Hosts: Tom Kraeutler & Leslie Segrete
(NOTE: Timestamps below correspond to the running time of the downloadable audio file of this show. Text represents a professional transcriptionist's understanding of what was said. No guarantee of accuracy is expressed or implied. 'Ph' in parentheses indicates the phonetic or best guess of the actual spoken word.)
BEGIN HOUR 1 TEXT:
[audio timestamp: 1:00]
TOM: Coast to coast and floorboards to shingles. This is The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show, making good homes better. I'm Tom Kraeutler.
LESLIE: And I'm Leslie Segrete.
TOM: What are you doing? What are you working on? Did you name your first kid Brad (chuckling) just after the fastener because you love nails, you love screws, you love bolts, you love hammers, you love saws, you love to do things around the house, get your hands dirty? Call us. Let us help. 1-888-MONEY-PIT. 888-666-3974.
LESLIE: You're crazy, Tom. (laughter) I keep thinking that one day you're going to ask me to name mine and Edward's firstborn The Money Pit.
TOM: (chuckling) What? You could ...
LESLIE: That's right.
TOM: You could name him Brad. (chuckling)
LESLIE: (chuckling) Brad Nail Segrete. That's right.
TOM: Yeah. Or how about #10 Common Nail. (laughing)
LESLIE: How about Two Penny?
TOM: Right. Case Hardened Drywall. This is my daughter, Case Hardened Drywall Screw. (laughing)
LESLIE: Yeah. I remember a few years ago there was a big article about the most popular names. And I remember ...
LESLIE: ... one of the most popular names that year was Espen - for E-S-P-N. (laughing)
TOM: Oh, really? (laughing)
LESLIE: Yeah. Let's get everybody out there to name their kids Money Pit and then we'll be on the list. Well, let's shoot for 2008.
TOM: There you go. 1-888-MONEY-PIT. 888-666-3974. We've got a great show planned for this hour. Are tools taking over your garage? Find out about a storage option that's going to help you shed some of those tools from your overstuffed space.
LESLIE: And also ahead, how many times have you tried to open a kitchen cabinet with your arms full? Spices, pots, pans - you've got it in your hands, you can't open that cabinet. Well, we've got a solution for you.
TOM: And are you thinking about hiring a pro to help with those home improvement projects? Well, just because your contractor is chief on the job, it doesn't mean you can't be his boss. Find out what you should look for and ask to make sure your project is going smoothly. Communicate with your contractor.
LESLIE: Yeah, we're going to teach you how to boss him around just a little bit. Hee-hee-hee-hee-hee. And also this hour, two callers - that's right, two callers we choose are going to win a whole kit of DAP products, including caulk; weatherstripping materials; all you need to help your home get all sealed up and ready for the winter weather. It's around the corner, folks.
TOM: Call us right now. 1-888-MONEY-PIT. 888-666-3974. You want to talk about sealing up your house, fixing up your house, making that space pretty and safe and comfortable for that long, cold, lonely winter ahead? Call us right now. We'll take all of your questions at 1-888-MONEY-PIT.
Leslie, who's first?
LESLIE: Jennifer in Mississippi listens on Discovery Radio Network. So what can we do for you today?
JENNIFER: My husband just built us an 8x17-foot deck.
JENNIFER: And he used treated lumber to do it.
JENNIFER: Well, we're wondering do we still need to put some kind of water seal or a stain on it to make sure, you know, it don't start rotting or anything like that? How can we preserve it the best for the longest?
LESLIE: Well, Jennifer, with pressure-treated lumber, you want to make sure that you let it dry out for one year before you put anything on it. Because the chemicals that they use to keep that wood to be resistant to the out of doors, it has to dry out a little bit before you can put anything on it; otherwise, that wood's going to be just too wet. So give it a year and then decide what you want. Do you want to look at the natural look of the wood? Then you can put a sealer that's clear so you can see the natural grain. Or you can go with a stain or a solid stain. It depends on the look that you want. But you should definitely put something on it to avoid splintering and blistering and cracking.
JENNIFER: Does it matter if we choose a stain or a - like a filler?
TOM: No, but I think what you're going to probably want to do is put a solid color stain or a semi-transparent stain on it so you have some color to it. You know, with pressure-treated lumber, it doesn't actually rot. But it will still crack and check and get dried out and splintery. So putting the stain or the sealer on there will slow that down and help it last as long as possible.
JENNIFER: Oh, OK. That sounds great.
TOM: Alright, Jennifer. Thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.
LESLIE: David in Tennessee listens on WNWS. What can we do for you today?
DAVID: I've got a piece of property that has a den underground. And we're getting some water problems there.
DAVID: It leaks through the wall. We've sealed it once and the problem's come back. And short of digging out all the way down to the foundation - which would be about 10 feet - I wanted to know if you had any suggestions on how we might seal the wall a little bit better.
TOM: David does the - do the walls leak consistent with a heavy rainfall?
TOM: Well that's a drainage problem. And you need to address this outside. Sealing is only going to do so much for you. Sealing is good to stop the soil moisture which sort of gets into the wall and evaporates to the inside. But ...
LESLIE: But that's only if you would see water on a regular basis and not a terrible amount; just sort of wicking through just from the natural moisture that's within the soil. Correct?
