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Spring Real Estate Tips for Buyers and Sellers, High Efficiency Toilets Save Water and Money, Deck Design Ideas for Problem Outdoor Spaces and more

  • 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: And we are here to help you with your home improvement projects. So help yourself first: pick up the phone, give us a call at 888-MONEY-PIT, 888-666-3974.

    Coming up this hour, the spring real estate market is truly heating up. It’s never been a better time to buy or sell a home. And if that’s what you’re planning to do, there’s a lot you need to know. That’s why we will welcome the president of the National Association of Realtors with tips, in just a bit.

    LESLIE: And also ahead, we’re going to tell you about an easy way that you can save hundreds of dollars on your water bill, just by switching out one common bathroom fixture.

    TOM: Plus, if you think your backyard isn’t right for a deck, well, you might want to give it a second thought. We’re going to have the answers to common deck dilemmas that might allow you to deck out your yard, just in time for summer.

    LESLIE: And this hour, we’re giving away a $40 prize pack from Concrobium. It’s a fantastic mold-cleaning and prevention product and you can learn more about it CureMyMold.com.

    TOM: So let’s get to it. The number, again, is 888-MONEY-PIT, 888-666-3974.

    Leslie, who’s first?

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

    DEB: Yeah, I’ve got some trouble with an area of grass right in the middle of my yard. It’s probably 20×20.

    LESLIE: The yard? Or the problem area?

    DEB: The problem area is probably 20×20.

    LESLIE: OK. That’s a big problem.

    DEB: Yeah. And the lawn is pretty big and it grows really good all the way around this area. And it only – it’ll grow maybe an inch or two and then it kind of heads out and never really gets green. We put extra water on it and we fertilize it and aerate it, just like the rest of the lawn, but it just doesn’t look good. And seems funny that this would be just in one area.

    LESLIE: Well, it could be that that area, for whatever reason, has a different pH balance than the other parts of your lawn itself. And therefore that the seed that you’re using is reacting differently to the soil than the other areas.

    So, you might want to take a couple of soil samples from the problem area and have those tested. Sometimes, the home centers sell little kits. Sometimes, you might have to contact your local building department to find out who you can do that with. But you can have a soil test done pretty easily and inexpensively.

    And once you know exactly what’s going on with the soil in this area, I mean that could be enlightening to have this information. Because you could be using the wrong seed, you could be using the wrong fertilizer. That will tell you exactly what type of fertilizer, when, how to water it. That’s really the key here and that should clear up a lot of this problem.

    DEB: OK. That sounds great. I’ll sure give it a try.

    TOM: Deb, I hope that helps you out. Thanks so much for calling us at 1-888-MONEY-PIT.

    LESLIE: Now we’ve got Rob in Iowa whose basement walls seem to be coming in on themselves. What is going on at your money pit?

    ROB: I’ve got some basement walls that are heaving in and I need a permanent solution that’s not going to bankrupt me.

    TOM: OK.

    ROB: Basically, what I’ve got is I’ve got some wall anchors that have been installed about seven years ago. I’ve been keeping those tight and the walls are still heaving in. We had a drought here in Iowa last summer and this year, we’ve had quite a bit of rain. So, walls are bowing in up to 2 inches in places and I’m getting a little worried.

    TOM: Wow. Yeah, if your walls are bowed in 2 inches, Rob, unfortunately you’ve got a very serious problem on your hands that is not only impacting the structure of your home but also the value of your home. And if the walls have gotten that bad, we are well beyond the do-it-yourself-fix stage.

    I can provide you some basic information about why this might be happening. Generally, the reason walls will heave is because you get a lot of water that collects around the foundation perimeter, especially if you don’t have terrific drainage. If the drainage is flat, if the gutters are dumping near the corners of the foundation, which is where most gutter contractors leave them, that water collects into the soil. And in the wintertime, it freezes, expands and then slowly but surely sort of ratchets that wall out.

    Now, if yours have gone to the point where they’re 2 inches out of plumb, this is a problem. So, the way I would address this – and I would do it very specifically and very strategically – is as follows: I would retain a structural engineer to examine the problem and specify a repair. It’s very important that you just don’t call a contractor for this. Because if they don’t have the pedigree of an engineering degree, it’s not going to hold water when it comes time to sell your house.

