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How to Make Your House Easily Identifiable for Emergencies, Turn your Formal Living Room into an Everyday Space, Get Tips on Lighting for the Holidays 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 Holidays, everybody. Hope you are having a wonderful holiday season. If you are thinking towards the new year, which is almost upon us, about projects that you’d like to tackle in your home, we’re here to help. The number is 1-888-MONEY-PIT. If you feel like you’ve got a money pit, well, welcome to the club. We all live in money pits. And it doesn’t mean we have a bad house; it just means we have a house that needs a little TLC now and again to keep it healthy and happy. And we’re here to help with that if you help yourself first by calling us at 888-666-3974.

    Coming up on today’s program, winter means peak fire season. Could firefighters find your house if they needed to in an emergency? Well, it depends on how visible your house is. And we’re going to tell you how to make it more visible, in just a bit.

    LESLIE: And also ahead, you know, if you’ve got a formal living room in your home, you might be using it this time of year but what about the rest of the year? Is it barely getting used? If that’s the case, why not actually turn that space into a functional family area that you will use daily? We’re going to give you some tips on creating maybe a study room, a hobby room, even a game space, a little later.

    TOM: And if you’re looking to add both a little ambiance and some ease to your holiday celebrations, we’ve got info on how the right lighting can help you do just that.

    LESLIE: Plus, this hour, we’re giving away a set of Stanley tools, including the FatMax Auto-Locking Tape Rule and the TwinTec Ratcheting Wrench worth more than 200 bucks.

    TOM: So, give us a call right now at 1-888-MONEY-PIT, 888-666-3974.

    Leslie, who’s first?

    LESLIE: Karen in Nebraska is having some issues with her automated lighting. What can we do for you?

    KAREN: Well, I have a porch light on the side of the house and one in the front of the house. I got these timers. The one in the back works perfectly fine. At dusk, it’ll come on and then when the daylight comes, it’ll turn off. And the one on the front will not. So I took the timer back on the front and I thought, “Well, maybe it was a faulty timer.” But it still doesn’t work and I had a man look at it and he can’t figure out why it’s not working. It would be helpful if that one would work, too, because now you don’t have to turn it off and on.

    TOM: But the switch works. So you know that without the timer, it comes off and on. It’s just when you add the timer into this?

    KAREN: Right.

    TOM: What kind of timer is this? Is this the kind of timer that takes the place of the switch or what?

    KAREN: Well, you just screw the light bulb into this timer and then you screw the whole unit into the – in the light-bulb area.

    TOM: Oh, I see. This probably isn’t it but are you using a high energy-efficiency bulb in one or the other?

    KAREN: Well, I thought about using those but at this point, I’m using 40-watt bulbs.

    TOM: OK. Just regular incandescents?

    KAREN: Uh-huh.

    TOM: Huh. And you’ve tried two of these and they’re still not working?

    KAREN: Right.

    TOM: But without it, the light comes on and off normally?

    KAREN: Right.

    TOM: Wow. It sounds like something’s wrong with the timer. I wonder if because of the configuration of the way the timer screws into the fixture itself, that maybe it’s not making contact.

    Like, for example, sometimes when you have a timer that screws into the socket where the bulb goes and then you screw the bulb into the timer, maybe it doesn’t get close enough to actually make a contact because the fixture’s a little bit different. That’s the only thing that really comes to mind on this, Karen. Because it wouldn’t make sense that it’s not working.

    Have you done this? Have you taken one that doesn’t work in the front and screwed it in in the back and see if it works in the back? Because that will …

    KAREN: I did, I did. And then I took the one from the back and put it into the front and it didn’t work either, so …

    TOM: And put it in the front. So then I think it’s pretty clear that for whatever reason, the timer is not getting power from the light fixture. So …

    KAREN: How would I be able to fix that?

    TOM: Well, you’ve got to try to look at it closely and figure out why that’s happening.

    LESLIE: Now, this may sound crazy but I actually had a light fixture inside my home – a lamp that I’ve had for a gajillion years – that suddenly stopped working. And I thought, “Oh, I have to replace the socket. What’s going on with this?”

