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Tools for home repair

How to Prioritize Repairs in 100 Year Old Building

I've just moved into a new apartment, in a building that's around a hundred years old. I'll be asking a lot of questions in the future, but my first question regards choosing a priority area of focus.  There are 3 areas of concern:

#1 Water Damaged Walls and Chipping Paint

There is water damage to the walls with chipping paint that looks very old and there is accompanying yellow orange bubbling (almost like old sun worn spray foam/great stuff).

#2 Worn & Damaged Hardwood Floor

Then there is the beautiful hard wood floor. It has various areas of water damage, decades of foot traffic wear, possibly some burns from smokers many years old, and some cracking here and there. I would not want to replace anything, but rather restore it all and fill in cracks with a metallic copper epoxy.

#3 Worn Bathroom Fixtures

The next area of focus would be the bathroom sink, toilet, tub, and various wood work around the house. I have no idea how to get the decades of grime out of the tub, or taking the rust out of the sink (CLR is not working).

I have experience with the first two options, but not the third.  If you can help me prioritize these projects, and provide tips on how to go about getting the projects done, I would love to hear your suggestions. Thank you for your time!

Our Answer

Your questions are understandable as many in your situation have the same question which is not what needs to be repaired, but what needs to be repaired first!

Generally speaking, repair priority should be based on first doing repairs that are needed to preserve a building for further damage.  So, for example, you'd fix a leaking roof before you remodels a worn out bath.  In your case, none of these repairs seems to negatively impact the structure or mechanical systems, so the good news is that you can proceed as budget and timing allow.  That said, I do have some suggestions that may help you decide.

Water Damaged Walls and Chipping Paint: I assume that the cause of the water damage has been addressed.  If not, that should be your first priority.  As for the paint and other substances, given that the building is 100-years old, there is a significant risk that this paint contains lead, which can be dangerous, especially to children.  You'll need to have the paint tested and if it is lead, find a trained, certified and experienced lead paint remediation company.

Worn & Damaged Hardwood Floor: This is a pretty easy fix.  Given the condition the floors need to be sanded, a job I'd hire a floor contractor to do.  These reason this may not be a DIY project as it requires an experienced using a large, heavy floor belt sander -- which is a machine that can easily damage your floor if not used by an experienced pro.  The only thing really odd about your proposed repair is that you talk about "fill in cracks with a metallic copper epoxy", which is a material I'm unfamiliar with and seems unusual.  If after sanding you have cracks to fill, that would be done with a floor filler material.

As for any gaps you may have between the boards, those can be filed with jute rope, pressed down in place and then covered with the floor finish (oil-based polyurethane is best).  While there are other techniques we'd recommend if the damage was minimal, deep stains or gouges require the floor to be sanded.

Worn Bathroom Fixtures: Remodeling a bathroom is always a smart home improvement project as updated bathrooms, as well as kitchens, generally provide a good return on investment.  The condition of the finish you describe sounds to me like its simply worn and all the "cleaning" in the world is not going to make it any better.

There's no emergent reason you need to do the floor or bathroom projects.  However, my advice would be to first determine if the paint is lead based, and then take it from there.  If lead paint removal is needed, it's a project that would interrupt either of the other two projects.

Good luck and let us know if you have further questions!

 

 

 

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Oak hardwood floor in bright home.

Refinishing Hardwood Floor Tools and Finish: Tools to use for sanding and recoating hardwood floors

I'm going to refinish my hardwood floors; what grid sandpaper should I use and what type of coating should I put back on the hardwood floors?

Our Answer

Refinishing hardwood floors is a popular project that can really improve the look of your space. If the finish is just dull and there aren't deep gouges or any other kind of serious flaws in the floors, the simplest way to prep the surface for a fresh new coat is to rent a floor buffer with a sanding screen.   The screens gently rotate to take off only the top layer of finish and won't damage the surface underneath.

If the floor is badly damaged, you'll need to rent a floor sander. Typically, there are two types of floor sanders available.  A floor belt sander is the tool most pros use.  These tools are big, heavy, hard to maneuver and if you sneeze when you are using one, can damage your floor for life.  We don't recommend renting a belt sander for your floors. If they are that bad, hire a pro to do the sanding.  Nothing short of using one of these behemoths every day is going to give you the experience to use one without making the floor look worse than when you started.

