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Choosing the Best Snow Blower, How to Save on Hot Water Bills , and Creating a Space at Home for your Hobby – or Resolution

  • Transcript

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

    LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

    TOM: And Happy New Year, all. We hope that you have had a fantastic holiday season and you are all chock-a-block ready to tackle projects in your home for this new year. We’re ready.

    Are you ready, Leslie?

    LESLIE: I’m always ready. Are you kidding? I live for home improvement.

    TOM: I love it. It’s time to get going. It’s a new year. We’ve got new ideas, you’ve got new ideas, you’ve got new lists, you’ve got new resolutions, things that you promised yourself you’ll get done. Hey, call us. We are here to help. The number is 1-888-MONEY-PIT, 888-666-3974.

    Coming up on today’s show, if you’re tired of shoveling after every storm, we’re going to talk about snow blowers. I mean they can do the job for you but they’re not a one-size-fits-all deal. We’re going to teach you how to choose the best snow blower for your particular property, coming up.

    LESLIE: And are you paying more than you’d like for your hot water? Well, sometimes the best money-saving tips are the easiest ones. And we’ll tell you what you can do to start saving now.

    TOM: And also ahead, is one of your New Year’s resolutions to take more time to maybe enjoy life a bit? We’ve got tips on creating a hobby room for your special talents, in just a bit.

    LESLIE: And one caller this hour is going to win a quick-and-easy way to make your garage door a smart garage door. We’re giving away a Universal MyQ Garage-Door Controller from Chamberlain.

    TOM: It is super easy to install. And with just WiFi, you can monitor your garage door from anywhere.

    It’s worth 129 bucks. 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.

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

    BILL: Well, I’m having a moisture issue in between the fiberglass-batting insulation and the foam board – FOAMULAR foam Owens Corning insulation that I put in.

    TOM: OK.

    BILL: The moisture builds up in between the two layers of insulation.

    TOM: So you have two layers of insulation? You have both fiberglass and foam boards?

    BILL: Yes, sir.

    TOM: So what did you put on the – you guys started with poured concrete walls?

    BILL: Yes.

    TOM: And you attached foam to that or you left a gap?

    BILL: I attached foam to the poured cement walls and then I have – it’s a walkout, so I had some knee walls. Well, they have some fiberglass batting.

    TOM: Is there any space between the knee walls and the foam insulation?

    BILL: No, sir.

    TOM: So, generally, when you use fiberglass on a basement wall, there’s a special type of basement insulation that has fiberglass that’s encapsulated inside vapor barriers. Usually, it’s foil-face. Kind of looks like a big, warm blanket. And it’s designed specifically to be attached to the wall and give you as much insulation as you can reasonably achieve, in that sense. If you’ve got a lot of condensation in here, you may have another problem, which is that you’ve got too much moisture in that space. So let’s deal with that first.

    The most common causes of moisture in a basement, everything from a little bit of condensation to full-blown flooding, is poor drainage conditions, not inside but outside the house. So if your gutter system is nonexistent or if it is there and the downspouts, for example, are discharging too close to the corners of the foundation or if the gutters are blocked and they overflow, those are all great sources of moisture that will find its way into the basement.

    Those poured-concrete walls, as solid as they are, they’re very hydroscopic; they’re very absorptive. And that water will pull right up into that wall and show up as condensation inside. So you want to make sure that you have a good gutter system that’s getting that water well away from the foundation. And you also want to make sure that the soil around that foundation slopes away. We like to see it drop about 6 inches over 4 feet. And then once that’s set, inside the basement you may need to add a dehumidifier, as well, working inside and outside to manage the amount of moisture that’s in that space.

    Now, in terms of the insulating of the walls and the finishing of the walls, generally, if you’re going to frame a wall, I would tell you to leave at least 3 or 4 inches between that and the foundation so that you do have some space back there. If it does get a little damp, it can easily ventilate and dry out. Once that wall is framed, one trick of the trade that I’ll often use is I’ll put sort of a dummy heating register into that wall – a couple down low and a couple up high – so it moves some of that conditioned air through, behind the wall, and helps to keep it a bit drier.

    You know, managing moisture in a basement is always going to be a challenge but if you approach it that way, it’s definitely a challenge that you can overcome.

    BILL: Well, great. That’s very helpful. Sounds like it might work.