LESLIE: Yeah, what you want to do, David, is really look at the outside of your house. Make sure that any gutters that you have on the house - make sure you have gutters. Make sure you have enough gutters for the size of the house, the amount of roof in areas that you know are causing any sort of damage. Make sure that the gutters are up there and that they're clean. And also, when you go up there and clean out those gutters, you can't really get down into those downspouts, so sometimes it helps to hire a pro just to snake out those downspouts. Because a lot of debris does get churned up and stuck down there and can really wreak havoc on the whole gutter system. So make sure they're clean. Make sure you have enough.
Then look at where those downspouts deposit that water. You don't want them to just come right down and stand next to the foundation and just dump out all that water because that's like not having gutters at all. You want to make sure that those downspouts go about three to six feet away from the house; even further if you can.
TOM: Thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.
LESLIE: John in Massachusetts, what's going on at your house?
JOHN: Well, I just had - I have a regular sump pump. It's fairly new but I wanted to have a backup system. And I've heard different things as far as just having another sump pump handy and a generator or just having a battery backup.
TOM: So you basically have a couple of choices. You can use a battery backup. That's going to last you a short period of time; you know, maybe an hour or so. Or you can install a generator. You know, we here at our house, we have a backup generator that's hooked up to a transfer switch so that whenever the power goes out, it automatically cuts on the backup power and that generator has all the sort of the critical things on it that you might need; you know, your refrigerator, your heating system and your sump pump if you have one.
LESLIE: And of course, the generator size that you select will accommodate, you know, one or many of your appliances. So you really need to assess your generator based on what it is that you want to power in an emergency.
TOM: Yeah, there's a good website - ElectricGeneratorsDirect.com. It's run by a friend of mine and they have a tool on there that helps you figure out what size generator you need based on how many things in your house you need to power when the power goes off. So there's a good place to start.
JOHN: Now, what should I do as far as a generator goes? Should I - as far as just having - yeah start it up, just run it for an hour or so? Or ...?
TOM: No, here's what - here's what you need to do. First of all, I assume you have just a regular gas generator?
TOM: Gasoline powered? Alright, well remember a couple of things. First of all, if you're going to use a gasoline-powered generator as opposed to a natural gas generator, which is another type, you have to have a steady supply of fuel. And if there's a power outage, very often the gasoline pumps in the areas around your house are not also going to be able to have the power to pump the gas.
LESLIE: Yeah and you can't really store gasoline for quite an extensive amount of time at home ...
TOM: Yeah, you can ...
LESLIE: ... so you kind of need to keep refreshing that supply; even if you use a gas extender.
TOM: Well, if you use a fuel stabilizer, it'll probably last a year. But if you have no fuel stabilizer, it'll last less than 30 days. So, these are important things to do.
And most importantly, John, you want to make sure that you install a transfer switch. Now this looks like another small electrical panel and it's where you plug the generator in and then you'd have all the circuits there that the generator's going to power. This makes it very convenient with just the flick of a couple of switches, without running any extension cords or any of that sort of thing, to be able to repower those parts of your house that you need. So it sounds to me like you're on the right path. But you need to get the transfer switch installed so that you'll have an easy way to convert from street power to backup power.
LESLIE: Nadi (sp) in Maryland, how can we help you?
NADI (sp): Well, I've got this really funny problem. I got a fancy window box for my birthday and I ...
TOM: You got a window box for your birthday?
LESLIE: Well, happy birthday?
TOM: What a great birthday present.
NADI (sp): Yeah, well I was really excited about it. I couldn't wait to get my herbs in there and everything. And it took a little while for my husband to get around to installing it. So I went to the hardware store and I bought some kind of quick taps concrete screws.
NADI (sp): And I kind of assumed that there'd be something solid underneath the siding of my house.
NADI (sp): To my shock ...
TOM: Silly you.
NADI (sp): ... a four-inch screw went through the siding and into nothing. (chuckling) So I'm wondering - so I figure, 'I'll look under the siding without damaging the siding.'
TOM: Well, this is a window box so you want to try to catch the framing that's around the window. Your average window has studs to the side of it; usually two studs wide on either side.
NADI (sp): OK.
TOM: And it's going to have a sill under the window. So it might be that you don't want to drill up close to the windowsill that you can see but below that you'll hit the framing.
The best way to do this, I would think, Leslie, is with a stud finder so that she can locate where the solid material is.
LESLIE: Yeah, you should be able to deep scan right through that and find exactly where things are.
NADI (sp): God willing, there's wood under there somewhere, right?
TOM: There has to be.
LESLIE: Well, if there isn't, that window's not staying up.
TOM: Nadi (sp), if you can't find the wood from the outside because the siding and stuff ...
NADI (sp): Mm-hmm.
TOM: ... look on the inside of the house and use a stud finder. It's going to be the same stud throughout the whole surface.
NADI (sp): And then could you recommend what kind of hardware I should use to try and get through ...?
TOM: Well, once you identify it then you're simply going to use a - you're going to probably use a long drywall screw or something like that.
LESLIE: Mm-hmm. Because as long as you're going into the wood, you don't need any sort of special, you know - what's the word I'm looking for?
TOM: You need - you don't need a special fastener. You just really need a regular screw tread (ph).
