According to the latest Producer Price Index data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the cost of building materials in U.S. residential construction has risen nearly 20 percent in the last year. Building material costs have steadily trended upwards since the start of the year, increasing 4.9 percent in 2022 alone.

Costs of gypsum products, ready-mix concrete, softwood lumber and other materials fluctuated dramatically over the last year. Factors like inflation, persistent demand for housing and supply chain challenges created an unpredictable landscape in the construction industry.

That unpredictability concerns homebuilders. The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI), a measure of homebuilder confidence in the future of the housing market, has fallen for five consecutive months and just hit its lowest level since June 2020.

“The housing market is facing growing challenges,” said NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz. “Building material costs are up 19 percent from a year ago. In less than three months, mortgage rates have surged to a 12-year high. And based on current affordability conditions, less than 50 percent of new and existing home sales are affordable for a typical family.

“Entry-level and first-time home buyers are especially bearing the brunt of this rapid rise in mortgage rates.”

Faced with these mounting concerns over housing affordability, the Biden administration just announced a new plan to help revitalize the market. The newly-minted “Housing Supply Action Plan” aims to increase the supply of quality housing in the U.S over the next five years through legislative and administrative action.

“When aligned with other policies to reduce housing costs and ensure affordability, such as rental assistance and downpayment assistance, closing the gap will mean more affordable rents and more attainable homeownership for Americans in every community,” reads the official White House press release.

If you plan on doing any kind of carpentry or woodworking, you’ll need a power sander. These small and relatively low-cost machines let you sand down wood pieces quickly. They’re exponentially more efficient than a manual sanding block.

My career as a residential and commercial carpenter has given me hands-on experience with a wide range of random orbital and palm sanders — two tools that are more different than you might think.

What is a Random Orbital Sander?

A random orbital sander is a handheld power sander that rapidly rotates in elliptical circles, as well as back and forth. This “random” motion results in a smoother finish, without the swirl pattern that can come from standard orbital sanders that only move in a circular motion.

Random orbital sanders are extremely efficient for large projects. Their round sandpaper pads create a uniform finish without any noticeable edges, although they can’t get into closed corners. These pads are also more expensive than the standard sheets palm sanders use.

I used random orbital sanders almost daily while refinishing desks and tabletops, and consider them one of the most important power tools for a woodworker. Some offer a variable speed setting, too, so you can customize the amount of sanding power.

Random orbital sander uses

  • Smooth unfinished wall panels for painting.
  • Sanding large, flat pieces of wood.
  • Strip varnish or paint from furniture.
  • Smoothing drywall mud.

What is a Palm Sander?

A palm sanders — AKA a 1/4-sheet sander because of the size of sandpaper it uses — is the smallest type of power sander. Their compact size makes them perfect for light-duty finish work, and their square pads fit into tight spots and corners that random orbital sanders cannot.

Palm sanders are also cheaper than random orbital sanders, and their sandpaper sheets much less expensive than the special hook-and-loop pads needed for random orbital sanders. Their smaller motors make them impractical for stripping thick layers of material, though, so they’re best for light-duty sanding projects.

Palm sander uses

  • Finishing small woodworking pieces.
  • Accessing inside corners.
  • Sanding down small imperfections on wood.

How To Choose Between a Random Orbital Sander and a Palm Sander

First, think about the size of the projects. Larger pieces and panels that need to be sanded and stripped before they’re painted or stained are much better suited to the power and efficiency of a random orbital sander. Their stronger motors will finish the sanding quicker, making them much more efficient than palm sanders, which are better for precision tasks on smaller pieces.

Second, think about what you want to ultimately accomplish. If it’s an extremely smooth finish free of swirls or blemishes that would show through on your paint or stain, go with a random orbital sander. Just want to eliminate small imperfections on wood, especially on inside corners? Go with a palm sander.

If you’re unsure about the extent of the projects, we recommend a random orbital sander.

What Do Random Orbital Sanders and Palm Sanders Cost?

A high-quality random orbital sander costs about $75, while a palm sander runs about $60. Both can also be found for much less (around $30) if you lack the budget for a higher-quality option. In our experience, if you feel like splurging, Festool products are almost always worth the high price tag.

