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Electricity Use is DOWN Among Homeowners, Learn How to Find and Eliminate Mold, Get Winter Safety Tips for Clearing Your Car of Ice and Snow 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: Here to help you with your next home improvement project. Give us a call right now. Take that first, all-important step by dialing us at 888-MONEY-PIT, 888-666-3974. If you are a do-it-yourselfer or a direct-it-yourselfer – perhaps you don’t want to do the job yourself but you want some advice on how to spec it out properly, how to hire the right pro – give us a call at 888-MONEY-PIT.

    Coming up this hour, great news for homeowners that are hoping to shave a few bucks off their utility bills. Because according to the Associated Press, electricity use is down compared to just 10 years ago. We’re going to tell you why that’s happened and what you need to do to cut energy use at your home.

    LESLIE: And also ahead, if you’re one of those thousands of folks that have an unfinished basement, perhaps you’re worried about a mold problem. Well, fear not. Later this hour, we are welcoming Jeff May, the author of several books on how to avoid mold, and one of the experts that we trust the most when it comes to dealing with mold issues. And he’s going to share some tips on how to finish off a basement the right way.

    TOM: Plus, if your home is hit with a snowstorm, we’ve got some cool tips that will help you get your car out so you can get going and off to work with minimal hassles.

    LESLIE: And one caller this hour is going to win a prize pack from DAP, including Presto Patch, which is a fast-acting, drywall-repair material.

    TOM: So, let’s get to it. The number is 1-888-MONEY-PIT.

    Leslie, who’s first?

    LESLIE: Judy in Florida is on the line with a countertop situation. What happened? You scraped it? You cut it? What’d you do?

    JUDY: The previous owners had painted it and I took a razor blade and went up under it and I was able to get all of that paint off. But evidently, they sanded the tops and I would like to bring some life back into the top.

    LESLIE: So, wait, is it wood? Is it butcher block? Is it laminate?

    JUDY: It’s laminate, yes. And it’s in good shape. It’s just that it’s dull. It’s got the marble look.

    LESLIE: You’ve got a couple of options. You could paint it again. There are several different companies that make a laminate painting kit. Rust-Oleum has a couple of different products: Modern Masters and – oh, Tom, there was that one we saw in Vegas. It’s named after the guy’s daughter; it’s got two marbling kits in it.

    JUDY: Yeah, I have seen that and I prefer not to do that. I read an article somewhere – and I cannot find the article – that said that you could use car wax, paste wax and buff it?

    LESLIE: Sure.

    JUDY: Would that look – the countertop looks fine; it just needs a gloss. I don’t want a real high gloss; I just want it to look better.

    TOM: Well, there’s no reason you couldn’t use the car wax. It’s not all – except that I wouldn’t want my food to be in contact with it. But other than that, I think it – probably OK.

    JUDY: That’s a good idea, surely. Well, I thank you for your time, your suggestions.

    TOM: You’re very welcome.

    JUDY: I appreciate it.

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

    LESLIE: Paul in Hawaii has got a leaky bathroom. Tell us what’s going on.

    PAUL: Yes. In my master bathroom, there’s a granite countertop sink with – it’s a countertop with two sinks. The left sink, underneath the cabinet, constantly has a strong mildew smell. Now, I’ve cut the back of the cabinet out to check the drywall. No leaks. I’ve cut a hole in the floor of the cabinets to look at the concrete. No leaks. I don’t know where it’s coming from. I’ve got a bucket right now of those crystals that absorb moisture. The thing is full of water. I’ve had a friend of mine who’s another contractor – I’m also a contractor – and we can’t figure out what’s going on.

    TOM: So you have high humidity in this cabinet, is that what you’re saying?

    PAUL: Yes. High humidity in the cabinet. I live in a very dry area so it’s not like there’s moisture in the air from the outside doing it. I don’t know. I don’t know what’s causing it. I …

    TOM: And you’re on a slab?

    PAUL: On a slab floor, correct.

    TOM: Slab floors are very hydroscopic. They pull moisture up from the dirt, up through the slab and into the cabinetry itself. You might just want to think about venting this cabinet. Have you ever left the doors open for a week to see if it made a difference? Because I bet it would.

