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Keeping Burglars Out During Peak Break-In Season, Get a Crackling Fire Without a Chimney, and When to Buy – and NOT Buy – Product Warranties

  • Transcript

    TOM: Coast to coast and floorboards to shingles, 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.

    TOM: And we are here to help you with your home improvement projects. Hey, do you have a project you’d love to get done before the end of this year? Give us a call right now; we’re here to help, 1-888-MONEY-PIT. Or if you’ve already sort of given up on that dream and you’ve put it off until next year, hey, let’s get started right now. Let’s talk about the project. Let’s figure out what you need to do to get going. Whether it’s a do-it-yourself project or one you’re going to hire a pro to get done, we’re here to talk home improvement in your house, 888-666-3974.

    Coming up this hour of the program, are you planning a vacation this holiday season? Well, if you are, you want to make sure your home is safe and secure. And one of the weakest links in your house could be your garage door. We’re going to teach you how to secure that, in just a bit.

    LESLIE: And also ahead, are you dreaming of a crackling fire to go along with that white Christmas? Well, a wood-burning fireplace is not the only option. We’re going to share tips on installing a direct-vent gas fireplace to get that festive glow all season long.

    TOM: And as you do your gift shopping this year, have you ever noticed how many times you’re offered a warranty with that purchase? Do you wonder if they’re ever really worth it? We’ll help you sort it out.

    LESLIE: And one caller this hour is going to win an easy way to make their house into a smart home. We’re giving away a Canary Single-Device Security System worth $199, courtesy of The Home Depot.

    TOM: So let’s get to it. The number, again, is 1-888-MONEY-PIT.

    Leslie, who’s first?

    LESLIE: Alright. Don is on the line with a Victorian home and lots of design questions.

    Hey, Don. How can we help you?

    DON: I have a Victorian house, OK? It looks big from the outside but when you go inside, the rooms are small; they’re tiny. And I’d like to make the rooms bigger or else just start over from scratch. And everybody tells me it’s one of those houses that’s been here many moons. It’s a historical house, OK? But the rooms inside are just small but the house outside looks big. What can I do to make the rooms bigger? Do I need to start all over again from scratch or what? Or just rebuild or …?

    LESLIE: Well, if the structure is in good shape on the exterior and the siding is interesting and especially if the home is historical, you might not be able to do too much with the exterior or the size of the home, depending on what the historical registry might be with the property.

    That said, you can do a lot of changes on the interior. Walls can be moved, plumbing can be moved. It really depends on what kind of floor plan you’re trying to achieve, how much more space you’re trying to gain, how many bedrooms you’re trying to achieve. You know, it’s hard for me to comment on what you can and cannot do without actually looking at a floor plan. But know that pretty much anything on the interior can be changed. Of course, depending on how much you’re moving and where, that will affect the budget. But almost anything is possible.

    TOM: There’s also decorating techniques that you can employ that can make those very small rooms look big. Incidentally, with old homes, small rooms were the norm because they were easier to heat. They didn’t have the expansive rooms of today. That’s why the rooms are so small. But you could employ some decorating techniques that can make those small rooms look bigger.

    For example, one trick of the trade is if you paint your ceiling white, you bring that white paint down about 12 inches onto the walls itself. That gives the appearance of more space overhead. It’s a pretty neat trick and it works really, really well, especially if you frame the difference in color between that and whatever wall color with a very thin strip of molding. It really makes it look like almost sort of a paint-on, coffered ceiling.

    LESLIE: Mm-hmm. And that molding that you’re talking about, Tom, that occurs 12 inches down, that’s picture molding. And that’s what was used in Victorian homes to actually hang your pictures on the wall. You would never put a nail into the plaster, because you didn’t want to damage it. But you would put two clips with a chain hanging down from that picture molding to your piece of art. And that’s why that’s there, so it’s really a great, natural line to add that ceiling color to.

    LESLIE: Marlese (sp) is on the line with a slippery-window question. What’s going on at your money pit?

    MARLESE (sp): My windows – I have two and it’s an add-on where you walk in. And they’re probably about 7 feet long and 15 inches wide. They slid down and the top has a 2-inch gap where – so air is just coming in. They’re not the type you open. I heard you could put a suction cup and try to pull them up or something.