LESLIE: (overlapping voices) Yeah, you won't need any special - anything to hold it in.
NADI (sp): Alright. That sounds super. Thank you.
TOM: Alright. Thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.
LESLIE: Alright, everybody out there in Money Pit land. Now you - yes, you - can call in your home repair or your home improvement question 24 hours a day, seven days a week, no matter what time. You know it. We're here. 1-888-MONEY-PIT, that's the magic number.
So, what do you do if you have too many tools? Is that even a problem?
LESLIE: Yeah, that's not a problem.
TOM: I think we both have too many tools but I just keep buying more. (chuckling) Well, it's a ...
LESLIE: There's always something new and shiny.
TOM: That's right. It's a good problem to have. But there are some storage options. You need to think, though, outside of the box. We'll talk about that, next.
[audio timestamp: 10:50]
[audio timestamp: 13:30]
ANNOUNCER: This portion of The Money Pit is brought to you by Aprilaire, makers of professionally-installed, high-efficiency air cleaners. For more information, go to Aprilaire.com. Now, here are Tom and Leslie.
TOM: This is The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show, making good homes better. The number is 1-888-MONEY-PIT. Yes, I'm talking to you. Yes, you (chuckling) with the green, shag carpet and the pink walls.
LESLIE: What, me?
TOM: Yes, I'm telling you to call us right now.
LESLIE: You can see through my radio?
TOM: (chuckling) 1-888-MONEY-PIT. 888-666 ...
LESLIE: (overlapping voices) You know somebody's saying that right now.
TOM: (chuckling) ... 3974. How do they know that? (laughing)
LESLIE: How do they know I've got this green shag carpet? What? Does it not look good? I thought it looked nice.
TOM: Here's something we do know. You may have too many tools and not enough room to store them.
LESLIE: Yeah. And while Tom and I don't think that's a problem, storing them can definitely be a problem; especially when you just start, you know, hoarding away all the tools. You find new things, shiny things, something that spins faster and you want it and then all of a sudden you've got ten million things clogging up your garage. Well, you might want to consider installing a shed as a storage and a utility home improvement. But before you get all excited and run out and buy one or build one, you want to make sure that you check your local building codes for any restriction and any permits that might be required to do so.
Also, think about what your shed is going to be made of. In addition to wood, you can also buy prefabricated sheds. They're made from metal or vinyl. Comes in a kit. You can just put it together. It's pretty exciting.
TOM: Hey and coming up in our next e-newsletter, we're going to tell you how to keep your shed safe. Make sure that you are not storing hazardous and flammable supplies in places where they can light up and start fires. We're going to tell you how to do that.
And if you haven't subscribed yet, you can sign up right now at MoneyPit.com. The newsletter comes to you every single week.
You know, Leslie, I'm probably the only guy that's ever had a stop work order issued against me on a shed construction. (chuckling) I had this shed that was destroyed by a storm. And as I went to rebuild it, the code inspector drove by and said, 'Hey, you can't do that without a permit.' I'm like, 'But it's ...'
LESLIE: But wait, you were just replacing the ...
LESLIE: ... the ruined one.
TOM: I was - I was just replacing. I was like, 'You want me to leave this hunk of junk here?' (chuckling) So they actually made me stop and then do a drawing of the new shed and then give it to the code inspector. And the old one was on the plot plan and everything. And then, I'm like - he's like, 'Well, I have to review it.' I'm like, 'OK,' you know, 'I'll wait.' 'Oh no, you have to wait your turn.'
LESLIE: He's like, 'Please. And next time don't draw it on a - on a cocktail napkin.'
TOM: And then - and then he took the shed design and he put it like on the bottom of the pile; like on top - under the houses and the commercial buildings and everything that they had to review. I'm like, 'He could have reviewed that in less time than it took me to draw it.'
LESLIE: You're like, 'It's 5x10.'
LESLIE: 'The thing is tiny. Come on.'
TOM: So I had to wait like two months for my shed to be reviewed. And he's like, 'Alright. It's OK. Go ahead and build it.'
LESLIE: And meanwhile, you had this like broken down pile.
TOM: I know. (chuckling)
LESLIE: Well, make sure, folks. Don't be like Tom. Be nice to those inspectors. (chuckling) File promptly and ask all those questions in advance before you start building and get your job shut down. Good advice.
Alright, folks. Well, winter is just weeks away; days even, at this point, folks. And it's the perfect time of year to seal all of those cracks around your windows and doors and make sure that everything just seals up nice and tight to keep out all that cold air and keep that nice, warm air in. And two callers we're going to choose this hour are going to win a winterizing kit worth more than $170?! Oh, my God. That's from DAP. That's like a ton of products.
TOM: It's got the DAPtex window and door foam sealant; the DAP SIDEWinder advanced polymer siding and window sealant; and - one of my favorite products. This is so cool. It's called Seal 'N Peel. It's a removable weatherstripping caulk. So if you've got like drafty windows ...
LESLIE: Oh, my God. My mom's apartment building like keeps DAP in business.
TOM: You see, it's perfect for an apartment building because you don't own the windows so you can't really do anything to change them. But you can caulk them shut, basically, with the Seal 'N Peel during the winter. And then, in the spring, you just peel it off and it peels right away; just like that rubbery goo that keeps the credit cards in the ...
