Keeping Christmas Trees Healthy Through the Holiday #1211172

  • 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: What are you doing this beautiful holiday weekend? Are you working on your house? Are you fixing it up? Are you getting ready for all the sorts of visitors? Are you stringing, maybe, some holiday lights? Don’t you hate when you string the holiday lights and they used to work last year and they don’t? Well, that’s only one of the things that we are going to help solve for you today. But pick up the phone and help yourself first. If you’ve got a how-to question, a décor dilemma, call us, right now, at 1-888-MONEY-PIT, 888-666-3974.

    Coming up on today’s show, it is about time to put up that Christmas tree. And you might be trying to decide between a live and artificial one. Well, there are big pros and cons, of course, to each types. So we’re going to help you figure out which tree works best for you, in just a little bit.

    And we’re also going to tackle some of those old wives’ tales about what you should put in the water to keep that tree alive through the entire season. Because there’s a lot of weird stuff out there and most of it doesn’t work. We’ll tell you the surprising one thing that does work, though, in just a bit.

    LESLIE: Is it surprising or is it just water?

    TOM: It is. No, it is. Well, maybe it’s surprising because it’s one. It’s not water but it’s one product and there is a little bit of science behind it.

    LESLIE: And I tell you what, Pauline Segrete – that’s my mom – it’s not bleach. I’ll never forget that one year.

    TOM: Oh, my God, no. That’s toxic.

    LESLIE: She’s like, “I read that you do this.” And truly, the next day, every leaf, every needle had just jumped off that tree. And we were like, “Alright. Time to buy tree number two.”

    TOM: Well, alright. One holiday season, two trees in the Segrete household.

    LESLIE: Right. Listen, it happens sometimes.

    You listen up, guys. Also this hour, more than 70 percent of homeowners are using the garage as the main entry point to the home. And that really means that safety and security has got to be a top priority. But that garage lock is usually one of the weakest. Well, there’s a new garage-door lock out there now that delivers more security to that weak entry point than ever before. We’ll tell you about it, coming up.

    TOM: And also ahead, how safe are your stairs? They are often the most dangerous part of your home but they can be more risky without the right type of railing. We’re going to tell you how to make sure those railings and those steps are safe, just ahead.

    LESLIE: Plus, from QUIKRETE, we’re giving away a Walk Maker Kit worth 80 bucks that makes it easy to build a beautiful cobblestone walkway.

    TOM: You can have it in just in time for Santa to use it. Give us a call right now. The number is 1-888-MONEY-PIT, 888-666-3974.

    LESLIE: Greg from Iowa is on the line – is looking for some home maintenance tips. How can we help you?

    GREG: I bought my new house, new construction, eight years ago and – I’ll be honest, kind of embarrassing but I’ve really done zero home maintenance since. Other than changing the air filters every once in a while, I’ve done zero home maintenance thing.

    TOM: Well, that’s why you bought a new house.

    GREG: Yeah, exactly.

    TOM: But alas, it’s time to take on a few projects, huh? What’s going on in the house now?

    GREG: No, there’s nothing wrong. It was just more of general maintenance that needs to happen and I just don’t know what to do.

    TOM: So, general maintenance – so, first of all, when it gets chilly like it is now, it’s time for you to do some heating-system maintenance. Now, what kind of fuel do you have? Do you have gas – natural gas?

    GREG: Yes.

    TOM: So it’s important to have your heating system serviced. You apparently have not done that for eight years; you’re well overdue. The reason for that is even though when you turn the heat on, it comes on and provides heat to your house, it could be doing so inefficiently or at worst, it could be doing so dangerously. So, every fall, you need to have your heating system cleaned and serviced to make sure it’s running properly. And then in the summer, you’ll have your air-conditioning system serviced for the same reasons: not so much the danger but more importantly the efficiency. So, those are two things you should be doing right now.

