Affordable Home Makeovers, Choosing the Right Generator Before the Next Power Outage, and How Renters Can Save on Heating Bills

  • Transcript

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

    LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

    TOM: Welcome to this hour of the program. We are so glad you are here. We’ve got lots of projects planned for you, because you’re just sitting around and saying, “Hmm. What am I going to do today? Hey, I know. I’ll listen to The Money Pit and they’ll find stuff for me to do,” right? No, of course not. We know, though, that you have your own projects, your own to-do list, your own sort of decorating challenges, things that you want to fix up around your home. Hey, we are here to help. That is our job. The number is 1-888-MONEY-PIT, 888-666-3974.

    Coming up on today’s program, do you have champagne home makeover dreams but sadly, only a beer budget? Well, you don’t have to give up those dreams. We’ve got tips on affordable home makeovers that will not break the bank.

    LESLIE: And also ahead, if winter storms and the power outages that they bring have you considering a generator, we’ve got some tips to help you pick the best type for your home.

    TOM: And just because you’re a renter doesn’t mean you can’t make changes to your home or apartment to cut heating cost. We’ve got simple solutions to solve your energy problems, including some that you can even take with you when it’s time to move on.

    LESLIE: And this hour, we’re giving away a fantastic prize. We’ve got the first hybrid, lithium-ion, electric snow blower from Snow Joe.

    TOM: I’ve got to tell you, my sister got one of these last year and it works incredibly well. It’s a prize worth 400 bucks going out to one caller drawn at random from those that reach us on today’s show. The number is 1-888-MONEY-PIT, 888-666-3974. Let’s get to those phones.

    Leslie, who’s first?

    LESLIE: David in Arkansas, you’ve got The Money Pit. How can we help you today?

    DAVID: I have a native stone-based fireplace, I guess, with a cinder-block core. And it’s, thankfully, on the outside of the house. However, the roof line continues so that it covers our carport. And if it rains, oh, substantially, after a bit it begins to get a little ripplage (ph) of water that drains on the outside of the stone, into the carport. So, it’s a bit puzzling. We use – we tried to reface the flashing, you know, with just black tar and that sort of thing. But still seems to leak a bit when there’s substantial rain.

    TOM: So, I’m having trouble imagining the layout here but is this a situation where you have water from the roof that’s running down towards the chimney?

    DAVID: Yes.

    TOM: And does the chimney have a cricket? Do you know what a cricket is? It’s like sort of a peaked piece of flashing that diverts the water around it.

    DAVID: It does have a flashing that runs around it. That’s correct.

    TOM: OK. Well, a cricket is not just the flashing. A chimney cricket is like a modification of the roof plane, where it pitches upwards so that the water doesn’t actually strike the back of the chimney. It goes around the chimney.

    DAVID: Oh, no, no. It’s a consistent roofline sloping downward.

    TOM: So, one thing that you could do is you could put a piece of flashing on the roof to intercept the runoff from the roof that’s heading towards the chimney and sort of divert it around it. And that kind of sort of diverter move will reduce the volume of water that’s striking the chimney. And that can help minimize the problem.

    Now, in terms of the flashing repair itself, you mentioned tar. It’s probably the worst thing you could put on a chimney and I know that folks do it all the time. But the right way to do it, if you have a flashing leak, is to replace the flashing. And flashing is always sold in two pieces. You have a base flashing that goes under the roof shingles and against the chimney. And you have a counterflashing that goes in the chimney mortar joints and then down on top of the base flashing. And it’s done that way so it can expand and contract with the movement, because the chimney’s going to move differently than the roof. The tar might give you a temporary seal but eventually, it’s just going to crack.

    So I would recommend you install a diverter, try to move some of the water around the chimney. And if it continues, do a better job repairing the flashing in the chimney, because it shouldn’t happen.

    DAVID: OK. Will do. I appreciate it so much. Enjoy your show.

    TOM: Well, thank you so much. We appreciate your call, David.

    LESLIE: Deb in Illinois, you’ve got The Money Pit. How can we help you today?

    DEB: My husband and I are in the process of either building a home or looking into having a modular put up. And I would like to know if you have any pros or cons of a modular, opposed to building a home – a new home.