    PAUL: It does. It actually does.

    Now, here’s one thing I must tell you: there’s an outdoor shower on the opposite side of that wall but it’s all granite, sealed to the tile. So, I can’t imagine how it would be coming in from that side but anything’s possible.

    LESLIE: Yeah. But could it just be a condensation issue, like when you’re running cold water and the warmth and humidity of just being in Hawaii, moisture forms on the cold-water pipes, drip, drip, drip?

    PAUL: I don’t think that’s it. It just doesn’t seem to – that doesn’t seem to be the problem. The only thing I can think of, somehow moisture is, like you said before, is coming underneath the ground and up into the cabinets somehow. I guess that’s probably what’s happening and (audio gap) how to solve that. But your idea of venting that cabinet is probably a really great idea and there’s a way I could do that. I could put a small, round vent in the – to the outside from that cabinet wall there.

    TOM: I think it’s moisture that’s coming up through the cement slab and it’s congregating in this unconditioned space of the cabinet. And it’s building up to the point where you’re noticing it vis-à-vis a moisture smell, which you’re calling mildew. And I think if you vent the cabinet, that that’s going to go away.

    PAUL: Alright. Well, listen, I’ll definitely consider that venting. That was a very good idea. Thank you for taking my call.

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

    LESLIE: You are tuned to The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show on air and online at MoneyPit.com. Now you can call in your home repair or your home improvement questions 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-888-MONEY-PIT.

    TOM: 888-666-3974.

    Well, if you get hit with a serious snowstorm, you know you’ve got to get outside and shovel the sidewalks. But what about getting that car out of the driveway and off to work or to the store or wherever you’ve got to go? We’re going to have some tips on how to make that a simple process, after this.

    ANNOUNCER: The Money Pit is brought to you by Lutron’s new Maestro Occupancy-Sensing Switch. Never ask “Who left the lights on?” again. Starting at around $20, this motion-sensing light switch turns the lights on automatically when you walk into a room and off when you leave and works with all types of light bulbs. Learn more at LutronSensors.com.

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

    LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

    TOM: Give us a call right now at 1-888-MONEY-PIT.

    One caller we talk to on the air this hour is going to win a prize pack from DAP, including three great home improvement products. The DAP FASTPATCH 30 is a high-performance powder and patching compound that sets fast and dries hard and that is one of the products going out to one lucky caller.

    LESLIE: Yeah. It also lets you finish interior repair projects in less time than any traditional patching compound. It’s super-easy to mix, apply and sand and there is no need to prime before painting. So all of you speed-demon home improvers out there, you can get right to it.

    TOM: That prize pack is worth $45. You can visit DAP.com for more info. And give us a call right now at 1-888-MONEY-PIT for the answer to your home improvement question and your chance to win.

    LESLIE: Carol in Texas is on the line and needs some help with a driveway repair. What’s going on?

    CAROL: We have a single-car, asphalt driveway that goes out of the farm market road, past the front of the house to the back of the house. And it goes between the house deck – I mean the deck on the house – and the storage with a carport. And it’s a single-car, asphalt drive. Goes around a tree and then comes back out. Makes a circle and comes back out and it’s very important to this property. And it’s on a slope. And we want to redo it but we don’t exactly want to dig up the whole thing and start over.

    TOM: OK. What’s the condition of the driveway right now, Carol?

    CAROL: Well, I wouldn’t call it very good; I wouldn’t call it the worst I’ve ever seen.

    TOM: Well, here are your options when it comes to restoring an asphalt driveway. If the driveway is in structurally good shape, it is proper maintenance to repair the cracks, patch any holes and then reseal the entire surface. However, if the driveway structurally is in poor condition – if it’s got really broken-out sections, washed-out sections, if it’s sunken – then all of the sealing and patching in the world is not going to change that.

    So it might be that there’s a combination of things that you’re going to do here but you can do the sealing and the patching yourself. If you want to replace it then, of course, that’s a job for a pro.

