- Want to tackle a home improvement project but don’t have much time? Tom & Leslie share 5 fast hacks that take 30 minute or LESS to complete. Plus share a full list of 30 more home improvements you can do in under 30 minutes!
- Home fire risk goes up in the winter, but did you know that not all smoke detectors work with every type of fire? We’ll explain how to choose the best smoke detectors to make sure you’re protected.
- If you’re a renter, we share tips to help you save money heating your apartment that’ll make you a lot more comfortable and won’t require any major changes to your place, or risk losing your security deposit!
- Radon is a soil gas that is present under homes and can put your health at risk. We share how to know if radon levels are high in your area and what to do if they are.
Plus, answers to your home improvement questions about:
- Andrea in Pennsylvania has a sloping floor in her bathroom and doesn’t know how to fix it.
- David from Ohio is having a hard time keeping paint from peeling off his siding.
- Renee in Texas wants advice on repairing structural cracks in her townhouse.
- Linda from Rhode Island needs a good paint for her stone basement wall.
- Gary from Georgia wants to know how to harvest rainwater.
- Tony in Iowa has a cold water line that feels hot to touch.
- Patty from Illinois has a toilet that’s driving up her water bill and wants to how she can resolve this.
TOM: Coast to coast and floorboards to shingles, this is The Money Pit Home Improvement Show. I’m Tom Kraeutler.
LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.
TOM: What projects are you working on? If you’ve got a job you want to do, if you’ve got a dream that you want to pursue for the spring, for the summer ahead, you want to do some planning, you want to know if you can do it yourself, whether you should get a pro, how do you find a pro, how do you know the pro’s going to do a good job, questions like that, that’s what we do. We’re here to help you get moving on those home improvement, those home remodeling, those home décor projects around your house. And all you need to do is help yourself first by reaching out to us and calling in those questions. 1-888-MONEY-PIT is the phone number; that’s 888-666-3974. Or you can post your questions to us at MoneyPit.com.
Coming up on today’s show, winter is rough on roofs. I mean with all of the snow and the ice and the freeze and the thaw cycles, roofs take a lot of punishment. And that’s why now’s a good time to plan for any roof work that might be needed to be done come spring. We’re going to share tips for a DIY roof check and also how to know if your roof just needs to be repaired or if it needs to be totally replaced, in today’s Smart Spending Tip.
LESLIE: And also ahead, do you have closets that seem to be busting at the seams? Well, we’ve got steps for a simple closet makeover that takes less than an hour or two to get done. And it’s going to help you find the space that you need.
TOM: And if you’d like to make your home more energy-efficient, a home energy audit is a great place to start. We’ll share some details on how to get this done and we’ll highlight a DIY option.
LESLIE: But first, let’s get to work. What are you guys working on? We want to hear from you on all of your home improvement projects, your décor projects, the projects that you’re dreaming of, the projects that you’re trying to forget about because maybe they didn’t go so great and you want us to help you. Whatever it is, we are …
TOM: No judgement here.
LESLIE: True, true, true, true. We’re standing by. So let us give you a hand, OK? Give us a call at 888-MONEY-PIT.
TOM: Alright. Let’s get to it. Leslie, who’s first?
LESLIE: Risa (sp) in Oregon, you’ve got The Money Pit. How can we help you today?
RISA (sp): Well, I need someone to recommend a really good gutter guard so that I don’t have to keep cleaning my gutters all the time. Because every time we’re up there, it gets more dangerous because we’re getting older. And they keep getting clogged because we have big trees around our house. We have maple, ash and big firs. And so, consequently, you’ve got tiny, little needles; pointy, little seeds; and big, flat, wide ones.
TOM: OK. Well, there’s a number of different types of gutter guards. And on MoneyPit.com, we have a very popular article that kind of walks you through the different types and tells you whether or not they’re worth it or not.