    So I would hire an engineer to analyze the problem and design a solution. And you could talk cost concerns with your engineer and options and all of that. Once you have that plan in place, at that point in time you can make the decision as to whether or not you’re going to do it yourself, which may be more possible with a plan than not, or whether or not you’re going to hire a pro.

    But however you get it done, the third and most important final step is to have the engineer come back and examine the work and then give you an additional letter that says, “Yes, I identified this problem and I designed a fix. And I inspected the fix and it’s done correctly and there’s nothing further to worry about.”

    Because ultimately, if you go to sell your house, the buyers are going to bring up this issue. You want to have that sort of pedigree in your hand so that you can prove that it was a repair that, yes, was structural in nature but was repaired correctly. Does that make sense?

    ROB: Yeah, absolutely. That’s a very interesting approach. I have one chink to throw at you and that is the wall-anchor system that’s installed was warrantied. And the owner of that company came out and said that he’ll warranty the system and he’s willing to put in three more anchors which, in my mind, is an admission of liability. Do I let him do that or do I need to get the structural engineer first?

    TOM: Is this wall-anchor contractor a structural engineer?

    ROB: I doubt it.

    TOM: Stop the repair process. Get the engineer. If the engineer thinks that’s a good idea, then that’s a different story. But warrantying doesn’t necessarily mean we put more in. If the product failed and your walls continued to bow as a result, then his liability, depending on where these walls were when he first put the system in and guaranteed that they were going to stop the walls from buckling in, his liability could be significant.

    But I would get the engineer in first and let’s get some good, impartial, expert advice here from somebody that does not have a system to sell you. I don’t want you to get advice from somebody – sometimes, contractors give you advice from people that – because they sell the system. “Yeah, you’ve got a problem? I’m just the guy to fix it for you, you know?” And that’s not really good, expert, independent advice.

    So go to the engineer first, Rob, and then you can deal with the contractor issue after you have the information.

    ROB: OK, great. Thank you.

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

    LESLIE: You are tuned to The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show on air and online at MoneyPit.com. Now you can call in your home repair or your home improvement question 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-888-MONEY-PIT.

    TOM: 888-666-3974.

    Up next, outdoor living is more popular than ever, a practice made even more popular when you’ve got a beautiful deck to sit on. Oh, you can’t build a deck? Well, maybe you can. We’ll have some tips, after this.

    ANNOUNCER: The Money Pit is brought to you by Lutron’s new Maestro Occupancy-Sensing Switch. Never ask “Who left the lights on?” again. Starting at around $20, this motion-sensing light switch turns the lights on automatically when you walk into a room and off when you leave and works with all types of light bulbs. Learn more at LutronSensors.com.

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

    LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

    TOM: Give us a call, right now, at 888-MONEY-PIT. You’ll get the answer to your home improvement question, we hope. And one caller we talk to on the air this hour is going to win a spring-cleaning prize pack from Concrobium worth $50. The winner is going to get a bottle of Concrobium Mold Control, a bottle of Concrobium Mold Stain Eraser and a jug of Concrobium House & Deck Wash.

    LESLIE: Yeah, it’s a great line of products. And it really is wonderful because Concrobium will clean indoors and outdoors. And it completely removes mold stains, eliminates mold and then prevents it from coming back.

    TOM: Visit CureMyMold.com for more information or call us, right now, for the answer to your home improvement question at 888-MONEY-PIT.

    LESLIE: Judy from Illinois is on the line and is dealing with some changes in a hardwood floor. How can we help you?

    JUDY: Well, I have a little problem in the winter with my hardwood floor and separating. And I can kind of see down in there. And I was wondering about a whole-house humidifier in the winter to keep that from happening, because it’s fine in the summer, what you would suggest.

