How to Collect Water With Rain Barrels

By Bud Coburn

Catching and using rainwater can be as simple as a single plastic barrel with a gravity feed to a flower bed, or they can be sophisticated systems that supply all your water needs

Rainwater Collection Systems

rain barrel near a house

“The population is growing, but the water supply is not,” says Bill Hoffman, a coordinator for the City of Austin Water Conservation Program, in Texas. That’s why people around the country are turning to the centuries-old practice of collecting rain as an alternative source of water.

By collecting rain from a roof during wet months and storing it in a tank or cistern, homeowners can create an alternative supply that won’t tax the groundwater or jack up the water bill. And because rain doesn’t contain the minerals found n wells or the chlorine in municipal supplies, it’s ideal for watering the lawn, washing the car, doing the laundry, taking a shower—even drinking if it’s properly filtered.

“Rainwater is the purest water you can find,” says Dr. Hari Krishna, president of the American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association (ARCSA).

Simple Collection Systems

rainwater collection system with plastic rain barrels

A rainwater-collection system can be as simple as a rain barrel at the end of a downspout or as elaborate as a whole-house system, which supplies all the water needs for my family of four in the Texas Hill Country. Cost and complexity depend on how much water you need and how you plan to use it.

A simple system is adequate for landscaping needs, but cost, complexity, and maintenance increase if you’re planning to drink rainwater or pipe it into the house. Check with your local building official about the regulations on rainwater systems for indoor use—codes differ widely from one community to another.

A house with a sloped roof, gutters, and downspouts is well on its way to harvesting rainwater for landscape irrigation or other nonpotable uses. You just need a few simple components: wire-mesh gutter screens to keep out debris, a storage tank, and a way to move the water out of the tank.

Simple System Basics

rainwater collection systems with water barrels

The storage tank, or cistern, can be made from almost any material—even a clean recycled metal drum. Gardening stores sell 55- to 75-gallon plastic rain barrels, complete with leaf screens and spouts, for $50 to $250. Wooden barrels have a nostalgic charm, but they’re hard to come by and expensive. A wine or whiskey barrel made by a professional cooper will cost at least $250.

Larger storage tanks can be made of stone, cement, metal, wood, or fiberglass.

To prevent mosquitoes from breeding in tanks, make sure the tanks are covered or screened. Also, during winter months, barrels should be kept only three quarters full to allow freezing water to expand.

Gravity is the easiest (and cheapest) way to move rainwater out of the tank. Systems that work by gravity are good for watering landscapes; you only need to open a spigot or valve at the bottom of the tank. However, if you have to move water to a level higher than the tank, you’ll need a pump.

A 1-horsepower electric jet pump mounted in a small shed near the tank costs about $400, and can provide about 8 gallons of water a minute up to 500 feet away from the water tank.

Complex Collection Systems

rainwater collection systems with rain barrels

Things get more complicated if you’re planning to drink, wash, or bathe with rainwater. You need specific types of roofs, gutters, and storage tanks, as well as a way to filter and purify the water and pump it into your house.

Filter can take out most bacteria and particulates, and reverse osmosis will catch the sulfuric and nitric acids in acid rain. Unfortunately, there are areas with such heavy air pollution that rainwater cannot be filtered enough to make it drinkable.

“If you live in a highly industrialized area, I recommend using rain for gardening only,” cautions Bill Hoffman, a coordinator for the city of Austin Water Conservation Program, in Texas. “If you have any concern about rain quality, have a professional water test done on a sample.”

Shown: The writer uses rainwater for all her household needs. The 39,000-gallon system consists of three 11,000-gallon fiberglass tanks and two with a capacity of 3,000 gallons each. Located 150 feet from the main house, a 900-square-foot shed (which also collects rain) helps hide two of the 10-foot-tall tanks from view.

What You’ll Need

rainwater collection systems with rain barrels

Unpainted galvanized metal roofing is the best catchment surface for potable-water systems because it’s smooth and nontoxic. Clay or concrete tile and slate also work well. Asphalt, asbestos, chemically treated wood shingles, and some painted metal roofs, however, can leach toxic materials and are recommended only for nonpotable water uses.

