Earth-Friendly Home Improvement Ideas

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

    LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

    TOM: And we’re here to help you with your home improvement projects, which nowadays means you’re tackling some spring projects to make your home more attractive, easier to live in, better organized, adding value. Hey, whatever is on your to-do list, switch it on over to ours by giving us a call, right now, and let’s talk about that project. The number is 1-888-MONEY-PIT, 888-666-3974.

    Now, we love this time of year because there’s so many fun projects that you can take on both inside and outside your house. But sometimes, a project forms even when you don’t expect it, like when you get a really bad spring storm and it slings projectiles around your house. That can do some pretty serious damage. We’re going to have some DIY inspection tips that can help you spot those very small repairs before they grow into big, leaky, messy problems.

    LESLIE: And laying a stepping-stone path is an easy weekend do-it-yourself project that adds to your outdoor living. And it can save your grass from a ton of foot traffic. We’re going to talk you through that project, in just a bit.

    TOM: And also ahead, we’re going to highlight some of our favorite, Earth-friendly home improvement ideas this hour to help you save energy, water and money.

    LESLIE: But first, we want to know what you are working on this spring weekend. What do you want to know? What can we help with? Are you designing something? Are you decorating something? Are you thinking about a big outdoor makeover? I’m thinking about taking down a big pine tree. Wondering how much that’s going to cost. Well, we can help you with whatever it is you are working on.

    TOM: Give us a call right now. The number is 1-888-MONEY-PIT, 888-666-3974.

    Let’s get to those projects. Leslie, who’s first?

    LESLIE: Brenda in Kansas, you’ve got The Money Pit. What’s going on at your house?

    BRENDA: Hi. So far, it’s going to fall in.

    LESLIE: Oh, no. What’s happening?

    BRENDA: Well, we have a – the house was built in about 1908. And the basement walls were poured concrete and they’re starting to crumble. I mean significantly, like 2 to 4 inches in some spots.

    The problem is we can’t lift the house because it’s made of Haydite blocks that were – with decorative front on them. So, the whole thing’s block and we can’t – it’s just way too heavy to lift. So, I’m trying to figure out how to repair the walls or replace them or add structural something to them. I don’t know.

    TOM: OK. So this is not something that you can figure out. You do not have the experience, nor do 90 percent of the contractors that you call to ask those questions. If you’ve got walls that are in that bad a shape, you need to go to a structural engineer. That is really critical, for a bunch of reasons.

    First of all, a structural engineer is going to know exactly what kind of repair to prescribe and in his or her report will detail, with words and drawings, what that repair has to look like. Once you get that specification, then you can talk to contractors who will execute that design. But most importantly, when you’re dealing with a major structural issue like this, you also need the structural engineer to come back after the repair is done and say, “Yes, it was done correctly and there’s no further cause for concern.” Because at some point, you’re going to want to sell this house and that engineering report and the inspections that follow are going to be sort of a pedigree that’s going to stay with the house.

    So, I’ve seen these repairs done badly more than they’ve been done well and it’s usually because people try to skip that step. It’s really important you have a design professional when you have walls that are sagging a couple inches, like you describe it, because it’s beyond the scope of what any contractor should be trusted to design themselves.

    BRENDA: OK. Well, that makes me feel better. Because one person said, well, they would come in and spray concrete on but they would need to drill through to put some supports. And I’m like …

    TOM: Yeah. No, your antennas should go up with that kind of advice.


    TOM: Because a guy hasn’t even seen your house yet so, you know …

    BRENDA: No. Right.

    TOM: So, yeah, you need to get a design professional. Get these – don’t let these contractors in the door, because they’ll try to take advantage of you and prescribe all sorts of crazy ideas.


    TOM: And they just don’t have the training to do that, OK?

    BRENDA: Alright. Well, thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

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

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

    VAN: I want to tell you I love you all’s show but we were thinking about changing …

    TOM: Well, thank you.

    LESLIE: Thanks.

    VAN: Yeah, no problem. But we just bought this house in October and my wife said, “Saw where you could change the color of vinyl siding.” So I looked at a few things. There’s not really a whole lot on the internet that tells about it and there’s not a whole lot of products to choose from. So I was just wanting you all’s advice. Would you do it? If you would, what would you use and all that stuff?

