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Ways to Keep Unwanted Water Out of Your Home, A New Type of Warranty for Your Home Could Save You Money, Renters Can Winterize Windows Without Violating Rental Agreements, 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: Happy Fall Fix-Up, everybody. It is the season. Just a few weeks left before the white stuff shows up and makes fixing up the outside of your house that much more difficult. So why not pick a project that you can get done today and call us to help you get started? The number is 1-888-MONEY-PIT, 888-666-3974.

    Coming up on today’s show, you no doubt have insurance on your home to protect against the unexpected. But what about protecting your home’s mechanical systems and appliances from the unexpected, as well? There is a way you can do that and we will have tips, coming up.

    LESLIE: Also ahead this hour, most property rental agreements, they’ve got a clause in them that says you can’t modify your unit. But that doesn’t mean you can’t winterize your rental and help save some money on energy. We’re going to tell you how.

    TOM: And we’re going to talk to an ambitious woman who has made it her duty to rehab condemned homes and make them habitable once again, using green building practices and creating housing for those who would not be able to afford it otherwise. Nancy Welsh is the founder of Builders of Hope and she joins us in just a little while.

    LESLIE: And we’ve got a great prize up for grabs this hour. We’re giving away a Smart Strip Surge Protector from Bits Limited. You know, it’s really important to have one of these in your house because your electronics, like your home chargers or your TVs, they could actually use electricity even when they’re turned off. So we’ve got a prize that’ll help you with that.

    TOM: So, give us a call. The number is 1-888-MONEY-PIT, 888-666-3974. We’ll toss your name in The Money Pit hard hat and if we draw it out at the end of the show, you get the Smart Strip Surge Protector from Bits Limited, along with invaluable advice from us. 888-666-3974.

    LESLIE: Now we’ve got Mark in Iowa on the line who’s got an insulation question. How can we help you today?

    MARK: Live here in the Midwest so, obviously, we do get the temperatures getting below zero. So I’ve been kind of doing some research on the spray foam. And the one question that I’m not for certain of is when it comes to the walls and then the sill plate.

    TOM: OK.

    MARK: The best thing I can determine is it looks like when it comes to the walls, it’s probably the closed cell. But then getting up into the sill plate, I can’t tell – I’ve seen it two ways: one says it’d be OK with the closed cell and others, eh, just fill the whole thing with open cell. Don’t know what’s the best way to go.

    TOM: OK. Have you taken a look at the Icynene products?

    MARK: Yes, I have.

    TOM: Because we’ve had some very positive experiences with Icynene. And we also have been in homes where Icynene has been applied and in particular, they use them on a number of This Old House properties and had very good success. So I’m very comfortable with that product.

    Now, in terms of open cell versus closed cell, don’t necessarily have a preference. But the key with the spray-foam insulations is to make sure that A) you have a good-quality product and B) that you have very trained installers. Because the installation can – you can really make it or break it when it comes to the installation quality. If you don’t have installers that are really experienced with the products, they can leave areas that are underinsulated. They can actually apply too much insulation and cause problems as a result of that.

    So I would focus on the product and the installers that are going to put it together first.

    MARK: OK. Alright. I guess my biggest concern is I haven’t seen any indication to worry about water/moisture issues. But it’s the wind barrier – the air barrier …

    TOM: Well, there’s two benefits to using spray-foam insulation over a fiberglass insulation. The first is, of course, the insulating ability but the second is the air-barrier ability. Because spray-foam insulation both seals out drafts and insulates at the same time. So that’s the benefit of that product over, say, a batt product like fiberglass or frankly, even cellulose because you don’t get the air-sealing capabilities.

    Now, is this a new home that you’re constructing? Where is the insulation going to be used?

    MARK: Yeah, it was an unfinished basement when we moved in. Built in about 2005, 2006.

    TOM: How’s the rest of the house insulated?

    MARK: Up in the ceiling, it is kind of like, oh, the real fluffy type of cotton spray.

    TOM: It sounds like blown-in fiberglass.

