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Blackout Survival Tips, What You Need to Know Before Adding a Below-Grade Bathroom, and 2016 Outdoor Living Trend

  • Transcript

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

    LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

    TOM: And we are so happy to be here to help with your home improvement projects. Let us solve those do-it-yourself dilemmas. There’s got to be a project on your to-do list. Are you really cold right now? Are your heating bills really high right now? Would you like to do something to the inside of your house because you’re tired of staring at those four walls during these chilly days of winter? All great reasons to call us at 888-666-3974.

    Hey, coming up this hour, power outages can strike without warning, especially with these winter winds and ice storms that are happening across the country. To make sure you don’t get caught in the dark without a plan, we’ve got your blackout survival tips, just ahead.

    LESLIE: And if you’re already looking forward to spring, well, we’re going to share some tips to help you get head-first into those plans. We’re going to tell you which outdoor-living trends will be making an appearance when the weather warms up, so you’ll be one step ahead.

    TOM: Plus, are you looking to add an extra bathroom? Well, the basement could be just the place. This Old House plumbing contractor Richard Trethewey is going to stop by with the lowdown on how to get that job done.

    LESLIE: And one caller this hour gets to turn their garage door into a smart garage door, with a MyQ Universal Smartphone Garage-Door Controller from Chamberlain.

    TOM: Yep. It’s a prize worth $129. Going out to one caller drawn at random from those that reach us for today’s show, so let’s get to it. The number is 1-888-MONEY-PIT, 888-666-3974.

    LESLIE: Ronnie in Maryland is on the line and has a question about a paintsicle (ph): you know, when a gallon of paint freezes and you wonder if you can still use it.

    Welcome, Ronnie. How can we help you?

    RONNIE: Yes. I was wondering if that’s – I have some latex paint. It was out in the garage. Live in that climate in part of Maryland here where things freeze up. I was wondering if the paint was still good when it’s frozen. And if it is frozen, how I find out if it was frozen or not.

    LESLIE: Alright. So is it currently frozen? Do you know? Has it been frozen only once or have you had it like a year or two and it’s probably frozen a couple of times?

    RONNIE: I have no idea how old it is. It was actually – I bought a house and there were just lots of gallons of leftover paint that were in the garage.

    TOM: You not only have frozen paint, you have old frozen paint that could have had a long history to it. I mean the short answer is a definite maybe.

    I think that if you asked the manufacturers, Leslie, they’d say no. But I think we’ve all used some frozen paint before.

    RONNIE: They’re brand-new cans of paint I opened up. I could see that they’re separated a little bit but the – that’s why I didn’t know if they were actually good or if they were bad. If I mixed them back up they were good or …?

    LESLIE: Well, here’s the deal. I would start by bringing the paint indoors. Let it get to room temperature and then stir it. If it stirs and starts to go creamy, then it’s probably OK. If it still looks lumpy, then I’d say no. The issue is that latex paint has a large quantity of water in it. So, obviously, that’s going to freeze and cause things to separate. And then you might end up with problems with adhesion and peeling and perhaps color not matching.

    RONNIE: That’s why I thought if there was any lumpy stuff that might be in – I could run it through a cheesecloth or something like that.

    LESLIE: No, you wouldn’t want to. If it’s lumpy or cottage-cheesy looking in any kind of way, that just means that all of the additives that cause it to adhere have completely separated and are not sort of going back into the paint itself. So I wouldn’t strain it off, because then it’s just truly not going to stick.

    So if it’s separating like that, chuck it. But if you mix it and it looks creamy and it seems OK, I’d give it a go.

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

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

    KAYLA: Just got married and moved into a new home. And it already had a Honeywell Whole-Home Humidifier installed in it. And it seems like a dream come true. I thought it was going to be amazing.

    But we have 100-amp service and every now and then, our breaker will trip and I – you don’t even know downstairs unless you’re down there. And I have gone down a couple times and it was – the basement is flooded. And it floods over into the other room, like into the – where I eventually want to lay carpet and have a family room.

    TOM: Is that because the dehumidifier condensate pump stops working?

    KAYLA: I’m not sure what it is. There’s like an overfill thing for it and I’m assuming it’s supposed to lead to a drain. But the drain is in the laundry room, which is in the opposite direction.