  • Value random orbital sander: This compact Black+Decker Five-Inch Random Orbital Sander ($29) provides a comfortable grip for maximum control and a built-in dust collection bag for easy cleanup.
  • Average priced random orbital sander: I’ve used the DeWalt Five-Inch Random Orbital Sander ($74) for years. Its powerful 3.0-amp motor and rubber grip makes it easy to breeze through projects quickly and comfortably.
  • Splurge random orbital sander: Yes, it’s expensive. But I can tell you from hands-on experience this Festool Random Orbital Sander ($215) is worth every penny if you plan on doing a lot of sanding and need an extremely smooth finish.
  • Value palm sander: The color-coded pressure indicator of this Skil Palm Sander ($28) lets you maintain precise control while you work, and its small size is convenient for storage and transport.
  • Average priced palm sander: This DeWalt Palm Sander ($59) features heavy-duty clamps to keep your sandpaper in place. The locking dust port can be used with the included bag or a separate shop vacuum.
  • Splurge palm sander: The extremely light weight, large dust extraction receptacle and specialized paper sheets make this Festool Palm Sander ($289) a great option for those with deep pockets.

Composite decking hasn’t been around all that long. Trex intoduced it in 1996, and for awhile that brand name was synonymous with the product.

Because it uses recycled materials and gives builders an alternative to wood — a dwindling resource — composite decking was a great idea whose time had come. It didn’t take long for other companies to get in on the action. Today the best composite decking isn’t necessarily Trex, although it might be depending on what you’re looking for.

Composite decking design and manufacture remains a work in progress. Early versions had serious problems. In 2013, Trex settled a class action lawsuit over the quality of its early decking boards, which faded in the sun, absorbed moisture and became moldy. Significant improvements since then by Trex and other manufacturers addressed these issues.

If you’re looking for the best composite decking boards, consider these factors:

  • Cost: Low cost doesn’t necessarily mean low quality.
  • Durability: Composite decking generally outlasts wood, but some products offer longer warranty periods than others. PVC decking technically isn’t a composite but is durable.
  • Style: These vary. Some boards are molded with a wood grain. Others aren’t. Some have a non-slip surface, and some grooved edges for use with hidden fasteners.
  • Color: What you see is what you get. You can’t stain it, and painting usually isn’t recommended. The introduction of color streaking in the early 2000s allowed manufacturers to produce increasingly authentic-looking decking.
  • Eco-friendliness: The percentage of recycled materials varies from manufacturer to manufacturer, but most products are LEED-certified green building materials.

When shopping for composite decking, you’re most likely to encounter these brands:

Cali Bamboo

While many manufacturers solved the water absorption problem by “capping” their products, San Diego-based Cali Bamboo addressed it by using recycled bamboo fibers instead of wood fibers. Bamboo is not only less absorbent but a more sustainable building product.

Founded in 2004, the company specializes in interior flooring and branched out to other building materials, including composite decking. Besides its BamDeck boards, manufactured with recycled bamboo fibers (60 percent) and recycled plastic (40 percent), the company offers a TruOrganics line, made from 100 percent wood fibers and capped on all four sides with durable PVC.

At about $15 per square foot, BamDeck composite decking lands on the low end of the price scale. But TruOrganics boards cost about five times that much, putting them on the high end. On its website, the company states it’s the only one that offers wide-plank decking.

CertainTeed

A leading manufacturer of outdoor building products since 1904, CertainTeed is based near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with 60 manufacturing facilities throughout the U.S. and Canada.

Better known for its roofing, siding and fencing products, the company also offers the EverNew line of vinyl and PVC decking. While not strictly composite, pure plastic decking is long-lasting and requires little to no maintenance.

At around $25 per square foot, EverNew decking isn’t the least expensive out there. But it’s stain-, scratch- and fade-resistant, and comes with a lifetime warranty. It’s available in three UV-resistant colors — almond, white and gray. Its lightweight construction and grooves for hidden fasteners make it suitable for several applications.

DuraLife

Barrette Outdoor Living, a company based in Ohio that manufactures vinyl, steel and aluminum fencing and other outdoor products, owns DuraLife composite decking. It offers two lines,  the Hardwoods and Landscapes Collections. Both incorporate the company’s proprietary PolyPro blend of recycled hardwood fibers and plastic, as well as its ColorLock system to prevent fading.

Most planks are manufactured in Maine, with the raw materials are sourced within 500 miles of the factory. The company caps its boards with a clear polypropylene coating, and offers consumers a convenient online process for choosing color, profile and matching railing. DuraLife decking costs between $18 and $35 per square foot and comes with a 25-year limited warranty against fading.

Envision

Envision Outdoor Living Products, also based in Pennsylvania, offers decking boards made from plastics with no wood fibers. So like CertainTeed decking boards, they technically aren’t composites.