    MARK: Yeah. It’s not rolled or anything. It is loose, so it could be raked around and everything but it doesn’t itch to the touch. For the most part, it’s well-insulated. It’s just the basement was poured concrete. It looks like the brick look and I’m finishing the basement. And if I’m going to spend a little money, I’d rather do it right and that’s why I’ve been trying to bypass the fiberglass and looking at the spray foam.

    TOM: Yep. Well, also, you’re going to find that there’s a lot of drafts that get into that band-joist area and that’s going to make the first floor a lot warmer.

    MARK: Yep.

    TOM: You know, finally, to kind of address your question about open versus closed, what we hear from the marketplace is that many people really prefer closed over open, because it reduces the chance of moisture getting into the product.

    MARK: Yep. And that’s why the walls, I’ve kind of leaned more towards that but the sill-plate area, there’s some areas where it might be hard for them to spray in there. And that’s where one of the quotes I got back was recommending to going just straight open cell and just fill it.

    TOM: It really depends on whether – what you need to do to get 100-percent coverage. And if the tools – and that may be the truth, because the tools have to get up in there and they may not be flexible enough for some of those nooks and crannies in that particular scenario. So, yeah, if that’s what feedback – I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with that.

    OK. Well, 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 MoneyPit.com. Now you can call in your home repair or your home improvement question. We are always here waiting to give you a hand 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-888-MONEY-PIT.

    TOM: 888-666-3974.

    Up next, your homeowners insurance offers coverage when things are stolen or lost in a fire, for example. But what about the stuff that stops working because of wear and tear? We’re going to tell you about a new kind of policy that addresses that need, next.

    ANNOUNCER: The Money Pit is presented by Swann Security. Enter Swann’s Get Connected, Be Protected Sweepstakes today at Swann.com and you could win one of five complete, do-it-yourself home security systems, including the top prize of a four-camera security system, iPad and plasma TV valued at over $5,000. Enter today at Swann.com. That’s Swann.com. That’s S-w-a-n-n.com. Now, here are Tom and Leslie.

    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: Give us a call right now at 1-888-MONEY-PIT. We will answer your home improvement question and save you some money on your electric bill, because one lucky caller is going to win the Smart Strip Energy-Saving Surge Protector by Bits Limited. It can sense when you are not using an appliance or some electronics and shuts off the electricity to it. That’s going to save you some energy dollars by stopping that electricity drain. It’s worth 30 bucks, so give us a call right now at 1-888-MONEY-PIT.

    LESLIE: Now we’ve got Debra in Texas calling in to The Money Pit. How can we help you today?

    DEBRA: We bought a countertop – a granite countertop – a year-and-a-half ago. And we sealed it with a sealer we bought from the company and we had a warming plate – not a warming plate, a hot pad – by the cooktop. Moved the cooktop and it has changed colors. Under the cooktop, it’s the natural color – under the warming plate/hot plate, it’s the natural color. Beside that has turned darker.

    And then on the bar area where we sit, it has turned darker. And I don’t know if it’s the oils from the cooking, the oils from us sitting here at the bar.

    TOM: Have you done any cleaning of the granite surface since this has happened? Have you tried any additional products on it?

    DEBRA: No. Just that one.

    TOM: Well, we do know that granite needs a lot of care, right, Leslie?

    LESLIE: I mean it really does. And also, depending on the color of the granite – if it’s a lighter granite, it needs more maintenance than a darker-toned granite as far being sealed and resealed.

    Now, I usually don’t recommend sealing the granite yourself, because the materials that are available for a do-it-yourself sealing job are not as durable and effective as something that a pro might put on. So you may have put something on that has discolored due to, perhaps, the heat of the warming plate. It’s hard to say. Is that truly the natural color under the warming plate and everything else has darkened or has it lightened under the warming plate because of the heat?

    DEBRA: That was the natural color.

    LESLIE: It could just be that the sealant that you’ve put on is reacting to the moisture in your kitchen.

    TOM: Yeah. I’m thinking that whatever finish was applied here is what’s discoloring.

    Now, since you haven’t tried anything to clean this yet, I’m going to recommend a website that specializes in granite care. And they have a lot of products that are designed to help restore granite and it’s called StoneCare.com. What I would suggest you do is take a look that website, search by the type of surface, which is granite, and take a look at the products that are available there. And then contact them directly and ask them which one they would recommend for this specific situation.