    And I brought it to an electrician friend of mine who looked inside the socket and there was a little tab that the bulb makes contact with. And I guess over the – I think we’ve had it 10 years – of putting in light bulbs, we may have gotten aggressive and the tab just got pushed down. And he simply reached in with it unplugged and raised the prong.

    Yeah, make sure you’ve got this whole breaker turned off. For me, it was a table lamp, so I knew it was unplugged. But for you, make sure it’s completely turned off at the fuse box. And just pull that tab up and surprisingly, that did the trick. The lamp works amazingly. The guy didn’t charge me. It was awesome. So this could be a simple fix. I mean it’s worth a shot; anything’s worth a shot.

    KAREN: Oh, I know it is. Because I thought, “It’s really a pain to have to turn that off every morning.”

    TOM: Yeah. No, I think that’s definitely the easiest thing to do, Karen. Clearly, it’s not getting power. You need to figure out why. Fix that, you’ll be good to go, OK?

    KAREN: OK. Thank you so much.

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

    LESLIE: Ray in Iowa is on the line with a flooring question. How can we help you today?

    RAY: My sister-in-law is a realtor and she deals with a lot of construction people.

    TOM: OK.

    RAY: A few years ago, we wanted to change our hardwood floor in our home, which was about 10 years old and it was a light wood. We wanted to go to a dark wood and we picked out a Brazilian hardwood or something like that and it was about $150 a box.

    And they delivered the wood to the home and well, my sister-in-law set us up with a contractor who wanted her to sell a house for him. And he was so happy if she would sell the house for him that she would get us an installer to install the hardwood floor for a crazy $1.75 a square foot. But he wasn’t really slapping them together very tightly and this was in the spring, in April or May, and he wasn’t really hitting the boards in very tightly. He was just giving them a little tap, little tap here.

    And I asked about that and he said, “Well, you have to have room for expansion.” Well, I don’t think that was correct. And although we have gaps in the summer, we really have gaps in the winter. Is there any way to repair this without having to tear up the entire floor?

    TOM: Well, hmm, not really. Look, if sometimes in a really old floor you get gaps in it, we would tell you to put jute in the space between the gaps. It looks like a burlap kind of cord is what it looks like. And you can put that in between the joints of the floor and then you can actually finish over top on it and kind of – it helps to hide those gaps a bit. You can’t really fill them.

    RAY: Right.

    TOM: But to close them completely, you would have to take the floor apart and essentially reinstall it. Was this all nailed together or was this an engineered floor?

    RAY: It was all nailed together and it – we ended up having like three extra boxes.

    TOM: Yeah.

    RAY: As I said, $150 a box. And they refused to take it back because it was a one-time order or something like that.

    TOM: Yeah. You know what? Unless it’s noisy or coming up or something like that, I don’t think it’s a terrible problem to have those extra gaps. Maybe a bit of a cleaning issue but you could really chalk it up to charm. And frankly, Ray, you’re better off with the hardwood floor than without it, even though you’re not 100-percent satisfied with the way it’s come out.

    RAY: Right. Thanks. We got a great deal but it’s – unfortunately, a couple years down the line, it’s not such a great deal.

    TOM: Yeah, sometimes it works out that way. Ray, 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.

    TOM: 888-666-3974.

    Up next, quick and easy tips to help make sure first responders can find your house fast in an emergency, when The Money Pit continues, next.

    ANNOUNCER: The Money Pit is brought to you by Bostitch. Bostitch Mechanics Tools deliver the rugged reliability you’ve come to expect from Bostitch. Designed for the professional, built to last. For more information, visit Bostitch.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: Pick up the phone, call us right now at 888-MONEY-PIT with your home improvement question. If you do, you might just be the lucky caller we draw out of The Money Pit hard hat to award a $200 prize pack from Stanley Tools. Wouldn’t that make a nice holiday gift?

    You get the FatMax Auto-Locking Tape Rule, which makes one-handed measuring a cinch. You also get the TwinTec Ratcheting Wrench, plus other new products. They all make great gifts. Visit StanleyTools.com to learn more about these products. And check out the 2013 Holiday Gift Guide, presented by Stanley, for more ideas on great home improvement holiday gifts. That’s online at MoneyPit.com.

