Soil Testing, Transplanting Plants, Home Improvement Contracts and More
(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.)
BEGIN HOUR 1 TEXT:
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: And spring is officially here. Even if it doesn’t feel like spring, perhaps, where you are now, it is certainly the time to get ready to plant, to get ready to tackle home improvement projects, to get enthused about fixing up your money pit. We’re here to help. The number is 1-888-MONEY-PIT. 888-666-3974 is the number you need to know for the first step towards getting those projects done around your house.
No, we’re not going to come out there and help you do the projects ourselves. (Leslie chuckles) We’re going to talk you through it, though; give you some tips and advice to make them easier, to make them more efficient, to make sure they come out exactly the way you intend for them to be.
We’re going to start off this hour by talking about spring planting. You know, they say that the green thumb, Leslie, is the secret to a successful garden.
LESLIE: (chuckling) Well, I don’t have one. Not too sure …
TOM: Well, I don’t have one but you know, it may not be the green thumb, either; it is more likely the soil in the garden that makes that difference. So, we’re going to talk to you about the benefits of soil testing. A lot of testing going on now to check out the dirt before you plant the garden. Not that complicated; we’re going to have some expert advice, in just a bit, on how to do just that.
LESLIE: And you know what? Also ahead, we’re going to give you some step-by-step tips for transplanting items around your yard. You know, we cannot stress how important maintaining the outside of your home actually is and some well-placed greenery and a nicely landscaped façade are not that hard to accomplish. We’re going to walk you through it, a little later.
TOM: And of course, spring is the time when you really get to dive into home improvement projects and if any of them involve a contractor, having a good agreement is the best way to avoid conflicts. It’s all about communication.
So this hour, we’re going to take a few minutes to talk about the differences between a contract, a guarantee and a warranty and how they can actually help make sure that you get exactly what you bargained for if you’re hiring a pro to help you with a project.
LESLIE: And as you go about your spring cleaning and move the furniture around your house, how many times have you come across cords and plugs that are completely smushed between the wall and the furniture?
TOM: Very dangerous.
LESLIE: Right? It’s actually a fire hazard and there is a solution. And we’re giving away a set of Hug-A-Plugs today, which are worth almost 60 bucks. And this safely allows less clearance between the furniture and the outlets.
TOM: So the smashing is OK?
LESLIE: So the smashing doesn’t happen; therefore, OK.
TOM: Well, alright. Give us a call right now if you’d like to win that prize worth 60 bucks and have your home improvement question answered. The number is 1-888-MONEY-PIT, 888-666-3974. Let’s get to it.
LESLIE: Alright. Todd in Florida, you’ve got The Money Pit. How can we help you today?
TODD: Hey. Thanks for taking my call. I have a living room in our house that we’d like to use as a home office; we spend a lot of time there.
TOM: (overlapping voices) OK.
TODD: And we’re going to put new carpet in; it needs new carpet. We’ll probably expect to be in the house for about a year before we sell it. One of the things that I don’t want to do is have this brand-new carpet in our living room and then put office furniture on it. And heavy office furniture leaves those little shapes; you know, the corners and the circles and stuff that it will?
TODD: So my question is, is there a kind of carpet you can recommend or a pad or something that will help me minimize those spots or maybe something I do to the furniture itself that will minimize those spots?
TOM: Well, I would think a Berber carpet or something that’s a very low pile because they have carpet for offices; it’s a commercial-grade carpet. It’s always very low pile. And the second thing is, probably the area of the home office that gets the most use is, of course, the chair running under the desk. And for there, you really need to have a pad down on the floor; one of those chair/glider pads that sticks to the …
TODD: Oh, those – the clear, plastic things?
TOM: Clear, plastic ones, right. And just keep the chair on that and that will, you know, help you quite a bit from stretching out the carpet, which is another thing that happens, as well as wearing it out in that space.
LESLIE: Yeah. And when you’re choosing your carpet, you don’t – anything that has the word “pile” in it, you don’t want because a pile is when they take the loop and they cut it so it’s like an open, almost – traditionally, you would think of it as a shag but you can get the pile in super-short or long, depending on the look you want. So you want something that’s looped; you want a closed loop.
TODD: If we have those spots in the carpet already, is there anything we can do to take them up? Do you brush them? Do you vacuum – yeah, obviously, vacuuming.
