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Get the Look of Granite Countertops for Less, How to Safely Store Holiday Decorations, Tips on Writing Home Improvements off Your Taxes 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: Happy New Year, everybody. It’s another day, it’s another year, it’s another opportunity to work on your money pit to improve it, to make it more energy-efficient, to make it more beautiful, to make it more comfortable, to get it organized. And we are here to help you do that and so much more. This is The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show. The number is 1-888-MONEY-PIT. That’s 888-666-3974.

    I discovered the other day that I have to bring up a special screen on my phone to show me the letters on the numbers.

    LESLIE: Oh, really? Like the old-fashioned …?

    TOM: Like the old-fashioned ones, right. You have to choose your dial pad, so to speak. So it occurred to me we probably should start giving the actual numbers out more frequently on the show so we don’t frustrate those people.

    LESLIE: Yeah. Because I can’t tell you, on my Blackberry, a million times I’m like, “OK. 888-MONEY-PIT.” I’m like, “OK. Two is A-B-C.” Sometimes I draw it out on a piece of paper.

    TOM: Yeah, you have to think about it.

    LESLIE: I do.

    TOM: Sometimes I just want to call a radio contest, like “call us right now,” and usually the station’s letters are in the number.

    LESLIE: Right.

    TOM: I’m like, “I’d love to but I can’t.”

    888-666-3974 is the number you need to know. 888-666-3974. Call us right now and look around your house. There’s got to be a home improvement project that you would like to tackle: a do-it-yourself dilemma; say, a direct-at-yourself dilemma. Whether you want to do it yourself, whether you want to just get a guy to do it for you, we’re here to help you get the job done. We’ve got tips, we’ve got advice, we’ve got experience so that we can teach you not to make the same mistakes that we’ve made in the past. 888-666-3974.

    And if you’d like to ring in the new year with a new look for your kitchen and your budget can’t handle the whole kitchen redo, you might want to think about just installing a new kitchen countertop. You know, a partial makeover just like that can dramatically improve the look of your kitchen. So this hour, we’re going to have some money-saving tips on how you can cut corners on a kitchen-counter replacement.

    LESLIE: And also ahead this hour, as you start to pack up your holiday décor, we’re going to tell you the best way to store your treasures so that they’ll stay in terrific shape for next year.

    TOM: And as you get your tax paperwork ready, you want to make sure that you are ready to deduct those DIY adventures from the past year. We’re going to get advice on how you can do just that from the experts at H&R Block. They’re going to tell us how to claim the most we can when it comes to homeowner tax credits and how to take advantage of some of those deductions and rebates that have been floating around for the past year.

    LESLIE: Mm-hmm. And this hour, we’ve got a great prize up for grabs. One caller is going …

    TOM: If we do say so ourselves.

    LESLIE: Seriously? One caller is going to take Tom and me home for your next do-it-yourself project. Well, kind of.

    TOM: Really?

    LESLIE: We’ve got a copy of our book, My Home, My Money Pit, so you’re going to get advice on whatever home improvement project you’re taking on. And it’s really the next best thing to having us right there next to you.

    TOM: Our graffiti-covered, signed copy will be sent to you if you pick up the phone and call us right now at 888-MONEY-PIT, 888-666-3974. I’m still feeling in the holiday spirit, so let’s give away five books this hour.

    LESLIE: Whoa.

    TOM: Pick up the phone and call us at 888-666-3974. Let’s get to it.

    Leslie, who’s first?

    LESLIE: Rich in New Jersey is on the line and he’s got squirrels in his money pit. Tell us what’s going on.

    RICH: Hi, Leslie. Yes, I have a nutty wildlife problem.

    TOM: OK.

    RICH: I have three oak trees in my yard and when the acorns start appearing, I have lots of squirrels having a feast. But the problem is they bury them all over the yard and they dig them up all year – all around the yard, all year long.

    TOM: Wow. So they bury the food and then they dig them up again?

    RICH: Yes. So I’ve got holes all over my yard, the lawn.

