I'm Bob Vila, original host of This Old House and Home Again. Or maybe you know me from my appearances on Tim Allen's Home Improvement! Recently, I've been focusing on my website — BobVila.com — and my new iPad app, Bob Vila's Toolbox, available at the iTunes store. But today, I'm answering your questions — so ask me anything!

My Proof: http://www.bobvila.com/system/images/W1siZiIsIjIwMTMvMTAvMjQvMTUvMTMvNDgvNTE2L3Bob3RvXzIuSlBHIl1d/photo%202.JPG

2: https://twitter.com/BobVila/status/393419622784827392

EDIT: 2:30PM EST -- Have to run! Thanks for all the questions! This was a lot of fun — wish I could answer every one. Maybe I'll just have to do another AMA in the future....

Comments: 2073 • Responses: 57  • Date: 

vigatron921 karma


I have a confession. My initials are the same as yours, and during my childhood one winter I scraped the siding on my house with "BV was here." When questioned about who might have done it, I blamed you.


TheRealBobVila838 karma

That's okay. I scratched the number 4 on the lid of the record player cabinet when I was about 6... I don't remember what happened, but I remember doing it!

mkoy999866 karma

Hi Bob! Just have one question:

Did you have a favorite contest against Tim "The Toolman" Taylor in Home Improvement? Those episodes were by far the most memorable tv episodes I saw as a child. You took it to him every time!

Thanks for the memories.

TheRealBobVila1614 karma

Favorite Home Improvement moment: getting helped off stage by Pamela Anderson after being hit over the head with a 4x6.

SandiClause799 karma

Because of you, years ago, I won a contest at a company picnic! I was able to identify and explain the uses of a biscuit joiner. Thank you Mr. Vila!

TheRealBobVila725 karma

What was the prize??

rfuller672 karma

Hi Bob! Thanks for doing this AMA.

I grew up watching This Old House with my grandpa in the 80’s. You sparked my passion for houses, which lead to my degree in Architecture and my career as a homebuilder. I actually cited this on my Architecture application.

By and large, houses have become commodities and ceased to be homes built by craftsmen. Tract builders view them as a way to sell land. Financial institutions view them as the collateral basis for mortgage backed securities. Everything is distilled down to the cheapest, most efficient method, which rarely requires skilled labor.

In my own practice, I only use skilled labor, proper materials (e.g. stucco instead of EIFS), and I build the homes to last more than a lifetime. I design the plans specifically for the client and the lot. I treat each house as the client’s home, dreams, and primary financial investment. I do this with all houses, starter homes up to mansions. But I’m in the minority. A tiny, tiny minority.

That being said, how can we bring back the craftsman?

TheRealBobVila632 karma

Happy to hear I could help! Definitely we should promote vocational training in schools

livesinatreehouse505 karma

Is there such a thing as a board-stretcher? My boss sent me to get one 20 years ago, and I still haven't found it.

TheRealBobVila560 karma

Isn't that a wall street term?

TheRealBobVila771 karma

Maybe you'll find one on the same aisle as the sky hooks.

TheMacGoesRiiing422 karma

How handy is Tim Allen in real life?

TheRealBobVila1083 karma

Tim Allen is real handy as long as it has four wheels and an engine.

freakyfun401 karma


TheRealBobVila687 karma

Southern yellow pine. Reminds me of my childhood.

mad_eye_maddie398 karma

Hi Bob! One of my greatest memories growing up was watching your show with my dad. My mom was always trying to get me to play with dolls and cooking sets (since I’m a girl) but all I wanted to do was play with tools and help my dad build things - all because of you! Thank you for the memories.

Now for my question: What is your favorite sandwich? :)

TheRealBobVila474 karma

I just had a falafel sandwich - liked it a lot!

s_mw326 karma

What was the first tool you ever used? What was the first thing you ever built?

TheRealBobVila1152 karma

My earliest recollection of using a tool was a 4 lb masons hammer. And I used it to un-build some concrete blocks...

SantaClaaaus287 karma

Which tool best describes you and why?

TheRealBobVila1108 karma

The power saw -- because I like to be on the cutting edge.

johnnydirnt262 karma

I always used to say this to the TV when I was little.... so here goes....

Hi Bob!

TheRealBobVila381 karma

Hi Johnny!

EditingAndLayout256 karma

Hi Mr. Vila! With all of your travels and experience, I have to know: Do you believe in haunted houses?

TheRealBobVila575 karma


ZachBroChill242 karma

Hey Bob. Thanks for doing this. I vividly remember watching Home Again with my dad when I was growing up. It was sort of a bonding thing for us. We both learned a lot from it. So thank you for that.

As for my question, I have a birch tree in my yard that will be coming down soon. It happens to have a couple of branches that would be the perfect width to make coasters. How would you suggest going about doing that?