TOM: Have you already put the carpet down and started the process?
TODD: No, no, no.
TODD: This is the just the old carpet we have now; I was curious if I could replace what we have now, which is a real short – unfortunately, it’s a pile carpet but if there’s a way to kind of compromise.
TOM: (overlapping voices) Yeah.
LESLIE: (overlapping voices) Pile. You need an extended period of time on your hands but (Leslie and Todd chuckle) we have a coffee table that just indents our rug crazily and I like to move it quite often. So, the trick is you need a very high-powered vacuum and a fork and a couple of hours on your hand. (Todd chuckles)
I generally take a dinner fork and we’ll just sort of get in there and lift up all of the pile and sort of poke, poke, poke, poke, poke and then vacuum and then poke, poke, poke. It works; it just takes a while.
TODD: So what you’re recommending is hardwood. (Leslie chuckles)
TOM: (overlapping voices) Yes. Or laminate.
LESLIE: (overlapping voices) Laminate.
TOM: Or laminate.
TODD: Or laminate.
TODD: Alright. Well, thank you very much.
TOM: You’re very welcome, Todd. Thanks so much for calling us at 1-888-MONEY-PIT.
LESLIE: Dolly in Virginia has a question about a porch. How can we help you?
DOLLY: Yes. I have a back porch and it’s been down for maybe eight years and I never sealed it. I washed it maybe once or twice but I like to know if I can turn the wood upside down, wash it again and then seal it. Does that sound OK? Because wood costs so much.
TOM: (overlapping voices) Dolly, why do you want to turn the wood upside down?
DOLLY: I don’t know. I just thought I would. (Tom laughs)
LESLIE: Is it that it’s splintering or blistered?
LESLIE: Is there wear and tear?
DOLLY: It just looks ugly so I figured if I turn it upside down, wash it and then seal it, that would be OK.
TOM: (overlapping voices) OK. Well, what about sanding it?
DOLLY: Well, maybe that’s what I have to do, too.
TOM: Yeah. Well, you could do that probably with the surface you have right now. I mean, typically, we recommend – on decks, if you have cracked boards, you could turn them upside down and – because the underside is usually in perfectly good condition. On a porch, it’s certainly a lot more complicated, so I would encourage you to really spend some time sanding down that surface and then resealing it or repainting it. I don’t necessarily think you have to take your porch apart.
DOLLY: OK. That’s what I’ve got to (audio gap) then. Thank you for giving me the good answer. (chuckles) And less work. (chuckles) Thanks.
TOM: Alright, Dolly. Thanks so much for calling us at 1-888-MONEY-PIT.
LESLIE: You are tuned to The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show on air and online at MoneyPit.com. Now, you can call in your home repair or your home improvement question 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Just pick up the phone and give us a call at 1-888-MONEY-PIT.
Up next, spring has sprung. How green is your thumb? Actually, getting your garden to grow has a lot more to do with the dirt. We’re going to tell you why, after this.
ANNOUNCER: The Money Pit is brought to you by Therma-Tru Doors, the nation’s leading manufacturer of fiberglass entry and patio door systems. Therma-Tru doors are Energy Star-qualified and provide up to five times the insulation of a wood door. To learn more, visit ThermaTru.com. Now, here are Tom and Leslie.
TOM: Making good homes better, welcome back to The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show on air and online at MoneyPit.com. I’m Tom Kraeutler.
LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.
TOM: You know, electrical fires kill hundreds of people each year and they cause about a billion dollars in damage. More than 80 percent of fires are caused by arcing and this can happen when a cord is damaged by, say, being jammed tightly against a bed or a wall.
Now, the cord will eventually wear through and begin to arc and throw off some sparks and that’s why, this hour, we’re giving away a great prize that can solve that problem. We’re giving away three ten-packs of Hug-A-Plug. This is a device that’s an adapter that allows the cords to be plugged-in parallel to the wall, so it’s a real space-saving way to plug things in. And it’s also a lot safer; it stops you from the possibility of smashing those cords and causing an electrical fire. The prize is worth 59.95. Give us a call right now at 1-888-MONEY-PIT for your chance to win. One caller we talk to on the air this hour is going to receive that set of Hug-A-Plugs worth almost 60 bucks.
