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How to Seal Drafts to Cut Heating Costs, Best Sump Pumps, Tips on Storing Holiday Decorations, and More

  • Transcript


    Hosts: Tom Kraeutler & Leslie Segrete

    (NOTE: Timestamps below correspond to the running time of the downloadable audio file of this show. Text represents a professional transcriptionist’s understanding of what was said. No guarantee of accuracy is expressed or implied. ‘Ph’ in parentheses indicates the phonetic or best guess of the actual spoken word.)


    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. We are here to help you plan and tackle the projects that you want to get done in your house in the coming year. So pick up the phone and help yourself first by calling us at 1-888-MONEY-PIT, 888-666-3974. If there is a project on your to-do list, maybe it’s on your New Year’s resolution list, call us at 888-MONEY-PIT and we will help you put it over on the done side, by giving you some tips and advice to help you get it done quickly.

    And speaking of projects, do you have trouble sticking to New Year’s resolutions? I know that I do. So, I have an idea: if the same resolutions always fall to the wayside around the same time every year, you might want to make the New Year’s resolutions for your home instead. It’s a lot easier when you fail your home than when you fail yourself; it doesn’t have as – there’s not nearly as much guilt associated with that.

    But think about it, Leslie: if you want to lose weight, just declutter; if you want to save money, then just improve your energy efficiency.

    Hey, it works. So we’re going to have some tips on how to do just that, coming up.

    LESLIE: Alright. I don’t think any of those resolutions will help me lose this baby weight but I’ll keep trying.

    Also ahead this hour, a sump pump, it’s one of those handy household appliances that you don’t need very often but when you do need it, it’s got to work. So, This Old House plumbing expert Richard Trethewey is going to stop by to make sure that yours is always good to go whenever you need it.

    TOM: And all those pretty lights and wreaths that you put up for the holidays have to come down soon, so we’re going to give you some tips on how you can store décor so it’ll be good to go for the next season.

    LESLIE: And one lucky caller who makes it on the air with us this hour is going to get some peace of mind when it comes to fire protection. We’re giving away a Kidde Worry-Free Smoke Alarm System. Now, this is going to include four smoke alarms for different parts of your home and all of them have a 10-year battery.

    TOM: It’s a home safety package worth $140. Going to go out to one caller that picks up the phone and calls us with their home improvement question. So, what are you waiting for? The number is 1-888-MONEY-PIT, 888-666-3974. Give us a call right now with your home improvement project. Let us help solve that do-it-yourself dilemma.

    Leslie, who’s first?

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

    BRENT: I’m trying to figure out a way I can quiet the noise – lower the noise level – on our new home that we built. Our home is basically an open-concept: high ceilings with a lot of wood, tile. Well, I’m wondering – no window coverings. But when our – I’ve heard that you can change out your pulleys, like maybe on your fan blower, to lower the noise level. Is that possible doing or not? Have you ever heard of that before?

    TOM: So, the noise that you’re trying to reduce is the sound of airflow from your HVAC system?

    BRENT: Yep. We have a heat-pump system and like I said, our house has mainly a lot of wood: our ceiling is wood, we have a lot of windows. And when it kicks in, it just roars, you know what I mean?

    TOM: You get a whistling sound when the blowers come on?

    BRENT: No, just the actual airflow that you hear. And just trying to find a way to absorb that noise or maybe just – I’ve heard that, like you say, you can slow that – maybe the flow of the air down?

    TOM: Well, depending on the system, you actually can adjust the fan speed.

    BRENT: Right.

    TOM: But there may be a point of diminishing returns if you reduce the fan speed: you may not get the air moving throughout the house where you need it. Unfortunately, this is an installation issue when it comes to how the HVAC system was designed.

    Now, also, if you have metal ducts, you could be getting some vibration in those ducts and those ducts could be dampened or reinforced with a few modifications. For example, if we get a duct that makes a lot of noise, sometimes you can take a piece – an additional piece – of metal and attach it to the top of the duct in a diagonal fashion and that will reinforce it and take some of the flex out of the duct and reduce the vibration noise.

