Living Big in Small Spaces

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  • Transcript

    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: Well, with all the rain we’ve had this spring, even sidewalks can get slippery but not if you treat those sidewalks with a simple coating. We’re going to have tips on a concrete treatment that protects you and loved ones from falls, in just a bit.

    LESLIE: Plus, have you ever had the urge to downsize? We’ll be joined by Sheri Koones, the author of eight books on living big in a smaller space, with advice on how you can do it right.

    TOM: And if you plan to get away for a break this summer, we’ve got tips on how to make sure your home is protected from both burglars and breakdowns while you’re away.

    LESLIE: Plus, if we told you there was one simple improvement that costs less than 300 bucks and could help cut your electricity bill and make your house safer and more sustainable all at the same time, would you be all in?

    TOM: We bet you would. And that improvement is the Sense Home Energy Monitor. It tells you where the electricity you get billed for every month is going and is literally the single best way to reduce your electric bill. You have to see the video at Check this video out at

    Plus, we’re also giving one away, right now, to one listener. That Sense Home Energy Monitor is worth 299 bucks. If you want to win it, you’ve got to be in it. Pick up the phone and give us a call, right now, with your home improvement question at 1-888-MONEY-PIT.

    LESLIE: Arlene in Rhode Island is on the line and wants to stay cool this summer with some air conditioning. How can we help you with the project?

    ARLENE: I live an in 1,850-square-foot ranch that’s 38 years old and we installed the central air before the walls were sealed. The access to the handler, which is in the attic, is 21 inches by 21 inches square. And they always told us if it ever broke, it would be a difficult problem to replace the handler in the attic.

    But lo and behold, last week the air conditioning went on for about an hour and then it stopped. I called my service-contract people. They came. They said – they went up into the attic and they said the handler is dripping grease. It’s old. It has a fan belt, which is no longer used and it’s time to get rid of my air-conditioning system and get a new one or replace – or they could fix it for $800 but it might not be good forever.

    So, I’ve been interviewing companies; they told me to do that. I’m a little bit educated on it now. And I know that I want a 5-ton handler in the attic and a 13-SEER compressor on the outside. My compressor is almost 10 years old but I think it wouldn’t be compatible.

    TOM: How big is your house?

    ARLENE: Eighteen-hundred-fifty square feet.

    TOM: Five tons is a lot of air conditioning for that size house. Usually, you would use 3 to 4 zone – 3 to 4 tons. If you oversize the air conditioning, what’s going to happen is it’s going to cycle on or off very quickly. You could actually overdo it and it’ll be really inefficient.

    But OK. I’m guessing that your question is: how do you get the air handler back up in the attic?

    ARLENE: Well, everyone said they can make a new opening and put a new vent in and it’ll give it more circulation and it’s a good thing to do.

    TOM: Right.

    ARLENE: The last person I interviewed said he can get it up – a 5-ton up into the attic. Because the one he’s going to supply – an Amana – comes in two pieces.

    TOM: OK.

    ARLENE: He said and that will be better because if it ever needs a repair, you just click open the two pieces. I’ve never heard of a 2-piece 5-ton and I’m wondering what your opinion is, because he gave me the best price. He was $3,000 cheaper than everyone else.

    TOM: Yeah, well, it’s hard to tell, because a lot of these guys bid you and not the project. But Amana is a good brand.

    ARLENE: Yeah.

    TOM: So I have no issues with that. I would just do some research on the contractor.

    But by the way, you know, making a bigger opening is not that big of a deal. It might seem like a big of a deal but it’s really a pretty simple carpentry project. It’s just an additional project that you probably didn’t want to face.

    Is there any storage space up there if you were to make it bigger? Could you take advantage of that?

    ARLENE: A crawlspace attic.

    TOM: It’s all a crawlspace? Yeah. Yeah, I mean listen, a carpenter that knows what he’s doing can open – can double the size of that hole in about an hour. It’s really not hard.

