- Conserving Water in Your Yard: Can you have a healthy yard while conserving water? Here’s how to keep it growing through dry conditions.
- Decorative Ceilings: When adding architectural details to a room, don’t forget to look up! We’ve got tips on creating an eye-catching decorative ceiling.
- Terrazzo Flooring: Love traditional Terrazzo flooring but can’t afford the cost? Find out about an affordable alternative that offers the same beautiful look.
Plus, answers to your home improvement questions about:
- Toilet Noises: Why is Kathy’s toilet squealing when she runs her washing machine? Tom has ideas about what’s causing the noisy plumbing.
- Concrete Walkway Gaps: Are the spacers in your concrete walkway starting to deteriorate? Here’s what Robert found out about filling the gaps.
- Smoke Smells: Did the former homeowners leave behind the stench of smoke? William learns how to clear the air and get rid of smoke smells.
- HVAC Odors: When the air conditioning comes on, Jeff’s wife detects strange odors in their house. Cleaning ducts and replacing filters may do the trick.
- Refinishing a Patio: Portions of Grace’s beautiful concrete and brick patio are starting to pop up and turn colors. We’ve got tips on restoring her patio and preserving the pattern.
- Bathroom Walls: Besides tile, what are some other options for finishing a bathroom wall? Janet may want to consider a bathroom surround.
- Chimney Repair: After having her chimneys repaired, Lisa is advised to get them resealed, too. But Tom’s not so sure it’s necessary.
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 the projects you want to get done around your house, inside or out, upside or down – or maybe your projects are now upside-down. Whatever’s going on, if you’ve run into some challenges, some problems, some issues, let us know because we are here to help you get – take it from the to-do list to the already-done list.
You could reach us a couple of different ways. You can call us at 1-888-MONEY-PIT or you can post your questions at MoneyPit.com.
Coming up on today’s show, it’s the time of year when we’re starting to see some limits on outdoor-water use. Kind of in those dog days of summer now. And that kind of makes you wonder if your lawn is destined to become a dead, dry wasteland. Well, the good news is it won’t as long as you avoid one thing. We’ll tell you what you need to know to conserve water and still have a beautiful yard throughout a possible drought.
LESLIE: And when you look up, is the view less than exciting? Decorative ceilings could be the solution to turn a blank and bland ceiling into an architectural showpiece. We’re going to share some tips, just ahead.
TOM: And we’re going to talk terrazzo. You know, that’s been pretty much proven as a floor that is durable and beautiful. It’s also got a lot of history to it. But while traditional terrazzo is really expensive to install, stone-based terrazzo coating systems are not and they are super easy to apply. And we’re going to share tips on how you can have a terrazzo floor in literally a weekend.
LESLIE: Alright. But first, The Money Pit is about helping you create your best home ever. So whether you live in a house or an apartment, dealing with a repair or dreaming about a renovation, we’re going to help you tackle your to-dos with confidence and have a little fun along the way.
TOM: And this is Episode 2230. You can follow The Money Pit podcast at MoneyPit.com/Podcast.
And I’m really excited about today’s episode, Leslie, because we have an amazing giveaway, courtesy of our very good friends at Trex.
Now, you may recall they just launched that new Trex Transcend Deck Kit. It’s exclusive at Lowe’s. Well, they’ve given as a $500 gift card to Lowe’s to help you get started with that project or any other project that you might fund through your Lowe’s purchases. And we’re going to give that away to one caller.
Now, how do you qualify? Well, you’ve got to have a question. You’ve got to reach out to us. You can call us at 1-888-MONEY-PIT; that’s 888-666-3974. You could post your question at MoneyPit.com – just click on the blue microphone button – or through our social-media channels. And we are going to pull one name out of The Money Pit hard hat for that $500 gift card to Lowe’s at the conclusion of today’s show.
Hey, so what are you waiting for? Let’s get to it. The number here is 1-888-MONEY-PIT.
