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Crawlspace Moisture Problem Solution: Vapor Barriers, Proper Drainage and Foundation Vent Fan Can Help

I have a major moisture problem with a home that is one block from Lake Michigan in South Haven, MI. I have a working sump pump below ground level and am still having rotting problems with the floor joists. A local contractor wants to staple plastic to the joists or lay it on the ground. Would you recommend either of these as a solution?

Our Answer

Moisture management typically involves several solutions working together. Adding plastic sheathing over the soil as a crawl space vapor barrier is a good start. Also check your outside drainage conditions. Gutters must be clean, free-flowing and discharging four to six feet from the foundation. Grading also has to slope away. (See our article on wet basement and crawl space tips.) If the crawlspace moisture problem is severe, another step might be to install a crawl space foundation vent fan, wired into a humidistat. The fan can be set to kick on whenever humidity gets high enough and pull drier outside air through the space to minimize condensation on the floor joists and the potential rot, mold and insect problems that could ensue.

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Help! House Flooded Right Before Closing

I am buying a 3 story, built in 2012 detached house in California. Just got a phone call from my agent today (4 days before closing) that the house was flooded!  The seller’s mover uninstalled the washer and accidentally turned on the water so the whole second floor is flooded and into the garage on the first floor. My agent said that seller’s insurance company will take care all that and will repair everything.  He assured me that the flooring and drywall will be repaired and everything will be dry.

Would you say think after the repair, everything can be 100% back to normal? Or are there things that just will not be repaired completely? Or could this is all be a good thing and I will be better off after  the repair?

Thank you very much in advance for your response. I got hooked on listening to your show and hoped you could help!

Our Answer

Wow, that's one heck of a story!  And, its not the first time I've heard of this same scenario.  I spent years as a profesional home inspector and was asked once to recheck a house before closing. Well, it was winter, and the water was left ON and the heat was left OFF so you can guess what happened next. This was a bi-level home that had 6 feet of water in the lower level, and the high humidity had also caused doors, floors and walls to swell all the way up to the 2nd floor.

As a first step, I'd immediately consult an attorney and put the closing on-hold, because you will need a lot more than the assurances of your commission-hungry real estate agent to move this deal forward.  This much water in a house is a huge issue. At the least, the lower level will need to be completely gutted, dried out, treated with mildewcides and then rebuilt including insulation, wiring, heating or other mechanical systems and appliances, doors, maybe even windows.   Mold is a serious possibility as well, especially if there is any delay in getting those walls torn open so the drying process can begin.

You'll also need to have a licensed structural engineer examine the home and its foundation. All that flooding can disturb the soil under the home and cause shifts in the foundation that can potentially lead to cracks and instability.

Realistically, you are looking at month's worth of work here, which means you can't enjoy the home in peace and quiet.  Issues could also show up months or even years later that are not apparent now but could be the result of this damage.

If you do go forward, I'd recommend you hire your own licensed structural engineer to supervise the repair and remodeling every step of the way.  I'd make the seller reimburse you for that cost, and make it super clear that the engineer works for you, and NOT the seller. He or she will be your trained eyes and ears to make sure this home is put back together better than what it was when you found it.

 

 

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hanging picture

How to Hang Heavy Pictures on Drywall

What's a safe way to hang heavier art pieces on drywall? I've done a bit of unintentional damage before, and don't want to repeat the performance.

Our Answer

There is a wide array of hardware available to help hang a heavy picture on drywall. One gadget I really like is The Monkey Hook, an easy-to-install wall hanger that supports art weighing up to 50 pounds and can be doubled up for even heavier pieces. It was created with both residential and commercial drywall in mind, and designed to work in wall locations where there is no wall stud to latch into.

The Monkey Hook looks is a hook shaped piece of strong wire. One end is sharpened and can be easily driven into the drywall with a few twists. It then is locked in place and this heavy-duty helper is ready to display your favorite framed art and photos.

The other nice feature is that when you change your mind and decide to move your art around (and you KNOW that will happen!), The Monkey Hook leaves only a very small hole in the wall that's easily covered with just a dab of spackling compound.

 

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How to Prioritize Home Repairs

First of all - I adore you guys!  I've been listening to the podcast and find it incredibly helpful; you both are so generous with your talents.