    So, there are a couple of small tweaks like that that you could try. But what I might recommend you do is the next time you have your heating system serviced, that you spend some time and maybe let the company know in advance that you want to speak with one of their technicians about reducing noise and see if there’s anything else that could be done. You also, for example, could insulate some ducts that might be accessible and that might quiet some of the noise, as well.

    So this is going to be a series of small steps with small improvements, not big steps with big improvements. OK, Brent?

    BRENT: OK. Thank you.

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

    LESLIE: Now we’ve got Barb in Iowa on the line who’s got a heating question. How can we help you today?

    BARB: Yes. My son recently purchased a house and it has hot-water heat. And was wondering about if we replace that, if you’d suggest staying with that system or going with maybe the forced-air natural gas?

    TOM: Oh, no, I would – well, first of all, is it a gas-fired heating system? It’s just heated by hot water instead of ducts?

    BARB: Yeah, it has kind of – the radiators along the …

    TOM: Oh, listen, Barb, you’ve got the best heating system available. So, you definitely don’t want to take – never take apart a radiant system.

    Now, if you want to add air conditioning, you add a separate set of ducts for that. But you never disable that hot-water baseboard system, because it delivers warm, moist heat. Now, most builders today don’t put these in because they’re too expensive. But if you bought a house that’s got one, you definitely want to keep it and enjoy it.

    BARB: OK. And then if – just repair it if it would need any …

    TOM: Well, I mean hot-water systems rarely need repair; it’s just that the boiler needs maintenance. But most hot-water, gas-fired boilers will last 25 or 30 years.

    BARB: OK. Well, thank you.

    TOM: You’re welcome, Barb. 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. It’s almost the new year. What are you guys planning on working on around your money pit? Pick up the phone, give us a call; we’d love to give you a hand. We’re here for you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-888-MONEY-PIT.

    TOM: 888-666-3974.

    Up next, saving money is one of the top New Year’s resolutions. That’s why we’ve got a way to do just that by helping you seal out drafts. That’s all coming up, after this.

    ANNOUNCER: The Money Pit is brought to you by Roxul, manufacturer of fire-resistant, water-repellent and sound-absorbent home insulation products. Keep your home efficient and comfortable this winter and all year long with Roxul ComfortBatt and Roxul Safe’n’Sound insulations. www.DIYWithRoxul.com. Roxul. That’s R-o-x-u-l.

    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: Give us a call right now at 1-888-MONEY-PIT, 888-666-3974. If you do, you might just be the single caller that wins the Kidde Worry-Free Smoke Alarm System that we’re giving away this hour.

    This system never needs a battery change, because each of the four smoke alarms has a battery that will last for 10 years. You can learn more at WorryFreeAlarm.com or pick up the phone and call us for your chance to win. It’s worth $140. The number, again, is 888-MONEY-PIT.

    LESLIE: Orv in South Dakota is on the line with a log-cabin question. Tell us what you’re working on.

    ORV: This is a cedar log cabin. Actually, it’s 4x6s with the edges eased. And four or five years ago, we stained it and it got – we stained it too dark. And I’d like to know if we can – or what needs to be done to bring it back to its original color?

    TOM: OK. So, if you stained it and it’s too dark and you want to lighten it up again, it’s not practical to sand down the logs to try to get to the natural wood, nor do I think you have to. What you could do is you could apply a solid-color stain, which is essentially going to be – the color that, you know, comes out of the can is the color you’re going to get. It’s kind of like paint except that the grain of the wood shows through. So if you were to put a solid-color stain on those logs, you could definitely lighten it up.

    And frankly, when we are asked about staining homes, wood siding and the like, we almost always recommend solid-color stain because it lasts the longest. It has more pigment in it than semi-transparent stains and so I think that’s the way to go, Orv. Just pick up some solid-color stain, any color you want. Apply it to the logs and you could definitely lighten up the look.

    ORV: OK. Thank you very much.

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

    LESLIE: Well, it’s almost the new year and do you find that you vow to save more money every New Year but you’re not really sure how to do it? Well, we can help with that by cutting your heating bill and it’s an easy resolution that you can keep.