    TOM: So these windows – you say these windows slide but they’re not the kind that open? Well, that doesn’t make sense to me.

    MARLESE (sp): No, they’re not meant to slide.

    TOM: OK.

    MARLESE (sp): They’re just in the wood frame. And they slid down like 2-inch gap, where the air is coming in.

    TOM: I’m trying to imagine what this looks like. The window is not meant to slide. Is this window meant to open at all?

    MARLESE (sp): No.

    TOM: So it’s a permanent, solid pane that fits into a frame and somehow it slipped out of the frame?

    MARLESE (sp): Yeah, they both slid down, I’m guessing, in the wall somehow or down the frame.

    TOM: Is this a situation where the home is settling, do you think? Or is it just that this window sash has moved out of the frame that was holding it?

    MARLESE (sp): It just slid down in the frame that was holding it.

    TOM: This is a good time for you to take a photo of this window and post it to The Money Pit’s Facebook page at Facebook.com/TheMoneyPit so we can look at it and comment on it.

    However, if it’s a static window that was held into a wood frame and it’s absolutely not intended to move or open ever, then I don’t see why you couldn’t slide it back up from whence it came and secure it in place mechanically with screws or nails or other types of fasteners. Or brace it in place or use a silicone caulk around the outside edge, which would have the same effect of holding it in place. As long as it’s not designed to move whatsoever, then it’s just a mechanical matter of getting it back in place and securing it there in a more permanent way.

    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. Well, we are a few short weeks to the holiday season but also to the beginning of winter. Let us help you get your money pit in tip-top shape. We’re here for you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-888-MONEY-PIT.

    TOM: 888-666-3974.

    Up next, holiday season is peak break-in season, as well. Is your garage door your home’s weakest link? Find out how to make it tough, after this.

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    Visit OCComfortApp.com today and put the power of a professional energy audit right in your hand.

    (theme song)

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

    LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

    TOM: Give us a call, right now, at 888-MONEY-PIT. You’ll get the answer to your home improvement question. Plus, this hour we’re giving away a Canary Single-Device Security System from The Home Depot.

    Now, this is a cool product because it’s a complete home security system packaged into a single device with no contracts, no monthly fees and is totally plug-and-play, so easy to install. It’s available at The Home Depot and at HomeDepot.com.

    But we are giving away one to a lucky caller this hour. The value is 199. If you’d like that person to be you, call us at 888-MONEY-PIT, 888-666-3974.

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

    RAYMOND: I’ve got a dilemma with my last flat-top stove. It’s a Samsung. I’ve had it for about probably close to three years. And my right front burner goes directly to hot and stays there. It has no control. It’s a – you have two burners into one: a small burner and a big burner. And I’m not sure what to exactly do here besides call our appliance person. And I’m just kind of on the poor side trying to figure it out.

    TOM: Well, it could be one of two things. It could be the burner, which is replaceable. You do have to disassemble the glass top to do that, to get to that actual element. Or it could be the thermostat itself. In either case, we’re talking about a repair that has to be done here, a product that’s going to – a part that’s going to have to be switched out. Because what you’re describing is obviously not normal, nor does it sound very safe.

    So, unfortunately, this is a circumstance where you may need to turn to an expert because we don’t know what parts you’re going to need. And I could send you to a site like RepairClinic.com, for example, where you could order these parts and perhaps get some online instruction on how to do it yourself. But it’s going to be somewhat trial and error, because you just don’t have the tools to determine which part of the circuit has gone bad. Nor do I feel like it’s a really good idea for you to do it yourself unless it’s something you have some significant experience with.

    RAYMOND: Sorry to hear that but I kind of understood that was probably what’s going to be the answer anyway. I’ve been playing with it and keep looking around and YouTubed a lot of things. But I haven’t found anything that really helped me.

    TOM: Well, there’s only so many parts to these ranges. And it’s got to be either the element or part of the control circuit that’s controlling the element or in your case, not controlling the element. So either way, one or the other has to be replaced.

    I mean look, you could call Samsung directly, describe the problem, see if you can get through to customer service or write them and see if they can provide any advice or direction. Perhaps this is something they’re familiar with, something that’s been reported by other customers. Maybe there’s even a recall on it that you’re not aware of. It wouldn’t hurt you to do that before you start spending money.

