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The Perks of Fireplace Inserts, Packing the Biggest – and Easiest – Holiday Decorating Punch, and How to Save Big AND Improve Your Home’s Lighting

  • Transcript

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

    LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

    TOM: Happy Holidays, all. We are here to help you with your home improvement projects. If you’ve got one last-minute project to get done before the next crowd arrives at your door, give us a call at 888-MONEY-PIT. But now is really a good time to think about the year ahead. What do you want to do to renew your money pit going forward? Call us; let’s talk about it, 888-666-3974.

    Hey, if you’re dreaming of a hot cup of cocoa in front of a crackling fire, a fireplace insert might be just the ticket for you. We’re going to get some details on how to build one, from This Old House contractor Richard Tretheway, coming up.

    LESLIE: And first impressions last the longest, so put your decorating energy into the first thing your guests are going to see: your front door. From classic to contemporary, we’ve got tips for making yours stand out and shine.

    TOM: And don’t just deck your halls and walls this holiday. You want to make sure they’re safe, too. So this hour, we’re giving away a thermal camera that reveals everything from moisture to overloaded circuits behind your walls.

    It’s a prize worth 399 bucks. Going out to one caller drawn at random from those that reach us for today’s show, so let’s get to it. The number is 1-888-MONEY-PIT, 888-666-3974.

    Leslie, who’s first?

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

    ROB: So my wife and I just bought a brand-new house. And when we first got there, I turned on a light switch and our fan in the attic started smoking. So I went up there. It looks like it’s the back of a submarine. It looks like this really big, old, propeller-driven fan, so that’s got to go.

    So, as I’ve been doing a little bit of research online, it seems like there’s kind of two camps going on as to whether or not it’s really worth having an attic fan or not, whether it really saves energy and saves you money over time or if it’s really just something that’s kind of a legacy or holdover from a different era. So I guess I just want to get a take from that.

    TOM: OK. So is your home air-conditioned?

    ROB: It is not.

    TOM: It is not. OK. So you’re using, what, window air conditioners in the summer?

    ROB: Yep. We have [two eight] (ph) window air conditioners up on the second floor. Down on the first floor, it’s actually been pretty cool.

    TOM: So here’s the thing. You’re going to run this attic fan in the summer and I presume this would be one that’s repaired and not smoking. So let’s assume it’s operational. If you run it in the summer, what it’s going to do is it will depressurize the attic. Now, it’s going to try to make up that air from somewhere.

    Now, theoretically, it would pull in air from other vents in the roof – other passive vents – like vents at the gables or vents at the soffits or other roof vents to be able to kind of take air from the outside. It will go in those roof vents, up through the attic fan and out and sort of just cycle.

    Truth is, though, that those fans are usually a lot more powerful than the amount of passive venting available to make up the replacement air, so they’ll sort of reach down deep into the house and start pulling out air from your house and venting that, which they’re not really intended to do. They’re only really supposed to be venting the attic.

    So, what happens in that scenario is they pull out not only the warm air in your house but the air-conditioned air, which is your expensive air that you paid to cool. And so that’s why they can be very inefficient, because they can rob air-conditioned air from the house: a bigger problem when you have central air than when you just have window units. But that’s why we generally don’t recommend them.

    The other reason is that you really don’t need them. You could do just as good a job with proper passive ventilation. And by that I mean generally continuous ridge vents, that go down the peak of the roof, and soffit vents at the overhang. With that combination, air will always press in under the soffits, right up under the roof sheathing, and exit at the ridge. And it just does a good job, passively, of keeping the attic cool without impacting the cost of cooling or having attic fires because your fan motor blows up.

    ROB: And then I guess, just to go off of that for a second, in the winter I’ve heard that you can run the attic fan in reverse and push the hot air that’s risen up into the attic down into the rest of the house. Is that also a myth?

    TOM: That’s a complete myth. I wouldn’t do that. That would be – actually be foolish. You could mess with your – the natural ventilation, the natural draft of your heating equipment by doing that and it could be dangerous. You could build up carbon monoxide and cause fireplaces to backdraft. It could just be a real mess. So, yeah, I would not do that.

    ROB: OK. Perfect. Thank you guys so much.

