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Make Your Own Cleaning Supplies, How to Tell if Foundation Cracks Are Cosmetic or Structural, How to Sell Your Home in a Buyer’s Market, and more

  • 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: Pick up the phone, give us a call right now. We are standing by, waiting for your home improvement question. We are here to help you out, here to help you get the job done. You don’t know what you need? You don’t know what to do first? Pick up the phone – that’s what you do first – and call us at 888-MONEY-PIT.

    Now, spring is just days away. And it’s the time of year when it’s time to throw those windows open and green things start to sort of poke out of the earth and you can feel a sense of starting fresh again. But if you want a clean, fresh smell in your home, we’re going to have some tips this hour on how you can create your very own, homemade cleaning supplies to get things sparkling without that chemical smell.

    LESLIE: And also ahead this hour, it’s a buyer’s market but things are beginning to look up for sellers, as well. If part of your spring plans include getting your home ready to list, we will help you put together a checklist of things that you should do before it hits the market.

    TOM: And one place you’re going to want to check is your foundation and that’s critically important if you’re going to put your house on the market. As a professional home inspector – a former professional home inspector – I can tell you that there’s nothing like a foundation crack that sends those buyers running for the hills.

    But the truth is that over time, cracks develop in most foundations good and bad. The question is: are they serious or not? We’re going to invite our friend, Tom Silva, the general contractor from TV’s This Old House, to stop by, in just a few minutes, with his tip on how to diagnose whether your house is cracking up or not.

    LESLIE: And how would you like to see what’s going on at your house when you’re at work or when you’re on vacation? We are giving away a wireless home system video from VueZone to one lucky caller. And you can actually check on the security of your home from your smartphone. It’s worth 200 bucks.

    TOM: And it’s available if you pick up the phone and call us with your home improvement question. The number is 888-MONEY-PIT. We will toss all callers this hour in The Money Pit hard hat and one is going to win the VueZone Wireless Home-Video System. So let’s get right to it. 888-MONEY-PIT is the telephone number.

    Leslie, who’s first?

    LESLIE: Michael in North Carolina is on the line with a water heater that’s making some curious sounds. Tell us what’s going on.

    MICHAEL: Recently, the last four to six weeks, I’ve been noticing – it sounds like a bubbling and a popping noise inside of the water heater. I’ve read several things on the internet but I can’t quite put my finger on it and I’m worried that either the vessel is getting ready to go or – I’m not sure, at this point.

    TOM: How old is the water heater?

    MICHAEL: It looks to be of considerable age. I’m guessing between six and eight years.

    TOM: Well, I mean water heaters generally go about 10 to 12 years, so that’s not – that’s kind of middle-aged; it’s not too terrible. By the way, if you look at the data plate on that water heater, usually there’s a date stamp sort of buried into the serial number. Sometimes, it’ll actually say what the date of the manufacture is or at the least, it’s going to have a gas standard in terms of which code it was built to and it’ll give you a year there. So you can get an actual sense of what the actual age of the water heater is.

    The noise is usually caused by a sediment buildup on the bottom of the tank. So, if you drain the tank occasionally, that will usually stop that. Have you ever drained your tank?

    MICHAEL: In the eight months I’ve been there, no. But I’d read something somewhere along the lines that you have to be very careful with – it’s got a plastic drain valve on it. And when you have a water heater that’s a little bit older, I guess they get – become brittle. And I’m worried about breaking that and making things much worse immediately.

    TOM: Well, you could very carefully try to drain the water heater. You simply hook up a garden hose to that spout; it’s designed to be drained. And let some of the water out of it and try to spill off some sediment with that. You get sediment on the bottom of the tank and that does tend to make it pretty noisy sometimes.

    MICHAEL: OK. Is there any chance that I have the temperature turned up too high and it’s causing – well, I guess not at 125 degrees. It wouldn’t cause a boiling, would it?

    TOM: No, it wouldn’t. And 125 degrees, though, is pretty hot. You really want it to be more like 110.


    TOM: Just for safety’s sake, if nothing else.

    LESLIE: Yeah, because you could easily get scalded.

    MICHAEL: OK. Alright. I’ll give that a shot.

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

    LESLIE: Jo from Kentucky is on the line with some help with a bathroom cleaning project. What can we do for you?

    JO: Yes. I have an old bathtub and where the water has leaked, I have some porcelain – I guess it’s a porcelain tub. I have some orange spots in there and they look like they’re going to eventually just give way on me. I want to know how I could patch that up.