As in a simple system, gutters and downspouts should have leaf screens. But it’s important that those gutters not have lead solder or lead-based paints. Seamless aluminum and vinyl gutters are fine. Also, a roof washer, a filtration system that removes any remaining leaves, debris, and bird droppings, should be placed in the line before the water enters a storage tank.

Shown: Before the water empties into the tanks, a primary filter called a roof washer helps remove leaves and other large debris.

Location, Location, Location

rainwater collection with rain barrels

Like nonpotable systems, storage tanks can be made of stone, cement, metal, wood, or fiberglass. But if you’re planning on showering with or drinking rainwater, stone and cement can leach minerals, and galvanized tanks can release zinc in the water unless a PVC liner is used (zinc from galvanized roofs is filtered out before being stored).

Fiberglass tanks, though hardly the most attractive, are easily the cleanest and most durable. You’ll need to keep the tank out of the sun in order to avoid algae growth. Tanks are sometimes buried, either partially or fully, to keep the water cool or to hide the tanks (and to prevent the water inside from freezing). However, buried tanks add costs for excavating and can’t easily be cleaned. A better option is to shade the tanks to ensure that only rain—and not sunlight—gets in.

Shown: Inside the shed, a 1–horsepower electric jet pump and a pressure tank push the water through two carbon filters and past a UV disinfecting light before it goes back to the house via a 1½-inch PVC pipe.

Cost & Care

rain water collection with rain barrels

The cost of a 10,000-gallon tank, PVC lines to and from the house, all filters, UV light, pressure tank, and pump runs about $7,500 to $9,000. To entice more participants—and thereby relieve overburdened water service—Austin, Portland, Oregon, and other cities are offering incentives like tax-free equipment or property-tax rebates to install collection systems.

Good maintenance of a rainwater-collection system is crucial for keeping water quality high, particularly if the water is to be consumed. Gutters must be kept free of leaves, no matter what kind of system you install. If you have a potable-water system, the roof washer has to be drained after a big rain (a simple turn of a valve) and all filters have to be changed periodically.

“I also recommend keeping back overhanging tree branches,” says Hari Krishna, president of the American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association (ARCSA). “That way you can keep down the amount of leaves and bird droppings that go into the system.”

Jeannie Ralston’s System

Jeannie Ralston's whole-house rainwater collection system

At 39,000 gallons, our system is large enough to store seven months of water. Because we drink the water, our storage tanks are coated on the inside with an FDA-approved food-grade resin and on the outside with gelcoat, an opaque resin that blocks out sunlight and helps prevent algae buildup. Before the water enters the house, a 5- and then a 3-micron carbon filter take out any suspended sediment that the roof washer (which filters most debris) missed. Then the water passes a UV light that kills bacteria. We clean filters from the roof washer at a self-service car wash. We change the 5-micron filter every month and the 3-micron filter every three months; the UV light is cleaned every five months and replaced every 14 months.

We stretch our supply by using water-saving toilets that require only 1.2 gallons per flush, a front-loading washer that uses 50 percent less water, and by limiting showers to two minutes, which is not popular with our guests. At just under $25,000, the cost to install our system wasn’t cheap compared with using city water or drilling a well. But now that it’s running, we pay only for the electricity to run a 1-horsepower pump and $150 a year to replace all the filters. The payoff is delicious: chemical- and mineral-free tap water that’s far better than anything from city or well sources. Dishes, clothes, and skin rinse clean, and there’s no buildup of iron or lime on the fixtures. Plus, we have a modicum of self-sufficiency, which is worth a lot to us these days.

Rainfall Levels

rainfall levels map

By looking at the average rainfall levels in your area, you can figure out how much rainwater you can expect to collect per year and whether that will meet your family’s water needs. An average household with newer plumbing fixtures such as 1.6- gallon-per-flush toilets and 2.5-gallon-per-minute showerheads uses roughly 55 gallons per person per day.

In general, 1,000 square feet of roof will collect 600 gallons of water for every inch of rain that falls. Remember that actual rainfall amounts fluctuate with the seasons, while household needs remain reasonably steady.

If you’re depending on rainwater for all or most of your water needs, your tanks have to be big enough to get you through the dry spells. Plus, you’ll need a fair amount of space to house those tanks. Be sure to follow municipal restrictions on tank placement.




