- Building a Shed is a fun DIY project. But did you know that whether the shed is wood, steel or vinyl, just ONE step can mean the difference between a shed that lasts for a season and one that can last decades. We share that tip plus the best options for shed storage.
- Nothing keeps your home looking updated better than a current kitchen. If you’re thinking about switching out old kitchen countertops for granite, we’ll have design tips to help.
- In the 20 years Tom spent as a professional home inspector, he often told his clients there are three kinds of houses: Those that HAD a termite problem, those that HAVE a termite problem, and those that WILL GET a termite problem!We’ve got solutions for keeping termites…and their costly damage… away from YOUR home.
- Before we had walls made of drywall, we had walls made of plaster. Now, many homes have walls made of plaster cracks! We’ll tell you how to fix those plaster flaws – the easy way.
Plus, answers to your home improvement questions about new home warranties, repairing a cracked garage floor, installing outdoor shutters, repair a tear linoleum flooring, installing smart switches, landscaping over a septic field.
EPISODE #2084: Best Ways to Build a Shed | Granite Countertops |Avoiding Termite Trouble | Fast Fixes for Cracked Walls
TOM: Coast to coast and floorboards to shingles, this is The Money Pit Home Improvement Show. I’m Tom Kraeutler.
LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.
TOM: And we are here to help you take on your DIY projects or maybe you need to hire a pro to get it done. We’ll give you some advice to do just that. We want to help you create your best home ever.
We’ve got a great show in store for you today. First up, in the 20 years that I spent as a professional home inspector, I often told my clients there are three kinds of houses: those that had a termite problem, those that have a termite problem and those that will get a termite problem. We’ve seen them all and we’ve got natural solutions for keeping termites and their costly damage away from your home.
LESLIE: And before we had walls made of drywall, we had walls made of plaster. And now a lot of homes have walls made out of plaster cracks. You know, it happens. So we’re going to tell you how to fix those plaster flaws the easy way.
TOM: And building a shed is a fun DIY project for spring. But did you know that whether a shed is wood, steel or vinyl, just one step can mean the difference between a shed that lasts for a season and one that can last for decades? We’ll share that tip and more, just ahead.
LESLIE: But first, we’re here to help you create your best home ever. So help yourself first by reaching out with your home improvement question. You’re going to get the answer, plus you may even win a great tool from Arrow Fastener.
TOM: Yeah, that’s right. We’ve got the Arrow E21 Cordless Electric Staple Gun, along with a supply of staples worth 50 bucks to give away to one listener drawn at random. So make that you. You’ve got to call us with a question and that number is 1-888-MONEY-PIT. Or you can post your question at MoneyPit.com.
Let’s get to it. Leslie, who’s first?
LESLIE: We’ve got Tina in Delaware. How can we help?
TINA: Hi, Leslie. I was actually calling in regards to a home that we purchased about a year ago. And then, throughout that year, we’ve just been uncovering a lot of problems with the house. And I was more curious to know whether there is a lemon law, so to speak?
TOM: I’m not aware of a lemon law for new construction. But how long have you been in this house?
TINA: It’ll be – it was a year in November.
TOM: And did you have a new-home warranty on it?
TINA: Yes. So they are coming back and fixing the issues.
TOM: Did you contact the warranty company or just the builder?
TINA: My husband has been dealing with just the builder.
TOM: So, listen, a couple of things. This may or may not apply to you since it could possibly be too late. But if you buy a new home and it has a homeowner’s warranty, notice to the builder does not constitute notice to the warranty company. So I would tell you right away to contact the warranty company. Let them know you’ve had problems, because there are some things that there’s coverage for beyond the first year. Of course, you get the most coverage in the first year.
Secondly, make sure you’re doing everything in writing with both the builder and the warranty company so you have a record. I’m not aware of a lemon-law situation but if you’ve lost confidence in your builder and in the quality of the construction, what I might suggest you do is hire your own professional home inspector and have the building examined. So this way, you know whether or not it has any serious problems or not.