    TOM: Yes. There’s really two basic ways to keep the warm air inside and cut those costs. First, you want to make sure you have the right amount of insulation and in the right place. And second, you need to decrease the amount of air moving in and out of your house.

    In fact, as much as 80 percent of your home’s heat loss comes through energy leaks. So if you seal drafts and make sure you have at least 15 to 20 inches of insulation in your attic, you’ll definitely save money and keep comfortable.

    LESLIE: Even if you’re not building a new home or you’re renovating, you can still benefit from insulation and draft-sealing. And there are some great tips on MoneyPit.com that will help you get started.

    For example, when it comes to drafts, windows and doors are usually the culprit and caulking and weatherstripping are usually the answer. But you also need to think about outlets and switches that are on your exterior walls. Now, home improvement stores sell gaskets that you can install to stop the air moving through them.

    These steps are resolutions that you can stick to and see a return. Unfortunately, the diet is something you’re going to have to work on yourself.

    TOM: 888-666-3974. Give us a call right now with your home improvement question.

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

    KATHY: I have a problem – not I but my daughter has a problem with her sliding doors.


    KATHY: In winter, it’s awfully drafty. And on a previous show, you mentioned a product to put on that you can peel off in springtime very easily and that seals the doors and windows. But I did not get the name, so that’s why I’m calling back, if you remember that or if you can help me with this problem?

    LESLIE: Now, Kathy, it’s a very common product that we talk about often. DAP has one; it’s called Seal ‘N Peel Caulk. A lot of different manufacturers make one. But once she seals this door, it’s not something that you’re going to want to peel off and reapply. Is this a door that she uses often or could she call this doorway closed for the season?

    KATHY: No, she doesn’t use it in winter at all.

    TOM: OK. So then you could seal it off for the winter, as long as – and the thing that concerns me, though, in telling you this is while you can seal it off for the winter, you’re also sort of sealing it shut. So if this is an emergency exit out of the house, in the event of a fire or something like that, you might not want to do this. But the product is a weatherstripping caulk. It’s clear; it looks like silicone but it’s not. And you essentially caulk drafty windows or doors. And then in the spring, you peel it off and it doesn’t damage the underlying door.

    But like I said, because it’s a door, we don’t recommend that you seal it shut, because then you won’t be able to get out.

    LESLIE: And that’s a good option if the draft is coming in from around the door, like in the operable parts, the doorway itself, for lack of a better area to describe? If you feel that the draft is coming from the glass itself, there’s also those clear sheetings that you can attach, in addition to sealing off the other part, that you sort of blow-dry in place, that sort of seals off an additional layer if the draft is coming through the glass, as well. And a combination of those two things might work.

    TOM: It’s shrink film and it would attach to the outside frame of the door. It sort of has like a double-face tape attachment and then you heat it with a hair dryer and it shrinks and pulls really tight and taut. And of course, that would stop the drafts but in the event you had to get out in an emergency, you just break through and go on out.

    Alright, Kathy? So I hope that those are some good ideas that help you and your daughter out. Thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.

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

    MIKE: Is it possible or either a good idea to put a propane water heater in – next to an electric water heater? With the bad weather that we’ve had and the possibility of losing the electricity, I was trying to determine whether or not I could put in a propane water heater and maybe cheap hot water to be able to wash the kids and the clothes when the electricity goes out.

    TOM: Well, that’s an interesting approach. First of all, I don’t see why you couldn’t do that as long as both appliances were installed safely and in accordance with electrical codes and plumbing codes and in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. So, there’s no reason why you couldn’t have the water heaters side by side with one being propane and one being electric. But you might want to think about a more permanent solution and a more practical solution to the underlying problem of losing power and that is to install a standby generator.

    Now, you can get a standby generator that would run on propane gas. And a standby generator is very handy, because it comes on automatically when the power goes off and it can handle the water heater, lights, refrigeration, heating systems, all the basics.

    LESLIE: Well, pretty much anything that you want it to.

