Super Bowl Party Tips for a Great Game Day, How to Buy a Foreclosed Home, Fire Safety Tips for Homeowners 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: Here to help you with your home improvement projects. Help yourself first by calling us at 1-888-MONEY-PIT. Any question – any project, big or small – we are here to help you take that all-important first step.

    Speaking of first steps, it’s the first time that the Super Bowl is going to be held in New Jersey. So, those of us that live in the Garden State are very excited that Super Bowl XLVIII will be here. And that brings us to the topic of Super Bowl parties. Because let me just tell you that just because we live in the Garden State doesn’t mean we can afford a Super Bowl ticket. However, we can plan a very cool Super Bowl party. And we’re going to have some fantastic entertaining tips to help make sure that your Super Bowl event is one that will totally rock the house, in just a bit.

    LESLIE: And also ahead, foreclosure is a scary word more Americans have heard in the last decade than ever before. But could buying a foreclosed house be a good deal for you? Well, we’re going to have some tips to help you navigate that opportunity, coming up.

    TOM: And winter is also peak fire season, so we’re going to talk through the top culprits and tell you what you need to know to be safer this winter.

    LESLIE: And this hour, one caller that we talk to on the air is going to get a signed copy of our book, My Home, My Money Pit: Your Guide to Every Home Improvement Adventure.

    TOM: So, let’s get to it. The number is 1-888-MONEY-PIT.

    Leslie, who’s first?

    LESLIE: Donna needs some help picking out a portable generator.

    Welcome, Donna.

    DONNA: Well, I’m looking to buy – or is starting to investigate buying a portable generator for my home. Not a whole-house generator but something that I could use just to run the furnace and maybe the refrigerator and a light or something. And I started looking. I see gasoline, I see propane, I see solar, 25-foot cords. All that stuff, I have no idea.

    TOM: Well, why have you ruled out the idea of a standby generator, which would be a permanently installed generator on the outside of your home? Because with a standby generator, it would run on – do you have natural gas at your house?

    DONNA: Yes, I do.

    TOM: So a standby generator would run on natural gas. You can get a small one and you can have it installed in the outside of your house to natural gas. You’re never going to have to look around for gasoline or go out and buy tanks of propane if the power goes out. And then the other big advantage is that it comes with a transfer switch.

    Now, that’s the hard part. When you think about all the cords – let’s say run your furnace, for example, on a portable. Well, furnaces, as we all know, don’t come with an extension cord or don’t come with a plugged end to it.

    DONNA: Right.

    TOM: They have to be hard-wired. So even if you did go with a portable, you would still have to buy a transfer switch and have additional circuits run from the furnace and the refrigerator, as you mentioned, into that transfer switch, to which you would plug in the portable generator once you got it out of the garage, rolled it out, filled it with gas – if you could find the gas – and ran all the cables. It’s a heck of a lot more convenient to use a standby generator that comes on automatically within 10 seconds, in most cases, of the power going out.

    It also covers critical areas of the house when you’re not there. What if you go away on a Saturday or a Sunday and there’s a very cold day and the heat kicks out? By the time you get home to hook up that generator, you’re going to have frozen pipes. So a standby generator is a much, much better option.

    DONNA: How much do those cost?

    TOM: You know, you can get one today for $2,000 or $3,000. So the price on them has come down. I mean a good portable generator is going to cost you $500 to $1,500 anyway. So, I would seriously consider that, even if you’ve got to wait a little longer to get it, because it absolutely is the way to go. And it’s going to save you money in the long run.

    DONNA: OK. So you’re telling me to look for a standby generator.

    TOM: Yes. A standby generator that – see, there’s two different levels of what you called “whole-house.” Whole-house usually means that there’s enough power for every single thing in the house: air conditioning, compressors, you name it, right? Standby is a step down from that where you strategically choose a big enough standby generator for the critical outlets in the house, which could be the furnace, could be the sump pump, could be the refrigerator, some lighting and so on.

    So, if you want to be conservative, you can get a standby, save a few dollars on that. You are going to need a professional electrician to install that and perhaps a plumber to run the gas line. So, once you get it done, though, you’re going to have an appliance that really adds to the value of the house and gives you lots of convenience and safety.