888-666-3974 is the telephone number. Let’s get right back to it.
Leslie, who’s next?
LESLIE: Marilyn in Missouri, welcome to The Money Pit. How can we help you?
MARILYN: We bought an old house and the people had dogs in the house and a bunch of old wood in there. Anyway, we cleaned it all out; we tore the carpet out. The house is aired out since last March – which is just about a year now – and there still is a smell. Not bad as it was but it’s still there and we want to know what to do to get rid of it.
TOM: OK. What kinds of materials are we talking about here? Is there carpet down that was there from the old folks?
MARILYN: There was but we tore it all out and it’s just plain, wood floors; old, wood floors are all there is now.
LESLIE: So you left – was it a hardwood that was under the carpet? You left that there? Are you dealing with the subfloor or you put something else on top?
MARILYN: No. It’s just the wood floor that was there.
LESLIE: That could be the major issue.
TOM: Is the wood floor like a finished wood floor or is it like a subfloor, like a plywood floor?
MARILYN: No. It’s just plain, wood floor; there’s no finish on it. There’s no subfloor or anything else, I don’t think.
TOM: (overlapping voices) Oh, OK. So what is it, like a stripped floor? Like a hard …
MARILYN: Oh, there is a subfloor but this is the wood on top of it.
TOM: So this is like a hardwood floor?
MARILYN: Hardwood floor, yes.
TOM: Have you been thinking about finishing it?
MARILYN: Yeah. But we want to make sure we can get the smell out first or ….
TOM: I have a feeling that’s part of the problem because the floor is unfinished.
LESLIE: (overlapping voices) Yeah. Is the finish.
TOM: If you sand this floor down and finish it, any odor that’s in it is going to be sealed.
LESLIE: Sealed in with it.
TOM: You really need to – you cleaned up as much as you can here.
TOM: The only thing you can do is finish the floor, paint all the walls and ceilings but make sure you prime them with an oil-based primer.
LESLIE: Because you want to seal in whatever odor is stuck to that wallboard.
TOM: (overlapping voices) Exactly. And in fact, I think it’s – I think – and there’s a topcoat that you can use and I think it’s – Dutch Boy has an odor-eliminating paint that contains Arm & Hammer – like a baking soda component to it.
TOM: Where once the paint dries, it has a certain capability of odor absorbency sort of power to it.
MARILYN: OK. Thank you very much.
TOM: Thanks so much for calling us at 1-888-MONEY-PIT.
LESLIE: David in Oregon needs some help with a bathroom renovation. What can we do for you?
DAVID: I’ve got a problem with the closet being, oh, 12 to 14 inches wide and it’s at the foot of the tub and I would like to make the closet bigger. My question is do they make a tub – a steel tub – that’s shorter than five feet?
LESLIE: Hmm. I don’t know about a steel tub but …
TOM: I think it goes down to about four or four-and-a-half, doesn’t it?
LESLIE: Yeah. But are they fiberglass or are they cast-iron? I know American Standard makes one as small as four feet in length and they also have a four-and-a-half foot – is going to be fairly standard. Sixty inches – five feet – is the basic length on a tub, which is pretty much what you’re going to find.
But if you do take a look, I think American Standard has two: one is called the Huron and one is called the Mackenzie and one is four feet and one is four-and-a-half feet. But if you do some search online, you’ll be able to find a shorter tub; I mean not that much but it might give you the clearance you need for the closet.
DAVID: OK. Thank you.
TOM: You’re very welcome. Thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.
LESLIE: Alright. Now we’ve got Tommy on the line, who is dealing with a foundation issue. What can we do for you today?
TOMMY: Yes. Thanks for taking my call. My wife and I recently moved into our rent house and we’re slowly but surely realizing all the problems with it.
TOM: (chuckling) OK.
TOMMY: And we had it leveled three years ago and it’s already worse than it was before and our contractor told us that the dirt underneath the house is really soft and moves around a lot. And so I had him put one foot – like a foot-and-a-half by a foot-and-a-half by a foot-and-a-half – concrete pads underneath, where it touches the ground.
TOMMY: And then I wanted to know if that’s going to solve the problem or if we’re going to expect more movement in the future.
TOM: Is your contractor a certified structural engineer?