    And there’s sort of an in-between step, too, and we’d have to have a pro look at this to determine if this is possible. But sometimes, you can add an additional layer of asphalt to it and leave what you have in place but put another layer on top of it that’s maybe an inch to 2 inches thick, that could be less expensive than tearing the whole thing out. Does that make sense?

    CAROL: Right. Well, more than anything, we just want it to look better than what it does because we plan on putting our house on the market this summer. Because we’re 69 and 71 and so what we’re going to do is downsize, because the farm is a lot of work.

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

    LESLIE: Lyndon in Florida is on the line and needs some help with a water softener on well water.

    Lyndon, tell us what’s going on at your money pit.

    LYNDON: I have this water softener and it controls the water that comes in the entire house.

    TOM: OK.

    LYNDON: But it’s got a funny smell in the water sometimes because of the minerals. I’m looking for something that is inexpensive, that I can get rid of some of the minerals and be able to use my well water.

    TOM: Well, have you had the well water tested recently?

    LYNDON: No, I have not.

    TOM: So, the first thing I want you to do is to have the well water tested.

    LYNDON: OK.

    TOM: And once you know what the components of the test are, then you – we know we can figure out from that what kind of treatment system you need. I suspect if you have odor issues, you’re probably going to need a charcoal filter as part of the system, because that will take that odor out – that sulfur-like odor out – and make it much easier on the nose for you to have a nice, fresh glass of water.

    But the first step, Lyndon, is to have it tested so we know what the contaminants are. Then you’ll know exactly what to do about it.

    Lyndon, thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.

    LESLIE: So, you live in a place where snow is common this time of year but you don’t have a garage. It’s a pain, I know, but you’ve got to clear the snow and ice off of your car. It has to be done. In fact, in some states, it’s illegal to drive around with a car that has not been cleared off properly. And it really is dangerous to drive it that way.

    So, here are a few tips that can help. First, if you’ve got a long driveway, get ready before the storm hits by parking at the end of it. This will actually make the distance that you need to shovel or clear closer to your end point. The same goes for a parking space in a condo or apartment complex. Grab a spot near the exit if you can.

    Now, another trick is to put the windshield wipers up so that they don’t freeze to the car window. Also, you can use a long-handled broom to get the snow off of the top of your car before you open the door or you’re going to end up with a heap of wet snow falling right into your driver’s seat. So once you go in freezing, you will have a wet tush.

    TOM: Good advice. Also, don’t forget to clear snow around your headlights and your taillights.

    And here’s a trick: if your driver door is frozen shut, you might just need to deice it. You can do that with one of my favorite home improvement products: WD-40. You can spray that in locks. You can also spray that in the gap around the door, because sometimes that rubber gasket gets stuck to the frame, and it will free up the door without harming your car.

    Lastly, remember to keep in your car, should a storm strike, a snow kit. And that would include a scraper; perhaps a small, folding shovel; a broom; mittens or gloves; and maybe even an extra pair of boots. And you will be prepared the next time the snow hits.

    LESLIE: Dottie in Nebraska is on the line and needs some help with a flooring project. What can we do for you today?

    DOTTIE: I’m replacing – will be replacing a vinyl floor in the kitchen. And I’ve never had a wood floor. I love the look of wood but I’m confused as to whether to go with wood or with laminate, because I want easy care.

    LESLIE: OK. And this is strictly for your kitchen or does it …?

    DOTTIE: We will be going into the dining room, too, we’ve decided. We’ll be taking up carpet in there to extend into the dining room.

    LESLIE: OK. So it’s – is it an open plan or is there a threshold or is there a division between these two spaces?

    DOTTIE: There is a counter between the two.

    LESLIE: OK. Now, for kitchens, hardwood floors are beautiful but generally, even if they have a commercial type of coating on them, they’re not really meant to stand up to the wear and tear and perhaps the moisture that could occur in a kitchen environment. I think a laminate is probably a better choice for you, just because of the way they are made. And the finishes on top of them make them more easy to clean, easier to deal with any spills that might occur and certainly more durable and of course, can look like anything.