    And when your HVAC technician comes, he’ll probably also take a look at the water heater because sometimes, the burners can get coated with rust. Because natural gas is very corrosive when it burns. So that’s the kind of thing that you probably need to do right away.

    The other maintenance tasks are really going to depend on kind of what’s going in the house. If you’ve got a toilet that leaks or runs all the time, then you could need fill or flush valves. If you’ve got paint that’s cracking or peeling, you could need paint. But the mechanical maintenance, I think, is most important because that’s potentially dangerous. Does that make sense?

    GREG: It does.

    TOM: Now, are you seeing anything that you think needs attention?

    GREG: No, nothing much. It’s just then – I think we’ve had a pretty lucky eight years and there’s been no crises at all, so …

    LESLIE: You’d better be knocking on a piece of wood right now.

    GREG: Right. It’s about time to get it maintained, I suppose. Get some maintenance done to the HVAC, yes?

    LESLIE: Yeah. And you know what’s something you probably don’t consider is your dryer vent. You know the exhaust duct behind your dryer that exits to the outside of your house? A lot of people don’t think to clean that because lint does go out there and then gets to the outside. And it can get stuck and it can get caught and you should be cleaning that at least once a year, probably twice a year.

    GREG: Do I have to pull out the dryer to do that?

    LESLIE: Yes. So you pull the dryer away from the wall. There’s a product called – it’s a – Gardus LintEater is one of the ones that we’ve used, Tom and I. And you actually put it through the exit vent on the exterior of the house and you sort of twist it through with a drill-driver motor. But you have to be very careful and there’s a certain direction you have to put it in. But it goes through and the amount of stuff that comes out – I mean it’s – you’ve never seen so much junk.

    GREG: Well, indeed. Well, thanks a lot for the tips. Anything else that comes up? Anything else you can think of, that is, or are those the biggies?

    TOM: Ah, there’s so much to be done. I think you just need to be aware. But take care of those mechanical things because that’s where you can get yourself in trouble, OK?

    GREG: Alright. Thanks a lot.

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

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

    CHRIS: Well, I’m calling about a leak in a copper pipe that is coming from the boiler in the basement, up and running along the ceiling of the living-room wall and into the radiator, which sits in the bathroom. And right in the ceiling, in the living room, it’s dripping about one drop per minute. And we’re emptying the bowl.

    And I had a fellow look at it. He said that there is a leak where the two pipes are connected. And it’s called “the 90.”

    TOM: Right. Mm-hmm. That’s a 90-degree bend. OK.

    CHRIS: Yes, which is something I did not understand. And then he said he would be back to repair it and hasn’t come back yet. The boiler is also working but we have to kind of watch the water and the pressure in it.

    TOM: Do you have a hot-water system or a steam system?

    CHRIS: It’s a hot-water boiler.

    TOM: So it probably has an automatic-feed valve that puts more water in it if it starts to get low. Do you know if that’s the case?

    CHRIS: No, I think we turn the valve in the basement and it adds water.

    TOM: Well, you certainly have to have it fixed, unfortunately. To do that, they’re going to have to drain the boiler off to below where that leaking joint is. And then the plumber can go in and repair it and then refill the boiler.

    So, you’re definitely going to need to have your plumber or your heating contractor come out – come back and take care of that. If this guy is ignoring you now, then you’re going to have to call somebody else. Maybe he got busy.

    CHRIS: Alright. Yes, well, thank you very much.

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

    LESLIE: You are tuned to The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show on air and online at 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 presented by HomeAdvisor.

    TOM: 888-666-3974.

    Just ahead, if you are buying a holiday tree this week, you’ve probably heard about lots of ways to keep that tree living as long as possible like, what, adding aspirin to the water, putting sugar in the water. Well, we’re going to help you sort out what really works and what’s a total waste, next.

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

    LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

    TOM: Pick up the phone, give us a call with your how-to question at 1-888-MONEY-PIT presented by They make it fast and easy to find top-rated home pros. Plus, it’s 100-percent free to use.

