Most Valuable Home Improvements, Heat Pumps that Save Energy and Water Saving Tips for Bathrooms

  • Transcript

    TOM: Coast to coast and floorboards to shingles, this is The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show on air and online at I’m Tom Kraeutler.

    LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

    TOM: And Happy End Of Summer, everybody. I know it’s not a happy time but you know what? You’ve got the fall fix-up season to look forward to. We’re here to help you get those projects done. Help yourself, first, by calling us at 1-888-MONEY-PIT.

    Coming up this hour, looking for ways to add real value to your home, especially the kind that stays around until you’re ready to sell? We’re going to have some new tips on the improvements that deliver the best return on investment, just ahead.

    LESLIE: Plus, saving energy and going green are big goals for homeowners. We’ll explain why a heat pump can do both.

    TOM: And we’ll tell you about an easy way to save hundreds on your water bill just by switching out one common bathroom fixture.

    LESLIE: Plus, this hour, we’re giving away a new product that can make your smoke and carbon-monoxide detectors smarter by listening for them when you’re not home and sending an alert to your smartphone. It’s called Leeo by Smart Alert and it’s worth 49 bucks.

    TOM: It’s going out to one caller drawn at random. Make that you. Pick up the phone and call us right now. We want to hear about your home improvement, your home décor, your home renovation questions at 1-888-MONEY-PIT. Let’s get to it.

    Leslie, who’s first?

    LESLIE: Steve in Massachusetts is on the line with a leak in the ceiling. What’s going on?

    STEVE: I have a two-story Colonial and I have a number of water leaks, especially down in my first floor, in a foyer, a living room, a kitchen and a first-floor bathroom and also on a second-room bathroom. And they’re not big leaks but they are noticeable.

    And I want to kind of correct the problem and I know – and paint over it but I want to correct the problem first. So I had a roofer tell me that maybe I should put a ridge vent and I know what – a lot of the ice dams we had last year. I’m just wondering – I’m kind of dumbfounded why all on the first floor and none other than the bathroom on the second floor, you know?

    TOM: So these seem to be from condensation?

    STEVE: Could be, I guess. All the yellowish and that. I do have a little overhang in my kitchen area and that came about four years ago. I painted over it, I used Kilt and that but then it came back again a year later. So I don’t know whether it’s an insulation problem or a roof problem. I did put a second roof on back about five years ago. Up to that point, I never had any problems, so …

    TOM: Because it doesn’t sound like a roof leak or a plumbing leak. It’s just showing up in the oddest of places.

    STEVE: You know what? I’m dumbfounded where to go, I mean.

    TOM: Now, how much water do you see when you say you see a leak? Well, how much water are you seeing?

    STEVE: I just see the stains. I don’t really see the leak.

    TOM: Have you ever confirmed that it’s actually wet?

    STEVE: Not really.

    TOM: There’s a moisture meter that you can use. We used to use them in the 20 years I spent as a home inspector. And there’s a kind that you can just basically wave over the spot and it will read what the moisture level is. It’d be interesting. If I saw those stains, I would take a reading at the stain and I would take a reading at the ceiling somewhere else. And if it’s the same number, then it’s not really wet. It may have been wet but it’s no longer wet.

    If the stain is wetter than the other areas, then that would tell you something different; it would tell you it was an active leak. But what we have to do is get to the bottom of the moisture source and then get these leak stains eliminated. And I think you’re on the right step with the right process with that. You want to basically paint them over with a primer – an oil-based primer – and then put a finish topcoat of paint on top of that.

    But if it’s actively leaking, we have to deal with that. So, I would say that the first thing we need to do is – and since you have so many of these – is it might make sense for you to have a professional home inspector come by, take a look at these up close and personal. Home inspectors always carry moisture meters with them. Try to figure out what’s going on and then get it resolved. I wouldn’t do anything in terms of repair until I got some independent, expert advice from somebody who doesn’t want to sell you anything.

    That’s the problem with getting the advice from the roofer there. You ask them how to solve the problem and they’re always going to give you a solution where they’re a part of it. Part of it includes hiring them. So, just avoid that conflict of interest in a situation where you have so many areas that you’re seeing leaks. I would get some independent, expert advice in person.