    TOM: Why do you hate the vinyl-siding color right now? Is it faded or you just want to change it up?

    VAN: Yeah, it doesn’t bother me, the color, but my wife just wants to, I guess – like painting the walls, she wants to paint the vinyl siding.

    TOM: OK. I don’t think that …

    LESLIE: Blame it on your wife. I get it. It’s fine.

    TOM: Yeah, yeah. Well, I don’t think that’s a good enough reason. Here’s why because – but painting vinyl siding, while it’s possible, you’re basically opening yourself up to – you know what comes after paint, right? Repaint. You’re opening yourself up to that.

    There are paints that are designed for vinyl. And if you work with a major manufacturer, like Sherwin-Williams, you’ll have options in colors and such. But it’s just not going to last as long as vinyl because, let’s face it, vinyl is color all the way through. If you put a layer on top of that, at some point it’s going to start to peel and it’s going to look nasty. And you’re going to have to do it again and again.

    If she doesn’t really like that vinyl, I would tell you to – why not change the color of shutters or trim and kind of work around it? It’s kind of like when you get somebody that’s got a really old bathroom with 1970s colors but it’s a beautifully done solid-tile job but you can’t probably get done today. Sometimes we say, “Well, live with the ugly, yellow tile but change everything else around it.” And sometimes that’s enough.

    So I would tell you to change the colors of the shutters or the trim to make the accent really pop. Maybe thinking about replacing your door. A new front door can make dramatic changes in the perceived value of your home. It looks so much cooler from the street. But I would not paint vinyl siding unless there was a really good reason. And just changing the color, to me, is not strong enough.

    VAN: Yeah. Well, I’m glad to hear that, because I don’t really want to do it.

    TOM: Well, we can be the bad guy. We’ll take that hit for you. But there’s a good reason for it, because I just don’t want you to open up a whole series of having to repaint this as years go by every five to seven years. Vinyl expands like crazy and I just – getting that paint to stand up to that? It’s a real challenge.

    VAN: Yeah, that’s what I thought, too, was 5 to 15 years was all they would guarantee on the paint or the stain.

    TOM: I would think closer to five. I would be very surprised if you got more than five or six or seven years out of it.

    VAN: Hey, I appreciate it.

    TOM: You’re welcome. Well, good luck with your wife and talking her out of that project. But maybe she’ll find that if you do change up the colors of the trim and the shutters that it’ll make the impact that she wants, OK?

    VAN: Mm-hmm. OK. Cool. Thanks.

    TOM: You’re welcome.

    LESLIE: You are listening to The Money Pit presented by You’ll never have to worry about overpaying for a job. Just use their True Cost Guide to see what others have paid for similar projects, then get matched with top-rated pros, read reviews, get quotes and book appointments, all for free, at

    TOM: And just ahead, with all the beautiful signs of spring, another one are all of those spring storms which could send a branch or some other projectile flying through the glass windows in your house. We’re going to have some easy window-repair tips to help you get that fix done right, after this.

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

    LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

    TOM: We’d love to hear what you’re working on around your money pit. The number is 1-888-MONEY-PIT. Give us a call right now. We’re here to help you with your home improvement, your home décor, your home remodeling projects presented by HomeAdvisor, where you can find top-rated home service pros and book appointments online, all for free.

    LESLIE: Barbara from Rhode Island is on the line.

    Barbara, you’ve got some funny noises going on with the toilet. What’s going on?

    BARBARA: I have a half-bathroom in my upstairs. It consists of the toilet and a small sink. And for the last few months, when we flush the toilet it – we get a bubble sound. And it will flush but it doesn’t take the paper with it. We looked in the tank and it is right up to the level of the water. The chain is right where the flap opens up and then it will close and it will fill. So, it’s kind of like we have to flush it twice in order to actually get the paper to go down.

    TOM: So the fact that you get this gurgle to me sounds like the venting is obstructed. That’s where the air gets back into the system. There’s a vertical pipe that goes from the back of the plumbing connection, up through the roof. And when it’s starving for air, you get that type of a gulp that happens. So it could be that there’s a partial obstruction somewhere in that drain line itself.