The four product lines in order of increasing price are Evergrain, Distinction, Inspiration and Expression. All come with a 25-year limited warranty and cost from $15 to $35 per square foot.

Envision products aren’t as commonly available as some others, so you may have to hunt to find them. The premium products are more realistic-looking than the budget ones, and color choices are limited.

Fiberon

One of the early entries to the composite decking market, Fiberon began production in New London, North Carolina in 1997 and now has a facility in Meridian, Idaho. An early developer of capping technology, the company features seven lines of capped composites and one line each of uncapped composite and capped PVC.

The lines offer a various color choices. All provide a 25-year warranty except for the PVC line, which has a 50-year warranty. Prices range from $15 to $22 per square foot, a reasonable range.

Lumberock

Unique in the composite world, Chicago-based Lumberock manufactures its decking boards from recycled plastic and minerals. The lack of wood or other organic material eliminates the possibility of water absorption, mold and insect damage.

Lumberock decking boards feature textured, non-slip surfaces. They come in 12 colors, including black, various shades of brown, beige, red and white. Products come with a limited lifetime warranty that guarantees against cracking, splintering, peeling and rotting for at least 50 years.

TimberTech (AZEK)

AZEK, located in the Chicago area, has been making PVC products since the 1980s and began producing PVC decking in 1999. In 2012, it joined forces with TimberTech to make quality decking boards.

TimberTech decking boards are generally regarded as some of the best and most expensive available. The capped PVC boards in its AZEK line come with a 50-year warranty, while warranties for TimberTech Pro (four-sided capped composite), Edge (three-sided capped composite) and Specialty (uncapped composite) boards run 30 years.

Trex

The original composite decking manufacturer, based in Virginia, remains the one against which all others are measured.

Trex uses 95 percent recycled materials, including plastic from grocery bags and plastic film as well as wood waste. Trex produces some of the least expensive, as well as the most expensive, decking boards on the market.

The company offers a 25-year warranty against staining and fading on all its products. It also offers instructions on its website for homeowners who choose DIY installation, as well as a service called TrexPro to help homeowners find qualified contractors.

I have many fond memories of helping my dad sow seeds for beans and picking them in the summertime. The big seeds were easy for me to grasp in my small hands and always grew. I think every vegetable garden should include a row or two of beans. Here’s what you need to know to successfully grow beans in your garden this year.

Types of Beans to Grow

The first decision is whether to grow bush beans or pole beans.

Bush Beans

Bush beans stay short and generally don’t require any support. They produce most of their beans over a few weeks. Many gardeners plant a few short rows every few weeks to extend their harvest.

Pole Beans

Pole or climbing beans need a support to climb up. They usually take longer to produce beans than the bush type, but they bear beans for a longer period.

Once you’ve decided what you have room for in your garden, choose which variety of bush or pole beans you want to grow.

How to Grow and Care for Beans

Beans are one of the easiest vegetables to grow. The seeds are big, and the plants grow quickly. The planting instructions are basically the same for bush and pole beans.

  • Choose a sunny location: Like most vegetable-producing plants, beans grow best in a location with six-plus hours of sun a day.
  • Prepare the ground for planting: Beans like well-drained, loose soil with some organic matter mixed in. Avoid heavy clay soils that don’t drain well or sandy soils that drain quickly. For climbing beans, secure poles in the ground before planting. Many gardeners use bamboo poles tied together at the top to form a teepee. Because beans are legumes, they actually add nitrogen back to the soil, which helps other plants later on. So generally, you don’t need to fertilize them.
  • Sow bean seeds when your area is frost-free: Most beans prefer warmer soil temperatures, so wait until a week or two after your area’s last frost before sowing. If you live where summertime temperatures are hot and winters are mild, like the South and Southwestern U.S., sow in mid-to-late March to pick in June, and later in early August to pick in September. Why? Some beans stop producing flowers and beans when temperatures are consistently higher than 90 F.
  • Sow seeds approximately one inch deep: For bush beans, plant seeds about one inch deep and four inches apart, in rows. Leave about 18 inches between each row to give the beans room to grow and you room to harvest. For pole beans, plant several seeds evenly around the base of the climbing pole.
  • Water your beans when needed: Beans should be watered approximately once a week. If it rains, no need to water.
  • Protect your plants from rabbits and bean beetles: Rabbits love to eat newly emerged bean seedlings down to the ground. If you know there are wild rabbits around, fence off your bean patch or cover it with a floating row cover until the bean plants are taller and a nibble from a rabbit won’t bother them. Use this same row cover if your beans are attacked by bean beetles, which are yellowish-orange beetles with black spots.

