Slash Heating Bills

Get an Energy Audit


Get an Energy Audit

An energy audit entails a series of tests, including the blower door pressure test (shown), that tell you the efficiency of your heating and cooling system and the overall efficiency of your home. On the basis of the test results, the auditor will recommend low-cost improvements to save energy and larger upgrades that will pay you back within five to seven years. Audits take two to three hours and cost $250 to $400, but if you set one up through your utility company, you may be eligible for a rebate.

A basic part of an energy audit is the blower door test. The auditor closes all the doors and windows and then places a blower fan in a front or back door. This blower door test measures the “tightness,” or air infiltration rate. The pressure and flow gauge shows the difference between the inside and the outside airflow so the auditor can calculate the air leakage rate.

Finding Air Leaks

Locating air leaks can be tricky. They’re often so small as to be hardly noticeable. To find them, follow a trail of smoke.

Close all the windows in the house, turn off all the fans and exhaust fans, and shut off the furnace. Light some incense and walk slowly around the outer walls of the house. Anywhere you notice the smoke blowing away from something or being sucked toward something, there’s probably an air leak. Now that you’ve found it, seal it! Here’s how.

Stop Airflow Up the Chimney

Fireplace chimneys can be very inefficient, letting your warm inside air disappear like smoke up a chimney. If you have airtight glass doors that seal the opening, you’re in good shape. (The doors are available at fireplace retailers and home centers.) If not, a special balloon or chimney-top damper will get the job done.

For fireplace chimneys that are seldom or never used, inflate a Chimney Balloon inside the chimney to stop the air leaks. Buy it directly from the company . Partially inflate the balloon by mouth or with a pump, then stick it into the chimney and blow it up the rest of the way.

Putting in and taking out the reusable balloon can be messy (here’s when to clean a chimney flue), so you don’t want to hassle with chimney balloons if you regularly use your fireplace. But that doesn’t mean you have to settle for energy loss. Instead, you can install a chimney-top damper system, like the Chim-a-lator, which seals the top of the flue when the chimney’s not in use. A lever in the fireplace controls the damper via a long cable.

Installation involves attaching the damper and screened-in cap to the chimney top, then mounting the lever in the fireplace. If you don’t feel comfortable working on the roof, hire a chimney sweep or mason, who can install the system for you.



Parts of a Toilet

Toilets have moving parts, and moving parts wear out or break. If your toilet won’t stop running, try repairing or replacing these key parts of the toilet.

Finding the problem is usually simple

A toilet runs constantly because the fill valve that lets water into the tank isn’t closing completely. A toilet runs intermittently because the valve opens slightly for a few minutes. In either case, you have to figure out why that valve isn’t stopping the incoming water flow and if there are broken parts of the toilet that need attention.

First, look for leaks. A leak in the tank can make a toilet run constantly or intermittently. If your toilet is leaking, you’ve probably noticed it already. But take a look just to be sure. If you find leaks coming from the tank bolts or flush valve, you’ll most likely have to remove the tank from the bowl so you can replace the tank bolts, the rubber washers and the gaskets on the flush valve. If there are leaks around the fill valve, tighten the locknut (see Photo 6). Leaks can come from cracks in the tank, too. In that case, the only reliable solution is a new toilet.

If you don’t find any leaks, lift off the tank cover. At first glance, the array of submerged thingamajigs inside may look intimidating. But don’t let them scare you. There are really only two main parts: the flush valve, which lets water gush into the bowl during the flush; and the fill valve, which lets water refill the tank after the flush. When a toilet runs constantly or intermittently, one of these valves is usually at fault.

To determine which valve is causing the trouble, look at the overflow tube. If water is overflowing into the tube, there’s a problem with the fill valve. If the water level is below the top of the tube, the flush valve is leaking, allowing water to trickle into the bowl. That slow, constant outflow of water prevents the fill valve from closing completely. We cut away the fronts and backs of new toilets to show you how to replace theseparts of the toilet. Your toilet won’t look so pristine inside. You’ll find scummy surfaces, water stains and corrosion. But don’t be squeamish—the water is as clean as the stuff that comes out of your faucets.