    TOM: A whole-house humidifier is a good thing when you have forced-air heat that’s gas or oil or propane, because that tends to be extremely dry. I would encourage you to use a very good-quality unit, like an Aprilaire. Because there are a lot of units that don’t work very well and they don’t work very long, especially the kind that spray water into the duct system, as opposed to the Aprilaire unit, which has an evaporator pad where the water sort of trickles down this pad and then it evaporates into the house air that way.

    So, a humidifier can help. If the gaps are particularly large, you can also fill them with jute – j-u-t-e – jute type of rope. And then you could refinish over top of that. Sometimes, if the gaps are really big, that’s a good thing to put in the middle of it because it kind of blends in with the floor and doesn’t show through.

    LESLIE: Yeah. And Tom, sometimes I finish the jute roping before I even lay it in. Like I’ll dip it in a can of the same color of stain and sort of work it in with my fingers. And then once it dries, then I squish it into place with a painter’s knife.

    JUDY: Well, thank you very much.

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

    LESLIE: Now we’ve got Jan from Iowa on the line who’s dealing with a contractor that didn’t make good on his promises. How can we help you, Jan?

    JAN: I can’t get no money from him. He won’t call me or he won’t answer the phone or nothing. I can’t …

    TOM: Let’s start at the beginning, Jan. So, tell us what happened.

    JAN: Well, I hired him to fix up my sun deck, to shore it up and everything.

    TOM: OK.

    JAN: I had to put stairs on it and everything and it was a little loose in different places, you know.

    TOM: Right.

    JAN: He took the job and I paid for materials as he got them. And then he fixed it and then everything’s crooked on it. He left a jack there underneath there and it’s supposed to be a pool stair.

    TOM: So you got a contractor involved to fix your – up your sun deck. He purchased some materials – or you purchased some materials. He started putting some things together and he basically left it half done and took off and you haven’t seen him since, right?

    JAN: Well, no. He says he’s all done and I paid him. And I had the inspector come out and everything was wrong. The steps are crooked. When you walk down them, you almost fall forward and …

    TOM: Alright. Now you’ve paid this guy?

    JAN: Yeah.

    TOM: You’ve paid him for the labor?

    JAN: Yes. And I bought the parts.

    TOM: So you paid him in full. Why did you pay him in full before the job was done?

    JAN: Well, I thought he was done. He said he was all done.

    TOM: Right. So, at this point, you’re probably going to have to take him to small-claims court. There’s a dispute about the quality of the work here. Unfortunately, it’s going to have to be sorted out that way.

    If he took your money and didn’t do any work, then you could charge him with theft. And that’s very effective, by the way, if you ever find yourself in that situation. If a contractor takes your money and just doesn’t do the work, you can actually file a criminal complaint against him and charge him with theft. But since he did some of the work but he didn’t do it well, now it’s a dispute over the quality of the work. And that’s going to have to be sorted out in a civil suit, unfortunately.

    JAN: Yeah. But I haven’t got any proof that I gave him money. I gave him cash.

    TOM: Let me give you a suggestion. The next time you want to hire somebody, stop hiring the guys that are walking up and down your street. Get online. Use a site like Angie’s List. Find some good-quality people with some reviews and you won’t have the same issues.

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

    LESLIE: Well, if you’ve held off adding a deck to your home because you think your yard has a unique problem or perhaps another decking dilemma, think again. The truth is most yards can handle a deck.

    TOM: That’s right. Now, if too much sun is the reason that you don’t want to add a deck, you might want to consider canvas awnings. These can still let in some natural light but they’ll keep the hot rays off your deck. And most can be retracted when no shade is needed.

    LESLIE: Now, if your concern is lack of privacy, you can design landscaping to your deck by adding tall plants along the rails or installing lattice for a natural privacy screen. You can then plant any vine, like ivy, and you can watch it grab on and flourish.

    TOM: Now, one of the most common problems we hear about building decks is a lack of space, so why not go up? You can add a deck from a higher level and then use the space below as a patio. That can work very well. Just think outside the box a bit and a beautiful deck could be in your future.

    We’ve got lots of deck-building tips and design ideas, online, at MoneyPit.com.

    LESLIE: Now we’ve got Louis in South Carolina on the line who’s got a driveway question.