    But I don’t encourage you to do it yourself unless it’s something you’re really comfortable with, because we’re talking about taking apart some electronics here. And if you make an error putting it back together, it could be unsafe. OK?

    RAYMOND: Right. I’ve called Samsung and I’ve talked to them and they can’t give me any answers, either. Best thing they were telling me is no different than what you’re telling me it’s about: get an appliance person out there that’s professional, doing the job itself. And of course, again, there’s only so many parts and I’m – I guess I’ll have to bite the bullet.

    TOM: Alright. Well, sorry we couldn’t give you more do-it-yourself advice. But sometimes, the best advice we can give you is to tell you to not do it yourself.

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

    Well, Happy Holidays, everybody. And guess what? It is peak break-in season. According to the FBI, there are more than 400,000 burglaries that occur in November and December alone. And so, this holiday season, home security should be a concern for anyone planning an extended visit to family and friends.

    Now, from our perspective, one of the things that we’ve noticed is that garages can be extremely vulnerable to break-ins. So we thought we might share some tips to make those garage doors especially harder for burglars to breach.

    LESLIE: Yeah. First, if you’re leaving for an extended period of time, you want to detach your electric garage-door opener. Now, most electric garage-door openers have a rope or a chain that you pull to disconnect the electric motor from the chain that operates the door. That way, if a thief uses a frequency-scanning device to obtain your code, it’s not going to help them out at all.

    TOM: Also a good idea to install a manual, sliding, bolt-style lock on the inside of your garage-door track. This way, it can only be opened from the inside. Just remember, of course, to remove that when you get back because you can’t – you won’t be able to open or close the door with the bolt in place because, let’s face it, that’s the idea.

    LESLIE: Yeah. And you want to make sure that the garage door is properly functioning and that there’s no damage to the panels that a thief could use to get in. If you have windows, cover them. This way, nobody can see inside.

    TOM: And if you’ve got a door that leads from the garage into the house, make sure that that door is as secure as any other entry door. So we’re talking about making sure it has both a key and a deadbolt lock.

    If you’d like more holiday home security tips, they’re online, right now, at MoneyPit.com.

    LESLIE: Carol in Rhode Island is on the line and needs some help with the exterior of her home. How can we help you?

    CAROL: I have a 115-year-old Queen Anne Victorian. Twelve years ago, I replaced all the columns on the porch and they’re rotting out again. And they’re finger-jointed columns and I was told they were installed incorrectly, so I’d like to know the correct way to install them.

    TOM: Why were you told that they were installed incorrectly?

    CAROL: I was told that because the top was not sealed with some kind of flashing, that there was snow and rain getting in the top of the column and it was rotting the column from the inside out.

    TOM: Well, that may or may not be the case. Certainly, you need to pay attention to water control when you do a project like that. It’s hard for me to imagine – usually, columns sit underneath an overhang. But if there was some aspect of it that was exposed, then maybe that could be the case.

    Another area to make sure you keep it off the ground is at the bottom of the column. We usually advise columns be put on something called a “post dock (ph),” which is like a plate that keeps it up a ½-inch or an inch off of the floor or the slab, depending on how this is built, so that you have some room for the column to dry out and not collect water. But generally, any time you have water that collects in any area, you are going to have rot.

    Now, replacing these columns is not a do-it-yourself project, so you need to proceed very carefully with this, because those columns hold a lot of weight and that weight has to be transferred while the repair is being made.

    CAROL: So let me ask you this. I’m thinking now of replacing them with the new fiberglass or composite columns, whatever they’re made out of. And I was told by a friend of mine that I should still have some kind of a steel pole inserted in the middle to hold the weight of the porch.

    TOM: Yeah, it depends on the column. There are those types of composite columns where there’s, essentially, a metal column, like a Lally column, that does all the work – the structural work. And then the decorative column kind of snaps around that.

    CAROL: Oh, I didn’t realize that.

    TOM: Because the composite itself may not be load-bearing. In fact, it will be unlikely for it to hold – to handle – almost any weight whatsoever.

    CAROL: Thank you for the information. It’s confirming what my friend told me. He’s not a carpenter, so I was questioning him.

