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Tips on Home Sprinkler Systems, How to Safely Cut into a Load-Bearing Wall, Closet Organization Tips, and more

  • Transcript

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

    LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

    TOM: Standing by to take your home improvement question, to help solve your do-it-yourself dilemma. Whether this is a home improvement project you’d like to do yourself or maybe you’ve been thinking about directing it yourself by hiring a contractor to get the project done, let us be the first phone call you make. We’ll help smooth out the bumps that you don’t see but perhaps we can see for you, by calling us at 888-666-3974.

    This is a great time to tackle energy-saving home improvements. You’ve no doubt paid a heating bill or two already and perhaps are feeling the sting from that on top of all of the holiday bills. Hey, why don’t we talk about how to make your home a bit more energy-efficient? Whatever is on your mind, pick up the phone and call us at 888-666-3974.

    We’ve got a great show planned for you. First up, we’re going to talk about ways to protect your home from fire. Now, having a working smoke alarm system, of course, is a great idea. It’s an essential idea, it’s a critical idea. But even though that will provide that all-important alert that will get your family awake and out of the house safely, it won’t stop your house from burning down. What will is a sprinkler system and you know what? They’re getting easier than ever to install, even in homes that are already constructed. You don’t always have to have the walls torn open to get to this. And we’re going to tell you how to do just that, in just a bit.

    LESLIE: And you know what? It doesn’t have to look like a department store, either; it can actually be kind of incognito and really keep your house safe.

    Now, also ahead this hour, if your home is feeling a little cramped and closed off this new year, maybe taking out a wall will open up that space. And it could be a great solution for you if you know how. We’re going to have some tips on how you can safely remove even load-bearing walls without your house falling down, because that’s important.

    TOM: That would be bad.

    LESLIE: That would be really bad.

    TOM: And also ahead, a common complaint we hear from homeowners is that they just don’t have enough closet space, so we’re going to have some tips this hour on how you can organize your closets to make it feel bigger than ever.

    LESLIE: Plus, did you know that your mailbox could make you vulnerable to identity theft? Well, one caller this hour is going to be able to protect their mail, thanks to a locking mailbox from Mail Boss.

    TOM: Going to go out to one caller that reaches us with their home improvement project question. The number is 1-888-MONEY-PIT. Let’s get right to the phones.

    Leslie, who’s first?

    LESLIE: Bridget from Illinois is on the line and has a question about insulation. Tell us what you currently have or do you just have nothing?

    BRIDGET: I don’t know if my walls are insulated. I have a one-story house and it has cedar siding.


    BRIDGET: So I want to know: what’s the best way to insulate it and how can I tell if there’s insulation in there already?

    TOM: Well, an easy way to tell is to take the cover plate off of an electrical outlet. And with a light, you can usually look to the left or to the right of the outlet, into the stud bay itself, and see what kind of insulation is in there.

    How old is your house, Bridget?

    BRIDGET: It was built around 1965.

    TOM: Well, typically, it would have fiberglass insulation in those walls, though. That’s not terribly old.

    BRIDGET: OK. Thank you. That was my question.

    TOM: Alright, Bridget.

    BRIDGET: And if it does have – if it doesn’t have insulation, what would – what should I do?

    TOM: Well, in a 1965 house, the first thing we would tell you to do is to look in the attic, because that’s where you’re having the most heat loss. So you want to add 19 to 22 inches of insulation in the attic first. After that, you would take a look at the floors and over the unheated space and insulate those. And then, thirdly, you could look at the walls. But the walls would have to be done by blown-in insulation.

    Although I tell you, it would be very unusual for a 1965 house to not have any insulation.

    LESLIE: To not have insulation.

    TOM: However, it would be typical for them to have – for a 1965 house to have not enough insulation in the attic space.

    BRIDGET: OK. Well, that’s where I’ll check first then. Thank you.

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

    I bet she’s cold in Champaign, Illinois.

    LESLIE: Now we’ve got Josh in New York who’s dealing with a grouting issue. Tell us what’s going on.

    JOSH: Well, I tiled my bathroom and I set the tiles up and set the spacers in so that there would be grout lines. And once I mixed up the grout and put it in, pushed it in and wiped it off, set it to dry, it looks as though there are these little holes in where the grout is, almost like when a wave hits the beach and then the waves retreat and there are little holes in the sand where the clams are? They …

    TOM: Sounds like it wasn’t mixed very well; you got some air bubbles in there or something.

