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Dishonest Waterproofing Company

I'm selling my house. The buyer had a mold remediation specialist in to check for mold. They are also a waterproofing company. We subsequently got slapped with a report that stated we had an ongoing water problem in basement, and that a full french drain system is needed (we already have a french drain leading to a sump pump - no mold found btw, and the original inspection said the basement was dry). I will be speaking with the waterproofing company soon. What questions can I ask to make sure the company clearly articulates the issue and reason for suggested remediation?

Our Answer

This scenario has conflict of interest written all over it!  First off, you are dealing with one of the most disreputable groups of contractors in the remodeling industry. Waterproofing company contractors ALWAYS recommend expensive solutions to wet basement problems that are almost always easily fixed with simple improvements to grading and gutter drainage.   And they do so by panic peddling an expensive solution, that is almost never needed.  They'll tell you your home will essentially collapse underfoot unless your get out your checkbook -- and fast.   

More recently, this slippery sub-section of the home improvement industry have also declared themselves "mold experts" which is rarely the case.  If pressed, I'd be shocked if they could produce any credible example of a certification, license, or degree that would truly qualify them as mold remediation experts.

In your case, it's even worse since it sounds very much like they are declaring a problem where none may exist. Plus, the solution they suggest is already installed!

My recommendation is to push back - hard - with the buyer. Let them know sending a contractor with a clear conflict-of-interest to proclaim a problem that will enrich their pockets isn't going to fly, especially when the very solution they recommend is already installed and where their own home inspector reported the basement as dry.  Tell them if they want to send in a State licensed structural engineer to do a proper inspection and submit a report signed and sealed by that engineer, you'll consider your options.  But otherwise, I'd refuse to do anything and find another buyer. 

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floor, cleaning, dust

Why Is My House Always Dusty?

When I dust my house in the evening, everything is covered again by the next morning.  Could the problem be stemming from the heat pump system? We've had the unit thoroughly cleaned inside and out, to no avail.

Our Answer

Consider upgrading or adding filters to your HVAC system to reduce the dust problem and improve air quality.  Filtrete makes a range of filters customizable to various issues from excess dust to allergies. However, your best solution - albeit a more expensive one - is an electronic air cleaner that can remove even virus-sized particles from the air.  It's mounted on a return duct and protects your home from mold and pollen - and will do a number on that dust!

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electric wire, fire

How Can I Test for Bad Wires?

I recently lost power to two rooms in my house. I've checked for those little switches above the electrical outlets, but there aren't any in my home.  I spoke to a relative who had me test a few things, and he said there is a bad wire somewhere in the wiring.  I would hire an electrician but we're trying to save money right now, so I'd rather do this myself.  Is there a device i can use to test the wiring in the house to find this bad wire?  Better yet, how should I go about doing this?

Our Answer

There's a reason electricians work for several years before earning their licenses: Electrical work is hazardous, especially in a situation like yours where you're trying to find a needle in a haystack. So while I understand your desire to save money by making this a DIY project, this is not the kind of undertaking I recommend trying on your own.  However, one simple thing you can do before calling a pro is pick up an outlet tester.  Outlet testers are inexpensive, and will let you know whether at least your outlets are wired correctly.  As for determining where that disconnect is, that's gonna take some detective work.

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EVP, floor, bathroom, laminate

What’s the Best Bathroom Flooring?

What is the best kind of laminate flooring to use in a bathroom?

Our Answer

Hey Karen, that's a great question. There have been many changes in laminate flooring over the last few years with one being that more and more laminate is now designed for wet locations like bathrooms.  That said, even water-resistant laminate is not capable of taking a prolonged soaking. The good news is that there are several other new and equally affordable options to consider.  

Engineered Vinyl Plank: Waterproof, kid-proof, pet-proof! Engineered vinyl plank (EVP) has a vinyl veneer with a rigid PVC core which makes it even easier to install. Plus the designs it is available in look as much like wood as the real thing.

