Eliminate Squeaks and Creaks, Learn How to Clean Bathroom Grout, and get Insider Tips on Protecting Against Cold Winter Damage
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: We are here to help you with your home improvement project. We want to solve the do-it-yourself dilemma that you might be suffering through. If you’re thinking about a new project for the new year, give us a call first. We’ll help make sure that project gets done right the first time out. The number is 1-888-MONEY-PIT, 888-666-3974.
Coming up this hour on The Money Pit, if you’re getting ready to say goodbye to your Christmas tree, why not recycle your tree in your own backyard instead? We’ll tell you how.
LESLIE: And if you’re wondering how winter might wreak havoc on your home, wonder no more. One insurance company is going to let us glimpse into five years’ worth of homeowners’ claims to see exactly how and where winter home damage really does take place. Find out what we learned, so you and your house can avoid the same fate.
TOM: And is your bathroom looking a bit run down and drab? Well, a surprising pick-me-up can give it a huge lift. We’re going to teach you how to get rid of the dirty, drab grout in your bathroom and make it look totally different. We’ll have tips on how to do just that, in just a bit.
LESLIE: And this hour, we’re giving away a signed copy of our book, My Home, My Money Pit: Your Guide to Every Home Improvement Adventure.
TOM: It’s full of tips and home improvement solutions so call us, right now, for the answer to your home improvement question and your chance to win at 1-888-MONEY-PIT.
Leslie, who’s first?
LESLIE: Stuart is on the line with an insulation question. How can we help you today?
STUART: I’m wondering at what point in a house life should you look at the insulation in your attic and reinsulating?
TOM: Well, if you have insulation that’s old and you notice that it’s sort of sagging and compressed and no longer fluffy, at that point I would remove the insulation and replace it. If you’ve got insulation that’s still pretty fluffy and it holds a lot of air but you just don’t have enough of it, then you can add additional layers on top of that.
You do that with unfaced fiberglass batts. You lay them in perpendicular to the existing insulation to try to get up to that, say, 15- to 20-inch level of insulation. Because at that level, you’re going to be super-insulated and it’s really going to make a big savings in your heating costs.
STUART: OK. But if it’s flat, it needs – removed before you put further insulation on top of it. It needs to have a little bounce to it, I guess.
TOM: If it’s old and it’s flat and it’s compressed and it’s sagging, then I would take it out and start from scratch.
STUART: Hey, thank you very much. I appreciate your time.
TOM: You’re welcome, Stuart. Thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.
LESLIE: Now we’ve got Joyce in Alabama on the line who’s got a question about a sink odor. What’s going on?
JOYCE: Well, this is in a bathroom sink. It’s about 25 years old. It’s a type that has three air-vent holes in it or overflow holes in it. And the odor seems to be emanating primarily from there. It’s a very musty odor and came down to that conclusion because I finally took some paper and stuffed up those holes. And things smelled much better in the bathroom that way.
TOM: Well, sometimes what happens is you’ll get some bacteria that will grow in that overflow trap. So what I would suggest you do is this: that is to fill the sink up with hot water and add some bleach to it and let the bleach very slowly trickle over that overflow. And so it saturates it and hopefully that will kill that mold or that bacteria.
Now, the other thing that you can do is you could take the bathroom-sink trap apart and clean it out with a bottle brush. Now, some of the traps today are just plastic. They’re easy to unscrew and put back together. Under the sink, sometimes you can clean that. And again, you get that biogas that forms in there. If you clean it with a bleach solution, that usually makes things smell a lot better in the bathroom. OK, Joyce?
JOYCE: Alright. Thank you so much.
TOM: You’re very welcome. Good luck with that project. Thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.
LESLIE: Greg in Washington is on the line and wants to heat his home with a wood stove. Tell us about your money pit.
GREG: Well, sure. I heat my home with a wood stove and it’s about 10 years old, the stove is. And it’s a pretty good-quality stove. And it’s the main source of heat for my house but I’ve been really disappointed in it. The house is drafty and when the fire dies down, the house cools down in a hurry.