    Listen, I just – before you make the commitment to the 5-ton, I’m just telling you, for an 1,800-square-foot house that’s over – it’s probably overkill. And I don’t want you to get in a situation where there’s – you know what I mean? When I say cycling, do you know what that means? It means the air conditioning comes on and it goes off, comes on again and it goes off, goes on/off, on/off. So what’ll happen is it will never run long enough to dehumidify your house. And as a result, you’ll feel cold and clammy. It’s really not good.

    So, you want to put the right-size unit in, OK? You want to put the right-size unit in. And generally, it’s about 600 square feet per ton. So that’s only 3 tons for your house. So, I’m thinking three to four, not – I’m thinking five might be too big. OK?

    ARLENE: OK. Thank you so much.

    TOM: Alright. Good luck. Thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT. And well done doing all the research on this.

    LESLIE: Alright. We’re going to talk decks and how to keep them beautiful, with John in North Carolina. What can we do for you?

    JOHN: Well, we decided to take unused space and turn it into a deck, so we spent about four months. We toyed with Trex and pressure-treated and settled on cedar. And it looked absolutely gorgeous. We put a can of SPF stain on it. And that was – we finished last September.

    This spring, we look out the window and it’s kind of whitish. It’s not the honey color. It’s like – a western cedar is what we have. So I got with Cabot and they were very surprised. So I guess they’re going to work something out with us. But is there something, either a stain or a – I’m thinking like a polyurethane or something that’s specific for cedar? It seems to be an unusual kind of wood.

    TOM: It’s not that unusual. Basically, what you want to do is you’re going to want to prime it first. And then you’re going to cover it with a solid-color stain. If you use a semi-transparent stain, you’ll – you may see more of the grain. You’ll still see it through solid color but you don’t have as much pigment in it, so it doesn’t last quite as long. But if the deck is primed first – and when I prime cedar, I use an oil-based primer. And then on top of that, I’ll use a solid-color stain and it can last a really, really long time.

    JOHN: Well, the only thing is we didn’t want to do the solid color because the cedar looks so beautiful.

    TOM: Yeah, I get that. But the thing is you’re not going to preserve that natural color. Eventually, it’s going to fade to gray. You may not want to do it now but you will do it eventually. It’s going to happen with you or without you.

    JOHN: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, we all go gray, I guess.

    TOM: Exactly.

    JOHN: OK. Alright. Well, I appreciate it very much.

    TOM: Alright, John. 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 Give us a call at 888-MONEY-PIT presented by HomeAdvisor. You can find top-rated home service pros and book appointments online, all for free.

    TOM: And just ahead, did you know that more than half of all trips and falls happen at home? We’re going to tell you how to update your sidewalks and driveways to make those surfaces slip-resistant, in today’s Pro Project presented by, next.

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

    LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

    Give us a call at 888-MONEY-PIT. We’d love to help you with what you are working on. 888-MONEY-PIT is 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: That number, again, is 1-888-MONEY-PIT.

    Plus, if you do give us a call at 888-MONEY-PIT, you may just win today’s prize. We’re giving away the Sense Home Energy Monitor worth 299 bucks. If you’ve ever wondered where all the electricity in your home is going, this product will give you that answer. You know, we’ve all got a few energy guzzlers that we’re not even aware of. And Sense is the single best way that we’ve found to help you save energy and know what’s going on with your house.

    Check out the video demo at That’s Once it’s installed, the Sense app tells you what’s on, what’s off and how much energy you’re using in real time. Plus, you can even avoid problems by identifying unusual activity in your home before it becomes an issue, like maybe, I don’t know, a sump pump that’s running more than it should be. What could that mean? “My house is flooding.”

    Sense is available for 299 bucks but we’re giving one away on today’s show. Check it out at And to win your Sense Home Energy Monitor, give us a call, right now, at 1-888-MONEY-PIT with your home improvement question.

    LESLIE: Judy in Iowa is on the line with an electrical question. Tell us about what’s going on at your place.