    DONNA: OK. So is there like watts or anything like that I need? BTUs or anything I need to look for?

    TOM: Yes. They’re sized based on kilowatt hours. And what you will do is go to a generator website. For example, go to KOHLER Company makes fantastic generators.

    And in fact, the KOHLER Company just donated a very, very big, whole – well, it’s really a commercial generator; it’s a 60-kilowatt – generator to the town of Seaside Park, which might be familiar to you because that’s where they had that massive fire in the town, on the coast of New Jersey, that was already devastated once by Hurricane Sandy. They came in, helped this town get their municipal building back up and running by providing a 60-kilowatt-hour generator to them that’s going to run the building and their command center.

    So, that’s the kind of purpose that these generators serve. They come big and small. They’re big enough to power an entire municipal building and they’re small enough to power your entire house. And if you go to KOHLER Generator’s website, you are going to find a sizing calculator there. It’s KOHLER – it’s K-O-H-L-E-R. And it’s

    DONNA: OK. Thank you very much. That helps me a lot because I was looking for a little portable thing. And then I started reading all that and I’m like, “What?”

    TOM: Yeah. Well, let’s put it this way: you’re going to get a lot of watts out of a standby, alright?

    DONNA: OK. Thanks a lot. I appreciate it.

    TOM: Thanks so much for calling us at 1-888-MONEY-PIT.

    LESLIE: Alright. Curtis is on the line. He’s having a roofing issue. How can we help you today?

    CURTIS: Well, the snow started to fall and icicles are forming on my porch. It makes my porch a little dangerous with being slippery.

    TOM: OK.

    CURTIS: I just want to know if there’s anything I can do.

    TOM: Well, Curtis, usually the reason that icicles form is because the roof snow melts over the area of the roof that is over top of heated areas. So, in other words, typically you’ll get no melt at the roof edge but you’ll get water that melts above that. It runs down to that edge, hits that snow, backs up, forms what we call “ice dams” and then overflows and makes those pretty but sometimes dangerous icicles over the edge.

    So the solution is to take a look at both your attic insulation and your roof ventilation. And in fact, where the roof rafters pass over the exterior wall, just before that porch, you want to make sure that there’s air baffles in there. These are forms, usually made of cardboard or foam, that keep that fiberglass, generally, insulation pressed down so that the air ventilation from the soffits and the ridge vents will pass above it. Because if you keep that roof surface on the underside the same temperature as the exterior, then you’re not going to have this problem with the snow melting and running down and forming icicles at the roof edge. Does that make sense?

    CURTIS: OK. Perfect.

    TOM: 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 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, household fires are heartbreaking and scary and they are way too common this time of year because they peak in the winter. Think about it: you’ve got the heat going, you’ve got more fireplaces going, you’ve got those space heaters going. So we’re going to teach you how to use all those things safely, next.

    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

    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. One caller we talk to on the air this hour is going to win a copy of My Home, My Money Pit: Your Guide to Every Home Improvement Adventure.

    Plus, if you’d like, we will even sign it. But if you want the graffiti-free copy, we can send that to you, as well, 888-666-3974.

    LESLIE: Alright. Andrew is on the line. He’s worried about mold growing on the side of the house. Tell us what’s going on.

    ANDREW: Well, it’s a wood structure with a man-made stone placed on it. And I was curious – we didn’t get the stone put on this winter, due to the time change and the inclement weather, so we were going to wait until spring. But we’ve got the wood chase with the metal and then the black tar paper behind that nailed onto that structure. And there’s a few spots where that tar paper is not on there. And we were concerned if that would create mold growing on there or if that’d be a long-term problem or if we need to rip that off and start over in the springtime. Or what would be the ideal thing to do there?

    TOM: Alright. Well, first of all, all plywood is made with exterior glue today, so you don’t have to worry about the plywood delaminating. That said, if plywood is allowed to be wet, it’s not going to grow mold; it’s going to rot, it’s going to decay. When decay organisms get into the wood and it stays wet for a long time, it starts to decay and then the structural integrity of the plywood is impacted.