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

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

    CHERYL: I have some countertops that are plywood. I just purchased a house recently and I’m planning to do a total remodel in about a year. But right now, the countertops are plywood. And so I wanted an idea to put on the countertops so that I don’t have water damage to the plywood and – plus something that looks nice. And I was wondering if you might have an idea.

    LESLIE: Well, there’s a lot of different options, of course, at a variety of price points. And if you’re looking for something that’s just going to be temporary but still stylish and functional, probably your quickest and most DIY and affordable option could be tile.

    Now, that’s going to be something that you could easily do on your own. And there’s a lot of different choices to keep you within a variety of price points. And that, generally, can look really, really great. The other options are laminate countertops, which you can get precut at the local home center. And that just depends on how much of a run you need and how much actual cutting to fit to size that you have to get.

    But those are probably going to be your two most affordable. I think with tile, it really gives you an opportunity to make it really stylish and your own and something that you can feel proud of doing yourself and lasts you through the long haul until you’re ready to do a major remodel.

    CHERYL: OK. And what do you usually adhere the tile with? I’m not really much of a DIY person but I’m sure – I think I could do it. But I was just kind of curious, with the water, what adheres that tile and keeps that countertop protected.

    TOM: So there’s two options. There’s tile mastic, which is sort of like a glue that you trowel onto the plywood and you stick the tiles onto that. And then there’s a tile mat that’s like a two-sided adhesive mat that you glue that down to the wood surface, in your case, and you peel off a backing. And you can stick the tiles right on top of that. So there’s a couple of ways to do that. If you can find the mat, what’s interesting about that is you can grout right away. If you use the mastic, you’ve got to let it dry overnight and then you can grout.

    CHERYL: OK. I like those ideas. OK. Thank you so much.

    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 MoneyPit.com. Give us a call with your holiday home improvements. We are running out of time before the big guy heads down the chimney. And of course, that means lots of guests come knocking at your door. We’re here for you. We get it. We’re in the holiday craziness, too. Let us give you a hand and make it a bit easier 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-888-MONEY-PIT.

    TOM: 888-666-3974.

    Up next, well, even if the weather outside is in fact frightful, your home can be delightful if you add a fireplace insert. We’ll have details on how to do that project, after this.

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

    LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

    TOM: Give us a call, right now, with your home improvement question. We’d love to talk with you at 1-888-MONEY-PIT. And if you do, we’ll give you an answer, plus an opportunity to win a very, very cool prize that we’ve got in the studio now from Seek.

    It’s the Seek Thermal Reveal Camera. Have you ever seen these images taken with these thermal cameras? They’re really cool. You can take a picture of the wall of your home and you can see where it’s insulated and where it’s not insulated. You can also detect hot spots like what might exist if you had, say, a bad wire in the wall. It’s really super cool and really innovative. And we’ve got one to give away to one caller drawn at random from those that reach us for today’s show.

    LESLIE: That’s right. And you know what, Tom? It’s also really good at seeing exactly how cold my hands and feet are. Do you remember that?

    TOM: Yeah, I do, I do. We were playing with the camera once.

    LESLIE: You guys were making fun of me so badly at that trade show.

    TOM: We were taking pictures of Leslie and we were like, “What’s wrong with her hands and her feet? They’re cold.”

    LESLIE: They were blue compared to everything else. But it’s super cool.

    TOM: The number is 1-888-MONEY-PIT, 888-666-3974.

    LESLIE: Mike in Pennsylvania is on the line with a flooring question. How can we help you today?

    MIKE: My kitchen floor is vinyl – a vinyl floor with a couple of dings. And there were things have been dropped over years. So it’s broken the outer seal and the black is showing through the underlayment or whatever.

    So, a couple of options – and I’ve had experience with sticky-back tiles on a – on the laundry-room concrete floor. I’ve also put ceramic tile down in a foyer with the cement board and so forth. And what I’m thinking – in my kitchen, if I went with the ceramic, then I’ve got a problem with putting the cement board down plus the ceramic tile. And I’d have to cut some doors. My question is: say I take the easy way out, would sticky-back tiles work over a vinyl floor?

    TOM: I think probably not too well. I’ve got another option for you. Have you considered laminate flooring? Are you familiar with it?

    MIKE: Yeah, yeah.

    TOM: So, laminate flooring is perfect for this situation because you can lay it down right over the old vinyl or you could pull the vinyl up if you choose to. It doesn’t have to be glued down. The boards simply lock together. The tongue and the groove joint of the laminate boards, whether they’re strips or whether they’re square planks, will lock together.