How to Harvest Beans

Many bean varieties are ready to be picked 50 to 60 days after sowing. You can eat the beans as you pick them. If you find yourself with more than you can eat, consider sharing with your neighbors or freezing some to enjoy later.

  • Pick the beans when they “snap”: Beans eaten with the pod are ready to harvest when they easily snap in two. Depending on the variety, they may be three to eight inches long or longer at this point. Pick ripe beans every few days. This encourages the plants to keep flowering to produce more beans.
  • Avoid damaging the plants: When picking beans, support the plant with one hand and pick off the beans with the other to avoid breaking off stems. Removing just the beans will encourage the plant to keep flowering and produce more beans for a few weeks at least.

Once you start to grow your beans, you’ll discover there are many varieties to choose from, ranging from green beans to yellow wax beans to purple podded beans.

My personal favorite is a green bean called ‘Provider.‘ It never fails in my climate, produces lots of beans and tastes good, too, with no strings. Try it and other varieties, too. You never know which one will be your new favorite.

There aren’t many of us who would actually want to buy a product that’s bad for our health, our air or our forests. So when we’re browsing aisles at the home improvement or grocery store, it’s only natural to reach for labels that say “natural” or “eco-friendly.”

But our purchasing decisions are linked to corporate profits, and that’s when things can get tricky. Some unscrupulous companies make you think their products are green when they really aren’t, a sleight-of-hand known as greenwashing

“As more and more consumers are looking for ways to reduce their impact on the environment and choose more sustainable products, companies are looking for ways to meet that demand,” says Mallory Micetich, home care expert at Angi.

“While many are taking legitimate steps to adopt more sustainable practices and make more eco-friendly goods, others are more of a marketing or PR ploy.”

Fortunately, many of these ploys become transparent once you know how to spot them. Let’s dig into some of those tricks and learn how to avoid being greenwashed.

What Is Greenwashing?

Greenwashing refers to marketing that lies or misleads about the environmental impact of a product or company. The term was coined in the 1980s when people became more aware of egregious claims, like oil company ads about helping sea turtles and bears.

“Overstating environmental benefits, or spending more on advertising sustainability initiatives than on implementing them, can both be considered greenwashing,” says Taryn Tuss, vice president of marketing and communication for Green Seal, a non-profit certification organization. Green Seal has advised the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on its greenwashing rules.

The more environmentally conscious we become as a society, the more prevalent and sophisticated greenwashing becomes,  and the more people and the environment harmed because of it. But there are also companies taking legitimate positive steps. When we choose those companies for our DIY building projects and home goods, we can help make that the norm.

How To Spot Greenwashing

Greenwashing is easier to spot in some products than others. Micetich suggests to first look at the packaging and marketing language. Generally, products that use vague terms, claim overly-broad benefits and don’t back up their claims with evidence are likely greenwashing. Here are some tricks to watch out for:

Vague terms and few facts

Watch for jargon like eco-friendly, clean, natural, all-natural, nature, green, environmentally friendly and Earth-safe. If the brand is truly trying to be sustainable, it probably won’t use these terms. It will provide details in plain language about their greenness, either on their packaging or a sustainability page on their website.

Be wary of “a company that claims it is sustainable but offers no emissions data, no product lifecycle analysis or other quantitative evidence that its product is less environmentally damaging than alternatives available in the market,” says Mitch Ratcliffe, publisher of the sustainable living and recycling information site Earth911.

Exaggerated greatness

When product claims sound too good to be true, they likely are.

“Claims that a product is renewable are generally too broad to be verifiable or accurate,” says Tuss. “Instead, look for specific attributes or impacts that are limited to a reasonable set of benefits and that are backed up with documentation or third-party certification.”

No independent third-party certification

It’s one thing to say it, but another to prove it. That’s why third-party certifications, such as Green Seal and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), are valuable consumer tools.

In 2017, four paint brands were found guilty of falsely claiming their products were free of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Other companies have been punished for making false claims about LED lights and biodegradable plastics. While the FTC catches some of these, they certainly don’t get them all.

Misdirection

Like a magician, some companies try to shift your focus from their misdeeds to something peripheral.

