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Home Improvement Tips & Advice

  • 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.)


    (promo/theme song)

    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: The number is 1-888-MONEY-PIT, making good homes better. Call us with your home improvement questions. Call us with your do-it-yourself dilemmas. Are you stuck on a project and wondering where the solvent is for, perhaps, the Crazy Glue? Hey, we can help you with that. Call us. 888-MONEY-PIT.

    LESLIE: Yeah, you should always make sure you have nail polish remover around for that.

    TOM: Very important.

    LESLIE: And make sure it’s non-acetone. No, has acetone. That was my problem the one time I glued my thumb (laughter) to my pointer finger.

    TOM: You know, we’re like your handy neighbors, except that we know to never loan you our power tools. But we will help you with …

    LESLIE: (chuckling) Because you might glue it to your hand.

    TOM: … just about everything else. So call us now at 888-MONEY-PIT. We’ve got a great show planned for you this hour. Are your closets overflowing with stuff? When you …

    LESLIE: Stay out of my house, Tom. (laughing)

    TOM: (chuckling) I’ve been watching you. And that’s a very nice pink sweater you wore here tonight. (chuckling)

    LESLIE: Hey.

    TOM: When you try to find something in that mess, you know, it’s nearly impossible to locate it or even reach for it. We’re going to tell you, today, how to customize your closets so they work for you and not against you.

    LESLIE: And also this hour, have you made your list and checked it twice? Well, I definitely wrote down a pony and a hairbrush and, hmm, what else?

    TOM: You’re still holding out for that pony, right, that you never got as a kid? (laughing)

    LESLIE: I’m still. Thirty-one years old. Still asking for the pony. But we’re not talking about holiday gifts, folks. We’re talking about the things you need to go over with your contractor, who’s kind of like Santa Claus. And we’re going to tell you why having a written list for your projects can help loads.

    TOM: And about that bubbling toilet and perhaps those banging pipes. Why is your plumbing sometimes so darn noisy? We’re going to answer these and other common but mysterious plumbing problems in this hour of the program.

    LESLIE: And also, as usual this hour, one caller we choose is going to win a Eureka vacuum. It’s worth 130 bucks so make sure you call us now with your home improvement or your home repair question.

    TOM: 1-888-MONEY-PIT. Leslie, let’s get right to the phones.

    LESLIE: Ken in Pennsylvania, how can we help you today?

    KEN: Yes. I have a question on how I can remove a plate glass mirror that has been attached to the wall by probably an adhesive of some sort. And I don’t know how to remove it safely. Can you give me any suggestions on what I can do to do that?

    LESLIE: Oh, my gosh. I have the same thing going on. Next week a contractor is coming to do some work in our bathroom and I’m just petrified. Because you know, I know you would want to sort of get some sort of spatula underneath it and sort of start to pry it away. But I’m so convinced this thing is going to shatter and come flying out, I’m just letting somebody else do it.

    KEN: Exactly. And I’m sure it will cause some serious physical damage.

    LESLIE: Oh, yeah.

    TOM: Yeah, it definitely could. How big is this mirror?

    KEN: It’s about four feet high and probably about six feet wide.

    LESLIE: Ooh. It’s not in panels? It’s one big piece?

    KEN: It’s one big piece.

    TOM: And you’re absolutely sure it’s glued on and it doesn’t have some like very thin fingers near –

    LESLIE: Like a rail system.

    TOM: – right – at the bottom or top that’s supporting it?

    KEN: No. I think what it had – and I believe I remember how it was put up. It was probably put up with a mastic.

    LESLIE: Mm-hmm.

    KEN: One of the quick-drying mastics.

    TOM: Is it up against drywall?

    KEN: It’s up against drywall.

    TOM: You know, it’s probably going to be easier to pull the drywall out. Because you’re never going to get it off the drywall.

    LESLIE: Well, Ken, since your mirror is quite large, generally, your arm span is not going to reach from edge to edge. But you might want to start from the top down with a long piece of piano wire, have a friend on the other end and sort of saw it back and forth behind the mirror through the adhesive. But be cautioned. You know, this is a big piece of glass. It could break. It most likely will break. So be very careful.

    TOM: Yeah, at some point in time it’s actually going to separate from the wall. And also keep in mind, Ken, that what might happen here is you’re probably going to damage the drywall, which is no big deal because worse comes to worse, you just replace that. And in fact, it might be easiest if you got that piano wire between the paper and the adhesive because then it would come out, actually, rather easily. But that’s a way to do it. But be very, very careful. Because there is a risk that it could break, you may want to cover it with some plastic first just to collect any shards that fall off. But the piano wire …

    LESLIE: And you can always hire a glass pro.

    TOM: Mm-hmm.

    LESLIE: They’ll come and take it off for you and they know how to deal with flying shards of glass.

    TOM: Yeah, exactly.

    Ken, thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.

    LESLIE: Linda in Mississippi, how can we help you today?

    LINDA: I’m interested in – I’ve got a pink bathroom and I wanted to update it to sell the house. And I wanted to know if there was something I could do to the tile floor without having to take the tile up.