I purchased a "starter home" type house when I was single, but got married and moved in with my husband. We rented the house out, keeping in mind we wanted to move back after retiring.  Now we're retired and back in my original "Money Pit", and we want to get serious about improvements!

Our house isn't in complete shambles, but we know there's probably a LONG list of things that need to be done. We're overwhelmed and frozen in place. What is the best way to prioritize home repairs? Should we hire a professional who could evaluate the house and give us a game plan?

Our Answer

Dorothea,

Thank you for the kind words! Great question, and we totally understand what you're feeling. Lots of people suffer from "analysis paralysis" when faced with so many things to do because they do not know what to do first! There is a great option, however, which you actually brought up in your question. What I would do is hire a professional home inspector to evaluate your home first. Home inspectors are terrific because they are not in the business of selling you repairs. If you were to ask a contractor to do such an inspection, you are guaranteed to be presented with quotes for all the things they would love to fix on your house.

On the other hand, with a home inspector, you'll just be getting a report that gives you the facts. He will tell you what needs to be fixed and in what order. Generally speaking, safety items need to be fixed first. For example, wiring problems that could cause a fire or uneven steps that could cause a fall. Next, you will want to tackle the structural issues that could cause the building to deteriorate. Finally, you will work toward the cosmetics - updating a kitchen, painting a room, or installing new faucets or fixtures. If you would like, you can take a look at this blog where we list out the most popular home improvement projects we're asked about on the national radio show. This may come in handy when you are completing your projects!

All in all, if you use a home inspector you will get that impartial expert advice. The best way to find a home inspector is to find one here, at the American Society of Home Inspectors. Thank you for reaching out, and please let us know if we can help with anything else!

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Mouse Proof Your Home: Tips for Avoiding the Rat Race

 

Mice and rats are coming into my home via the street sewer system. I thought I had fixed the problem eight years ago by cementing a certain area, but there seems to be another opening somewhere. Do you have any suggestions?

Our Answer

If you've ever thought you could mouse-proof or rat-proof  your house by sealing up small gaps around the outside, forget it. Mice can squeeze through spaces as small as a nickel, and rats need a space only twice that size to find their way into your home. Mice and rats are great climbers and jumpers, too: mice can leap 12 inches into the air and hop down from the same height without injury, and rats can leap 36 inches vertically and jump off of a 50-foot-tall building without a scratch.

Fortunately, there are a number of ways you can make your house a much less welcoming place for mice and rats:

  • Avoid nesting sites: Stacks of newspapers, cardboard boxes, firewood, lumber and other storage encourages nesting. Keep all storage off the ground or floor at the inside and outside foundation perimeters of your home, and make sure all bushes, hedges and other plantings are trimmed back and well away from the foundation.
  • Secure storage: Mice can squeeze through spaces as small as a finger, so seal up potential entrances with sheet metal, steel wool or cement. Pay particular attention to the spaces around pipes, vents and ducts when rodent-proofing your home.
  • Keep a clean house: Wash dishes and cooking utensils immediately after use. Keep counters and floors free of soiled food, and clean the insides of cabinets and pantries frequently to avoid feeding furry creatures.
  • Use rodenticides: Poisons designed to eliminate mice and rat infestations are safe and highly effective if used in accordance with label instructions, and can help to mouse-proof your home. If exposure to children or pets is a concern, use lockable bait stations; with these, the poison is secured inside a container that has holes small enough for only a mouse or rat to enter.
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accessible design

Accessible Design Patio Doors Needed for Wheelchair Access

Do you know of any options in accessible design patio doors? My daughter is in a wheelchair and I need to replace the sliding glass door from the house to the patio/deck. I've looked around and all the patio doors I've found have a 1-inch area at the bottom with rail slots. I need an accessible patio door that is relatively smooth at the bottom so that my daughter can use it without all the trauma of rolling over the sill area.

Our Answer

Accessible patio doors and overall Accessible Design are very important not only for those who are handicapped but for everyone who appreciates ease of access. Whether it is a low door threshold, a cabinet with sliding shelves or even a light switch with a paddle verses a toggle switch, simple changes in design make access easier, safer and more comfortable for all.

AARP has done a great job of identifying many of these areas via a special section of their website devoted to Livable Communities. As to your specific situation, yes, there are low-threshold, accessible patio door designs for just this purpose. Instead of the traditional sliding patio door, they are available in the more accessible hinged patio door format.