Leslie, who’s first?
LESLIE: Cathy from Ohio is on the line with a weird problem.
CATHY: It’s a toilet in our upstairs bathroom. Makes a squealing noise when we run our washer on the utility floor. Now, it hasn’t always done that; it started doing it recently. And we had a plumber here who told us that something wasn’t properly vented. But I don’t understand why it would suddenly happen. I don’t think our venting has changed. And I’m not even sure how plumbing is vented. So, we are looking to solve that issue. If you can help us with it, I’d be grateful.
TOM: Well, to your last question, Cathy, plumbing is vented because basically, when you flush water down your pipes, you have to have some air that follows behind it so that it doesn’t back up, it doesn’t sort of drag. And that’s what the venting does. It lets the air in and also lets the sewage gases get out.
Now, in terms of why this is happening, I’m a little confused by this, Leslie. Because typically, when you get a squeal – that’s on the supply side; that’s on the water-supply side – and when it comes from a toilet, it’s almost always caused by the fill valves.
Now, if the plumber is attributing this to having something to do with the venting, he may be seeing in the toilet that sometimes you get gurgling in a toilet when it’s not vented well. And if the water inside the tank goes down, maybe – and it’s got a bad fill valve – it tries to fill itself back up and it squeals and that would account for the fact that it’s happening now and it hasn’t happened in the past. Because it’s just sort of a developed mental thing.
But I would be curious to know what the plumber thought the solution was, because you can’t just say, “Well, it’s got a problem but I can’t fix it.” That’s what you’re there to do and there’s lots of ways to address venting. If it hasn’t happened before and it is a vent issue, it also could be a blockage somewhere down the line.
So, there’s lots – there’s more unanswered questions here than questions. But I will tell you that normally, those squeals have to do with valves. They usually have to do with toilet valves because when they don’t fully open, they’re going to squeal a little bit as the water goes through. And copper plumbing is – will telegraph that sound all over the house. So it can sound – you can hear it in every single room, even though it’s happening up there in the bathroom.
LESLIE: Alright. Now, we’ve got William from Texas on the line.
William, welcome to The Money Pit. What can we help you with today?
WILLIAM: Well, my daughter bought a house. And the person that she bought the house from smokes cigarettes. And the house – when you walk – as soon as you walk in the door, the cigarette smell hits you. And it was basically throughout the house. And we’re in the process of trying to figure out how we’re going to get all that smell out, short of ripping the walls out.
TOM: Does the house have carpet?
TOM: Then it’s probably got to go.
TOM: You can try steam-cleaning it but it gets into the padding and everything else. The least you have to do is steam-clean it. But what you want to do on the walls is you want to paint the walls with a really good primer. And so an oil-based primer or an alkyd-based primer will seal in that odor.
Clean the walls well, use a TSP – trisodium phosphate – to wash them down and then prime the walls. If you don’t prime the walls, the odor will basically permeate right through the new paint. But if you clean them and you prime them well, that will do a – go a long way towards getting rid of a lot of that odor. That plus removing the carpet or at least steam-cleaning the carpet are the two most important things to do.
LESLIE: Yeah. And you know what? If you do end up removing the carpet, make sure they remove the padding, as well. And if it’s a wood subfloor, you want to paint it again with that same odor-blocking primer because that will do a lot to help with that, as well. And I don’t know if you’ve held on to any of the draperies or any other soft goods from the previous owners. Just get rid of them or really have them cleaned well.
WILLIAM: OK. That will work. I appreciate your answer.
TOM: Alright. Well, good luck with that project. Thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.
Well, if you’ve got a home improvement question, now would be an excellent time to reach out to us at 888-MONEY-PIT or at MoneyPit.com. Because we’ve got a great giveaway going out to one listener, drawn at random, from those that reach out to us with their questions. It is from our friends at Trex. It is a $500 gift card to Lowe’s to help you get started with a new project.