And I had the insulation checked out, so it’s well-insulated. And I think the problem is the wood stove. Right now, the air intake for the combustion chamber is at the bottom of the stove. And so it’s taking in room air and I think that’s causing a draft. And I’ve talked to a lot of our neighbors – where we live, there’s lots of wood, so a lot of people heat with wood – and they all say that it would make a big difference if I were to hook up the stove to an outside source. I’ll be taking cold air from the outside in.
So I went down to our dealer where I bought the stove and basically, he told me he could sell me what I’m looking for but I’m going to be disappointed. And his reason is that, right now, we’re taking air into the combustion chamber that’s about 60 degrees or so. And if I add the outside intake, I’ll be taking air in that’s, say, 20 or 30 degrees in temperature. And I’ll be spending a lot of energy just heating the air from the outside. And he recommended not to do it.
So my question is: is it your opinion this would be worthwhile to do or not?
TOM: Most modern fireplace and wood-stove systems include a combustion air intake. In fact, in some cases, it’s required. So, I wouldn’t necessarily take the dealer’s advice on this. I know that if you improve energy efficiency, it’s always going to include a combustion air intake. Because otherwise, you’ve paid to heat all of that air sort of once and now you’re going to pay to heat it again because you’re taking it up the chimney. Does that make sense?
GREG: Yeah, sure does. Yes.
TOM: So, if there’s a way that you can put a combustion air intake there, I would definitely do that. Because you’re right: that wood stove will depressurize the house and frankly, it’s probably pulling more air in from the outside anyway. You’re probably pulling that cold air in anyway; you’re just pulling it through all the gaps around your doors and windows and other spaces like that.
GREG: Right. It’s really drafty by the doors and windows. You’re right.
TOM: Yeah. Because it’s depressurizing. So why not just give it the combustion air and see what happens?
GREG: OK. Because it – I’ve estimated it would cost about $600 to do this. And probably means it’d cost $800 by the time I’m done, so I didn’t know if it’d really be much difference.
TOM: I think it will probably make you a lot more comfortable.
GREG: OK. I think I’ll try that then.
TOM: Alright. Good luck. Thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.
LESLIE: You are tuned to The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show on air and online at MoneyPit.com. Now you can call in your home repair or your home improvement question 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-888-MONEY-PIT.
Up next, does your bathroom need a facelift? Well, before you break the bank, try this: clean the grout. It might be just the lift your bathroom needs. We’ll tell you how, 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.
Pick up the phone and give us a call at 888-MONEY-PIT. One caller that we talk to this hour is going to get a signed copy of our book, My Home, My Money Pit: Your Guide to Every Home Improvement Adventure.
TOM: And if you’re trying to be more DIY-savvy, this is the book for you. It’s full of ideas, tips and advice for every nook and cranny in your home. In fact, we have an entire chapter devoted to nooks and crannies, most of which are going to save you a few bucks. The number is 1-888-MONEY-PIT.
LESLIE: Kelly in South Dakota is on the line and wants some help removing wallpaper. What can we do for you?
KELLY: I have a – some wallpaper that I want to remove. And I believe we primed the walls. This has been about 10 years ago. And when I pulled back on the edges of the wallpaper, it seems as though it’s taking a bit of the drywall with it.
TOM: So, what you want to do is you want to get a tool called a “paper tiger,” which puts small holes in the surface of the paper. And it helps the wallpaper remover get behind it and loosen up the adhesive.
Now, in terms of wallpaper remover, you can use fabric softener, which works well, or you could use a commercially available product like DIF – D-I-F. But putting those holes in there is important because, otherwise, it doesn’t saturate the paper.
Now, if you do that and it still doesn’t loosen up and pull off, then what you need to do is go out and rent a wallpaper steamer. And that will use warm, moist air to separate the paper from the wall.
No matter how you do it, it is a lot of work. And once that wallpaper is off, you’re going to need to reprime that wall with a good-quality primer so you have a nice surface upon which to put your final color of wall paint.
KELLY: OK. Do you need to sand that once you get it all done?
TOM: Well, if it’s a little rough, just lightly sand it. You don’t want to sand it too much, especially because you don’t want to cut into the paper that’s part of the drywall. But a little bit of light abrasion is not a bad thing.
But the most important thing is a good-quality priming paint applied to that wall surface, because you’re going to have old sizing material and who-knows-what-else stuck to that. And if you put the primer on, it’ll give you a good surface upon which to apply the paint. The paint will flow nicely and it’ll look better when it dries.