    TOM: Oh, geez.

    RICH: And I have live-trapped them and taken them to a nearby wooded area but they keep coming back. Not the same squirrels but …

    TOM: Hmm. Have you thought about getting a dog?

    RICH: That sounds like a good idea but my neighbor said to try chemicals; other neighbors say that’s going to pollute the nearby body of water. I’m not a hunter and I couldn’t fire a gun in this residential neighborhood anyway.

    TOM: Yeah, it’s not a good idea.

    RICH: Is there an effective repellant of any kind?

    TOM: Rich, you’ve got some hungry squirrels there, man, don’t you?

    RICH: Yes, I sure do.

    TOM: It’s Thanksgiving every day at Rich’s house.

    RICH: Come and get it.

    TOM: Well, look, there’s a couple of things that you can do. One of the things that people have reported some success with is – and this is potentially a bit ugly. But that is to lay some garden netting at the outside perimeter of the lawns where the squirrels kind of enter the yard. If animals are afraid they’re going to get trapped in something, they usually go the other way.

    LESLIE: They’re going to stay away.

    TOM: And so you could put that down and pull it up kind of when you cut the lawn.

    The other thing that you could do is there are a number of types of treatment that you can spray on the lawn that gives the lawn a bad taste. Now, I’m not so sure that they’re going to learn from their mistakes and not coming back. But there is actually a website that is completely devoted to keeping squirrels away from your yard, that has – is a good collection point for a lot of these products. You might want to take a look at Squirrel-X.com. Squirrel-X.com as in “yeah, I used to be a squirrel and now I’m not.”

    RICH: OK. Ex.

    TOM: Squirrel-X.com. But there is actually a solution that is called Whole Control that is designed for spraying. You kind of hook it up to your hose and you spray the lawn down and it discourages moles and squirrels and other animals from digging up the lawn, because it just tastes so darn bad to them.

    RICH: Mm-hmm. Good, good.

    TOM: Alright? So there’s a couple of options for you and I hope that that works out.

    RICH: Good. You’re great, Tom. Thank you very much.

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

    LESLIE: Heading over to Wisconsin now to chat with Dorothy. How can we help you?

    DOROTHY: In the wintertime, we get cold air around our windows.

    TOM: OK.

    DOROTHY: And so we put plastic. Some of them, we plastic the outside up the windows and some of them inside of the house. I’m wondering which is better or if we should plastic both the inside and the outside.

    LESLIE: It depends, really, on the functionality of the window. When you’re feeling the draft, is it on the glass itself? Does it seem to be on the operable parts of the sash, where the window unit goes up and down, or is it around the trim work?

    DOROTHY: On a couple of them, it’s actually on both: the glass and around the trim work, yeah.

    LESLIE: OK. Well, there’s a couple of products out there that maybe you’ve not heard of and there’s one that’s a weatherstripping caulk. And basically, what you would do is you would close your window and around the sash – you know, the operable part of the window itself – you would caulk, essentially, that window closed, sealing out that draft. And then what happens when springtime comes and it’s warm again, you peel it right out.

    Now, the issue with that is if it’s a window that, say, is in the kitchen that you want to open and close while cooking or a window that should be used as an exit in the event of an emergency, you want to make sure that you consider those before you seal off all of those windows.

    Now, DAP makes one. It’s called Seal ‘N Peel. Red Devil makes one? Did I make that up?

    TOM: Yeah. And you may not find it in the hardware store aisle; you may have to ask for it. But it’s temporary caulk so – and it goes on and then you peel it off in the spring.

    DOROTHY: So it comes off real nice.

    LESLIE: Mm-hmm. It just pulls right off. And you want to make sure that it’s actually a temporary caulk, because you don’t want to go put a latex caulk in there that’s not meant for this purpose. Because if you try to remove it, it’s not going to come out.

    TOM: Yeah, the weatherstripping caulk peels off; it feels like you’re peeling a strip of rubber off in the spring.

    LESLIE: Like the backing, when you get a new credit card and it’s stuck to that paper?