    JOSH: Yeah, yeah. I guess it’s just air bubbles and there are quite a few of them. What I’m wondering is: do I have to take one of those grout scrapers and scrape it all out and then redo it or can I just remix a batch and then go over it again?

    LESLIE: Fill it in.

    TOM: Hmm. What do you think, Leslie? Can he grout on top of grout? I’m not sure that ever works very well for me.

    LESLIE: I don’t know how well it’ll stick to one another. I’ve never tried it so I …

    JOSH: I haven’t sealed it yet.

    LESLIE: Hmm. It’s not like concrete where you know they don’t mesh together.

    TOM: Right.

    LESLIE: I mean I would say it’s worth a shot, just to see, especially if you can get the mix better and you can fill in those areas and make sure you clean it up properly so you don’t get the clouding.

    And where did you say this was? Is it a floor?

    JOSH: On the shower wall.

    LESLIE: Shower wall. A wall would be OK. If it’s a floor, I might say no just because of the movement you might get. I say go for it.

    JOSH: OK. Well, that should be easy enough, as easy as grouting can be.

    TOM: Grouting is a fun job.

    LESLIE: Which some people find pretty complicated but it’s a matter of technique, as far the application: holding the float at a 45-degree angle so you really get it in there, not putting too much water when you’re wiping it away.

    TOM: Yeah.

    LESLIE: It takes some finesse.

    JOSH: Sure, yeah. This is my first project, so I’m infinitely more proud of it than my neighbors would be of it but that’s OK. I’m learning, so – awesome.

    TOM: Josh, you’ve got nothing to lose. Worse comes to worse, you could always get a grout saw and pull the grout out and start again. But this is a great first project. Congratulations and enjoy it.

    JOSH: Alright, cool. Thank you.

    TOM: You’re welcome. 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 MoneyPit.com. We are full into our winter coziness, here at The Money Pit, and if you guys are thinking about some projects because you’re spending a lot of time indoors and thinking, “Hmm, I should probably paint this room or repair that crack in the ceiling or” – whatever it is that you are staring at and driving you crazy this winter season, we’re here to give you a hand. Pick up the phone and give us a call. We’re here 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-888-MONEY-PIT.

    TOM: 888-666-3974.

    Up next, it’s a sad fact that most of the deaths caused by house fires could have been prevented. We’re going to tell you how to add another layer of defense against those fires, after this.

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

    LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

    TOM: We are taking your calls at 1-888-MONEY-PIT. Give us a call right now with your home improvement question.

    Hey, did you know that about 12 million Americans are victims of identity theft each year? And the most common of those crimes start at their mailbox. That’s why, this hour, one caller who gets on the air with us is going to get some help with that problem, because we are giving away the beautiful Metro Mail Locking Mailbox from Mail Boss.

    LESLIE: Now, your postal carrier can actually put the mail right in but the only way to get your mail out is with a key, so it’s really secure. And there’s so much information that just gets passed around through the mail, so it really is a great way to keep you and your family safe from identity theft.

    It’s a prize worth 115 bucks and you can learn more about it at MailBoss.com. Give us a call right now, though, at 888-MONEY-PIT for help with your home improvement projects and your chance to win.

    TOM: 888-666-3974.

    LESLIE: Sandra in North Carolina needs some help in the attic. Tell us about your problem.

    SANDRA: How can I keep pests out of my attic without finishing it?

    TOM: Without finishing it. You mean without turning it into a finished, remodeled room?

    SANDRA: Correct. Because there’s like 800-and-something square – over 800-and-something square feet …

    TOM: Well, who’s been visiting you up there, Sandra?

    SANDRA: Oh, all kinds of pests: wasps; beetles, I guess, or some kind of flying, hard bug.

    TOM: Oh, insects?

    SANDRA: Yes.

    TOM: OK. Well, you can have an exterminator treat for those sorts of things but frankly, unless they’re getting down into the house I wouldn’t worry about the occasional mud wasp nest or something of that nature. I thought maybe you were talking about animals getting in there.

    SANDRA: Oh, no. No, no animals.

    TOM: Yeah. Well, that’s pretty common. You’re never going to make a house tight enough to keep them out. If they really bother you, you can have them treated professionally but I wouldn’t worry too terribly much about it.

    SANDRA: OK. Alright. Well, I really appreciate that.

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

    LESLIE: Well, you know the best lines of defense against a house fire is to have a working smoke alarm on every floor of your house, especially outside of bedrooms and of course, pairing those alarms with an escape plan that your entire family knows and practices. But have you thought about adding a sprinkler system to increase your safety?