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

    LESLIE: Alice in Illinois is on the line. Alice has got a hard problem: she’s got hard water. How can we help you today?

    ALICE: I have well water and on the well water, I have iron hardness and manganese. And I do have filters that I use with [salt packs] (ph). But I’m looking for something else besides those [salt packs] (ph).

    TOM: There’s another option that’s an electronic option and it’s called EasyWater – E-a-s-y-W-a-t-e-r. And essentially, what EasyWater does is it installs to your main water pipe and it sort of causes the hardness in the water to polarize, in the sense that it doesn’t stick to the fixtures anymore. And there’s a lot of people using it now. It’s been pretty effective and it’s an alternative to using a salt-based solution for this particular water problem. They’ve been around for about 25 years. They seem to be a good company, do a good job.

    Take a look at their website at EasyWater.com. I know they’ve got a pretty good guarantee, so if you don’t like it, you can send the unit back.

    ALICE: Yes, great. Well, thank you very much.

    TOM: You’re very 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 MoneyPit.com. Now you can call in your home repair or your home improvement question 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It’s the new year. What are you working on? Let’s get your house in tip-top shape for 2016. Give us a call at 888-MONEY-PIT.

    TOM: 888-666-3974.

    Up next, can you use a few extra bucks this winter? We’ve got info on one inexpensive trick that can save you big on water bills. That and more when The Money Pit continues, after this.

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

    LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

    TOM: And hey, if you pick up the phone and call us, right now, with your home improvement question, we’ll give you the answer and a chance to win a fantastic, new product from Chamberlain. It’s called MyQ and it’s a universal, smartphone garage-door controller. This will allow you to monitor and control your garage door from really any smartphone. You’ll get alerts when the garage door opens and closes. It installs in minutes using your home’s WiFi network.

    You can pick one up at The Home Depot or at HomeDepot.com. It’s worth 129 bucks but going out to one lucky caller drawn at random from those that reach us for today’s show. Make that you. Pick up the phone and call us, right now, with your home improvement question, your decorating dilemma at 1-888-MONEY-PIT.

    LESLIE: Tony in Georgia is on the line with a roofing question. How can we help you today?

    TONY: I wanted to transfer from a shingle roof to a metal roof. And I wanted to know if leaving the shingles on would give me a better insulating factor and if there are any other pros or cons that you could advise me on.

    TOM: Well, leaving the shingles on gives you zero insulating factor. What it can do is add to the inefficiency of your home’s insulation system, because it’ll act as a heat sink. It’ll hold a lot more heat in that roof structure and that will raise the temperature of the building, costing you, ultimately, more air conditioning.

    It also can result in the roofing material – the metal roofing material – be appearing uneven. So I would strongly encourage you to strip off all of those shingles. Metal roofing is a big investment. Let’s do it once, do it right and you won’t have to do it again for a hundred years. So it’s definitely worth stripping it off and starting from scratch.

    TONY: Yeah. Also, I noticed that it is much better – easier – to walk on than it would be if it was just lap boards with metal on top of it.

    TOM: I can see that but you shouldn’t really have to do much walking on that roof once it’s done.

    TONY: Yeah, yeah. Once it’s done, it should last my lifetime.

    TOM: Absolutely.

    TONY: Well, I appreciate your advice on this.

    TOM: Well, you’re welcome. Good luck with that project. I think you’re doing a good thing, 888-666-3974.

    LESLIE: Alright. Now we’re heading over to Patty in Illinois who’s got a toilet that is running constantly. Tell us what’s going on.

    PATTY: Well, it doesn’t run constantly but it runs about five seconds, you know, several times an hour. And it’s gone to the point that my water bill has gone up quite a bit. And I’m needing to know if I need a new toilet or if I need new seals or a new handle pump or – what would you think?

    LESLIE: It’s actually an easy fix and I mean this tends to happen kind of regularly. Unfortunately, people don’t realize that there’s actually some level of toilet maintenance, because it’s just an appliance in your house that’s there and you use it and you expect it to work.

    But inside the tank itself, there’s a fill and a flush valve. And those need to be replaced not that often but every couple of years or so. And of course, now that you’re dealing with this water-running issue – Tom, is it Fluidmaster?

    TOM: Yeah, Fluidmaster is sort of a mainstay of replacement valve parts.

    And they just wear out, Patty, over time, so this is a pretty easy fix.

