Stopping Summer Power Outages

  • 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: We’re here to help you with your home improvement projects. If you are looking around figuring out what project you want to get done first – maybe you don’t have a project. We could suggest lots. We’re really good at that: finding stuff for people to do with their weekend.

    LESLIE: Keeping people busy.

    TOM: Or maybe you started one and you kind of got stuck or you don’t know if you can do it yourself or you need to get some help. All great questions to talk about on today’s show. Help yourself first, though, by picking up the phone and calling us at 1-888-MONEY-PIT.

    Coming up this hour, are the bugs getting deep into your lawn and into your garden? Well, we’re going to have a solution that can help block the bugs from the vegetable gardens and the flowers and trees and shrubs and the lawns, just ahead.

    LESLIE: And summer storms are on their way, which could mean power outages are right behind it. So, if you want to keep your house lit when the rest of the neighborhood goes dark, we’re going to help you do just that.

    TOM: And are you looking for a fun fix-up for a rainy summer afternoon? Stepping up your stairs is an easy DIY project that can have a positive impact on your home’s interior and its value. We’ll tell you how to take on that job.

    LESLIE: But first, we want to know what you are working on. We want to hear from you. Don’t be shy. Give us a call, shoot us an email, post something in the Comment section on Let us know what you are working on and how we can give a hand.

    TOM: The number is 1-888-MONEY-PIT. That’s 888-666-3974.

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

    LESLIE: Laurie in Ohio is on the line and needs some help in the yard. What’s going on at your money pit?

    LAURIE: Hi. This is Laurie. And I actually have my grandson, Garrett, with me and …

    LESLIE: Hi, Garrett.

    TOM: Oh. Well, Garrett, welcome to The Money Pit.

    LAURIE: Can you say hi to him?

    GARRETT: Hi.

    LESLIE: Oh, hi, sweetie.

    LAURIE: I actually have two grandsons. He’s almost seven and one who’s almost two. And we’re excited for summer and want to do a lot of things outside. And we want to do a sandbox sort of thing to play in but we’re kind of leery about using sand because we’ve heard about, you know, a lot of spiders, bugs, cats getting into it. And I just wondered if there’s any kind of alternative out there, that you know of, that we could use instead of sand.

    TOM: I mean what’s a sandbox without sand?

    LESLIE: And the kids do love it so very much.

    LAURIE: That’s true.

    TOM: Yeah. Well, listen, we had sandboxes when our kids were small and we never had concerns about that. Now, I did have one that had a cover that went over it, so that kept the cats out and that kind of thing.

    LAURIE: Yeah.

    TOM: But I can’t recall that we ever had any issues with insects or anything like that. The worst thing was if you forgot to put the cover on and you got a rainstorm and it flooded. Then that would take a lot to get it dried out again. But I don’t know that it’s ever been, really, an issue. Maybe things are different down in Ohio but I’ve never had an issue with it.

    Leslie, what about you?

    LESLIE: I will say that when the kids were little, especially Charlie when he was at his Pre-K – so he’s three, four – they had a sandbox. And my kid and one other kid were always the only kids in the sandbox and I always felt the judging looks from the other parents like, “Mm. They’re in the sandbox. That’s disgusting.” It’s like, “What? They love it.”

    TOM: I don’t get that.

    LESLIE: So, maybe I’m missing something on why people are so grossed out by them.

    TOM: Yeah.

    LAURIE: That’s what I’m getting. When my two sons were smaller, yeah, that was OK and no one thought anything twice about it. But now that I’m a grandma and there’s this new generation …

    LESLIE: Oh, get ready to be judged, Grandma.

    TOM: You’re welcome to the judge generation.

    LAURIE: Look online and there’s different stuff but nothing that – I just don’t know about it.

    TOM: I would trust your decades of experience as a grandma, your decades of life experience you went through to get there, rather than any of this newfound advice from these new experts, also known as millennials.

    LESLIE: Listen, the judge-y looks only last so long. Plus, you can turn around.

    LAURIE: That’s true. Yeah, that’s true. OK. Well, I just came upon your program one evening, as I was driving to my grandson’s karate class, and I thought, “This is the perfect” – going through my mind and I thought I’m just going to call in.

    LESLIE: Well, thanks.

