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How to Hire a General Contractor, Molding Made Easy, Life-Saving Tips for Your air Conditioner, 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: And we are here to help you tackle your home improvement projects. So, what is on your to-do list? Why don’t you move it over to our to-do list by picking up the phone and calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT, 888-666-3974. It’s our job to find solutions for your questions and we’d love to talk with you and help you do just that.

    Coming up on today’s program, we’ve all heard the tales about runaway contractors: these guys that leave the job half-done or totally mess it up. And so you start with a nice house and you end up with one that’s completely beyond recognition. Well, we’re going to have some tips this hour on how to make sure that never happens to you. In fact, we’ve invited our favorite general contractor, Tom Silva, to join us in just a little while, from This Old House, with some tips on how to find more good guys just like him no matter where you live in the country.

    LESLIE: And you’ve probably also heard some nightmare stories about installing molding. You know, it really doesn’t have to be a messy or a hard job. So we’re going to tell you a quick and easy way to transform any room at your money pit with molding.

    TOM: And much of the country has suffered under a heat wave this summer and that means that the A/C units are really working overtime. So we’re going to have some midsummer A/C tune-up tips to help make sure that your A/C lasts through the dog days ahead.

    LESLIE: And one lucky caller that we talk to today is going to get a really beautiful way to cool off. We’re giving away a gorgeous ceiling fan. It’s a 52-inch Canfield from Kichler.

    TOM: That’s a great prize. It’s worth $309. How do you win it? Well, you pick up the phone and call us at 888-MONEY-PIT. One caller we talk to on the air this hour is going to win the Kichler ceiling fan called the Canfield, worth 309 bucks.

    So let’s get to it. The number is 1-888-MONEY-PIT, 888-666-3974.

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

    MARY: My husband and I are trying to install central air in our home. It’s a ranch-style and we bought the central-air unit and the ductwork from a building that had been torn down. And I wondered if we could simply attach the ductwork – and when we’ve cut the holes in the wall and the ceiling for the vents, I wondered if we could just go ahead and attach the ductwork that was there from the previous building or if we had to redo all the ductwork – I mean all the vent piping.

    TOM: I guess the answer is maybe. And the reason is because the duct design is going to be dependent on the building. And it depends on the size of the building and the distance that the air has to travel. And if it’s not done right, what will happen is you’ll either create a situation where you have either too much or too little heating or cooling. And most likely, you’ll have too little. And if that happens, you end up wasting, actually, a lot of energy because the system has to run a lot more to try to make the building comfortable.

    So, I would suggest to you that insofar as the duct design is concerned, you really need to have somebody that is experienced in designing these systems lay it out for you. It’s definitely not a do-it-yourself project; it’s not the kind of thing that you can tackle, even if you’re very industrious first time out, because you might get it wrong.

    It depends a lot on the size of your building, how many windows are in your building, where the building faces. There’s a heat-loss calculation that’s done and then based on that, you determine how much warm or cold air you have to get to each room. So you can’t necessarily sort of just completely copy what was done in an older house unless it happens to be an identical house.

    So this is a point where it’s good that you got the equipment inexpensively, you got the ductwork inexpensively. You do need to spend a little bit of money on getting it laid out properly, Mary, or you just won’t be comfortable. Does that make sense?

    MARY: Yeah, that was what I wanted to check because we’re pretty self-sufficient but I had a feeling this might be more than we could tackle.

    TOM: I think that’s a good idea. Mary, thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.

    LESLIE: Roy in Illinois is on the line and there seems to be a crack in the front of the garage.

    What is going on? Are you getting water in the garage? Is it on the door? What’s going on here?

    ROY: When the house was built about 21 years ago, they brought in a cement saw and they cut marks in it to control the cracking.

    TOM: OK.

    ROY: Well, the first cut is 4 feet from the garage door. Well, now, that part next to the garage has settled down so when it rains, the water runs towards the garage, which is making it worse.

    TOM: Ah, OK.

