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Choosing a Snow Blower, Cost Versus Added Value in Home Remodeling, How to Choose a Fresh Christmas Tree and Keep it Fresh, and More

  • 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: Time to get your fix. We know there’s a project on your to-do list. Help yourself by picking up the phone first and calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT, 888-666-3974. Look around your house. We know we are in the crazy, crazy weeks of the holidays now and so, tackling a major home improvement project might not be on your to-do list. A minor one, however, very well may be and that’s a good topic to call us about today at 888-MONEY-PIT.

    Perhaps you’re expecting to do well with the gifts this year and you need some more room. Or perhaps you are just sort of tired of looking around at the same four walls and you want to spruce those up. All great reasons to pick up the phone and call us with your home improvement question. The advice worth more than the phone number, because that’s free. 888-666-3974.

    We’ve got a great show planned for you this hour. First up, with all the snowfall that we’ve had in the last few years, you might be thinking about heading Mother Nature off this year by investing in a snow blower. But with so many options, the question is which one is right for you. We’re going to help you sort out those options, in just a bit.

    LESLIE: And also ahead, we’re going to have tips on how you can cut your own holiday tree and keep it fresh throughout the season, including how to prevent losing the needles that – of course they’re going to shed and end up all over the house. And then you’ll be finding them in July, like I always do.

    TOM: Plus, the latest cost-versus-value remodeling report is out. This is a very important document. It’s a report that’s gone out for over 20 years and it shows us what home improvement projects pay off the best. It’s compiled annually by Remodeling Magazine, so we’ve invited editor Sal Alfano to stop by and tell us which projects actually give you the best return on your remodeling investment.

    LESLIE: And one project that always pays off is replacing your inefficient incandescent light bulbs with LED bulbs. So we are going to help one listener get started this hour by giving away a collection of LED bulbs from Philips. And not only are these bulbs going to help you save money but they’re going to last 20 years, so that’s pretty awesome.

    TOM: So, pick up the phone and give us a call right now with your question. The number is 888-MONEY-PIT.

    LESLIE: Eldon in Iowa has a roofing question. What can we do for you today?

    ELDON: Yes. I have organic shingles that’s on the house right now and apparently they’re not supposed to be put on in Iowa, I guess, so they’re starting to break down and they’re rabbit-earing (ph) and they’re spacing real wide and that type of thing.

    I wanted to know, do I – can I go over the top of an organic shingle with something else or do I have to do a complete tear-off?

    TOM: Well, how old is your roof right now, Eldon?

    ELDON: It’s actually only 10 years old.

    TOM: OK. And is the house 10 years old or are there more roofs underneath that?

    ELDON: The house is 100 years old.

    TOM: OK. What’s underneath the shingles, that layer you have now?

    ELDON: Nothing.

    TOM: It’s a single layer? OK.

    ELDON: Yes.

    TOM: And let me ask you, how long do you think you’re going to stay in this house? Will you be in it for more than the next 15 or 20 years?

    ELDON: Yes.

    TOM: Alright. Then what I would recommend you do – and it has nothing to do with whether the shingles are organic or not – but I recommend that you remove that old layer and here’s why. When you put multiple layers of roofing shingles on a home, the initial layer adds a heat sink to that sandwich, so to speak, and that can more rapidly deteriorate the new layer of shingles, because you’re basically holding more heat against them. Asphalt shingles are oil-based and when you evaporate a lot of those oils that are in the shingles, they can have a shorter life.

    So I would recommend that you remove the first layer so that you get the full life of the new layer of shingles.

    ELDON: Well, thank you very much there. You answered my question.

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

    And of course, on the flip side, if Eldon had responded that he was going to be in that house for the next 5 years, well, then it wouldn’t really matter if the new roof lasted 10 years or 20 years, because he’s not going to be there to enjoy it.

    LESLIE: You should still do the nice thing for the person buying your house.

    TOM: Yeah. Well, yeah but I mean it’s an economic question.

    LESLIE: True.

    TOM: And if you’re going to be there for the life of it, then you can get the complete return on investment for removing that first layer.

    LESLIE: Although I will tell you when we looked into what our town required permit-wise, when we were thinking about replacing our roof, they said that if we left the existing shingles on and went right over, we didn’t need anything.

    TOM: Yeah.