    LAURIE: So, I appreciate your opinion and I – thanks for listening to me and giving me advice to stick to the old sand.

    TOM: Well, we think Garrett has an awesome grandma making sandboxes and taking the kids to karate. Very cool. He’s a lucky boy.

    Well, thanks so much for calling us.

    LAURIE: Thank you so much.

    TOM: Alright. Bye-bye.

    LAURIE: Bye-bye.

    LESLIE: Todd in Florida is on the line and is having some issues with the driveway. Tell us what’s going on.

    TODD: I’ve got a house I’m renovating here in Florida and the driveway is in pretty decent shape. It’s got all these – just like half a dozen cracks running through different ways through it. It’s almost spider cracks.

    TOM: OK.

    TODD: And I want to know what’s the best way, instead of tearing it up and repouring it, to fix that and make it look good.

    TOM: Yeah, there’s a new product out by QUIKRETE that’s perfect for that. It’s called ReCap. And essentially, it’s designed to go on top of the old concrete surface. You could squeegee it. You can …

    LESLIE: And really stick to it.

    TOM: Yeah. You could trowel it. It has tremendous adhesion power. And you can go right over those cracks and you could have a trowel finish or a broom finish, whatever you want. And you will completely resurface that driveway.

    You’ll find it at different home centers. I think Home Depot and Lowe’s. But if you go to or use their dealer locator, it’s called ReCap – R-e-C-a-p. And we’ve seen this stuff demonstrated and it’s amazing. When it adheres to the old concrete, in tests they try to pull it out, pull it apart. And it’s so hard to pull apart. It actually ripped out the old concrete with it. So it really adheres well.

    TODD: Oh, wow.

    TOM: Prep is pretty easy. You’re basically going to pressure-wash that driveway to get all the dirt and debris and moss and mildew off of it. And then, while it’s wet, you apply the ReCap. And the stuff hardens and is drivable within about 24 hours.

    TODD: Oh, great. So it’s a lot cheaper than spending thousands of dollars to repour your driveway and tear it up.

    TOM: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah.

    LESLIE: Oh, for sure.

    TOM: This is exactly what it’s designed for: spider cracks in driveways that don’t look so hot. You just completely resurface it, OK?

    TODD: Awesome. That sounds – I’ll look that up. Thank you for your help. I appreciate that.

    TOM: Yep. Good luck, Todd. 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 right here at 888-MONEY-PIT.

    TOM: 888-666-3974.

    Up next, are bugs helping themselves to a share of your garden vegetables? We’ll have a solution that can block those bugs from veggie gardens and a whole lot more, after this.

    Where home solutions live, this is The Money Pit Home Improvement Show. I’m Tom Kraeutler.

    LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

    TOM: Pick up the phone and give us a call, right now, at 1-888-MONEY-PIT presented by HomeAdvisor, where you can find top-rated home service pros and book appointments online, all for free.

    LESLIE: Mary in Alaska is on the line and needs some help with a water supply.

    What’s going on, Mary?

    MARY: I have hot-water heaters downstairs and I’m considering going to a tankless.

    TOM: What kind of fuel do you have in your house, Mary? Is it gas or electric?

    MARY: Electric.

    TOM: OK. So, you can’t really go with an electric tankless water heater, because the tankless water-heater technology is really designed for gas water heaters. What you can do is switch to something called a “heat-pump water heater.”

    Now, a heat pump is a high-efficiency electric water heater, so it will save you some money. It’s also – typically will qualify for various different types of energy rebates. But it’s going to be more expensive than your traditional, just tank electric heater. Because with an electric water heater, you know, it’s running 24/7 and it’s pretty expensive. With a heat pump, it basically is – kind of uses the refrigeration concept that you used to use with heat-pump air conditioners to try to provide some of the warmth of the hot water. So it is less expensive to operate.

    So I think it really comes down to how much you want to spend for the unit, how long you’re going to be in your house, because it’s not like you pack the thing up when you leave. You know what I mean?

    And if you want to keep the electric water heater, you can do so. What I would suggest you do is add a timer to it. There is a device, not too expensive. It’s a heavy-duty timer designed for a 240-volt appliance. And you basically would set the water heater to come on maybe around dinnertime, stay on through evening showers and bathing and then come on again in the morning for morning showers and then go off again. The water will still remain warm throughout the day but instead of it running 24/7, maybe you only have it run 8 or 10 hours. And that will save you some money, too. Does that make sense?

