Affordable Home Gadgets that Impress, Money-Saving Heating Tips for Renters, and the Pros and Cons of Real and Fake Holiday Trees

  • Transcript

    TOM: Coast to coast and floorboards to shingles, this is The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show. I’m Tom Kraeutler.

    LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

    TOM: And Happy Ho, Ho, Home Improvement Season. Yes, it’s time when we greet Santa with clean chimneys and guests with newly decorated homes. So whether your project is inside or out, we’re here to help you get the job done at 888-666-3974. You’ve got to help yourself first by calling us with your home improvement or home décor dilemma at 888-MONEY-PIT.

    Coming up this hour on the program, if you’re looking for a way to wow your guests, we’ve got the latest in holiday gadgets. They’re going to give you big reactions for very reasonable prices.

    LESLIE: And you’re probably renting to save money, so don’t waste it on those high utility bills. We’re going to give you some ways that you can heat your apartment for less.

    TOM: And it can be a relationship deal-breaker – OK, well, we’re kind of half-kidding. But we’re talking about deciding whether you’re going to get a real tree or a fake tree. People feel both ways very, very strongly. Leslie is going to weigh in on the debate later this hour.

    LESLIE: Are you kidding? I’ve been living in Indianapolis, working on a TV series, and I put a real tree in my hotel room. That’s how serious I am about the real/fake tree debate here.

    Alright, guys. This hour’s prize – we’ve got a great prize, actually. It’s going to let you decorate the outside of your home in seconds. You can plug in the Star Shower Laser Lights and it will project thousands of festive stars onto your home’s exterior.

    TOM: Yep. No more bah humbug as you fight with ladders and wires. It’s a prize worth 39 bucks. It’s going out to one caller drawn at random from those that reach us for today’s show. The number is 1-888-MONEY-PIT, 888-666-3974. Let’s get to it.

    Leslie, who’s first?

    LESLIE: Heading to Minnesota where Deb is having some issues with an unlevel floor. What’s going on?

    DEB: We’re in a house that the main part of the house was built in the 1930s. And that’s our problem right now, although the rest of the house has got issues, too. It’s a little over 3,000 square feet and we tried to sell it. Can’t sell it, so we’re staying but we don’t – there’s only two people living in this big of a house.

    So we want to block off the upstairs and just live on the main floor. We were going to change the stairs and enclose them. Right now they’re open stairways. But when we started doing that, the floor behind it is probably real close to an inch-and-a-half dip.

    TOM: And why is it important to you that you try to take this dip out of the floor? Because, generally, when dips form over many, many years, everything gets – kind of gets settled in that space and it’s not always a good idea. In fact, it’s rarely a good idea to try to pick it back up unless it’s an active structural problem, which I doubt this is.

    DEB: We want to replace the steps going upstairs. And we can’t do that because the steps that are there right now are actually twisting from the dip.

    TOM: Well, that’s not a problem. It’s easier to build a set of steps that fits the existing floor structure then it is to try to fix the floor structure. You can easily make a set of steps that has a stringer that’s longer on one side than the other. Very often, when stairs are made sometimes, especially custom stairs, they leave the stringers running long and the carpenters cut them on site so they fit perfectly in the home. But I don’t think it’s necessary to try to rebuild your floor just to fix the stairs.

    OK, Deb? Good luck with that project. Thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.

    LESLIE: Charles in Arkansas is on the line and needs some help putting in a door. What can we do for you?

    CHARLES: Got an old door I’m replacing on the front of my house. It’s an exterior door. I bought an oak door – solid door – to replace it. I did not measure for the hinges when I bought the door. I just measured for the doorknob and I don’t know how to cut those grooves for the hinges: those 4-inch hinges that go on the door.

    TOM: So we know the door fits into the jambs, it fits into the opening? We just need to figure out to get it hinged? Is that correct?

    CHARLES: I just need to know how to cut the door for the hinges.

    TOM: But the door does fit the opening right now, so you have an existing opening it can fit into.

    CHARLES: Well, yes. A matter of fact, you know, if you ask for 80-inch door, you’re going to get about 83- or 82½-inch door, so it’s just adequate on size. It’s just a matter of the cutting of the hinges.