Click Ceramic Plank: Whether your master bathroom is ready for a remodel or your kitchen needs a makeover, NEW Click Ceramic Plank (CCP) is ideal for any room in your home! These quick-locking ceramic based planks are easy to install – no grout or mortar needed. CCP is great for DIYers and the easy maintenance is a bonus.

These new vinyl and ceramic products look so much like the real thing, I'd skip laminate for a bathroom space and consider them instead.

Tom Kraeutler

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mosquito, trap

Best Bug Repellars?

Have you had any experience with electric ultra sonic bug repellers? If so do they work well for bug infestations?

Our Answer

I've never heard good things about so called "sonic" bug repellers of any kind.  Over the last two years however, I have become a very big fan of the DynaTrap Insect Trap.  Our home is located adjacent to wetlands where mosquitoes are very prevalent. Over the last two years I have used DynaTrap, we hardly had a single bite!

DynaTrap works differently than other mosquito products.  It emits a UV light that draws bugs close, and then CO(irresistible to mosquitoes) is released by the photo-catalytic reaction of Titanium Dioxide treated surfaces and UV-Light. Finally, a fan captures the insects and draws them into a screened in basket where they literally pile up.  If you get one, here's a tip -- plug it in and leave it on 24/7. Over time, it actually decreases the mosquito population, making it even more effective.

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gas stove, range, cooking

Electric to Gas Stove: Good Return on Investment?

We currently have an old electric stove and we are not sure if we should add a gas line and put in a gas stove. Would there be a good return on investment? Or, are electric stoves now more energy efficient and have more benefits than before?

Our Answer

Converting an electric to gas stove will result in a lower operating cost by about 26%, according to some gas conversion estimates, but like most things, its not that simple.  When factoring in the cost of a new gas stove appliance, it would take many, many years for any real savings to occur.  That said, since the electric stove is old and would need to be replaced soon anyway, now would be a good time to make the switch.

Other benefits would include reduced CO2 emissions and more precise control of your cooking temperature.  Plus, there may be rebates available from your local utility company.  My suggestion would be to contact the utility company next, and ask both about the rebates, as well as any costs to run the gas line to your home.  In my experience, so long as you are installing at least one gas appliance, there would be little to no charge from the utility company for hooking you up -- plus now you'll have another fuel option to consider when it comes time to replace your water heater or furnace too.

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dryer, duct, lint, fan

Dryer Duct Too Long

Recently bought my first house. Went to install my dryer and the duct has about 2 inches of lint all the way through it. There is about 60 feet of rigid and flex duct with a blower in the middle. My home inspector said the blowers are illegal due to the fire hazard. I want to avoid the fire hazard of the blower. At Home Depot I found a possible solution that is just 4 feet of flex duct that empties into a bucket that you put an inch of water into. However lint still goes everywhere and I've heard stories of the condensation caused by this causing mold. My dryer is located in the utility room in the basement and duct work runs along the ceiling and out the back of the house. There is no where else to move my dryer. What are your thoughts?

Our Answer

The dryer duct configuration you describe definitely sounds unsafe.  Dryers should be ducted via the shortest distance possible and through rigid ducting, with as few turns as possible.  Adding a booster fan is a possible solution but I'd make this a last resort.  Dryer duct booster fans are specialized fans designed to turn on and off with the dryer itself.  Ducting the vent into a pail of water is not a solution as the heat and humidity will be uncomfortable at best, and can also raise your energy bills and allow mold to grow.  Given everything you said, I'd look for another location for the washer and dryer.  Keep in mind that full sized-machines can also be stacked with the dryer placed on top of the washer to save space.

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Interior Painting Preparation: Three Steps to a Beautiful Finish

I'm about to tackle my first interior painting project and don't want to wind up with the same rough-looking results I've seen in other homes. What painting preparation steps do I need to take to make sure my interior painting project turns out well?