    So, what my concern would be – that before I covered that up with stone, just to check the integrity of the plywood. If you have the opportunity to repair any of those areas that are exposed now, I would do so. And by the way, tar paper is supposed to be up there for moments, not months. So, just covering with tar paper is not a good, temporary way to protect it from the weather. I would wrap that with a tarp and make sure that it’s really solidly protected, maybe with some Visqueen or something. You can use some batten/board strips and some nails and just tack it on there to keep it nice and dry once you know that the plywood is solid.

    And then you can go ahead and continue with your project from there. But if you leave it exposed and you let the water get to it, chances are that you could get some decay organisms that get in there and start to work on that plywood. And that’s not a good thing.

    ANDREW: Right. So, the way that man-made stone is made and the application process, with the weather already being so cold, you wouldn’t try to go ahead and put that cement application on there and use that as a cover, at this point. You’d just go on ahead and cover it up?

    TOM: I would consult the manufacturer’s specifications for whatever cement adhesives you’re using and only work within those temperature ranges. So, cold – what’s cold to you may not be cold to that product or it might be too cold to apply it. You know, you’re going to have to figure that out by consulting the data that the manufacturers provide on that.

    But my point is if you’re not going to put the stone on now, make sure you properly protect that plywood chase. And simply covering it with tar paper is not going to do it.

    ANDREW: Alrighty. That’s all I need to know. I appreciate it for your help.

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

    LESLIE: Well, preventing house fires should always be a priority. But if you’re like most Americans, you think you’re at very little risk of ever experiencing a house fire. In fact, Americans have one of the highest fire death rates in the industrialized world. Faulty heating equipment – including furnaces, your fireplace, wood stoves and portable heaters – is the second-leading cause of fire deaths.

    TOM: So, to prevent a fire in your house, you need to get your heating equipment in tip-top shape, first, by servicing your furnace or your boiler and your water heater. I think that folks tend to ignore that because they figure, heck, it worked last season, why won’t it work this season? That’s just not the case. Those appliances get dirty. The longer they run, the dirtier they get. They need to be professionally cleaned and serviced. Not only are they dangerous, they waste fuel and they could lead to carbon-monoxide issues, too. So make sure you have that system cleaned.

    Now, if you’ve got a fireplace, you also need to keep the chimney clean. You want to stop the buildup of creosote, which is a fuel that could be – cause a very serious chimney fire. And you want to make sure your fireplace is covered by a sturdy screen to keep those hot embers from jumping into your living room.

    LESLIE: Yeah. Another area to watch out for are portable heaters. Now, these cause household fires that could easily have been avoided with a little common sense, quite honestly. You want to be very careful not to place your space heater where it can be knocked over. And you need to keep it away from clothing, paper, furniture, draperies, any other combustible. Think smart, guys.

    TOM: And also, remember that file boxes, clothes, anything that’s flammable that sits too close to a heat source can become easy kindling for a house fire. So never store anything on top or near your furnace or your water heater. And also, think of areas that are not quite as obvious. For example, if you’ve got some of those old incandescent light bulbs in your closet, you’ve got to keep stuff away from that. They get super-hot and we’ve seen fires start from just that.

    So be careful, stay safe and you can enjoy the season without worrying about becoming another fire statistic.

    888-666-3974. We are here to help you with your home improvement projects. Give us a call right now.

    LESLIE: Laurel in Pennsylvania is dealing with some stinky drains at home. Tell us what’s going on.

    LAUREL: My bathroom drain and the kitchen drain, they’re starting to smell like garbage. And nothing I put down there helps. Can you help me?

    TOM: What have you tried to do in terms of cleaning them?

    LAUREL: Like dishwashing liquid and real hot, sudsy water.

    TOM: Laurel, the odor that you’re describing is most likely what we call “biogas” or “biofilm.”


    TOM: Because of the moisture and the waste that gets into these lines, they form sort of a mass of biological material that sort of gels together and releases an awful odor, kind of like something that’s rotting. And there’s no way to kind of make it simpler than that but it’s really kind of a gross thing.