    My first thought is that we need to make sure that what you have is clean. And these products can help draw out anything that’s contributing to the color change. And if not, then you may have to refinish the surface again and remove what’s there.

    DEBRA: And how do I do that?

    TOM: Well, I have to tell you, as Leslie said, I don’t think it’s a good do-it-yourself job because – I’ll give you the example of finishing a floor, alright? When you think of a hardwood floor, one of the greatest examples is the gym floor, right? And you think of the basketball games and the gym floor and they’re always shiny and hard and they take all this abuse. But the floors that we have in our house don’t ever look that way. Do you know why? Because most of the time, we finish them ourselves and we don’t get access to the same kinds of products they use professionally.

    Professionally, when they finish a gym floor, they use a two-part, sometimes epoxy-based product that hardens in place – chemically hardens. We use air-dry products and the air-dry products just don’t – aren’t as tough as some of the ones that are based on chemical reactions.

    So the same thing applies to some of the sealers that are out there. The ones that we may use as consumers aren’t the same as what a countertop shop might use. So, if that’s the case, you may want to have it professionally refinished and this way, you’ll get a proper surface on there and you can start again from scratch.

    LESLIE: Well, have you ever had something in your house break down and then learn that it’s not covered by a warranty? Well, even if you’ve got a warranty, you may find that the fine print leaves you on your own to repair or replace it.

    TOM: Well, there is a solution for those situations. Cross Country Home Services is a new Money Pit sponsor and they have a total home warranty that covers things that your homeowners insurance and manufacturer warranties don’t. The product is called Total Protect and it covers household items and systems that fail due to normal wear and tear. And if the appliance is too old or it can’t be fixed, this is very cool because the warranty covers the cost to replace it.

    LESLIE: Mm-hmm. Now, this is going to give you some peace of mind. It can actually save you some serious money in the long run. If you want to learn more about how this new kind of policy works, check them out at BuyTotalProtect.com. And that’s B-u-y-TotalProtect.com.

    David in Iowa is on the line with a heating question. What can we do for you?

    DAVID: I’ve heard you guys talk about infrared heaters.

    TOM: Yep.

    DAVID: And I have a house from the 70s; that’s the 1870s.

    TOM: OK.

    DAVID: And I have cool spots in the house. I’d like to do the zone heating and our two questions – one, how good are these infrared heaters and two, are they affordable?

    TOM: Well, I think the answers – the answer to both questions is that they’re very good and yes, they are affordable. I will say that we just started to work this year with SUNHEAT and they sent me one of their infrared heaters. And I was immediately impressed by its quality. The cabinet is very solidly built; the electronics look like they’re solidly put together.

    And as we started to use it in our kitchen, I noticed that the heat was very warm, very comfortable and even very moist. And so I think in our particular application, it was a perfect fit because we had one room in the house that’s a little chillier than all of the other rooms, because I have a very old house, as well. Mine is just a little bit younger than yours; it was built in 1886. But that was a perfect application.

    And there are many folks that use these SUNHEAT heaters for particular rooms or areas of their house and then they will turn down the heat in the other rooms. And that makes sense, too. If you have a living room or a dining room or a kitchen where you find that you spend most of your time on the chilly, winter evenings, why heat the rest of the house? You can turn down the heat and use a SUNHEAT infrared heater to, essentially, just warm the room where everybody is sitting.

    DAVID: Well, that sounds great. I’ll try and find the website and see if I can find one.

    TOM: Alright, terrific. David, thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.

    LESLIE: And David, you can head on over to SUNHEAT.com. That’s actually their website. And you can take a look, because the cabinets that house the heating unit are beautifully made. They’re actually in an attractive style that you’re not going to mind putting anywhere in your home. And you can order one right there. They’re affordable and they truly do a great job.

    TOM: Yes, they absolutely do.

    LESLIE: Charles in Pennsylvania is dealing with a mysterious leak. Tell us about it.

    CHARLES: Well, I have a – it’s the section of the house that – in front of the one wall is the garage and behind it is the wall to the house. It’s a family room. And one side, going towards the garage, was having seeping water coming in. I thought it was the roof but I had the roofer who just put the roof on about 18 months ago come check it. He can’t find anything wrong with it. It stopped; it hasn’t done it for a while.