    JUDY: My electricity gives me wonder. So far, so good. And our house is old; it was built in the late 1920s. And we love it there. It’s a big, old farmhouse. But it’s got knob-and-tube wiring in it. And the electrician said it was there, that – I’m not sure he’s a full-fledged electrician but he said that it was OK. And he said just don’t mess with it and it’d be alright. But I just get nervous. In the summer, when we have the air conditioner on, every once in a while the lights seem to go dimmer when the air turns on.

    So I’m just wondering if we should stick with what we have or is that a danger? Do I need to switch or do we need to change it over to something else or what?

    TOM: So, knob-and-tube wiring is the very first centrally-wired type of house wiring that was available. And it’s called “knob-and-tube” because there are ceramic knobs, like little – they look almost like drawer pulls. And they’re attached to the side of the structure. So that might be, for example, the rafters or the ceiling joists. And then the wires are stretched from knob to knob to knob. And where it goes through a joist, there’s a ceramic tube that’s inserted in it. And that’s why it’s called knob-and-tube.

    Now, knob-and-tube wiring, the biggest issue with it is it’s not grounded, nor is it groundable. So it’s unsafe from a user perspective but even more important, that wiring was done in the 1930s and it’s pretty much falling apart today. Very often, you’ll see the rubber insulation just break and fall off and crumble.

    And in addition to that, the reason that the wires are strung off the beam is because they have to air-cooled. And so guess what happens when you put insulation over that? It’s no longer air-cooled, so it gets even hotter. So I think that knob-and-tube wiring is unsafe and should be disabled no matter what else is going on with your air-conditioning.

    JUDY: OK.

    TOM: Now, as to the air-conditioning issue, that may or may not have something to do with the knob-and-tube. Whenever you turn on an appliance with a big compressor – it happens often with refrigerators or air conditioners – if the circuit that you’re on there happens to be somewhat close to the lighting circuit, that’s the place you usually see it. That kind of thing happens all the time. But unless you have lights on, you don’t physically notice it.

    JUDY: OK.

    TOM: But it’s not uncommon, for example, in a kitchen to see the lights dim once in a while in an older house whenever the refrigerator kicks on because, nowadays, we put those all on separate circuits. But when they share a circuit, well, then you’re often going to see that kind of effect.

    JUDY: OK.

    TOM: So my advice would be to replace the knob-and-tube wiring. Now, you can simply disable it and leave it in place. You don’t take it out but you want to replace it as much as you possibly can. I’d love to see you replace throughout the entire house. I know that sometimes that’s difficult but it’s certainly worth it and would be a lot safer if you did.

    JUDY: OK. Well, I appreciate that. I was always wondering and my husband says I – thinks it’s fine and I’m a little nervous.

    TOM: I think your instincts are correct here and I think you should take it out.

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

    LESLIE: Well, a lot of us are multitaskers out there. So, imagine this picture, which I’m sure happens to a lot of people on a daily basis. You’re walking into your house, you’re carrying the kids’ backpacks or you’ve got groceries in your arms. And then bam, you fall down with the kids, the backpacks, the eggs, the milk, all the things all over the sidewalk. And it hurts and you are not happy.

    Guys, concrete surfaces can get slippery and I’m not just talking about during the winter. They often get covered with a thin layer of moss or algae in the spring and summer. And that makes them very slippery, I mean almost all year round.

    TOM: Well, we’ve got tips on how to update your sidewalks and driveways to make those surfaces slip-resistant, in today’s Pro Project presented by

    LESLIE: Now, if you want to cut the chances of tumbling on your own turf, you can have a pro apply a treatment designed to prevent falls on those concrete surfaces. It’s called a “textured acrylic concrete coating.” It not only will provide a non-slip finish to those concrete surfaces, it gives it a new-look finish to that old, dull concrete, as well. So it’s got two benefits here, guys.

    TOM: Yeah. And the textured acrylic concrete coating is actually a heavy-duty resin. So it adheres perfectly to any concrete surface. It can stick to steps or sidewalks or patios or driveways. And if your home has a handicap ramp, this is a really good way to improve the safety of that surface, as well.