    I actually just put a laminate, in a home I redid in California, that was a 6-inch-wide plank that had a hand-scraped finish on it. So it certainly had that warmth and look and a quality of a traditional hardwood that you’re probably looking for. And depending on the quality of laminate, you could get kind of close to a hardwood price but I think you can still keep it in your price range.

    DOTTIE: Yes.

    LESLIE: But you can find, certainly, beautiful options in the laminate. I think that’s probably the way you want to go for a kitchen.

    DOTTIE: OK. And see if you agree with this: I’ve been told that we have oak cabinets that are OK and not to try to match those. Is that right to go lighter or darker?

    LESLIE: Absolutely. What color is the oak? Is it sort of natural? Has it been stained a different tone?

    DOTTIE: It’s pretty typical, warm oak: kind of a golden – kind of a medium brown.

    LESLIE: I like the idea of a darker floor in a kitchen. I feel like it’s more forgiving. I feel like it makes the cabinets sort of jump off and create a more, you know, put-together look for a kitchen space. I think with a lighter floor, you’re always going to be trying to clean it and care for it, cover it up.

    DOTTIE: OK. And as far – I have a friend who put – I think she said hers is cherry but I love the look. It’s kind of a – the planks are a different shade; they’re not all the same color. Is that something you think that I could find or would that look nice with the oak?

    LESLIE: Now when you say “different shades,” is it strikingly different? Does it look sort of patchwork-y or is it more tonal?

    DOTTIE: No. No. More subtle than that.

    LESLIE: More subtle. I mean I think it could be a very good look if you’ve got the right look for your kitchen. That tends to be a more – not a hippie-dippie but Bohemian, free-spirited sort of eclectic look that’s very popular right now. So if you’ve got that look going in your lighting fixtures and in your tile work and in your countertops, then it could really tie it all in together.

    DOTTIE: OK. And one last question. That floor that I like is laid on the diagonal. Do you do that much and do you recommend that?

    LESLIE: Depends on the size of the space. Because if it’s a tighter or a narrow kitchen, it could look very busy. But if you’ve got a good expanse and the kitchen is fairly wide, then it could play very nicely.

    DOTTIE: Well, that’s wonderful. That’s what I wanted to know. I thought probably the laminate was better. I want it to look beautiful; I don’t want it to look fake.

    TOM: I’ll tell you, Dottie, I have laminate in my kitchen and I’ve had it for about 10 years now.

    DOTTIE: OK.

    TOM: It looks like a stone floor and it’s beautiful.

    DOTTIE: Wonderful. OK. And no particular brand tips or anything like that? Maybe you can’t do that. I’m really a novice here.

    TOM: Well, I’ll tell you, you might just want to – a good place just to kind of shop for it is LumberLiquidators.com, only because they have good prices and they have a whole bunch of manufacturers there on their website.

    DOTTIE: Sure.

    TOM: So that might be a good place to start.

    DOTTIE: OK. I will do it. Thank you so much.

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

    LESLIE: Now we’ve got Lorraine in Arizona who needs some help with a paneling decorating project. Welcome, Lorraine.

    LORRAINE: We have an older home that has two walls that have paneling on. And I was told that if we took the paneling off, it would probably damage the drywall. So I was considering maybe trying to put something over top of the paneling to give it a different look and wanted some suggestions.

    LESLIE: Well, it depends. It depends on how it’s attached to whatever is behind it. There may not be any drywall behind it; it might just be the paneling attached directly to the studs, in which case you would have to put drywall up. It could be that the paneling was glued to the drywall. Then you would never get it off without completely destroying the drywall. Or it could be that it was just nailed on. You’re not really going to know until you sort of peer at a corner or an area where you can take off a little bit of trim work and see what exactly is going on before you make a decision. So that’s probably best-step number one.

    Now, if you find out that there’s really no removing it and your choices are to deal with the paneling and make it look better or cover over it with ¼-inch drywall, you can do that. It depends on how much work you want to do.

    Painting paneling certainly is an excellent option. It creates a totally different look when you paint paneling a crisp, glossy white or an off-white or something that really just poses a good, neutral backdrop and just sort of go with it.

    LORRAINE: OK. This is very light paneling anyway.

    LESLIE: And are you at a point where you just want to see it be darker, different or gone?

