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Choosing a Snow Blower, Smart Home Technology That Can Save Your Life, and Fire Prevention Tips For the Most Dangerous Season

  • 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: Here to help you with your home improvement projects, your decorating dilemmas. Pick up the phone and help yourself first. Call us at 1-888-MONEY-PIT, 888-666-3974.

    Are you hoping for some brand-shiny-new home improvement tools under the tree this holiday season? Give us a call. We’ll give you some tips on what’s best to pick up for a holiday gift. Hey, maybe you’re planning a project that’s going to keep those energy bills cut way, way down from where they were last year. Great topic to talk with us about today, as well, 888-666-3974.

    Speaking of last year, if memories of last winter’s piles upon piles of snow and all the aching backs that went with it are still fresh, now might be a great time to think about putting down the shovels and picking up a snow blower. Yes, a snow blower. I finally bought one last year.

    LESLIE: And you love it?

    TOM: I love it. My snow-shoveling staff is dwindling. Kids were going off to college and just generally not available. So, instead of doing – going back to doing it all myself, I did pick up a snow blower. It was a great investment. We’ve got some tips on how you can pick out the best blower for your surface. There’s a lot to know about the different stages that they’re available in so that you get the one that works just perfectly for your situation. We’ll have tips, coming up.

    LESLIE: Plus, more homes go up in flames over the winter than any other time of year. Is your house fireproof or fire-prone? We’re going to talk fire-prevention tips with This Old House host Kevin O’Connor.

    TOM: And if stink bugs have made their way into your home, it’s a good time to show them the way out naturally. We’ve got pesticide-free solutions that will send those stink bugs packing.

    LESLIE: And one lucky caller this hour is going to get more than just home improvement advice. They’re going to win a 173-Piece Standard and Metric STANLEY Tool Set in a hard case. Now, it’s got, really, everything you’re going to need for DIY projects around your home, your car, even your hobbies.

    TOM: They’re chrome-plated to resist rust for years and years of use. It’s a prize worth 79.98. 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: Betty in New Jersey is on the line with an attic-fan question. What can we do for you today?

    BETTY: I have an attic fan that seized up and I don’t know whether to take it down – but then I’ll have a hole in my roof – and replace it or just leave it there and not use it.

    TOM: Well, you can just disconnect the power to it and leave it in place.

    BETTY: I just leave it there?

    TOM: You could, yeah, until you – if you – when you get ready to replace the roof at some point in the future, then you could pull it out then. But really, no harm, no foul. It’ll just be another vent in the roof, sort of a passive vent. So I don’t see any reason you couldn’t do that.

    BETTY: Oh, to wait to see if I need a new roof.

    TOM: Yeah, when you get around to it, you know, or you’re doing some other projects. Because I know what you’re saying: you’d have to pull it out and then you’d have to fill in the plywood hole – fill in the hole with plywood and then reroof it. But you don’t have to do all that now. Just disconnect the power to it so it’s not electrified anymore and leave it.

    BETTY: Well, that’s great. Thank you so much.

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

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

    GARY: I have a basement I want to do over. I have poured-concrete floors but poured-concrete walls. I want to seal the floor and the walls and I was kind of thinking – I don’t know if epoxy, like you would use in a garage – epoxy paint on the floor and something – is the same thing on the wall or is there something different for the wall?

    TOM: Well, let’s talk about this – these concrete walls. Now, do you have any moisture issues here or are you just kind of being preventative?

    GARY: No, no. I made sure that the outside was all tapered. There’s gutters on the outside.

    TOM: Yeah. Then you can use a standard masonry wall paint on that. And as far as the floor, the reason to use the epoxy flooring paint is because it’ll be super durable. I don’t think you need to do that on the walls. You basically want to slow down natural evaporation of soil moisture through the walls to the interior.

    GARY: That’s great help, guys. Thank you very much. I appreciate it.

    TOM: 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. Are you making a list? Are you checking it twice? I’m talking about your home improvement list, guys. We’re here to give you a hand. We can also help you with your holiday shopping if you need something to get for that DIYer or home improver in your life. We’re here for you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-888-MONEY-PIT.

    TOM: 888-666-3974.