Now, Trex has got this new Trex Transcend Deck Kit at Lowe’s and that will be a great project to take on this time of year. The Trex Transcend Deck Kit includes all the materials needed to build a 12×16 foot deck with Trex’s top of the line Transcend Decking, Trex Fascia and the Trex Hideaway Hidden Fasteners.
This Transcend board – we just had the Transcend delivered to our house, Leslie, because, as you know, I’m building a Trex deck right now. And it is absolutely beautiful. I’ve watched composites over the years and how they have transformed. This Trex Transcend piece, I have this Island Mist color and it looks just like driftwood that floated up the Jersey Shore, except it’s a lot tougher. So we are looking forward, actually, to this weekend, starting that project.
And if you’re interested in taking on a Transcend Deck Kit yourself, check out the Lowe’s products at Lowes.Trex.com. It’s Lowes.Trex.com. But if you’d like to win a $500 gift card to Lowe’s to help you get started with that project, reach out to us, right now, at 1-888-MONEY-PIT.
LESLIE: We’ve got Robert in Delaware who’s got some problems with the sidewalk.
What is happening?
ROBERT: I have a small issue with my walkway coming into my house and that is the divider between the concrete paths, the walkway. They’re all in good shape, except for one. It seems to have deteriorated and washed away. So I’m trying to think of a way to fill that in. I didn’t know if I should put sand in and then pour in a composite or – it’s actually about a ½-inch gap there. And if you have any ideas that could help me out, I’d be very appreciative.
TOM: You know, Robert, that problem you describe is very common because those – the fillers between the concrete slabs that you mentioned, those are really called “spacers.” And they’re actually there to give the concrete a place to expand and contract so it doesn’t push against each other and crack. But they’re not nearly as permanent as the concrete, obviously, and they’re just going to dry out and fall out over time. And then you end up getting dirt and you get seeds and you get weeds that fall into there.
So, what you want to do is this. You want to scrape out anything that’s in that space between the two concrete slabs. Then you want to pick up something we call a “backer rod,” which is like a foam noodle. Comes in different diameters. And it sounds like you’re going to need one that’s 1 inch in diameter. You cut a piece to fit the width of the sidewalk and then you press it into that gap – you can use a screwdriver or a stick or something – so it sits down below the surface probably at least, maybe, I’d say a ½-inch or so.
And then on top of that backer rod, you basically install a flowable urethane type of caulk sealant. And when that dries, it’ll expand and contract. And because you have the backer rod there, it’s not all going to fall down to the bottom of the slab and there’ll be no end to how much of that stuff you need. So the backer rod keeps it in place. You put the sealant in there. It dries, it attaches itself well to both sides of the slab. And you’re going to have to do this probably again and again in the future.
But that’s the best way to handle that. Putting sand in there is not going to solve that at all; it’s just going to grow weeds. So, put the backer rod in and you’ll be good to go.
LESLIE: Well, with all the water shortages across the nation, many towns are imposing limits on outdoor-water use in the summer. And homeowners, they’re wondering how to avoid having their yard turn into a dead, dry wasteland. Well, you can conserve water and still have a beautiful yard but it all starts with your soil.
TOM: Well, that’s right. You can amend your soil so the plants don’t need as much water. Now, a soil amendment is really just a fancy word for something that you mix into the soil to make it better.
So, for example, if you’ve got sandy soil or gravelly or decomposed granite soil, it’ll hold water better and nutrients better if you add some well-decomposed materials, like a finished compost, aged manure and peat moss.
Now, if you’ve got soil that’s very clay-like, you can improve the aeration, make it breathe better and that’s going to make it water better because it improves the infiltration. If you add something that’s sort of fibrous, like wood chips or peat and straw mixed together, these will all make the soils much better in terms of supporting the plant growth that’s going to go into them.
