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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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peeling paint

Peeling Paint Problem

I am trying to solve a problem with peeling paint.  I painted my daughter's bedroom using primer and then paint. Now it has become my son's room, and there are spots where the paint just pulls off in long strips and looks like rubber. I want to repaint the room, but have no idea how to handle the areas where the paint is peeling. What can I do?

Our Answer

It's pointless to simply paint over an issue like this, because your new finish won't stick to layers and layers of bad paint. Instead, spend the time and effort to strip away all of the old paint so that you can smoothly brush on a long-lasting new coat. There are several environmentally friendly, low-VOC stripping products on the market, including Ready-Strip Plus, which has a color change feature that tells you when the old paint it has been applied to is ready to be removed. After you have finished this step, repair and sand surfaces, then prime before painting with KILZ Odorless Primer. From there, your paint peeling problem will be gone and you'll be able to apply a new hue that will last until your next room redecoration project comes along.

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porch

Converted Porch: Water Seepage Under Walls

We closed in our front porch to make a sewing room.  When we get heavy rain, water seeps in under the walls and front door of this room.  How can I waterproof the bottom edge of the walls so that water doesn't come in from the outside.

Our Answer

Sorry to say that I am not surprised.  It is very difficult to convert a porch to finished living space without following the same building assembly procedures you would have it if was built new.  If the wall was attached to a concrete floor and no siding exists that overlaps that floor to wall connection, then the only seal is between the floor and wall and even if you were to caulk it, that caulking will break down time and time again.  

Think about how siding overlaps the foundation of your home.  That is the kind of weather proof assembly needed to stop this from happening.  If you'd like to post a picture, send us the link in the comments below and I'll take a close look and let you know if any other ideas come to mind.

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floor squeak

Floor Squeak Repair: Screws vs. Nails for Sub-flooring

We have squeaking sub-flooring in our hallway upstairs.  We have had the carpet pulled back and we are ready to make the floor squeak repair by puting screw nails through the sub-flooring into the floor joists.  How long should the screw nails be?

Our Answer

Squeaking floors can be super annoying.  Floor squeaks happen for a number of reasons but most commonly because the sub-floor gets loose. That flooring is often put down with a rosin coated nail called a "cooler".  The idea is that when the nail is driven the friction melts the glue coating making it less likely to pull out.  But in reality, the nails do move and because they are coated by rosin, create floor squeaks that can drive you nuts!

In your question you refer to "screw nails."  There's really no such thing.  You should be buying case-hardened drywall screws, that are at least 2 1/2 inches thick for the floor squeak repair. Once that carpet is pulled up, I'd screw down each and every sheet of plywood, using 4-5 nails for each floor joist running under each sheet of plywood.  If the subfloor is installed on 16" centers, that means you'll need at least 28 screws per sheet! The good news is that they can be easily installed with a drill-driver.  Be sure to screw down every single sheet that you can get to because I can guarantee that as soon as you fix one squeak and put the carpet back - another one will immediately pop up!

 

 

 

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handheld shower head

Can Leaks be Caused by Not Cleaning a Bathroom?

We recently had water leaking from the ceiling of the first floor in our house. It turned out the water was coming from a shower on the second floor. The water was leaking through a space between tiles on the wall, about 3' above the floor. There is a window located directly above the tile where the leak occurred. There appears to be little or no grout between the tiles at the location of the leak. Our landlord is telling that the grout has deteriorated from a lack of cleaning and that as a result, we are at fault and must pay for the damage. The house is a little over a year old. Can not cleaning a bathroom cause this? Is there any credibility to him saying this?

Our Answer

I spent 20 years as a professional home inspector and I have to say that this has GOT to be about the dumbest excuse for a lazy landlord I have ever heard! The answer is NO!  Not cleaning a bathroom will not lead to a leak. However, not maintaining your grout and caulk WILL!  Tell your landlord to  get busy fixing this as it is his 100% responsibility for sure.

Usually these kind of leaks occur when a section of grout is missing, or if the seam was never caulked. When you take a shower, water splashes off you and can run down the walls until it finds these little gaps and then leak to the space below.  To make sure that the drain is not leaking however, you can easily pour a few gallons of water down it without splashing any on the walls.  

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What is “clean fill” dirt?

We recently dug out an old garden patch that was up against our house. Just wondering what the best type of fill to use to bring the soil level back up above the foundation. We have some mixed 3/4 minus, sand and soil left over from a patio project and wonder if that would do. We would of, course, grade it away from the house.