    MARY: Mm-hmm. Yeah, it does. I was just trying to get rid of the tanks of water. I always …

    TOM: I hear you.

    MARY: I had one bust on me one time and flood my basement.

    TOM: Yeah.

    MARY: And I don’t want that to ever happen again. And I was really hoping I could get rid of all that water sitting down there in one place.

    TOM: Well, I tell you what, chances are that if you have experienced a busted water tank that flooded, it’s never going to happen again. Because it’s just not that common and I can’t – you would have the most awful luck in the world for it to happen to you twice. OK?

    If you have Wi-Fi in your house, there’s lots of smart-home products that are out there, including some that are leak detectors that basically get mounted on the basement floor. And if you ever get a flood again, it’ll at least alert you and maybe you can send some – send a neighbor over or somebody to check the house.

    MARY: Yeah, yeah. I know. They have shutoff valves and all that kind of stuff now, too. But I just wanted to get rid of all of it. But no electric tankless yet, huh?

    TOM: No, not – no, they have them but they’re really expensive. They don’t give you any energy savings.

    Do you have propane to – that you use for anything?

    MARY: No, no.

    TOM: Yeah.

    MARY: We heat with fuel oil.

    TOM: OK. Yeah, so I think that the best thing for you to do is to either put a timer on your standard water heater or get a heat-pump water heater. Either way, I think that’s probably the best option, OK?

    MARY: OK. Thank you so much.

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

    MARY: Thank you. Bye-bye.

    TOM: Well, now that we’re getting deep into summer, the bugs may be getting deep into your garden and your lawn, as well. And a great way to control these is with a product that I’ve discovered called Captain Jack’s Dead Bug Brew. Not only does it have a fantastic name, it’s great stuff.

    LESLIE: It really does.

    TOM: It’s made by Bonide and they’ve been helping homeowners and pros, for 90 years, grow beautiful lawns and gardens.

    LESLIE: Now, Captain Jack’s Dead Bug Brew, it’s a product that’s approved for organic gardening, which is great. And it’s effective in vegetable gardens, flower gardens, trees, shrubs, on your lawn. And I also like that it’s an all-natural insect control that can handle a lot of different types of very bothersome bugs, like bagworms, borers, beetles, caterpillars, gypsy moths, leaf miners, spider mites, tent caterpillars, thrips. I mean so much more because honestly, do we see the bugs eating the things in the yard? No. So you’ve got to cover a wide variety of pests.

    TOM: We don’t want to see them. That’s the whole point.

    LESLIE: Exactly.

    TOM: Captain Jack’s Dead Bug Brew is available at independent garden centers, hardware stores and farm-feed stores. It’s also available in a concentrate, a hose-end – so there’s no mixing – or a dust and a ready-to-use formula with a trigger spray.

    And remember, Bonide products are family-made in the U.S.A. for more than 90 years. Learn more at

    LESLIE: Angelo in Florida is on the line with a painting project. How can we help?

    ANGELO: Well, guys, I have some window shutters and I believe them to be fiberglass.

    TOM: OK.

    ANGELO: And they’ve been on the house new since 2003. And they face the sun in the hottest part of the day. Now, they’re not chipped but they have a feeling like they have a flat color on them now, because they’ve faded so bad. So I’m wondering how I can prepare those to paint. Can I do it with a brush or can I do it with a spray can? Do I need to strip them? What do I need to do?

    TOM: You know, it’s interesting. I’ve had mixed results painting fiberglass shutters. And the last time I did it before the present, I had a problem with the paint that peeled off, even though I used a product – and I think it was a Sherwin-Williams product that they absolutely swore was designed to adhere to those shutters.

    So, what I did most recently – because I just did shutters on a building that was owned by our local scout troop. And we redid all the shutters and we pulled them off the building, because it was just easier to do it.

    ANGELO: Right.

    TOM: But I used a product that I found at Home Depot called Rust-Oleum Painter’s Touch 2X. It’s got a big 2X on it and it’s a paint and primer in one. The reason I used it was because it bonds to plastic.