    TOM: OK. So when everything is working correctly, this dehumidifier is going to take moisture out of the air, drop it into a reservoir, which you either have to empty or it will pump out somewhere.

    Usually, if it’s got a condensate pump associated with it, it could pump up sort of against gravity and there’s a clear, plastic tube that goes out and leads to a drain somewhere or even outside the house. If you have a power failure, you know, it’s not going to work and it might actually start to leak maybe back into that room where you are. Of course, the dehumidifier is not working at that time, so it’s not going to leak for long. But I could see how it could create a bit of a puddle. So your problem is not so much with the dehumidifier but while you’re having a problem popping these breakers.

    Now, 100-amp service is actually a pretty darn good service and it frequently doesn’t get the respect it deserves. When these breakers pop, it’s not usually because you’re pulling more than 100 amps; it’s because that whatever circuit you have this particular dehumidifier on is – needs to be improved, perhaps by adding an additional circuit. But the service for the house should be fine.

    KAYLA: OK. It does have a clear hose that leads outside.

    TOM: That’s what’s going on. When your power goes out, the pump stops working and that’s why it’s leaking, OK? So focus on getting this plugged into a circuit that is a little bit bigger than what you have right now. An electrician could help you sort this out but it’s not a big deal to add an additional circuit just for that device.

    KAYLA: Alright. Sounds good.

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

    LESLIE: Paul in Alaska is on the line with a roofing question. What can we do for you?

    PAUL: I have a 45-year-old, built-up roof and it was the age of the house. And it needs to be replaced. And so I’m looking at one of three options: the EPDM, which is the .06-inch rubber, if we can have – I guess have recovery board under it. And then there’s two torch-down options: one is APP and one is SBS. Now, I’m told the SBS – there’s one contractor that actually offers that and he says that it’s less susceptible to cracking, so it lasts longer. And we have about 100-degree swing in temperatures here in Anchorage: between about 80-above to maybe minus-20. But the SBS can be torch-down, cold or MOP. And of course, the APP, I guess, is just basically torch-down but …

    TOM: OK. Well, first things first. In terms of the flat roof, torch-down roofs or the EPDM roofs, I think, would be my choice in those environments. And what really makes the difference with these flat-roof installations is simply the workmanship, because there’s just no tolerance for errors. If you’re putting in a sloped roof – and you can be a little sloppy with your assembly of the roofing shingles, for example, and they’re pretty forgiving and usually don’t leak. The flat roof? If you get it wrong, you’re going to have a mess on your hands.

    So, I would make sure that the contractor was very experienced with flat-roof installation and then let them work with the product that they’re going to be willing to back up.

    PAUL: Thank you very much.

    TOM: 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 MoneyPit.com. Give us a call. Let us know what you are working on this winter weekend. We’re here to give you a hand 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You know how to call us: 888-MONEY-PIT.

    TOM: 888-666-3974.

    Up next, don’t get stuck in the dark without a plan. We’ve got your power-outage survival tips, 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.

    TOM: Call us, right now, at 888-MONEY-PIT because we are here to help you with your home improvement projects. Plus, this hour we’re giving away a fantastic product. It is called MyQ from Chamberlain. It’s a universal, smartphone garage-door controller. Not an opener; it’s just a controller. It works with your openers and allows you to monitor and control your garage door from just about any smartphone. You can get alerts when the garage door opens and closes. It installs in minutes using your home’s Wi-Fi system.

    It’s available at The Home Depot or at HomeDepot.com and is worth 129 bucks. Going out to one lucky caller drawn at random. Make that you. Give us a call, right now, at 888-MONEY-PIT.

    LESLIE: Janice in South Carolina, you’ve got The Money Pit. How can we help you today?

    JANICE: Yes. I have bought a new outside storage shed-type building, you know? You get it at the big-box stores? And I wanted to know how you can – what’s the best way to treat the exterior wood to keep it lasting longer? And also maybe the inside – the wood inside – the best thing to do for it.

    TOM: Is it made of pressure-treated lumber, Janice?

    JANICE: They call it – well, it’s got lumber on the trim and then the other, they call that “smart siding”? And that’s the side of the walls and stuff are – on the outside – smart siding?

    TOM: OK. So has it been painted?

    JANICE: No, no. It’s just raw wood.

