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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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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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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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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.

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Whole House Attic Fan vs. Ridge Vent

I have a 1300 sq/ft house with 8 foot ceilings that recently had a metal roof put on.  They didn't exactly cut away wood where the ridge vent is even though they installed a ridge vent.  There is a 1.5x1.5 vent at 1 gable end and we have soffet vents.

My question is, how much attic ventillation do you need to run a whole house attic fan with a house  similar to mine.  Also, any web sites you recommend to review products such as this.

Our Answer

It sound's like the house attic fan installation was not done correctly.  A ridge vent installed over solid sheathing is useless.  My first step would be to make the installers one back and cut back the sheathing at the ridge to open up the ridge so the vent will work.  Next step, make sure you have continuous soffit vents.  If those two sets of vents are in place, you DO NOT need an attic fan.  Using one can actually drive cooling costs up.  Read why attic fans can waste money for more info. 

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Verification of Easywater

Are there ways to measure the efficacy of this system ie: actually test the water hardness after the system is installed? It seems like sleight-of-hand to just wrap a magnet or whatever is going around the house water input and "believing" that it is actually working.

Our Answer

Well, the proof is in the pudding.  Seemed like it worked for us, but, I'd put that question to the EasyWater people.  They're pretty well researched over there and I'm sure could point you to their data.

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How to Get Rid of Dust

I have a 3 year old home with vinyl windows which are tight. There's weatherstripping around all the doors and I can not figure out how this house gets so dusty within a matter of a couple days. Wondering how to get rid of dust.  How do I find the source of my problem?

Our Answer

Well, we hate to be the first one to tell you but the culprit may not be outside but INSIDE the house!  We all generate a lot more duct than we realize and reducing it starts not on line with cleaning surfaces likes rugs or furniture, bit more importantly by cleaning the air.

We'd suggest that you invest in a good quality electronic air cleaner.  This type of system is installed into the return air side of your heating/cooling system and cleans the air thoroughly each time the system is on.  The best EAC's can even remove virus sized particles.

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Basement Odor

My mother's house has had an odor in the basement for the last 2 summers.  It is NOT sewer gas - which is everyone's first suggestion.  It smells like cat urine, but there is no cat.  The odor is not there in the winter - whether the smell is gone or the furnace removes it, I can't say.  The smell is worse during/after a rain.  We have had the plumber, who cleaned out the sewer pipes, etc, and found nothing else wrong.  I had the borough engineer out, who was unable to offer any ideas.  It seems to come from one corner of the basement floor, and sometimes the bare concrete is dark, as if water is leeching up from the ground.  There is never a puddle.  We have already tried the enzyme odor removers - to no avail. We are having the tile floor removed and will have the concrete painted with an epoxy paint, but don't want to do the work if the smell will still be able to get through the paint.  Anyone have any ideas?  Thanks!

Our Answer

It is rare but sometimes fiberglass insulation develops a urine-like odor from amines that are used in the adhesive manufacture. Moisture exacerbates the emission.

Pull some of the fiberglass out and put it in vegetable steamer and see if it smells after you heat it up in a humid, hot environment.

Don't spend any more money on "remediation" until you are sure of the problem.

And let us know if it's the fiberglass.

Jeffrey May

May Indoor Air Investigations

Author: Jeff May's Healthy Home Tips