Blog Posts by This Old House Magazine

  • Skillbuilder: Get Your Firebrick in Shape

    After years of searing-hot blazes, fireplace mortar can crack, crumble, and fall out. Gaping mortar joints are not only unattractive, they leave the bricks more vulnerable to damage. So before wood-burning season starts, examine the condition of the mortar in the firebox and take an hour or two to replace any that has deteriorated. You'll need a carbide-tipped scoring tool meant for cutting tile backer board, a metal jointer, a couple of trowels-a brick trowel, and a tuck-pointing trowel narrow enough to fit in the brick joints-and a dry-mix refractory mortar such as Heat Stop II, which is specially formulated to withstand a wood fire's intense heat.

    1. Scrape out the loose mortar. Rake out the joint with the scoring tool. Start gently, probing for areas that are loose. Dig out the deteriorated mortar until the joint is about ½ to 3/4 inch deep and the brick surfaces on both sides of the joint are mortar-free.

    2. Brush the joint. Using an old paintbrush and a vacuum, sweep the joints

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  • You Can Do It: Fixing Loose Hinge Holes

    The small screws used to secure kitchen cabinet door hinges to the face frames of cabinets often work their way loose over time. Unless they're tightened immediately, the screws will enlarge and strip the holes until it's impossible to tighten them. A quick, convenient cure can be found just inside one of the cabinets: toothpicks.

    Remove one loose hinge screw. Dip four or five wooden toothpicks into woodworking glue and then stuff them into the hole. Break the toothpicks off at the surface and replace the screw. If the holes are larger than about 1/4 inch, pack them with wooden matchsticks dipped in glue.

  • More scammers, less catchers. So be on the alert

    So when the economy did it's tailspin, scammers trying to make a quick buck came out of the woodwork. No surprise really that insurance (including home insurance) fraud, in particular, rose with about 70 percent of fraud bureaus reporting significant increases in the number of cases they were seeing. What is surprising is that in this mess, many states are cutting back on their fraud-fighting bureaus due to budget cuts, according to the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud. I even read here that Arizona may lose it's unit completely, to become the tenth state with no dedicated anti-fraud division.

    In this kind of environment, it's especially important to be wary of folks claiming they need your personal information, whether they be for your health, auto or home insurance. Here are some tips from the Coalition on staying alert and protecting yourself:

    • Never sign blank insurance claim forms.

    • Demand detailed bills for repair and medical services. Check closely for accuracy.

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  • It's not fake wood; it's real porcelain!

    It's not that you'd never believe it's not wood. More like, it looks like wood only better. Think of Nemo Tile Bioessenze as a sly joke about the snob appeal of natural materials and the fabulousness of fakes that one-up them. Made in Italy with the help of digital printing and new pressing methods, this subtly textured, glazed porcelain is durable and dyed all the way through so chips don't show, says Raymond Moore, director of architectural sales and marketing at Nemo, the New York tile emporium. And the edges are rectified, or utterly flat, so you can use the thinnest lines of grout. Naturally, tile like this comes in planks, not squares, either 3½ by 36 inches or 8 by 48 inches, depending on the grain. (Shown above, Bianco. Below, Rovere.) And At $11.75 to $14.25 a square foot, not too expensive for a bath, galley kitchen, or well-trod foyer. It's so new you won't find it yet at Nemo's website; to order, call the store: 212-505-0009.

    __Deborah Baldwin

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  • 2010 Best Old House Neighborhoods from This Old House

    Find the old house of your dreams for less in our 3rd annual Best Old House Neighborhoods round-up. You'll see one nabe for each of our 50 states, and one pick in Ontario, Canada. Even though there a lot of old-house bargains these days, here are a few places where the Bungalows, Queen Annes, and Italianates have enticingly low price tags.

    To see ALL of the Best Old House Neighborhood picks, go to

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  • Super Bowl TV Deals of the Week

    Shopping for a winning TV to watch the big game on this Sunday? Keep reading for seven TV deals and steals, as featured in the Deal of the Day column of TOH's Hardware Aisle blog

    Save $460 on a 52-Inch LCD TV

    Save 28 percent on this 52-inch LCD TV by Samsung ($1,139; Reg. $1,599.99). The TV itself is almost as beautiful as the high-quality picture it displays: It features a sleek, black bezel and new transparent bottom edge. This HDTV is EnergyStar compliant, which means you'll save on your electric bill, too.