    And here’s another great reason to reach out by phone or by posting your question to the Community page: you might just win everything that you’ll need to get a head start on building a patio or a walkway next spring. Because we’ve got, from QUIKRETE, the Walk Maker Building Form Prize Pack worth 80 bucks.

    Walk Maker is a reusable plastic mold. It’s got a cobblestone pattern. It’s an easy way to make a concrete walkway. You just lay down the mold, fill each one with a single bag of QUIKRETE Crack-Resistant Concrete Mix, trowel the finish and remove the mold. You can use them over and over again. They can be customized with QUIKRETE’s Liquid Cement Colors.

    You can learn more at We’re giving one set away to one listener chosen at random. Make that you. Pick up the phone and call us at 888-MONEY-PIT.

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

    BILL: Well, I’m having a moisture issue in between the fiberglass-batting insulation and the foam board – FOAMULAR foam Owens Corning insulation that I put in.

    TOM: OK.

    BILL: I’m having moisture build up in between the two layers of insulation.

    TOM: So you have two layers of insulation? You have both fiberglass and foam boards?

    BILL: Yes, sir.

    TOM: So what did you put on the – you guys started with poured concrete walls?

    BILL: Yes.

    TOM: And you attached foam to that or you left a gap?

    BILL: I attached foam to the poured cement walls and then I have – it’s a walkout, so I had some knee walls. Well, they had some fiberglass batting.

    TOM: Is there any space between the knee walls and the foam insulation?

    BILL: No, sir.

    TOM: So, generally, when you use fiberglass on a basement wall, there’s a special type of basement insulation that has fiberglass that’s encapsulated inside vapor barriers. Usually, it’s foil-face. Kind of looks like a big, warm blanket. And it’s designed specifically to be attached to the wall and give you as much insulation as you can reasonably achieve, in that sense. If you’ve got a lot of condensation in here, you may have another problem, which is that you’ve got too much moisture in that space. So let’s deal with that first.

    The most common causes of moisture in a basement, everything from a little bit of condensation to full-blown flooding, is poor drainage conditions, not inside but outside the house. So if your gutter system is nonexistent or if it is there and the downspouts, for example, are discharging too close to the corners of the foundation or if the gutters are blocked and they overflow, those are all great sources of moisture that will find its way into the basement.

    Those poured-concrete walls, as solid as they are, they’re very hydroscopic; they’re very absorptive. And that water will pull right up into that wall and show up as condensation inside. So you want to make sure that you have a good gutter system that’s getting that water well away from the foundation. And you also want to make sure that the soil around that foundation slopes away. We like to see it drop about 6 inches over 4 feet. And then once that’s set, inside the basement you may need to add a dehumidifier, as well, working inside and outside to manage the amount of moisture that’s in that space.

    Now, in terms of the insulating of the walls and the finishing of the walls, generally, if you’re going to frame a wall, I would tell you to leave at least 3 or 4 inches between that and the foundation so that you do have some space back there. If it does get a little damp, it can easily ventilate and dry out. Once that wall is framed, one trick of the trade that I’ll often use is I’ll put sort of a dummy heating register into that wall – a couple down low and a couple up high – so it moves some of that conditioned air through, behind the wall, and helps to keep it a bit drier.

    You know, managing moisture in a basement is always going to be a challenge but if you approach it that way, it’s definitely a challenge that you can overcome.

    BILL: Well, great. That’s very helpful. Sounds like it might work.

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

    Well, this is the big weekend for holiday-tree shopping. And whether you prefer a live or an artificial tree, there are definitely advantages to both. So, with live trees, first of all, there’s sort of the sense of home, sort of the nostalgia of having it, the smell of the evergreen. I mean you really can’t replace that. Tree shopping is also sort of a fun family tradition for a lot of folks and it’s good for the environment. Christmas trees are a renewable resource, so it can be biodegradable, it can be recycled. And for every tree cut, you’ll usually find that there’s another tree planted in its place.