Decking Materials

By Bud Coburn

If you’re looking to perfect your yard with a new deck, here’s information on the pros and cons of the various materials you may use to build it.

wood decking


The original and still most common decking choice, wood is natural, strong, easy to install and feels good under bare feet. But it also requires an annual cleaning and can rot, splinter, and warp. Even though all wood naturally weathers to a gray color, it should be cleaned and re-stained every two to three years to keep it looking its best.

Pressure Treated Wood: Lasting about 15 years, this is the least expensive and most common type of decking. Most pressure-treated wood is made from Southern yellow pine, which is quick to splinter if not maintained. When working with this wood, always use gloves, wear a mask, and never burn it because the toxic chemicals in the wood that prevent rot and termites can also be harmful to your health. These chemicals are also highly corrosive so for best results, use only stainless steel fasteners. ACQ, from Ring’s End, about $1.32/lineal ft

tropical hardwood decking

Tropical Hardwoods

Extremely dense and highly durable, these materials are rich in color and resistant to insects and decay and last about 25 years. But they are also expensive, heavy, and hard to work ? so hard in fact that you can’t hammer a nail without drilling a hole first. Avoid dark woods if your deck sees a lot of sun during the day because they will heat up like a frying pan.

1. Red Balau, from Austin Wholesale Decking, $1.95/lineal ft.
2. Golden Ironwood, From Austin Wholesale Decking, $1.79/lineal ft.
3. Ipe, from Austin Wholesale Decking, $1.99/lineal ft.
4. Cambara, from Ring’s End, $2.95/lineal ft.
5. Cumaru, from Austin Wholesale Decking, $1.79/lineal ft.

redwood & cedar decking

Redwood and Cedar

These woods contain natural defenses against rot and insects, and should last around 20 years, but they are soft and easily damaged by foot traffic. Red cedar and redwood are both lightweight and stiff. Lighter-colored Port Orford Cedar is the hardest and most wear-resistant cedar. Like all woods, the sun soon fades their natural color to gray; only the regular application of sun-blocking finishes will stave off this process.

1. Red Cedar, from the Western Red Cedar Lumber Association, $1.25-$2.75/lineal ft., depending on grade
2. Redwood, from the California Redwood Association, $1.50/lineal ft.
3. Port Orford White Cedar, from Ring’s End, $1.50/lineal ft.

Composite decking


Made by combining a blend of plastic and waste wood fibers, these boards won’t splinter and don’t need to be stained or painted. Yet composites are more expensive and heavier than most woods, and must be scrubbed regularly to prevent mildew. Composites aren’t as stiff as wood, and they move more in response to changes in temperature. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s installation instructions to the letter When screwing through the face, use the special fasteners designed to prevent bumps from erupting around screw heads.

Same texture on both sides
Installation is less complicated when the boards have the same texture on both sides. Trex offers a smooth, double-sided finish, while Monarch has a wood-grain finish on either side. This will make it easy when laying the planks, as it can’t be put in the wrong way.

1. Brasilia, from Trex, $2.85/lineal ft.; recycled polyethylene and waste wood from woodworking manufacturers; 25-year limited warranty
2. Exotics, from Monarch, about $2.67/lineal ft.; virgin plastic and recycled wood floor from the furniture and flooring industry; 20-year limited warranty

Decking with a different texture on each side

Different texture on each side

It’s nice to have options. Certainteed makes its Boardwalk decking with a smooth and a wood-grain face. TimberTech’s TwinFinish has a brushed, textured surface and a “VertiGrain” surface, which resembles wood-grain. Their “Earthwood” product is VertiGrain and serrated.

1. Earthwood, from TimberTech, $2.50-$3.00/lineal ft.; virgin polyethylene and reclaimed wood fiber; 25-year warranty
2. TwinFinish, from TimberTech, $2.00-$2.50/lineal ft.; virgin polyethylene and reclaimed wood fiber; 25-year warranty
3. Boardwalk, from Certainteed, $2.60-$3.00/lineal ft.; PVC and wood flour/natural fibers; 10-year limited warranty

Engineered decking


Grooves on the underside of composite decking can make a board lighter without compromising stiffness. Grooves in the edges of a board allow the use of hidden fasteners so no screws are visible on the deck’s face.