    LESLIE: But if we took it off and started from the foundation of the roof itself – the substructure – then we needed all sorts of permits, which I think is so weird.

    TOM: That’s really intelligent, yeah.

    LESLIE: And then it’s – so it’s like you get penalized for doing the right thing.

    TOM: There you go. Building code at its finest, yeah. Do the right thing and punish them for it.

    LESLIE: Jean in Oregon is having a cleaning issue. Tell us what you’re working on.

    JEAN: Well, I’m trying to figure out how to keep my Whirlpool, black appliances from streaking.

    LESLIE: Yeah, that is like the most common complaint. We, ourselves, have a GE Profile oven which has a black cooktop and that is the hardest thing to keep clean. Dust shows up right away on it. No matter what I use, I always get streaks, so I kind of did a little bit of experimenting. And if you sort of ditch your paper towels and go with microfiber cloths, that kind of helps to reduce any kind of scratching you might get from a paper towel. Either way, paper towels or a nice cloth, you’re going to be alright but the cloth does help.

    Then, when you’re cleaning, you really can’t use any sort of cleanser that has a harsh chemical, because that damages the surface. So if you end up with a big, greasy mess, dish soap and water will just do a great job to help you get rid of that grease. If that doesn’t work, you can make a paste of baking soda and water that’ll help break up whatever food buildup has sort of dried on there or residue or oil from cooking. And baking soda is super-safe, so that’s not going to scratch.

    Now, once you get whatever food or stain is off of there and you want to really just cleanse it, truly a mixture of white vinegar and water – or if you get Windex with vinegar – that’s really going to be the best thing to get rid of any of that streaking. It’s going to dry nicely; you’re going to end up with a nice, clean surface.

    Now, if you find you end up with the streaks after you clean with just water, it could be that the water you have may be full of chemicals or like a – maybe full of actually minerals or something that can leave that white, streaky mark. So, again, anything with vinegar in it is really going to be helpful. If you do want to use some type of water just to aid in the cleansing and you find it is your tap water, you can get distilled water by the bottle at the supermarket. Those are good tricks that we’ve used, because it’s certainly – it’s annoying, more than anything.

    JEAN: Well, when the sun shines in, it can be embarrassing.

    LESLIE: Yeah. You really feel like you’re not doing a good job, even though you’ve just cleaned it. So, the vinegar really does make a huge difference.

    JEAN: Alright. And 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. Give us a call this holiday season at 888-MONEY-PIT. We’d love to help you with all of your home improvement projects.

    TOM: 888-666-3974.

    Up next, have you ever taken on your snow blower only to realize that it no longer does the job? What? You don’t have one? Well, either way, we’re going to tell you how to choose a new snow blower for your house and one that actually works and does the job and can truly stand up to the kind of winters that we’ve been having lately. That’s all coming up, after this.

    MIKE: Hey, this is Mike Rowe from Dirty Jobs and I’ve just been told that Tom and Leslie might have a dirtier job than me? I find that hard to believe but then I heard they worked in a pit. It’s a money pit but it’s still filthy.

    (theme song)

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

    LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete. And why don’t you be part of The Money Pit fun? Pick up the phone and give us a call at 888-MONEY-PIT, because we really have a great prize up for grabs.

    You know, the standards for lighting and light bulbs are changing greatly in the year 2012 and we want to give you a head start. We’ve got LED bulbs up for grabs and we’re giving away pretty much a whole set that is going to work across your whole house. We’ve got the Philips A19, which is a 12.5-watt ambient LED bulb. It makes an excellent replacement bulb for, say, like a 60-watt light bulb that maybe you’re using in a table lamp.

    And it’s going to give you a soft, white light when lit, just like what you’re used to with an incandescent bulb. We want to help you make smarter choices that will still be stylish but energy-efficient. And it saves you about 130 bucks in energy costs over a regular bulb and it’s going to last more than 20 years.

    So one caller that we talk to on the air this hour is going to win a set of these Philips A19 LEDs, so give us a call at 888-MONEY-PIT.

    TOM: 888-666-3974.

    Well, after last winter’s record snowfalls, you might be ready, finally, to buy a snow blower. But before you do, you need to know that there are different types of blowers so that you can buy the right one for your home.