This could be a new building advertising their pollinator garden to appear eco-friendly, without adopting LEED standards for low-emissions. Or a home improvement store that encourages onsite recycling of plastic bags and fluorescent lights, while continuing to sell damaging products.

Misleading claims

Claims that are technically true but misleading can also lead buyers astray. “A company could advertise that a carpet has 50 percent more recycled content than before, when the percentage only rose from two percent to three percent recycled content,” says Tuss. “That is not a meaningful attribute.”

Another trick to watch out for with building and maintenance products involve those labeled “chemical-free” or free of certain chemicals. It might be free of one harmful chemical, but chock full of others.

“For paints, low-VOC claims can be helpful when they’re supported by data or certifications,” says Tuss. “But that doesn’t mean a product is automatically safer. There may be hazardous chemicals in the paint that aren’t VOCs.”

Corporate practices

To truly be a green product, it doesn’t just matter what’s in the product. but the strides the company has made to be sustainable. That includes how they power their corporate headquarters; sourcing of materials; mitigation of carbon and pollution from manufacturing and shipping; and the green practices of companies within their supply chain.

The pollinator garden out front or the dancing elephant on the package doesn’t counteract the millions a company may be quietly spending lobbying for fewer pollution regulations.

Claiming it, even when they have to

Some companies love to tout greenness that’s required by law. Companies aren’t selling antibiotic-free chicken because they care about more about consumer health than other manufacturers; federal law demands it. Similarly, hormones are prohibited in pork and chicken.

How To Avoid Greenwashed Products

When DIYing renovations or building a home, trying to make sustainable purchases can be problematic. “Home improvement products aren’t always marketed or packaged like other consumer goods, so sometimes it can be a bit harder to find clear markers on whether something is truly a greener option,” says Micetich.

Here are a few things to look for:

Green certification

Several trustworthy green certifications and third parties can point you toward reputable product certifications.

For building products, look for LEED. With appliances, go with EnergyStar. For wood, a U.S. Forest Stewardship Council (FCS) certification or Greenguard label means it’s more sustainably sourced. For general products, UL’s ECOLOGO and Green Seal are good.

If you’re unsure if a certification is trustworthy or what it means, look it up on this list of eco labels and check out the FTC’s Green Guides.

Energy-reduction products

Look for products that reduce energy and water consumption, like low-flow shower heads and dual or low-flow toilets. Also try to buy products with minimal plastic and other wasteful packaging.

Seek out alternatives

Research smaller innovative companies that are truly trying to make their business and products Earth-friendly. Gear Hugger makes a plant-based version of traditional multipurpose lubricant, and Cleancult sells healthy cleaning product refills in recyclable milk cartons. Or you can try making cleaning products at home.

Ask an enviro pro

When you’ve got a DIY project in the works, advice from someone familiar with sustainability can help you better understand if you’re choosing the greenest options.

“Think about bamboo flooring, which is becoming well known as a more environmentally friendly flooring option than the more traditional wood,” says Micetich.

“Yes, bamboo is faster growing and more renewable than wood, has a long life-cycle, can be recycled and is LEED-certified. However, it is also often imported into the U.S., which comes with an associated carbon emission.”

It’s been more than twenty years since I graduated from high school, which means more than twenty years since I last washed and waxed a car by hand.

Back then, on the last few warm weeks leading into the summer break, lots of us headed home from school on Friday, dragged out the hose and a five-gallon pail, assembled our soaps, sponges, waxes and towels, turned on some tunes and started scrubbing our cars in the middle of the driveway.

Of course, this was the precursor to taking the car out cruising later that night. But I remember it just as fondly.

Recently I headed to the local auto parts store to pick up a wiper blade for my wife’s Subaru. As I entered the store, I ran smack into an aisle loaded with washes, waxes, tire shines and shammies and felt a wave of nostalgia. After pacing up and down the aisle a few times, I settled on a jug of Armor All Ultra-Shine Wash & Wax to bring home and relive those memories.

What Is Armor All Ultra Shine Wash & Wax?

It’s a concentrated combo car wash soap and wax in one. It combines a proprietary blend of cleaners, surface lubricants and real carnauba wax to deliver a streak-free, mirror-like shine.

The orange-soda-colored liquid concentrate can be applied to your vehicle with a car washing foam gun or a bucket and a rag. It’s available in sizes ranging from 16 ounces to one gallon.

How We Tested It

I waited for the first summer-like May day. Then pulled my pickup into the driveway, dragged out the hose, bucket and sponges and got to washing.