Repair the fill valve. Fix 1: Adjust the float

If your valve has a ball that floats at the end of a rod, gently lift the rod and listen. If the water shuts off, you may be able to stop the running by adjusting the float. Some fill valves have a float adjustment screw on top (see Figure A below). If there is no adjustment screw, bend the float arm. If you have a Fluidmaster-style fill valve, make sure it’s adjusted properly (Photo 8). You don’t have to empty the tank to make these adjustments.

Get to Know the Inside of Your
Toilet Tank

This cutaway photo highlights the parts of a standard toilet.

Parts of a toilet

Parts of a toilet

Repair the fill valve. Fix 2: Flush the valve

Hard water, debris from old pipes or particles from a break in a city water line can prevent a flush valve from closing completely. Running water through it from the supply line will clear the debris. Photos 1 and 2 show you how to do this on one common type of valve. Even though other valves will look different, the clearing process is similar. However, you may have to remove a few screws on top of the fill valve to remove the cap.

Repair the fill valve. Fix 3: Replace the washer

When you remove the cap to flush out the valve, inspect the washer for wear or cracks. Replacing a bad washer is cheap and easy. But finding the right washer may not be. The most common washers are often available at home centers and hardware stores. Other styles can be hard to find. If you decide to hunt for a washer, remove it and take it to the store to find a match. Plumbers usually replace the whole fill valve rather than hunt for a replacement washer.

Repair the fill valve. Fix 4: If you can’t fix the fill valve, replace it

Replacing a fill valve requires only a few basic tools (an adjustable pliers and a pair of scissors) and an hour of your time. A kit containing the type of valve we show here and everything else you need at home centers and hardware stores.

Your first step is to shut off the water. In most cases, you’ll have a shutoff valve right next to the toilet coming either through the floor or out of the wall. If you don’t have a shutoff, turn off the water supply at the main shutoff valve, where water enters your home. This is a good time to add a shutoff valve next to the toilet or replace one that leaks. This is also a good time to replace the supply line that feeds your toilet (Photo 6). A flexible supply line reinforced with a metal sleeve costs about $7 at home centers and hardware stores. Photos 1 – 8 show how to replace the valve. If the height of your valve is adjustable, set the height before you install the valve (Photo 5). If your valve is a different style from the one we show, check the directions. After mounting the valve (Photo 6), connect the fill tube (Photo 7).

The fill tube squirts water into the overflow tube to refill the toilet bowl. The water that refills the tank gushes from the bottom of the fill valve. When you install the valve and supply lines, turn the nuts finger-tight. Then give each another one-half turn with pliers. When you turn the water supply back on, immediately check for leaks and tighten the nuts a bit more if necessary.

Fix the flush valve

When a flush valve causes a toilet to run, a worn flapper is usually the culprit. But not always. First, look at the chain that raises the flapper. If there’s too much slack in the chain, it can tangle up and prevent the flapper from closing firmly. A chain with too little slack can cause trouble too. Photo 3 shows how to set the slack just right.

Next, test the flapper as shown in Photo 1. If extra pressure on the flapper doesn’t stop the running noise, water is likely escaping through a cracked or corroded overflow tube. In that case, you have to detach the tank from the bowl and replace the whole flush valve. Since the overflow tube is rarely the cause of a running toilet, we won’t cover that repair here.

If pressing down on the flapper stops the noise, the flapper isn’t sealing under normal pressure. Turn off the water, flush the toilet to empty the tank and then run your finger around the rim of the flush valve seat. If you feel mineral deposits, clean the flush valve seat with an abrasive sponge or ScotchBrite pad. Don’t use anything that might roughen it. If cleaning the flush valve seat doesn’t solve the problem, you need to replace the flapper.

Replacing your flapper may require slightly different steps than we show (Photos 2 and 3). Your flapper may screw onto a threaded rod or have a ring that slips over the overflow tube. If you have an unusual flush valve, finding a replacement flapper may be the hardest part of the job. To find a suitable replacement, turn off the water, take the old one with you to the home center or hardware store. (Turn off the water before removing the flapper.) You may not find an identical match, but chances are you’ll locate one of the same shape and diameter. If not, try a plumbing supply store (in the Yellow Pages under “Plumbing Supplies”) or search online.

