Casement Window Repair, Hydronic Heat Tips, Stair Safety Improvements and more
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: Call us right now with your home improvement project, your do-it-yourself dilemma. The number is 1-888-MONEY-PIT, 888-666-3974.
Happy Holidays, everybody. Hope that you are enjoying this holiday season, with spending time with family and friends and hopefully bragging about all of those home improvement projects you successfully completed this past year, hopefully with a little help from us.
We have got a great show planned for you this hour, starting with hydronic heat. We’re going to talk about hot-water heat; I just like to use the fancy, long name, hydronic heat.
TOM: I wonder if that’s what the Romans called it, because that’s how long hot-water heating has been around. It’s been around since the Roman Empire and it’s making a big comeback now. But why is it so popular and how can you get it installed in your house? We’re going to have those tips, coming up.
LESLIE: Plus, we’re going to talk about casement windows. You know, they’re a great way to get an unobstructed view from your home but one of the first things that can break down is the crank mechanism. But …
TOM: I’ve got one of those right now.
LESLIE: Oh, are you dealing with one?
TOM: I just haven’t got around to fixing it but I’m going to tell you how.
LESLIE: Meanwhile, I’m amazed that my two-year-old can open them.
TOM: It’s like the “do as we say, not as we do.”
LESLIE: Seriously. And I’m thinking of changing them to the butterfly ones, because I’m just completely amazed that my son walks right up, unlocks them and cranks them right open.
TOM: Well, we’re going to have some tips on how to fix those, coming up in just a bit.
And also ahead, how safe are your stairs? They are often the most dangerous part of your home but they can be even more risky without the right type of railing. So we’re going to talk about what type of railing should be paired with what type of stair and you can do a little inspection in your own house and make sure that it’s totally safe, especially for those little ones.
LESLIE: And this hour, we’ve got a great prize to give away, that can actually help you with a great home improvement project that could be eligible for a tax credit. It’s replacing your old front door and going with a fiberglass one. So to help you with that project, we are giving, to one lucky caller, a $50 gift card from Lowe’s.
TOM: So, give us a call with your home improvement question right now. The number is 1-888-MONEY-PIT.
And Leslie, look at that phone bank. I don’t know what’s brighter: our holiday tree or all those folks calling in. So, let’s get right to it. Who’s first?
LESLIE: Jim in Tennessee is on the line looking to heat a vacation home. Tell us where it is and when we can come over.
JIM: OK. Oh, good. I would like to have you. You’re welcome any time. It will be in – across the Virginia line. I’m in Tennessee but just across the Virginia line. This cabin that I want to build, I won’t be there year-round and we have, of course, cold weather here. I’m thinking about the radiant heat in the floor and I’d like your recommendation as to what you all think would be best.
TOM: OK. So you’re building it from scratch and it’s going to have a concrete floor? Or a wood floor?
JIM: No. No, it will be a crawlspace underneath, high enough that you won’t have to bend over to get in underneath.
TOM: OK. Sure.
JIM: So it’s easy working.
TOM: Well, I think a PEX floor would be awesome. Hydronic heat with PEX; cross-link polyethylene piping. That is really popular right now. It’s pretty easy to install. It would go up underneath the subfloor and heat up from there or there’s a type of PEX where it can be laid into a special, sort of carved-out version of the subfloor and then it’s installed from the top down. But either way, that’s a great system; very warm, very comfortable and you just can’t get any better than radiant heat in the floor.
JIM: Yes, yes. I have – the package that I received from these people – radiant heat company – is 2004, so I wonder if there’s been any changes that long back.
TOM: OK. Hey, Jim, are you on a speaker phone?
JIM: No, I’m not. No.
TOM: OK. You’re really echo-y.
JIM: Yeah, that’s what I thought. The other lady said that she didn’t pick it up. I’m in a restaurant, Tom, and I’ve had to walk into the bathroom to get away from all the noise. So …
TOM: Well, we appreciate your commitment to your project. That explains it now, Jim.
TOM: Alright. So, the contractor you’re dealing with is …
LESLIE: Has 2004 specification.
TOM: That might be a little bit old, because things have changed.
JIM: That’s what I thought. I thought I might call these people to get a new, up-to-date …
TOM: Yeah. Yeah, the technology has changed quite a bit and what you want to do is you want to install PEX piping. That’s brand new; it’s been out a few years now and it works really, really well. And I think you’re going to be very happy, Jim.
JIM: Good, good. Thank you so much . I enjoy you all’s program; I listen every Sunday.
TOM: Alright. Thanks so much, Jim.
LESLIE: Thanks, Jim.