    LORRAINE: Different.

    LESLIE: Painting it really does look nice. It doesn’t have to be something that, in the end, you’re going to think, “Ooh, that doesn’t look good.” You just have to make sure that you clean it, you prime it well and then you give it a good top coat.

    Now, I would really start by just taking off a piece of trimming and door frame and seeing how it’s attached. And if you want to truly start with just a fresh look, you can absolutely cover over the entire space with ¼-inch drywall without losing too much space. You’re just going to have to sort of bump out your electrical boxes, your switches, your trim work, et cetera which, for a handy person, isn’t that big of a deal. So it could be a project you could do on your own. Or to hire somebody wouldn’t be that expensive.

    LORRAINE: OK. Sounds good.

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

    Still ahead, you want to finish your basement? Well, make sure you take the proper precautions so you don’t end up with moisture or other problems that can happen in below-grade spaces. We’re going to share some advice from an indoor air-quality expert, next.

    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.

    Well, finished basements are a popular way to maximize space in a home. And many homeowners are turning these below-grade rooms into home theaters, game rooms, guest areas or even apartments for family members.

    TOM: But before you consider a living space in your basement, you want to make sure you’re aware of the pitfalls of finishing basements so that you can create a space that is safe and not prone to problems. Here to tell us about some of those pitfalls and how to avoid them is Jeff May, indoor air-quality expert and author of My House Is Killing Me! and The Mold Survival Guide.

    Hey, Jeff. Thanks for joining us.

    JEFF: Thank you, Tom. Hi, Leslie.

    TOM: So, basements are a really popular place to finish. They’re one of the great, underused spaces in many homes. And there are people out there that are just plain afraid of finishing them because they don’t want to get into a situation where they’ve got mold issues, termite issues and the like. What makes these spaces so treacherous to remodel?

    JEFF: Well, the biggest problem is really – is controlling the relative humidity. What happens in – and this is probably true in just about any basement: you have to control the relative humidity. And in any unfinished basement, it shouldn’t really get over 50 percent. And in a finished basement, no more than 60 percent but really, the lower the better. So, if you have high humidity in any type of basement, you’re going to have mold problems and that’s something you really want to avoid.

    TOM: So you have to really manage the moisture – is the bottom line on that. So, when you’re planning your remodeling project, there are so many ways to remodel a basement. How do you make moisture management sort of part of that process? What kinds of techniques should you deploy if you’re going to be remodeling a basement and what should you avoid?

    JEFF: Well, the first thing, I suppose, you want to really avoid is remodeling a basement that has any kind of water problem. If there’s leakage in one corner, persistent, then you know it’s just something that has to be solved beforehand.

    And this would be particularly true – let’s say people are buying a house, they’ve just moved in and they want to finish the basement. They really should wait at least a year or more to be sure that there’s no water issues. And then, whatever problems there are, they have to be taken care of before the basement is finished. And again, controlling the relative humidity is key.

    TOM: And of course, very briefly, you and I share a long history as professional home inspectors and we both know that one of the easiest ways to cure water problems is really to address your outside drainage conditions: keeping those gutters clean, keeping those downspouts well away from the foundation and then, of course, regrading soil and not collecting water around the foundation.

    So if you’re listening to this saying, “I do have a moisture problem,” it’s easy to fix by following steps like that.

    JEFF: Right. The most important thing, if you use subsurface drainage – a lot of people have dry wells and they end up with – the dry well is clogging, overflowing. So the best thing is to just put a 4-inch PVC Schedule 40 pipe that collects the water and then drains it away downhill.

    And it can just go even into a landscape furrow that’s been deepened. But it’s – that’s really the first thing that has to be taken care of before you finish the basement.

    LESLIE: You know, Jeff, people just really want to make a cozy space in the basement, so they generally want the carpet, which is the worst idea. So, are we just limited to tile?

    JEFF: There is a simple solution to that, too. I mean first of all, in most basements, over a period of years, they’re just – they’re guaranteed to have water. The water here is going to break, there’ll be some kind of flood. You don’t know. So, the thing is tile or some sort of resilient flooring, solid material is ideal.