    LOUIS: I’ve got about a 20-year-old driveway and the gravel apparently didn’t get shook down good.

    TOM: OK. OK.

    LOUIS: And the rocks are showing through.

    TOM: OK.

    LOUIS: And I put some salt on it one time and that didn’t help it.

    TOM: No. That made it worse, I’m sure.

    LOUIS: And what I need is – I was hoping I could finish it with something that would bond to it rather than just having to redo the whole driveway.

    TOM: Yep. OK. So, you can use an epoxy patching compound and trowel that on the driveway. Epoxy is important because epoxy will adhere to the concrete surface.

    LOUIS: And where would you get something like that?

    TOM: Oh, you can find that at a home center. If you take a look at QUIKRETE – Q-U-I-K-R-E-T-E – QUIKRETE.com, they make that product, as do others.

    LOUIS: And I could find a contractor somewhere that could do that?

    TOM: Yes, you could or you could do it yourself, depending on your skill level. But essentially, the epoxy is important because it will attach and glue and adhere to the old concrete.

    LOUIS: Right.

    TOM: If you just try to put more concrete on there, it’s not going to work right.

    LOUIS: It won’t crack and flake off?

    TOM: No. That’s why – it’s designed to stick to old concrete surfaces and not flake off.

    LOUIS: Well, I sure appreciate your helping me.

    TOM: You’re very welcome, sir. Good luck with that project.

    LESLIE: Alright. Kay is on the line now and she needs some help painting a door.

    Kay, tell us about your project.

    KAY: Yeah. And I listen to you every week you’re on.

    TOM: Well, thank you so much.

    LESLIE: Oh, thanks, Kay.

    KAY: I wanted to take my wood door – it’s a very old wood door. And we lived here since ’69 and I’m trying to keep it original. It’s red now.

    TOM: OK.

    KAY: My husband painted it only one coat and I think it was blue.

    TOM: OK.

    KAY: It needs another coat to make it real red but I want to paint it white.

    TOM: Well, I mean the color is a personal preference so to paint this door, the best thing to do is to take it off of the hinges and lay it flat on a couple of sawhorses. And then you want to sand the old surface. You want to make sure you get rid of any flaking paint, any cracked paint, because you can’t put good paint over bad paint. You’ve got to get all that stuff off.

    KAY: It’s not cracking or anything. It’s smooth as can be.

    TOM: Alright. So then he must have done a great job when he painted it last time.

    KAY: He did. He sanded it down to the wood. It was all, you know, original wood, so it’s really smooth. That’s why I wasn’t sure and I don’t know if I can get the paint off like if you – and I didn’t want to scrape it.

    TOM: Well, I don’t think you have to take all the old paint off. If it’s adhering well, then you’re good to go on it. So sand it down and then I would recommend that you put a coat of primer on. Because this will make sure that the new paint adheres as well as the old paint did.

    Primer is kind of the glue that makes the paint stick. So, put the primer on.

    KAY: Will KILZ work? Because I’ve got a gallon of KILZ.

    TOM: It’ll work fine, yep. You put the KILZ on, let it dry and then you could put your topcoat on that.

    KAY: To sand it, what do I have to do? Knock the sheen off?

    TOM: Yeah, knock the sheen off. Exactly right. You don’t have to sand it down to the raw wood but you have to get that sheen off. So a medium grit, like 100-grit sandpaper, would work really well, OK?

    KAY: OK.

    LESLIE: Charlene in Louisiana is on the line with a roofing question. What are you working on?

    CHARLENE: I have a shallow roof on my house. They call it a 2:3 pitch. It’s not flat but it’s very shallow, OK? Almost no attic, about maybe 2 feet in there. I was interested in an aluminum roof, like a lifetime roof? And I wanted to know which would be better: that or a regular shingle roof, like an architectural roof.

    TOM: You don’t have the pitch for an asphalt-shingle roof. You need to have at least a 3:12 or a 4:12 roof to put in shingles.

    CHARLENE: Well, I have shingles on it now and they’ve been there for 20 years.