    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, you know, it was one of the support beams and it 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 the 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, 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 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.

    LESLIE: Well, if you needed help, could the right people find your house? Winter is peak fire season. And although it’s something we don’t ever want to think about, you want to make sure that you put yourself on the map.

    You’ve got to have large numbers on your home or your mailbox so that police or any other emergency vehicles can locate you and your home quickly. And this is one place where décor just doesn’t count. The numbers or the letters, they should be at least 4 inches high and easy to read. So any of that fancy scrolling lettering that just really looks pretty, it could simply be too hard to see in a hurry.

    TOM: Yeah. And you also need to make sure that you can see those numbers all year long. So if you have a shrub or a tree that’s more full in the summer, keep that in mind and trim it back if necessary. You really need to make sure that your house numbers are visible from all angles and up to about 150 feet away. And if they reflect, even better yet.

    LESLIE: And remember, if you’ve got a lot of landscaping out front, clear that brush to provide at least 12 feet of driveway clearance so that fire trucks can safely pass.

    TOM: Yep. Good point. And likewise, if you’ve got a hydrant in front of your home, it’s pretty much your responsibility to keep it clear of all tall brush, snow or anything else that could hamper the operations of the fire department. So keep that in mind. Stay safe throughout this entire fire season.

    LESLIE: Kathy in South Carolina, you’ve got The Money Pit. How can we help you today?

    KATHY: I have a problem with the squirrels chewing into my roof.

    TOM: OK.

    KATHY: And I was wondering, how can I – what can I repair this with and what can I put in there to keep them out?

    TOM: Now, where are they chewing in? Are they chewing through the trim or the soffits trying to get into the attic space? What’s the story?

    KATHY: Well, they have gotten into the attic space.

    TOM: The holes. Are you repairing those holes or what are you doing?

    KATHY: No. I was calling you to see how you could help me, because I listen to your show all the time and you give such good advice.

    TOM: Well, if they get into your attic, you can trap them and release them. You can use something called a Havahart trap. And this is a trap that is a wire cage with a trap door. And the way to bait it is to take an apple and put it in the far end of the cage and wire the apple to the cage; don’t just put it in there. But usually, I’ll take a hanger or a piece of picture-frame wire or something like that and I’ll thread it through the apple and wire it off so that it can’t bounce around.

    And if they’re in the attic, they’ll come looking for that food. They’ll get trapped in there. Then you can pick the whole cage up and take it far away from your house and then release them. And believe me, as soon as you lift the door up, they’re like out like a light.

    LESLIE: They’re gone.

    TOM: They just fly right out there and they’ll take off. They want nothing to do with you, so it’s completely safe.

    Now, in terms of those holes, you have to repair them. Now, you can put – if it’s a small hole, you can put steel wool in it or something like that. But if it’s a bigger hole, you really should simply rebuild it or repair it, whatever it takes. So if it’s wood or if it’s vinyl or if it’s metal soffit material, you really just need to completely rebuild that.

    And then, the other thing I’ll mention that seems to have been pretty effective over the years and that is if you were to put moth balls down in your attic, that does seem to have a deterring effect on the squirrels, as well. So if you spread them …

    LESLIE: Mm-hmm. It will, though – that odor does seep into the house, so don’t go crazy with it.

    TOM: Yeah, right. You sprinkle them in there, yeah. Especially along the eaves.

    KATHY: But is there anything else I can put up there to keep more from coming in?

    TOM: Well, we want to identify the holes and get those fixed. It’s really an entry issue. You’ve got to basically close the door on them here. And so, if we can identify those holes and those entry points and seal them up, then you shouldn’t have a problem with squirrels. They don’t naturally live in the attic but they’re obviously finding a way into your house.

    If you’re not quite sure where they’re getting in, you obviously can’t get in there – up there – to kind of look that closely, then work from the street level, walking around the outside of the house and looking up. Try to get a pair of binoculars or borrow one and see if you can spot the holes where they’re getting in. But that’s what has to be closed up.

    KATHY: OK. Thank you so much. I’m so grateful.

    TOM: You’re very welcome.

    LESLIE: Bill in Texas is on the line and needs some help with a lightning rod. Tell us what’s going on.