It helps to know the brand and model of your toilet. The brand name is usually on the bowl behind the seat. In some cases, the model or number will be on the underside of the lid or inside the tank. Matching an unusual flapper can become a trial-and-error process. Even professional plumbers sometimes try two or three flappers before they find one that works well.

Replace a broken or corroded toilet flush handle

Toilet flush handles are another part of a toilet that can cause toilets to keep running. Often handles get loose or corroded and no longer pull the flap up or drop it back down properly. It’s an easy repair, but there’s a trick to getting the flush handle out. The retaining nut inside the tank is a reverse thread. So, if you’re in front of the toilet, turn the nut to the left to loosen (Photo 1). Then remove the old handle and lever, slide the new handle into place, and thread on the retaining nut. Tighten by turning to the right (Photo 2).

You can find the right tools for this job at Wilson and Miller. Check it out!


It is time for the Tool-Rank 2016 Christmas Gift Tool Buyers Guide. Every year, we put together a list of tools or accessories that we think would make great Christmas gifts for the tool lover in your life. Many of these tools we have tested ourselves, but some of them we may have come across over the course the year and we think they are awesome or innovative.

The Christmas Gift Guide guide covers gifts in all price ranges so that you can find a great gift at any price. The orange Button next to each product title will take you to a store that sells the item. You can also take a look at our past Christmas Gift Tool Buyers Guides to find even more awesome tool-related gift ideas. Also, be sure to check out our Hot Deals section to see if any of these tools are on sale.

Muck Daddy


All hand cleaners are not created equal. Muck Daddy uses their own USDA Certified Bio-Based formula that cuts through grease and dirt without drying out your skin. In fact, their hand cleaner is said to actually repair cracked or dry skin. Read the review.

WinBag Air Shim


Sometimes you need to pry or lift something with more precision than what a prybar alone can handle. This is where the Winbag Inflatable Air Shim really shines. Using the power of air, the WinBag can lift and hold up to 220lbs. It is perfect for lifting large appliances so you can level out their feet. On the job, it can be used to level windows or doors during installation. Read the review.

Nitecore Mt06 LEd Penlight Flashlight


This little LED flashlight is about the size of a pen, which is why I always carry it in my pants pocket. Anytime I need light, the Nitecore is there waiting for me. Don’t let the small size fool you, with two AAA batteries, the Cree XQ-E LED puts out 165 lumens of light. Read the review.

General Tools ToolSmart


These days everything communicates back to your phone, so why not your tools too? ToolSmart from General Tools is an affordable line of tools that sync up data, among other things, to your phone. This allows measurements and data to be more easily accessible for reference or conversion. Read the review.

Gorilla Ladders Hybrid Step LAdder


Standing on a ladder all day not only hurts your feet, it also does a number on your back; it’s those small steps. Gorilla Ladders line of Hybrid Ladders takes the discomfort away by giving you a large platform to stand on. In addition, the upper section securely holds your paint bucket or tools. Read the review.

Porter Cable Restorer Drum Sander


The Restorer is a new tool that uses a selection of interchangeable drums to sand metal, wood, concrete, and more. It can be used to quickly strip paint or stain off of a deck, and then in a matter of seconds use a different drum to remove rust from metal. It is probably one of my favorite tools of the year. Read the review.

Bosch Starlock


Oscillating Multi-tools have become a must have tool for Tradesman and DIY’ers alike. Their ability to make plunge cuts in tight spaces cannot be matched by any other tool. The new Starlock Multi-Tools from Bosch features a new tool-less blade change mechanism that is the best in the business. Blades and accessories can be swapped out without even touching them, which is important because they can get really hot. Read the article.

Oxx CoffeeBoxx Jobsite Coffee Maker


Getting at good cup off coffee while spending a day at the jobsite is not an easy task, which is one of the reasons why Oxx designed the ruggedised Coffeeboxx K-cup coffeemaker. With its large 84.5 oz removable water tank, it can make coffee anywhere you can find an outlet. Use coupon code TOOLRANK15 to get 15% off of your order from Oxx. Read the review.

Milwaukee One-Key Brushless Drill


Milwaukee’s One Key Brushless Drill is the smartest cordless drill on the market. Using your smartphone you can configure the drill to use custom drilling speeds and other customized settings for specific tasks. You can have it turn off if it tries to torque out of your hands. You can even locate the drill using GPS if it goes missing. Read the review.