For example, door manufacturer Therma-Tru makes something called a public access sill option for a hinged patio door. Instead of the standard 1-9/16-inch-high sill, the public access sill has a height of only half an inch. Moreover, the sill is sloped, making it easier to roll over with a wheelchair or baby carriage. You can check out a profile of the sill in Therma-Tru's product guide; see page 11 for more details on this feature for accessible patio doors.

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humidifier, deumidifier, humidity

HVAC Ducts Sweat in Summer

Hey, I live in southern Kentucky. During the summer months I have condensation dripping off the HVAC in the crawl space. What can I do about that? The crawl space is concrete block with vents on all sides of house and has black plastic on the ground.

Our Answer

The condensation is the result of warm moist air in the crawlspace striking the cold air conditioning duct.  As the air is chilled, it releases moisture resulting in the dripping you are reporting.  It's like what happens when you bring an ice cold glass outside in the summer, the outside gets wet because the warm moist summer air is being chilled, releasing that moisture.

Two things can help:

 It sound's like you already have a crawl space vapor barrier, which is good. You can further reduce the amount of moisture in the crawlspace by improving the grading and drainage at the foundation perimeter, as explained in this article about preventing a wet basement.  The approach is exactly the same when you need to reduce the moisture levels in a crawl space.  

Second, you can insulate the ducts.  Once insulated, the warm air will no longer be able to contact the cold duct surface.  No contact, no sweating!

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Missing Return Vents in Home for Heating and AC

I love your show! I live in "the house that Jack built" - it's colonial and the entire upstairs has no return vents for Heating and Cooling. What's the most economical way to rectify this?

Our Answer

Thanks for listening to the show, glad you're enjoying it! It sounds like your heating system is very uncomfortable because there are no return vents installed. This is a real issue because the way a forced-air heating system works is that the air is heated or cooled at the furnace or air conditioner, and then supplied to the rooms. But, that same air must be returned to be heated and cooled over and over again for that to be efficient. If no return duct was ever installed, I imagine you're very uncomfortable in this place. (And probably wasting a lot of energy, too!)

There are a couple of ways to fix this, one of which is to install returns directly to the room itself. This is the most common, but also the most expensive and hardest to do as a retrofit. A better way is to install one large central return near the upstairs bedrooms and then undercut each bedroom door so the air has a way to get out. By undercut, I mean you would actually physically cut the bottom of the door so there's an inch to an inch-and-a-half of space when the door is closed. This way, air will be drawn from under the door back into the heating system to be reconditioned, then sent back to the rooms. Those are really the only two options that come to mind. I would suggest finding a good-quality heating and cooling contractor to visit the home and give you an additional opinion. The best way to do that is by searching on HomeAdvisor.com!

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Crawlspace Moisture Barrier Installation Tips

When purchasing my house, my inspector suggested adding a moisture barrier to the floor of my crawlspace. Looking around, there are many different thicknesses to choose from. How thick does a typical crawlspace moisture barrier need to be? Also, does it have to be rolled out as one large sheet, or could it be just as effective if it was made up of several smaller sections?

Our Answer

Your inspector was very smart to recommend a vapor barrier in the crawlspace. Moisture that is allowed to evaporate up into the floor structure can cause the insulation to become ineffective, and allow it to rot and mold. Moisture gets into a crawlspace A vapor barrier is essentially a plastic sheet that lays across the floor of the crawl space. Before you start this project, it's important that you clean out anything on the crawlspace floor that could pierce the plastic barrier like rocks or wood.

When choosing the plastic barrier, many folks will use polyethylene sheeting, but a better option is to use cross-laminated sheeting. It's about six millimeters thick, making it much stronger and less likely to let moisture pass through. A reinforced cross-laminated product like Tu-Tuf #4 would be best. It will be more expensive, but worth it. This is the kind of project you want to do once, you want to do right, and not have to do again for a long time. 

When you lay down the plastic, you want to do so with as few seams as possible. You can purchase special tape that will allow you to seal the seams together, or you can overlap the seams by as much as four feet. Make sure you go end-to-end or inside-to-inside on the foundation wall so you have continuous coverage. In addition to the crawlspace vapor barrier, if you want to reduce moisture in that space you really should pay attention to a few more things.

