Money Saving Tips for Thirsty Lawns

  • green front lawn
  • 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: And we’re here to help you get started on your next summer home improvement project. Whether it’s inside or out, give us a call right now. We’d love to lend a hand. The number is 1-888-MONEY-PIT, 888-666-3974.

    And speaking of summer, as it gets warmer, do you know that your lawn needs a lot more water to stay green? But that also leads to a lot of wasted water. We’re going to give you some tips, though, to help cut those water costs without losing your chance at a luscious lawn in the process.

    LESLIE: And speaking of lawns, you know, weeds might not be the only thing that takes away from you having a beautiful yard. So, Roger Cook from TV’s This Old House is here with advice on how to deal with problem patches and common yard killers.

    TOM: Plus, are you ready to take the plunge and buy your very first home? It’s a very exciting time but it’s also very intimidating. We’re going to help you be prepared, though. We’ve got five tips for first-time buyers to make sure you’re good to go, just ahead.

    LESLIE: Yeah. Listen, those tips apply to second-time home buyers, too. I feel like I’m too nervous to ever take the plunge. So, I’m going to be heeding our own advice at some point, if I ever get the courage.

    But first, guys, we’re here to lend a hand. So let us know what you are working on this summer season. Weather is certainly gorgeous out. Everybody’s enjoying, finally, a summertime. So let us know what we can do to help you enjoy your money pit thoroughly.

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

    Let’s get to it. Leslie, who’s first?

    LESLIE: Tanya in North Carolina is on the line with a door question. Tell us what’s going on. You’ve got some rot in the framework?

    TANYA: The threshold, at the bottom, is coming up; I guess it’s rotten under there. It’s got to be taken out. And then about a foot up, on each side of that frame, it’s rotted out. So do I have to take out the whole frame and put a new one in or can I just cut that off and replace that at the bottom?

    TOM: OK. So, Tanya, I think you’re talking about – when you say frame, I think you’re talking about the door sill and the door jamb. Is that correct?

    TANYA: Right.

    TOM: Not the framing of the wall?

    TANYA: Yeah, whatever the door fits in, yeah.

    TOM: OK. So that’s the door sill and the door jambs. And the best way to replace the door is to cut the entire door out, including the sill and the jambs all the way around, and then install a prehung exterior door.

    So, down in North Carolina, for example, you can go to a Lowe’s and buy a Benchmark Door by Therma-Tru. Good quality, fiberglass door, all prehung. Pretty easy and straightforward to install that. And you won’t have to worry about it rotting out because it’s fiberglass.

    TANYA: Oh, OK.

    TOM: You don’t try to repair the jamb or the sill that are heavily rotted like that; you just tear them out. The easy way to do that, by the way, is to remove the trim off of all sides. And a contractor would use a reciprocating saw to basically cut the nails between the trim and the frame of the house. And that door will pop out in like five minutes.

    TANYA: OK.

    TOM: I mean it’s really easy to get it out just with the right tools.

    TANYA: OK. Thank you.

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

    LESLIE: Alan in Tennessee has got a driveway that’s cracking up. Tell us what’s going on.

    ALAN: Well, I’ve got a house; it’s about five years old. And the driveway has started getting some cracks in it. And I just was looking for the best way to patch them and keep it from spreading. For the past, probably, three years, every spring I put – pressure-wash the driveway and put sealer on it. But other than that, that’s about all I’ve ever done to the drive.

    TOM: OK. And what’s it look like now in terms of the condition? Does it have a lot of cracks in it?

    ALAN: It’s not a lot but it’s got a few that run. And some of them have started spider-webbing out.

    TOM: OK. So, here’s the thing. You want to try to maintain these so they don’t get a lot worse. QUIKRETE has a caulk-like product that’s designed to fill cracks in concrete driveways.

    ALAN: Right.

    TOM: And it’s a good idea to use a product like that, because you know it’s going to adhere and expand and contract with the driveway. The goal here is to try to keep a lot of water from getting in there. Because as the water gets in, it will expand and then it will crack. As it freezes, it’ll expand and crack. And then, of course, it’s a little bigger, a little bigger and a little bigger and that’s how it really starts to break down and break apart the driveway.

    So, as those cracks start to show themselves and open up, it’s not unusual, so don’t panic; it’s pretty much normal wear and tear with concrete. But it’s also a good idea to seal them using the products that are designed just for that.