TOM: Thanks so much for calling us at 1-888-MONEY-PIT. And we’ll let you get on back to dinner now.
LESLIE: And I’m amazed, not a flush.
TOM: Not a flush. Very good.
LESLIE: Sarah in Iowa is dealing with a storage issue. Tell us what’s going on at your money pit.
SARAH: I have a basement storage room that is underneath my garage.
SARAH: And the ceiling in that storage room is metal.
SARAH: I have been told it’s the metal that actually was put down to pour the garage floor.
TOM: That would make sense.
SARAH: The metal is rusting, badly.
TOM: OK, right.
SARAH: So, chunks of rusted metal and rust drop down on the things that we have stored.
TOM: Yep, yep.
SARAH: Clearly, that’s a problem.
TOM: That could be a problem.
SARAH: So I’m just thinking I need to, you know, scrape the rust off and put some Rust-Oleum paint or something on it. But I had a contractor guy look at it and he said he thought moisture is coming down through the garage floor.
TOM: Well, look, the garage floor is going to be damp and it’s going to be hydroscopic and so when you get rain in there – and yeah, it’s going to come down and it’s going to be against the metal and you’re going to get rust. But I think you are on the right track.
I would scrape off as much of the rust as I possibly can. I would use an oil-based primer. I think Rust-Oleum is a good choice. A couple of coats of that, then maybe one top coat and I think you’re good to go and that’s just going to be normal maintenance for this, from here on out.
LESLIE: Type of ceiling, yeah.
SARAH: Now, he was suggesting to me that I get my garage floor sealed, so that moisture can no longer go down through and I was wondering …
TOM: Well, you’re always going to have some level of moisture in there, Sarah. But if you want to paint your garage floor with a good-quality epoxy paint, then that will help, as well.
LESLIE: Mm-hmm. Like one of those kits.
SARAH: Do you think that would reduce the chance of the rust coming back?
TOM: Maybe a little bit. But I think it’s not been ever painted before and it’s probably a number of years old now, so this is pretty much normal wear and tear. I wouldn’t panic over this; this is a pretty straightforward project.
SARAH: OK. Well, I hope that works, because it’s a mess.
TOM: Be confident, Sarah. It will work. 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. Well, this is the big, final weekend before the holiday. So let us help you get all of those last-minute projects done, get all of your last-minute shopping for your holiday home improvers by giving us a call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-888-MONEY-PIT.
Up next, casement windows offer a great, unobstructed view and an easy-to-open crank. But with normal wear and tear, those cranks can start to get, well, kind of cranky and hard to use. We’re going to help you diagnose and repair that situation, next.
ANNOUNCER: The Money Pit is brought to you by Therma-Tru Doors, the nation’s leading manufacturer of fiberglass entry and patio door systems. Therma-Tru doors are Energy Star-qualified and provide up to five times the insulation of a wood door. To learn more, visit ThermaTru.com. Now, here are Tom and Leslie.
TOM: Making good homes better, welcome back to The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show on air and online at MoneyPit.com. I’m Tom Kraeutler.
LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete. Well, we’ve all been seeing the housing market sort of pick up and starting to get a little bit better in lots of parts of the country. But overall, we’ve been dealing with a down housing market for a while and if you’re thinking about selling your house, you’re starting to quickly learn that curb appeal is definitely key.
So one option to just spruce up your front entry is to replace your wood door with a fiberglass door. And that’s completely going to change the look of your house and really make it jump off the page or off the web page, for somebody who’s in the market to buy.
Now, fiberglass doors, they look just like wood but they actually insulate up to five times better and they qualify for a $1,500 tax credit. And to help you along with this great, new change to your home, we’re giving away, this hour, a $50 gift card from Lowe’s and it’s courtesy of our friends over at Therma-Tru. And you can use that $50 to pick up a Benchmark door by Therma-Tru, which is sold exclusively at Lowe’s.
And it comes in a wide range of attractive styles and glass designs. If you’re looking for some more ideas on how an energy-efficient fiberglass door can enhance your house or how you can qualify for one of those tax credits, visit MyEnergyTax.com or you can pick up the phone and give us a call at 1-888-MONEY-PIT, because one lucky caller that we talk to on the air this hour is going to win that very helpful Lowe’s gift card.
Well, another source of drafts around your house, besides your door, is your windows and that’s particularly a problem with casement windows that have cranks which are hard to operate. There might be a very good reason why they’re sticking and it has to do with the alignment within the frame.
Now, to fix the problem, you first need to remove the screen from the window. Then take a look at that margin between the casement sash and the vinyl frame around it. If there’s a narrow spot in one area and then a wider spot in another area, then you need to make a sash adjustment.
