- Above ground pools can be a fun addition to your backyard space. But the site of a 4-foot tall, 24-foot-wide bathtub in the middle of your entertaining space doesn’t always add to the outdoor décor! We share tips to make above ground pools an attractive and affordable addition to your backyard space.
- We love sitting around the fire pit on a cool summer evening. But if you don’t have a fire pit, building one is now as easy as stacking blocks. We’ll tell you about a system of modular rustic building blocks that can be assembled to create firepits, plants and more.
- Vinyl fencing has become more and more popular as an alternative to traditional wood fencing. But is it really worth the extra cost? We’ll walk you thought the pros and the cons of vinyl vs wood fences.
Plus, answers to your home improvement questions.
- Retaining Walls: Tom, helps Alex figure out the easiest way to build a retaining wall by using interlocking blocks instead of wood.
Replacement Windows: Elie wants to know the most energy efficient materials for a replacement window.
- Rust Stains: Doug needs help to prevent rust stains from forming on his pool and patio areas.
- Getting Rid of Woodchucks: Darlene is dealing with a major population of wood chicks that are destroying her garden.
- Best Soft Floor: Casey needs help choosing the best floor for her special needs son. Find out why we recommend cork flooring.
- Cleaning Wood Floors: Margaret wants our recommendation for the best floor cleaners for wood floors.
- Bad Electrical Outlets: Steve needs a solution for a number of ungrounded electrical outlets in his home.
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 projects you want to get done around the house. Could be your house, could be your mom’s house, your dad’s house, your friend’s house. If you need some advice on projects that are in your realm, in your space, in your tunnel that you want to take on, this is the place to get some advice to do just that. We can be your coach, your counselor, your home improvement therapist, whatever it takes to help get you guys going on those projects. That’s what we do and we just love it.
This is Episode 2223 if you’re listening to us by podcast, 2223. And we are here to help you get those jobs done right now. So if you’ve got questions, call us at 1-888-MONEY-PIT or you can post your questions by clicking on the blue microphone button at MoneyPit.com.
Hey, coming up on today’s show, we’re going to talk above-ground pools. They can be a fun addition to your backyard space but let’s face it, the sight of a 4-foot tall, 24-foot wide bathtub in the middle of your beautiful yard doesn’t always add to the outdoor décor. So to help, we’ve got some tips to make above-ground pools an attractive and affordable addition to your outdoor-living space.
LESLIE: And also coming up, we love sitting around the fire pit on a cool summer evening. But if you don’t have a fire pit, building one is now as easy as stacking blocks. We’re going to tell you about a system of modular, rustic building blocks that can be assembled to create fire pits, planters, a ton of stuff.
TOM: And also ahead, vinyl fencing has become more and more popular as an alternative to traditional wood fencing. But is it really worth the extra cost? We’re going to walk you through the pros and the cons.
LESLIE: But first, we want to hear from you guys. What are you working on this summer weekend? We are cruising through July, so let us help you get those projects done before we hit August and then it’s back to school, back to everything. So let us help you make the best of this summer that we’ve got left, so give us a call.
TOM: Reach out at 1-888-MONEY-PIT or post your questions at MoneyPit.com. Just click on the blue microphone button.
Let’s get to it. Leslie, who’s first?
LESLIE: Alex in West Virginia is on the line with a question about grading.
Tell us what’s going on at your money pit.
ALEX: I bought my house last year. It’s a 1926 American Foursquare home. The lot that the home was built on is 140 feet deep by 30 feet wide. But the problem is the drop from the very back of the lot to the very front of the lot is pretty significant. It’s about 10 feet. So the house is on a hill and I’m wondering what I can do to level out the front yard so it’s easier to mow and so it looks nicer, if I could build some sort of retaining wall.
And then I want to do something in the backyard the same way because playing on it, for our dog and kids, is kind of hard. I was wondering what you thought about maybe trying to level that out somehow.
TOM: Well, right now it sounds like the house is kind of cut into the hillside. Does it – so it slopes down towards a street in the front or it slopes away from the house?
ALEX: That’s correct. It slopes down. If you stand on the very front of the yard, you can’t – you’re not even above the lawn in the back.