The type of gutter guard that I seem to like the best are the ones that are mesh – a really, thin mesh that has tiny holes in it – that are permanently attached to the gutters themselves. And then the water basically runs through it and the leaves kind of wash off it. So, I’ve had good success with that type of gutter guard, personally. So that’s something that you might want to look into.
They also have different types of nylon gutter guards or one called – we call it the “bottle brush” where the brush sort of lays in the gutter. But the kind that are mesh, I think, seem to work the best. There’s a number of manufacturers out there that do that.
And then the second type I would look at is called the “reverse curve.” That’s a piece of metal that goes up under the roof shingle and over the top of the gutter. And basically, because water will sort of hug that gutter guard, it will run into the gutter and the leaves will wash over the top.
But if you go to MoneyPit.com and search for “Cost of Gutter Guards: Are They Worth It?” you’ll find that story. It’ll walk you through all the options.
RISA (sp): Well, I can try. But the biggest problem I’ve had is the big, fat maple leaves. Because they just stick to just about every gutter thing I’ve tried and then the water goes over them.
TOM: I bet. Yeah, yeah. Right. Well, I’m telling you, I think you – a lot of the gutter guards that are out there, that you find at home centers, just don’t work very well. But I’ve found that the reverse curve and the mesh gutter guards seem to be the best.
I will caution you, though: one sort of problem I have with the gutter-guard industry is they tend to try to hard-sell you on these systems. So I would just make sure I find a very reputable company to deal with on that.
I remember having a very bad experience, some years ago, where I was just strolling down the boardwalk in New Jersey and there was a home show going on. And there was a gentleman there that was – just kind of pulled me out of the crowd, wanted to sell me on gutter guards. And so I just kind of let him talk and man, I could not get him to tell me how much his product cost. He kept trying to get my wife and I home in the house, at the same time, so that he could try to close the deal.
And I’m saying, “Look, what if I had a 60-foot ranch with one-story house with 4 leaders and a gutter on the front and back?” I was trying to think of the simplest gutter job I could think of. Even then, he could not – or probably more accurately, would not – quote me what his prices were. So that’s a problem. It shouldn’t be that hard to figure this out. So just be careful in making sure you find a good guy.
Head on over to HomeAdvisor.com and read the reviews on the roofing contractors there. I’m sure you could find one through that site.
RISA (sp): I will. I’ll check yours first and go to the next one.
LESLIE: John in Missouri is on the line and is needing some help purchasing a new money pit. How can we help you?
JOHN: Me and my wife are planning on building a guest house on our property and we were wondering if it’d be better to build from the ground up or to have a prefabricated house built.
TOM: Well, either is a really good option. You know, the advantage of prefab homes is that they go together much more quickly. And there’s various levels of prefabrication. You can get a home built in sections or you can get a panelized home where the walls are assembled. And I’ve seen many of these homes go together and they’re extremely well built.
Building a lot of these things at a factory gives you the ability to control a lot of things it’s hard to control on the site: accuracy of all the cutting and the measurements and the humidity of the wood and that sort of thing. I think either way, you really can’t go wrong. And building it prefab would bring it together quicker if that’s something that you’re interested in.
JOHN: Nice. Ah, thank you.
TOM: Alright. Good luck. Thanks so much for calling us, John, at 1-888-MONEY-PIT and let us know how that build goes.
JOHN: Thank you.
LESLIE: Cathy in Massachusetts is on the line with a crumbling basement wall. Tell us what’s going on at your money pit.
CATHY: Our house was sold about 1802. That’s the earliest records that we have. And the chimneys are literally turning to dust in the basement. The bricks themselves. They’re not just crumbling; they are – they have become dust. And I need to know, is there anything we can do to salvage them? Or if we take them down, does it compromise the stability of the whole building?
TOM: Well, it definitely would not compromise the stability of the building because chimneys are not part of the structure. They just hold themselves up. Now, are these active chimneys or inactive chimneys? Are they being used for a fireplace or for the heating system?
CATHY: No. We are afraid to use them for fireplaces.
