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How to Repair Cracks in Plaster Walls, Easy DIY Projects for Beginners, Improve Indoor Air Quality 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: So happy to be here to help you take on your home improvement and décor projects. Help yourself first. Pick up the phone, give us a call, right now, at 1-888-MONEY-PIT, 888-666-3974.

    Hey, it’s leap year. I can’t believe it. It’s leap year.

    LESLIE: Happens every four years.

    TOM: Every four years. But I mean for us, that means we gain an extra day to tackle projects, right? And how many days have you wished for that? So I thought, why don’t we talk about some tips this hour for projects that you can do in a single day, that will give you a great return on investment and improve your comfort and enjoyment of your home?

    LESLIE: And also ahead this hour, plaster walls. I’ve got them in my house. They’re super common in older homes but cracks? They’re almost as common after decades of settling. We’re going to tell you how to fix plaster-wall cracks, from an expert in old houses: Tommy Silva, the general contractor for This Old House.

    TOM: Plus, it’s the part of the winter when you’re really holed up. So how can you make sure that the air you’re breathing inside your home is safe? We’re going to give you some tips on how you can easily monitor indoor-air quality this hour.

    LESLIE: And this hour, we’re giving away a set of vibration-isolation pads. Now, these are high-tech pads that are specially designed to take that wobble out of your front-load washers and dryers, so you don’t have to chase them around the floor when things don’t seem so balanced. They’re worth 54 bucks.

    TOM: Yeah. And they make running that equipment so much quieter. So give us a call right now. The number is 1-888-MONEY-PIT, 888-666-3974.

    LESLIE: Kelly in South Dakota is on the line and wants some help removing wallpaper. What can we do for you?

    KELLY: I have a – some wallpaper that I want to remove. And I believe we primed the walls. This has been about 10 years ago. And when I pulled back on the edges of the wallpaper, it seems as though it’s taking a bit of the drywall with it.

    TOM: So, what you want to do is you want to get a tool called a “paper tiger,” which puts small holes in the surface of the paper. And it helps the wallpaper remover get behind it and loosen up the adhesive.

    Now, in terms of wallpaper remover, you can use fabric softener, which works well, or you could use a commercially available product, like DIF – D-I-F. But putting those holes in there is important because, otherwise, it doesn’t saturate the paper.

    Now, if you do that and it still doesn’t loosen up and pull off, then what you need to do is go out and rent a wallpaper steamer. And that will use warm, moist air to separate the paper from the wall.

    No matter how you do it, it is a lot of work. And once that wallpaper is off, you’re going to need to reprime that wall with a good-quality primer so you have a nice surface upon which to put your final color of wall paint.

    KELLY: OK. Do you need to sand that once you get it all done?

    TOM: Well, if it’s a little rough, just lightly sand it. You don’t want to sand it too much, especially because you don’t want to cut into the paper that’s part of the drywall. But a little bit of light abrasion is not a bad thing.

    But the most important thing is a good-quality priming paint applied to that wall surface, because you’re going to have old sizing material and who-knows-what-else stuck to that. And if you put the primer on, it’ll give you a good surface upon which to apply the paint. The paint will flow nicely and it’ll look better when it dries.

    KELLY: Well, thank you very much. I appreciate that.

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

    LESLIE: Now we’ve got Steve in North Carolina on the line who’s having a roofing issue. Tell us what’s going on.

    STEVE: It’s probably been 15 years ago I built an addition onto a cabin that I have in the woods on my property and built a bathroom. But I built a flat roof and used an asphalt roofing material to do it. It was more of a tar than an asphalt. Not shingles. But it is – the problem is it’s a flat roof and I’ve got a lot of pines – a lot of tall pines – that leave a lot of debris. And I try to get them off and obviously, the roof is 15 years old.

    We’ve got a serious leak, which I assume is somewhere in the seam because the actual interior – let’s say the main body – seems to be all intact. I guess my question is: is a flat roof a good idea at all? Should I go ahead and – is it cost-effective to just go ahead and build up a pitch and …?

    TOM: So you’re telling me that that flat roof is 15 years old?

    STEVE: And has lasted that long, yeah.