    LESLIE: Like it’s got that sticky consistency.

    DOROTHY: And I can do that and maybe still put plastic on the outside or inside, right?

    TOM: Well, yeah, if you feel like you need it. But you might find that if you seal away those gaps, you don’t need to do that, Dorothy, OK?

    DOROTHY: Oh, I appreciate that very much.

    TOM: Alright. Well, 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. Give us a call with your home repair, home improvement, décor, design, organization. Whatever you are working on, we are here for you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 888-MONEY-PIT.

    TOM: 888-666-3974.

    Up next, granite countertops are a great way to spruce up your kitchen but they come with a big price tag. We’ve got a far-less expensive way to get that same look and we’ll tell you what it is, after this.

    (theme song)

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

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

    LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete. And you should give us a call with your home improvement questions at 888-MONEY-PIT. And one caller – no, scratch that – five callers who get on the air with us this hour are going to win a signed copy of our book, My Home, My Money Pit: Your Guide to Every Home Improvement Adventure.

    And in it, you’re going to find advice on everything from how much paint to buy to what type of flooring is going to stand up best to heavy traffic. Give us a call at 888-MONEY-PIT. We’d love to give you a hand.

    TOM: Well, does the new year have you looking around your home, possibly wanting a new look? New kitchen countertops are a great way to spruce up your home and also to bump up the value. And we’ve got a great tip to get the look of granite or marble without that hefty price tag.

    Now, for a less expensive, natural-stone countertop, what you do is this: you use smaller sections of stone, which are sold as large squares.

    LESLIE: That’s right. We’ve actually shared this tip on Hometalk.com, which is a great community of do-it-yourselfers who love good advice and like to show off their finished projects. So if you have used this technique of smaller squares of granite in your kitchen, we’d love to hear about it at Hometalk.com.

    TOM: And it’s really not that difficult to do. The squares can be placed side-by-side and the joints filled with grout. And the stone squares are just a lot less expensive and easier to install than the sort of full-size counterpart.

    And they do provide an equally attractive look, I think, at really a fraction of the price of solid-stone tops, right, Leslie?

    LESLIE: Mm-hmm. They really do. And you know what? If you’re looking for another option, you can find a lot of great looks in laminates.

    Now, newer laminates, they come in thousands of colors, many of which can look just like granite or a solid-surface counter, so don’t be afraid to go look at a laminate option.

    TOM: It’s not just gold and avocado anymore, is it?

    LESLIE: Or Pepto-Bismol pink.

    TOM: And for more cool kitchen remodeling ideas, we’ve got them online. Just search our website at MoneyPit.com. 888-666-3974. Let’s get back to those phones.

    Leslie, who’s next?

    LESLIE: Kevin in Texas is dealing with a dangerous situation. You’ve got water leaking through a light in your kitchen?

    KEVIN: I actually live in an apartment but nevertheless, my concerns are obviously valid for my health and so forth. All of a sudden, water started coming through the light fixture in the kitchen. And I threw down buckets and went up and knocked on the gentleman upstairs’ door and it turned out his washing machine had gone crazy and had put a bunch of water in my ceiling that – most of which came right through the light fixture, point of least resistance.

    LESLIE: Oh, wow.

    KEVIN: However, I can tell that it got into the rest of the ceiling. There’s a place where this living room is bowed in with the stain, so I know that it got wet up inside there. And furthermore, the guy, when he was made aware of it, apparently thought that it wouldn’t act up anymore and actually turned on his washing machine again and went and stepped into the shower. And so it just leaked profusely until we could finally get his attention, between me and Maintenance.

    TOM: Oh, my God.

    KEVIN: Yeah. I mean we’re sitting there with shop vac, buckets and mops and just shaking our heads.

    TOM: Wow.

    KEVIN: So it was a one-time event, so it wasn’t an ongoing leak. And I was wondering what my risks are of black mold. Is there a test? Is there a preventative? What’s the story with that?