TOM: OK. No, that’s wise. Well, how is your heating system being vented, Cathy, if it’s not through the chimney?
CATHY: There’s two fireplaces in the building that extend up to the second floor, to the roof. And we have a gas boiler that is vented through one of them but we can actually vent it to the outside.
TOM: Is the chimney that’s deteriorating the one that the gas boiler is in?
CATHY: Both of them are. One of them was a cooking oven back in the 1800s. They used it for a school for young girls and taught them the fine arts of cooking. And it – that’s the large, walk-in fireplace and it’s just totally crumbled. The bricks are falling out and a lot of it is just dust. The other one is a little better shape but it’s still turning to dust.
TOM: Alright. Well, first of all, it would be highly unlikely that either of them are safe to use, because they’re not lined.
Now, the process of lining – there’s a number of ways to do that but one process of lining is where they drop a tube down the middle of the chimney itself and they pour a concrete kind of slurry mix around the outside of the tube and then deflate the tube and pull it out. That process can actually make the chimney stronger. If that’s something you’re interested in, you could explore that. It’s probably costly.
If you want to just get rid of the chimneys and the fireplaces, then that’s totally fine. And what you’ll do is essentially disassemble them from the top down and then roof over the openings. As long as you’re not going to use them and you have no plans for it, I see no reason to keep them.
CATHY: Alright. Sounds like a good plan for us.
TOM: Good luck. Thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.
LESLIE: Jim in Ohio is on the line with a question about insulation. What are you working on?
JIM: I’m looking at remodeling my basement and I’m looking for something with – that’s going to help insulate it plus dampen some of the sound from the basement.
TOM: So, a couple of things. First of all, do you want to insulate the foundation walls or do you just want to insulate the basement ceiling?
JIM: Actually, both.
TOM: So there’s a foil-encapsulated, fiberglass-batt insulation that’s designed specifically for basement walls. The foil has a water resistance to it, so it stands up to the moist, damp areas. So that’s something that you could do there.
JIM: OK. Great.
TOM: In terms of the insulation, you could use standard fiberglass insulation. But contrary to popular belief, fiberglass insulation by itself is not a material that’s going to block a lot of sound. If you want to block sound, you probably should use a sound-resistant drywall. There are different types of drywall products. I think one’s called QuietRock.
There are others that once you apply it to the ceiling – you apply it like normal drywall but it’s a lot heavier and it has sort of a sound-resistant batten structure to it. It’s also much more expensive. But you can special-order it at a home center and use that on the ceiling and that will make it quieter.
But the devil is in the details when it comes to quiet construction. And wherever you have a ceiling fixture or light fixtures or any kinds of perforations in that ceiling, they have to be packed, also, with a soundproofing material, which kind of looks like a clay that sort of fits behind it. But if you just want to try to do the best you can without going to that level of detail, then maybe just apply the sound-resistant drywall and it’ll be probably the quietest basement on the block.
JIM: Great. Thank you. That works.
TOM: Well, winter is pretty rough on roofs. With all of the snow and the ice and the freeze/thaw cycles, roofs take a lot of punishment this time of year. And that’s why now is a good time to plan for any roof work that might be needed to keep your home nice and dry come spring. But what is the smartest way to go: repair the roof or replace it? We’ve got that answer, in today’s Smart Spending Tip presented by the Bank of America Customized Cash Rewards Credit Card.
LESLIE: Now, the first step is to evaluate the roof’s wear and tear. Older roof shingles are generally made from a cotton or glass-fiber base, then that base is covered with an asphalt coating. Now, as the sun heats the roof, the asphalt dries out, so you’ve got to check your roof for signs of wear and tear. The easiest and safest way that you can do that is to use binoculars and then check for cracked and curled or even broken shingles from the safety of the ground.
