling. While plenty of work awaits, so does this character-filled house, with all the makings of a storybook place to call home.

Above: One of the house’s standout features is its elaborate bracketed cornice. The original roof has survived, covered with polychrome slate tiles like those visible on the sides of the dormer. Carved, paired wood brackets and scrollwork distinguish the finely detailed cornice that wraps the house.

Fall 2021 Save TOH, entry hall doors
Evan Hale/Indiana LandmarksAbove: A pair of arched, paneled doors open from the entry hall­—where the main staircase can be glimpsed—into the front parlor, where more original millwork remains.

Fall 2021 Save TOH, stairs and pantry cabinet
Evan Hale/Indiana LandmarksLeft: The wide front staircase’s original walnut millwork includes a handsome newel post and turned balusters. Not visible here, the stairs take a graceful turn toward the top. The handrail, base molding, and radiator are also original.

Right: Most of the original interior woodwork is walnut, including this recessed pantry cabinet. Much like a double-hung window, the built-in’s doors open up and down.

Fall 2021 Save TOH, front door and windows
Evan Hale/Indiana LandmarksLeft: Possibly an early-20th-century addition, the front entry’s paneled wood door (protected by a storm door) is topped by a single-light arched transom. The bracketed, pedimented surround is likely original.

Right: The house retains its original narrow window sashes and trim details. An original arched dormer brings light into the attic. Two bay windows, one shown here, have cornices that mirror the house’s.

Fall 2021 Save TOH, entry between the front and rear parlor
Evan Hale/Indiana LandmarksAbove: An original opening with curved walnut casing frames the transition between the front and rear parlors. Original oak floors remain throughout the house.

Fall 2021 Save TOH, rear addition
Evan Hale/Indiana LandmarksThe house is sited on an extra-wide corner lot. A two-story rear addition, currently painted white, was put on around 1940.

House Stats

Interested in saving this old house?

Price: $75,000Location: Wabash, INContact: Paul Hayden, Indiana Landmarks; [email protected]>

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Home Remodeling

How to Unclog Any Drain


Armed with the right tools and techniques, you can easily unplug stopped-up drains without having to call in a pro.

All plumbing systems develop clogs—there’s no way to avoid it. We’ll show you how to clear stubborn clogs in a kitchen sink, bathtub, toilet and floor drain.

These proven techniques will dislodge virtually any clog. If you can’t clear a clog after a few attempts, make sure you admit defeat and turn the job over to a drain-cleaning service or licensed plumber. Exerting too much force can permanently damage a pipe or fixture.

That said, specialized plumbing tools used to combat clogs are affordable, and they’re available at any hardware store or home center; you can even rent some.

Tools You’ll Need to Unclog a Drain

The first tool to reach for when trouble arises is a plunger. This plumber’s friend clears clogs from most fixtures, including sinks, tubs and toilets. Every homeowner should keep one handy.To dislodge clogs located farther down the drainpipe, use a cable auger, or plumber’s snake, a long, flexible steel cable wound around a spool that’s fitted with a hand crank. Cable augers are available in lengths up to 100 feet, though a 25-foot model will suffice for most any household clog.A closet auger is specifically made for snaking out toilets. It, too, is equipped with a hand crank, but instead of a spool, the cable is encased in a rigid shaft. The auger end is bent at a precise angle to fit through the tight curves of a toilet trap.For a very large clog or one that’s far from the fixture, rent an electric power auger. This machine—basically a large cable auger powered by an electric motor—is very effective at cutting through virtually any clog, even tangled tree roots. Before bringing home a power auger, be sure the rental agent shows you how to safely dispense and retrieve the cable.

How to Unclog a Sink

Remove Trap and Drain Pipe

Person demonstrating how to unclog a sink by removing the trap and drain pipe.
Photo by Merle HenkeniusMost minor sink clogs can be cleared with a plunger.