    TOM: Yeah. And keep you moving throughout the house. So, rather than see you spend money on a second water heater, I’d rather see you spend some money on a propane-powered, gas standby generator.

    MIKE: What would you think would be necessary for running, yeah, the basics that you were just mentioning there: the water heater, the refrigeration, the stove? You know, not running the whole house – I think that takes about 15,000 kilowatts – but just running a partial system there. What would you recommend for that type of a standby?

    TOM: Well, exactly. And you can buy them based on different sizes. So, for example, if you wanted one that was about 8k, that would probably run you probably $2,500, plus or minus.

    MIKE: Oh, OK.

    TOM: And if you wanted one that was 20k, that’d probably run you about $4,500 and then something else in between. So, they’re not extraordinarily expensive. They have to be installed professionally and of course, this presumes that you have propane available to run them and not – or natural gas. But I presume you’re talking about propane.

    It comes with something called a transfer switch. So, it gets installed next to your main electrical panel and basically, the circuits that are wired in the transfer switch are the ones that actually come on. So you might have a lighting circuit, a refrigerator, furnace and so on. If you happen to have central air conditioning, you may not use that, because you’d be willing to put up with not having air conditioning for a few days but as long as your refrigerator worked and so on.

    MIKE: Fantastic. Well, thanks for all the good information you folks provide.

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

    LESLIE: Steve in Kentucky is on the line with a roofing question. Tell us what’s going on.

    STEVE: Hi, Leslie. Well, I’ve got a little 1930s – early 30s – farmhouse that we’re restoring and trying to get a little environmental project going up there.

    TOM: OK.

    STEVE: And we have a couple of leaks. We’ve had a record rainfall down here in Louisville this last year and we noticed that when it’s a really hard rain out of the west, that along the seams of the old tin roof, we get – well, it’s like a wetness and then it turns into a drip in different locations.

    And I’m just wondering what’s the proper way to seal something like that up where we don’t have to pull the whole roof to get it.

    TOM: Now, what kind of tin roof do you have? Is it a flat-seam metal roof or is it a standing-seam metal roof?

    STEVE: It’s a standing-seam metal roof.

    TOM: OK. And has it ever been covered with tar or anything like that to try to seal it up?

    STEVE: No, it’s still the original tin.

    TOM: OK. So …

    STEVE: It has a little paint on it.

    TOM: Right. I mean that’s a good thing because, typically, the way you fix those is you solder them. And to do that, you have to strip the paint off, identify the sort of worn-out area. There’s probably a worn-out, cracked, rusted-out area and the repair would be to solder it. And that’s actually a good thing, Steve, because if you solder it, it’s sort of a lifetime repair.

    What happens with these – too many of these metal roofs, though – is that folks don’t want to take sort of the long approach to this repair and they will cover it with tar or caulk or something of that nature. And in doing so, eventually the water gets underneath that and then it seriously rusts it out pretty quickly.

    STEVE: Right.

    TOM: So the secret to success here is to try to find somebody who’s been around long enough that knows how to resolder a metal roof. And that will fix it permanently.

    STEVE: OK. And I’m assuming that that’s probably some specialized tools then.

    TOM: Well, just the right-size torches and solder and all of that sort of thing, yeah. But the guys that do metal roofs have those tools.

    STEVE: Great. And is that – I guess maybe I ought to go up there with him. If I can get him to fix it, I’ll watch and learn a little bit.

    TOM: Yeah. Well, then, you’d be able to do it yourself next time, right?

    STEVE: Maybe so, maybe so. Well, I appreciate the advice and I’ll look along that path. And just want to let you know that we really enjoy you all’s show down here in Louisville.

    TOM: Well, thank you so very much and good luck with that project. Remember, when you’re working with that heat up in that roof, too, that there’s a fire hazard associated with this repair, too. So just make sure that you’re super-super-careful, OK, Steve? We don’t want you to call us back and ask us how to rebuild the building as the next call, OK?

    STEVE: Nope. I think I’ll put somebody with a fire extinguisher in the attic and we’ll do it on a little spring day.