LESLIE: Mm-hmm. And to do that, what you want to do is unlock the window and then crank it open about halfway. Then take a small wrench, just to get you under the hinge of the arm to the hinge post, and then adjust that hinge post with the wrench.
Now, if you go to the right, the casement sash will go to the right. And if you adjust to the left, the casement sash is going to move to the left. And you want to keep working until you even out all of those margins around the entire frame.
And once you make those adjustments, just close the window and review the alignment to make sure that it’s perfectly centered in the frame.
TOM: Now, if you need a visual to help you through that whole process, we understand.
TOM: There is a video online at MoneyPit.com. Just search “casement window tips” for more specific instructions.
888-666-3974. Give us a call right now with your home improvement question. Let’s get back to it.
Leslie, who’s next?
LESLIE: Dennis in North Carolina, you’ve got The Money Pit. What can we help you with today?
DENNIS: In my home, on the foundation, I have about a dozen or 14 foundation vents. They measure 8 inches by 16 inches and they have the capability of being opened or closed.
DENNIS: You know, they have the screen on to prevent bugs from getting in.
TOM: Yeah. Uh-huh, yep.
DENNIS: Now, should they be opened in the summer or closed in the winter or vice versa? I’m unclear.
DENNIS: Maybe you can help me out.
TOM: Yeah, well, the job of the vents is to basically keep the crawlspace area as dry as possible. So here’s what you want to do: in your area, probably for a good 10 months of the year, you’re going to have them open. You can close them in the winter months when it gets really cold and the air is drier; there’s less moisture in it. But for the most part, you want to have the vents open so that the crawlspace can vent.
Now, in addition to that, make sure across the crawlspace floor that you have plastic sheeting. That stops a lot of moisture from wicking up through the floor and getting into that space in the first place. The reason you want the crawlspace dry is because you’re going to avoid mold and also, if you have insulation down there, if you keep it drier, it’s going to work better.
DENNIS: Excellent. That answered my question. Thank you very much.
TOM: You’re welcome, Dennis. Thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.
LESLIE: Lee in Georgia is tackling some construction projects. How can we lend a hand?
LEE: Ma’am, I’m building a deck that’s 30 feet high from the ground; 24 x 36. I was wondering if you could tell me, what can I do to stop water leaking out of it, because I’m to park my car underneath?
LESLIE: Yeah, Lee, it’s actually called DEK Drain and their website is DEKDrain.com and that’s D-E-K-D-r-a-i-n. And it’s basically a channeling system that gets attached to the joist supports of the decking, so it creates almost like a U-shaped barrier in between each joist, on the support system for your deck. So as water comes through, it sort of goes into this channel system and then drains away. And it’s a sort of one-collection gutter, if you will.
LEE: Oh, OK. I never knew that. Thanks a lot.
TOM: You’re welcome, Lee. Thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.
LESLIE: Linda in Michigan is having an issue with a drafty door. Tell us what’s going on.
LINDA: Well, I have these French doors; I actually have two of them. And they’ve been in there like maybe 10 years but we always have a draft that blows through the door. We have put new weatherstripping on, we’ve tried adjusting the latches and no matter what you do, you always have wind blow in the door like how it closes where the door handle is.
LESLIE: It blows wind through there the entire winter.
TOM: Yep. Well, I will tell you that a double door is one of the most difficult to draft-proof. And generally, Andersen makes a good product but if it’s an older door and if the house has shifted and it’s not perfectly square, then that could be part of the problem. Have you really looked at the alignment on this?
LINDA: It has done it since it was in; since the house was built.
TOM: It has?
LINDA: So I don’t know if it was not properly installed. And we’re to the point where – just take it out. They’re expensive doors but just take them out and get new ones.
TOM: Yes, I know. Have you reached out to Andersen directly?
LINDA: I have not. I have had a person with …
TOM: Because they have manufacturer’s reps and they’re a pretty responsible company and they make a good product. Before I give up on it, I’d reach out to them directly and see if they’re willing to come take a look at it, because they have reps that are on the road all over the country, all the time. And it may very well be that there’s an insulation problem they could identify for you, that you’re not aware of, and fix it.
LINDA: That’s a really great idea. I will definitely do that.
TOM: Alright, Linda.
LINDA: I will look them up and see if somebody can come out and look at it. I’ve had professional door people come look at it and …
TOM: The problem there is that they’re just going to try to sell you a new door.
LINDA: Well, at this point, I need a new door because the house is always cold, because there’s always a draft coming through.
LESLIE: Yeah, I would definitely go straight to Andersen. I bet they’ve got a solution there.