    TOM: Ah – well, you could cover it. (chuckling) You have – do you have pink – do you have pink floor tiles now, Linda?

    LINDA: Yeah. Actually, pink and white. (chuckling)

    TOM: Well, why don’t you – why don’t you – oh, you have pink and white tiles. Yeah, I’ve been there, done that, seen that. Is there a way that you can redecorate around that, Leslie, and make it acceptable to retain the pink and white?

    LESLIE: Yeah, but it seems like – that Miss Linda is over the pink and white. Why not install a laminate floor right on top of the tile. That’s an option.

    TOM: Yeah, that wouldn’t be too expensive and you could do that yourself. It’s pretty easy to install.

    LESLIE: Jim in Maryland’s got a construction question. What are you working on? Thinking about building something?

    JIM: Actually, I’m at the tail end of a house build. I’m going to closing the 24th of next month.

    TOM: Oh, good for you. Congratulations.

    JIM: Why thank you. But I’m really kind of plagued with this problem.

    LESLIE: Oh, no.

    JIM: We had a huge rainstorm back in June.

    TOM: OK.

    JIM: About four or five days of it. And immediately after that – the very next morning – the construction crew wrapped the house. We, you know, had all the wood frame up. And same day they wrapped it and put the shingles on the roof and started to put the brick front up. And I’m concerned that they enclosed the moisture. What is your opinion on that?

    TOM: Probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do, but most of that moisture’s going to wick out pretty quickly. It’s not that they’ve sealed it in for months and months and months.

    LESLIE: Plus, that house wasn’t completely closed in right away afterward. It had some time to sort of dry itself out.

    TOM: I wouldn’t worry too much about it, Jim. I wouldn’t be concerned about that. But what I would tell you is this. Make absolutely sure that before you close on this house, you have a complete home inspection done by an experienced professional. Don’t rely on yourself to do the walk-through by yourself.

    LESLIE: And don’t use an inspector that the building company recommends.

    TOM: Right, don’t rely on the builder to walk you through. Get an independent professional home inspector to do that. I spent 20 years as a home inspector and I could tell you that my average punch list in a brand, spanking new house was about 25 items long. And so, it’s always best to find those before you close; or at least up front. Because despite the fact that they’ve had armies of construction crews in that house …

    JIM: Mm-hmm.

    TOM: … for hundreds of hours, building it, as soon as you close it, the first time you find a nick or a ding in a countertop they’re going to blame you for it and not want to fix it. So you need to make a very good record of the condition of that place at the time of closing.

    You know, a friend of mine closed on a house in Arkansas earlier this summer and took my advice and had a home inspection done. And lo and behold, the builder later on tried to say that they caused a problem with the air conditioning system. And because she had the home inspection that showed that everything was fine at the time that they did it, she was covered. So it’s a very important thing to do to document the condition of the home, identify any defects and, to the extent possible, get them scheduled and corrected before you close. It’s just so much more inconvenient after the fact.

    Go to the website for the American Society of Home Inspectors. It’s ASHI.org. Put in your zip code. They’ve got – the American Society of Home Inspectors chapter in the Washington, D.C. area is one of the largest in the country. There are just tons of good people out there. You’ll get a list of inspectors. Call around. Find somebody you’re really comfortable with and then hire them. It’ll be worth the few hundred dollars it costs you to get that done.

    JIM: Well, I really appreciate it. You guys have a great show. I love listening to it.

    TOM: Thanks, Jim. Thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.

    LESLIE: Marilyn in New Jersey, it seems like you’ve got a wet basement. What’s going on over there?

    MARILYN: Yes, I have a basement that has cinder block walls and a little work room. And I see a little water coming through and a little bit of white dust is in there. And I wanted to know if I could use some kind of special paint or something to seal the cinder block.

    TOM: Well, you can. The white dust that you’re seeing is …

    LESLIE: Is that efflorescence?

    TOM: Yeah, it’s efflorescence. It’s mineral salt deposits that are left over from water that gets into the block and then evaporates and leaves its mineral salts behind. There’s a multi-step process here, Marilyn. First of all, we want you to address the drainage conditions at the outside of your house so that we cut back on the amount of water that’s getting there.

    LESLIE: Yeah, you want to make sure that your house has gutters, number one. If the house doesn’t have gutters, put some up. If it does, make sure they’re clean and make sure that those downspouts deposit that water far enough away from the house. And make sure you have enough gutters just to really cover the house and do a good job of keeping that water away.

    And you want to look at the grading of the property as well. You want to make sure that any soil that’s leading up to the foundation flows away from the house; so it’s sloping away. And you want to get down about six inches over four feet. Not too drastic; just enough to get that water moving away. And doing that will keep that water just from saturating that soil right next to the foundation.

    TOM: Exactly. Now as far as those stains are concerned, I want you to mix up a solution of white vinegar and water. That’s going to help melt those salts away. They’ll make them evaporate away. And then, in terms of painting the walls, that is your very last step and you can use a basement wall paint. And that will certainly help seal in those walls and prevent any normal soil dampness from coming through.