    LESLIE: That’s right. First, there’s the electric snow blower and that’s a really great option if you’ve got smaller areas where a gas-powered machine is just going to be too gigantic.

    Now, these machines, they’re maintenance-free and all you really need is a flexible outdoor extension cord and an outlet and you’re good to go.

    TOM: Now, for big areas, you might want to step up to gas-powered snow blowers but you need to know that there are two types: single-stage and dual-stage or two-stage.

    Now, a single-stage blower throws the snow once. That means a gas engine spins an auger, scoops up the snow and throws it out the chute. You can’t use these blowers on gravel unless you want to pelt your neighbors with rocks. Their limiting factor is that they …

    LESLIE: Happy Holidays.

    TOM: Yeah, exactly. Now, their limiting factor is that they cannot handle very large snowfalls. If you do get regular snowfalls that are, say, more than 12 inches of snow at once, then you want to go with a two-stage snow blower. These machines throw the snow twice and really do a great job. A metal auger picks it up and a high-speed chute impeller throws it out to a discharge chute.

    For more tips, go to MoneyPit.com.

    LESLIE: Jim in Missouri is dealing with a ridge vent that lets the snow in and the air out at the same time. What can we do for you, Jim? This sounds like a mess.

    JIM: Yes. When wind blows real hard and if you’ve got a real fine snow, you get a lot of snow in on top of your insulation. And here last summer, I had – we had a – well, you heard about Joplin; they had tornadoes. And well, we had some severe wind here and it blew quite a bit of water through them and got my – come through the drywall, ceilings and made stains and all that good stuff.

    TOM: Alright. Well, there is a type of ridge vent that’s designed specifically to prevent this from happening. And it’s made by the Air Vent Company. Their website is AirVent – just AirVent.com.

    And if you find – if you navigate your way over to the ridge-vent section, click on the type of vents called “filter vents.”

    JIM: OK.

    TOM: Filter vents have an internal weather baffle or weather material. It’s sort of like a mesh – almost looks like a fiberglass kind of mesh. And the idea is here that it lets the air ventilation occur but it stops the weather from getting in.

    JIM: Right. That’s what I need; I need something like that.

    TOM: Right. So just go over to AirVent.com and look up “filter vent.”

    JIM: Well, I appreciate it and I’m glad for the advice.

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

    LESLIE: Song in Alaska is on the line with some freezing pipes. Imagine that. It’s pretty cold in Alaska. Tell us what’s going on.

    SONG: We had frozen pipes a couple weekends ago because of severe temperature drop.

    TOM: OK.

    SONG: And we had a gas fireplace. Since we use it excessively – so the boiler was not called for heat and there was no circulation through the pipes. At least that’s the plumber’s explanation. He recommended a zone exerciser.

    So my question is: is the zone exerciser a good idea? Is it cost-effective, energy-efficient? If not, what are the alternatives?

    TOM: So, you have a boiler; that means you have hot-water heat. And what you’re saying is that the boiler did not come on?

    SONG: Yes, because the house was heated by the gas fireplace, so the thermostat …

    TOM: Oh, I know what you’re saying. In other words, the gas fireplace tricked the thermostat into thinking there was more heat on in the house than there really was.

    SONG: Right.

    TOM: So the solution there is really to correct the position of the thermostat so it’s not impacted by the gas fireplace. Because you have to be very careful where you position a thermostat. If it can “see” – in other words, if it’s sort of within visual distance, typically, of a flame, that radiant heat reaches across the room and fakes the thermostat into thinking that it’s really hot in there and therefore, it doesn’t have to bring on the boiler.

    SONG: Right.

    TOM: And so it might be easier to move the thermostat than it is to do anything to the boiler and just – because that’s the way it should have been done to begin with.

    SONG: Oh, OK. Just move thermostat to the coldest spot of the house?

    TOM: Well, not to the coldest spot but just to a spot where it can’t “see,” so to speak, the fireplace that’s on all the time.

    SONG: Oh, OK.

    TOM: So in other words, if the fireplace and the thermostat are on opposite sides of the room, then the radiant heat gets to the thermostat and it won’t let the boiler come on. Because the thermostat is only going to come on when it senses coldness. And it’s just not cold enough because the thermostat is feeling the heat from the fireplace. So you want to keep your fireplaces and your thermostats completely separate.