LINDA: Yes, I will do that. I will get a hold of them and see if somebody will come take a look at it.
LESLIE: I really appreciate that. I appreciate your help.
TOM: You’re welcome. Good luck with that project. Thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.
LESLIE: Steven in Iowa is calling in with a question about his parents’ house. What can we help you with?
STEVEN: Yeah, guys. My dad built Mom and Dad’s house back in 1956.
STEVEN: And the problem we’re having now is the interior of the windows are just constantly sweating water; condensation.
STEVEN: And I’ve been told by the heating and cooling guys that the house is built too tight, so I just wanted you guys to …
TOM: More like you have inefficient windows, Steve.
STEVEN: You think it’s just a window problem?
TOM: Yeah. I mean here’s what happens: if you get a lot of humidity in the house and it strikes the cold glass and then it condenses, the moisture is released from the air just like when you take an iced tea glass out in the summer. You get water on the outside of it.
LESLIE: And it gets all sweaty.
TOM: That’s what’s happening here and it may be that those 1950 windows are just not very well-insulated, which is completely understandable, and that’s where you’re getting all the condensation.
Now, that said, there are things that you can do inside the house to reduce humidity. One thing to check is to make sure that you have good ventilation all the way through the house and up into the attic, because you get a lot of vapor pressure that forms in the house. It works its way through the walls, it gets up in the attic and has to be released.
And if there’s not good ventilation there, like good ridges and soffit vents – which would be uncommon in a 1950s house; it’s something that has to be added after the fact – you can get a lot of humidity. If you don’t have exhaust fans in the bathrooms and exhaust fans in the kitchen, things like that – again, somewhat common in an older house – then that can contribute to it.
But I think the issue here is not so much that you have too – a house that’s too tight, in that you just have a house that has some efficiency issues.
LESLIE: Yeah. And homes are being built more tightly today, so your dad was right on par with, you know, modern building standards.
STEVEN: To replace the windows right now, will I still have the same problem, because I haven’t made the rest of the house more efficient to …?
TOM: No. What you’re going to find is that when you replace the windows, that the new glass is going to be pretty much the same temperature as the interior walls and so it’s not going to condense on it anymore.
LESLIE: But I would still look into a bathroom vent fan, proper exhausting in the kitchen area, just to make sure that you get extra moisture when you create it, out of the house.
STEVEN: OK. I sure appreciate you guys’ help. I listen to you all the time. Love you guys. Bye.
TOM: Alright. Our pleasure. Thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.
What a good son Steve is, taking care of his mom and dad’s house.
LESLIE: Mm-hmm. And it’s so nice that his dad built the house. That’s great.
TOM: Yep. Absolutely. Keep it in the family, Steve.
LESLIE: We’re going to help Cheryl in New Mexico tackle a flooring project. Tell us what happened.
CHERYL: Well, unfortunately, my dog had a little bit of an accident on the laminate floor.
CHERYL: And when I discovered it in the morning, some of it had seeped through the seams of my laminate flooring and it kind of separated and bubbled up a little bit along the seams.
CHERYL: So I was just wondering how I can flatten it out and fix it.
TOM: Hmm. Do you have extra material?
CHERYL: I do have extra material, yes.
TOM: OK. It’s possible that you could extract, so to speak; surgically cut out the damage.
LESLIE: The damaged area.
TOM: Mm-hmm. Yep and have some new pieces put in. My concern is that the pieces that are there have already swollen; there’s going to be no way to get them to sort of retract back to the original shape. So what you may be thinking about ending up having to do here is actually cut out the bad pieces and putting in some new pieces and that can be done successfully, even if it was a locked-together product. You can do it.
TOM: What you’re generally going to do is cut out the least amount of material and then where you have to kind of get it back together again, what you would do is instead of using the locking tile, you’d probably cut off like the bottom of the groove. And you would glue the pieces together to replace the locking mechanism that was there originally and that will hold in place.
LESLIE: You are tuned to The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show on air and online at MoneyPit.com. Up next, hot-water or hydronic heat has been around since Roman times and as it turns out, those old Romans were pretty smart. We’re going to have tips on how you can make this comfortable heat work for your house, when we welcome This Old House heating and plumbing expert and good friend, Richard Trethewey.
TOM: And today’s This Old House segment is brought to you by Trewax. We’ll be back with Richard from TV’s This Old House, after this.
ANNOUNCER: The Money Pit is brought to you by SnowBlowersDirect.com. Thinking about getting a snow blower? Check out SnowBlowersDirect.com’s interactive buying guides, recommendations and customer reviews. Snow blower experts are available to help you pick the perfect snow blower. Visit SnowBlowersDirect.com.