    ALAN: OK. So the QUIKRETE is probably the best way to go?

    TOM: Yeah. It’s called the QUIKRETE Concrete Repair. It’s a sanded, acrylic latex caulk and it’s designed specifically for crack repair. Comes in two different tube sizes: either a 10-ounce tube or a 5½-ounce tube. Not expensive, easy to apply. Gives you a really good adhesion and it’s going to stand up to the weather and most importantly, keep the water from getting into those cracks.

    ALAN: Excellent. Thank you.

    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 Give us a call with whatever it is you are working on in this gorgeous summer weekend. It’s the first official weekend of summer, so I can now really call it “summer” and be totally honest about that.

    Let us help you. We want you to enjoy your home. We want you to have a relaxing summer. So let us know how we can help you achieve that. Give us a call anytime 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-888-MONEY-PIT.

    TOM: And just ahead, do you want a green lawn but don’t want to waste all that water it takes to make it green? We’re going to have some tips on how you can cut that lawn-watering bill down to size, when The Money Pit returns after this.

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

    LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

    TOM: Give us a call, right now, at 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 and then get matched with top-rated pros, read reviews, get quotes and book appointments online. That’s all for free at

    LESLIE: Alright. Now we’ve got Daniel in California on the line who needs some help with a travertine floor.

    When did you put it down, Daniel?

    DANIEL: Oh, I guess it’s been about a week now.

    LESLIE: OK. And there’s nothing on it?

    DANIEL: Well, no.

    LESLIE: Are you sure?

    DANIEL: Well, OK. There was nothing on it but yeah, actually, I put a sealer on it just like Sunday, after it’d been installed four days.

    TOM: OK. And did your installer give you a sealer to use or suggest a sealer to use?

    DANIEL: No, my installer didn’t.

    TOM: He didn’t. So where did you – what sealer did you select? How did you find it?

    DANIEL: I got it at the home improvement store.

    TOM: OK. And so it sounds like you did the right things. It’s a beautiful floor. It’s a little bit absorbent, so you are going to need to seal it from time to time. But what’s your question?

    DANIEL: Well, my question is, well, one, after I put the sealer on, then I did some reading and I found out that there’s some that are better. This one’s probably the third and I’d like the best.

    TOM: OK.

    DANIEL: Is there a problem with buying the better one and putting it on top of it or …?

    TOM: Potentially. I would save that for the next trip. See, this has already soaked into your floor and so …

    LESLIE: And travertine is so porous.

    TOM: Yeah.

    LESLIE: With the first thing you put on it, that’s in there.

    TOM: Just drinks it right up. So I would wait until the next time it’s – until it’s time to apply this again and choose a different product that time. But I would definitely not put a second coat on top of this with a different product because you’re – you don’t know what kind of chemical reaction you’re going to create there.

    LESLIE: How are they going to react to one another?

    TOM: Yeah.

    LESLIE: It could be bad news.

    TOM: Not worth it. I’d just enjoy the floor.

    DANIEL: OK, great. Could I ask you a little follow-up question?

    TOM: Sure. Go ahead.

    DANIEL: Yeah. Also, I was reading – they were saying that mats with rubber bottoms are bad for it. Is that true?

    LESLIE: Mm-hmm. For travertine …

    TOM: Well, it’s not bad for marble; it’s bad for vinyl.

    LESLIE: Yeah, if you have a vinyl floor and you put down a kitchen mat or a bath mat and it doesn’t move and it stays in its spot, the backing on the mat has some sort of weird chemical reaction with the floor and causes a discoloration. We get calls a lot for people being like, “I’ve got this weird stain that’s the same as my bath mat. How can I get it out?”

    TOM: And it won’t come up. Yeah, right. Because it oxidizes the rubber against the vinyl. But I don’t know that there’s a problem putting that against marble; I’ve never heard that.

    LESLIE: Yeah. No, I’ve never heard that.

    DANIEL: OK. Great, then. Thanks a lot, guys.

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

    I tell you what, he’s treating it at the right time. There’s never a better time to treat it than when it’s brand new.

    LESLIE: Right at the beginning. Because if you wait and it gets even slightly dirty, you may never be able to get that stain out and then you’re going to seal in that stain. So it’s like just do it right away.