TOM: Now, if you’ve got a worn section and maybe it’s just limited to a small area, for example – I used to see this all the time when I was home inspecting – if you have, say, a porch roof that intersects with the second story of the house, sometimes you’ll get not only direct sunlight but you get reflected sunlight off of that wall. And that can actually sort of wear out just that one area. That’s totally replaceable without the entire roof being done. But if the whole roof’s looking that way, you may have to start to sort of rethink about replacing the entire roof.
And if that’s in order, you also need to determine how many roof layers make sense. Because usually, you can add one additional layer of shingles for a total of two layers. But that said, if you do a tear-off, though, it’s not such a bad idea because even if you have just one layer down – because the second layers don’t cool well and they tend to advance this sort of deterioration of the first layer because they hold a lot of heat. And shingles are, essentially, an oil-based product and when that dries out, the shingles cracks.
So, one layer is the best option. And also, if you’re going to be in that house for most of the life of that roof, it also makes sense. If you’re in for a short period of time, then that roof is going to last 5 years whether you’re there or not.
LESLIE: Now, if your roof is actually leaking, you’ve got to check the flashing. Now, if the flashing is loose or deteriorated, it’s probably responsible for most of those roof leaks and that can be a pretty easy repair.
Finally, if you do find that you do need a new roof, you want to make sure to improve your roof ventilation at the same time. Because a cool attic is going to keep the roof cooler and a cool roof means that your roofing shingles, whichever you use, are going to last a lot longer.
TOM: And the best type of vents to add are passive vents. Those are the vents that don’t use energy. They’re really better than an attic fan, for example. I like continuous ridge and soffit systems. They’re ideal. Those vents are inexpensive and they can actually be added to a house of any age.
LESLIE: And that’s today’s Smart Spending Tip presented by the Bank of America Customized Cash Rewards Credit Card. Apply for yours at BankOfAmerica.com/MoreRewarding.
Fran in Tennessee is on the line and her French door has developed rot. What is going on?
FRAN: Well, we live in a 150-year-old house. And over the years, as we moved in here, we’ve done repairs and modernized some things. And we had a French door put in the dining room. It’s covered in a metal flashing around the outside.
But we didn’t realize, at the outset, that it was a composite door. And over the years, it has developed – rain rot is the only thing I can – you know, it has just fallen away at the bottom, about 6 to 8 inches up. We covered the door with a 4×8 piece of plywood to keep rain off of it but we don’t know what to do. Is it repairable or would it be best just to replace the entire door?
TOM: This is screaming replacement to me.
FRAN: I was afraid you were going to say that.
TOM: Well, listen, you’ve already covered it with a sheet of plywood. So I mean if you called me and you said, “Listen, I’ve got a hole in my door because it’s rotted out and it’s a few inches from the bottom,” I would tell you there’s different materials that you can use to fill those rotted holes back in with that are sort of like packing a cavity. There’s two-part epoxy patching materials. You mix them together, you put it in there, you sand it and then you can prime it and paint it. You can use auto-body putty for stuff like that, too. And you press it in there, let it dry. Again, sand it, paint it and you’re good to go.
But at this point, it sounds to me like this door has given you all the years of service it has to offer and I would think about getting a new door. And I would tell you specifically, Fran, to look at the new fiberglass entry doors that are out there, because they could look like a painted door or they could look like a beautiful, wood door. There’s lots of qualities of that fiberglass today where it looks pretty darn good. And the nice thing about it is it’s completely impervious to water and it’s five or six times more energy-efficient than wood.
FRAN: It does and thank you for talking with me. I appreciate it.
TOM: I hope that helps you out. Thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.
LESLIE: Alright. Now, we’re heading over to Iowa where Chad has a question about condensation on a bay window.
What’s going on, Chad?
CHAD: Hi. I have a – well, it’s a bay window that’s got the three windows. The center one is larger than the other two on the outside. And on the center one, I get a condensation problem in the – it’s kind of an oval shape directly in the center of that window. Can’t seem to figure out why it’s doing that.
TOM: So, Chad, is this window a thermal-pane window or a double- or triple-pane window?