    TOM: Sure. Well, I’ve actually built both and I can tell you that the modular homes go up quicker, generally. And they can be more accurate because everything is fabricated inside of a factory. And so you’ll find tighter corners and squarer walls and that sort of thing. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with either approach; they both work. But if you go modular, it will probably go together a little bit more quickly. And I guess the con of that is that you may not have as much flexibility in design with that. Again, depends on the factory you’re working with and the builder you’re working with.

    I will say this: you want to make sure you choose a builder that’s very experienced with modular homes and not one who just thinks he can put together anything. Because there are some peculiarities to them in the way they’re built.

    DEB: Alright. Well, thank you so much.

    TOM: You’re welcome. 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

    Think about it, guys: we are so close to the first day of spring. Are you dreaming about sunshine-y weather? Working outside? So many things. Let’s get just past this winter hump. Come on, you guys. We’re almost there, so let’s think about your projects. We are here to give you a hand 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-888-MONEY-PIT.

    TOM: 888-666-3974.

    Up next, we’ve got great ideas for home improvements that don’t cost a fortune but can still look like they did.

    TOM: Making good homes better, this is The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show standing by for your calls at 1-888-MONEY-PIT.

    If you pick up the phone and call us with your home improvement question, right now, you’ll get the answer, plus a chance to win a fantastic prize we’re giving away. We’ve got the Snow Joe iON Hybrid Snow Blower. Basically, this is the first-ever battery-powered snow blower on the market. It works really, really well. It’s convenient, it’s eco-friendly, easy to use. It’s ideal for quick snow removal.

    It’s worth 399 bucks. Going out to one lucky caller drawn at random. The number is 888-MONEY-PIT, 888-666-3974.

    LESLIE: Ian in North Carolina is on the line and wants to build a recording studio. We might be able to help with that.

    IAN: Well, I am – it’s kind of a bucket-list project. I was given my grandmother’s old house and they built on an extension of the house and I’m trying to convert it into (inaudible at 0:07:35), a semi-professional recording studio. And I’ve done a little research on this acoustic foam stuff but it’s ridiculously expensive. And I’m trying to figure out a different method to basically achieve the same effect.

    TOM: First of all, if you want to soundproof a room in a residential home, you have to use materials that are specifically designed to do that. Probably the least expensive way to do it is with a material called “soundproof drywall” or “sound-resistant drywall.” There’s a couple of different brands that sell this product. But essentially, what you would do is you would put a second layer of drywall over the existing layer. And this new drywall has sound-resistant capabilities to it or qualities to it so it absorbs the sound and keeps it nice and quiet.

    Where the rubber meets the road with this is at the penetrations to the wall. So if there’s a light, an outlet or a switch, there are some very specific steps you have to take in those areas to soundproof them. And there’s a putty that has to be installed around it. It’s quite involved. But that’s the least expensive way to probably – to do this.

    Generally, when you have sound-resistant construction, you have kind of a wall inside of a wall so that the two walls are not touching each other.

    IAN: Like a floating?

    TOM: Yeah, kind of like floating. Like a non-bearing wall.

    IAN: Right, right. OK.

    TOM: But you could do that to the walls and the ceilings but then, what do you do about the floor?

    IAN: Right. OK.

    TOM: So, take a look at soundproof drywall and see if that kind of gets you closer to where you want to go on this, OK?

    IAN: That sounds great. Thank you so much.

    TOM: You’re welcome. Thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.

    LESLIE: Lulu in Delaware, you’ve got The Money Pit. What can we do for you today?

    LULU: So I noticed, this fall, that my bricks in the front steps were starting to break down. And I was paying attention, finally, on a rainy day and I said, “There must be water coming from the gutters.” And I thought maybe – I’ve been in my house for three years, so I thought maybe the gutters need to be reattached. I had someone come out, because I also saw some screws coming out. And so they reattached them with some new screws. And then, of course, more rain came. Still running – coming down. My bricks on my front steps are decaying very rapidly. So I thought, “OK, let me do some more research.”