    TOM: This is The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show. Up next, a sump pump is something that you don’t need very often but when you do, it’s got to work. Plumbing expert Richard Trethewey, from TV’s This Old House, joins us next with tips on how to make sure your pump is ready when it needs to be.

    NORM: Hi. I’m Norm Abram from This Old House and when we’re working on our projects, we listen to The Money Pit.

    ANNOUNCER: The Money Pit is brought to you by Stanley Tools, your trusted name in quality hand tools. To learn more about their complete line of quality tools and to find the perfect holiday gift, visit StanleyTools.com.

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

    LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

    TOM: Hey, are you looking at your Christmas tree and wondering just how long you can put off taking it down? Well, unfortunately, you can’t just treat it like a house plant and call it a day. The truth is you really shouldn’t leave it up long or it becomes a big fire hazard. If you go to MoneyPit.com and search “after-Christmas tree disposal,” you’ll find some tips on how to get rid of it safely and responsibly.

    LESLIE: Dot in Wisconsin needs some help with odor removal from a home. Tell us what’s going on.

    DOT: I’d like to know how to get rid of cigarette- and cigar-smoke odor?

    TOM: Well, it really depends on some of the other materials in the house. So, for example, if you’ve got carpets, it’s very hard to get the odor out because, Dot, you could do a great job cleaning every other square foot of that house but the odor will stay in the carpets.

    Generally, if we have a situation where, perhaps, you had a smoker in the house and there was a move-out situation, we tell people to, first off, get rid of the carpets, get rid of the padding, then clean everything very thoroughly using TSP – trisodium phosphate. So this is walls and floors. And then prime everything using a good-quality, oil-based primer like KILZ. Because the primer will seal in any odors that still remain in the building materials: for example, inside of a, say, a plywood subfloor. Once you do all that, then you can essentially redecorate – repaint, new flooring and so on – and you shouldn’t have a problem with the odor.

    DOT: Thank you. By chance, would you know if [farm and feed] (ph) stores would carry that?

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

    LESLIE: Well, a sump pump is one of those handy household appliances that you don’t need very often but when you do, it’s got to work and it has to work very well or you just might be looking at some serious below-grade flooding.

    TOM: That’s right. But there are many to choose from and a variety of considerations come into play before deciding which one is best for you. With us to help sort that out is Richard Trethewey, the plumping and heating contractor from TV’s This Old House.

    And Richard, this can be your best friend when the water starts to leak in but there are a lot to choose from. What are some of the options?

    RICHARD: Well, the two main pumps that you’re going to see are called “submersible” and “pedestal.”

    TOM: OK.

    RICHARD: They both work the same way. The only difference is the submersible sits down in the pit and the motor and the pump will sit underwater.

    TOM: Right. So it actually is submersed under the water.

    RICHARD: That’s right.

    LESLIE: And it’s probably a lot quieter.

    RICHARD: Right. And then the pedestal leaves the motor up above the water. And it has a long shaft with a float on it that sits down in the pit to bring the pump on when that water level rises.

    TOM: I would imagine, with that long shaft and the motor above the water, that’s got to be, as Leslie said, a lot noisier.

    RICHARD: Yeah, a little more noisy but you don’t really care about the noise if it’s going to make the pump go …

    LESLIE: If it’s going to get the water out.

    RICHARD: That’s right.

    TOM: Well, that’s true.

    Now, what about this sort of the real inexpensive pumps that – usually, these are the only ones left on the store shelves if you wait too long after a big storm.

    RICHARD: That’s right. That’s right.

    TOM: And they’re called “floor suckers.”

    RICHARD: Where it’s just a canister pump that has an integral sensor at the bottom, so it doesn’t have an external float. And as its name suggests, you can put it right down on the floor and it can bring that water down to within an 1/8-inch or a ¼-inch. I wouldn’t use this as my first line of defense, though; it’s a great utility pump.

    TOM: Kind of good to have around but definitely doesn’t take the place of a good submersible or a pedestal pump.

    RICHARD: That’s right. The other pump is pretty cool, because people definitely worry about – “My gosh, the rain is coming in. The water is coming in.” And the electricity goes out.