    TOM: Well, if you love a thick, green lawn but you’d like to get that without wasting a ton of water, when, where and how much water you use on that lawn can mean the difference between that lush lawn and an empty wallet.

    LESLIE: Yeah. But cutting water costs without giving up that green lawn that you really love can be easier than you think. And it just takes a few steps.

    First of all, you have to water your lawn early in the day to prevent evaporation. If you water that lawn at night, you’re leaving the lawn wet overnight and that grass could develop a fungus, only because there’s no chance for that water to go anywhere. It just sort of sits and saturates that ground and it’s not going to do any good for anybody.

    Also, you have to make sure that you adjust your sprinkler heads to avoid wasting water by having it directed away. You have to get it away from your driveway, your sidewalks. Water things that can actually grow. Concrete is never going to grow, I promise you this.

    TOM: I see that all the time.

    LESLIE: It’s amazing.

    TOM: You know what does grow when you water your concrete? Your water bill.

    LESLIE: It’s true.

    TOM: And we see it all the time. Folks are watering the street, they’re watering the concrete, they’re watering the steps. The steps are getting all moldy and green and mossy because of all of that misdirected water. And the bills just keep on going. So, take a look at those sprinkler lines and make sure that you are not among them.

    You also want to make sure you use timers on your sprinklers. And that’s going to limit the water usage to only what’s needed. Two or three times a week is better than daily, which can actually overwater your grass. You know, a good rule of thumb is to make sure your lawn receives about an inch of water per week. So, that’s a good way to make sure you’re not giving it too much but just the right amount to keep it green.

    There’s also smart timers, that are available today, that can connect with your Wi-Fi system and with the weather reports and then only water based on rainfall. So, take a look at that option, as well.

    Be smart about how you water and we will make sure that that water bill stays in check while the lawn continues to get nice and lush and green.

    LESLIE: Now we’ve got Pat in Hawaii on the line with a roofing question. Calling to make us jealous, I am sure.

    Welcome, Pat.

    PAT: So what we have is a house where the interior temperature is – during the day is maybe 83 to 85.

    TOM: OK.

    PAT: And so it has a roof that has the rolled asphalt. And we’d like to put on this application and they’re available at places like Home Depot. There’s two different price points. You can apply it three different ways and so forth but people have told us, that live in that same area as this house, that they have reduced the heat in their house by 20-plus percent by doing this reflective thing on the roof.

    And now, our question is: how do we prep the roof? Do we sweep off any rocks with asphalt? What is the prep?

    TOM: It’s pretty forgiving. You want to get rid of the loose stuff and of course, any moss or anything like that that’s growing on it. But what you’re talking about is fibrous aluminum paint and it’s a UV-reflectant paint. And it does make the roof a lot cooler and that can actually make your house cooler. It’s a very common application, not only in tropics like Hawaii but even places on the East Coast. I’ve seen it on roofs in Washington, D.C. Definitely a good thing to do.

    PAT: OK. And so if – also, my husband’s question was – and so does your roof last longer with that on there?

    TOM: Yeah, theoretically, it will because if you reflect the UV, you’ll have less deterioration of the oils in the asphalt, less evaporation of that. And that can make the roof last longer. Another good reason to do it.

    PAT: OK. And any specific on application? Whichever one works out best for you? Is that what they’re saying?

    TOM: Well, I don’t have any specific recommendations on a product but on the concept, I think it’s solid.

    PAT: That’s wonderful. That’s a great idea. I think you answered my question. Thank you very much.

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

    LESLIE: Fonda (sp) in South Dakota, you’ve got The Money Pit. How can we help you today?

    FONDA (sp): We are demolishing our old deck that leads to an old patio at the ground level. And the old patio has two substrates. You lead down to a plank patio and it’s like wood – 2x6s, I think – which is in awful shape. It’s probably 30 feet by 30 feet. And then it butts up to a pretty substantial cement pad that’s 20 feet by 20 feet.

    And we know we’re going to demo the wood pad but it’s – the question is: what do we put in? Do we have to chop up the old cement pad, which is in great shape, because it’s so substantial? Or can we put in another cement pad next to it for the new patio? Can you go over the old cement with something and stamp it or make it just – and then the other problem is is it’s square. And I would like the new patio at the ground level to be rounder and curvier.