Partially fill the sink with water, then start plunging. Vigorously work the plunger up and down several times before quickly pulling it off the drain opening. If it’s a double-bowl kitchen sink, stuff a wet rag into one drain opening while you plunge the other one. If it’s a bath sink, stuff the rag into the overflow hole. In both cases, the rag helps deliver the pressure directly to the clog. If plunging doesn’t work, grab the cable auger and go to work under the sink. Remove the sink trap with a pipe wrench. The large, threaded coupling on PVC plastic traps can often be unscrewed by hand. Empty the water from the trap into a bucket, then make sure the trap isn’t clogged.

Cut Through the Clog

Person cutting through a clog in the sink using a thin cable.
Photo by Merle HenkeniusRemove the horizontal trap arm that protrudes from the stubout in the wall. Feed the cable into the stubout until you feel resistance. Pull out 18 inches of cable, then tighten the lock screw. Crank the handle in a clockwise direction and push forward at the same time to drive the cable farther into the pipe .Pull out another 18 inches of cable and repeat the process until you break through the blockage. If the cable bogs down or catches on something, turn the crank counterclockwise and pull back on the auger. Once the cable is clear, crank and push forward again. Retrieve the cable and replace the trap arm and trap. Turn on the hot-water faucet to see if the sink drains properly. If it doesn’t, don’t worry. Debris from the busted-up clog sometimes settles into a loose blockage. Partially fill the sink with hot water and use the plunger to clear the debris. Follow up with more hot water.

How to Snake a Tub Drain

Block Overflow Plate

Person using a plunger on a clogged bathtub drain.
Photo by Merle HenkeniusIt’s rare for a bathtub to suddenly become stopped up. A clog in the tub usually builds up over a period of several weeks, with the tub draining more and more slowly each day. We’ve all seen this happen.

As with a sink clog, start with the plunger.

First, unscrew the screen from the tub drain and use a bent wire to fish out any hair and soap scum. If there’s a pop-up drain on the tub, raise the lever to the open position, then grab the stopper and pull it from the drain hole. Clean it of all hair and soap. This will often take care of things. If not, cover the holes on the underside of the overflow plate with a wet rag and start plunging. If that doesn’t clear the clog, use the cable auger.

ccess Clog via Overflow Plate

Person cutting through a clog in a bathtub with a cable also known as plumber’s snake.
Photo by Merle HenkeniusRemove the overflow plate from the end of the tub; the stopper linkage will come out with it. Feed about 30 inches of cable down the overflow tube. Push forward while turning the hand crank. You’ll feel resistance almost immediately, but keep cranking on the auger until the cable passes all the way through the P-trap that lies underneath the tub. Retrieve the cable, then run several gallons of hot water down the drain. Finally, replace the overflow plate and screen or pop-up drain.

How to Unclog a Toilet

Use a Closet Auger

Person using a closet auger in a toilet bowl to clear a clog.
Photo by Merle HenkeniusToilet clogs almost always occur at the top of the tight, up-curving trap that’s part of the fixture. In some cases, a plunger can provide enough power to clear the way, but more often than not, you’ll have to use a closet auger.

Place the auger end into the bowl with its bent tip aiming up.

Crank and Repeat

Person using a crank in the toilet bowl to clear a clog.
Photo by Merle HenkeniusHold the tool shaft steady as you crank and push down on the handle. You’ll feel the cable snake its way up and through the trap. Continue cranking until you’ve dispensed the entire cable—about 3 feet. Retrieve the cable by simultaneously cranking and pulling up. Flush the toilet to clear out the drainpipe. If it’s still a little sluggish, run the auger through the trap twice more: once up the left side of the trap, then again up the right side. This three-pronged attack will clear any matter clinging to the sides of the trap.

How to Clear a Floor Drain

Loosen Brass Plugs

Person removing plug with a wrench.
Photo by Merle HenkeniusIn many basements, garages and laundry rooms there are floor drains that carry away wastewater from central air conditioners, washing machines, water heaters and snow-covered cars.

Over time, these drains collect large quantities of soap scum, laundry lint, sand and slimy bacteria that crystallize inside the long drainpipe. To break through these tough blockages, you’ll need the extra clog-clearing muscle of an electric power auger.