CHAD: It is double-pane.
TOM: And the condensation, of course, is in between the panes of glass?
TOM: Yep. So what’s happened here is the seal between those panes of glass has failed and it’s allowed warm, moist air to get in there. So as – especially as it gets cold outside, you have that warm, moist air striking the cold glass on the exterior. And then as the air chills, it releases its moisture and it condenses, much as what would happen, say, in the summer if you were outside with a glass of iced tea or soda and you got moisture on the outside of the glass. That’s the condensation that you’re seeing.
Now, there’s not really a great solution here because once the window panes fail like that, you have to pretty much replace the entire window pane. Now, it’s possible that you could have a pro take this window apart and replace just that one section but it’s just not easy. If there is good news, it’s this: it’ll have a minor impact on your energy efficiency, so it’s mostly a cosmetic problem that you’re experiencing. So if you can live with the look, just live with it. It may get a little bit worse, it may get a little bit better depending on the temperature difference between outside and inside. But it’s not going to affect the window in any other way.
CHAD: Yeah. OK. I appreciate it.
TOM: Good luck with that project. Thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.
LESLIE: We’ve got Cindy in Michigan on the line who wants to talk about reducing energy costs. How can we help you?
CINDY: Is there a way to lower your electric bills by generating your own electricity? I’ve heard of solar panels and windmills and seems like they cost a lot of money to get them going. And I’m wondering, is it actually feasible, financially, to do something like that?
TOM: Yeah. Well, first of all, the most effective way to cut those energy costs – and especially if we’re talking about heating and cooling energy – is to improve the energy efficiency of your home. And the single most important way or easiest way to do that is by improving insulation. It’s amazing how many people simply don’t have enough insulation. And in a state like Michigan, you’re certainly going to want to have 15 to 20 inches of insulation in your attic.
Now, as to your question about generating your own power, there are some programs that are run by state governments and by utility suppliers that include different sorts of rebates and different sorts of purchase – I don’t want to say schemes but sort of plans for getting that equipment to your house.
So, for example, in my part of the country, they have offers where you don’t actually pay for the initial installation there. You partner with an energy company that does the installation of solar panels. And then, as it generates energy, you get to keep some of that and some of that goes back to the utility company and eventually, it pays off the cost of that installation. So I would investigate solar programs in your area and rebates that might be available. Start with the utility companies and go from there.
Because if there’s a favorable program, that’s the only way it makes them cost-effective. You are correct in that a lot of these things are very expensive and don’t make a lot of economic sense. But if there’s rebate money available – either locally, at the state level or federally – it does make sense.
CINDY: OK. So you would just call your energy company then?
TOM: I would start there, with your utility company, or simply do some research online for rebates that are available in your area. OK, Cindy?
CINDY: Alright. Thank you.
TOM: You’re very welcome. Good luck with that project.
LESLIE: Well, if you’re short on closet space, it’s a problem that faces you every single time you open the door, I mean if you can even close that door in the first place to then open it or if it’s not just springing open at you. Well, here’s a way that you can tackle a closet cleaning in less than an hour or two and it’s definitely going to do some good for your sanity at the same time.
First of all, empty it. And if you’re going to empty a closet, you’re probably going to need 3 hours. But I’m just saying, you’ve got to empty the closet. Because that’s always what happens to me. I empty it and then you want to do other stuff. So if you’re starting with a clean slate, that’s really the best way and it’s the only way that you’re going to be able to see what you want to keep, what you don’t want – is by looking at everything and then figuring out what that space is that you’ve got to work with.
And definitely, when you’re going through your clothes or whatever you keep in that space that you’re organizing, look at it. Is it something that you wear or use often? Then obviously, you’re going to keep it. If it’s something that you wear or use maybe once a year or it’s your skinny whatever or your, oh, just in case I need this, maybe you don’t need that. And that can free up a ton of space. So you definitely want to think about what you always use, what you kind of need to reconsider and what you definitely don’t. And then figure out if you’re donating that.