    But I noticed that as I went into the garage the other day, I saw that some of the drywall has started to turn black so, obviously, the inside of the drywall, there’s mold. And I’m trying to figure out where it’s coming from: number one, so I can fix it and number two, of course I’ve got to fix the issue with the mold. Any ideas about where that might be coming from? It’s over the garage for the – the garage roof.

    TOM: And is it near where the garage roof intersects with anything else? Is it intersecting with the house?

    CHARLES: Well, it – the garage roof covers this whole section that – I’m actually sitting in that room right now. And then it goes out and connects with a sun-porch area in the back. But it wasn’t coming from that side; it was coming from the inside wall, which seemed weird.

    TOM: Well, here’s the thing: you may be getting a leak that’s caused just by rain that blows in with some wind pressure behind it: sort of a directional leak. A roofer looking at this and of course, you’re asking him to figure out what’s wrong with your roof and of course, he knows darn well that he put the roof on and he’s not going to be willing to admit very readily that there’s anything wrong. But the truth is you may have a leak that’s caused by driving rain and that’s why it may not happen all the time.

    It’s pretty common, actually. It usually happens at an intersection point, not in the middle of the shingle. Usually at a point where it intersects with something else.

    LESLIE: When you’ve got wind-driven rain and your wind is lifting up a shingle and the rain is, you know, falling horizontally because of the wind and getting up and under.

    CHARLES: Yeah. We had never had this problem – like I said, the roof is new and – it’s relatively new. About 18 months old. And until about 3 months ago, about 15 months of it, there had never been even a sniff of a leak.

    TOM: Well, roofs are always expanding and contracting and they can develop these types of leaks. One way to try to diagnose it, if you don’t see anything that’s visually wrong, is to go up there with a hose and start low and run the water down the roof, again, towards the low side and then bring it up higher.

    CHARLES: The hose?

    TOM: And see if you can actually physically make it leak.

    CHARLES: Yeah, yeah. I see what …

    TOM: And that will kind of show you the general area.

    But if you find it, then what you have to do is take the shingles apart there and reroof that particular spot.

    CHARLES: Yeah.

    TOM: Now, in terms of the area of the wall where you’re seeing these black stains, that may or may not be mold. I mean when drywall gets wet, it does tend to turn dark and it may not be dark with mold. But what I would do is I would prime it with an oil-based primer. And so I would prime the surface and then put a top coat of paint on it. If you just paint it, the stain will come back through; you must prime it first.

    CHARLES: Well, I’ll give that a shot. I’ll give that a shot. Alright. I thank you very much.

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

    This is The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show. Still ahead, Nancy Welsh is a woman on a mission. She is the founder of Builders of Hope, an organization that rehabs condemned homes and makes them livable once again. She’ll be joining us, 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: Don’t let it ever be said that one person can’t make a difference. Our guest today had an idea about how to make more affordable green housing and is now making a big difference in the housing industry. Her organization is rescuing houses that are set for demolition and making them green, affordable homes. We’re very pleased to be joined now by Nancy Welsh, the founder of Builders of Hope.

    Welcome, Nancy.

    NANCY: Hi. Thanks for having me.

    TOM: So tell us about Builders of Hope. What exactly do you guys do?

    NANCY: So, Builders of Hope is a non-profit organization and we do a couple things. Our original model – and the one that we actually have the country’s first green-building process patent on – is rescuing houses that are slated for demolition due to, typically, urban redevelopment. Let’s say there’s a shopping mall going up or a road expansion or university.

    TOM: Right.

    NANCY: All the houses that get knocked down, we physically pick them up and move them to a piece of property that’s been subdivided and replotted. We build a whole new neighborhood completely comprised of these rescued homes.

    TOM: Now, that’s really a pretty cool idea because if you think about it, one of the things that stops people from improving their homes and thinking they can go green in their homes is they think, “Gee, my house is really old. Maybe it was built in the 20s, maybe the 50s, maybe the 70s. It wasn’t really ever very green, so how can I hope to make it green today?” But by virtue of the fact that you’re taking these houses that are in all sorts of disrepair – just very worn down and houses that are completely demolition-ready, practically – and then making them green proves the fact that it really can be done.

