Your questions, Our Answers

SearchAsk
See Answer

Is Vapor Barrier Needed in Crawl Space?

I recently bought a home  built in 1991. It is a fine home that sits on a hill. I discovered that there is no vapor barrier on the ground in the crawl space. I do not notice any resulting problems, but the first floor feels cold to my bare feet even though there is insulation under the floor.

Should I add a vapor barrier, and if so, why?

Our Answer

Vapor barriers reduce humidity in the crawlspace as they greatly reduce the amount of moisture that can evaporate off the soil floor of the crawlspace.  This reduces the risk of mold and decay framing on the floor framing, and further improves the effectiveness of your insulation which works best at lower humidity levels.  

That said, its not likely this will make your floor feel warm to bare feet!  For that you'd need to improve the make sure the floor joist have as much insulation as they can handle (2x12 floor joist should have 12 inches of insulation, for example).  Also, crawlspaces traditionally have foundation vents that can let cold air in, which helps dry the space out.  Those can be closed for the 3 or 4 coldest months (maybe November or December to February).  Just make sure they are opened for the rest of the year. 

See Answer
central air conditioning systems, HVAC

How Can I Tell if my AC is Leaking Freon?

What is the better way to check a freon leak - a dye test, or an electronic device? I have had about five pounds of freon leak over the past nine months. My home warranty plan refuses to send out another company to check for the leak using the dye test.  They say "wait 60 days & see if the leak can be found."  What do you suggest?

Our Answer

First off, you're not the best person to be searching for a refrigerant leak - which, by the way, may or may not be freon depending on the age of your AC compressor. 

Rather than check for actual leakage, check for performance.  Here's how:

Measure the temperature of the air inside the house at a return duct, then measure it at a supply duct nearest to the air handler.  If the system is performing normally, you should read a 12 - 20 degree differential.  If the differential is less than twelve, you're well within your right to demand repair. 

As far as your home warranty company's refusal to address this problem, this is unfortunately somewhat typical, and I can only suggest you be very persistent with them, and always ask to discuss the matter with a supervisor.  Good luck!

See Answer
gas grill, grill cleaning

Gas Grill Cleaning Tips

After a couple of months of heavy grilling, my gas grill needs an extreme makeover of its own. Do you any tips for a mid season grill cleaning?

Our Answer

The same char broiling grill action that flavors ribs, chicken, steaks and burgers all summer long can really cause problems if you don't stop and do a thorough grill cleaning once in a while. Here's what to do:

  1. Soak the grids in hot, soapy water and clean them with a nylon scrubbing pad. If the grids are really encrusted, use oven cleaner in a well ventilated area and rinse clean.
  2. Remove the lava rock or ceramic briquettes and clean them with a wire brush, replacing any that are deteriorated. Remove the burner, brush it clean and check carefully for cracks, split seams or holes. If any are found, the burner should be immediately replaced.
  3. Check all the rubber gas hoses for cracks and replace any that show the slightest sign of wear.
  4. Once the grill cleaning is complete, you are ready to put the grill back together and check all gas connections for leaks. To do this safely, mix a 50/50 solution of liquid dishwashing soap and water. Brush the solution on all gas connections and watch for bubbles. If any are seen, the connection is leaking and should be fixed before firing the grill.

Now that you know how to clean the grill, the only thing to do is help make it dirty again! So, here's a recipe for a great barbecue sauce that Leslie likes to whip up. This is the messiest sauce out there but it is so worth it. It works on flank steak, chicken, ribs, or just about anything else you can grill.

Ingredients:

  • 32oz bottle of ketchup
  • 3 tablespoons garlic salt
  • 1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 1/4 cup honey

Mix well in a bowl and marinate for at least three hours or overnight. Use extra sauce to brush on during grilling.  

Then, see the above gas grill cleaning instructions again!

See Answer

Best Way to Install a Dryer Vent

Hey guys,   I having a hard time installing the dryer vent tube. The inlet/outlet wont't line up and I end squishing the vent tube up against the wall.  I know this is restricting airflow. There has to be a better way. What products/methods can you recommend? Thanks in advanced. I love the show!

Our Answer

You're right Mike.  Getting the dryer vent connection right is far more important than most people know, and for several reasons. First off, its important for safety.  Dirty dryer ducts are a leading cause of house fires.  Plus, the longer the dryer has to work to vent that moisture, the more energy it burns up in the process, not to mention the increased wear and tear on the clothes as they tumble around a lot longer than they need to.  

It sound's like you've tried the straight forward approach of snaking the vent behind the machine, but the key here is (and as you've observed) to do this without crushing the vent. In fact, you want to do this with as few bends and turns as possible.  Every 90 degree turn, provide the same resistance as 20 additional feet of duct run, so the fewer twists and turns the better.  Here's a couple ideas that might help.