 

Our Answer

Any type of clean fill dirt absent of any organic matter like branches, leaves, grass etc should work to bring the level back up.  As you mentioned its important to slope it properly and it's always good to add an additional layer of topsoil on clean fill dirt.  This to give you good quality surface on which to plant grass or reseed your lawn.

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Replacing Wood Deck Boards with Composite Decking

If I want to replace the wood boards on my deck, will there be a problem installing new ones because of the existing screw holes? We would like to put composite boards in place of the old boards, but we ONLY want to do the top layer...not all of the wood framings.

Our Answer

This is a great project to take on whenever the existing deck boards have become cracked, rotted, or otherwise deteriorated. It will essentially allow you to have what looks to be a completely new deck, but while only having done part of the work. In this case, you will remove all of those old wood deck boards and replace that decking with composites. (Here is more information on composite decking.) You asked if you had to be concerned about lining up the previous screw holes. The answer is no, you absolutely do not.

The composites should be directly attached to the original floor joist, and keep in mind there are a number of ways to do just that. For example, composites offer a "hidden" attachment system where the deck screw fasteners are really hidden; they may be inserted into the sides of the boards or attached with special clips. It's well worth looking into this because the result is a much more attractive surface. If you are going to attach through the composites, special screws have been designed for this. They will drill and screw at the same time. This will avoid that "mushroom" effect - where the decking surface backs up around the screw as it passes through. If you pay attention to the attachment points, you will find that the entire project looks a lot neater.

While you're at it, you may want to think about replacing the wood railing and covering the exterior box beam. That's the wood that surrounds the outside of a floor joist structure. You don't actually have to replace it, but you can cover it with additional composite material. Composites are available in a standard 5/4 in. x 6 in. size for decking. But, they are also available in a 1 in. x 12 in. option, which is the perfect size to cover those sides of the deck. Either way, you're going to have a good looking deck that you can use for many more years.

As a first step, I should caution that I would inspect the deck carefully to make sure the floor joist is structurally sound and the deck is firmly attached to the house. You wouldn't want to go through all that work only to find that the structure is bad later. Here are more tips we recommend for repairing your deck! Good luck with that project, and send us pictures when you're done!

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The Best Ways to Attach a Deck to Your House

I'm buying a house and the inspector noted that the deck was improperly attached to the house. It is a brick veneer home and they attached the deck directly to the brick instead of making it a floating structure. Will this cause a problem with my brick along the deck area?

If I fix it, should I detach it from the brick and install a beam to support it where it is up against the house, or should I try to put anchors all the way through the structure into the basement with long bolts?

Our Answer

This is a really important find on the part of your home inspector. Improper attachment to the house is the number one reason decks fail - and they fail with alarming frequency. Typically, you use a deck every day for family gatherings. But on the occasion that there's a holiday or party, the deck gets overloaded and tragedy can ensue. The best way to avoid this is to firmly attach that deck to your house. (Here are some deck design ideas for safer structures.)

As you pointed out, there are two ways to do this. You could completely isolate the deck from the house by adding supports along the beam that attaches to the house at present. You should really do this with the help of an engineer or construction expert because it is not clear how the entire deck is put together from your question.

The other option is to attach that ledger to the building itself by the use of long bolts going all the way through that foundation wall and bolting on the other side. Mind you, that's probably the strongest way to attach a ledger. The fact that your ledger beam was attached just to the brick veneer is dangerous, and needs to be fixed immediately - before there is any opportunity for people to be gathered on it. Again, great job to your home inspector for finding it. You are absolutely right to be concerned, and this is one repair project you need to hop on right away!

Again, great job to your home inspector for finding it. You are absolutely right to be concerned, and this is one repair project you need to hop on right away!

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Is There Any Way to Stop My Home from Settling?

Our 1937 built house just keeps on settling. I always have to re-adjust doors, entry, and interior. Is there any way to get a happy medium so I don't have to keep adjusting?

Our Answer

Well, they don't build them like they used to and a 1937 house is probably pretty well-built. The problems with the windows and doors not fitting properly, sticking, and requiring regular adjustment may or may not actually be due to settling. It could just be normal expansion and contraction, which happens seasonally. If the doors and/or windows were not put in correctly, it's possible that they were installed too tightly. They may have a tight tolerance as a result, causing them to be unable to expand and contract with the rest of the building.

The first thing I would do is have a professional take a look at the installation of the worst ones. It's possible that they could be rehung in such a way as to provide a bit more space - around the door, for example - so there is room for the door to expand and contract.