    STEVE: Alright. Very good. Thanks a lot.

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

    LESLIE: Alright. Now we’ve got Dawn in Nebraska on The Money Pit. What can we do for you today?

    DAWN: Well, we’d like to redo a bathroom that has an old tub and a shower that’s got the kind of a plastic sheeting – it’s not plastic but the – oh, some kind of that gross stuff you glue on the wall. We’d like to take all of that out, including the bathtub, and then tile the shower and the shower floor.

    My question is: if we tile the shower floor, do we have to put a lip to keep the water from coming out? Or is there some way – if we tile the entire bathroom floor and shower the same, would you recommend some kind of elevation drop, just a little bit into the shower, so the water does not run out? Or is that just a no-no if we’ve got to have a lip at the edge of the shower?

    TOM: OK. You’re missing one critical component of the bathroom makeover you described and that’s a shower pan.

    DAWN: Right.

    TOM: And so, I would recommend you purchase a shower pan and use that to install the bottom of the shower and the drain of the shower. There are shower pans that you can tile over if you don’t want to see the shower pan. But frankly, it’s so small. And when you tile a shower pan, it’s just such a maintenance hassle because all the water sits in there and ends up making the grout look nasty. I would just use a standard shower pan and then tile right down to the pan.

    DAWN: OK.

    TOM: You can connect the drains to the shower pan. The shower drains will all be integrated there. Then you’d tile right down over the lip of the shower pan and this way, you have a nice, waterproof seal.

    DAWN: OK. That sounds good. If you do the soap dish or – I’m not sure what else to call it – in the wall and you want to recess it in so you’ve got an 18×18 area to put your shampoos and such, can that be on an outside wall? Will you not smush your insulation to where it doesn’t work or does it have to be at the inside wall?

    TOM: Yeah, that’s a good question. I would tend to avoid that, I think, because, yeah, you would have no insulation in that space. It would end up being very, very cold and I think I would tend to put that on an interior wall.

    DAWN: Mm-hmm. OK. Very good. Thank you.

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

    LESLIE: You are tuned to The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show on air and online at

    Well, we are officially into the fall season, you guys. It’s my favorite time of year. So let us give you a hand with whatever it is you are working on. We’re happy to lend a hand.

    And when you think about a home renovation, are you often wondering if it will make your home more valuable? Well, some will and some won’t. We’ll tell you which deliver the best ROI, in a bit.

    TOM: And also ahead, electric heat gets a bad rap as the most expensive way to heat a home. But when an energy-efficient heat pump takes over, it can actually be one of the most efficient. Richard Trethewey from This Old House will be here to tell us more.

    And today’s This Old House segment on The Money Pit is brought to you by Proudly Propane. Clean American energy.

    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: Everybody wants to have a smart home these days. But sometimes, making your entire house smart, it takes a bit of work. There’s a cool product out now that can help make just the smoke and carbon-monoxide detectors a bit smarter. It’s called Leeo by Smart Alert. And what it does is it’s kind of a plug-in module that listens for those alarms. And if it hears those alarms, it will actually send an alert to your smartphone. So if you’re not home and your smoke detector goes off in the house and it’s not centrally monitored, it will communicate that to your smartphone so that you can call for help.

    It’s worth 50 bucks. Going out to one caller drawn at random that reaches us on today’s show. That number, again, is 1-888-MONEY-PIT.

    LESLIE: Brent in West Virginia is on the line with an HVAC question. What’s going on? You guys are freezing over there?

    BRENT: So, I’ve got this two-level house that’s been cut in half. And then each level has been raised a half of a level, so it’s a four-level house.

    TOM: So it’s a split-level house?

    BRENT: Yes.

    TOM: OK. And where’s the heating system located?

    BRENT: Second floor.

    TOM: Second floor, OK. And it’s hot air, so there’s ducts that’s supply the air to the lower levels?

    BRENT: It’s forced air, correct.

    TOM: Forced air, OK. Got it. Alright. So your problem is that your lower level is staying cold. And what about your upper level? Does that overheat in the summer?