    Still ahead, ’tis the season for lots of things including, unfortunately, house fires. Is your home fireproof or fire-prone? Find out, after this.

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

    LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

    TOM: Pick up the phone, give us a call, right now, with your home improvement question. Let us help solve your decorating dilemma. The number is 888-666-3974.

    If you do, we’re giving away a great prize this hour. It’s the STANLEY 173-Piece Standard and Metric Mechanics Tool Set with a hard case.

    LESLIE: Yeah, it’s really awesome. I mean it’s a great gift for every person who loves to do DIY projects, work around the house, even do some hobby projects, as well. You’re going to find that the STANLEY Socket Set contains the MaxDrive technology, which is actually going to allow your sockets to grab onto the sides of the fastener instead of the corners. And that actually prevents the fastener from being damaged or getting that rounding and then you’re stuck, literally.

    It’s also made with heat-treated, chrome-vanadium steel, which gives you lots of strength and durability. And it’s a set worth 79 bucks.

    TOM: You can learn more at StanleyTools.com. The number is 1-888-MONEY-PIT, 888-666-3974.

    Leslie, who’s next?

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

    CHRIS: Well, I’m calling about a leak in a copper pipe that is coming from the boiler in the basement, up and running along the ceiling of the living-room wall and into the radiator, which sits in the bathroom. And right in the ceiling, in the living room, it’s dripping about one drop per minute. And we’re emptying the bowl.

    And I had a fellow look at it. He said that there is a leak where the two pipes are connected. And it’s called “the 90.”

    TOM: Right. Mm-hmm. That’s a 90-degree bend. OK.

    CHRIS: Yes, which is something I did not understand. And then he said he would be back to repair it and hasn’t come back yet. The boiler is also working but we have to kind of watch the water and the pressure in it.

    TOM: Do you have a hot-water system or a steam system?

    CHRIS: It’s a hot-water boiler.

    TOM: So it probably has an automatic-feed valve that puts more water in it if it starts to get low. Do you know if that’s the case?

    CHRIS: No, I think we turn the valve in the basement and it adds water.

    TOM: Well, you certainly have to have it fixed, unfortunately. To do that, they’re going to have to drain the boiler off to below where that leaking joint is. And then the plumber can go in and repair it and then refill the boiler.

    So, you’re definitely going to need to have your plumber or your heating contractor come out – come back and take care of that. If this guy is ignoring you now, then you’re going to have to call somebody else. Maybe he got busy.

    CHRIS: Alright. Yes, well, thank you very much.

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

    LESLIE: Roger in Alaska is on the line with an insulation question. What can we do for you?

    ROGER: Yeah. My wife and I, we’re living the dream up here in Alaska. We bought an old bed-and-breakfast on the hillside. And we did a great energy audit on the main house. The problem is the master bedroom is like an add-on over the garage. And it wasn’t – we couldn’t access the attic when we insulated the attic of the main part of the house. And so now, the master bedroom is the coldest room in the house.

    TOM: Yeah, I bet.

    ROGER: And one thing I’m thinking about doing is – it’s got a high ceiling and I’d like to foam-board the ceiling and then put a – instead of that sheetrock, cover the sheetrock with foam board and then do a wood covering? And I’m wondering, do I need to be concerned about the vapor barrier? And two is should I cut a hole in that ceiling and stick my head in there and see what it’s got in there before – you know, as long as I’m going to cover it anyway.

    TOM: So, this high ceiling, is it a high, flat ceiling or is it a cathedral ceiling?

    ROGER: Cathedral.

    TOM: So it’s probably attached to the bottom of the rafters then, correct?

    ROGER: I think it is.

    TOM: So that means you really don’t have very much insulation at all. So that’s always going to be a challenge for you.

    So are you thinking of lowering the ceiling so that you have an area that you could insulate?

    ROGER: No, nope. Not lowering it so much. Just adding the foam board to the surface, like the pink board or the blue board or something. And then, if I’m going to do that and I’m going to disrupt the sheetrock anyway, I’m considering cutting open the peak. And if I can blow foam insulation in there – not foam insulation. Cellulose or something if I can reinsulate that space or add insulation to it.

