Blog Posts by This Old House Magazine

  • Top 10 Most Amazing Gingerbread Houses You'll Ever See


    Ann Bailey of Cary, North Carolina, never baked a day in her life until she decided to enter the National Gingerbread Contest. Bailey's inspiration came from a Shingle-style home in New Bern, North Carolina. Bailey used royal icing, marzipan, and gum paste to create this scene in a little over two months. A Dremel junior tool attachment, which resembles a sander, enabled this chef to sand out all the windows and doorframes. The shingles were laid using a ruler and a paring knife, to ensure that they were all about the same size. The topiaries and Santa figure were created with gum paste.

    Enter the 2010 Gingerbread Contest for YOUR chance to win!

    Sugar Castle

    The Sugar Castle, displayed in the historic Westin St. Francis hotel in San Francisco, took over 400 hours to create. Executive Pastry Chef Jean-Francios Houdre was inspired by European architecture and used a variety of tools for this construction, including X-Acto knives, glue guns, and rulers.

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  • Top 12 Holiday Decorated Houses You Can Probably See From Outer Space

    1. Christmas Fortress

    Dominic Luberto's home in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, causes quite a stir; especially among neighbors who don't care for this bright holiday display. Luberto's lights aren't without fans, though. Local news stations have covered and photographed the place for special holiday coverage. The yard featured everything from traditional snowmen to Winnie-the-Pooh figurines.

    2. Lights for a Cause

    Alek Komarnitsky recreates a version of this display every year. All of the figures and flashers are synced to software that allows you to manipulate the Lafayette, Colorado, display via the Web. Why? Through his over-the-top display, Komarnitsky hopes to motivate people to donate to the University of Maryland's Center for Celiac Research; both of his children have been diagnosed with the condition. Visit to get in on the fun.

    3. Creative Candyland

    Not sure if you can tell, but Patricia Farmer in Alexandria, Virginia, has an extensive collection on yard Read More »from Top 12 Holiday Decorated Houses You Can Probably See From Outer Space
  • 5 Uses for Plastic Wrap

    Sure, it keeps food fresh, but plastic wrap is a handy multitasker outside the kitchen, too.

    1. Preserve paints and spackles
    Cover paint, patching compound, or putty with a layer of plastic wrap (making contact with its entire surface area) before replacing the container lid to keep it from drying out. Click here for tips on personalizing your home with paint.

    2. Keep utensils in order
    When packing for a move, wind plastic wrap around trays of silverware and utensils. If they're overturned in transit, you won't lose any pieces. For more great kitchen ideas, see TOH's best products of 2010 list.

    3. Carry a bulky package
    Twist a long sheet of plastic wrap tightly to make a rope. Wrap the rope around a package, and knot the ends into a slip-proof handle.

    4. Store a paint roller overnight
    Wrap a wet paint roller several times in close-fitting plastic wrap and stash it in the fridge. The paint will stay fresh for the next day's use.

    5. Make temporary booties
    Protect newly finished

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  • Save Money with a Native Christmas Tree

    You can increase the chances of a live Christmas tree thriving in your landscape long past the holidays by selecting one that's native to your area. And because the local trees haven't been shipped from faraway places, they are typically cheaper, too. "Trees struggle to survive when planted where they wouldn't naturally grow," says Tchukki Andersen, an arborist with the Tree Care Industry Association. She suggests picking a species that's from your particular hardiness zone: The U.S. is divided into nine of them, based on average annual low temperature. You can figure out your zone by typing your zip code into the Arbor Day website.

    Next, print out our primer on conifers that are known to grow in your region and bring it to your local tree farm or nursery. Simply pick a tree off the list. Or better yet, show it to a knowledgeable salesperson, so he or she can help you winnow the choices down to one tree that's just right for your landscape-and your holiday celebrations.


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  • 5 Guilt-Free Giftwrapping Ideas

    In a perfect world, we'd carefully unwrap gifts and save the paper for reuse next year. But tearing apart wrapping paper is about 98 percent of the fun, isn't it? Still, gift wrap accounts for much of the 25 percent spike in waste during the holiday season. Meanwhile, according to The Use Less Stuff Report, reuse of just two feet of ribbon per family would save enough of the trimming to tie a bow around the entire planet. That's a whole lot of ribbon.

    If the mounds of colorful wrapping paper on your living room floor make you feel a little guilty-wasteful, even-here are a few creative reuse ideas to ease your conscience.