    TOM: OK. So it’s really just a case here of being very accurate in how you lay this out. So you have to remember that when you set the door in the opening, you need about a ¼-inch of space above the door just to allow for expansion and contraction and adjusting the door. So what you want to do is measure down from the top of the door and measure up from the bottom of the door until your first hinge position. I would put those maybe 8 or 10 inches down from the top and equally – equidistant up from the bottom and then the third one right in between.

    And remember that what you want to do is – you can take that door, set it on its side. You can lay the hinge right over it where it’s going to be attached and you can draw an outline of that hinge onto the door. And then with a really sharp chisel, you’re essentially going to notch out the thickness of the hinge material itself, which is really something in the order of a 1/16-inch or so of material that will come off of that, so that when the hinge is on the door it lays completely flat. The idea here is that the hinges don’t really take up any space.

    And now, once you have those set on a door, you’re going to put the exact same – in the exact same locations, you’re going to notch them out into the jamb in much the same way. You’ve just got to be really accurate with your measurements to make sure they line up properly. Another way to do this is to put them in the jamb first, set the door in place, kind of shim it up and get it exactly where you want, then transfer the marks over. Either way, the alignment is key.

    And once you do that, when you’re ready to put it all together, the trick of the trade is when you start to drive the screws in and hold the hinge plates on, don’t drive them all the way home. Leave them a little bit loose so you have some slop in that hinge. It’ll make it a lot easier for you to get it all back together. And then you can tighten it up once the hinge pins are in place.

    CHARLES: That’s what I wanted to find out.

    TOM: Alright. Good luck with that project. Thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.

    LESLIE: You are tuned to The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show on air and online at Now you can call in your home repair or your home improvement question 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-888-MONEY-PIT.

    TOM: 888-666-3974.

    Still ahead, give your guests something to talk about well into 2016. We’ve got the hottest, new household gadgets you can pick up in time for the holidays, coming up.

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    TOM: (audio gap) improvement question, plus a bit of help decorating your home for the holidays because we’re giving away the Star Shower Laser Light. It is the easiest and fastest way to decorate your home and your yard. You just plug it in and there will be thousands upon thousands of holographic stars cascaded onto your home’s exterior. And it can be operated at a budget, because the electricity costs more than 99 percent less than traditional holiday lights.

    LESLIE: Oh, I love it. And it’s super easy. You know what, guys? Star Shower is available at and retail stores nationwide for 39.99. You can find it at Bed Bath & Beyond, Target, even CVS. It’s a great prize and it’s going to make your house really stand out this holiday season.

    TOM: Going out to one lucky caller drawn at random from those that reach us for today’s show. The number is 1-888-MONEY-PIT. Let’s get to it.

    Leslie, who’s next?

    LESLIE: Terry in Illinois is on the line with a water-pressure sort of issue going on, because the shower is just not strong enough.

    Tell us what’s going on, Terry.

    TERRY: I live in the country. My home is about 1,300 or 1,400 feet from my meter. And we have somewhat of a pressure problem. The biggest problem is the temperature that gets robbed when you’re in the shower or one of the faucets, if another faucet is turned on or if the washing machine starts up or whatever.

    TOM: And so you’re getting shower shock, right? You’re getting – the temperature in the water is changing, getting hot or cold and causing a domestic disturbance in the house?

    TERRY: Mostly when I’m in the shower.

    LESLIE: Of course.

    TOM: Alright. So, Terry, we have the technology; we have a solution. And it’s called a “pressure-balanced valve.” This is going to save your domestic tranquility. We’ll return it to its natural state of peace and calm.

    And here is how it works. Basically, a pressure-balance valve makes sure that the mix between the hot water and the cold water, once set, does not change regardless of what happens to the pressure on either side of the equation. So while the mix is locked in, you might find – you may find that the flow changes. You might get a little more water or a little less water, depending on what’s going on with other fixtures in the house, but the mix won’t change. And because the mix doesn’t change, your temperature is steady.

    LESLIE: Your temperature is going to stay.

    TOM: Does that make sense?

    TERRY: Yes.

    TOM: So you want to replace that shower valve with one that’s called a “pressure-balanced valve” and that will solve that problem.

    TERRY: OK. Alright.

    TOM: Good luck with that project. Thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.