    TOM: You tell him he’s very smart. Thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.

    LESLIE: Burt in Missouri is on the line with a sump-pump situation. What’s going on at your money pit?

    BURT: Yeah, I’ve got two sump pumps under my house and down here in Southwest Missouri, you’re lucky to get a hole dug deep enough for a 5-gallon bucket because of the rock and clay. These two sump pumps are in a 5-gallon bucket and when they go off, one will go off, then the other one goes off and they’re just wild inside the house; you can hear them. And I was wondering what I could do to help quiet this sound.

    TOM: So, do these go off in – when it’s raining heavily outside? Is that when you get the water in the basement?

    BURT: Yeah, they’re – it’s actually – they’re in a crawlspace. That’s another thing that makes it kind of difficult to work with. But they’re in a crawlspace and there’s a little bit of a slope towards the house in the backyard that increases the amount of volume of water. But we’ve tried to remedy that outside by building the dirt – you know, I’m trying to do everything right. But so, everything is about as much as we can possibly do. Now, all we’ve got left is just to deal with the noise of the sump pump.

    TOM: OK. So just entertain me for a moment. Have you – you have gutters on the house?

    BURT: Oh, yeah. Yeah, we’ve got gutters and they’re …

    TOM: And are the gutters all extended several feet from the house?

    BURT: Yeah.

    TOM: They are. OK. And this backyard that you’re talking about adjusting the slope, a better option for that is something called a “curtain drain.” Are you familiar with that?

    BURT: A curtain train. Uh-uh. Is that kind of like a French drain?

    TOM: So, what a curtain drain is is basically – you would basically take and make a trench at the bottom of that hill. And the trench would be about a foot wide and foot deep. You’d put in a couple of inches of stone and then you’d put perforated PVC pipe in that trench. You’d continue to fill stone all the way around it, add some filter cloth and then put more dirt on it so when it’s done, you wouldn’t see it. You can plant grass over it.

    But the trench would basically surround the back of the house and then angle out where it could break out to, say, daylight and discharge the water. The concept being that the rain comes down the hill, hits this invisible trench, falls into it, fills up the pipe and then runs around the house and doesn’t have a chance to get near the foundation where it would leak into the house. That’s the kind of technique that would normally be effective in a scenario like that, in terms of reducing the amount of water that’s collecting at the base of the home, and therefore less water around the home, less need for the sump pumps to run. Does that make sense?

    BURT: Alright. Thank you very much.

    TOM: You’re welcome. Good luck with that project, Burt. Thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.

    LESLIE: Kim in Nebraska is working on a bathroom-flooring project. How can we help you?

    KIM: We had a leaky stool and so we are needing to replace our stool. But as we lifted it up, we could see that there was rotted subfloor and we replaced that.

    TOM: Hey, Kim, you said that you had a leaky what?

    KIM: The stool. The toilet?

    TOM: Oh, the stool. Oh, is that what you call a toilet? A stool? Yeah, that must be a Nebraska thing. I never heard that before.

    KIM: I know. It sounds a little bit nicer than “toilet.”

    TOM: Alright. So, we’ve established that your toilet is leaking and it apparently has rotted out your bathroom floor.

    KIM: And so we replaced the subflooring that was rotted. But websites were suggesting that if I’m going to replace the floor, just go ahead and take the rest of that one – the old vinyl linoleum off. And it’s original to the house, so it’s 27 years old.

    And so, I’ve been slowly doing that. I’ve just been scoring it and using a 4-inch scraping blade to get it off. But I’m really gouging that particle board underneath.

    TOM: What are you going to use for underlayment?

    KIM: It suggested the underlayment – wood?

    TOM: So, what I would suggest you do is get all the rest of that linoleum off. And if the floor is really gouged up and you want to put something that’s got a little bit of strength to it, I would use 3/8-inch plywood. Just make sure it’s like AC plywood so you have one really smooth side, like A-grade on one side, maybe C on the other. Or ½-inch.

    But 3/8- or ½-inch should be fine for the underlayment. And that will take up any depressions in the floor caused by the scratches or the gouging, OK? And then, on top of that, you can add the tile and go from there.

    KIM: OK. That sounds great.