    TOM: You certainly can take a look in there but I suspect you’re not going to find any space for that. Putting the foam insulation on the bottom of the drywall is not a bad idea. You could basically create a layer that way. I don’t think you need any additional vapor barrier, though. You can probably attach it to the bottom of the drywall right now. Because the foam is a pretty good vapor barrier, frankly, by itself.

    ROGER: Mm-hmm. And then the only other thing I considered doing is – that bedroom is the furthest from the furnace. Can you put a booster – a fan on your duct or something like that?

    TOM: You can. But what you might want to do is just put a small electric-resistance heater in there as a supplement so on those coldest nights, you can just add a bit of heat to that room.

    ROGER: Yeah, the problem is even in the middle of the day, with a – that room has southern-facing windows and it’s upstairs. Heat rises. In the middle of the day, that room – I’m just concerned – I guess I really need somebody to take a good look at it with the infrared guns or something to see where we’re losing heat at.

    TOM: I think that’s probably a good idea. I’m also thinking that your floor may be not insulated well enough. Because being above the garage, you’re getting some temperature transference through there, as well.

    ROGER: I think you’ve probably got a point there. Maybe I could bump up the temperature in the garage a little bit. I keep it pretty cold in there.

    TOM: Or insulate the garage ceiling.

    ROGER: Yeah.

    TOM: That’s one thing to check. If that garage ceiling is not insulated, that could be the biggest source of your problem right there.

    ROGER: So how would you – when you say “insulate the garage ceiling” …

    TOM: Is the garage ceiling open? Do you see the floor joists?

    ROGER: No, it’s sealed with, I believe, plywood.

    TOM: Well, take a peak above that and see if there’s insulation in there.

    ROGER: Alright. Well, sounds good. Sounds like a plan.

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

    Well, with all the traveling folks are doing this time of year, it’s a good time to think about ways to improve your home security. The FBI says nearly 2 million break-ins were reported last year alone.

    LESLIE: Yeah. Guys, one way to really give yourself peace of mind is with smart-home technology. Now, home automation has made its way into even some of the home’s most basic necessities, like your smoke and carbon-monoxide detectors. And they can alert you even when you’re not home should something happen.

    TOM: Yep. And other products include connected alarms and security devices that will ping your phone when they detect something wrong in your home. You can also invest in smarter door locks that will grant you remote access and control, as well.

    LESLIE: And smart door locks actually mean that you can unlock the door remotely or just even provide a temporary code to someone who needs to get in for whatever reason, like a housekeeper or a repairman, something that you’ve prearranged. You can allow access into your home when you want.

    Now, many of these locks will also alert you in real time when your door opens.

    TOM: Yep. There are lots and lots of smart-home security products out there right now, making it easy to keep your home safe. And that’s today’s Home Automation Tip, presented by The Home Depot, the destination for smart-home solutions and technology, with a huge variety of brands and expansive platforms.

    LESLIE: Like the Schlage Sense Smart Deadbolt. Its illuminated touchscreen is going to give you easy accessibility, so no more fumbling around for your keys. It’s compatible with Apple HomeKit technology, so you can unlock your door right from your iPhone or iPod or iTouch or i-whatever.

    TOM: Check it out at The Home Depot or online at HomeDepot.com.

    LESLIE: Barbara in Texas is on the line with a brick question. What’s going on?

    BARBARA: Well, I have brick around my house and the mortar is coming out. Back when it was built around 40 years ago, they didn’t put in enough of the cement so it would stay in. So, I don’t know if that’s something I should attempt to try to fill in. I know matching the grout color is real important. What do you all recommend?

    TOM: So do you have a lot of this to do, Barbara? Or is this just sort of some minor repairs?

    BARBARA: No, there’s quite a bit.

    TOM: Yeah, I wouldn’t recommend you do it yourself. I’d have a mason do this because there is some technique to this. You have to mix up the mortar just right. It’s got to be kind of sticky. And once it’s laid in, it really takes a skilled hand to do it. So, I would have a professional do that. I would not make that a do-it-yourself project.

    If it were just some areas that were broken out and needed some minor fix, then I’d say OK. But if there’s a lot of repointing to do, I would not suggest you do that yourself, only because it takes an awful lot of practice and a sort of a steady hand. That is something you wouldn’t be able to do right out of the gate.