    ROY: And I saw a commercial on TV for this mudjacking outfit and they say for a little more than half of what it costs to replace the cement, they could jack it back up in place. But you will see the marks where they drill the holes to put the cement in and will it last? Should we do the whole driveway over or is there some way we can do something to make it look good and last? It’s a beautiful place. We have no problems with anything except you drive in the driveway and you see that.

    TOM: Yeah. So when you get close to the driveway, that last slab, so to speak, tilts in towards the garage and it’s running water up against the house? Is that correct?

    ROY: Yes.

    TOM: Yeah. And that’s going to – could affect the foundation that’s holding the garage up because you throw a lot of water under it, it becomes less stable and you get a lot more movement. So I do think it’s an important thing to fix.

    Mudjacking will work and it can replace that area as long as they can lift that slab nice and even so it doesn’t crack and become worse. I would just try to get their guarantee that they’re not going to crack the slab in the process. But if they can get the mud underneath it – they’re basically filling in the low spots, bringing that slab up and then it’s not going to collapse anymore, because the concrete they put under it – the mud, so to speak – takes up that void.

    So, I wouldn’t be afraid of doing that. And if it turns out that that’s less expensive than breaking that one piece out and just pouring that one piece new, then I think you can do that. If you decide to break that out, I don’t think you have to do the whole driveway; you can just do that one piece.

    And make sure the soil below is properly tamped. You’re going to have to replace that with fill dirt and stone and get it tamped down. Tamping is really key so it’s really solid. What’s happened is water has gotten over there over the years, it’s softened the soil and that’s what’s caused that slab to sort of rotate with the car going back and forth.

    So I think either option is OK. It becomes an economic choice. My only concern is that you commit to spending money on mudjacking and end up breaking the slab and then you’re kind of almost back to the beginning.

    ROY: OK. Sounds great. Sounds like you’ve got the answers.

    TOM: Yeah, well, we try. 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 right here at 1-888-MONEY-PIT.

    TOM: 888-666-3974.

    Up next, are you afraid of putting up molding because you think the skill level is way over your head? We’re going to tell you some easy ways to get that project done, after this.

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

    ANNOUNCER: The Money Pit is brought to you by Bostitch. Bostitch professional-quality, pneumatic nailers and staplers. Designed for productivity, built to last. For more information, visit Bostitch.com.

    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: Give us a call right now with your home improvement question at 888-MONEY-PIT. You’ll get the answer, plus an opportunity to win a gorgeous ceiling fan we’re giving away this hour from Kichler. It’s called the 52-inch Canfield and it’s ENERGY STAR-rated with blades that are pitched 14 degrees for maximum air movement. It’s got a pull-chain control, it’s super-quiet, it looks great with any décor and it’s worth over $300.

    You can check it out at Kichler.com. That’s K-i-c-h-l-e-r.com. Or pick up the phone and call us for your chance to win at 888-MONEY-PIT. Going out to one caller drawn at random from those we speak to on this hour of the program.

    LESLIE: Alright. Kay is on the line now and she needs some help painting a door.

    Kay, tell us about your project.

    KAY: Yeah. And I listen to you every week you’re on.

    TOM: Well, thank you so much.

    LESLIE: Oh, thanks, Kay.

    KAY: I wanted to take my wood door – it’s a very old wood door. And we lived here since ’69 and I’m trying to keep it original. It’s red now.

    TOM: OK.

    KAY: My husband painted it only one coat and I think it was blue.

    TOM: OK.

    KAY: It needs another coat to make it real red but I want to paint it white.

    TOM: Well, I mean the color is a personal preference so to paint this door, the best thing to do is to take it off of the hinges and lay it flat on a couple of sawhorses. And then you want to sand the old surface. You want to make sure you get rid of any flaking paint, any cracked paint, because you can’t put good paint over bad paint. You’ve got to get all that stuff off.

    KAY: It’s not cracking or anything. It’s smooth as can be.

    TOM: Alright. So then he must have done a great job when he painted it last time.