1. Tendura, for use only on covered porches, $2.50/lineal ft.; polypropylene and waste wood fiber; lifetime limited warranty
2. Latitudes, from UFP Ventures II, Inc., $1.99-$2.09/lineal ft.; polyethylene and wood flour; 15-year limited warranty
3. ChoiceDek, from Weyerhaeuser, $1.82/lineal ft.; recycled polyethylene and recycled wood fiber; limited lifetime warranty
4. Boardwalk, from Certainteed, $2.60-$3.00/lineal ft.; PVC and wood flour/natural fibers; 10-year limited warranty
5. Floorizon, from TimberTech, $2.50-$3.00/lineal ft.; virgin polyethylene and reclaimed wood fiber; 25-year warranty

Plastic decking


This decking is splinter-free and requires almost no maintenance, except for the occasional cleaning. But it doesn’t always look, sound, or feel much like wood. These decks also have complex fastening systems so the pieces can move as the temperature changes, but they squeak when you walk on them. PVC
The 1.2″ thick ForeverWood contains hollow channels to maximize stiffness. A hidden rubberized strip helps minimize noise and squeaking. The tongue-and-groove feature makes for easy installation and hides the screws so that you have a neat, uniform look. DeckoraWood is a similar material, but only 5/8″ thick, so it can be placed over existing wood decks or concrete patios. The wood-grain on each material provides extra traction, especially when the deck becomes slick.

1. ForeverWood, from ICA Group, Inc., $3.50/lineal ft.; 100% PVC; limited lifetime warranty
2. DeckoraWood, from ICA Group, Inc., $2.25/lineal ft.; 100% PVC; limited lifetime warranty

Polystyrene decking


With deep grooves on its underside, Eon decking is stiff, strong, and light. No fasteners are visible thanks to a hidden clip system. Its non-slip surface actually becomes less slippery when wet. It comes in six different colors and, for plastic, is a great way to fool your guests into thinking it’s real wood.

Eon, from CPI Plastics Group Ltd., $2.49-$2.59/lineal ft.; 100% polystyrene; 25-year limited warranty

Deck Check

By Bud Coburn

Our six-point inspection plan will help you spot signs of trouble

According to the North American Deck and Railing Association, there’s been an increase in the number of decks that have collapsed, fallen apart, or otherwise failed. In most cases, simple upkeep could have prevented these incidents, which tend to happen (no surprise) when decks are packed with people. Make such an inspection an annual affair—it takes a few minutes—and fix any problems before inviting the gang over.

For more information on deck safety, check out the North American Deck and Railing Association.

check materials for split or decaying wood


Check for split or decaying wood. Inspect cracks with a flathead screwdriver; if you can insert it more than ¼ inch into any cracks, or if the wood feels spongy or breaks off without splintering, this could indicate rot. Keep an eye out for holes, which could mean insects have burrowed in and made a home.

ledger board

Ledger Board

This weight-bearing board connects the deck to your house. Make sure it’s attached with ½-inch stainless- or galvanized-steel lag screws and through bolts, rather than nails, which can pop out. Check for a widened gap between the house and the ledger, which may signal that the bolts need tightening.

flashing check


Flashing around the ledger board prevents moisture from building up and causing rot. Look to see if it has pulled away from the house, and make sure caulk that seals overlapping pieces is intact. Inspect for mud or debris stuck between the spacer and the exterior wall, a sign the flashing’s been breached.

railings and balusters check

Railings and Balusters

Firmly grasp and wriggle these to make sure they’re secure. Also double-check whether they meet local codes, which generally call for a railing at least 3 feet high with balusters spaced no wider than 4 inches apart. Toenail loose pieces back into place, adding glue for extra security, or replace them entirely.

support post check

Support Posts

Look for loose connections between posts and the deck’s beams. Tighten and replace ½-inch through bolts as needed. Posts should be 6 inches square or larger, and no taller than 14 feet.

surface finish check

Surface Finish

Look for mildew or areas where water doesn’t bead up on contact. If you find any, power-wash the deck with a solution of one part bleach (use only oxygenated bleach for cedar decks), three to five parts water, and laundry soap. Let it dry before applying a new layer of penetrating waterproof finish.