    And you can always put some rugs down. And if there’s water, you can take them out and have them washed, cleaned or throw them away and replace them. But the big problem is that when wall-to-wall carpet is down, people do not want to remove it. The things get wet, they get damp at the perimeter. It’s cold because it’s colder at the exterior walls – the foundation walls. And the things get moldy, so you don’t – if you have a rug, you want to be sure to have that rug at a couple of feet away, really, from the perimeter of the foundation.

    TOM: We’re talking to Jeff May. He’s an indoor air-quality expert and author of four books on indoor air quality, including My House Is Killing Me! and The Mold Survival Guide.

    Jeff, one more question before we let you go. Let’s talk about the best materials for wall construction. We both know that drywall is mold food because you’ve got the paper face that the mold can attack with that moisture and with the air down there. Great situation for mold to develop. What do you think about these fiberglass-faced drywall products that are out there now that are specifically not – designed not to give mold the food that it needs to take hold?

    JEFF: Well, I think that’s great. If paper – the paper-faced drywall has a lot of starch in it and so mold can live on the starch, as well as on the cellulose fibers. So the fiberglass drywall is a – it’s a great idea. But really, the most important thing is to stop the moisture at the foundation wall. You do not want that moisture to get to the back of the drywall, whatever it is, or the fiberglass. So, that’s why that – any kind of foam that has any foam – any insulation that’s really a vapor barrier, it works very nicely.

    TOM: Great advice. Jeff May, indoor air-quality expert, thanks so much for stopping by The Money Pit once again, Jeff.

    And you can learn more about Jeff’s work at his website, MayIndoorAir.com. And also, take a look at Jeff’s book, My House Is Killing Me!. That website is, simply, MyHouseIsKillingMe.com.

    Thanks, Jeff.

    JEFF: OK. Thanks, Tom and Leslie.

    LESLIE: Alright. Still to come, learn why energy use has decreased in recent years and how you can cut the cost even more.

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    TOM: This is The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show. I’m Tom Kraeutler.

    LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete. Pick up the phone and give us a call. The number here is 1-888-MONEY-PIT.

    One caller we talk to this hour is going to win a great prize pack from DAP, with products in it that will help you fix up all around your house. Included is DAP Presto Patch, which is a drywall patching kit. And it includes everything that you need to repair a hole in the wall which, believe it or not, tends to happen in pretty much every home. It’s structural, permanent and invisible once you make the repair.

    TOM: Plus, you’ll also get the DAP FASTPATCH 30 and Kwik Seal Grout Recolor Kit, which could really come in handy if you’ve got grimy grout.

    It’s a prize worth 45 bucks. Visit DAP.com for more information and give us a call right now at 1-888-MONEY-PIT for the answer to your home improvement question and your chance to win.

    LESLIE: Mike in Georgia is on the line with a question about a dimmer. How can we help you?

    MIKE: My kitchen is in the center of my house, so I get very little light from the windows.

    TOM: OK.

    MIKE: And I tried an LED light. I have five 60-watt cans in there. I had heard you mention about a dimmer that would work with the LEDs? My question is: is there a particular kind? I need one that works with a three-way.

    TOM: Yeah. You can go to The Home Depot and you can pick up the Lutron Skylark Contour CžL Dimmer. That’s the Lutron Skylark Contour CžL. This is a dimmer that’s designed specifically to work with energy-efficient bulbs. It works with CFLs and it works with LEDs. And specifically, it’s adjustable so that you can get the lowest level and then the highest level of light. And therefore, when you move the dimmer up and down, it controls that.

    Typically, with standard dimmers, you can get a flicker because at some point, you’re going to be not putting enough power in to bring that bulb on. So you get this sort of flickering effect?

    MIKE: Right.

    TOM: But with this Skylark Contour CžL line of dimmers, you can adjust the low end and this way, it’ll always be on when you turn the switch on. And then you can bring it up from there.

    MIKE: Yeah, I was afraid with five cans in the middle of the house, it would look like Yankee Stadium at nighttime.