    Have you tried to clear that toilet to make sure that nothing was in there?

    BARBARA: Yes. My husband did take a plunger and he used it. And it didn’t seem to help.

    TOM: Barbara, it’s good that he tried the plunger but that may not actually work if it’s obstructed. It can happen – it can work if it’s sort of a larger mass. But if it’s something that got in there, like something that was dropped in the toilet or something that’s worked its way in there from another drain, what you might want to do is try using something called a “toilet auger.”

    A toilet auger is kind of a like a 2-foot-long toilet snake. And what it does is it actually gets into that trap part of the toilet, which is usually where most of the obstructions are. And it’s a very inexpensive tool. And you could buy one at a home center, I’m sure, for probably $10 or $20. And if you use the toilet auger, you’re definitely going to clean out that entire bowl and the trap that’s attached to it. Because the trap is just that: it’s a narrow portion where the waste has to flow up and over in order to drain out. And if you get waste that builds up there, then that’s not going to happen.

    BARBARA: OK. Alright. So, we’ll try that. And if that doesn’t work, you mentioned about the pipe coming out the roof?

    TOM: Yeah, the vent. If that doesn’t work, I would contact – I would reach out to a plumber at that point or a drain-cleaning service, because you’ve basically done as much as you possibly can do.

    BARBARA: OK. Well, thank you so much. Hopefully, the auger will solve the problem.

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

    LESLIE: Well, it’s the spring-storm season and that can mean a lot of things have the potential of flying through your window: maybe some branches, maybe a large part of a tree, maybe another part of a house. But it could be anything, based on these storm seasons. And hopefully, we’re not going to get such a bad one this year but you never know.

    Now, if you’ve lost a window due to a storm or maybe some kids in the neighborhood have been playing ball, it’s really important to know how to clean up that mess safely, because it could be a lot of broken glass and that could cause some injuries. And then we’re going to share some options for getting these broken windows fixed.

    Now, first of all, don’t try to knock out any of that remaining glass that’s left in the frame. You want to use safety gloves and then remove the loosened pieces and the fallen pieces of glass. Now, to clean up small particles of glass, you should try to use a lot of thicknesses of paper towels. And then you’re going to throw them away but you want to dampen that paper towel and sort of pat down that really fine, broken glass. Don’t rub. Just be so careful with your hands. That’s why those safety gloves are really important. And that wet paper towel – that thickness of them – will help you pick up all those tiny pieces of glass.

    And if you use anything like a cloth towel or a sponge or a mop, don’t use those again for anything else. Because those tiny, little pieces of glass – those little particles – can stay in there forever. And you can get hurt, you can get damage a surface. Just be smart about it, because this glass really travels far and it can linger.

    TOM: Yeah, that’s a really good point.

    Now, when it comes to replacing the broken glass, it really depends on the type of window. If it happens to be an old, single-pane window, those are pretty easy and that kind of glass replacement can be a do-it-yourself job. But today, it’s much more likely that the window is going to be made with insulated glass, which is multi-panes – two or three panes – and it’s also been vacuum-sealed and filled with insulating gas, as well. Argon is often inserted between the panes because it’s an insulator.

    Now, for those windows, while it’s possible to have a replacement window made, it’s usually least expensive to just order another sash from the manufacturer. And the sash is the window with the immediate frame around it. Because that’s just going to be more cost-effective and easier and you know it’s going to fit properly every single time.

    LESLIE: Joanne in Illinois is on the line with The Money Pit and has a question about a skylight. What’s going on? You’ve got some leaking happening?

    JOANNE: Well, yes. I would say about a month-and-a-half ago, I had a leak in the skylight. It’s an older skylight, fairly large. It’s almost 3 feet by 2½. And my neighbor got on the roof and he said, “Oh, we found the place. It was a little break in the seal.” And he asked me for some alcohol. He cleaned it up and he must have put some kind of a caulk or something. And it doesn’t leak anymore.

    TOM: OK.

    JOANNE: But it’s old and I don’t know what to do, whether – because we have pretty harsh winters.