    TOM: I’m telling you, you may but it’s not right. You can only put shingles on a roof that’s got a minimum pitch of 3:12 or 4:12. And if you’ve got them on there right now, count your blessings but it shouldn’t have been put on there. And any roofing manufacturer will tell you that.

    If you – your options, therefore, are either to do, say, a rolled roofing or a rubber roofing or a metal roof, as long as it’s rated for that low pitch. And I think a metal roof is a great investment if you’re going to be there for the long haul. But that’s what I would invest in because with that low of a pitch, you probably don’t see it very much and you want to make sure that it’s really going to be watertight. And with a low pitch, you just can’t use an architectural shingle; it just won’t work.

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

    LESLIE: Well, it’s real estate season and whether you are buying or selling or just looking at the home market and what’s available in your neighborhood, we’ve got advice from the president of the National Association of Realtors to help you navigate the current housing market with ease, next.

    ANNOUNCER: The Money Pit is brought to you by the Chamberlain MyQ Garage. If you forget to close your garage door, it alerts your smartphone so you can control it from anywhere. Works with most garage-door openers. Discover smarter possibilities at Chamberlain.com.

    TOM: Where home solutions live, 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: Well, the spring real estate season is heating up and this year, in particular, there are a lot of opportunities for both buyers and sellers.

    LESLIE: And here with the advice on exactly how to navigate the housing market is Steve Brown, the current president of the National Association of Realtors.

    Welcome, Steve.

    STEVE: It’s good to be here.

    TOM: Well, we’ve waited a long time for a wonderful market like this and I think there truly are lots of opportunities for buyers and sellers. What are you seeing from the front lines?

    STEVE: From the front lines, the market is very active. It’s very exciting. I think we’ve had a tough winter throughout most of the country. I think we’ve had sellers that have hibernated a bit and buyers who’ve done the same. And the market, as the weather improves, is truly heating up.

    LESLIE: Now, are you seeing that the inventory is increasing or are we noticing that there’s less houses on the market and that’s why it’s getting a little bit of a frenzy?

    STEVE: Well, Leslie, all real estate is local, so I – that depends upon your market. Certainly, where I’m located in Dayton, Ohio, our inventory is very much in balance. But there are parts of the country that are showing a lack of inventory.

    At the same time, I think the spring market always brings more people out, more sellers out, more buyers out. So I would anticipate seeing a little bit of an upsurge in listing volume.

    TOM: Now, mortgage rates are still fairly historically low at this point. And so, that has got to make the homes that much more affordable. Is that playing into the spikes right now?

    STEVE: Without question. Rates today, yes, they’re up a little bit where they were last year but rates today are still in the 4 and 5 – 4- to 5-percent range, which is a very affordable, extraordinary rate. You’re talking to someone who saw double-digit interest rates. So any time you’re in a single digit, but particularly when you’re below a 5-percent fixed rate, this is a very good time to buy.

    And it does help you in the affordability and not only that, the sustainability. As you stay in the house, it becomes ever more affordable at a fixed-rate loan.

    LESLIE: And I imagine it’s probably helpful for buyers to really have a clear idea of what they’re looking for. Maybe not how specific but bedrooms, location. Does that make sense?

    STEVE: Absolutely it makes sense. A prepared buyer is very important. As you enter into the market, you do want to be prepared and you have that option today with sites such as Realtor.com, which has probably the greatest amount of listings, accurate information in the marketplace. And so, it’s always helpful when a buyer comes in knowing what they need and what they want.

    And sometimes, the difference between need and want is affordability. And yet, if they’ve done their homework, if they’ve searched the market, they have a good idea of what they can afford and what’s out there.

    TOM: We’re talking to Steve Brown. He’s the 2014 President of the National Association of Realtors.

    And Steve, on our show, we will fairly commonly get a question from a listener that wants to improve a home that they’re about to sell. And they’ll ask questions like: “Should I put in a bathroom? Should I put in a kitchen? What kinds of projects should we tackle?” And we always tell them to speak to a realtor first because they might end up over-improving their home for the property. Because I think the point that many consumers miss is that when you sell a home, you’re competing with all the other homes in your local market. And so, the degree to which you need to improve your home is really based on what else is out there from a competitive perspective, correct?