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

    Still ahead, are you dreaming of a toasty, warm fire this holiday season? Well, a wood-burning fireplace isn’t your only option. We’re going to talk about those choices with This Old House HVAC contractor Richard Trethewey, in just a bit.

    TOM: And This Old House on The Money Pit is brought to you by STANLEY Mechanics Tool Sets. No matter if your project is automotive, recreational or home improvement, you can rely on STANLEY Mechanics Tools for versatility, durability and to get the job done right.

    JOE: Hey, this is Joe Namath. And if you want to move the ball on your home improvement projects, listen to The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show.

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

    LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

    TOM: Hey, if you’re entertaining guests this holiday season, you might want to get in on our current Facebook sweepstakes. Our Holiday Home Makeover Sweeps includes three fantastic prizes to help make your house a home. We’re giving away a queen-size mattress and foundation set from BedInABox.com, a designer bath mirror and stool by Laufen, and a handy chef pack by Verona.

    LESLIE: You can check out these fabulous prizes and enter to win one at Facebook.com/TheMoneyPit.

    TOM: Get your holiday home makeover started right.

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

    MICHAEL: We have a hot-water heater in our garage on like an elevated plateau. And we noticed the other day, there was a slight leak underneath it but it looked like it might have been coming from a PVC-type tube coming from the top of our water heater. And it’s the length of the water heater. It’s a tube. And we’ve never seen water under that area before and we now notice some of that. So I wasn’t sure why – if it was a sweating situation or what – some type of relief valve, maybe, or something like that. But I’m not sure why water would have been there.

    TOM: Yeah, that’s exactly what it is. It’s a temperature-and-pressure relief valve. It’s mounted on the side of the water heater. It’s designed to open up if the water heater develops too much pressure, as a safety mechanism.

    However, they frequently wear and leak. So, I’m going to tell you what you can try to do but I’m also going to warn you. There’s a lever on the side of that and sometimes you get a little bit of a debris that’s stuck inside that temperature-and-pressure valve. When you pull the lever, it’ll shoot some water out that tube. You want to make sure you have a bucket under it. Just two or three times; it’ll kind of blast some hot water out of there.

    However, the warning is that sometimes, once you do that, the valve never sits back properly and it ends up leaking worse. So it’s possible you could make it worse by doing this but that’s worth trying. If you just want to leave a bucket under it and monitor it for a little while – how old is this water heater?

    MICHAEL: About 1998.

    TOM: Oh. Oh, well, you know what? You’re due for a new one. So, 1998 – I wouldn’t wait too much longer before I replace that because let’s face it, it’s about, what, 15 years old now? And so a water heater that gets past 10 is well on its way to needing – to the end of its useful life.

    So, I would – you could monitor it, stick a bucket under there, keep an eye on it. But I think it’s about time to think about replacing. It’s not an emergency replacement, so you’ve got some time to shop around. One of the problems with water heaters is once they do leak, they usually have to be done immediately and people get taken advantage of because they need it today. But you’re not in that situation, Michael, so you could take some time and shop around and find the one – the contractor – that you want. But a 15-year-old water heater, you might want to think about replacing it.

    MICHAEL: Alright, sir. I appreciate that very much.

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

    LESLIE: Well, the warm glow of a fire is a welcome addition on a cold winter night. But a wood-burning fireplace isn’t the only way to get the heat and ambiance that a fire can bring.

    TOM: That’s right. You can have all the benefits of a fire, without a chimney, when you install a direct-vent gas fireplace. Here to tell us more is This Old House plumbing-and-heating contractor Richard Trethewey.

    Welcome, Richard.

    RICHARD: Hello, guys. How are you?

    TOM: So, this is a great solution for people who want a fireplace without the work and expense of building one brick by brick. How does it work?

    RICHARD: Well, a gas, direct-vent fireplace is pretty cool because you can put it anywhere. And it draws its air from outdoors to feed the flame. This is set up as really efficient, because you’re not losing valuable heated air up the chimney like you do with conventional gas fireplaces or conventional wood fireplaces.

    TOM: I imagine that’s a lot safer, as well.

    RICHARD: Yeah, there’s a bunch of advantages. You know, one is safety. Since they eliminate the need for a flue through the roof, you don’t worry about backdrafting where your – the flue part is going the wrong direction. As another safety measure, the vent pipe can be installed directly through the wall. It’s really simple. You get the flue products completely out of the building quickly.