TOM: Where home solutions live, welcome back to The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show on air and online at MoneyPit.com. I’m Tom Kraeutler.
LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.
TOM: And we do have a brand new, Money Pit community online at MoneyPit.com and encourage you to stop in there and post your home improvement question. You can also submit your questions to us through the community by posting there. There’s a little box that you check that says you’d like to ask your question on the radio show and we will call you back the next time we produce the program.
And you’ll also increase your chance of getting a response, because answers in the community are open to not only us but also the entire home improvement community. So there’s a lot of folks standing by there at MoneyPit.com, in the community, waiting to help you get an answer to your home improvement questions. So please go check it out.
LESLIE: Craig in Illinois is calling in with a heating and insulation question. Tell us about it.
CRAIG: I got an upstairs – the upstairs part of my home, we don’t use it, so I’m losing a lot of heat into the upstairs. I’d like to actually just save in the bottom section of the home where – just use the lower level. It’s a story-and-a-half house.
CRAIG: And what I’m wondering is, can I get away with insulating up in the lower level, into the ceiling up there? You know, up in the living room and dining room area, up there.
TOM: Can you access that area?
CRAIG: That’s what I’m wondering. What I’m going to do, I’ve got to re-side the place anyway, so scuffy, old cedar-clad siding. I think I could access it from the outside, couldn’t I?
TOM: Well, you – possibly. You’re probably going to end up doing something like blown-in. I don’t see a reason that you couldn’t insulate the floor space between the first and second floor, to try to cut down on your heating loss. Well, frankly, a lot of folks do that for sound deadening, as well.
CRAIG: Oh, OK. OK.
TOM: If you have noise you’re trying to isolate between the first and the second floor. But I’d rather think about a better way to make your house warmer and save money on your energy bills, instead of doing something like that. Have you done an energy audit yet of the entire house, Craig?
CRAIG: No. That I haven’t.
TOM: That would be the first place to start. And you can do it yourself or there are low-cost programs – government-subsidized programs – or an energy auditor can come in and do it for you. And then they also have low-cost loans if there are repairs that need to be done.
But there may be a lot better, more efficient ways to reduce your heating costs and make you more comfortable than tearing open the siding and trying to put insulation in places it normally doesn’t go.
CRAIG: Oh, OK, OK. I just figured heat rises. I figured I was losing quite a bit of heat just going up into the upstairs, also, so …
TOM: Yeah. Well, you might be and you probably are to some extent but I’d rather you start at the beginning and do an assessment of the entire house and the energy efficiency of the entire house and then, with that information, make the best decisions on where you want to improve it to save some money.
CRAIG: Oh, OK, OK. Because I had had a house fire about three years ago and it was a total gut job but the contractor did a really poor job on it. Even the downstairs bedroom – my daughter can’t even sleep in the room, it’s so cold.
TOM: Yeah. You may not have insulation in places that you should and a good energy auditor can identify that. They have infrared cameras that can scan walls and find places where insulation is missing, for example.
CRAIG: I’m wondering – I don’t know. I’m going to have to look into that.
TOM: Alright, Craig. Good luck with that project. Thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.
LESLIE: Well, you may not know this but hot-water heating has been very popular for a long, long time and I mean a really long time, because it was first invented by the ancient Romans.
TOM: And here to talk about just that is Richard Trethewey, from TV’s This Old House.
And Richard, it might be a little more comfortable to install but you really can’t beat the natural comfort of a hot-water system. Did the Romans have it right?
RICHARD: They did but you can’t get a Roman nowadays. You have to call a decent, hydronic heating contractor.
So first, a little bit of definition. Hydronic has some components. One is a heating boiler and that’s going to be gas or oil; it could even be electric. And you’re going to heat the water and then it has to be circulated, so there’s some sort of circulator pump to push that water through piping.
And then you need some way to release the heat to the rooms or individual areas and that could be radiant, it could be baseboard, it could be radiators, it could be some of these beautiful towel warmers that you see everywhere.
But it even could be a thing called “hydro-air,” where you could be sending water up to a hot-water heating coil that would sit inside of duct work. And air would blow across it from the room and get heated by that water that originated down at the heating boiler.
TOM: Now can you get enough heat out of the boiler to do that? Because it would seem that the water temperature, I guess, inside a system like that, is it hotter than it would be in a traditional radiator?
RICHARD: It can change and that’s another great thing about hydronic is that any decent hydronic system would also have a control on it to know how cold it is outside. So the boiler would make the water really, really warm or hot on a cold, cold day.