TOM: So, a retaining wall is the best way to achieve that. But of course, building a retaining wall, especially if you’re talking about several feet like that, is no small task. It’s a pretty big project and it’s got to be done well because if it’s not engineered properly, it’s going to fail. Fortunately, today there are a lot of good masonry products – precast masonry products – that work extremely well for retaining walls.
It used to be that your best option was something that looked like railroad ties that were stacked up and you had these railroad ties that would go back into the hillside. They were called “deadmen” because they would just lay there and hold the wall in.
LESLIE: That’s a terrible name.
TOM: But eventually, it – that’s what it was called. It was called the “deadman” and it was the piece that was perpendicular to the wall and was basically covered with soil, because that would be sort of the tie that would hold it in place.
But today, you could use precast retaining-wall blocks. They’re made by a number of great manufacturers. And you can stack those up, once you prepare the base properly, and then just sort of backfill as you go.
And remember to provide for proper drainage because that really is the key. Whatever you do, you want to make sure that you’re handling the water that’s running down that hillside properly. And if you are built into a slope like that, it’s really more important than ever to have what’s called a “swale,” where the water sort of divides before it gets to the back of your house, then it goes around the left and the right sides and then runs down to the street.
But certainly, that’s an option but it’s a big project. And it’s one that I would recommend you get professional help with because of the size and the scope of it. Well worth having a landscape architect or a designer kind of spec that out for you because if you’re going to do it yourself, you’ll know exactly what you have to do.
And if you’re not going to do it yourself, you can use that spec to get bids from qualified contractors and you’ll know that they’re all going to be sort of bidding apples to apples. The problem is if you just call a contractor and say, “Build me a retaining wall,” everyone’s going to build it slightly differently. And it’s going to be hard for you to figure out what’s the best choice, because the guy that’s the cheapest may not be doing the best job or using the best materials.
You follow me?
ALEX: Mm-hmm. Oh, yeah, yeah.
TOM: That’s the way I’d approach it.
ALEX: I appreciate your answer. I listen to your podcast every week.
TOM: Well, thank you so much for doing that and we’re so glad you called.
ALEX: Alright. Thank you.
LESLIE: Heading to Nebraska now where Ellie is on the line with a window question.
What can we do for you today?
ELLIE: I’m replacing a window in the lower level of our home and I was wondering if you had an opinion as to what would be the best material for the window. Vinyl? Wood? Composite?
TOM: What kind of a window do you have there now? Is it a standard sort of double-hung window?
ELLIE: No. It’s actually five windows in one. It’s 9 foot by 3 foot.
TOM: Oh, that’s a big job. Yeah. My first point would be that you need to make sure you’re buying an energy-efficient window. Because with a space that big, you want to make sure that you’re using well-insulated glass. So I would only buy one that was ENERGY STAR-rated.
TOM: And you want to make sure that the glass is going to have a low-emissivity coating or a low-E coating, because what that does is that reflects the sunlight back out so that it doesn’t overheat your house. Otherwise, you’re going to heat that space up like a big, old greenhouse with a 9-foot window.
In terms of the material itself, I think outside the house, you want something that’s very, very weatherproof, like vinyl. And inside the house, depending on the window you buy, it can be wood or it could be vinyl. So if you look at a window like an Andersen window, they have beautiful windows that are wood on the inside and vinyl on the outside. It kind of gives you the best of both worlds. But again, there are many different types of manufacturers out there. The most important thing is not as much the material but the certification, to make sure that it’s an efficient window that’s going to perform well for you and last a long, long time.
ELLIE: We will look for those energy ratings then.
TOM: Alright. Good luck. Thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.
LESLIE: Doug in Florida is on the line with a question about a patio.
What’s going on at your money pit?
DOUG: I’ve got a concrete deck around a large – or deck area around my pool. And when it rains, wherever I’ve got patio furniture, it creates rust stains. And also, where the ladders and the handrails come out of the pool, there’s always rust stains around that.