    KAY: He did. He sanded it down to the wood. It was all, you know, original wood, so it’s really smooth. That’s why I wasn’t sure and I don’t know if I can get the paint off like if you – and I didn’t want to scrape it.

    TOM: Well, I don’t think you have to take all the old paint off. If it’s adhering well, then you’re good to go on it. So sand it down and then I would recommend that you put a coat of primer on. Because this will make sure that the new paint adheres as well as the old paint did.

    Primer is kind of the glue that makes the paint stick. So, put the primer on.

    KAY: Will KILZ work? Because I’ve got a gallon of KILZ.

    TOM: It’ll work fine, yep. You put the KILZ on, let it dry and then you could put your top coat on that.

    KAY: To sand it, what do I have to do? Knock the sheen off?

    TOM: Yeah, knock the sheen off. Exactly right. You don’t have to sand it down to the raw wood but you have to get that sheen off. So a medium grit, like 100-grit sandpaper, would work really well, OK?

    KAY: OK.

    LESLIE: Well, molding can certainly take a ho-hum room and transform it into a professionally decorated-looking showroom. And here are a few ideas on how you can make that transformation, presented by LIQUID NAILS.

    TOM: First, you need to pick what type of molding you want. You can get creative with molding by creating squares and designs. But the basic molding is a crown molding that goes at the top of the wall; a picture molding that goes maybe a foot below that, gives sort of the appearance of additional height; or a chair rail which, as the name implies, goes pretty much beyond – behind the back of what would be sort of a dining-room chair.

    Once you’ve identified the kind of molding you want, installation is, of course, the most difficult part. The cutting is where most people will struggle and that’s because, usually, people will try to miter molding with a 45-degree angle. And while that works sometimes, there’s another type of molding joint called a “coped joint,” where basically you cut what looks like half of a miter on one side but then you saw out that material, leaving just the edge of the molding. And when you press the two together, it looks like a miter but it’s not; it’s actually far more forgiving. Now, I can’t possibly explain to you how to do that on the radio but there are lots of great videos online on how to tackle that particular project.

    And if you’re really frustrated and you don’t want to do any wood molding, there are different types of foam prefabricated moldings that are easy to cut with a backsaw. And they come with premade corners.

    So, one way or the other, there are a lot of ways to get the molding to your home and get it cut into place. And by the way, home centers are frequently able to do the cuts for you if – of course, if you measure carefully.

    Good reason to measure twice and cut once, right, Leslie?

    LESLIE: Mm-hmm. Seriously, molding – cutting molding, I should say – it can be difficult. But when you take the time and really pay attention, it’s beautiful and it really does change the appearance of a room.

    Now, when it comes to attaching the molding, that can also be tricky. But here’s an actual tip that will make it a lot easier: you can attach it to your wall/ceiling using LIQUID NAILS to actually hold the molding up. And their Heavy-Duty Construction Adhesive can completely replace your need for nails. That means you can finish faster. You can also form a tighter seal, so no moisture is going to seep in and sort of cause damage. And damage really would be like warping or twisting a little bit. And that would, of course, require a lot of moisture. But you want it to look pristine and sit really nicely.

    TOM: Absolutely. Now, it’s great to use LIQUID NAILS on wood or PVC. You can get more tips and tricks, plus all the details on LIQUID NAILS Brand Heavy-Duty Construction Adhesive, at LIQUIDNAILS.com. That’s LIQUIDNAILS.com.

    LESLIE: Now we’ve got David from Illinois on the line who’s got a question about a well system. How can we help you today?

    DAVID: It’s my son’s well. He has a well in his house and it – the water system has air pockets in it quite often so that the water will be running and then an air pocket will expel water.

    TOM: OK.

    DAVID: And sometimes, it’ll shoot out of the sink or what-have-you. And so I was wanting to know what you can do to get rid of the air pockets in a well system.

    TOM: Does the system have a pressure tank on it, David?

    DAVID: It has a pressure tank, I believe.

