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Window Replacement Cost

I have condensation issues and was advised by an inspector that I did indeed need new windows. Andersen gave me a quote of $8000 for five windows and two doors. Should I look for another quote or is this somewhat in line with other reputable window people. Is it wise to put this much $$ into my older home from the 50's?  Seems to me I do need to maintain my home, but it certainly is pricey to do so. What do you think? Judy

Our Answer

According to the 2017 Cost vs. Value report done by the National Association of Realtors and Remodeling Magazine, installing vinyl replacement windows in your home returns just under 75% of their cost if the home is sold.  That's a pretty good return on investment, regardless of the home's age.  That said, the window replacement cost estimate you received of $1,600 per window sounds very high.   I'd suggest using a service like Home Advisor to find a local, highly rated pro, and seek competitive estimates.  Andersen makes a good window but there are many others to consider, that are well made, but perhaps not as well known.  I'd also check your local Home Depot as they sell a very good quality replacement window, the prices are fair and installation is usually available.

Also, remember that you are looking for "replacement" windows, not "new construction" windows.  These are designed to fit inside the frame of the old window and are less expensive, as well as easier to install.   

Lastly, if the condensation you report is what is forming between the glass panes of the old windows, that is the result of a failed seal and while it can be unsightly, doesn't impact the windows efficiency at a level worth spending $8,000 to fix.

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How to Remove Photos Stuck to Glass

I have photos of my childrens' baby pictures that have stuck to the glass of the frame. How can I get the photos out without ruining them?

Our Answer

Wow that is one sticky problem!  The answer really depends on what type of photo you are trying to remove.  Surprisingly, the older the photos, the easier it may be to solve this problem and remove stuck photos from glass.

For more info, we turned to expert Michael Berry, a professional photographer whose work Tom has admired for years.  Michael says that images in older black and white photos may be easier to remove.  The gelatin (coating) or emulsion on the paper surface suspends silver halides on the paper base and creates an image when struck by light and processed in chemistry. 

The silver gelatin is key.  A photo lab may be able to immerse the picture in a wetting agent, such as Kodak's Photo Flo 200 and get the image to separate from the glass. If the photo and glass are soaked in the wetting agent and it is in fact a fiber-based print, the Photo Flo will be able to penetrate the papers' backing, soften the gelatin surface and release it from the glass. If this is done successfully, you can swab the print dry, lay it on a paper towel (less texture is better) face down, place another paper towel on top and then fold a bathroom towel so it covers the print and acts as a weight to keep it from curling.

The downside to the silver gelatin exercise is what caused the print to stick to the glass in the first place. A gelatin print in the wrong environment (damp) and contacting the glass, can act just like a Petri dish. Molds love to make their homes on old photographs improperly stored. That includes framed ones.

If molds are part of what's causing this bond, then they will be deeply embedded into the print surface and cause permanent damage. Now, if the photos are a newer black and white or color print, there's really no way to remove the photo without damaging it. These photographs use a synthetic resin (plastic) as their suspension vehicle for the emulsion. Once the photo sticks to glass, it's pretty well fused for good. A wetting agent won't work here because it can't penetrate the plastic and release the print from the glass. 

As a default, photo labs will use "RC papers" or Resin Coated papers since they were created for use in processing machines. The only chance you may have of saving the stuck photo is to lift one corner and very gently use a single-edged razor and slowly work the print and glass apart. 

Or if you'd rather not chance any of this, remember that you can always buy new glass for the picture frame and make the old glass a permanent part of the photos you are trying to preserve!

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Floor plan layout question

We're planning on remodeling our home and have been working on the plans for that.
I have a 1920s American Foursquare home and I'm stuck on what to do with the kitchen and bathroom layouts. In every house I can remember being in, the kitchen faces the back yard. But because of the way this one was added on to, I can't really make that work if I want a full bathroom on the first floor.

What do you think of this layout change? Any suggestions?

Our Answer

I like the plan changes you've proposed.  Most American Four Square homes are pretty boxy and the open floor plan will be a delightful surprise to your visitors and provide plenty of room to spread out.  

I would however, suggest that you give further thought to the rear entrance configuration. It seems like the rear foyer could be better utilized as a true "mud room" perhaps by incorporating storage cubbies along one wall and a row of hooks for coats on the other.  