KELLY: Well, thank you very much. I appreciate that.
TOM: You’re very welcome. Thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.
LESLIE: Jack in Nebraska is on the line with a flooring question. How can we help you?
JACK: I want to put in a new floor in my basement. And I – somebody has told me that some of these new engineered-wood products, like the snap-together floors – they said that some of those are OK for a basement application. Now, is there any truth to that?
TOM: It’s absolutely true. Now, just keep in mind that when it comes to wood flooring, there is prefinished wood flooring, which is solid, and that’s not rated for a basement. And then there is prefinished wood flooring which is engineered.
Now, engineered flooring is essentially made up of many layers of wood. It’s a bit like plywood in that you have different layers glued together at opposing angles. Except with the engineered-wood flooring, the top layer is hardwood and it looks just like solid hardwood. In fact, once it’s down, you really can’t tell the difference. And because it’s made up of different layers that are glued together at opposing angles, it’s dimensionally stable and it can be exposed to moisture or humidity, like you have in the basement, without swelling and cracking and splitting.
And so, yes, engineered-wood flooring is a perfect choice for a basement. And if you want another option, you could look at laminate floor, also modular in the sense that it locks together. And laminate flooring comes in many, many, many different types of sizes and shapes and colors. In fact, I saw some reclaimed lumber-looking laminate floor recently at a big trade show that was just spectacular. I mean it really looked like the original wood floor.
So, lots of options there for basement flooring. Just don’t go with solid.
JACK: OK. Well, you answered my question. Thank you very much.
TOM: Well, if you’re looking for ways to freshen up your bathroom, here’s where you can find it: between the tiles. Grout in tubs and showers gets pretty discolored after a few years and it can really drag down the look of the entire room.
LESLIE: That’s right. Well, cleaning grout is a little time-consuming but it’s easy, so that’s the good news. And just wait to see the difference that it’s really going to make in this space.
So, you’ve got to start by ID-ing what kind of tile do you have. Glazed tiles can obviously withstand chemical cleaners but unglazed tiles should only be cleaned with the natural stuff.
TOM: And making natural cleanser is a pretty easy project. You just mix baking soda and a bit of water, apply the natural paste or the chemical cleaner – and if your tiles are glazed – to the grout with a toothbrush and work it into the area for about 30 seconds or so. Then rinse each section as you go.
LESLIE: Yeah. You’re going to be so glad you did it. But that doesn’t mean you’re going to want to do it again. It’s a lot of work, guys. So, to protect that grout from discoloring in the future, you want to apply a grout sealer.
Epoxy or acrylic, that’s going to seal the grout, which will keep the dirt and stains from making their way back in.
TOM: 888-666-3974. Got a project on your to-do list? Well, move it over to ours. Call us, right now, at 1-888-MONEY-PIT.
LESLIE: Penny in Illinois is on the line and she’s dealing with some frost on a meter. Tell us what’s going on at your money pit.
PENNY: Well, we have a brand-new home and the outside is where the meter is and stuff like that. Well, cold air gets into that little pipe area and then comes in through the basement and puts a patch of frost on the wall in the basement downstairs. And I was wondering if there was anything I can do to put something over that gas meter to protect it from getting so cold.
TOM: You don’t have to worry about the gas meter getting – being protected, because gas meters are meant to be outside in all sorts of weather. That said, though, if you’re getting that kind of cold air in your basement, that’s got to be causing you big energy losses. So I would try to seal those spaces where that cold air is getting in, to try to keep that space as warm as possible. Because that is going to add to your heating cost.
PENNY: OK. But I talked to the builder and he said you really can’t do anything inside because then you’re looking at a fire hazard. If you try to insulate inside, then there could be a fire hazard there.
TOM: What, in the basement? With basement-wall insulation?
PENNY: I was thinking by where the gas meter was. That’s where I kind of …
TOM: But again, you don’t have to worry about the gas meter. That said, you can insulate any – you can add insulation to exterior walls and you certainly can add insulation near a gas meter. It’s not like it’s a source of flame, OK? It’s a piece of equipment where – through which all the plumbing passes. But I mean it’s not like there’s a flame there.