    So, sometimes people will put them on the back side of the wall, so it’s not actually facing the fireplace. It’s that kind of an improvement that you want to make, Song. You don’t want to relocate it in a major way; just relocate it so it’s not in visual contact with the fireplace. Does that make sense?

    SONG: Yes, it is. It is. OK, I see. So, the thermostat to the place that will actually sense the cold temperature. Because I’m thinking if my whole house is heated with gas fireplace, so there is not a corner that a thermostat will say the temperature is low, calling for heat.

    TOM: That’s right. It’s not going to call for heat. Now, I think what your plumber is suggesting is that you just turn the heat on in some other cycle that’s not controlled by the thermostat. That when he talks about an “exerciser,” he just means that every so many minutes, the boiler kicks on and runs heat through the pipes.

    SONG: Right.

    TOM: It just seems like a pretty inefficient way to do it if we could just balance out where that thermostat is.

    SONG: Sounds good. I’ll probably just put the corners – coldest place of the house will be cold enough to call for heat.

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

    SONG: OK. Thank you so much.

    LESLIE: Forrest in Michigan is working on a front-door project. Tell us what it is.

    FORREST: Well, we’re trying to replace our exterior rear door and we live in a modular home and all the exterior doors seem to be 6 inches shorter than normal height. So, we’re trying to figure out a way we can replace it without having to special order and cost hundreds of extra dollars to do that.

    TOM: What’s the height of the door you’re looking for?

    FORREST: Six feet, two inches.

    TOM: Wow. That is unusual.

    LESLIE: That’s weird.

    TOM: Yeah.

    FORREST: Yes.

    LESLIE: Have you contacted the company that …?

    TOM: I hope you’re not a tall guy.

    LESLIE: Yeah. Have you contacted the company who produced the modular home or the components therein?

    FORREST: Yes and they want to make $559 for a new door.

    TOM: Wow.

    LESLIE: Well, that’s why they’re 6 feet, 2 inches.

    TOM: Yeah.

    LESLIE: They’re like, “Oh, if we make a weird size, they’ve got to come to us.”

    TOM: Hey, can you modify the opening of the exterior wall to take a standard-height door?

    FORREST: Yes, I do.

    TOM: I mean that’s what I would do. I wouldn’t …

    FORREST: Yeah, that’s what I was looking at doing was just trying to raise it up – you know, raise the header up to …

    TOM: Now this way, all your tall friends can come and visit.

    FORREST: Yes, that would help.

    TOM: Yeah. I wouldn’t spend money on a custom door that’s not standard height. I would simply modify the exterior wall to take a standard, 80-inch door.

    LESLIE: Mm-hmm. It’s going to be the most cost-effective solution.

    TOM: Yep.

    LESLIE: Plus, you’ll have the most options.

    TOM: Yeah, absolutely.

    FORREST: Right. Well, I guess that’s what I wanted to hear. That’s what I was thinking I’d do and just wanted to make sure I was doing the right thing.

    TOM: Alright.

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

    REBECCA: Yes. I would like to know – I live in an apartment and when someone above me walks across the floor, the floor squeaks. I want to know how you – what’s the best thing to do to fix that?

    TOM: Do you get along with your neighbor?

    REBECCA: Yes.

    TOM: OK. Now, is it a carpeted floor above you or is it a hardwood floor?

    REBECCA: It’s a carpet floor.

    TOM: OK.

    REBECCA: Tile, carpet and – every time they walk across it, it squeaks. It’s really aggravating.

    TOM: Alright. Well, the tile is hard to deal with, the carpet not so much. Now, there’s two ways to fix a squeaky floor through a carpet. The first thing you need to do is identify where the floor joist is underneath the carpet and you can do that with a stud finder. That will actually identify where the beam is.

    And then you drive a nail. You want to use a – you can do this with a finish nail. You want to get a big finish nail, like a number 10 and number 12. You can actually drive it through the carpet at a slight angle, right over the floor joists, and then set it so it sort of pops through the bottom of the carpet. When you first drive it, it’ll look like there’s a dimple in the carpet and you sort of grab the carpet nap and pull it up through the head of the nail and it’ll be invisible.

    But if you do that in two or three places around the squeak, that will tighten up the floor in that area.