    TOM: And congratulations, first, on your flat roof lasting 15 years.

    STEVE: Yeah.

    TOM: And may we be the first to tell you that it’s at the end – well past the end of a normal life for a flat roof. You’re lucky if you get five to seven out of there. So, you must have done a really good job putting that roof together, Steve.

    What happens is over time, it loses – the asphalt dries out and the material can become more porous. You can develop very small cracks in it where water can leak through. So, I would just replace that roof and I would do it exactly the same way you did it the first time or you can use an upgraded material. But I think the roof is just worn. At 15 years old, you’re lucky it lasted that long.

    STEVE: OK. Well, thank you so much, yeah.

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

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

    We are almost done with winter, guys. I promise. The calendar in March will officially say spring. So let’s get our houses ready and let’s start thinking about those warmer temps. Give us a call at 888-MONEY-PIT.

    TOM: 888-666-3974.

    Up next, is your ceiling leaking? Is your paint chipping? Are your gutters falling off? Well, if it is, it’s time to take the leap. Use leap year to leap into some do-it-yourself projects. We’re going to tell you how, after this.

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

    LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

    TOM: Give us a call at 888-MONEY-PIT for the answer to your home improvement question. Plus, this hour we’re giving away a product that when you need it, you really do need it.

    These are vibration-isolation pads. Now, why would you need these? Well, if you’ve ever operated your laundry equipment and your washer goes into the spin cycle and promptly starts to sort of walk in a circle whenever it is in your house – I’ve seen these washers actually tear through vinyl floors and really do nasty things. Plus, it’s bad for the machine when they vibrate. Well, that’s what these pads do. They’re like rubber blocks that you put under the feet of the washer and they reduce the vibration transfer from the machine to the floor.

    I’ve got them on my full-size washer. Got a high-efficiency washer. It’s in the second floor of my house and I don’t want to hear it on the first floor when it’s running. Plus, I’ve got the dryer on top of it. So if it vibrates, the whole thing can kind of become unsafe.

    LESLIE: The whole thing is like a tumble-y tower.

    TOM: But it works great. You know, it really, really does and it takes that wobble right out of it.

    They’re worth 54 bucks but we’re going to send them out to one lucky caller who we’ll draw from random from those that reach us for today’s show. So make that you. Give us a call at 888-MONEY-PIT.

    LESLIE: Jean in Iowa has a question about her heating-and-cooling system. Tell us what’s going on at your money pit.

    JEAN: I have a five-year-old, high-efficiency furnace with the PVC pipe that comes out for the intake and the exhaust. And at the first joint – it’s about a 45-degree angle. And we noticed that that joint wasn’t totally sealed. But our question is – we noticed that there was condensation dripping out of that joint. So if we seal it, will that condensation go into our furnace and cause damage? We’re not sure what we should do with it.

    TOM: How old is this furnace?

    JEAN: Five years.

    TOM: What’s the efficiency of the furnace?

    JEAN: In the 90s.

    TOM: I ask you this because some furnaces are designed to trap the condensation and pump it out. And so if you have a condensing furnace, then that might not be as much of an issue.

    Because what happens with those high-efficiency gas furnaces is they put the exhaust gases out at such a low temperature, that they quickly turn from gas back to water. And then the moisture drains back through the vent pipe, gets caught by a condensate system and then pumped out.

    So have you had it serviced this winter yet?

    JEAN: Not this winter.

    TOM: Yeah, you really need to do it every year because the fact that the gas burns, it burns dirty and then you get combustion deposits on the burners. And then they can become inefficient. They’re wasting money and potentially be dangerous. So, I would address this with the service contractor when he comes out to do your service, which you’re going to call for tomorrow, OK? You want to make sure you get that done because it’s important, every winter, to have a heating system serviced.

    JEAN: OK. Thank you.

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

    LESLIE: Alright. Going out to Tennessee where Jack is dealing with some rust on a toilet. What is going on, dude?

    JACK: Well, I’ve got a toilet-bowl problem with a stain that I’m unable to do anything with.

    TOM: OK. What have you tried so far?

    JACK: I’ve only tried the normal thing with Ajax or Comet, one of the scrubbing powders.