    STEVE: Tom, that’s perfect advice. That’s exactly what a potential seller should be thinking about: what is the competition? And they may not know what the competition is but their local realtor will know the competition and he or she will be able to advise him accordingly.

    But there are some just general practices and rules that they should follow: 1) declutter the house, thin it out. As the adage – old saying – goes, when in doubt, thin it out. A house that doesn’t have clutter shows better. And a buyer coming in can envision their own things in the house when it’s less full.

    Secondly, they want to work on the curb appeal. They want a nice approach from the house. The first reaction to the house is going to be what the buyer sees as they walk up to the front door. So they want to think about cleaning up their garden, trimming their shrubs, making things outside look neat and cared for. It conveys a message that the whole house has been well maintained.

    And then inside, you’re right: heavy improvements – heavy financial improvements – at this point in the game is probably not always advisable. But a fresh coat of paint, perhaps a new flower arrangement on the dining-room table, things of that nature can make a difference in the presence, in the staging of the house and in the impression that the house gives the buyer.

    LESLIE: Should you still be baking cookies in the oven when you show the house? Or is that just a silly rumor?

    STEVE: As long as they’re chocolate-chip cookies.

    TOM: Steve Brown, the president of the National Association of Realtors, great advice. Thank you so much for stopping by The Money Pit.

    And if you are considering buying or selling a home today, by all means contact your local realtor. They know what the conditions are like in your local market. They can help guide you through that buying-and-selling process and make sure you get exactly the home that you are dreaming about.

    Thanks again, Steve, and have a great day.

    STEVE: You, too. Thank you.

    TOM: And if you’d like more information about realtors, simply go to Realtor.com and check out the big inventory of homes listed right there at Realtor.com.

    LESLIE: Well, although your toilet might be working just fine, it could actually be time to switch it out for a water-saving model. We’ll explain the benefits, next.

    ANNOUNCER: The Money Pit is brought to you by the Chamberlain MyQ Garage. If you forget to close your garage door, it alerts your smartphone so you can control it from anywhere. Works with most garage-door openers. Discover smarter possibilities at Chamberlain.com.

    TOM: Making good homes better, this is The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show on air and online at MoneyPit.com. I’m Tom Kraeutler.

    LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete. Pick up the phone and give us a call here at 888-MONEY-PIT.

    One lucky caller that we talk to on the air this hour is going to win a spring-cleaning prize pack from Concrobium worth $50. Now, it comes complete with everything you need to get rid of mold for good. That’s right, once and for all. It includes a bottle of Concrobium Mold Control, a bottle of Concrobium Mold Stain Eraser and a jug of Concrobium House & Deck Wash.

    TOM: And what’s great about Concrobium is that it can clean up mold indoors and outdoors. It completely removes mold stains, eliminates mold and prevents it from coming back.

    You can fight mold like a pro with Concrobium Mold Solutions. Visit CureMyMold.com for more information and call us, right now, at 1-888-MONEY-PIT for the answer to your home improvement question and your chance to win.

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

    RICHARD: I’m interested – I have an older home I remodeled. It’s build in the 30s and I wanted to put in a whole-house water-filtration system. And I was going to connect right to the service line going in.

    And I’ve been shopping around. I found the small canister types and then it just jumps up to a big, 33-gallon, barrel-type filtration, which is too much. And I just wanted to know what a good brand is and what I need – reverse-osmosis and all that.

    TOM: You know, Richard, 3M makes the Filtrete line. That’s F-i-l-t-r-e-t-e. And they have single filters for use under maybe your kitchen sink or bathroom but they also have a whole-house system. It’s not terribly expensive; I think it’s under 100 bucks. And installation is pretty straightforward, so perhaps you could even do it yourself. And they also have various levels of filtration.

    So I would take a look at the Filtrete Whole-House System Water Filters and I think that’s a good choice to make sure your water is tasting good throughout the entire home.

    LESLIE: Well, years ago, if a plumber told you that your toilet needed to be replaced, you have a right to be a bit skeptical. It’s pretty rare, at that point – darn near impossible, in fact – for a toilet to actually break.