    TOM: Yeah, it’s a good question. But here’s the good news: a single leak like that that happened and then dried out is not going to become an ongoing mold problem. If it stays wet for a long, long time and especially if it’s in an unheated place, it’s more likely to become a mold problem. But a single leak like that is not.

    And also, one more point and that is you mentioned that your ceiling bowed. If – and I hope it doesn’t – but if that ever happens to you again, what you want to do is somewhat counterintuitive but that is to poke a hole in the ceiling wherever you see that water starting to form.

    KEVIN: Right.

    TOM: Because it’s easier to fix a hole than it is to replace the entire ceiling, which is probably what’ll end up having to be done. But when you see water coming through like that, what you should do is grab a screwdriver and just poke a couple of holes until you find the spot where the water just starts dripping out.

    KEVIN: Right.

    TOM: The quicker you can empty that ceiling of water, the better off you’re going to be.

    And we had a problem like that not too long ago because of a piece of flashing that blew off our roof. And the first thing I did was took a Phillips screwdriver and poked three or four holes until I found the right spot. All that water drained right out and all I had to do was fix those holes. And it didn’t even have a stain on the ceiling when we were done.

    KEVIN: Wow, yeah. That’s good advice there. I guess I should have thought of that but when you’re renting, you’re a little bit (inaudible at 0:15:41) do that.

    TOM: Yeah, you don’t know. And that’s why I always take the opportunity to mention it, because it’s – first of all, you don’t have the experience because, thankfully, people don’t get these kinds of leaks. But secondly, it’s very counterintuitive because you don’t want to damage your ceiling. Well, it’s already damaged once that water is behind it and it’s going to get a lot worse really fast unless you poke a hole in it.

    KEVIN: Good point, though. Good point. Alright. Thank you, guys.

    TOM: You’re welcome. Thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT, 888-666-3974.

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

    MARK: Well, I am going to be putting down an engineered hardwood floor.

    TOM: OK.

    MARK: And I’ve got the manufacturer’s instructions and I’m going to tell you, the tolerances for the floor are really tight. They want the floor – so the plywood subfloor, off-grade house – they want the floor to be no more than 3/16-of-an-inch over 10 feet or an 1/8-of-an-inch over 6 feet deflection.

    TOM: I haven’t seen a house yet that has that little deflection, right?

    MARK: I know. Exactly. Yes.

    Anyway, my question is – I’ve taken a 10-foot 2×8 and confirmed it was straight and put it on the floor.

    TOM: OK.

    MARK: And I’ve got a Sharpie and I’m kind of marking off what is within tolerance. And there are some sections that are and ones not in tolerance. So my question to you is: how do you meet that specification that they call out for? For instance, some of the load-bearing walls, you can see where the subfloor has actually dipped down from the weight of the home. The house is about 23 years old. And I’m just wondering, how do you meet that? It’s extremely tight.

    TOM: How close are you, Mark?

    MARK: It depends. Some of the areas, we’re talking probably half – maybe a ½-inch in some of the bad places.

    TOM: OK. So what you want to do in those areas is you’re going to fill in with a floor-leveling compound. You don’t have to do the entire floor but if you have the areas that are really down, you can fill those in.

    The thing here is you want it to be reasonably flat. And the reason it wants to be reasonably flat is because with engineered hardwood floor, the panels lock together. You know, I’ve got an 1886 house and I put in a laminate floor when it sort of first came on the market. And this is similar to the engineered hardwood floor except that when laminate floor first came on, you had to glue it together; it didn’t lock together.

    And so I was able to glue this together. It actually worked in my favor because by gluing it together, it had a lot more ability to stretch and bend and twist over my very roly-poly floors. But if you’re just going to rely on the joint of the hardwood floor to lock together, then you can’t really stress it that much. If you try to twist it, it could crack or pop up.

    MARK: I see.

    TOM: And so, what I would do is I would get floor-leveling compound. DAP makes one that works very well. It’s called Flexible Floor Patch and Leveler.

    MARK: OK.