And I use a product from Home Depot called Goof Off that works great temporarily. It goes away immediately but then it always seems to come back with time – in a couple weeks’ time. I’m wondering if there’s a permanent solution to get rid of those rust stains.
TOM: So this is from rain? It’s not from the sprinklers?
DOUG: Well, it’s a combination. I’ve got it close to the pool where the sprinklers don’t hit and then I’ve got it on the edges from the sprinklers, also.
TOM: It’s pretty common when it happens because of the sprinklers and the only way to deal with that is to put some sort of a water-filtration system on it that’s going to keep that iron out of the water. So it’s basically iron in the groundwater that is causing that rust deposit. And so it’s no surprise that it’s coming back in 2 weeks, because it just continues to re-accumulate.
In terms of the rust that occurs around the furniture or around the pool ladder, I’m thinking that that’s probably because water is collecting there, just draining down and kind of sitting in that area. That’s why it looks more obvious, Doug. Because I don’t think it’s rust that’s actually forming in the furniture or the pool ladder, because those would not be metals that are going to rust.
So I think this is mostly what is actually in that groundwater that’s landing on that surface and causing this rust-stain deposit to happen. And you’re right, Goof Off does work really super well for that.
DOUG: And there’s no real permanent solution then for it, huh? Just keep using that.
TOM: Yeah, exactly. I mean you can’t stop Mother Nature unless – with the sprinkler system, like I said, if you were to put an iron-based filter in it, that would stop the iron deposits from getting through the water and onto the patio surface. So that would have a big impact on it. But of course, there’s an expense associated with that.
DOUG: Right. Is that a filter that goes on the pump that comes from the well or …?
TOM: Yes, exactly.
DOUG: OK. OK.
TOM: Yep. Yep. Between the well and the heads, basically. Mm-hmm.
DOUG: Should I – is that something I can do myself or …?
TOM: You know, it’s not terribly difficult if you are pretty handy with plumbing projects.
DOUG: Yeah, not so much, so …
TOM: You might want to have your sprinkler pro do that.
LESLIE: At least he’s honest. Doug’s honest.
DOUG: Gotcha. Well, great, guys. Thanks for your – thanks for answering my question. (inaudible)
TOM: Alright? Alright. Yeah. Good luck with that. You’re on the right track. Thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.
Well, an above-ground pool can be an affordable addition to your backyard space, right? But sometimes the sight of that 4-foot tall, 24-foot wide bathtub in the middle of your outdoor-living area, it’s not always so attractive. It’s kind of a trade-off. Yeah, I want to have a pool for the kids but man, there’s nothing I can do with it, right? It’s just kind of there.
Well, the truth is that with a little planning, and maybe a couple of weekends’ work, you can create an amazing above-ground pool that fits well within your backyard space and even adds some value to your home.
LESLIE: Yeah. First of all, I think landscaping is probably going to be the most budget-friendly way that you can begin. You can lay out a brick paver from the back door to your pool’s ladder. You want to make sure it’s wide enough for two people walking side by side or being able to sort of pass each other easily. And having those pavers are really going to help not bringing in any sort of wet, muddy feet. So that paver is going to be super important.
Next, you can think about adding a flower bed around the pool. You can use vegetation that’s going to keep mosquitos away, so think lemongrass or lavender. And you also want to make sure to mulch around whatever you plant to keep the weeds away and add some edging to make lawncare easier.
Now, up-lighting that’s placed close to the pool can be super attractive. They’re easy to install. You can use some solar lights if you’re just looking for a soft glow in the evening. Lots you can do.
We had an above-ground pool during COVID. It was not as big as that; it was 3½ foot deep, 8 foot by 16 foot. And while it wasn’t the most attractive, I really enjoyed having it.
LESLIE: And we did the best we could and we made it look good. And we certainly enjoyed it.
TOM: I remember when we had one as a kid. And my father always got a kick out of the fact that the first – Step One in the instructions was get a friend.
TOM: Because they’re a little unwieldy to put up by yourself. And that hasn’t changed.
LESLIE: Yeah. And if they’re not level, the second you fill it, it’s going to pour right out.
TOM: Yeah. Exactly.
LESLIE: So you’ve got to make sure it’s super flat.