    TOM: That sounds like a problem with the pressure tank. If the pressure tank is missing or if it’s not installed properly or if the bladder has failed, then you’re not getting a chance to build up pressure and then feed off the tank. You might be feeding directly from the well, which could account for the air blast.

    So the first thing I would do is look at the pressure tank, see what kind of condition that that’s in. That’s most likely what’s causing the air getting into the lines. I think that’s the best step, OK?

    DAVID: OK.

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

    LESLIE: Now we’ve got Robin in Oregon who’s dealing with some mold issues. Tell us what’s going on.

    ROBIN: In our bathroom, there just seems to be a lot of moisture. I don’t know if the exhaust fan is working properly or not. On one of your shows, you’d mentioned Concrobium, so I sprayed that in the shower and that seems to help stave it off. But we use a fan, we use the exhaust fan and we use a dehumidifier.

    And I noticed on the outside, I guess, outtake vents, there’s a whole bunch of black stuff. And then also in our sinks, underneath the faucet, there’s mold back in behind that hole. So I’m wondering, is this going to be a health concern or how do I stop some of this mold?

    TOM: Well, I mean the solution comes down to managing moisture and it sounds like you’re doing the right things. But one common mistake that people make with exhaust fans is that they don’t leave them on long enough after you take a bath or a shower. They really have to stay on, sometimes, 15 or 20 minutes to properly dry out the room.

    ROBIN: Well, I know – well, I can’t speak for my husband but I know that I do, just because I’ve got a fan running, I’ve got a dehumidifier and I’ve – we’ve also got the exhaust fan and it is the biggest one that you can have. And I’m wondering if just because of our moist area we need to get two of them so it’s directly over the shower? I don’t know. But I’m worried that through the whole pipe that leads to the outside, is that all filled with mold in there if the outside vent shows mold?

    TOM: Well, the vent that’s taking the air from the bathroom out, is that what you’re seeing on the outside wall?

    ROBIN: I’m not seeing on the wall, just on the vent itself, you know where the – I guess where the air goes out to the outside? That whole vent is all moldy looking.

    TOM: Well, a lot of people look at vents that are dirty and call it mold. I think it would be unusual for it to be moldy, because you would have to have a pretty strong food source there. And the only thing you’re going to have coming out that vent is a bit of dust, which could be a mold source but it’s very unusual for it to really develop. So I think you might just be seeing a dirty vent. It’s much more likely that what you’re seeing there is dirt and not mold.

    But I would say this: if you want to eliminate the possibility of moisture inside the bathroom, what you want to do is you want to make sure that the exhaust fan – the bathroom fan – is wired to a humidistat.

    And if you take a look at the fans that are made by Broan-NuTone, they actually have a new one coming out, I know, that has a humidistatic control. And I think they have some others, as well. But we just saw one last week, though, at a major trade show called the International Builders’ Show that they were releasing for the first time.

    But if you get one of these fans that’s got a humidistatic control in it, then you don’t have to worry about whether or not somebody’s leaving it on or not. It just stays on until the moisture goes down and then automatically goes off. So, it kind of takes you out of the equation.

    ROBIN: OK.

    TOM: And your husband. Because he could be the problem.

    ROBIN: I don’t have to be a grouch and say, “Turn that back on.” OK.

    TOM: You do not. You do not.

    ROBIN: Alright. Well, I will try those. And the Concrobium is working great in the shower, so that was an excellent tip from before.

    TOM: Our pleasure. Glad it worked out for you. Robin, 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.

    Hey, don’t get left with a remodeling mess after you make a mistake – a big one – by hiring the wrong general contractor. We’re going to share with you some tips on how you can hire the right one, after this.

    ANNOUNCER: The Money Pit is brought to you by LIQUID NAILS. For tough jobs, demand the extraordinary strength of LIQUID NAILS Brand Heavy-Duty Construction Adhesive. It bonds a wide range of materials, indoors and out, for a job done once, done right. Learn more about LIQUID NAILS Brand Heavy-Duty Construction Adhesive at LIQUIDNAILS.com.