    Now, a sprinkler system, it’s going to detect super-high heat from a fire and it’s going to throw water on those flames quickly. And that’s also going to stop smoke and poisonous gases.

    TOM: Yeah. But unfortunately, only about 8 percent of American homes actually have those fire sprinklers. And some states are now requiring them on new construction.

    Now, one reason more homeowners don’t just retrofit their homes with sprinklers is because they’re afraid of a false alarm ruining carpeting or furniture. The water comes off, gets everywhere but the truth is that it’s simply not the case, because sprinklers only activate in high heat. Very high heat.

    LESLIE: Yeah. And if you’re concerned about the cost of installation, keep in mind that you might be able to offset that cost with your lower insurance premiums, as well as added value to your home. If you want some more information on sprinkler systems and even some other fire-safety options, just head on over to MoneyPit.com and search “fire safety.” You’ll get a ton of information there.

    TOM: 888-666-3974. Give us a call right now with your hot, home improvement project question.

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

    CHRIS: I’m removing a dropped ceiling from my kitchen and I ran into a vent pipe from my forced-air heating. And I want to move it into the joist and I’m wondering if I can cut a hole in my joist to run it: my floor joist from the second floor.

    TOM: Alright. So you have to cut through a floor joist to be able to run this vent? So if you’re going to cut out a floor joist, you have to reinforce it.

    CHRIS: Well, wait. OK.

    TOM: The floor joist is supporting the second story and whenever you cut a hole in a floor joist, you basically are eliminating one floor joist, because you’re essentially cutting it in half.

    CHRIS: Sure.

    TOM: What you’re supposed to do is double the floor joists that are opposite that and then bridge across between them. So if you cut out, say, a 1-foot chunk to run this pipe, you would have to double the 2 floor joists that are at opposite sides of that. And then you run another, say, 2×10 in between those, perpendicular across the cut opening. So you’re essentially framing out an opening as if it was a stairwell or something. So it’s a big project, is what I’m saying.

    CHRIS: I have a 6-inch vent pipe going through a 2×10 and I’ve got to go through three 2x10s. So I suppose I would just bring up …

    TOM: Ah, wow. That’s a big – yeah. A 6-inch vent pipe. That’s a – you’re taking a lot of strength out of the floor. Isn’t there other way – any other way we can do this?

    CHRIS: Unfortunately, no. The vent pipe runs along the joists for quite a distance and then it goes down into where the dropped ceiling was, travels across three joists and then back up in between the joists and then up to a bedroom that’s on the second floor.

    TOM: This vent pipe is for what?

    CHRIS: It’s a forced-air heating duct?

    TOM: And in – where is the ceiling? Is the ceiling in a – over a kitchen?

    CHRIS: It is.

    TOM: Is there a soffit above the cabinet that you can run this duct through?

    CHRIS: No. I’m actually trying – there was a dropped ceiling and I’m removing all that to try to increase, you know …

    TOM: Typically, you don’t go through the floor joists like that; you go under them and you box it out.

    CHRIS: OK, OK.

    TOM: I would not cut 6 inches out of three 2×10 floor joists; that’s too much to take out of the floor joists.

    CHRIS: What about using metal plates to sister it?

    TOM: No. Not enough strength.

    LESLIE: And there’s no way to bring this duct up onto the floor surface and just sort of build like a small surround that would be like a little ledge or …?

    TOM: No. You would run it underneath the floor joists and you would box it in.

    CHRIS: Right, right.

    TOM: Is it possible that you could add a second heating system to this room, like a through-the-wall system?

    CHRIS: I could do that. I could block off the pipe and add its own heating system to the room. It just seems extraneous, I guess.

    TOM: Right. Well, you could use a through-the-wall – you could use like a split-system heat pump, for example, and get cooling and air conditioning through one mini-split ductless system. So you have a small compressor outside, then you have the air handler attached to the wall and that becomes both a unit that will supply heating and cooling. Take a look at the units by Mitsubishi. They’re set up for situations like this.

    CHRIS: OK.

    TOM: Because the way you’re describing this run of the duct, I’m also concerned that you’re not going to have enough airflow to properly heat it.

    LESLIE: To get the heat there when you need it.

    The split system, of course, is going to be electric then, right, Tom?

    TOM: Yes, it’ll be electric. It’s 240 volts.

    LESLIE: So there’s a cost issue to worry about with that. But we have a split system in our home, in the basement, and it’s a truly fantastic way to heat and cool a space that’s just difficult to get heating and cooling to. But heating costs – especially in Alaska, I imagine, with electric – are going to be pretty expensive.