    LESLIE: Mm-hmm. Because what’s happening is the subfloor underneath the carpeting is rubbing against the floor joist, because there’s movement. So if you could secure them together, you’re going to silence that squeak. It’s got to annoy them. Do they complain about it or have you not mentioned it?

    REBECCA: Oh, yes, I have. They’ve heard it and they know it’s like that, too.

    TOM: Yeah.

    REBECCA: The owner of the building just doesn’t want to do it so I’m trying to figure out what can I do.

    LESLIE: Well, this shouldn’t void anybody’s lease. This is an easy fix that you guys can do yourself without even letting the landlord know.

    REBECCA: OK, great. Thank you.

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

    This is The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show. Up next, do you know which home improvement projects raise the value of your home the most? We’ll tell you the most valuable improvements you can make, next.

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    ANNOUNCER: The Money Pit is brought to you by Skil. And now you can easily cut through the most difficult projects with ease, with a Power Cutter from Skil. With powerful, lithium-ion technology and an auto-sharp blade system, Skil’s lightweight Power Cutter will soon become your favorite tool, too. The Skil Power Cutter. It cuts just about anything.

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

    LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

    Well, in a tight economy, you really think about how you are spending every single dollar that goes out of your pocket and sometimes, whether spending that money is going to actually pay off.

    Well, it’s especially true when it comes to fixing up your house. Will you ever recoup any of that investment that you’ve laid out on your new kitchen or, say, your bathroom? Well, it depends on where you live, that’s for sure.

    TOM: Now you can get a pretty good idea of your return on investments on dozens of projects with the annual cost-versus-value report that’s put together by the team at Remodeling Magazine. Here with the details from this year’s report is Sal Alfano. He is the editorial director.

    Welcome, Sal.

    SAL: Hey, hi. It’s good to be here.

    TOM: Now, the trend for the last couple of years is that replacement projects seem to fare very well. And this year looks especially good for projects like new siding, windows and doors. Why do you think that’s the case?

    SAL: Well, one big reason, especially with – in the wake of the recession is simply price. These are projects that don’t require a big investment. An entry-door replacement is $1,200 to $1,500. Even a whole-house window replacement or siding – a typical siding job – is under 20,000. And those are the kinds of projects that people can more readily afford or find it a little easier to finance.

    But they also – they provide instant curb appeal. So, if you are concerned about selling or about house value, you get a pretty good bang for your buck with a project that gives you such an instant makeover.

    LESLIE: Mm-hmm. Now, what if you’re considering taking on a remodeling project at your home? What should you think about when you’re prioritizing, if return on investment is one of your main driving points?

    SAL: Kitchen and bath projects are historically really popular. And of course, I think every buyer is just fascinated by those rooms and that’s something they want to look at. But it can be dangerous to redo the entire room with a really expensive project.

    One of the projects that we look at is what we call a minor kitchen remodel, which is really kind of a replacement of door and drawer fronts, new hardware, new appliances, new countertops and backsplashes and new sink and faucets. And what it does is give you a facelift and really makes the place look brand new without moving any of the systems or rewiring the room or moving walls around, doing anything structural. So, it’s not a bad investment if you’ve got a kitchen that’s showing its age and there’s a lot of houses out there that are in exactly that spot.

    TOM: We’re talking to Sal Alfano – he’s the editorial director of Remodeling Magazine – about their new cost-versus-value report.

    Sal, one of the great untapped spaces in all of our homes – or in many homes, as you say, across the country – is the basement. More and more folks turning to that space now because it’s available, it’s underfoot and finishing it doesn’t seem to cost nearly as much as an addition would.

    SAL: Well, it’s actually – yeah, it’s actually moved up in the rankings in recent years and that’s – even though it’s a pretty decent investment, you’ll spend somewhere between $50,000 and $60,000 to redo it depending on what you do there. We specify not just redoing a fairly large space in the basement but adding another bath.

    And of course, you’ve got to meet code for egress. But you gain a lot of space for the money that you spend, without, as you say, without having to go through the hassle of permitting an addition and breaking ground and excavation and drainage and all the mess that goes along with that.

    You know, another project that is way up on the ranks this year is an attic bedroom and I think it’s the same – for the same reason. This takes the attic and adds a dormer, puts a bedroom underneath and adds a bathroom. And I think it’s the same situation. Those two projects are the least expensive way to add space to the house within the existing footprint.