    TOM: Right.

    JOANNE: Is there a spray or something I could put over the seal? I think it’s too old to get another seal to fit that.

    TOM: So, this is kind of how skylights will wear. You know, look, they’re just a – they’re a window, just like the windows that you move up and down the sides of your house, except this one happens to cover the roof. And it’s usually stationary, unless it’s operable. And with all that exposure to UV radiation over the years and all that wear and tear from the weather, they’re going to break down. What he did was the right thing to do. And if he used a good-quality – like a silicone-seal – product, it can give you many years of performance.

    If it ends up being a problem on an ongoing basis, I would just tell you to replace the skylight, because they do have a life expectancy. And the other good thing about replacing those old skylights is the newer ones are much more energy-efficient, so they don’t let in as much heat in the summer. And that can make it a lot more comfortable for you.

    JOANNE: I don’t really have anybody that would put it in that I know of.

    TOM: Well, you’d have to hire a pro to do that and there’s plenty of companies out there that do that sort of work.

    JOANNE: OK. Is there any kind of a type of skylight that’s better than the other?

    TOM: Yeah. Yes. I would look at the skylights by Andersen. And the reason I say that is because – either Andersen or VELUX – V-E-L-U-X. I’m actually not sure if Andersen is still making them – they may have stopped – but I know VELUX is. And the reason I like those, both of those skylights have an integral flashing design where basically the box gets mounted on top of the roof, then the flashing gets wound in between the shingles. And then there’s a counterflashing piece that seals it from the top down. So the way it’s designed, you’re not going to be affected by expansion and contraction over the years. It basically – that flashing system, that seal system, sort of rides with the roof as it moves.

    JOANNE: Uh-huh. Do you have any idea what prices they are – they might be?

    TOM: Yeah. I mean the skylight itself is probably going to be a few hundred to a thousand. Plus, it depends on how complicated the installation is.


    TOM: If you’re fortunate enough to get one that’s pretty close in size – and a lot of times, you can find them; they’re very similar. Then, to me, there’s not so much work to do to the light shaft, which is that part of the ceiling from the flat ceiling in your room, up to where the skylight is. If it’s significantly different, then you’ve got some carpentry work on top of that.

    JOANNE: You think maybe I don’t have too many years left in this light – in this skylight?

    TOM: No. I think as long as it doesn’t leak. The fact that it leaked once doesn’t mean it’s going to be an ongoing problem. You know that it happened. I would just keep an eye on it. And if everything else is good with it, just live with it.

    LESLIE: Robert in Texas is on the line with The Money Pit. What’s going on at your house?

    ROBERT: I’ve got a faucet – a wall faucet – that I replaced. It’s new. And every time I turn the hot water heater – or hot water on, it sounds like a trumpet’s going off.

    TOM: Oh, boy. OK.

    LESLIE: It’s musical.

    TOM: Yeah. It sounds like there might be a problem with that faucet. There’s a washer inside of it that sometimes when it expands like that because of the hot water, it starts to sort of whine. And I might try this to start with: I might take the aerator off the tip of the faucet and see if it repeats itself.


    TOM: And if that – if it still happens with that, then I would switch out that faucet.


    TOM: Because I don’t think there’s anything that’s going to harm you from using it. It’s just going to annoy the heck out of you. But I would do the easy thing first, which would be to remove the aerator, just to make sure it’s not an obstruction there. Because sometimes you get debris in the line that will block that.


    TOM: Even though it’s water, you think that it’d be debris-free but I’ve got to tell you, having pulled a lot of those off over the years, you’ll see a lot of grime and grit and sometimes tiny pieces of metal in it. So try that first. And if that doesn’t work, then I think it’s the faucet issue.

    ROBERT: OK. Like I said, I just – brand new. But I guess that doesn’t matter, huh?

    TOM: Yeah. Well, at least if it’s brand new, you take it back and replace it or get another one. Get a different brand.

    ROBERT: Yeah. OK. Well, I’ll give that a shot and see if it works then.

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

    Just ahead, laying a stepping-stone path is an easy weekend do-it-yourself project that’s going to add to your outdoor living. And it’s also going to save your grass from a ton of foot traffic. We’re going to walk you through that project when The Money Pit continues.