    And then, essentially, it will just sit on top of that floor. You’ll leave about a ¼-inch space between the edge of the laminate and the floor. You can use a piece of shoe molding to cover that between the baseboard molding and the laminate itself. And it doesn’t take up a lot of room. Not as much room as putting down – you mentioned the backer board and the tile and so on. It’s only going to take up about a ¼-inch or so.

    Now, I’ve had laminate floor in my kitchen for almost 20 years and you could hardly see any wear or tear on it at all. You’d be hard-pressed to find any worn areas. It’s really incredibly durable stuff.

    MIKE: So there’s no grout or anything? They just interlock, basically, like a tongue and groove, right?

    TOM: No. And the thing is you could find laminates that look like stone tile. You can find them that look like ceramic tile or marble and you could find them that look like hardwood floor. They’re absolutely beautiful and they’re super durable, so I think that’s the best solution for your situation.

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

    LESLIE: Ann in Missouri, you’ve got The Money Pit. What can we do for you tonight?

    ANN: I bought a home that sits on a foundation. And the people that lived in it before we did had it kind of fixed up like a living area. Well, when we bought it, we degutted the whole thing and noticed that while we were degutting it, when the rain came, it would flood. So we dug out around the basement but we left an awning on the top part of my mother-in-law house and got it all finished. And the last couple of years, when it rains, water comes in and my whole flooring – my beautiful flooring – is just welted up and ruined.

    TOM: So is this flooring – you mentioned that you dug around the foundation. Not quite sure why you did that because it probably wasn’t necessary. But is the water coming into a lower level, like a basement level, or is the water coming in around this roof – this awning roof?

    ANN: I’m not sure. I thought it was coming in around the basement so I pulled it out, tarred the whole thing except for that area. And it doesn’t leak anywhere else but that area where the awning is at now. And I noticed that there is a crack between the house and the actual concrete of the awning.

    TOM: You say “crack.” You mean between the roof, where the awning attaches, or do you mean at the foundation level?

    ANN: At the foundation level.

    TOM: OK, yeah. That’s called “rotation.” What happens is those concrete stoops pull away from the walls and they rotate.

    Look, if this is caused by water – if this water infiltration is caused by a basement leakage or foundation leakage, you’re not going to seal your house well enough to stop that from happening no matter how much tar you put on the foundation. So what I want you to do is to go to our website at MoneyPit.com. And on the home page, there’s an article about how to stop a basement from leaking that walks you through this step by step.

    But conceptually, what you’re going to do is regrade the foundation perimeter to make sure all that soil that you took out is tamped, now, well and packed in nice and tight around the foundation. We want it to slope down about 6 inches over 4 feet.

    And secondly, we want to know that you have gutters on the house, they’re clean, they’re free-flowing and the downspouts are discharging out 4 to 6 feet – not inches, feet – away from the foundation. If you keep the water from the roof and the natural rainfall away from that foundation, you won’t get any leakage into that area. It’s just not going to happen.

    So do that first and see if the leaks continue. If they continue, then we’ve got to look for another source. But I want you to get the most obvious one out of the way first.

    Ann, thanks for calling 888-MONEY-PIT.

    Well, recessed lighting is a popular way for homeowners to shed light in many rooms, including living rooms and dining rooms. We’ve got them throughout the first floor of our house. But there are some instances when you’d like to be able to control the brightness of that overhead lighting. And that’s tough to do when you’re using energy-efficient bulbs.

    LESLIE: Well, not so much anymore because home automation products are really making it very easy for you to control your lighting. But it’s usually only with those smart light bulbs that screw into fixtures. Well, now there’s a way to save both money and energy and control the brightness and the color of your recessed lighting.

    TOM: Yep. It’s a new product on the market called Commercial Electric Smart LED Downlight. And it’s really perfect anywhere you want LED lighting and it can be controlled with just the touch of a finger. Now, it has a 14-watt bulb but that delivers the same light as a 65-watt incandescent bulb but uses 78 percent less energy.

    LESLIE: And the bulb is going to install easily and it fits many existing 5- and 6-inch recessed cans. Plus, it’s going to work on that Wink platform, which is an app on your smartphone that lets you create exactly the mood you want in your room by dimming the lights and adjusting the color. You can go from warm white to daylight. It’s really very cool.