    NANCY: Absolutely. And you’re exactly right. A lot of these old, ranch-style homes are from the 60s and 70s and people think they’re functionally obsolete. But you can start off with a footprint of the house – and basically, back then you had a separate living room, a separate dining room, maybe no master bath. So, of course, people live very differently nowadays. But you can take that same footprint and by taking a few walls down – converting a foyer into a laundry room and shotgunning the house in on a lot – it’s amazing how quickly we can modernize the house and put in the green features, meet green criteria and get it super-energy-efficient and reduce our carbon footprint at the same time.

    TOM: Now, what do you do with the homes after the remodel? How do folks qualify to buy them and how is the whole process funded?

    NANCY: The models that we’re doing with the green communities, we typically partner with cities for HUD funding. And those models address 70 percent of the working population in our country, which is our workforce. And if you make 80 percent of the median income in your community, then you qualify.

    The other model where we’re taking foreclosures and we’re rehabilitating foreclosures and keeping them affordable and making them green and energy-efficient, anybody can qualify for those. We’re typically picking up the inventory, though, that’s in lower-wealth neighborhoods, just so that we can address that particular demographic.

    TOM: Now, you mentioned before that Builders of Hope actually has a patent on a process that you call “ecological communities.” I wasn’t aware that you could really get a patent for this process, so tell me how that works.

    NANCY: Yeah. So, actually, we’re one of the first process patents at all. We applied for the patent over three years ago, so it’s a really long process. But process patents are just that: that you’re patenting, instead of a specific product, the process of building that product. So, our process is taking the homes and moving them and setting them back down and then rebuild them to meet green standards and to have all the architectural continuity amongst the houses to make it look like a real neighborhood.

    And then we’ve got some other elements, such as internet connectivity and wireless for a single family, which are all part of that component. But yeah, it’s that whole process of rescuing houses slated for demolition, setting them back up in a neighborhood wholly comprised of recycled homes.

    TOM: What a great program. I love the fact that you don’t call this a “recycling program.” You call this an “upcycling program.”

    NANCY: Upcycling. Take something and give it a higher and better use.

    TOM: The organization is called Builders of Hope. Their website is BuildersOfHope.org.

    Nancy Welsh, well done. Founder of Builders of Hope. Thanks so much for stopping by The Money Pit and for all the great work that you do for America.

    NANCY: Terrific. Thank you so much.

    LESLIE: Well, that just goes to show you that one person really can make a difference.

    And you can make a difference, too. If your energy bills are sky-high on your rental unit, don’t think you’re stuck with those prices just because you don’t own your place. We’re going to tell you how to lower heating costs in your rental, after this.

    ANNOUNCER: The Money Pit is brought to you by Bostitch. Professional-quality hand tools. Pneumatic and cordless nailers and staplers.

    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. Pick up the phone and give us a call. We want to hear what you are working on and give you a hand or just commiserate, because we’ve been there. We’ve done it, I’m sure. We can give you a hand to get back from that home improvement disaster. We’re here for you at 888-MONEY-PIT.

    And one lucky caller is going to save some money on their electric bill. We’re giving away a Smart Strip Surge Protector by Bits Limited. It’s going to automatically stop the flow of electricity to electronics when they’re not in use. It’s worth 30 bucks but I bet it could save you a ton more money, so call us at 888-MONEY-PIT.

    TOM: 888-666-3974.

    LESLIE: Rich in New Jersey is on the line and he’s got squirrels in his money pit. Tell us what’s going on.

    RICH: Hi, Leslie. Yes, I have a nutty wildlife problem.

    TOM: OK.

    RICH: I have three oak trees in my yard and when the acorns start appearing, I have lots of squirrels having a feast. But the problem is they bury them all over the yard and they dig them up all year – all around the yard, all year long.

    TOM: Wow. So they bury the food and then they dig them up again?

    RICH: Yes. So I’ve got holes all over my yard, the lawn.

    TOM: Oh, geez.

    RICH: And I have live-trapped them and taken them to a nearby wooded area but they keep coming back. Not the same squirrels but …

    TOM: Hmm. Have you thought about getting a dog?