7 Ways to Save Money on Your Home Remodel

By Bud Coburn

Increase Efficiency, Not Size

Increase Efficiency, Not SizeBusting 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. 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 little there, and pretty soon you’re talking about some real money.

1. Increase Efficiency, Not Size

If you can reorganize and equip your kitchen for maximum utility, you may not need to blow out the walls to gain square footage. Start by replacing space-hogging shelves with cabinet-height pullout drawers 8 inches wide, containing racks for canned goods and other items. “You’re getting three or more horizontal planes where you might otherwise get only one,” says Louis Smith Jr., an architect with Meier Group, in Ann Arbor, Michigan. You could easily shell out a few thousand to outfit cabinets with upgrades like dividers, pull-out pot trays, and lazy Susans, but you’ll save many times that amount by skipping the addition you thought you needed.

Bring in Natural Light Without Adding Windows

2. Bring in Natural Light Without Adding Windows

Before cutting a big hole in the side of your house and rearranging the framing, consider less invasive-and less expensive-ways of capturing light. To brighten up a windowless bath or hallway, for instance, you can install a “light tube,” which slips between roof rafters and funnels sunshine down into the living space.

Cost to add a double-pane insulated window: $1,500

Cost for a light tube: $500

SAVED: $1,000

Hit the Recycling Center

3. Hit the Recycling Center

  • Do-it-yourselfers can reap big savings with recycled or lightly used fixtures and building materials. Habitat for Humanity operates about 400 ReStores nationwide, which offer salvaged materials at half off home-center prices. One caveat: Many contractors won’t work with salvaged items, or homeowner-supplied materials in general, because they don’t want to assume the liability if something goes wrong. That said, if you’re doing your own work, you can find anything from prehung doors to acrylic skylights to partial bundles of insulation. (To find a ReStore near you, visit

    Price of 4-by5-foot insulated window in a home center: $600

    Price at ReStore: $300

    SAVED: $300

Donate Your Trash

4. Donate your Trash

Before you begin a remodeling job, invite the local Habitat for Humanity chapter to remove materials and fixtures for later resale. “About 85 percent of a house is reusable,” says B.J. Perkins, Habitat’s ReUse program manager, in Austin, Texas. “We can do a total takedown, or do a cherry-pick job and take the cabinets, the tub, the sink, and so on.” You save space in the landfill, collect a charitable tax credit for the donation, and help a good cause. Visit Habitat to find an affiliate near you.

Cost to trash a suite of bathroom fixtures: $50 to $75

Cost to donate: Nothing, plus you get a tax deduction

SAVED: Space in the landfill (and a little bit of your soul)

Do Your Own Demo

5. Do Your Own Demo

Knocking down may not be as costly as rebuilding, but you can still shave dollars by doing some of the demolition yourself-as long as you proceed with care. “If a homeowner wants to demo a deck, well, I am sure they can handle that,” says Michael Winn, owner of Winn Design, in Virginia. “But when it comes to interior spaces, I would dissuade them from doing it unless they have done it before.” The reason: A reckless wrecker might unwittingly take out a load-bearing wall or, worse still, plunge a reciprocating saw into live wiring or pressurized plumbing. (For tips on how to do demo right, see our October 2005 feature, “Before You Construct, You Have to Destruct.”)

Cost to demo a 200-square-foot deck yourself: $450 (Dumpster rental and parking permit)

Cost for a pro: $1,000

SAVED: $550

Consider Long-Term Costs, Not Just Short-Term Gains

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

SAVED: $1,250

Tap Your Contractor's Sources

7. Tap Your Contractor’s Sources

When it comes to things like flooring, ask your subcontractor if he has odds-and-ends stock left over from other jobs. While renovating a Civil War-era bed-and-breakfast in New Jersey some years back, contractor Bill Asdal needed wood flooring. He made a few phone calls and came up with hundreds of square feet of hardwood, in various lengths and widths, that otherwise would have gone into the trash on other job sites. Just by planing it to uniform thickness, then sanding and refinishing it, he saved his client almost $9,000 in materials costs.