    BRENT: It does but the issue is that in the summertime, I can close the vents downstairs and I can cool the upstairs. And the downstairs stays cool because it’s underground. But the reverse does not happen in the wintertime.

    TOM: Right. I’ll tell you that the split-level house is one of the most difficult homes to get even heating and cooling. So, one thing that you could do is add an additional – well, first of all, you want to make sure that’s what there is working properly so you have good air flow coming out of the registers and you have good return of the air in the room going back to the HVAC system. So, we take a look at the return and the supply.

    But I will say that probably the easiest thing to do is to add supplemental heat to cover you on the coldest days. That would probably be less expensive than running all the ductwork that you’d have to run to get it to work properly off just the forced air.

    You could put electric baseboard radiators in there, supplements. You could even put a through-the-wall heat pump which is something, actually, that Leslie did to bring some additional temperature consistency to her lower room of her house. And I’ve got one in a room in my house that had some inconsistent issues.

    And it just provides additional supplemental heat to be able to even out that space. Because otherwise, what you probably find yourself doing is you overheat the rest of the house when it’s really cold downstairs. You turn the heat up to try to get – make that downstairs warmer and then the upstairs gets very hot and you’re wasting a lot of energy on that heat. So trying to get that balanced out is the right thing to do.

    I would tell you electric baseboards only because they’re the least expensive way to go. Even though they’re expensive to run, they’re the least expensive to install and you’re probably not going to use them, you know, 24/7. You’ll use them selectively, so that’s a situation where I would do that. And I would also make sure they’re hooked up to a central thermostat that could be operated by a clock-setback mechanism.

    BRENT: How about that? OK. I will certainly give that a try.

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

    Well, when you plan a home improvement project, do you ever wonder if it’ll bring value when it comes time to sell your house? I mean, in fact, do you use that to convince your spouse that you need a new kitchen or a man cave? Well, the truth is that some of those improvements do and some of them just don’t.

    LESLIE: Yeah. Not all improvements have the power to draw potential buyers and fill your pockets when you sell. So you want to stick to the ones that truly make a difference.

    For example, start with the view from the curb. Replacing your front door or even just upgrading it with some paint and new hardware, that’s huge. Even a new garage door makes a big difference and that’ll spike up the appearance of your home right from the street or online, guys.

    TOM: And don’t forget landscaping. Just adding bushes and flowers around the entry can make a big difference. No matter where you live, buyers also want outdoor living space, so adding a deck or a patio or maybe even sprucing up an existing outdoor room with a water feature or a fireplace or even a fire pit or some new landscaping can all help make your place much more attractive.

    LESLIE: Yeah. And buyers are also interested in energy efficiency these days. So improvements like new ENERGY STAR-certified windows, lighting, even kitchen appliances, those are all a smart move.

    TOM: And here’s a trick of the trade that I picked up from my 20 years as a professional home inspector: if you pride yourself on having a reasonably energy-efficient house, make an inventory of all of your home’s green features to present to buyers. I can guarantee that doing that one simple task will make your home stand out.

    Now, if you’ve got a home improvement project that you’d like to do to help your home stand out, give us a call, right now, because we’re here to help at 1-888-MONEY-PIT.

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

    JUDY: We replaced our windows – all the windows – in our home over 10 years ago. And just this year, there appeared to be snow between the glass on two of the windows. So our question is: do we have to replace the windows again or is there some way to get that out?

    LESLIE: Actual snow or was it just fogging up?

    JUDY: No, it’s like – it looks like snow when the sun shines on it. It’s that noticeable.

    LESLIE: So that’s probably more like a frost. And generally, what happens when you start to see condensation or frost or any sort of cloudiness in between two panes of glass, that usually means that the seal has failed. And that’s not generally something that’s fixable. Because when the seal fails, the gas that’s in there to keep the windows energy-efficient and put that thermal seal in there, that’s gone, too. So your window loses all of its energy efficiency, other than just the two panes of glass.

    So, repairing that really isn’t worth it. At this point, you should probably look into a replacement window.