    TOM: One of the things that Leslie and I were talking about before the show today was the actual numbers: the cost recouped seeming to max out in the 70-percentile range. I seem to recall that being a lot higher years ago. Have those numbers gone down?

    LESLIE: I feel like drastically, Sal.

    SAL: Yeah, you bet they have. If you consider all of the projects as one giant project, just theoretically, we create a single number every year. And in 2005, that was 86.7 percent. This year, it’s 57.7 percent, so it’s really dropped.

    TOM and LESLIE: Wow.

    SAL: And it’s largely a function, of course, of the housing market, the sale price for housing. I mean construction costs continued to go up a little bit after 2005 while house prices came down. So the biggest drops we saw were in the first few years: 2006 and 2007.

    But even today, when construction costs are down considerably from a few years ago, housing prices are still volatile and unstable and we’re not quite sure they’ve reached the bottom yet. And so the ratio has stayed pretty low. The good news is it’s dropping at a slower rate, so maybe we’re at the bottom.

    TOM: Sal Alfano, Editorial Director for Remodeling Magazine, thanks so much for stopping by The Money Pit and congratulations.

    And I want to mention that this is the 25th annual cost-versus-value report and it is so instrumental; it’s such a valuable tool for those that are considering improving their homes. It’s online at CostVsValue.com. That’s Cost – V-s – Value.com.

    Take a look at that and I think if you look at that before you decide what the next project is that you’re going to tackle for your house, you will be very happy that you did.

    Sal Alfano, thanks again for being a part of our program.

    SAL: You’re welcome. Always fun to talk with you.

    LESLIE: Well, it’s one of the most beloved traditions of Christmas but do you know how to select a Christmas tree? And then once you’ve gotten the one that you really, really love, how do you keep it fresh once you put it inside your house? Well, we’re going to tell you all the ins and outs, after this.

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    ANNOUNCER: The Money Pit is brought to you by ODL’s Add-On Blinds. Enclosed behind tempered glass, they eliminate the need for dusting and exposed cords, both problems with traditional blinds. Plus, they easily install over your existing entry glass. Visit www.ODL.com to learn more.

    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. If you do, you might just win the Philips A19, which is a 12.5-watt ambient light bulb that delivers, oh, about 60 watts of light. This thing saves major energy. It uses like 85-percent less energy than an incandescent bulb and it’s fully dimmable, which makes it perfect for pendant and ceiling fixtures.

    It’s available at The Home Depot but we’re going to give away a set to one caller to today’s program at 888-MONEY-PIT, 888-666-3974.

    LESLIE: Alright. Pick up the phone and give us a call. We’d love to give you a hand with what you are working on.

    And if your weekend’s project maybe is heading out to get your holiday tree, we’ve got some tips here on how you can find the right tree and how you can keep it fresh.

    First of all, you really need to start with plotting where your tree will go in your house. And once you figure out the perfect spot, you want to measure both the vertical and the horizontal dimensions of the space, because I always get a tree that’s way too fat for my room. But I really like that and that’s what’s fun.

    TOM: It looks so much smaller on the lot, right?

    LESLIE: I know. It does and then you get it in and you’re like, “Whoa.” So take measurements and bring them with you.

    And once you do get the tree home, you want to make sure that you keep it away from heat sources. And make sure that it doesn’t block any doors or sort of divert traffic patterns or get in the way of movement. Really think about all that stuff.

    TOM: Next, you obviously want to choose a tree that’s fresh. Quick test for that? Bend the needles. If they break crisply – kind of like when you, say, break a carrot in half – then you’ve got a fresh tree on your hands.

    LESLIE: Alright. Now, here’s the trick: how do you keep that freshness, whether it’s in a tree that you cut down yourself or you pick up from the lot? There’s one word that you have to know: water.

    TOM: Water. Give me water.

    LESLIE: Seriously, those trees are thirsty. And really, all they want is plain water. Don’t believe any of the advice out there about adding aspirin, sugar, bleach, fertilizer.

    I’ll tell you a story about my mom. Bought a great tree on the streets of Manhattan. Beautiful. Thought she read somewhere add some bleach, so she did. Wakes up the next morning, the tree has shed every needle and is standing there like a naked Charlie Brown tree. My mom’s like, “I can’t imagine what I did.”