    So, what you need to do is – just sort of rinsing it out with hot, soapy water is not going to do this. You’ve got to take the drain cover off, you’ve got to get into the drain with a bottle brush or something like that and scrub the inside of the pipe. And that will start to break down the biofilm and that should help eliminate the odor problem. It’s not just a matter of rinsing it out because that’s kind of just feeding it. You literally have to abrade this gross stuff away to make it clean once again. OK?

    LAUREL: Alright. And I really enjoy your program every week.

    TOM: Thanks so much, Laurel. Good luck with that project and call again.

    LESLIE: Now we’ve got Dave in Ohio who’s dealing with some seams in the drywall. Tell us what’s going on.

    DAVE: Well, my garage – my attached garage – is finished but I’ve noticed that in the wintertime, the seams will pop and crack. And then over the summer, I retaped and respackled and repainted and that was in May. And then by December, they had popped again and it’s getting really frustrating. It’s also uninsulated. It’s unheated and uninsulated, so I’m trying to figure out what I can do to fix this permanently.

    LESLIE: Well, the issue that you’re dealing with, primarily, is that you’ve got drywall in an unconditioned space. So you’re getting a lot of movement throughout the seasons, which is causing those seams to sort of open up and become visible for you.

    Now, when you’re repairing them, are you using traditional drywall tape or are you using that mesh tape?

    DAVE: I’ve been using – I used the mesh tape this last time.

    LESLIE: OK. And still it popped open again?

    DAVE: It still popped, yes.

    TOM: Did you remove the old tape before you put the mesh tape down?

    DAVE: Yes, yes.

    TOM: How many layers of spackle did you put down?

    DAVE: After the tape, I believe it was one.

    TOM: OK.

    LESLIE: OK. You’re supposed to do three.

    You want to start with one that’s approximately the size of the tape, smooth it out, let it dry, sand it down. Put another layer, get a little bit wider, feather out, let it dry, sand it down and go with your widest, let that dry, sand it. And that really seals the tape in and allows for a smooth transition. You’re dealing with a finished garage but it’s still a garage space. You want it to look good but you’re putting an awful lot of work into it.

    TOM: Yeah.

    DAVE: Yes.

    TOM: This is like Groundhog Day Home Improvement: every day you wake up, you’ve got to do it all over again.

    The thing is that when builders construct these spaces, they’re not required to put more than one coat of spackle on because it’s just for fire resistance. So we end up getting stuck with these houses that have tape that fall off over the years because it just wasn’t finished/spackled. So, the key here is to remove the old, loose tape; sand the area so you have good adhesion. Not aggressively but just lightly sand. Use the perforated tape that’s like the sticky-backed perforated tape, kind of looks like netting. Three coats of spackle, prime, paint and that should be permanent.

    DAVE: OK. That sounds great.

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

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

    KAREN: Yes. I had a tile floor put in my bathroom. And where you walk in, the tile has – the grout has tipped out. And so I called the tile guy and he came and he took that piece of tile out and regrouted it and it’s happening again. Is there something I can use just to seal that up or do we have to regrout it a third time?

    TOM: Well, if the grout is falling out, then sealing it is not going to change anything. It sounds like the grout might have been not mixed correctly, perhaps it was too dry. Is it falling out in the same place that it fell out the first time?

    KAREN: Yes.

    LESLIE: Karen, is it a small tile or a large tile?

    KAREN: I think it’s 12×12.

    LESLIE: OK. And you’re not seeing any cracks in the tile? It’s just strictly on the grout?

    KAREN: Yeah, just the grout is tipping out. And it’s just in the one place: the same place he replaced it.

    TOM: Well, when you say he replaced it, did he just sort of fill in the missing areas or did he actually really physically take out all the old grout?

    KAREN: He took out the old grout and put in a new tile.

    TOM: You’re going to have to have the tile guy come back again, pull out the grout and try it one more time. But have him look this time, carefully, to see if there’s any movement in the floor there that’s causing this to happen. Because I agree with Leslie on this: I definitely think something’s going on there that’s causing it to loosen up. It shouldn’t be happening.