    And I was a little concerned about whether or not it was going to be tough enough. But I sprayed a shutter to test it with the stuff. It wasn’t expensive; I think it was five or six bucks a can. And then I tried to peel the paint off and I couldn’t do it. So I really was impressed with how well it sort of binded to that fiberglass shutter.

    So I would use that – it’s Rust-Oleum Painter’s Touch 2X – on those shutters. I think you’ll find that it really works well. You can probably find it online, figure out where it is near you. I’d pull one of the shutters off. I’d spray it with that. Pick up a can. Put it through its paces for your area. But I think that it’ll do well for you. I certainly was very impressed with it.

    ANGELO: OK. Thanks, guys.

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

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

    REBECCA: We have a tree root that has grown into the foundation of our home. Did not realize it until we took the floor up. And we’ve got the tree down and the stump actually ground down so, obviously, the roots are still underneath the house. We have a lot of problems with the room that was damaged by the tree root, where it came – it has a big hump in the middle of the room. We’ve kind of covered it with furniture. It’s our media room. Used to be the garage of the house but it was enclosed when we bought it.

    We have a lot of problems when it rains. Water, mud comes underneath the rug. And I was wondering if there is a way that we could somehow patch the floor or if we need to get someone to jackhammer up the cement floor that’s in here – because, again, it was the garage at one point, so it’s poured cement – or what we can do to kind of help the problem: if we have to repour the entire section, if we could dig up just that one section and maybe patch it up or what.

    TOM: Well, first of all, there’s no reason you couldn’t cut out that one section and repour just that one section.

    In terms of the water issue, I suspect what’s happening is the water is collecting somewhere outside of that area and it’s finding that the path of least resistance. So it’s pushing down around your foundation, under the floor and up into the garage. So you need to try to track down what that issue is. It’s probably a drainage issue somewhere outside those walls, either with gutters or downspouts or for some reason you’re getting too much water that’s collecting in that area. I would look to that as a source of the water.

    But in terms of the floor, you can jackhammer it up in just a section and cut down – of course, remove all those tree roots. Because here’s the thing: now that the tree is dead, those roots will continue to rot away and you don’t want to have voids under that slab. Once the slab is up, you want to dig out as much of those roots as you can. And then you can put stone in there and repour that and cover it all up.

    So those are the two things I would do: I would remove the area where the bulge is, remove the tree roots and repour it. But also look to the source of the water, because I think that what’s happening is you’ve got a symptom there. The tree root is not causing the water to come in; it’s just following the path of least resistance and working its way in at that spot.

    REBECCA: OK. Thank you.

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

    LESLIE: Now we’ve got Jed in New York on the line who’s doing a tiling project and needs help with the process. How can we help you?

    JED: I’m building a house in Upstate New York and I just had a question about how or what you guys would suggest a way to adhere tile, like for a shower surround or in back of a tub. I’ve been to a couple of different stores and have gotten a couple of different answers. They have, basically, the cement backer board and then they have a composite material. And I didn’t know if you guys were familiar with either one of them or had a preference or a suggestion for me.

    LESLIE: You’re dealing with open bays? This is brand-new construction? Nothing is on that wall as of yet?

    JED: No. I haven’t got that far yet. Just starting to look at everything and I know that I want to put in tile in the bathroom and I’m just starting to piece everything together.

    LESLIE: When you do a tiling project, your tiles, yes, are water-resistant but the grout lines will suck water in and through. So you want to make sure that whatever is behind there will do its best to withstand from mold growth and any other issues that might happen as the water does seep through the grout lines.

    JED: OK. Do you guys have a suggestion of what you would recommend doing? Is there a certain barrier that I can put behind the tile or anything like that?

    TOM: So I would stick with a standard tile backer. When you’re doing – dealing with new construction, that’s the best way to do it. I mean in the old days, we used to put wire mesh and a mud wall and that’d last for a hundred or more years. But today, the tile backers do a pretty good job.

    So especially if you’re starting with studs, I would definitely build it up with a tile backer. I would not use a composite drywall, because it just doesn’t last that long. It’s very popular with builders because it gives them an inexpensive way to be able to deliver a tiled shower. But invariably, after about 10 years, it starts to soften and rot and you end up having to tear it all out anyway.