    JUDY: Replace the windows. Not all the windows. Just those two windows?

    LESLIE: Right. And it would be a replacement window, so the operable parts are what changes out. The side panels, that all stays. It’s the up-and-down parts that get changed out.

    JUDY: So they can just replace that middle part then?

    TOM: That’s correct. Especially if it’s a recent window and yeah, the manufacturer is still sort of available. When the seal fails like that, there’s no repair for it. If you probably are not suffering through a lot of energy loss as a result of this, it’s mostly just a visual thing. But it’s not repairable; you need to have that sash itself replaced.

    JUDY: OK. Well, thank you so much.

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

    LESLIE: Ron in Pennsylvania, you’ve got The Money Pit. What can we do for you today?

    RON: I have an 1865 farmhouse that is in very good condition, with about 2-foot-thick stone walls that are the basement walls. And from what I understand, those old, stone walls are made, basically, of stone and sometimes they put rubble in the middle. Somehow, field mice have found their way through from the outside and I’m trying to figure out how to maybe parge or put cement in between the stones to protect that from happening.

    TOM: So, the mice, you think, are coming right through the foundation wall?

    RON: Oh, yeah. They’re finding their way through. It’s been 150 years.

    TOM: Why can’t you point the openings up? By pointing, I mean add mortar to those cracks or those crevices in the foundation wall, to try to seal those gaps up?

    RON: My biggest question, I guess, is: how do I get that part cleaned out so that I can point that up? I guess I should use air rather than water to try to blast it out, to get the dust out of there so that the moisture would – so that the whatever cement I use will adhere. Would you recommend water or air to try to clean that?

    TOM: I think you could probably do it with a pressure washer but you’re just going to have to make sure it dries really well before you go ahead and point it up.

    RON: Is there any particular type of concrete product you would recommend or cement you would recommend for that?

    TOM: I would take a look at the products that are made by QUIKRETE – Q-U-I-K-R-E-T-E. And you can find a mortar patching compound that QUIKRETE makes and use that. Because it usually has sort of a stickier component to it, so it’s easier to press it in those places.

    But listen, aside from just sealing up those gaps, just keep in mind that there’s a lot of different places that mice can get into your house. It might not just be those gaps in the foundation. They only need the space of about the width of a nickel to squeeze through.

    RON: It’s amazing – pretty amazing – how easily they can get in. We don’t have a lot of trouble with them now as we did a little bit earlier. But I’d like to try to make those walls nicer again. They have the old horse-hair glass.

    TOM: Yeah. Well, of course, and that will basically handle both of those challenges. Generally, you want to avoid doing anything around your house that could be a nesting site. So that could be stacks of firewood or newspapers or things like that. You want to make sure you’re careful with food in the house, especially pet food or types of food products that you keep on the ground, where it’s accessible. You want to make sure those things are in sealed containers.

    You want to look for all those gaps. If you find any little gaps like that, another little trick of the trade, just temporarily, is just to put steel wool in there. Because mice can’t get through steel wool.

    And then you want to use rodenticides. You want to be careful if you have pets. If you do, there are bait stations that the bait can be held by that pets can’t get into. But keeping those in and around the interior perimeter of the home, especially if it’s up on a basement or a crawlspace, are effective, as well.

    RON: Yeah. Alright.

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

    LESLIE: Well, electric heat tends to get a bad rap as the most expensive way you can heat a home. But when an energy-efficient heat pump takes over, it can actually be one of the most efficient. Richard Trethewey fromThis Old House is joining us with advice on how to get the most out of that technology.

    TOM: And today’s This Old House segment is brought to you by Lumber Liquidators. With over 400 varieties of bamboo, laminate, wood-look tile, vinyl plank and hardwood floors for less.

    JOE: Hi, 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: This is The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show on air and online at I’m Tom Kraeutler.

    LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

    Hey, are you wondering how long you can preserve paint that you’ve already opened up, so it’ll be ready for touch-ups and maybe future projects? Well, the truth is that if paint is kept sealed and in a cool area that’s not going to freeze, it can really last indefinitely. But keeping it sealed is where it takes a bit of attention to detail, because you’ve got to do a good job wiping off the lid of the can before you tap it closed or that residual paint is going to dry. And that will prevent a good seal.