    Tip 1: Off the Wall

    The repetitive patterns of wallpaper are very similar to that of wrapping paper. Check your garage or closets for wallpaper scraps or samples you may have leftover. Create a reusable "Hollywood box" by wrapping a lid and box separately, or cover an old shoebox to put your gift into. Your box will be so pretty that the receiver is sure to reuse

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  • 5 of the Best Kitchen Gadgets Under $50

    Some kitchen gadgets remain state-of-the-art for decades-there's no improving on the rice cooker, for instance. Yet others are continually updated with smaller proportions, and so many bells and whistles that they'll do everything but the dishes. To compile our list of the best budget-friendly cooking tools we combed through the classics, the brand new, and the new-and-improved. If you don't already have these kitchen essentials, you'll wonder how you ever survived without them!

    1. Four-in-One Avocado Tool

    Instead of juggling (and dirtying) a knife, spoon, and fork when preparing an avocado, use this nifty all-in-one tool for ease, convenience and cleanliness. About $15,

    2. Coffee Grinder for Spices

    Use a coffee grinder to freshly grind spices and achieve more flavor in your dishes. The Braun Coffee Grinder is an affordable way to concoct your own spice blends, control the texture of the grains, and just make less mess. About $22,

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  • 12 Clever Folding Chair Designs for Entertaining in Small Spaces

    Every holiday entertainer could use some extra seating this time of year. If run-of-the-mill metal folders aren't your style, you'll love these innovative chair designs from some of today's top talent. See the Top 5 here, then, click the image to the left to see the designs that round out the top 12!

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  • How to Troubleshoot Holiday Lights

    It's that time of year again: You have to pull out last year's holiday lights to determine which lights work, which lights you can fix and which strings to toss. If you're a DIYer who'd rather repair strands than buy new, try TOH's tips for troubleshooting Christmas lights.

    The key to working lights is a power source, good fuses, lights and wires. If one part of this chain is broken, so are your lights. It might sound obvious, but your first step should always be double-checking your power source. Make sure circuits are turned on, and the plug is live.

    Next, check your bulbs. In series strings, one bulb can burn out the whole strand. Troubleshooting burnt-out bulbs by hand can be a tedious process: You have to find problem lights by trial-and-error. Another tip: Make sure all bulbs are properly screwed in-sometimes a too-loose light can be the culprit that kills a whole string.

    For an easier way, try a tool such as the LightKeeper Pro. This hand tool plugs directly into

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  • Quick Fixes to Do Before Holiday Guests Arrive

    The holidays are right around the corner and now is the time to take care of the improvements you've been procrastinating about all year long. From dead doorbells and jammed doors, to caulking the bath and replacing broken tiles, here are our top quick fixes, and all the information you need to get the job done right.

    1. Fix a Doorbell

    Don't leave holiday guests waiting out in the cold. Make sure your doorbell is in working order before they come ringing. It could be the fault of a worn outside button. But it's also possible that the chime or transformer have stopped working. For full step-by-step instructions to help you find and fix the problem, see How to Fix a Doorbell.

    2. Fix a Worn Concrete Walkway

    Make safe passage for party guests this holiday season. If there are cracks and pits in your concrete, but your walkway isn't cracked all the way through, you can coat the slab with a concrete resurfacer. Its natural color is dark gray, so buy enough to cover your entire

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  • 5 Uses for Aluminum Foil

    It's been capping casseroles and wrapping brownies for nearly 100 years. Check out these other clever uses for foil.

    1. Get rid of rust

    Crumple a piece of foil, and use it to rub rust spots off car bumpers and shower-curtain rods. See TOH's other tips on keeping tools and household items rust-free.

    2. Make a funnel

    Curl a section of foil into a cone shape, secure it with tape, and start pouring. For more time saving kitchen tricks. Click here for more of our best kitchen products.

    3. Fix a loose battery connection

    Fold a 1-square-inch piece of foil several times and insert it between a battery and a loose spring to hold it in place and complete the circuit.

    4. Glue down loose vinyl tile

    Place a sheet of foil over a loose self-stick vinyl tile, and press a hot iron over the foil until the adhesive backing melts and sticks to the subfloor. Visit TOH online for more tile tips, including fashionable tile decorating for your home.

    5. Sharpen scissors

    Fold a

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