    If the grout was not fully removed the first time, then I would think that maybe, you know, it just wasn’t adhering. But if it’s completely totally and completely removed and it’s still coming up, then I think that there’s something unstable about that floor surface and that’s why it’s popping up. You’re going to have to get the tile guy involved again. It’s definitely not a maintenance issue.

    KAREN: OK. Well, I will do that for sure then.

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

    Still ahead, you’ve gotten the dreaded foreclosure notice. Is there any way to just stop the process and keep your house? Or on the flip side, maybe you’re thinking about buying a home and you’re wondering if looking at some foreclosed property could be a good deal. We’re going to tell you the answers to those questions and more, when we talk to The Debt Lady, financial expert Jerri Simpson, after this.

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

    LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

    Well, if you’re considering buying a home, you may be tempted to scan foreclosure listings to snatch up your dream house on the cheap. Well, not so fast. Bank-owned properties can be a bargain but there are a lot of things that you need to be aware of before you think about making this kind of huge purchase.

    TOM: Here to help us navigate foreclosed-property sales is Jerri Simpson. And she is the author of Money Paper or Plastic: A Guide to Financial Health and Prosperity.

    Jerri, welcome to the program.

    JERRI: Thank you so much for having me.

    TOM: And I want to say that you also have another book out called Lose 100 Pounds. That’s a great topic for New Year’s. Oh, oh, wait a minute. It’s Lose 100 Pounds of Debt. OK, 100 Pounds Of Debt Weight. Well, it’s still a great topic for New Year’s, right? We want to lose weight for the holidays and losing debt is almost as good.

    Thanks so much for joining us, Jerri.

    JERRI: Well, thank you.

    TOM: What is the opportunity for folks that are interested in buying homes to seek out foreclosed properties? Now, you could take it for granted that these homes are probably not in tip-top shape. Because if it’s a distressed financial situation, they’re certainly not spending money upkeeping a house. But does that necessarily mean that the house can’t be a good deal?

    JERRI: Well, I mean there’s so many good deals out there right now for houses. You look at it from a standpoint – we have – I have had many, many consumers that have come to me and had problems with their homes, had problems with credit cards and that sort of thing. And some people will literally – their house is great, everything is fine. And they literally walk out of their house and go rent someplace because they can’t pay their mortgage. There’s a lot of cases like that, especially in the last two or three years, where people literally will just walk out of the home.

    Now, obviously, there’s also some that people just didn’t take care of and walked out of but that’s not the situation we’re in right now. We’re in the situation where most of Middle-Class America cannot actually afford their mortgages and they’re just walking out of them. And the homes, in a lot of cases, are really nice.

    LESLIE: Now, Jerri, it seems like when a home is being foreclosed upon, you might be in a situation where you don’t have any utilities, so you can’t tell if things work at all or to what degree some of the utilities might work. So, in this situation, are you allowed to have an inspection? And can you request the utilities be turned on so that you can do so?

    JERRI: Yeah, I know, in some cases, the utility companies will turn on the power for you for 24 or 48 hours, in some cases. But it also depends on what process the foreclosure is in. If the bank has the home back, if the foreclosure is fully done or if they’re just in the processes of it – a pre-foreclosure status – it really depends a lot on that.

    But the situation is – the best thing to do is just either get a realtor or go in and look at those pre-foreclosures and find out exactly what you’re looking for, where you’re looking for it and what you’re trying to accomplish there. And then just get in there and say, “Hey, I want to look at this,” or, “If the owner is still in the house, may I look at this house? I want to try to get this lot from you.” That sort of thing.

    TOM: You just mentioned the term “pre-foreclosure.” So I guess that means that foreclosure is imminent but perhaps it’s not completely happened yet. Does that mean that there’s, perhaps, motivation on both the bank’s side and the homeowner’s side to sell the home?