    TOM: One idea that I have straight off is to go over the old patio with brick pavers. And if the patio is flat and strong and solid, there’s no reason you can’t put pavers on top of that. And so you could basically create a – do almost a patio makeover by preserving the concrete and putting brick pavers right over the concrete. They’re all going to assemble together. You won’t see them when they’re done.

    Now, you mentioned changing the shape. That, of course, is a little more complicated because you’re going to have to build up to the edges. Part of the patio would be over concrete and part of the patio would be over traditional, built-up stone, if that’s possible. But if you want to avoid changing the shape, then it becomes a very easy project to do it with brick pavers. And of course, you have lots and lots and lots of choices on shapes and colors and all of that that you could go with.

    FONDA (sp): And on the side that’s not cement, what’s under the brick pavers?

    TOM: On the side that’s not cement, what’s under the brick pavers is this. First of all, you dig out, obviously, all the grass and that sort of thing. Then you put down about 4 to 6 inches of gray gravel. You tamp that down really, really, really well. Then on top of that, you lay some sand. Get that nice and flat. On top of that, you put the brick pavers and then you put additional sand in between.

    But tamping and properly preparing that ground and tamping that stone really well is critical. Because if you don’t, it gets all roly-poly over the years and weeds start to grow up through it.

    FONDA (sp): Alright. Well, thank you.

    TOM: You’re welcome, Fonda. Good luck with that project. Just in time for summer. 888-666-3974.

    LESLIE: Charlie in Tennessee is on the line and looking to do some renovating at his money pit. How can we help you today?

    CHARLIE: I have a small kitchen that – I’m trying to knock out the walls to increase space, to make my kitchen and my dining room one big room. My dilemma is the fact that I don’t know whether the wall that I’m knocking down is a load-bearing wall or not.

    LESLIE: Well, step away from the project and don’t knock it down just yet.

    TOM: OK. Well, first of all, what kind of house do you have, Charlie? Is it a ranch? Is it a Colonial? Describe it to us.

    CHARLIE: It’s a wood-frame home.

    TOM: OK. One story or two?

    CHARLIE: One story.

    TOM: And the roof peaks in the middle? Goes up from the front, goes up from the back, peaks in the middle?

    CHARLIE: Kind of. It’s L-shaped.

    TOM: OK.

    CHARLIE: And where the wall would be would be pretty much right where the two meet.

    TOM: Yeah. So you’re in the middle there; you’re not quite sure. And the dining room and the kitchen are side by side? Is it aligned front to back on the house or is it aligned end to end, so to speak?

    CHARLIE: It would be – that wall would be parallel for the front to back.

    TOM: So, it’s aligned front to back. OK. I would say that in most cases, that is a bearing wall. That doesn’t mean you’re dead in the water; it just means it’s a little more complicated for you to open this up. Because if it’s a bearing wall, you have to support the structure while it’s disassembled and then you have to put a new beam in to carry that load in the new, open-plan design.

    It’s not something that you would do yourself. It’s not like – I don’t want you to – like, “Hey, I’ve never done home improvement but today, I’m thinking about tearing down a bearing wall.” Bad idea, OK?

    CHARLIE: Right.

    TOM: So you need to know what you’re doing or get some people to help you to know what you’re doing or hire a pro. And get a building permit.

    And basically, the way it works is temporary walls are built on either side of the bearing wall and this holds up the structure that they’re supposed to be holding. Then the bearing wall is taken apart. The bearing wall is reconstructed but now you would use a girder. And it could be a wood girder, it could be a metal girder, it could be a combination wood-and-metal girder that goes the whole span. It could be a girder that sits below the ceiling or it could be a girder that’s actually flush with the ceiling so when it’s all done, it’s invisible.

    But one way or the other, you’ll need this beam to carry the load above that. And then once it’s all put back together, you know, you’re really not going to know that it’s there. But you’ve got just to do it right so that you don’t damage your house in the process, OK?

    CHARLIE: Yes, sir. Thank you. I appreciate it.

    TOM: You’re welcome, Charlie. Good luck with that project. Now, put the saw down, OK?

    CHARLIE: No problem. Thank you. I appreciate.

    LESLIE: Well, from fungal diseases to Fido, your lawn is up against a lot. Coming up, landscaping contractor Roger Cook, from TV’s This Old House, is stopping by to help you overcome it all so that you can have the lawn of your dreams. That and more 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: Pick up the phone, give us a call, right now, with your home improvement question. The number is 1-888-MONEY-PIT presented by Never worry about overpaying for a job. Use the HomeAdvisor True Cost Guide to see what others paid for a similar project. That’s all for free at

    LESLIE: Now we’re heading over to Tennessee where Daniel is dealing with carpenter bees and of course, those lovely, perfectly round, bored holes that they love to make all over your wood house. What’s going on?