  1. Take a look at the layout of the dryer exhaust inside your house. What happens when that duct gets into the wall?  Can it be changed for easier access?  There are a number of prefabricated ducted dryer exhaust configurations that can help. In some cases, it may be smart to cut open the wall to adjust the position or re-run the duct completely.
  2. Look at the dryer.  Many can be easily modified so that the exhaust ducts out the side, instead of the back. When I remodeled my laundry room a couple years ago, I did just that. Now, instead of the duct taking two turns and then running 20 feet under my son's bedroom, it goes all of 18 inches out the side of the dryer and through the exterior wall. Our clothes have never dried faster!
  3. Once you have the ducting set, be sure to keep it clean. Cleaning a dryer vent is easy if you have a right tool. Now that I have a short exhaust duct run, its not as critical but before that, I used an inexpensive dryer duct cleaning tool called the Gardus Lint Eater. It is a series of flexible piping that link together and has a big brush on the end.  It snakes its way through your dryer venting system and will get rid of all of those dangerous lint bunnies lurking in the dryer vent.  

Lastly, it is also important to replace plastic or vinyl dryer ducts with metal duct material, which is sturdy, making it easier to clean your dryer vents.

Hope this helps!

See Answer
attic insulation, floor

What’s the Best Way to Add Attic Insulation to a Floored Attic?

Hi Money Pit!  I have a pine board floor in my attic.  The attic has a walk-up staircase and 2x10 joists, so it's meant to store lots of stuff.  The old attic insulation is minimal, probably wool, but in fair condition.  I would like to add more insulation, either batts or blown-in.  I'm considering removing the flooring and adding 2x4s across, but I think that would mean I have to do blown-in insulation.  I prefer batts because it would allow me to do the attic in stages without having to rent a machine several times. The flooring will of course be put back after.  What do you recommend?

Our Answer

You're wise to tackle this home improvement project. Attics offer the greatest potential for home energy savings, and also happen to be the easiest area to improve.

Whichever insulation material you choose for this space, make sure to maintain proper attic ventilation. It'll protect insulation from the dampness of wintertime condensation, which can cut insulating power by one third and introduce a host of structure-threatening moisture problems.

Now, in terms of your specific project, you have the right idea: You have to resist the urge to overstuff those 2x10 bays with insulation.  Insulation works on the principle of trapped air, so if a space is too compressed or overstuffed, the insulation benefits are reduced or even eliminated. You asked about batts versus blown-in insulation, but I recommend a third option: spray foam insulation.  

I insulated my own (older) home with spray-foam insulation recently, and it drastically decreased my monthly utility costs.  Specifically, I used Icynene Spray Foam Insulation, which you can install in one step.  Icynene is formed through mixture of two components—ISO and resin—which react and expand to create tiny bubbles in the plastic matrix that fill and insulate the space.  Check out our Money Pit Guide to Insulation for my complete Icynene story. Good luck, and let us know how it goes!

See Answer
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.

 

See Answer
vinyl stain, floor, linoleum

Remove Stains from Vinyl and Linoleum Floor

There are blueish stains on the linoleum floor in my bathroom, possibly caused by the rubber mat backing on an area rug. How can I remove these rubber mat stains on my  floor?

Our Answer

Though they provide warmth and comfort in baths and kitchens, rubber-backed area rugs can also leave permanent stains behind on vinyl and linoleum floors. Here's why:

Antioxidants, added to the rubber mats during the manufacturing process to prevent the rubber from drying out, react chemically with the sheet flooring. This chemical reaction results in a permanent color change. So, unfortunately, what you are seeing is not a stain that can be removed, but rather a physical change in the color of the flooring that cannot be reversed. Vinyl and linoleum flooring manufacturers often warn of this condition in their usage guides.

For example, the following paragraph appears on the website for Armstrong Floors: "Place a walk-off mat at outside entrances to reduce the amount of dirt brought into your home. We do not recommend the use of rubber- or latex-backed mats because the chemical (antioxidant) used to keep the backing from becoming brittle can permanently stain your floor. We suggest a non-staining vinyl-backed mat or a woven rug that is colorfast. Most of these products are identified "colorfast" by the manufacturer. All Armstrong floor care products have been specifically developed to care for Armstrong floors. You may purchase Armstrong floor care products at your local flooring retailer."

So, after vinyl and linoleum floor rubber mat stains have set in, your only options are to completely replace the flooring or just buy a bigger (and non-staining) area rug!

See Answer
tankless water heater

Can Tankless Water Heaters Deliver Hot Water Faster than a Tank Water Heater?