    JERRI: Well, the homeowner usually, in that case, is trying everything they can possibly do to keep their house. And people can go in on a pre-foreclosure and they can go in on it and try to buy it. The problem with that is sometimes the actual, existing homeowner will, at the last minute, come up with the funds to be able to handle it and you’ve just lost out on that house. So, until that thing is finally, completely done, foreclosed and the bank has it, you never know if that existing owner is going to actually get it back.

    Or in some cases, there’s a situation where they’ve just skipped town; they’ve just left, they don’t want anything to do with it. In those cases, it just is the process – through the foreclosure process and then at that point, obviously, it’s going to be easier for you to get the house because they’re not anywhere in sight.

    TOM: We’re talking to Jerri Simpson – she’s an author and financial expert – about buying foreclosed properties. Good deal or money pit?

    How do you make sure that the home you’re buying doesn’t have any sort of lien or other encumbrance on it, Jerri? Is that a part of the foreclosure process? When the bank presents the property, do they guarantee that the title is completely clear?

    JERRI: The banks can’t guarantee anything. The banks aren’t the ones that actually look at that, especially if they get a foreclosed home. You need to pull a title report. You need to get with a real estate agent or something. You can actually go online and look at this. Most of this stuff is public record that you can look and see what liens are on any property and that sort of thing.

    But I’ve got to tell you something, if it’s a situation where somebody skipped or somebody left their home and you’re trying to buy this house, there’s a possibility a lien is going to pop on there in a couple days or in a couple weeks or next month or something. And so, the ideal scene for anybody trying to buy a home is make sure that you buy title insurance. And that way, if something pops up in the future, then it’s going to be handled by that title insurance. And it’s not very expensive.

    LESLIE: How far in the future could things pop up?

    JERRI: You never know. You’ve got Bob Smith that owns this house today and his name, for some reason, is still on the docket. And maybe next month, the IRS puts a lien on him and it goes on that property. Now, granted, he doesn’t own it anymore but it could pop up and it could create problems for you.

    If you have your title insurance, there is no problem; you don’t have to worry about that kind of stuff.

    LESLIE: Would you normally get title insurance or is that something you should just definitely do it in this situation?

    JERRI: You should do it in a situation – especially in this situation. But you should do it anyway because you’re always guaranteed that nothing’s going to pop up.

    Let’s just say somebody gets a $100,000 lien put on that property. It’s not yours. And the amount of time and effort it’s going to take you – and money it’s going to take you – to get that thing off, if you go to sell or refinance your house, it’s not worth it. You’ve got title insurance, you don’t have to worry about it.

    TOM: Great advice. Jerri Simpson, author and financial expert, thanks so much for stopping by The Money Pit. That’s fascinating. Good opportunity to buy a home that’s foreclosed but you’ve got to do it right. Jerri, you’re the expert. Thanks so much for sharing those tips.

    JERRI: Thank you so much.

    TOM: If you’d like to learn more about Jerri’s work, you can visit her website, Remember her two books that are out: Money Paper or Plastic: A Guide to Financial Health and Prosperity and Lose 100 Pounds of Debt Weight: Learn How to Trim That Credit Card Fat.

    LESLIE: Well, is the whole fantasy-football league coming to your house to watch the Super Bowl? If they are or even if you’re just hosting a few friends, we’re going to share some super-entertaining tips, coming up next.

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    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 and give us a call at 888-MONEY-PIT.

    One caller that we talk to on the air this hour is going to win a copy of our book, My Home, My Money Pit: Your Guide to Every Home Improvement Adventure.

    TOM: Heck, we’ll even autograph it for you or send it graffiti-free. It’s your choice. But give us a call at 888-MONEY-PIT. Take that all-important first step and let us help you with your home improvement project.

    LESLIE: Now we’re heading on over to Delaware to chat with Ruth, who’s having an issue with water heating. Tell us what’s going on.

    RUTH: Our water heater is – I’m guessing it’s around 12 years old. And whenever I use the hot water, it doesn’t seem to last very long. And so a couple months ago, maybe 6 months ago, my husband and his friend – and his friend, I guess that’s what he does for a living. They emptied the water heater, they put two new elements in. But in my opinion, it’s still doing the same thing, like it didn’t – to me, it didn’t change the length how long the hot water lasted.