TOM: Alright, let’s talk about those pool walls. Because let’s face it, the sides of most above-ground pool walls are just plain ugly. So, the idea here is to add some interesting siding.
Now, if the yard is flat, you can use wood or vinyl lattice. That’s an easy option to hide an above-ground pool. You can build yourself a frame, attach the lattice, maybe even have kind of like cocktail rail on top, so you have a flat ledge that you can set some drinks on. Or you could also go with sort of a plank-style siding and use cedar or redwood or any other kind of rough-sawn lumber. And here’s a tip. If you want to maybe add a decorative metal band to the outside, it gives it kind of a wine-barrel appearance.
All of these modifications, if you do them well, it kind of looks like they were always designed that way. It doesn’t look like an afterthought and it really blends in nice.
And finally, having a deck around your pool definitely adds a new element altogether. So you can either align your pool with an existing deck or you could use decking to create kind of a semicircle, with siding around the remaining perimeter, or even do a complete walkway all the way around the diameter of the deck.
LESLIE: Yeah. That way, it’s sort of a built-in above-ground pool. I mean it really does kind of do the trick of making it seem like it’s permanently there and built-in.
TOM: I’ve seen these done so well that they look like they were designed that way from scratch. It looks like it’s a sunken pool, not a raised deck.
LESLIE: Now, there’s really great ways that you guys can have this. And certainly, it is a much more affordable option than an in-ground pool. So, lots of ways you can dress it up. You want to make it lovely so that you can enjoy that summer and keep it attractive and affordable for your backyard enjoyment.
TOM: Darlene in New York, you’re next on The Money Pit. How can we help?
DARLENE: Hi. I seem to be having a problem with a woodchuck. It goes from my neighbor’s shed in the backyard to the – to across our yard, into the other yard.
TOM: OK. Mm-hmm.
DARLENE: And we’re getting all holes in our backyard. They’re destroying our yard.
TOM: Now, you’re sure they’re woodchucks and not moles?
DARLENE: No, they’re huge.
DARLENE: It’s a mother and maybe three babies.
TOM: Alright. Well, there’s a couple of things that you can do to kind of discourage woodchucks. One of them I’m not sure applies to you and that is just to make sure your yard is less attractive to woodchucks by removing any kinds of stumps or wood or brush piles. They do like to chew on wood to keep their teeth filed down. So if there’s some good stuff around your yard, they’re going to be gnawing at that.
The other thing that you can do is to repel the woodchucks with something like hot-pepper spray. You know, if you have liquid-pepper spray or hot-pepper spray, you can spray it in the holes and they will not go in there. They do not like that. Or you can use one of their natural predators, which is fox or dog or raccoon. That’s available as a spray and it basically replicates their urine and kind of keeps them away.
And then on your plants, if you were to apply something like a Deer Off type of a spray, which basically sits on the leaves of the plants or the bushes – and if the woodchuck was to eat it, it has a really nasty taste to it and that keeps them away, as well. So there’s a couple of things that you can try without calling in a pro, to see if we can try to minimize the woodchuck visit to your backyard.
DARLENE: OK. So if I do use the hot-pepper spray then, I just spray it inside of the holes in our yard?
TOM: Yeah, in that area, right, to kind of discourage them from using them. And maybe they will not create anymore. That’s what we hope, alright? Good luck with that project. Thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.
LESLIE: Casey in Texas is on the line and needs some help with a flooring project.
What can we do for you today?
CASEY: I have a special-needs son. He’s 4 years old and he crawls throughout our house. And unfortunately, he has a lot of falls. I’m looking to replace the flooring in my game room and kitchen, which is currently ceramic tile, with a softer option. And I was thinking of doing cork flooring. So, I wanted to know what your opinion on the cork flooring was, if there’s a better option. And can it be laid on top of the tile?
TOM: Great question. I was actually just thinking of that cork flooring as a good, terrific, soft option for you.
In terms of whether you can lay it on top of the tile, if the tile is really flat, you probably can. But if the tile has a bit of a rough surface or sort of curvy edges, I think that it could potentially be an issue. That said, there may be a cork flooring out there that has sort of more of a solid back that could give you some stability over that. I’d look into it. I’d check a place like Lumber Liquidators.