    DANIEL: Ah, well, I’ve got these carpenter bees that keep drilling holes into my fascia board right there underneath my roof. And I filled them in and I’ve repainted and they keep coming back. I don’t know if there’s maybe something I can do to prevent that or something I can use to paint it with.

    TOM: Yeah, a couple of things you can do. First of all, in terms of stopping the bees from coming back, you would have to have the carpenter bees professionally treated with a proper insecticide that will basically exterminate what’s there. Now, even if you did do that, though, they may come back the next season.

    A surefire way to make sure they don’t come back is to replace your wood trim with something that’s not wood. I had this exact problem on a garage on our property and I simply replaced the wood trim with AZEK – A-Z-E-K. And there are other brands, as well, but basically, it’s a cellular PVC material that looks like wood, cuts like wood but the carpenter bees can’t eat it. In fact, it was very humorous to me because after I replaced the fascia with AZEK, the bees kept circling it but they couldn’t figure out why it didn’t taste like wood.

    LESLIE: It’s like, “This looks like wood. I don’t understand.”

    DANIEL: Yeah, that would actually be absolutely worth doing just to see them circle and …

    TOM: In frustration, yeah. Alright? I hope that helps you out.

    LESLIE: Well, weeds aren’t the only thing standing between you and the lush lawn of your dreams.

    TOM: Well, that’s right. Once your turf is established, you’ve got to watch out for pests, fungal disease and even Fido. If you’ve got a mysterious brown spot or a dry patch plaguing your grass, here to tell us how to get to the bottom of it is Roger Cook, the landscaping contractor for This Old House.

    Welcome, Roger.

    ROGER: Thanks for having me.

    TOM: So, let’s start by talking about one of the most common causes of lawn problems: the four-legged kind. How do we address the dog damage?

    ROGER: Well, unless you’re going to chase your dog around the yard with a hose, there’s really not much you can do except try to train them to go in one area. It’s hard. The dog’s going to go where he’s going to go.

    TOM: Right. But that’s kind of a special type of damage, right? The acidity from dogs and that sort of thing?

    ROGER: Right. And it’s going to leave a dead circle in the ground. Sometimes, it’s real lush on the edges where it wasn’t as strong but it’ll actually fertilize the lawn. But what you have to do is stay on top of it. I usually put a little compost down, rake it in and reseed the area. Because after one rainstorm, the salts have leached out and you can reseed again.

    There’s other problems that are going to pop up that’ll cause bad spots in your lawn and one of the biggest ones are the white grubs.

    TOM: Grubs, OK.

    LESLIE: Yeah. How do you know you’ve got them?

    ROGER: You’ll know. There’ll be a patch that a grass – it’ll just die. Sometimes, you’ll get birds down picking at it, like crows, or you’ll get a raccoon that’ll come in there, a skunk and peel it back and eat the grubs.

    TOM: And don’t you have more mold problems when you have grubs?

    ROGER: You do. They eat them, too. But the biggest giveaway is if you take that grass and pull on it, it’s going to peel up like a rug because the …

    LESLIE: Really?

    ROGER: Yep. The grubs eat the roots off the bottom of the grass.

    TOM: So what’s the solution?

    ROGER: The solution is to treat the grubs when they’re most vulnerable. Usually, that’s late summer or into the fall when they’re small. If you try to treat them early in the season, they’re pretty big and pretty strong and they won’t be controlled easily.

    TOM: OK. Now, what about chinch bugs? We see a lot of those in some parts of the country.

    ROGER: It all depends, you know? The great thing about this country is we all have our own pests.

    TOM: We’ve all got our own bugs.

    ROGER: So that’s a pest of St. Augustine lawns, where it actually pierces the blade and sucks on it and makes it turn brown. There’s a lot of treatments. I like to do extra soil prep, extra watering before you turn and look at an insecticide. But in some cases, you do have to use an insecticide.

    LESLIE: How would you tell if your lawn, say, had a fungus? I imagine you’re dealing with a very moist situation, on the most part, for your lawn that generally would lead to a fungus.