My brother in law built a house that uses a tankless hot water system. The water takes 5 to 10 minutes to get hot. Is this normal, and if so is there a way to speed this hot water warm up period?

Our Answer

Tankless water heaters are a great, cost effective way to deliver hot water to your home.  They are energy efficient because they only heat water as it is needed.  They also are easily controllable because the water temperature can be changed instantly.  Rinnai even offers a wireless control that can dial up the temperature of your water heater from anywhere in the house.

As good as tankless water heaters are though, they can not overcome the problem of the physical distance between the water heater and the bathroom.  When you turn on your hot water, all the water that is in the pipe between the faucet and the water heater has to drain out.  As a result, the water runs cold until it is replaced by the hot water being fed by the water heater.

There is however, one other advantage of a tankless water heater that can help in this situation.  Tankless units are very small compared to traditional water heaters.  As a result, they can be installed practically anywhere. It is easy to use multiple tankless units to divide your domestic hot water supply into two zones.  One tankless water heater can be fed from the basement or first floor where it is a short distance to the kitchen and powder room.  Another tankless water heater can be fed from the attic or a second floor closet, where it is just steps away from the bathrooms.  With more than one tankless water heater unit, you can have both a cost effective and convenient source of hot water.

If you do decide to install a second tankless water heater unit, now is an excellent time.  The Department of Energy is offering a energy tax credit to offset installation costs.

Finally, there is one technical recommendation I have for you to pass on to your brother in law.  To be able to deliver the correct amount of gas needed to instantly heat water, tankless water heaters typically need gas lines larger than their inefficient tanked counterparts.  If your brother in law's builder used an undersized gas line, there may not be enough gas pressure being fed to the unit to get the water to heat properly.  To find out, I suggest contacting a service professional or the appliance manufacturer to double check that the installation of the tankless water heater was done correctly.

See Answer

How to Stucco a Shed

I live in a neighborhood of Mediterranean-style homes. According to our homeowners association, all buildings on lots must be of this style. I have a new  storage shed that I need to alter to meet these HOA standards. I plan to use WonderBoard to frame it out and stucco as the finish with paint to match the house. It will be on a concrete base against a 6' rock wall on the back side. I'm looking for suggestions as to how to attach the Wonderboard to the shed, and problems to anticipate. Thanks.

Our Answer

The foremost thing to keep in mind: If you're going to cover your shed with stucco, the shed needs to be dimensionally stable.  You can’t have movement in the walls, because the stucco will crack and fall off.  Preventing this starts at the foundation – you need a good stone base and concrete footings so when the job's complete, the shed is rock solid. 

Second, I’d recommend against using the WonderBoard for the same reason. This product is not designed to to be used as sheathing. For the best results, use plywood, cover the surface with tar paper and wire mesh, and then stucco it.  If those walls are not solid, the stucco will crack, which will make you, your HOA and your neighbors unhappy Good luck and please post photos to Money Pit's Facebook page!

See Answer

Peeling Porch Stain

I use a weatherproof satin on my porch every year . The product says you only need to redo every 3 to 5 years but yet it comes off every year. Why is this?

Our Answer

Sometimes multiple layers of paint or stain reach a point where the layers simply won't stay together. Give the history, the best approach is the completely strip all old stain/paint off the porch.  Then, after it is thoroughly dry, apply an oil-based primer, and then two top coats of stain.  I say use oil-based primer because it has the best adhesion.

See Answer
basement, window, leak

Basement Windows Flooded & Filling with Water

Recently bought a house and we have problems with the basement windows sills along the driveway filling with water when it rains. The previous owners sealed the glass brick windows pretty well, but still, some water slowly seeps in when it rains. We have pumps with automatic switches in each window to pump out any water that gets in. Our basement does not have a sump pump but has a drain. From what we can tell there's no drainage in the windows. Not sure what we should do!

Our Answer

Keri,

This is a very common problem as is the attempted solution you've described.  Unfortunately, it wont work.  No matter how water tight we try and make basement windows, they're not going to turn into fishbowls when the window wells fill up from the outside!

Even though you are not seeing visible water in your basement, you can be certain that too much water is collecting around those foundation walls, which can lead to a host of structural problems. The solution here is surprisingly simple, and detailed in my post about fixing wet basements.  

In short, you need to improve your roof and surface drainage conditions. Gutters must exist, be clean and properly sized, and most importantly, spots must discharge 4 to 6 feet from the house.  Likewise, grading around the foundation perimeter must slope away from the house.  