And then remember, if you’ve got somewhere else, like an attic or a space that you just don’t get to that often but it’s a something that you’re like, “Oh, I just can’t part with this; I may need it,” put it in that space where it’s not taking up valuable space of a spot you could get to every day.
TOM: Yeah. And finally, let’s talk about organization. If you’ve got a bit of a budget, you can buy closet organizers. Because remember, an organized closet is a really good selling point for potential buyers, as well. But even if you don’t buy an organizer, you need to figure out which items you use the most and make them the easiest to access. And once you’re done, you’ll have a pretty much fast and free. And once you’re finished, your closet will be once again perfectly organized and you can go ahead and mess it up right after that.
LESLIE: No. You always get a good week and then it’s a disaster again. Yeah.
TOM: Yeah. Sorry, the first week, you’re like, “Oh, this goes with the small clothes. This goes with the jewelry. My shoes go here.” And then a few days later, you’re like, “Ah, just throw it in there.”
LESLIE: Sparky in Georgia is on the line with a question about cleaning a bathroom. How can we help you today?
SPARKY: I live in a subdivision, about 65 employees out in the country. I actually test the water on a daily basis for the chlorine and report that at the end of the month to the local provider. I’ve got a two-bedroom house. In one bathroom, I’ve got no problem with the water in the tank or the bowl. In the master bedroom, I’ve got the bath where it’s got a black ring – water ring. And I’ve replaced the water line, the inside of the water tank, replaced the entire bowl and it continues to come up. Even after we clean the bowl, we still get that black water ring.
LESLIE: So you’re able to remove it but it comes back.
SPARKY: That’s correct.
TOM: And it only shows up on that bathroom and not others.
SPARKY: That’s correct. And the products that we’ve gotten from the – off the store shelf have not been able to help, either. And we’ve actually gone to the internet and it says the more chlorine you put in it, the more that black ring will come back. But we’ve cleaned the bath – both bathrooms with the same products.
TOM: Are the toilets the same age?
SPARKY: The same age, yes. I’ve called the water company and they said they don’t have a clue. And I said I’d sampled the water and tested it every day for the monthly reports.
TOM: I wonder if there’s something different about the porcelain finish on that toilet. For example, if it – if one toilet’s finish was – maybe it was scrubbed more over the years and as a result, it’s worn off some of its porcelain so it’s a bit more porous and becomes more of a trap for bacteria to kind of grow in. And I’m speculating here. I’m kind of shooting from the hip, Sparky, because I know that you’ve tried all of the – all the sort of normal things. But it’s confusing that it happens just in this one particular bathroom with this one particular toilet.
I guess, given everything that you’ve done, have you considered just replacing the toilet and seeing if that does it?
SPARKY: Well, that we’ve done. In fact, I’ve got to go back and – you may be onto something. Because one bowl is round, which is the one issue that we’ve got. The other bathroom is oblong. So they work – same manufacturer but two different bowls.
TOM: That would be the only thing that seems left, because you’ve done everything else.
SPARKY: I was just wondering if there was some product on the market, other than Coca-Cola.
TOM: Yeah. Look, there’s a lot of products that clean this but it’s not going to stop it from coming back. The go-to product for me is CLR. Have you used that yet?
SPARKY: No, I have not.
TOM: So that’s an old standby. Take a look at CLR Calcium – it stands for Calcium, Lime and Rust. It basically is the – one of the best toilet-bowl cleaners out there. Inexpensive. And give that a shot. But if it continues to develop that issue, I might consider replacing the toilet if it’s really bothersome. Either that or get one of those Ty-D-Bol men with the blue dye so you just don’t notice it.
SPARKY: Correct. Yeah, there you go. Thank you very much.
TOM: Alright, Sparky. Thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.
LESLIE: Laura in South Carolina, you’ve got The Money Pit. How can we help you today?