    And I found out about the drip edge. So I was like, “Alright. Is there a drip edge or not drip edge on this house? This was built in the 1950s, ’48. And so I crawled up to the – onto the roof. I’m scared of heights.

    TOM: Wow.

    LULU: And I went there and there is a drip edge but it was flat. So I decided to get one of those T drip edges, like those – the edges come out more – drip edge. And so I installed those underneath the edge.

    TOM: So are we talking about putting in an additional piece of flashing underneath the shingles, to kind of extend the reach into the gutters?

    LULU: Yes. I’m thinking that may be the problem. Still raining again. It’s still rainwater coming down onto the front of my steps a bit. It’s also well …

    TOM: OK. So, first of all, what does this roof look like? Has it got a pretty steep pitch to it?

    LULU: Like more than 45 degrees? Yeah.

    TOM: Yes. So if you have a roof with a really steep pitch, you end up getting sort of a lot of inertia of that water sort of rolling down the roof. And it’ll tend to kind of jump across the gutters sometimes.

    Are the gutters clogged and then leaking or is the water that does get in the gutter actually draining out?

    LULU: It’s not. It’s not clogged. No. We cleaned it.

    TOM: It’s not clogged? So it’s not overflowing and leaking? They’re just – it’s the water just sort of missing the gutter.

    LULU: Because I’ll look up and see that it’s coming through underneath the gutter. And then I’m like – I’m trying to understand how that’s possible.

    TOM: The way that that’s possible is if the gutter does get clogged, it can back up and then sort of spill over the back edge of the gutter. That’s how that often happens. Now, if it’s not clogged, the water’s not getting there in the first place. And I think your approach is right but you need to make sure that the additional extension of the roof shingles into the gutters is done adequately enough. So if the shingles are installed right, they should overlay the edge of the gutter by at least 2 inches.

    LULU: I didn’t put shingles in. I just put that plastic, more like a drip edge. Like another drip edge that …

    TOM: OK. Do the shingles overlay the gutter edge by a couple of inches or are they short of the gutter?

    LULU: They’re short. They’re at the …

    TOM: Yeah. So that’s obviously the problem then.

    Now, this drip edge that you put in, you said it was plastic?

    LULU: Or metal? I don’t – it’s with – I got it at Home Depot.

    TOM: What I would do, in a situation like this, is I would take 4-inch aluminum flashing, OK? Comes in a roll. Very inexpensive. It’s easier to work with if you cut it into maybe 4-foot-long strips. And I would work it underneath the shingles. It has to go under the shingles and then on top of the back edge of the gutter so that it truly does serve as a bridge. You need to extend the reach of that shingle into the gutter, because it sounds like the gutters are a little bit short of the edge of the shingles. And they’re never going to work well in that case. We’ve got to get the water running over the shingles, then onto the flashing and then into the gutters. You have to kind of create sort of an extension. If you do that, it should work well.

    LULU: OK.

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

    Well, no doubt some home improvements can cost a bundle but I think you’d be surprised to know how many can deliver a pretty big impact, at a fraction of the cost, including 7 affordable upgrades that you can do for less than 1,000 bucks.

    Leslie, you’ve got the list. What’s first?

    LESLIE: Yeah. Let’s start in the kitchen, guys. You know, upgrading your kitchen work surfaces, that’s really an affordable home improvement because there are several sleek, budget-friendly materials out there that you can choose from, including eco-friendly, green options like stainless steel, cast concrete, even solid surfacing. Also, if you update your cabinet hardware and maybe add some new paint, your kitchen is going to look brand-spanking new.

    TOM: Good advice. And then there’s the bath. Usually a very expensive update but you can add accessories to your bathroom. And you can increase your water savings and your comfort and your safety, especially if you plan on being in your home for a while. So these can include things like easy-to-grasp door and cabinet hardware, rocker-style light switches, grab bars and water-saving shower fixtures or toilets.

    And on those grab bars, they are absolutely beautiful now. They look like towel bars but they’re really grab bars that can hold hundreds of pounds.

    LESLIE: Yeah. And then, guys, the secret weapon of all of your design/makeover dreams is paint. Seriously, paint. It’s underrated but think about it: it is the easiest and most affordable way that you can create the biggest transformation in your home. Truly it’s the best home improvement product out there.