Sometimes, what you look at and think of as serious, like a nail pop or something like that or door doesn’t quite close right, could be typical with new construction. But an independent expert can assure you or alert you if there really is a problem.
Those would be my suggestions, beyond speaking with an attorney if it gets real serious. But I think, first of all, you’ve got to figure out how deep you are, in terms of issues with this house, and then take the most appropriate steps. And I think having it evaluated by an independent expert – you should go to the American Society of Home Inspectors’ website to find one, because those guys are the best. That’s HomeInspector.org, HomeInspector.o-r-g. And then you’ll find one in your area that can do a great job.
Good luck with that project. Thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.
LESLIE: Alright. Philip in Arkansas is on the line and has some questions about smart switches. How can we help?
PHILIP: For about a month or so, I’ve been always kind of wanting to turn most of my single-pole light switches in my house into a smart switch. Well, such as – for example, my living room.
PHILIP: I’ve been trying to kind of think of how will I do this. I’m an IT guy here, thinking how can I turn an IT concept into an electrical concept? Well, I was doing some research and everything. And a lot of electricians were telling me, “You need a ground wire, a neutral wire and a load wire.” Well, every single switch that I had been doing research and noticing out there all had four. I’m like, “Well, how am I going to do this? Two loads, a ground and a neutral? How am I going to do this?” Well, turns out that there’s only one brand out there, that I know noticed anyways.
That’s why I was kind of turning to you guys, because when I hear you all’s podcast and everything, I’m always – and how you all are finding ways around things. I said, “Let me turn to these guys. See if they have heard of anything else,” because I’m looking at all these different brands and they’re all based off of four wires: two loads, a ground and a neutral. My system doesn’t have that, so that’s why I was kind of hoping maybe you all knew of something.
TOM: One brand that I would recommend, that we have a lot of personal knowledge of, is Lutron Caséta. L-u-t-r-o-n and Caséta – C-a-s-é-t-a. If you just Google “Lutron smart-home products,” this is a line of very sophisticated smart-home smartphone controls. So, they’ve got the switches. They’ve got all the different lighting systems. You could have mixed types of light on this. You can have all sorts of things. And it also is programmed in with the sun. So in the winter, the lights come on outside earlier than they would in the summer and that kind of stuff. It’s a really smart system and really well made.
And the nice thing about Lutron is that they have a 24/7 call center that’s staffed by technicians. So when you run into these types of questions, you can call them and they will have a solution for you. So, I would recommend the Lutron by Caséta wireless smart-home products very highly. I think you’ll find your solution right there and you won’t have to deal with all of these opinions from all these electricians. You’ll be able to do most of this yourself.
These are the guys that invented the dimmer, OK? That’s how long this company’s been around. They were the first inventors of the dimmers. You know when they used to be big, round knobs on the wall? They invented it. So I would definitely take a look at the Lutron Caséta Wireless System. I think you’ll be satisfied with that.
Thanks so much for calling us at 1-888-MONEY-PIT.
Well, if you’ve got a question about your money pit, we’ll do our best to give you an answer, plus maybe some tools to get the job done.
LESLIE: That’s right. We’ve got up for grabs, this hour, the Arrow E21 Cordless Electric Staple Gun. This really is a must-have tool for any DIYer or woodworker, even the pros out there. You’re going to get a battery life of up to 3 hours and you can fire as many as 1,000 staples on a single charge. That is pretty amazing.
You can get a lot of projects done. I mean really, it’s perfect for repairs, upholstery, decorating, crafts. You name it, you can work on it with it.
TOM: Yep. That Arrow E21 Cordless Electric Staple Gun, along with a supply of staples, is worth about 50 bucks and going out to one listener drawn at random from those that call us with a home improvement question or post one online at MoneyPit.com. That number, again: 888-666-3974.
