Your questions, Our Answers

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solar panel cost, solar energy

Does Adding Solar Increase Home Value?

I'm seeing a lot of advertisements for solar energy claiming that it adds value to your home.  Is this true?

Our Answer

Mark, that is a really good question. I love the idea of using the sun to help power my home but I'm frustrated that it is so very hard to do this given the barrage of misleading information being put out by those selling solar energy, and your question is only one of the very many claims being made.

In short, the answer is "maybe."  Certainly some buyers will be interested to know that the home generates some/all of its own electricity.  But others, frankly, won't care and see all those panels as another thing they have to maintain.  Worse yet, if the solar panels have been "leased" instead of purchased, buyers may not be willing to take on the added lease payment on top of what they pay you for your home, or may want to negotiate a reimbursement for the total amount left on the lease before they buy.

Aside from the value question, I'm finding solar energy companies pitch a wide variety of proposal and payment schemes from purchase to lease to somewhere in between, softener with overly enthusiastic estimates of how much energy you'll generate.  Plus, its not exactly clear what rebates are available, tax credits, and SREC, or solar energy renewal credits - where you earn credits based on how much energy you generate and then sell those credits which are market priced and hard ot predict.

Lastly, it's also important to consider how quickly technology is changing in the solar industry before making a big investment.  For example, ss battery technology improves and prices go down, the shift will be not so much on how much you collect but how much power you can store to use when you need it. This would enable you to have a solar array sized perfectly for year round collection, and the storage capacity to save energy in the summer to use in the winter.

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How Durable is Deck Paint?

What do these deck painting companies use to redo wood decks, that they claim it will stain and protect the wood deck to the apocalypse?  Can't I get this product and just do it myself?

Our Answer

Paint that will last until the apocalypse?  Now THAT we have to see!

It sounds like you are referring to a category of products known as "high build" elastomeric coatings.  High-build is tech talk for thick paint, and elastomeric is a type of product that will expand and contract with the substrate, which is this  case is your wood deck.

Some history here - about 20 years ago we began hearing about companies who would make similar durability claims for a product called "liquid vinyl siding."  Similarly, hard-selling contractors would claim that they could apply this paint to your wood-sided home and it would last and perform like vinyl siding.  It did just that, except for months, not decades as promised.  After that it began to peel of in sheets and/or allowed water to get behind and rot to set it.  Those claims also extended to the products claimed ability to insulate as well -- which is about when the Federal Trade Commission stepped in and put the kibosh on a lot of that.

Today we don't hear much about liquid vinyl, but there are finishes designed to protect and restore decks and docks that sound a lot like that original product. The difference is, these are made by major manufacturers who thoroughly test and warranty their products.

Products such as Sherwin Williams' SuperDeck Exterior Deck & Dock Coating or RUST-OLEUM'S Deck & Concrete Restore® 10X tout that they can fill gaps as large as a quarter-inch, adhere to deteriorate surfaces and can take the foot traffic.  I'm more tempted to believe claims with a major manufacturer behind them but unfortunately, I've not seen enough independent reviews from purchasers to run out and buy any high-build products.  The other deterrent we should mention is cost.  The average good-quality gallon of paint covers about 400 square feet of surface area and costs around $25 a gallon.  These products run around $50 a gallon, and offer coverage of just 75 square feet, so they are not inexpensive.

My best advice, pickup a gallon and do a small section of a deck, like maybe the stairs.  Follow the prep instructions to the letter as this will ensure maximum adhesion, and see what happens. If it works as performed, then go all in the following season.


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rain, storm, flood, wet basement

Wet Basement “Expert” says Grading Won’t Stop Floods

Our basement is pretty humid and has moisture coming up through the concrete floors. The basement has a history of mold and flooding. From listening to The Money Pit, I know proper grading and gutter maintenance outside the home should prevent this. We had a basement expert come by and he said grading was not enough - a total overhaul was necessary and he wanted to install drain systems, a new sump pump, etc to address the moisture (our ultimate goal is to finish the basement). Is he right or is he just trying to sell his services?

Our Answer

It's no surprise that a so called wet basement "expert" would proclaim that improvements to roof and surface drainage won't fix you damp, leaky basement.  They have very strong economic reasons to do so.  Basement waterproofing companies pretty much sell a single type of repair, and it's really not a water "proofing" solution at all.  If anything its a water pumping system that allows the water ot get to and through the foundation, where its collected in a sump and then pumped out to start the cycle all over again.