Performance Review

Fh22d Approved Armorall Wash 05 12 005 Make Your Car Glisten With This Family Handyman Approved Soap And Wax In One

The Wash

The bottle of the Armor All Ultra-Shine Wash & Wax recommends just under an ounce-and-a-half of soap concentrate per gallon of water. Online reviews of this product advised more soap per gallon of water for shiner results, but I stuck to this formula exactly, mixing three ounces for two gallons of water. At first, the meager amount of suds concerned me.

I hosed off my truck, then began scrubbing, starting on the roof and working down. After finishing one side, I sprayed it down, checking to see if I missed any dirty spots. Then I wiped off any beads forming on my windows or mirrors before moving on to the next side.

I scrubbed my way down each side, doing the tires and wheels last. Once finished, I ran around the truck with a microfiber cloth, spot-cleaning drips or runs I missed. At this time, I noticed some film buildup. This must have been where the product dried on my truck’s surface. I effortlessly buffed out the film spots with a dry cloth. In no time, I was finished and cleaning up.

Final Result

The finished product looks good. Not flawless, showroom quality, but better than the ten-dollar super-wash from the gas station up the street. The soap cleaned the day-to-day dust and dirt, and removed more of the caked-on bugs and debris across the front bumper and grill than they usually do at the touch-free car wash. In fairness, that probably has more to do with elbow grease than the detergent itself.

I’m happy with the way my wash turned out. The 16-ounce bottle of Armor All Ultra-Shine Wash & Wax cost just under five dollars, and will get me four or five more washes in the future.

Rather than using more detergent, you can improve the luster of the finished product by pairing it with a spray-on or buff-on wax.

Why You Should Buy This

The all-in-one formulation, easy application, affordable price and trusted brand name make the Armor All Ultra-Shine Wash & Wax ideal for anyone looking to keep their car shiny and beautiful without breaking the bank  — or their backs.

Where To Buy

Armor All Car Wash And Wax Spray Bottle Ecomm Amazon.com

The Armor All Ultra Shine Wash and Wax is available online or in-store from Walmart, Target, Lowe’s, The Home Depot, AutoZone, Advanced Auto Parts, or at Amazon.com.

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Garden hoses are a hassle in so many ways. To store. To drag around. And especially to roll up and keep free of kinks.

Enter the expandable garden hose. I get the appeal: It’s small, lightweight, easy to store and kink-free. Sounds perfect.  So instead of dragging out my plastic hose reel cube and its ancient 75-foot, lime green hose, I ordered myself a FitLife Expandable Garden Hose to see if it would be everything I dreamed it could be.

What Is The FitLife Expandable Garden Hose?

It’s a lightweight, collapsible and kink-free hose available in lengths of 25-, 50-, 75- and 100-feet. It features a triple-layer latex inner hose, wrapped in a woven elastic fabric made to expand to three times its drained storage size.

The heavy duty brass fittings connect the hose to the water supply and the spray nozzle, with a built-in valve to shut off the water if switching between spray nozzles or linking multiple hoses together. The hose comes with an eight-setting spray nozzle, great for washing your vehicle or other gardening purposes.

The 25-foot hose is absurdly lightweight, less than two pounds, and measures out to just under under nine feet when drained.  It’s easily bendable and pliable, resembling a large spaghetti noodle, and easily wraps up into a small gardening pot for storage.  The woven black exterior of the hose feels durable and well-made.

How We Tested It

I planned to using the hose to wash my vehicle, water my plants and newly laid grass seed and spray off my patio. I was curious to see how it maneuvered when full of water, how the included nozzle performs, and how it works when attached to a sprinkler or other nozzle.

Performance Review

Performance

As the hose fills with water, it slowly starts a dance reminiscent of the snake ash fireworks I remember from my childhood. Once filled, the 25-foot hose measured out to 28-feet — three feet longer than advertised!  The full hose feels durable and strong, but with flex to it. So if you step on it while watering the garden, you’ll notice an instant drop in water pressure.

The FitLife hose and spray nozzle worked together beautifully.  The eight-setting spray head seems to have an action for everything.  The “cone” and “flat” settings worked great for washing my car, the “shower” and “mist” for watering potted plants and the grass, and the “jet” setting for soaking my neighbor’s kids when they came running out in their swimsuits.

Compared to traditional rubber hoses, expandable hoses do have a few downsides. They don’t work well with a sprinkler or high-flow nozzle, because the hose needs water pressure to maintain its expanded length. When I used the hose with a couple of different sprinklers, it worked fine. But a moment I turned off the water, the sprinkler came flying across the yard with the hose as it deflated.