Our Answer

There are several interior painting preparation steps you'll need to take to make sure your painting project comes out perfectly, starting with preperation.  Many interior painting projects that have turned out badly are the result of a lack of interior painting preparation.  Too many times first-time painters get so excited about the new paint color that they skip over the "boring" parts of a proper paint job.

Here are the three basic interior painting preparation steps:

  1. Clean all surfaces. The first step in proper interior painting preparation is to scrub away any accumulations of smoke, oil and grime that can keep paint from adhering. Use liquid sandpaper to remove buildup from trim, and wash walls down with a TSP (trisodium phosphate) solution, available at most home centers and hardware stores. Tip: Apply the solution with a sponge-head floor mop for an easier reach and avoidance of ladder catastrophes.
  2. Smooth everything out. Once cleaned surfaces are completely dry, you'll need to smooth them out. This is where a lot of the painting preparation work happens, so don't skimp or get lazy with the details, because the new paint won't hide them. Fill all holes and cracks, followed by a thorough allover sanding and removal of the resulting dust. Then grab a really strong flashlight and hold it against and parallel to the wall to check your work. As the light bounces over the repaired area, you'll be able to see exactly how the surface will look when sunshine hits it. If this test reveals unsightly details, go back and smooth them before packing up the sander.
  3. Mask marvelously. Finally, you'll need to mask off everything you don't want painted and carefully create a clean edge for every coat of paint. For this preparation step, apply painter's tape along trim and glass edges, and use it in combination with plastic sheeting or masking paper to cover fixtures that can't be moved and large surface areas to be left out of the equation. Also remove switch and socket plates (followed by a bit of tape over remaining switches and plugs) and all possible hardware. Also important to your interior painting preparation is make sure the room temperature is below 90 degrees and above 55 so that paint goes on smoothly. Then begin the primer application, cutting in around edges and then filling in surfaces. After the primer is dry, apply your new paint shade in two rounds for a durable, beautiful finish that reflects the proper preparation you've put into your painting project.
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radon, radon gas

Where Should My Radon Vent End?

I just discovered that the radon vent in my two-year-old home ends in the attic, above the bedrooms. It is not vented to the outdoors. Is this okay? Thanks, Jan

Our Answer

Over the last several years, builders have been required to rough in radon mitigation systems in new homes.  This way, should high levels of radon be discovered, it's not too difficult to complete the installation of the radon vent.

That pipe you describe sounds like it was installed for that purpose. If a radon test revealed high levels of radon gas,  it would be connected to a fan and then extended through the roof to the outdoors.  The fan would pull the radon gas from under your basement floor to the home's exterior to keep you safe. 

How can you be sure your shouldn't be a functional radon mitigation system?   I recommend picking up one or two charcoal adsorpotion canisters, and follow the directions for testing.  Generally these are left in the lowest living area of the home for period of 2-7 days, then sent to a third party lab for analysis.  If radon levels exceed 4 picoCuries per liter of air, then completing that radon mitigation system would be warranted.

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gas grill, grill cleaning

Gas Grill Cleaning Tips

After a couple of months of heavy grilling, my gas grill needs an extreme makeover of its own. Do you any tips for a mid season grill cleaning?

Our Answer

The same char broiling grill action that flavors ribs, chicken, steaks and burgers all summer long can really cause problems if you don't stop and do a thorough grill cleaning once in a while. Here's what to do:

  1. Soak the grids in hot, soapy water and clean them with a nylon scrubbing pad. If the grids are really encrusted, use oven cleaner in a well ventilated area and rinse clean.
  2. Remove the lava rock or ceramic briquettes and clean them with a wire brush, replacing any that are deteriorated. Remove the burner, brush it clean and check carefully for cracks, split seams or holes. If any are found, the burner should be immediately replaced.
  3. Check all the rubber gas hoses for cracks and replace any that show the slightest sign of wear.
  4. Once the grill cleaning is complete, you are ready to put the grill back together and check all gas connections for leaks. To do this safely, mix a 50/50 solution of liquid dishwashing soap and water. Brush the solution on all gas connections and watch for bubbles. If any are seen, the connection is leaking and should be fixed before firing the grill.