The reason most basements flood is because of issues with poor surface and roof drainage.  To stop this from happening, you must:

  1.  Clean gutters & downspouts;
  2.  Make sure there are enough downspouts for the roof size. Each spout should drain no more than 600-800 sq feet of roof surface
  3.  Extend spouts to discharge at least 6 feet from house;
  4.  Improve the angle of soil at the foundation perimeter to slope away from the house.

In RARE circumstances, flooding is caused by a rising water table and in that case, a pump system is needed.  However, we're talking VERY RARE circumstances.

Here's how to tell.  If your basement dampness and flooding worsens consistent with rainfall, or snow melt - its always caused by drainage that's easily fixed.

Finally, one of the most popular posts on our site is about basement waterproofing.  Read it, and THEN read all the comments.  You'll see three groups of comenters.  Wet basement "experts" desperate to save their money-making scams, home inspectors and other independent experts calling out the waterproofing profiteers and confirming the advice we've provided, and homeowners who have tried it and saved tens of thousands of dollars.

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faucet, water

Well Pump Delivers Terrible Water Pressure

We share a well with two other houses, and the well head is at the home furthest from us. They both have great water pressure, but we have really bad pressure. We can't use the faucet when showering, run the dishwasher and sink at the same time, we can't water our garden, etc. Our plumber adjusted the pressure switch at our neighbors house in hopes of increasing our pressure, which worked at their houses but not ours. The plumber thinks somewhere along our pipe, it has been crushed by bedrock or the house adjusting. What are our options to increase our water pressure without breaking the bank?

Our Answer

First it seems you need to confirm the pressure coming from the well pump itself. If that is in a remote location, that should not be hard to do.  If the pressure is good at that point, check it again at the first place it comes into your house.  If its dropped, then the plumber is right and you have a problem with the main line.  The only fix for that would probably be replacement. However, if the pressure is god where it enters your house but bad after that, then you'll need to track down the restriction, which could for example, be a bad valve (or if your house is old) a corroded steel pipe, etc.

The other option might be to add a pressure tank and send booster pump in your home.  The pump would run as needed (not every time you turn on the faucet) to pressurize the tank, but your water would be pressurized and pulled from the tank itself.

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Water Damage on Flooring

Water Damage in Flooring

We recently discovered our refrigerator water line had been leaking for some time. We have gotten the leak fixed and are now dealing with the damage. We discovered the leak after water began coming up from between the planks of bamboo flooring in the living room, which is on the other side of the wall that the fridge sits on. We have been in touch with our homeowners' insurance company and are working with restoration specialists they recommended. The large fans/dehumidifiers are drying things out, but we have learned there is water under the tile in our kitchen, too, and it may extend into the other tiled areas of the house.

My biggest concern is that we believe the previous owners laid the kitchen tile and the wood flooring on top of an original layer of tile. We have seen grout underneath the wood flooring when we replaced some trim a while back, and the seam between the tile and cabinets in the kitchen makes it clear that the cabinets do not sit on top of the top layer of tile. I am concerned that a lot of water may be trapped in the original layer of flooring and will not be dried up with the fans/dehumidifiers.

Our restoration specialist says the water can stay in the tile and it shouldn't cause damage other than grout discoloration over time. I'm not so sure. This seems like a big risk to me. Should we fight to have the top layer of flooring and the original tile both removed to ensure the water is all gone? I don't want to have problems later on or have mold start to grow.

Our Answer

You have a valid concern but my experience would dictate that there's little to worry about if the leak was fixed.  That water will dry out – and probably much quicker than you'd imagine.  The bigger concern is structural.  If the water leak went on for a long time, you may have rotted floor components and those should be fixed, even if it involves removing tile.

Try gently stepping on the floor in the are of the leak and note if it feels spongy or softer than adjoining areas.  If it is, further evaluation may be needed.  If a flooring replacement is needed, there have been many advances in waterproof flooring you can consider.

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squeaking floor

How to Fix a Squeaking Floor: Easy Repair Tips

What can I do to repair squeaky floors? My house is about 20 years old, and built over a crawl space, with squeaking sections of floor under hardwood and carpet. In fact, when I installed a new, heavier refrigerator in the kitchen I started to get a "groan" every time I step in front of the cabinets adjacent to the fridge.  Another area is around the bed in the master bedroom. The underside of the floors in the crawlspace is fully insulated. Any solutions for fixing my squeaky floors?