Between the rear foyer and the laundry room, the wall has room to slide one way or the other. I'd think through this as you have many possibilities for storage and organization, including inside the laundry room where you might consider a built-in folding table, fold down ironing board and cabinets for storage of detergent and related supplies.

Best of luck with the project - I'm sure it will be amazing!

Tom Kraeutler

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Ceiling Fans for Heating and Cooling

What direction should the blades turn during warm months and cold months? I was always told that the blades push the air down during warm months and pull air up during cold months.

Our Answer

Most people don't know that you can use a ceiling fan in both the winter and summer months.  During the winter, set your ceiling fan to turn clockwise to move rising warm air, down into your room. When the weather heats up, set the fan to turn counter-clockwise for a cooling breeze.  

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Converting Bath to Laundry Room: Good Idea?

I have a two bath house and I'd love to have a laundry room closer to my kitchen.  Presently there's a bathroom just across the hall that would make a great space for this.  Should I give up that bathroom and convert it to a laundry room?  There's another full bath down the hall that we can use and I'm really tired of seeing the clothes pile up in the hallways.

Other than adding on to the house there is no where else to put a laundry room.

Our Answer

I understand your frustration but training the kids to not let laundry pile up in that hall is probably your best bet for a number of reasons. The biggest reason is this: home value is determined in part by the number of bathroom and bedrooms you have in the home.  If you eliminate a bathroom, your home value will go down, and probably by a lot.  Also, if you are in a development of similar homes, and you have the one with a single bath, you may even have a much harder time finding a buyer.  You home may end up being the "odd man out" so to speak and even though it would cost less than neighboring homes, many home buyers won't even consider it.

I'd stick with the current layout you have now and perhaps invest in some better laundry room organization, and a stern talk with the kids about where that laundry belongs aside from the hallway!

Tom Kraeutler

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Should I Replace My Roof Before Adding Solar Panels?

I have asphalt shingles on my home that are 30 years old.  I have no leaks - just some moss/mildew on the current shingles as I live in a moist environment (Hawaii).  I am considering putting solar panels on the roof and have been advised to re-roof beforehand due to the roof's age.

The roofer I consulted advised me that I could save money by simply covering the existing shingles with a layer of new asphalt shingles.  Is this advisable? What do you suggest?

Our Answer

Congratulations on adding solar to your home!  Especially in a tropical area of intense sun like the one where you live, you'll certainly take advantage of all the power you'll collect.  That said, given the fact that your roof is 30 years old, it is extremely wise to replace it as opposed to simply adding a second layer of shingles.  Remove and replace the existing roof entirely.  By adding a second layer, you'll only accelerette deterioration - and replacing that roof becomes an even bigger headache once the solar panels are installed.  Good luck!

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Attic Moisture: Mold in Attic

I have moisture in my attic. I have rusted nails through my sheathing and it looks like mold is starting to form.

I have soffit and continuous ridge ventilation, and the bathroom and kitchen vents are vented to the outside. What can I do?

Our Answer

Moisture in the attic oftentimes can be frustrating.  More so when you have provided what is considered all the right things in ventilation and exhaust installs.

To understand why this is happening you must figure out what the moisture source is.  It has been my experience when issues such as yours has come up that the moisture source is coming from the inside living area of the home and is being drawn into the attic through was is called Stack Effect.

Stack Effect is the result of poor air sealing both in the basement and in the attic combined. Believe it or not, the basement has a lot to do with the performance of the attic vent system.   What happens is as the air in the house is warmed up it rises. Much like a chimney.  When this happens it moves up taking indoor moisture with it.  I am sure you or someone you know has a home that suffers from dry air in winter months?  This is all caused by air moving out of the home. When we think this air is moving out of the walls, and it is, most is going up and out through the roof.  The result is the moisture condenses on the colder areas of the attic. The nails and the area closest to the ceiling which is around the soffit locations.  As the air move up in the middle of the attic it tends to cool down and mix with the air in the attic and is drawn out through the vents.  But when it enters near the soffit it hits the cold roof before it mixes with the air in the attic and condenses.  This is why in most cases we find the attic stained near the soffit areas. But quite often then not we blame the soffit area for pulling in the damp air in that location.