    RICH: That sounds like a good idea but – yeah, my neighbor said to try chemicals; other neighbors say that’s going to pollute the nearby body of water. I’m not a hunter and I couldn’t fire a gun in this residential neighborhood anyway.

    TOM: Yeah, it’s not a good idea.

    RICH: Is there an effective repellant of any kind?

    TOM: Rich, you’ve got some hungry squirrels there, man, don’t you?

    RICH: Yes, I sure do.

    TOM: It’s Thanksgiving every day at Rich’s house.

    RICH: Come and get it.

    TOM: Well, look, there’s a couple of things that you can do. One of the things that people have reported some success with is – and this is potentially a bit ugly. But that is to lay some garden netting at the outside perimeter of the lawns where the squirrels kind of enter the yard. If animals are afraid they’re going to get trapped in something, they usually go the other way.

    LESLIE: They’re going to stay away.

    TOM: And so you could put that down and pull it up kind of when you cut the lawn.

    The other thing that you could do is there are a number of types of treatment that you can spray on the lawn that gives the lawn a bad taste. Now, I’m not so sure that they’re going to learn from their mistakes and not come back. But there is actually a website that is completely devoted to keeping squirrels away from your yard, that has – is a good collection point for a lot of these products. You might want to take a look at Squirrel-X.com. Squirrel-X.com as in “yeah, I used to be a squirrel and now I’m not.”

    RICH: OK. Ex.

    TOM: Squirrel-X.com. But there is actually a solution that is called Whole Control that is designed for spraying. You kind of hook it up to your hose and you spray the lawn down and it discourages moles and squirrels and other animals from digging up the lawn, because it just tastes so darn bad to them.

    RICH: Mm-hmm. Good, good.

    TOM: Alright? So there’s a couple of options for you and I hope that that works out.

    RICH: Good. You’re great, Tom. Thank you very much.

    TOM: Well, time now for today’s Fall Energy-Saving Tip, presented by Lutron, makers of the Maestro Occupancy-Sensing Switch.

    LESLIE: Well, if you’ve ever thought that you can skip winterizing your house or your apartment just because you rent it, think again. Your rental can have just as many leaks and sealing up really makes sense.

    TOM: True. And just like any other home, your windows probably need the most attention. So here is what you should do: every single window frame should be checked for leaks. And if you find them, caulking is the first line of defense. If you can’t caulk on the outside, just caulk around the inside, along the trim and the frame. Because a lot of gaps could get through the wall and show up right there and really can make you super-uncomfortable.

    LESLIE: Mm-hmm. And you know what else works? Heavy drapes. They can actually block the sun in the summer but they also provide some insulation effect in the winter.

    You can also buy window shrink film at most home improvement stores. It’s really a see-through sort of film and it creates a thin layer of air between your room and the glass and you kind of apply it with some tape and a hair dryer; it’s a pretty easy thing to do. The layer of static air is going to insulate the glass and keep it from conducting the outside temperature inside.

    You might even also want to consider peelable caulk. This is a type of temporary caulk. You apply it, you remove it in the springtime. The only issue there is that you want to make sure – you know, especially in an apartment or even a private home, I guess – that you’re leaving a window available as an exit, just in case of emergency. Because you don’t want to be scrambling to remove that caulk, because it is a bit of a peel-and-stick situation. But it definitely does the trick.

    TOM: So bottom line: there are things that you can do to try to save energy, whether you own the home or simply rent it. And that is today’s Fall Energy-Saving Tip, presented by Lutron. Easy upgrades, big impact. Choose Lutron. Learn more at ChooseLutron.com.

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

    DEBBIE: I have a home built in 2006. I have an unfinished basement. All the walls are cement. My air conditioning and heating unit is down there.

    TOM: OK.

    DEBBIE: I have a very fine, white – it’s not even a dust; it’s like a powder that’s getting through the whole house.

    TOM: Through the whole house.

    DEBBIE: It’s going through the whole house. It’s got to be coming through the heating and air-conditioning vent.

    TOM: OK. Hmm.

    DEBBIE: I don’t know if it’s something – it feels like the same powder that is on the cement walls. Like something was sprayed onto them?