Cost of new flooring: $19,200

Cost to use someone else’s discards: $10,500

SAVED: $8,700

How to Remove Every Type of Carpet Stain

By Bud Coburn

Get stains out with ingredients you probably already have around the house

Oops! Whether it be grape juice, a little present from Fido, or finger-paint artwork from your 3-year-old, it seems whatever is not supposed to get on the carpet always does. Here are a few tips from carpet manufacturer Shaw and rug maker and importer Nourison on how to clean your carpets using products you can find around your house.

What You Should Know Before You Start

To remove a stain, simply blot the spot and dry working from the outside in, rinse thoroughly with clean water, then blot again. Never scrub the carpet, or you risk ruining the carpet fibers or letting the spill soak through to the carpet pad.

For more specific advice, find your type of stain below. In addition to these methods, there are several spot removers on the market; before you try one, test it out in an inconspicuous spot to make sure it doesn’t discolor your carpet.

Water-Soluble Stains
alcoholic beverages
food dyes
ice cream
washable ink
wet or latex paint

Use a simple cleaning solution made up of 1/4 teaspoon of nonbleach detergent (or white vinegar) mixed with 32 ounces of water.

Special Water-Soluble Stains

Try 1 tablespoon of ammonia mixed with 1 cup of water (but not on wool or wool-blend carpet; instead use mild detergent and water). If that doesn’t work, you can try one part chlorine bleach to five parts water, but only on solution-dyed carpets, such as polypropylene. Bleach will harm other types of carpets; check with the manufacturer if you are unsure what type of carpet you have.

Fat, Oil, and Wax
Place a paper towel over the carpet and iron on warm setting. The wax, fat, or oil should come up off the carpet and stick to the paper towel.

Cigarette Burns
These can be removed by gently rubbing the pile with the edge of a hard and flat surface, such as a dull knife.

Moisten a cotton ball or soft cloth with rubbing alcohol and press it on the affected area. Once the glue residue is thoroughly moistened, gently wipe it off and repeat until the carpet is clean.

Wax and Gum
Use ice to freeze the wax or gum, then shatter it with a blunt object, such as a spoon. Vacuum before the pieces soften, and blot the carpet with a white towel.

Nail Polish
Blot the area with a rag dipped in nail polish remover.

Absorb as much as possible with white towels, then blot with a damp, cool cloth. Next, spray or blot with a solution of one part white vinegar to one part water. Finally, apply a solution of 1/2 teaspoon of clear, mild, nonbleach detergent mixed with 32 ounces of water, rinse, and blot dry. If the urine was the result of a dog’s accident, you may also want to try a housebreaking aid such as No-Go.

Ongoing Maintenance
Even if you don’t have any mishaps, you should always have your carpet thoroughly cleaned every 12 to 18 months. There are many professional carpet cleaning services, or you can rent a steam carpet cleaner. They are usually available at your supermarket.

If you decide to do it yourself rather than hire a pro, you need to keep a few things in mind.

• Make sure the cleaning equipment you choose has enough vacuum power to allow the carpet to dry in 6 to 12 hours or you may risk damage from getting it too wet.

• Use fans or a dehumidifier to expedite drying time after cleaning. Be aware that if your carpet is wet for more than 24 hours, you risk mildew and bacteria growth.

• Choose a cleaning solution that has a pH of 10 or less, and make sure you remove all detergent after cleaning.

• Double-check your warranty. Carpets with stain resistance must be cleaned with products formulated for them or you risk impairing their effectiveness and voiding your warranty.


How to Patch a Carpet

By Bud Coburn

A clever and easy solution for scorch marks and holes

fireplace ember on carpet

Q: There’s a 3-inch scorch mark on my wall-to-wall carpeting where an ember from the fireplace landed. How can I make it go away?

A: Fortunately, you don’t have to buy new carpet or even rearrange the furniture to cover isolated damage from burns, red wine stains, and other blemishes. For the price of a patch kit, some glue, and a star roller—about $30 total—you can make an invisible repair that will last the life of the carpet.