P.S. check out /r/DIY Your input you be greatly valued over there.

TheRealBobVila348 karma

If the diameter of the branch is about 2 or 3 inches, you can slice it on a table saw or with a chop saw. I've done this with cedar branches and used them for place cards at picnic tables.

ZachBroChill151 karma

What if I want to get fancy and put a design with a wood burning tool? Do I need to coat it in anything in particular to keep it from getting damaged over time? Thank you so much for answering my questions.

TheRealBobVila337 karma

Nope - let it age naturally.

Flappy_Howserton240 karma

Mr. Vila:

About 7 or 8 years ago I was in the British Virgin Islands (on Anegada, I think) and asked a bartender "Who's the most famous person who has been here recently?" The bartender thinks for a moment and then says, "Well, Bob Vila was here last night."

Q: Do you go sailing a lot? If so, where are your favorite places to sail?

TheRealBobVila300 karma

Yes, I love to sail. We have a 12 and half foot Havens, which we sail in Manemshapond.

connerysbeard233 karma

if you had to pick 3 tools everyone should have, what would they be?

TheRealBobVila437 karma

A hammer, a pliers, and a yankee screwdriver.

wangotango22212 karma

How'd you learn to do all of this stuff? A mentor?

TheRealBobVila367 karma

My father build the house I grew up in when I was a little guy in the late 40s, I was always following him around.

packyrlunch203 karma

How do you cultivate such a perfect salt-and-pepper beard?

TheRealBobVila458 karma

Boar bristle brush.

wellvis195 karma

What was the biggest surprise you found while renovating an old house?

TheRealBobVila443 karma

My 200 year old cape in Massachusetts had a living room floor that was held together by the wall-to-wall carpet. We had to replace all the floor joists.

franklloydwhite179 karma

Bob, thanks for doing an AMA!

TOH (back in the 80s and early 90s) was probably my favorite show as a child. I want to rewatch all of those episodes with an adult perspective but they haven't been released on DVD/netflix/itunes/amazon etc. Any idea why?

TheRealBobVila325 karma

All of my Home Again shows are digitized and available at BobVila.com. The This Old House classics which I hosted were sold by PBS to TimeWarner and they have aired, but I don't know if they're available on any website.

SlightlyEnraged175 karma


TheRealBobVila399 karma

I was in the New York Times crossword puzzle once, about 20 years ago! Nothing beats that.

Intern2MyMusic161 karma

What's the most drastic renovation project you've ever done?

TheRealBobVila255 karma

The very first This Old House in Dorchester, MA. It was just a derelict house, hadn't been cared for in years and everything was rotting, everything was busted.

-HUSH-149 karma

Hey Bob. Two questions:

Many American high schools have had to downsize or eliminate technology and 'shop' courses due to budget cuts. Do you feel that these tradesman courses should be better emphasized? How can we get kids interested in working with their hands again?

Also, what was shooting on Home Improvement like? Going from your DIY series to a scripted sitcom must have been a challenge!

TheRealBobVila289 karma

I think it's an extremely important thing to promote vocational education in public schools, so that kids can fall in love with woodworking, mechanics, pottery, and many other crafts and build a career there.

MadMaxDingo126 karma

Was it always the plan for you to be Tim Taylor's arch enemy. Or was it suppose to be a one time appearance that ended up working, so it became a running gag? And do you still keep in contact with Tim Allen?

TheRealBobVila245 karma

Home Improvement was developed totally based on This Old House, but the writer's didn't think about consulting with me -- but at the last minute, they invited me on the show, and that's where the gag started.

Bachman_charles517118 karma

How did you start your career before tv?

TheRealBobVila252 karma

While studying architecture in Boston, I needed to make some dough... so I bought a van, some tools, made some cards and started a remodeling business.

infiniteloooop115 karma

Hey Bob! I basically grew up watching your show. My dad had every episode taped of yours, I am sure he is one of your biggest fans. He now lives in a house he designed, and built both barns/sheds on his property. I don't really have a question, just wanted to share that with you and thank you for the AMA! At the very least, could you give a shout out here to my dad Gary? You would make his year. Thanks!

TheRealBobVila174 karma

Hi Gary! Best wishes to you!

klsi83294 karma

Bob Vila's favorite movie?

TheRealBobVila160 karma

Well this week, it's All is Lost, the new Redford movie. Unbelievable.

armyraider90 karma

What would be a great father son project to work on?

TheRealBobVila164 karma

One of my favorites is to build window boxes - or bird houses!

Euchre81 karma

Was there ever a house you really wish you hadn't put on the show after all the work, because it wasn't really worth it or didn't come out how you would have liked?