Our Answer

Floor squeaks are pretty common and can occur in homes that are brand new or very old. Of the hundreds of calls and emails we receive each week to our show, floors are the number one most asked about topic. Of those calls and emails, seeking the solution to a squeaking floor is a popular question.

Squeaks happen when loose floors move as you walk over them. While they are annoying, a squeak seldom means you have an underlying structural problem. The actual sound stems from one or a combination of two sources. Either loose floor boards are rubbing together, or the nails that hold down the floor are squeaking as they move in and out of their holes.

Fortunately, squeaks can be about as easy to fix as they are to find if you know what to do. The solution to either scenario is to re-secure the floor to the floor joists (the beams that floors are nailed to). Here's what to do:

Carpeted Floors
When it comes to fixing squeaks that are under carpet, the best solution is always to remove the carpet. Once the carpet is removed, use hardened drywall screws to hold the floor in place by driving one next to every nail in the floor. Screws never pull out so they are much better than nails.

If removing wall to wall carpet is too much of a hassle for you to tackle, there's a way that may allow you to fix the squeak from above. Using a stud finder, locate the floor joist beneath the carpet in the area of the squeak. Usually, joists run perpendicular to the front and back walls of a home so check in that direction first.

Once you've located the joist, drive a 10d or 12d galvanized finish nail through the carpet, through the sub-floor and into the floor joist. You'll probably need to do this in two or three places. Make sure to drive the nail in at a slight angle as this will help prevent the floor from getting loose again and squeaking again. Lastly, grab the carpet by the nap or pile and pull it up until the head of the finish nail passes through it. Hopefully, as the nails disappear through the carpet, so will the squeaks.

Hardwood Floors
Fixing squeaking hardwood floors is a little trickier than fixing a carpeted floor, but the principles remain the same. Locate the area of the squeak and then use a stud-finder to locate the joists. Note that since the joists will be 1 to 1 ½ under the hardwood floor, you'll need to use a stud finder than has a "deep scan"  feature to be sure you are in the right spot.

Once you've identified the location, you can either screw down the loose area or re-nail it as suggested above with the carpet. In either case, you'll need to pre-drill the floor. For screws, purchase a bit from your local home center or hardware store that includes a counter bore. This will leave a hole that is exactly three-eighths of an inch in diameter and the perfect size to fill with an easily available oak plug. If you are nailing the floor, use a drill bit that is slightly smaller in diameter than the finish nails you are using. This way, the nails will pass easily though the floor without bending or splitting floor boards.

Squeaking floors may be one of life's little annoyances, but they are easily kept under control. However, if squeaks ever really get under your skin, remember the technical term for them: charm!

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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.


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tankless water heaters

Is Electric Tankless Water Heater a Good Option?

Hi, have a 34-year-old oil water heater.  We are starting to see sediment in the hot water and I'd eventually want to switch from oil to gas, which is accessible.  Financially, we want to put that job off a few years and to to get an oil water heater now and then switch to gas in a few years seems wasteful.  My thought was to get an electric tankless water heater now and switch the heat and kitchen to gas when we can afford it.  My basement is also very small, so tankless will provide additional room.  The house has one and a half baths and four bedrooms. Does electric tankless make sense and how do you decide what size the tankless must be to provide the right amount of how water?

Our Answer

Since you have a very old water heater, it's smart to replace it now before it starts to leak. If you wait and it does leak, you're going to be facing an emergency repair, which can cost a heck of a lot more!

It's not a great idea to install an electric tankless water heater, but I don't think you'll really need one.  It seems like you think that you need to convert the entire house to gas heat when adding a water heater. In our experience, gas utilities will run the gas line to your house if you agree to hook it up to one appliance, like a water heater!

Given that, your best bet is to have the line run to your house and replace the old oil water heater right now.

By the way, electric tankless water heaters are not efficient and would be a very poor choice. They can't be compared in any way shape or form with a gas tankless water heater. Once the gas line is run, you can decide if you'd like to install a gas tankless water heater, or the more old fashion tank-style water heater.

If you do decide to stay with electric your best option would be an electric heat pump water heater. These are much more efficient than standard water heaters and have come down in price.

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window film

Moisture in Single Pane Window: Repair or Replace?