    TOM: No, actually – I actually have one of these dimmers in my kitchen and I’ve got five cans on this dimmer, so I have exactly that situation. And I have LEDs in the lights. I have the Philips LEDs in there, the ones that are yellow. And they turn really super-clean, white light when you turn them on. And I’ve got that Skylark dimmer controlling the whole thing. Now, that’s not a three-way but I’m sure it will work on a three-way.

    And the thing that’s cool about Lutron is as you’re putting this together, if you have a question, they have an 800 toll-free, tech-support number. You can call them and there’s somebody always standing by to kind of answer your wiring questions. If you can’t figure out where the extra wire goes, they’ll tell you.

    MIKE: OK, great. Thanks a lot.

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

    Well, according to an Associated Press report, energy use at home has dropped to its lowest levels in a decade. And that’s really good news for homeowners who are looking to save on electric bills.

    In fact, the peak was in 2010 when Americans used more than 11-and-a-half thousand kilowatt hours a year. So this year, we’re on track to use an average of about 10-and-a-half thousand. The numbers are going down.

    LESLIE: The reason? Well, the use of energy-efficient appliances is a really big one. Also, housing codes are calling for more efficient windows and insulation. And that cuts the costs, as well.

    And the electronics of today actually use less juice than those we used a decade ago. For example, an LCD television as opposed to a boxed TV set from early 2000.

    TOM: Yeah. And it seems the opposite of what you might think, considering just how many gadgets we all have these days. But it turns out that the gadgets are just continuing to multiply and we are getting smarter about energy use when it comes to powering those gadgets.

    For example, do you know how much power it takes to power an iPad for a year? It takes exactly $1.36 worth of power.

    LESLIE: Really?

    TOM: Just $1.36, yeah. So you can’t tell your kids to turn the electronics off because they’re using a lot of electricity because apparently, they’re not. And that compares to about $28, which powers a desktop computer for a year.

    So, those gadgets are not using that much power and that’s according to the Electric Power Research Institute.

    LESLIE: Now, speaking of those gadgets, one of the best ways that you can save even more money on your electric bills is to avoid keeping those chargers plugged in when you’re not using them. Even certain electronics, if you keep those plugged in when they’re not on, they are wasting power.

    So, actually, if you use a power strip, what you can do is plug all of those things into the strip and then you just simply turn off the power strip when you’re not using it. So then you’re cutting all the power to each of those things. Or if you’re just using those chargers in the outlet in your wall and you’re just leaving them plugged in, unplug it when you unplug the phone, guys. You’re going to save a ton of cash there.

    TOM: Good advice. 888-666-3974. We’ve got advice for your next home improvement project. Give us a call.

    LESLIE: Britt in California is on the line and needs some help with a skylight. What can we do for you?

    BRITT: My husband and I are considering putting in the skylights in our home.

    TOM: OK.

    BRITT: OK. Are we better off to put a round skylight? A square skylight? Are we better off to put it toward the middle of the roof line or at where it’s opened up on the deck?

    TOM: OK. So you have a couple of options with skylights.

    First of all, you can use a physical skylight, which is a hole in your roof with a glass skylight inserted into it. There’s another type of skylight kind of thing: it’s called a “sun tunnel.” It’s a lot easier to install. And basically you put in this tube that goes into the roof and opens up the roof. And then you connect a flex duct from it down to the ceiling of the room that you want to light and that actually brings a lot of natural light into the room. It’s called a “sun tunnel.” So you have skylight or sun tunnel.

    A sun tunnel is going to be a lot less expensive than a skylight. If you’re going to go with the skylight, you probably want to – you have to position it in the room where it’s going to look the best, so that would probably be in the middle. But the expense is creating the light shaft; that’s what you create, you construct, from the point of the roof down to the ceiling level. And that’s kind of the more expensive, complicated part about putting the skylight in. Cutting it through the roof is really pretty easy.

    What I would recommend is that you use a good-quality skylight. I like Andersen skylights, Pella skylights, VELUX – V-E-L-U-X. All good-quality skylights because they’re curbed: they sit up off the roof and they have flashing that makes the seal between the skylight and the roof itself.