    LESLIE: And it’s probably 10 bucks to get both of them. But if you go to Fluidmaster’s website – the only reason I recommend that is because on their website, they’ve got a really great how-to video. So you can actually see what the fill valve is, what the flush valve, the flapper valves – you know exactly what you’re looking at and how to replace it. And it’s a really easy do-it-yourself project that you can do confidently and definitely decrease your water bill.

    PATTY: Thank you. That sounds wonderful. I appreciate it and thank you so much for taking my call. Love your show.

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

    LESLIE: Well, it’s simple science. Your water heater has to work a little bit harder in cold temperatures because it has standby heat loss. Now, that happens when the water loses plenty of heat through the tank’s outside shell, which most often is made of metal.

    TOM: Yes. But cutting down on that energy loss is really as simple as the addition of an insulating water-heater blanket.

    Now, basically it looks like a really thick blanket and it wraps around the water heater. And what it does is helps keep that heat in and not let it out and get wasted.

    LESLIE: Mm-hmm. And you know what? They actually call them water-heater jackets and they can cost as little as 20 bucks. But they’re going to save you big over the life of your heater. And they’re especially effective on models that are older units that might not be that efficient.

    TOM: Yep. You just want to be careful with the installation. You need to basically not block the thermostat access if it’s an electric water heater. Or if it’s a gas water heater, you don’t want to block the controls that’s along the bottom where the gas valve is. And then there’s a flame plate there that – where you have to reach in to light it occasionally. And you don’t want to block the vent pipe at the top at all. So you keep that blanket just below the top of the water heater and you make sure you cut sort of a wide swath around those controls so nothing gets too close to it. But otherwise, it’s a really good thing to do and it will cut down on the cost of heating that water day in and day out.

    LESLIE: Greg from Iowa is on the line – is looking for some home maintenance tips. How can we help you?

    GREG: I bought my new house, new construction, eight years ago and – I’ll be honest, kind of embarrassing but I’ve really done zero home maintenance since. Other than changing the air filters every once in a while, I’ve done zero home maintenance thing.

    TOM: Well, that’s why you bought a new house.

    GREG: Yeah, exactly.

    TOM: But alas, it’s time to take on a few projects, huh? What’s going on in the house now?

    GREG: No, there’s nothing wrong. It was just more of general maintenance that needs to happen and I just don’t know what to do.

    TOM: So, general maintenance – so, first of all, when it gets chilly like it is now, it’s time for you to do some heating-system maintenance. Now, what kind of fuel do you have? Do you have gas – natural gas?

    GREG: Yes.

    TOM: So it’s important to have your heating system serviced. You apparently have not done that for eight years; you’re well overdue. The reason for that is even though when you turn the heat on, it comes on and provides heat to your house, it could be doing so inefficiently or at worst, it could be doing so dangerously. So, every fall, you need to have your heating system cleaned and serviced to make sure it’s running properly. And then in the summer, you’ll have your air-conditioning system serviced for the same reasons: not so much the danger but more importantly the efficiency. So, those are two things you should be doing right now.

    And when your HVAC technician comes, he’ll probably also take a look at the water heater because sometimes, the burners can get coated with rust. Because natural gas is very corrosive when it burns. So that’s the kind of thing that you probably need to do right away.

    The other maintenance tasks are really going to depend on kind of what’s going in the house. If you’ve got a toilet that leaks or runs all the time, then you could need fill or flush valves. If you’ve got paint that’s cracking or peeling, you could need paint. But the mechanical maintenance, I think, is most important because that’s potentially dangerous. Does that make sense?

    GREG: It does.

    TOM: Now, are you seeing anything that you think needs attention?

    GREG: No, nothing much. It’s just then – I think we’ve had a pretty lucky eight years and there’s been no crises at all, so …

    LESLIE: You’d better be knocking on a piece of wood right now.

    GREG: Right. It’s about time to get it maintained, I suppose. Get some maintenance done to the HVAC, yes?

    LESLIE: Yeah. And you know what’s something you probably don’t consider is your dryer vent. You know the exhaust duct behind your dryer that exits the outside of your house? A lot of people don’t think to clean that because lint does go out there and then gets to the outside. And it can get stuck and it can get caught and you should be cleaning that at least once a year, probably twice a year.

    GREG: Do I have to pull out the dryer to do that?