    LESLIE: And that’s today’s Pro Project presented by With HomeAdvisor, you can get matched with top-rated 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 the best local pros.

    LESLIE: Steve in Kansas is on the line and has a question about siding. What is going on at your money pit?

    STEVE: Well, it’s time to repaint my money pit.

    TOM: OK.

    STEVE: Been nine years. And the windows are old. I replaced them but they’ve got wood frame on the outside and brick mold. And they’re an annual event and I’m tired of that.

    TOM: OK.

    STEVE: So, my wife and I have narrowed it down to the Hardie board siding.

    TOM: OK.

    STEVE: And we’re getting conflicting reports from friends and people that have it. Some like it, some don’t.

    TOM: OK.

    STEVE: I like it because I’m out in western Kansas and we like hail out here and storms. So, I said I would go to a neutral party and you two are the party.

    TOM: OK. Well, welcome to our neutral party.

    So, I think HardiePlank is an excellent product. I actually have HardiePlank – I think it’s called HardieShingle – on my garage building. And I did that because I wanted to match cedar shingles that were on my house. And when you look at the two buildings side by side, the house is painted or it has a stain, I should say, the solid-color stain. The shingles are painted but from the street, they pretty much look the same. You really can’t tell the difference.

    That said, there are a lot of other composite materials that are out there now that bring new elements to the table. For example, we were recently working with the guys at Tando Building Products. That’s a new brand of shingle that is a composite shingle, much like HardiePlank, but they’ve got the coloration down. So if you want that natural siding look, the natural cedar look, they had one called Beach House Shake. They did different colors.

    I was at a trade show with these guys and I watched experienced remodelers go up to the wall with this stuff and touch it and scratch it, because they couldn’t believe that it was a composite. It wasn’t real wood. It just looks that good.

    So, if you want a product that looks like shingle, that takes a stain like a shingle but doesn’t wear like shingles, you could use something like the Tando Products. If you want a shingle that maybe you’re just going to paint and is really durable and stands up to the hail like we’ve discussed, I think the HardieShingle is fine, as well.

    STEVE: Our biggest thing is we’ve had some people say that they’ve had some fading issues with it. And I’ve looked at the houses and I haven’t seen it from the beginning, so I really can’t be a judge of it. But I’ve had people say they’ve had it for 13, 14 years and have no issues with it. I’ve got some that are 10 years and they don’t like it.

    TOM: Well, the stain-fade warranties are definitely something to consider. I think the Tando warranty was 20 years or something like that. But check it out and compare and contrast. But when you see the synthetic product today that looks just like the real thing, it’s pretty amazing what they can do now. And it’s not that long ago when this technology didn’t exist. But it’s just absolutely beautiful and it really looks like traditional wood siding.

    Or they have products that look like stone, too. And it does look a lot like the real thing. And I never used to be able to say that. And I remember years ago, I was on a planning board and I had architects come up and try to tell me they were going to put vinyl siding in a historic area of our town because it looked like wood. I’m like, “Yeah, not unless you’ve got the worst vision in the world.” But this new product, it really does look like wood and it’s made of synthetic composite materials.

    STEVE: Yeah. We’ve had to get out of the car a couple of times driving around and go up to the house just to check, because we really couldn’t tell if it was a composite wood or a – or the HardiePlank.

    TOM: Just to see what it was, right? Yeah, yeah.

    STEVE: And I’ve got a neighbor behind me and he’s got the one of the wood composites. And I like it but we just kind of settled into the concrete mode, I guess, so …

    TOM: Well, I don’t think you can make a bad choice, Steve. You’re asking the right questions, OK? Good luck with that project and thanks, again, for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.

    LESLIE: Hey, would you like to live in a home that’s well built, uses less energy and needs less maintenance? Well, author Sheri Koones says prefabricated homes are the way to go. In fact, she calls them “prefabulous” and she’s joining us, next.