    LESLIE: Wayne in Georgia is on the line needing some help with a window situation. What’s going on at your money pit?

    WAYNE: Got a window that needs either a jamb liner or balancer. You know, it’s the things that are in the side of the window that help the window go up and down, slide up and down. A lot of times, the paint gets in them and sticks them up. Sometimes the balancer, jamb liners – whichever they are – get crunched because they’re real thin-mil finished aluminum. And I was trying to find – wanted to find a source for them, which was my call.

    TOM: So the window – the double-hung window – is a metal window? It’s not a wood window?

    WAYNE: No, it’s wood, double-hung.

    TOM: Yeah, these jamb liners are available and I think the kind that’s probably the easiest to replace – to install – as a replacement liner are kind that are based on sort of – the track has sort of a spring in it and it pinches the window from the side. And you can almost adjust how much grab it has by – I stuck a putty knife into these things and sort of bent them in just slightly to give it more bite into the window.

    Now, you’re having trouble finding these at your local home centers?

    WAYNE: Yeah.

    TOM: What about a lumberyard? I mean a lumberyard should be able to order one for you.

    WAYNE: Yeah, I’ve called them. I’ve called them and they say they can get them. And then when I call back, they say no.

    TOM: Wayne, if you’re having trouble finding these at home centers and hardware stores, you can order them online. There are a number of companies online that distribute window-jamb liners and that’s what you’re searching for: window-jamb – j-a-m-b – liners.

    WAYNE: Right.

    TOM: One such company is JRProductsInc.com. They have a wide selection. They’re not expensive. It looks like they’re between, say, $10 and $15 depending on the length. And I think that’s probably all you’re going to need.

    I do see, also, that Lowe’s sells them online. But I don’t see them in the store, so you may also check Lowes.com for window-jamb liners. I think if you search online for those companies, you should be good to go. Does that help you out?

    WAYNE: That helps me.

    TOM: Alright. Good luck with that project. Thanks so much for calling 1-888-MONEY-PIT.

    LESLIE: Larry in Arkansas is on the line and has a problem with a well pump. Tell us what’s going on.

    LARRY: Yes. I’m out in a rural area and have a well pump. And I don’t want to have a plumber come way out here and then tell me some silly, little thing that I could have taken care of. But the problem is that day and night, this pump keeps going on and off, on and off. I’ve looked everywhere I can think of where there might be a leak in the system. And I can’t find any leaks. But the well pump just keeps going on and off all the time. Is there something that I’ve overlooked or should be looking at?

    TOM: How about your toilets? Have you checked for leaky fill and flush valves?

    LARRY: Yes, I put dye in the tanks and watched and no appreciable leakage.

    TOM: So, you might – this is called “short-cycling” and it’s a pretty common condition in houses. Usually a lot to do with the water-pressure tank not having enough air in it. What I would suggest you do is to have not necessarily a plumber but have a well company take a look at it. Because I don’t think it’s that you have a leak in your house that’s running; I think this is an issue with the well pump itself. It’s either the control circuit or the pressure tank.

    LARRY: Well, one thing that I – that comes to my mind, that I haven’t been able to check is – there is some kind of a check valve in that system that could be faulty after so many years, like 15, 20 years?

    TOM: Yeah. And letting some of the water back into the well line and then reducing the pressure down to the point where the pump thinks it has to come back on? Yeah, it’s all possible. But I think it’s in the well equipment; I don’t think it’s a leak.

    LARRY: OK. I want to thank you for – so much for taking my call. And I want to compliment you on one of the greatest shows that I listen to every week on the radio.

    TOM: Oh, well, thank you very much. We really appreciate that.

    LARRY: Thank you so much.

    TOM: Good luck with that project.

    LESLIE: Up next, is your home prone to a house fire? Well, more houses go up in flames in the winter than any other season. We’re going to get some tips from This Old House host Kevin O’Connor to make sure yours isn’t one of them.

    TOM: And This Old House on The Money Pit is brought to you by STANLEY Mechanics Tool Sets. No matter if your project is automotive, recreational or home improvement, you can rely on STANLEY Mechanics Tools for versatility, durability and to get the job done.