LESLIE: Alright. Now we’ve got Annette from Massachusetts on the line who’s busy running home improvement errands. What’s going on with these windows, Annette?
ANNETTE: Well, it seems like my windows. They all – I think it’s a certain degree, when it’s probably 20 and below. All the windows have a condensation.
TOM: The reason that you have condensation on the inside of your windows is because your windows are not insulated. So, basically, what happens is you have warm, moist air inside the house. It strikes the cold glass. As the temperature of that air chills, it releases water, it releases moisture. You know, think about the summer when you take a glass of iced tea and you go outside and you get – the outside of the glass gets wet. That’s kind of what’s happening here. And it’s an indication that your windows are not as efficient as they could be.
Now, I’m not saying you have to replace your windows but I’m just trying to explain why it happens. It may not be a bad time to do that, depending on your budget and how much of a problem this is for you, because they’re probably not insulating very well, either.
And the other thing that you can do is just make sure that inside the house, you’re venting as much moisture as you can. So, for example, in your kitchen, if you have a recirculating air cleaner above your stove, that’s not really venting the moisture out. In your bathroom, if you don’t use the vent fans and don’t take the moisture out, that’s leaving moisture in the house. And then outside the house, if you find that your gutters are clogged or your soil’s real flat so when it rains, a lot of water stays really close to the foundation, that actually can work its way into the house, as well.
So those are some of the things that you could do to try to address this. But it’s going to be a factor of that temperature differentiation between inside and outside. That cold glass is always going to have some water droplets condense on it and that’s why more energy-efficient windows are thermal-pane. They’re insulated so you never get that kind of difference in temperature. And therefore, you don’t get the water condensation.
Thanks so much for calling us at 1-888-MONEY-PIT.
Well, guys, I spent 20 years as a professional home inspector and often told my clients that there were three kinds of houses: those that had termite problems, those that have a termite problem and those that will probably get a termite problem. But if you take the right steps now to keep termites away, there’s a good chance you can keep your home off the termite menu.
LESLIE: That’s right. This is the time of year to do it. Termites are going to nest in soil all winter but come springtime, they’re busting out in search of some new food. And your home’s walls? Well, those are their favorite meal. And they’re hungry.
TOM: Yeah, they are. And you can keep those termites from chowing down on your house, in a few ways. First, for starters, moisture and wood are termites’ favorite delicacies. So, keep those stakes of firewood or mulch away from your exterior walls.
LESLIE: Yeah. And keep your gutters clear. Termites love overflowing gutters, so keep them clear, keep them pointed away from your house so that that runoff is going to wash the bugs further away from the foundation and not directly towards it.
TOM: And if your porch or crawlspace is dirt-filled, keep an eye out for signs of the bugs. For example, if you see piles of discarded wings or you see cracked or bubbling paint or mud tunnels, that’s something important to check for on the home’s outside walls. You can also check your basement walls, your crawlspace walls inside, especially between the wood framing and the walls itself. If you see these sand-colored tubes, those are superhighways for termites. That’s how they get back and forth between the soil and your house. And it’s definitely time to call a pest pro.
And if you have to call one, treatments today are really effective because the termites don’t know that they’re there. And so, as they go back and forth through the soil, they pick up these treatment chemicals and bring it back to the termite’s nest and that takes care of it once and for all.
LESLIE: Alright. Heading over to Texas. We’ve got Mike on the line who’s got a question about a garage. What’s going on?
MIKE: I’ve got a garage. I’ve been living here 40 years and I’ve got a crack – about four cracks – in my garage, in the slab.
MIKE: And I’ve talked to different contractors and they said, well, I had to have it chiseled out and just repoured. I was wondering if there’s any epoxy or anything I can lay – put a top-dressing cover over or anything?
TOM: Yeah. So what are you concerned about here? Are you concerned about a trip hazard? Is it displaced from one side or the other or is it really cosmetic? What’s your concern?