    LESLIE: Are they super-tiny or are they, you know, an inch or so?

    JO: Yes. Oh, yes, they’re very small.

    TOM: There are touch-ups but you know what? They will show.

    LESLIE: Yeah. I’ve used one. When we bought our house, there was a tiny – I mean super-tiny – little rust spot in our tub. And I used a product called Porc-a-Fix? And you can get it in pretty much in any home center. It comes in a variety of whites and off-whites, so you kind of have to guess which one is going to work close enough to your exact white or bisque or whatever you want to call it.

    JO: Right.

    LESLIE: And it almost looks like it’s a nail-polish bottle, kind of.

    JO: OK.

    LESLIE: And you apply it in gradual layers, letting it set up and then going back the next day and putting another one on, until you build it up. And it’s done a fairly good job. We’ve been in the house eight years and it’s still there, it’s still covered up. But I know exactly where it is.

    JO: OK. Well, I thank you very much.

    TOM: You’re very welcome. 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 that we are about to hit spring running, what do you have going on at your money pit? We’d love to give you a hand with all of your spring home improvements 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-888-MONEY-PIT.

    TOM: 888-666-3974.

    Well, we all enjoy a clean house but do you always need to use harsh chemicals to get there? The answer is no. We’re going to have the recipes for some homemade cleaning concoctions that work just as well as their commercial counterparts, next.

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    ANNOUNCER: The Money Pit is brought to you by Icynene. If you’re building, remodeling or reinsulating, demand Icynene Spray-Foam Insulation. Icynene fills the spaces other insulations miss, for up to 50-percent energy savings. Learn more and find a dealer at Icynene.com. I-c-y-n-e-n-e.com.

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

    LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

    TOM: Give us a call right now at 888-MONEY-PIT with your home improvement question. We’re standing by to help you get the job done.

    Say, have you thought about recarpeting your house as a home improvement? It’s not so easy. You do need to do some homework before you set foot in the store. If you go to our website at MoneyPit.com, we’ve got some help there. Just search “buying a carpet.” There’s a complete list of everything that you need to know before you set out for your carpet-shopping experience, to make sure you get the right product and the right advice for your particular project.

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

    DONNA: We’re looking at doing wood flooring downstairs. We’ve completed the upstairs.

    TOM: OK.

    DONNA: And on the upstairs, where we had subflooring, we put cork between it and the preattached foam that went on back of the boards.

    TOM: Right.

    DONNA: On a slab – and I know there’s varying things – but on a slab is – what can we do, aside from that flimsy, little piece of foam that’s glued to the back of those boards? What else can we do that can insulate against cold on the slab?

    TOM: Well, you can first put down a vapor barrier and then you – there’s special types of underlayment that’s designed for – what kind of flooring are you putting down? Laminate floor?

    DONNA: We did laminate upstairs because there’s not that much traffic.

    TOM: Right. But what do you want to put downstairs?

    DONNA: But we were thinking about doing real wood downstairs.

    TOM: You want to put real wood on top of concrete?

    DONNA: Yes, sir.

    TOM: Yeah, you can’t do that. You have to use engineered hardwood. You can’t use solid hardwood on top of concrete, because it’s too damp and it’ll buckle. So, underneath the engineered hardwood, you’re going to use an underlayment there. And that sort of comes in a roll and it’s like a thin insulation and that’ll help a little bit. But if it’s that uncomfortable because of the temperature, then I think you’re going to have to supplement this with some area rugs.

    LESLIE: Well, the sight of a crack in your home’s foundation might send a shiver of fear up your spine but not all cracks need to be so terrifying.

    TOM: Well, that’s right. The size, the length and even the direction of the crack can give you clues to why it’s happened and just how worried you ought to be about it.

    Here to help us sort out the simple from the serious is Tom Silva, the general contractor for TV’s This Old House.

    Welcome, Tom.

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

    TOM: Well, it’s good to have you, too. Now, what actually causes cracks in foundations and how do you tell if they’re serious or not?

    TOM SILVA: Well, a foundation that’s concrete, it could be concrete block – but cracks occur because of moving. Something’s moving, expansion and contraction, heat, cold. Everything’s going to expand and everything’s going to shrink. It’s basically the nature of the beast.

    TOM: It’s almost unnatural to not have a crack. I mean virtually all foundations have some level of cracks and …

    TOM SILVA: Hairline cracks or whatever. What you want to start looking for is anything major, like a diagonal crack that may go across the window, door, at the top of the corner. That could just simply be a weak link in that foundation and it’s usually not a big deal. You can repair it with epoxies or even some hydraulic cement. It still may come back eventually, over time, but it can be fixed.