    TOM: Do you know what your mom did? She mixed up her holidays. Because if you spray a diluted bleach solution inside a pumpkin after you carve it, it doesn’t grow mold and rot quite as quickly.

    LESLIE: Where were you two months ago with that tip? Geez. Alright.

    TOM: But I think that’s what she did; she mixed them up.

    LESLIE: Well, she must have. So no bleach.

    TOM: But with a tree, it’ll definitely kill it.

    LESLIE: Oh, good Lord, did it ever. No bleach, no fertilizer, nothing. Just water. Because whatever you put in there is really just going to dry out that tree much faster.

    Now, you have to make sure that you check that water level daily. And if you do so, you’re going to enjoy that lush tree throughout the holiday season.

    And if you want some more tips on how to find, trim, get rid of your tree and in an environmentally-friendly way, head on over to our website, MoneyPit.com, and search “how to choose a Christmas tree.”

    TOM: 888-666-3974. Give us a call right now to talk about your next home improvement project.

    LESLIE: Joyce in Florida needs some help with a granite countertop. Tell us what’s going on.

    JOYCE: I’m just wondering about my granite countertop. I have a little chip in it. It’s only a year-and-a-half old.

    TOM: How’d that happen?

    JOYCE: I have no idea. I swear to God, I live alone and it could have been – I can’t blame it on anybody else. But it’s right by – right in front of the sink, so I mean …

    TOM: Right.

    LESLIE: That’s – I have one there, as well. Do you want to know what it’s from?

    JOYCE: Yeah.

    LESLIE: And also, what is your edge? Do you have the ogee edge?

    JOYCE: Oh, I don’t know.

    LESLIE: Is it super-decorative? Like kind of curvy or is it more blunt?

    JOYCE: It’s blunt. Yeah, the side by the sink is blunt. The outside is the curvy part, yeah.

    LESLIE: OK. So it’s the inside of the sink, not the outside?

    JOYCE: Well, OK, I’m sorry, I’m thinking about the bar part. Anyway, no, it’s the inside of the sink but it’s just curvy; it’s still on the side. It’s blunt.

    LESLIE: Because my issue is from – at the sink, the counter height happens to be at the same exact height as the button on my jeans. And when I’m washing my dishes and I’m leaning at the counter, I had a little area that was more filler than actually granite at that edge. Because, you know, they do that resin coating on it and if there’s pocks or chips, it sort of fills in. So I kept leaning and leaning and leaning and working and over the years, it just sort of popped out this little filler and it was always from where the button on my pants was sort of hitting that counter.

    JOYCE: Well, that – see, mine is on – is actually – it’s on the inside of the sink.

    LESLIE: On the sink side. You must be a very crazy dishwasher.

    TOM: Well, there is a solution. There are a wide variety of acrylic or epoxy repair kits that are available where, in effect, you can mix up the repair material and then also mix in a dye that is very close to the pattern that you have and then very carefully touch that up.

    LESLIE: Fill it in.

    TOM: Build it up and …

    JOYCE: Yes. I just don’t want it to get any bigger.

    TOM: Yeah.

    LESLIE: Yeah. No, this will help you with that.

    TOM: I think that that’s probably a reasonably easy thing for you to do and it should stop it from getting any bigger.

    JOYCE: I assume this is just something you can buy at …

    TOM: Well, at home center or you can just search for granite repair kits online and there’s dozens of websites that sell these kits. They’re pretty straightforward in terms …

    LESLIE: They’re in the $25 to $50 range.

    TOM: Yep. One is called Bonstone – B-o-n-s-t-o-n-e – Bonstone.com. But there are lots of them out there that are available. And again, all you’ve got to do is mix it up and follow the directions and I think you’ll be good to go.

    JOYCE: Well, I will fix it and thank you. I really appreciate that. I wasn’t sure if there was anything you could do to fix it and I didn’t want to just leave it alone. So, OK, I’ll try that.

    TOM: Well, you’re not the first to have a crack but you won’t be the last.

    LESLIE: And you’re not the last.

    TOM: And fortunately, there’s a whole market out there waiting to serve you.

    JOYCE: Alrighty. I thank you so much. Appreciate it.