LESLIE: OK. Now, once you’ve got good soil, you’re going to want to choose plants that are, one, native to your region and two, able to thrive in your area’s heat zone. I mean these native plants, they’re made to sort of withstand the climate where you live because they’re grown there. So they’re going to do better given the conditions that they’re in.
Now, finally, let’s talk about watering. Now, it’s important to make sure that the water you give your plants is going to be as effective as possible. You want to use drip irrigation, rather than overhead watering. Plants are going to take in water more efficiently when you apply it to their roots, rather than their leaves. And watering directly at the roots also conserves water that would be lost to evaporation or runoff during that overhead watering.
Now, also think about when you water. If you water earlier in the day, preferably before 6:00 a.m. – this is where those programmed sprinklers come in really handy, unless you are an early riser like me. If you water it before 6:00 a.m., that also prevents evaporation. If you water towards the evening, that’s not really very advisable because if the plant goes to bed wet, like say it gets cooler in the evening and the soil is still wet, there’s a good chance that it could get a fungal disease. So you want to be careful about the timing; it’s super important.
TOM: Yeah. You want to water deeply but infrequently. That’s the idea. So a good soaking once or twice a week should be plenty. You don’t have to water every single day.
LESLIE: Now we’ve got Jeff in Iowa on the line who’s got an air conditioner that doesn’t always smell so great.
What’s going on, Jeff?
JEFF: I can’t smell. The wife can smell.
JEFF: Yeah, we have a …
LESLIE: We smell everything.
JEFF: There’s a smell emanating from somewhere. I thought it was maybe the basement drain or it’s not flowing like it should. And she seems to think that it – she says it comes on – the smell comes about when the air is turned on – when the air comes on.
JEFF: So maybe it’s not cleaning – or am I on the right track?
TOM: Maybe. So let’s talk about some basics. If we want to get to the bottom of this, we could start with duct cleaning, just to kind of eliminate that as a possibility. The second thing we should talk about is what kind of filter do you have?
JEFF: Just your generic, basic one from the hardware store.
TOM: Yeah, that’s a problem. So what I want you to do is I want you to pick up a Filtrete filter – 3M Filtrete brand. And they sell one that has activated charcoal built into it and it’s specifically designed for eliminating odors. It’s called the Filtrete Home Odor-Reduction Filter. And it’s got activated charcoal built in and so that’s designed specifically to get rid of the odors. And of course, it does a great job with dust and pollen and mold and that sort of thing.
JEFF: Oh, alright. Thanks a lot. Appreciate it.
TOM: And that’s going to make your wife very, very happy.
TOM: Good luck with that project. Thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.
LESLIE: Well, this is the time of year to be outside enjoying your property. But Grace is on the line with some issues with a patio that needs restoration.
What’s going on?
GRACE: We have a patio that’s 4 years old. It’s concrete. It has soldier-edge bricking all the way around it. But some of the portions have raised and are actually a little dangerous. And some of the portions also have just turned color. In short, it’s an ugly patio. What’s our options and whom do we call?
TOM: Well, Grace, I think the good news is that the fact that you’ve got a patio with a soldier’s edge around it is nice.
Now, for those that are wondering what that is, that’s when you take brick and you stack it vertically and use it as a border for, in this case, the patio. And apparently, they’re broken off and they’re falling apart and they’re somewhat dangerous. But the fact that it’s there is kind of cool. I would investigate the possibility of actually doing a restoration job on that where you basically remove all the loose brick and re-mortar it in place. You may need to have a mason do that.
But in terms of the concrete that’s left, Leslie, there’s so many nice finishes to that today. You have the terrazzo coatings, for example, that are absolutely beautiful and other options. I think that between restoring the soldier course and then refinishing that patio surface, I think that could look pretty nice.
LESLIE: I think it could look really nice. And especially if there’s something special about that brick. If it’s antique or dated back to a certain time period when the home was built, that’s really special and deserves being preserved.