    It’s also efficient. Direct-vent appliances burn natural gas or propane, like traditional fireplaces. However, they convert most of their fuel to usable heat. They’re completely sealed off from the interior rooms by a glass door, which prevents that significant heat loss that always happens in a regular wood fireplace. You put that fire on, you get a lot of heat early on and then all of a sudden, there’s a net loss where more heat’s going up the chimney than is coming in see you, so …

    LESLIE: Up the chimney, yeah.

    TOM: Yeah, in some cases, that’s all the heat that you paid for with your conventional heating system being taken right out of the house. The fact that you can squeeze almost every BTU out of the gas really is what improves efficiency.

    RICHARD: That’s right. That’s right. And you can control it so precisely, too. You turn it on, you turn it off, which is great.

    TOM: Now, I would imagine these are easier to install, in terms of the flexibility of where you can put them, right?

    RICHARD: Yeah. You don’t have to think about a masonry chimney. You don’t have to worry about the size of the masonry chimney. You don’t have to worry about the size of any chimney going up because the fan inside the unit will get the flue products out, so you can put them just about anywhere.

    TOM: Now, when we talk about gas fireplaces, I think some people might confuse what we’re discussing, in terms of direct-vent, with a traditional gas fireplace. But it’s really hugely different.

    RICHARD: Yeah. In the old days, what you might do would be put a thing called a “gas log” into the opening that used to be a wood-fireplace opening. And that had all the same issues that you had – many of the same issues that you had with a wood fireplace where you might turn it on, you’d have to open the damper to get exhaust going up. You’d turn on the gas log. And even though you felt some heat, you also could feel almost a draft pulling by you as the heat you just made – actually, the heat you made in that gas log actually increased the amount of air that was leaving through the building, through the uplift that goes into the chimney.

    So, those traditional ones have been pretty much replaced by these direct-vent. And those are always sealed units. And so, what’s happened is you get all of your air for combustion from outside. There’s a duct somewhere that comes into that combustion zone, so you’re not creating a negative in the building to pull that stuff up and out. And that’s really the way you want to do it.

    LESLIE: Yeah. But so now we’re direct-venting through the wall, through whatever your exterior material is. This sounds like it could be a pretty difficult project for a novice do-it-yourselfer.

    RICHARD: Well, this is a gas appliance, so it should be done by a licensed gas professional. But it still doesn’t mean that it’s too prohibitive to do. I mean it’s just – it’s really the way to do it. The key point to understand is that you think you’re getting comfortable heat when you have a regular wood fireplace, when you have a regular gas log. And the net net when you stand back from it is you’re losing as much as you’re making. So you feel this temporary satisfaction but it’s – on the long haul, you’re putting a lot up into the atmosphere.

    TOM: Better remember that that’s coming out of your recreational budget when it (inaudible at 0:27:48) that fireplace.

    RICHARD: That’s right.

    TOM: You’re not saving money by burning wood.

    LESLIE: Your trip fund.

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

    TOM: Richard Trethewey, the plumbing-and-heating contractor on TV’s This Old House, thank you so much. That’s a great piece of knowledge about direct-vent and I think I’m going to consider putting one of those in my house.

    RICHARD: Let’s keep everybody warm.

    LESLIE: Alright. You can catch the current season of This Old House and Ask This Old House on PBS. For local listings and step-by-step videos of many common home improvement projects, visit ThisOldHouse.com.

    TOM: And This Old House on PBS is brought to you by GMC. GMC, we are professional grade.

    Still ahead, you’ll likely be asked many, many times this holiday-shopping season if you’d like to add a product-protection plan or warranty to your purchase. Are these warranties ever worth it? We’ll help you figure it out, 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.

    We’ve got up for grabs a great prize this hour. We’re giving away the Canary Single-Device Security System.

    Now, this is a complete home security system that’s all packed into one single device. And best part is that you set it up. There’s no contracts, no monthly fees and you don’t need a tool to install it. And the coolest part is that it’s actually going to learn and adapt to your home over time. So whenever the Canary detects something out of the ordinary in your house or apartment, it’s going to send you a notification, through video or audio, directly to your smartphone.