    LESLIE: Susan in Missouri has a question about a fireplace. Tell us what’s going on at your money pit.

    SUSAN: Well, I have a gas fireplace and it’s one of those where they seem to have cut the hole in the wall and stuck the fireplace in there and now I cannot stop the wind from blowing in. I don’t know what to do.

    TOM: OK. So is the wind coming in the hole where the gas pipe is coming through?

    SUSAN: It seems to be coming from all around the fireplace. You know, it’s got the mantle and it comes from around the mantle. And anywhere where there’s – where it’s been put together, it seems to have air coming in. And of course, it is coming in – it’s got the outside box, I guess. They have the exhaust.

    TOM: OK. So this sounds to me like it’s a manufactured fireplace as opposed to an old, brick one that was converted to gas. Is that correct?

    SUSAN: Absolutely. Absolutely, yes.

    TOM: And it has doors on it, too?

    SUSAN: No. It does not.

    TOM: Do you know what the brand is of the fireplace?

    SUSAN: A Lennox, I believe.

    TOM: Well, the first thing I would do is I would take a look at the installation. And very often, there’s probably gaps somewhere around that box that were not properly sealed. I could – I would also consider contacting Lennox and getting the original installation instructions. You may even be able to download those, which would give you or your contractor a guide to determine if it was correctly installed. And then, thirdly, I would find out if doors are available for that fireplace, because that could solve all your problems.

    SUSAN: Oh, OK. OK.

    TOM: Especially if it’s a gas fireplace premade and it has a combustion air supply, you may be able to keep that all behind the glass doors and stop all the drafts from coming through.

    SUSAN: Oh, that’s a great idea. Thank you. I’ll try that.

    TOM: Alright. Good luck with that project. Thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.

    Well, were you hoping to wow your holiday guests but have kind of run out of time? Well, no worries. We’ve got some ideas on, right now, for cutting-edge gadgets that make wowing very easy and for a lot less.

    First up, there’s this dandy gadget: the portable ice maker. Have you seen this thing? Rather than reaching into a cooler-style ice maker to fill up the glass, these – your guests can basically help themselves without getting their hands cold, with the ice maker that dispenses ice by the glass.

    LESLIE: And here’s something on the complete opposite side of the spectrum: towel warmers. They will get your guests warm and toasty after their morning shower. Now, some warmers are designed like lidded boxes, so you place your rolled-up towels inside them and then they warm up. Others operate like towel bars: you hang your towels over them and then the warm chrome or whatever finish towel bar you have will heat up the towel. Your guests are going to feel like they’re staying in a four-star overseas hotel but right in your house.

    TOM: You know what else is coming up now, that’s kind of crazy or really popular, are these old-fashioned popcorn machines? They can really keep the kids and the adults entertained. They can watch their kernels pop and help with the process or just enjoy the results. And if you want to go for the extra mile, you can string popcorn for that sort of old-fashioned decorating touch.

    LESLIE: Mm-hmm. Now another thing is, this time of year, everybody’s getting sick. So you want to try to keep germs in check at your house, especially if you’re having a holiday party. You can get a hands-free soap dispenser and they dispense hand soap automatically when you place your hands under the sensor. This is especially thoughtful when you’ve got older guests with arthritis, like your aging parents or grandparents who kind of struggle with those pump-soap bottles. As cute as they are, this one is going to be high-tech and amazing.

    TOM: And finally, you can transform your house into your own North Pole with a frozen-cocktail machine. These are really handy specialty blenders that make delicious margaritas and daiquiris and other frozen beverages by shaving the ice and blending it to perfection. And then they dispense the drinks directly into the glass. No pouring necessary.

    So lots of kind of cool holiday gifts. Not a lot of money but really fun that will leave your guests very, very happy with their present.

    LESLIE: Heading over to Missouri where James has a painting question. What can we do for you today?

    JAMES: Well, I have some 60-year-old cedar lap siding and I was wondering what type of paint would stick best to it.

    TOM: This cedar siding, has it ever been painted, Jim?

    JAMES: Yes.

    TOM: Was it painted or stained?

    JAMES: It was painted.