Rent a power auger with at least 50 feet of cable. Start by removing the strainer that covers the drain hole. Then, look for a clean-out plug on the side of the drain basin. Remove the plug with a wrench. That allows you to bypass the trap and feed the cable directly down the pipe.If the drain doesn’t have a clean-out plug, you’ll have to snake the cable through the trap; this is a somewhat more difficult approach.

Using a Power Auger

Person using a power auger to clear a floor drain.
Photo by Merle HenkeniusPlug in the power auger and position it near the drain. Most models are fitted with a foot-pedal switch, leaving both of your hands free to guide the cable. Feed several feet of cable down the drainpipe. Set the motor for clockwise rotation, then step on the switch to start the cable turning. Push the cable into the pipe until you feel resistance or hear the motor start to bog down.Stop the motor, reverse the rotation and back out a few feet of cable. Switch back to clockwise rotation and feed the cable farther down the pipe. Repeat this back-and-forth procedure until the clog has been cleared away.Retrieve the cable and flush out the drainpipe by pouring several buckets of hot water down it. If the water still drains sluggishly, run about 2 feet of cable directly down the trap.Before replacing the clean-out plug, wrap Teflon tape around its threads; this will make it easier to unscrew the plug in the future. Caution: Failure to replace the clean-out plug will allow dangerous sewer gases to seep into the house.

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Home Remodeling

How to Prevent a Septic System from Freezing



Frozen water pipes are bad enough, but a frozen septic system is worse. Here’s how to avoid this wintertime nightmare.

During winter months, water freezes on ponds, rivers, puddles, and in the ground. Where you live determines how deep the water will freeze in the ground—this is the frost line. According to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the frost line can range from 100 inches deep in northern Minnesota (or permafrost in Alaska) to none in sunny southern Florida. The majority of the country’s frost line ranges between 20 and 50 inches deep.

Local building codes use this data to determine the depth of concrete footings to prevent frost heave (when water freezes, it expands, often pushing solid objects like rocks or deck footings towards the soil surface). The data is used to determine the depth of water and sewer lines to prevent them from freezing.

Occasionally, a prolonged cold snap will drive the frost line down, and those water or sewer lines—and sometimes the septic system itself—can freeze. Septic lines installed too close to the surface are at risk; the absence of snow, which acts as an insulator, can lower the temperature of the soil; and infrequent use and scant water flowing through the pipes can cause them to freeze more easily. Even septic pipes in an uninsulated basement or the pipes that connect the tank to the drain field can freeze, which also can cause a backup.

How to Know if Your Septic System is Frozen

It’s not something that happens all the time, but there are symptoms of a frozen septic system that should set off the alarm bells. The first symptom is that the drains stop working. Toilets won’t flush, sinks, bathtubs, and washing machines won’t drain. In extreme cases, you may have sewage backing up into your home.

What to Do When Your Septic System is Frozen

When confronted with a frozen septic system, many folks will call a plumber. If you live in an area that has arctic winters, chances are good that most of the local plumbers will have experience in thawing out drain and septic lines.

Thaw via the drain

If you’re so inclined, you can also try to thaw them out yourself. Pouring hot water into drains may help to melt a partially ice-bound drain.

There are commercial products advertised to clear frozen drains and pipe. Still, they often contain caustic substances such as sulfuric acid that can damage the plumbing itself and enter and potentially contaminate the groundwater. Hence, it’s probably a good idea to stay away from them. And though it may be tempting, you shouldn’t add antifreeze (propylene glycol) to your system, either—not only will it eventually enter the water table, it will also interfere with the biological process of the septic system.

If the frozen lines are accessible—in the basement, for instance—you can try pouring hot water over the frozen sections of pipe. If the pipe is PVC, be careful not to use boiling water that may cause the pipe to crack.

You can also use an electric space heater to raise the ambient temperature. It’s a slower process, but it will do the job. If you have cast iron sewer lines, you can also try thawing them with a heat gun, a method that’s not recommended for PVC pipes, however. Heat tape is another viable option but it poses a potential electrical hazard and shouldn’t be used if there’s standing water in the basement.