    BILL: I would like to get your recommendation with regard to lightning protection. I would like for you to tell me what you recommend with regard to the best protection for lightning.

    TOM: Well, installing a lightning-rod system makes a lot of sense. And the key, though, is the installation has to be done correctly. Because if it’s not, it could actually sometimes cause more damage than it can prevent.

    One of the common mistakes is that when the lightning rods are installed – and typically, in the average roof, it’s going to have three of them – that the cable that connects them to the ground source, you have to make sure that they run that cable across the roof and then down the side of your house nowhere near any other copper wiring or copper plumbing. So you would want to keep it – for example, if you had plumbing running through the same wall, you want to keep it away from that.

    And the reason you’re doing that is because if you get a lightning strike, it can run down the ground wire on its way to safety where it dissipates into the soil. But it will transfer or jump across to the plumbing system in the house and electrify that.

    So, that’s just one part of the system; you also have to take a look at your electrical panel and make that sure that that’s surge-protected. But a combination of those systems makes a lot of sense, Bill, if you’re in an area that’s really prone to lightning.

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

    LESLIE: Still to come, the right lighting can not only add ambiance to your winter celebrations but it actually makes them easier to host, as well. We’re going to share some tips when The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show continues, after this.

    ANNOUNCER: The Money Pit is presented by Leviton, the brand most preferred by builders for wiring devices and lighting controls. With a focus on safety, Leviton products are the smart solution for all your electrical needs.

    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, we are just days away from the biggest holiday celebrations of the season. And whether you’re hosting a quiet dinner party or a big party, lighting clearly helps set the mood.

    LESLIE: That’s right. Here to tell us more is Melissa Andresko from Lutron.

    Welcome, Melissa.

    MELISSA: Hello, Leslie and Tom. How are you?

    TOM: We are well. And it’s the ho-ho-home improvement season, as we like to kid around these parts. But when it comes to lighting, a home improvement project can really make the difference when it comes to having that right mood for the party.

    Now, one way to do that is to install a dimmer and that’s a project that some people are a bit afraid of.

    MELISSA: You know, Tom, you’re right: people are all about doing home improvement projects but when it comes to electricity, there is a little bit of a fear just because it’s a new thing for people. They’re concerned about – “How do I turn off the power? Is the power going to be off?” But at Lutron, we show you just how simple it is to take out a light switch and plug in either a dimmer or an occupancy sensor. Really, it takes about 15 minutes and one tool: a screwdriver.

    LESLIE: And I think that’s important to say. At Lutron, you do tell people exactly how to take care of this. What exactly do you guys do just to truly make this so easy for everybody?

    MELISSA: So, every product that we sell comes with very detailed instructions, as well as you can go online and watch videos as to how to install a dimmer. Or you can troubleshoot by calling our toll-free, U.S.-based tech support. And they’ll actually stay on the line with you. And you might have a little bit of confusion with wire colors or – “Hey, do I have a single pole? Do I have a three-way? This is all new language to me.” They’ll actually talk you through the process and help you understand exactly what it is you need.

    Or let’s say you’ve switched to the more energy-efficient LED bulbs and you’re not sure if what you have is going to work with these new bulb types. They’ll actually help you understand if your current dimmer will work with an LED or if you need to go out and buy one of the newer models.

    So, it’s just a great way – we’ll hand-hold you through the entire process. And once you install one, you’re going to want to install them throughout your house. It’s really that simple.

    TOM: Now, speaking of the types of bulbs, you mentioned LEDs. Of course, we have CFLs now and the incandescents are still around. You guys actually have a product that’s fairly new that you call the C•L Dimmer. And this works with both compact fluorescents, as well as LEDs. Why does the dimmer have to be different for the different types of bulbs? How does the technology change, Melissa?

    MELISSA: So, the Lutron dimmers that have been available for the last 50-some years, those were really designed for the incandescent bulb. And as we have seen the compact fluorescents – the squiggly lamps – and then the new LED bulbs hit the market, there is different technology built into these bulbs.