    RICHARD: Hi. I’m Richard Trethewey, the plumbing-and-heating contractor from TV’s This Old House. If you want to keep your home from freezing, frying or going on the fritz, keep listening to Tom and Leslie on The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show.

    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, whether you were the one that installed it or you inherited it when you bought your home, plenty of old wall treatments are due for an update. From paneling to textured drywall, we’ve got tips for removing and hiding these outdated design touches on our home page, right now, at MoneyPit.com.

    LESLIE: Carolyn from Ohio is on the line and has a noisy neighbor. I mean her siding is being noisy. What’s going on?

    CAROLYN: The siding is just noisy. The second floor. You can hear it when you walk through the bedrooms. You can hear the siding.

    TOM: It’s vinyl siding?

    CAROLYN: It is.

    TOM: So, vinyl siding is not supposed to be nailed securely to a home; it’s supposed to be nailed loosely. That’s why, if you look at a piece of vinyl siding, it doesn’t have holes in it; it has slots. And it has to be nailed loosely because the siding is designed to expand and contract when it’s exposed to the sunshine. It has a pretty high expansion-and-contraction rate, as a matter of fact.

    I haven’t really heard anyone complaining about noise from it but I do think it would make sense that if you were in a windy area, perhaps you might hear some of that. Unfortunately, I don’t have a good solution for you because you cannot tighten it up. If you do, you’re going to start getting buckled areas. And if you start driving around neighborhoods that have vinyl siding in the summer, have you ever seen a house that’s just got all this sort of wavy siding on it? That’s what happened: it went on too tight and it buckled.

    So, if it’s moving, it’s put on correctly. One way to check is to take a piece and just put your hand on it and just try to slide it back and forth. The boards actually should slide if they’re installed properly.

    CAROLYN: OK. I’ve had people out to look at it, to fix it. And they say that that – it’s OK. Because I always worry that it’s flying – it’s going to fly off the house or (inaudible at 0:22:55).

    TOM: Yeah. No, don’t worry about that because, like I said, it’s supposed to be loose.

    CAROLYN: OK, OK. Thank you.

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

    LESLIE: Well, today, better home design, fire-resistant materials, up-to-date electrical systems are all helping to reduce the risk of fires in homes. In fact, in the last three decades, the number of residential fires each year has declined by half.

    TOM: And that’s good news. But the truth is fire risk always goes up in the winter, which makes now a great time to dial in fire-protection advances for your home. With us to talk about that is Kevin O’Connor, the host of TV’s This Old House.

    Welcome, Kevin.

    KEVIN: Hi, guys. Great to be here.

    TOM: So, it’s good news that fires and fire deaths are on the decline. And a good warning system, though, can make sure those stats keep decreasing, right?

    KEVIN: Yeah. I mean let’s keep them going down as low as they possibly can go. And so, to do that, there’s a couple things to probably keep in mind.

    First of all, the statistics show that about a quarter of all the fires in a house start during sleeping hours. And so, that is critical that you have a system that will wake you up so that you can actually get out of the house.

    And to make sure that you’ve got a proper system, there’s a couple things you want to think about: what type of smoke alarm are you going to choose and the location and number of those smoke alarms.

    TOM: Alright. Let’s start by talking about the types. Because there’s really two different technologies here.

    KEVIN: There are. There’s an ionization smoke alarm, which generally is triggered in response to flaming fires. And then there is a photoelectric smoke alarm. And that is generally triggered by smoke or smoldering fires. And if you think about it, those are two very different events, right?

    LESLIE: Completely different.

    TOM: Yeah.

    KEVIN: The couch that smolders for an hour or so and fills the house with noxious fumes can be just as deadly as the flash fire that happens in two or three minutes. And so the tip here is that you really should be protected by both technologies. And you can do that two ways: you can install both technologies, where you have one ionized smoke alarm next to a photoelectric smoke alarm, or you can install a combination unit that actually has both of those technologies built into one smoke alarm.

    TOM: Now, that’s smart. Because this way you’re covered no matter what happens.

    KEVIN: Yeah, you’re covered no matter what happens.

    TOM: Now, where do these detectors have to go and how many of them do you actually need?