A better option for the DIYer when refinishing hardwood floors is a machine known as a U-Sand.  A U-sand is a 4 disk random orbital sander that does a fabulous job sanding the floor and is goof-proof regardless of the skill level of the user.  It also does a good job of sucking up the dust it creates, making for a much neater job and smoother finish.
Even with these tools, you will most likely still need to do some sanding by hand in the areas tough to get to.  You can also rent a disk sander that is designed to get into the edges of the floor, but keep in mind that these machines typically leave swirl marks that may none the less need to be hand-sanded out.

Polyurethane is the finish of choice for floors.  The finish is available in both latex and oil based versions.  In our experience, the latex finish works well for cabinets, trim and furniture but just doesn't have the abrasion resistance to do a good job on the floors.  For refinishing hardwood floors, oil finish still delivers the best long term result.

When refinishing hardwood floors, the best way to apply oil-based polyurethane is to "mop" it on with a synthetic "lamb's wool" applicator.  This useful tool, available at any home center, looks like a sponge mop and lays down a silky smooth finish in a fraction of the time it would take to do it using a brush.  For best results, use several thin coats and try to avoid heavy traffic on the floor for a few days after the finish is applied so that it can fully harden on the newly refinished hardwood floor.

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Plumbing Blasting Hot Water

Hi, I'm getting sudden bursts of very hot water in the middle of a shower. I have a gas water heater. The pilot light is on. Any ideas why this is happening?

Thank you!

Our Answer

This can be an unsafe situation to have a sudden burst of very hot water in the middle of a shower, and you need to have a licensed and insured master plumber check this out as soon as possible.

The water heater has nothing to do with the supply of uneven water temps. It will gradually decrease in temp as the tank begins to run out of water.

In the shower valve is a device that controls the water temp by mixing the cold with the hot to deliver a constant temp that is set by the handle. If that  temp goes up and down it's the faucet control that is starting to fail. With modern anti-scald valves this device is set when installed to prevent super hot water from ever exiting the shower or tub faucet.

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air filter

MERV Score for Indoor Air Filters?

What rating should indoor air filters have?  Many intake filters don't list the MERV rating.

Our Answer

MERV stands for Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value, and ranges from 1 up to 20.  The higher the rating, the greater a filter's effectiveness.  It generally doesn't take more than a few dollars per filter to jump several grades higher on the MERV spectrum.

I would say that, as a rule of thumb, go with a microallergen filter, which usually has a MERV score of at least 11.  However, if you want to hone in on more than just ratings, there's a whole line of Filtrete air filters that can weed out various particles depending on your intended result, such as reducing odors or allergens.

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low voc paint

Low-voc Paint: Earth- and Human-friendly Paints Provide Great Project Results

I'm taking on some painting projects and am looking for a safer paint. Lately I seem to be more sensitive to working with paint, and get an allergic reaction that makes my eyes water and leads to some nasty headaches. Are there any options for a more environmentally friendly paint product? I have also been reading a lot about something called VOCs in paint. What are VOCs, and could they be causing my problem?

Our Answer

Possibly, and it'd be a good idea to shop for low-VOC paint this time around. VOC stands for volatile organic compounds. Some VOCs are fungicides that prevent mold growth, others help with color and some contribute to the paint's spreadability. The fact of the matter is that chemicals like these have been part of the manufacturing process for many years because it actually made the paint better. Believe it or not, even toxic lead, which is no longer used, was there to improve colorfastness. In fact, I remember finding a can of very, very old paint during a home inspection years ago on which the manufacturer bragged about the paint's high lead content!

Fortunately, the manufacturing process has gotten much better at producing quality paint that is much safer to use. Today, lead is gone and low- or no-VOC paint is the standard. Latex, alkyd-based paint is commonly made with no or low VOCs and even oil paints have a lot less. You can actually read the paint's label to determine how much VOC has been added. A low-VOC latex paint would have about 250 grams of VOCs, and a low oil-based paint would have about 350 grams or so.