    Of course, the downside, Leslie, is dealing with all the needles and all that watering. Let’s face it, they’re a lot of work.

    LESLIE: Yeah. You say downside, I say active chores that the children need to continue to do daily to enjoy said tradition. That’s just the way I’m going to spin it.

    TOM: That’s the way you’re wired.

    LESLIE: Now, artificial trees, so many people are using them and quite honestly, they have become more and more beautiful and real-looking in recent years. Now, it’s true if you store a tree properly, it can last for about 10 years. So you can store it, reuse it. And that gives you that same beautiful tree every year without sort of wondering, “Am I going to get one that looks the same every year?” And this is a big benefit – is that the trees, you can buy ones that come pre-lit.

    Putting lights on the tree always tends to be the place where everybody starts to argue, I find, inside/outside. So if you get a tree with lights on it, it saves that step. And so many come with the energy-saving LED options. And with the LED lights, you can choose from clear to color to different tones to flashing lights. So many different options all with that one LED lighting unit.

    They’re also a lot easier to set up and maintain. You don’t need to water the tree. You don’t have to worry about killing the tree on a daily basis. And truly, over time, you’re going to save money after year after year after year because of this one-time purchase. So, it’s really a personal preference here. It’s up to you, guys. Live or artificial, they’re both gorgeous.

    TOM: Now, if you do purchase a live tree, we promised some tips on how to keep it alive as long as possible. Because let’s face it, if you don’t do this right, you’re going to have a very short holiday because the tree is going to die well before you get, maybe, through the new year.

    So here’s what you need to know. First of all, when you bring it home, you’ve got to give it a fresh cut, right? So however – you don’t know how long it’s been since it was cut down. So, put a fresh cut on the bottom.

    Secondly, first few days, it’s going to need a ton of water because it really soaks it up. But what you might want to try is don’t just put water in there but add a can – ready for this? – Red Bull. Red Bull, because it has so much sugar in it, will actually prolong the life of the tree. We’ve seen this happen. It works not only for Christmas trees, it works for flowers, as well. Just from personal experience, we’ve tried this. It works. Add a can of Red Bull to the tree and you will find that tree will perk up, not because of the caffeine but because of the sugar. So, give it a shot.

    LESLIE: Evelyn in Arkansas is on the line and has a question about pest control. What can we do for you today?

    EVELYN: I have been, for about a year-and-a-half, have really had a pest problem with meal moths – m-o-t-h-s. And I guess – I know they come in with floured foods or cereals or things like that, dried grains. And they feed off of that and produce larva in the food. I’ve thrown out so much food, because I’ve always kept a lot of food because I have nine grandchildren. So I’ve always got a lot of food in the house. But I’ve had to just dump the house numerous times to get rid of everything and cleaned all my cabinets, bleached them. I’ve done everything. I’ve been online looking for things. I called pest control.

    TOM: What do the pest-control companies tell you?

    EVELYN: They said, “Yep, you have meal moths,” and left.

    TOM: What, they had nothing they could do to help you out?

    EVELYN: They didn’t have anything. No suggestions or anything.

    TOM: Well, that seems like you don’t have the right guys there.

    EVELYN: So, I checked with Orscheln – you know, the farm supply – and they guided me to some moth traps that have the pheromones, which is a female hormone that attracts the males to the glue traps.

    TOM: Right.

    EVELYN: And they worked, as far as getting the males. But still yet, what happens to the females? They’re still laying eggs that have been impregnated.

    TOM: Well, a couple of things come to mind. First of all, I’m sure you’ve done this where you’ve taken everything out, right? And you’ve cleaned everything. And when you clean stuff where you have moths that are left behind, what you want to do is use a 50/50 solution of white vinegar and warm water because they really hate that vinegar smell. So a 50/50 solution of white vinegar and warm water.