    JED: OK. Well, that’s great. That helps me out so much. I can’t even tell you guys. So at least I’ve got my step; now I’ve just got to pick out all the colors and all that wonderful stuff.

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

    LESLIE: Well, summer storms are on their way, which means power outages could be right behind them. Just ahead, Kevin O’Connor from This Old House is joining us with tips to keep your house lit when the rest of the neighborhood goes dark.

    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 appliances, lights and devices have to say. See what’s up, know what’s going on.

    You can see Sense in action at I installed the Sense Home Energy Monitor in my house and it’s amazing. It’s so fun when it finds a new appliance. And then it tells me how much it was costing me to run it. You can do the same. Check it out at

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

    LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

    TOM: Pick up the phone and give us a call, right now, at 1-888-MONEY-PIT presented by HomeAdvisor. You can find out what it costs to do your home project before you hire a pro and instantly book one of HomeAdvisor’s top-rated pros for free.

    LESLIE: Mike in Texas is on the line and building a shed. How can we help you with that project?

    MIKE: Well, I just got a new wooden shed in the backyard. It’s 10×16. And I was just wondering, before I put anything in it, how can I treat the floor? Or should I even worry about treating the floor for durability?

    TOM: Well, first of all, when you put the shed in, did you put it right on the ground or is there some sort of a foundation under it?

    MIKE: It’s elevated, concrete blocks and then it is a wooden subfloor above that.

    TOM: OK, good. So you do have a little bit of air moving under it, because that’s going to be important to avoid decay.

    In terms of the floor itself, look, anything that you put on that is not really going to have a significant difference in terms of extending its life. It will make it easier to use it. For example, if you painted it, it would make it easier to sweep it if it gets dirty and that sort of thing. I’m going to presume that it’s probably made of exterior plywood, so I wouldn’t worry about it falling apart in the weather. But I think painting it might help to preserve the durability of the floor and make it a little easier to clean.

    MIKE: OK. Would there be any specific type paint?

    TOM: Yeah. I think a porch-and-floor paint is a good idea because it’s very, very durable. You need to have a paint that’s really going to be able to take the abuse of all of the products that you’re going to keep in there – the lawn mower and that sort of thing – and really stand up without wearing out. So, any kind of floor paint would work well.

    MIKE: OK. Great. I appreciate your help.

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

    LESLIE: Well, automatic standby generators were once a rare thing. But more and more homeowners are installing these to make certain their families are covered in the event of a sustained power loss. It also adds a tremendous value to their home.

    TOM: And with extreme weather seeming more and more common in a power grid that is decades old, power outages are also much less rare than they used to be. You want to make sure you don’t get stuck in the dark. We’ve got advice now from This Old House host Kevin O’Connor.

    Hey, Kevin.

    KEVIN: Hi, guys. Great to be here.

    TOM: You know, it seemed that even just 10 years ago, this would’ve felt like a less critical investment than it is today, huh?

    KEVIN: Well, it is certainly nice to have the peace of mind that you can actually keep the power on. Because when it goes out, you’ve got a whole host of problems, right? I mean you could lose your heat in the winter, your air conditioning in the summer. You can lose the food in the refrigerator. You can drop down the communications, because so much of us rely on the internet and stuff. So knowing that that power can stay on or come back on in an emergency is great peace of mind.

    LESLIE: Completely.

    TOM: So let’s clarify the differences between the different generator options that are out there.

    KEVIN: Well, the way I think about them is like this: you either have a standby generator or a portable generator. A standby generator is installed by a professional. It is hooked up into the circuit – the electrical panel of your house.

    LESLIE: It’s a permanent application.

    KEVIN: It is a permanent application with a permanent fuel source: either natural gas piped to it directly or propane, if that’s what you’re burning. Whereas a portable is something that probably sits in the garage and you can pull it out. You’re often pouring gasoline into it and then you’re plugging in just the critical circuits.

    TOM: And then the issue there, of course, is that portable generators need gasoline. Gasoline has to come from gas stations, who also don’t have power to pump the gas.

    KEVIN: And they’re generally smaller, so you can’t just run it for an entire day or two days.

    TOM: Yeah.

    KEVIN: You have to kind of continually feed it with gasoline. And it is giving off emissions. They all give off emissions but it is giving off emissions and you could put it in the wrong place.