    So you see, Marilyn, this is really a multi-step process. It’s really involving water management more than anything else. If you keep the water away from the walls, you’ll keep the basement dry and you won’t be seeing those stains any time soon.

    MARILYN: Thank you very much. That helps tremendously.

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

    LESLIE: Alright, Money Pit listeners in holiday land. Maybe those outdoor lights aren’t going so well for the festivities. Well, you can call in your home repair or your home improvement question; even how to get those darn lights to work outside. Any time, day or night, 24 hours a day at 1-888-MONEY-PIT.

    TOM: 888-666-3974.

    OK, up next, are your closets overflowing with stuff? We’re going to give you some tips from AARP that will help keep your sanity and may one day even help you keep your independence.


    (promo/theme song)

    ANNOUNCER: This portion of The Money Pit is brought to you by Ryobi, manufacturer of professional feature power tools and accessories with an affordable price for the do-it-yourselfer. Ryobi power tools. Pro features, affordable price. Available exclusively at The Home Depot. Now, here are Tom and Leslie.

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

    LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

    TOM: We’re all truss and no fuss. Call us right now with your home improvement question at 1-888-MONEY-PIT.

    So, is your closet stuffed full and a mess to navigate? You can’t find anything or perhaps it all topples on you when you try to reach for it. (chuckling) Well, AARP says it’s time to organize. It will save your sanity and could one day even save your independence. Here’s what you need to know.

    First, get rid of stuff you don’t need or use. Toss it, sell it or donate as much as possible. Next, go shopping for a closet organization system. These systems will have clothing rods, shelves and drawers. They’re going to help you put your hands on everything you need when you need it.

    LESLIE: Yeah. And another thing to consider is perhaps someone in your house has a wheelchair or has arthritis. These are things always to keep in mind. Or is this closet that you’re organizing for a child in the home? If yes is the answer to any of those questions, then don’t place the drawers more than 30 inches from the floor. See if you can find full extension drawers, which are the drawers that you can pull out as far as you can so that you can see everything that’s inside. And drawers that are higher up, make sure they’re more shallow. And the lower drawers can be more deep. And if you choose a wooden set of drawers, make sure you use D-shaped or U-shaped handles and those are the ones that are really easy to grip.

    And finally, make sure your closet is well lit. You want to be able to see how lovely and organized everything is, now don’t you?

    TOM: Absolutely.

    LESLIE: And if you like these ideas and you want some more info, make sure you go to AARP.org/UniversalHome. The website again is AARP.org/UniversalHome.

    TOM: 888-MONEY-PIT is the phone number. Want to listen to us while you’re working on your next home improvement project? You know, you can listen to home improvement programming on the radio, but you can’t watch home improvement television shows because you might get hurt. But there’s another way. You can download our free podcast. Just go to MoneyPit.com and click on Listen. Right there you’ll find our podcast and you can catch up on any past shows you may have missed online. It’s all right there for you at MoneyPit.com.

    LESLIE: Lots of things we like to do at Money Pit; give you free podcasts and also give you free prizes. And one caller we choose this hour is going to win an upright vacuum that cleans the tread and the rise on your stairs. It’s the Eureka Uno and it could be yours just for asking your home improvement question on the air right now.

    The Eureka Uno is a full sized upright. It tackles all surfaces of the home; not just your floors. And it features the Power Paw brush, which is going to clean vertically and horizontally. And it also has a unique edge feature that’s going to reach right up against walls. So it really helps you to get to all those hard-to-reach places. If you don’t win or you want to check it out and make sure you want to enter, you can go to www.Eureka.com for more info. It’s worth 130 bucks but it could be free for you this hour.

    TOM: So call us right now at 1-888-MONEY-PIT. Let’s go to the phones.

    LESLIE: Alright. Danny in Virginia, what’s going on at your money pit? How can we help?

    DANNY: Oh, it’s not bad. Lot of money going in it, though. (chuckling)

    TOM: Alright. Well, that’s what we’re here for. What’s going on?

    DANNY: Oh, I was just curious. Is it actually worth having the duct system cleaned because I don’t think it’s ever been done.

    TOM: I don’t necessarily think it’s worth having it cleaned unless there’s been somewhat of a major event like there’s been a big addition put on or something else that stirred up a big stinking mess inside the ducts. More importantly, I would take that money and put it into the right kind of air cleaner. You want to make sure that you have something more than the fiberglass filter that’s sort of the basic component of most HVAC systems. What I would recommend is a whole-house air cleaner; one that’s permanently installed into the return duct; one that’s going to take out dust and mold and virus-size particles.

    LESLIE: Even allergens.

    TOM: Yeah, even – Aprilaire makes a really good one that was ranked tops by Consumer Reports for the last three years. It’s Aprilaire Model 5000. So you might want to look for an air cleaner like that. That’s where I’d put the money. I wouldn’t spend it cleaning the ducts unless you’ve had some major remodeling project go on that really caused them to get very, very dirty.

    DANNY: And it doesn’t really matter how old the house is?