    TOM: Very neat. The bulbs are less than 30 bucks apiece at HomeDepot.com. And remember, The Home Depot is the destination for smart home solutions and technology, with a huge variety of brands and expansive platforms both in store and online at HomeDepot.com.

    LESLIE: Cindy in Louisiana, you’ve got The Money Pit. Tell us all about your roofing problems.

    CINDY: We have a camp and it’s got a – it’s a metal building with a – the pitch on the roof – there’s several different layers of the pitch. It goes down and so let’s be like three different pitches on it. We had it put in, oh, probably in ’07 or ’08. And then, around 2011, we decided to pull off that plastic-wrap insulation off the inside of the roof and spray on some of the spray insulation on it. And once we did that, that’s when we started noticing the leaks.

    So, we tried different things. We even had another company come out, pull out all the screws and put it new ones that were a little fatter and so – with the washers and all that mess with them, to seal it. That has not worked.

    We’ve been up there on that roof I don’t know how many different times, trying to put silicone on top of the screws after we clean it down along the seams. Sometimes, we’ve even had to get up there and he’s had to pull out the screw, put silicone in and put the screw back in. It’s just been an absolute nightmare to try.

    TOM: You said these are metal roof panels? Is it like corrugated roof? What kind of metal roof is it?

    CINDY: Right. It is. It’s like a corrugated roof.

    TOM: So they’re big metal panels, right?

    CINDY: Right.

    TOM: When you try to replace these screws, I guess you’re essentially taking the panels almost off the roof, right, because you’re removing all the fasteners?

    CINDY: Yeah. Well, we can’t – with the spray and everything else, we had even thought about could we take the roof off and start over. And now, with the spray down on it, we can’t even do that.

    TOM: Oh, so this spray is actually up on the underside of the metal roof itself?

    CINDY: Right. So it’s glued down now.

    TOM: Oh, boy. So there was basically no sheathing or anything underneath this?

    CINDY: No. When we started this project, we started it with someone who we thought – we didn’t know anything and we thought the person knew everything. And now we know better but we messed up and now we’re kind of caught in a bad position.

    TOM: So, yeah, it’s not a good situation. Because it’s kind of hard to try to repair something that probably wasn’t put in well to begin with. So I have one idea for you and that is to put in another layer of roofing over the roofing that you have now but put ice-and-water shield in between the layers.

    So, ice-and-water shield is very effective at sealing these kinds of leaks. It’s specifically designed to seal around fasteners. And if you were to – if it was possible for you to put another layer of metal roofing over this but put ice-and-water shield in between, that would definitely stop the leaks from happening.

    Short of that, I think this is a situation where the roof has to come off and you really have to do it right from the get-go, because I don’t think – the roof was just put on, I guess, over some sort of furring strips or something like that. There was never any ice-and-water shield underneath that. And so I’m not surprised that it does leak, especially from driving rain. I don’t think you can rely just on the fasteners or even fasteners that have rubber gaskets on them to keep that kind of a roof completely leak-free.

    CINDY: Alright. Well, I tried. Thank you.

    TOM: Alright. Good luck with that project. Thanks for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT, 888-666-3974.

    I wish we could give everybody a quick fix. But sometime we just can’t, especially when you have a roof that’s been going so wrong on so many levels for so long. You just can’t bring it back.

    LESLIE: Up next, are you looking for that wood-burning fire feel without the wood-burning fire hassles? Well, Richard Tretheway from This Old House has tips for converting that old fireplace into a safe, new and easy-to-maintain one, so stick around.

    MARILU: Hi. This is Marilu Henner from The Marilu Henner Show. And I’m obsessed with these guys. You’re listening to The Money Pit, my buddies Tom Kraeutler and Leslie Segrete.

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

    LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

    TOM: And hey, we can’t wait to hear some home improvement questions from the place where everything’s bigger: Texas. Brand-new station just dialed in. WTAW-FM in Buffalo, Texas is the newest Money Pit affiliate. They’re at 103.5 on the dial. You’ll hear The Money Pit Saturdays from 7:00 to 9:00 a.m. Central Time on WTAW.

    Welcome to The Money Pit family, Buffalo, Texas.