Hitachi WH18DBDL2


Not much has changed with cordless impact drivers over the years, until now. The new WH18DBDL2 18V Impact Driver from Hitachi features a new Triple-Hammer anvil. What this does is deliver more impacts per minute, and from my experience, it smooths out the impacts to reduce vibrations. Their impact also comes with new compact 3.0Ah Lithium Ion slide batteries. Their charger even features a USB port so you can charge your phone.

DeWalt Portable power station


The DeWalt Portable Power Station takes the power from four 20V Max or 60V Flexvolt DeWalt batteries and converts it to 120V AC current so that you can run your corded tools even when there is no power nearby. With 3600 peak watts and 1800 watts of continuous power, it can run even the most power hungry of 15 amp tools, like a table saw, miter saw, router, air compressor and more. It not just for work, though, I was able to power my home refrigerator off the Power Station. I should also mention that it will charge all four batteries at the same time. Note: The DeWalt Portable Power Station is not yet available (as of writing this), but it should be available before Christmas. You Can Pre-Order.

How to Repair Wooden Furniture Surfaces

From scratches to discoloration, the surfaces of your wooden furniture are vulnerable to all kinds of damage. Luckily, many of the problems can be fixed.

In this article, we’ll tell you how. You’ll learn how to repair everything from gouges to burns. You’ll even find tips for repairing furniture veneer and hardware. We’ll start by discussing surface stains and discoloration.

Removing Stains and Discoloration

Most finishes protect the surface of wooden furniture by forming a protective coating. To repair a damaged finish coating, work only to the depth that it’s affected. On any surface, work carefully, and don’t remove more of the finish than you have to. In this article, we’ll discuss this and other simple techniques to help you remove stains, blushing, and other discoloration from the surfaces of wooden furniture.

White spots: Shellac and lacquer finishes are not resistant to water and alcohol. Spills and condensation from glasses can leave permanent white spots or rings on these finishes. To remove these white spots, first try polishing the surface with liquid furniture polish; buff the surface firmly. If this doesn’t work, lightly wipe the stained surface with denatured alcohol. Use as little alcohol as possible; too much will damage the finish.

If neither polishing nor alcohol treatment removes the white spots, the damaged finish must be treated with abrasives. Gentle abrasives can be purchased from a home-supply store. To make your own gentle abrasive, mix cigarette ashes to a paste with a few drops of vegetable oil, light mineral oil, or linseed oil. Rub the ash-oil paste over the stained area, along the grain of the wood, and then wipe the surface clean with a soft cloth. If necessary, repeat the procedure. Stubborn spots may require several applications. Then wax and polish the entire surface.

If rubbing with ashes is not effective, go over the stained area with a mixture of rottenstone and linseed oil. Mix the rottenstone and oil to a thin paste, and rub the paste gently over the stain, along the grain of the wood. Rottenstone is a fast-cutting abrasive, so rub very carefully. Check the surface frequently to make sure you aren’t cutting too deep. As soon as the white spots disappear, stop rubbing and wipe the wood clean with a soft cloth. Then apply two coats of hard furniture wax and buff the wood to a shine.

Blushing: Blushing, a white haze over a large surface or an entire piece of furniture, is a common problem with old shellac and lacquer finishes. The discoloration is caused by moisture, and it can sometimes be removed the same way white spots are removed. Buff the surface lightly and evenly with No. 0000 steel wool dipped in linseed oil. Work with the grain of the wood, rubbing evenly on the entire surface, until the white haze disappears. Then wipe the wood clean with a soft cloth, apply two coats of hard furniture wax, and buff the surface to a shine.

Blushing can sometimes be removed by reamalgamation. If the surface is crazed or alligatored, reamalgamation should be used instead of steel-wool rubbing. If neither rubbing nor reamalgamation removes the haze, the piece of furniture must be refinished.

Black spots: Black spots are caused by water that has penetrated the finish completely and entered the wood. They cannot be removed without damage to the finish. If the spots are on a clearly defined surface, you may be able to remove the finish from this surface only; otherwise, the entire piece of furniture will have to be stripped. When the finish has been removed, bleach the entire stained surface with a solution of oxalic acid. Then refinish as necessary.