Now, if you're seeing other evidence of movement in the house - like cracks forming above doors/windows, seams in the walls, or cracks in the foundation, I would be more concerned about the possibility of a structural problem. In that case, I would have the home inspected by a professional inspector. You can find one through the American Society of Home Inspectors. I would not call a contractor for this because they are just going to find a problem they would like to fix. Home inspectors don't have that conflict of interest. 

If the home is settling, there could be multiple reasons why this is happening. The most common of which is poor drainage at the foundation perimeter. Many times, water will collect around the exterior foundation of walls. They become weaker and will settle or move downward, forcing a realignment of everything in their path. This would be one easy thing for you to check. If the problem continues, I would definitely get professional help. The faster you get it fixed, the cheaper the problem will be.

Good luck with this project, and let us know how it goes!

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flooring, floor, how to patch carpet, how to remove carpet, hardwood, carpet

Can I Put a Vinyl Floor Over Laminate Floor?

I have laminate floor, but some of it has buckled from moisture.  If I sand these areas down, will I be able to lay the vinyl flooring over the laminate?

Our Answer

You are setting yourself up for trouble if you take this approach.  Any buckles you see in the laminate floor, even if sanded, will continue to worsen.  Even more, buckling laminate is often the sign of a moisture problem, or improper installation, or both!

Laminate floors are really easy to remove because they're floating - that is, they're not glued down.  I definitely recommend removing it completely and doing your best to control the moisture before considering any new floor.  Plus vinyl needs to be installed on a clean, smooth and completely flat surface or every imperfection of the old floor will show through.

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How to Repair Buckled Laminate Floor

We purchased our home this past winter in Northern NJ. Our den area has a floating laminate floor that looks like it was installed in the past 2-3 years and is in good shape. However, we just noticed that in one area of the den a couple of the boards are buckling upward, and have at least 1.5 inches of separation from the subfloor.  I've searched for solutions for a buckled laminate floor online. The two most common causes appear to be water damage or expansion of flooring improperly installed too tight to the exterior walls.  The floors have not been wet, so I suspect that the latter is the main cause.

What would you recommend to repair the buckled laminate floor? The area is actually closest to our fireplace and there appears to be some chipping at the edge of the floor at the fireplace.

Our Answer

Laminate floors are a durable and beautiful option. But, if improperly installed, buckling can definitely occur. It sounds like that's exactly the case in your home! Repair is difficult because you essentially have to disassemble the floor from the outside all the way in to that buckled section. Then, replace the buckle boards and install the rest of the floor.

If you have some extra material, this could be a possibility. Before you start, I would recommend numbering all the boards you have to take off. This way, you know the exact order and can easily reinstall them after the repair. You could use a whiteboard marker, lumber crayon, or even masking tape with numbers written on top.

Of course, when you rebuild the floor, you want to leave at least 1/4" to 1/2" of space between the laminate floor and the baseboard molding. Cover that gap with shoe molding, which should be just deep enough to do the trick. If that's the only place you're seeing the buckling, I wouldn't bother taking up the flooring in the rest of the room. But, for the flooring that you have to remove and replace, make sure you remove that gap so it won't recur. I hope that helps, and good luck with the rest of the project!

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Rotten Porch Posts: How to Repair

We bought a rustic style home in a wooded environment last year.  We have been fixing issues that stem from years of neglect including issues that were caused by moisture, including rotten porch posts.

Our front porch is poured concrete and has 6x6 wooden beams supporting the porch roof.  Over time, some of those beams have sustained wood rot at the base and are no longer touching the concrete in places.  How can we safely fix or replace those beams and try to avoid the same wood rot issues in the future?
Thanks!!

Our Answer

Hi Christina! This is a very typical problem and really just mother nature's way of disposing of dead trees.  Unfortunately, one of those trees happens to be holding up your house!  Wood which stays damp and moist develops decay.  The post sitting directly on the concrete accelerates this process because both the wood post and the concrete are very hydroscopic, meaning they can soak up a heck of a lot of water!

While in some cases you can cut away and rebuild the bottom of the porch column, most commonly these posts need to be replaced.  The process involves installing temporary supports under the porch roof to support the structure while you repair or completely replace the wood post. You can reduce the chances of reoccurrence in a couple of ways.  First, use a pressure treated wood post.  These may not look very attractive, but they can be wrapped after they are installed with a wood trim of aluminum cladding to improve their appearance.

Second, you should make sure that the new post is siting on a post base, which is a metal plate designed to keep the wood off the concrete, thereby allowing it to stay dry.  There are many available, from a simples aluminum plate that is nailed to the bottom of the post to one that can be bolted to the post and the foundation to prevent uplift.

Finally, you might consider replacing the posts with fiberglass columns.  These can be both beautiful and sturdy -- plus you'l never have to worry about rot again!