    When you start to restack those shelves, the other thing that you can do is you could add in – make sure you put all of your dry goods in plastic or glass containers, like Tupperware containers, with airtight seals. What you do want to leave out and maybe create a sachet of is peppermint leaves or bay leaves or mint or cedar chips. Because that does tend to deter the meal moths from being comfortable in that space. So you could maybe make a couple of sachets of those and keep it in the pantry, as well, and then see how you do.

    Because I think that if you get all of that food, all those dry goods in sealed containers and if you clean it thoroughly and you use the vinegar solution, then I don’t think you’re going to have as much of a problem as you have right now. If you do, you need to get to the right pest-control company, because there are products they can put down, that are commercially available, that will make them totally go away.

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

    LESLIE: Just ahead, more than 70 percent of homeowners use the garage as the main entry point to their home. But the garage lock is usually one of the weakest. We’re going to tell you about a newly-designed garage-door lock that delivers more security to that weak link than ever before, next.

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

    LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

    Well, more than 70 percent of homeowners use the garage as the main access point to their home. But that garage-door lock is usually one of the weakest. Now, however, there’s a new deadbolt to the market that’s specifically designed to secure that door like never before.

    TOM: Yep. It’s called the Automatic Garage-Door Lock and it’s actually an industry first. It’s being introduced by the folks at LiftMaster. Joining us with those details is Paul Accardo. And Paul is LiftMaster’s Senior Manager of Advertising, Public Relations and Promotion.

    And this sounds like something that is worth the – a quite of bit of promoting, huh, Paul?

    PAUL: Absolutely. Hey, good to talk to you guys.

    TOM: So, tell us about this. I mean the garage door, yeah, it is pretty much a really wimpy lock. It always has been, right? How does this work with our existing garage doors? Does it have to be in the new garage doors? Tell us about it.

    PAUL: Yeah, the Automatic Garage-Door Lock works with three brand-new LiftMaster Garage Door Models. There’s one of our belt-drive models and two of our chain-drive models. And it works automatically. So unlike a manual lock that you would have to engage and disengage yourself – which you should never engage, by the way, if you have an automatic garage-door opener, because that could do some serious damage, obviously.

    TOM: Right.

    PAUL: But it automatically engages and disengages every time you open and close the garage door. So it really adds that extra layer of protection.

    LESLIE: Now, how do you know that it’s engaged? Is there something you have to do on an app? Is there something you hear? What’s the trick?

    PAUL: Yeah, both, actually. So with our MyQ app, you can operate your door remotely from anywhere in the world. When you open and close your door, you will always know that the Automatic Garage-Door Lock is engaged or disengaged on the app. And when you are in the garage, it gives you that sort of deadbolt sound, which is always kind of a sound of security for everybody to hear it, so that you know everything’s protected.

    TOM: Now, that’s terrific. So it’s available on these three new models. You said the belt-drive and the chain-drive models. Does it add a lot of cost to the door, Paul?

    PAUL: About a – it’s about an extra $100 to add the Automatic Garage-Door Lock to one of those three new openers.

    TOM: Yeah, that’s not much for the security that delivers.

    Have folks tried things like this in the past?

    PAUL: This is actually the first UL-approved automatic garage-door lock on the market. So, UL approval is a big deal because number one, you’re going to want to have the safest, most reliable garage door-opener system you can. And that UL approval makes things safe because when you, for example, open and close your door remotely with the app, there are audible tones and flashing lights on and off, if the garage door is open and it’s about to shut, to warn everybody that could be around that something’s going to happen.

    So, that deadbolt works seamlessly with those new openers and it’s all UL-approved and it’s all perfectly safe.

    LESLIE: Now, Paul, I think a lot of people really forget that the garage door is especially vulnerable during a big storm. We’re seeing stronger hurricanes, bigger tornados in this country. And people forget that you’ve got to secure the garage door, as well. How does this help make sure that that entry point is secure?