    Now, with paint, because it’s affordable, the only expense there is if you’re hiring a pro or your time in doing it. But paint allows you to make such a big change. You can be creative. You can choose a color that maybe you’re only going to feel comfortable with on one wall for maybe a year or two but it’s enough to give that design boost to your house. So you can use it that way, almost as an accessory per a year, per a couple of seasons or for the long haul.

    Think about all of the colors that are coming onto trend. Grays and beiges are still always key but we’ve got beautiful soft pinks and blues, bright colors for the summer: yellow or orange. There’s turquoise. I mean really think about using paint. You’ll be so happy. It’ll be the best 40 bucks you spend and the biggest bang for your buck.

    TOM: And you know what I like about a paint project? It forces you to organize, as well, because you’ve got to move the stuff out so you can do the painting. And now is a great time to do that. Plus, you’ll create more space, you’ll have less clutter. You can take on some improvements, like shelving and safe stowing areas while you’re at it. These are all inexpensive ways that you could find more room in your place and maybe even your garage where – hey, what the heck? Let’s think crazy. You might even fit your car in it again.

    LESLIE: Nah. Cars in garages? That’s just crazy talk. While we’re talking about the garage, let’s think about outdoor living. It’s huge. You can build a small deck or patio out of brick, natural stones, cement pavers. And that’s really going to expand both your living space and your home’s value. You can also update landscaping or even upgrade your front entry door just to boost curb appeal.

    TOM: And a great way to stretch your dollar is to make improvements that save money, like upgrading your home’s insulation. These are easy and cost-effective improvements that are going to bring you big bang for your buck for years to come.

    888-666-3974. Who’s next?

    LESLIE: Jim in Washington is on the line with a water-in-the-crawlspace situation. What’s going on?

    JIM: Well, we live on the West Coast and like most of the homes out here that are less than 40 years old, we have a crawlspace instead of a basement.

    TOM: OK.

    JIM: And in December, we had record rain – the most ever – and we discovered, by chance, that we had about 3 or 4 inches of water in our crawlspace.

    TOM: OK.

    JIM: The dirt floor is covered with plastic. It’s about 1,500 square foot of area, so that was a considerable amount of water.

    TOM: Has that drained out?

    JIM: Well, we rented a pump and I pumped for a couple of days and then I used my shop vac and took out 5 gallons of water at a time. And yes, it is all out now.

    TOM: And we don’t want it to come back, right?

    JIM: Well, not only that but I just don’t know what to do to make sure there was no further damage.

    TOM: Alright. Well, I have fantastic news for you. It’s so great that your crawlspace flooded after a heavy rainfall, because that tells me that the solution involves your gutters and your grading.

    This is not a rising water-table situation. This is a scenario where you have to reduce the amount of water that’s collecting at the foundation perimeter. And usually, that happens because the gutters become clogged and overflow and dump all their water right at the foundation perimeter. Or the downspouts are not extended far enough away and dump water right near the corner of the foundation. Or the grading around the house is too flat or in some cases, even sloped backwards into the house so that the water never has a chance to run away. So when you have a lot of rain and that results in a flood in a crawlspace or a basement, that is always, always, always the cause. So the solution is just to reverse all that.

    Now, in terms of damage, if the water was only in there for a short period of time – a week or two and you got it pumped out – I don’t think there’ll be any ongoing issues. If these spaces stay wet for a really long time, you can get increased decay or insect activity. But an occasional flood like that is not likely to have any effect on the house. More important that you make sure it doesn’t happen again by trying to address whatever drainage deficiencies you find.

    JIM: Fantastic. Well, that is what I will start doing then. I’ll see what I can find. Thank you. Appreciate it.

    TOM: Alright. Good luck with that project.

    LESLIE: Thanks so much for calling The Money Pit.

    Still to come, are you wondering which generator to outfit your home with so power outages are no longer? Well, This Old House electrician Scott Caron is here with the answer, next.

    ADAM: Hey, this is Adam Carolla. And when I’m not swinging a hammer, I’m catching up on The Money Pit with Tom and Leslie.