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

    LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

    Well, if you’d like to live in a home that’s well built, uses less energy and needs less maintenance, our next guest says prefabricated homes are really the way to go. Sheri Koones is a widely respected author who helps readers understand that getting the house of their dreams can be done in an ecologically responsible way.

    Welcome, Sheri.

    SHERI: Thank you for having me.

    TOM: So, Sheri, before we get started, Leslie mentioned that you’re an accomplished author. You’re very accomplished. You’ve written eight books on home design and the last five of which are a series called “Prefabulous.” That’s a great word. What does that mean to you and to your readers?

    SHERI: I really tried to use the word prefabulous to show that prefabrication of houses is better and more exciting and really fabulous and to really show the benefits of prefabrication and also, along the way with all of my books, to show how building a more energy-efficient and sustainable house is a total advantage.

    TOM: You know, I got my start in building and remodeling, working for a builder that did prefabricated homes many, many years ago, before anyone ever heard of them. And I was always impressed by the quality of the construction because when a home is fabricated offsite, you have total control over the environment. You have the buying power of getting better-quality lumber. And you can do a more accurate job of putting that together. And that all helps with the energy-efficient and the quality.

    SHERI: Well, that’s true. And also, when people are building on site, there’s water dripping into their house and it’s making the wood damp, which later can twist and turn. And so, being in a protected environment is a definite advantage. But also, you don’t waste time. People in a factory can work 12 months a year and they’re not restricted by the weather or any kind of outside condition. So, it’s really a plus-plus for anybody if they want to build a prefabricated house.

    I, myself, would never build a house anymore on site.

    LESLIE: Now, do you think having a prefab home helps as far as energy usage goes or even the maintenance of that home? What do you think the difference is in that building process lends to that sort of in the time that you own the home and in the time that you’re working on it?

    SHERI: Well, when a house is being built in a factory, particularly a modular, they’re building it from the inside out as opposed to on site where they build a house from the outside in. And they do that for obvious reasons so that they can close off the house and make it dry as quickly as possible.

    But when they’re building from the inside out, they can do the inside walls and then they can put much more insulation into the walls and around all the outlets, et cetera. And so the insulation is better. Also, you’re working with people that are working in a factory 12 months a year and they’re very, very experienced professionals. And they know exactly what they’re doing. And a lot of these factories, they’re using the best materials in closing off the house much tighter than it would be on site.

    TOM: We’re talking to Sheri Koones. She’s an author and journalist, an author of actually eight books. Her latest book, called Downsize: Living Large in a Small House is coming out in November.

    Sheri, let’s talk about the topic of downsizing. It’s become, actually, pretty important now because of the growing baby-boomer population. A lot of young people want to use their resources to travel and do sporting events rather than maintain a large house. It’s become very trendy to live in a very small space. It used to be that we wanted bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger. And then we filled it with more stuff and it was just sort of an endless cycle. But today, living small is cool.

    SHERI: Yeah, it really is. And it’s not only for the baby boomers but even the young people. Baby boomers find that they want to live smaller and they want to spend more time doing the things they like to do rather than maintaining their houses and paying for all the energy that it costs to heat a large house.

    I have profiles – several people in my new book – that are young people. And they just want to live a smaller life. They want to be able to do other things and travel. And they don’t want to spend all their time maintaining a house. And they don’t want to spend all their money heating and cooling it. So, I found quite a few younger people that want to do this, as well.

    And you could even see this on the TV shows, all the tiny-house movement. And that’s not what I write about, because those houses are less practical than the houses I’m writing about. But all of the houses in this upcoming book are 2,000 square feet or less and they’re all very sustainable and efficient. And they’re very practical for any point in your life.

    LESLIE: Who know that my 1,400-square-foot home was so trendy?

    SHERI: You’re a trendsetter.

    LESLIE: I’ve been and I didn’t know.

    TOM: And Leslie, you’ve always said that even though it’s a small house, it doesn’t have to feel small.