It’s interesting. You hardly ever hear that term soldiering or soldiered. And I think that applies to pretty much any sort of tile; it’s like a pattern. So, brick, tile. And it’s when everything stands on edge – tall, stand tall like a soldier. And then if you were to say, “Do a soldier pattern on a tile wall,” they’re all stacked vertically and horizontally so that everything’s in line. There’s nothing that’s offset.
TOM: Yeah, you don’t overlap the joints.
LESLIE: Yeah. So it’s really a lovely pattern. And the fact that it’s with this brick is really special.
And I think for the top, you’re right: Daich Coatings has so many different applications that you can use to give a nice, solid, durable surface. It can have a texture, a pattern. It can look like marble, it can look like terrazzo, it can look like so much. So, that’s definitely an option.
And I think with a little bit of work here, you can really have something super special.
LESLIE: Hey, guys, we’ve got a great, quick, summertime tip here from the experts at ENERGY STAR. Here you go. If you replace your five most frequently used bulbs around the house with ENERGY STAR bulbs, you could save as much as $75 a year. Ultra-efficient, ultra-long-lasting LEDs, they do cost a little bit more up front. But you’ll most likely earn back that cost in energy savings in less than a year. So go ahead, make that switch today.
TOM: You know, we actually – I just bought two spotlights that are LEDs. But these are integrated LEDs, so they don’t have bulbs; the light is actually built into it. And I was really impressed with them.
First of all, they were about 50 bucks a piece. So, not inexpensive. But these were really sturdy. They were just as bright as four separate spotlights that we had before. We had – on this house that we’ve bought, we had one of these spotlight fixtures that had four different spotlight bulbs coming out of it. And when I added it all up, we were going to get more light out of one of these LEDs and it was going to cost a tiny bit – a tiny fraction of what the expense was to run it.
And not only that. The fixtures today, we adjust not only the brightness but we can adjust the color of the bulb. So, if you like it to be really stark white, kind of like that blue white, there’s a setting for that. Or you can rotate it all the way down to the other side, which gives you sort of that warm, that orange-y kind of color.
So, a lot of function, a lot of flexibility and a lot of energy savings with these LED lights these days. So definitely something to look into.
Well, when you look up, is the view of your ceiling less than a bit exciting? Well, decorative ceilings could be the solution. Now, with a decorative ceiling, you can turn your blank and your bland ceiling into, really, an architectural showpiece.
Now, Leslie, this is your area of expertise. So if you want to add some charm to a charmless ceiling, what kinds of options do we have? Because we’re all starting with the same sort of blank slate, right?
LESLIE: Yeah. And I mean there’s different levels or ornamentation, if you will, for a ceiling. And I think the most simple one, which I take for granted – I have crown molding at home. But I’m always looking at a house and wanting to move. And I can’t believe how many homes don’t have crown molding in the majority of spaces. And that really is the simplest way to elevate your room’s stature. It’s going to draw your eyes up to the ceiling. And wood truly is a top choice for more traditional woodworkers and builders alike.
But today, you can also choose moldings that are made from foam and flexible polyurethane. They’re going to last longer. They’re not going to warp or deteriorate. And they really do look just like the real thing once you get them up, so don’t shy away from an option like that.
Now, another way to go is adding a ceiling medallion. Now, these really give you a focal point in sort of the midpoint of your ceiling. Some people do them on top of a chandelier, some people put them smack in the middle of a room with no light fixture in the room. It depends. You can find beautiful, plaster vintage ones at architectural salvage shops. You can find foam or polyurethane ones at home centers that are meant to go with a chandelier. Paint them the same color as the ceiling and they look gorgeous. And again, so many different styles. So if you want something more ornate or more modern, you’ve got it as available choices.
Now, here’s something else that gets pretty bold is putting tin – you know those tin tiles that are pressed across the entire ceiling? They’re beautiful. They really do look timeless. And there are thousands, literally, of panel patterns that you can choose from. And some of them have actually remained unchanged since tin ceilings came into style after the Civil War. And others definitely have a more modern appeal.