So if your builder is telling you that, it sounds to me like he’s trying to get out of a project.
PENNY: Gotcha. OK. Thank you. I appreciate your help on that.
TOM: Alright, Penny? Alright. Good luck with that project. Thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT. Tell that guy to get to work.
PENNY: I will.
LESLIE: Sparky in Georgia is on the line with a question about cleaning a bathroom. How can we help you today?
SPARKY: I live in a subdivision, about 65 employees out in the country. I actually test the water on a daily basis for the chlorine and report that at the end of the month to the local provider. I’ve got a two-bedroom house. In one bathroom, I’ve got no problem with the water in the tank or the bowl. In the master bedroom, I’ve got the bath where it’s got a black ring – water ring. And I’ve replaced the water line, the inside of the water tank, replaced the entire bowl and it continues to come up. Even after we clean the bowl, we still get that black water ring.
LESLIE: So you’re able to remove it but it comes back.
SPARKY: That’s correct.
TOM: And it only shows up on that bathroom and not others.
SPARKY: That’s correct. And the products that we’ve gotten from the – off the store shelf have not been able to help, either. And we’ve actually gone to the internet and it says the more chlorine you put in it, the more that black ring will come back. But we’ve cleaned the bath – both bathrooms with the same products.
TOM: Are the toilets the same age?
SPARKY: The same age, yes. I’ve called the water company and they said they don’t have a clue. And I said I’d sampled the water and tested it every day for the monthly reports.
TOM: I wonder if there’s something different about the porcelain finish on that toilet. For example, if it – if one toilet’s finish was – maybe it was scrubbed more over the years and as a result, it’s worn off some of its porcelain so it’s a bit more porous and becomes more of a trap for bacteria to kind of grow in. And I’m speculating here. I’m kind of shooting from the hip, Sparky, because I know that you’ve tried all of the sort of normal things. But it’s confusing that it happens just in this one particular bathroom with this one particular toilet.
I guess, given everything that you’ve done, have you considered just replacing the toilet and seeing if that does it?
SPARKY: Well, that we’ve done. In fact, I’ve got to go back and – you may be onto something. Because one bowl is round, which is the one issue that we’ve got. The other bathroom is oblong. So they work – same manufacturer but two different bowls.
TOM: That would be the only thing that seems left, because you’ve done everything else.
SPARKY: I was just wondering if there was some product on the market, other than Coca-Cola.
TOM: Yeah. Look, there’s a lot of products that clean this but it’s not going to stop it from coming back. The go-to product for me is CLR. Have you used that yet?
SPARKY: No, I have not.
TOM: So that’s an old standby. Take a look at CLR; stands for Calcium, Lime and Rust. It basically is the – one of the best toilet-bowl cleaners out there. Inexpensive and give that a shot. But if it continues to develop that issue, I might consider replacing the toilet if it’s really bothersome. Either that or get one of those Ty-D-Bol men with the blue dye so you just don’t notice it.
SPARKY: Correct. Yeah, there you go. Thank you very much.
TOM: Alright, Sparky. Thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.
LESLIE: Lynn in Missouri is on the line and needs some help with a handrail. How can we help you?
LYNN: I’m trying to figure out the proper procedure to align and be able to cut the proper angle for the top rail and a bottom rail between two posts.
TOM: OK. So, are the posts level? Are they straight?
LYNN: Well, no, not exactly. See, what it is is we took the old, wooden stuff off and we’re replacing it with vinyl. And so, basically, some of the posts are kind of warped a little here, a little there.
TOM: Alright. So, here’s the way you do this. If the posts were straight, it would be a lot easier because, essentially, what you would do is you would lay the railing on the stairs, put a level – vertical level – up against it and once it’s absolutely straight, use that to determine the cut line. Because that will be, essentially, a vertical cut.
Now, if the posts are not level – they’re out of level – what I would do is I would take the railing and I would clamp it any way I could to the side of the posts, even if it’s a bit sloppy, just so it’s held approximately in the position that you want and against the side of the posts with some big – maybe wood Jorgensen clamps or bar clamps or something like that.