TOM: Yeah. And that’s the problem. You have a lot of contractors out there that offer engineering solutions without having the technical knowledge and training that they really need to do that. So, if you’re dealing with a structural issue, I would stop dealing with contractors. I would hire a professional engineer to survey the problem. Spend the money on the advice; this way, you won’t waste the money on a repair that you don’t need or one that you’re going to have to repeat.
TOM: But have an engineer analyze the situation and prescribe a specific repair for you. This is important for a couple of reasons. Not only is it going to be the right thing to do, it’s going to solve your problem. When it comes time to sell that house, Tommy, with a professional engineer, you’ll have a report that can show a prospective buyer: “Look, we had an issue. We had an engineer review it. Here is his report. He made a specific recommendation about how it should be fixed.”
Then, you bring the contractor in; have them fix it according to the engineer’s plan. Then, you can have the engineer come back and certify that it was done right and that’s essentially like a pedigree. So whenever you have a severe, structural issue like that, you don’t want to leave it up to the contractor to try to figure something out.
TOMMY: Right. That’s great advice and that’s why I called you guys. (chuckles)
TOM: (chuckling) Alright, Tommy. Good luck with that project.
TOMMY: (overlapping voices) Thanks.
TOM: Thanks so much for calling us at 1-888-MONEY-PIT.
LESLIE: Jennifer in Alaska is dealing with some moisture issues in her house. What can we do for you?
JENNIFER: Yeah, actually, I have question regarding our – I guess our roof and our ceiling. We have a low-pitch roof with cathedral ceilings. The roof doesn’t leak but our ceiling drips on us.
TOM: You have a low-pitched roof with cathedral ceilings. The roof is not leaking but your ceiling is dripping. What’s dripping? Is it condensation?
JENNIFER: I think it’s condensation from 30 years worth of moisture saturating the insulation.
TOM: Hmm. That’s not good. You know, cathedral ceilings have to be very carefully ventilated and, typically, the way you vent them is this: let’s say that the roof rafter is a 2×10; you would put in like six inches worth of insulation and leave four inches between the insulation and the underside of the roof sheathing. If you are so saturated that you’re getting that level of condensation, it is almost a given that you probably have some decay inside that roof cavity and eventually you’re going to end up having to open it up to fix all that. In fact, the roof sheathing may very well be delaminated by this time.
JENNIFER: Yeah. We were just wondering the best way to fix it, I guess.
TOM: Well, the best way to fix it is to take the roof apart from the outside. How many layers of shingles do you have on there?
JENNIFER: It’s not shingles; it’s torch down.
TOM: Oh, it’s torch down. Well, oh, man.
JENNIFER: Alright. Do we have to add an attic or is there a way to fix it without actually putting trusses and an attic?
TOM: (overlapping voices) Well, if you took the ceiling down from the inside – how thick do you think your roof rafters are?
JENNIFER: Think they’re 2×12 or 16; I’m not sure.
TOM: Yeah? Because what you should have is you should have ventilation at the soffit area at the overhang. And if you don’t have a soffit, you can create it with something called a drip-edge vent. Then you should have more ventilation at the top edge.
You want air to move into the roof cavity, up underneath the roof sheathing and then exit at the ridge area, so to speak. So that’s what you want to try to create. You need more ventilation and probably less insulation and that will stop the condensation from forming.
JENNIFER: OK. Alrighty. Thank you.
TOM: You’re welcome. Good luck with that project. Thanks so much for calling us at 1-888-MONEY-PIT.
That is a bad, bad ventilation problem right there, when it’s so bad that it’s condensing inside the house. And mold issue, too.
LESLIE: Yeah. And not good for, you know, indoor air quality and health issues.
LESLIE: You are tuned to The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show on air and online at MoneyPit.com.
Well, now that we are heading into spring – I mean, spring is here and we’re all waiting for that weather to warm up – a lot of us are thinking about doing some work in the yard. And transplanting things that you’ve already got growing successfully around your yard is a really great way to keep costs down.
But there are some things that you need to know to make sure that you have a successful transplant. First off, you want to wait until the weather is actually warm enough to do this. You don’t want to do it when you’re still going to get a frost and the ground is going to be a little bit frozen, especially if you live in an area where it can get quite chilly.