    LESLIE: Yes. You pull the dryer away from the wall. There’s a product called – it’s a – Gardus LintEater is one of the ones that we’ve used, Tom and I. And you actually put it through the exit vent on the exterior of the house and you sort of twist it through with a drill-driver motor. But you have to be very careful and there’s a certain direction you have to put it in. But it goes through and the amount of stuff that comes out – I mean it’s – you’ve never seen so much junk.

    GREG: Well, indeed. Well, thanks a lot for the tips. Anything else that comes up? Anything else you can think of, that is, or are those the biggies?

    TOM: Ah, there’s so much to be done. I think you just need to be aware. But take care of those mechanical things because that’s where you can get yourself in trouble, OK?

    GREG: Alright. Thanks a lot.

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

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

    MARY: My husband and I are trying to install central air in our home. It’s a ranch-style and we bought the central-air unit and the ductwork from a building that had been torn down. And I wondered if we could simply attach the ductwork – and when we’ve cut the holes in the wall – in the ceilings – for the vents, I wondered if we could just go ahead and attach the ductwork that was there from the previous building or if we had to redo all the ductwork – I mean all the vent piping.

    TOM: I guess the answer is maybe. And the reason is because the duct design is going to be dependent on the building. And it depends on the size of the building and the distance that the air has to travel. And if it’s not done right, what will happen is you’ll either create a situation where you have either too much or too little heating or cooling. And most likely, you’ll have too little. And if that happens, you end up wasting, actually, a lot of energy, because the system has to run a lot more to try to make the building comfortable.

    So, I would suggest to you that insofar as the duct design is concerned, you really need to have somebody that is experienced in designing these systems lay it out for you. It’s definitely not a do-it-yourself project; it’s not the kind of thing that you can tackle, even if you’re very industrious first time out, because you might get it wrong.

    It depends a lot on the size of your building, how many windows are in your building, where the building faces. There’s a heat-loss calculation that’s done and then based on that, you determine how much warm or cold air you have to get to each room. So you can’t necessarily sort of just completely copy what was done in an older house unless it happens to be an identical house.

    So this is a point where it’s good that you got the equipment inexpensively, you got the ductwork inexpensively. You do need to spend a little bit of money on getting it laid out properly, Mary, or you just won’t be comfortable. Does that make sense?

    MARY: Yeah, that was what I wanted to check, because we’re pretty self-sufficient but I had a feeling this might be more than we could tackle.

    TOM: I think that’s a good idea. Mary, thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.

    LESLIE: Shironnie (sp) in Colorado is on the line and has a question about mold. What can we do for you today?

    SHIRONNIE (sp): Well, the pipes have broken inside the walls and we fixed the pipes and everything. Now we’ve got this problem with mildew and the mold, so we have – we want to know what’s the best way to treat it.

    TOM: Yeah. First of all, when that happened, did you file a claim with your homeowners insurance company?

    SHIRONNIE (sp): No, we just got the house. We got it as is, so we’re fixing it before we move in.

    TOM: Oh, oh. OK. Got it, got it, got it. OK. Well, is it a lot of mold or is it a little bit of mold?

    SHIRONNIE (sp): A lot. We’re ripping out drywall and as we rip it out, we’re finding more.

    TOM: Oh, boy. Yeah. Yeah, this is generally not a do-it-yourself project because when you have a lot of mold, you can contaminate parts of the house with this. I really think this is the kind of thing that you want to stop and get some professional help with, Shironnie (sp). Because if you release all those mold spores into the air, you potentially could be causing a bigger problem.

    Generally, when you have that much mold – you say a lot of mold – you have to be careful about how you take that apart. What you generally do is you depressurize the house, you put fans in the house so that it pulls the air out as you’re breaking out that – the drywall and so on and flushes all of those mold spores to the outside. And then all of the framing gets sprayed down so that you kill anything that’s left behind. You get it good and dry and then you reinsulate and re-drywall.

    But it’s a pretty big job and when you have a lot of mold like that, you can be exposing yourself to that mold and that could make you sick. So I would say to proceed very cautiously when you’re trying to rebuild a house that’s got heavy mold damage. It’s not an easy problem to resolve.

    SHIRONNIE (sp): Oh, OK.