And then you can scribe, from the post to the rail, with a pencil that exact cut. You know, you hold the pencil – say, a carpenter’s pencil – flat on the post and then you just basically drag it against the rail. And then add a little bit of extra space, maybe make it a ¼-inch bigger than that. Cut it, put it in place, see how the cut looks. You can adjust if you have to trim it a little bit – I presume you’re using a power miter box – and then you’ll kind of dial it in. But that’s the way to do it, OK?
LYNN: OK. Thank you very much.
TOM: Alright, Lynn. Happy to help. Good luck with that project. Thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.
LESLIE: Hey, are you trying to sidestep cold-weather problems around your home? Well, one insurance company is using five years of winter claims to tell us exactly which ones we need to watch out for. Find out which cause the most damage, coming up.
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TOM: Making good homes better, welcome back to The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show. I’m Tom Kraeutler.
LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.
TOM: Well, winter is a busy time of year for homeowners-insurance companies. Storms, power outages and frigid temperatures all contribute to problems that may become cause for filing an insurance claim.
LESLIE: That’s right. And one of the nation’s leading insurers, The Hartford, recently analyzed five years’ worth of claims to determine what homeowners need to pay special attention to this time of year. So here to discuss that is John Kinney, the chief claim officer for The Hartford.
JOHN: Thank you.
TOM: So, this is an interesting activity. I have to imagine, though, aren’t you guys always paying attention to where your money is going, in terms of claims? What prompted this study?
JOHN: Well, you know, weather is always an issue for us all year round here, like any other insurance company. But the winter weather tends to produce its own set of interesting variables and challenges. And regardless of the season, our folks tend to think of three S’s: they talk about seasonal maintenance, when the storm is approaching and what kind of supplies do you have on hand to get through that season?
TOM: Well, let’s start with frozen pipes, since it’s one of the most common causes of serious leaks inside homes. What kind of a problem is that across the country?
JOHN: So, for most of the parts of the country where it gets cold, obviously the Midwest and the Northeast, we see our share of frozen-pipe claims. Last year, actually, challenged the norm. As that polar vortex dipped south, we saw more of those claims down south. And those claims, unfortunately, can be very expensive because the water damage that happens after that pipe breaks is really the crux of the problem.
TOM: Yeah, it’s where the money goes, right? I see that your average claim for a frozen pipe is $18,000. That’s a pretty expensive plumbing repair.
JOHN: Well, you know what? Believe it or not, it depends on – they can be much more expensive than that or they can be cheaper than that, depending on the type of loss and the type of home that was impacted. But most of that are those – the repair dollars go into fixing things like floors and walls. The cheapest part of that repair is actually the plumbing itself.
TOM: Yeah, I bet it is.
Hey, a quick aside. I was a home inspector for 20 years, John, and I remember one time I was asked to do a re-inspection on a home that was about to close. It had been vacant and owned by a relocation company.
And they weren’t really paying close attention because when we got there the day before closing and got into the house, we found 4 feet of water in the bottom half of the house because of a frozen pipe that had filled up the bottom of – you can imagine a split-level house, where the water was starting to come out the windows.
And apparently, it sat that way for a while. Because people don’t realize that it’s not just the water that sits there, it’s all the humidity that’s causing the drywall to buckle and the doors to swell and the wallpaper to fall off. So, water that leaks from frozen, broken pipes can cause just an inordinate amount of damage that if gone unchecked, as you know, can get much worse.
JOHN: Absolutely. Which leads us – one of the great pieces of advice we get from our claim professionals is when that incident happens, do you know how to shut the water off? And so you – what you described is obviously a home that’s been vacant for a while. But even where you know you’re home when it happens, knowing where that master shutoff valve is in your house is very important. And a lot of homeowners don’t know.
TOM: That’s right. When we were home inspectors, we always used to tag that with a label. And I think that’s a great idea for folks to do right now – is to find and identify that main shutoff valve and put a label on it. And make sure that everyone in the house knows where it is and what to do with it if there’s a leak.
JOHN: Oh, that’s great advice. Because what you often find is maybe one spouse knows where it is and the other doesn’t. So, putting that – we say the same thing: put a bright piece of tape on there so that you know where it is.
TOM: We’re talking to John Kinney – he’s the chief claim officer for The Hartford – about the most common causes of problems in houses that happen in the winter, based on five years of claims data that his team analyzed.