    TOM: And so, if you go to the DAP website at DAP.com – D-A-P.com – just search for the flexible floor patch. You’ll see a picture of it there; you’ll know exactly what you’re looking for. And then you can order that from, I’m sure, your home center or your hardware store or find it online. And that’s designed specifically to work on wood floors or under wood floors and level them out.

    LESLIE: On subfloors, especially.

    MARK: OK. Well, great. Thank you very much. I really enjoy your show and look forward to maybe meeting the two of you one day.

    LESLIE: Oh, thanks.

    You are tuned to The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show on air and online at MoneyPit.com. Well, the new year means – get this, I hate to even say it – tax season. But before you groan like I just did, did you know that you can write off certain home repairs and even deduct the cost of certain home improvements?

    Well, we are going to be joined by an expert from H&R Block, who might be able to save you some bucks, after this.

    (theme song)

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

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

    LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

    TOM: Well, as we roll now towards the end of the year, it’s time to think about those last-minute home improvements, especially those that can help you save on your taxes. Your hard work on your house could turn into some hard cash with the right planning.

    LESLIE: That’s right. But some home improvements can be written off. So here to explain what can and can’t go on your write-off list is the principal tax research analyst with The Tax Institute at H&R Block, Gil Charney.

    Welcome, Gil.

    GIL: Well, thank you very much. Glad to be here.

    TOM: So, Gil, can you define home improvement in the eyes of Uncle Sam? I mean is every improvement you make to your house potentially deductible?

    GIL: Well, a home improvement is something which improves the value of the home or increases or expands its life. So any time you fix a window or a leaky faucet, it’s not really a home improvement; that’s just an operating expense and that’s not deductible.

    TOM: OK. But if you replace a window or replace a roof, you could absolutely argue that those improvements extend the life and maintain the value of the home. Would those, in fact, then be potentially deductible expenses?

    GIL: Well, even if you were to increase the value of the home through, let’s say, installing all new windows or a new roof, even that is not deductible on your current-year tax return. What that does is increase your investment in the house or basis.

    TOM: OK.

    GIL: And when you go to sell the house, that reduces any gain that you might be taxed on later on.

    TOM: OK. So it sort of defers to the point you sell the house. And if the home is worth presumably more, we hope, than when you bought it, that gain and the tax on that gain can be reduced accordingly.

    GIL: Exactly. That’s right. Correct.

    TOM: Gil, let’s talk a bit about the tax incentives that are still out there. Now, they were far more aggressive a year ago. There still, though, for the …

    LESLIE: Even two years ago.

    TOM: Yeah, even two years ago. There still, though, are quite a few that are still pretty active. What are some of the ways that we could take advantage of the tax incentives that are available?

    GIL: Well, you’re right. It was much more generous a couple of years ago, 2009 and 2010, for that matter. There is still an energy credit: the non-business energy credit that expires at the end of this year. And while it’s still available, it has been reduced quite a bit from a maximum credit of $1,500 a year ago to only $500 this year.

    But one thing, also, to point out is if you’ve taken the credit before – and this is a credit that’s been around since around 2005. So if you’ve taken as much as $500 of the credit in previous years, you cannot take it again; it’s a lifetime credit.

    TOM: So no double-dibbing. Now when you say “energy credit,” we’re talking about high-efficiency heating systems, cooling systems, furnaces, air conditioners, that sort of thing, correct?

    GIL: Right, right, right.

    TOM: It seems to me that the deductions or the incentives for putting in, say, a wind generator or solar panels, those are still pretty generous, aren’t they?

    GIL: Yes, they are. In fact, that’s up to 30 percent of the qualifying cost and there is no limit on that. And another benefit is that it expires at the end of 2016, I believe it is.


    GIL: So there’s still plenty of time to install the solar-energy system or the various high-cost, high-savings systems onto your home.

    LESLIE: Now, Gil, if you’ve already taken a deduction for these energy credits previously, does that sort of cancel you out for these green-energy credits as far as solar or wind energy or are they completely separate?