Now, you can get more ornate, more woodwork involved. We can talk about a coffered ceiling. That’s sort of when you see very, very decorative molding/trim that sort of comes down off of the ceiling, creating these recessed boxes into your ceiling. Granted, it’s just the ceiling, but the molding and the decorative part there does extend down. And sometimes, it can extend down as far as 6 inches. You know, you’ve got to have the ceiling height for it. But it is fancy, it is beautiful. It really makes a big statement in a space. You’re going to find a lot of new-built homes have this. Paint them the same color as the ceiling and the room is stunning.
TOM: Now, sometimes a homeowner sort of fears or shies away from putting anything on a white ceiling, for fear of making the room look smaller or the ceiling look lower. Is that really a genuine fear? Can that happen? Or is this sort of like a trick of the eye when you make these ceiling treatments, that it can actually make it seem bigger?
LESLIE: I think it depends, really. I love painting a ceiling the same color as the walls. It depends on the size of the space, it depends on how adventurous you are. I don’t ever think it makes the room feel smaller. I also really enjoy putting a wallpaper on the ceiling. This is kind of right on the nose but I was looking at one that was black with sort of a vintage, celestial pattern. So yes, it was stars and moons but it was very ethereal and kind of modern but also gypsy. And I thought that would look amazing on a ceiling.
So don’t shy away from doing something like that. It can open up the room. It can make the room feel bigger, more well-designed, more thought-out. And if you’re afraid to go too far from white, think about a blush pink or something that just has a slight tint of color off the white. And that changes the whole feel of the room.
TOM: I’m sorry, when you say put wallpaper on the ceiling, I just go right to 20 years from now when somebody wants to get that off and they’re laying on their back upside-down on scaffolding going, “What were they thinking? Wallpaper on the ceiling?”
LESLIE: Come on, you know I’m never moving. So I’m going to do it.
Alright, Money Pit listeners. We’ve got an amazing giveaway today, courtesy of Trex. They just launched a brand-new Trex Transcend Deck Kit at Lowe’s. Now, Trex has provided us a $500 gift card to Lowe’s to help you get started with your project.
Now, the Trex Transcend Deck Kit, that includes all of the materials that you need to build a 12-foot by 16-foot deck with Trex’s top of the line Transcend Decking, the Trex Fascia and the Trex Hideaway Hidden Fasteners.
You can head on over to Lowes.com. You can order the kit right there. And everything you need for that project is going to either be available at the local store or shipped directly to the project site. Hopefully, that’s your backyard, making a beautiful deck. You can find the Trex Transcend Decking exclusively at Lowe’s and Lowes.com.
TOM: That $500 Lowe’s gift card is going out to one very lucky listener who reaches out to us with their home improvement questions. So make that you. And you’ve got to have a home improvement question. It’s got to be a real one to qualify. So call us at 888-MONEY-PIT – that’s 888-666-3974 – or head to MoneyPit.com and just click on the blue microphone button to record your question.
LESLIE: Janet in South Carolina, you’ve got The Money Pit. How can we help you today?
JANET: Got a question on options other than tile to put around the bathroom due to some staining.
TOM: So, options other than tile for a bathroom wall. So I think, Leslie, first we have to consider durability here. And if you don’t want to go tile, then I’m thinking probably a surround.
TOM: One of these pre-made surrounds is probably the way to go, right?
LESLIE: I mean they’re going to be the best way to go. They’re clean, they’re seamless except at the corner. So you have a nice, smooth, solid wall that’s virtually leakproof, except for the areas that you attach to floor, sides. So the wall itself is going to be great. And they do come in variety of colors. They can look like they have tile pressed into them. Lots of different ways to use it.
TOM: Yeah. And there’s a little bit of skill required to install them because they’re not going to fit perfectly out of the box; sometimes you have to trim the width. And of course, they have to be glued in place and you have to be caulked at the bottom. But I think that’s a really good, inexpensive, effective option for you if you don’t want to go with tile.