Use a hot water bib

If you have access to a hot water hose bib, you can hook up a hose fitted with a spray nozzle, uncover the septic tank access, and insert the hose and nozzle into the feeder or outlet pipe (whichever is blocked) until it hits the ice. Then turn the hot water on, which will melt the ice.

Use a steam machine

There are also steam machines that professionals sometimes use to thaw pipes. One, called the Arctic Blaster, consists of a steel water tank connected to a heavy-duty hose. Using a propane torch, you heat the tank until the water boils, then insert the hose into the frozen pipe, gradually melting the ice with steam. They are not cheap, but the good news is that your local rental center may have one in stock that you can rent for the day. Don’t forget that you’ll need a propane tank and torch as well.

How to Prevent a Septic System from Freezing

There are preventative measures you can take to keep your septic system flowing.

Inspect the septic lines

If you happen to be building a new house or installing a new septic tank, make sure that the tank is buried well below the frost line, along with the septic lines from the house to the tank and from the tank to the leach field. The piping and tank should be covered with some type of insulation, usually two to four inches of rigid foam, before being buried. Try not to compact the soil above the lines and tank, as compacted soil freezes more readily.

dd insulation

If your system is already in place, you can add insulation to the soil above the system. In September, stop mowing in the tank area and allow the grass to grow longer, which will help insulate the soil.

Layers of mulch, hay, or leaves piled over the septic area at least 8 inches deep will also keep the soil warmer during the winter. A tarp laid over the insulating vegetation will keep it drier and less apt to freeze. Pay special attention to the foundation above where the septic line exits the house—this is a common spot where freezing occurs.

Check for plumbing leaks

An active system is continually adding warm water to the tank, reducing the chance that it will freeze. But small amounts of water that trickle into the pipes are more likely to freeze, so check all plumbing fixtures and have any leaky faucets fixed.

If the system is part of a seasonal house or cabin, be sure to turn the water off and drain all toilets, faucets, and other fixtures. It’s also recommended that you have the septic tank pumped to remove liquid that can freeze in your absence.

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Home Remodeling

All About Chimney Flues



To maintain the chimney flues that safely channel smoke and fumes from fuel-burning appliances to the outside, they should be inspected and cleaned on a regular basis.

If you have a fireplace or wood stove in your home, then you also have some sort of chimney that funnels smoke outside. Chimneys are a relatively recent invention—if you had lived before the 12th century, the smoke from an inside fire would most likely have been vented through a hole in your roof.

What is a Chimney Flue?

Chimneys are built to promote the upward progress of smoke, and among their many parts is the flue—a smooth secondary layer on the chimney’s inner walls that eases the smoke’s passage, protects the masonry from deteriorating effects of acids in smoke and prevents any smoke or gases from entering the house through cracks in the masonry.

In the case of a chimney fire (more on that in a bit), flues also help stop flames from spreading to the rest of the house. A typical chimney has a dedicated flue for each fireplace, wood stove, or furnace, sometimes all contained in a single chimney stack.

What are Flues Made Of?

Flues can be made from terracotta clay, concrete, or stainless or galvanized steel. Clay and concrete flue sections (called tiles) are square or rectangular in cross-section; clay tiles are usually 24 inches long, while concrete tiles are shorter. As a new masonry chimney is built, flue tiles are grouted in a stack at the center of the chimney.

Stainless steel flues are made up of sections of rigid double-walled tubing that can range in diameter from four to twelve inches. Stainless flues, often associated with wood stoves, are also commonly used in new construction as the de facto chimney (often housed above the roof in a wood-framed chimney-like structure) venting a furnace.

Chimney Flue Safety

Code regulations concerning chimneys and flues are fairly stringent. The flue must be sized by the appliance (fireplace, furnace, boiler, etc.) that it’s venting; flue materials must be able to withstand a minimum temperature of 1800 degrees F; and the flue must be without cracks, gaps, or perforations along its entire length.

Specific clearances around the flue or chimney must be maintained, and a chimney or flue must rise a certain distance from the roof, usually ten feet high, measured horizontally from the chimney top to the nearest roof section.