But on a mild day, it would just be mild temperature. Now you’re going to have real comfort because it’s not going to be – people often complain about a furnace; that it’s on and it’s hot and then it shuts off and you’re cold.
RICHARD: And with hydronic, you’ll be much more comfortable through the building.
TOM: There’s just so much more moisture in the air and that moisture really holds the heat, which is the reason that hot air is just not as effective.
RICHARD: That’s right. Right.
TOM: Not to mention the fact that first of all, you heat the air, then you have to remoisten the air.
RICHARD: That’s right.
TOM: There’s a lot of energy that goes into trying to make it comfortable.
LESLIE: Now, how different is it from traditional steam heat? Our house is almost 100 years old. Tom has a hundred-year-old house. We have radiators, we’ve got steam heat and we love it and it’s comfortable but with the new hydronic, are the radiators as large?
LESLIE: What’s the difference?
RICHARD: Steam is not really hydronic; steam is a little bit different. Even though you have radiators and you think that it’s hydronic heating, it has some water down in the boiler, right? There’s one thermostat in the house and the thermostat comes on and that burner comes on and heats up that water and turns it to steam. So every radiator gets the same temperature at the same time, so you can’t zone it. You hear the radiators hiss and everything else.
With hydronic, it’s quiet. It can be zoned. You can have a variety of heating sources: you can have baseboard, you can have radiators, you can have these beautiful, towel-warmer radiators that you can’t have with …
LESLIE: All connected to the same system.
LESLIE: That’s amazing.
RICHARD: And just – and you circulate warm water.
The other sort of untold story about hydronic heating is that as fuel prices start to go up – gas and oil – alternative energies are going to have to become the way that we do it: with geothermal, with solar, with all sorts of air-to-water heat pumps.
So if you have a water-based system, you can actually collect that energy and distribute it through the building. If you have a hot-air system, you can’t.
TOM: Well, it used to be the only way to distribute a hot-water system was through a hard, metal pipe; either steel or copper. But now we have PEX and that is so much easier to work with.
TOM: That’s got to make it more attractive, as well.
RICHARD: That really is the breakthrough, I think; this sort of super-plastic that you could run and fish like the electrician might run wire. And now you could zone every room easily. You could have a dedicated supply and return; every room could have a different type of radiation in it to deliver heat to the building. I think that’s really the breakthrough.
LESLIE: And PEX is really easy for you guys to work with. You can make repairs while the entire system is running, based on these new, sort of connect-air (ph) systems, correct?
RICHARD: Right. And there’s no soldering inside the walls; there’s very few fittings. You’re actually just running from Point A to Point B and you’re running it, like I said, much like the electrician runs wire.
TOM: Far more durable, really, than the metal pipe.
RICHARD: It doesn’t rust.
TOM: It doesn’t rust. Good point. Richard Tretheway from TV’s This Old House, great advice that’s going to make us so much more comfortable this winter. Thanks so much for stopping by The Money Pit.
RICHARD: Glad to be here.
LESLIE: Alright. You can watch Richard and the entire This Old House team on This Old House and Ask This Old House, on your local PBS station.
TOM: And This Old House and Ask This Old House are brought to you by GMC. GMC, we are professional grade.
Up next, we’ve got tips on how to take the danger out of one of the most dangerous areas in your home. We’re talking about your stairs. That’s coming up, after this.
ANNOUNCER: The Money Pit is brought to you by Stanley Tools, your trusted name in quality hand tools. To learn more about their complete line of quality tools and everything for your tool box, visit StanleyTools.com.
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: Well, it’s getting close to the end of the tax year but don’t miss out on the energy-efficient tax credit. You can earn up to a $1,500 tax credit for making your home more green. And one option is to simply replace your wood entry door with a fiberglass door.
You know, fiberglass doors look like wood but they can actually insulate up to five times better. That means it’s going to save you some bucks when it comes to heating your house.
Now, Benchmark is a great brand that is by Therma-Tru. It’s sold exclusively at Lowe’s and it comes in a very wide range of attractive styles, so you can personalize your home while increasing that curb appeal. And to help you along, we’re going to give away a $50 gift card from Lowe’s, courtesy of our friends at Therma-Tru.
So call us now with your home improvement question. We will toss your name in The Money Pit hard hat and you might just win 50 bucks towards a brand new, entry door from Therma-Tru.
LESLIE: That’s right. Pick up the phone and give us a call. We’d love to hear what you’re working on.
Now, when it comes to your money pit, is there one place in the house that just kind of makes you a little bit more nervous than the others? I know in our house, we have a very twisty-turny kind of tight, steep staircase that makes me nervous going up and down myself. But with a two-year-old at home, I’m just kind of a nervous wreck about it.