    TOM: So, the most important thing here is going to be the prep. You’re going to want to sand down the old paint to make sure that you’re removing any loose material that’s been left behind. And then you’re going to want to prime it. And I would recommend that you use an oil-based primer on that and – because that’s going to give you really good adhesion for the topcoat.

    Then, beyond that, you can use a good-quality exterior latex paint on top of the oil-based primer. But you want to make sure that you purchase the best-quality paint like, for example, Benjamin Moore or Sherwin-Williams. Because better paint is going to have more titanium dioxide, which is the colorant that’s in that paint. And it’s going to give you the best bang for your buck and last the longest.

    888-666-3974. This is The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show.

    LESLIE: Now we’re going to South Carolina where Caroline is on the phone with a question about oak flooring. What can we do for you today?

    CAROLINE: I have an old house built in 1940. Hardwood floors. And I’ve got two almost holes near the living-room door. And on into the hallway here, where each room meets – the hallway is the center – I have this iron grate. It’s about 2 feet wide and 3 feet long and that’s where the return is for the heating and air conditioning. And the wood seems to be caving a little bit around that.

    And I was wondering, can he fix that back as good as it – I mean is it possible to fix that back as good as it was the way they built it in 1940? Or will there be a problem around the return?

    TOM: Are you still using that return? Is that still an active part of your heating-and-cooling system?

    CAROLINE: It is.

    TOM: So, yeah. Certainly, when you have worn-out oak floorboards, sometimes they’ll wear through or they’ll become insect-damaged. They absolutely can be rebuilt the same way they were when they were originally installed. It’s a bit of a tricky carpentry job but it’s not too terribly difficult.

    What the contractor has to do is he’ll cut out the old board. Usually, he’ll use a circular saw, he’ll plunge-cut down the middle and then use a chisel to kind of break it out. And then putting the new board in is a bit tricky, especially if it’s tongue-and-groove, which most of them are. Because what you have to do is you have to cut the back of the groove piece off so that you can sort of put it in and overlap the older piece with that. Because you can’t use one that’s a full groove because, obviously, you can’t get it in there. It’s like trying to put in a puzzle piece. But you cut the back of the groove side off and then it becomes sort of a lap joint; you drop the new board in.

    Now, if there’s one tricky part, it’s really just in thefinishing. I had a floor that was much like that where we had an old floor furnace that took up a big space in the middle of the room. And so we were able to frame that out and actually put new hardwood floor in there and sort of feather it like almost like a finger joint with the original floor. The floors were different colors for a while because they had a natural finish on it. But over the course of about the next year, it sort of faded and darkened and then blended and now you could never tell the difference between the repair and – the new wood that was repaired and the old wood that was there existing.

    CAROLINE: OK. I need to have my house checked for termites, I think.

    TOM: Thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.

    LESLIE: Adele in New Jersey is on the line with a flooring question. How can we help you today?

    ADELE: We just had new carpeting installed in our living room/dining room and we’re having the balance of the house done in about a week-and-a-half. We are now finding, when you walk through the living room and dining-room area, we are getting a few squeaks in the floor in walking.

    Now, whether that has anything to do with our subfloor – the house is approximately only 28 years old. We bought it new when it was built. Now, do you think it might be a problem with the subflooring? We do have a crawlspace.

    TOM: So, underneath the carpet, what is the subfloor? Is it plywood?

    ADELE: Yes.

    TOM: OK. So, you have a good opportunity now, not for the rooms that you’ve already carpeted but for the ones that you’re about to carpet. When you take up the old carpet, you need to go through and re-nail or screw the subfloor down to the floor joist. Because those boards loosen up and as you step on them, they’ll – they move back and forth and that’s the squeak.

    So what I would like to see your contractor do is pull the carpet up and then take some drywall screws – these case-hardened steel screws that are sold everywhere today – and physically screw the plywood down to the floor joist. You put a screw in – about four screws across the width of the plywood on every single floor joist. You just go from one end to the other. They’re driven in with a drill, so it’s a very easy job to do. And that will really tighten up that floor and reduce the movement dramatically and that will prevent, if not eliminate, squeaks under that carpet.

    ADELE: Yes. Oh, that sounds terrific. Thank you so much for your help.