Inspections for chimney flues

It’s also recommended that your flue be inspected once a year, and if necessary, cleaned by a professional chimney sweep. A well-maintained flue is efficient and most importantly, doesn’t allow the accumulation of creosote, a dark, oily byproduct of fossil fuels that builds up on the inner surfaces of flues.

Not only does creosote accumulate and interfere with the flue’s efficiency, but it is also combustible and causes chimney fires. Under the right conditions, a spark or burning ember launched from the fire can travel up the flue and ignite the creosote. The resulting fire can send flames or burning debris out from the chimney top, posing a potential threat to the roof or adjacent surfaces.

A chimney fire can also damage the grout or mortar joints in the flue, and in the worst-case scenario, will penetrate the flue and spread to the wood framing that surrounds the chimney. Your chimney fire has now turned into a house fire.

Ways to Clean Chimney Flues

There are things you can do to prevent the buildup of creosote. If you have a fireplace or woodstove, burn well-seasoned, dry wood—green wood with a higher moisture content produces smoke that is lower in temperature and contains more volatiles that condenses into creosote on the flue walls.

Make sure the fire has an adequate airflow—closing dampers or glass fire screen doors for a prolonged period can have an effect that’s similar to burning green wood. And of course, have the chimney cleaned on a regular basis.

Cleaning with a chimney brush

You can also buy a chimney brush and clean the chimney yourself. Chimney brushes can be found at most home centers, and they’re meant to be paired with a kit of fiberglass rod extensions used to push the brush into the flue. Wire brushes are for masonry chimneys, while polypropylene brushes are used for metal flues; brushes are also available in various shapes (round, square, diagonal) and sizes.

You’ll need to measure your flue and choose the brush that’s about ¼ inch larger than the flue. An estimate of the length of the flue will tell you how many rod sections you’ll need. Cleaning from the top down is an accepted method, but it only works if you don’t mind standing on your roof. Experts recommend closing off the fireplace(s) with plastic sheeting and duct tape before the event and laying drop cloths over adjacent furnishings.

Cleaning from the inside

Alternatively, you can push the brush up the flue from the inside. First, shovel any ashes left in the hearth into a bucket. Spread out a drop cloth around the hearth to protect rugs and furniture. It’s a good idea to tape a drop cloth or plastic sheet around the fireplace opening, leaving a gap for the brush but minimizing the amount of soot that can fall into the room.

After opening the damper, connect the brush to the first section of the rod and push it up into the flue. Connect the next sections of the rod until the brush is at the top of the flue, push and pull the brush a few times; pull it lower, disconnect one section of the rod, brush again, and repeat until the brush has reached the firebox. After removing the brush, use a vacuum or brush to clean off the smoke shelf that’s just above the damper, and then clean up any soot that’s fallen into the fireplace itself. Don’t forget to add a dust mask or respirator to your chimney sweep outfit when sweeping the flue. Creosote is considered a carcinogen.

How to Repair Chimney Flue Tiles

You may also find, after your chimney inspection, that some flue tiles are cracked or damaged. To restore the flue, one option is to have a new flue liner installed. Made of rigid or flexible stainless-steel tubing, these replacements are installed from the top of the chimney and can be used to vent conventional fireplaces, woodstoves, and any other appliance that burns fuel. The advantage to these flues is that they can be easily replaced.

A more permanent option is a poured concrete replacement flue. Ideal for reinforcing the structure of older chimneys, a concrete liner is installed by first inserting a long, heavy-duty balloon called a former down into the chimney, applying a temporary seal to the bottom of the old flue, and pouring concrete down around the former.

While you can buy a stainless DYI kit for $486 (about $20/ft.), your purchase assumes a certain level of expertise. If you want someone else to replace your chimney liner, it’ll cost about $100/ft. for a stainless-steel liner, or about $250/ft. for a poured concrete liner.

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Home Remodeling

How to Clean Your Chimney


A clean, well-maintained chimney will save you money and prevent trouble—and, yes, there are parts of the job you can do yourself.

If you have a chimney, it will need cleaning—that’s a fact. But when and how often do you have to clean your chimney? The answer depends on a number of factors, including how often it’s used, what kind of fuel you’re burning, and even what material your flue is made from.