LAURA: We have a deck on the back of our house that we, about 2 years ago, put a product on it that makes it like an anti-slip texture? And the coating is starting to chip off in big chunks, so we were thinking about using that DECKOVER or OVERDECK, I think it’s called?
And when we were at Home Depot, we noticed that they have something else that was an option. They’re actually foot-squared tiles. They’re like a thick rubber that you actually use a glue to adhere onto the deck and then you cover your deck that way. My concern is if you apply that onto the deck, will that rot the wood?
TOM: Well, Laura, I’m not familiar with rubber tiles but there are polypropylene tiles or plastic tiles or composite tiles that are on the market that are designed to cover old decks. And the way these work is they sit on top of the deck boards and they usually lock together. And some of them are quite attractive. There’s a product called Coverdeck that comes in dozens of different colors and shapes and designs that could look really neat. And it’s not going to be slippery and it’s going to look great.
I am concerned if you’re gluing something down to the wood deck, I agree that something like rubber glued to wood is bound to let some water underneath and it’s certainly not going to evaporate. These composite tiles or the plastic tiles usually have a bit of space under them which allows the wood to breathe and dry out. And then really, that’s the issue: if you hold water against it, you will get decay.
So I would take a look at some of the tile products that allow you to cover these decks and probably avoid anything that’s rubbery that you’re going to glue down.
LAURA: OK. So the glue is OK as long as there’s a gap or some sort of gap between the wood?
TOM: It’s OK to cover it as long as there’s air space so it dries out.
LAURA: OK, perfect. Alright. Thank you.
LESLIE: Well, if you’re interested in making your home more efficient, the first step is to have a home energy assessment. Now, a home energy assessment or “audit,” as you may sometimes hear it called, is a way to measure your home’s energy efficiency and find out where you can make improvements to better it.
TOM: Now, to be valuable, energy assessments need to be thorough and they need to be done properly. Now, most of the time, pros do these inspections in person but because of COVID concerns, remote energy assessments have become more popular. And in a remote assessment, you basically walk through the house with your tablet or your smartphone, while the assessor is online with you, and then basically will be directed by the assessor to look at all of the areas that will part of that inspection.
LESLIE: “Show me the corner. Show me the – this.” You’re just going to be running around your house. But it really is a great way you can do it.
Now, you can also do your own sort of DIY home energy assessment. The Department of Energy offers a walkthrough checklist on Energy.gov that will guide you through the process. And while it might not be as thorough as some of the professional home energy assessments out there, it can pinpoint some of the easier areas that you can address.
TOM: Yeah. But you know what? Whether you hire a pro or you do it yourself, starting any energy-efficiency upgrades first with a home assessment makes a lot of sense. You’ll be glad you did because you’ll know that whatever improvement you choose to do is the most important one to save energy and save money and increase comfort in your home.
LESLIE: Jack in Nebraska is on the line with a flooring question. How can we help you?
JACK: I want to put a new floor in my basement. And I – somebody has told me that some of these new engineered-wood products, like the snap-together floors, they said that some of those are OK for a basement application. Now, is there any truth to that?
TOM: It’s absolutely true. Now, just keep in mind that when it comes to wood flooring, there is prefinished wood flooring, which is solid, and that’s not rated for a basement. And then there is prefinished wood flooring, which is engineered.
Now, engineered flooring is essentially made up of many layers of wood. It’s a bit like plywood in that you have different layers glued together at opposing angles. Except with the engineered-wood flooring, the top layer is hardwood and it looks just like solid hardwood. In fact, once it’s down, you really can’t tell the difference. And because it’s made up of different layers that are glued together at opposing angles, it’s dimensionally stable and it can be exposed to moisture or humidity, like you have in the basement, without swelling and cracking and splitting.
And so, yes, engineered-wood flooring is a perfect choice for a basement. And if you want another option, you could look at laminate floor, also modular in the sense that it locks together. And laminate flooring comes in many, many, many different types of sizes and shapes and colors. In fact, I saw some reclaimed lumber-looking laminate floor recently at a big trade show that was just spectacular. It really looked like the original wood floor.