    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: Where home solutions live, this is The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show. I’m Tom Kraeutler.

    LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

    TOM: Hey, we want to welcome our newest Money Pit affiliate: WFNR-AM in Roanoke, Virginia, where the show airs on Saturdays from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. Eastern.

    Welcome, Roanoke.

    LESLIE: Mary in Massachusetts is on the line with an appliance that’s acting up.

    What’s going on, Mary?

    MARY: The bottom fills up with water and I mean probably an inch or two. But say we run the dishwasher at night. Like I got up this morning at seven, there wasn’t anything on the bottom of the dishwasher. And about an hour later, it was filled. And it’s been doing that. And we don’t understand what’s going on. We’ve had the hoses checked, make sure they’re not bent or anything or – but we can’t figure it out.

    TOM: OK. So have you cleaned out the bottom of the dishwasher? Sometimes, the drain gets clogged. That’s the easy fix right there.

    MARY: Oh, yeah. We’ve done that.

    TOM: So you have no food particles there?

    MARY: No.

    TOM: So there must be an obstruction somewhere that’s causing it. There’s an obstruction somewhere in the line that’s causing the water – the plumbing in that part of the house to back up and it’s just evidencing itself in the dishwasher.

    Have you checked the connection to your garbage disposal?

    MARY: Well, I don’t have a garbage disposal.

    TOM: You don’t? So it drains where? Does it drain into the trap under the sink or where does it drain?

    MARY: Right. Into the trap under the sink.

    TOM: Yeah, I think you’re backing some water up there. It’s going back up the hose and into the dishwasher.

    MARY: Alright. Then I’m going to have somebody come over. We did have someone come over. I don’t think he’s – he honestly couldn’t figure it out. He checked the hoses and made sure they weren’t bent or anything. And he stayed for a while and yeah – and it happened again. The water started coming in after he ran it.

    TOM: So if you’re running it and it’s not draining, then there’s a different set of causes for that. It’s either a drain pump or the drain impeller or there’s a solenoid kit that has to do with removing the water. But if you’re telling me this water is showing up when you’re not running the dishwasher, then I think it must be backing up through the plumbing system. OK, Mary? So I think that’s a good approach.

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

    LESLIE: Well, with an aging electrical grid and severe weather seemingly more prevalent than ever, getting caught without power is no longer the rare and occasional occurrence.

    TOM: So what options do homeowners have to take matters into their own hands? Well, it turns out there are lots. Here to tell us how to have backup power always at the ready is This Old House electrical contractor Scott Caron.

    Welcome, Scott.

    SCOTT: Hey, guys. Thanks for having me here.

    TOM: So, homeowners really have more options than ever when it comes to backup power, don’t they?

    SCOTT: They do. There’s two basic ones: portable and automatic. The portable generators, they’re usually gasoline-powered. And the range of the power they provide? Usually very small to pretty good size: about 7,500 watts, which is the maximum on a portable. But they’re gasoline-powered. So with gasoline storage, you have your problems. It’s got a short shelf life. You’ve got to check the oil a lot.

    TOM: And you may not be able to purchase it if the power is out in the neighborhood.

    SCOTT: That’s right. If it really gets to that point, you’ve got to store gasoline on your property, which isn’t always a great thing.

    But of course, they’re very affordable. You can take them camping with you, if you like, if they’re small enough, tuck them off into a shed or a garage when you need them. You roll them out. You’ve got to start them up, unless you’ve got a battery and you’ve got to keep that charged. There’s all kinds of situations like that that come up. And they’re pretty noisy and they do create fumes.

    LESLIE: Now, I know post-Hurricane Sandy – you know, Tom and I are both from the Northeast, as you are. In my neighborhood, the arrival of automatic standby generators was just 10-fold from the normal appearance. I mean it’s amazing how convenient they are and quite frankly, they’re getting more affordable.

    SCOTT: They are. They’re coming down in affordability.

    Now, an automatic standby generator runs on either natural gas or propane. People ask a lot if they can run on diesel. They’re just not really practical in the home size, just because of the maintenance and upkeep. But they’re completely automatic.