    TOM: What kind of stain is this? Is it like a rust stain?

    JACK: I think it is sort of – the plumber said it was a rust stain. I had the tank – all the works in the tank.

    TOM: Replaced? Mm-hmm.

    JACK: I was talking with him about it and he said it’s a rust stain and says, “Never use Brillo or any of the other scrubbing wires,” and suggested a sanding pad. It’s a soft pad. And I did use one of those and got a tiny bit of result but not what I’m looking for.

    TOM: Alright. Well, here’s a suggestion. First of all, you’ve got commercial products, like CLR or Lime-A-Way, that can work. Or you’ve got some sort of do-it-yourself products or mix-it-yourself products that you could put together. But the most important thing is to start with a dry bowl. So you want to turn the water off at the toilet and flush it and dry out that bowl. Because you’re going to be able to get more of the cleaning product onto the surface.

    You can use lemon juice. That’s an acidic-based rust remover. White vinegar also works well. Borax works well. You can mix Borax with hot water and that works pretty well. And here, right from The Money Pit Engineering Department, my crack engineering team tells me that they’ve had good success with Coca-Cola. And I’m sure they wouldn’t be making that up. So, again, any of these acid-based products can do a pretty good job of pulling that rust out of the toilet bowl. But you want to flush it and dry it first so that it really has a chance to get to work.

    And in terms of the scrubbing pad you mentioned, something like the Scotch-Brite pad is a good thing to use on that. It’s not going to destroy the surface.

    JACK: Thank you so much for taking my call. And I’ll get on it this afternoon.

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

    LESLIE: Well, it’s leap year and that means a whole host of things. But let’s see: we’re talking about the Summer Olympics, a presidential election and an entire extra day. But for us, it’s an extra chance for us to encourage you to leap into home improvement.

    TOM: Now, if you’re just getting started in the home improvement space, kind of learning your way around the tool shed, there are some things that you can do yourself that are going to help you save some big money and they’re pretty easy.

    First up, you could repair a leaking toilet. Now, that’s a common project. And if you don’t take care of it, it’s going to actually waste a lot of water. The supplies are only going to cost you a few bucks. It’s going to save you a lot on your water bill. And you can also think about installing water-efficient bathroom devices, like a dual-flush toilet. Installing that is not really that difficult. You can convert an existing toilet to dual-flush or you can put in an entire new one.

    We like plumbing projects as starter DIY jobs. Because if you’re just changing out things, they’re usually – they usually go back in pretty much the same way they came out.

    LESLIE: Mm-hmm. And they’re pretty easy to put back together. And if you get lost, there’s lots of things you can look up online for a step-by-step when it comes to your toilets.

    Now, here are some things that you probably should be doing but maybe haven’t done in a while. For example, why not make this the week that you change your HVAC filter? You didn’t know you had one? Well, it’s there and it should be changed – do you get this? – several times a year. Not just one time a year. Multiple times.

    TOM: Yeah. And that’s really easy to do. You just need to be careful, though, when you put it back in. Take a look at the side of the filter. There’s usually a little arrow on the filter and that points in the direction of airflow. So, if it’s on your furnace and sort of towards the outside of the furnace, it’s going to put in towards the blower compartment. Make sure you get it in in the right way so that it works properly.

    Now, another thing that needs to be cleaned is your dryer exhaust duct. You get a lot of lint that piles up in there and it can be a fire hazard. There’s a handy tool called a LintEater that you can buy online. I’ve never seen anything like it and that’s why I’ve got this one. And it’s on a long fiberglass rod. You attach it to a drill, you spin it through the dryer duct and it takes care of all that lint, gets it to fall right back out and you’re good to go.

    LESLIE: Now, here’s another simple project that you could take on and it helps you to be a little bit more green in your house. Why not take out some or all of those inefficient light bulbs you’ve still got kicking around your house and switch out a few fixtures or even all of them with more energy-efficient LEDs?

    TOM: Yep. Very simple. Break these kinds of projects done into little bite-size pieces and anybody can really be a do-it-yourselfer. Don’t get overwhelmed. Just tackle them one at a time. And you’ve got lots of tips on how to do just that on our website, as well, at MoneyPit.com.