    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: And hey, please visit us on Facebook right now because we’re running, all month long, our Dog Days of Summer Sweepstakes. Yes, it’s that time of the year when it feels awfully hot and uncomfortable. So why not use this opportunity to win some great prizes, to help you enjoy the end of summer?

    For example, we’re giving away a Kichler ceiling fan worth 579 bucks. It is called the Carlson model and it’s sleek, it’s sophisticated. It’s a great addition to any room and it’ll help you cool off through these dog days. That’s just one of three amazing prizes we’re giving away this month. Just “like” The Money Pit on Facebook to enter, then share the sweeps with friends and you’ll get bonus entries.

    LESLIE: When it comes to major remodeling projects, one of the first, super-important decisions that you need to make is to decide if you can really do it yourself or if you should hire a general contractor to help.

    TOM: Definitely. But if you do decide to hire a pro, how do you find the right one for your project? Joining us now are two experts who know a lot about that topic. On the phone is Angie Hicks – the founder of Angie’s List, a website devoted to helping consumers find the best professionals for their projects and service needs – and Tom Silva, the general contractor on TV’s This Old House.

    Welcome, Angie.

    ANGIE: Thanks for having me on the show.

    TOM: And welcome Tom Silva.

    TOM SILVA: Thanks, guys.

    TOM: So, Tom, let’s start with you. Let’s first explain exactly what a general contractor does. Some consumers might confuse a general contractor or a GC with that of a carpenter. Can you talk about the role of a GC?

    TOM SILVA: Well, sometimes a general contractor could be the carpenter on the job. But a general contractor, think of him as the go-to guy everybody goes to to get the right answers. He coordinates the process of the job. He makes sure that the plumber is there at the right time. He makes sure that the electrician is lined up. He makes sure that the ductwork is done and so on down the line.

    TOM: So he’s your expert, as the homeowner, to make sure the entire project goes smoothly from soup to nuts.

    TOM SILVA: He’s the go-to guy.

    LESLIE: And you, really, as a homeowner, might need that if you don’t understand the steps in the process and you’re trying to bring in everybody individually.

    TOM SILVA: People do not understand how much a pain in the neck it can be to be a general contractor when they say, “Oh, I can do this,” and they try to do it. They realize real quick it’s not easy.

    LESLIE: So, Angie, when you’re considering the scope of most projects where you really do need to involve a general contractor, you’ve got to have a high degree of trust and confidence in that contractor that you hire. So, what’s the best way to screen for the right pro?

    ANGIE: Well, when you’re looking for a general contractor, you’re exactly right. A lot of times, these projects are high dollar-value projects. You might be spending thousands of dollars, so you want to be sure you’re getting three estimates from contractors. And comparing general contractors can be a little tricky because each of them might recommend something different. So you want to try and get as – apples-to-apples comparison.

    And then also get very detailed estimates, down to what types of products they’re going to be putting into your project – if you’re doing a kitchen, what kind of appliances are they recommending they’re going to be putting in? – so that you can have a real side-by-side comparison.

    And then, obviously, checking references, doing an in-person interview with the contractor. Because let’s face it, when it comes to hiring a contractor, you’re potentially going to be having them in your house for weeks on end. So you want to be sure that you’re going to have a good working rapport.

    TOM: And what are the most common mistakes consumers make when hiring general contractors?

    ANGIE: I think the number-one complaint I often hear is consumers are not getting information documented. You know, it may seem like a lot of effort to get this project outlined in complete detail in a contract but it’s very, very important. How are change orders going to occur? What happens if I change your mind on something? What if the project gets delayed? How are payment terms going to be handled? You want to outline as much of that out in detail as possible so that it can potentially avoid problems down the road.

    Additionally, interacting with your contractor every day they’re on the job is really important because a project like of this magnitude, if you’re not communicating regularly, things can come up. And if they’re not addressed right away, they can lead to a big problem down the road.

    TOM: Good point. Angie, what are some of the warning signs of a bad contractor perhaps you should watch out for?