    TOM: And that’s interesting, too, because that is where the cracks show up, because that is technically the weakest part of the wall. It’s not that the movement is around the window; it’s just that that happens to be where the foundation has enough give to actually break apart and evidence itself.

    TOM SILVA: Right. Because you think about it, the foundation is a big mass and it’s moving in and out of that door opening. You don’t see it move but there’s a weak link where the header meets the side wall. So it’s going to give right there and why not give there?

    LESLIE: When should you be really concerned when you’re looking at a crack in a foundation? Is it the thickness that’s going to sort of give it away? If you see something that’s fairly wide …

    TOM: The width, exactly.

    So let’s say you have a diagonal crack that runs down your wall and it’s a hairline crack, you’re not going to be too concerned about it. But if it’s a good-sized crack and that crack is opening, that tells me that there’s some settling going on somewhere and there’s movement.

    LESLIE: And there’s still movement.

    TOM SILVA: The wall is dropping away from the wall above. So even – and that can even happen with a wide, vertical crack. If you look at a crack that’s wide, it could end up to be like a ¼-inch wide and you’re saying, “Well, gee, what’s going on here? Did I have some movement?”

    A couple of things can happen; actually, a few things can happen. If your foundation – underneath your foundation, there should be a footing. Well, years ago in the 50s, they didn’t put footings under foundation and if the soil wasn’t compacted correctly or if there was something under the foundation when they backfilled it – it rotted or deteriorated, created a void – the foundation can actually settle down. And if it’s settling down on one corner, the crack at the top could get wider. If it’s settling under the crack, the crack could get wider at the bottom because the foundation’s sinking right at the crack.

    So that’s when you’ve got to figure out: “How am I going to get this fixed?” You may need to bring in a structural engineer. They may need to drill down some holes underneath the foundation, in the area that’s settling, and basically compact it, put another footing under the foundation. It can be dangerous.

    TOM: And that’s a good point. I think when you have a crack that’s that serious, it is a good idea to bring in a structural engineer, for a couple of reasons. First of all, you’re going to get the right advice but secondly, you’re going to get sort of a pedigree on the effectiveness of that repair. And when it comes time to sell the house, the crack’s always going to show.

    But if you can show that you had a structural engineer look at that and they specified how to repair it, then you had a contractor do it, the engineer came back and said, “Yes, this is done correctly; you have nothing to worry about,” that’s going to protect the value of your house.

    TOM SILVA: It’s going to cover you, sure. Absolutely.

    There’s another crack that you want to be careful of and if you have a block foundation, this is probably where you’re going to see this more than in a poured foundation. If you have a horizontal crack halfway up the foundation wall, that tells me one thing: that 9 times out of 10, there’s too much pressure on the outside of that foundation. And the pressure from the outside because you have poor drainage, you’ve done the wrong kind of compaction or too much compaction, the wall is actually bellying in.

    TOM: Right.

    TOM SILVA: And so the outside of the wall, think of that block as actually like a hinge. And the wall is opening up, the crack is opening up because it’s coming in on you.

    LESLIE: Would you see a symptom of that if it was a poured foundation or is that really just something that you’re going to see with the block?

    TOM SILVA: You’re going to see it more on a block foundation than you will on a poured foundation, unless the poured foundation is a thinner wall construction.

    When we pour foundations, even if it’s not required by the code, we always throw some steel rod in the foundation: a couple of horizontals and a couple of verticals every now and then.

    LESLIE: Why is that not required by code for all buildings?

    TOM SILVA: Because if you can use a heavier concrete, a thicker wall, you don’t really need it if the foundation wall isn’t really holding back a lot. So let’s say half of the foundation is out of the ground and you’ve got an 8-foot wall, you’ve got a pretty strong wall if it’s a 10- or a 12-inch pour. You don’t really need it. You use a 4,000- or 5,000-mix psi, you’re not going to go anywhere.

    TOM: That horizontal crack is very, very common and you’re right: a lot of that has to do with drainage. And the bad thing about it is because it is sort of water-actuated, it’s the frost heave.

    TOM SILVA: Right. Frost.

    TOM: And every year, it gets a little bigger, a little bigger and a little bigger. And eventually, that wall could come down.

    TOM SILVA: Absolutely. And it will come in and it’ll go right in. Think of the water as the enemy and in cold weather, it’s even worse. Because that water gets in the ground, gets below the ground, freezes. It’s an ice cube. What happens? They expand and they’re going to go right against that foundation and blow it in a wall.