    LESLIE: Jessica in Missouri is dealing with a floor that’s sinking in on itself. What is going on over there?

    JESSICA: Hi. I live in a 128-year-old house and my kitchen floor has settled, maybe, in the middle. If everything is not strapped to my walls, it will go towards the middle of my floor.

    TOM: Wow.

    JESSICA: Yeah. So I didn’t know if you guys had any thoughts about a repair on that, if you think maybe it’s like a joist underneath there or …

    TOM: Yeah, does it sit on a basement or a crawlspace, Jessica?

    JESSICA: No, it’s dirt.

    TOM: It’s dirt. So you can’t really get under it?

    JESSICA: I have a crawlspace that I can get underneath it but it’s in the opposite side of my house.

    TOM: OK. So, can you get down there and physically examine the beams to see what’s going on?

    JESSICA: Yes. But it would take the size of a small child to get underneath there.

    TOM: OK.

    JESSICA: So, there lies another problem – is how to see what’s going on, where the best place would be to go in at to try to get that …

    TOM: Listen, I had to do a plumbing repair project on my own home, in a crawlspace that was about 6 inches taller than me flat on my back. So I know how tough it is to work in spaces like that. You’ve got to kind of shimmy in to get there.

    But the thing is, I am concerned with this sagging, that somebody has a look at that – those beams – to make sure there’s nothing structural going on, like a termite infestation or something of that nature. If it’s just normal sagging, well, I mean there are some things that we can do from the top side to address that.

    One of which comes to mind is that you could use a floor-leveling compound on this old floor. To do so, you are really talking about the entire kitchen floor, including the cabinets. Because to do it just in the middle, you know, might not be enough. You really have to go wall to wall on this room. And because it’s a kitchen, it becomes very, very complicated to do that.

    But the first thing is to evaluate the structure to make sure that there’s nothing going on there. And then the second thing is to look for a solution above it. It’s generally not possible to raise up a floor that’s already sagged, especially in a really old house, because it took 120 years to get in that position and you’re just not going to bring it back up again. Sometimes you can reinforce it a little bit with some additional beaming and stiffen it up a bit. But generally, if you want to level it, you’ve got to do that from the top side and not from the underside in an old house, OK?

    JESSICA: OK. Alright. Well, thank you very much. I appreciate you guys’ time.

    TOM: You’re very welcome.

    LESLIE: Lynn in Missouri is on the line and needs some help with a handrail. How can we help you?

    LYNN: I’m trying to figure out the proper procedure to align and be able to cut the proper angle for the top rail and a bottom rail between two posts.

    TOM: OK. So, are the posts level? Are they straight?

    LYNN: Well, no, not exactly. See, what it is is we took the old, wooden stuff off and we’re replacing it with vinyl. And so, basically, the – some of the posts are kind of warped a little here, a little there.

    TOM: Alright. So, here’s the way you do this. If the posts were straight, it would be a lot easier because, essentially, what you would do is you would lay the railing on the stairs, put a level – vertical level – up against it. And once it’s absolutely straight, use that to determine the cut line. Because that will be, essentially, a vertical cut.

    Now, if the posts are not level – they’re out of level – what I would do is I would take the railing and I would clamp it any way I could to the side of the posts, even if it’s a bit sloppy, just so it’s held approximately in the position that you want and against the side of the posts with some big – maybe wood Jorgensen clamps or bar clamps or something like that.

    And then you can scribe, from the post to the rail, with a pencil that exact cut. You hold the pencil – say, a carpenter’s pencil – flat on the post and then you just basically drag it against the rail. And then add a little bit of extra space, maybe make it a ¼-inch bigger than that. Cut it, put it in place, see how the cut looks. You can adjust if you have to trim it a little bit – I presume you’re using a power miter box – and then you’ll kind of dial it in. But that’s the way to do it, OK?

    LYNN: OK. Thank you very much.

    TOM: Alright, Lynn. Happy to help. Good luck with that project. Thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.