LESLIE: John, it seems to me that another obvious damage that would come from a winter storm would be hail damage. But people don’t usually think about checking for it. And sometimes, it’s kind of hard to see. So, do you find that there’s a limit of time? Because it may be some duration between the actual storm and you noticing hail damage.
JOHN: That’s a great point. So, hail damage is one of those types of claims that sometimes takes a little time to discover. And so, particularly down south and out in the Midwest and the early winter and the end of the winter, we start to see hail damage.
And your point is well-taken, which is when you think about the damage hail can cause, most people think about the roof. But it’s also gutters and things that are other things that are exposed. And it’s not a bad idea to check, post a storm, to see if your house did suffer from damage. Because you’re going to learn, at some point when the water starts seeping through, that you have a problem. So it’s not a bad idea to check immediately after a storm.
TOM: Now, speaking of storm, tree collapses during storms can be a major problem. We live in the Northeast. Our area was impacted directly by Hurricane Sandy. I saw trees that fell and literally sliced two-story Colonial homes in half. So the damage can really be very, very major from trees that fall in a storm. How do you avoid that?
JOHN: So, the way you avoid it is preparedness. Maintain those trees. And so, in any part of the country, in the winter, we see tree damage. And believe it or not, it’s actually more expensive out west. Because when we think about the winter out west, we think of the wind blowing. And not surprisingly, some of the trees out there tend to be more established and larger; it can cause more damage. But the real simple rule there is, like your heating system in the winter, you should make sure your tress are maintained year-round. Because, as we all know, the wind blows year-round.
TOM: We’re talking to John Kinney. He’s the chief claim officer for The Hartford.
John, I think that some homeowners are always surprised by what is covered by their homeowners insurance. For example, you were speaking about plumbing, broken pipes and frozen pipes. You know, that’s a type of plumbing leak that’s covered. But the kind of plumbing leak that just develops slowly over time is not covered, correct?
JOHN: Well, it depends, right? So, unfortunately, it’s one of those things that’s going to be dependent upon what kind of coverage you buy and the scope of the coverage you buy.
So, one piece of advice we like to give is know what you have. And if you’re not an insurance expert, talk to your agent. Talk to your insurance company to make sure you understand the breadth of what – exactly what you have.
TOM: Alright. Here’s one thing that homeowners are always surprised is covered: ice-dam damage. I’ve had a lot of folks call our show asking for repair advice in ice-dam damage and I always say, “Hey, have you called your insurance company?” They say, “No, I didn’t know I should.” But ice-dam damage is typically covered by homeowners insurance, right?
JOHN: Yeah, we do see a fair number of ice-dam claims in the winter, as well. And again, the way to prevent that is to get those roof rakes out when – especially on – you have – where you have roofs that are relatively flat. And speaking personally, I’ve got that issue in my own home. And the ice-dam coverage is – the same thing happens: it creates an avenue for water to get into the home, which will create damage within the home. And you’re correct: those are claims you can make under a homeowners policy.
TOM: Alright. Final question to put you on the spot. Public adjuster: friend or foe of the insurance company?
JOHN: Oh, it’s – a public adjuster is a very personal decision made by our policyholders. I’ll leave it at that.
TOM: Well said, John. John Kinney, Chief Claim Officer for The Hartford, very informative. Thanks so much for stopping by The Money Pit, John.
JOHN: Thanks, Tom.
TOM: And if you’d like more information about The Hartford and some tips that they have for you to be prepared this winter, simply go to TheHartford.com/Winter.
LESLIE: Alright. Do you have a money pit that’s full of squeaks and creaks? Well, we’ve got tips to get rid of them easily and best of all, inexpensively, coming up.
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TOM: Making good homes better, welcome back to The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show. I’m Tom Kraeutler.
LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.
You’ve got home improvement questions? Well, lucky for you, we’ve got home improvement answers. You know the number: 888-MONEY-PIT.
And speaking of answers, one caller that we talk to on the air this hour is going to win a signed copy of our book, My Home, My Money Pit: Your Guide to Every Home Improvement Adventure.
TOM: It brings tips, advice and money-saving solutions to your fingertips, so give us a call. The number, again, is 1-888-MONEY-PIT.