    TOM: Now, you can easily create these using a sharp screwdriver and a hammer to pierce the inside lip of the can. Then you want to wipe the rim with a damp cloth, lay the lid on top and then lay the damp cloth over the entire can and tap it shut. You’re probably wondering, “Why do I have to do that?” Well, by tapping the lid shut under the cloth, you will prevent splatter from shooting out all over your clothes and the room you just painted. So, there you have it. That’s the best way to use the paint and preserve it for the next time it’s needed.

    LESLIE: Now we’re heading to South Dakota where David is on the line. What can we do for you today?

    DAVID: Yes. Thanks for taking my call. I just had my 120-year-old house sided with new vinyl siding. I got relatively new vinyl windows. And I’m curious, do I caulk between the J-channel and the window frame on the outside?

    TOM: No, you don’t have to.

    DAVID: OK. That’s not necessary?

    TOM: No, it’s not necessary. It should be watertight the way – if the installers put it in correctly, it should be watertight as it is. If they need – if it needed to be caulked, they would have done that. I know it looks like there’s a big gap there but that’s pretty typical. And you generally don’t have to caulk between the back of the J-channel and the side of the window.

    DAVID: Yeah, I was just worried about if it rains from a certain angle it’s going to, you know, wick down through that gap and then run behind the siding?

    TOM: Usually, that’s pretty tight and it won’t happen. I mean there’s no reason you can’t caulk it but I don’t necessarily think you have to do it.

    DAVID: OK. That’s all I wanted to know.

    TOM: OK. Well, good luck with that project. Thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.

    LESLIE: Well, a warm, toasty home comes at a price. But the best way to keep those utility costs low is by making sure your home is probably winterized.

    TOM: And there are many ways to do that, including some new ones that are kind of high-tech. Here to help us sort through the options is Richard Trethewey, the plumbing-and-heating contractor on TV’s This Old House.

    Hi, Richard.

    RICHARD: Hello, guys.

    TOM: So, listen, many people hear that term “winterizing” and they think about the traditional ways of sealing out drafts, like weather-stripping and perhaps adding more insulation. But as technology advances, there are a lot of new options that can help make those investments smarter, right?

    RICHARD: Yeah. And I want to just amend one thing: it’s not just winterizing; it could also be summerizing (ph). It’s trying to keep the heat in in the winter and the cold – the cool – in in the summer. And it’s a question of how do I make my building tight? It starts by knowing where the leaks are.

    So, you could do an energy audit. That can be done in a casual way or you can have a professional group come in. What tools they have now. In the old days, you’d come in and you’re sort of thinking – you try to find ways …

    TOM: Best guess?

    RICHARD: Oh, my gosh. It’s best guess. With this, they have infrared cameras now that you literally – it’s as if you can see inside the wall and you can now see the power of good insulation. When you look where the electrical outlets are, you can see the big hot or cold spots. You can see where every – around every window or around every 2×4 stud. So these infrared cameras have really unlocked it. And it’s become so affordable now that even the casual HVAC contractor can actually afford to have it, which is great.

    LESLIE: And I think you, as a homeowner, can even rent one from a home center.

    RICHARD: Yeah.

    LESLIE: Not that you might know what to do with the information that you glean from having one but that kind of puts the power at hand.

    RICHARD: Yep. Right. They have one that sticks on the end of your smartphone.

    TOM: Yeah.

    RICHARD: Totally cool. Totally. Yeah.

    TOM: Yep. Fantastic.

    Now, aside from the infrared cameras, what about – not necessarily brand new but I think more commonly used today is this device called a “blower door,” when you actually can inflate or deflate your building, so to speak, and find those leaks.

    RICHARD: Sure. Yep.

    TOM: Can you talk about how that works?