    What happens with an automatic setup is, basically, when the lights go out, the generator comes on in about 8 to 10 seconds. That’s really all you have to think about. They do require one year – every year, we like to put our hands on them and keep them maintained, do an oil change just to kind of see if any rodents are living inside of them. That’s the big thing. But they come with a cost. They tie into your main electrical system permanently. And because of that, you need an electrician to do it and it’s not an easy job.

    TOM: Now, both portable generators and standby generators use a transfer switch of one type or another to basically make that change from street power to generator power. What do we need to know about those switches?

    SCOTT: So, that’s a great question, Tom. The biggest problem that anyone has with generators is backfeeding the utility company. Those guys up on the poles that are trying to restore your power, the last thing they need is to have the electricity coming back from your house and causing them hazard. So there’s a transfer switch.

    And what that does – it takes the utility power that normally comes into your home, disconnects it and makes it so that your generator is now providing power to your home. And that all happens completely automatically. Once the power is restored, transfers back from generator power and now you’re on utility again.

    LESLIE: Are there any other tips or ideas that we can do to our homes to sort of protect us from further power issues?

    SCOTT: Yes, there is, Leslie. We have surge protection. So, I’m losing power. There’s also a problem of overpower. And the utility companies are really good. However, once in a while, something gets sent through that line that’s not supposed to, meaning an overpower. And what can happen with electronics – you’ve got very sensitive equipment. It can get hit, as we call it, and the surge will actually burn out the electronics. And that’s not great.

    So we protect it at the main electrical panel with a whole-house surge arrester. And that arrester is wired directly into your panel by an electrician. Does a really good job of protecting your home. However, we also recommend a secondary surge suppressor. Every time you plug in that nice computer or the flat-screen television, we like to secondary protect it, which will make it so that something happens, you have two shots of saving that appliance or piece of equipment.

    TOM: Good advice. Scott Caron, the electrician on TV’s This Old House, thank you so much for stopping by The Money Pit.

    SCOTT: Hey, thank you for having me. I appreciate it.

    LESLIE: Alright. You can catch the current season of This Old House and Ask This Old House on PBS. For local listings and step-by-step videos of many common home improvement projects, visit

    TOM: And This Old House is brought to you on PBS by Lumber Liquidators. Hardwood floors for less.

    Still ahead, just because you’re a renter doesn’t mean you don’t have options when it comes to cutting heating costs. We’ve got tips and tricks to warm things up in a place you don’t own, after this.

    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.

    Pick up the phone and give us a call now at 888-MONEY-PIT. We are going to help you with whatever you are working on at your money pit. Plus, we have a very timely prize up for grabs. We’re giving away the Snow Joe iON Hybrid Snow Blower.

    This is the first snow blower on the market, guys, that features 2-in-1 hybrid operation. So it’s going to allow you to choose between battery power or corded operation. And it can clear an 18-inch-wide path, an 8-inch deep path. And it’ll throw the snow up to 20 feet. And get this: you can move 500 pounds of snow per minute. And actually, the Snow Joe is going to move the 500 pounds of snow per minute, not you.

    You can check it out at your local Home Depot or online at It’s a prize worth 400 bucks but we’re giving one away to one lucky caller this hour.

    TOM: The number, again, is 1-888-MONEY-PIT.

    Well, heating an apartment is the single biggest energy expenditure during the winter, if you’re a renter. But while homeowners can do things, like pick up new energy-efficient heating systems, renters don’t have the same options to improve the heat in a home that they don’t own. Or do they?

    LESLIE: Yeah, that’s true. You know, some of the renters out there are responsible for their apartment’s heating bill. So if that’s you, there are some things that you can do. That’s, of course, if your rental agreement will allow. You can have a programmable thermostat installed.

    TOM: Well, that’s right. Now, the programmable thermostats today are really cool. Some of them are sort of smart thermostats. They’re Wi-Fi-enabled. They can predict when you’re in the apartment and when you’re out of the apartment and set the temperature accordingly. Even the more simple, straightforward – I’ll dare call them old-fashioned – kind that are not Wi-Fi – get the clock-setback thermostat. Have it set the heat down 10 degrees overnight. And this way, when you’re tucked into the covers, you won’t need to have the heat quite as high. Then you can also have it come up in the morning before you get out of bed and then go down again when you go to work.