In any case we need to stop the air flow entering into the attic. This will stop the moisture flow and the result will be no moisture, no mold, and no rusted black stains where the nails enter into the attic.

To do this we must first find were the air is entering. This is easy.  If the attic has insulation, pull it up wherever there is a wall below. This can be the outside wall area or where any wall that makes up a room below is located.  Look at the insulation. If its fiberglass you will see black stains in the fibers.  This is dust.  This dust is the result of air movement with the fiberglass acting like a filter. This is a sure fire method of finding exactly were the air is entering.  You will find it wherever wires enter into the attic, plumbing pipes, chimney come up and out. And even around the access hatch or staircase is placed. 

To fix this you need to purchase spray foam insulation.  I use the window and door type as it is a little less foamy then the regular stuff.  The standard foam in can expands way to much and can get a bit messy wen working with it.  In anycase, regardless of what foam you purchase, you need to pull up insulation and foam both sides of the exposed board that is the top plate of the wall below. Any wire openings you need to do the same thing. Plumbing as well.  When you get to the chimney you need to baffle this. Normally there is a fairly large space between the brick and the framing of the ceiling. This is done for fire protection. Purchase thin metal sheets and form and cut them to fit around the opening blocking off as much of the hole as you can.  Then using fire blocking foam.  Seal off the metal to the chimney and framing area.  Once done this would be a great time to add insulation while your up there.  But your not done yet.

Go to the basement and do the same thing. Purchase foam 2" boards and fit them into the mud sill area over the block foundation wall.  Using the high expansion foam (the messy kind) spray around the edges of the framing, place the precut foam boards into this space and foam them tight to the wood.  This will air seal the wall so no air moves up it towards the attic.  Foam all the pipe openings, wire openings and around the chimney in the same manner as you did in the attic.

Once done you not only will prevent this moisture from collecting in the attic on the underside of the roof, you will save a lot of heat and increase your comfort level by stopping drafts that pull the moisture out of the house.

In effect this is the same thing we do as Building Performance contractors  only using large foam machines instead of the little cans.

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Carpet Padding

What is the difference between Memory foam padding and Frothed polyurethane padding?

Our Answer

There's a whole lot to know about carpet padding!  Short answer to you question is that frothed padding is pretty dense and durable, but memory foam is kind of squishy.  That squishy foam may feel good on a mattress but for carpet, it doesn't support it well and all that extra flexing will cause more wear and tear on the carpet.

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Are Gutters Needed for Cottage in the Woods?

My contractor is building a small 2 bedroom and loft cottage in the woods with a very steep pitch roof. He is advising no gutters and that he will grade the area around the house and install a layer of river rock for drainage. Does this sound correct? The cottage is on a sealed foundation with  dehumidifier.

Thanks so much

Our Answer

This sounds like a lovely home! But as for your contractors advice, maybe no so lovely if you are on a basement. Gutters are critical and should not be left out. Gutters prevent many, many problems with a home, including preventing a leaking basement!

Grading the soil away for the home is correct.  River rock can be used as a top cover after that but only to prevent erosion, and not for "drainage."  Since the rock is porous, water will flow through and if the soil below is not properly graded, it will just force it to collect water, where it can weaken the foundation and also potentially flood the basement.

Tom Kraeutler


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Exterior Stucco

I am building a large outdoor grill island (84L x3 6H x 29w) for my patio. I have the fram built from galvanized stud type material and I have attached 1/2 inch cement board. I plan to tile the top surface and use some form of stucco material on all of the sides. Problem: I have never used any stucco before and the local home centers claim to not have stucco. The only product I have found is surface bonding cement by Quikrete. I believe that I can use the liquid coloring to tint the cement for my purpose and there is a fortifier that they carry as well that supposedly helps adhesion.

Question 1: Is the surface bonding cement combination that I described good for this project? Vertical adhesion, weathering, etc. Or is there a better product that I should use instead?

Question 2: What is the best technique to apply? I assume a trowel because I have poured/ finished concrete before, but please describe the "how to".

Thanks for your time.