    RICHARD: Yeah. You seal up everything you can and you turn on this blower. And you either pressurize the building – generally, you put the building under pressure and then you go around with a smoke stick to see where that smoke will escape. And it can tell you so much. The infrared camera is not going to tell you where those infiltration leaks are. The blower door will. And you’ll actually go up in the attic and you’ll see it coming up through where there’s a plumbing stack pipe or you’ll see it going all sorts of places where it shouldn’t go, so …

    LESLIE: So it sounds like a combination of the two would really give you the best tools to say, “I need this type of insulation in this area or your best plan of attack.”

    RICHARD: I think so. Correct. Right. The second – the blower door will actually tell you – quantify – just how much the building’s leaking. So it’s great. You can do this test beforehand, then go around with a sealant – both foam sealant around doors and windows and things like that. But the other thing we’ve got to talk about it is actually sealing the ducts in your house.

    Now, ducts leak terribly. They’re done on low bid, supposed to be duct-sealed but they generally aren’t. So now we’ve shown this product through the years called Aeroseal, a brilliant invention. Just brilliant. You can spray in this atomized mist into the duct system and it will go and find any leak inside the duct system up to about 3/8-inch. So it literally – and then you go do your blower-door test or you do your pressure test afterwards and you see that that thing is just as tight as a drum.

    TOM: Yeah. Shockingly, duct tape is not really designed to fix ducts.

    RICHARD: No, it’s not. Because the one place you shouldn’t use duct tape is on ducts, sadly.

    TOM: We’re talking to Richard Trethewey, the plumbing-and-heating contractor on TV’s This Old House.

    Now, even the thermostats have become much smarter today. It’s not just the standard setback thermostat but the newer thermostats can actually measure and predict your patterns, correct?

    RICHARD: Yeah. The only tool we had before was programmable thermostats that everybody – half of them on the wall were just flashing 12:00 midnight. They didn’t – they weren’t even doing setback. And now, with all these new ones, they can actually feel when you’re occupying the space. Now, it has a motion detector and then it says, “OK. Now, I see what time of day you’re joined to it.” So it programs itself. And then what people really want is a combination of that and the ability to be at their office or away from the house and be sure that the building is turned down, be sure they can – it can dial in and see the current condition of their house from a temperature standpoint. And that’s what people really love is this ability. I’m not sure why. It’s like voyeurism. They want to be able to – they’ll be at the office and see if anybody’s …

    LESLIE: Right. Because the whole goal is when you’re outside of the office is to be home and make sure the house is under control.

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

    LESLIE: And the second you get home, you want to leave.

    RICHARD: Right.

    LESLIE: So you’ve got to be able to monitor.

    RICHARD: And the other thing that’s high-tech is this thing called “geo-fencing.” I don’t know if you talked about it but geo-fencing is pretty cool that when you walk back into the building, your phone communicates with your heating system when you get within X number of feet. Then you program it and it’ll activate the heating system to the higher level. Then when you leave, it’ll go back down automatically.

    TOM: It can even be sent, not only for when you walk in the building but it could be – “When I get three miles away from my house, turn my heat down.”

    RICHARD: Correct, correct.

    TOM: “And when I get three miles into my house, turn it back up again.”

    LESLIE: Right back up.

    RICHARD: Right. That’s right. But then you just don’t know what to do for your poor mother-in-law who’s visiting.

    LESLIE: We don’t want her to be too comfortable.

    RICHARD: That’s right. She’ll stay too long.

    TOM: Well, I don’t know. If you want her to leave, maybe you should.

    Great advice. Richard Trethewey from TV’s This Old House, thank you so much for stopping by The Money Pit.

    RICHARD: Always great to be here.

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

    TOM: And This Old House is brought to you on PBS by Lumber Liquidators. Hardwood floors for less.

    Coming up, although your toilet might be working just fine, it could be time to switch it out for a water-saving model. We’ll explain why, after this.

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

    LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

    Give us a call at 888-MONEY-PIT. We will help you with whatever home improvement project or – you might be working on or dreaming up. Whatever it is that’s going on in your money pit brain, we’re here to give a hand. Plus, this hour we’re giving away a great prize. We’ve got the Leeo by Smart Alert.