LESLIE: And then you can snap it at your buddies.
TOM: Yeah, exactly. It does snap. It is kind of fun. (laughing) You can whip your friends with it. (laughing) Seal 'N Peal. Pretty cool. So anyway, we're going to give away this whole kit n' caboodle of DAP products to help keep your house warm and comfortable. It's worth 170 bucks so call right now. Call us with a winterization question. Call us with a heating question. 1-888-MONEY-PIT. And those folks that are listening in Honolulu, you can just call us and laugh. (laughing)
LESLIE: You can just play luau music. We're cool with that, too.
TOM: (chuckling) 1-888-MONEY-PIT. Let's go back to the phones.
LESLIE: John in Pennsylvania listens on Discovery Radio Network. What can we do for you today?
JOHN: Hi! It's a pleasure to speak to you.
LESLIE: Whoo! You're excited.
TOM: (chuckling) What can we do for you, John?
JOHN: Yes. Well, I just recently purchased a home and it has - I noticed it has cloth-looking wiring up in the attic ...
JOHN: ... and two-prong outlets throughout the house.
TOM: How old is the house, John?
JOHN: The house is from 1957.
TOM: 1957? OK, so it's cloth-covered BX cable, probably.
JOHN: Well, it's been a little bit of a hassle to plug all the adapters into the outlets.
JOHN: And I was wondering, first, is the wiring safe? Second, how much of a hassle would it be to put the grounded outlets in there with the wiring?
TOM: Well, you're grounding through the neutral in that two-wire system. And so, it's not nearly as safe as having the regular ground line. But there are a couple of things that you can do. For example, in the bathrooms and the kitchen, if you have a professional electrician do this, they can install ground-fault outlets and the ground-fault outlet would be designed so it's not really diverting the power to ground but it's turning the power off before it has a chance to hurt you. But it's something that has to be done by a pro because it's a bit tricky and you have to make sure you get it right. So that's a way that you can give yourself ground protection without actually installing a ground wire.
JOHN: They can do that with the existing wiring?
TOM: Yes, they can.
TOM: And that would be in the bathrooms, the kitchens, outside areas like that. If you have the opportunity to run a new circuit, you know, I would take that opportunity. But to deal with what you have, that's the way to handle it.
JOHN: Alright. Because it's plaster walls and I really don't want to go through those.
TOM: Yeah, I don't blame you. 1957's a good year. You've got some of that - you probably have plaster lath. That's the end of the sheetrock run. You know, they used to use drywall and then cover it with plaster. And those were very good, solid walls.
JOHN: They really are. They're - they did wonderful edges, wonderful corners and the hardwood floors are beautiful.
LESLIE: Great. Well, enjoy the house.
TOM: (overlapping voices) Yeah, it's a good - it's a good year.
JOHN: Thank you.
TOM: John, thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.
LESLIE: Laurie in Michigan listens on WPNW. What's going on at your house?
LAURIE: I have this vent that's driving me wild. (chuckling) Our house is like ...
TOM: So basically, Laurie wants to vent about her vent.
LAURIE: The house is like 140 years old. So the vent is one of those big, oversized ones that they - you know, the ancient ones. I can't find the part that goes underneath it so I can hook it up to the furnace. It's actually a cold air vent. I can't find a part that will fit; that will ...
TOM: Now wait a minute. You want to hook up a heating duct? Is that what you're talking about?
LAURIE: A duct underneath. They don't make them big enough.
TOM: Generally, ducts are built by the heating contractors themselves. They're - you're not going to be able to go to a store and buy one that's going to fit. Most of the ducts today are built for the house specifically and all of the different components that you need to make the system work. So this is something that you're going to want to address with your heating contractor next time you have the furnace serviced. If there's a part that's missing, they could bend one up for you out of metal; actually create the duct. Or they could use flex duct with different sorts of transition pieces that will connect it from the square parts of the duct system to a round transition duct.
TOM: So those are two options, but it's not something you're going to be able to buy off the shelf. The custom on that is the normal way to do it.
Alright, Laurie? Thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.
LESLIE: Ken in Alabama, what's going on at your house?
KEN: Well, I have a - well, I had a persistent leak and it lasted, I guess, about four years. (chuckling)
TOM: I'd say that's pretty persistent.
LESLIE: Is it fixed?
TOM: So is it still leaking now, Ken?
KEN: No, it isn't.
TOM: Alright. So how can we help you?
KEN: OK, the problem is that it left a stain that has kind of a mildew look to it.
KEN: OK? And I'm wondering whether I should ...
TOM: Is the drywall damaged? Is it sagging?
KEN: No, it isn't.
TOM: Alright, so it's perfectly flat. It's just the stain? Alright, you're in good shape.
KEN: Some of the tape is a little bit raised.
TOM: Well, here's what you need to do, Ken.
TOM: First of all, that loose tape has to be repaired. So that's done through normal, you know, spackling. You want to use the perforated spackle tape on that because it's easier to use. You're going to want to prime the entire ceiling with an oil-based primer. So I would recommend like a KILZ oil-based primer. And you don't - you're not just going to spot prime it because if you do, you're going to have one area that has a different sheen to it than the next; even when you go to put your topcoat on it. So prime the entire ceiling and then topcoat it with a ceiling paint.