    TOM: Right.

    RICHARD: And this – they have a water-powered sump pump, which is very intriguing. We showed it on This Old House a couple times. And that is that if the float comes on, water pressure will actually discharge through the pump and that water pressure will carry with it the water from the pit, so it actually works without a motor.

    TOM: Oh, interesting. Right.

    RICHARD: So it works without power.

    TOM: So the water removes the water.

    RICHARD: That’s right. So, it’s not your ideal, because you’re going to waste a little bit of water but it’s going to give you – as long as you have a water-supply system that’s not running off electricity. If you have a well pump, this won’t work.

    TOM: Right.

    RICHARD: But if you have city water supply, it will do a nice job.

    LESLIE: Now, what about choice of materials when it comes to construction of the sump pump? Is there any benefit over ones that are made out of plastic or ones that are made out of cast iron?

    RICHARD: You know, commercial pumps will almost always be cast iron; plastic pumps are cheaper but they’re not always as durable. Most pumps are going to last 5 to 10 years and cast iron might last even longer.

    TOM: Now, another consideration is, really, cord length: you want to make sure that the cord is long enough to reach the power. Because very often, you don’t have power right where you need it: where that sump hole is, for example.

    RICHARD: And you don’t want that extension cord sitting in a puddle in your basement, so you want to keep it in a safe place and hopefully have a grounded plug for that cord, as well.

    TOM: Now, having a sump pump, obviously very important. But it’s only going to work if we have power. How do you cover yourself if the power goes out?

    RICHARD: Well, they actually make a unit that has a battery backup. We did it this year on Ask This Old House and it’s really cool. The main pump plugs into a 110-volt and works just like any other submersible pump. The backup pump has a float that’s slightly higher, so if the first pump didn’t come on, that float would activate this battery-powered pump.

    TOM: OK.

    RICHARD: Now, the battery is actually a deep-cycle marine battery and it’ll give you four hours of full run or if it’s run intermittently, as most pumps do, it’ll give you almost a whole day of pump.

    TOM: Terrific. That’s really going to cover you, no matter what happens with the storm.

    RICHARD: You hope that power comes back on within a day.

    TOM: Absolutely. Richard Trethewey, the plumbing contractor from TV’s This Old House, thanks so much for stopping by The Money Pit.

    RICHARD: Glad to be here.

    LESLIE: Alright. You can catch the current season of This Old House and Ask This Old House on PBS. For local listings and several step-by-step videos on sump pumps, you can head on over to ThisOldHouse.com.

    TOM: And This Old House and Ask This Old House are brought to you by GMC. GMC, we are professional grade.

    Up next, getting ready to take down the holiday décor? We’ve got ideas on how you can store that décor and plan now for easy holiday decorating in the year ahead.

    ANNOUNCER: The Money Pit is brought to you by TotalProtect Home Warranty. Get total protection against unexpected home repair or replacement costs for appliances, air conditioning, heating, plumbing and electrical. Visit BuyTotalProtect.com to see if you qualify for a special offer. That’s BuyTotalProtect.com.

    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. And the number here is 888-MONEY-PIT.

    Now, one lucky caller that we talk to this hour is going to get a really awesome set of four smoke alarms from Kidde. These are the Worry-Free Alarms. They have lithium batteries that are built into the alarm itself and that battery is going to last 10 years.

    You can learn more about Kidde’s alarm systems at WorryFreeAlarm.com. And give us a call at 888-MONEY-PIT for help with your home improvement problems and your chance to win.

    TOM: 888-666-3974.

    LESLIE: Tom in Florida is dealing with some tree roots in a drain system. Never a fun task. Tell us what’s going on at your money pit.

    TOM IN FLORIDA: Our house was built in ’55 and we have a lot of oak trees in the area. In fact, it’s called Shady Oaks Drive. And I have these roots into my drain field, into the pipes, and it’s clogging my system.

    TOM: So it’s getting into the drain field itself? So it’s getting into the pipes that have the openings where the water leaches out into the drain field?

    TOM IN FLORIDA: Yeah. Yes.