So when it’s warm enough, what you want to do is dig a hole as deep and about twice as wide as the clump of dirt that’s surrounding the roots of the plant that you want to transplant. Then you want to take the plant out of the bed or the pot and use a gardening trowel to sort of gently chop up that dirt ball, to loosen up the roots. Then, go ahead and put the roots into the hole and make sure that the dirt ball is level with the surrounding soil; a lot of people try to put it lower or raise it up. Make sure it’s level. Then you want to fill that hole halfway with dirt before filling the rest of that hole with water.
Now, once the water has drained into the soil, go ahead and fill the rest of the hole up with dirt, then gently pat that soil down. Now, you can add a few inches of mulch around the new plants to keep the weeds away and that’ll also help increase moisture retention. This is a great way to utilize what you’ve got around the yard; put new things that you’ve just picked up from the nursery. Either way, bottom line is you want to keep the outside of your money pit looking in tip-top shape and a nice, green garden is a great way to do that.
TOM: 888-666-3974. Give us a call right now with your home improvement project question.
Up next, another great spring planting tip coming up: knowing the makeup of your soil can help your garden grow. We’re going to find out exactly how to do that with tips from landscaping expert, Roger Cook, from This Old House, 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.
TOM: Right now at MoneyPit.com, spring cleaning tips from the experts at Consumer Reports. Learn how to clean everything from upholstery to ceiling fans. Just look for it in my blog at MoneyPit.com.
LESLIE: Chris in Connecticut needs some help choosing a new water heater and wants to go tankless. Tell us about it.
CHRIS: Hello. I have oil heat right now and a boiler and the temperature regulation is really off on my water and I was wondering if I could get a tankless water heater with oil heat or if I would be better off just going with an electric water heater or what options I have.
TOM: (overlapping voices) OK. Well, you can’t get – there’s no such thing as an oil-fired, tankless water heater.
TOM: You have a boiler now that’s supplying your domestic hot water?
TOM: OK. There’s a valve called a mixing valve that usually is what you need to adjust to control the temperature.
TOM: So this may be a situation where you just don’t have it set right.
TOM: Is the temperature of the water extreme? Is it way too hot?
CHRIS: Sometimes it gets really hot and then sometimes it’s just – you have the hot water all the way up and it’ll be cold.
TOM: Hmm. I would not necessarily look to replace that because with a boiler you have an endless supply of hot water with that type of setup. I mean some people complain because you have to run your boiler in the summer, essentially, to deliver hot water. But if it’s installed right, it’s not an issue.
And there’s a tank that you can put on the side of that that looks like a water heater; it’s called an AMTROL tank. And basically, it’s a heat exchanger where you use the heat of the boiler to transfer its heat to the water but it’s a little more stable and you don’t need that whole mixing valve situation. So there may be a couple of other options here, aside from just, you know, forgetting it and getting an electric water heater.
CHRIS: OK. That sounds like a good option.
TOM: So I would talk to an HVAC contractor, because I think that there’s probably a smarter solution.
TOM: You want to preserve the best of what you have, which is a reliable way to provide a lot of hot water. You just want to get the temperature situation under control.
CHRIS: OK. Thanks a lot.
TOM: You’re welcome. Thanks so much for calling us at 1-888-MONEY-PIT.
I have an AMTROL tank at my house.
LESLIE: You do?
TOM: Mm-hmm. Looks like a water heater but it’s a storage tank, so that means that the boiler doesn’t have to come on every time you need hot water.
LESLIE: Well, as you get ready for your spring planting, one piece of information that can really help you is knowing what type of soil you have.
TOM: You might think it’s a little too far to go for the home gardener or the do-it-yourself landscaper but it really is worth the effort. Here to tell us why is This Old House host, Kevin O’Connor, and lawn and garden expert, Roger Cook.
And Kevin, getting your garden to grow is not so much about having a green thumb, because it is all really about the dirt.
KEVIN: You’ve got that right. In landscaping and gardening, it’s all about the dirt. But fortunately, you don’t have to guess what’s in your soil; you can find out exactly what type of soil you have and what you can do to improve it, with a simple test.
ROGER: And you need to know that to get the soil right, so things can grow. I like to do a soil test whenever I’m opening a new planting bed, a vegetable garden or if I have a plant or group of plants that aren’t doing well.