    Now, what Leeo does – it really provides a simple, plug-in alarm monitoring for your home without a big central system. Now, what happens is the Leeo by Smart Alert will monitor existing smoke, carbon-monoxide and water alarms and will alert you if they go off. So it’s really going to send an alert to your smartphone via an app or push notifications, even automated phone calls. And it provides your local emergency-service phone number in the app or by text. So it helps you sort of get a leg up or a step ahead so that you can beat a potential danger in your home.

    It’s a great prize. It’s worth 50 bucks. You can check it out at Amazon or Best Buy. And really, one lucky guy is going to get it – or gal, I should say, is going to get it this hour for free right here at The Money Pit.

    TOM: 888-666-3974.

    LESLIE: Betty in New Jersey is on the line with an attic-fan question. What can we do for you today?

    BETTY: I have an attic fan that seized up and I don’t know whether to take it down – but then I’ll have a hole in my roof – and replace it or just leave it there and not use it.

    TOM: Well, you can just disconnect the power to it and leave it in place.

    BETTY: I just leave it there?

    TOM: You could, yeah, until you – if you – when you get ready to replace the roof at some point in the future, then you could pull it out then. But really, no harm, no foul. It’ll just be another vent in the roof, sort of a passive vent. So I don’t see any reason you couldn’t do that.

    BETTY: Oh, to wait to see if I need a new roof.

    TOM: Yeah, when you get around to it, you know, or you’re doing some other projects. Because I know what you’re saying: you’d have to pull it out and then you’d have to fill in the plywood hole – fill in the hole with plywood and then reroof it. But you don’t have to do all that now. Just disconnect the power to it so it’s not electrified anymore and leave it.

    BETTY: Well, that’s great. Thank you so much.

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

    LESLIE: Well, years ago, if a plumber told you your toilet needed to be replaced, you’d have a right to be skeptical. I mean it was pretty rare – darn near impossible, in fact – for a toilet to actually break.

    TOM: That’s right. But today, water consumption is really the big issue. And if your toilets are from 1994 or earlier, you do stand to save a lot of money on that water bill by switching them out for the current generation of high-efficiency toilets, also called HETs. You can forget the low-flows that first started this trend back in the early 90s. They didn’t work so well. But the new HETs work really well. And they work on about ¼-gallon of water per flush.

    Now, if you think about that, the old toilets used to use about 3 to 4 gallons. So now we’re down to just ¼-gallon. And we’ve done this by completely redesigning the traps and the valves inside the toilets to make it happen with so little water.

    LESLIE: Yeah. And think about it: the EPA is telling us that a household of 4 can save about $90 a year on its water bill with a high-efficiency toilet. Plus, a lot of local utilities are giving rebates and vouchers to the households that actually buy one and install it. And that really makes it worth your while.

    TOM: Now, the new toilets are a part of the WaterSense program that’s run by the EPA that’s much like the ENERGY STAR program. Basically, it’s a labeling program that certifies their water efficiency. So if you’re shopping for one, look for one that’s WaterSense-certified.

    888-666-3974. Hey, we are here to help you with all sorts of home improvement projects. Soup to nuts, floorboards to shingles, give us a call right now. We’d love to talk.

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

    JOHN: I’m working on a cement fireplace cap on top of my fireplace. What I’m needing to find out is what kind of paint or some kind of sealant I can use to keep my cement fireplace cap from being weathered so fast.

    TOM: Well, generally, you don’t use a finish on that at all. You could use a masonry sealer. If you do, make sure you get one that’s vapor-permeable, because that means that the moisture can evaporate out of it, doesn’t get trapped underneath and then freeze and sort of crack. But most importantly, you want to make sure that that cement cap is pitched properly so it’ll go from the clay liner out to the edge of the brick. And if you make it so it’s a bit thick at the edge, it’ll be a little bit more durable as that – because that’s the edge that will typically chip off and break off the quickest. Does that make sense?

    JOHN: OK. Well, I thank you very much for your advice.

    TOM: Good luck, John. Thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.

    LESLIE: Just ahead, in many states, bathrooms in homes that have windows aren’t required to have exhaust fans. That’s code and that’s really a hassle for homeowners. We’re going to talk you through the fix, after this.