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

    LESLIE: Still to come, is shoveling snow getting old already? Well, you can put some power behind snow removal with a snow blower. But you just have to make sure that you know which type is best for your needs. So we’re going to get some tips from This Old House landscaping contractor Roger Cook, after this.

    JOE: This is Joe Namath. Now, when I’m not throwing a football around, I’m listening to Tom and Leslie.

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    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, winter has only just begun but the cold-weather blues can set in fast. Need a pick-me-up? Make a few small design changes. Check out Money Pit’s winter decorating ideas for brightening up your home. It’s on our home page, right now, at MoneyPit.com.

    LESLIE: Well, when I was a kid, I was the snow thrower. But these days, shoveling snow is a chore that I’d rather avoid. My allowance doesn’t get any kind of boost for doing that job.

    TOM: Well, I sympathize with you because my snow-shoveling staff is dwindling because my kids are away at college. So I guess both of us could use a machine that can tackle the job quickly and without a ton of effort. But with so many mechanical snow-removal machines on the market, how do you begin to choose? To help us, we welcome Roger Cook, the landscaping contractor for This Old House.

    Roger, welcome.

    ROGER: Thank you. First of all, have you tried to hire a kid nowadays to shovel it?

    LESLIE: You can’t find them.

    ROGER: No. And they’re pricy.

    LESLIE: They want like 50 bucks.

    TOM: Exactly.

    ROGER: Oh, man. I remember I got paid in candy bars one time.

    TOM: Remember that? So…

    LESLIE: I think I might still do it for candy but I’m just saying.

    TOM: So, first, tell me what’s the difference between a snow thrower and a snow blower?

    ROGER: Basically, it’s stages. A snow thrower is a single-stage machine that has a blade that’s turning very quickly that scoops the snow and throws it out the front of the machine.

    TOM: OK.

    ROGER: A snow blower is a two-stage machine where a blade turns slowly and feeds the snow into an impeller, which is moving very quickly, which sends the snow out of the machine.

    TOM: OK. So I guess a snow blower is good for heavier snowfalls.

    ROGER: Exactly.

    TOM: Because you’re taking that snow and I guess probably more hard-packed snow and icy snow and grinding it up, essentially.

    ROGER: Right. So that it’s being brought into the machine, grinded up and then pushed out very fast.

    TOM: Now, there’s a third version of this called a “three-stage snow blower.”

    ROGER: Yeah.

    TOM: That’s sort of like both on steroids or what?

    ROGER: Pretty much. If you have a double-wide driveway with a big snowplow mound at the end of it, this three-stage machine will throw it and they say up to 50 feet, so make sure you’re careful of the neighbors.

    TOM: Right. Good point.

    LESLIE: OK. Is there one that’s better for a different type of surface or perhaps an amount of area, depth of snow?

    TOM: Depth.

    ROGER: There is. Think about – we start from the least amount of snow up to the most.


    ROGER: A snow thrower, the single-stage one, is good for maybe 8 to 10 inches of snow at the most, because the opening on those machines is not very big. And if snow gets higher than that, you can’t get the machine through. And it’s not great on heavy, wet snow and it’s not great on the end-of-the-driveway snowbank, that’s for sure.

    LESLIE: Ugh. Those snow trucks that come in and – after you’ve done a beautiful job shoveling – fill it back in for you.

    TOM: Exactly.

    ROGER: They know just when you’re done and they come and …

    TOM: Perfectly timed always, right?

    LESLIE: With like icebergs that weigh 80,000 pounds.

    ROGER: Right. But that’s where the two-stage one – the snow blower – comes into place. That actually feeds the auger with that heavy, wet snow and then throws it out. So it can chew up and eat much more denser, higher or even snowplow-packed snow.

    LESLIE: But will that work on a low quantity of snow, as well, or do you have to have a combination of the two?

    ROGER: It will. It’ll do a good job. But usually, when you have the least amount of snow, you want that thrower because it’s really quick and easy. The thing with the snow thrower is if you have a gravel driveway, it’ll dig down in and you’ll be sending stone everywhere and cleaning it up all spring long, so …


    TOM: Now, besides the snow thrower and the two-stage machine – the snow blower – there’s also a three-stage snow blower. You’ve got to have a pretty serious storm for that.

    ROGER: Yeah. You must live in Buffalo.

    TOM: Yeah, exactly.