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Installing Ceramic Tile Over Asbestos

Our new 1960s old home has a full basement but is unfinished. The previous owners had carpet down there but removed it due to a damp spring. After removal, they place 1/4 inch cement board, and did it without adhering it to the floor. I would like to utilize this cement board and install 12x12 ceramic tiles. After inspecting what was under neath the cement board, I found asbestos tile. How can I adhere the board to the floor l, without disturbing the asbestos? Glue? Hammer drill screws? Both ?

Our Answer

Adhering ceramic tile to a solid floor is really important and the assembly you describe gives me some concern.  The best approach would be to remove the cement board, properly remove the asbestos tile, and then adhere the ceramic tile to the original floor.

A less expensive alternative would be to leave the cement board in place, and then add a laminate or engineered hardwood floor on top of that. These type of floors are "floating" floors and installing either laminate or engineered hardwood would be a durable choice.

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Hanging a Flat Screen TV

Like many people this season we are buy a new flat screen TV and were planning to mount it over our fireplace. I was wondering if there were any special precautions that we need to take because of the fireplace being behind the wall that we are mounting. Is it going to affect or damage the bricks or the functionality of the fireplace if we have to drill into the wall? What would be the best way to do this?

Love your show,

Jenna Ostrowski

Buffalo, NY

Our Answer

Jenna, assuming that this is a traditional brick wall of a real fireplace (as opposed to a fake brick wall on a manufactured fireplace!) there's no reason you can not attach the flat screen TV mounting bracket directly to the brick and have it provide a solid connection. 

The best fastener to use for this is a "Tapcon" concrete screw.  Tapcon screws are designed to grab into brick and concrete and come with a drill bit preciously sized for the screw you need to install.  Just follow the instructions carefully and you should be good to go.  The other option is to use a traditional lead shield and lag bolt combo to attach the mounting bracket.  However, in my experience, the Tapcon will be strong enough.  To be sure, check with the manufacturer of the TV mounting bracket and follow their recommendations before proceeding with the project.

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Penny Stain: How to Make

I was excited about trying the vinegar and pennies and followed the directions from your article, but nothing happened. The pennies have been soaking for about 2 weeks now and for the most part the vinegar is still clear. What am i doing wrong? Laura

Our Answer

Fresh lemon juice and salt takes the tarnish off pennies – not vinegar!  Wet the penny with the lemon juice and then rub in salt.  Sea salt or other big crystal works the best!

This was a favorite dinner table trick when traveling with my kids. They love to get those flat pennies when were on vacation and later that day I'd grab the lemon off an ice tea glass and the salt shaker, mix up a paste and polish 'til it was bright and shiny!

Tom Kraeutler

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I was listening to your show today and heard you where talking about a blog that someone about repurposing stuff from the garbage pit. By the time I got home I couldn't remember who it was. This kind of thing is right up my ally.

Great Show

Mike Batchelder

Our Answer

It's actually called "Upcycling" and is the process of taking unwanted items, like old furniture, for example, and then turing it into something useful. By surveying both your own items and those found on the street or at 2nd hand stores, there are endless ways to restore this into something beautiful and useful.

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Help! Overrun with House Flies!

As the subject suggests, our home is overrun with house flies.  There is no apparent cause such as open trash, food being out or even Jimmy Hoffa (ha!).  I kill up to 25-30 flies *per day*, no kidding.  The worst part is the next day there are that many right back. The only thing I can think of is that our cat's box is maybe 12' from our door in the garage but we keep that cleaned out every 4-5 days so as to eliminate this as a possible cause.

Can you guys suggest either a fix or a possible cause for this?  It's about to drive me absolutely nuts!

Thanks and I love this show!

Daniel Ledford

Louisville, KY

Our Answer

Wow! That does sound like a lot of house flies.  Animal waste and garbage are actually both excellent breeding material for flies.  A fly can go from pupa to adult in eight days, so there does seem to be some reproduction going on in your home.  If you think you are doing a good job of keeping the litter box clean and garbage cans covered, then there may be some other breeding site.  For example, a missed bit of pet waste that is in a corner somewhere?  Keep doors and windows closed to exclude any breeding site that's INSIDE your home. 

Also, try to figure out what kind of flies these are.  If they are tiny gnat-like flies they could be fruit flies, also known as drain or sewer flies because they breed off of biofilm in your household drains.  Once you figure out which type of flies you have and find and clean the breeding site, you should be able to eliminate the problem.