MIKE: It’s just cosmetic. If I ever wanted to sell it, people would see the cracks and it …
TOM: Well, first of all, you should understand that cracks in a garage floor are not structural. It’s just a crack in the slab. It’s most likely caused by shrinkage and settlement. It has no impact on the structural condition of the building. So, you don’t have to worry about seeing a crack in the floor and going, “Oh, I think the building’s in bad shape.” It’s really not. Think of it as a really durable rug across the dirt floor.
TOM: If you want to try to deal with it, two things. QUIKRETE makes a number of crack fillers and sealers, that you can basically use a caulking gun and insert it into the crack. And they sometimes will tell you to widen the crack a little bit, especially if it’s hairline.
And then beyond that, you could recoat that floor, once you got those cracks sealed, just to stop moisture. And Daich Coatings makes a product called DaiHard. It’s a garage-floor coating kit. Super durable, very beautiful. And that will leave that floor looking absolutely fantastic.
So, that’s what I would do. I would seal the cracks and then I would coat that entire floor with the Daich Coatings garage-floor product. It really works very well and it’s a super-durable product. And I think the garage will look fantastic. D-a-i-c-h – Coatings.com.
MIKE: I will look them up. Hey, I sure appreciate – you have a great show. And thank you so much for the help.
LESLIE: Barry in North Carolina is on the line and looking for some help with a sunroom. Tell us what you’re working on.
BARRY: Well, we’ve got a 12×15 sunroom and it’s just – it gets cold and it gets hot. It’s double-pane glass, insulated. And it’s about 2 inches thick for the bottom part. But it’s like all metal, all aluminum and it’s just cold and hot. And I just want to know – and it is ducted; there’s an air duct out there.
BARRY: And is there anything I can do to make it warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer?
TOM: Well, what’s going on here, Barry, is you are not putting enough cool air or warm air in that space to deal with the heat loss that’s going on. So, I presume now this – what you did is extended your HVAC system into this space? Is that how it’s ducted, when you say it’s ducted?
TOM: Alright. And this is typical. The HVAC system is not sized correctly for that area and for the heat loss in that area and for the heat gain in the summer. This is a perfect scenario, though, for you to add a kind of system called a “mini-split ductless.” A mini-split ductless is basically three pieces: you have an indoor unit that hangs on the wall; you have an outdoor unit that’s a very small, very quiet, very efficient compressor; and you have copper tubing that connects the two.
And you would buy one that’s just big enough for this sunroom and what it would do is supplement the central heat or cold air that’s coming through the duct systems and balance it out. It can have its own thermostat and can supply warm air in the winter and cold air in the summer and make that room totally comfortable. There’s little else that you can do to insulate the structure. It’s just a very cold structure by its very nature, a sunroom. But a mini-split ductless is a good product to install to balance this out.
You might want to take a look at this website: ConstantComfort.com. That’s the website for the Fujitsu Company. I personally have a Fujitsu mini-split ductless in my office because the room, just like you say, it’s too hot in the summer, too cold in the winter. And it’s been the perfect addition to my HVAC plan, because it really makes this space comfortable.
BARRY: I’ve seen those units mounted before but usually they’re mounted up high.
BARRY: Can they be mounted down low?
TOM: I believe they can. But the higher the better, especially for the cold air so it falls.
BARRY: But there’s only like 2½ feet of solid piece down below; the rest of it is all window.
TOM: Well, what about the wall against the house where the ducts come through?
BARRY: That’s a point. I hadn’t thought about that.
TOM: Yeah, see, it doesn’t have to be on the exterior wall.
TOM: It can – and in fact, you would want to have it on the interior wall – against the house, where the ducts come through – and mounted up high. And you’ll be amazed at how comfortable that space will be.
That website, again, is ConstantComfort.com. You can check out the Fujitsus there. And they also have an energy-efficiency calculator so you can figure out pretty much how much energy you save.
Problem is that we build these spaces and we add them on to our house. We try to extend the heating and cooling systems …
LESLIE: And it just puts too much pressure on the system.