    CHRIS: Yeah. We generally don’t need to cool.

    LESLIE: True.

    TOM: Well, that’s true. But the tip with the heat pump is set it and forget it.

    CHRIS: Right.

    TOM: You don’t want to bounce the heat up and down, because then you force it into electric-heating mode. If you just set the thermostat and walk away, then the heat pump does the work.

    LESLIE: And it really does a fantastic job.

    TOM: Mm-hmm. Yeah. Because I’m afraid with the run that you just described for that duct, you’re just not going to have enough airflow left to do the job by the time you’re all finished. I mean a 6-inch duct is a …

    CHRIS: Well, it currently runs to that bedroom now, so it runs that distance now.

    TOM: Yeah. But listen, every time you put a twist in a duct, that’s equal to adding 20 feet of straight run. One corner – one elbow – is equal to 20 additional feet in terms of the resistance.

    CHRIS: Well, then, I guess the way it runs right now, it runs along the joist and then it makes a 90 down and then a 90 to the right and it goes – it crosses three joists and then it makes two 90s to go back.

    TOM: Wow.

    CHRIS: And I’m actually – I’m going to get rid of two 90s if I go through the joists.

    TOM: Right.

    CHRIS: Now, the want that I had was – is there any way – what about reducing the pipe diameter to make a normal penetration in the joist – a normal (inaudible at 0:15:48) penetration in the joist?

    TOM: What do you mean reducing the pipe diameter? Using a smaller duct?

    CHRIS: Yeah. Right now, the duct is a 6-inch duct and reducing it to a 2-inch, running it through the – penetrating …

    TOM: No. No, again, you face the chance that you’re not going to have enough HVAC power to heat that house.

    CHRIS: OK.

    TOM: You will not be delivering enough warm air to overcome the drop in temperatures in Alaska to heat that room.

    CHRIS: OK.

    TOM: And what if you got this all done and everything put back together and the first few, cold nights you’re miserable?

    CHRIS: Right.

    LESLIE: The first of many cold nights.

    TOM: Exactly.

    LESLIE: Mary in North Carolina is having a water issue at her money pit. How can we help you?

    MARY: Yes. I have well water – well, I don’t anymore – but it’s been ruined over the several years. And the tub is porcelain and the tiles are not porcelain but they are stained with iron and I don’t – I have tried CRL, everything to try to get it out and I just can’t.

    TOM: CLR, you mean.

    MARY: Yes.

    TOM: OK.

    LESLIE: Hmm. And that’s usually the one that’ll do the trick. There’s one that’s called The Works, which is pretty much hydrochloric acid disguised in a clever cleaning bottle, but it supposedly really tackles the toughest of rust stains. And I know people have used it with hard water or well-water stains and they say it’s the greatest. We don’t have that issue at our money pit but I know a lot of people lean to this. You just need to be very careful with the directions.

    MARY: OK. Now, The Works is just a pump bottle. I’ve used that, also.

    LESLIE: Wow, really?

    TOM: Yep. I think you might be looking at some elbow grease here, Mary. I think you’re going to have to use some sort of an abrasive like a pumice, to get down in there.

    MARY: OK. OK.

    TOM: And listen, if all else fails, the other option is to add a tub liner.

    MARY: A tub liner.

    TOM: A tub liner basically drops into the existing tub and surrounds the whole thing.

    LESLIE: Mm-hmm. It’s like a bath surround.

    MARY: OK.

    LESLIE: One of them is BATH FITTER. You know, there’s so many different companies that do it.

    MARY: What about the tile around the tub, though?

    LESLIE: The liners – the surrounds – they’ll have wall surrounds and wall liners. You can even add in handy, little soap-dish holders and shampoo holders.

    MARY: Oh, OK.

    LESLIE: But that really just surrounds everything that’s there, so you never see it again.

    MARY: And the pumice cleaners are just – do you have any by name or anything?

    TOM: No. As long as – you can search for pumice cleaners online. You’ll find a whole bunch of options.

    MARY: And would you try that first?

    TOM: By this point, I would try it next.

    MARY: OK. OK.

    TOM: Alright, Mary?

    MARY: OK. Well, thank you so much for having me on.

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

    LESLIE: Resisted transforming your home into an open floor plan, simply because of a wall being in the way? You might actually be wondering what it takes to get that wall out of the way, once and for all, and if it’s something you can actually do yourself without your home crumbling down around you. We’re going to have the step-by-step, after this.