So, lots of options there for basement flooring. Just don’t go with solid.
JACK: OK. Well, you answered my question. Thank you very much.
TOM: You’re welcome, Jack. Thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.
LESLIE: Post your questions or write in at MoneyPit.com. And we’ve got one from Marianne who says, “I have plaster walls in my house and they’ve got cracks. I try to fix the cracks with paper tape and nylon wall tape but the cracks keep coming back through the mudding. How can I fix them permanently?”
TOM: Plaster cracks are pretty typical. When the plaster is first installed, it’s troweled through a lath and the lath’s made of wood. And it gets behind the lath and that’s kind of how it gets held to the wall. But over time, it will loosen. And as that settlement occurs, it will sort of separate from the lath. And that’s why simply just trying to cover the crack with a coat of plaster or a coat of spackle is not going to work. What you have to first do is secure that loose plaster and there are a couple of ways to do that.
One of them is called a plaster washer. Which, think of it – it’s kind of like, if you know what a fender washer is, it’s like a really big circle with a small hole. It’s kind of like that but it’s made out of plastic. And you essentially drill it into the seam, into the crack and that basically holds that plaster tight against the wood lath. And then once it’s secured in place, then you can put tape and spackle on top of it and you’ve got a pretty good chance of it staying that way. But just spackling over that when it’s plaster – it’s just so loose because it’s moving away from the wood lath behind it. That’s not going to work.
LESLIE: Alright. Now, we’ve got a post here from Sarah in New York who writes: “I want to know what I should be using to caulk around the tub where the porcelain meets the tiles: silicone or latex? I’ve heard the two don’t mix so if I already have one type, should I stay with the same?”
TOM: Well, you don’t want to put a second layer of either of them on top of each other. And I wouldn’t even put a second layer if it was the same. In other words, if I knew it was silicone, I wouldn’t put a second layer of silicone on it. You always want to take all the old caulk out and start from scratch.
Now, if you have a hard time doing that, there is a product that’s called a “caulk softener.” It’s kind of like – it’s the caulk version of paint remover, where basically you apply it to the caulk and it will soften it and make it easier for you to kind of scrape it all out. But get it out and then wipe that whole joint down with a bleach solution: maybe one part bleach, three parts water. Let it dry and then recaulk it. You can use a latex caulk, you can use a silicone caulk. But if you go latex, make sure it has mildicide in it so it doesn’t grow mold.
LESLIE: Alright. I hope that helps you out.
TOM: Well, if you’re like most of us, there are probably some areas of your home that are just not lit very well. And having said that, good lighting is really important. Not only will it make your home look bigger, it can also be a lot safer. Leslie has got some tips on how you can step up that lighting, in today’s edition of Leslie’s Last Word.
LESLIE: First of all, in your living and reading areas, you obviously need plenty of floor lamps and table lamps. But you just want to make sure that those lamps point toward the activity and not toward you.
Now, one area where direct lighting is super important is the kitchen. If you have one main overhead light source, you might want to consider adding additional pendant fixtures above the work surfaces and then even task lights mounted under the cabinets.
Now, if you have a room that’s tough to fill with natural light, like maybe you only have one window, an easy fix there is to place mirrors in strategic places. And that’s going to help bounce the light around the room but also make the room feel a bit larger.
And if somebody in your family has vision problems, you can take advantage of high-contrast colors. So you want to put a dark switch plate on a light wall and choose bright colors for the furniture and accessories.
If you want some more easy lighting tips, head on over to MoneyPit.com and we can help you out there.
TOM: This is The Money Pit Home Improvement Show. Coming up next time on the program, do you have a room where maybe the wallpaper stands between you and a good fix-up? Wallpaper is tough to remove but we’re going to share some tips to make it a lot quicker and easier, on the next edition of The Money Pit.
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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