Starting on the outside of the house, the most important thing to maintain is the grading and the gutters. We wrote an article with more on that here. The gutters must be clean, free-flowing, and the downspout should charge at least four to six feet from the house. The grading, or angle of soil around the house, should also slope away. It should drop about 4 inches over the first 6 feet, and it shouldn't be soil that will absorb and hold a lot of water. For example, topsoil is a bad idea because it's so organic it's like laying sponges around your house. You'd be better off improving the grade with clean fill-dirt, then once the grade is established, cover it with topsoil, mulch, stone, or whatever type of material you choose. Just make sure the grade is established first, and don't put any landscape edging at the outside edge of it that could hold water toward the house. That would be like building a moat around your building, which is something you definitely don't want to do. Combining these efforts together, you will have a crawlspace that will remain dry for many years to come!

 

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Refaced Cabinets Coming Loose – What Should I Do?

I had my cabinets refaced about 8 years ago and now the glue has come loose. I've talked with new cabinet refacing companies who claim refacing has been improved and this won't happen again. (The contractor through Home Depot only guarantees them for 5 years.) Would you recommend refacing or is there a better option?

Our Answer

Refacing cabinets is a process that is often half the cost of replacing your cabinets. Not only that, but you're stuck with your current layout; if you ever want to add cabinets, they will have to be built from scratch and then refaced to match the others. For this reason, we usually recommend looking into other options that give you a great look but are not as pricey. 

You'll first have to take a look at your cabinets. If they were installed in the 70's or later, they were likely installed with solid fronts and paper-thin veneers that you won't be able to sand or stain. Your best option there will be painting, which can be done using these helpful tips!

Painting is a great option even for older, solid-wood cabinets. You'll want to clean them out and remove all doors/drawers/hardware. Then, prepare them further by sanding. You can do this by hand or with a liquid sandpaper product. Then, prime the surfaces with an oil-based primer and get started on painting! In order to provide a better wear protection, we recommend painting with an oil-based glossy paint for the finish coat.

Overall, the fact that the veneer is not sticking is unusual. If you decide to go with refacing, make sure you carefully research the contractor. Ask if he will supply a list of past clients, and spend time talking to customers he worked with years ago to see how the cabinets held up. If he will not supply a list, it might be a good sign you should move down the list.

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Soundproofing: Masonry Wall vs Wood/MLV Fence

We recently moved into a house next to a road that produces more noise than we expected and  I'm considering putting something up to help with the noise.

One option considered is a masonry wall.  It's attractive, low-maintenance, and likely the most effective against noise but it's also (roughly) triple the cost of the fence option.

The fence would be a tongue and groove double sided privacy fence with a layer of mass loaded vinyl (MLV) hung between the facing panels to help with sound attenuation.  I'd never heard of MLV before I started looking into this, and the only material I can find on is from the guys who sell it, who obviously claim it's the bee's knees.

My question is whether the MLV sandwich fence is going to do a "good enough job" with the road noise to make it a viable option against masonry.  Or is the fence without the MLV going to be effective enough?

Our Answer

As the saying goes, "beauty is in the eye of the beholder." Whether an MLV fence will be quiet enough for you is dependent on your tolerance. However, MLV is a very high-tech product that's had a great success record of quieting machines, road noise, and even the occasional garage band! (Here's more information on MLV and its uses.)

To make it effective, however, it has to float. It cannot be stapled directly to the inside of the fence with no way for the material to move back and forth. This is because when those sound waves hit it, they need the flexibility to diffuse. It's kind of like when you throw a rock into the lake. The lake initially absorbs the force of the rock, but then the waves diffuse the force that follows. If you were to make this MLV so tight that it couldn't flex, it wouldn't have as strong of an ability to diffuse that sound. The best approach would be to hang it loosely between the sections of the fence. As to whether or not this will be "good enough," the beauty is in the eye of the beholder. You may find that it's fine. Or, if you have a low tolerance for noise, you may find that it's not. Given the fact that it's one-third of the cost of a concrete barrier, it is certainly worth an effort.

Another thing you could do is to add landscaping on the roadside of the wood fence. This would also help break up the sounds before it gets to the fence, making the MLV assembly even more effective. As this article says, adding a water fountain could be a good idea as well. Good luck with your project and send us a photo when you're done!

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Tile Directly on Plywood: is it the Correct Way?