LESLIE: Well, for hundreds of years, terrazzo has been proven as a floor that’s both durable and beautiful. But while traditional terrazzo is costly and it’s very expensive to install, Daich Coatings’ new terrazzo flooring system is not. Now, this is a stone-based, liquid flooring system that works indoors and out and it provides a very realistic and attractive appearance.
TOM: Now, applying this stuff is really easy. You just mix the product, you pour it on the floor and then you roll it out to spread the product evenly across the surface. One gallon covers 60 square feet, so that makes it a great selection for a porch, steps, little patio. Or you can order more and cover your pool decks, your basements or your garage floor. So there’s a lot of flexibility there.
And once that terrazzo dries, you just put a sealer on top of it and you are good to go. It completely resurfaces the existing floor or concrete surface with a flexible and watertight, very easy to clean finish.
LESLIE: Yeah. And you’ve essentially got the beauty of real granite but you just roll it on. And it’s super-tough stuff, too. It’s been tested for water, salt, chemicals, impact, abrasion resistance. And it also resists hot-tire pickup, plus mold and mildew. This thing is tough.
Now, the product even covers and hides hairline cracks and minor flaws in your existing surface.
TOM: The terrazzo is available in six premixed colors. It dries quickly, it cleans up easily with water. You’ll find the terrazzo, along with other Daich Coatings primers and decorative concrete products online at Lowe’s or at DaichCoatings.com.
LESLIE: Lisa from Delaware is on the line with a chimney question.
Lisa, what can we do for you today?
LISA: I have two chimneys. One is a brick chimney and the other was a stucco chimney. I recently had them both repaired. The brick chimney needed to be repointed and above the brick chimney, underneath the stainless-steel cap, I guess – I don’t know if it’s cement or mortar but that was all cracked. And in the winter, the ice would form between the cracks.
So, anyway, I had that repaired. The other chimney that was stucco had a hairline crack in it and they suggested re-stuccoing the chimney and stippling it, which is like a popcorn-ceiling type of an effect.
TOM: Right. Mm-hmm.
LISA: So all that was done. Now, they told me – us – wait about 6 months and then I should have it sealed to protect it. Now, it’s $75 a chimney to get it sealed.
TOM: So, what they’re talking about is a masonry sealer. And you probably don’t need this; it’s not like you need it to protect it. Usually, you put sealers on if you’re concerned about leaks. But if you are going to put a sealer on it, they’re silicone-based and you have to make sure that you use one that’s vapor-permeable. Some of the older sealers – sealer products – out there are not vapor-permeable and that means that moisture gets in, it gets trapped under the surface of the concrete and then it’ll freeze and spall or crack. And that could actually accelerate the deterioration of the chimney itself.
So, if you use a good-quality silicone sealer that’s vapor-permeable, it can slow the absorption of moisture into the chimney. But I’m just not sure you need it. The kinds of things that you’re talking about doing – except for the total re-stuccoing of the chimney; I don’t know if I would have gone that far just to repair a crack.
But the other things that you’re talking about are all entirely expected: having to repoint some mortar, having to repair a cracked chimney cap – a concrete cap around the chimney. Those are all normal. I don’t necessarily think that putting a sealer on is going to have that much of a major effect of slowing down any further deterioration. I think it’s just sort of wear and tear.
LISA: OK. And if – so if it’s not vapor-permeable, it could even harm it.
TOM: That’s correct. Exactly right, Lisa.
LISA: So I should ask the mason then if it’s – but he could tell me anything. He could say, “Yeah, it is.”
TOM: Well, it’s very easy. Find out what product he’s using and go look up the product online and read about it.
LISA: But you’re saying, really, it’s probably not worth it.
TOM: I don’t know that it’s totally necessary. Unless the chimneys are leaking, I probably wouldn’t do it.