But cork flooring is incredibly durable. It is soft and I think it is a good choice for you. Short of doing something with area rugs or something of that nature, I think that’s probably one of the best choices that you can make. If it’s an area that you would potentially want to carpet, just keep in mind that there’s a lot of differences in carpet padding.
There’s a lot of chintzy carpet padding out there but if you look for it, you’ll find the good stuff that really does give you some cushion to that surface. And you don’t have to choose a thick carpet to put over it but you’ve got to have the right carpet padding under it. That’s really critical.
TOM: And if you went with something like a laminate floor, there is an underlayment that goes under laminate floor. Now, a laminate floor, obviously, is not soft on top but if the underlayment – I know that one of the brands that I used to work with had sort of an 1/8-inch foam kind of sheet that would go under it that would give it some give, too. But I think pretty much any floor you choose is going to be softer than ceramic tile.
TOM: Right, Leslie?
LESLIE: That really is true. The only concern I would have with putting the cork over the ceramic tile is that some of the cork floorings are on the thinner side. So, like Tom mentioned, you want to make sure the cork floor is thick enough to hide the imperfections that are there in that tile. But cork really is a great and forgiving surface and it looks gorgeous, too.
CASEY: Good. Is it pretty moisture-tolerant? I’m just concerned in the kitchen. Is there anything to worry about?
LESLIE: The cork tends to be water-resistant. I wouldn’t put in it a place, like a bathroom, where you’ve got potential for tubs overflowing and things of that nature. But the occasional spill and the water that tends to happen in a kitchen space is perfect for it.
CASEY: Mm-hmm. OK. Excellent. Well, thank you very much. I appreciate your help.
TOM: Well, one of my favorite family activities for a summer evening is sitting around the fire pit with a favorite beverage. But if you don’t have a fire pit, building one is now as easy as stacking blocks, thanks to a product called RumbleStone.
LESLIE: Yeah. RumbleStones are brilliant. They’re a system of modular, rustic building blocks for your outdoor projects. You can stack them creatively, in a variety of ways, to create so many outdoor projects, like patios, steps, walls, even outdoor kitchens and planters and Tom’s favorite: fire pits.
TOM: That’s right. So with us to talk about that is Allison Hunt. Now, Allison is the social-media director for Pavestone, the manufacturer of the RumbleStone blocks.
ALLISON: Hey, Tom. Hey, Leslie. Thanks so much for having me today.
TOM: You know what? Working with RumbleStones, it satisfies – it’s like a childhood memory, you know, where you sat around with the building blocks: the As, the Bs and the Cs. Except now, they’re a lot bigger and they’re a lot heavier but you can do more fun stuff with them.
ALLISON: Absolutely. Basically, our RumbleStone is designed to basically be adult building blocks. They’re kind of edging back to those childhood memories of toys that kind of link together. It’s the same kind of idea. You set them, you glue it together with a little bit of construction adhesive, you enjoy. It’s a great family project. Fire pits are something that’s quick and easy and can be done in about an hour.
LESLIE: I mean that’s really great. And it’s not – I know we use our fire pit all year round. Tom, you use yours all year round. S’mores are great in the summer when you’re outside having a movie. So this is a project for the whole year long.
ALLISON: Oh, absolutely. Not just for fall. It definitely sets that kind of warm, inviting outdoor tone on a cool summer evening. Definitely, definitely. Grab your favorite beverage, kick your feet up, enjoy.
LESLIE: Now, unlike our favorite childhood building plastic toy that shall remain nameless, because my feet are constantly remembering stepping on them from my kids, you are meant to glue the RumbleStone together, correct?
ALLISON: Yes. Yes, indeed. So, a little bit of construction adhesive between each of those base layers and that thing is going to stick. And it’s not going to move. Which is kind of what you want when you’re building a fire pit, right? You don’t exactly want those embers going everywhere.
TOM: That’s right. So, Alli, if we want to start this project and we want to buy the RumbleStone kit, what are the options? And what exactly is involved? Can you walk us through it, just quickly?