I'm renovating a home I just purchased. I want to know if it is ok to tile on plywood. The previous tile in the bathroom was set directly on the plywood and it looked fine. I am reading that tiling on plywood should be avoided, while others are claiming it is okay to do. What do I do?

Our Answer

The bottom line is that you should not apply tile directly to a plywood sub-floor. Tile always needs an underlayment or layer of cement backer to lay on top of, especially in the case of plywood. This is because plywood will expand and contract over time, causing your tile to crack or become loose. It may be  cheaper to lay the tile on the plywood sub-floor but best to do the job effectively and prevent paying for the cracked tile as time goes on.

We recommend using a thin-set adhesive to bind the plywood sub-floor with a 1/2" or 1/4" cement backer board. You will then need to use the right screws to secure the cement backer to the plywood. You can also use an underlayment membrane, but just be aware of how high the floor will be off the subfloor. We wish you luck on this project, and look forward to seeing a photo when it's complete!

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countertop paints

How to Maintain Butcher Block: Tips to Keep it Looking Beautiful

I am putting butcher block in for the bar top and countertops. What do you recommend as a sealer?

Our Answer

Butcher block is a beautiful addition to any kitchen but can require a lifetime of maintenance to keep it that way!  Keep in in mind that as a tree, this same wood was constantly absorbing natural materials. Now that its in the form of your countertop, it'll be sucking in food oils, fats, and become a breeding ground for dangerous bacteria like E-Coli that could cause your family harm if not cared for properly. 

You have two options to maintain butcher block: stain the wood and apply a clear finish, or apply food-safe oils regularly instead.  If you apply a clear finish, you'll have a lot less on-going maintenance but it's possible that some of the finish can chip off into your food. If you did decide to go this route, make sure the surface and edges are sanded down and wipe the dust away with a damp cloth. Apply the finish in a well-ventilated area, and let it dry for a few days before using it. Please keep in mind that urethane finish usually reeks, so it might be best to open windows and doors or wait until bedtime so it's less of an issue. Then, wait 24 hours (or more if the weather is damp) and repeat those steps.

You'll need to apply oils regularly for the life of the counter. A good rule of thumb to maintain butcher block is to apply them once a day for the first week, once a week for the first month, and once a month for the life of the counter. When you're choosing your oil or conditioner, you must remember that it needs to be food-safe. (Mineral oil is a great choice and you can find it at your local drugstore!) Check labels and read reviews before making your final decision. Once you have your oil or conditioner, take a rag and apply a good amount of it to the counter. As time goes on, you should notice that the wood soaks up less and less oil each time. This means it's working! You might even hit a point where pouring water on the counter results in beading instead of absorption. 

We wish you luck with this project, and be sure to send us a picture when you're done!

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rusty grill

How To Prevent Rust on Metal Appliances

I have a small cafe and have a small refrigerated display case that works great, but the rubber-coated refrigerator shelves are rusting on the ends. Last year, I cleaned them all, used rust remover on rusty areas, dried them, and painted with epoxy spray paint. Within a few months, it started rusting again. Is there a solution to this problem?

Our Answer

It looks like you did everything right, except for one thing: you did not prime the metal shelves first. The primer has adhesive qualities and is the "glue" that makes the paint stick. It is especially important when the surface is not optimal, like when it's rusted. The good news is, you can fix it! 

First, you will need to smooth the shelves by using a material like sandpaper and removing all rust or other unwanted filth. This is also the time to sand any cracking or peeling paint. Then, take time to clean the surfaces. Just make sure you avoid solvent because it could soften the old paint and cause problems with the new paint adhering correctly. Make sure everything is clean and dry.

If the rust has become serious and you could not sand it all down, you'll need a primer that will make it smooth and easy to paint on. If it's at a medium or lower level after being cleaned, you can use a rust primer or preventative primer. You'll want to read the directions on the primer you choose, but commonly, you'll apply several thin coats of primer, let it dry, and add a top coat. You might consider adding another layer of preventative rust product after the top coat.

Then, you'll be good to go. Let us know how this project goes!

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Textured Wall Repair

Is there any way to match the texture sprayed on drywall when getting the wall ready to paint? I have small nail holes in sections of the texture falling off that need to be retextured.

Our Answer

There are a number of textured surface repair products out for just this situation.  For example,  Wall Textured Spray Patch in Orange Peel White for Ceilings, Drywall is made by Homax and should do a fine job.