LISA: OK. Thank you very much.
LESLIE: Vicky in Hawaii wrote in. I don’t know why she has time to write in; she should be enjoying her beautiful state. We’re always very jealous when we get an email from Hawaii.
Alright. So Vicky writes: “We’re about to interview two different contractors who are willing to build our home. What are important questions that I should know when I meet with these folks? We already know that they build the whole house and it comes with everything, from floors to roof, appliances, kitchen, bath, electrical, plumbing, et cetera. I want to be able to compare these bids equally.”
This is a big project. So yeah, there’s a lot of different ways people can price stuff.
TOM: It is. And I think, Vicky, what you first have to do – I’m intrigued, Leslie, by the fact she says, “Well, it comes with everything.”
LESLIE: I don’t know about that.
TOM: That’s the foggiest statement ever, right there. “Don’t worry, it’s all included.” And then you find out, “Oh, you wanted an engine with your car. Well, you didn’t say that.” It’s that sort of thing that can happen when you have that kind of vagueness in any kind of an agreement.
So my first piece of advice is this: I hope you have your own architect. Because you need a set of plans for the house you want to build done for you, not through the contractor. Because an architect would make sure that everything is in that set of plans, including specifications for cabinets and appliances and faucets and fixtures and all that stuff. Because there’s just such a wide range of quality. One builder’s set of everything being included is going to be a heck of a lot different than another. So you need to really specify that out. That is critical.
Because only when you have a set of plans that both builders are bidding on can you fairly compare them. Otherwise, it’s very, very difficult. You’d have to make adjustments all across the board on a line-by-line basis for everything that differs. There’s just so many different ways that this could go wrong. You really can’t start there with two contractors that want to give you a set of plans for two different houses. You’ve got to start with one. I’m going to presume, for this argument, that you have maybe a piece of property and either of them can put the house on it.
But you really need to back this up, get an architect first, design it. And then you get those plans to the carpenters – or to the contractors – and they can give you an apples-to-apples comparison. They’ll all be bidding on the same thing. If they don’t particularly like something in the specs, then you can make adjustments on a case-by-case basis. But that’s not going to be the whole thing. That might be like, “Well, we don’t use this brand of floor covering, we use this other,” or, “We prefer to put this much insulation,” and your contractor specifies something else. Those are easy adjustments to make. But you’ve just got to get into those nitty-gritty details. Otherwise, you’ve got nothing to compare.
I mean beyond that, then I would be looking at all their past customers, their past houses. I’d be speaking with the folks whose homes they’ve built, both this year, 5 years ago, 10 years ago. See how everything is holding up. And especially make sure you have a good sense as to what their working practices are, too. Because you need to get a sense that they’re going to be on your house and only on your house and not skipping around through a bunch of other projects.
LESLIE: Alright. Good luck with that, Vicky. And make sure there’s two guest rooms for Tom and I to come visit.
Alright. Now, Joel writes: “My family is growing, so I’m looking to make my basement a usable space. The problem is the flooring. It’s poured concrete but it has a lot of rise and fall. The main floor joist has a range of 98 inches to 107 inches. What do you suggest?”
TOM: Well, first of all, you’re not going to change the rise or the fall of that floor. But in terms of the basement flooring, I would choose a product that’s designed for damp areas. And you have tons of choices these days. You could look at some of the laminate products, you could look at the engineered-vinyl planks. You could look at the hybrid-stone products, like Duravana from LL Flooring. Incredibly durable and can go in a completely damp location like that without any impact whatsoever.
But whatever you do, don’t use hardwood because that’s going to warp.
LESLIE: Yeah. Good luck with that, Joel. It’s always nice to have the extra space for people to hang out.
TOM: This is The Money Pit Home Improvement Show on a beautiful summer day. We hope that you are enjoying the space around your home. If you’re in the midst of a project, remember you can reach out to us, 24/7, at 888-MONEY-PIT.
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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