Good luck with the project and post your pics here when you're done!. 

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Kitchen Floor Installation Before Cabinets?

I'm a first time home buyer. I am going to purchase a home that needs some TLC, especially in the kitchen. Should I replace the flooring before or after installing the new top and bottom cabinets?

Our Answer

This is a great question, and there are two main schools of thought. The perfectionist would tell you it is best to install the floor first and install it all the way under the cabinets. This has the advantage of creating an even floor across the whole space and prevents you from having to shim up the cabinets to match the height of a new floor. However, this also results in wasting a lot of flooring product. Now, if we're talking about linoleum or vinyl, that's no big deal. (Here are some of our favorite durable, low-maintenance kitchen flooring examples that you can also look into.) But if we're talking about ceramic, hard wood, or marble, it's going to cost you a few bucks to install flooring under cabinets that you're never going to see. 

The other way to do this is to bring the flooring up to the edge of the cabinets. What I would do in that case is install the cabinets first, and then shim them up using materials that would equal the height of the flooring. This is a very important step. If you were to install the cabinets on the floor and then bring the flooring up to it - let's say the flooring is 3/4 of an inch or 1 inch thick - you're going to have a big problem when it comes to the dishwasher. You'll now have a big lip in the floor to push that dishwasher over when it comes to putting it in place. Even worse, when it comes time to replace the dishwasher when it inevitably breaks, you're going to have a hard time getting it out. There have been times where folks have not planned for that outcome and actually had to disassemble the countertop and lift it vertically. 

If it were my money, I would probably choose to shim up the cabinets to meet the height of the flooring. Then, I would install all kitchen cabinets. Finally, I would put the flooring in - but only under the area where the dishwasher is going to slide into place. This will make that part of the job a lot easier on the initial installation, as well as making it easier to ultimately remove and replace dishwashers in the future.

Good luck with that project, and send us some pictures when you're all done!

 

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Renovation Tips for a Finished Attic

My attic is partially finished, with another section that is not finished at all. I'm planning to finish both attic sections. What steps do I need to put in place to ensure proper ventilation, insulation, etc. in this situation? I will be doing this myself other than windows, electric, and plumbing.

Our Answer

Finishing your attic is a great project because it is an area of the home most people don't take advantage of! So, it makes a lot of sense to utilize it as a living space. Insulating an attic space like that, however, is difficult. Basically, you want as much insulation as you can get.

However, in a finished attic, you don't have a lot of room to work. At the uppermost level of the home, you most likely want to have 15-20 inches of insulation. This is almost impossible to achieve in a finished attic situation. Typically, you're going to be insulating the underside of the roof rafters - and if it's fiberglass insulation, you have to leave an extra couple of inches for fiberglass insulation.

For this reason, I think your best move is to avoid fiberglass insulation and use spray foam insulation instead. Spray foam insulation is much denser and does not need to be ventilated like fiberglass insulation. It's going to be more expensive for the initial installation, but you will find that it provides many benefits. In addition to insulating, it will also seal the entire attic from drafts. Plus, it has the added benefit of being sound proof. This is why I believe it is the best way to go!

Good luck with your project and be sure to send us pictures when you're done!

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Ceruse Finish: Is this a DIY Project?

Is a "ceruse" finish something an ordinary person can accomplish?

Cerused Finish

Our Answer

Great question. Ceruse finish, or limed oak finish, was first popular in France in the 1500's and is gaining popularity now because of the aged look! It's great because it really breathes life into old furniture.

Ceruse finish is an achievable DIY look as long as you take some small but necessary steps. For example, taking a couple spare boards and practicing the technique on those first so you are more familiar with the technique. We recommend you start by cleaning the wood that you are planning to use. You can raise the grain with a wired brush and then smooth the grain down with sandpaper. Be sure to clean the sawdust up with some tack cloth.

Then, begin mixing the materials you have chosen to use. If you are planning on thinning out paint, make sure the proper amount of dilution is put into place. You can even take some time to tint the color to any shade you would like, whether it is an off-white or egg-white. Then, apply your filler in an even layer. You want to make sure you are applying your filler in the direction of the grain, as that will be the key to accomplishing the look you are going for. You will probably want to take this step in smaller sections while being cautious of absorption time so that your wood is staying the same shade. You may want to go over the filler addition with a cloth that will not rub onto the finish to keep things level.

Then, you will brush a top-coat on it when it is completely dry. Seal it again to ensure it stays the way you want it, sand the finish, and repeat until you're satisfied with the way it looks. Though you have to be patient with it, ceruse finish looks beautiful when it's finished!