    TOM: And this is an electric water heater?

    RUTH: It’s not gas; it’s electric, yes.

    TOM: And so, when they replaced the elements, they tested both elements to make sure they actually work?

    RUTH: I’m not sure if they did that. I don’t know. He said they put new elements in. I’m assuming they – I mean I guess I could ask them later if they did that.

    TOM: Because here’s the thing. When you have a water heater that’s electric and it runs out of hot water quickly, it’s usually because one or the other of the two elements burn out or the control circuit breaks down so they don’t actually come on. So, what you do, as a technician, is you run a continuity tester on these coils. And it’s a way of determining whether or not they’re working or not.

    Electric coils for a water heater is just like a light bulb: either works, doesn’t work; there’s no in between. And so, the first thing I would do is check the continuity on both of these coils to make sure they’re both physically working. Because what you’re describing, to me, sounds like one is not and that could be the whole source of the problem, OK?

    RUTH: Alright.

    TOM: Ruth, thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.

    LESLIE: So, the gang’s all coming to your house for Super Bowl XLVIII. Well, for Tom and I, they’re coming to our backyard to actually play the game, which is pretty amazing. It’s kind of the first time they’ve had a cold Super Bowl in ages, so this could be pretty cool. So it’s a great game that you could have great fun with hosting.

    And it’s more than just having a lot of wings on hand. Although, for me, a great Super Bowl party is wings and beer. And I always felt they should have Super Bowl on a Saturday because there’s a lot of people that call out sick on that Super Bowl Monday.

    So, for example, guys, why not come up with a couple of party favors in the form of mini-whiteboards or chalkboards as part of your appetizer’s table centerpiece? You can provide markers or chalk and let your guests doodle plays or maybe predictions. You know, some football fun.

    TOM: Yeah, you can also pick up, perhaps, some white, plain, serving bowls. You can use electrical tape to stripe them in your team’s favorite colors. Or how about this one? Why not pick up a piece of AstroTurf-like carpeting? There’s lots of remnants that are available in home centers. You can cut out circles for coasters and rectangles for placemats.

    LESLIE: And don’t forget games and entertainment for halftime, especially if you’ve got an event that’s family-friendly. You can have a trivia game based on past Super Bowls. You can use a football as a hot potato and pass it in a circle while the music plays. And when the music stops, whoever is holding the football is out.

    Use your imagination, have some fun and let’s enjoy Super Bowl XLVIII.

    TOM: 888-666-3974. This is The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show. We’re here to help you with your home improvement, home maintenance and home décor projects.

    LESLIE: Now we’ve got Mike in Illinois on the line with a fireplace question. How can we help you today?

    MIKE: OK. We’re getting ready to move into a home that has two fireplaces: one on the first floor and one in the basement. The first floor is a stove insert and there’s two separate chimneys that terminate next to each other. And the previous owner is telling us that when they’re burning a fire in the stove, sometimes you get smoke out of the basement fireplace, even with the damper closed. Sometimes a little smoke, sometimes a lot of smoke. So just wondering what’s going on there and how to solve that.

    TOM: Well, the reason it happens is because the chimney is cold. Generally, when a chimney is cold, you get condensation of the smoke inside the chimney. And that makes it heavy and it could push it down. So if a chimney does not have good draft, then you’re not going to evacuate the smoke from the chimney through the outside.

    So the question is: how do you make that chimney improve the draft? And there’s a number of ways that that’s done. Sometimes the chimney is raised, so we make it taller. Sometimes, on the fireplace itself, you build in what’s called a “smoke shield,” which is usually a piece of metal that’s across the front of the fireplace, that’s maybe 6 or 8 inches deep so that it improves the draft right at the front of the fireplace. And that can speed it up. But it’s the kind of project that you really need to have a chimney expert look at.

    And I would not go to a mason for this; I would go to a shop that sells wood stoves and fireplaces because they’re going to have the expertise that you need here. But the reason it’s happening is because the chimney is not drafting properly.