    KEVIN: Well, so, it varies by state and by code. But the good rule of thumb – and the national code suggests this: that you have at least one per every floor of the house. So one on the first floor, one on the second floor. Put one down in the basement, as well as one up in the attic if you have that. And then you want to put one for every bedroom that you have. Because, again, you want these things to wake you up if you are sleeping.

    LESLIE: Mm-hmm. Now, I think it’s interesting. Our fire-alarm system in the house is hooked up through the alarm company, through the monitoring system. And for something that’s hard-wired into our home system, why is it so darn close to the oven in the kitchen? And not to blame the cook here, which is me, but how many times am I browning something or making pancakes does the fire alarm go off? And I’m answering the phone with the code.

    KEVIN: Sure.

    LESLIE: “I started cooking again. Won’t do it.”

    KEVIN: I guess in that case, the safe answer is better safe than sorry, right?

    LESLIE: Right.

    KEVIN: Better to have an alarm than not. But I understand that a nuisance alarm is a big problem. Because what you don’t want people to do is be so annoyed by these things that they disconnect them or turn the circuit off.

    LESLIE: That they disconnect them.

    KEVIN: Because then you’re not protected at all.

    So here’s something to think about: you can actually get a smoke detector that has a reset or a silencer button. And you can actually push the button and it will turn it off for, say, 10 minutes. And that will allow you to clear that nuisance. When you burn the kids’ pancakes, you can actually push that and then douse it with syrup so there’s no more smoke.

    LESLIE: I don’t know what you’re talking about.

    KEVIN: And it will automatically go back on after 10 minutes.

    TOM: Now, if you’re Leslie, you really don’t have to test your smoke detectors because she’s just doing that all the time. But for the rest of us, how frequently should we be testing these?

    KEVIN: Well, there’s two things you want to think about. You want to test them to make sure that they’re working probably once a month. These are critical life-support systems for your house. They are always on and you rely on them to come on to get you out of that house. So test them once a month.

    But also think about replacing them, as well. They do have a shelf life. They’re on all of the time, 24/7, 365 days a year. And these days, pretty much every smoke alarm comes with an expiration date. Think about replacing them every five years or so and putting new ones in.

    TOM: Yeah, that’s a great point. Because they’re not just on when they’re alarming; they’re on and sampling the air 24/7.

    KEVIN: No. Absolutely. They’re always being asked to do something, even if you don’t see or hear them.

    LESLIE: And Kevin, speaking of not hearing them, I know that there’s been some studies done that show that for some odd reason, children, when they’re sleeping, they don’t hear that frequency of the smoke alarm. So a lot of the advances have been changing to make it so that these fire alarms or these smoke alarms will do a better job of waking the children. But you should probably go over with your kids, should they be the ones to hear it and you don’t, what they should do in the event of it.

    KEVIN: Well, you’re right. I mean the research has borne that out that some people don’t wake up to these things, so they are changing them. There are even some now that have voice alerts. Sometimes we’re not responding to the piercing sound, which is kind of hard to believe.

    LESLIE: It’s weird.

    KEVIN: But believe it or not, people sleep through it. So some of these now have voice alerts, which say “fire” and “alarm,” so that’s the first thing to think about. And then your idea about a plan is a great idea. Whoever hears it, they should know what to do about waking other people up and where they’re going to go to get out of that house as quickly as possible.

    TOM: Good advice. Kevin O’Connor from TV’s This Old House, thank you so much for stopping by The Money Pit and helping keeping all of us safe.

    KEVIN: My pleasure. Thank you.

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

    TOM: And This Old House and Ask This Old House are brought to you on PBS by The Home Depot. More saving, more doing.

    Still ahead, after last winter, have you shoveled enough snow for one lifetime? A snow blower can make that a distant memory but choosing the best one has everything to do with a detail that most people overlook. We share that trick of the trade, next.

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

    LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

    TOM: Give us a call, right now, at 888-MONEY-PIT. You might just win our great prize this hour: the STANLEY 173-Piece Standard and Metric Mechanics Tool Set. It’s worth 79.99. It includes a wide range of sizes and accessories to provide users with versatility they need to work on automotive, recreational and home improvement jobs. Plus, they’re all chrome-plated to resist rust and allow for easy cleaning.

    Learn more at StanleyTools.com. And that STANLEY Mechanics Tool Set is going out to one caller drawn at random. The number, again, is 888-MONEY-PIT.