    TOM: You are very welcome. Thanks so much for calling us at 1-888-MONEY-PIT.

    LESLIE: You are tuned to The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show on air and online at MoneyPit.com. Here’s a question for you: can you add blown insulation yourself or is it better to hire someone to do it for you? We’re going to tell you, after this.

    (theme song)

    ANNOUNCER: The Money Pit is brought to you by Bostitch. Professional-quality hand tools. Pneumatic and cordless nailers and staplers.

    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. And are you following us on Twitter? You should. You can get home improvement tips sent directly to your computer or mobile device and you can also learn about special features coming up on the show. Just follow @MoneyPit on Twitter and you will be in tune with everything that’s going on here at Team Money Pit.

    Now, if you’re online and you’ve got a question and you don’t feel like picking up the phone, go to the Community section of MoneyPit.com and post your question. I’ve got one here from Todd in Kentucky who wrote: “I have a brick home. I was wondering if it is fairly easy to add blown insulation in the walls myself or would it be better to hire someone?”

    TOM: Interesting question. Now, more and more insulation manufacturers are making their equipment available for rent. That said, I don’t recommend that you do it yourself. I think that the contractor wants to rent the equipment because, perhaps, he doesn’t want to buy it – it can be pretty expensive – and he has the skillset to use that properly. That’s probably the customer for the rental blown-in equipment.

    For homeowners, though, it’s your first project, wouldn’t do it because it’s really tricky. You need to make sure that that insulation is getting distributed to all of the spaces. Contractors have the tools to not only do that but also to scan the walls with infrared devices after the fact, to look for the cold spots that they may have missed and perhaps have to drill in again and add a bit more insulation. So, don’t think that it’s a do-it-yourself project.

    What is a do-it-yourself project, though, is adding batt insulation. And before you spend a lot of money on the wall insulation, I would make sure, Todd, that you’ve got at least 20 to 22 inches of fiberglass batt insulation in the attic, because that’s where most of your heat loss is going to occur. A far greater amount of heat escapes from the attic than does escape through the walls.

    Next up, we’ve got a post here from Sam in Iowa who says, “My wife and I recently bought a two-bedroom, one-bath ranch house. We’re planning on being here for 10 to 15 years. It’s got a 40-gallon, 18-year-old water heater. Thinking about replacing it but didn’t know if a tankless heater made sense for just the two of us.”

    Yes, I think it would, Sam, and here’s why. First of all, your existing water heater is at the end of a normal life cycle and replacing it is going to cost you a substantial amount of money. I would spend that amount of money, add a little bit to it and get a tankless water heater that’s going to add some value to your home and assure that regardless of how long you or your wife spend in that shower, you will never, ever run out of hot water.

    Well, with all the cooking, the baking, the guests that have been hanging out at your house, you may find that you’ve got a bit of extra food after they all go home. What do you do with that? Leslie has got some tips on how to handle those leftovers, in today’s edition of Leslie’s Last Word.

    LESLIE: That’s right. This time of year really puts a great strain on your refrigerator. Leftovers, tons of drinks, lots of tasty goodies. It really means that your fridge is working double-time. So this is a good time of year to make sure that it’s up to the task.

    First of all, you want to clean the coils on your refrigerator and most people don’t even realize that the coils in the back need to be vacuumed out regularly to keep your fridge running well. So do it. Put it on your calendar; make it a chore. It’s not going to be fun; it’s going to be heavy lifting but you’ve got to do it.

    Now, if you’ve got an older fridge that’s got a drain pan underneath, make sure that you take it out and clean it so that you’re really avoiding any mold growth that will occur. If you’ve got a water and ice dispenser, that pan should also be cleaned to avoid mold growth. And many dispensers also have a filter that needs to be changed, so this might be the perfect time of year to do just that.

    If you want some more tips, go to MoneyPit.com and search “fridge maintenance tips,” because this is the time of year we do not want our fridge to stop running.

    TOM: This is The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show. Coming up next week on the program, if last year was any indication, we are probably in for another hard winter of heavy snow storms. And when that heavy snow hits your roof and stays there for a while, well, it could cause some serious damage. So we’re going to show you how to make sure that doesn’t happen to you, on the next edition of The Money Pit.

    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 2011 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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