    If you use a clock-setback thermostat, you can save about 150 bucks a year in energy costs.

    LESLIE: Now, here’s another thing that you guys can do. You can also make sure that all of your heating registers are unobstructed by your furniture and window coverings. Because sometimes, they can block them even just slightly. And that’ll do enough to obstruct the air. And this way, if you make sure everything’s clear, all that warm air can flow freely into each of the rooms in the apartment.

    Now, if your unit has radiators, you want to slide heat-resistant reflectors between the radiator and the wall. And that’ll send even more warmth into the room.

    TOM: Now, you also want to be mindful of drafts around windows and doors. Now, for those windows, a really neat thing that you can do is use weather-stripping caulk. This is sort of a temporary caulking product. It’s clear, kind of like silicone. But here’s the thing: after it dries, you can peel it right off again.

    So, if you apply it in the fall or in the winter, in the spring you can just sort of grab the edge of it and peel it away. Meanwhile, you’ve sealed those drafts out all winter long. Just be careful that you don’t do this in a window that has to be also an emergency exit, say, if you were – had the unfortunate circumstance of being caught in a fire. But for everything else, go ahead and caulk those windows shut with a weather-stripping caulk. It’ll do a great job of sealing out the drafts.

    LESLIE: Also remember that if you turn off the heating units in rooms of your apartment that you’re not using and then shut the doors, that’s going to keep the warm air moving exclusively into the rooms that you do use.

    TOM: And sometimes, folks have the opposite issue, which is incredibly wasteful. Maybe their apartments are too warm. If that’s the case, please work with your apartment’s property manager to solve the problem. I always hate when I come to buildings and see windows open, because perhaps the tenant is not paying for the heat and the heat is up too high and they’re just letting it all escape to the environment. So, be responsible and help out Mother Nature in the process.

    888-666-3974. If you’ve got questions about how to maintain or improve your apartment or your home, call us, right now, at 888-MONEY-PIT.

    LESLIE: Ruth in Michigan has got a window question. What can we do for you?

    RUTH: My windows fogged up and they had condensation on them, on the centers of them, as well as when it was really cold two years ago I actually had frost on the inside of the window. And I didn’t know what’s wrong with the windows. What do we need to do with them? They were put in new about 25 years ago.

    LESLIE: OK. So that could be the problem: the age factor. So now, when you say you see frost and condensation, is that on the interior side? Or are you sort of seeing it in between the two panes of glass?

    RUTH: On the interior.

    LESLIE: OK. So, generally, what’s happening is that the thermal seal – the gas that’s in between those two panes of glass that regulates that temperature difference – when you’re starting to see condensation or when you see freezing on the interior, that means that the gas that was in between those two panes isn’t there anymore. So you’re not getting that thermal space in there to block that heat or the coolness transfer. And that can happen because there is a seal within the windows that eventually will fail. It’s not guaranteed to fail but a window that’s 25 years old, it’s a good chance that that’s no longer functioning for you.

    And I think at this point, that’s not something that’s really worth repairing or you should look into a replacement window for that, which could be super affordable. You can find some great prices out there. And then you’ll be able to get one that’s truly thermal-pane and help you with all of your cool-transferring situations.

    RUTH: OK. So I may have to replace my windows is what you’re saying, rather than try to repair them.

    TOM: Well, that’s right. Once the window seal fails, it’s not repairable. Now, generally, it doesn’t result in a huge energy loss. It’s mostly inconvenient because, as you’ve learned, they’ll condense and fog. But if you want it to go away, you have to replace the windows. It’s not repairable.

    RUTH: OK. But you’re saying it doesn’t necessarily reduce the insulation factor, huh?

    TOM: It does, to a certain extent. It’s certainly not as efficient as a new window. But are you going to get a return on investment by replacing that window that’s going to equal the amount of energy you saved? Probably not or certainly not for a long time.

    RUTH: OK. That’s what – I was wondering about that, too. OK. That’s been very helpful. I wasn’t sure what was wrong and I was wondering whether replacements would be the best option or not.