    TOM: Well, yes, but today, water consumption is the big issue. And if your toilets are older than 1994, you can probably stand to save quite a bit of money by switching them out for the new generation of high-efficiency toilets. You can forget the low-flows, though, of the early 90s. The high-efficiency toilets of today, they work well on about 1¼ gallons of water per flush. That’s a lot less than the 4 to 5 gallons of water used by those old-fashioned toilets.

    LESLIE: Now, get this: the EPA says a household of four can save about $90 a year on its water bill with an HET. Plus, a lot of local utilities are giving rebates and vouchers to households that buy one. And that makes it really worth your while.

    TOM: For more water-saving tips, visit MoneyPit.com and search “WaterSense” – that’s the EPA’s program for water efficiency ­- online at MoneyPit.com.

    LESLIE: Brian in Kentucky is on the line and working on a Tudor, which is my favorite kind of home. What can we help you with?

    BRIAN: I have bought an old, 1979, English Tudor home. It’s about 2,700 square feet. And it’s down in Seymour, Tennessee. And it has got brick on the first floor and the upper floor has the English Tudor style but it’s been made out of plywood. And it looks like it’s textured plywood with raised, 1×2-inch strips on it.

    The house has never been touched and it’s a good money pit. I’m going to be taking the stripping off of it and I’m going to be probably caulking between the joints of the plywood and replacing whatever existing plywood is rotted with OVC marine board and then siliconing everything.

    I’m going to – I want to put stucco or Dryvit over top of that existing plywood. And I’m leaning towards the Dryvit because of the Styrofoam, which will be an insulation factor. But I don’t know the pros and cons of original stucco or the Dryvit and the cost factor.

    TOM: Alright. First of all, I’m very familiar with the design house you have and yes, it’s attractive. Unfortunately, it’s really bad in terms of weather-resistance because, usually, they use – well, what they’ll use for the what you’re calling the “plywood siding” is a composite type of material that looks a little bit like – supposed to look a little bit like concrete or look like stucco but it’s not.

    BRIAN: Exactly.

    TOM: And it’s a composite siding that really does not stand up very well. And if it’s not been touched since 1979, then it probably all needs to be replaced.

    BRIAN: OK.

    TOM: If you’re trying to decide between using real stucco – or it’s actually called Dryvit and it’s a brand name for EIFS, which is exterior insulated foam siding – E-I-F-S. I would tell you that you should stay away – stay away – from the foam siding. All you need to do is Google-search that stuff and you’re going to find huge problems. There’s been a lot of complaints over the years and as a friend of mine once said to me, who’s a structural engineer – he said, “That product was leaking on the drawing board and it hasn’t stopped since.”

    BRIAN: OK.

    TOM: Now, they made a lot of changes to it and some people said they’re happy with it. If you live in a wet climate, I wouldn’t use it. If you live – I think it’s good on commercial buildings and masonry buildings because they don’t have the decay factors. But I would absolutely stay away from the exterior insulated foam siding for a residential home.

    I think you’re going to end up, Brian, taking all of that plywood off and then you’re going to have to decide what you want to replace it with. If you’re going to go with real masonry siding – real masonry stucco – I think that’s a wise choice. I think that’s a choice that will last a lifetime and give your house a proper English Tudor.

    You know, English Tudors last forever because they’re built to last forever. But when we make the fake English Tudors with the composite siding and the furring strips, you’re lucky that it lasted the 30-plus years that it has.

    BRIAN: Yeah. Would you go with the marine board, like I was talking about, and then put the Tyvek around that or the tar paper or …?

    TOM: Well, what you’re going to end up doing is you’re going to have a plywood sheathing. So you’re going to take everything off, examine the interior, make sure there’s no rot in the studs. You’re going to add a plywood sheathing, you’re going to add building paper, you’re going to add metal – woven metal wire – and you’re going to put the stucco right on top of that.

    Of course, I mean, really, your mason is going to do this but that’s, essentially, the process.

    LESLIE: Hey, thanks so much for calling The Money Pit.

    Are your guests getting bugged by swarms of gnats when you have a backyard party? Well, we’ve got tips on keeping those common nuisances away, after this.