In fact, stairs are among the more precarious spots in the house but they can be even more hazardous if you don’t have the right railing. So to keep everyone safe, you want to follow these tips.
Now, stairs with at least three steps should have a handrail mounted securely to the wall. For open staircases, you want to make sure that the spindles should be installed no wider than 6 inches on the center, to prevent small children from squeezing in between and getting stuck or falling through.
TOM: That’s right. You want to take special caution where steps are uneven, particularly in older homes. You may have developed sort of second-nature instinct in navigating steps that are not even but your guests will not – will definitely have had less practice. Because you’ll find that when you go up and down a staircase, if you trip on it, it’s probably because something’s wrong with the staircase. I mean if you have 1 step that’s 6 inches and 1 step that’s 7 inches, that is a tripping hazard.
So make sure they have something to grab onto so they won’t get hurt. If you install hand railings and spindles wherever you have stairs, you could spare yourself or your friends an unwanted trip to the emergency room. So take a good, careful look. Check those stairs, check those railings and be safe.
888-666-3974. Let’s get back to the phones.
Leslie, who’s next?
LESLIE: Gloria in Illinois is doing some work to her 1960s house in the kitchen. What can we help you with?
GLORIA: Yes. Number one, I love your program. I think you’re both just great.
LESLIE: Thanks, Gloria.
TOM: Thank you very much. You obviously don’t know us very well.
GLORIA: I do. I’ve been listening a long time.
TOM: OK. How can we help you?
GLORIA: I want to know if I can put an identical countertop over one in good condition, just to change color.
LESLIE: Well, like you want to put a new laminate down? You want to paint what you’ve got? You want to keep the same shape?
LESLIE: All of it.
GLORIA: All of it identical; just change the color. I want to put a new one over the old one. Can you do that without tearing out the old one?
LESLIE: Oh, absolutely. If you’re looking to relaminate, you’re right; the approach is fantastically simple. You can have a pro do it. It’s something that if you’ve got the right tools you can do yourself. Laminates are available. There are several companies: Formica, Wilsonart. There’s a ton if you search them out online or even just go to a kitchen showroom and you can get sheets of the laminate.
And what you would do is you would use contact cement and you would put it on both surfaces – the existing countertop and the back side of the new laminate – and then you let it sort of get tacky and then you place the new one on top of the old one. And I’ve done this before, where you sometimes – once everything gets tacky, you can put little dowels in between the two to sort of roll them out to make sure that they stick in the right spot. Because once that contact cement gets in contact with each other, it is super-stuck. So that’s one way to do it.
There’s also a new product out from Rust-Oleum, which is called Countertop Colors. And usually I wouldn’t say paint a kitchen countertop but Rust-Oleum makes fantastic products that adhere really well and are super-durable and they offer, I think it’s 16 different colors on a painting process that you can paint over your existing countertop, just as a temporary fix or a permanent change for a while, until you decide if you want to change the material or you find the laminate that you love. And it’s an inexpensive kit.
TOM: And it’s an easy thing to do. I’ve got to tell you, Gloria, while I commend the idea of relaminating the top, it is a lot of work. Because let’s face it, you ask, “Can you do this without removing the top?” Well, you can but it’s really tricky and frankly, you absolutely have to remove the sink. So you’ve got to disconnect the plumbing and the faucets and by the time you do all that, you’re about a half-a-dozen screws away from pulling the whole top, which is the easiest way to do this.
LESLIE: And the faucets.
TOM: So, if you want to just change the color, you might want to try that Rust-Oleum paint product, which is great. If you want to laminate it, you’re going to have to go all the way and probably take it off because you’ll find that it’s just easier to work around. Because remember, even when you put the laminate down, you’re going to have to trim it to make it all fit and it’s just easier when that’s not on the wall.
LESLIE: You know, Gloria, when you go to apply the new laminate, remember, you’re going to have to plunge-cut with, say, a router to cut out where the sink is going to go. This way, you end up with no seams on a long run of your countertop.
There’s also a new product from a company called Modern Masters and they’ve put out a kit that looks like granite. Now that’s a little bit more on the pricey end. I think that guy is like $250 for the kit but it really does look like granite.
TOM: Yeah, something like that.
LESLIE: So there’s some options, if you want to try something that you hadn’t thought about.
TOM: Well, older homes are built to last but the one area where they’re usually lacking is insulation. We’re going to have tips to help you warm up your old home by improving that insulation, next.
TOM: Making good homes better, welcome back to The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show on air and online at MoneyPit.com. I’m Tom Kraeutler.
LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.