    TOM: Not really. I just – I don’t necessarily think it’s a good idea. I don’t really see a reason for it. I would rather see you …

    LESLIE: Do you think it can be disruptive to the whole ducting system?

    TOM: I don’t know that it would be disruptive. It probably would stir up a lot – (chuckling) probably a bunch of dust that’s caked on there right now. But I just don’t see a reason for it. I’d rather make sure that you have good air-cleaning technology in the system right now so it really filters everything that you’re putting in there. I’ll tell you what. I put one of these Aprilaire units in my house and all of a sudden we weren’t dusting nearly as much, so I know the thing works very well.

    DANNY: OK. Alright. Because I mean I can dust and then, you know, a day later it doesn’t even look like I’ve dusted. (chuckling)

    TOM: Yeah, what kind of filter do you have right now on the HVAC system?

    DANNY: Well, there was an electronic cleaner – an old one – in there and it’s not even in it anymore. So I’m just using like the – you know, the $15, $18 filter that’s supposed to be better than just your $1 filter.

    LESLIE: And how often are you changing it?

    DANNY: About every month or two?

    TOM: Yeah, it doesn’t sound like it’s doing the job. You know, very often you get air that escapes around that; especially if you have the opening from an old electronic air cleaner. I would have one properly fit and go back to that. That’s clearly the most effective way. Because what happens is, with an electronic air cleaner, the dust particles are charged positive; the filter is negative. So it really sticks to it. It’s very, very effective at scrubbing the air clean.

    LESLIE: And the filter that they use, their media is 72 linear feet of filter all stacked up into one. So it really is a ton of filtration. And you only change it once a year.

    TOM: Yeah, Leslie and I got a chance to see these things made and they’re very impressive.

    DANNY: OK. Alright, great. I appreciate it. Thank you.

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

    LESLIE: Jennifer in Pennsylvania, you’re on the line. What can we do for you?

    JENNIFER: I’m calling about my home. My bricks need pointing. And I want tips on how to best do it; if there’s some new material on the market.

    TOM: How old is your house, Jennifer?

    JENNIFER: Oh, our house is about 70 years old.

    TOM: Wow. Well, they’re due. Well, repointing is a project that’s probably best left up to a pro. And what they’re going to do is they’re going to scrape out all of the old, soft mortar between the joints. Of course, we’re talking about repointing. Repointing means to replace the mortar between the bricks; for those folks that are not familiar with it. And it’s a mortar mix that’s made. It usually has a little more lime than what you might put in it if you were building a wall out of bricks because it makes it a little stickier. And then, very carefully, they’re going to repoint or place mortar in between those bricks. They’re going to score it so it seals properly against the top and the bottom of the brick. It’s got to be just the right consistency so it’s easy to handle. And once it’s done, it’ll look like a whole brand new house.

    JENNIFER: What’s the average cost for it?

    TOM: Well, that’s hard to say because it’s very labor intensive; though – now this is a situation where you have to do the whole house or are there just some areas that are worse than others?

    JENNIFER: There are areas where it’s more – where more work is needed than others.

    TOM: Yeah. Well, you might want to think about just doing the worst areas. But get some numbers on doing the whole house because it is quite a big job. It’s a lot of labor involved. OK, Jennifer?


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

    LESLIE: Ray in Florida’s interested in talking about some alternative energy. How can we help you?

    RAY: I’m interested in the uni-shingles; like a solar – it’s not a solar panel but they are like shingles that go on your roof, but they’re actually solar shingles that absorb energy.

    TOM: So the roof shingles actually act as a solar panel with this particular product?

    RAY: That’s correct.

    TOM: Ray, I think you’re talking about something that’s called UNI-SOLAR shingles. Solar shingles. They’re not uni-shingles. They’re UNI-SOLAR shingles. And basically, what they are is they are – it’s a rolled-up solar panel that has a power rating of about 17 watts. It’s lightweight, it’s flexible, it looks just like roofing shingles. So it sort of gets installed in the roofing system, just like another row of shingles would be; except that this particular row is designed to collect solar energy. It’s really a pretty cool idea and they seem to be gaining in popular. You know, they’re freeze-resistant; they’re used in residential buildings; they’re used in commercial buildings.

    LESLIE: And I think interesting to know is that they sort of have a peel-and-stick adhesive, but that backing is capable of withstanding 160 mile-per-hour winds. So it’s good for the Florida area.

    RAY: That’s what I was worried about.

    TOM: Yeah, well they seem to have that nailed down; no pun intended. I mean I think it makes a lot of sense. Now, I haven’t had a chance to look into the pricing and do a cost benefit analysis. I would encourage you to do that because that’s really important. A lot of the solar systems are expensive but perhaps there are some discounts available to you or some energy credits available to you. And if so, it might make some economic sense. But I think it’s a pretty cool technology.

    LESLIE: There’s two different systems that they offer and one is a laminate system, which goes directly on top of your roofing material. And then there’s another one that’s a shingle system. And this one’s not as wind resistant because it actually replaces the shingle itself. This one’s only resistant to 80 miles per hour. But the one that’s a laminate that would go over your roof, that’s the one that’s to 160. So keep that in mind, Ray.