And by the way, ceiling paint is different than wall paint because ceiling paint is a bit thicker and it doesn't drip all over your face while you're doing it.
KEN: And you don't recommend replacing any of the drywall?
TOM: Not necessary. As long as the drywall's not structurally damaged, you can simply prime it and go right back on top of that.
KEN: OK. Well, thanks very much.
TOM: Alright, Ken, thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.
Sounds like Ken wanted a bigger job than what that was.
LESLIE: (chuckling) Well, I think because the leak took so long to get to the bottom of ...
TOM: I know. He was ... yes.
LESLIE: (overlapping voices) ... he needed a - you know, it's cathartic.
TOM: He perceived it had a much bigger ending than that. (chuckling)
LESLIE: Coming up, managing your contractor. If you've got a big project and you've turned it over to a pro, you can make sure that you're still involved in the process. It is fun to manage other people, folks. (chuckling) That's right. We've got tips on how to do that, next.
TOM: Yeah, imagine how Leslie's husband feels.
LESLIE: (chuckling) I think he likes it?
[audio timestamp: 22:48]
ANNOUNCER: This portion of The Money Pit is brought to you by Dens Armor Plus, the revolutionary paperless drywall from Georgia-Pacific.
TOM: This is The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show. I'm Tom Kraeutler.
LESLIE: And I'm Leslie Segrete.
TOM: The number is 1-888-MONEY-PIT. 888-666-3974. You got a question about your home improvement project? Need some help solving that do-it-yourself dilemma? Call us right now at 888-666-3974.
Well, you know, there are major renovations that require the expertise of a contractor. You might be, say, redoing your kitchen or your bathroom, adding on an addition or even undertaking, say, a major plumbing or electrical job.
LESLIE: So how do you know when's the right time to hire a contractor? And when you do hire a contractor, it's not necessarily the time to just step back and let things go. You need to be able to manage your contractor. So joining us to tell us how to do that is Matt Stevens, president of the Stevens Construction Institute.
MATT: Thank you, Leslie.
TOM: So Matt, what is the Construction Institute? I understand you actually train contractors?
MATT: Yeah, we focus only on construction contractors and we've been doing so - I've been doing that work since 1994 so I can tell you that I've got a lot of time in the saddle; a lot of scar tissue.
TOM: Yeah, I bet.
LESLIE: Matt, are you giving them the skills to tackle a job or are you giving them the skills to deal with the homeowners, which are sometimes demanding?
MATT: Well, it is the business side of construction contracting. The craft is certainly something that has to be learned hands-on over years. The business, obviously, is just as challenging because, you know, if you - like the old saying goes, you know, the first 10 rules of business are don't run out of cash, don't run out of cash and don't run out of cash. (chuckling)
TOM: Matt, my observation of contractors over the years has been that, even though they may be good contractors and good tradesmen - good skilled craftsmen - they aren't necessarily good businessmen. And that seems to get them into an awful lot of trouble and cause a lot of strife for homeowners. Do you agree?
MATT: I agree. The obvious thing is that it takes years and years to learn the craft and once you learn the craft, you have a value. People want to hire you. They want you to do their work. And then now, what is the cost you're going to charge? What is the price you're going to charge them and why and what are your costs of doing business? Not only the lumber and the shingles, but also the insurance and the transportation, the overhead costs, the general conditions cost. So, certainly, those are things that trip up people and sometimes they pay to finish a job because they don't realize those costs.
LESLIE: Well Matt, it seems like you're giving the guys really the skills to tackle the business end of it. But now, with homeowners, what kind of advice do you give out to them to find the best contractor for their type of job?
MATT: Well there's, you know, some pretty simple rules. The first one is, you know, obviously, you're going to talk to people you trust; their friends or neighbors. And you're going to ask them not who do you recommend but who do you highly recommend? And that tears it down into people that - you know, people say that that's a great contractor. May not like him personally but he does great work.
LESLIE: (overlapping voices) But they like the work.
MATT: Good news across the country is that more states are instituting licensing requirements. But the homeowner sometimes doesn't look for the license or doesn't do the homework. And those things, you just can't ignore, you know? The basics are something that trip us all up and what I would say is that, you know, you've got - you've got to look at the Better Business Bureau, obviously. And you've got to go ahead and look at different parts of any business - you know, whether it's contract or not - just the basics to cover.
TOM: We're talking to Matt Stevens. He's the president of Stevens Construction Institute; a firm that trains contractors.
So Matt, if you are about to hire a contractor to tackle a home improvement project, what do you think is the most important question or perhaps the most important couple of questions that homeowners should ask at first?
MATT: Well, how long have you been in business, obviously. If a contractor - these days, it's rare to ask this question but it's still important. 'How long you been in business?' And if somebody says, you know, since 1992, that might be not the greatest answer. You want somebody who's been through a couple of recessions.
TOM: Yeah, that's a good point. Because if you can make it through a recession, you're probably financially savvy enough to plan a job. (chuckling)
MATT: Oh, absolutely. It's a fair question and it's, you know, one answer that you'll consider with other answers to make your final decision.
LESLIE: What about advice for homeowners hiring a contractor to sort of help that job go more smoothly once you find somebody?