    NORM: Hi. I’m Norm Abram from This Old House and when we’re working on our projects, we listen to The Money Pit.

    TOM: Making good homes better, welcome back to The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show on air and online at MoneyPit.com. I’m Tom Kraeutler.

    LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

    TOM: Pick up the phone, give us a call right now at 1-888-MONEY-PIT, 888-666-3974. We’re standing by to help you with your home improvement project.

    Speaking of which, hanging curtain rods is a great do-it-yourself project for even the most novice weekend warriors. But there are a few things that can make it more difficult. For example, do you have plaster walls that might be prone to crumbling? Or what if you rent and can’t make holes in the walls? Well, the solution is on MoneyPit.com. Just check out our article, “Curtain Rods: Hang Without Drilling Holes,” right now on MoneyPit.com.

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

    NICK: I bought a house about 5 years ago and when I bought it, it has a rubber mat in my garage, like 4-foot strips butted together. I don’t know what that is for, if it’s for looks or help to keep the cold out.

    TOM: OK.

    NICK: But anyway, when I wipe that down with – mop it down and – the moisture coming off my car seems to have created this white powder coming up from between and underneath those mats.

    TOM: OK.

    NICK: And my son – who lives in El Cajon, who didn’t have the mats – has the same problem during the wintertime at his car. And I’m wondering where this white stuff is coming from.

    TOM: It’s probably mineral-salt deposits. Concrete is very hydroscopic, which basically means it sucks up water pretty readily. And so, because of that and in damper weather, you may have some water that’s being pulled up through the concrete to the surface, the water’s evaporating and the mineral salts are staying behind.

    So, that’s not anything to be terribly concerned about; it’s more of a maintenance issue. If you painted your garage floor, by the way – they have lots of great epoxy paints out there right now. If you painted the garage floor, that would probably cease to happen.

    NICK: That’s what I wanted to know. But any epoxy paint would do?

    TOM: Good-quality epoxy paint. Most of the systems today include a cleaner, where you use a cleaner first, and then you mix the epoxy. Typically, when you buy it, the can is three-quartered filled with paint and then has a quart hardener that comes with it. Mix it together and then you apply it and then many of them have color flakes that you can put in them to give you some texture and help hide the dirt.

    And they really do a great job and so I would encourage you to do that. It also makes it a lot easier to clean the floor.

    NICK: Right. Well, that sounds good. It’s more simple than I thought it would be. I didn’t know if I had to clean it with some acids or something to get it …

    TOM: No, no, no. Don’t make it harder than it is.

    NICK: OK.

    TOM: It’s a pretty normal phenomenon and pretty easy to fix.

    NICK: I do appreciate it.

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

    LESLIE: As open floor plans become a lot more popular, you may be dreaming for rooms that flow into one another with no walls blocking the traffic or even the view.

    TOM: Well, you can actually make that dream a reality. Opening up a wall and even a bearing wall is something that can be done if – and that’s a big if – you take the proper precautions. Tom Silva, the general contractor from TV’s This Old House, is a very cautious guy when it comes to doing these sorts of projects. He’s here with some tips to help us get that job done.

    Tom, is this something a homeowner really can do?

    TOM SILVA: They really can do it if they have some skills.

    TOM: Right.

    LESLIE: Wait. The question, I think, is: should they do it? Should.

    TOM SILVA: They shouldn’t do anything until they know what they need to carry that load above. And to find that out, they should get a structural engineer involved first.

    TOM: And that really is the key, because you can’t take a load-bearing wall apart without supporting what it is bearing, first.

    TOM SILVA: Exactly. Unless you have some kind of a magic skyhook that will hold that place up while you open it up below, it isn’t going to happen.

    LESLIE: Now, when you’re looking at your home, any tips on which walls are the load-bearing walls? Are they perpendicular? Do they run the same direction as the front and back of the house?

    TOM SILVA: Usually, the structure that is above the load-bearing wall – the floor joists or the roof structure or whatever, the ceiling joists – are usually perpendicular to that load-bearing wall. A load-bearing wall usually is a 2×4, not a 2×3 wall. So, you can have a wall that runs perpendicular to your joists. It can be a 2×3 wall but that doesn’t mean that – that means that that load-bearing wall – that 2×3 wall is not a load-bearing wall.

    TOM: Right. That’s more just a partition wall at that point, right?

    So, let’s just kind of give the listeners an overview of what the process is to remove or reconfigure a load-bearing wall. Let’s say that we wanted to put an opening in a wall. We mentioned earlier we start by supporting what’s there now, correct?