    And you can minimize it, by the way, by always building a very small fire and then building it up from there. You don’t want to kind of go with a big fire right off because the chimney doesn’t have a chance to warm up. And you’ll get more smoke that way. But when you do build a fire, if you start small and then let the chimney warm up and then before you go a little bigger, that can minimize it. But I really think you need to have an expert look at it because that can be quite a nasty problem, especially if somebody else builds the fire besides you and fills the house with smoke.

    MIKE: OK. Thanks a lot.

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

    LESLIE: Well, no kitchen makeover is complete without a redo of the cabinets. But that doesn’t always mean replacing them. Because you could reface them instead, which could be a good option. We’re going to tell you which one is best in which situation, just ahead.

    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: You’ve got a question that you’re too shy to ask on the air? Well, simply post your question in The Money Pit’s Community section. It’s also a great reference source, too, because we have answered hundreds of questions so far. And one of them is bound to be yours.

    And if you’ve got a project that you’re proud to post pictures about, share them on our Facebook page. All those links are off The Money Pit website at

    LESLIE: And while you’re online, head over to the Community section and post your question, like Ava did, who writes: “I live in Manhattan and have a 7-foot by 10-foot kitchen. It has three hanging cabinets that need to be refaced. I’ve had contractors tell me that it will cost anywhere from $6,000 to $12,000.”

    Oh, my goodness.

    TOM: Wow. Big range, huh?

    LESLIE: “They all say it’s one day’s work.” Wow. Good for them. “So why is it so expensive for such a small area?”

    TOM: Well, first of all, you live in Manhattan, so I’m thinking Manhattan is ridiculously expensive. That said, I don’t think that you’ve got to necessarily go for a completely new kitchen. You know, if your kitchen cabinets are solid, well-built, they could be refaced, which basically means you can add new veneers to the outside of the old cabinets. It could be laminates, it could be wood veneers and new hardware to those cabinets and really give it a completely new look.

    You just don’t have to buy into replacing cabinets every single time. There are other ways to go.

    LESLIE: And you know what, Ava? If you’re looking for a temporary fix to sort of bide the time, I guess, until you’re able to either choose a better refacing guy or buy some new cabinets, you can actually just paint them. I know it’s not ideal but it really depends on what the material is now. So, they might already be painted and a new paint – coat of paint – could really make a huge difference. You just want to make sure that you prime them well. And use a good-quality paint that’s going to clean up easily because kitchens are kitchens and they get pretty dirty.

    So, I mean there’s a couple of things you could do. It might also be cheaper – if you’ve got full-overlay doors, look into just buying a new cabinet door. It’s only three of them. Come on, how expensive could that be?

    TOM: Well, are you ready to enjoy the big game, with surround sound, in your very own home theater? Have you thought about what the neighbors might say? Leslie has the last word on an awesome idea for a home theater design element that has a practical purpose, too, in today’s edition of Leslie’s Last Word.

    LESLIE: That’s right. If you’re really going all out with a home theater for your Super Bowl party or your whatever-kind-of-TV-viewing event, upholstered wall panels, they really are a great fit for this space.

    From a design standpoint, wall panels are glamorous and they’re really just gorgeous to look at. From a practical point of view, the fabric panels will help to soundproof your area for optimal audio quality when you’re watching a sporting event or a movie at home.

    Now, you can do this in a traditional way, the same way you would do with an upholstered headboard: with batting or foam over a piece of plywood or luan. Or you could go with a wall-mounted fabric panel which is specifically made for this purpose.

    And there are actually companies that you can find online that make these for real movie theaters and live-performance theaters. And the components themselves are surprisingly affordable. It’s a little tricky to sort of get the learning curve done right. I’ve used this a couple of times for my private clients. And once you kind of get the hang of it, it does happen quite easily.

    So don’t think about a tricked-out home theater and not think it’s possible; you can do it. Just remember the details, like walls that are soundproof and look gorgeous, and you’re going to have a great movie- or sport-watching experience.

    TOM: This is The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show. Coming up next time on the program, as you drive around town, you might notice, these days, that some roofs are looking a bit different, thanks to solar panels. So, is going solar really a good deal? We’re going to give you the scoop, on the next edition of 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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