    TOM: Welcome back to The Money Pit Home Improvement Show. I’m Tom Kraeutler.

    LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

    Give us a call at 888-MONEY-PIT presented by HomeAdvisor. You can find out what it costs to do your home project before you hire a pro and instantly book one of HomeAdvisor’s top-rated pros for free.

    TOM: We’re standing by to help you with your next spring home improvement project at 1-888-MONEY-PIT.

    LESLIE: Now we’ve got Roland in North Carolina on the line who needs some help removing some rust. What can we do for you today?

    ROLAND: I have some exposed I-beams in my basement that support a poured-floor garage above. And during construction, obviously they experienced some rust. And they’re 20 feet long, 12 inches high, so I’ve got about 400 square feet, if you will, of rusted steel. And I’m looking to paint them or finish them off a little bit.

    And I was looking at the Rust-Oleum products and figuring I would go through 15 or 20 cans just to cover that amount of space. So I was wondering if you guys had a better idea and how much prep I should do. Should I just – they haven’t rusted since the house has been finished but it does have a coating of rust on there. Is there a better way? And how should I be concerned about prepping them before painting?

    TOM: Well, a light sanding would be important to remove any of that loose rust – that loose surface rust. And it’s not deep; it’s just on the surface.

    ROLAND: That’s right.

    TOM: And then using a Rust-Oleum primer would be the next step. Not the surface paint but the primer. Now, instead of using individual spray cans, why don’t you buy the gallons of Rust-Oleum and rent a sprayer if you have to – a paint sprayer from a rental yard? It would make it super easy.

    ROLAND: Right. That’s the best way to go?

    LESLIE: Yeah. Plus, you’re inside. And using a can of spray paint is not going to make you feel very well and it’s certainly going to make the house stink up a storm. While certainly easy for application, it’s not really the best approach for an interior project. If you’re using regular paint through a sprayer – as long as you protect everything and cover up your ceiling from overspray and the floor, et cetera – you’re going to be in great shape.

    TOM: What I like to do is to try to depressurize a room when I’m spraying in it. So how would you do that? Very simply. You’d open up a window, stick a window fan in it, make sure it points out and then open up another window or door on the other side of the room and get some cross-ventilation. This way, you’re always moving the air outside the house, replacing it with fresh air.

    ROLAND: Sounds good. Is there any concern with the rust coming back through?

    TOM: Not if you prime it. If you don’t prime it, it can definitely come right through. But if you prime it, especially with a rust-inhibiting primer like Rust-Oleum, it’s going to kind of lock that in place. And as long as you don’t have any kind of serious leakage or something like that, I don’t expect it to come back through.

    ROLAND: Super. Thanks so much.

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

    LESLIE: Well, if you flip through any lawn or garden magazine, you’re sure to come across landscapes that include arbors and pergolas. These wooden yard structures are so beautiful and well within most DIYers’ reach.

    TOM: That’s right. And here with tips for building both, we welcome This Old House general contractor Tom Silva.

    Welcome, Tom.

    TOM SILVA: Nice to be here, guys.

    TOM: Now, this is a project that I think a lot of folks are interested in because outdoor living is so important today. We want to get outside and really enjoy that space, kind of treat it like an extension of our own living rooms or kitchens or the places that make us comfortable. These are the types of additions that can do that. Let’s start by talking about what the difference is between an arbor and a pergola. So what’s an arbor?

    TOM SILVA: Well, think of an arbor as almost like an accent piece that gets you into the front entry of your house or maybe into a garden. It’s like a doorway to the outside of your garden, to walk through this little entryway.

    TOM: So it’s just a nice, architectural feature that kind of helps to establish the space.

    TOM SILVA: Right.

    TOM: So what’s a pergola?

    TOM SILVA: A pergola is like a free-standing structure, usually with four legs, maybe six legs, depending on your design. And it’s a place that you can sit under and entertain.

    TOM: Now, does it have a permanent roof?