    ROGER: Right. In some of them, it’s very easy to look at the stem and it turns brown. In some cases, there’s a fungus called “red thread disease” where the blade actually turns red and you can notice it.

    And again, it’s from too much water and not drying out or fertilizing less. And those are all physical things you can do before you take and turn to spraying for the fungicide.

    TOM: I think it’s interesting that every single one of these conditions is telling us something about our lawn. Something is happening that’s in excess, like excess water, we’re not getting enough water, we’re getting too much shade, we’re not getting enough shade. I mean there’s always some result of these – well, I guess the disease is the result but it’s actually leading back to a solution that has to do with lawn health.

    ROGER: Right. And that’s why I’m always talking about when you put a lawn in, do the proper preparation ahead of time. Because it’ll pay off in the lawn run.

    LESLIE: Now, it’s interesting. I’ve seen – because I have a dog, so I end up walking around the block quite often. I’ve seen almost a striped look on a lawn that’s usually sort of at the beginning of the season.

    ROGER: Yeah.

    LESLIE: What the heck is that about?

    ROGER: We call it “amateur damage.” That’s when someone goes out, particularly with a drop spreader, and fertilizes the lawn.

    LESLIE: Yes.

    ROGER: And they don’t quite overlap enough, so you get those nice 4- to 6-inch strips of yellow, bright green, yellow, bright green all the way through the lawn. If you’re going to use a drop spreader, what I tell people to do is set it at half of what the normal rate is, go one direction and then turn and go exactly 90 degrees to it. You use the same amount but you’re going to eliminate 99 percent of those stripes.

    TOM: We’re talking to Roger Cook, the landscaping contractor on TV’s This Old House.

    So, Roger, what if we don’t have enough grass? What if instead of grass we’re getting, say, moss?

    ROGER: Moss is telling you that it’s probably too shady there for grass to grow. And what we do is – then we switch to groundcovers.

    You can’t fight Mother Nature. Shade is going to get worse every year as trees and shrubs get bigger and bigger, so you’re better off transitioning into a natural groundcover that will tolerate those conditions.

    TOM: And what would be a good groundcover that’s kind of similar to grass, in terms of its appearance?

    ROGER: Some of the sedges will work really well for you. I like things like Vinca.

    TOM: Vinca?

    LESLIE: Hmm. Vinca minor is really pretty.

    ROGER: Yeah. And some of the ferns will fill in and just give you garden – work with Mother Nature. You keep seeding and putting fertilizer down and the grass doesn’t grow, she’s trying to tell you something.

    LESLIE: Yeah. “I don’t want the grass here.”

    ROGER: It’s not going to work. But you put down ferns and Vinca and stuff like that, she’ll love it. And they’ll grow in and fill in and you won’t have to cut them, either.

    LESLIE: Roger, what if the lawn is just really in such bad shape that you want to call it quits and start over? Can you do that?

    ROGER: You can, absolutely. And we use the 45-percent rule: once it gets bad to 45 percent, you’re not going to spend any more money overseeding or anything like that.

    So, usually, what we do is we come in and instead of spraying with an herbicide, we like to use a sod cutter. And we take and cut off the top 2 inches so that removes all the grass, all the roots and all the weeds at one time. Then we rototill, we add compost, we rototill again and we determine whether the sand needs – whether the soil needs some sand mixed in or some more compost. And then once we get a good 4- to 6-inch and even 8-inch layer of good soil, then you can either sod or seed. So those are like the icing on the cake. If you don’t spend the money on the cake, it doesn’t matter how good the icing is on top.

    LESLIE: Right.

    TOM: Good advice. Roger Cook from TV’s This Old House, thanks so much for stopping by The Money Pit.

    ROGER: My pleasure.

    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 on The Money Pit is presented by the Sense Home Energy Monitor, the single best way we’ve found to reduce electricity costs. Sense helps you understand what your home’s appliances, lights and devices have to say. See what’s up, know what’s on. See Sense in action at That’s

    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, give us a call, right now, with your home improvement question. The number is 1-888-MONEY-PIT presented by Never worry about overpaying for a job. Use the HomeAdvisor True Cost Guide to see what others paid for a similar project. That’s all for free at

    LESLIE: Betty in California needs some help with a toilet question. What can we do for you today?