    TOM: So are – these are concrete-block walls?

    DEBBIE: Solid concrete.

    TOM: Solid concrete. Alright. And do you see any sort of white powder that’s sticking to the concrete – to the cement wall?

    DEBBIE: Absolutely.

    TOM: You do? OK.

    DEBBIE: Yes, absolutely.

    TOM: So …

    DEBBIE: Like if I go to wipe my finger on and it’s in this chalkboard?

    TOM: Yep, OK. So here’s what’s going on. And it may be – it may not be connected, these two observations. But in so far as the walls are concerned, that’s a mineral-salt deposit. And what happens is the water that collects around the outside of your foundation will draw into the wall. The walls are very absorptive. And it will draw into the wall and it will evaporate – the moisture will evaporate – into your basement but it will leave behind the mineral-salt deposits that are in the soil and in the water.


    TOM: And that’s that white powder. Sometimes it looks light gray. And you can prove it to yourself just by taking a little bit of vinegar and wiping down the wall. Usually, vinegar will melt salts and makes it disappear.


    TOM: Now, it’s nothing harmful about it but it does indicate that you have too much moisture collecting around your foundation perimeter, Debbie, so I do want you to take a look out there and make sure that the soil is sloped to grade away from the walls. Also, make sure that your gutters are clean and free-flowing and that you’re not doing anything to really retain water at the foundation perimeter.

    In the worst-case scenario, this kind of situation can develop into a wet basement. And so we don’t want it to get that far for you.

    DEBBIE: No. Could that be getting into the air conditioning and the heating unit?

    TOM: Doubtful. I think you’re seeing some other type of dust that’s getting into the HVAC system, so let’s talk about what to do with that.

    Now, in most cases with homes that were built and – you said 2006. In that era, most of the heating systems are going to have a fiberglass filter in them. Now, do you know where your filter is for your air conditioner and heating …?

    DEBBIE: I do.

    TOM: OK. Is it in the blower compartment?

    DEBBIE: Yes.

    TOM: OK. So, typically, if you look in there, you’ve got a very thin, fiberglass filter. Those are not very effective filters; they just don’t do a great job.

    DEBBIE: That’s the one that I change?

    TOM: Yeah, the one that you change. Exactly.


    TOM: Now, what you could do is you could get a better-quality filter for that same space.

    DEBBIE: I change them like every month.

    TOM: Yeah, I know. And the thing is, you shouldn’t have to. You have to change them every month because they are not very good filters.


    TOM: And they clog up easily and they let a lot of stuff through. And we call them “rock stoppers,” because it’s pretty much all they stop.

    So, what you might want to do is get a – first of all, you can get a better-quality filter for that blower compartment. And if you look for one that’s pleated, that’s a good start. 3M has a line of filters that are pretty efficient. They’re going to have a MERV rating on them – M-E-R-V.

    Now, when you look at the MERV number, keep in mind that the higher the number, the better.


    TOM: So, a MERV 8 is better than a MERV 5. And a MERV 12 is better than a MERV 8. And so the higher the MERV number, the more efficient the filter system.

    Now, if you want to step it up from there and really put a much better-quality air-cleaning system onto the house, then you may look to an electronic air cleaner or an electrostatic air cleaner. And these would require a slight modification of your ducts. With the electronic air cleaner, it fits basically somewhere in the return side. And it’s about 3 inches wide and it uses a combination of static electricity and a filter to pull absolutely all the dust out. Now we’re talking about a filter that can take out minute-sized particles of dust and air and even virus-sized particles.

    DEBBIE: OK. Thank you very much.

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

    This is The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show. Up next, for decades, stainless steel has been the absolute king of appliances. But is stainless steel about to be knocked off its throne? Find out, after this.

    ANNOUNCER: The Money Pit has been brought to you by Andersen Windows. Replacing windows or patio doors is always a big decision. Lowering energy bills? Well, that’s easy. And Andersen Windows, the number-one brand of windows in America, makes replacing your old, drafty windows easy with the new 400 Series Tilt-Wash Double-Hung Replacement Window. Available at The Home Depot.