    LESLIE: Right.

    KEVIN: And that is critical to be thinking about with a portable generator. Do not ever run it indoors or anywhere near the indoors where the combustion gases can get into the house.

    TOM: And that includes an open garage.

    KEVIN: Absolutely.

    TOM: So within the standby category, there are some options within that, as well.

    KEVIN: There are. And these are great for the reasons we just discussed. They are permanently installed, they’re ready to go. They have a fuel source. They’re placed appropriately so that they know they can operate safely.

    And then when you’re in the standby category, it’s about size. Are you going to try to run the entire house when there is an outage or you’re just going to pick some critical circuits? In either case, these things are going to be hooked up to a transfer switch so that when the power from the grid goes out, the transfer switch says, “OK, I don’t sense power there. Let me go to the generator for power.” And then it’s a question of how many circuits are attached to it. If you have it for the entire house, it’s a no-brainer. Everything goes on and you can operate everything.

    Now, they’re more expensive. They’re bigger, obviously, so you can choose to have that transfer switch just linking to a couple critical circuits. Keep the refrigerator on, the heating, the power plant on and a couple critical lights so that you could be in the house safely. That’s a question of size and convenience. You have to make that trade-off and obviously cost, as well.

    LESLIE: Mm-hmm. Well, it’s funny. I think, being from the Northeast, we all suffer from “Sandy shock,” which is what I like to call it. I had a baby and then we had no power for 18 days, which was just mind-boggling. I will never, ever be in that situation again. So when I was meeting with the KOHLER team to talk about getting a standby generator for the house, I started at first looking at something in the 7 to 11k range and was like, “Well, maybe this’ll be good.” And then you sort of get power-greedy when you start thinking about it and the prices aren’t that different when you get to that level. And suddenly, you’re like, “Yes, 20kW for the entire house.”

    KEVIN: And what peace of mind you have there, that the entire house will be operational in a power outage. That is nice.

    TOM: And that’s a good point. And there are actually estimators on the websites of these major manufacturers, where you can figure out how many kilowatt hours do I need in terms of power. And you can buy these standbys, perhaps, as small as 7kW?

    KEVIN: Mm-hmm.

    TOM: And that’s good if you have a really small house, perhaps a retirement house, a cabin, something of that nature. Small lot. And they go all the way up to 22,000 watts. So, yeah, you really have a wide range of choices.

    I think the other thing interesting is that they’re now remotely monitored, so you can know what’s going on at any time.

    KEVIN: Well, you guys know this from your own experience. These things are very intelligent.

    They’re doing a couple things. They’re turning themselves on, so that they’re running a test cycle to make sure that they’re in good stead. They’re doing that on a regular basis. They’re sending a report to a service technician saying everything’s OK or it’s not. And they’re also sending a notification to you saying, “Hey, I’m doing OK. Don’t worry about it,” or, “Hey, we’ve got a problem. Check into it now.” Because you want that thing to work when you need it.

    LESLIE: When you need it.

    Now, what about maintenance? This is an appliance that you’re putting in your home. Do you need to do an annual maintenance check on a whole-house standby generator?

    KEVIN: Somebody does.

    LESLIE: Not me.

    KEVIN: Not you, necessarily. But yes, absolutely. And oftentimes, the installer will actually give you that plan where they will make sure that they come out and give it a checkup, just like with your car: make sure all the fluids – everything’s working properly, make sure that circuitry is working and that we know that it will come on when you need it. Because if it doesn’t do that, it’s of no value to you.

    TOM: And now is a great time to think about an automatic standby generator, because the prices have come down a lot over the last several years.

    KEVIN: I’m curious to know, Leslie, how it is that when you gave a baby, you took out the entire grid.

    LESLIE: It’s amazing.

    TOM: How’d that happen?

    KEVIN: That’s quite a child.

    LESLIE: It’s amazing. And I didn’t even name the baby Sandy or anything. It’s crazy.

    KEVIN: No, just in time, absolutely. The affordability and the variability – the fact that you can get different sizes for different applications. I think they are more common and people are leaning towards using them and installing them more now than in the past.

    TOM: Kevin O’Connor from TV’s This Old House, thank you so much for powering up this edition of The Money Pit.