LESLIE: We’ve got Cindy in Michigan on the line who wants to talk about reducing energy costs. How can we help you?
CINDY: Is there a way to lower your electric bills by generating your own electricity? I’ve heard of solar panels and windmills and seems like they cost a lot of money to get them going. And I’m wondering, is it actually feasible, financially, to do something like that?
TOM: Yeah. Well, first of all, the most effective way to cut those energy costs – and especially if we’re talking about heating and cooling energy – is to improve the energy efficiency of your home. And the single most important way or easiest way to do that is by improving insulation. It’s amazing how many people simply don’t have enough insulation. And in a state like Michigan, you’re certainly going to want to have 15 to 20 inches of insulation in your attic.
Now, as to your question about generating your own power, there are some programs that are run by state governments and by utility suppliers that include different sorts of rebates and different sorts of purchase – I don’t want to say “schemes” but sort of plans for getting that equipment to your house.
So, for example, in my part of the country, they have offers where you don’t actually pay for the initial installation. There, you partner with an energy company that does the installation of solar panels and then as it generates energy, you get to keep some of that and some of that goes back to the utility company. And eventually, it pays off the cost of that installation. So I would investigate solar programs in your area and rebates that might be available. Start with the utility companies and go from there.
Because if there’s a favorable program, that’s the only way it makes them cost-effective. You are correct in that a lot of these things are very expensive and don’t make a lot of economic sense. But if there’s rebate money available – either locally, at the state level or federally – it does make sense.
CINDY: OK. So you would just call your energy company then?
TOM: I would start there, with your utility company or just simply do some research online for rebates that are available in your area. OK, Cindy?
CINDY: Alright. Thank you.
TOM: Well, we all get a little creaky this time of year and your house is no exception. Cold weather can lead to one noisy money pit.
LESLIE: Alright. Good news, though. A quieter house is only a few small moves away. Grab some WD-40 and apply it to any doors that aren’t opening smoothly or aren’t sliding the way you like them to be or, well, the way they used to.
Now, lubricating them should help them work better and quieter.
TOM: And while you have the magical WD-40 out, you can use it to lubricate hinges on medicine cabinets and kitchen cabinets, as well. Then, place some on your house key and slide that key into the lock to keep the lock’s parts working very nicely.
LESLIE: Yeah. We know; it’s addicting. You just can’t bear to put it away.
You can also use WD-40 to remove unwanted duct tape, get oil spots off of driveways and remove candle wax from carpets. I’ve actually also used it to get rid of a JELL-O stain from an oriental rug. I’m just saying.
TOM: Here is the answer to a quiz question that you might discuss with your friends and neighbors. What does WD stand for? Well, it actually stands for Water Displacement Formula 40, because it was invented by the Rocket Chemical Company as a formula that would keep moisture out of electrical circuits. And that’s why it was called Water Displacement and it was Formula 40, which I guess was their 40th attempt.
LESLIE: Right. Because it failed 39 times.
TOM: Well, apparently it still failed on the 40th at keeping the moisture out. But an engineer brought it home and found out that it did a lot of other good things around the house and a new product was born. So there’s the history of WD-40.
LESLIE: Patricia in Georgia is on the line and is looking to cut some corners when it comes to cleaning her vinyl siding.
What’s going on, Patricia?
PATRICIA: I don’t know if there’s such a thing as cutting corners when you’ve come to cleaning.
PATRICIA: But our vinyl siding is – has turned green every year on one side of the house. So we thinned the trees over there. Still turns green but I have to wash it, regardless, either way, you know? We’ve had all brick before and you didn’t have to do anything to it; we have no maintenance.
PATRICIA: But this, you have to wash it every year. I mean if it’s not pollen and dust and dirt, it’s green stuff. So, is there anything that you can spray on or have sprayed on to make it maybe a little slicker where things don’t stick to it or something?
TOM: So you kind of want a siding for your siding.
PATRICIA: Yeah, I want a coat – like a clear coat or something that will help it to not have to …
TOM: Yeah. Well, that doesn’t exist. But what you – what does exist is a product called Wet & Forget. And it’s a product that is sprayed on and then it sits on the siding and it will significantly discourage algae and mold growth.
PATRICIA: Oh, that’s good. Where do you get that?