    TOM: OK. So what we would do is we’d recommend that you prime it first. And I guess you have an option to paint it or stain it, depending on how the siding actually looks. But you want to prime it first. And then after you prime it, then you could add a couple of coats of either good-quality exterior paint or good-quality exterior stain.

    You don’t necessarily have to do anything to the inside as long as it’s watertight. But I would definitely work on the outside before it gets any colder out.

    JANICE: OK. Alright. Alright. Thank you.

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

    LESLIE: We’ve got Mike in Delaware on the line who needs some help with a front porch that’s cracking up. What’s going on?

    MIKE: The crack’s about 5 feet long. They’re anywhere from about 1/8-inch wide to 3/8-inch wide at some points. They’re absolutely not straight. They formed probably just a month after the porch was poured. Had the greatest guy do my basement. It’s perfect. It’s still perfect. We’ve been here like 20 years. But the porch cracked instantaneously, so evidently he was sick that day.

    TOM: Yeah, it sounds like it cracked from shrinking. I mean it just might have been how the concrete was that day. Who knows? But it’s been like that for 20 years?

    MIKE: It’s been like that for, yeah, about that. Pretty close.

    TOM: So you just want a way to kind of spruce up the space. Is the porch fully exposed or is it under a roof?

    MIKE: Well, it’s under a roof but it’s not closed in.

    TOM: So, you can use an epoxy patching compound on those cracks to fill them in. And then you’re going to have to decide how you want to finish the porch beyond that. You could use an epoxy paint. That’s a perfect application for it.

    MIKE: I have RESCUE IT!.

    TOM: Well, that’s a different type of paint. That’s used for – to fill in old, weathered surfaces that are cracked and worn, wood and concrete. I think it’ll work for that. The one thing about RESCUE that has my – I’m a little concerned about – is it’s not rated for any surface that an automobile can go on. And so, that means it probably doesn’t have the same adhesion that, say, an epoxy paint would. So, just a little concerned about the adhesive qualities of it. But it’s a good product; it’s a good brand.

    MIKE: And that was part of my reason for the call. I was wondering – the directions are not fantastic on the can. Should I be etching the cement before I apply it?

    TOM: Yeah, I think that you do have to do a really good job prepping it for a product like that. And in fact, even for epoxy paint, there are special solutions that help you do a really good, deep clean on that concrete surface. And then it’s also going to be equally important that you let it dry really, really well. Because you don’t want to put any paints on surfaces that are damp or moist, because it will impact its adhesion.

    MIKE: So do I need to actually enclose the porch in plastic for a time?

    TOM: No, I don’t think so. Just as long as you have decent weather.

    Right, Leslie?

    LESLIE: Yeah. But you do need to make sure that the concrete is dry. I know they usually recommend doing a test where you tape a piece of plastic down over a patch of concrete. And I think you leave it for a day – I’m not sure – 12 hours? Something like that. But if you peel it back and there’s any dampness on the underside, from condensation on the underside of the plastic, then it’s a no-go; you’ve got to let it dry out more. If it comes out dry, then you can go for it.

    The other thing I know with RESCUE IT! is that you have to make sure that if it’s a ¼-inch crack or less, that you go in with a brush first and sort of dab it into the cracks and the crevices until it’s filled. And anything that’s deeper or bigger, you’re going to want to fill with some sort of patching compound. Because otherwise – like I’m just guessing that it’s some sort of hyper-rubberized paint, so it’s just kind of – stick over and into the crack. And that’s why when they’re saying, “Don’t drive on it,” – because I think it would have too much movement and cause it to stretch out. So anything that’s bigger than a ¼-inch, you’re going to have to fill those before you go ahead and do it.

    MIKE: Yeah, that’s been very helpful. Thank you.

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

    You’ve all seen the news stories about the entire towns that go for power without days at a time. If a nasty winter storm was to leave you without power, what should you do?

    LESLIE: Well, number one, guys, don’t use candles. I know you’re always – instinct is to grab a candle but don’t. Why don’t you invest in some good flashlights? Keep them handy. Always keep them in the same spot. And remember to check the batteries often.

    TOM: Yep. And during an outage, you want to be sure to power-down appliances. And then don’t restart them until electricity has been restored for at least a half-hour or so. This way, the utility company can kind of sort of stabilize the power grid and avoid yet another blackout.