Now that you know how to clean the grill, the only thing to do is help make it dirty again! So, here's a recipe for a great barbecue sauce that Leslie likes to whip up. This is the messiest sauce out there but it is so worth it. It works on flank steak, chicken, ribs, or just about anything else you can grill.

Ingredients:

  • 32oz bottle of ketchup
  • 3 tablespoons garlic salt
  • 1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 1/4 cup honey

Mix well in a bowl and marinate for at least three hours or overnight. Use extra sauce to brush on during grilling.  

Then, see the above gas grill cleaning instructions again!

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Is Vapor Barrier Needed in Crawl Space?

I recently bought a home  built in 1991. It is a fine home that sits on a hill. I discovered that there is no vapor barrier on the ground in the crawl space. I do not notice any resulting problems, but the first floor feels cold to my bare feet even though there is insulation under the floor.

Should I add a vapor barrier, and if so, why?

Our Answer

Vapor barriers reduce humidity in the crawlspace as they greatly reduce the amount of moisture that can evaporate off the soil floor of the crawlspace.  This reduces the risk of mold and decay framing on the floor framing, and further improves the effectiveness of your insulation which works best at lower humidity levels.  

That said, its not likely this will make your floor feel warm to bare feet!  For that you'd need to improve the make sure the floor joist have as much insulation as they can handle (2x12 floor joist should have 12 inches of insulation, for example).  Also, crawlspaces traditionally have foundation vents that can let cold air in, which helps dry the space out.  Those can be closed for the 3 or 4 coldest months (maybe November or December to February).  Just make sure they are opened for the rest of the year. 

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central air conditioning systems, HVAC

How Can I Tell if my AC is Leaking Freon?

What is the better way to check a freon leak - a dye test, or an electronic device? I have had about five pounds of freon leak over the past nine months. My home warranty plan refuses to send out another company to check for the leak using the dye test.  They say "wait 60 days & see if the leak can be found."  What do you suggest?

Our Answer

First off, you're not the best person to be searching for a refrigerant leak - which, by the way, may or may not be freon depending on the age of your AC compressor. 

Rather than check for actual leakage, check for performance.  Here's how:

Measure the temperature of the air inside the house at a return duct, then measure it at a supply duct nearest to the air handler.  If the system is performing normally, you should read a 12 - 20 degree differential.  If the differential is less than twelve, you're well within your right to demand repair. 

As far as your home warranty company's refusal to address this problem, this is unfortunately somewhat typical, and I can only suggest you be very persistent with them, and always ask to discuss the matter with a supervisor.  Good luck!

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Best Way to Install a Dryer Vent

Hey guys,   I having a hard time installing the dryer vent tube. The inlet/outlet wont't line up and I end squishing the vent tube up against the wall.  I know this is restricting airflow. There has to be a better way. What products/methods can you recommend? Thanks in advanced. I love the show!

Our Answer

You're right Mike.  Getting the dryer vent connection right is far more important than most people know, and for several reasons. First off, its important for safety.  Dirty dryer ducts are a leading cause of house fires.  Plus, the longer the dryer has to work to vent that moisture, the more energy it burns up in the process, not to mention the increased wear and tear on the clothes as they tumble around a lot longer than they need to.  

It sound's like you've tried the straight forward approach of snaking the vent behind the machine, but the key here is (and as you've observed) to do this without crushing the vent. In fact, you want to do this with as few bends and turns as possible.  Every 90 degree turn, provide the same resistance as 20 additional feet of duct run, so the fewer twists and turns the better.  Here's a couple ideas that might help.