    BETTY: I’m interested in the high-rise toilet and I’d like the pros and con and possibly a brand. Because our plumber is thinking of using KOHLER – the quick flush – and we’re on well water and that’s it.

    TOM: Well, there’s really no cons of using – a “comfort-height toilet” is what’s that called. Not a high-rise but comfort-height. They’re a bit higher than a standard toilet. And in terms of brands, one that I can recommend is called American Champion 4. I’ve got American Champion comfort-height toilets in our house. And it really doesn’t matter what age you are, they are just easier to use. And the other benefit is that they use very little water and they don’t clog.

    So I would take a look at the American Standard Champion 4 toilets and just get the accessible size and you’ll be good to go.

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

    LESLIE: Well, if you’ve decided that apartment life is no longer for you and you’re ready to make the leap to buying your own home, there are a few things that you can get started on now that will make the entire home-buying process a lot easier.

    TOM: Yeah. And the first one is to boost your credit score. Now, most of the major credit agencies are going to provide you with your report, one time a year, for free. So you want to review the report. Make sure there are no errors.

    You know, the first time I looked at a credit report, I was blown away with how far back it went and how many details were in there. I could absolutely see opportunities for errors. So, check for errors. Try to pay off any debts.

    And in the meantime, avoid purchasing big-ticket items and don’t apply for any new credit. That was advice I didn’t get when I bought my first house. It was actually a condo. And I actually – back when we bought it, I was on a waiting list. And so, I tried to buy it but then I couldn’t buy it because there wasn’t one available. So I bought a car instead.

    LESLIE: You just wanted to buy something.

    TOM: “You know that condo you wanted? Well, now you can buy it.” I’m like, “Oh, man.” So now I didn’t qualify.

    But luckily, my wife and I were engaged, so we bought it together and she helped me qualify. She’s still helping me qualify.

    LESLIE: She helps you qualify a lot, Tom. I’m just saying. She’s pretty awesome.

    TOM: Yeah, absolutely.

    LESLIE: I’ve got to say she might be my favorite Kraeutler. I’m just in awe. She’s kind of the best.

    TOM: I would agree with you.

    LESLIE: But that’s true. You really have to be so careful about what you’re doing, because every single thing affects your credit report. It’s just amazing.

    Now, next, you guys, start looking for the right real-estate agent. A good agent can make all the difference for your first-time home-buying experience. The town that I live in is sort of – it’s very closed off.

    And you have to – if you want to buy in this town, you’d better have a good real-estate agent who works within this town, who knows what’s coming up and when it’s coming up. Because sometimes, that little bit of inside information is the difference between you getting the property and you completely missing out and not even knowing it existed. So the right agent is huge. Make sure they’re local to the town you like. Make sure you just have a good rapport with them.

    And then, work on getting preapproved for financing. Now, there’s two good reasons for that step. First of all, you’ve got to know what you can really afford, what you qualify for and what kind of loan you want. And once you have that approval in your hand, you suddenly become a much better prospect for those potential home sellers who potentially have multiple offers for that same house. Some of them are very similar. And if you have all your ducks in a row and you look like a great buyer, you will be that great buyer.

    TOM: And you are going to be excited about buying that house. But don’t be too excited until you get it checked out by a professional home inspector, because that’s the guy that’s going to make sure you’re not buying a real-life money pit. I was that guy for about 20 years. And believe me, I cannot tell you the number of times that what we found in a house was very, very surprising, even shocking to the people that thought it was just a really perfect place for them, until they figured out they were going to need $20,000, $30,000, $50,000, $100,000 to fix it. So, you want to make sure you get a good home inspection.

    LESLIE: But you know what? That home inspector is a great tool for you as a buyer. It can be a negotiating tool. It can help you really determine how and what you can afford to put in that house. So, totally get a home inspector and go with one that you select – right, Tom? – not one that the realtor or somebody’s who’s selling suggests.

    TOM: Yeah. Oh, absolutely.

    And you can go to the website for the American Society of Home Inspectors. It’s Those guys are the best in the country. Put in your zip code. They’ll give you a list. Call them, interview them, ask lots of questions. Choose somebody you’re comfortable with but get a good home inspection. It’s key to making sure you don’t buy into a real-life money pit.

    LESLIE: When we come back, we’re going to tackle a home problem that many of you have and not a lot of you love. I’m talking about popcorn ceilings. They’re easier to remove, sometimes, than you think. So stick around.