Expandable hoses also don’t work without an attachment. You can’t simply put one end into a kids’ swimming pool or a large flower pot to fill it.

Value

Comparing to other expandable hoses I found online, the $29 price for the FitLife Expandable Hose seems about right. But it offers some nicer features than the others, like solid brass end fittings and a triple layer latex hose.  The FitLife is also the only product that I’ve seen in this price range with a spray nozzle included.

Reliability and Durability

Expandable hoses aren’t known for durability, but the FitLife feels different. When I opened the box, I was pleasantly surprised to see sturdy, solid brass end-fittings attached to the hose at each end. Other brands use plastic end fittings, which tend to crack and leak.

The FitLife also features a latex inter-hose lining, which is more flexible and less likely to burst than the TPE plastics in other expandable hoses. The FitLife Expandable Hose also earned more than 12,500 five-star reviews on Amazon, so I’m not alone in my affinity for this product.

Ease of Use

The FitLife hose is incredibly easy to use. Just attach it to the spigot, let the water pressure enlarge the hose and begin your watering adventure.

Just be mindful that when you turn OFF the water, the hose retracts. It will drag a sprinkler or open nozzle straight through a newly-planted flower bed — or worse yet, into your ankle on knee.

Fh22d Approved Fitlife Expandable Garden Hose 05 09 003 I'm So Exicted About This Family Handyman Approved Garden Hose That I Wet My Plants

Why You Should Buy This

If you’re in the market for a new hose, skip those traditional kink-filled rubber hoses and pick up a FitLife Expandable Garden Hose. You’ll get an affordable, compact, lightweight hose made from durable high-quality components that’s easy to store and comes with a spray nozzle. Seems like a no brainer to me!

Where to Buy

Thefitlife Flexible And Expandable Garden Hose Ecomm Amazon.com

The FitLife Expandable Garden Hose is available in multiple sizes at Amazon.com.

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Around the holidays, when people begin spouting their New Year’s resolutions, I always consider a few things I should get better at. Nothing crazy, just the usual stuff — go to the gym, eat less ice cream, and wash and clean my car more often, especially the interior.

On a recent ride home from work, the angle of the late-day sun hit just right to showcase the thick coat of dust on the dashboard of my pickup truck. Ugh. So I made a quick detour and picked up a can of Dry Shine Ultimate Shine to help restore my vehicle’s interior to its previous, glossy brilliance.

What Is Dry Shine Ultimate Shine?

Dry Shine Ultimate Shine is a liquid aerosol cleaning spray formulated to renew and protect vinyl, rubber, plastic and leather vehicle surfaces, inside and out. Its anti-static formula repels dust and protects against harmful UV rays while providing a warm glossy sheen and professional detailing results.

How We Tested It

After digging out a pack of soft microfiber towels, I got to work seeing what the Ultimate Shine could do. I polished EVERY piece of vinyl, rubber, plastic and leather I could find on my 2016 Nissan pickup. Like a kid in a candy store, I polished tires, the dashboard, the center counsel, molded door panels, seat belt buckles, even the small plastic bits in the front bumper and near the grill.

Product Review

Fh22d Tried It Dry Shine Spray 05 12 002 Did It Shine We Tried It Dry Shine Ultimate Shine Automotive Cleaner

I found that because it’s an aerosol, the Ultimate Shine sprays on in light coats no matter how heavy-handed you are with it. It took multiple coats to build up any sort of glossy shine to my dashboard and molded door panels. But once shining, they stayed looking great for more than a week.

Same with my tires. It took multiple coats of Ultimate Shine but left them looking great, better than any tire shining product I can remember.

The best feature of Dry Shine Ultimate Shine? Its sweet and distinct citrusy-soda smell. Ever since I tried this product, I’ve gotten compliments on the smell from everyone who’s ridden in my newly cleaned vehicle.

The downside of this product is that it’s not meant to clean plastic and rubber surfaces like other automotive interior protective products. Dry Shine Ultimate Shine goes on so light and dry it will polish and shine right over a dried-on drop of coffee in your cup holder, rather than remove it.

What Other Reviewers Are Saying

“Leaves a nice smooth finish on my classic truck and new Mustang,” reviewer Scott Bracken writes on the Dry Shine USA web site. “Both are kept clean, and I prefer not to use water on them. This is the best aerosol product out there.”