    ROGER: And it’s just a big machine. I mean this thing is made to clean a double-wide driveway with a big plow blowup in the end and they say it’ll throw snow 50 feet. So, be careful with your neighbor’s house.

    TOM: Wow.

    LESLIE: Wow.

    TOM: Be careful what you ask for, right?

    ROGER: Yeah.

    TOM: Exactly. So I guess the question is: how do you choose between the options? It’s really down to the amount of snow you need to clear?

    ROGER: Yes, it is. Just knowing what you’re going to have to do. We don’t want to be undersized but we don’t want to pay extra money and be oversized either. So let’s start with – we talked about the snow thrower. That’s good, maybe – like I said, 8 or 10 inches of white snow it’ll go through. But once it gets beyond that – and again, there’s going to be times where it’ll fit perfectly for the amount of snow you have but Mother Nature doesn’t always give you the same amount of snow and the same density.

    LESLIE: No, she does not.

    ROGER: So it’s better to oversize a little bit than it is to undersize.

    TOM: Yeah. Bigger is always better.

    ROGER: That’s what we say, don’t we?

    LESLIE: Do you find that the way it’s fueled sort of impacts the power or the aggressiveness of the snow blower/thrower?

    ROGER: They’re both gas-powered, for the most part. There are some electrical ones out there. For the most part, they’re gas-powered and the size of the gas engine – the snow thrower has a very small engine. The two-stage snow blower has a much bigger engine on.

    LESLIE: Will you find electric options in both?

    ROGER: You will, you will. I have a little – we call it a “power shovel.”

    TOM: Power shovel? Right.

    ROGER: Yeah. For the snow, you plug it in and you just go out on your deck and it takes care of 4 to 6 inches of snow like that.

    TOM: Yeah. Really? Wow.

    ROGER: It’s amazing. But once it gets over that, you’re lifting it up and then it gets really heavy and you can’t do anything with it. The same thing – again, even an electric snow blower will work fine in a small amount of snow.

    LESLIE: So, Roger, if you want this snow blower or thrower to work when you really need it, what kind of maintenance do we have to do to keep it running?

    ROGER: Well, you want to do the maintenance in the fall before the snow comes, not being out there during a snowstorm trying to get everything going again.

    LESLIE: Mm-hmm. Right.

    ROGER: Make sure you have a new spark plug or at least a clean spark plug in it. But the most important thing is the fuel. I like to bake and make up a batch of fuel, right before winter, that has stabilizer in it so that fuel will stay good all winter long. The worst thing you can do is put aged gas that’s not treated in the machine, because it won’t start.

    LESLIE: Mm-hmm. And how long will the fuel last with stabilizer?

    ROGER: Three to six months, depending on what you use.

    LESLIE: Perfect.

    ROGER: And then one other key thing to remember is that in the two-stage models – they have shear pins in the blades. So they turn and if they hit something, it’ll break the shear pin. So always have a few of those extra hanging around.

    TOM: Let’s talk about safety. That’s going to be very, very important when you’re using a snow blower and probably a snow thrower, as well. But you’re got very powerful blades that are spinning with those machines.

    ROGER: I still can’t believe every year how many people are injured by sticking their hands inside a snow thrower or a blower.

    LESLIE: Oh, this blade is stuck. Let me free it with my hands.

    ROGER: Yeah. Not a good idea. Never ever put your hand inside of the machine. All of the machines nowadays come with a small plastic shovel. Or you can take a piece of wood or something. If it does get clogged, shut it off, go in there with a tool or the wooden stick, get that loosened material, get it out and then start it up and make sure it’s cleared again. Do not ever put your hand inside a machine.

    TOM: Good advice. Roger Cook from TV’s This Old House with tips on how to pick the perfect snow blower or thrower for your house.

    ROGER: Hey, have a lot of fun in the snow. I’m going to Florida.

    TOM: We will.

    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 ThisOldHouse.com.

    TOM: And This Old House and Ask This Old House are brought to you on PBS by GMC. GMC, we are professional grade.

    Still to come, would you love a dedicated space for your hobby? Whether it’s a craft room, an art studio or a woodworking bench, we’ve got tips to help you find and set up that space in your home, 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. Give us a call with your home improvement question, right now, or through the hour at 888-MONEY-PIT. We’re going to help you out with whatever is plaguing your home in this new year but we’re also giving away a great prize.