    TOM: Up next, we’re going to solve the mysteries of plumbing. That’s right, those shuttering pipes and bubbling toilets. They happen for a reason and it’s not always a major problem. We’ll tell you what you need to know, after this.

    (theme song)

    ANNOUNCER: AARP is proud to sponsor The Money Pit. Visit www.AARP.org/UniversalHome to learn more about making your home more functional and comfortable for years to come.

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

    LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

    TOM: The number is 1-888-MONEY-PIT. The website, MoneyPit.com. Go there; click on Ask Tom and Leslie or pick up the phone right now and call us at 1-888-MONEY-PIT. Soup to nuts, floorboards to shingles. We want to hear from you about your home improvement question; especially if it has to do with plumbing.

    We’ve got an expert on the line right now to help us solve some of the common plumbing problems that we hear about on this show. His name is Ray VinZant. He is Roto-Rooter’s Ask the Plumber expert.

    So Ray, how did you get the Ask the Plumber job? (chuckling)

    RAY: Well, I applied for it. (laughter)

    LESLIE: I knew a lot about plumbing and they asked me to do it.

    RAY: That’s exactly right. I was – I was writing articles and stuff on plumbing and teaching college and working for Roto-Rooter. And so they asked me if I’d do their online questions.

    LESLIE: How many people are saying, ‘I swear my house is haunted. The toilet keeps flushing all by itself’?

    RAY: (chuckling) I get that question very regularly. (chuckling) About once a week, I get somebody who calls in and asks that.

    TOM: And what causes that problem?

    RAY: Well, basically what happens is inside your toilet is what’s called a fill valve. And the fill valve is what let’s the water into the tank. Inside the top of the fill valve is a rubber gasket. Well, after many years of being in the water and having water run through, the oil has leached out of the gasket. And so what happens is it gets hard like a superball. So once it gets hard like a superball, as the water tries to fill the tank and the float floats and gets a little higher, it tries to shut off. But it can’t, so it bounces up and lets a little more water in and then bounces up again. So what happens is the vibrations get so microfine that it sends a harmonic wave through your piping system. And the harmonic wave sounds like a ghost echoing through the house.

    LESLIE: Really?

    TOM: Oh, interesting.

    RAY: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm. And then another thing that can happen is the flapper that’s in the bottom of the tank …

    LESLIE: Mm-hmm.

    RAY: … can leak into the bowl.

    TOM: And then it just flushes all by itself because it’s just …

    RAY: And then it flushes all by itself.

    TOM: It’s just refilling.

    LESLIE: But not like a full flush. It’s like just a – like a (swooshing sound). Like a half a flush.

    RAY: Yeah, it’s like – the toilet comes on …

    TOM: Right.

    LESLIE: Exactly.

    RAY: … and you’re wondering, ‘Well, who is in the bathroom?’ (chuckling)

    LESLIE: (chuckling) Now, how come sometimes if you turn – not that I have this problem in my bathroom –

    RAY: Uh-huh.

    LESLIE: – but how come sometimes when, I mean when I turn off – when people turn off the faucet at the sink it does that?

    RAY: OK, well there’s two things that can happen there. One is the rubber gasket inside there is loose. And so as the water passes by, the rubber gasket starts to vibrate. And then, as it vibrates, it sends a harmonic resonance back through the piping system, which basically vibrates and makes a noise.

    The other thing that can happen is …

    TOM: (overlapping voices) If you could get all this vibration, all this harmonic sound together, you could have a nice little tune there in your plumbing system.

    RAY: (laughing) Well, the pipes – your pipes in your house are just exactly like a trumpet or a tuba. They’re made of copper or they’re made of steel and they resound. And if you get – if you shut the faucet off and it goes bang – you know, it makes a noise – wonder well, ‘What’s that?’ Well, what that is is you’ve got this force in water as it’s traveling in one direction. And then you shut the faucet off. Well, where does the force go? It’s like …

    TOM: It’s like hitting the brakes.

    RAY: … when you put on the brakes in your car. The car wants to bounce back and forth. Same thing happens in a faucet.

    LESLIE: Ray, you’re so enthusiastic about plumbing. It’s awesome. (laughter)

    TOM: We’re talking to Ray VinZant. He is Roto-Rooter’s Ask the Plumber expert.

    So Ray, what is, would you say, the number one most common question that Roto-Rooter experts get asked all the time.

    RAY: Oh, drain cleaning. Absolutely.

    TOM: Drain cleaning. OK.

    TOM: Pipes being clogged; somebody’s using their washer and the water comes up their floor drain; or somebody flushes the toilet and the water comes up in the bathtub.

    TOM: And what’s the most common cause of a clog?

    RAY: Yeah, well the common clog – cause of clog is the soap and the scum and the oil that goes down your drain line from when you take a shower or take a bath or when you flush things down the toilet. These things combine inside your pipe and stick to the inside of your pipe. And then the bacteria gets in there and starts to eat away at that gel and turns it into this like liquid goo that runs all the way down the pipe. And it doesn’t just land in one section, so it’s over a long distance.