Why Clean the Chimney?

The biggest concern is chimney fires, which occur when creosote build-up that condenses inside chimneys from wood smoke catches fire. This is most common with wood stoves but can be a problem with fireplaces as well. According to the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA), chimney fires can reach 2,000F, which is hot enough to crack masonry chimney liners and potentially start a fire in the surrounding wood framing.

Tips for Keeping Your Chimney Clean

Burning well-seasoned, dry wood is one way to minimize creosote production. (Green wood burns at a cooler temperature, producing more combustion byproducts and colder smoke that’s more likely to condense in the flue.

Also, older wood stoves may be more likely to create creosote than new ones. “EPA-certified wood stoves burn more efficiently than older non-certified models, resulting in less creosote buildup in the chimney,” says the EPA. Still, the EPA, CSIA, and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) all say that even chimneys servicing newer wood stoves should be inspected and cleaned annually.

Is the lining of your chimney not looking good? A certified chimney sweep should be able to assess the condition of any unlined sections of the chimney and recommend a proper fix.

Chimney Cleaning for Wood, Gas and Oil Fireplaces

Any chimney that vents a fuel burning appliance, even non-wood-burning ones such as gas-fired or oil-fired boilers, furnaces, or water heaters, should be inspected by a CSIA certified chimney sweep.

Although creosote isn’t a worry with gas or oil, there are two other concerns:

First, particularly with oil, there’s a chance of enough soot building up to block the chimney and cause deadly carbon monoxide to leak into your house. Second, with either fuel, some of the combustion byproducts can combine with water that condenses from the exhaust to create a solution that’s corrosive enough to damage the flue liner. Over time, that damage can be extensive enough to allow flue gasses into your home. While wood stove chimneys and those for heavily used fireplaces should be cleaned annually, it’s likely your gas or oil chimney only needs a Level 1 inspection. The NFPA lists three levels of inspection:

Level 1 is a just a visual check for dangerous deposits in the chimney and for structural soundness. Level 2 inspections are generally done only at home sales and when changing from one type of fuel to another. (Level 2 inspections also check that the chimney has the proper clearance to combustibles.) Level 3 inspections are done when structural damage is suspected.

How to Clean Your Chimney

While it’s a very good idea to have the chimney inspected by a CSIA professional, serious DIYers can do some maintenance themselves. Here are the steps for cleaning your chimney yourself:

First, take a good look at the inside of the flue. You might be able to inspect the chimney from the bottom, either by looking up from the fireplace with a flashlight or through the cleanout with a flashlight and mirror. The best view is had from above, however. To do this, you’ll need to be above the chimney looking down, which means you’ll need to be able to use ladders and be on a roof safely and comfortably. Remove the chimney cap and shine a flashlight into the flue. Whether from above or below, look for damage to the flue and for build-up of a black, flaky substance. That’s creosote. If you find creosote, the chimney needs cleaning. If you spot damage, you need a pro who’s familiar with NFPA Standard 211 to make repairs.

Tools for Cleaning a Chimney

Most people are better off hiring a pro, and for good reason. Chimney cleaning is less straightforward than it may seem, and it’s a job where experience counts. That said, with the right tools, skills, and knowledge of what to look for, it’s possible for a seasoned DIYer to clean their own chimney.

Buy a chimney brush that’s sized and shaped to fit your flue, and enough extension rods to run the flue’s entire length (rods come in 4-, 5-, and 6-foot lengths). For masonry flues, use a metal brush, and for stainless steel ones, use a poly brush.

To use a chimney brush, follow these steps:

Close the door to the woodstove, or tape plastic across the fireplace opening. Working from above, with the damper open and the chimney cap removed, thread on the first rod. Insert the brush into the flue, push it down, scrubbing up and down as you go. Thread on additional sections of rod as needed and repeat the scrubbing until you reach the bottom. Once the brush is out of the chimney, look inside to see if you’ve removed all the creosote. If you haven’t, repeat the process. Once the flue is clean, use a shop vacuum to remove all the soot and creosote that’s fallen into the lower areas.

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