    LESLIE: Jack in Florida is on the line and has a question about a leak. What can we do for you?

    JACK: Got an outdoor marble fountain, like an Italian travertine, natural-stone fountain? But the bowl has got – bowl is porous and it leaks out just slowly. And I wondered if – what kind of product I might skim that inner surface of the bowl with.

    TOM: Yeah, that’s an interesting question. I would think, probably, an epoxy compound – an epoxy paint. Because, as you say, it’s very porous. We want something that’s going to last, perhaps be easy to clean so you can wipe it down at the end of the season. So I would think that if you drained it out and dried it really, really well and use an epoxy patching – an epoxy-paint compound – it’s basically two parts. It’s a chemical dry, so you have the base and then you have the hardener. And you mix them together and then you have an hour or two to work with it. And then once it dries, it really is quite solid and has very good adhesion.

    JACK: OK. I guess I’ve never heard of that. What …?

    TOM: You see it a lot for garage floors, basement floors and sidewalks. You’ll see it in home centers. QUIKRETE makes a version of it and there’s a number of other manufacturers, as well.

    JACK: OK, excellent. And now, you think that would withstand the weather in the winter?

    TOM: Yeah. No, I think it would.

    JACK: Beautiful. Thanks so much.

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

    LESLIE: Well, a wood-burning fireplace delivers a natural heat, a beautiful, crackling glow that you really can’t replace. But while that warm glow may feel good, they’re actually not really very efficient and are a lot of work to feed and maintain.

    TOM: That’s right. A better option might be to take that old wood-burning fireplace and upgrade it with an insert. This Old House plumbing-and-heating contractor Richard Trethewey is here to explain.

    Hey, Richard.

    RICHARD: Hey, guys.

    TOM: So, what exactly is a fireplace insert?

    RICHARD: You know, an insert is basically a fireproof box that’s surrounded by steel or cast-iron and then fronted by insulated glass. It creates a closed-combustion system. The steel or cast-iron helps to trap the heat. And some inserts actually have a blower that pushes the hot air back into the room through front vents.

    TOM: So does that improve the efficiency over a standard fireplace?

    RICHARD: Absolutely. Most people don’t realize that regular wood fireplaces actually do very, very little to heat up a room. In fact, they typically pull warm air from inside the house and send it right up the chimney. You sit in front of that fire and for the first little bit, you’re getting plenty of heat.

    TOM: Right.

    RICHARD: But as soon as that draft is going up that chimney, all of a sudden you realize that – “Wait a minute. I’m pulling more air out of that building – because I’ve increased that uplift in the chimney – than I’m ever getting out of the fireplace.”

    TOM: Right.

    RICHARD: Another problem is pollutants. Asthma or allergy sufferers may have respiratory issues when you have a wood-burning fireplace. And wood-burning fireplaces also send a lot of air pollution into the atmosphere, as you can’t really control how much air is mixed with how much fuel.

    TOM: And you’re burning all kinds of different fuels and there’s all kinds of off-gases occurring as a result of that process.

    RICHARD: That’s right. Right. And then don’t forget: you can also cause home fires. I mean there’s plenty of stories about houses that have gone – you build up creosote inside that chimney – build it up, build it up, build it up – and now, after a while, you can have a fire inside that chimney.

    LESLIE: So, now, Richard, when it comes to a gas-fireplace insert, obviously, there has to be a lot of mechanics, if you will, installed to your existing wood-burning fireplace to make this function with a gas-burning insert.

    RICHARD: Yeah. It’s not as complicated as you’d think. It’s a unit that slides right into the opening: that standard opening that you see on the fireplace, where it used to have the wood – the grates for the wood. And then it seals tight. And now, what you have to do is you have to find a way to get air from outside into the combustion area.

    Now, that’s done a couple of different ways. One would be to cut a hole and drill up through the floor to bring some air from outside, right into the bottom of the firebox. But most often, with the gas units, it’s actually a pipe within a pipe. So up inside the existing chimney, you fish a 6-inch pipe and then a 4-inch pipe inside it or a 5 and 3, depending on how big the fireplace is. And now the exhaust products go up through the smaller inner pipe and then the combustion air is pulled in down through the outer, larger pipe.