    LESLIE: Still to come, are you tired of staring at cracked plaster walls? Well, fix them right and you’ll never have to fix them again. We’re going to get some advice on proper cracked-plaster repair from This Old House’s Tom Silva, after this.

    MARILU: Hi. This is Marilu Henner from The Marilu Henner Show. And I’m obsessed with these guys. You’re listening to The Money Pit: my buddies Tom Kraeutler and Leslie Segrete.

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

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

    LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

    TOM: And we want to send out a special welcome to WRFD, a brand-new station picking us up in Columbus, Ohio. The show’s going to air on Sunday mornings. Welcome, WRFD.

    LESLIE: Wayne in Iowa is on the line with a septic issue. Tell us what’s going on.

    WAYNE: Well, when I take a bath, I have odor when I drain the tub. If I take a shower, I have no odor when I take – when I take a shower, obviously, I don’t plug the drain. But everything runs through down to one pipe, which goes out to a septic tank. I do know the line is good from the house to the septic tank because I had to dig that up before I ever did any of the plumbing in the house. I did not replumb the drain on the tub but otherwise, the house has new plumbing throughout.

    TOM: So we don’t think that it’s in the drain line. For example, when you talk about sewer odors, the first thing you think of is a missing trap. But if the plumbing has been redone, it’s not likely that that’s the case, correct?

    WAYNE: No, it has a trap. And it doesn’t leak into the basement but I – whenever I take a shower, it works fine. But if I take a tub bath and pull the plug on the drain, I get a sewer odor in the hallway outside the bathroom.

    TOM: Because the other cause of those odors is something called “biogas” – is when you get a lot of bacteria that can form in a drain. And it may not even be the drain of the tub; it could be the drain of the sink. I presume there’s a sink in that same bathroom. And sometimes, even in the overflow channel of the sink, you get this bacterial buildup that can have just an awful odor to it.

    And the solution there is to thoroughly clean it with an oxygenated bleach so that you kill that bacteria, flushing out the overflow channel, scrubbing the drain with almost like a bottle brush to make sure that all of that bacteria is eliminated.

    Biogas can be very pungent and unpleasant to live with but relatively simple to get rid of once you get to the spot where it exists. Will you give that a shot?

    WAYNE: Yes, sir. I most certainly shall.

    TOM: Alright. Good luck with that project. Thanks so much for calling The Money Pit.

    LESLIE: Well, long before we had walls made of drywall, plaster was the material of choice for your wall and ceiling construction. But often, in older homes, you find settling and that allows cracks to form in the plaster.

    TOM: Yep. And when that happens, just painting over the cracks really solves nothing. And tearing off all the plaster to redo, well, that can be time-consuming and not very economical. But there is a way to repair plaster walls. Here to tell us how is Tom Silva, the general contractor on This Old House.

    Welcome, Tommy.

    TOM SILVA: Thank you, guys. It’s nice to be here.

    TOM: Now, you’ve worked a lot with plaster over the years. Do you have some maybe trade secrets to share with us?

    TOM SILVA: Yeah. The old lath and plaster does crack over time. It cracks from settling and it cracks from moving and it even cracks from temperature changes – rapid temperature changes. But to patch it, you can actually reattach it to the lath. And there are systems that can do that where you actually go with a little, tiny masonry drill and you drill a series of holes along the cracks or anything that is lifting out. And then you inject this material into each hole with one squirt. It’s like a primer that you put into that hole.

    Then this adhesive in a tube – you need to take the tip of the tube and you put it into the hole and you mark where the plaster meets it and then you cut that off. So now the tip of the hole will be exactly the same size as the hole you drilled. And then a couple of squeezes of the adhesives into the hole will generate an adhesive that will actually install the adhesive under the plaster and against the lath.

    TOM: Now, that lath is a wood strip, right? And when they build these walls, they nail up the wood strips first and then put the plaster on top of it?

    TOM SILVA: Right. And the laths are put on. When they’re put on, they’re wet. And then when they’re – they’re also spaced so that when you put the wet plaster onto the wall, it squeezes between the joints. And the reason it’s wet is because that way the wood and the plaster will dry simultaneously and the wood won’t cause the plaster to dry if it takes all the water out of it.