    LESLIE: So what can you do as sort of a pipe maintenance to make sure that things are always working efficiently?

    RAY: Well, there’s a couple of things. One of them is if you’re running an enzyme down the toilet or down the sink, which will eat away that goo – it actually turns it into a liquid so it runs down and flushes down the line with your – with your sewer. The other thing is if it gets too far, you don’t want to run an acid down unless you know absolutely for sure that your piping is made of plastic. Because if your piping is made of steel, acids that are in drain cleaning liquids like Drano or like Liquid-Plumr – the ones that they have that are acids – will eat a hole in the pipe. And you don’t want that because then you’re just compounding your problem.

    So the solutions are an enzyme type drain cleaner which is good for the environment or having somebody come out and clean it with a drain.

    TOM: Now if they come out to clean it with a drain, what are some ways that they can actually figure out exactly where the obstruction is? Or is that really important? I mean are there ways to actually look inside the pipes and figure out how far down it’s blocked?

    RAY: Well, on the bigger pipes there is; absolutely. We run a camera down the line. And the camera can tell us everything about the piping. It can tell us whether the piping is pitched properly; whether the people used the right fittings – instead of using short sweep fittings we want to use really long turn fittings so that the water has continuation of flow; or whether or not the piping is made of a material which is going to be conducive to clogs. You know? Or if the piping is back pitched and so it’s catching debris. We find all that stuff …

    TOM: If you run a camera down the pipe, Ray, and you find a break, does that always mean that you have to tear up the pipe or are there ways to repair it sort of in place?

    RAY: Absolutely not. That’s old technology. Brand new technology out on the market in almost every city in the country today is relining technology. What we do is we run a camera down, we find the places where it’s bad and if there’s a break, we – no course but to dig it up. But if there’s not a break – there’s just cracks and roots in there – we clean the roots out and we run a brand new material down the line from inside the house all the way out to the street. It’s a sock-like material made of a fiberglass or an epoxy resin. And we heat it up and it forms a brand new pipe on the inside.

    LESLIE: So everything is self contained within the pipe and you can do it all via camera?

    RAY: Absolutely. And then, once it gets out on the street, we run a robot down inside the street and cut the inside of that – that end of that sock off. And so the opening is open on the inside of the drain line in the middle of the street.

    TOM: Oh, that’s really cool.

    RAY: Yeah.

    TOM: So you don’t really have to bring the backhoe in and tear up your lawn anymore or your sprinkler system or that sort of thing. You can do it in place.

    RAY: (overlapping voices) (chuckling) No. We can – we could either break a hole inside the house and shoot it all the way out to the street or we can run it down to the cleanout.

    TOM: That’s good tips.

    Ray VinZant, Roto-Rooter’s Ask the Plumber expert, thanks for stopping by The Money Pit.

    For more information, you can visit Roto-Rooter.com.

    LESLIE: Alright, folks. Well, home improvement projects are kind of like the holidays. You should make your list and check it twice, before you call in your contractor. We’re going to tell you why, right after this.

    (promo/theme song)

    ANNOUNCER: This portion of The Money Pit is brought to you by Roto-Rooter, for all your plumbing and drain cleaning needs. Whether it’s a small job or a big repair, request the experts from Roto-Rooter. That’s the name and away go troubles down the drain. Call 1-800-GET-ROTO or visit Roto-Rooter.com.

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

    LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

    TOM: Where we believe you can never have too many power tools.

    Well, perhaps you’re not the kind of person, though, that likes to own tools. Perhaps you like to hire a contractor for home improvement projects. Well, before you do, it’s important to research and list out all the details of your improvement first. This way, any contractors bidding on your work are going to have the same set of instructions to work with. You need to create your own specifications. It’s like making an apples-to-apples comparison of competing bids. You can’t do it unless you have everybody bidding on the same information. So do the research first and be sure your project comes out exactly as you expected it to.

    LESLIE: Alright, well we’ve got lots more ideas on ways you can learn to handle your direct-it-yourself project in our next e-newsletter. You can learn how to manage your contractor; avoid subcontractor hassles; and why you should not ever lie about your budget. And all of that is in this Friday’s newsletter. It’s free, folks, so it’s not going to compromise your home improvement budget. And if you’re not a subscriber, why not? Do so now at MoneyPit.com. It’s free.

    TOM: 888-MONEY-PIT is the phone number. One caller we choose this hour is going to win a terrific prize. We’ve got the Eureka Uno. It’s an upright vacuum that tackles all kinds of surfaces in the house; not just the floors. It’s got a Power Paw that allows you to take on the vertical vacuuming as well.

    LESLIE: Ooh, it’s extreme vacuuming.

    TOM: So call us right now at 888-MONEY-PIT.

    LESLIE: Alright, listening in in Nebraska on KFOR is Marilyn who’s got a ghost flushing the toilet. When do you hear it? How often?