    TOM SILVA: It doesn’t have a permanent roof. Lots of times, you have the plants that will grow up over the roof or the ceiling of it. It’s because the roof design, in lots of cases, are strips of wood or lattice and that allows the plants to grow on it.

    TOM: Now, because it’s a fairly large structure, it’s going to have some weight to it, some heft to it. Does it have to be properly secured to the ground, just like you would any deck, for example?

    TOM SILVA: Well, it has to be secured to the ground properly, so you’re probably going to have to go into the ground, at least to your frost line, because you don’t want it to come up and down. But I guess the biggest thing you want to think about with a pergola is whether or not you need a building permit to build it. Because you don’t want to have that thing built and then find out that you’re too close to the lot line or you had to go down a certain depth for your footings. And you want to make sure that you’ve done all that right.

    TOM: Now, what about an arbor? That sounds like it’s a lot simpler project.

    TOM SILVA: Arbor is a lot simpler. An arbor is that entryway into your garden or whatever. And you put some lattice work on it and you’ve got a nice, little place to grow some plants.

    TOM: Now, let’s talk about materials. There’s a lot of choices out there in weather-resistant materials. If you just wanted to tackle a project yourself, you’re a DIYer, would you simply start with pressure-treated?

    TOM SILVA: Pressure-treated is a great way to start; I mean it’s inexpensive wood. Or you can go the next route up: you can go to a cedar. A red cedar is not as good as a white cedar but it will hold up and give you some life. If you wanted to use an accent wood, like an oak, I would stay away from red oak because it won’t hold up to the weather. A white oak will hold up but you’re going to have to really treat that wood and make sure you really treat the part that goes into the ground.

    TOM: Now, it occurs to me that this may be the one and only time you can do a really, really good job finishing this wood structure because, especially if you’re going to put vines on it, you’re never going to get them off.

    TOM SILVA: Right.

    TOM: You can’t mask around the ivy.

    TOM SILVA: Right, right.

    TOM: So, what would you actually do on finishing these before you actually start your planting?

    TOM SILVA: If you’re going to use pressure-treated, you’ve got to think about how you’re going to finish it if you don’t like the natural look of that wood. And it can be a real issue later on when the plants start growing.

    TOM: Great point. Tom Silva from TV’s This Old House, thank you so much for stopping by The Money Pit. Can’t wait to get started. Perhaps you will tackle it, as well, this weekend.

    TOM SILVA: Thanks, guys. It’s always nice to be here.

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

    TOM: And This Old House is brought to you on PBS by Marvin Windows and Doors.

    And just ahead, we’re going to highlight some of our favorite, Earth-friendly home improvement ideas with a goal to help you save energy, water and money, next.

    Where home solutions live, this is The Money Pit Home Improvement Show. Give us a call, right now, at 1-888-MONEY-PIT with your home décor or home remodel questions presented by HomeAdvisor, where you can get instantly matched with top-rated pros for any home project and book appointments online, all for free.

    LESLIE: Dorothy in California is on the line and she needs some help with a wall texture. Tell us what you’re working on.

    DOROTHY: Well, what we had – we have a wall and it was a heater there. We took the heater out; it would sit in the hallway. And then we finished everything and now we’re trying to find a way to kind of match the texture that was there originally.

    TOM: And what kind of texture would you – how would you describe this texture, Dorothy?

    DOROTHY: Well, it would have – like some of them will be a round shape and the other ones like an oval shape. And then they would have little, tiny circles. And then, in some cases, you would have – like they went over with a brush or something. So they’re kind of a different type of shape and sizes of circles or oval shape.

    TOM: OK. So, one of the things that you can do is you could – once that’s all patched and repaired – is you can apply some spackle to the surface of the drywall, like we used to do when it was Plaster of Paris?


    TOM: And then you can take a wallpaper brush – which is a big, heavy, bristled brush – and twist that brush with your hand. Twist it and it makes circles in that wet spackle. And if it’s a big circle, use a bigger brush. If it’s a smaller circle, use a smaller brush. And you can twist it and try to sort of match the pattern as closely as you can to what was there before. And then just paint the whole thing the same color and it’ll probably blend in pretty nicely.

    DOROTHY: Alright. Thank you so much for your help. Thank you.