    So, at Lutron, we took a look at these changes in the market and we designed this new C•L Dimmer Collection to work with all the newest bulb types. Because people want to be energy-efficient by changing to these new bulbs but they don’t want to give up the magic and the emotion that dimming can create. So, this new collection works with several hundred different brands and types of dimmable LEDs and dimmable compact fluorescents. So, like I said, you’re still going to be able to create that mood and ambiance, even if you’ve made the switch to one of those bulbs.

    TOM: And I tell you, I gave this a try once when they first came out. In our kitchen, we have a bank of high-hat lights – four or five lights – that are over the cabinets. And we put compact fluorescents, incandescents and LEDs all on the same circuit, replaced the old dimmer with the new C•L Dimmer and it handled the mixed load of lights with no problem.

    And of course, what’s cool about this product is you can adjust the dimming range, so you can get it down to the bottom end of the dimming so you have no flicker and then, of course, to the full brightness level. But even with the mixed load, it really performed quite well.

    MELISSA: Yeah. And that’s probably a very common thing that’s going to be happening in homes across America. People are making the switch to these bulbs as their incandescents burn out. We’re not really seeing people making that switch all at once. So, it is going to be very common to have a mixture of bulbs on one specific dimmer.

    So, yeah, as you said, you just simply adjust the range and the dimmer will actually auto-adjust. It knows that there are different types of lamps that it needs to control and it will make that compensation. So, you don’t have to worry about any kind of flickering or your lights not turning on. We take care of it all for you.

    LESLIE: Alright. We’re talking to Melissa Andresko from Lutron about the benefits of dimming and all of the amazing, new technologies in lighting.

    Now, Melissa, I think it’s really important because I’m a mom, everything gets really busy in the house, my hands are constantly full, whether it’s with a child or a load of laundry or work stuff. And I’m finding that my elbows, occasionally a foot, really do come in handy when I’m entering a space or just trying to put something away. And I think Lutron has really sort of tackled this busy-lifestyle situation, making lighting even easier today.

    MELISSA: Yeah, Leslie, exactly. Who doesn’t have that situation happen where your arms are full with a laundry basket or groceries or with this time of year, holiday decorations? And the new occupancy sensor from Lutron does just that: it makes your life that much simpler. And essentially, you would replace a light switch that you have and replace it with one of these in-wall occupancy sensors. So, when you walk into a space, it senses you, it automatically turns the lights on so you can save your elbows and your feet, as you had mentioned. And then after you leave the room, it’s going to automatically shut that light off.

    So, we always talk about great places like the laundry room, the garage, the basement. And at this time of year, you’re probably making several trips to the garage and to the laundry room and to the basement, whether it’s getting decorations, hiding presents from the children. So, we make it that much easier. And it’s that little fun entrée into home automation, too: the fact that your lights will automatically turn on and off for you. It’s just a pretty neat, new concept that people are really starting to embrace.

    TOM: And I’ve got to tell you, you mentioned children. I’ve got three. They love to leave the lights on in their rooms when they head off to school in the morning, just like so many kids do across the country. If you use this product in the vacancy mode, then it operates like a normal light switch. When you enter the room, you still have to tap it to turn the lights on. But when the room is empty, it goes off, so the kids can never really leave the lights on again. You’re never going to come home to a house that’s all lit up, even though it’s been empty all day. It’s a great product. That’s the Maestro Occupancy/Vacancy Sensor from Lutron.

    Melissa Andresko, great information. Happy Holidays. Thanks so much for stopping by The Money Pit.

    MELISSA: Thank you and Happy Holidays to both of you, as well.

    TOM: And for more information on Lutron products, go to LutronSensors.com. That’s LutronSensors.com.

    LESLIE: Alright. And still to come, stairs can be among the more precarious spots in a home but they can get even more hazardous if you don’t have the right railings. We’re going to give you some important safety fix-up tips, next.

    ANNOUNCER: The Money Pit is presented by Diamond Crystal Salt. The benefits are bigger than you expected. After all, you’re worth your salt. Diamond Crystal Salt. A brilliant choice since 1886.

    ANNOUNCER: The Money Pit is brought to you by the new Chamberlain MyQ Garage. When you forget, it alerts your smartphone so you can close your door from anywhere, on most garage-door openers. Available now. For more information, go to Chamberlain.com.