    Has this ever happened to you, Leslie? You get a blackout, power comes on and it goes off. It comes on, it goes off.

    LESLIE: Oh, yeah.

    TOM: Happens a lot in the summer because everybody is trying to just rush to get the air conditioners back on. But you’ve got to give it a little bit of time for them to kind of get used to the grid and leveling everything out before you turn everything back on again.

    LESLIE: Yeah. Plus, if there’s this immediate surge of demand with everybody turning it back on immediately, it’s never going to stabilize. So just be patient, guys.

    Now, here’s another thing that has to do with patience: do not open your refrigerator, guys, when the power is out. You want to keep all that cold air inside. You want to eat the food from the fridge first and the freezer later, because your frozen items, they could actually last several days. So you want to make sure that you kind of, I don’t know, take a picture of what’s in the fridge, memorize what’s in the fridge. This way, you know what you’re getting. Open it fast, grab something and then close it right back up.

    TOM: Next up – and this is happening all too often when we have power failures – you want to avoid becoming a victim of carbon-monoxide poisoning. So how do you do that? Well, you never run a gas-powered generator indoors or even in an open garage. And also avoid cooking with charcoal or propane in that kind of area, too. If it’s enclosed, even if it’s a garage with an open door, do not do it. The carbon monoxide will find its way back up into your house and it can make you really sick or worse.

    LESLIE: Yeah. And you know what, guys? If you want to just avoid a bad situation altogether, why not consider investing in a standby backup-power generator? They’re really affordable; I mean much more affordable than they’ve ever been before. And they’re almost more necessary than ever, as well.

    TOM: Yep. And while you might not be able to recoup your entire investment, an automatic standby generator is a great selling point for your home, too.

    888-666-3974. Do you need us to help to restore the power in your home improvement projects? Call us, right now, at 1-888-MONEY-PIT.

    LESLIE: Al in New York has a roofing question. What can we do for you?

    AL: Wondering, since my roof blew away, what’s the progress on the solar-powered roof shingles?

    TOM: You say your roof blew away? What happened, Al?

    AL: Well, it’s old. It’s old. Like 40-year-old asphalt on top of cedar shingles. Then had a little storm here and there. We got $18 from FEMA.

    TOM: OK.

    AL: We got 8,000 from the insurance company, which is owned by the bank.

    TOM: Alright. Well, listen, at least you got something towards it. But listen, if you’re asking me are solar shingles to the point now where I would recommend them? My answer would be no. I think there’s solar panels that I’m very comfortable with. But solar shingles, I’m concerned about their durability and their longevity. And every time I’ve evaluated them and see them at, say, building/trade expos and things like that, I found that the warranties on these things don’t even come close to the warranty on an average roof. So, I’m concerned about how long they’re going to last and what it would take to replace them. They’re very, very expensive, as well. So, I’m not a proponent of solar shingles yet, although perhaps that can change in the future.

    Now, as to your roofing project, you mentioned that you have asphalt shingles on top of cedar shingles. I actually had a very similar roof, because I have a very old house that was built in the 1800s. And just about two years ago, we took off that original layer of cedar shingle, which had been covered by asphalt shingles over the years. And it was in amazingly good condition.

    But we pulled it off and then we resheathed the roof. So this particular type of roofing project is an expensive project because, usually, cedar shingles are on top of furring strips and you have to put plywood down over those furring strips to do it right. Your option is, of course, just to pull off the asphalt shingles and put another layer on top of the cedar and you’ll get more years out of it. But it won’t lay flat, clean and nice as it should if it was on proper sheathing. Does that make sense?

    AL: Yeah, I know all that. As far as the local code is – you’re going to have to go down to the rafters, which means you’ve got to build up the existing furring strip and the existing – you know, the thicknesses.

    TOM: Well, what I would do is would leave the furring strips in place and attach the plywood right to that. That’s going to be a little less work and with an old house, it doesn’t make sense to pull those off. Just leave those and put the plywood right on it.

    Al, good luck with that project. Thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.

    LESLIE: Still ahead, do you have a finished basement? How about a finished basement that has its own bathroom? We’re going to tell you what you need to know to install a below-grade toilet, after this.