    GIL: It is a completely separate credit because there’s different property that qualifies for each. So, the credit that’s the more generous one – that covers, as you said, the solar systems, geothermal heat pumps, turbine wind systems, that kind of thing – that is a credit that would not conflict with the other credit that I mentioned, which is the residential energy credit.

    TOM: We’re talking to Gil Charney. He is the principal tax research analyst with The Tax Institute at H&R Block.

    So, Gil, as we roll towards the end of the year, it’s probably not a bad idea to take a look around your house and determine whether or not you need an improvement or repair that might potentially qualify for one of these tax credits. Because the clock’s ticking and these expire at the end of ’11, correct?

    GIL: That is correct. And one other point about the amount of time that’s left is the installation or the repair, or I should say the improvement, has to be done before the end of the year. So just buying the equipment, if it’s not in place and operational, is not going to qualify for the credit.

    TOM: Good advice.

    LESLIE: Gil, is there any way we can deduct anything as far as damages that may have occurred because of the storms we’ve had this year? I mean my goodness, 2011 was a storm-filled year for pretty much every part of the country. So if your home sustained some damage there, is there anything we can do come tax time?

    GIL: Oh, definitely. If you have a casualty loss such as not only a storm but a fire, even a theft, hail damage, tornadoes we’ve had throughout, that’s defined as a casualty if it’s something that’s sudden, unexpected and it causes a lot of damage.

    But the calculation of the deduction is kind of complicated. But if you’ve had serious damage to your home, it’s worth getting some professional advice on finding out what you can deduct.

    TOM: Good advice. Gil Charney, the principal tax research analyst with The Tax Institute at H&R Block.

    Thanks so much for stopping by The Money Pit, Gil.

    GIL: You’re very welcome.

    TOM: If you’d like more information on potentially what you can deduct in your home, you could reach out to the experts at H&R Block at their website, HRBlock.com. Or pick up the phone and call them at 800-HR-BLOCK.

    LESLIE: Well, the party’s over. It is time to pack away those holiday decorations until the next holiday season. We are going to have tips on how you can safely and efficiently store your treasures, after this.

    (theme song)

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

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

    LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

    TOM: The number here is 888-MONEY-PIT. That’s 888-666-3974.

    How would you like to have Leslie and my guidance on your next home improvement project? Well, you can if you pick up the phone and call us right now. We’ll answer your question on the air and also send to you one of the five copies of My Home, My Money Pit we are giving away this hour. It will guide you through everything from decorating projects to home security, so give us a call right now with your question at 888-666-3974.

    LESLIE: Well, the holidays are officially over, so it’s time to put away all of those sparkly decorations so you don’t become the neighbor with that petrified wreath up in April or worse, August.

    Well, while you are taking them down, check for any damage. You want to make sure that you replace any burned-out bulbs and make sure there are no frayed wires from the holiday season. You know, Mother Nature can be tough on those outdoor decorations, so really look them over.

    And now is really the best time to make sure your lights will be in good working order next season. Plus, if there’s any damage that you find and you can’t fix it, you can replace them now while they’re half-off or even more at those post-Holiday sales.

    TOM: Now, to store those holiday lights, here’s an easy trick of the trade. You can cut some cardboard into small pieces, like about 9×12, and then wrap the lights around them to keep them tidy and at the ready for the next season of decorating.

    Be sure to store those decorative items in clear, plastic bins. You can pick those up at a place like The Container Store or order them online. And this way, you’ll know exactly what’s in there and you’ll also be sure that moisture does not get in there and deteriorate any of your holiday cheer.

    Now, you can place all the items at the back of your storage area to allow for the current seasonal items to be accessible. Think about it as sort of cycling things through.

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

    RENEE: Yes, mine is kind of like a double question. I have about a 30-year-old, connected-on-both-sides townhome, two levels.

    TOM: OK. OK.

    RENEE: And I heard a crack a couple months back. Well, it was one of the support beams had just – like a big, strong branch just cracked.

    TOM: Huh. Did you actually see the cracked beam somewhere?