    PAUL: Yeah, absolutely. During high-wind periods, people are installing two Automatic Garage-Door Locks: one on one side of the door and one on the other to help in high-wind situations. So that’s very important.

    TOM: Well, there’s a lot of advantages to this product. It’s called the Automatic Garage-Door Lock, an industry first brought out by LiftMaster. If you’d like to learn more, you can go to their website at

    Paul Accardo, thank you so much for stopping by The Money Pit. Pretty exciting industry news. You don’t see too – you don’t really see a lot of new stuff when it comes to this, right? It’s just very cool to see you guys are always inventing and reinventing to make our doors better and faster and stronger and smoother to operate all the time.

    PAUL: Absolutely.

    LESLIE: Alright, Paul. All good stuff to know.

    Up next, guys, we’ve got tips on how to take the danger out of one of the most dangerous areas in your home: the steps. We’ll tell you three ways to step up that safety, next.

    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.

    Post your home improvement question to us at or call us, 24/7, at 888-MONEY-PIT presented by HomeAdvisor. They make it fast and easy to find top-rated home pros you can trust for any project.

    TOM: And if you reach out now by phone or community, you might just win everything you need to get a head start on building a patio or walkway next spring. Because, from QUIKRETE, we are giving away the Walk Maker Building Form Prize Pack worth 80 bucks. It’s basically a reusable plastic mold in a cobblestone pattern. It’s a great, easy way to make a concrete walkway or even a patio. You put down the mold, fill it with the QUIKRETE Concrete Mix, trowel the finish. You can even use the Liquid Cement Colors to give it some coloration that will work well for your outside décor.

    So, that kit’s going out to one caller drawn at random. Make that you. The number, again, is 1-888-MONEY-PIT.

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

    SHEILA: I have a room that is almost all terrazzo. And the rest of it, when I pull the carpet up, is raw cement. And there’s about a 2-inch deficit between the two floors and a hump in the middle. And I wanted to lay porcelain or ceramic-tile slabs or planks. What do I do? I understand that you can’t put concrete on top of concrete. It’ll crack.

    TOM: No. You need to use a floor-leveling compound that’s specifically designed for that. And with that kind of deficit between the floors, I’m not sure that you’re going to be able to get it flat enough to be able to use it for a tile, especially a wider tile. You know, if you’re using a narrow tile, like a mosaic, you can have a lot of flexibility if the floor is not flat. But if you use a bigger tile, like one that’s 12 inches by 12 inches or 18×18, that floor has got to be rock-solid flat because those things just don’t bend.

    Now, there is a leveling compound that you can use that will adhere to the concrete. And then when you apply the mortar itself, you’re going to want to use a thinset mortar, which is an adhesive that you mix up yourself. And you can build that up just a little bit but you said a 2-inch deficit from one side to the other. I think you really need to plan for the floor to really have almost a step or a décor piece that separates those.

    This 2-inch deficit, is that like when one side’s higher than the other?

    SHEILA: The length of the room – majority of it is in terrazzo. And then the rest of it, the length is – it goes downhill towards sliding-glass doors.

    TOM: I see. So, in other words, it’s not that it’s displaced, like a crack. It’s just that it pitches down towards the door. Is that right?

    SHEILA: Yes, yes. But to bring it level, it would be about 2 inches. We would have to add something to bring it level.

    TOM: So where this starts to pitch down, is it sort of one point that’s sort of flat, then it turns and it pitches down? Or is the whole floor sort of moved down there? Because the thing is if you don’t have that sort of sharp edge, then maybe you could tile right down to it. It’s slanted down when the carpet was on it. You may be able to have it slanted down with the tile on it, as well.

    SHEILA: Well, that’s what I was thinking. Right there where they added the – it’s an addition. Right there where they added it, there is a hump. And then it starts going downhill.