ALLISON: Absolutely. So, it really – those kits come based on three modulating block sizes. They can be stacked together in a slew of designs, from square to round, depending on what your outdoor aesthetic is and what your preference is. They can be two levels, they can be three levels, they can be four. It really just depends on what you can imagine. Those kits are meant to make things easy, to make it easy to enjoy. So it’s really taking those kits off, putting them together with that stack-and-glue construction. And we’ve actually got a bunch of project instructions on Pavestone.com for that very need.
TOM: Yeah, you absolutely do. And it makes it really super easy because you can pretty much see the entire thing come together. And it really is easy. You just do a little bit of excavation, just with a shovel, and then start to stack those blocks and work your way up right from there. And sooner rather than later, you are totally good to go. Like you say, you can build it in an hour. And I totally do believe that.
Now, if we could only control which way that smoke burns, because every time I get comfortable in a seat, it starts going the other way, right?
TOM: Alright, Allison. What are some of the other projects that folks are building with Pavestone’s RumbleStone product?
ALLISON: I’ve seen people do basically curved benches to go around their fire pits. That’s a kit that we sell. I have seen planters built up in multiple – with columns and those sorts of pieces with lights built in. It’s really whatever you can imagine. You can stack it with RumbleStone.
LESLIE: Oh, that’s amazing. So it’s really just left to your creativity and making sure it’s stably stacked.
ALLISON: Exactly, exactly. And as long as those edges align, you’re in pretty good shape.
TOM: Yeah. And they don’t fall over like the ones you worked with when you were a kid, either.
ALLISON: No, no. The scale of those makes it a little easier to wield.
TOM: The product is called RumbleStone. The website is Pavestone.com. That’s P-a-v-e-stone.com. Allison Hunt, the social-media director for Pavestone, thanks so much for stopping by The Money Pit.
ALLISON: Absolutely. Thanks, Tom and Leslie. I appreciate it.
TOM: Margaret in Virginia is next on The Money Pit.
How can we help you, Margaret?
MARGARET: I have an old house. Part of it built Civil War era.
MARGARET: The floors in the oldest part are pine and they’re about – 2 of the boards are about 2½ inches wide. In the newer part, the boards of the floor are oak and they’re more narrow. I want to know how to safely clean them and keep them protected.
TOM: There’s a product called Trewax, which is perfect for this particular application. It’s made by the Beaumont Company. And Trewax has been around for many, many, many, many years. And it’s actually a natural cleaner for hardwood floors. So you can find that at retailers across the country. You could find that online.
But look for Trewax Natural Floor Cleaner. And it’s going to enable you to clean those floors very thoroughly without damaging the wood. And that’s what’s critical, because some of the floor products are not really designed for wood floors. Sometimes there’s too much moisture in them, they don’t evaporate well and they leave too much moisture in the wood. And that causes the wood to swell or stain further.
So, look up Trewax. It’s not expensive and it works very well.
MARGARET: OK. So is this a put on and wipe off?
MARGARET: OK. That sounds good.
TOM: Trewax is spelled T-r-e-w-a-x.
MARGARET: OK. One E. OK. Got it.
TOM: Alright. Good luck with that project. Thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.
LESLIE: Well, vinyl fencing has become more and more popular as an alternative to traditional wood fencing. But is it really worth the extra cost? We’re going to walk you through the pros and cons.
TOM: So, in terms of durability, vinyl is often the better choice because it doesn’t require nearly as much maintenance as wood fencing. And it’s just a tougher material than wood overall. Now, that said, the initial budget could make that decision for you because wood is generally half the cost of vinyl. Yes, I said half the cost. So that vinyl fencing is pretty expensive.
LESLIE: Yeah. Budgets can also have an impact on which material is most likely to provide you the best return on investment. Now, vinyl fences tend to stay looking fresher and stand up better to sagging. That said, though, vinyl is not completely maintenance-free. While it’s not going to rot, it does tend to grow moss or mildew and it does need to be cleaned occasionally to keep up that familiar bright, white appearance. But it does clean up super easy.