    LESLIE: Well, patios are becoming easier and easier to build and maintain and you don’t even need to use bricks or concrete. We’re going to tell you some tips on a new composite material that’s super high-performance and just as low-maintenance. You can start wrapping your head around a springtime patio project, when The Money Pit returns after this.

    ANNOUNCER: The Money Pit is brought to you by Lutron’s new Maestro Occupancy-Sensing Switch. Never ask “Who left the lights on?” again. Starting at around $20, this motion-sensing light switch turns the lights on automatically when you walk into a room and off when you leave and works with all types of light bulbs. Learn more at

    TOM: Making good homes better, welcome back to The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show. I’m Tom Kraeutler.

    LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

    TOM: And while many of us are getting ready to hunker down for the colder weather ahead, it’s a busy time of year for the residential-construction industry, especially in Chicago right now, where tens of thousands are attending the biggest industry event of the year: the Remodeling Show and DeckExpo. We’re going to turn now to the show floor and welcome industry veteran Julia Fitzgerald to the program. Julia is the chief marketing officer for CPG Building Products, makers of both AZEK and TimberTech.

    Welcome, Julia.

    JULIA: Hi there, Tom. How are you today?

    TOM: So this is an exciting time for the industry veterans down there in Chicago. You are experiencing all of the new products and you’ve got two brands there: AZEK and TimberTech. For those that are not familiar with both of those brands, tell us about them.

    JULIA: I would love to. They are high-performance, low-maintenance decking brands. And both of them have the natural look that everybody loves of real wood but they have these great benefits to them. They don’t age, they don’t rot, they don’t mildew. They have all of the low-maintenance factors that homeowners love but they just are beautiful. And they allow people to bring the look of, really, their indoor hardwood to their outdoor-living space.

    TOM: And AZEK is known not only for decks but initially, this was a product that came out for trim and moldings and planking and it’s great stuff. I used it in my own money pit because I had a garage that was being infested by carpenter bees because they love the fascia. And when I replaced it with AZEK, the carpenter bees would swarm around and say, “Hmm. Looks like wood. Doesn’t taste like wood.”

    JULIA: Well, that’s the great thing about AZEK. Because it’s inorganic, there’s really nothing of interest there for any type of bug, so they tend to move on.

    TOM: Now, the outdoor-room concept has been growing by leaps and bounds but the choices have been somewhat limited. Tell us what AZEK and TimberTech are doing to kind of enhance consumer choice when it comes to building out these spaces.

    JULIA: Well, we really look at what the trends are for home décor. And because most homeowners want to take their personal style and move it outside, we’ve really looked at what the trends are. So we’ve been able to bring really beautiful looks, like hand-scraped wood, and bring that to the exterior: really rich colors, trends from tropical woods, also trends from what Americana looks.

    And then, what we’ve also noticed is an increase in people taking really kind of grays to – different hues of gray to compliment more of a contemporary look.

    TOM: Yeah, gray is a huge color this year.

    JULIA: It really is. And as beautiful as these things are and the choices are, what’s interesting is how people are getting interested in what I like to call “decknology (ph).” It’s really the technology that goes into making these beautiful decks. Because it’s one thing for it to look great but what homeowners are interested in, once they make this investment, is will this last? Will this look as good in 15 years as it looks today?

    So, we’re really getting a lot of interest on people who do that next click down into the decknology (ph), because that’s really where we invest a lot of time and effort.

    TOM: We’re talking to Julia Fitzgerald. She’s the chief marketing officer for CPG Building Products, makers of AZEK and TimberTech.

    Now, Julia, I want to ask you about wrought iron. It’s a look that was popular years ago and it’s kind of coming back. But now, you guys have a way to do that that needs far less maintenance. Tell me about the product that you just brought out called Impression Rail.

    JULIA: Well, Impression Rail is really an answer to people with a preference for wrought iron. Wrought iron is a classic look but what we’re finding is that not everybody wants to invest in what wrought iron really costs. So, we have been able to come up with the Impression Rail. It looks like wrought iron, it installs much faster and it is much less expensive. It is a powder-coated aluminum, which gives the look that everybody loves but at a much more affordable cost as you’re working on your own money pit.

    TOM: Julia Fitzgerald is an industry veteran. She is on the floor, right now, at the Remodelers’ Show and DeckExpo in Chicago, one of the biggest industry events of the year, with tens of thousands of her closest, personal friends in the remodeling industry.