    LESLIE: No, absolutely not. I mean there’s so many ways that you can cleverly use your space and decorate and use color and use materials to make the space feel bigger. And you wouldn’t even notice that you’re living in such a small space.

    SHERI: And that’s actually what I did in this new book: I’ve profiled 33 houses that are under 2,000 square feet but they all feel bigger. And every one of the people that I interviewed for this book, that own these houses, said that they were so comfortable and they never felt that they were living in a small house.

    TOM: Sheri Koones, author of Downsize: Living Large in a Small House coming out next November.

    Thank you so much, Sheri, for stopping by The Money Pit.

    If you’d like to learn more and follow Sheri and her work, you can visit her website at That’s You can also search for Sheri on

    Thanks again, Sheri.

    SHERI: Thank you.

    LESLIE: Hey, are you counting down the days until vacation? You know what? An intruder might be, also. We’re going to have tips for keeping your house secure from burglars and breakdowns, when The Money Pit continues.

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

    LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

    TOM: The number here is 1-888-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 paid for a similar project. Then get matched with top-rated pros, read reviews, get quotes and book appointments, all for free, at

    LESLIE: Tom, I actually really had a great experience with HomeAdvisor recently. I know I’ve been talking about wanting to do my backyard and doing some work. And this huge tree was just – I love the tree. It was so tall and provided so much shade and blocked us from the high school. I really liked it but it started to …

    TOM: All that noise from all those darn kids?

    LESLIE: And I just hated seeing the school and the parking lot.

    TOM: Right. Yeah, yeah.

    LESLIE: So it really was a helper. But it started, in the most recent years, to lean very much towards the house. And then the branches were getting so big, it was getting entwined in the power lines and it was starting to make me more nervous than enjoying the benefits of it.

    I looked online at I started to look up tree services. I read reviews. I narrowed it down to a couple of companies, two that I felt had really outstanding reviews and were very focused on the same type of service that I needed. I reached out to them online. Within moments, I was receiving calls from both of these vendors. I spoke to them. The next day, they each came out and did an estimate. I got bids from both of them and they were, I kid you not, exactly the same. So I felt very confident in that I was getting a fair price.

    TOM: Right.

    LESLIE: I ended up just going with the one that my gut felt I kind of liked better, considering that they both had very good reviews. They did they work.

    TOM: And now you’re tree-free.

    LESLIE: I’m tree-free. The work was fantastic. I had no issues. I would definitely use HomeAdvisor again. All in all, great experience.

    TOM: Well, now you’re going to have to use them to find a fence, since you can now see the high school once again.

    LESLIE: Maybe there’s a HomeAdvisor invisibility cloak that can make that high school go away.

    TOM: You know, now that we are cranking up air conditioners or getting ready to, we’re going to start seeing those electricity bills pretty much shoot right through the roof. And if you’ve ever wondered, when you open that bill, “How is it possible I used all this electricity?” I have the solution. I’ve installed it in my home. It’s called the Sense Home Energy Monitor. And it is definitely the single best way I’ve found to reduce my electric bill.

    Now, it’s worth 299 bucks. We’ve got one to give away on the show today. You’ve got to see the video demo. It’s at Go to But the way this works is it’s installed into your main electric panel and starts to communicate with you via an app and tells you what’s on, what’s off. It tells you how much energy you’re using for the appliances it discovers. It can do that all by itself. And you’ll have much more information to know what’s happening with your house.

    You can also use it to spot unusual activities. Let’s say it’s not been raining, your sump pump’s going on all the time and you’re not home. Well, maybe your water heater broke. You know what I mean? I mean it just gives you this information. And most importantly, once you know where those energy guzzlers are, you can do something about it.

    That website, again, is Take a look at this thing. It’s really amazing. And you’ll understand how it works. We’re giving one away today on the show, though, to one caller drawn at random. If you’d like to win the Sense Home Energy Monitor from, call us, right now, at 1-888-MONEY-PIT, 888-666-3974.