    TOM: 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. Pick up the phone, give us a call at 888-MONEY-PIT. One of you lucky callers that we talk to on the air this hour is going to win a $200 prize pack from Stanley Tools. It includes the FatMax Auto-Locking Tape Rule, making one-handed measuring super-duper easy, and a TwinTec Ratcheting Wrench, which can take the place of an entire socket set. Perfect for your car or your boat tool box.

    TOM: And both of these make great gifts. Visit StanleyTools.com to learn more about those products and take a look at the 2013 Holiday Gift Guide, which is presented by Stanley, online at MoneyPit.com. If you’re looking for a gift for the do-it-yourselfer in your life, take a look at that gift guide. There’s lots of great home improvement-related holiday gifts right there, at MoneyPit.com.

    LESLIE: Stairs are among the most precarious spots in your home but they can be even more hazardous if you don’t have the right railings. So, to keep everybody safe, you need to follow these tips for preparing the right railing with each set of stairs in your home.

    Now, stairs with at least three steps should have a handrail mounted securely to the wall. For open staircases, spindles have got to be installed and placed no more than 6 inches apart to prevent those small kids from trying to squeeze between them. And they will try.

    TOM: They absolutely will. And you need to take special caution where the steps are uneven, particularly in older homes. What happens is you use the steps every day, so you tend to get sort of a second-nature instinct in navigating them. But your guests have less practice. And especially if you have steps that are somewhat uneven, even as much as a ½-inch difference from step to step can be a tripping hazard. So make sure you’re giving guests something to grab onto so no one gets hurt. Also, make sure that the stairs and the rails are safe and secure. You might just spare yourself or a loved one an unexpected trip to the emergency room.

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

    BRIAN: Hi. We have a house. It’s about a year-and-a-half old and it has a – in the upstairs, it has a game room/playroom area, you know? And got a two-year-old and a six-year-old and so trying to think of – trying to build – yeah.

    LESLIE: And lots of stuff.

    TOM: Yeah.

    BRIAN: Lots of toys. So I’m trying to think of a seating area, bench, storage area. Suggestions? Ideas?

    LESLIE: I mean you’re on the right track. I’ve done a ton of makeovers on $100 Makeover with a similar situation, where – small kids, lots of stuff, multi-function rooms. You want it to look good, you want it to be practical but you want to have a place for everything and everything in its place.

    And if you’re a handy guy, you can easily make a storage bench and it could be something as simple as a framed-out box with one of those slowly-closing hinged tops to protect the kiddies’ fingers, either painting it or wrapping it in fabric, padding the top and wrapping just the top, veneering the bottom. It depends on your skill level. And there are ways to even modify existing pieces that you might have.

    Maybe there is a bench or a piece of inexpensive furniture that you can find at one of those stores where you sort of put things together yourself. And you can add baskets underneath. It depends on what your skillset is and what kind of look you want for that space.

    BRIAN: I saw on some show leaving it open using 2x4s or 2x6s – or would you suggest enclosing it?

    LESLIE: I feel like leaving things open, only from my experience with my own son and people who I see how they live – if it’s closed up, it tends to be neater.

    BRIAN: Right.

    LESLIE: And you can frame something – build the box out of 2x4s, clad it with MDF, dress it up a little bit with 1×3, make it almost look like it’s paneled or something.

    BRIAN: Right.

    LESLIE: Give it some raised areas and recessed areas, if you even want to go that far. Up to you. You can add in a baseboard to just sort of dress up the bottom. Paint that. Everything looks beautiful in glossy white or glossy black or a great chocolate brown.

    And then on the top, same thing: MDF top. You want to wrap it with some batting. Put some foam, wrap that in batting, wrap it with fabric, staple to the underside. And the key is the hinge; you have to get that hinge that slowly, slowly, slowly goes down. Because the kids are always going to get their hands in everything.

    BRIAN: Now, we have a corner area, so should I just make it straight or should I make it like an L-shape or what?

    LESLIE: I think an L-shape is really practical. And what you can do is on the ends – on both ends or just one – you can sort of then build out an additional area that maybe has some open shelving on both ends, to put some books.

    BRIAN: Awesome. Looks like I’ve got a project to get started.