    TOM: So the single most important thing that you can do to make sure that your foundation stays stable is watch the drainage.

    TOM SILVA: Exactly.

    TOM: Good advice. Tom Silva from TV’s This Old House, thanks so much for stopping by The Money Pit.

    TOM SILVA: My pleasure.

    LESLIE: Alright. You can catch the current season of This Old House and Ask This Old House on PBS. Check your local listings by visiting ThisOldHouse.com.

    TOM: And Ask This Old House is brought to you by Stanley. Stanley, make something great.

    Well, the housing market is still a bit slow but things are starting to look up. That’s why, next, we’re going to have tips to help you sell your home in a recovering market.

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

    LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete. And the number here is 888-MONEY-PIT.

    We have got a great prize up for grabs, as well as awesome home improvement information, of course. But a really great prize. We’re giving away a high-tech way to check in on your house from pretty much anywhere at any time. It’s the VueZone Wireless Home-Video System and it lets you see cameras that you’ve set up in your home from your computer or your smartphone. And it will even alert you if there is motion in your house. So give us a call at 888-MONEY-PIT for your chance to be the snoop on your own home.

    TOM: Well, we don’t have to tell you that the real estate market is a bit slow right now but that should not stop you from putting your house on the market, if you follow a few simple tips.

    First, you want to give your house a mini-makeover. And think about projects that add value. For example, a front door. There’s a lot of data out there that shows that if you update your entryway, it makes a big difference in your ability to sell your home because it has a very high perceived value.

    You can also do less expensive things that are equally important, like servicing your mechanical systems. Want to make sure those are all working properly and also take care of any worn areas. What’s a worn area? You know, the rotted window sill, faded or flaky paint and that sort of thing.

    Next, think about staging your house. Now, that involves removing all the clutter and strategically placing furniture to make sure that you are letting light in and showing your home in the best possible light.

    LESLIE: Yeah. You also want to help that buyer buy your house. In a slow market, potential buyers, they’re looking for deals. So you want to offer incentives that put money in that buyer’s pocket, such as buying down the interest rate or absorbing more of those closing costs.

    Finally, you also want to hire a well-connected real estate agent because in a slow market, name recognition is super-important.

    If you want some more tips, head on over to MoneyPit.com and search “sell your house in a slow market,” and you will get a wealth of information.

    TOM: 888-666-3974. That’s a number that can also deliver you a wealth of information, if you pick up the phone and dial it with your home improvement question.

    LESLIE: Mary in North Carolina is having a water issue at her money pit. How can we help you?

    MARY: Yes. I have well water – well, I don’t anymore – but it’s been ruined over the several years. And the tub is porcelain and the tiles are not porcelain but they are stained with iron and I don’t – I have tried CRL, everything to try to get it out and I just can’t.

    TOM: CLR, you mean.

    MARY: Yes.

    TOM: OK.

    LESLIE: Hmm. And that’s usually the one that’ll do the trick. There’s one that’s called The Works, which is pretty much hydrochloric acid disguised in a clever cleaning bottle but it supposedly really tackles the toughest of rust stains. And I know people have used it with hard water or well-water stains and they say it’s the greatest. We don’t have that issue at our money pit but I know a lot of people lean to this. You just need to be very careful with the directions.

    MARY: OK. Now, The Works is just a pump bottle. I’ve used that, also.

    LESLIE: Wow, really?

    TOM: Yep. I think you might be looking at some elbow grease here, Mary. I think you’re going to have to use some sort of an abrasive like a pumice, to get down in there.

    MARY: OK. OK.

    TOM: And listen, if all else fails, the other option is to add a tub liner.

    MARY: A tub liner.

    TOM: A tub liner basically drops into the existing tub and surrounds the whole thing.

    LESLIE: Mm-hmm. It’s like a bath surround.

    MARY: OK.

    LESLIE: One of them is BATH FITTER. You know, there’s so many different companies that do it.

    MARY: What about the tile around the tub, though?

    LESLIE: The liners – the surrounds – they’ll have wall surrounds and wall liners. You can even add in handy, little soap-dish holders and shampoo holders.

    MARY: Oh, OK.

    LESLIE: But that really just surrounds everything that’s there, so you never see it again.

    MARY: And the pumice cleaners are just – do you have any by name or anything?

    TOM: No. As long as – you can search for pumice cleaners online. You’ll find a whole bunch of options.

    MARY: And would you try that first?