  1. Take a look at the layout of the dryer exhaust inside your house. What happens when that duct gets into the wall?  Can it be changed for easier access?  There are a number of prefabricated ducted dryer exhaust configurations that can help. In some cases, it may be smart to cut open the wall to adjust the position or re-run the duct completely.
  2. Look at the dryer.  Many can be easily modified so that the exhaust ducts out the side, instead of the back. When I remodeled my laundry room a couple years ago, I did just that. Now, instead of the duct taking two turns and then running 20 feet under my son's bedroom, it goes all of 18 inches out the side of the dryer and through the exterior wall. Our clothes have never dried faster!
  3. Once you have the ducting set, be sure to keep it clean. Cleaning a dryer vent is easy if you have a right tool. Now that I have a short exhaust duct run, its not as critical but before that, I used an inexpensive dryer duct cleaning tool called the Gardus Lint Eater. It is a series of flexible piping that link together and has a big brush on the end.  It snakes its way through your dryer venting system and will get rid of all of those dangerous lint bunnies lurking in the dryer vent.  

Lastly, it is also important to replace plastic or vinyl dryer ducts with metal duct material, which is sturdy, making it easier to clean your dryer vents.

Hope this helps!

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attic insulation, floor

What’s the Best Way to Add Attic Insulation to a Floored Attic?

Hi Money Pit!  I have a pine board floor in my attic.  The attic has a walk-up staircase and 2x10 joists, so it's meant to store lots of stuff.  The old attic insulation is minimal, probably wool, but in fair condition.  I would like to add more insulation, either batts or blown-in.  I'm considering removing the flooring and adding 2x4s across, but I think that would mean I have to do blown-in insulation.  I prefer batts because it would allow me to do the attic in stages without having to rent a machine several times. The flooring will of course be put back after.  What do you recommend?

Our Answer

You're wise to tackle this home improvement project. Attics offer the greatest potential for home energy savings, and also happen to be the easiest area to improve.

Whichever insulation material you choose for this space, make sure to maintain proper attic ventilation. It'll protect insulation from the dampness of wintertime condensation, which can cut insulating power by one third and introduce a host of structure-threatening moisture problems.

Now, in terms of your specific project, you have the right idea: You have to resist the urge to overstuff those 2x10 bays with insulation.  Insulation works on the principle of trapped air, so if a space is too compressed or overstuffed, the insulation benefits are reduced or even eliminated. You asked about batts versus blown-in insulation, but I recommend a third option: spray foam insulation.  

I insulated my own (older) home with spray-foam insulation recently, and it drastically decreased my monthly utility costs.  Specifically, I used Icynene Spray Foam Insulation, which you can install in one step.  Icynene is formed through mixture of two components—ISO and resin—which react and expand to create tiny bubbles in the plastic matrix that fill and insulate the space.  Check out our Money Pit Guide to Insulation for my complete Icynene story. Good luck, and let us know how it goes!

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greenhouse, flowers

Greenhouse: Can Building be Moved to New Location?

I bought a house and the seller subdivided the land. There is a green house which sits on both properties. The green house needs to be removed. Is there anyone that you can recommend that will move the green house onto my property? I've called around and been unsuccessful reaching anyone that will move it.

Our Answer

I can understand why you are having trouble locating someone to move your greenhouse. Moving a structure is a difficult task in the best of circumstances, but when the structure is a greenhouse, it would seem even more so. To move any building, it has to be first be reinforced to prevent "sway" which is what would happen if the building were to move side to side. The weakest part of any wall are the openings and since greenhouses are mostly glass, I'd imagine that moving it would be extremely difficult or even if it could be moved, perhaps even more costly than building a new one from scratch.  A lot of this would also depend on how the building was initially constructed. For example, if this was a greenhouse built on a concrete slab, it really has no floor structure that's a part of it so you'd really only be moving the walls, which again, might not even be possible.

Plus, dont forget that the new building or new location would need to meet current zoning laws, which would dictate where on your property the building could be located, or even IF you can add the building at all.

When you bought the house, this issue should have been discovered and disclosed by the company that did your survey.  If it wasn't, that's a big problem and I'd speak with an attorney about what options you may have. Discovering that a building falls across two property lines is exactly the kind of issue a survey should discover and disclose.

Given the above, you might want to simply consider building a new green house using one of the many available and affordable green house kits.