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    TOM: Making good homes better, welcome back to The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show on this first weekend of fall. I’m Tom Kraeutler.

    LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

    TOM: It’s fall fix-up time. It’s the time when we kind of get out of that summer malaise – that summer doldrums – where we’re just kind of used to being hot and being stationary and we start thinking about getting back into it. You know, whatever is on your to-do list for your house, we’d love to talk about it at 888-MONEY-PIT. If it’s a painting project you want to tackle – as it starts to cool off, it’s a great time to look at insulation and energy-saving improvements. Give us a call at 888-MONEY-PIT.

    And hey, if you’re living in a home that has a bathroom window and no bathroom-vent fan, you must be the kind of person that just loves leaving those windows open in January, right? What’s up with that? There’s a building code that basically says if you’ve got a window in your bathroom that you do not need to have a bath fan. Really, really dumb.

    LESLIE: I mean unless your bathroom comes with a person with a fan in their hands that’s directly all that moist air out the window, then sure.

    TOM: So, the solution is to add the bath fan, of course, but not only that. You want to add a special type of switch to that fan. Basically, what you want is a switch that’s on a timer so that when you leave the bathroom, that the fan continues to operate for a good 5 to 10 minutes. Because that’s when the moisture kind of sits on those walls, on the drywall, on the tile and that’s what causes all the mold and the mildew and the mess to form. So, go ahead and add the fan, vent it outside.

    Generally, you can put a fan in pretty much near the exterior wall and get it out. And sometimes, even using a wall fan will work, which is the easiest way to do this. But make sure you have the switch on a timer so that when you leave the room, it stays on for an additional few minutes to clear that moisture. It really makes a huge difference and cuts way back on the need to clean that bathroom, too.

    LESLIE: Alright. Now we’re going to jump into an online post where Ronnie really has a question about a bath-vent fan, even though it’s not what he’s asking. So let’s get into it here. Ronnie writes: “My house was built in 1960 and there are no exhaust fans in the bathroom.” Well, Ronnie, now we know you need one. “I’d like to put up crown molding in the bathrooms but will it swell from the moisture? Is there a certain type I should use?”

    Yes, Ronnie. First, bathroom-vent fan. You need one.

    TOM: Otherwise, everything will smell from the moisture. But in terms of the molding, a good molding to use in a bathroom is a composite molding or a PVC molding. And those crown moldings are available in those materials. And they’re actually really, really easy to install because they can essentially be glued in place. They’re so lightweight that they can just adhere that way. So I would definitely not use a wood molding there. I would use a composite molding and this way, you can get the style that you’re looking for without any risk of moisture damage.

    LESLIE: Yeah. And it really finishes beautifully and lasts a darn long time.

    Alright. Next up, Patricia writes: “My home is 50-years-old. Central air and heating were installed 15 years ago, which included 5 vents in the basement. An energy-conservation expert suggested sealing off those vents since we don’t use it as a living space. But an HVAC expert says closing the vents will build pressure and strain the system. I want to save the money each month but not if it’s going to cost me in the long run.”

    TOM: Yeah, that’s a really good point. You can’t just shut off half of your HVAC system. I would focus on the other types of ways to save money, Patricia, like, for example, making sure you have plenty of insulation in the attic and those types of improvements. If you try to actually seal all of that off, he’s right. The system may not work right, especially with respect to air-conditioning, because you won’t be moving enough air through to really cool properly. And the home may be unusually moist as a result.

    LESLIE: Yeah. That’s good advice.

    TOM: This is The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show on air and online at Hey, thank you so much for spending this first fall weekend with us. We hope we’ve given you some advice and some tips that can get you started on your fall fix-up projects. If you need help, remember, you can call us at 1-888-MONEY-PIT or post your question on the Money Pit website at

    I’m Tom Kraeutler.

    LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

    TOM: Remember, you can do it yourself …

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


    (Copyright 2016 Squeaky Door Productions, Inc. No portion of this transcript or audio file may be reproduced in any format without the express written permission of Squeaky Door Productions, Inc.)

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