Ink stains: Ink stains that have penetrated the finish, like black water spots, cannot be removed without re-finishing. Less serious ink stains can sometimes be removed. Lightly buff the stained area with a cloth moistened with mineral spirits; then rinse the wood with clean water on a soft cloth. Dry the surface thoroughly, and then wax and polish it.

If this does not remove the ink, lightly rub the stained area, along the grain of the wood, with No. 0000 steel wool moistened with mineral spirits. Then wipe the surface clean and wax and polish it. This treatment may damage the finish. If necessary, refinish the damaged spot as discussed below. If the area is badly damaged, the entire surface or piece of furniture will have to be refinished.

Grease, tar, paint, crayon, and lipstick spots: These spots usually affect only the surface of the finish. To remove wet paint, use the appropriate solvent on a soft cloth — mineral spirits for oil-base paint, water for latex paint. To remove dry paint or other materials, very carefully lift the surface residue with the edge of a putty knife. Do not scrape the wood, or you’ll scratch the finish. When the surface material has been removed, buff the area very lightly along the grain of the wood with No. 0000 steel wool moistened with mineral spirits. Then wax and polish the entire surface.

Wax and gum spots: Wax and gum usually come off easily, but they must be removed carefully to prevent damage to the finish. To make the wax or gum brittle, press it with a packet of ice wrapped in a towel or paper towel. Let the deposit harden; then lift it off with your thumbnail. The hardened wax or gum should pop off the surface with very little pressure. If necessary, repeat the ice application. Do not scrape the deposit off, or you’ll scratch the finish.

When the wax or gum is completely removed, buff the area very lightly along the grain of the wood with No. 0000 steel wool moistened with mineral spirits. Then wax and polish the entire surface.

Spot Refinishing

Any repair that involves removing the damaged finish completely — deep scratches, gouges, burns, or any other damage — also involves refinishing the repair area. Spot refinishing is not always easy, and it’s not always successful, especially on stained surfaces. If the damage isn’t too bad, it’s worth trying. If you’ll have to touch up several areas on one surface, you’re probably better off refinishing the surface or the piece of furniture completely.

To stain one area on a surface, use an oil-based stain that matches the surrounding stain. You may have to mix stains to get a good match. Test the stain on an inconspicuous unfinished part of the wood before working on the finished surface.

Before applying the stain, prepare the damaged area for finishing. Sealing is not necessary. Apply the stain to the damaged area with an artists’ brush or a clean cloth, covering the entire bare area. Let the stain set for 15 minutes and then wipe it off with a clean cloth. If the color is too light, apply another coat of stain, wait 15 minutes, and wipe again. Repeat this procedure until you’re satisfied with the color; then let the stain dry according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Lightly buff the stained surface with No. 0000 steel wool, and wipe it clean with a tack cloth. Apply a new coat of the same finish already on the surface — varnish, penetrating resin, shellac, or lacquer — over the newly stained area, feathering out the new finish into the surrounding old finish. Let the new finish dry for one to two days, and lightly buff the patched area with No. 0000 steel wool. Wax the entire surface with hard paste wax, and polish it to a shine.

Read the next page to find what to do if your furniture has scratches, dings, or dents.

You can find the right tools on Wilson and Miller.

Choose the right hand tools

Once you have a project in mind and have scribbled out your napkin drawing and decided on a joint to use and dimensions to match where you will put it or on it, then and only then should you think about tools. If you’re going the hand tool route any of the above projects can be built with the following:

  • Jack plane
  • Panel saw (I don’t care if its rip or crosscut and neither should you)
  • 1-3 chisels (1/4, 3/8, or 1/2″)
  • Back saw (again I don’t care about tooth geometry but a Carcass Saw is a good choice)
  • Combo square

This is all. You’ll notice you have a few options in the above list that all center around planing, sawing, and chiseling. There are plenty of tools beyond this initial kit that will make thing easier but I wouldn’t not even think about them until you have a complete plan of attack written down on your first project. For example if I was making a bookcase using dados then I would seriously consider getting a router plane or if nothing else a cranked neck chisel to make things easier. If I choose a project that will be built with mortise and tenons then I would add a mortising gauge to make my layout repeatable. This is why worrying about tools is useless until you have a plan of attack ready to go.