    TOM: Now, do you guys ever repair walls or replace plaster walls in the traditional way that they were done, you know, back in the 20s and 30s?

    TOM SILVA: Oh, yeah, yeah. Many times. When the plaster comes off the wall, away from the lath, sometimes we break out whole sections and replaster it with a base coat. And we’ve even used the horse hair. It’s really goat hair that we use because it holds up better than the horse hair.

    TOM: Can’t get the horse hair that much these days, huh?

    TOM SILVA: Yeah. I guess. Yeah, I guess.

    TOM: What aisle in the home center is that carried in?

    LESLIE: And would you reuse the lath at that point? Or do you reinstall …?

    TOM SILVA: You don’t take the lath off. You don’t …

    LESLIE: So you’re using the existing lath?

    TOM SILVA: Right.

    LESLIE: So that doesn’t ever rot or change because of all the moisture from the plaster in the initial install?

    TOM SILVA: Right. No. The plaster lath will dry right – not right away but in the process. When you were plastering the house years ago, the house would be pretty wet. And then as the wood dries, the plaster dries and it would really cure. It’d be really nice. But sometimes today, we’ll even take the plaster and break it away from the lath. If people don’t want to spend the money to do it the old-fashioned way, we’ll actually go over it with the 3/8 wall board and then blend it in that way.

    TOM: Now, I did a remodeling project in my house across several rooms. And the first room, I thought, “Hey, let’s just tear off all the old plaster and lath.” And of course, you know it’s like a war zone when you’re done. There’s dust and dirt and debris everywhere.

    TOM SILVA: Oh, yeah. Dust everywhere. Brutal.

    TOM: And then I’m like, “Well, let me try this drywall-over approach.” It just was so much easier, so much cleaner.

    TOM SILVA: Oh, yeah.

    TOM: I was like, “Why did I do it the other way?” Because also, when you take off all the old plaster and the old lath, you often find that the studs don’t line up very well. And with plaster, because it’s wet, you can adjust for that.

    TOM SILVA: You can adjust for that.

    TOM: But when you put additional drywall on it, you’ve got all sorts of bellies and uneven areas to deal with.

    TOM SILVA: Right, right. Well, the old plaster – when they did it, they put the lath on the walls around the perimeter of all the doors and windows, along the baseboard. They used what is called “¾-inch grounds.” And that was a screed for them to basically level the plaster off when it came to windows and doors so they could make it straight.

    LESLIE: So, Tommy, I know when people want to make repairs to a small crack or a small nail hole, normally we go reach for spackle. But if you’re dealing with plaster, should you be dealing with plaster to make a repair or spackle? And really, what’s the difference?

    TOM SILVA: Well, the difference is that the plaster will blend right into it. But I really prefer to use – when I’m trying to patch a plaster that has a crack, I would actually prefer to use joint compound. Joint compound will stick to anything, will span the gaps. Sometimes, if this gap or the crack is big enough, you may want to put a netting over that crack, like a mesh tape that you would use in joint compound or plastering.

    LESLIE: Mm-hmm. The fiberglass mesh.

    TOM SILVA: And that spans that crack and lessens the chance for it coming back.

    LESLIE: So, Tommy, once you’ve put all this adhesive into the holes, what’s your next step? Do you have to clean things off? Do you have to tighten it together? How does it work next?

    TOM SILVA: You’re right. You need to reattach the plaster to the lath. And in the kit that you get are actually these big, plastic washers. And they are actually like a clamp with a screw in between it. So when you put a screw through it and you screw through the plaster, you’re actually pushing the plaster back to the lath. When you do that, the excess glue will ooze out of the holes. Now, you have to wait 24 hours for the glue to dry. Once it’s dry, you remove the plastic washers and then you scrape the wall with the trowel and then skim it with joint compound.

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

    TOM SILVA: My pleasure.

    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 on many common home improvement projects, visit ThisOldHouse.com.

    TOM: And This Old House is brought to you on PBS by State Farm. Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.

    Still ahead, as you spend the coldest part of the winter indoors, have you thought about the air you’re breathing? We’re going to teach you how to make that air in your house safe and healthy, when The Money Pit continues after this.