    And Julia, one of the biggest challenges homeowners often have is being able to visualize what a finished deck or room might look like when it’s on the drawing board. You guys have developed some technology tools, some more of that deckology (ph) that you were talking about, that can help people visualize them. Tell me about these new apps.

    JULIA: Sure. Well, we were really mindful of how consumers like to know what it’s going to look like before they invest in their deck. So, we built two apps: a TimberTech app and an AZEK app. And they’re kind of magic, I’ve got to tell you. You literally take your iPad and you put it on a marker. And then it allows you to project a virtual deck right on the side of your house. And then you can start playing with it. You can put in all of our different colors and then you can start putting in all of our different railing options.

    So, you can really see what it’s going to look like before you make your choices on colors and materials and railing. So, back to that deckology (ph), it takes the guesswork out of building your dream deck.

    TOM: That is fantastic. Julia Fitzgerald from CPG Building Products, makers of both TimberTech and AZEK, thank you so much for stopping by The Money Pit.

    JULIA: Thanks so much for talking to us. It’s been a pleasure.

    TOM: And if you’d like to learn more about these products, head on over to the product websites – that’s spelled – and –

    LESLIE: Alright. And just because you’re a renter doesn’t mean you have to settle for high heating bills. We’ve got apartment-friendly tips to keep heated air from escaping, when The Money Pit returns after this.

    TOM: Making good homes better, this is The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show. I’m Tom Kraeutler.

    LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

    Give us a call at 888-MONEY-PIT. You will get help with your home improvement questions, plus we’re giving away a great and festive prize this hour. We’ve got up for grabs the Star Shower Laser Light.

    Now, Star Shower will project thousands of holographic, little stars right onto your home’s exterior. And it lights up the entire exterior of your home with just one light and it works in all weather conditions. Doesn’t matter what size home or what type of home you have. It just makes it look super sparkly and really festive and really lit up without being tacky. And all of your neighbors will still love you because your house will look so cool.

    TOM: I might just get one of these myself because I’m really nervous about dragging my two-story ladder up to the porch roof to get to the upper roof to put up the lights. I’ve got to tell you, the older I get, the more shaky I feel on that thing.

    LESLIE: Right? I hear you.

    TOM: So, it’s a pretty cool prize. Going out to one caller drawn at random. But hey, you can buy one yourself. They’re only 39.99. They’re available at Bed Bath & Beyond, Target and CVS, also at Let’s get back to the phones.

    Leslie, who’s next?

    LESLIE: Wade in South Dakota is on the line and has a question about siding. How can we help you?

    WADE: Hi. We had a big hailstorm come through and it took out a bunch of our siding – our steel siding. And I’m kind of fighting with the insurance company to find an exact match. My question, I guess, is – the house is close to 20 years old. What are the chances that the siding that they pick is going to match up with the color?

    TOM: Between little and none.

    WADE: That’s kind of what I figured.

    TOM: And listen, Wade, when – this is not a new argument with insurance companies. It happens all the time with roof damage, you know?

    Like say you get ice-dam damage and you have to just replace like 3 feet of roof on the front of the house or maybe you get leaks around a vent or something and you have to replace a piece of roof. Insurance companies traditionally replace the entire roof. And in your case, they should be replacing all of your siding, without argument, because they’ve got to restore it at least as good as it was before. And giving you mismatched siding isn’t what you contracted them to do.

    So I would stick to your guns. And sure, give them the opportunity to find a replacement but they won’t be able to. And you don’t have to accept it and you can insist that it all be replaced with brand-new siding.

    Do you have a private adjustor on this to help you with the claim?

    WADE: Somebody that the insurance company contacted, yes.

    TOM: That adjustor is working for the insurance company. What you want to do is get a public adjustor. And a public adjustor works for you, the public. And they work on commission, so it doesn’t really cost you much to have these guys on the job. And they’re there to find every single, solitary thing that they can claim for and get that into the claim.

    So, everything from picking up the nails on your property that will be part of that construction project, to getting the whole house re-sided. They try to get that claim as full as possible because the more they find, the more money they make. Because they’re all on commission.