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

    LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

    TOM: Hey, do you know what the most popular remodeling project is? Well, it is painting. And if you’re looking to step-up your game and add some faux finishes to your paint job, just go to our website, MoneyPit.com, and search “how to apply faux finishes.” You’ll get tips on everything from sponging and ragging to wet blends, all cool techniques explained well on MoneyPit.com.

    LESLIE: And while you’re there, you can head on over to the Community section and post your question. I think Ellie was reading your mind, from Alabama, Tom. Because her question is: “I had a contractor skim-coat a wall to remove a texture I didn’t like. To save money, I decided to prime and paint it myself. The stuff he used on the wall, drywall compound, is now coming off on the roller as I prime. Did I mess up or was it the contractor?”

    TOM: OK. Well, if you go to a drywall contractor for a problem like that, they’re going to give you a drywall solution, which is putting spackle on the wall or drywall compound. I don’t think that was probably the best thing to do, because drywall compound is designed to stick to drywall, not necessarily walls that are older and painted and primed and have all kinds of finish on them. So I’m not at all surprised that you don’t – that you have an adhesion problem with this right now, Ellie. It’s certainly not your fault but he never should have put it on in the first place, since he just didn’t get the adhesion that he needed.

    Considering where you are – and I hope you don’t have a lot of walls, based on what I’m about to say – but the best thing for you to do is to skin those walls with new drywall. It’s not as awful as a project as you might think. You can use 3/8-inch drywall, which is very inexpensive. And that will cover that wall, make it brand new and smooth-looking once again. Just get good attachment points so you can secure it to the old walls and start from scratch because at this point, by the time you sand off all that spackle and stuff that he put on there, you’re just going to have a big mess on your hands. I would skim it with another coat of drywall and call it a day and go on from there. I think it’ll really come out the best.

    LESLIE: Alright. Next up, we’ve got one from Bill in Louisiana: “How do I know if a bookshelf needs to be anchored to the wall? Is there a certain height that makes it necessary?”

    TOM: Well, considering how unstable bookshelves can be, I wouldn’t definitely – I would definitely not set a certain height to it. I mean if it’s more than 3 feet tall, I would definitely consider anchoring it to the wall, especially if you’ve got small children, because they can pull those over and really hurt themselves quite severely.

    LESLIE: Oh, yeah.

    TOM: And when you do anchor it to the wall, there’s a lot of safety straps out there that you can pick up in hardware stores. So you don’t usually have to have it sort of securely bolted to the house; just have sort of a safety line where it’s tied from the bookshelf to a stud, so if it starts to tilt away, it grabs it and sort of pulls it back.

    LESLIE: I mean the alternative of what could happen if you’ve got a small kid pulling on that is disastrous, so definitely take that step to do the anchoring.

    TOM: Well, for pretty much a couple of decades now, stainless steel has dominated the appliance industry but it may be coming to an end. Leslie weighs in on the future of stainless, in today’s edition of Leslie’s Last Word.

    LESLIE: Yeah. You know how clean and shiny your stainless-steel appliances look? But is that look getting a little too industrial for your taste? Some of the biggest appliance manufacturers out there are betting that you’re growing tired of it. They’ve spent a fortune introducing new products with some color.

    Now, don’t think avocado green or harvest gold like the days of old. They’re modern; they’re monochrome colors like white, gray and black. Maytag actually rolled out a whole series and it calls it Ice. And it features glass fronts that are meant to blend in more with your kitchen.

    Now, while these are really pretty, something tells me that stainless steel isn’t going anywhere for a while. It’s been holding onto its popularity for a reason: it’s easy to maintain, it doesn’t hang onto germs, it’s got a super-long lifespan. You might want to consider stainless steel that little black dress of kitchen fashion. You know, other things look great but stainless steel, like that little black dress, never goes out of style.

    TOM: This is The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show on air and online at MoneyPit.com. Thank you so much for spending this hour with us. Coming up next week on the program, we’re going to talk about carbon-monoxide leaks. They are silent, they have no odor but they could be deadly. We’ll tell you how to protect your home and your family, on the next edition of The Money Pit.

    I’m Tom Kraeutler.

    LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

    TOM: Remember, you can do it yourself …

    LESLIE: But you don’t have to do it alone.


    (Copyright 2012 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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