TOM: Yeah, it’s just not enough.
BARRY: OK. Very good. That answers my question then.
TOM: Alright. Good luck with that project. Thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.
LESLIE: Elaine in Delaware needs some help with a flooring project. What can we do for you?
ELAINE: I’m mainly concerned about the fact that I have some rescue animals and some kids. And every time I try to think of what I can do – when I lift up this rug and put a surface down, I need something durable. And I thought of wood and then I thought of Pergo and everybody says, “No, the dog will scratch it or the kids will scratch it.” And then I saw something at a hospital the other day – actually, you know, like an x-ray area, where it takes a lot of traffic?
ELAINE: And it looked like a heavy-duty plastic, plasticized type of imitation wood. And I tried to find out where they got it from but it’s nothing I can find in going to the local shops, like Lowe’s and Home Depot.
TOM: Right. It might have been luxury vinyl, although I doubt that in a hospital. What I think you might want to consider is laminate. Pergo is just one brand of laminate. But remember that there are different finishes on these floors and you want to find one that has a commercial finish.
LESLIE: That will make it the most durable.
TOM: Yeah, really super-durable.
I think the best option here and the one that’s most accessible is to think about using laminate flooring. Laminate flooring can look like wood, it can look like tile, it can look like vinyl. And if you get one that has a commercial-grade finish on it, it can clearly stand up to the kids and the dogs.
ELAINE: I appreciate that very much.
TOM: You’re welcome, Elaine. Thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.
LESLIE: Well, long before we had walls made of drywall, plaster really was the material of choice for wall-and-ceiling construction. But often, your home is settling and the older homes have settled quite a bit. And that allows cracks to form in the plaster surfaces.
TOM: Yeah. And just painting over the cracks solves nothing. Spackling over the cracks solves nothing. And tearing off the plaster to redo can be very time-consuming and not very economical. But there is a way to repair loose plaster walls.
LESLIE: Yeah. And there really is only one correct way to make repairs to plaster walls that’s going to look good and it’s going to last.
Alright. So, first, let’s start by talking about how a plaster-and-lath wall works. So, lath are sort of like wood slats, almost like tomato sticks. They’re attached to the studs of the wall framework there about ½-inch apart. Then the plaster is made and sort of smushed onto it and smoothed out. And it kind of grips its way behind the lath and then adheres. And that’s your wall construction.
TOM: Yeah. And what happens is over time, that hook, as you so accurately described it, loosens up and that’s what separates the plaster from the lath. And plaster is really heavy. And if it falls, it could really hurt somebody.
So, here’s the way to fix it. You want to first use a masonry bit and drill holes along both sides of the crack, then use a vacuum to clean out that loose debris. And then, you want to pick up a plaster-adhesive kit. It’s a special glue. Usually has a conditioning spray, which is kind of like a primer. You put a couple of squirts of that in the hole and then you put the glue in. And then there’s a piece of hardware called a “plaster washer” that you screw through the plaster, into the studs or the lath. And it pulls that loose plaster right against the wood where the glue is applied. And then you just leave it alone for about a day or two and you pull that plaster ring off – the plaster washer off. And now the plaster is well-attached once again and really does not pull out.
LESLIE: Yeah. No. But does it ever make sense to kind of just get rid of all the plaster and start with drywall or start again with new plaster?
TOM: No. I mean in my view and in my experience – and I’ve done this both ways, Leslie. I’ve had walls that were badly cracked, where I decided it was – there were too many cracks to repair.
Now, if you’ve got walls that look like that, you may be tempted to tear out the plaster and tear out the lath and just put drywall on top of the studs. I found, though, by doing that, since we’re talking about very old homes, that those stud walls are very often not in a plane. They’re not flat. They bow and twist a lot. Because think about it: when it’s plaster and it’s wet, the tradesman can smooth it out and make up for that. With drywall, you see every bend and twist. Plus, it’s a heck of a mess.