    RENEE: No, I didn’t see that but I have begun to have cracks along on that same side of the house, in the corners of the wall?


    TOM: OK.

    RENEE: Down the corners where it’s breaking apart. But at the same time, I’ve noticed that the house has become unlevel. And that’s a little part because it’s old and it’s connected on both sides but I’m in Texas and we have big droughts and it kind of shifts a little bit.

    TOM: OK.

    RENEE: My concern is when I get the support beam fixed and the foundation fixed, I’ve seen on the DIY shows that suddenly they go back and they look and the house or the chimney has just been trashed. What can I do to prevent that?

    TOM: Why do you say it’s been trashed? Because it shifted?

    RENEE: Right. When they did the – when they put in – when I’ve watched the DIY shows, they go and they fix the foundation and the foundation’s fine. And of course, they shift everything up and now there is …

    TOM: Yeah. That’s why you have to be very, very careful when you do anything that changes the angle that the house has sort of settled into. Because if you don’t, once you bring a foundation up, everything else moves. In a wood house, if you try to straighten a slopy floor, for example, all the wires and the plumbing get stretched and twisted and so on. So it’s not just foundations that are of concern.

    I’m concerned, though, about this crack that you say that you’ve heard. But you’ve seen cracks in your walls but you’ve not physically seen this structural crack, correct?

    RENEE: Correct.

    TOM: Alright. Now, you said it’s a townhouse. Is there an association that …?

    RENEE: Yes.

    TOM: OK. So in an association form of ownership, typically you don’t own the structure. So the structure – if the structure was to fail, that’s typically the responsibility of the association to address. Is that your understanding?

    RENEE: I can double-check on that.

    TOM: But in a typical condominium form of ownership, what you own is inside wall to inside wall. In some cases, you own the …

    LESLIE: And then what’s beyond that wall is not yours.

    TOM: Right. In some cases, you own the drywall; in some cases, you don’t. So, for example, if there was a fire, God forbid, and the whole place burned down, you would be paying for the drywall, the kitchen cabinets, the appliances and stuff like that. And the association would be rebuilding everything else, including the related infrastructure.

    So you need to figure out if there’s a structural problem, who’s responsible for it. I suspect you’re going to find that it’s the association that’s responsible for it, which is good news for you. And then I would bring that to their attention and ask them to address it.

    Now, as far as the cracks in the corners of the wall are concerned, I have to tell you that that’s pretty typical and that by itself doesn’t necessarily mean that you have a structural problem. The way to fix that, though, is important and that is that you want to sand down the drywall in that area.

    And then you want to add some additional tape and the type of drywall tape you use would be the perforated type. It looks like a netting; it’s like a sticky netting. You put that on and then you spackle through that three coats: one, two, three coats; each one thin but three coats. And that type …

    LESLIE: And allowing each one to dry and be sanded in between.

    TOM: Yeah and that type of repair typically will last.

    Now, after you do the spackle repair, you’ll have to prime the wall. You can’t just paint on top of it; you’ll have to prime it and then paint it.

    RENEE: OK.

    TOM: So I would address the structure with the association, I would fix the cracks on your own and then see what happens.

    RENEE: OK. So just one more question. Let’s say that if it’s not in the association, that I do have to go into it, not only am I concerned about my roof but how much of a problem will I have with my neighbors on both sides of me?

    TOM: Depends on where the crack is, if it exists at all. If that’s the case, then I would suggest you hire a professional home inspector and have the inspector do what’s called a partial inspection, which is usually a single-item inspection, and investigate this crack and see what’s going on in the structure. And then we’ll know how far it’s gone and what needs to be done about it.

    RENEE: Yeah, that’s cool. Thank you, guys. I appreciate your time.

    LESLIE: You are tuned to The Money Pit on air and online at MoneyPit.com. Well, frozen windows, if you’ve got them, you’ve no doubt wondered if it’s a cause for concern. We’re going to give you the 411, after this.

    (theme song)

    ANNOUNCER: The Money Pit is brought to you by Stanley Tools, your trusted name in quality hand tools. To learn more about their complete line of quality tools and everything for your tool box, visit StanleyTools.com.