When shopping for paint, be sure to inform the clerk that you are particularly interested in low-odor, low-VOC paints. If you ever have a question about what is inside the can, you can also ask for the MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) which will list VOCs in Section 9. Odor is another issue that manufacturers have been working to reduce, and most low-VOC products are also low-odor.

Other than selecting low-VOC paint, just make sure you work in a well-ventilated area. Opening up a few windows in the dead of winter might not seem like a smart idea, but the added cost in heat is a small price to pay for your health and comfort throughout the job.

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Basement Water in Old House

We have probably a 1920's house, and as you can imagine, the concrete floor has cracks (floor is tiled with old linoleum tiles), and the intersection of the walls and floor typically begin seeping water when we have 2+ inches or more in a 24-48 hour period. On one corner of the house is a sump, which has some old drain tiles draining into it. Only one drain tile has any water movement thru it. I  suspect they have gotten cloged throughout the years... The seepage is literally, from around most of the entire foundation, but particularly, on the opposite side/corner of the basement from the sump.

Would adding another sump on the opposite side help reduce the ground water pressure under the floor to prevent the water from coming up thru the cracks around the rest of the basement? The house footprint is 26'x44'.

Fortunately, we don't store anything that could get wet down there, but never the less, having to wet vac the water out on those heavy rain periods here in Iowa can be a pain!

Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

Rick Smith (Waterloo, IA)

P.S.  The down spouts on the house drain thru drain tile I buried (after buying the house) to run the water more than 15ft away, and the foundation dirt is sloping away.. we have a 18x18 deck on one side which I cannot tell the drainage beneath it, dut to it basically being flush with the ground.

Our Answer

Rick, sorry to hear about your wet basement problems!  I will tell you that you are in very good company as this is one of the most common questions we are asked about.
While frustrating, there are simple solutions.  For starters, please review these articles:  Basement Waterproofing Tips and Wet Basement Solutions.
Based on what you have said above I am 100% confident that your problem is being cause by poor exterior drainage.  When a basement leaks after a heavy rain, it is NEVER a rising water table, which is the ONLY time you need a subsurface drainage system.  So, you do not need to add a second sump pump.  What you probably do need to do first is carefully, and I mean very carefully, make absolutely sure that not a DROP of water from your gutter system is leaking out of those drain pipes any closer than the 15 feet away you ran those extensions.  Also check to be sure the gutters are capturing all run-off especially during periods of heavy rain when gutters can become overwhelmed.  Secondly, looking at the photo, which the home is up on a berm, I'm not sure that the perimeter soil slope away for the first 4 feet from the foundation.  That "backfill zone" must slope away about 6 inches over 4 feet to keep the soil around the home dry.

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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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Wallpaper: Trendy or Outdated?

I like the look of wallpaper, but I am concerned that it will make my home look dated. Is there a current and stylish way to use wallpaper without making my home look like it's stuck in the 80's?

Our Answer

The short answer is: yes!  Always a favorite for its versatility, variety, and suitability for just about any room, wallpaper has only improved in terms of cost efficiency and application ease. Choose from inexpensive pre-pasted and easy-change varieties, and go for texture and pattern.  But remember that a little goes a long way.  Use wall paper in small doses, for example to line the back of a book shelf or built in wall unit.  Or frame out an area of your wall with trim and wall paper JUST the inside of that frame.  Or use an interesting pattern on just one wall of the room.  Busy patterns can make a room look smaller if the whole space is papered.

Another option is a full-wall mural.  They are back in vogue again, and thanks to digital technologies, photographic vistas are all the more alluring.  Nature scapes are perfect for kid’s rooms and spaces that connect to the outdoors – like a sunroom.

This is certainly a DIY project.  But one way you can make it easier on yourself is by using the right tools.  The Skil Power Cutter is a very versatile tool that can be used again and again for dozens of projects and chores at home.  You can cut through wallpaper, vinyl flooring, vinyl siding, carpet or carpet padding and dozens of other materials for your home improvement projects.  The bonus is it can also be a go-to cutter for all of your household jobs too – it cuts through denim, leather, cardstock, old credit cards – and that frustrating clamshell packaging!  With powerful lithium ion technology, and an auto sharp blade system, Skil’s lightweight power cutter will soon become your favorite tool too.