    NORM: Hi. I’m Norm Abram from This Old House. And when we’re working on our projects, we listen to The Money Pit.

    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 LutronSensors.com.

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

    LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

    TOM: Hey, do all those new gifts and gadgets from the holidays have you looking around for maybe some extra storage? Attics are very tempting storage solutions. But before you hoist the boxes up there, keep this in mind: not all attics are designed to hold stuff. Is yours? Perhaps could it be modified to do such? Well, find out on our home page at MoneyPit.com.

    LESLIE: Now we’ve got Nicole in Illinois on the line who needs to fix a crack in a wall. And you’re saying it’s from an earthquake? When did you have an earthquake in Illinois?

    NICOLE: Well, it was just a really small earthquake. We get them just randomly, about one or two a year.

    TOM: Wow.

    NICOLE: Because we’re right on – there’s some fault that’s down south of us.

    TOM: And now that fault has worked its way up into your wall. So what does it look like? How big of a crack is this that we need to fix?

    NICOLE: It’s about an 18-inch crack and then that’s going down from the ceiling. And then it goes like – it goes diagonally up the wall and then hits the ceiling and then just moves horizontally on the ceiling for a couple of inches.

    TOM: So it’s 18 inches long altogether?

    NICOLE: Yeah.

    TOM: How old is the house?

    NICOLE: It’s not very old, like ’99.

    TOM: OK. So it’s a drywall crack then.

    NICOLE: Yes.

    TOM: Many people will simply spackle that but the problem is that if you spackle that crack, the wall is now always going to move and they’ll – walls always do move but now that the wall has a crack, the two sides of that are going to move at different rates. And so that crack will reform. The way you stop that from happening is by taping over that crack with drywall tape and then spackling it.

    Now, taping with paper drywall tape can be a bit tricky, so there’s a product out that’s a perforated drywall tape that looks like a netting. It’s like a sticky-backed netting. And that type of perforated tape is the best one to use because you put the tape on first and then you spackle over it. You want to do two or three coats, starting with smaller coats and then working wider as you go.

    And remember, the thinner the coat the better; I’d rather you put on more coats than put on too much spackle, which too many people tend to do. Then it kind of gets all gooped up and piled up on your wall and you’ll see it forever. So, thin coats – two or three thin coats – and that should do it.

    NICOLE: OK. Alright. Thank you.

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

    LESLIE: Well, if you’ve got a basement space at home, adding a bathroom can make that space more usable and add to your home’s value.

    TOM: Yes. But gravity being what it is, bathrooms that are below-grade need special considerations in order to go with the flow. Here to talk us through the options is a guy that always goes with the flow: Richard Trethewey, the plumbing-and-heating contractor on TV’s This Old House.

    Going with the flow is pretty much your business, isn’t it?

    RICHARD: We try to do it as much as we can.

    TOM: So let’s talk about basement bathrooms. I mean they definitely add some value but because they’re below grade, you really need to have some special considerations about building one, right?

    RICHARD: Right. Everybody, really, would love – if they have a basement, they would love to add a bathroom to it.

    LESLIE: Yeah. But can I jump in here?

    RICHARD: Sure.

    LESLIE: There’s a time when I like to go look at houses, just for fun; not that I’m in the market to move.

    RICHARD: Yeah, yeah.

    LESLIE: But I enjoy going to open houses. And you’ll get there and on the listing, they won’t say anything about a bathroom in the basement. And then you get there and it’s sort of like the – “Oops, by the way, there’s a bathroom here. Just ixnay on the bathroom-ay.”

    RICHARD: Oh, it’s just that it exists and nobody talks about it?

    LESLIE: Yes. Like are there codes? Are there local reasons why you wouldn’t be able to have one?

    RICHARD: Well, there are codes because you have to make sure something is properly vented and is permitted. And in the case you talk about, maybe that’s the case that one of those conditions were not met.

    Typically, most people want to have a bathroom. Now, you look in the basement and you look at where the main drainpipe leaves the building. If the main drainpipe comes down through the building and exits at a point 4 feet up in the basement wall, there’s no way that you can have a basement bathroom that works by gravity, where you don’t need a pump or some other method. And so you’re locked out of a conventional way.