As for your driveway, that's a bit more complicated as you cannot easily change the pitch and I suspect from your description that it at least somewhat dips toward the house.  Start with the gutter corrections I describe in the post and make sure the gutter discharge is not contributing to the problem. If they do drain in this area, take steps to reroute them so that doesn't happen. Add window well covers, which will help reduce water that collects from direct rainfall.  If all else fails, you can install a curtain drain in the driveway to try and intercept the runoff, or of course, replace the driveway with one that is properly sloped.

 

See Answer
paint, prep, paint brush, choosing the right paint brush

Removing Mold and Mildew From Siding

There's growth on my painted wood siding.  I'm pretty sure it's either mold or mildew.  What is the best way to remove this? I heard there is a product i can spray on the siding and thats all I have to do, but I have a hard time believing it could be that easy!

Our Answer

Rest easy: Mold and mildew on siding are common, and nothing to be terribly concerned about.  But it does need to be managed.  What you want to use is a mildewcide.  There are a great numbers of commercial  and DIY options available, from mixing bleach and water to using professional products but we like Spray and Forget the best simply apply and let them sit, and they prevent further mold.  The other treatments can have a detrimental effect or grass, plants, and other growth.  Now, you mentioned your siding is painted.  If you're ever getting ready to repaint it, it's really important you thoroughly remove that mold and mildew first. 

See Answer
rain, storm, flood

Storm Damage: How to Fix Holes in Soil

I live in Arkansas and we just had some pretty bad and heavy storms for close to a week straight. Around my house, some of the soil has washed out in areas. Some of it is near the back patio and some of it is randomly around my house. You may see a dip in the soil, and then there isn't another one for a few feet.    I realize I need to fix my drainage, but can I just add topsoil to those spots where it is missing? I didn't know if it was that simple or not.   Thanks!

Our Answer

Hey Jacob,

Restoring the holes in soil may be that easy but it really depends on how deep of a pit it left.  If it's more than a 3 or 4 inches, you should first fill it in with clean fill dirt, and then add top-soil and plant grass, or use another covering to stop erosion.  

Top soil is just that, meant to be the top layer or dirt.  It's rich in organic matter and designed to support root growth.  For everything deeper, use the clean fill dirt, which is available from a landscape supply hour.  Be sure to tamp it as yo go, and add more than you need because it will settle over the first few rain storms.

Hope this helps!

Tom Kraeutler

See Answer
bbq, grill, outdoor living

Can I Use Natural Gas in a Propane Grill?

We bought a propane grill a year before selling our home, and only used it once. When we moved into our new home, the prior owners left their grill attached to a natural gas line.  It was old, but instead of using our new one, we used it. It worked great and I loved not having to worry about running out of propane.

After a few years of use, it started to rust.  We decided to get rid of it and hook up our propane grill which had been in our basement, unused, for 4 years.  Without thinking we hooked up this gas grill to the natural gas line.  It didnt work at first but then it started to work and then not work.  So I went to Home Depot and the guy there said exactly what you are all thinking now: "You cannot hook a propane gas grill to a natural gas grill.  You have to buy a converter. " We looked in the manual to see if they have a converter for this brand and it didnt say anything about one.  I dont even think the company is still in business.  My husband did some research and decided to drill a bigger hole in the orifice.  We tried it and it worked for a little bit but would not stay lit.  Is there a way of fixing this problem or should I just count this as a lose and throw it in the garbage?  We paid almost $400 for this grill and I'd hate to throw it out and then find out there was a solution.

Our Answer

Its time for a new grill!  The guy at Home Depot was right - you can't use natural gas in a propane grill.  The size of the burners is different, as is the flow of gas.  Considering its age and the cost and hassle of converting it, I think you're best to chalk this one up to experience and buy a new natural gas grill. 

See Answer
EVP, floor, bathroom, laminate

What’s the Best Bathroom Flooring?

What is the best kind of laminate flooring to use in a bathroom?

Our Answer

Hey Karen, that's a great question. There have been many changes in laminate flooring over the last few years with one being that more and more laminate is now designed for wet locations like bathrooms.  That said, even water-resistant laminate is not capable of taking a prolonged soaking. The good news is that there are several other new and equally affordable options to consider.  

Engineered Vinyl Plank: Waterproof, kid-proof, pet-proof! Engineered vinyl plank (EVP) has a vinyl veneer with a rigid PVC core which makes it even easier to install. Plus the designs it is available in look as much like wood as the real thing.

Click Ceramic Plank: Whether your master bathroom is ready for a remodel or your kitchen needs a makeover, NEW Click Ceramic Plank (CCP) is ideal for any room in your home! These quick-locking ceramic based planks are easy to install – no grout or mortar needed. CCP is great for DIYers and the easy maintenance is a bonus.

These new vinyl and ceramic products look so much like the real thing, I'd skip laminate for a bathroom space and consider them instead.

Tom Kraeutler