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Bathroom Remodel | Smaller Bedroom vs. Larger Bath

Hi, I have a nice L shaped master bedroom with this tiny master bath and a normal size closet for an old house. We are talking about extending the bathroom straight across the room and moving the closet on the other side of the new bathroom. This would downsize the bedroom space significantly, but would still fit a king sized bed, night stand and one dresser. Would this hurt the value of our home when we go to sell or would it be a positive change?
Thanks,

Kelsey.

Our Answer

That's a great question.  Home buyers appreciate both, and I suspect it will come down to personal preferences.  I don't like the idea of cutting into an otherwise roomy master bedroom, and would fully evaluate what changes might be made to remodel the bath without taking away from the master bedroom.

How important is that bathroom closet? Instead of pushing it to the master, you might consider simply adding an armoire to that space for additional storage.  Also, you should consider working with a CKBD, a Certified Kitchen & Bath Designer, who may have other ideas on how to make the most of the space you have.

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air conditioning leak, condensation, insulation

Air Conditioning Ducts Leaking Water: Prevent Condensation

I have a leak from my ceiling in my hallway.  Last fall I had two plumbers come out to diagnose the problem and neither could find a leak.  The last plumber suggested that I call an air duct contractor as there was a drip from the air duct pipe leading from my dryer to the outside.  My home was built in the 50’s.  The washer/dryer sits behind bifold doors in the hallway.  The pipe from the dryer runs up the back wall of the dryer and across the ceiling to the back.  The a /c unit sits next to the dryer.  The air duct contractor removed and replaced the rusted out air duct pipe.  Then just a couple months ago the drip started again just as it did before.  I called the air duct contractor but the air duct pipe was fine.  He suggested that the air duct pipe and the a/c pipe were too close together and the heat and cold were causing condensation to build in the air duct which then dripped.  To help resolve it he wrapped insulation around the a/c pipe.   All was well until one day I heard this swish-sound.  I went into my hallway and there was a puddle of water on the floor and the insulation was sticking out of the hole that I originally cut in my ceiling when I was trying to figure out what the problem was.    Do you have any suggestions.  Thank you.

Our Answer

Thanks for all the details.  From your description, this does seem to fit the pattern of a condensation leak caused by warm, humid air striking the cold air conditioning ducts.  The fact that your dryer exhaust runs so close to this could also be related, especially if any of that very warm and humid exhaust is leaking out along the way.

The solution is simple and complicated at the same time.  If you have access to this attic space, you can insulate the ducts, which I know you tried.  However, you need to use a duct insulation that has a built-in vapor retarder, such as this Johns Manville Duct Insulation product.  Plus, you need to insulate ALL the ducts because condensation can form anywhere and run to the lowest spot to leak out.  Lastly, its important that you seal all the seams in the insulation with silver foil tape (NOT "duct" tape! It will dry out and fall off)

In addition, it may help if you improved the attic ventilation.  While the relative humidity would go unchanged, more air movement in the attic might increase evaporation a result in less accumulation of moisture on the ducts.

 

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Shelving

Why do I have Moisture on Basement Support Beams?

There are small moisture spots on the steel support beams in my basement. I could be wrong but to me it seems like they originate from the inside of the beams. I tried priming and painting them with Rust-Oleum oil based primer and paint. After that didn’t work I tried again using the primer for rusty metal with another coat of paint. I don’t get water into my basement and I run a dehumidifier during the summer. Can you tell me what is causing them and what do I do? Thanks!   I always learning something from your show!

Our Answer

Water leaking from inside a steel beam?  Now THAT would be quite a trick!  The problem is actually a lot simpler./  What you are sein is simply condensation.  The basement air is damp, and the steel beam cold.  As that warmer, moist air strikes the beam, it release moisture which condenses on the beams surface, ultimately showing up as drips that could appear likes it coming right out of the beam!