    If you do look and see that pipe go down into the floor, it means that it will turn to horizontal – to 90 degrees – and now you can open up the concrete floor and you can break into that piping and you can actually have a bathroom down in the basement. Now, everybody wants that but it’s a big job. You break up the concrete. Now you can put in the drain lines for both your toilet and your shower and your lavatory.

    But now the challenge is you have to find a way to vent that entire bathroom group. So it means that you either have to run a vent pipe up through the building and carry it up to a point – to the highest point in the building before you exit the roof and then reconnect to the vent stack. And that often becomes prohibitive. So the conventional way is oftentimes the much more difficult way to do it and to do it legally.

    So there’s other alternatives. Some people love these beautiful macerators. It’s a – there’s a couple different manufacturers. One of them is Sani-Flush, I remember. And it has this little box that lets you put the toilet pipe – maybe you just have to build up a short stoop. You might only go up by 12 inches and have the bathroom 8 to 10 or 12 inches higher. And now, everything works into this little pump unit that macerates any solids but also sends it out through a 1-inch discharge pipe. And so now it becomes almost unlimited to where you can put a bathroom.

    TOM: You know, you’re the only guy I know that would ever use the word “beautiful” and “sewage pump” in the same sentence.

    RICHARD: Well, that is my dementia.

    LESLIE: “Beautiful macerator.”

    RICHARD: That’s right.

    LESLIE: Oh, it’s wonderful.

    RICHARD: That was a great movie.

    So, the other thing that is – if you want to have a more conventional and not use the macerator, you also could dig a pit in your basement and put in a thing called a “sewage ejector.” That’s a receptor that’s going to take in 30, 40 or 50 gallons of liquid and that liquid would be liquid and solids. And so then you would rough the …

    LESLIE: Waste. Human waste.

    RICHARD: Waste, absolutely. That would – so you would rough the bathroom into the basement, have all of its drain go by gravity back to this receptor.

    Now, in that receptor, at the bottom of it is the equivalent of a sump pump. And so as the level rises, then and only then would that pump come on and would then pump the liquid up and into the conventional drain line.

    TOM: Drain.

    LESLIE: But that sounds like you need some sort of property to have that. You’re digging holes and making pits.

    TOM: You need a – you know what you need, Leslie? You need a jackhammer. And it’s a lot of work. We did it – I remember we did it in Year One of Ask This Old House. It was one of the first how-tos we ever did. And it got unbelievable response. And it was before we even know about the macerators or showed them. But people really would love to have that. It expands their living space. If you have a basement, it’s a shame not to have a …

    LESLIE: Oh, please. My son tries to go to the bathroom in the slop sink in the laundry room. That’s like his dream. I’m like, “You’re not allowed.”

    RICHARD: Well, great. Nothing like little boys.

    TOM: Yeah. Got to love them.

    LESLIE: I’m like, “Not allowed.”

    TOM: Well, the other thing about putting that sewage lift pump below grade is now you can tie in your sink and your shower easily.

    RICHARD: That’s right. You can have a full bathroom down there, right.

    TOM: Right. Now, I know you can do that with a macerator but it has to be up – elevated – like a few inches, right?

    LESLIE: To get things to go in the right direction.

    RICHARD: Well, yeah, yeah, yeah.

    TOM: Something that could be a step-up shower.

    RICHARD: You could put the macerator down below the grade but that’s more work than it’s worth. The ones – the macerators are generally used to be above grade and you build up from there.

    Now, there’s also an eco-friendly one that we see more and more people at least being interested in, which is composting toilets. It’s sort of like having your own little compost pile in your own bathroom. And they do a good job in places. And I think we’re going to have to look at these more often.

    We did a story on Ask This Old House this year about the very real water-supply issue in the American Southwest. And if you’ve ever seen any map of how hard it’s getting, water is a big, big story now. And the toilet is one of the major users of water in the house. And it’s either the toilet is the biggest one or you’re trying to have a green lawn. And both of those things will be challenging going forward. And then there’s – some of the macerating and compost toilets will use much less water.

    TOM: So, the options are to use the existing system, to use a macerator, to use a sewage-ejector system or a composting toilet. I imagine they all have their own unique maintenance needs. Is one more work than another, in terms of maintenance?