    We’ve got up for grabs this hour the MyQ from Chamberlain. It’s a Universal Smartphone Garage-Door Controller. So get this: it hooks up to any garage-door opener that you’ve got in your house already. And it allows you to monitor and control your garage door right from your smartphone, anywhere in the world. So you can be like, I don’t know, on vacation and think, “Oh, geez, did I leave my garage door open?” Well – boop – now it’s closed. How fantastic is that?

    It installs in minutes. You’re going to get alerts when the garage door opens and closes. Uses your home’s WiFi. You can check it out at HomeDepot.com and it’s a prize worth 129 bucks.

    TOM: Going out to one lucky caller drawn at random. Make that you. Pick up the phone and call us, right now, with your home improvement question at 1-888-MONEY-PIT.

    Well, could you use some space in your home to dedicate to perhaps a favorite hobby? Maybe you could use a workshop or a sewing room or maybe even a writer’s nook or an art studio.

    LESLIE: Yeah. Did you know that January is National Hobby Month? So there’s really no better time than now to live your hobby-making dream.

    First of all, you’ve got to take time to imagine yourself actually working on your projects in the space. And once you’ve got your head wrapped around your happy place of whatever it is that your hobby is – whether it’s sewing, woodworking, whittling, whatever it is – now that you’re in that place, what are the things that you need?

    TOM: Now you can repurpose existing space into a hobby room or a workshop or a studio. Think about it. How would you use closet space with the doors removed?

    Hey, a little Money Pit secret, Leslie?

    LESLIE: Yeah?

    TOM: Well, you know this but I guess our audience would not know this. The broadcast area in my home studio used to be a closet. We turned it into a studio because it was perfectly shaped for that. We didn’t need a lot of space. We lined the walls with the appropriate material, hooked up all the gear and voilà, we changed a closet into a personal broadcast studio.

    LESLIE: Well, you know, Tom, my whole month of recording The Money Pit during my stint in Indianapolis with HGTV, I had my whole studio set up in a closet.

    TOM: That’s right.

    LESLIE: So closets do make excellent spaces for work and play.

    TOM: Now, you could also reimagine existing spaces in your home that don’t see a lot of daily action. So, just because it’s called the “dining room” doesn’t mean you have to use it that way. I converted a dining room into a home office once because we just needed the space.

    LESLIE: Yeah. And how many people actually use their fancy dining rooms? Not a lot.

    Now, guys, you want to also be considerate about power. So if your hobby needs a lot of juice, you want to make sure that you upgrade whatever power needs that you have: add extra outlets, lighting, whatever. This way, you’ll have the whole system running when you start your hobby-making without any interruption.

    And remember this: if your hobby does involve any chemical fumes or dust or any tools that release an exhaust, you want to improve ventilation for your workspace. That should be top priority on your list.

    TOM: Yeah, good point. And don’t cut corners on doing that sort of mechanical upgrade. So many times, in the 20-plus years I spent as a professional home inspector, I’ve found those types of spaces. They were wired with extension cords and multiple outlets and it was just a fire hazard any way you looked at it. So, spend a little money, have an electrician come in, run some outlets, run some lights, make it comfortable for you and most importantly, make it safe. And then you’ll really have a space you can enjoy and use well.

    888-666-3974. Let’s get back to the phones.

    LESLIE: Sandra in North Carolina is on the line. How can we help you today?

    SANDRA: We’re trying to decide which quality of filter to use for our furnace filter – switch out? Should we use the ones that are cheaper, like the 4-for-$2 or should we use the HEPA-filter quality ones that are like $20 for your furnace filters, when you change them out?

    LESLIE: Well, with filters, you’re definitely getting what you pay for. And it really depends on what the situations are with everybody in your house.

    Now, the less expensive a filter, the thinner that membrane is going to be and of course, the wider that webbing is, if you will, so it’s really not going to stop very much. Tom and I always joke that they’re called “pebble stoppers,” because that’s really the only thing that’s not getting through there.

    TOM: Exactly.

    LESLIE: So it really depends. The less money you spend, the less things that are getting trapped. If you’ve got somebody with allergens in the house, you want to spend a little bit more money, because you’re definitely going to get what you pay for.

    SANDRA: OK. So I need to go to a quality filter, because I have a lot of allergies. And the people that built the house say to go with a cheaper filter so you can let air circulate.