TOM: Yup. Now, if wood is your choice, there are some ways to help preserve it. First, make sure you prime and paint the fence sections before they are installed. I’ve done this several times and I’ve got to tell you, it takes the fence from lasting 7 or 8 years to lasting 15 or 20 years. Include in your painting the top and the bottom edges. That’s really important because that’s sort of the end grain where it becomes really absorbative of the moisture. And so if you seal those, it lasts that much longer.
And secondly, when you install those fence sections, make sure you leave at least 4 to 6 inches of space above the grade. Leave that space above the grade because as the fence settles, it won’t come in contact with the grass and the soil, which can lead to decay and damage from moisture and carpenter bees and termites.
If you do those two things – if you paint it before you install it and you keep it up off the grade – it’ll last a lot longer and again, it’s half the price of vinyl.
LESLIE: Steve in Kansas, you’ve got The Money Pit. How can we help you today?
STEVE: My daughter, about 2 years ago, bought her dream home, so to speak. She’d eyed it for years. Anyhow, she had this house inspected by a noted, reputable house inspector. And here about 2 weeks ago, I was in to change out the range or cook stove in the kitchen that was on a separate island. And putting in the new stove, I had to move the outlets. So I decided, well, I’m going to shut the power off because of the – where the screws and everything were.
TOM: That was wise.
STEVE: And I, yeah, went out to the breaker box. Figured it was the 50-amp breaker. Most of the stuff was not labeled or allegedly labeled. And I shut the 50-amp breaker off and came back in the kitchen and the lights went out. And I started thinking about it. They shouldn’t be on the 50-amp breaker but maybe it’s coming from the back of the stove. There was maybe a plug-in or something that they – anyhow, further checking, I found that virtually nothing in the kitchen had any ground wires, even though they were GFIC breakers or plug-in. I call them “breakers” but they do trip if there is a current demand or a supposedly …
TOM: When you say ground wire, are you telling me it’s a two-wire system instead of a three-wire system?
STEVE: There was – I opened the plate up on the breaker and there are no ground wires at all running anywhere. And most everything in the house has got a three-prong outlet.
TOM: Because there was a time when you just had two wires; you didn’t have a third ground wire. And it was grounded through the neutral. So is that what you’re saying?
STEVE: Well, none of the outlets, with the little cheap-y tester, show that it is grounded. It could be in the GFI breakers.
TOM: That’s another – that’s a second issue, Steve, OK?
TOM: Because you can use a ground-fault circuit interrupter outlet even if you don’t have a ground wire. Because, basically, you – it’s sort of a trick of the trade. But you can – you’re essentially creating the ground protection even though it’s not actually grounded. So if there’s a diversion of current to a ground source, it turns the outlet off. So, it’s possible to use a GFCI even if you don’t have that third wire.
When was this house built?
STEVE: Roughly ‘61 or roughly around ‘60 so …
TOM: Mm-hmm. Yeah. I mean it could have a two – it might be a two-wire house. So, look, if you have concerns about this …
STEVE: Yeah, most everything was two-wire.
TOM: Right. Well, then, it’s not that it’s not – the whole house is not grounded, it’s just it’s grounded through the neutral. And then you have a combination of three-prong outlets that don’t really have a ground wire attached to them. So I get that. And that probably shouldn’t have been done and I’m sure there’s going to be work to be done to straighten that out.
A home inspector should have, at least, tested a representative sample of outlets to see if they were grounded or ungrounded. And that would have been a very simple thing to do. But if that didn’t happen – and I’m sorry for that. But you may be wise to have a good electrician do an evaluation, to kind of get a good sense as to exactly where you are so that you don’t falsely rely on an outlet being grounded only to find out that it’s not. Because if it’s not grounded, guess who becomes the ground? You, right? You plug something in, you become the ground.
STEVE: That’s what I was always told but …
TOM: And that’s not good. So, the ground-fault outlets, you know, are a possible solution. But I think you need, at this point, to get a sense as to what you have and what you don’t have. I think you’ve identified some important issues, Steve, and I think the next step would be for you to bring in a pro. I would recommend HomeAdvisor.com as a good, independent site where you could consider a wide variety of electricians. And see if you can find one that is highly rated, that other folks have used and have been happy with. And maybe just start right there, OK?