    And I’ve had, for example, a VELUX – a V-E-L-U-X – skylight that’s been in my house for 20-plus years. Never had a problem with leaking through many a storm. So it’s definitely worth putting in a good-quality skylight but those are your options. I hope that helps you out.

    Thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.

    LESLIE: So, does the cost of fresh herbs and veggies have you feeling sticker shock? We’re going to teach you how to grow fresh, healthy produce at home, all winter long. We’re going to give you the step-by-step, after this.

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

    LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

    TOM: Hey, do you find that you just end up scratching your head when you go to the tool aisle at the store or you don’t know what to do, what product to buy? We’re going to take the guesswork out at MoneyPit.com. We now have tool-review videos.

    LESLIE: Yeah. You can learn about the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to those power tools. Just head on over to MoneyPit.com/Videos.

    And while you’re online, you can post a question in the Community section, just like Monty from Virginia did. And Monty wrote: “Can you tell me the lowest temperature I can set my thermostat to to keep my pipes from freezing while I’m away on vacation?”

    That’s not the only thing you should be doing, though, right?

    TOM: That’s right. There’s a number of things besides that, so let’s do a little bit of a sort of vacation/pre-vacation checklist for you here.

    First of all, in terms of the thermostat, I would not go too low on that because if it goes too low, not only do you face the risk of pipes freezing – and by the way, how low you go is going to vary based on how well your home is constructed and whether you have any sort of weak points in the house where pipes commonly freeze. Like I’ve got one spot I know. It’s in the kitchen of an old house where the pipe freezes there more often than not. If we’re going to get any frozen pipes, it’ll happen in this one spot. So, generally, I wouldn’t go any lower than maybe about 62 degrees.

    That said, there’s other things that you should do before you go on vacation. You should turn off your main water valve. Why? Because if a pipe does freeze, the only water that’s going to leak is whatever is in the pipes or perhaps maybe the amount of water that’s in a water heater. But other than that, you’ll be good to go. So turn off that main water valve.

    And also, turn off any non-essential circuit breakers. Go breaker by breaker. And what you can do is just get some of those red dots or green-dot stickers. Stick them on the breaker box once you figure out what’s non-essential. Make those to be red dots so that you know they can go off. Everything else that’s green stays on 24-7, even when you’re away.

    LESLIE: You know, Monty, as long as we’re on the topic of going on vacation, as far as lighting goes inside your house, make sure you put a couple of lights on timers. And stagger them. Put a couple lights on here and there on/off throughout the day just so it kind of just makes it look like somebody is inside. Make sure you do the same for exterior lights. Have those on. Maybe some motion-sensing lights around back, if you don’t already have them, just to sort of maybe startle somebody away.

    It’s a good idea to just have a neighbor grab any mail or boxes that might pile up, just so it doesn’t look like you’re not there.

    TOM: Well, have you checked out prices in the produce aisle lately? Fresh herbs, veggies, they are really going up in cost. But the truth is you can have fresh, healthy foods that are inexpensive by growing your own. Leslie has tips on how to do just that, in today’s edition of Leslie’s Last Word.

    LESLIE: That’s right. And the solution is container gardening.

    Now, lots of us already do a form of container gardening. Think about houseplants. That’s a container garden. But container gardening is not just limited to a decorative element. If you’ve got the right soil, the right light and the right pot, you can actually grow herbs and even some vegetables all year long.

    Now, you’re going to need a location with good lighting. And I’m talking about sometimes having as much as six hours of direct sunlight a day for certain veggies. You’re also going to need room for containers that are about 18 inches in diameter and at least 18 inches deep. Water is super-important, also, so you’re going to need some sort of drainage.

    Now, there are many greenhouses available online these days. And with more people container gardening, some seed companies are working on vegetables specifically bred to be grown in containers. So, if fresh veggies sound good to you, give it a try.

    TOM: This is The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show. Coming up next time on The Money Pit, if you’ve promised yourself to take on more projects around the house this year, good for you. But there’s one thing to keep in mind. We’re going to tell you what you need to know to make sure those projects get done with safety in mind, 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.

    END HOUR 2 TEXT

    (Copyright 2014 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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