    More: Deal of the Day @ The Hardware Aisle

    7-Inch Portable TV for Under $100

    Catch the game just about anywhere with this 7-inch portable widescreen viewer by Viore, on sale for just $77. The built-in ATSC tuner can receive over-the-air digital broadcasts and the unit features built-in stereo speakers. You can connect your digital media player to watch video clips or insert a miniSD memory card to view digital photos. Includes high-capacity lithium-ion

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  • 21 Ways to Save on Your Remodel: Part II

    Continued from 21 Ways to Save on Your Remodel: Part I...

    6. Consider long-term costs, not just short-term gains.
    If your addition calls for clapboard siding, for instance, you can save more in the long run by ponying up now for the preprimed and prepainted variety. It costs an extra 10 to 20 cents per foot, but "you'll wind up paying for half as many paint jobs down the road," says Paul Eldrenkamp, owner of Byggmeister, a design-build remodeling firm in Newton, Massachusetts. The reason? Factory finishes are applied on dry wood under controlled conditions-no rain, no harsh sun. "I used prefinished claps on my house about ten years ago and the only flaw in the finish is the occasional mildew spot, easily washed off," Eldrenkamp says. "The paint looks as if it'll be good for another ten years, easily." Cost of unfinished siding for a 10-by-40-foot addition, plus two paint jobs: $5,000
    Cost for prefinished claps and one coat of paint at installation: $3,750

    7. Tap your

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  • When writing a check just isn't enough, Habitat for Humanity's WomenBuild helps you get your hands dirty

    In 1991 in Charlotte, North Carolina, a group of women gathered together on a self-empowering project to construct the first women-built Habitat for Humanity house. Over the next few years, thousands of all-female teams built houses across the nation, with the likes of Hillary Clinton and Kentucky and Oklahoma's first ladies, Libby Jones and Cathy Keating, pitching in. "Women Build started as an effort to get more women involved. A few years back women were few and far between on Habitat construction sites," says the Director of Special Projects for Habitat for Humanity, Donald Bonin.

    Habitat's Women Build program has constructed nearly 1,000 homes to date for families and communities in need in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the United States.

    More: 12 Tips for a Successful Volunteer Vacation

    Most recently, women volunteers have been using their tools on Halsey and Marcus Garvey Boulevards in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. The homes, built by women as young as 16 years old for nine

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  • 5 tips for getting the best deal on home improvement materials

    Homeowners Augie and Emmeline Harrigan of Milford, CT, were able to re-do their entire kitchen for $6,000. Here are a few of their tips for getting the best deal.

    Eliminate shipping costs: Search regional online classifieds like Craigslist and eBay's new Kijiji site for large items that you can pick up yourself to save on postal charges, says Emmeline. For instance, it can cost as much as $200 to deliver a range bought from an out-of-state seller versus the cost of gas if you buy locally.

    Use coupons and rebates: Clip coupons in the Sunday paper. And sign up for e-mail blasts from stores you frequently shop at, says Augie. "Just be selective, because before you know it, your inbox will be full of newsletters touting sales." Some websites, including FatWallet and, also broadcast discounts via e-mail alerts that you can subscribe to.

    Compare prices: and BizRate chart online retailers' prices so you never pay too much. The sites also provide reference for used

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  • 21 Ways to Save on Your Remodel: Part I

    Busting the budget is everyone's biggest fear when it comes to renovation. And with good reason. Even if you follow the essential advice we've been doling out for years-build in a 20 percent cushion to cover the nasty surprises, get contractor references and check them, banish the words "while you're at it" from your vocabulary-it's hard not to end up shelling out more than you want to, even if you want to pen a check for a million bucks.

    But why scale back a project or forgo that Viking range? No, what you need to do is get your dream at a price you can afford. And not by cheaping out, either. With some strategic thinking about design, materials, and timing, you can cut costs without cutting corners. On the following pages, we'll show you the ways, from the big (knock down the house and start over) to something as small as choosing a wall sconce over a recessed light. But another universal truth about renovations is that every little thing adds up. So save a little here, save a

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