STEVE: OK. Good.
TOM: Good luck, Steve. You’re a good dad.
LESLIE: Rashonda in Maryland posted a question this week that says, “What, if any, maintenance does a fridge need? Mine’s only a few years old but when I happened to be cleaning around it, I noticed that the back feels a lot warmer than I think it should.”
TOM: Yeah. And you know what? That’s normal. Because that’s the refrigeration process at work. If you had a central air conditioner, for example, you would find that the hoses that go in and out of that, one’s going to be cold and one’s going to be warm. If you have a room air conditioner, you find the same thing. It blows cold air on the inside and sends warm air out to the outside. And that’s kind of what’s happening here with the refrigerator. So the warmth on the back is not a big deal. Most of the time, the new refrigerators don’t have a drain pan anymore, so there’s really very little to do with that.
So I really think the only things you should be concerned about is obviously keeping the inside clean, right? So that you don’t have food that builds up and starts to really soak in. If you get something that’s really stinky, it tends to soak into the insulation and that’s really hard to get out. So do that.
And secondly, if you’ve got an ice maker or a water supply, make sure you change the filter, will you?
I can’t tell you how many times, Leslie, when I was a home inspector that I’d open those fridges and I’d see a filter that’s probably been in there for 5 years. I cannot begin to imagine what kind of crud people were drinking through the ice or through the water because they don’t change their filters. They’re not expensive. When I change our filter, I write the date on it that we did the filter change and then just rotate it back in place. And this way – in our system, we have a little light that comes on. But even not, if I just see it and I know it’s a year old, I’m going to change it out.
Well, guys, tough food stains that come with the fun of picnics, that can make a big mess of your clothes, your tablecloths and your outdoor furniture. So, to keep the fun in the festivities, Leslie has got some tips now to help get rid of the most common picnic stains, in today’s edition of Leslie’s Last Word.
Leslie? It’s not a picnic unless you dribble something on your shirt or your tablecloth or something or other, right?
LESLIE: Oh, I mean think about it. Most picnics are sitting in a weird lawn chair, so you’re bound to spill something on yourself. It always happens to me, so that’s why I kind of know how to get rid of these stains.
So, if you’ve got something like barbecue sauce, ketchup, mustard, these are the most common condiments at a picnic. So, first, you want to flush that stain with cold water but from the underside of the fabric. Then blot with liquid laundry detergent and sponge with white vinegar. You want to apply a stain treatment and then launder. I know you can’t do this immediately at the barbecue but you can at least start the process.
Now, if the mess occurs while you’re eating berries, like blueberries or strawberries, you want to mix a tablespoon of white vinegar with a half-teaspoon of liquid laundry detergent and a quart of water. Then let that fabric soak in the mixture for 15 minutes. And you want to pretreat or soak using an enzyme laundry product and then launder as usual.
Now, grass stains – I feel like my kids are always covered in them and they are practically young men, so what are they doing always getting these grass stains? But they do. So you want to pretreat your stained clothing with a prewash stain remover that contains enzymes and then launder using the hottest water that’s safe for that type of fabric. And that generally does the trick.
Any type of oily stain, like a grease or a mayonnaise, hands with chip oil wiping right on the shirt – that’s not speaking from experience from a 9-year-old but that’s common. So if you get these stains, you want to pretreat with a stain remover and then launder using the hottest water, again, that’s safe for that fabric.
These are some helpful, simple stain-removal tips and it’s going to help you relax and actually enjoy that picnic or barbecue, rather than worrying about what you’re wearing and are you going to get it clean. Relax, guys. We’ll figure out how to get the stain out.
TOM: This is The Money Pit Home Improvement Show. Coming up next time on the show, we’re going to tackle a cleaning product that most people find to be a real hassle, because nobody likes cleaning mold and mildew in a bathroom, right? But that job can actually be made a lot easier if the moisture from the shower or bathtub is properly vented. We’re going to tell you what you need to know, on the next edition of The Money Pit.
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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