Underhill Tool Tote

In the end woodworking all comes down to a simple series a steps that add up to a finished project. I think with a little planning you can break even the most complex project down to these simple steps and everything looks much easier from that granular level. For the beginner the goal should be to break the project down into these simple tasks and remove as many variables as possible. eg: using only 1 type of joint.

5 Things to Know Before Buying a Cordless Power Tool

There’s no better way to say “Merry Christmas, dear friend” than with a double-bevel compound miter saw or a heavy-duty 18V impact driver. But before you pick up a cordless tool for that special someone, keep these five things in mind.

Don’t buy a Lamborghini if you don’t drive fast.

Cordless tools used to be heavy, unwieldy behemoths sporting fat nickel-cadmium batteries. But tool companies have slimmed their products down with sleek, longer lasting lithium-ion cells. Thing is, Li-ion tools are expensive. Which is why manufacturers still make the old NiCad tools.

If you’re not too handy and plan on only using your power tools for the occasional shelf hanging or plywood cutting, you’ll be just fine with NiCad batteries. They weigh a little more and they take a long time to charge (sometimes as much as 3 hours), but for most projects you’re not likely to go through more than the two batteries most tools come with. And they cost a lot less: The same tool kit that might be $275 with Li-ion batteries would only be $150 with NiCad.

But if you plan to spend every weekend this spring building that climate-controlled comic-book library, you’re going to want to go Li-ion. The batteries charge in as little as 30 minutes, they last longer, and they weigh less. Which means your arms won’t get tired as quickly. You can even choose between regular slim packs and longer-life fatties.

Size matters

It’s simple: the higher the volts, the higher the power. That means more torque for driving screws or miter sawing, more speed for jigsawing and sanding, more hammer action for impact driving. Unless you’re a pro, you probably don’t want anything bigger than an 18-volt tool. A good 18V drill will get you through big jobs like framing and deck building, and you can cut through a lot of plywood with an 18V circular saw (especially because cordless circ saws have thinner blades to make up for the lesser torque).

Don’t discount the smaller tools, though. Outside of circular saws, every tool is replicated in a 12V version. The tools may look a little girly, but they work just fine. Drill/drivers, in particular, are great performers with 12V batteries, able to sink drywall screws into framing or even do some smaller decking jobs.

Keep in mind, though, that there are still some tools you should buy with cords. If you need miter saws or circular saws to cut thick lumber, you really need the consistent power of a plug-in tools. Same with hard workers like reciprocating saws and grinders.

Tool companies are like crack dealers.

Good news is, it pays to become an addict. Manufacturers inspire brand loyalty by selling tools both with batteries or wihtout. That way, once you’ve bought your first tool-and its two included batteries-you can use them on all the other tools from that platform. But only on tools from that platform. It’s a good idea, then, to make your buying decision based on everything a company sells tools that you might need down the line.

So what to look for? Since the basic function of most power tools doesn’t vary much from company to company, check out the accessories. You might fall in love with a quick-change chuck, a good LED light, or even a belt hook. Know what size blade or type of bit a tool takes and be sure that’s what you want. Then there’s price-you get what you pay for. A higher price point often reflects more money spent on innovation, ergonomic design, or durable materials.

Retro is cool.

One way to save a bit of dough on new tools is to retrofit your old tools with new batteries. If you already own a set of NiCad tools, some companies, including DeWalt, Milwaukee, and Ryobi, have designed their Li-ion batteries to fit old models. A new extended life Li-ion battery costs about $100, but you can save a lot of money if you already have a whole suite of tools that can use it.

There’s a battery for every personality.

NiCad batteries lose power if left unused for a while, so they are good presents for careful planners. Impulsive tinkerers, however, may find their building buzz harshed by a mandated charging break. (On the plus side, they perform better in colder climates, so go for it, Canada!) They can also have memory problems, so they’re better off left to drain before being recharged again.

Li-ion batteries, however, can be left plugged in at all times, and most chargers are designed to top off the tool once a week as needed. The biggest problem with Li-ion batteries is not knowing when they’re dying. Manufacturers call this a “fade-free charge” but what it really means is you won’t get the telltale slow-down as the batteries wear out. The tool will just stop.