I have a wooden frame fixed picture window with single pane glass and an outside single pane glass storm window. As you would expect, moisture gets trapped between the windows. I would like to eliminate the storm window and have double or triple pane glass installed on the fixed window. Ideally, I would like to use the same wood frame or if not feasible have a custom frame and window built. The window size is 43w x47h. I don’t want to replace the window sashes, just the window itself.


Our Answer

We understand the issue at hand and are happy to offer some assistance! The reason you're seeing the stains between the glass is condensation. Think about an ice cold glass of water sitting out in the sun on a hot day. The outside of the glass will soon be covered in condensation which forms when warm moist air strikes the cold glass.  That's exactly what's going on with your windows.

You have two options. Your first option would be to add an interior storm window. This works much like an exterior storm window, except that it's more attractive and adds an addtional layer to keep drafts out. However, it will not solve the problem of condensation because like your other two windows it will not be completely sealed from the enviroment.

Given the above, your best option is to install a "replacement window." The replacement window will replace your existing sash, but leave the jambs and window trim in place. All replacement windows are costum made and one can be easily built that has double or triple pane glass for your home. I suggest you visit a repuable home improvement retailer.

If you decide that having the window replaced is the best option for you, Home Depot offers a Free in home consultation.

One tip, make sure you have the retailer come to your home and measure the window before it's ordered. That's the best way to make sure that the window that is built will fit as intended.

Finally, you'll need to consider whether or not you want to install the replacement window yourself, or have someone come in and do it for you.

Hope this helps you out and if you have any more questions, let us know!

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Refinishing your Kitchen Cabinets: Solutions to give your kitchen cabinets a low-cost makeover

My kitchen cabinets are looking pretty tired, and I'd like to give them a low-cost face lift. What types of paint, polyurethane, varnish or other finishes should I use, and what are some tips on DIY refinishing?

Our Answer

There are many ways to refinish your kitchen cabinets. First, make sure your kitchen cabinets are eligible for refinishing by examining their construction and material content. Solid wood and laminate kitchen cabinets are both good candidates for refinishing, but anything covered in veneer is not, unless you're willing to apply paint rather than stain.

Whether painting or staining your kitchen cabinets, choose an oil-based finish, which is far more durable and forgiving of everyday kitchen grime than latex finish.

If your kitchen cabinets meet refinishing requirements, here are the project steps you'll need to take:

Working in a well-ventilated area, begin with a thorough cleaning, removing all dirt and grime from kitchen cabinets; allow surfaces to dry.

Apply a paint/finish remover, and scrape away finish with a putty knife, followed by a wire brush. Continue this cycle until a clean wood surface is revealed.

Sand cabinets with fine-grit sandpaper, and remove resulting dust and debris with a tack cloth. You may also consider using a liquid sanding agent, which can be very effective in application of fine woodworking details and other hard-to-sand areas (it also helps with the grime-removal step of refinishing).

Apply the new finish according to the manufacturer's instructions (preceded by the appropriate primer if you're painting the kitchen cabinets), allowing surfaces to dry thoroughly between coats.

When finish applications are complete, apply a protective top coat to shield the kitchen cabinets from moisture, grease and surface oil.

Finally, accessorize your refreshed kitchen cabinets with new knobs and pulls ─ they're the bling that brings personality to a kitchen update! Refinishing your kitchen cabinets will be an easy task with these steps.


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Converting Garage to Workshop: Tips to Create Space for More Than Your Car

I'm self-employed and with the economy being tight, I'm spending a lot more time at home and thinking converting my garage to a workshop that I'd use to tackle projects from car repair to woodworking.  In reviewing the floor options, I'm trying to decide between adding a locking floor tile or painting it.  Any suggestions?

Our Answer

Garages have become the recreational focal point of the home. They are being transformed into exercise rooms, children's play areas, and attractive workspaces.  There are a number of garage-ready floor tile products out there, designed typically to lock together like puzzle pieces and float over the concrete floor.  While these are good looking and functional, they are costly and may not be the easiest of keeping clean as their textured surfaces easily hold dirt.

Painting is an easy way out but there may be a third option, which is to apply a 2-part garage floor epoxy.  These colored protective coatings allow homeowners to turn a gray, lifeless, stained or cracked concrete garage floor into an attractive, granite-like surface that brings new life to the garage area.

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how to unclog a toilet, how to replace toilet

Refinishing Bath Fixtures: Consider Costs Involved for Refinishing Versus Replacement

Is refinishing bath fixtures a viable option for my bathroom remodel? The worn fixtures in my master bath are in need of an update, but I don't quite have the budget to replace everything at once.