A good soil test would tell you the composition of the soil, whether it’s sand, silt, clay and nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus and potash; also, the acidity of the soil or pH and it’ll give you specific recommendations on how to amend your soil.
KEVIN: Alright. So how does a homeowner go about getting their soil tested?
ROGER: You can purchase at-home kits but you’ll get better results if you order a test through the local extension service of your state university. For a small fee – usually $10 to $20 – you can send a sample of soil to their lab for a complete analysis.
KEVIN: And for more information on how to get a soil test, go to ThisOldHouse.com.
TOM: I’ll never think of dirt the same way again. (Kevin chuckles)
ROGER: Hey, Tom. Not dirt; it’s soil.
TOM: Ah. OK, I’ll remember that. Thanks, Roger. (Roger chuckles) Thanks, Kevin.
KEVIN: Our pleasure.
LESLIE: Alright. Those are great tips, guys.
If you want some more great, home improvement advice you can watch This Old House on television and This Old House is brought to you by Cub Cadet. Cub Cadet – you can’t do any better.
TOM: Up next, tips to help you know how to contract with your contractor so you can make sure the job comes out as promised and as expected. We’ll have that, after this.
ANNOUNCER: The Money Pit is brought to you by Generac and the Generac Automatic Standby Generator. Be protected and never worry about power outages again. Visit your favorite home improvement center or call 888-GENERAC or visit Generac.com. Your home will stay on the next time the power goes out. Now, here are Tom and Leslie.
TOM: Making good homes better, welcome back to The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show. I’m Tom Kraeutler.
LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete and the number here is 1-888-MONEY-PIT.
This hour, we’re giving away a safety product that can actually help cut the risk of a fire. And one lucky caller that we talk to on the air is going to win three ten-packs of Hug-A-Plugs. Now, the Hug-A-Plug – it’s an adapter that allows you to plug your electrical appliances, lamps, whatnot – plug them in but parallel to the wall because more than 80 percent of electrical fires are actually caused by arcing.
Now, this can happen when a cord is damaged and starts to fray from being squished between your piece of furniture and the wall. So this completely eliminates that problem. It’s a prize worth 60 bucks, so give us a call to win at 1-888-MONEY-PIT.
Now, we know that the folks listening to this show are both do-it-yourselfers and direct-it-yourselfers; people that are going to hire a contractor. And if that’s you, it is now the busy season for home improvement contractors but don’t let that cause important steps to fall through the cracks.
First of all, written contracts are the absolute bare minimum required for all home improvement projects. The contract is the tool that basically spells out everyone’s expectations and responsibilities for the project. But relatively new on the home improvement scene are something called project guarantees.
Now, these were created in response to the public’s concerns about the reliability of remodelers and several home improvement retailers that offer remodeling services offer, now, project guarantees as well as a few independent remodelers; the bigger ones are offering these guarantees, as well.
And then, finally, you have something called a warranty.
LESLIE: Mm-hmm. That’s right. Now, the manufacturer’s warranties, those are also standard for products used in home improvements and they’re the assurance from manufacturers that their products will work as they’re intended to do so. Now, the service contracts – sometimes called extended warranties – provide additional protection when you’re taking on a home improvement project but they’re going to cost you extra dollars.
To learn more about the difference between contracts, warranties and guarantees – because I know there is a lot and it does get confusing – simply search those terms at MoneyPit.com and it will all become crystal clear.
TOM: 888-666-3974. Let’s get back to the phones.
LESLIE: Kurt in Ohio has a house that’s cracking up. Tell us about it.
KURT: Yeah, I have this house I purchased about five years ago. The house is about 16 years old. When I purchased the house, I noticed that the second floor had cracks in the ceilings, around the walls and everything.
KURT: And just the other day, I started noticing that they’re downstairs as well and I never saw them before. So I’m just kind of curious; is this because the house is still settling? Is it because of something else? And how can I stop it and fix it and prevent it from continuing to do so?
TOM: Well, cracks that have not been attended to are pretty common in a house of that age. If you don’t – if you’re not seeing any foundation cracks or any evidence of real significant movement, I wouldn’t think that they’re necessarily indicative of a structural problem.