    TOM: Yeah, well, look, a good-quality filter does not block the air, whether it’s one that’s designed for better filtration or one that’s designed for lesser filtration. None of these things block the air. So if you have allergy issues, you have asthma issues, you definitely want to use a good-quality filter.

    And if you want the ultimate in filtration, what you might want to think about doing, at some point, is installing an electronic air cleaner. This is a device that’s built into the HVAC system right near the furnace, generally. And these are incredibly efficient at taking out 95-percent plus of the contaminants that are in the air. I mean these electronic air cleaners today can take out microscopic-size particles.

    SANDRA: OK. Well, I really appreciate your information. You’ve been very helpful.

    LESLIE: Still ahead on the program: could your bathroom use a pick-me-up? Well, wainscoting is a timeless touch and it’s really great for small rooms, making them stand out. Really easy to install. We’ll tell you how, when we come back.

    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: 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, hey, if you thought gift-buying was expensive, try dealing with ice dams. They can cost you plenty of time and money this time of year, so make sure it does not happen to you. We’ve got tips and ideas for preventing ice dams in your home on our home page, right now, at MoneyPit.com.

    LESLIE: Alright. And while MoneyPit.com is filled with a lot of very, very useful information, if you’ve got a specific question, you can post it in the Community section, just like Brian did who writes: “We have a very small bathroom that has no character at all. How do we give the room the decorative makeover it needs?”

    TOM: Well, you could do a pretty easy bathroom makeover with wainscoting. That’s where you put the paneling kind of up about halfway up the walls. Bathrooms can be really hard spaces to work in but you can really make the room stand out no matter how big or small that space is, right?

    LESLIE: And that’s – wainscoting really is kind of perfect for a bathroom. It really looks clean and traditional and it breaks up all of that paint, especially if you’re dealing with a powder room and it’s just like a small space of all of one solid color.

    And it’s pretty easy to do. You can buy a 4×8 sheet that looks like beadboard and just cut it to the right height that you need, because those vertical lines run the 8-foot expanse of it. Cut it to the height you need, get some trim pieces for the top. You can even put a small little lean or ledge, depending on the size of your space, which could work for a variety of things in the bathroom. It’s really a great way to make a big change for very little money.

    TOM: Alright. We’ve got a post here from Tess who writes: “I have a problem with gaps between the exterior walls of my kitchen and bathroom and countertops. The wall seems to be expanding and contracting, leaving a gap between the wall and the countertop. Is there any way to correct this problem? The counters seem to be anchored properly but what can I do to fix it?”

    Actually, I’ve seen that many times, Tess. It’s a pretty common problem. It can be worse if the countertop is out of square. But it happens because the walls are actually moving. They’re expanding and contracting and that’s what causes that gap to get wide or shrink, depending on the weather.

    Now, there are a couple of ways you can address this. If the gap is less than, say, about ¼-inch, you can simply caulk the crack. The way I’d do this is I would put some flexible rod in that gap. I would shove it down between the back of the countertop and the wall. It’s like – flexible rod is like sort of a foam tube it looks like. And what that does is it will prevent the caulk from falling too far down behind that countertop space. Now, you want to use acrylic latex and the reason for that is because it’s flexible and it’ll stretch as the walls move with the weather.

    Now, your second option is to add a small piece of molding across the top of the countertop and then actually cover that gap. If you do that, the molding will sort of ride back and forth. You want to attach it to the wall, not to the counter. It will sort of ride back and forth as that wall expands and contracts and always hover. I would recommend using – we were just talking about AZEK. I would something like that, some kind of composite material, because there’s also going to be a lot of water and moisture to deal with there. And it will be a lot easier to clean if it’s composite rather than wood molding.

    LESLIE: Composites do, as Tom said, clean up so very easily. They’re super easy to install and they paint very, very well because they come pre-primed. All you have to do in filling all of the nail holes is you can use a little bit of paintable caulk. And that really does a good job with the tricks.

    TOM: This is The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show on air and online at MoneyPit.com. Thank you so much for spending this first show of the brand-new year with us. We really do appreciate you calling in, you writing us at MoneyPit.com, sharing your ideas, your inspirations, your dreams for your own home with us. We are so pleased to help you.

    Remember, you can reach us, 24/7, on MoneyPit.com’s Community section, as well as on our Facebook page at Facebook.com/TheMoneyPit. The show continues online.

    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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