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

    LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

    Give us a call at 888-MONEY-PIT. We’re going to help you tackle whatever it is you are working at your money pit this weekend. Plus, we’re giving away a pretty useful prize this hour. We’ve got up for grabs a set of vibration-isolation pads. And they’re really designed for front-load washers and dryers. And what they do is they reduce the vibration transfer from the machine to the floor. So if you’ve got your washer and dryer on a second floor, maybe in your ensuite or something like that, it helps keep the noise down.

    Plus, if you don’t load the washer properly, maybe you’ve seen your washer machine take a walk across your laundry room. I know I’ve seen that happen before, especially when I’m washing bedding. And the vibration-isolation pads will stop that. You’re going to get two sets, so one for your washer, one for your dryer for a prize worth $54. We’re got a set going out to a lucky caller drawn at random. Give us a call at 888-MONEY-PIT.

    TOM: 888-666-3974.

    Well, as cold weather keeps you working inside on your home improvement projects, you might want to take some special precaution. There are many materials that really should not be used in closed areas or at least should be used very carefully. For example, the fumes that are generated when using paint and wall coverings, they can be among the more detectable VOCs. That stands for Volatile Organic Compounds. But some manufacturers now offer a selection of both low- and no-VOC products.

    If wallpaper is your finish of choice, you also want to stay away from the vinyl-based papers. They can contain PVC, which is kind of smelly and can increase your respiratory problems, as well.

     LESLIE: Yeah. You also want to avoid products that contain harmful amounts of formaldehyde or involve VOC-heavy adhesives.

    Now, if carpeting is in your improvement-remodeling plans, you can actually ask your dealer to unroll it and allow it to air out for at least a day or two before it comes to your home. I know this is a while back but when Henry was born, you know, we put some carpeting in what was going to be his nursery. And I remember asking the carpet dealer, I was like, “Can you roll it out on – at your site just to let it air out?” And they did. They didn’t ask any questions. And this was eight years ago and I think now people are more savvy and they’re willing to do that.

    You also want to cut down on dust because dust is a respiratory irritant. So during the removal of your old carpeting, you want to make sure that before the crew arrives, you give it a really good vacuum. So when they do start to rip it out, whatever dust that might have settled into it will not go up into the air.

    TOM: Now, let’s talk about drywall. The paper in standard drywall products can become damp. And if it does, it could easily extend an invitation to another indoor air pollutant, which is mold. So for any project where moisture is a threat – particularly in below-grade improvements, like remodeling a basement – you want to make sure you choose paperless drywall. Yes, paperless drywall. No paper used in the process of that drywall.

    LESLIE: Yeah. You want to also go for all-natural contents in traditionally synthetic items. I’m talking about mattresses, shower curtains. And when you bring home other new furnishings that compliment your newly improved spaces, try to give them also a few days to air out, maybe in your garage or somewhere where they can be in a conditioned space before you bring them into your house. Because that will allow them to off-gas out of doors or at least not in your house.

    TOM: Good advice. And if you’d like to have some assurance on what is going on with the air quality in your house, you can pick up one of the many very inexpensive, easy-to-use testing kits or monitors that are out there that measure everything from radon to formaldehyde, nitrogen dioxide, water vapor and more. Lots of information can be learned from deploying one of those kits.

    LESLIE: Next up, we’ve got Judy on the line who needs some help with a wood floor. What can we do for you?

    JUDY: We are purchasing a house, which is under construction, and we chose hardwood floors. It’s my understanding these will be glued-down type, not floated. I would like to know, especially – what’s the best way to care for them, especially in the kitchen? And I had heard of people using steam to clean them and that’s something that is new to me. Can you enlighten me?

    TOM: The only type of glued-down floor that I’m aware of is a parquet floor. Now, if that’s not the case, I would like to know what product exactly they’re putting down.

    I will say that, most likely, most of these hardwood floors today are prefinished. And if they’re prefinished, my quick answer is you follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for maintenance.

    Whether you use steam or not – those steam mops, I have some concerns about them because they do get so hot that if they are held in one place for too long, they can cause the wood to swell. But maybe if they’re used carefully and without on the highest level of steam, they probably are OK for hardwood-floor maintenance and cleaning.