    LESLIE: Alright. Now we’re heading over to Georgia where Robin is dealing with a porch issue. What’s going on with the cement?

    ROBIN: The back of the cement porch, where it meets the house, has sunk down from the brick about an inch and maybe as much as 2 inches in some places. And then, up the wall, the brick has also got lines in it, in some places, that have dropped down, as well. And you can see where the brick has dropped down under the windows.

    TOM: OK. So what’s happening here is settlement and it’s happened slowly, probably over a number of years. And typically, what happens in porches is – you know, you frame the outside sort of foundation wall of the porch and then you pour the concrete last. And sometimes, when they backfill the porch, it doesn’t compress properly or sometimes you get organic debris in there, like tree stumps and that sort of thing. And then they, of course, rot away, you get voids and then the porch drops.

    So the question is: can you patch something that has dropped 2 inches? And my answer is no. It’s too much to patch. So, you really have two choices. You can temporarily seal those gaps. The only purpose in doing this is to stop some of the water that might collect from rainfall of running in there and making the matter worse. But it really is a very temporary fix.

    The proper thing to do would be to have that concrete floor torn out. Once it’s torn out, you’ll be able to work on the brick wall that’s sagging underneath. The bricks would probably be sitting on top of a ledge of a foundation. I don’t know why they’re dropping but you need to investigate that, rebuild the bricks up under the window and then pour a new concrete floor on properly tamped, properly compacted base.

    That’s really all you can do at this point because you can’t patch something – you can’t put a layer on it of additional concrete to kind of fill that in. It just won’t stay. It won’t look right. OK, Robin?

    ROBIN: OK. Well, thank you so much. I appreciate it.

    TOM: Well, here’s a little-known fact: choosing the perfect snow blower isn’t about the type or amount of snow in your area; it’s really about the surface you need to clean.

    LESLIE: Yeah. Now, electric snow blowers are capable of clearing light snow from sidewalks and small driveways. They’re lightweight and they’re often used on decks and steps where those larger, gas-powered models really aren’t just going to fit and are going to be difficult for you to use. Best of all, electric snow blowers don’t need oil changes or fill-ups, so they are virtually maintenance-free. All you need is a flexible outdoor extension cord and an electrical outlet.

    TOM: Now, next up on the snow-blower parade is the single-stage snow blower. Very simply put, they only throw the snow once. A gas-powered engine basically spins an auger that scoops up the snow and throws it out the chute.

    Now, since the auger actually contacts the ground, you really shouldn’t use a single-stage snow blower on a gravel surface unless, of course, your goal is to hurl small rocks at your neighbors. These single-stage blowers have very limited heights. So if you’re frequently battling 12-inch snowdrifts, then you need to go with what is known as a “two-stage snow blower” instead.

    LESLIE: Now, a two-stage snow blower throws snow – you guessed it – twice, guys. First, it’s going to use a metal auger. It’s going to scoop it up and then a high-speed impeller is going to throw it out through the discharge chute. The auger on a two-stage blower doesn’t actually touch the ground, so you can use them on gravel or concrete. Plus, they’re going to feature taller buckets, which are capable of really inhaling some deep snowdrifts.

    TOM: So, as a new snow-blower owner, I’ve got to say I heartily recommend it. Think about it and think about the aching back you won’t have if you pick up a snow blower this season.

    888-666-3974. Hey, we can take the pain out of your home improvement projects, as well. Give us a call, right now, with your home improvement question.

    LESLIE: Alright. Anthony, you’ve got The Money Pit. How can we help you today?

    ANTHONY: We have a three-burner gas range: one in the oven and then two on top. And we have an odor emitting from one of the pilots that seems to be a little bit higher than the other one. And it’s building up like an ashy, creosote, real fine, black mess. If you touch it, it goes everywhere. And it smells in the mornings when you wake up. Is it not vented properly?

    TOM: Here’s what I think is happening: the burner is somewhat partially blocked and so the gas is not fully combusting. And when you get a gas flame that doesn’t fully combust, it has sort of a sickeningly sweet smell to it, which actually contains a pretty high level of carbon monoxide.