Our Answer

Before refinishing bath fixtures, you need to go fixture by fixture and look at the costs involved in replacement versus refinishing. A tub or shower can be expensive to replace and also leads to a cascade of other upgrade costs including wallboard, tiling and trim, and flooring adjustments. In that case, having a pro repair chips and cracks and apply a new finish can be a money-saving solution and stave off the need for a big-ticket purchase.

Sinks can also be refinished, but the cost of refinishing this bath fixture is so close to the price of a new unit that you're better off shopping for a replacement and a nice new faucet to go with it.  

As you consider refinishing bath fixtures, be advised that old, cracked, leaky toilets aren't worth the trouble of repair; instead, invest in one of the new WaterSense-labeled high-efficiency toilets, which can dramatically reduce your water bill during many years of service.

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insulate finished attic

How to Insulate Finished Attic

I have a large attic with a ridge vent, but no soffit vents or other vents for air intake. As such, the attic gets very moist and cold/hot. I would like to finish the attic for additional living space. As such, would blow-in insulation be suitable to insulate and seal the attic prior to finishing? As I live in the Northeast, would I need to extend the rafters to get adequate insulation? Also, would I remove the ridge vent and leave in the floor insulation?

Our Answer

Insulating in small spaces is often tough. When your rafter is only 8" deep, you can use only 6" of fiberglass insulation as the rest needs to be saved to allow for ventilation, which is hardly enough. Additionally, it is very difficult to get insulation into such a tight space.

However, spray foam insulation can fill in the entire cavity. It has a higher R-value and doesn't need to be ventilated, and in my view, the best way to insulate a finished attic or cathedral ceiling. The Money Pit Guide to Insulation might be a useful resource. Good luck with the project.

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How to Improve Water Pressure

I have low water pressure in the home, and I'm pretty sure it's due to the fact that the water line from the street is more than 50 years old and is galvanized steel. The opening has likely shrunk from 3/4" to 3/8". Currently, the water pressure is acceptable if only one point of usage is opened but I can't do a load of laundry and take a shower at the same time, or water the lawn and do the dishes simultaneously. Outside of replacing this pipe is there a pump or similar device I can install to either increase the pressure for the whole house or even just a bathroom?

Our Answer

Unfortunately, nothing short of replacing the old galvanized steel pipe makes a lot of sense.  Galvanized steel piping rusts inward and since its 50+ years old, its best to replace it before it becomes an emergency situation.

If that underground pipe were to break while you were away, or during a winter storm or a whole host of situations like that, the repair would be 3 times as much. Plus, any problem resulting from the slow degradation of the pipes may not covered by homeowner insurance policies and could fall squarely on your shoulders.

My advice is the replace the galvanized service entry (main) pipe and as much of the interior pipe as you can get to.  Better safe than sorry!

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Best Insulation for Small Attic

Hi guys! Love the podcast! My husband and I are under contract on a house. During inspection, mold was found in the attic on sheathing and in the insulation. We are getting the mold on the sheathing remediated, insulation replaced and improving the ventilation by rerouting bathroom exhaust duct, adding a new ridge vent and air sealing penetrations like the recessed lighting.

The attic is not an occupied space and really too small and too cumbersome to get into (small scuttle in the linen closet). The quote we got was for cellulose insulation. However, we were wondering if it makes sense to pay more for spray foam or a polyiso insulation?  Thanks for any input!

Our Answer

Great job identifying the source of the mold issues in the attic!  Improving ventilation (the most important of which is getting that bath fan exhaust duct  extended), was absolutely the right thing to do.  As for insulation types, cellulose and spray foam are quite different. If you went with cellulose, for one, you'd need all that ventilation. Like fiberglass, cellulose is designed to work in an "unconditioned" space.  Heat is held to the ceiling level, and everything above that is at ambient temperature (hot or cold).

Spray foam, on the other hand, is designed to convert that to "conditioned" space, meaning ventilation is no longer an issue.  We used this on our 1886 home and it's never been warmer in the winter or cooler in the summer.

When it's very difficult to get insulation in a tight space in either case, spray foam insulation might be your best bet. It can fill in tough-to-get-to cavities, has a higher R-value and does not need to be ventilated. A good resource is The Money Pit Guide to Insulation, which discusses pros and cons of spray foam insulation and its types. Best of luck with the project!