What was the best outtake on either of your shows, that would've been most reminiscent of Home Improvement?

TheRealBobVila139 karma

There was a manufactured house, and the owner ran out of money.. and we couldn't finish the project on the show. The house was finished on the outside... but not on the inside, and I had to turn to the camera and say " The owner ran out of money!" and we basically had to turn to a few different projects. So we instead went to Elmhurst Cottage, which was a Vanderbilt house inherited by a descendant.

beachtraveler80 karma

Bob, I have a flatscreen TV to mount to a plaster wall. I am having trouble finding the studs, even with an electronic stud finder. Advice?

Thanks in advance!

TheRealBobVila123 karma

If it's a new television -- they don't weigh much at all. You can attached it to the drywall with toggle bolts or molly bolts. If it's heavier... keep looking for those studs! I just had this situation. I had 6 year old flat screen that weighed too much, we were afraid to mount it. After getting a new one, it was the easiest thing to hang on the wall.

furryoso76 karma

Did / Do you and Norm get along in real life?

adrun46 karma

Bob, I'll follow this up with, how much involvement did you have behind the scenes? Was the role hosting the show primarily presentation, or did you help Norm with any of the construction as well?

*Whoops, included Steve Thomas as another part of the construction crew, didn't realize he was the host that took over after Bob left the show.

TheRealBobVila107 karma

In the last decade of Home Again programs, I was very involved with producing, directing, sometimes hosting, and quite involved with the design and construction of the project.

doornoob71 karma

Hey. Thanks for doing this AMA! I am a new home owner (small brick ranch built 1961 with a small deck on 1 acre). Two questions:

1- Winter is coming. I have some parging at the base of the house that is cracking and starting to come off. Is that a NOW project or a next spring/summer thing?

2- I have carpenter ants that seem to live in a window frame. How much damage are they doing?

TheRealBobVila218 karma

Get thee to an exterminator!

IronSloth70 karma

Any tips on ensuring my deck lasts this winter?

TheRealBobVila139 karma

Always a good idea to put a sealer coat on!

jmn35770 karma

I just wanted to say hi. One of my earliest memories as a child was getting up to watch you on This Old House on PBS with my dad.

Actually, I do have a couple of questions.

What do you think about the "DYI" movement in general?

Also, is it true that you're Cuban? I think I read that somewhere. Hola!

TheRealBobVila120 karma

American-born Cuban! ABC.

elizbug63 karma

Do you always wear these, safety glasses?

TheRealBobVila127 karma

Yes - definitely. No exceptions.

obscurityknocks62 karma

Bob, my husband worships you. I VHS taped This Old House, the only show I ever taped. Thanks for everything you have done to help people live in their houses. I have a serious DIY related question.

My whole house, renovated in the '80s, has polished brass everything. Chandeliers, door handles, drawer pulls, fixtures, even the outlet covers. Is there any way for me to cover it with some sort of spray-on finish? I have seen lots of DIYers try it, but have never seen whether or not it works in the long-term. Should I just save up thousands in order to replace everything?

TheRealBobVila133 karma

No! You should preserve the brass. You can get clear spray lacquer and apply that, but eventually it'll darken. The best thing to do with antique brass is preserve it.

JustRice58 karma

Mr. Vila,

I am building a house and need to choose a type of flooring. We are putting wood in the kitchen and would like something that is somewhat water resistant. Would you recommend engineered hardwood or actual hardwood?

TheRealBobVila113 karma

I would recommend actual hardwood. Engineered wood products, whether wood or cork, can absorb moisture.

Anonymashley56 karma

Bob, my husband and I bought a dilapidated HUD home and have spent the last 5 years fixing it up and fixing many of our first round mistakes. We started with no experience at all but have found a lot of invaluable information from your shows. What is your advice to complete newbies trying to improve their homes?

TheRealBobVila129 karma

I responded to someone else on here about the same thing -- try building shelves in your closet. If you mess up completely -- close the door and no one will know! And with the measuring, lay out - you can saw, sand, and paint the wood, and then hang it yourself -- it covers a range of skills. A good first project.

kbuis53 karma

What's the most underrated tool I need for DIY projects?

TheRealBobVila131 karma

The square is definitely underrated. It's too often ignored.

aabbccatx43 karma

I need to replace a fence at my house. My sister keeps saying wood posts are fine as long as the concrete is done correctly and poured higher than ground level.

Is this true or should I just pay for metal posts? Note if it matters I plan on using cedar pickets.

TheRealBobVila114 karma

Most people would not pour concrete around a wooden post. This tends to accelerate rotting. Wooden posts should simply be put into the ground and it's sometimes a good idea to put in some crushed stone at the base where the post will sit, and then fill the whole back compacting the earth with a sledgehammer. If you want steel posts, then you would use concrete.

oncpharm43 karma

Big fan here Bob. What would you say are some of the easier home renovation projects for someone without too much experience? Follow-up, what is a project which lay people are usually intimidated by but they shouldn't be?