The basic kit, available at flooring distributors and online, includes a hockey-puck-sized carpet cutter and adhesive disks to glue the patch in place. The cutter slices out the damaged section and an identically sized replacement patch. If you don’t have any leftover scraps, harvest a patch from the back of a closet, beneath a radiator, or under furniture that’s rarely moved.

Patch repairs work best on plush, tufted pile with no patterns that require matching. Follow the steps on the next page, and you’ll be done in about half an hour.

placing the cutter on the carpet

Rub your hand over the carpet surrounding the damaged section, and note which direction makes the carpet fibers stand up. Place the cutter, without blades, over the damaged area, and make three clockwise turns to push aside a ring of carpet fibers and expose the backing. Repeat these steps, including the rubbing, in the area where you’ll be extracting the patch.

the prepared cutter is laying on the carpet
Screw on the cutter blades so that they will slice through the backing when the cutter is turned clockwise. Attach the pivot screw; it should project from the cutter as far as the blades do.

removing damaged piece from carpet

Line up the cutter with the circular impression made in Step 1. Push down until the pivot screw punches through the backing (you’ll hear a pop). Rotate the cutter two or three turns with firm, even pressure. (Avoid making too many turns or you may slice through the padding that supports the patch.) Remove the damaged piece, then use the same method to cut out the replacement patch. Draw an arrow on the back of the patch pointing in the direction you rubbed the fibers to make them stand up.

prepare the adhesive disk with cool water

Remove the protective backing from the adhesive disk, and dampen the disk with cool water to temporarily neutralize the glue. The disk is slightly larger than the patch, so open the slit in the disk and slide its edge under the carpet between the backing and the padding, as shown. When the adhesive becomes tacky, in about 3 to 5 minutes, press down on the carpet around the disk’s edge.

Place a narrow bead of carpet-seam glue along the perimeter of the cutout.

Pluck out any loose carpet fibers around the edge of the hole and the surrounding carpet. Place a narrow bead of carpet-seam glue along the perimeter of the cutout. Align the arrow on the patch with the direction of the fibers in the rest of the carpet, and stick the patch down firmly onto the disk. You have 15 minutes to make adjustments before the glue sets.

push the roller over the patch

Straddle the edge of the patch with a star roller, and press down firmly as you steer it twice around the perimeter of the patch. Next, push the roller over the patch from different directions until the seam disappears. Let the adhesive cure for 24 hours before you vacuum or walk on the patch.


How to Install a Stair Runner

By Bud Coburn

Use a stock runner (or two) to add a splash of color and cushiony comfort to bare wood stairs

how to Install a Flat-Weave Cotton Stair Runner

If you have plain old stairs, a runner can make a statement and soften your footsteps. Runners made of woven cotton are affordable and easy to work with, and they range in style from beachy to baroque; here, we chose heathered stripes to complement a cottage-style interior.

Runner: Blue Heron Stripe Woven Cotton Rug by Dash & Albert, 30 inches by 12 feet, about $$124

Overview for How-to Install a Flat-Weave Cotton Stair Runner

Tools List

  • 100-foot tape measure  combination square  chalk line
    Tape measure                  Combination square         Chalk line
  • carpet scissors  straightedge guide  black marker
    Scissors                           3-foot straightedge           Felt-tip marker
  • staple gun  flat prybar  pneumatic staple gun
    Staple gun                        Thin pry bar                     Narrow-crown pneumatic stapler
  •                                                                                  and air compressor
  • bolster chisel
    Bolster chisel

Shopping Lists:

Felt carpet padding to cushion the runner

Flat-weave cotton runner(s)

Double-sided carpet tape to adhere the top end of the runner⅝-inch staples for the staple gun to secure the padding

1-inch 18-gauge narrow-crown staples for the pneumatic stapler, to secure the runner

28-inch-wide felt carpet padding: one at 18 linear feet

30-inch-wide flat-weave cotton runner: two at 12 feet to cover 22 linear feet (14 stairs)

Determine the Layout to Install a Flat-Weave Cotton Stair Runner

Measure the steps. Measure the riser height and the tread depth of one step. Multiply the riser height by the number of risers and the tread depth by the number of treads. Add those results together and tack on an extra 6 inches for waste to find the total length of one runner. If you need more than one, add another 12 inches for each splice, the seam where two runners meet.