    And that really means that when you turn it on, you’re getting every bit of the air from outside, you’re getting a perfect exhaust to outside and then all the heat you make, that’s available, actually comes into the building. Not all the heat; some heat goes out in the flue products. But most of the heat you make is actually going into the building as usable heat.

    LESLIE: But what about the gas line?

    RICHARD: The gas line has to be run, certainly. With modern, flexible gas-supply lines, it’s a lot easier than it used to be. It used to be you had to cut plain steel and thread each piece or assemble it that way. So it’s a lot easier to do it but you do have to run a gas line.

    TOM: So, there certainly are different types of inserts then. We just talked about gas. There’s also a plain wood-burning insert. Would that – if you just use a wood-burning insert inside of a wood-burning fireplace, does it make that fireplace more efficient?

    RICHARD: Absolutely. I don’t want to overlook those because people still love a wood fire, the way that that flame comes off the wood and the way it crackles. It’s mesmerizing. But what you can do is if you do the wood fire – the wood insert, now you get all the best of both worlds: you get the wood fire, you get the air from outside but you don’t lose that heat up the chimney. So you can leave that fire and let it run down and not worry about the entire house emptying out of its heat.

    LESLIE: Will it utilize the existing flue or do you have to vent it differently?

    RICHARD: No, it could use – utilize the existing flue because you’re going to go there – with that case, Leslie, you have to make sure that you find a way to get air for combustion to come in. So you generally have to drill or find some hole in the bottom of the fire hearth. You have to find a way to have a duct to go down and then to outside so air can come in and stay inside that sealed – yeah, sealed space, yes.

    LESLIE: From underneath.

    TOM: And speaking of efficiency, what about pellet inserts? There are pellet stoves.

    RICHARD: Yep.

    TOM: They also have pellet inserts. Are they …?

    RICHARD: Right. Pellets are the rage. Pellets are a fabulous future source because we’ve got plenty of sawdust, we’ve got plenty of wood chips and byproducts, you know.

    TOM: And that’s a pellet is? It’s basically ground-up sawdust?

    RICHARD: Yeah. Our franchise is based up here in New England, so we’ve got Maine and New Hampshire filled with woods. We’ve got plenty of forest where there’s an issue with what to do with this byproduct. And pellets have – people that have them love them. And they’re not – they don’t have the same look as a wood fire. But their efficiency – the fact that you can meter, also, your fuel use, meaning you can put it in – when you light up a fire with five logs, you’ve got to wait for those five logs to burn down. With pellets, what they like so much is two things: one is you can meter it so beautifully and the other is how little ash you have from a pellet.

    TOM: So when you say “meter it,” you mean the speed with which you sort of feed the pellets in, right?

    RICHARD: Correct. Right. You always have that issue when you have a wood fire. “Do I put another two logs on or am I going to bed within an hour?”

    LESLIE: Right.

    TOM: Right.

    RICHARD: With a pellet stove, it’s really like having a solid version of oil or gas where you can put in just what you need. And then as soon as you stop feeding it, it will die down ever so slightly in a much more controlled way.

    TOM: Sounds like it’s almost like having a thermostat: the faster I feed it, the hotter it’s going to get.

    RICHARD: That’s right. Right. Right. There’s a lot of potential on the horizon with this use of sort of the wood byproducts to burn renewable …

    LESLIE: Yeah. And a lot of people – we were getting calls, for a while, from the Montana area about people using pellet stoves as their primary heat source.

    RICHARD: Yeah, yeah, yeah. There’s an interesting group up in Maine and New Hampshire that really has the dream to have a delivery method to houses, just like the old days. The ice man came and the oil guy came that have a chute on the side of your house and you would come and the pellets would be dumped right in. And then – and really, if you don’t have to travel that material too far, it actually has some real potential.

    TOM: Now, let’s talk, finally, about chimney cleaning and cleaning these vents. Has it become more complicated because now you’ve kind of blocked off the front of the fireplace?

    RICHARD: Yeah. I mean they – generally, these fireplace inserts can disconnect pretty straightforward. Just as it assembled pretty easily, you can break it apart and pull it out.

    LESLIE: Yeah. But you don’t want to be doing that every time you clean it.

    RICHARD: The fact is you should – no, I know that. But the gas ones don’t need a lot of cleaning. So the gas fireplaces – it’s only when you have wood products and particularly with conventional wood, where the creosote is rich. The pellet fire is much cleaner; you don’t have as much creosote, so your need to clean the chimney is reduced slightly.