MATT: Couple of things that I would be clear on. One is that, you know, the guys that are doing the work - they actually, you know, wear the tool belt - they sometimes don't talk to the guy that sold the job. And so sometimes it's frustrating but necessary to tell the guy that walks in your front door, 'Listen, this is who I am and this is what I want done and this is how I want it done.' Because that communication may not have happened.
The other thing that would be fairly important is to put plans in writing. That has - nothing daunting; nothing, you know, overly detailed but saying, 'You know, this is what I want you to do today. Here are the things I want to be - have taken care of. Here's the things tomorrow. Here's the things, you know, next Thursday. You know, Friday I've got a dinner party and so certain things have to be done.' Something like that. And check in with him at the end of the day.
I guess the last thing is to remember that the - you know, the guys in the field, the people that do the work, you know, they're people, too and a little humor never hurt anybody. (chuckling) A little consideration was not - you know, a little cup of coffee ...
LESLIE: Cookies and coffee.
MATT: ... or something is not a bad idea.
TOM: That's right. Take care of your contractor and your contractor will take care of you.
Matt, it seems to me that one of the places that contractors and homeowners seem to have a lot of difficulty is communication. So you're - you're point of writing things down is important.
Let's talk about communication as the job progresses. Very often, you get to the end of the job and the contractor presents the homeowner with a bill that in no way resembles what the original estimate was. And in the contractor's mind, it's because you, the homeowner, told them to move that window six inches and changed from a double-hung window to a bay window or whatever and may not - the homeowner may not recognize the costs involved with those changes.
Do you insist, in your training of contractors, that they use change orders and that they communicate effectively the economics of requests that a homeowner might make? Because I think a lot of us are not visual and once the contractor starts getting there and starts moving things, it - you know, you start to get more enthused and more ideas.
MATT: Well, yeah. And don't forget, it's a double-edged sword for the contractor as well as the homeowners that if he goes out and buys a $400 window and the homeowner balks at the end of a job and says, 'Listen, this is not what I wanted or I wanted to pay for - the amount of money, you know, the contractor, he might just settle for $100. Well, he just paid to - you know, because of his change order lack of detail ...
LESLIE: You know, Matt, you just mentioned about the cost of the window and perhaps it not being exactly what the homeowner had in mind. Do you recommend - I know sometimes the homeowners want to provide the fixtures and some of the supplies. Or should you just leave it to the contractor to get those things themselves?
MATT: You want the contractor to buy the material because he will also furnish a warranty for that item. And you know, [faucets down at the local home center are important] (ph) or the windows, as I talked about - good examples. But what it comes to is that you want - you want that warranty for that year or whatever that warranty's going to be. You know, a roofing contractor will put a 20-year warranty on a roof. If you furnish that material, that will not happen.
The second thing to realize is that contractors buy this kind of material all the time and they are - I'll use industry jargon. It's, you know, column one. Well, that's very inexpensive pricing because they're buying hundreds of these pieces; you know, thousands of - and maybe tens of thousands - of dollars of this item. The homeowner's getting column 10, which is ...
MATT: ... you know, retail.
MATT: So when you look at it, yeah, I - a contractor charged me something for that faucet and it worked out about the same because he bought it cheaper but he marked it up. I got the warranty and it's the same cost to me.
TOM: Matt Stevens, thanks for being with us.
For more information and tips on how to estimate and budget your project, you can check out Matt's website at StevensCI.com - StevensCI.com.
LESLIE: Alright, folks. Well when you've got kids, you're always looking for ways to make your home safe and secure for them. Even if you don't have kids. Sometimes you've got people with visitors bringing their kids. So you want to make sure that everybody's house is safe for everyone. But the same thing should go for everyone at every stage of their life. So coming up next, we're going to have tips from AARP to make sure that you and your parents can stay safe and comfortable in their homes as long as possible.
[audio timestamp: 31:06]
[audio timestamp: 33:42]
ANNOUNCER: This portion of The Money Pit is brought to you by Ryobi, manufacturer of professional feature power tools and accessories with an affordable price for the do-it-yourselfer. Ryobi power tools. Pro features, affordable price. Available exclusively at The Home Depot. Now, here are Tom and Leslie.
TOM: This is The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show. Reach out and touch the experts. I'm Tom Kraeutler.
LESLIE: And I'm Leslie Segrete.
TOM: And this is where work and fun meet. (chuckling) Call us with your home improvement questions. Call us with your do-it-yourself dilemmas. Call us because you just want to talk. 1-888-MONEY-PIT. 888-666-3974.
LESLIE: Alright, folks. Well, when you purchase your first house, a lot of thought and planning usually goes into that process. Am I right? Well, the same is true when you prepare your home for the arrival of a new baby or when you have young children growing up in it. You want to plan ahead to make all the changes that are going to benefit everyone in the family, right?
TOM: That's right. And here are some tips to help you do just that from AARP.
In the kitchen, install easy-to-grasp C or D-shaped cabinet door and drawer handles. They're easy to grab; especially if you have your hands full with a baby or groceries.
Also, you should place an ABC-rated fire extinguisher ...
LESLIE: There's too many letters, Tom.