TOM: Well, go to their website at WetAndForget.com and perhaps you could order it there or find a local retailer.
PATRICIA: OK. Well, that will be a help.
TOM: Alright. Good luck with that project. Thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.
LESLIE: Hey, are you about to drag your messy, needle-shedding Christmas tree to the curb? Well, not so fast. We’ve got some creative ways to dispose of it, in your own backyard, after this.
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LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.
TOM: Hey, would you like a way to get home improvement advice at your convenience? Well, to get our latest show delivered directly to you each week, just click on the Radio and Podcast section of our home page at MoneyPit.com. In addition to the weekly radio show, you can also subscribe to the feeds for new articles, videos and blogs. That’s all online at MoneyPit.com.
LESLIE: Alright. And you can post your questions online, as well, just like James did from Arizona who writes: “My attic is my only real storage space. But the fact that it’s not climate-controlled worries me. Is there anything I shouldn’t store in there? We live in Arizona, so it gets HOT.” And that is capitalized; it does get hot there.
TOM: Well, traditionally, you don’t condition attics unless you’re using a spray-foam insulation system. And in that case, you would insulate the rafter. But in most fiberglass applications, you would simply put the insulation at the floor level of the attic; of course, it’s the ceiling level of the upper floor of your house. So the attic is always going to be – if it’s – the house is built correctly, pretty much at ambient temperature. So it’ll be just as hot as the outside and just as cold as the outside in the wintertime, which you don’t have to worry about so much in Arizona. But the heat is an issue.
So, I would simply use common sense, James, about what you put up there, in terms of things that can melt and go bad because of excessive heat. Of course, you could also have some fire risks, so I would just keep that in mind. But in most cases, this is the way attics are constructed – without any type of insulation up there – so this is a normal experience.
LESLIE: Alright. Up next, let’s stay in the attic with a question from Bill who writes: “I installed an energy blanket in the attic about three years ago. Can I add insulation on top of the blanket?”
TOM: Well, the energy blanket is essentially a sort of reflective barrier. It’s usually sort of foil-faced and it lays on top of the insulation. It’s designed to kind of reflect heat back down through the insulation or reflect heat that comes in from the roof back up. If you cover it with insulation, you’re going to defeat half of the purpose of that, so that would be a bad idea.
If you want to keep that radiant barrier, you’re going to have to take it out, reinsulate properly and then reinstall that radiant reflective barrier. And by the way, while you’re at it, clean the barrier. Because when it gets dusty, it becomes less effective because it doesn’t reflect quite as well.
LESLIE: Yeah. But how do you clean it? Just sort of shake it off?
TOM: When you – when next time you’re dusting your coffee table, think to myself, “I’d better go up in the attic and dust my radiant barrier, as well.”
LESLIE: And hopefully, Bill lives somewhere cooler than James and isn’t going to sweat in the attic.
TOM: There you go.
Well, if your Christmas tree is anything like the one around our house, its glory is quickly fading. But before you put it out on the street, why not consider some ways it can contribute to your own home and garden right now? Leslie has tips for Christmas-tree recycling, in today’s edition of Leslie’s Last Word.
LESLIE: Yeah. I love a real Christmas tree. I mean they smell fantastic, they look awesome. You can pick a different style, shape, size every single year so it keeps the look fresh. But best of all is that real trees are biodegradable, which means that you can easily put it back where it came from: that is, in the ground.
So if you’ve got a community with a Public Works Department that doesn’t have a tree-mulching program, find somebody who has a chipper who’s going to lend it to you or do the chipping for you. And then you can use the chips in your mulch next spring.
If you’ve got a pond or a body of water on your property, consider submerging the tree into the fresh water. It makes an excellent feeding and refuge area for your fish.
On a similar note, you can replace tinsel and ornaments with strings of oranges or popcorn and place your tree in the yard and it’s going to become a natural bird feeder. Within a year, the branches will become brittle enough to break off by hand and then you can dispose of the whole tree more easily.
TOM: Great advice.
This is The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show. Coming up next time on the program, are you looking for a little extra space for all your things? We’re going to have tips on how you can find the hidden storage in your home. There’s a good chance it’s hiding in plain sight. We’ll tell you what you need to know, 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.
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(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.)