    TOM: OK. I think that you’re going to need to talk to a professional tile installer. I will say this: there are ways to smooth out those uneven sections of concrete floors but you’re going to have some limitations as to how you tile this. It may be an installation limitation in terms of where you start the pattern. Because if there’s one point where the pitch changes, you may be able to start the pattern there and have no problem. But if you try to tile over that hump, then obviously you’re going to have cracks.

    So, I think this is a little more complicated than a normal tile project. You need to have a really good installer take a look at this and figure out if it can be done. Now, if you’re going to buy the tile from a store, the store might have somebody that they’ll send over to have a look before you get that far. But I think my advice to you is that yes, it can be fixed but this requires the level of skill of an installer that’s a lot more than average, OK? Does that make sense?

    SHEILA: Yes, it does. And the terrazzo, do we have to rough it up?

    TOM: Not necessarily but again, I would speak to the installer about that. There are adhesives that can be used without you having to do that. Does that help you out, Sheila?

    SHEILA: Yes, it does. Yes, it does. Thank you.

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

    LESLIE: Well, stairs are among the most precarious spots in the home but they can be even more hazardous without the right railing. So to keep everyone safe, follow these tips.

    For stairs with at least three steps, you have to have a handrail mounted securely to the wall. Three steps. That’s the cutoff there. You’ve got to remember that. Now, if you have open staircases, the spindles should be installed no wider than 6 inches on the center. And that’s really to prevent small kids from squeezing in between those railings. And it happens, so you have to make sure that they are centered correctly.

    And lastly, you’ve got to take special caution where the steps are uneven. I mean this is very common in older homes and this truly – in the steps to the basement of my home, the last four, one’s on an angle, one’s higher than the other. So it’s like I know that they are not quite right but anybody else who’s coming to the home for a first time, like a relative or one of my kids’ friends, they might not know that that’s there. So you’ve got to make sure that your steps are very well taken care of and level and properly spaced. This way, people just don’t get hurt. It’s so easy to get hurt on the steps.

    TOM: Good advice. Give them something to grab onto so they won’t get hurt. Because let’s face it, whenever you feel a little bit unsteady, you reach for those walls. And if the rail’s not there, down you may go.

    LESLIE: Mark in Tennessee needs some help adding some insulation to the attic space. Tell us about the project.

    MARK: What I have is a 23-year-old, split-level home. And I’ve got about 800 square feet over the bedrooms and the two bathrooms upstairs, with only very, very limited access to the attic area. There’s one hole that’s 18×12, which was put in the original house, and the other is an outside gable vent, which is 18×18. And those are the only two ways that I can get into to add insulation. Neither one would be good for a blower or the rolls couldn’t get through the holes. Help me, help me.

    TOM: Put a bigger attic access in there. It’s a very easy thing to do. You simply have to cut more of the drywall out. In the same way that that access point was put in to begin with, you could certainly put a larger one in. Just cut the drywall back along the ceiling joist. You need to sort of frame it out so it’s square on the ends. And then you can make a panel that drops in there to keep it closed. Best place to do that, of course, is in a closet where it’s not very obvious.

    Now, do you have much height in that attic? Would it be worth putting a stair – an attic stair – in?

    MARK: Well, it would be too tight for a stair. And the current access is located in a shallow closet anyway.

    TOM: Can that be opened up and made larger?

    MARK: Not the depth of the closet, no. I could go width of the closet but I’m guessing I’m going to be hitting some trusses.

    TOM: Well, the thing is you’re going to work around the trusses. If you’ve got trusses, they’re probably 24 inches on center. That’s where most trusses are set. So, make the width of the opening 24 inches and make the depth of it about 36. And that would be plenty big enough to get a ladder up into that hole and get yourself up there and anything else that you need to get up there, as well.

    MARK: Well, outstanding. That’s why I listen and that’s why I call.

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

    LESLIE: Don’t let one bad Christmas light make you think the whole strand is no good. We’re going to have a fix for that, after this.