TOM: A-B-C. (chuckling) It's as easy as ABC, Leslie. An ABC-rated fire extinguisher within easy reach of the stove. Now, what does ABC mean? It means the extinguisher will work for all sorts of fires; including those from grease.
Next, install lever-handle faucets with built-in anti-scald protection on the sink so you can grab the handle easily and you don't have any risks of getting scalded from that hot water.
LESLIE: Yeah, because there is nothing worse, if that water suddenly becomes super-duper hot and you like sort of spazz out for a minute. You're like, 'Which one? What do I touch? Yah, my hand! (chuckling) Oh, get it away from the water.' (chuckling) So those lever faucets really do help a ton.
Alright now, for staircases. You want to make sure that the hand rails are installed on both sides and you want to put non-slip reflective or contrasting tape on the edge of the stair tread so you know exactly where that dip is going to occur. The stairs also need to be well lit with lights at both the top and the bottom so you can see going and coming.
And a few changes like these can really keep your home safe and comfortable for years to come.
If you want some more info, go to AARP.org/UniversalHome. That's AARP.org/UniversalHome.
TOM: And you know what a great light bulb is for a stairway? One of those compact fluorescents, because ...
LESLIE: Oh my gosh, because they'll last forever.
TOM: Yeah, they last like 10 years. So if you do get somebody to help you put in that light bulb that's at the top of the stairway - it's like an impossible place to reach ...
LESLIE: Or the one that's in the middle where you're on that landing and you've got to reach up super-duper high.
TOM: Right. Use a CFL. They're a little more expensive but they last forever.
LESLIE: About nine years, right?
TOM: Nine years. Exactly. And they save you a ton of energy.
Well, the number is 1-888-MONEY-PIT if you have a home improvement question.
You know, let's talk a bit about podcasting because you can reach us 24/7 by calling 888-MONEY-PIT. And you can download our podcast. You can sync and go. And while some talk radio shows think that you ought to pay to download a podcast, we feel a bit differently about that here at Money Pit land and ours is free; absolutely free. So help yourself to our entire library of home improvement podcasts. You can even search by topic. Just hit MoneyPit.com.
LESLIE: What a great resource. And you know, Tom, you and I were talking about whenever you put your iPod on shuffle ...
LESLIE: ... it's hysterical because one minute you'll be rocking out to like, say, Guns N' Roses and the next minute, there's Tom (laughter) talking about something. And I'm like, 'Alright, this is a little different beat but I think I can dance to this, too. Oh, wait.' And then I find I'm re-drywalling the basement.
TOM: All of a sudden. Yeah. (chuckling)
LESLIE: I'm like, 'Oh, right.' (laughter) So it's going to help you through all of those projects, folks. Downloading is super fun and really easy so check out the website.
And remember, give us a call right now at 888-MONEY-PIT and if you ask us your home improvement question on the air, you could win a super great prize from the folks at DAP. It's a winterization kit that's going to include everything you need to stay snug and warm in your home this winter. It's going to include DAPtex window and door foam sealant; DAP SIDEWinder - it's an advanced polymer siding and window sealant; DAP Seal 'N Peel removable caulk. This is amazing. This is a huge prize and we've got two chances to win since we're going to give away two this hour. And it's an energy-saving prize and it's enough for you and all your friends. So if you run out of things to fill, lend it to Joe next door.
TOM: You could have a weatherization party. (chuckling) You could like go up and down the street and seal everybody's house up. Think about all the money that you're going to save. You know, even if it's warm ...
LESLIE: (overlapping voices) And you can download those invitations at MoneyPit.com. (chuckling)
TOM: Yeah, that's right. You know, even if it's warm where you live, sealing up your house is still a good idea; even if you're concerned about your air conditioning cost. You know, hot air leaks into the house in the summer the same way cold air leaks in in the winter. So it's always a good idea to weatherize your house.
It's worth 170 bucks so call us right now. 1-888-MONEY-PIT. Leslie, let's go back to the phones. Who's next?
LESLIE: Alright, out in the garden with Mark in Nebraska. What can we do for you?
MARK: Hey, I've got a question. I've got a well established tree in my front year; very large.
MARK: And the roots are starting to grow out of the ground and make it hard to mow around and that kind of stuff.
MARK: What is the best way to resubmerge the roots? I'm going to guess that involves adding dirt to the top of them; not ...
TOM: Yeah, I don't think that you're going to be able to push those roots down. I think you're going to have to landscape around it.
LESLIE: (chuckling) You will it down.
LESLIE: You think about it a lot. (chuckling)
MARK: It'd be nice, but I don't think that's going to happen. (laughter)
TOM: Well you know, why don't you - why don't you think of a new way to landscape around that tree; where you can perhaps raise the soil level in the areas that are affected? You know, maybe you can use some landscape ties or some brick edging or something like that and create a higher level closer to the tree so you have another six inches of soil there.
TOM: What you might want to think is undercut some of those branches, too, so you can get a little light in there and that will help the grass grow as well. We have a big tree like that in our side yard and every year I take one more large branch like from the bottom moving up; just to let a little more light in and I think I've just got about it to the point now where it could sustain the lawn. But for many years, it was just not enough light to do that. So sometimes you have to thin a tree out just to make it - the grass grow around it.