    MARILYN: Well, it is really a kind of – it just does it every now and then. We’ll be sitting in the dining room maybe eating dinner, and all of a sudden I’ll look at my husband and he looks at me and we’re – flushing. It’s in – we can hear it (chuckling) flushing. And no one is there.

    LESLIE: (chuckling) So you think.

    MARILYN: And you always have so many wonderful tips and ideas on your program. I love listening to you because you always have the best ideas.

    TOM: Oh, thank you.

    MARILYN: So I thought you could help me.

    TOM: Well, I think we can, Marilyn. This is a very common question. There is not a ghost in your house.

    MARILYN: Oh.

    TOM: It’s not infested with ghosts (chuckling), so nothing to worry about there. What you have is simply a leaking flush valve.

    MARILYN: Oh.

    TOM: And this is the flapper in the bottom of the tank. And what happens is it’s sort of a rubbery material that dries out over time and the seal breaks down. And so a little bit of water leaks out of this flush valve. And as the water leaks out, eventually the toilet fill valve wants to come on and fill it back up. So it sounds like a flush and basically what’s happening is the fill valve is just refilling the toilet tank. So what you need to do is to replace the flush valve. It’s a very easy plumbing project; one that we recommend that you can do yourself. You can go out and buy a replacement fill and flush valve at your local hardware store or home center. It’ll cost you all of about $10 or $15 for the parts and you follow the instructions and it’s real easy to do.

    MARILYN: Well, thank you so very much. I really appreciate it. We’ve got kind of an older house and there’s something going on all the time. (chuckling)

    LESLIE: (overlapping voices) (chuckling) But that’s the charm of it.

    MARILYN: And I thank you so much for taking time to help us out.

    TOM: You’re very welcome.

    MARILYN: And I’m thrilled that we don’t have a ghost (chuckling) because I was getting kind of worried. (chuckling)

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

    LESLIE: Yeah, a ghost with a bladder problem.

    TOM: Yeah. (laughing)

    LESLIE: Just a regular ghost, fine.

    TOM: Just a regular ghost, that’s right.

    LESLIE: You would think once you’ve passed on you might not have to use the bathroom anymore.

    TOM: You would think, right?

    LESLIE: But, you know, I guess.

    TOM: But apparently that’s not the case. (chuckling)

    LESLIE: It comes with the territory.

    Jim in Minnesota is listening on KARL. And what can we do for you and your money pit?

    JIM: OK, I was wondering about acid stain for cured cement.


    JIM: I put a wrap-around porch around three sides of my house. I’ve got an older 1890 house. And cement company here, they make forms – 8×12, 8×16, whatever – but – and then they put a cobblestone finish in.

    TOM: OK, yeah. Mm-hmm.


    JIM: And they said that you can spray an acid stain on those. And I can’t find those anywhere around here that – they say that you can just take a sprayer and spray it on and get the earth-tone finishes.

    TOM: Well, first of all, you’re talking about stamped concrete, which is gorgeous.

    JIM: Great.

    TOM: And the finishing, there’s a number of options on there. Acid staining is one of them but, Leslie, doesn’t that have some risks?

    LESLIE: Yeah, well acid staining, there’s a – there’s a series of different chemicals that they use to create the staining process and each one produces a different coloration and you can do, you know, multiple different types of chemicals and different tones to create different areas of coloration. You can even, you know, do one cobblestone one color and another the other. But it’s a very exact science and from everybody I know who’ve done it, they don’t recommend it sort of as a do-it-yourself project. And I know that there are plenty of folks who, you know, across the country, will come out there and do it for you. I’ve never attempted it myself because it always seemed so caustic and, you know, a little bit frightening.

    JIM: Yeah. I’m a maintenance man so that doesn’t bother me at all. (chuckling) What I did, I did the back section that I have open.

    TOM: (overlapping voices) Oh, I thought you were going to say you’re caustic and frightening.

    JIM: And a friend of ours had some acid stain and it’s the yellows, the browns and whatever. And I put it on just those back two sections of the open porch and it turned out really well. It turned out the browns, the golds, the yellows. It’s got about 12 different colors in it. It really looks rich. But now, he didn’t know where he got the stain from and I don’t know where to find it from.

    LESLIE: What was the brand on it?

    JIM: It was just a can that he had. (chuckling)

    TOM: Ah, it was some magic mix. (chuckling)

    JIM: He moved – he actually moved up here from Des Moines, Iowa.

    TOM: Well, I’ll tell you, what’s probably worth doing is if you can find a brand of acid stain that you’re happy with and some colors that you think you can live with, you could try it and perhaps start it in one area and just do it very, very slowly and kind of see how it sort of evolves for you. Because I think it can be a very attractive system. But the problem is that you can’t always depend on what the color’s going to be until it actually happens because, as Leslie said, it reacts with the chemicals in the concrete. There may be other types of concrete stains that are more dependable than acid stain, but acid stain, you know, is something that you can’t always depend on until you actually see it come off.

    LESLIE: There’s also a good website online. It’s ConcreteSolutions.com and they pretty much sell everything that you would need for stamped concrete and they might be a good source to check out for the spray; or at least be a good lead to help you track down your exact kind.