TOM: And also in the brand new, Money Pit community at MoneyPit.com, you can post your question to us right there, as well as create your own blog. Perhaps you can post your project, track progress along the way and get help and answers, not only from us but from the entire community. Check it out online at MoneyPit.com.
LESLIE: Mm-hmm. And we’ve got one here that was recently posted from Mark in Ohio who writes: “I’m debating on getting my old home insulated. It was built in 1941 and I don’t believe there is any insulation. If I insulate the roof line, would I then be insulating the shingles and causing them to hold more heat and get hotter in the summer and lessen their lifespan?”
TOM: Yes, you would. And in fact, you never, ever want to insulate the roof rafters, which is what it sounds like you’re thinking about insulating here, Mark.
LESLIE: Unless it were a finished space or never?
TOM: Correct. Well, if it was a finished attic, then you would insulate it but the key is here: you put insulation between the heated and the unheated or the conditioned and the unconditioned space, which in the typical unfinished attic is at the floor level. So that’s where you want to pile up the insulation and typically, you want to have 19 to 22 inches of insulation.
So, skip the idea of insulating the roof. You only – like Leslie – like you said, the only time you do that is if the attic is finished and even then, you need to leave some space for ventilation between the insulation and the underside of the sheathing.
But for most homes, you want to put it on the attic floor, in that unconditioned space; again, 19 to 22 inches. Put it perpendicular in two layers. So put one layer down that’s even with the floor joist and another one that’s across the floor joist and then that will really pile it up, warm it up and it’ll save some money all season long.
And also, also save you some money on the cooling bills if your home is centrally air-conditioned.
LESLIE: Mm-hmm. Good point. Alright. And you know what? Any insulation is going to help than none, so I know you’ll see a big difference, Mark.
TOM: For sure.
LESLIE: Alright. We have a post here from Rose in Florida who writes: “While taking a shower in my daughter’s upstairs bathroom, I noticed the water in the bathtub to be accumulated towards the front of the drain area. Also, some creaking sounds while stepping. What might this be?”
TOM: Hmm. Well, I’ll tell you what. Typically, when a tub is installed, if it’s supposed to be done correctly, you would actually set the tub in a little bit of a mortar mix. Because when the tub gets filled with water, water is very, very heavy. It weighs 8 pounds per gallon.
And so, if the tub isn’t set right and you fill it up with water, you could get a fair amount of movement plus, think about it, when you’re taking a bath or taking a shower, where does the water leak out? Well, it leaks out all along the front of the tub. And therefore, the wood in that area can get a little damp, a little wet and sometimes that can cause some movement, too.
But the bottom line is, if all you’re hearing here is a little bit of creaking sounds, I wouldn’t worry too much about it. Just chalk it up to good, old house charm.
LESLIE: OK. Alright. And I hope that helps you with your daughter’s issues. It’s good to know that you’re looking out for everything going on at her money pit.
Alright. Hank from Illinois posted: “How do you check the electrical wires behind the walls?”
TOM: Wow. That’s kind of an open question, Hank.
LESLIE: Yeah. Like are you wondering if they’re there? Do you smell smoke? What’s going on? Is it hot?
TOM: I mean I’m not quite sure what you’re checking here, Hank, but I will say that one of the handiest ways to check to make sure that your home is wired correctly is simply to use an outlet tester.
This was sort of a fixture of my home improvement tool belt when I was in the home inspection business, Leslie, because a good outlet tester will tell you if the outlet is correctly wired. If it’s ungrounded, it will tell you that. If the polarity is reversed, which is a condition that could also be ungrounded, it will tell you that. And if you have a ground-fault circuit as part of it, you can actually test it from anywhere in the house.
So, if you’re wondering if your wiring is done correctly with all those outlets, you don’t need to look at the wiring. You need to check the outlets with a tester and that’s the best way to find out.
LESLIE: Mm-hmm. Is there any sort of pro other than a home inspector he could bring in, to give him a helping hand?
TOM: Oh, it’s a pretty easy thing to do and testers are very inexpensive. You can buy one for probably $10 or $20, in any hardware store. So I would start with that. If you don’t get the right readings, then of course, you want to call an electrician to make the fix.
LESLIE: Alright, Hank. Good luck with your electrical problems going on at your money pit and thanks for posting your questions.
TOM: This is The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show. Thank you so much for spending this hour with us. The show continues online at MoneyPit.com. And please do visit The Money Pit community, where you can post your question to us 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
I’m Tom Kraeutler.
LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.
TOM: Remember, you can do it yourself …
LESLIE: But you don’t have to do it alone.
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(Copyright 2010 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.)