    ANNOUNCER: The Money Pit is presented by QUIKRETE Concrete & Cement Products. QUIKRETE, what America is made of. “Like” us on Facebook and visit online at www.QUIKRETE.com for product information and easy, step-by-step project videos.

    TOM: Where home solutions live, this is The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show. I’m Tom Kraeutler.

    LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

    TOM: And we’re talking a lot about outdoor living spaces today on The Money Pit and of course, safety plays a big role in that. For tips on how to keep your kids safe around swimming pools, go to MoneyPit.com. We’ve got advice on pool covers, pool guards and even pool alarms.

    LESLIE: Alright. And while you’re there, post your question in the Community section, just like Amanda from South Carolina did. And she writes: “I want to lay a stepping-stone walkway around the side of my house. I’m new to the do-it-yourself world. Do I need to put anything under them and how far apart should I place them?”

    TOM: That’s a great question. And the truth is, Amanda, that folks do something as simple as throwing down chunks of slate on top of the grass. Or they do a really good job setting them in place with a proper base so that you don’t get weeds that grow up all under them.

    So we are advocates of the latter approach which is, of course, a bit more work. But what you want to do is excavate down about 4 to 6 inches. Then you want to put a stone base in. And the stone base should be tamped, it should be level. On top of that stone base, you can lay a bit of sand and then set your stepping stones.

    Now, around that, you need to fill in. So how do you fill in? Well, you could fill in with more stone or you could fill in with topsoil. But if you do that, remember, you’re just going to have to be very careful about trimming around those stones as the grass grows.

    LESLIE: Alright. Next, we’ve got one from Blake who writes: “My redwood deck is about 10 years old. My wife wants to paint it white. I’m worried that means more upkeep. What should I do?”

    TOM: You know what comes after paint, Blake? Repaint. And sometimes very quickly.

    We would not advocate paint for a redwood deck. We would advocate solid-color stain. You can go with a lighter solid-color stain and that will sort of fade away, as opposed to crack and peel and chip, keeping you and your wife happy.

    LESLIE: Yeah, Blake, my only advice is with redwood, test the color. Because if you go lighter, it could tend to take on a pinkish hue.

    TOM: Well, you could plan the most elegant outdoor soiree ever only to have it spoiled by those annoying, little bugs flying around your guests’ heads by the thousands. Leslie explains how to not get bugged by those gnats, in today’s edition of Leslie’s Last Word.

    LESLIE: Yeah, it’s kind of embarrassing. Your outdoor party going really well; everybody’s having a good time. The food’s great, the yard looks amazing, your outdoor living space is in tip-top shape. However, if you, all of a sudden, get swarmed by those relentless, little gnats, everybody is going to remember that and not how amazing the crab dip was. You know what I’m saying?

    Now, those gnats, they’re pretty harmless but they are irritating. So if you want to keep your party gnat-free – and who doesn’t? – you need to know a little bit about what those buggers like. And they do love wet, rotten, organic matter. And I’m not talking about garbage; I’m talking about mulch. And if you’ve got a compost area, you want to make sure that that is kept very well contained.

    Also, you need to rake or even just turn your mulch often to avoid mold growing on the underside. And you need to make sure that you have no standing water or leaves in your gutters. And you need to keep those bird baths and water features clean of any debris, as well.

    Now, you also need to know that gnats hate vanilla and people love vanilla. So it kind of works hand in hand there. So if you add some vanilla oil in aroma-oil burners, that will help keep them away. And you can also do this: if you take vanilla extract and you soak a cotton ball in it and then just kind of place them strategically around your outdoor area, your guests are not only going to appreciate being gnat-free, they’re also going to really enjoy the fragrance.

    TOM: This is The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show. Coming up next time on The Money Pit, we’re going to have top product picks from the floor of the National Hardware Show in Las Vegas. This is a huge industry trade show. It’s not open to consumers but we’ll bring you the behind-the-scenes info, to give you a sneak peek of what’s going to come soon to store shelves near you over the coming months. That’s next on The Money Pit.

    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 2014 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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