The solution is to reduce that humidity. A dehumidifier is one approach, but there are many other things I'd do before that.  Primarily, you need to reduce the volume of water that is close to your foundation outside, by carefully and methodically extending downspouts, keeping the gutters clean and regrading the foundation perimeter if necessary. Follow the advice in our post about how to stop a leaking basement. Even though your basement isn't leaking, the very same principles apply.

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fixing kitchen cabinets

Converting from Electric Range to Gas Range

I want to convert my electric range to a gas range, but when the men came to connect the gas, they told me they could not because the local code requires 18" clearance from the top of the countertops to the bottom of the upper cabinets. Our clearance measured 17 1/4".

My options appear to be:

  1. Cancel the project
  2. Raise the upper cabinets 1" higher
  3. Saw 3/4" off the bottom of the upper cabinets
  4. Saw 3/4" off the top of the lower cabinets when replacing the laminate countertops with granite.
  5. Others?

I would also need to hire an electrician to install a 110v electrical outlet.  I have a gas water heater and fireplace. I was told that hooking up the gas line could cost up to $1200.  Is this project worth pursuing?

What is the best option that is not going to break my wallet?

Our Answer

Well, it's true you need 18 inches of clearance, but that only for the cabinet directly above the range. In most wall cabinet layouts, the cabinet above the range is 15 inches tall and the remainder are 30 inches tall.  The quick fix is to remove the range cabinet, and move it up 1 inch and then reattach it.

If you are concerned that the top of the cabinets no longer lineup, then add a strip of molding across the entire run to cover the irregularity. This post offers more options for improving your kitchen cabinets

This also mean your range cabinet doors will be higher than those on cabinets ot the left of right, but you can move those hinges down a bit and raise the hinges for doors on the adjoining cabinets to make the difference less obvious.

As for costs, since you already have gas appliances, $1,200 sounds very expensive for running an existing gas line to that appliance.

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woodshop, tools

Transform Dirt Floor Barn into Woodshop

We have an old barn  that is about 30 x 40 feet in western Massachusetts. The first floor of the barn is open and has granite footings under the the posts. There is currently a dirt floor, but we want to make the bottom level of the barn the woodshop and are wondering if it would work to pour a concrete slab or if there is better option for transforming the space into a usable shop.

Our Answer

Your barn sounds like a great space for a woodshop.  A concrete floor would probably make the most sense. Since the building is self supporting, the floor will have no structural purpose so would not need to be any thicker than around 6 inches or so.  To make sure the slab doesn't crack, I'd be sure to use a good quality mason.  Preparing the grade and stone base is key, as is being sure its tamped down to eliminate any settlement under the slab.  Wire reinforcement will also be needed.  And given that you are in Massachusetts, I'd also insulate under the slab to make it a bit more comfortable to work on in colder weather.

Also, plan to apply an epoxy floor paint after it is complete, so that the slab is easy to sweep and keep clean.  And think about whether you might want to run wiring for present or future tool, outlets or other electrical connections, and have an electrician prewire the floor before the slab is poured.

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Remove Greasy Smoke Stains from Wood Cabinets

I have extremely greasy smoke-stained cabinets (previous owners were smokers).  I have tried every cabinet cleaner on them without any progress. I want to try TSP on it but I am worried it will take off the finish. Do you have any suggestions for heavy duty cleaner that won’t harm the cabinets?

Our Answer

I don't think that TSP will remove wood finish, but I'd test it to be sure.  Remove a door or cabinet drawer, mix up a weak solution of TSP and warm water, and see how well it works.  Just dont let the wood get excessively wet or it may warp.

If you've not tried it yet, Murphy's Oil Soap is also an option. It's very well regarded as a furniture cleaner and highly rated on Amazon.

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Harness Solar Energy

I live in a southwest facing manufactured home w/ little(no) shade in the front yard. The sun bakes the paint off my front door even in the winter. Does anyone have any low cost, doable ideas for how to harness this solar energy ? I feel like I could heat all 2000 sq. ft. of my home with it if I could.

Our Answer

Amy, there are lots ands lots of ways to harness the sun.  Here are a few articles we've done to get you started:

Be sure you check with your utility company as well as state or local renewable energy office to find out what rebates may be available as well. There are many programs that can help reduce the costs of the installation.