    ANGIE: Well, when you’re working with a contractor, you want a very professional contractor. So, obviously, they should have their license, they should be willing and able to give you their insurance information that you can check, obviously give you references to check. I oftentimes tell people, “Don’t forget about your gut instinct.” You’re inviting people to be in your house. You want to make sure you’re going to have a comfortable working relationship. And so if your gut’s telling you it’s not the right match, it may not be the right match.

    TOM: Now, Tom, you’re a guy that probably has been in this scenario many times in the past: you’re being interviewed by a potential client. What are the questions that you think consumers really should be asking to make sure that they get a guy that really is going to be able to handle their project?

    TOM SILVA: Well, I think the homeowners should find out if the person that they’re hiring does the kind of work that they want done. In other words, you’re not going to hire a new-house builder to renovate an old home. He may be looking for work but there are special steps that need to be taken when you’re renovating an old house. And you have to make sure you know the problems that are going to come up and how to solve the problems.

    TOM: So you really have to look for a specialist in your area.

    TOM SILVA: In your area, whether or not you put an addition on, a bathroom, a kitchen or building a new house.

    LESLIE: And since these projects are usually on the large scale that you would involve a general contractor in, is the first step bringing in an architect, having your plans made, knowing exactly what the process is and then hiring that pro?

    TOM SILVA: Yeah. You want to have as much done as possible before the work gets done. You need to know what kind of flooring you’re going to use to what kind of knobs are going to be used on the doors, to whether or not you want a laminate cabinet to another cabinet. You don’t want to be making decisions on the fly and slow the process down.

    You know, the contractor should then ask the homeowner, “Do you have all of that?” And then the other question that should be asked by the homeowner is: “Have you ever worked with this architect before? Have there been any problems?” If you have, maybe they don’t want to work together. Maybe they aren’t a good match. You don’t want to have arguing amongst the team during the process because it can get pretty ugly that way.

    TOM: If you’re not communicating well with your GC and the GC is not communicating well with the rest of your team, there’s going to be a problem. So you really need to find somebody that you’re very, very comfortable with on that level, correct, Tom?

    TOM SILVA: Absolutely. You want to make sure – you’ve got to remember one thing: the home is the biggest investment you’re probably going to make. You want to be smart in who you hire to do the job.

    TOM: Now, there’s a lot to think about. Angie, you’ve got an entire section of your website devoted to hiring contractors. Does it walk us through the entire process?

    ANGIE: We sure do. The resource page is AngiesList.com/Contractor. And on that page, you can see all kinds of advice about checking references, hiring a contractor, writing a contract. Just a lot of the tools necessary in order to get the project started on the right foot.

    TOM: Tom, with a project like this, you’re going to be interviewing a lot of general contractors, what kinds of things should you ask from them?

    TOM SILVA: Well, I guess the first thing you want to ask is: are they qualified to do the job? In other words, can they handle that type of project that you’re doing?

    TOM: OK.

    TOM SILVA: You also want to make sure that you get references from the contractor, jobs that they have done that are similar to yours. And what most people do is they take four or five, six, seven, well, however many references and they say, “Oh, well, he’s got all these references.” Did you talk to any of the people that had the work done? Was the job done on time? Did it come in on budget? If there were issues, were they taken care of?

    And also, one other thing that I would always say to do is find out one of the local jobs that they’re working on and go visit the site. See how neat, how clean it is. Find out the attitude of the people who’s working on the job because they’re going to be in your house for quite a while.

    TOM: Great advice. Tom Silva, the general contractor on TV’s This Old House, thanks so much for stopping by The Money Pit.

    TOM SILVA: It’s always a pleasure. Thanks, guys.

    TOM: And Angie Hicks – the founder of Angie’s List, a website that helps you locate great pros to help with your projects – thank you.

    ANGIE: Thank you.

    LESLIE: Alright. Catch the current season of This Old House and Ask This Old House on PBS. For local listings and step-by-step videos of many common home improvement projects, visit ThisOldHouse.com. And for help finding a great pro to tackle your projects, visit AngiesList.com.