    TOM: Yeah, that’s a difficult situation because, of course, that’s a perfect source of food for the trees, right?

    LESLIE: So it probably really likes it there.


    TOM: Yeah, they do. Yeah. Now, is it possible to cut back trees from this area?

    TOM IN FLORIDA: No, they’re – these trees are about 6- or 7-foot around. They’re huge.

    TOM: So, here’s one thing that you can do: if you can map out where the drain field is and be sure where that drain field is, you could trench. And you may have to rent a device to do this but you could trench, even if it was a narrow trench.

    Have you ever seen one of these cutters that are like a 2- or 3-inch-wide blade that kind of digs straight into the ground?


    TOM: You could trench around the drain field. And in doing so, what you would be doing is slicing those roots on their way over to the drains.


    TOM: And that would isolate – at least slow down the growth of some of those roots into the drain field. They’re going to come back eventually but it might take quite a while; it might be something you only have to do every two or three years. But if you could slice that area around the drain field so that the roots don’t go through that and into the pipes, what’ll happen is the roots that are there will die off, because they won’t be fed from the tree anymore.

    TOM IN FLORIDA: Right.

    TOM: And then, hopefully, they won’t come back for a while. Does that make sense?


    TOM: Well, give that a shot and good luck with that project. Tom, thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.

    LESLIE: Well, I love getting out the holiday decorations and putting them all around the house and making everything look festive. But putting them away? Not so much.

    Now, organizing and planning the storage chore can actually make it more productive and efficient. First of all, as you take down the decorations, you want to look for damage. Now really is the best time to make sure that your lights are going to be in good working order next season. You can also replace burned-out bulbs and make sure that there are no frayed wires from any of your holiday festivities. Plus, if you do find any damage, you can buy that new stuff now while it’s half-off or more at all of those post-holiday sales.

    TOM: Now, to store your holiday lights, you want to cut cardboard into 12-inch by 9-inch pieces and wrap the lights around it to keep them tidy and at the ready for next season. You can also use a paper-towel tube. Be sure to store decorative items in a clear plastic bin so you know exactly what’s in there and be sure moisture doesn’t deteriorate any of the cheer.

    Finally, place all stored items at the back of your storage area to allow the current seasonal items to be accessible. And next year, that’ll place you one step ahead when it comes to your holiday decorating.

    LESLIE: Nora in Texas is on the line with a textured-wall question. Tell us what you’re working on.

    NORA: We are remodeling our house and we have a room that has a wall that has some flaws in the wall: some bumps and things that I know I won’t get out. But we were going to – we were texturing it with a lightweight joint compound and a paint roller. But when I put it on, I kind of went above my head and came down and then I dipped again, went across the wall and then went across the top about a foot from the ceiling to the – where I’d started. Then went across the bottom from the foot – from the – right ended to the floor. Is it going to show line – how do you keep from showing line marks and …?

    TOM: Well, you know, Nora, there’s paints that are designed to do that; you don’t have to use spackling. But I mean I can respect the fact that you probably had some spackle and maybe you just tried to make that work. How do you avoid paint lines or how do you avoid trowel lines with that? You only get one shot to do it and that’s when you work it when it’s wet.

    NORA: OK.

    TOM: It’s OK to cut-in like that but before it dries. What you have to do is go across the wall and sort of break into those sort of bands so that you have a pattern there.

    NORA: OK.

    TOM: I probably would not have used spackle for that, if it was me. I would have used a good-quality textured paint, which would have given you the same effect. But it sounds like that ship has sailed and now you’re working with the spackle. Is that correct?

    NORA: Well, yes. What kind of paint has texture in it?

    TOM: Oh, there’s lots of different paints. I know, for example, I think it’s Valspar has got about a dozen different ones. And I’m sure every major paint manufacturer has a textured paint.

    NORA: So you just roll it on like paint and it …?

    TOM: That’s right. It has less coverage. So while regular paint covers about 400 square feet per gallon, textured paint will cover between 150 and 200 square feet per gallon.