    TOM SILVA: Correct. And the way you support it is basically you build a – well, there’s a few ways you can do it but the way that I like to think about it is you build a wall next to the wall. And you build it close enough that it’s going to carry the load above but far enough away so that you can work there.

    TOM: Get in between it and work on it, right.

    TOM SILVA: Right. In some cases, you have to build a wall on both sides of the load-bearing wall, depending on if the joists above the wall are lapped and sitting on top of the wall. In that case, you’ve got to support it on both sides.

    TOM: So you build the support walls first. Then at that point, when you know that the load is now carried, now you can start doing your wall surgery on the load-bearing wall, correct?

    TOM SILVA: Right. And I like to do the wall surgery very gingerly.

    At first, before I even build my load-bearing walls, I remove the plaster so I can then assess the situation. I then build my load-bearing wall, whether I need one or two load-bearing walls. Once that’s in place and they’re nice and tight, I then take – and start by cutting, with a reciprocating saw, each stud one at a time. When I cut my first stud, I don’t remove it. I cut the next stud, don’t remove it and so on down the line.

    And when you make a cut with a reciprocating saw, you will know if there is load on it, because the blade will jam up.

    TOM: Right. It’ll pinch the blade. It’ll come down and pinch it and then you know it’s still under pressure.

    TOM SILVA: Right. Exactly. So what you can do is what I do: if there is still some pressure on the wall, I go back and make a second cut in the same cut. And when I get – all the way down the road, let’s say I’m cutting out six 2x4s and the first time I made a cut, there was a little bit of weight on it. I know if my blade doesn’t get pulled out of my saw and that saw doesn’t knock me on the ground, that there’s some pressure on my temporary walls. But I still don’t remove them until that blade goes through every single cut that I made, very easily. Slips through. Then I can remove my (inaudible at 0:25:46).

    LESLIE: And is that just a matter of readjusting the two sort of temporary load-bearing walls that you’ve made – maybe the height’s off, maybe they’re not spaced correctly – to sort of correct that situation?

    TOM SILVA: Eh, maybe you just didn’t make them tight enough when you put it in. And those load-bearing walls – you think about it: when those load-bearing walls are going to pick up a load above, they’re putting tension on the joists below, so there’s going to be some deflection in that floor, also. So you want to make sure that they’re tight.

    Usually, the rule of thumb I use is if you need a stud that’s 89 inches to get it in there and it measures nice, make it 89¼.

    TOM: Just to get a little pressure on it.

    TOM SILVA: Yeah. Jam them in. And then when you build that temporary wall, when you have your studs that are 16 on center, then take a cross brace across the middle and make a horizontal board, also. That will lock them together and it keeps them from bowing.

    TOM: Right. Because that ¼-inch can be taken up by the flex in the stud.

    TOM SILVA: Absolutely. Yep, yep.

    TOM: Alright. Now, once we get it supported, once we’ve got the studs cut out, of course we have to now replace that structural assembly. I think it’s important to note that you have to be very careful at this point, because the more studs you take out, the beefier that replacement structure has to be. If you’re going to change, for example, say, a 3-foot archway to a 6-foot archway, you’re going to need a bigger header. And you’re also going to need to make sure that wherever those studs that are holding that header in place, wherever they hit, there’s something underneath, right?

    TOM SILVA: Yeah, that’s right. There’s a point load that becomes – at the end of each stud that you have to address. And the opening that you make, if – a rule of thumb that I think about when I’m making an opening and there’s one level above, it’s a one-to-one ratio. So, 6 feet wide would be 6 inches high and there would be two 2x6s with a piece of – a plywood sandwich between them. When they’re – then on each end, they would rest on what is called a “jack stud” and next to that would be a king stud. Those studs have to rest on the plate of the existing wall but you have to make sure that what is below it is – be able to support that, also.

    TOM: So suffice to say, if you understand what we’re explaining to you right now, you may be able to do this project yourself.

    TOM SILVA: Right.

    TOM: If you have no clue, call a contractor.

    TOM SILVA: Call a contractor that does know how to do it because, yeah, you don’t want the second floor on the first floor.

    TOM: Yeah, that’d be bad.

    LESLIE: Right.

    TOM SILVA: You have a set of stairs for that.

    TOM: Alright, Tom, before we let you go, I want to point out that there’s one other part of this that I think people don’t consider when it comes to reconfiguring their walls and that’s the mechanical systems. It’s not just the wood that you’re cutting. Start taking that wall apart, you could have some mechanical surprises, as well, right?