    KEVIN: My pleasure. Thank you, guys.

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

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

    Up next, are you looking for a fun fix-up for a rainy summer afternoon? Well, stepping up your stairs is an easy do-it-yourself project that can have a very positive impact on your home’s interior. We’ll tell you how, 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 presented by Never worry again about overpaying for a job. Use the HomeAdvisor True Cost Guide and see what others have paid for a similar project. It’s all for free at

    TOM: The number is 1-888-MONEY-PIT, 888-666-3974.

    LESLIE: Pam in Missouri is on the line and has a question about installing a dimmer, a great do-it-yourself project.

    How can we help you, Pam?

    PAM: I have a room that has fluorescent lighting in it and there’s two entries into that room. So there’s a light switch on each door, so it’s a two-way switch. Can I put a sensor on that so that when you walk in and walk out, the lights come on and go off?

    TOM: Are you asking me if you can? Can you put a sensor on that?

    PAM: Yes.

    TOM: Is your concern that you want the lights to come on automatically or is your concern that you don’t want people to leave the lights on when no one is in the room?

    PAM: Both.

    TOM: Well, I guess you could use an occupancy-sensor switch there but you would need to set it in vacancy mode, not occupancy mode. See, in occupancy mode, the light comes on when there’s motion. So, if you had a three-way, what could happen is you walk in the room, the switch closest to you picks up your motion, turns the lights on. You continue halfway through the room until the one on the other side picks it up and turns the lights off, so that wouldn’t work too well.

    A better option might be to just replace one side of it – just one of the switches – with an occupancy sensor but set it in what’s called the “vacancy mode.” So what that means is you manually turn the light switch on but if there’s no motion in the room, it will automatically go off.

    So we use these, for example, in the bedrooms upstairs at our house because kids turn lights on but as we all know, kids don’t turn the lights off. So, if you set it in the vacancy mode, they can turn the lights on but then they’ll go off, depending on the period of monitoring you set. They’ll either go off 1, 5, 15 or 30 minutes later.

    PAM: Oh, OK. Alright. That would work. Thank you.

    TOM: Well, some areas of the home might seem easier to update than others. But if you feel stuck with a dated stairway that maybe was built decades ago, that might actually be one that you can do something about.

    Now, first, if you can use a tape measure, a drill and a few other common tools, the easy update is just to switch out dated wooden balusters for the new sort of trendy iron balusters. It’s a project that you can do in an afternoon and it’s a lot less expensive than replacing the entire stair system. The idea of mixing wood and iron in a home is a popular design trend now and we’re seeing more and more of it these days, too. It’s a project where you keep the wood handrails and posts while you add in those elegant iron balusters.

    LESLIE: Yeah. You know, the project simply involves swapping out the wooden balusters for designer iron balusters. Now, after those older wooden balusters are carefully removed, pivoting fasteners are attached to the handrail. Then the iron balusters are inserted, pivoted and then swung into the vertical position. The alignment is completed and screws are tightened to secure that baluster in place. And it’s a gorgeous makeover.

    TOM: That’s right. Those iron balusters are very trendy these days and there are many systems available for sale that can help you with the project. Or you could feel more comfortable if you hire a pro to get it done. But either way, it’s a lot less expensive than completely tearing out that stair and it really will step up the look of that entire space.

    LESLIE: Sage in New York is on the line with an outdoor-watering question. Tell us what’s going on.

    SAGE: How are you doing? I have an outdoor faucet, which I use to connect my hose in the front. And I believe it’s called a “frost-free sillcock.”

    TOM: Right.

    SAGE: And the problem I have is that when I open the faucet, I can open it full but the water takes, sometimes, up to a minute to come out, if it comes out at all.

    TOM: Now, inside your house, there’s going to be another valve that is designed to shut off that line for the winter. Did you check to make sure that valve was fully open?

    SAGE: It is fully open, yes.

    TOM: So the valve is fully open on the inside of the house, the valve – the hose bib – on the outside of the house, though, you open it up and it takes a minute to come out. And when it comes out, is it coming out fast or slow or what?

    SAGE: It comes out slow and I also wondered if the fact that the pressure was lower on this faucet, as compared to the faucet at the back of the house, was part of the problem?