    LESLIE: And it also depends – the application depends on the type of texture that you choose. Some of them have certain rollers that are required – certain applicators, I should say – that will achieve that look for you.

    NORA: OK. Well, thank you very much.

    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: You are tuned to The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show on air and online at MoneyPit.com. Up next, can a solar-panel system on your home prevent power outages? We’ll find out, after this.

    (theme song)

    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: Hey, do you want a last-minute holiday gift, perhaps, for yourself? Well, why not enter The Money Pit’s Santa’s Home Improvement Sweepstakes? We are giving away a brand-new Whirlpool Duet High-Efficiency Washer and Dryer worth $1,449.

    LESLIE: Alright. Now, entering is really easy at MoneyPit.com. Plus, once you’ve submitted your entry, you’re going to have the chance to share the contest link and earn five more chances to win for every single one of your friends that enters, too. So get that out there and get a lot of friends to enter so you’ll have more chances. You can enter Santa’s Home Improvement Sweepstakes today at MoneyPit.com.

    And while you’re online, you can post a question in the Community section. I’ve got one here from Linda in Long Island, which is my neck of the woods, who writes: “I was without power for too long” – join the club, Linda – “after Hurricane Sandy. We have a generator and that helped but I want to know if installing solar panels would keep me from losing power. Or am I still dependent on the power company if I have those panels?”

    TOM: Yes. Actually, you are still dependent on the power company, because solar panels will collect electricity but what it does is it feeds it back into the power grid. So if the power company is not delivering, you’re not going to get to use that power.

    LESLIE: You’re not getting any.

    TOM: You can’t generate enough solar power to usually supply all of your demand, unless you have a very, very large roof surface or other space for the panels. So, generally, what you do is it’s set up on a meter that feeds back into the grid and credits you for that. Essentially, think of it as making your electric meter run backwards when you don’t need it and the power company does.

    So, how do you do protect yourself from running out of power? You get a generator but not a portable generator; you get a natural-gas standby generator. We are big advocates of these devices. The prices have come down. I saw a Generac online – a 20kW Generac. A 20kW is huge; it could power a house with two different air conditioners – two different central air conditioners. It was about 4,500 bucks. So it’s not $10,000, $20,000, $30,000 to do this, folks. It’s under five grand, plus a bit more for the installation and you will never have to worry about losing power again.

    And if you buy a smaller one – another friend of mine ordered one this week. He got an 8k and he only wanted to run just his furnace and his refrigerator and a few lights. He spent about $2,000 for that and that includes all the parts that he needed to put it together. You just need a plumber, an electrician and you’re good to go.

    So, yeah, the prices have come down. It makes a lot of sense, Linda. If you haven’t learned your lesson yet, get a standby generator and you will be one of the very few the next time the power goes out – and it will go out again; you know that’s going to happen – that has power in their house and has food in their refrigerator and heat running when it needs to.

    LESLIE: Yeah. And you know what else I think is important, Linda, is I live on Long Island myself and where I am in Garden City and Manhasset, where my cousin is, some of these communities have waived variances that you would normally be required to place the unit – the generator itself – which is similar in size to an air-conditioner condensing unit. And you may have to jump through some hoops with your community for placement and to have these installed. So check with your local community, because they may be waiving some rigmarole that you may have to go through to have one of these.

    You know, I really think Sandy was a big wake-up call for a lot of us as to what the potential downfall is for a power outage. I mean two weeks; that’s a long time, so you’re definitely on the right track, Linda. And you’re going to be so happy, because you might not even notice the lights have gone out; that’s how fast the generator kicks on.

    TOM: This is The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show. Thank you so much for spending this hour with us. We are around 24-7 at 1-888-MONEY-PIT, so if you’ve got a question, we’ve got answers. Simply go to our website, post it on the Community section or pick up the phone and call us at 888-666-3974.

    Have a great New Year’s. I’m Tom Kraeutler.

    LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

    TOM: Remember, you can do it yourself …

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


    (Copyright 2012 Squeaky Door Productions, Inc. No portion of this transcript or audio file may be reproduced in any format without the express written permission of Squeaky Door Productions, Inc.)

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