    LESLIE: Well, most of us are going to take some sort of vacation this summer. And you shouldn’t have to spend it wondering whether your empty house is safe, so we’ve made a checklist. You want to make sure your home stays safe while you’re away? Let’s do the following, guys.

    First of all, you want to shut off the main water valve. First of all, this is something you should know where it is in your house. It should be labeled for everybody to know simply where it is in the event of a water-break emergency. But if you shut it off while you’re away, should any of those things happen, like a pipe bursting or something, you’ll know that there’s not going to be every ounce of water that your entire village has running through your house.

    TOM: Yeah, absolutely.

    Now, also, you want to drain the toilets. That’s in case if anything in the toilets happen to leak. And that’s actually even more important in the winter, for winter vacations, because water in the toilets will freeze and basically break the toilets.

    But keeping in that water category, you also want to turn off your water heater. So if it’s electric, just turn off the breaker at the main panel. Or if it’s gas, turn the gas valve down to the pilot-light setting so it’s not off all the way. It’ll be easy to turn back on when you get home but you won’t be wasting all that gas in the process.

    LESLIE: Next, you want to sort of check out your circuit breaker. Hopefully, everything’s labeled so you know what things are controlling. If you’ve got a circuit labeled “living room television and stereo,” you can turn that off; you don’t need it. But fridge, freezer, heating system, keep those things on. So non-essentials you can turn off; essential ones, obviously, keep functioning.

    TOM: Yeah. And it’s also a good idea to disconnect anything that’s plugged in that you don’t need. So when we go away, well, we use power strips. We turn those all off. But unplugging TVs and clock radios and table lamps, any of that kind of stuff you just don’t need to have power on to, just disconnect it. If the power is disconnected, nothing can possibly happen.

    Turn down your temperature on your air conditioning. Make sure those lights are on timers. And this is important: lock up.

    It’s really interesting, Leslie, when you look at the surveys of how burglars get into the house. So many times, it’s through an open door or an open window because people just don’t lock it. It sounds so obvious but people apparently, in large numbers, do not lock up their homes.

    LESLIE: It’s amazing to me. We have some very good friends. I won’t say their name because they don’t lock the door to their house ever. They will be on vacation for a week and they’ll be like, “Hey, can you swing by the house and do X, Y and Z?”

    TOM: “Oh, no problem. The door’s open.”

    LESLIE: “Sure. Where’s the key?” “Oh, door’s open.”

    TOM: Yeah.

    LESLIE: But you’re in another state for a week. Am I right? Well, good luck.

    TOM: Finishing this up, you also want to keep the trees trimmed, the bushes trimmed so you’re not causing any areas that are kind of obstructed, like where burglars can kind of work in secret.

    Speaking of secret, you know those secret places that people hide keys, like hollow rocks? Guess what?

    LESLIE: What? Everybody knows about those.

    TOM: Burglars have Amazon accounts, too. They know about hollow rocks, so don’t do that.

    LESLIE: And they don’t really look like real rocks.

    TOM: They don’t look like real rocks. They look like “pick me up, here’s my key.”

    And finally, notify police. A lot of police departments are very good about protecting homes while you’re away. And they’ll do an extra patrol.

    LESLIE: They’ll do a drive-by.

    TOM: They’ll do a drive-by. We’ve had the cops alert us when there was an extra car in our driveway that wasn’t supposed to be there when we were away.

    LESLIE: What was the car?

    TOM: Well, the car was our neighbor and they were perfectly welcome to park there and they knew we were away. But of course, it triggered an alert to call for the police.

    LESLIE: Right.

    TOM: They were watching that.

    So, all good stuff to think about. We want to make sure that you come back healthy and relaxed and not stressed-out when you find out that your house was broken into or the mechanical burglars got into there and caused leaks and all kinds of mess. So, just keep those things in mind when you go away.