    TOM: Making good homes better, welcome back to The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show on air and online at MoneyPit.com. I’m Tom Kraeutler.

    LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

    TOM: And unless you live in a tropical climate, you’re probably not going to escape 2012 without having to clean up a little snow or maybe a lot of snow. If you need some help with that, please go to our website at MoneyPit.com and search our snow-removal tips and tools, to learn how to safely and efficiently get rid of the snow in your yard.

    LESLIE: Mm-hmm. And while you’re online, you guys, why not head on over to the Community section of MoneyPit.com? And e-mail us or post your question on the site and we always jump into those questions here. And I’ve got one from A. in Pennsylvania who wrote: “My replacement windows are about 10 years old. I noticed that they freeze or frost up about a ½-inch on the bottom of the top window. Every year, it gets a little bigger. Is there a moisture problem or a window problem or no problem at all?”

    TOM: You know, replacement windows have been out so long, Leslie, that it’s almost time to replace the replacement windows.

    LESLIE: Oh, completely.

    TOM: I mean you could seriously do the project again if you originally had wood windows and went to replacements and now those replacements are wearing out. And that’s what’s happening here for our friend in Pennsylvania.

    When you see that freeze or frost inside the glass, that means that the thermal pane has failed and the window is no longer fully insulated. Now, the good news is that it’s really pretty much a cosmetic problem. Sure, it does affect the energy-efficiency of the window but does it affect it enough where I would rush out and replace them today? No. But it is time to start thinking about new replacement windows.

    And if you’re going to do that project, it’s nice to know that the technology has advanced so that the windows are more efficient than ever. Prices have actually come down significantly. And if you go to our website, click on the copy of My Home, My Money Pit. We’ve got a free download about replacement windows. It’s your guide to choosing replacement windows for your house.

    And in that guide book, you’ll find everything you need to know about how to choose the right kind of glass and frames and so on, because there’s a lot to think about. There’s a lot of choices to make. You have a lot of companies come in and one guy’s got one kind of frame and one kind of glass; another guy has got something else. It’s kind of hard to sort it all out, so we try to give you sort of the most important things to ask for when you’re shopping for windows, in that download.

    LESLIE: Mm-hmm. And I hope that helps you guys out, because it really does have a ton of information. And changing those windows can be an easy project and make a huge difference in your energy savings.

    TOM: Well, unfortunately, the number of home fires seems to spike every winter but there are ways that you can be sure your home does not become part of that statistic. Leslie has got those tips in today’s edition of Leslie’s Last Word.

    LESLIE: Yeah, that’s right. Cooking and home heating are the biggest causes of fires during the winter season. Now, you can’t avoid these things but there are steps that you can take to stay safe. We can’t emphasize enough that you need to have working smoke alarms in your home. Folks, they save lives, period. Give your family a gift by checking the batteries in all of yours this week.

    Also, you want to make sure that you have a working fire extinguisher in centrally-located areas of your home. And make sure that everybody knows where it is and how to use it.

    Now, when it comes to space heaters, they’re safe if you use them properly. You want to make sure that they’re on a flat surface, out of the way of foot traffic. Never ever leave them on when you go to sleep or leave the room. Also, make sure that you check your chimney to make sure that creosote hasn’t built up. And dispose of all of the ashes properly.

    And from all of us at The Money Pit, we really hope that you have a happy and safe new year.

    TOM: This is The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show. Thank you so much for spending this hour with us. Coming up next week on the program, we’re going to talk about one of the pretty parts of winter: icicles. They can look good hanging from your eaves but they could also signal something that’s not pretty and that is an ice dam, which could be a potentially serious threat to your roof. We’re going to teach you how to avoid those ice dams, and all the damage that follows, on the next edition of The Money Pit.

    I’m Tom Kraeutler.

    LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

    TOM: Remember, you can do it yourself …

    LESLIE: But you don’t have to do it alone.


    (Copyright 2012 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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