    JIM: Hey, great. Thank you very much.

    TOM: You’re welcome, Jim. Thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT, Jim listening in Minnesota on KARL.

    You can call us right now at 1-888-MONEY-PIT or log onto our website at MoneyPit.com and click on Ask Tom and Leslie. He have an email here we’re going to get to after this next break. It’s from John in Iowa who’s trying to track down the source of a shower leak. Now this can be very tricky, when you have a leak and you don’t know where it is. Is it in the drain? Is it in the pan? Is it in the walls? Have you ever had a plumbing leak like that that’s hard to find? I’m going to give you the step-by-step solution, right after this.

    (theme song)

    ANNOUNCER: This portion of The Money Pit was brought to you by Aprilaire, makers of professionally-installed, high-efficiency air cleaners. For more information, go to Aprilaire.com. Now, here are Tom and Leslie.

    TOM: Welcome back to The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show, available 24/7/365 at 1-888-MONEY-PIT and at MoneyPit.com where you can click on Ask Tom and Leslie. Because perhaps you’re shy. You don’t want to pick up the phone. That’s OK; we don’t judge. You can email us your home improvement question at any time of the day or night. Another way to get information is to sign up for our free Money Pit e-newsletter. Maybe you’ve got a wet basement. Maybe you’re wondering exactly how much paint you might need to cover a room. Whatever your home repair or home improvement question is, the answer is always at your fingertips at MoneyPit.com. You can even sign up for our free newsletter which gives you great information free to your inbox every single week.

    LESLIE: Alright, let’s get right to the emails because I know we’re running out of time this hour. We’ve got one from John in New Hampton, Iowa who writes: ‘Our shower upstairs is leaking down the wall to our basement. I’ve checked everywhere for leaks and it looks like it’s in the plumbing, somewhere between the shower and the kitchen drain. I don’t know what to do next except start tearing the shower out and seeing if I can find the leak.’

    TOM: Don’t do that, John. (chuckling) Put the hammer down. Step away from the shower stall. Here’s what you need to do. When you have a leaky shower, you have to be very systematic in your approach.

    The first thing I want you to do is to go get a garden hose. And you may have to fish it up, you know, from the hose bib through the outside window, but you want to stick that hose right in the drain of the shower. Make sure the water doesn’t go across the shower pan. Try to stick it right into the plumbing drain itself. You may have to pull the little cover off the drain, but stick it in there and see if the drain pipe is leaking. If there’s no drain pipe leaking, you don’t have to tear the ceiling out below it.

    The next thing to do is to check the shower pan. You now plug the drain pipe and fill the shower pan up with water. Then check that to see if it’s leaking. If that’s not leaking, this is good because that means there’s no leak of the shower pan.

    The third thing to do is to start using that water and washing down the walls. That is probably where you’re going to find the leak. Because very often, you may have a leak that doesn’t show up when you’re just flushing it down the drain, but when the water bounces off you when you’re taking a shower, you find it in the walls. The solution is simple. It’s usually caulking or re-grouting and that will solve it every time.

    LESLIE: Alright, John, hopefully that helped you out. Not such a bad prognosis.

    TOM: Well, senior citizens are often the victims of scam. They trust strangers who seem friendly, plus they’re often home during the day; which makes them fairly ready prey for fraudulent telemarketers and drive-by contractors. But in this edition of Leslie’s Last Words, you have some tips on how to avoid being scammed.

    LESLIE: Alright. Well, one scam we know – which is going on in the Houston area – it involves flyers. And these flyers offer loans for home repairs, which seem like, you know, a legitimate cause. Get some money; do some work on the house. But what the seniors don’t realize is that the loans have a 19 to 21 percent interest rate, which is crazy for what’s out there right now. And the contractor later convinces them to sign a ‘Work Has Been Completed’ Form and then disappears without actually doing any of the repairs. So it’s crazy. They’re losing their money and they’re not getting anything done on the house.

    And on the West Coast, an elderly woman reported that she was charged $900 to have her circuit breakers cleaned. (laughter) So really, pay attention.

    And if you want to help keep your loved ones from being victimized, insist that your elderly relative check with the Better Business Bureau. Even you should check, regardless of age. Make sure you know what you’re getting into. Whenever you get a phone call, a piece of mail, a flyer or a visit from an unknown person or business or charity, urge your relative or yourself – call the Better Business Bureau before you let anyone into your home, their home, hand over any money or any personal or financial information. Never give any of that stuff out. Make sure you don’t sign any contracts or donate any money without doing some research. If you’ve got any questions about somebody who stopped by or something that you think might be suspicious, you can find out more info at www.BBB.com. Better Business Bureau. It’s all you need to know.

    TOM: This is The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show. Thank you so much for spending this hour with us. You help make good homes better, too.

    Hey, coming up next week on the program, it is the ho-ho-home improvement season. So if you have a home improver on your gift list and you’re trying to figure out what to give them, we’re going to have the list of the hottest home improvement gift products out there.

    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.

    (theme song)


    (Copyright 2006 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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