    TOM: Well, would you like to save water, energy and a bit of money at the same time? You can if you take on some Earth-friendly home improvements. Now, here are a few of our favorites.

    LESLIE: Alright. First of all, let’s start with some easy water-saving ideas for your lawn and garden. Now, the amount of water that a garden needs really depends on the selection of plants that you have, as well as how you actually water them.

    So, for example here, I’m talking about your garden. Now, you need to water deeply because you want to make sure you’re soaking the root zone rather than that entire yard. So I’m really talking about focused watering in the spaces that you need it and just not an overall soaking.

    Now, when it comes to landscaping, the things that you choose to put in the yard actually count quite a bit. So you want to choose native plants. This way, you’re going to find that they’re more adapted to the area that you live in. So you might need little or no water beyond what nature provides, because they’re used to that climate.

    Now, mulch is a huge helper because it actually can lock in the soil’s moisture. And that’s going to reduce the frequency of watering. And then drip irrigation is another great way that you can save water. If you use drip irrigation or even soaker hoses, you can reduce evaporation by directing that water right at the plants’ roots. And that’s really where it needs it, so I’m talking about focused watering.

    TOM: That makes a lot of sense.

    Now, if you want to save energy, here’s a few things that you can do to accomplish that. First of all, let’s talk about your air-conditioning compressor. Now, the hotter it gets where that A/C unit is actually located outside your house, the harder it has to work and the more it’s going to cost. So you want to make sure that it’s at least 12 inches away from the compressor.

    Now, sometimes folks will try to shade these compressors with landscaping and that’s OK. But again, that landscaping has to also be kept a foot or more away from the compressor. If it’s too close, it’s going to have the inverse effect and actually drive up those costs.

    The other thing that you can do, in terms of shade, is to consider planting some shade trees. You know, the Department of Energy has reported on the effects of shade trees for many years. And generally, they say that you can save 15 percent to 50 percent on cooling costs or anywhere from about 50 bucks and on up if you have a strategically placed shade tree that’s keeping, especially those southern and western sides of your home, cooler. Plus, you get a beautiful, new tree in the process.

    And finally, storm windows. Now, you might say, “Well, why are you talking about storm windows? It’s not winter.” Well, for a very good reason. Because if you’ve got them, the same way they keep the cold drafts out in the winter, guess what? They keep the hot drafts out in the summer. Don’t think you have them? Take a look at those cooling bills; you absolutely do. If cold air is getting in in the winter, you can rest assured that hot air is getting in the summer. And that’s not as easy to feel, because it doesn’t make you uncomfortable, but it does drive up your air-conditioning costs. So put them down to prevent those drafts from getting in.

    Altogether, these few ideas can really add up to some pretty significant savings.

    LESLIE: Now we’ve got Ron in Virginia on the line who’s got a flooring question.

    Number-one topic on The Money Pit, my friend. How can we help you?

    RON: I have a ceramic-tile floor that’s been down for almost 20 years. Put it down myself. The tiles are all intact. None of them are loose but I have some tiles that are cracked. And I was wondering, rather than take the tiles up, if I could put a laminate floor over top of it.

    TOM: Absolutely. The nice thing about laminate floors is that they’re floating floors. And so you certainly could put a new laminate floor together. Most of them are lock-together boards these days. And you can lay that right on top of the tile floor below as long as it’s solid, which it sounds like it is.

    Now, of course, it’s going to make that floor that much thicker. I don’t know if that’s an issue.

    RON: No, I don’t think that would be a problem. Do I still need to put down that thin layer of the foam? Put that right over top of the ceramic?

    TOM: I think it’s a good idea because it cushions the floor and it also quiets the floor. It’s not quite as click-y, you know what I mean, when you walk on it? Now, keep in mind that some of the different laminate-floor manufacturers have the underlayment attached to the bottom of the actual floorboard. It’s sort of like a sponge on the bottom of it. But you definitely want to follow their instructions.

    But to answer your real question – can you put it on tile? – yes, you can.

    RON: Oh, great. Well, that would certainly save a lot of time and headache trying to take that tile floor up.