    It’s available at The Home Depot and it’s a prize worth $199.

    TOM: The Home Depot and HomeDepot.com are the destination for smart-home solutions, with a wide range of products and platforms. This prize is going out to one lucky caller drawn at random. Make that you. Pick up the phone and call us at 1-888-MONEY-PIT.

    LESLIE: Now we’ve got Norma from Delaware on the line who wants to know what size pipes you need to get good pressure in the bathroom.

    Norma, that sounds like a personal question. What’s going on at your money pit?

    NORMA: OK. I’m going to install a shower panel.

    TOM: OK.

    NORMA: And in order to get good – the right pressure, how big do the pipes need to be?

    TOM: Right. You said you wanted to install a shower panel? So is this one of these units where it comes in and then fans out to multiple spray heads?

    NORMA: Yeah, the jets, right.

    TOM: How is your water pressure right now?

    NORMA: Pretty good. Well, my house is about eight years old.

    TOM: Oh, if it’s only eight years old and you have pretty good water pressure, you should be OK with this. I will say, though, that the water pressure coming out of multiple showerheads is not going to be as invigorating as coming out of a single showerhead. So, it’s going to give you good coverage but it may not be as strong.

    And I don’t think there’s much that you can do about that. If you’ve got normal street pressure, that’s how those shower-panel units are designed to work. But just be mindful that it’s not likely to be as strong when it’s going to come out of multiple heads, because you basically just need more water to do that.

    NORMA: Oh, OK. Well, I inquired with the builder and he told me that from the basement to the shower floor, I have three-quarter pipes. And then from the floor to the showerhead, ½-inch.

    TOM: And that’s typical. That’s typical. So, that doesn’t change anything.

    NORMA: Oh, OK. Alright. Thank you so much for your help.

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

    LESLIE: Well, if an appliance is on your holiday-shopping list, you might be wondering if buying an extended warranty is worth it. It’s a question we hear a lot.

    Now, the Federal Trade Commission says millions of consumers pay for protection they don’t need. So to keep from wasting money, you’ve got to do your homework.

    TOM: That’s right. First, you want to compare coverage. You need to know what the basic warranty covers, to determine if the extended warranty really provides you with enough additional coverage to make sense.

    Also, know your appliance. You can check its repair reputation online at sites like Consumer Reports or even the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers at AHAM.org. And this way, you’ll see how likely it is that it could break down.

    LESLIE: Also, you want to check for hidden costs. Now, extended warranties often have deductibles, service fees or even cancellation charges. You also want to find out whether a technician will come to your home or if you actually have to take the appliance in to be serviced. And a repair location might not even be nearby you.

    TOM: Good point. Finally, you’ll not only see these extended warranties offered on appliances but I’ve seen them offered at toy stores, sporting-goods stores, electronics stores and more. They all try to tack on these product-protection plans. And sometimes, the cost of the plan is usually based on the cost of the product, which might or might not be a good investment. You really need to know the item, do your homework and decide what you want to do before you’re forced into making a split-second decision, especially in the checkout with a line of impatient customers waiting behind you.

    LESLIE: Pam in Missouri is on the line and has a question about installing a dimmer, a great do-it-yourself project. How can we help you, Pam?

    PAM: I have a room that has fluorescent lighting in it and there’s two entries into that room. So there’s a light switch on each door, so it’s a two-way switch. Can I put a sensor on that so that when you walk in and walk out, the lights come on and go off?

    TOM: Are you asking me if you can? Can you put a sensor on that?

    PAM: Yes.

    TOM: Is your concern that you want the lights to come on automatically or is your concern that you don’t want people to leave the lights on when no one is in the room?

    PAM: Both.

    TOM: Well, I guess you could use an occupancy-sensor switch there but you would need to set it in vacancy mode, not occupancy mode. See, in occupancy mode, the light comes on when there’s motion. So if you had a three-way, what could happen is you walk in the room, the switch closest to you picks up your motion, turns the lights on. You continue halfway through the room until the one on the other side picks it up and turns the lights off, so that wouldn’t work too well.