    TOM: Wow. Great advice. Richard Trethewey, the plumbing-and-heating contractor on TV’s This Old House, I think a lot of folks are going to be looking at these inserts this coming winter season. Thank you so much for stopping by The Money Pit.

    RICHARD: Insert fire here.

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

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

    Still ahead, are you short on time this season? We’ve got the one decorating idea that packs the most punch, when The Money Pit returns 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.

    Pick up the phone, give us a call at 888-MONEY-PIT. You will get help with your home improvement dilemma, debacle or even just a question. Maybe it’s a preemptive question from when something goes south.

    Plus, we’re giving away a very cool prize this hour that you can have a lot of fun with. And you can also learn a whole heck of a lot about what’s going on in the walls of your home. We’ve got up for grabs the Seek Thermal Reveal Camera.

    Now, what you can do with this is it’s a camera that’s going to check and see temperature differences within your walls. So, you can use that to see if you’ve got spots where you’re missing insulation, maybe you’ve got an overloaded circuit, maybe there’s moisture in the walls. It’s really amazing.

    And then another cool part is you can actually, in complete darkness, detect movement in the distance from people or wildlife. I know we’ve always got kittens and possums and raccoons and strange, little critters walking around in my backyard and I’d love to see what they’re up to.

    TOM: So, it could be like a Sasquatch-watching tool. Is that what you’re saying?

    LESLIE: Completely. It’s all about finding Bigfoot. That’s exactly what I’m going to do with it.

    TOM: Alright. Well, give us a call if you’d like a chance to win that. Going out to one caller drawn at random. It’s worth 399 bucks. The number is 1-888-MONEY-PIT. We want to hear your home improvement or decorating dilemma at 888-666-3974.

    Well, if all your friends and neighbors accuse you of being Scrooge because you’ve not decorated your home at all, you can do one thing this weekend that will add some sparkle. Why not decorate your front door?

    LESLIE: Yeah, think about it, guys. It’s the first thing your guests are going to see. So your door – and by extension of that, the whole entryway – really leave big impressions.

    Now, you can easily dress the door up for the season with a classic Christmas wreath, silver bells, even glass ornaments. And you can dress up your wreath to look like pretty much any type of theme for the season. So, go for it and make something pretty that you’re going to love.

    Or why not just hang a set of sleigh bells on the doorknob or on the knocker? And that’ll give a fun, festive jingle every time your guests come through the door. Another easy holiday update – and this is great in houses with kids and it’ll also look super cute on interior doors, so keep that in mind if you don’t want to put it out front – is you can wrap your door in decorative paper and then crisscross the door in a big, wide ribbon. And suddenly, the entire door – and therefore your house – really looks like one huge gift-wrapped package.

    TOM: Now, you can do a bit of sort of holiday transition deeper into the house, and maybe even right outside the front door, with container gardening. So, you could create some potted plants that have seasonal greens in them. You might put out a dish full of pinecones or wreaths, that sort of thing, to really extend that welcome deep into your house.

    So, get to it and all your friends and neighbors will know that you, too, in fact have the Christmas spirit.

    888-666-3974. Let’s get back to the phones.

    Leslie, who’s next?

    LESLIE: Mark in North Carolina is having some issues with door paint. Tell us what’s going on.

    MARK: I’ve got a metal door. It faces east. The sun rises on it. It’s a solid-white steel door but it’s got a solid-glass storm door in front of it. And I have painted it for the last 19 years and the paint peels off. Looks like Shirley Temple’s curls.

    TOM: So here’s what happens. When you keep putting paint upon paint upon paint, eventually those layers just delaminate and they will not stick. So, what you have to do, at this point, is pull that door off and strip it all the way down to the metal. You need to get all that old paint off.

    Once all that old paint is off, you sand it very lightly. And then I want you to use an oil-based primer, like a Rust-Oleum. Paint it on, let it dry. And once it’s good and solid, then you can put one or two coats of topcoat over that.

    But I think you’re putting good paint over bad paint and it’s just finding a new layer and separating. And you’re right: when you have those storm doors on, it does add to the stress of that finish. But I think if you strip down all that old paint, get it back down to the metal, sand it up, put a primer on it and a couple of coats of finish paint over that, I think it’ll stick that time, Mark.