    So I would definitely find a good-quality public adjustor; perhaps check with your attorney. Do your research. Find somebody that has a lot of experience and let them fight for you so you don’t have to fight with the insurance company.

    WADE: Great. I’ll definitely look into that. Thank you.

    TOM: Good luck with that project. Thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.

    LESLIE: Well, most of us will spend more on heating this winter than we really want to or plan to. But while homeowners can do things like purchase new-energy efficient heating systems, renters don’t have those same options to improve heat in a home that they don’t own. Or do they?

    TOM: Actually, I do believe they can. Renters can make some really easy improvements that’ll keep them both warm and save some money.

    First off, if your apartment’s heating system and rental agreement permit, you want to install a programmable thermostat. Now, have the heat kick in when you’re home and dial it back when you’re gone. There’s lots of cool, new Wi-Fi-enabled versions that are available now, too. And think about it: since it’s so easy to install this thing, you can just hold onto the old one and put it back in when you move out.

    LESLIE: Yeah. You want to make sure, also, that the heating registers are unobstructed. This way that warm air can flow freely into each of the rooms in your apartment. If your unit has radiators, you want to slide heat-resistant reflectors between them and the wall and that’s going to send even more warmth into the room.

    TOM: Now, the next thing you want to think about doing is sealing all of the places that air escapes. This could be around windows and doors. And an easy way to do that is with a product called “removable caulk” or “temporary weather-stripping.” It goes on like caulk, it provides a weather-proof barrier against drafts and then in spring, it easily peels away – doesn’t leave any residue behind – and the windows will work once again.

    LESLIE: Mm-hmm. Also, add weather-stripping to your doors and windows. You can shop at your local home improvement center or hardware store for a variety of easy-to-use weather-stripping products that are going to be tailored to different surfaces and different types of construction.

    TOM: And if your apartment has air-conditioning that goes through the window or something of that nature, you want to get a cover on it from the outside. And also, think about picking up some gaskets to seal the drafts that’s sneaking around switches and outlets. These fit behind the cover plate and basically they block the drafts that come in around all the exterior walls. So you’ve got light switches and outlets. Get these foam gaskets. You pull off the cover plate, you slip the gasket in, you put the cover plate back and that seals out the drafts.

    So if you think about it, all these little projects can really cut the amount of cold air that’s getting in, which means you have to heat less. And then if you get a better thermostat, you can really program exactly when you’re heating and when you’re not, so you only heat when you need it. It can all add up to substantial energy savings.

    LESLIE: Now we’ve got Elsie in California on the line who’s dealing with a shower that goes from hot to cold and all over.

    That doesn’t sound very pleasurable, Elsie. What’s going on?

    ELSIE: Oh, it sure isn’t. It’s very shocking.

    I live in a ranch-style house. The water heater is in the garage at one end of the house and the two bathrooms are at the other end of the house. And whenever someone flushes the toilet or turns on the tap or the sprinkling or drip system comes on, the water will go from hot to pure cold and I’ll have to readjust it.

    TOM: And the reason that happens is because the pressures are imbalanced. In other words, you adjust the temperature in your shower and that’s based on the pressure of water that’s coming from the hot and coming from the cold. And once that’s locked in, the temperature stays where you want it. But when someone down the line, say, spills off some of the cold water because now they’re flushing a toilet or washing their hands, then the – there is going to be less cold water going into that same mix, which means the water temperature is going to get higher or hotter.

    And so, the solution is a new valve for the shower and it’s called a “pressure-balanced valve.” And what a pressure-balance valve does is it maintains the mix in spite of the pressure differential. So, what could happen in that scenario is if you adjusted it and then someone flushed the toilet, you may get less pressure overall. So the shower may be not quite as strong but the temperature won’t change, the mix won’t change. The mix is locked in; it’s set right there, regardless of how much pressure variation you have on the hot water and the cold water coming into it.

    So, common problem, straightforward solution. It’s called a “pressure-balance valve.”

    LESLIE: Up next, would you rather have the smell of a fresh Christmas tree or the ease of setting up and taking down an artificial one? Well, we’ve got live versus fake trees, pros and cons, after this.

    TOM: Where home solutions live, welcome back to The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show. I’m Tom Kraeutler.

    LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

    TOM: And hey, are you getting ready to host some holiday gatherings? Check out our Holiday Home Makeover Facebook Sweepstakes. It’s going on, right now, and you could have a chance to win one of three fantastic prizes to help you host in style.

    LESLIE: Yep. We’ve got up for grabs, at the grand prize, a Tranquility Queen-Size Mattress with Foundation from BedInABox. It’s worth $1,548. To enter, visit Money Pit.

    TOM: I’ve got a BedInABox mattress and I love it every single night. It makes me oversleep in the morning but that’s OK.

    LESLIE: Alright. Well, somebody who hasn’t overslept is Rob, who posted a question which says, “My garage is heated by a furnace. When snow melts off of the cars, the water pools in the front corner of the garage and doesn’t dry. Over time, the water soaked into the block that makes up the exterior wall. There’s a drain in the floor but the water seems to go everywhere except towards it. How do I fix the floor so the water runs to the drain?”

    TOM: Well, re-sloping a garage floor will be a pretty difficult task because you’d need to repour it. And it’s not something that you can easily repair. I’d suggest painting the floor and the bottommost block walls with an epoxy garage paint. This will greatly reduce the absorption of the water that would inhabit that frost damage that can result from the situation you’re describing, Rob.

    Now, you might also consider adding flooring in the form of, say, garage tiles. It’ll give you about a ½-inch of space above the floor and it’ll be far less expensive that repouring. If the floor did get a bit wet, it would sit, actually, below the tiles so you wouldn’t be kind of tracking into the house, as well.

    LESLIE: And you know what, Rob? The garage floor tiles, they snap together really easy. You can get them in a ton of different colors, so you can have a lot of fun with the design in your garage floor if you wanted. And it’s a breeze and that will definitely fix that problem for you.

    TOM: Well, it’s a tough decision to make but real trees and fake trees each come with their own distinct set of perks and drawbacks. Leslie is going to help you wade through them to make the decision that keeps everyone merry and bright, in this week’s edition of Leslie’s Last Word.


    LESLIE: Yep. As any live-tree loyalist can tell you, fresh-cut Christmas trees smell fresh and even keep your home cleaner by removing carbon dioxide and replacing it with oxygen. Now, getting a tree from a nearby farm is going to help your local economy. And they can be broken down into mulch after the holiday.

    The downsides? Of course, I feel like there are no downsides to live trees. I love vacuuming up the pine needles and I love it drying out. It doesn’t matter. It gets better looking all season long. But seriously, the downsides are dealing with all the needles and the watering and making sure to keep it from drying out, which is a major fire risk.

    Now, if time is hard to come by this holiday or if you’re going to be out of town for long stretches, a fake tree really might be the way to go. You know, fake trees do get a bad rep but there are so many perks to having one, especially the fact that you can reuse them year after year. It’s going to save you money and hassle.

    And a lot of these artificial trees, guys – I’m really so anti-fake tree but we have neighbors who have them. I see them at the stores when I’m out shopping and some of them are really, really beautiful and do look just like the real thing. Fake trees are going to be maintenance-free, so you don’t have to worry about allergies or sap. But you do need a place to store them year after year. Assembling them can take some time and they’re often made from a nonrenewable resource, like plastic. Now, there are often no benefits to the economy as many fake trees are made abroad.

    So you want to determine which factors are most important to you when you’re making your decision. And pretty much, in no time at all, you’re going to be feeling the Christmas spirit, whether it’s a real tree or a fake tree. But keep in mind, as I have spent most of my December in Indianapolis on a new program, I have a live tree in my hotel room. I’m just saying.

    TOM: Yep. The holiday spirit is alive and well in your space, no matter where you are, Leslie. So happy to hear that.

    888-666-3974. Hey, coming up next time on the program, is a layer or two of wallpaper standing between you and your dream room? Wallpaper removal is a dreaded, time-consuming task but it doesn’t have to be. We’ll have tips for making the job go much smoother, on the next edition of The Money Pit.

    Happy Holidays, everyone. 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.


    (Copyright 2015 Squeaky Door Productions, Inc. No portion of this transcript or audio file may be reproduced in any format without the express written permission of Squeaky Door Productions, Inc.)

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