    A better option might be to just replace one side of it – just one of the switches – with an occupancy sensor but set it in what’s called the “vacancy mode.” So what that means is you manually turn the light switch on but if there’s no motion in the room, it will automatically go off.

    So we use these, for example, in the bedrooms upstairs at our house because kids turn lights on but as we all know, kids don’t turn the lights off. So, if you set it in the vacancy mode, they can turn the lights on but then they’ll go off, depending on the period of monitoring you set. They’ll either go off 1, 5, 15 or 30 minutes later.

    PAM: Oh, OK. Alright.

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

    When we come back, we’re going to talk about some key kitchen improvements that won’t break the bank. Details about those things you can tackle, 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, welcome back to The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show. I’m Tom Kraeutler.

    LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

    TOM: And welcome, Columbia, Missouri, where there’s more than one way to tune into The Money Pit: on KSSZ-FM 93.9 and now 96.3 FM, too. You can hear us on Sundays from 2:00 to 4:00. We hope to hear from you with your home improvement questions, Columbia, Missouri.

    LESLIE: Alright. And we’re going to jump right in with a question from Missouri that Grant wrote in that says, “My kitchen countertop is tile and my old cast-iron sink has begun to rust. Can the sink be replaced without removing the tile around it or is there some product that I can use to sand down the sink and recoat it?”

    TOM: Well, I wouldn’t recommend recoating it. It never works out well. You should be able to get that sink out, though, without taking your countertop apart.

    First, what you want to do is use a tile saw to grind or saw out the grout that’s around that sink itself. You basically need to increase the gap between the sink and the tile. Then you’ll disconnect all the plumbing work very carefully and work that sink loose.

    Now, there’s definitely a chance, Grant, that you’ll loosen up a few tiles in the process of doing this. But if you save them, you should be able to reglue and regrout them in place once the new sink is set in. That’s, though, going to be another key to the success of this project: making sure you can find a sink that’s exactly the same size as the one that you pulled out.

    Now, as I said before, many folks ask us about refinishing these sinks. But we found that it’s just not a real successful project. Because cast-iron sink finishes are baked on when the sinks are made and there’s nothing over the counter we’ve ever found that can do nearly as good a job.

    LESLIE: No. I mean unless you got that sink out and brought it somewhere to be reglazed, then that would be amazing. But that’s not going to – then you’re still taking out the sink.

    Alright. Next up, we’ve got a post from Jesse who writes: “The vinyl flooring in my kitchen has yellow stains around the perimeter and near the floor vents. I suspect that the stains are from the glue used to install it. I’ll be installing new laminate flooring soon. How do I make sure this doesn’t happen again?”

    TOM: Well, like you suggested, Jesse, those stains may very well be from a chemical reaction caused by the adhesive underneath. We often see this when we have rubber-backed carpets that are put over these vinyl floors. There’s another kind of chemical reaction that happens between the rubber of the carpet and the floor itself that tends to turn it yellow. It’s not a stain in the sense that you can clean it off; it actually is permanently changing the color of that vinyl.

    The good news is that that will not happen when we’re talking about laminate floors, because you have many layers of material now between that vinyl and the top-color surface of the floor. So, I wouldn’t worry about it at all. I would pull out those registers. I would probably leave the vinyl in place, as long as it wasn’t going to end up making my floor too thick as an overall – or too high, I should say overall.

    Then go ahead and install the laminate floor. It will float on top of that vinyl floor beneath it. The laminate-floor tiles will lock together; there’s almost no adhesive necessary. And you want to make it so that it goes up to the edge of the wall by – leave about a ¼-inch gap. That will give it enough room to expand and contract and then you use some shoe molding to cover it the rest of the way.

    LESLIE: Yeah, Jesse. You know, laminate flooring really is, first of all, a great choice for a kitchen. But I think the best part about going with a laminate is that there’s so many options. So, depending on what you want this floor to look like, you can really make it look like that, whether it’s a wide plank with a hand scrape or something that looks more like stone or cork or bamboo. It is all your choice and you’ll find some good ones out there.

    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 holiday weekend with us. If you’re still trying to get a project done before the guests arrive for the holidays, give us a call any time of the day or night at 888-MONEY-PIT.

    Remember, if we’re not in the studio when you call, this is a full-service operation and we might just call you back the next time we are.

    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 2015 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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