On The Home Depot web site, five-star reviewer 4Wheeling Chick writes: “I have been using this cleaner on my UTV for three years and I absolutely love it. It shines up the plastic and interior of my machine like no other cleaner can! I also use it on my tires and wheels and makes it pop again like brand new. I highly recommend it.”

Final Verdict

If you already keep your vehicle clean and polished and you’re looking for a product to provide that extra bump of freshness and long-lasting shine, Dry Shine Ultimate Shine is the product for you. Its easy application, refreshing scent and enduring shine will be welcome addition to your garage or cleaning cabinet.

Pros

  • Nice shine;
  • Long lasting;
  • Great on tires;
  • Pleasing scent.

Cons

  • Light spray volume;
  • No cleaning properties.

Where to Buy

Dry Shine Ultimate Shine Car Interior Cleaner And Protectant Plus 2 In 1 Microfiber Towels Ecomm Homedepot.com

Dry Shine Ultimate Shine is available at The Home Depot and AutoZone.

Buy Now!

house finch pecking at window

How to Stop a Bird From Pecking at a Window

Question: “A cardinal bird is pecking at my window constantly. How do I make it stop?” asks Kay Baker of Mercer, Pennsylvania.

Kenn and Kimberly: When a bird starts pecking at a window like that, it has mistaken its reflection for another bird and is trying to drive it away. Some individuals become obsessed with these phantom rivals and may attack them for weeks.

The only real solution is to do away with the reflection itself. Try rubbing a bar of soap on the outside of your windows in all the spots that the bird visits regularly.

The cardinal should lose its drive to defend its territory after the breeding season wanes. So even if you can’t block all the reflections, this behavior should end after a few weeks.

A male cardinal attacking the side mirror of a car.

Birds Pecking at Car Mirrors

Question: “Why do cardinals peck at my vehicle’s side mirror?” asks Patricia Ekakiadis of Avonmore, Pennsylvania.

Kenn and Kimberly: Cardinals, like many other birds, defend a territory during the nesting season to make sure they have enough space and food for themselves, their mate and their young. If a male cardinal sees another male cardinal in his territory, he chases the trespasser away.

Unfortunately, he can’t tell the difference between a real cardinal and a reflection in a mirror. So he might spend hours trying to chase away this false intruder that can’t be intimidated. You might try covering the mirror when you’re not driving your car so this defensive cardinal can go about his business.

Woman Closing Window In Room At Home

Preventing Birds From Flying Into Windows

Another bird issue involves preventing them from flying into the windows of your home, potentially suffering a serious injury or death. According to the American Bird Conservancy, in the U.S. alone roughly one billion birds die every year from hitting windows. It peaks during spring and fall migration.

Luckily, you can take some simple steps to help mitigate the issue. Try hanging brightly colored or reflective objects behind or in front of your exterior windows.

In the age of open floor concepts and farmhouse sinks, some design features from the past don’t make sense at first glance. We’re looking at you, card table closets and basement toilets. The same goes for houses with two front doors. Not a multi-family residence — a single-family home with separate front doors.

It might sound strange, but this feature exists in many American homes built in the 18th and 19th centuries! Here’s why.

Two Doors Made the Exterior Symmetrical

Back then, symmetry was in style. Georgian-style homes, trendy at the time, were designed around balance, order and classical symmetry. They often achieved that by using many windows, two chimneys and a front entry hallway that ran straight through the middle of the house.

If a home for whatever reason lacked this centered hallway, a centrally-placed front door threw things off. The easy fix? Add another door to keep things balanced.

“Old homes in the Georgian, Adams or Federal styles are built on rigid rules of symmetry,” writes Scott Sidler of The Craftsman Blog. “The front facade, especially, must be perfectly symmetrical. Sometimes rather than have a single door in the center of the house, two mirror image front doors gave not only a more pleasing design, but added utility.”

One Door Was Formal, the Other Was Not

It’s obvious, but two doors might have been in place to provide separate entrances to the home, opening to different spaces. While one door may have led to a formal area, the other could have been used for day-to-day business. This thinking applied to other visitors as well. Homeowners likely wanted to greet guests at a formal entrance.

Residents Couldn’t Afford Windows

Glass wasn’t cheap for early American settlers. It either had to be shipped all the way from Europe or made onsite, which was a specialty trade. Because windows used more glass than doors, it’s thought that residents who couldn’t afford the extra expense installed the latter. Find more old home features that appear across the country.

Here’s why some Southern houses have a separate porch door.