LESLIE: Well, when it comes to the topic of home improvement, there’s often more bad advice than sage wisdom that spreads like wildfire.
TOM: True. And for those of us in the role of trying to provide the best advice, we often need to help separate fact from fiction, which is why we thought it might be fun to invite our friend, Kevin O’Connor, the host of This Old House, to help us get to the bottom of some of these very common household myths.
KEVIN: Hi, guys. Great to see you again.
TOM: So, I’m sure you hear about as many of these supposed pearls of wisdom as we do. What household myths really need to be busted, in your view?
KEVIN: Wow, there’s a whole bucket full of them.
KEVIN: But let’s see if I can make a short list here. I think one of the first things is when you’re picking a contractor, the lowest bid is the worst one, right? So we always advise people, “Go out there and get a few bids.” And sometimes you throw out the lowest, you throw out the highest and you settle on the middle.
Well, that might be reasonable. But to think that the lowest is always the worst? I don’t think that that’s necessarily true. And in fact, price probably shouldn’t be your only consideration. You’re going to want to find out to make sure that the person is actually bidding on apples to apples. Are two contractors going to do the same level of work? That might explain the discrepancy in their price.
But also, really important things, word of mouth. Have they gotten a good reputation? And are they licensed? Do they have all of the certificates that are needed to get the job done?
TOM: Yeah. And I want to go back to that apples-to-apples comparison because I think that’s a point that a lot of folks miss. You need to have a good set of specifications for your project. Otherwise, you’re leaving it up to the contractor to tell you what they intend to do to complete your job. Whether it’s a kitchen reno or a bathroom or even a repair, it has to be – it has to come out exactly how you expect. And if you don’t have that, you’re not going to be able to make that comparison.
KEVIN: The more detail that you have in the plan before you get started, the better off you’re going to be served, both by the contractor who you eventually pick but also in picking the right contractor so that they’re all bidding against the same thing.
We just went through a kitchen renovation. And one contractor pointed out that the electrical panel was going to need to be upgraded because we needed new circuit breakers – the arc-fault circuit breakers. And that was great. We said, “OK, fine. Let’s put that in the price.” Another contractor came in and said, “Hey, you may not be aware but these new breakers will not fit in your existing panel.” I had to change the whole thing out.
That was better information for me, explained why there was an extra $600 charge in his proposal. But I was better off knowing that because I was going to end up paying it anyway.
TOM: And you definitely would want to work with a guy that knew that, as opposed to the guy that may have found it out later and hit you with a $600 surprise.
KEVIN: Absolutely, absolutely. And along those same lines, I wouldn’t necessarily think that the highest bid you get is necessarily from the best contractor.
LESLIE: Oh, yeah.
KEVIN: “Oh, he’s charging me a lot. He must be the best guy in town.” You know, these guys, they’re usually small businesses. Their calendars fill up fast. And one of the fastest ways to make sure you don’t get too much work is to throw a big number against a job. Maybe it means he doesn’t really want it. So don’t necessarily think that the lowest or the highest should be thrown out by a matter of course.
LESLIE: I think another thing that people don’t realize, or perhaps just don’t want to acknowledge, is that if they’re doing a DIY project that, well, they probably don’t need a permit.
KEVIN: Yeah. I think people think that the permit comes with the professional and if the professional is not involved, the permit’s not necessary. And to be true – to be honest, there are a lot of jobs that homeowners can do without a permit: the sanding, the painting, even some small renovation with taking down walls or putting up walls. But there are plenty of projects that even if you were doing them yourself, you do need the permit. And you want to check into that beforehand because whether you knew or not, if you needed a permit to do the project and you didn’t get one, you could have a little, nasty surprise at the end of that project.
TOM: We’re talking to Kevin O’Connor, the host of TV’s This Old House, about some common household myths.
Now, here’s one that actually used to be true but not so much anymore. And that is that low-flow toilets – the water-efficient toilets – don’t work.
KEVIN: Yeah. So the low-flow toilet – these days, it makes it sound like it is something new and revolutionary. It’s a toilet that uses 1.6 gallons or fewer to actually cause the toilet to flush. And they’re pretty much standard issue these days. I mean it’s hard to buy one that isn’t a 1.6 toilet out there.
And as you say, Tom, maybe that was the case 10 years ago or even 2 decades ago but these things work perfectly fine. And in fact, they’ve improved on the technology where you can flush a toilet effectively with even less water than the low-flow standard.
TOM: Yeah. And I think the thing is that since toilets last a long time, there’s still plenty of the poorly performing low-flow toilets out there. But you can rest assured, if you upgrade to the newer ones, that they’ve got all those kinks worked out.
LESLIE: I think another one is everybody always thinks, “Oh, bigger, better. So I might as well apply that to everything in my home, especially the HVAC system.”
KEVIN: Yes. So I’ve heard this story plenty of times from Richard Trethewey, our HVAC and our plumbing specialist. The easiest thing for a contractor to do when they’re coming and putting a new system into your house is to just make it as big as they can possibly make it. Because that will guarantee you that you’re not going to have a day when it doesn’t keep up. They don’t have to do any thought. It might be a higher-end system and they’ll just put it in. But bigger is not necessarily better.
The ideal thing to do with an HVAC system is to size it appropriately for the house. You want it to be able to service that house, to keep up with the cooling load. But if you make it bigger, you actually are going to run into problems. You probably bought more than you need but also, it could cause it to cycle. And by that, I mean it will give you a huge blast of cold air. It’ll bring the room to temperature very quickly but then it will shut off. And shutting off doesn’t always help you because, as you guys know, with air conditioning, a lot of it is dehumidification.
And so, dehumidification happens when the air is actually moving through that system. And it’s less about cooling and it’s more about extracting that moist air out of that. And that happens when it is cycling frequently.
TOM: Good advice. So one more myth that I think we should tackle, that is a really expensive mistake for folks to make, and that is that homeowners insurance will always cover a flood. Not the case, as so many people learned in the recent hurricane that struck New Jersey: Sandy.
KEVIN: Yeah. And I think the way to think about this is that there’s two different kinds of floods. There’s the flood that’s caused by your washing-machine hose that goes that’s in the house. That is not the flood we’re talking about here. We’re talking about the act of nature. When the river overflows or the ocean pushes up over the dunes, those types of flood are very typically a separate level of insurance. Your homeowners does not typically cover that, so you could have catastrophic damage to your house.
Call up your insurance company and they’ll tell you simply, “Sorry, you are not insured.” So if you think you’re at risk of this and you can find out where the maps are, where you lay in the floodplains, you should be thinking about an additional policy specifically to cover for flood insurance.
TOM: Kevin O’Connor, the host of TV’s This Old House, great advice as always. Thank you so much for being a part of The Money Pit.
KEVIN: It is my pleasure to be here. Thank you, guys.