So I found it much easier to leave those loose plaster walls in place and then put drywall over that. You don’t even have to use ½-inch drywall; you could use ¼-inch drywall and kind of skin it.
TOM: And this way, you have a very clean surface when you’re done. Yes, you have to adjust around windows, because the wall is sticker now and outlets and light switches. But I found that definitely to be the easiest way to take on this project.
LESLIE: Alright. Tom in Missouri is calling in with a pretty crazy question. His garage is pulling away from the house. Tell us what’s going on.
TOM IN MISSOURI: My garage is pulling away from the side of my house. And we determined it was a gutter-overflow problem and we got that rectified. And now I’m wondering how to get my garage back up where that it’s not pulling away from the house. It’s pulled away an inch or so.
TOM: OK. Once a building moves, because there is water that got under the foundation or whatever caused it to rotate, you can’t shove it back to kind of close that gap. So, you need to get used to it in its present position.
But tell me this: is the gap that’s opened up, is that a problem from a weather perspective? Is water getting into the building?
TOM IN MISSOURI: Yes.
TOM: Does the roof of the garage attach to the side of the building above it or next to it? Is that where the leakage issue is?
TOM IN MISSOURI: Yes.
TOM: Alright. So what you’re going to need to do is you’re going to need to reflash that: essentially take apart the roofing in that area and replace it, reroof that 1- to 2-foot strip between the garage roof and the adjoining building. Because that’s pulled apart, I can only imagine that all of the flashing is extended and there’s lots of places for water to get in there. If you don’t do that, during driving rain the water will get down between the garage roof and the second-floor side wall of your house. And that’s going to cause leaks and rot and all kinds of problems.
So you’re going to have to tear out the roof where it joins the building and replace it. But now that you’ve fixed the gutter problem, you’ve got the foundation stable again, that should really take care of it for the long run.
Tom, good project for you there. Thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.
LESLIE: Well, one of the handiest tools to have around, for projects inside and out, is a staple gun. And we’ve got a great one to give away.
TOM: Yeah. From our friends at Arrow, we’ve got the E21 Cordless Electric Staple Gun. It’s a must-have for any DIYer, woodworker or pro. It’s got a battery life of up to 3 hours. It can fire as many as 1,000 shots on a single charge. I would be worn out before this tool is worn out.
It’s great for general repairs, for upholstery, decorating, crafts. It’s going out, along with a supply of staples – that package is worth 50 bucks – to one listener who contacts us with their home improvement question at 1-888-MONEY-PIT or posting that question at MoneyPit.com.
LESLIE: Alright. Now I’ve got Ruth in Michigan on the line. How can we help you today?
RUTH: I have an older house that’s in need of some pizzazz and wanted to put shutters over my vinyl siding. Is that possible? And how would I attach them?
TOM: Yeah, it’s done all the time. And there are special fasteners that are used in that situation so that you pierce the siding without causing a leak to happen. And most of the shutter companies will sell those as part of the shutter, too, so you certainly can do that.
You do want to be careful not to squish the siding because, remember, the siding is somewhat soft. And so as long as you’re careful about the way they attach, you certainly can have shutters on top of vinyl. OK, Ruth?
RUTH: Alright. Well, good. I was wondering if it could be a do-it-yourself project.
TOM: Absolutely. Ruth, thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.
Well, did you guys know that over the last 3 years, the average tax refund was over 2,800 bucks? And for DIYers, that means some newfound money to take on projects you may have been putting off.
LESLIE: That’s right. To help you make the best use of your hard-earned windfall, we’ve put together a series of projects that are going to add value to your home and get it done without blowing your tax-refund budget. Today’s Tax Refund Tip is presented by HART Tools, available exclusively at Walmart.
TOM: And today’s project: building a shed. You know, these multifunctional marvels can really simplify life by offering lots of extra storage or providing a small, private workspace. But functionality is not the only consideration. If you build them well, sheds can be an attractive addition to your home that can also add value. And they’re not that expensive, so they can really be a fun, affordable DIY project.