    We’ve got a complete checklist, by the way, on how to make sure your home stays safe while you’re away, on

    LESLIE: Hey, when it comes to choosing which home improvement projects you should be doing, picking one with a good return on investment is really important. But did you ever wonder which improvements deliver the least? The answer will surprise you and that’s next.

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

    LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

    TOM: And we’d love to hear what you’re doing around your money pit. Give us a call, right now, at 1-888-MONEY-PIT presented by HomeAdvisor. They really have the best local pros for any home service.

    LESLIE: That’s right. Doesn’t matter what the project is, they make it fast and easy to find top-rated pros.

    TOM: And there are no membership fees. It’s 100-percent free to use at

    LESLIE: Alright. Don’t forget: post your questions in The Money Pit Community section, as well.

    Now, I’ve got one here from Mina who writes: “What can I do to repair spider vein-looking cracks around my ceramic bathtub and what’s causing them?”

    TOM: Well, those tiny cracks around your drain, Mina, is basically the tub finish or glaze breaking down.

    Now, you have a couple of options. You could replace the entire tub, which is a major renovation. You could reglaze it, which is possibly a DIY project or one that can be done by a pro but it’s not a long-term solution. And I’ve got to tell you, it’s a heck of a nasty process, especially when the pros do it. You really don’t want to even be in the house when that happens, because trying to get new finish to adhere to that old is just a really big job.

    And the third option is to install a tub insert. There are companies that make inserts that drop into existing tubs and sort of re-line the entire surface. They’re beautiful but I think they’re just slightly less expensive than tearing out the entire bathroom, because they’re pretty expensive, I think, for what you get.

    And then there’s always option number four: live with it. You know, nobody’s really going to see that except for you. And we get that it bugs you but it’s kind of a really expensive thing to fix for a pretty minor visual inconvenience.

    LESLIE: Alright. Next up, I’ve got a post here from Jeff who writes: “Tom, Leslie, I need your help. Is there any way to remove oil-based paint from a fabric car seat?” Ugh. “I got it on the back of my jacket, didn’t realize it and then drove my girlfriend’s car.”

    She’s probably mad.

    TOM: Wow. I hope she’s an understanding lady, because I don’t have good news for you. It’s really hard. I mean getting oil-based paint out of anything is hard but fabric, it’s nearly impossible after it dries.

    If it hadn’t already dried, you could have applied a solvent – Spray Nine, by the way, is a type of cleaning fluid that works pretty well, as well. But once that oil paint is dry, man, it’s really hard to get out. You probably might want to think about having that seat re-covered. You could take it to a body shop and have them put new fabric down. That might be the best solution. I don’t think you’re going to be able to remove it; I just don’t.

    LESLIE: If you’re not already engaged, you should probably propose – that’ll make her forget all about that car seat – or any flowers, something.

    TOM: Well, getting the best value out of every home improvement dollar you spend is important. But there are some improvements that deliver a lower return on investment than others, one of which is a home office. Leslie has details, in today’s edition of Leslie’s Last Word.


    LESLIE: Yeah. You know what? It’s interesting. You hear more and more that people are working from home and certainly, companies are making it easier for people to have a remote office. But that doesn’t always mean that they’re working from a home office. So much mobile technology is available to everybody these days that working from home can actually mean that you’re at a park bench or on a lounge chair or sitting on your deck or anything but actually at a desk inside of your house.

    But guys, it also turns out that building a home office delivers a terrible return on investment. An average home office remodel can cost $30,000, which is money you are not going to recoup. So, while it’s great to have a dedicated workspace, you need to make sure that that space can be used as an additional bedroom, a playroom, a multipurpose space, whatever else it can be used for, just not so specifically designed and renovated that the only use is an office, especially if you’re thinking of putting your house on the market.

    So be careful, be creative. Absolutely work from home but let that room multitask, just like you do.

    TOM: This is The Money Pit Home Improvement Show. Coming up next time on the program, summer storms are on their way, which means power outages are right behind. We’re going to have tips on how to make sure your house stays lit when the rest of the neighborhood goes dark, 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 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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