Thanks in advance!

TheRealBobVila83 karma

People are usually intimidated by wallpaper hanging. I hate it... but once you get going, anyone can do it. It's just tedious.

Medic32b38 karma


TheRealBobVila50 karma

Nope! But I did shoot a segment there, at the round barn looking at the beautiful old cars.

IhaveSomeQuestions5638 karma

What has been your favorite project?

TheRealBobVila80 karma

My shingle style house in Cambridge. That was featured on Home Again, so you can check out the videos still on BobVila.com

DontExpectMuch32 karma


TheRealBobVila72 karma

  1. You should have a home inspector or engineer look at this problem. Your roof load might be causing it -- it could be dangerous!

paturbt29 karma

Greetings Mr.Vila, Of all the shows and reno's you've done, have you ever looked at a certain tool and thought hmm..what the heck is that?

TheRealBobVila50 karma

The joke on Home Improvement was - "What's an adze?" It's a draw-knife.

z3r05pac328 karma

What are the major things one should look at before buying an "Old House"? LOVE YOUR SHOW!

TheRealBobVila67 karma

Structural integrity, age of mechanical systems, cost of operation, taxes... and of course, the neighborhood!

cmikaiti24 karma

I need to add a man door to my garage. If there is an existing window, can I safely cut out the block underneath it to install the door (since the block above seems to be supported already), or do I need to add more support for the block above?

TheRealBobVila52 karma

No, it should be an easy conversion, assuming there's a proper header in the frame above the window.

UglyMcFugly24 karma

What's the most dangerous thing you have seen or corrected?

TheRealBobVila61 karma

A burned out townhouse can be one of the most dangerous work sites.

vxsarin23 karma

How do you feel about the fact that handyman type of work is looked down upon as a trade? People look down at it as not having a real job.

TheRealBobVila70 karma

I think anyone with skills to repair and build things will always be admired.

GreenThmb22 karma

Septic system question ... it's tank and lines are located right behind the house where I want a sun room. Can I build over it and leave access to pump or install a new system. What should I do?

TheRealBobVila56 karma

Definitely install a new system. I don't think any town would allow you to build over an existing septic system.

LOLArsenal20 karma

Hi Mr Vila! Firstly I just want to say I watched everything you were on on TV and read as many of your books as I could. Still to this day when I try to fix something or build something I say "I'm going Bob Vila this!" or "I feel like Bob Vila right now!" So thank you for that haha.

A few questions if you dont mind:

  • What would you say are the most important things to know/abide by for someone who is not experienced but would like to build or fix something?
  • Are we ever going to see you on TV again?
  • What was your favorite project, personal or professionaly, that you worked on?
  • Propane or charcoal/wood for BBQ?
  • How was working with Tim Allen on Home Improvement?

Thank you for doing this AMA, yours is the first one I was genuinely excited about!

TheRealBobVila49 karma

  • Keen powers of observation and ability to find advice and direction.

  • You can find me in re-runs!

  • And definitely charcoal, in the egg. But gas for quick results (hamburgers!)

keysmash200917 karma

Hi Bob, thanks for doing this. I have a question for you: what project was the hardest for you to work on?

TheRealBobVila36 karma

None of them particularly hard. The hardest thing is putting together a really good team, and a good construction crew.

el_smurfo16 karma


TheRealBobVila23 karma

Definitely have a professional look at that, if it's foundation cracks.

Guitar_fool11 karma

Hello Bob! Glad you're doing this ama. I live in Montana and it's gonna get cold here soon. I live in a half basement apartment that, while not having large or many windows, is still rather drafty. What's a good way to keep the heat in and the cool out?

TheRealBobVila16 karma

Heavy curtains...

Levema10 karma

In your opinion, what home improvements should everyone be able to do themselves?

TheRealBobVila19 karma

I always recommend adding shelves to a closet, so if you really screw up no one will really know. It's a good project to try - you can do the measuring, the lay out, by the wood, use a hand saw, hammer and nails. And you'll want to sand it and paint it too, so there are a lot of skills involved.

lockedoutny7 karma

Hey Bob, huge fan! I spent a lot of my childhood with my dad watching your show and it lead me to have a deep respect for woodworking. I have a few questions.

  1. Which project was your most and least favorite?
  2. How much involvement did you have with the projects on the show?
  3. Any plans on a new tv show?
  4. What is your favorite wood to work with?

TheRealBobVila21 karma

For #4 -- my favorite wood is definitely mahogany. It's so easy to work with and so beautiful to finish. American cheery is a close second.