LESLIE: Now, if you’re thinking about building a shed, here are a few tips that can help.
First, there really are three ways to go with a shed project and they’re all depending on your level of DIY skills. Now, you can build a shed from plans that you purchase online or you can build one from a kit, where all of the pieces have been cut for you. Or you can purchase a prefabricated shed and just assemble it.
TOM: You also need to think about the material your shed will be built of. The choices are wood. Of course, wood allows pretty much infinite customization but it is subjected to termite infestation and carpenter ants. And it does need to be treated and painted to stay in good shape. You can go with metal. It’s sturdier than wood but it will also rust and warp. And it may not include a floor. Or you can use plastic. The prefab plastic sheds are durable. They’re easily assembled but you can’t have much customization, because they’re not really made to change.
LESLIE: Yeah. Now, regardless of the material you pick, you want your shed to look good and you want it to be functional. So you’ve got to choose a style that matches the architectural style of your home.
For example, if your home is a two-story Colonial, don’t choose a shed with a flat roof that looks more like a chicken coop. Go with something that matches the style of your home.
And also, you want to think about what you’re storing in that shed and make sure that the doors are wide enough to get those things in. If you’ve got a big mower or a snow blower or something that you want to park inside, make sure it fits.
TOM: And lastly – and this is really, really important, guys – you want to make sure your shed has a solid floor. Now, if the shed is ground level, I would recommend you pour a concrete pad and then build your shed on top of that. If it’s got a wood floor, make sure you don’t set that wood floor right on the grade. It’s got to be up off the grade so a little air gets under it. Otherwise, that floor will rot away.
I can’t tell you how many times we’ve seen sheds, over the years, just completely fall apart because the floor wasn’t supported properly. It wasn’t vented properly. It wasn’t built on a foundation. It was thrown on maybe just some bricks that were laid on the dirt. And that really kind of ruins the whole structure. If you build a good floor for your shed, your shed will last for decades.
LESLIE: And that’s today’s Tax Refund Tip presented by HART Tools, available exclusively at Walmart. Do it with HART. Learn more at HARTTools.com, where you’ll also find step-by-step plans for dozens of fun projects.
TOM: Yeah, including one that will look great in your newly built shed.
I was checking out the sports-equipment organizer today, Leslie. It’s a really great way – with kids, we’ve got balls and bats and hockey sticks and more. It’s a great way to keep it all in one place and keep those kids busy and organized all season long.
You can check that out at HARTTools.com.
LESLIE: Alright. Now we’ve got Chris from Tennessee on the line who just put in a new septic tank and needs some help with the yard work. What can we do for you?
CHRIS: Yes. We had some people to come and put our septic tank in about five years ago. And the yard looked great when they got done with it. Now we’ve got a bunch of sinkholes and a bunch of hills in the backyard and I just want to know the best way to fix that without messing up the septic tank and messing up the water lines and stuff.
TOM: So, is the distribution field in the area where all these sinkholes are in this depression?
CHRIS: Yes, sir.
TOM: So you’ve got to be really careful because you don’t want to put any heavy equipment over that, because you can crush those pipes. So you can add topsoil on top of that but I wouldn’t go over it with anything heavier than a wheelbarrow full of dirt.
TOM: And so I would fill them in by hand and I would rake that out and I would reseed it. The good news is that it will probably grow quite nicely being over the septic field. But I would be careful not to put anything heavy, equipment-wise, into that area because you can crush the pipes and then you’re going to have a bigger problem.
CHRIS: Alright. Well, thank you all for your question and I listen to you all every day. And you all were great.
LESLIE: Julie from New Jersey reached out with a kitchen question on MoneyPit.com. Now, Julie says, “I’m ready to install my granite countertop. Should I do the 4-inch backsplash of granite or should the granite go flush to the wall and then use a tile backsplash? Some say the granite backsplash is outdated.”