    TOM: By this point, I would try it next.

    MARY: OK. OK.

    TOM: Alright, Mary?

    MARY: OK. Well, thank you so much for having me on.

    LESLIE: You are tuned to The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show on air and online at MoneyPit.com. Insulation can be tricky in tight spaces. We’re going to tell you how to make crawlspaces cozy and sealed, after this.

    (theme song)

    ANNOUNCER: The Money Pit is brought to you by Santa Fe, makers of the world’s most energy-efficient basement and crawlspace dehumidifier. Santa Fe offers a complete line of high-capacity, Energy Star-rated dehumidifiers, specifically designed to effectively operate in the cooler temperatures of crawlspaces and basements. Visit DehumidifierSolutions.com to learn more.

    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. And have you visited the Community section of our website lately? Well, if you haven’t, we’ve got a lot of new, great stuff on there. In fact, we’ve got a panel of experts that can answer any of your home improvement dilemmas. Just log on to MoneyPit.com, head over to the Community section, post your question. We love hearing from you and we love answering you.

    And we’re going to jump into some of those posts now and I’ve got one here from Eileen in North Carolina who wrote: “My bathroom’s a little weird. There seems to be a ¼-inch gap between the tub and the tile. Is that too much to cover with caulk? Love your program.”

    TOM: Oh, there’s no such thing as too big a gap to caulk; just ask all the sloppy trim carpenters out there.

    LESLIE: Right.

    TOM: What I would do in a bathroom, though, is this. First of all, I’d make sure all the old, junky caulk is totally cleaned out of there. And then I would probably, if it was that big of a gap, I might do it in two applications. So I’d kind of backfill the gap first with one application of caulk, let it dry and then add the second sort of finish coat on top of that just a few hours later. This way, if you put too much in it and then kind of sag – and it might pull away from the edge of the tile, Eileen, and that might leave a space where water can get in.

    And speaking of water, by the way, a good trick of the trade for caulking your tub is to fill it with water first, because it kind of weights it down and pulls it down. And then after the caulk dries, you can let that water out and the tub will come up and compress the caulk and it’s not as likely to pull apart again.

    LESLIE: Mm-hmm. And you might be surprised when you fill that tub, that ¼-inch gap could become like a 3/8.

    TOM: Yeah, right?

    LESLIE: You never know what’s going on in there.

    Here’s one from Cas in North Carolina who writes: “We have six steps heading from our kitchen to our living room. I removed the carpet from these and now I feel a lot of cold air coming up. What is the best way to insulate under my steps?”

    TOM: Well, if you’ve got cold air coming up, I’m guessing you probably have a crawlspace under this or a basement but most likely a crawlspace. Crawlspaces, if they’re properly ventilated, should be fairly chilly. In the area, though, where a staircase comes down can sometimes get ignored. So I would go down in that crawlspace, under that step, and look up.

    First of all, make sure that you’ve got plenty of insulation in the floor joists. And if there is an area that was carved out to accommodate those steps, you may need to box that a little bit further so that you can attach insulation to it. And if you seal the entire area where the bottom of the stairs are, then that should make a big difference in trying to keep that warmer. And then when you get done, just sort of re-covering those steps, I think the whole thing would be just that much more energy-efficient.

    LESLIE: You know, Tom, when we’re on the subject of crawlspaces, I think moisture is always a big concern. Do we need to worry, since we’re insulating, about putting down a vapor barrier to keep it dry?

    TOM: That’s a really good point, because you do get a lot of moisture that comes up off the ground. And if you have soil, the easiest thing to do is just to get some really thick plastic sheeting and lay it down on top of the soil. You can overlap it about 4 feet so no moisture comes up through it. And that will make a big difference in stopping the evaporation of the moisture into the insulation. And that actually makes the insulation a lot more energy-efficient. If the insulation gets damp, it just doesn’t do its job.

    LESLIE: Mm-hmm. Yeah, that’s a really good point. And then you’re not going to feel warm at all, so definitely follow those steps, Cas, if you want to feel no more drafts from your staircase.

    TOM: This is The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show. Thank you so much for spending this hour with us. Time to take on those home improvement projects. Now we hope you are armed with the information that you need to get that job done in your house. If you’re not, remember, you can head on over to our website 24-7 at MoneyPit.com, post your question in the Community section. Or if you’re really stuck and you just can’t get to sleep at night and you just need to have somebody to ask this question to, call us at 888-MONEY-PIT. Because 24-7, we are there for you.

    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.

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    (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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