    RICHARD: Well, anything, if you’ve put a foreign material into anything that has a pump – the macerator or the sewage ejector – it’s going to be an issue. It’s going to clog or something. So you’ve got to be careful. Anything that goes in it is no different than the life of a – on a boat. You’ve got to make sure that anything that goes into the toilet is something you’ve eaten first and …

    TOM: And easily composted later. And I think we’ll leave it right there.

    LESLIE: Always do.

    TOM: Richard Trethewey, the plumbing-and-heating contractor on TV’s This Old House. See, I told you he always goes with the flow.

    LESLIE: Yeah.

    TOM: Thank you so much for stopping by The Money Pit.

    RICHARD: Great to be here, as always.

    LESLIE: Alright. 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 ThisOldHouse.com.

    TOM: And This Old House and Ask This Old House are brought to you on PBS by State Farm. Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.

    Still ahead, you might be freezing right now but soon we will be enjoying the great outdoors once again. We’re going to have a preview of outdoor-living trends to expect, 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.

    Pick up the phone and give us a call. You will get help with whatever home improvement project you are working on but you’ll also have a chance to win a great prize. We’re giving away the MyQ from Chamberlain Universal Smartphone Garage-Door Controller.

    Now, this is pretty awesome because it will pair whatever garage-door opener you’ve got right now at your house. And it sort of pairs it up with this special smartphone system: the MyQ system. So it’ll allow you to open and close the door from wherever you are in the world, make sure it’s closed, see if you left it open. I mean there’s a ton of ways that you can monitor what’s going on in your garage, all right from your phone. And it installs in minutes and it uses your home’s Wi-Fi, so everybody should be able to hook this up.

    You can get it, right now, at The Home Depot or at HomeDepot.com. It’s a prize worth 129 bucks. But give us a call with your home improvement question for your chance to win.

    TOM: 888-666-3974.

    Well, Leslie, our minds might be on winter but before we know it, spring will be here and along with it, new trends in outdoor living, right?

    LESLIE: Yeah. First up, we’ve got a brand-new word. I love it when people just invent words just for the heck of it. Here we go: petscaping. It means pretty much what you might think it does: landscaping your yard with your pets in mind. And it’s an easy way to just really incorporate everything that’s going on with your family. All you have to do is know which plants are harmful or hazardous to pets.

    But you can get pretty elaborate. You can create separate areas for them to play and for their bathroom duties. You can really petscape your yard to your heart’s desire.

    TOM: Now, another trend: almost half of all homeowners are using their backyard space for entertaining. And that means that there are a lot of extras being incorporated into those spaces: everything from outdoor speakers to fire pits, even LED lighting that could be controlled from an app.

    And speaking of apps, gardening is now going high-tech. There’s everything from apps to help you plan your garden to sensors that will tell you when you need to water.

    Need more tips? They’re online, right now, at MoneyPit.com.

    LESLIE: Now we’ve got Shirley in Nebraska on the line who has a foundation question. What’s going on at your money pit?

    SHIRLEY: I have a townhome and the dirt around my foundation, due to the drought, pulled away. I had somebody come in and grade it, fill it with dirt and some river rock on top of that. However, my basement is a poured-concrete basement, where they have the metal rods in different – in the sections? And I have some fine lines of cracks going down and maybe going out about 6 inches from those rods. Do I have to be concerned about that? Do I have to fill those in with something or do something? Paint over it or …?

    TOM: Generally, those are shrinkage cracks. Whenever you pour that much concrete, you get a fair amount of shrinkage cracking. And so if they’re fine lines like you’re describing, I wouldn’t worry too much about them, Shirley.


    TOM: That’s considered fairly normal with a poured-concrete foundation which, by the way, is one of the most – is one of the stronger foundations that you could have.

    SHIRLEY: Mm-hmm. I just didn’t have all those before the dirt problem, so that’s why I was wondering about it.

    TOM: Yeah. And I would make sure that you maintain proper drainage around the house so that you’re restoring the dirt that shrunk away and that it’s always sloping away from the wall. Because that’s going to keep – that’s going to make sure you don’t make excessive moisture, because the other thing could happen: when it’s not dry out and you get very wet weather, the excessive moisture, that can have an adverse effect on a foundation. So just make sure you always maintain the proper slope on the outside and fill in those gaps as they occur.

    SHIRLEY: OK. Thank you so much.