    JUDY: Alright. Well, thank you very much.

    LESLIE: Hey, are you looking for extra storage? Who isn’t? Well, an attic might sound like a good idea but it’s not really intended for storage. We’ll tell you why, after this.

    ANNOUNCER: The Money Pit is brought to you by Glisten. Glisten makes it easy to clean, freshen and maintain your dishwasher, disposer, microwave and washing machine. So improve the performance of your appliances with cleaning solutions from Glisten, the machine-cleaning experts. Visit GlistenCleaners.com.

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

    LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

    TOM: Hey, are you a Facebook fan of us yet? Well, if not, you could be missing out. Check out what Leslie and I have been up to when you like our pages at Facebook.com/TheMoneyPit. And get opportunities to participate in some very special giveaways.

    LESLIE: Yeah. And you can check out our fan pages, as well: Leslie Segrete and Tom Kraeutler. You guys know how to find us. We are all over online and we love sharing what we’re working on. And we actually love to hear what you guys are working on, as well.

    And I’ve got a post here from Tom who writes: “I’m the new owner of a brand-new, contractor-grade Colonial home and I’d like to install a small storage area in my attic, at floor level. The problem is, in addition to having the standard pink insulation in between the joists, I also have about 16 to 20 inches of blown-in white insulation. I already have the pull-down stairs in of the bedrooms, to go up into the attic. How do I create storage?”

    TOM: Yeah. It’s kind of a balancing act and you, unfortunately, can’t have both as most attics are really not designed as storage spaces. So either you have to have an attic with the correct amount of insulation – which, by the way, it sounds like you do – or you can have attic storage. One way that you could try to have both is just to sort of divide the attic into an area that’s just for storage and one – and of course, all the rest of the area just for insulation.

    One approach to that is to take the area that surrounds the attic opening. So if you have an attic stair or an attic hatchway, maybe take a few feet all around that area and just decide you’re only going to have, say, the 8 or 10 inches that you can get from the floor joist down as the insulation of that area. And then leave the 15 or 20 inches that you have in the rest of the attic, which is really what needs to be there to make sure your home is energy-efficient.

    One thing that you can’t do is squish the insulation. If you compress insulation, it loses its effectiveness. So it really is a balancing act. Just choose what you absolutely need for space for storage and leave the rest as thick as it is, Tom.

    LESLIE: Alright. Next up, George writes: “Does it ever make sense to make a two-story house into a one-story home? We like our location but we don’t need the room anymore. We need a new roof, so this feels like the right time to make this big change if we’re going to do it.”

    That seems like you’re changing maybe a $1,000,000 house to a $700,000 house.

    TOM: Yeah. I was going to say, “That’s a real expensive change.” You might want to think about buying another house that’s sized for your particular needs. I mean there’s no structural reason you can’t do it but it certainly would be sort of a crazy economic reason.

    You know, what I might suggest that you do is look into how you can make the home more accessible. And today, accessible design or universal design can be very, very attractive design. You don’t have to make your home chock-full with sort of handicap-esque accessories that don’t fit and make you feel like you’re in the middle of a hospital. There are some really simple changes that you can make to just about any room in the house that makes it a lot easier to use, even if you have a second floor, in fact. If you really love this house, I’d rather see you put an elevator in or a stair lift in than try to get rid of that second floor, because it’s really going to detract from the value.

    LESLIE: It really doesn’t have to look institutional to make your home functional. And I agree with Tom: changing it to a one-story house is going to drastically reduce the value of your home, so think about, creatively, how you can get upstairs in a way that works for you. And also think about what you can turn that space into. You can have such a wonderful, useful space for maybe a hobby or a project or a guest space that doesn’t have to be used every day but could really be a special place.

    TOM: This is The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show on air and online at MoneyPit.com. Hey, thank you so much for spending this time with us. If you have a question – we know it can come any time of the day or night. It can keep you awake in the evening. But you can call us, 24/7, at 888-MONEY-PIT. If we are not in the studio, we may just very well call you back the next time we are. Good luck with those projects.

    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 2016 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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