    TOM SILVA: All sorts of problems in those walls to deal with. There’s electrical. If you cut that before you’ve removed the plaster so you can see it, you could start a fire, you could get shocked, you could burn yourself. If there’s plumbing, you’ll get soaking wet and you’ll cause some damage. And if there’s ductwork, you’ve got to figure out how you’re going to reroute it.

    TOM: So, the bottom line is this is a project that can be done. There’s a lot that goes into it and a lot of thought, a lot of planning that has to happen before you pick up that saw and start cutting studs out of the way.

    TOM SILVA: Right.

    TOM: Tom Silva, general contractor from TV’s This Old House, great advice. Thanks so much for stopping by The Money Pit.

    TOM SILVA: Alright, guys. Thanks a lot.

    LESLIE: Alright. You can 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 ThisOldHouse.com.

    TOM: And This Old House and Ask This Old House are brought to you by The Home Depot. More saving, more doing. That’s the power of The Home Depot.

    Up next, do you ever complain about the lack of closet space? Does anyone ever listen? Well, we are. We’ve got tips to help you reorganize, after this.

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

    LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete. And the number here is 888-MONEY-PIT. Pick up the phone and give us a call, because we are giving away the best line of defense against identity theft this hour. It’s a locking mailbox. I mean think about it: you hear people joking all the time about stealing coupons from people’s mailboxes because, you know, they’re addicted to coupon-clipping. But when you think about the possibilities of what is in your mailbox and what people could really be getting their hands on, it’s identity theft sort of waiting to happen.

    So we’ve got a great prize. It’s a locking mailbox from Mail Boss. You can check them out at MailBoss.com to see these mailboxes in action. Nobody is getting into them. They’ve got a lock that can’t be picked. They’re made from a heavy-gauge galvanized steel, so they’re super-durable. And one lucky caller that we talk today is going to win the Metro Mail model worth 115 bucks. So pick up the phone and give us a call, so we can help you with your home improvement project and give you a chance to win, at 888-MONEY-PIT.

    TOM: 888-666-3974.

    Well, it’s kind of a scene out of a sitcom: you open your closet door and tons of stuff tumble out on top of you, although it’s not quite so funny when it’s your daily reality. Now, lots of homeowners have one closet that causes continuous problems. If you’d like to organize that closet, you need to start with a plan.

    First, figure out what you want to keep in the closet and what might well be stored somewhere else. Keep piles: donate, toss or sell. Those are good piles to have. And then take action to get rid of those unwanted items. And then give the empty closet a good cleaning and you’ll be ready to put it back together, perhaps with a new sense of organization.

    LESLIE: Mm-hmm. And you know what? Whenever I make those divided-up piles, once I’ve committed something to a pile, I can’t go back and look at it. Because suddenly, I’ll look at something that’s in the giveaway/donate/throw out/whatever pile and be like, “Well, maybe we could keep that.” So commit to it, put it in the pile and keep it there.

    And once you’ve done all of that, you’re going to want to figure out organization. If you’ve got the budget, you can actually buy some great closet organizers. Remember, an organized closet is a great selling point for potential buyers. So even if you don’t buy an organizer, you’re going to need to figure out which items you’ll use the most and make those items the easiest to access.

    Now, that’s a free do-it-yourself project that can make you feel great when it’s done. And then, of course, if you’re like me and my family, when you’ve got a four-year-old, organize a closet, probably the next day you’re going to have to organize it again.

    TOM: Good point.

    888-666-3974. Let’s get right back to those phones.

    Leslie, who’s next?

    LESLIE: Joyce in Florida is on the line with a toilet that’s exceptionally noisy. Tell us what’s going on at your money pit.

    JOYCE: My toilet, when I flush it, it will keep running after I flush it. It keeps running and the water keeps moving in the toilet bowl.

    TOM: OK.

    JOYCE: And then if I jiggle the handle, it’ll quit.

    TOM: OK.

    JOYCE: So how do I fix this to keep it from doing that and keeping the water from continuously running?

    TOM: Very simple. Your toilet has two valves in it: one is called a “fill valve” and one is called a “flush valve.” The flush valve is at the bottom of the toilet and the fill valve is the vertical part with the float.

    JOYCE: OK.

    TOM: You should replace both of those valves. It’s a do-it-yourself project and that will stop the problem. The fill valve is worn out and that’s why it’s continuing to run.

    JOYCE: OK. What’s the name of that valve?