    LESLIE: Alright. Thanks so much for calling The Money Pit.

    Coming up, mold. It can take on a lot of different forms and it can be kind of hard to diagnose except, of course, when you see that green, fuzzy stuff growing out of boxes that’s in your basement? You know, that could be a good sign or a bad sign.

    We’re going to tell you how you can get rid of mold the safest way possible, after this.

    ANNOUNCER: The Money Pit is brought to you by Glisten. Glisten makes it easy to clean, freshen and maintain your dishwasher, disposer, microwave and washing machine. So improve the performance of your appliances with cleaning solutions from Glisten, the machine-cleaning experts. Visit GlistenCleaners.com.

    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: Well, two people born 10 years apart require different types of healthcare and upkeep. The same is true for houses. When a house was built factors into the care it needs today. If you want to stay on top of your home’s needs, saving big in the long run, check out our home repair tips by age of your house. They’re outlined, right now, on our home page at MoneyPit.com.

    LESLIE: That’s right. And while you’re there, you can post your questions and let us know what you need some help with. And I’ve got one here from Noah who writes: “I think green mold might be growing in my basement. It’s on furniture, boxes and the plastic tubs. I’ve sealed all the vents from the basement to the first floor. I’m getting sick a lot lately, too. Do you think that this is what’s causing it?”

    TOM: You know what? It sounds potentially pretty serious. I don’t want to alarm you but – and we can’t be certain without seeing and confirming what you have with a lab test. But from your description, it sounds like it’s a type of mold called Aspergillus. And under certain conditions, this type of fungus can have an impact on health.

    So, I think in your case, considering that the problem has gotten so large, you really need to have an inspection done first. You need to have a test done to confirm exactly what you have. And try not to disturb anything between now and then because if you try to clean this up on your own, you’re going to release those spores into the environment. And that could make it worse and potentially contaminate more of your house.

    So, I would hold tight. Get a test done. Figure out what it is and you can take the steps that you need to do that. Just to give you a sense as to what it takes to rid a home of this level of mold, it’s kind of like ridding the home of asbestos. The basement area where the mold is will have to be depressurized so that any spores get drawn right to the outside and then cleaned up very, very carefully with people that know how to contain it so that it doesn’t get out and really cause a bigger problem than you’ve already got.

    LESLIE: Alright. And I hope that helps. Really, definitely look into this sooner than later.

    Next up, we’ve got a post from Francesca who writes: “I bought my first home in 2009 and I don’t think the attic fan has stopped running yet.” Geez, that’s six years. “I went in the attic and adjusted the temp to 110. It was at 60 but this fan also has a humidity control. What should that setting be? I turned it up to withstand a higher level but it’s still running. Should I be concerned that my attic is that humid or should I completely turn off the humidity setting because it’s not needed?”

    TOM: First off all, the reason that it was running all the time is because the temperature – it’s a thermostat and the temperature was set so low. It was set at 60.

    LESLIE: It was never meeting that.

    TOM: Well, no, actually, it was meeting that and that’s why it was on all the time. In other words, when it hits 60, it kicks on. Now, normally, you have it closer to around 100 or so when it kicks on.

    But the thing is, I don’t think you really need an attic fan, Francesca. And the latest data is really that they can potentially do more harm than good in terms of driving up your cooling cost. I would rather see you remove that and install a continuous ridge vent down the entire peak of the roof that will let out a lot more hot air, work in conjunction with the soffit vents on your house than an attic fan will. So I would simply disconnect it and improve your passive ventilation. It’s far more effective than having a fan.

    LESLIE: Alright, Francesca. I hope that helps you out, because you really don’t want to be pulling your heated and cooled air out from your conditioned spaces through the attic. So just let’s see what’s going on with this attic fan and maybe disconnect it for a time and see how it goes.

    TOM: You are tuned to The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show on air and online at MoneyPit.com. Hey, thank you so much for spending this hour with us. If you’ve got tips that you’d like to share, please post them to our Facebook page at Facebook.com/TheMoneyPit. We always enjoy reading your comments and your questions.

    And remember, if you do have questions, you can post them there or you can pick up the phone and call us, 24/7, at 1-888-MONEY-PIT. If we’re not in the studio, we’ll call you back the next time we are.

    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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