    TOM: Well, now you know. Thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.

    LESLIE: Stay with us. We’ll be right back.

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    TOM: This is The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show. I’m Tom Kraeutler.

    LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

    TOM: And we make good homes better.

    Hey, don’t forget to fan us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter so you can get the same, great advice you hear each week, on the go.

    LESLIE: That’s right. It’s And on Twitter, you can find us @MoneyPit.

    TOM: That’s right. Like our pages and you’ll get a sneak peek into what we are up to.

    LESLIE: And of course, you can ask us your questions there, as well. Gene in Summerville, South Carolina writes: “We have a fireplace and we’d like to put a pass-through, like a doggie door or those old-fashioned milk doors, for firewood. Is there any way we can put one of these in? Can we buy it? Is there a way to make one leak-proof? Bug-proof? What do we do?”

    TOM: You know, I would build it. Because these are very customized and essentially, what you’re doing is you’re building a miniature door. So the good news is that you can use the same, standard construction materials. So you can buy door-jamb material and door-sill material and basically build yourself a miniature door. Heck, you can even use standard door locks in this. Just make sure it’s properly weather-stripped so it remains leak-proof and has a deadbolt in it and you’ll be good to go.

    LESLIE: Alright. Sounds pretty easy. They must have a fancy fireplace if they want the nice convenience of a pass-through.

    Alright. Hal in North Charleston, South Carolina, writes – it’s South Carolina Day, apparently – “I just put a new shingle roof on our single-story duplex six months ago. We have very large pine trees in the backyard and a pine straw is piling up on the roof. How damaging is the pine straw to the roof and should I clear it periodically?”

    TOM: I think the pine straw is probably more damaging to your nerves than to your roof.

    LESLIE: And the gutters probably.

    TOM: Yeah. And the gutters, right. It’s not really hurting your shingles. It will make them look terrible. It’ll start to decay on there and they’ll get nasty and ugly-looking but it won’t damage them. I mean frankly, to the contrary, it does serve the purpose of keeping some of the sun off them and could actually be argued that it’ll make the shingles last a bit longer.

    But as you said so accurately, Leslie, when that pine straw gets into your gutters, it makes them much more likely to clog. So this is a case where you want to have a good-quality gutter guard on there. And I would use the type that rely on surface tension, where the water sort of runs off the roof, over the gutter, washing off that pine straw and then the water retains in the top of the gutter guard and then falls back into the gutter as – at the end. It’s kind of a J sort of shaped gutter guard that does that.

    Alright. Up next, Tommy writes a question about kitchen-backsplash protection and recently purchased a kitchen backsplash using a Terra Brazilian slate tile, size 12×12. “I’m wondering if I should use countertop sealer sold in the stores or just cover it with a light coat of polyurethane.”

    I would definitely not cover a slate with a polyurethane, because those two materials are not designed to go together. I think it is a good idea for you to apply a standard countertop stone-sealing solution to that, Tommy, because that will help prevent that material from absorbing as much potential grease or oil or food particles that happen to end up on a kitchen-counter backsplash, as they so often do.

    Alright. David from New England has a question about attic ventilation. David says, “We have a two-story Colonial and it has a ridge-end vent and a gable vent. There are soffit vents on one side but none on the other. I’d like to prevent ice dams. Should I add additional soffit ventilation?”

    The answer is yes. If you have the ridge vent and the soffit vent on one side, you’re only missing one other piece of that puzzle. And if you do that, the cold air will flow in the soffits, up under the roof sheathing and exit at the ridge. And that should prevent you from getting ice dams from forming at the eaves.

    LESLIE: Yeah. Good plan, Tom. That really does make a huge difference.

    TOM: This is The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show. Hey, thank you so much for spending this hour with us. We hope we’ve inspired you with some tips and ideas and to solve some of those do-it-yourself dilemmas to give you some ideas to tackle some new projects around your house. So, hope you’re less afraid right now to pick up a paintbrush, to pick up a hammer and get that project done.

    If you still need some encouragement or some advice, remember you can reach out to us, 24/7, at 888-MONEY-PIT or post your question on our Facebook page at

    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 2016 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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