    So what you should do is take those burners apart and clean them thoroughly and get them operating properly again. There’s something obstructing the burner and that’s why it’s not fully combusting. It also accounts for the fact that it’s building up an additional carbon deposit. If the gas is not fully combusting, this is what happens.

    ANTHONY: Alright. Thank you so much.

    LESLIE: Coming up, sloping the soil around your home’s perimeter can keep your basement dry but only if the soil type is correct. We’re going to tell you which type you should be using and which type will lead to more expensive leaking, when we continue.

    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, this is The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show. I’m Tom Kraeutler.

    LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

    TOM: Well, first impressions go a long way, so put your decorating energy into first things that guests see, like your front door. You can go from classic to contemporary. Get tips for holiday door décor, on our home page at MoneyPit.com, right now.

    LESLIE: Alright. And while you’re online, post your question just like Tess did who writes – now, Tess really wrote this; I’m not just saying this. Here we go. Tess wrote this: “I’ve heard on your excellent radio show that – the importance of increasing the slope of soil around the foundation of my house to keep water out. You mentioned that we should use filtered ground soil and not regular topsoil. Well, I checked in my town and found no one who knows what filtered ground soil is or where to buy it. Any advice?”

    TOM: Filtered coffee you could probably find. Filtered ground soil you probably can’t.

    I think she probably mixed up her words a bit. What we’re talking about here is not filtered ground soil but basically clean fill dirt. Not filtered. Clean fill dirt. It simply means that the dirt has been cleaned of debris, like chunks of rock and sometimes you find glass in it or sticks. Clean fill dirt is what you use to improve the grade on your house. And any landscape-supply outfit will understand what clean fill dirt is. Filtered dirt? Probably not. But clean fill dirt, definitely so.

    And basically, the idea here is to add the soil to the foundation perimeter, gently slope it away. You want to have a drop of maybe 6 inches over 4 feet. And then, make sure on top of that you add some regular topsoil and plant grass seed or add mulch or rocks or whatever else you want to cover it with to prevent it from eroding away. And then, of course, make sure your gutters are clean, free-flowing and those downspouts extended, too. Those two improvements alone will stop most of the wet-basement problems that folks have.

    LESLIE: Alright. Next up, Phil writes: “My house is infested with awful-smelling stink bugs. How can I get rid of them without using chemicals that could harm my dog?”

    And for the love of God, Phil, do not squish them. Because when you squish them, they smell worse.

    TOM: It gets worse, right? Yeah.

    There are a lot of stink-bug solutions. Until you get rid of them, though, you want to be very careful disposing them.

    And as you said, Leslie, no squashing because those stink-bug guts are only – are worse when they’re squashed.

    Now, here’s a chemical-free trick of the trade to get rid of them. When you see the stink bugs around, you can vacuum them up. But you want to do it very carefully and here’s how you do it. Take an old stocking or something that’s like an old piece of netting and insert it into the end of the vacuum hose. Let it go in there a few inches, right, and then attach it – fold it over the outside of the house and then attach it with a rubber band. Then, once you turn the vacuum on, you can go ahead and draw up all of those bugs wherever you find them but they won’t get sucked into the bag. They’ll stay in that net. Then you can pull the net out, twist it up and throw it away outside.

    If they don’t go into the bag, they don’t stink up the entire vacuum. So it’s a nice way to get rid of those bugs without having to expose yourself to the insects themselves or use, of course, any chemical sprays as a result.

    LESLIE: You know, Phil, it doesn’t even have to be that complicated. You probably have some things at home that you can use to help them get away. The stink bugs do not like the smell of garlic, so they’re kind of like vampires, I think. But what you can do is you can make a garlic spray. You just mix up some water and garlic powder and then you spray it onto plant leaves, your window sills, any other areas of your home that you find the bugs frequenting. So they’re generally going to stay away from garlic; they just don’t like it.

    TOM: This is The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show. Thank you so much for spending this hour with us. Happy Holiday Season, everybody.

    Hey, if you’re maybe throwing up your holiday lights, they’re not working or you come up with another home improvement question that’s absolutely pressing, remember, you can reach us, 24/7, by dialing 888-MONEY-PIT or posting your question at The Money Pit’s Facebook page at Facebook.com/TheMoneyPit.

    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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