The way to fix a crack to make sure it doesn’t come back is to use a perforated drywall tape. There is some tape out there that looks kind of like a gauze; it’s sticky-backed and it sits on top of the drywall and then you spackle through it and into the drywall underneath. And we often recommend that type of tape to use for crack repair because it’s really strong and it doesn’t open up.
But the fact that you’re getting cracks in the walls and the ceilings at the corners, that’s pretty typical in a 16-year-old house. And if it’s never been attended to, that’s probably why.
KURT: OK. That’ll work then.
TOM: Alright. Well, good luck with that project.
LESLIE: Carol in Texas, you’ve got The Money Pit. How can we help you today?
CAROL: Hi. Well, I have a heat pump system and to save energy, I’ve been turning it down at night and up in the morning; probably six or eight degrees.
TOM: (overlapping voices) OK. Hmm. How’s that working out for you? Because I bet you’re not saving much energy.
CAROL: Well, that’s what I just found out. Someone had told me something, that I shouldn’t be doing this, and I don’t know why.
TOM: Yeah. I can explain to you why. A heat pump is really a combination of two systems: it’s a heat pump, which is essentially an air conditioner that runs the refrigeration cycle backwards; and an electric furnace, where you just have electric heating coils that come on and the air blows over them. And they work together in the same box.
So here’s what happens. If the temperature in your house is – let’s say you have it set to 70 degrees. If it falls to 69, the heat pump will come on; it will try to bring it the temperature up to 70. If it falls to 68, the heat pump will stay on. If it falls to 67 or more than a two-degree difference between what you would like it to be and what it is in the house, the heat pump communicates to the electric furnace and says, “Whoa. I can’t keep up with this. Bring on the electric furnace and bring me up to temperature,” and then the heat pump will take over again.
So if you turn your heat down at night and spring it back up in the morning – obviously, you’re moving it more than two degrees – you’re essentially forcing the heat pump – excuse me – you’re essentially forcing the electric furnace to come on all the time and that costs about twice or more to run than the heat pump.
So the way to do this is with a special type of setback thermostat which mechanically brings it down very slowly and brings it up very slowly so it protects that two-degree separation and never requires the electric furnace to come on. So if you buy a heat pump, setback thermostat – specially designed for heat pumps – you can have the convenience of turning your heat down at night and up in the morning without triggering the electric furnace. Follow me?
CAROL: Yeah. I see what you’re saying. Is this a special kind of thermostat? Is it something you put in …
TOM: No, it’s a very common thing that you can buy. In areas where a lot of the homes are heated by heat pumps, you’ll even find them in the home centers. But you just want to make sure you buy one that’s rated for a heat pump; not a standard setback thermostat but one that’s set up for a heat pump.
LESLIE: Alan in Alaska, you’ve got The Money Pit. How can we help you today?
ALAN: I’m in the process of remodeling a duplex and I’ve got some new sheetrock up and some old, textured walls. I’m trying to figure out the best way to go over them. I’ve heard people say that I need to prime the walls before texturing, after doing the drywall work. What is your opinion on that?
TOM: Well, when you put fresh drywall up, you should always prime the wall because you’re going to find the drywall is very absorbent. And if you put a good coat of primer on there, it’s going to help anything that comes after that adhere better. So we do think that priming is always the first step.
ALAN: And after texturing, prime it again before painting?
TOM: No. I don’t think after texturing you need to prime it again. You can continue with the painting process and paint right over that. Now, if you’re painting over a textured surface, you’re going to have to use a very, very thick roller.
LESLIE: Yeah, like super-textured; like a thick nap on it. I’ve seen – and actually, you know, in the home makeover shows that I work on, a lot of the wall surfaces are textured in these newer homes and we’ve used, I mean, the thickest, napped roller I’ve ever seen in my life. And it coats those walls pretty much in one coat and it’s like the super-duperest, thickest roller I’ve seen. If you can get your hands on that, go for it.
ALAN: Well, great. Thank you very much.
TOM: You’ve very welcome. Thanks so much for calling us at 1-888-MONEY-PIT.
LESLIE: You are tuned to The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show on air and online at MoneyPit.com.
Hardwood floors – they look great and they last a long time if you take care of them. Up next, hardwood floor care and refinishing tips.
TOM: Where home solutions live, welcome back to The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show. I’m Tom Kraeutler.
LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.