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

    Still to come, cork flooring. They are trendy and they are eco-friendly, as well. But are they good for every room? We’re going to talk cork floors in bathrooms, when The Money Pit continues after this.

    ANNOUNCER: The Money Pit is brought to you by Glisten. Glisten makes it easy to clean, freshen and maintain your dishwasher, disposer, microwave and washing machine. So improve the performance of your appliances with cleaning solutions from Glisten, the machine-cleaning experts. Visit GlistenCleaners.com.

    TOM: 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: And if you’re getting ready to host a holiday gathering, you want to check out our Holiday Home Makeover Sweepstakes going on, right now, on The Money Pit’s Facebook page at Facebook.com/TheMoneyPit. Enter right now for a chance to win three great prizes to help you host your guests in style.

    LESLIE: Yeah. We’ve got a grand prize up for grabs, which is a Tranquility Queen-Size Mattress with Foundation from BedInABox. It’s worth $1,548.

    Visit Facebook.com/TheMoneyPit to enter. Got a lot of great prizes up for grabs and this is a super-awesome prize to grab for yourself or perhaps a holiday gift.

    Alright. And while you’re online, you can post a question, just like Annie did who writes: “I’m wondering what your advice would be regarding putting a cork floor in a bathroom. Good choice or should I pass?”

    TOM: No, cork’s actually a really good choice for a bathroom. It’s very eco-friendly and it’s gaining a lot of popularity for very good reasons. I mean it’s very attractive, it’s soft underfoot, it looks great. And it’s a good choice because it lasts pretty much indefinitely.

    I’ve seen cork in homes that are 40 or 50 years old and still in very good shape. In fact, you know Frank Lloyd Wright, the famous architect who built that wonderful home called Fallingwater? Those bathrooms were – had cork floors and they’re still in good shape today. So, great choice for your bath.

    LESLIE: Alright. Next up, we have Gabe who writes: “Have you ever heard of or used insulating paint additive that’s said to improve the heating and cooling of your home by painting the product on your walls and ceiling of your home and inside the attic? The paint additive contains ceramic microspheres that have reflective properties. I’m interested in finding out how well it works. It’s a NASA spin-off, according to what I’ve read.”

    TOM: Yeah. From the paint manufacturer, no doubt. The concept of insulating paint has been one that’s been kicking around for at least a decade, to my knowledge. But it’s not very popular. I haven’t really seen any convincing data that it works as promised. I suspect if it really worked really well, every single manufacturer would have it.

    So, my suggestion would be to focus your energy-saving projects on stuff that does work, that’s not sort of new-age or has a lot of claims to it that aren’t sustained – aren’t really substantiated, like making sure you have enough attic insulation and sealing your windows and doors and putting gaskets behind your outlets to stop drafts from coming through. You know, a lot of folks will ignore all these basic, energy-saving tasks and go to the sort of weird-off stuff, like insulating paint and stuff like that.

    So, I would do the simple stuff first.

    LESLIE: Well, the gimmicks are always so much better than the tried-and-true methods, right, Tom?

    TOM: Yeah. These really make for a better water-cooler conversation, that’s for sure.

    Alright. If you are tackling a project this week and you want one thing that you should do to cut those heating costs, you want to go upstairs in your attic and measure the amount of insulation you have. Most homes don’t have enough insulation. If you are in a colder climate and you don’t go up there and find that you have at least 12 inches of insulation, you need to add more.

    Fortunately, it’s a really simple project. Just get unfaced fiberglass batts and lay them over the existing insulation. Remember not to crush them, because then they won’t insulate very well. And you will get an instant reduction in those heating costs.

    LESLIE: Yeah. And you’ll be a lot more comfortable, as well.

    TOM: This is The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show on air and online at MoneyPit.com. Hey, thank you so much for spending this hour with us. We hope we’ve given you some tips, some ideas, some advice, some inspiration to help you avoid some perspiration as you tackle these projects around your house.

    And if you’re planning projects for the year ahead, remember you can reach us, 24/7, at 888-MONEY-PIT, as well as on our website at MoneyPit.com. We want to hear from 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.


    (Copyright 2015 Squeaky Door Productions, Inc. No portion of this transcript or audio file may be reproduced in any format without the express written permission of Squeaky Door Productions, Inc.)

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