Size the Runner to Install a Flat-Weave Cotton Stair Runner

Measure and mark the centerline of the stairs on the narrowest tread, and line up the middle of the runner with the mark. (Conveniently, our runner has a stripe down the middle.) Use a tape measure to make sure the reveal on each side is even, then mark the tread at each edge of the runner, in pencil. Use a combination square to replicate the edge marks on each tread.

Cut the Padding to Width to Install a Flat-Weave Cotton Stair Runner

Slip a piece of felt carpet padding under the runner, inset from the edge to form a smooth transition to the tread, as shown. Measure the difference, and calculate how wide to cut the padding. Unroll the padding, use a chalk line to snap a cutline along its length, and cut along the line. Then, using a straightedge, cut it into sections 4 inches deeper than the tread, one for each step.

Taper the Sections to Install a Flat-Weave Cotton Stair Runner

Lay a section on a tread, its back edge a fingertip away from the riser, and wrap the front over the nosing. Mark the edges where they meet the riser, then draw lines at approximately 45 degrees to the front edge. Snip off the corners, as shown. Use this section as a template to trace and trim the pads for the remaining steps.

Staple the Padding to the Steps to Install a Flat-Weave Cotton Stair Runner

Center a section of padding on the bottom tread, leaving a small gap at the riser. Use a staple gun to secure it. Drive in five staples, working out in both directions from the middle of the back edge. Smooth out the padding and staple it five times along the front, about 1 inch back from the nosing. Gently smooth it over the nosing, being careful not to stretch and pucker it, and staple it to the riser, as shown.

Tip: Start installing the padding at the bottom step. That way, you’ll have a built-in cushion to kneel on as you work your way up the staircase.

Tape the Runner to the Top Riser to Install a Flat-Weave Cotton Stair Runner

Remove any interfering molding and apply strips of double-sided carpet tape on the top riser. Press the finished end of the runner directly under the nosing and tack it to the riser with a pneumatic stapler. Start in the middle and work out in both directions, stapling every 4 inches. Put two staples down each side, too. Press the runner firmly onto the tape.

Tuck and Staple to Install a Flat-Weave Cotton Stair Runner

Use a bolster chisel to tuck the runner into the gap behind the padding, as shown. Line up the runner’s edges with the pencil marks, and drive five 1-inch staples into the tuck. Smooth the runner over the nosing of the next step, tuck it into the gap, and staple it. Don’t overstretch the runner or you may distort its pattern. Continue until you hit the end of either the runner or the stairs. If one runner covers your staircase, skip to Step 11.

Trim the First Runner to Install a Flat-Weave Cotton Stair Runner

As you near the end of the runner, spread it over the last tread it covers and tuck it in at the base of the riser with the bolster chisel. Mark the runner 2 inches beyond the tuck and trim it to length. Fold under the cut end, leaving about 1 inch of runner protruding from the joint, and hold it in place with the bolster chisel, as shown.

Secure the First Runner's End to Install a Flat-Weave Cotton Stair Runner

Secure the fold to the tread with the pneumatic stapler, as shown, working from the middle out.

Mate the Second Runner to Install a Flat-Weave Cotton Stair Runner

Set the factory-finished edge of the second runner over the end of the first runner, as shown. There’s no need to tuck it into the corner, but do be sure that the stripes on the two runners line up perfectly. Using the pneumatic stapler, drive staples straight down through the hemmed ends of both runners and into the tread. Continue to gently pull, tuck, and staple the second runner until you reach the bottom step.

Trim the Bottom End to Install a Flat-Weave Cotton Stair Runner

Use the bolster chisel to crease the runner along the base of the bottom step. Measure out 3 inches and use a felt-tip marker and a straightedge to mark the runner. Cut it to length.

Tuck and Staple the End to Install a Flat-Weave Cotton Stair Runner

Fold under the end of the runner to create a hem. Pull it taut and staple it along the bottom edge of the riser, as shown. If the base of the riser is trimmed with molding, as ours was, tack the runner right along its top edge. When the runner eventually wears out, you can easily take it up and do it over again.