TOM: We would love if you would follow us on Facebook. You can text “Fan TheMoneyPit” to FBOOK at 32665 from your cell phone and you’ll be instantly added as a fan on our Facebook page.
LESLIE: Mm-hmm. And while you’re online, if you don’t feel like chatting with us live and in person, you can e-mail us your question and we will answer your question on the air, like we’re going to do now.
I’ve got one here from Ron who says, “I have hardwood floors in my kitchen and in one area the finish has worn off and it looks like it is worn down to the bare wood. Can I just refinish this portion that’s worn or do I have to finish the whole floor?”
TOM: Two words: area rug. (Leslie chuckles)
LESLIE: If it works there, go for it.
TOM: Actually, it depends on how the – what kind of flooring it is. If it’s pre-finished flooring, it’s pretty hard to do a spot patch like that because pre-finished floors are very difficult to refinish. If it’s traditional hardwood floor – say it was 3/4×2-1/2 oak strips – that shouldn’t be much of a problem. You can lightly sand down that area and then use a polyurethane, an oil-based polyurethane, to sort of reseal it.
Now, if it was stained, it gets more complicated because you’re going to have to try to come up with a stain color that matches what you have right there and I’ve got to tell you, it’s almost impossible, unless you’re a real expert, to get it to match perfectly. So just do the best you can and buy an area rug. (Leslie chuckles)
LESLIE: Alright. Now I’ve got one here from Nick who writes: “I recently moved into a new home. The basement is half-finished. In the unfinished portion, there’s a crack in the cement below a window. It starts near the bottom corner of the window and runs down a couple of feet.
It’s a hairline crack. The window has a window well and I was thinking of trying to dig down inside the window well to get a view of the crack from the outside, then using some sort of sealant on the outside and inside to close this crack. Is this the best way to deal with the repair?”
TOM: It’s complete overkill. The fact that you have a minor hairline crack coming off the corner of a basement window is more normal than not. I mean almost all homes have these cracks as things shift and settle. If it was open significantly, if the crack was displaced, if part of the wall was leaning in and the other part was leaning out, I would be concerned.
Right now, there’s really not much for you to do about this. If it’ll make you feel better, you can caulk it from the inside. But it’s really totally unnecessary to dig down the soil around the outside of your house because, you know, the concrete wall – the concrete block wall – is so porous; it frankly doesn’t need a crack for the water to get through, so there’s really nothing to seal.
So, it’s pretty typical; I wouldn’t worry about it. If you see a lot of movement in the future, then call us back.
LESLIE: Alright. Now we’ve got one from Bill who writes: “I have a propane-fired, 50-gallon water heater with a standing pilot. Looking to convert this to an electronic ignition, to save fuel costs. Is this possible?”
TOM: Hmm. So, what he has is a typical, gas pilot light.
LESLIE: (overlapping voices) Where the pilot is always lit.
TOM: Yeah, it’s lit all the time. And he’d like to convert that to an electronic ignition, where you have a charge that goes click, click, click and the pilot comes on.
LESLIE: (overlapping voices) Right.
TOM: You know …
LESLIE: But I imagine your water heater is probably calling for that water to be heated all the time, unless it’s a tankless model, correct? So it’s going to be firing often.
TOM: Right. I don’t think it’s available, Bill. You know, these water heaters are really not made to be upgraded, so to speak, because the appliance is not that expensive or it’s kind of designed to be interchangeable.
If you buy a high-efficiency water heater – one that is direct-vented, for example – you’re going to have electronic ignition. But a regular standard, standing, pilot water heater – you’re not going to be able to change that component. If you’re ready for a new water heater, you can think about buying a high-efficiency one or certainly with propane, you could invest in a tankless water heater, which is going to give you the most energy-efficiency possible over the greatest number of years.
LESLIE: Mm-hmm. And you know what, Bill? If you’re looking to soup something up, you should probably get into – I don’t know – drag racing (Tom laughs) or some sort of automobile hobby. Because then you can go ahead and change things (chuckling) all you like.
Alright, Bill. I hope that helps you out.
TOM: You are tuned to The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show on air and online at MoneyPit.com. Thank you so much for spending this hour with us. Happy spring, everybody. The show continues online, right now, at MoneyPit.com.
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.
END HOUR 1 TEXT
(Copyright 2010 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.)