    TOM: And Ask This Old House is brought to you by Angie’s List, reviews you can trust.

    Up next, are you counting the days until the mercury takes a big dip? We’re going to have some tips on how you can get the most out of your air-conditioning system through these dog days of summer, 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. And the number here to chat with Team Money Pit is 1-888-MONEY-PIT.

    Now, one caller will be chosen completely at random today. And they’re going to win a pretty fantastic prize. We’re giving away a gorgeous ceiling fan. It’s a Canfield model from Kichler and it’s got a brushed-nickel finish. And the five blades come in different wood finishes. It’s got three speeds and reverse because as we always remind you here at The Money Pit, you need to reverse your fans in the colder months as we are getting the most energy efficiency from your heating and cooling.

    You really should check it out; it’s very pretty to look at. Check out their website. It’s Kichler – K-i-c-h-l-e-r – .com.

    TOM: It’s worth $309. Going to go out to one caller drawn at random from those that reach us for today’s show, so give us a call. The number is 1-888-MONEY-PIT, 888-666-3974.

    Well, as we approach the end of summer, the last thing you need is for your A/C to conk out. To make sure it goes the distance, you want to remember a few things.

    First, always keep your thermostat at around 78 degrees. Turning it down to 70 is not going to cool your home any faster. And if your A/C system doesn’t seem to be working right, we want to cover the basics first. First, make sure the thermostat is set lower than the actual room temp and make sure the selector switch is on cool. And if the thermostat is programmable, of course, check that the batteries have been replaced recently.

    LESLIE: Mm-hmm. You also want to check for power by moving the fan switch from “auto” to “on.” Now, if the blower runs, there’s power. If nothing happens, a control has burned out or the power has become disconnected.

    Now, if your system uses a furnace for heat, check that the emergency switch is on. I mean that’s an easy mistake to sort of happen and you could very easily miss that this is going on. And finally, if you’re familiar with the fuse or the circuit-breaker panel, you want to check for any blown fuses or tripped breakers. And then you can fix that there.

    LESLIE: Now we’ve got Lu from North Carolina on the line who’s dealing with a water-pressure issue. How can we help you today?

    LU: I don’t have any water pressure in my house and I wonder how to make the water pressure a bit higher.

    TOM: Now, has this always been a problem or is it a recent problem?

    LU: I think it’s always been a problem.

    TOM: Yeah. How old is your house, Lu?

    LU: Forty-three years old.

    TOM: Is it a well-water system or is it a city-water system?

    LU: I don’t know.

    TOM: Do you pay a water bill?

    LU: Yeah.

    TOM: Alright. So it’s city water, then, if you’re paying a water bill.

    So, then, what I would do is this: I would start by having the water pressures checked at the street and find out what the water pressure is coming into your house. It needs to be between about 50 and 80 pounds or so to give you decent water pressure.

    If there’s good water pressure at the street, then we have to go inside and start to figure out where it’s being restricted. It could be by the pipe, it could be by the water valve or it could be by fixtures. But if it’s evenly poor across the entire house, it’s more likely to be somewhere near the main water valve. It could be partially closed, it could be obstructed with mineral deposits.

    But I would start by contacting the water company and tell them that the water pressure in your house is not acceptable and then have them test the water pressure at the main for – where it comes into your house and see what’s going on. It could be that there’s a problem at the main that they could fix right there without even having to come in your house. OK, Lu?

    LU: OK, OK. I’ll contact them.

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

    This is The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show. Up next, when you are not home, some folks feel that the A/C should be left running. But just as many think you’re going to save more money by turning it off and then turning it back on once you get home. We’re going to settle that bet, next.

    ANNOUNCER: The Money Pit is brought to you by the new Chamberlain Garage Power Station, an air inflator, utility cord, and LED task light all together in a new, 3-in-1 tool. Exclusively at The Home Depot.

    TOM: Where home solutions live, this is The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show on air and online at MoneyPit.com. I’m Tom Kraeutler.

    LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

    Hey, have you had a chance to check us out on Facebook? That’s Facebook.com/TheMoneyPit. All month long, we are running our Dog Days of Summer Sweepstakes. And it’s a really great chance for you to win some super prizes to help you enjoy the end of summer.

    We’ve got up for grabs a security package from Schlage and Nexia. You’re going to get two Schlage deadbolts with touch-screen keypads, which will give you solid security, plus a Nexia Home Intelligence system, which is a way to run your home remotely. How cool is that?

    TOM: It’s worth $500 and that’s just one of three amazing prizes up for grabs. Just “like” The Money Pit on Facebook to enter. Then share the sweeps with friends and you’ll even get bonus entries.

    LESLIE: While you’re online, check out The Money Pit Community section. You can post your question there and I’ve got one here from Jim in Alabama. And Jim wrote: “I took your advice and got a programmable thermostat. I’ve already noticed big savings. No one’s home during the day and I set it to go pretty hot. My question is: how hot is too hot? We get serious heat and humidity here in southern Alabama. Can I let my home heat up to about 85 or 87 without damaging anything?”

    TOM: I think you can let it heat up without damaging anything but the problem is that it’s not necessarily going to save you money when you get home and you have to cool it back down again. I’m an advocate of setting the thermostat at around 78 degrees or so and kind of set it and forget it, 77, 78.

    LESLIE: Mm-hmm. I do 77 in my house.

    TOM: Yeah. Because I mean the thing is, if you turn it off – which is essentially what you’re doing; you’re letting the house heat up like that – it’s going to become very humid in the house and it has to run a long time to dehumidify again. And then by the time it cools it down, it ends up being sort of damp in the house. I don’t think you’re going to save energy by doing this. I would recommend that you set it at that steady temperature and leave it there throughout the day. And if it gets particularly warm and you are home, then maybe you drop it down to 75 or even 74. But you don’t want to sort of slingshot it up and down because that’s going to cost you more money than just setting it and forgetting it, Jim.

    LESLIE: Mm-hmm. And really, it does keep the house cool enough. I’m always thoroughly pleased with that 77-degree setting. Sometimes I even go to 78, 79. It gets chilly in the house.

    Alright. Next up, we’ve got one from Peggy in Ohio who writes: “My house was built back in the 50s. The problem is that the interior windows are always sweating. And I’ve called an HVAC guy who says the house is built too tight. Does that sound right?”

    TOM: I don’t think a 1950s house can be called as being built too tight at all.

    LESLIE: Tight at all.

    TOM: That said, though, you obviously have too much humidity inside the house. If the windows are not a good-quality window, you’re going to get more condensation, which I think is what’s happening here. But what you should do then is take steps to reduce the amount of humidity.

    How do you do that? Well, you start outside, looking at the water that may be collecting around the foundation perimeter. So we’re talking about the grading first. If the soil is flat, if it’s very mulch-y, if it’s tilted back into the house, that water is going to rain – the rain is going to fall and it’s going to stay right there. If the gutters are clogged, same thing is going to happen. If the downspouts aren’t extended away – take all of the steps necessary to get that water away from the foundation.

    Now, inside the house, make sure you have ventilation in the kitchen, ventilation in the bathroom and take a look at the attic. If you have good-quality roof vents and soffit vents, that vapor pressure is going to move up through the entire house, get to the attic and get drawn out. So reducing the moisture inside the house is going to be the key to getting the condensation to stop on the windows.

    LESLIE: Yeah. And Peggy, your house was built in the 50s and I’m guessing that your windows have never been updated. So, if you go ahead and replace them with an insulated glass insert, that really can make a huge difference and that’s not going to happen anymore.

    TOM: This is The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show on air and online at MoneyPit.com. Thank you so much for spending this hour with us. You may now go forth, pick up your tools and get to work on your home improvement projects.

    If you’ve got questions, remember you can reach us 24-7 at 888-MONEY-PIT or online at MoneyPit.com.

    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 2013 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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