I mean I don’t love that look but some people do.
TOM: Yeah. Well, I think the small backsplash is outdated but the full backsplash that goes all the way up to the underside of the kitchen cabinet, do you think that’s OK?
LESLIE: It depends, truly, on the look of the granite. If you have something that’s a very busy graining or a lot of speckling, it might seem kind of busy. But I do love that waterfall look, where it even goes all the way up behind your cooktop, behind the venting hood. It really is such an interesting focal point.
So if you are happy with the look of your countertops and you want to sort of accentuate that, go ahead and use that same countertop material as a full backsplash. Or pick something that’s sort of similar but different, sort of in the same family, and then add tile to the other parts of it. So you can really sort of mix and match these materials and the feel of it to create a beautifully personalized kitchen space.
TOM: Yeah. And in either case, though, you want to put the countertop in first and then you rest the backsplash on top of the countertop, not the other way around.
LESLIE: Alright. Next up, we’ve got one here from Jack. Now, Jack is moving to Pennsylvania and he says, “I’m thinking of getting a heat pump installed in a house that I’m buying in Western PA. Currently, it has a gas furnace but no cooling. The idea of combining heating and cooling in one unit seems to make sense but I’d like some other opinions.”
TOM: You know, Jack, I would definitely never give up my gas furnace to go with a heat pump, especially in your part of the country. It’s going to be a lot more expensive to heat your home, because you’re basically going to a form of electric heat.
And the way a heat pump works is it’s kind of like an air conditioner that has a reversing mode. And when it works backwards, it puts heat in the house instead of cool air in the house. And that’s reasonably efficient. But the problem is that when the house really starts to call for a lot of heat, the heat pump won’t keep up and then it brings on its backup system, which is straight electric-resistance heat. I think you’re going to see soaring electric bills.
So I would definitely never give up the gas furnace. If it is time to replace the furnace, sure, you can buy a new one, put your air conditioning in at the same time. But I would definitely think about going with a more efficient gas furnace and not even a high-efficiency heat pump when you have gas available. I think it’s just going to be a step that you will really, really regret, especially when that first winter electric bill shows up at your door. You’re going to be – “What? Oh, my goodness!”
LESLIE: Ooh. And it’s going to be expensive.
LESLIE: Now, Tom, you just totally upgraded your heating system at home and went with one that was very efficient. Can you tell us about how you chose it and the project itself?
TOM: Well, yeah. We had an old, cast-iron, gas-fired boiler. And the thing that was really surprising about this – we replaced it with a combi boiler, which is now a very small machine about the size of a kitchen cabinet. It does heat and hot water.
And one of the things that surprised us – we knew we were going to have a massive increase in efficiency – energy efficiency. But the old boiler was set in a place in the basement that was underneath the dining room and the living-room area. So if you think about it, you had a cast-iron boiler, minimum insulation around that and then a big vent pipe that went to the chimney. That was kind of like a radiator under the floor of our house. So, the floors were always kind of warm. Now that we don’t have that, the floors are cold.
So I’m having trouble balancing the cold first floor with the warm second floor. So, now, my next project is to insulate the entire first floor of my house. So, it’s what we always say, the three most expensive words of home improvement …
LESLIE: While you’re at it.
TOM: Or while you’re at it is the four or might as well, the three, absolutely.
LESLIE: Oh, my goodness. Well, good project anyway.
TOM: Thank you so much, guys, for spending a part of your home improvement day with us. We hope that we’ve helped you make some progress on those projects. Maybe gave you a few ideas for projects you’d like to take on in the near future.
If you’ve got questions, remember, you can always reach out to us at MoneyPit.com or on our social-media sites, including Facebook.com/TheMoneyPit.
But for now, that’s all the time we have. I’m Tom Kraeutler.
LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.
TOM: Remember, you can do it yourself …
LESLIE: But you don’t have to do it alone.
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