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

    Hey, are you thinking about buying a new house soon? Well, getting the right inspections can help make sure it doesn’t turn into a real-life money pit. We’re going to answer a question about what kind of inspection you need and whether you or the home seller is the one that has to pay for them, after this.

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

    LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

    TOM: Pick up the phone and give us a call, right now, with your home improvement question at 1-888-MONEY-PIT, 888-666-3974.

    LESLIE: Give us a call. Let us know what you are working on. But don’t forget, you can also post your questions online, right here at, in the Community section.

    Alright. Now I’ve got a post here from Sharon who writes: “Is it the owner’s responsibility to clean out the septic tank and have it inspected before the sale of a home?”

    What do you think? Tom, seriously, this is probably a big thing. A septic tank is a huge, very delicate system that’s imperative to the operation of a home. So, you need to know how it’s working.

    TOM: Absolutely.

    LESLIE: So what do you do when you’re looking at a house with a septic system?

    TOM: Well, definitely the homeowner should be maintaining it. And if it was recently cleaned, that needs to be disclosed because that could …

    LESLIE: You have a report of that.

    TOM: Yeah, you have to have a report of it. But also, if I was a septic inspector, I would want to know that I’m dealing with an empty tank and not a full tank that may have – because if the tank is full, right, if it hasn’t filled up yet, it might not actually overflow into the septic field. And it might look like the septic field is actually draining properly when, in fact, it’s not. So that can actually work against you if it was recently pumped because, remember, those are huge tanks. And the way they work is they fill up and then they overflow into the field. And so if the tank is just an empty pit and say, it’s drained the day before your inspection, you may not see what you expect to see.

    In terms of the inspection, I think it’s your responsibility to do that because you want to pick the inspector. You want to have the contractual relationship with your septic inspector. You don’t want to take the word of somebody that’s not working for you directly. And you want to make sure you find a really good, thorough inspector. Because if you …

    LESLIE: Now, is that part of a regular home inspection or is that a separate inspector?

    TOM: That’s a good point, because it’s not part of a regular home inspection; it’s in addition to that. The standards of practice for the basic home inspection are dictated by the American Society of Home Inspectors. And it’s important because it does create consistency across the industry. But that type of inspection is specialized because not all homes have septic systems. And doing a good, thorough septic inspection, you know, can take in some cases almost as long as a home inspection. So, you want to make sure that you do hire a pro to do that that works exclusively for you and thoroughly checks the system, because it could be a very, very expensive repair if it has to be replaced.

    Now, the other inspections that might fall in that category, sort of outside the home inspection: radon inspection. That’s definitely something that ought to be done if you’re in an area that’s prevalent to having radon. Pest inspections. Now, with pest inspections, most banks are not going to loan on a house – they won’t give you the mortgage unless you have a clear inspection for wood-destroying insects, like termites and carpenter ants. But if your inspector finds a problem, then the homeowner is the one that pays for it. Because frankly, they can’t sell the house to anybody until they get rid of the bugs and deal with any of the damage that they may have caused.

    But the most important inspection of everything, because it covers so much, is that home inspection. So if you wanted to start in one place and then – so that you’re not spending all this money on inspections the same day, start with a home inspection and see how the house looks in the eyes of the home inspector. You’re going to have a pretty good idea of what you’re dealing with after that.

    You go to the home inspectors’ association website, the American Society of Home Inspectors. I think it’s And find a home inspector through that group, because they’re all certified and experienced and real professionals compared to a lot of other guys that are out there. And you’ll be sure to know, then, exactly what you’re getting into when you buy that house.

    LESLIE: Yeah. I mean that’s really super important. And don’t forget, that can also be a big negotiating tool. If something is really in disrepair or in need of a lot of work, you can use that to say, “Hey, I’ve got to do X, Y and Z. So you should adjust your price by X.”

    Check out ASHI – A-S-H-I ­– .org.

    TOM: This is The Money Pit Home Improvement Show. Hey, thank you so much for spending part of this beautiful spring day with us. We hope we’ve been informative and given you some tips and ideas on ways to get projects done around your house. Remember, you can always reach out to us at and post your home improvement questions on the Community page.

    Until then, 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 2019 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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