    TOM: And how old is the house?

    SAGE: Oh, the house is only about three years old.

    TOM: Three years old? Alright. So the plumbing should be fine.

    What you’re describing is simply a valve that’s not fully open. And so, if the valve inside is open and the valve outside is open, then somewhere we’ve got a bad valve. Because that shouldn’t be happening; it should be very simple. The valve opens, the water flies out. Three-year-old house, there’s no reason for any corrosion to be inside the pipe or anything of that nature. And so you’ve got a bad valve somewhere; that’s what has to be looked into.

    SAGE: OK. Alright. Thank you.

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

    LESLIE: Well, now that it’s getting hot, is your A/C keeping up to the challenge? We’re going to have three tips for a do-it-yourself checkup, next.

    TOM: Where home solutions live, this is The Money Pit Home Improvement Show. I’m Tom Kraeutler.

    LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

    TOM: Pick up the phone and give us a call, right now, 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 similar projects. Then get matched with top-rated pros, read reviews, get quotes and book appointments. You can do all of that for free at

    Well, now that it’s getting hot outside, Leslie, it’s a good time to think about whether or not your A/C is really doing the job.

    LESLIE: Yeah. Before it gets too hot and then it doesn’t work.

    TOM: Now, you don’t just have to call a pro. There’s actually a way you can test it yourself. This is actually a test that I did for years and years and years as a professional home inspector. It’s easy to do and it will tell you whether or not the system is working as it should.

    First, you want to find a supply duct. And that’s one that blows the air out and into the room. You preferably want to find one that’s kind of close to where your air handler or your furnace is or where that blower is actually located. And then take a thermometer – and a refrigerator thermometer, something like that is perfect for this – and measure the temperature of the air coming out. Now, you’re going to do the exact same thing at the return duct. Remember, that’s where the air goes back.

    Now, when you compare those temperatures, if the supply is 12 to 20 degrees cooler than the return, your system is working well. Any less than that and it needs to be serviced by a pro. So measure the supply temperature and the return temperature. Look for that 12 to 20 – I kind of prefer, actually, 15 to 20 but 12 is OK. If it’s in that range, it’s working properly. Because remember, when your air conditioning works, it doesn’t just cool the house on the first time it supplies the cold air. It goes back to the system and recycles and recirculates and recirculates. And then, over time, it brings it up – or I should say down – to the temperature that you want. So, 12 to 20 is what you’re looking for.

    LESLIE: Alright. That’s a good tip.

    Alright. Don’t forget, you can post your questions online at And I’ve got one here from Carla. Now, Carla writes: “We installed a one-piece tub/shower in our basement only about a year ago, as well as linoleum flooring. Already, the linoleum is rolling up where it meets the tub. What is the best product to use to hold it down?”

    TOM: You know, I’m so sad that you put linoleum flooring in only a year ago, given all of the amazing, completely waterproof products that are out there right now, that are very inexpensive. This, Carla, is not worth fixing. This will be something you will always be chasing to try to keep it from not rolling up along the tub edge. I seriously would consider putting a new floor on top of that old floor.

    There’s a product out now called SUPERCore that is made by the folks at, that is completely waterproof, incredibly durable. And once you lay it down on top of that old floor, you’re going to find that you will never have to do a single thing to it again. Because it’s not going to curl up; it’s going to sit right where you put it. It doesn’t expand and contract very much at all and it will basically make that complete situation completely disappear.

    So I’d recommend you switch out to a new flooring, because trying to glue that edge down is just not going to happen.

    LESLIE: Yeah, that’s a good point, Tom. That SUPERCore does rock and really is a good application for it here. But I think, in general, we know basements are moist spaces. So anytime you’re below grade, you’re dealing with the moisture coming in from all of the grading surrounding it. So you want to make sure that you’re dehumidifying, you’re controlling the grading outside, controlling the moisture outside that gets in. So do your best to keep it cool and dry inside. And that, I think, will just help everything last longer on the interior, as well.

    TOM: This is The Money Pit Home Improvement Show on air and online at Wrapping up our broadcast today on this beautiful late-spring/early-summer weekend. We hope we’ve given you some ideas and tips and advice to take on projects around your house. Remember, you can reach us, 24/7, by calling 1-888-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.)