    TOM: A fill valve – f-i-l-l. Fill valve. It’s the valve that fills the toilet.

    JOYCE: (inaudible at 0:33:02). OK.

    TOM: Very inexpensive. You can pick them up at any home center or hardware store and they’re easy to install.

    JOYCE: OK. Wow, thank you.

    TOM: This is The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show on air and online at MoneyPit.com. Up next, have you ever had a UFO in your home? We’re talking about an Unidentifiable Foreign Odor. We’re going to have tips on how to get rid of them, after this.

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

    LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

    Well, as the frigid weather starts to set in, have you ever thought about installing radiant floor heating in your home? You know, it’s not as expensive as you think. So head on over to MoneyPit.com, because we’re going to help you weigh the cost versus benefit. You just have to search “radiant floor heating.” I mean it’s really great. It doesn’t have to be in a new construction; you can do it if you’re just redoing the floor. And it’s perfect for a kitchen or a bath, really anywhere, but a kitchen or a bath would be excellent. So head on over there and learn about some radiant floor options.

    And while you’re there, head on over to the Community section and you can post a question, just like Karen from Missouri did. And she wrote: “My dishwasher has a smelly odor and it’s only about a year old.” Well, most one-year-olds are kind of smelly. “It looks fine but it smells like something’s rotten. Any ideas?”

    TOM: Well, something might be rotten and actually, it’s called biofilm. What happens is the food particles, combined with the moisture and with the air, actually kind of grow in towards a gelatin-like sort of scum. It’s the best way to describe this. And it gets inside the wash arms of the dishwasher.

    So, what I generally do is I’ll take the wash arms apart every six months and then clean them out, which I simply do with super-hot water in the spray arm of the kitchen sink. But when you look inside of it, you’ll see there’s sort of this dark green, gel-like stuff. That’s the biofilm and that’s what really causes the odor.

    So, you want to make sure you clean that out, clean the whole bottom of the dishwasher out on a regular basis. And that will help keep that odor in check.

    LESLIE: Now, is it just because that newer machines are so efficient there’s not enough water cleaning everything out and more things just sort of get stuck in the system? Or is this just a natural by-product of keeping stuff on your plates when you stick them in the dishwasher?

    TOM: I don’t necessarily think it’s a natural by-product, although I have seen it happen more with some machines than others. I’ve had machines that it never happens to and I’ve had machines that it happens to on a regular basis. But I know enough to recognize it and I know what to do about it. And it’s just an additional maintenance step that you may not be familiar with but it can definitely stop the stink.

    LESLIE: Alright. Next up, we’ve got one from Natalie in Minnesota who wrote: “I have a fairly new wood-burning stove in my living room. It was installed according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. My problem is it works so well that the drywall behind the stove gets pretty hot to the touch. Does one ½-inch drywall have a flashpoint?”

    Now, you’re supposed to have some sort of fire guard. Is that the correct word I’m looking for? On the wall where your wood-burning stove is, correct?

    TOM: Well, here’s the thing, Natalie. First off, you need to make sure that the wood stove was actually tested by a recognized testing laboratory. So, I’m going to presume that this is a new wood stove, that it has all the proper safety certifications.

    Secondly, the rule of thumb – and I say “rule of thumb,” because every manufacturer may be a little bit different but I don’t think too different – is that that stove has to be 3 feet – a full 36 inches – from anything that’s combustible. Now, you can shorten that distance if you have a fire shield, which is a specific way of constructing a wall that sort of vents and cools it as you go, so to speak.

    But here’s what I would do, just because you’re uncertain as to this installation and you suspect it may be too hot: I would make sure that you had that inspected by your local fire official/building inspector, whoever is in charge of inspections for your area. Make sure you have an expert look at this. Stop using it until it happens, because you just don’t want to take a chance. Chimney fires, wood-stove fires can be extremely devastating. So don’t take a chance; get it checked out.

    LESLIE: Mm-hmm. And they can happen really quickly, so you’re better off having it inspected. This way, you get peace of mind and you can actually enjoy it.

    TOM: This is The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show. Thank you so much for spending this hour with us. We hope we’ve given you some tips, some ideas and the inspiration to pick up the hammer and get it done. And if you don’t want to pick up the hammer, you can always pick up the phone and call us if you need some more help getting started on that project, 24-7, at 1-888-MONEY-PIT. Or head on over to MoneyPit.com and please post your question right there or on our Facebook page and we’ll be there to lend you a hand when you need it.

    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 2013 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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