    TOM: Where home solutions live, 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 presented by HomeAdvisor, where you can find top-rated home service pros and book appointments online, all for free.

    TOM: You can post your question to, which is what Jeff did.

    He has a question, Leslie, about popcorn ceilings. Popcorn is something you should enjoy with a good movie but not on your ceilings. Popcorn has no place in home décor, as far as we’re concerned.

    LESLIE: Oh, my God. People, it’s so funny. It’s just – people hate them. They absolutely hate them, so I’m very curious.

    TOM: Do you know why builders put popcorn ceilings on?

    LESLIE: So that they can hide imperfections.

    TOM: They hid all sorts of imperfections. That’s right. The ceiling, where you have ceiling lights, the lights cast across the ceiling sort of sideways and it has a tendency to highlight every little imperfection, which can cost them a lot of callbacks. Because people would say their drywall was finished poorly, they could see the tape seams, the nail pops. They’re like, “We’ll fix that. We’ll just cover it with all this textured stuff called ‘popcorn.’” And that’s exactly what they did.

    But now, decades later, we get call after call after call about people just want to remove it. And it’s not a pretty job. It does take a lot of hassling.

    LESLIE: It’s true. And I mean I think it really depends on how it’s applied. Sometimes the popcorn ceiling truly is a foam ball mixed into a compound that’s then applied. If that’s the case, that’s the easiest way to remove it. That generally – you just need to add some moisture and then use a wide paint scraper to really carefully and smoothly remove it from the ceiling. And sometimes, it’s more of a technique applied with actual stucco. And that really requires a lot of work to get that one off.

    TOM: Well, that’s kind of what Jeff is asking. He wants to know what’s the best way to go about smoothing a painted popcorn ceiling. He says scraping gets too hard, so he wants to skim-coat it. But you cannot skim-coat over all of that popcorn.

    LESLIE: Oh, that would be the thickest layer of skim coat.

    TOM: Yeah.

    LESLIE: It’d be a heavy coat.

    TOM: You have to wet it down.

    And you know what, Leslie? I have found that there are a couple of tools on the market today that are sort of like long-handled scrapers and some that you can actually hook up to a shop vac, so you could kind of suck up the debris as you’re scraping it off the ceiling.

    LESLIE: Oh, that’s interesting.

    TOM: So, it’s getting a little bit easier. But the thing is, even when you get all of that material off of the ceiling, it’s still going to be fairly rough underneath. You’re still going to have that uneven surface.

    So, if you don’t want to put a textured paint back – and why would you? – what you might want to do is make sure you use flat ceiling paint. Never use any kind of paint that has any sheen whatsoever. Because the more sheen, the worse that ceiling is going to look when it gets a little light cast on it, sort of at an angle. You’ll start seeing those imperfections.

    So, you need to get it off there. You need to go ahead and paint it with a flat paint. And if the ceiling is really bad when you get it all off, what you could do, also, is just cover it with another layer of drywall. With that second layer, you could use very thin drywall that’s about 3/8-inch thick. And that goes up pretty easily and you’ll just have the seams to deal with after that.

    But those are the two ways to really deal with that ceiling, Jeff. You can’t spackle over it. It’s just not going to work.

    LESLIE: And then, Jeff, you might find that fixing those seams on that new drywall might make you want to put a textured ceiling on. Just don’t. Don’t hide your imperfections.

    Alright. Louis in Florida writes: “I had new 6×6 posts installed to support my porch-roof overhang. Now, there’s vertical splits on one post. Should I drive in screws to minimize that splitting?”

    TOM: That’s an interesting idea but there’s no way that a screw or a bolt is going to stop a post from splitting. It’s got a mind of its own.

    You know, cracks in wood supports like that, Louis, are pretty typical and they’re also expected. So the only thing that I might do is to seal those cracks with a silicone sealer, a silicone caulk or even a latex caulk. Depends on how that post is finished. Because this way, you’ll prevent some of the water from getting in there and perhaps slow it down as time goes on.

    LESLIE: But enjoy that new patio.

    TOM: This is The Money Pit Home Improvement Show on this very first weekend of summer. We hope we’ve been able to give you some ideas on how to get started on your summer home improvement project, solve some of those DIY dilemmas. All summer long, you can reach us at 1-888-MONEY-PIT or you can post your questions online to The Money Pit’s website at

    For now, 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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