LESLIE: Yeah, but it also helps the tree to be more healthy by thinning out some of those branches anyway.
TOM: Yeah, that's a good point.
Mark, thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.
Up next, keeping handrails secure is an important way to keep your family members safe. We're going to answer an email question about exactly how to fix those loose stair railings, next.
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ANNOUNCER: This portion of The Money Pit is brought to you by Roto-Rooter, for all your plumbing and drain cleaning needs. Whether it's a small job or a big repair, request the experts from Roto-Rooter. That's the name and away go troubles down the drain. Call 1-800-GET-ROTO or visit Roto-Rooter.com.
TOM: Welcome back to The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show, making good homes better. I'm Tom Kraeutler.
LESLIE: And I'm Leslie Segrete.
TOM: 1-888-MONEY-PIT. MoneyPit.com. Just two ways to get in touch with us. If you log onto the website at MoneyPit.com, you can click on Ask Tom and Leslie and shoot us an email question. Because maybe you don't feel like calling in. Maybe you're shy. Maybe you're driving. Don't cause an accident. Just email us to Ask Tom and Leslie.
So, let's jump into that email bag, my friend. Who do we have?
LESLIE: This one is from Patricia in Seffner, Florida ...
LESLIE: ... who writes: 'At the top of our staircase, the railing is loose. One side is solid; it's connected to a wall. The loose side is freestanding. It's the first post that's loose and it's a wooden railing. Please help.'
TOM: Hmm. Well, when it comes to wooden railings - and I've put many, many, many of these in over the years - obviously, they are secured by the attachment to the wall and the attachment to the post. Because, contrary to popular belief, the spindles - they don't do anything.
LESLIE: (chuckling) Besides get your head stuck between them.
TOM: They're there just for color (chuckling) and for safety. But they don't really lend a structural security if they're the kind that are on the underside of the railing. If you have the spindles that are on the outside of like a 2x6, yeah, that could add you some structural support. But generally, it's the post that does it. So we have to figure out what's going on with that post.
There's a couple of ways to connect a post. If it's cut into the stair itself - it's usually cut into the riser and the tread - then what's happening is probably the screws that are attaching it have pulled out that strip. You're going to need to remove those. I would take the whole post apart and then I would re-glue it to the stair and then re-screw it into a different place.
LESLIE: Yeah, because it could also be that the - that the whatever the step is made out of - whether it's concrete or brick - it could just be that the material is sort of wearing away on the inside where the screw is and it's just sort of come undone, right?
TOM: Yeah, exactly. But either way, you're going to have to take that post apart. It's hard to fix it when it's in place. You really need to take it apart and then put it back together again. So give that a shot and that ought to solve it.
LESLIE: Alright, here is one from Wilfred in Tiverton, Rhode Island. 'How does one clean the soiling that occurs on white aluminum gutters, trim, et cetera, over time? Even straight ammonia has little effect.'
TOM: You know, because it's not soil - those gutters are actually wearing out - what happens, that finish oxidizes and you get a darkening of the finish and you get streaking on it. And it looks like dirt but it's really not. And basically, you're not going to be able to restore it back to the factory perfect, white, shiny gutters that you had unless you paint them. And certainly painting aluminum gutters is something that's possible to do.
LESLIE: Yeah, but you want to make sure you use something that's metal based and good for the outside; almost like a Rust-Oleum. This way, you know it'll stand up to the elements.
Are your home improvement projects going badly? Is your world coming apart at the seams? Well, how about just your floor? (chuckling) Because on today's edition of Leslie's Last Word, she's got some tips on how to fix your peeling vinyl floor.
LESLIE: That's right. Home improvement experts we are; therapists we are not. (laughter) World coming apart? There's somebody else you can call for that. But flooring; we can help.
Alright. If you've got loose grime gathering seams in your vinyl flooring, you might notice it peeling away and it's going to peel away at your patience, folks. But you can fix them. There are special sealers that you can apply to the seams in sheet flooring and that's going to hide a repair or even prevent a loose seam from getting worse and tearing up the floor. After you glue down a loose seam, you can also apply a seam sealer and that's going to prevent moisture and dirt from getting beneath it and causing it to peel up all over again.
But remember, vinyl flooring repairs - they can take a bit of practice. So if you've got several to make, it might be best to hire a pro and have them fix them all at once and be done with it.
TOM: Great advice. 1-888-MONEY-PIT. Remember, you can call us 24/7 at 888-666-3974. And you can log onto our website at MoneyPit.com.
Coming up next week on the program, we're going to explain some of those mysterious sounds that you have coming from your house; you know, when the pipes are banging or when your toilet suddenly bubbles up when no one is there or you hear it start to ring.
LESLIE: That's just the ghost who lives in the house, right?
TOM: It could be the ghost. (chuckling) But you'll have to wait until next week because there is a solution for all of these seemingly haunted defects in your house and we're going to tackle those one-by-one next week on the program.
I'm Tom Kraeutler.
LESLIE: And I'm Leslie Segrete.
TOM: Remember, you can do it yourself ...
LESLIE: But you don't have to do it alone.
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(Copyright 2006 Squeaky Door Productions, Inc. No portion of this transcript or audio file may be reproduced in any format without the express written permission of Squeaky Door Productions, Inc.)