    TOM: Sounds like you do.

    LESLIE: It’s a good one.

    BRIAN: Alright. Well, I appreciate it.

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

    Up next, formal living rooms, they seem to have become just a thing of the past but that space can be very current if you make a few simple upgrades. We’ll show you how, next.

    ANNOUNCER: The Money Pit is presented by Leviton, the brand most preferred by builders for wiring devices and lighting controls. With a focus on safety, Leviton products are the smart solution for all your electrical needs.

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

    LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

    TOM: Have you seen the fun stuff we’ve got going on in The Money Pit Pinterest page? There are great ideas on everything from outdoor entertaining to energy efficiency. It’s very addictive. You can pin articles, blogs and more, directly from our website, with our Pin It button. Then share the pins or pin your own great ideas to our boards, as well. It’s all online at The Money Pit’s official Pinterest page.

    LESLIE: That’s right. And while you’re online, you can head on over to the Community section of MoneyPit.com and post a question there, just like Carol in Pennsylvania did. And they write: “I have a green substance forming on an outside brick wall below the roof. I had the flat roof recoated and new flashings done 18 months ago. A new roofer had said that there was no fabric installed by the prior roofer along this parapet wall and that there were cracks and openings in the parapet-wall area. He doesn’t know what’s causing this green slime on my brick wall, which seems to be getting worse. Do you have any ideas? Thanks for your help.”

    TOM: Well, the first thing to determine is whether or not you’ve got a leak in that flashing or not. Because if you’ve got water behind the parapet, behind the brick wall – and by the way, the parapet is that short wall that sticks up above a flat roof. Very common in urban construction. If you’ve got a leak, there’s more water getting into that wall. It could be leaking through. The green could simply be a reaction between copper flashing and the water or it could be an algae that’s forming.

    Algae, very frequently, will form on the outside of bricks. You get a lot of debris, a lot of tree debris and droppings that get stuck on bricks and that becomes the organic food source. The algae grows on that.

    So, first thing, determine if there’s a leak. And second to that, what you might want to do is think about adding a nickel or copper cap to the top of the brick wall. Because what’ll happen is the rain will strike that, roll over the brick, wash down across it and that will release a mildicide into the water, which will keep that surface very, very clean. You’ll see a big difference. It also works well on roofs that are algae-covered. You just put a nickel or a copper ridge vent on top and it cleans the roof every time it rains.

    LESLIE: Mm-hmm. And then you’ll notice that the roof looks a little streaky, which really is the way of knowing that this nickel or this copper is actually doing its job. So if you do install something like that, you will see it being super-effective.

    TOM: Well, it might be called a “living room” but ironically, most living rooms these days are barely lived in at all. You could take that space, though, and create an area your family really can use, with some tips that Leslie has in today’s edition of Leslie’s Last Word.

    LESLIE: That’s right. You know, a formal living room doesn’t have to be a space that you stick all your fancy furniture in and then save the space for when you have company over. You really should make the space work for your family on a daily basis. Real estate inside your home is so valuable. Why waste an entire room?

    So, if you walk directly into your living room from the front door, this is a great spot to put a library or a reading den. You could actually also turn it into a music lounge, which is perfect for piano or violin practice, as well as your family’s entertainment system.

    Now, another bold idea for a formal living room: why not use the larger living-room space, with its majestic fireplace and windows, as your formal dining room? Now, the smaller formal dining room can then be used as a reading den or a sitting room, where you can still have coffee or tea with your special visitors. And the smaller dining space can also be converted into a functional home office, especially if it’s located right off your kitchen. I mean think of how great it would be to have a spot for your kids to do their homework in or you to do some work in.

    Really, a lot of good ideas to take some spaces that you’re just ignoring and finally start paying attention to.

    TOM: Yeah, absolutely. There are many more options for converting those formal living rooms into a more usable space. And they are also at your fingertips when you search “living-room makeover” at MoneyPit.com.

    Coming up next time on The Money Pit, we’re going to talk about faucets. If your home’s faucets are dated, they’re damaged, they’re dull, they’re just not working well, it might be time to replace them. There are lots of brand-new and beautiful, high-tech options to choose from. We’ll cover those, 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 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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