    TOM: This is The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show. Give us a call, right now, at 1-888-MONEY-PIT presented by HomeAdvisor.

    LESLIE: You can get matched with background-checked home service pros in your area, compare prices, read verified reviews and book appointments online, all for free.

    TOM: No matter the type of job, HomeAdvisor makes it fast and easy to hire a pro you can trust.

    LESLIE: Alright. And speaking of pros you can trust, pop a question into our Community section, just like Michael from St. Louis did who writes: “I have a finished bath that I’ve had to do some drywall-repair work on. Should I prime the entire room before painting or just the new drywall and joint and compound?”

    TOM: Ah, priming makes perfect. You can’t do too much priming, so definitely prime the entire room first. Because if you do that, Michael, the topcoat will look fantastic.

    LESLIE: Now, we can’t help you pick that color, though. That’s personal preference, so good luck with that.

    TOM: Well, one bad Christmas light can ruin the whole bunch but not if you know how to fix it. Leslie has the last word on how to find and fix a bad light so you don’t lose the whole strand, in today’s edition of Leslie’s Last Word.

    This is a really frustrating situation, right? You put them away last year, they look great. Take them out again, they don’t work.

    LESLIE: Yeah. I mean it happens, you know. Don’t you guys hate it when you finally get all those lights strung and you plug them in, ready for the big ta-da, but all you get is the big wah-wah? It happens, you guys. It’s really sucky. You do all that work and realize that, suddenly, it doesn’t work at all. So, don’t stress out. There are, really, a few things that you can do to fix those lights yourself. It’s not going to take forever and it’s not going to cost a ton of money.

    First of all – and this you have to do: you’ve got to check each bulb. Go across the strand, check every single bulb. If you get distracted, put a marker there. I don’t know, hold your hand on it while you turn and talk to the kids. Because forgetting where you left off, that’s a big bummer. But you need to go bulb by bulb and make sure that the bulb isn’t loose in the socket. So you’ve got to press gently on the bulb. Make sure it’s in the socket. Even though those lights are designed to work if a single bulb goes out, they’re not going to work if a bulb is unplugged. So you’ve got to remember that little trick there.

    Now, once you’ve got all the bulbs tightened, plug that string back in. If the string still doesn’t work, unplug it and check the fuse. Now, most strands of lights have a fuse built right into that plug. You’ve got to open that little cover and you’ll see it. It comes with those extra bulbs. There’s this tiny, little silver thing that you’re like, “What the heck is that?” Don’t throw it away; hold onto it. Pop the top open, replace it. That could be the trick, because it’ll come right back on.

    Now, if you’ve got success with the above techniques but you find that you’re short on parts, take one of the strands that you just don’t feel like working on or isn’t working and use all of those pieces on that strand itself as a salvage spot. Take all the bulbs, hold onto them, take the fuses. This way, you’ll be able to make any repairs that you need without having to go searching around for all of those supplies.

    We actually did that. I love those big C7 and the C9 bulbs, those very retro ones.

    TOM: Right. Mm-hmm.

    LESLIE: And I had one strand that some of the bulbs were broken and just really wasn’t working. So I just – we and the kids, we took out all the extra bulbs and we put them in a Tupperware. And so now we’ve got those as our backups.

    TOM: So that’s like the bulb graveyard right there. You are there when you want to – the junkyard. That’s where you go to find that one bulb or that one socket piece that you need to fix the other light strings.

    LESLIE: Yeah. And it’s – you need it.

    TOM: Yep, absolutely. Great idea.

    This is The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show. Hope that you are getting some great ideas from today’s program. Coming up next time, we’re going to talk a little bit about how to solve a holiday-ish problem with your disposers. Because with all the food prep going on this time of year, sinks with disposers can get clogs. So we’ve got some tricks of the trade that can help clear those holiday clogs and get your kitchen back in action just when you need it, on the very 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 2017 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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