Plant Your Own Butterfly Garden #0423181

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

LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

TOM: And we are so glad you are here with us today, because there’s nothing better than a spring weekend to tackle projects around the house, around the apartment, around the condo. Maybe you’re going to go help out a friend, help out your mom, your dad. Whatever is on your how-to to-do list, we’re here to help you. How about that? So give us a call with your question at 888-MONEY-PIT or post it to The Money Pit’s Community page at

Coming up on today’s show, are rainy days driving you crazy? You know, if you’re looking to get everybody up and active on those not-so-sunny spring or even summer days, a basement game room is kind of a fun project that you might would like to take on, if you are lucky enough to have a basement, that is. So we’re going to give you some tips on how to get this project started.

LESLIE: And also along the lines of fun summertime things to do, do you love seeing butterflies floating around your home and garden? I know I do. So why not plant a butterfly garden with the plants that butterflies love? We’re going to have the step-by-step tips for creating that garden, plus a checklist of the best plants to include.

TOM: And are spring rains finding their way to places they shouldn’t be, like your crawlspace, your basement? Or the middle of your yard is now a muddy mess? We’re going to have the easy solution to dry up all those damp places.

LESLIE: And this hour, we’re giving away exactly what you need to have a weed-free lawn this summer. We’ve got a supply of Weed Beater Ultra Lawn Weed Killer from Bonide going out to one caller drawn at random. And that’s enough to treat over 20,000 square feet of lawn. That’s a lot of lawn.

TOM: And I’d like that lawn to be weed-free and that’s an excellent way to do that. So, give us a call right now. The number is 888-MONEY-PIT. That’s going out to one caller drawn at random that reaches us for today’s show or one that has posted a question this week – this entire past week – on our Community page, 888-666-3974.

LESLIE: Dorothy in Tennessee is on the line and has a question about an inground pool. What’s going on?

DOROTHY: I have a definite money pit.

TOM: Alright. Welcome to the club.

DOROTHY: I have a – really. I have a huge inground pool that it just wouldn’t do any of us to not buy this house with this pool because we thought we’d just love it. And yet the kids promised to help take care of it and all that stuff.

TOM: Right.

DOROTHY: They’re grown and gone. I don’t want to take care of it. Don’t want to pay all that money. And I’m wondering if there’s a solution to doing something interesting with this space that isn’t such a money pit.

TOM: You’re not in an unusual scenario. I spent 20 years as a professional home inspector and when we did inspect homes that had pools, I’d say a pretty good portion of the time the question from my client was the same question you just asked: “I don’t want the pool. I want nothing to do with it for a whole variety of reasons. What can I do with it?” And in those cases, generally, what folks do with it is they fill it in. They tear up any concrete edges or that’s anything on top that might be part of their patio or whatever. And they basically fill it in and tamp it and compact it and it becomes yard space.

So, if you don’t want to use it as a pool, that’s pretty much your only option.

DOROTHY: Well, exactly. Is there an inexpensive way of doing that? The little bit of research I’ve done, it’s not inexpensive to fill it in.

TOM: Well, look, you need to find – it’s not a hard – look, putting dirt in a hole is not a difficult thing to do. What you have to do is first of all, obviously, you have to disconnect all the mechanical systems, right?


TOM: Then reduce power out there. All that has to be disconnected and any plumbing has to be disconnected.


TOM: So you get rid of all of the stuff that’s easy like that. And then, for the rest of it, if you have a decking or a curbing around the outside edge of the pool, that will have to be broken up.

Now, if that’s the case, I can’t imagine that would take more than an hour or two to break up with a jackhammer, because it’s only going to be a few inches thick of concrete. So it’s actually pretty easy to break up. And then you have to have excavators that will come in and probably with a small piece of equipment, like a Bobcat, start to move a lot of dirt into that space. Because it has to be tamped. You can’t just put it in there without tamping it.


TOM: And in fact, you might also – actually, you may need to break up the bottom of the pool. Otherwise, you won’t have drainage, right? So you probably have to bust that up, too.


TOM: And then it’s just going to have to be filled in and tamped and filled in and tamped and filled in and tamped. Because if you don’t, it’ll become a sinkhole, just be a depressed area in the yard. You want to really fill it up.

You’re going to use clean fill dirt for that; you’re not going to use topsoil, obviously. So the dirt is pretty much the cost of the transportation. It’s almost like you don’t pay for the dirt. But that’s probably the best thing to do with it and then start thinking about what you do want to do with that space.

DOROTHY: Well, I can imagine a really nice, formal garden out there or a fire pit, gazebo, all kinds of neat things.

TOM: Well, there you go.

DOROTHY: But getting to that point is not going to be cheap. I do have fencing around the property, so that’s going to have to come down. And getting rid of all the concrete, that’s just – it just seems like it’s a nightmare any way you look at it. I can’t leave it just covered with water stagnating in it. That would be just a breeding ground for various and sundry things and …

TOM: Well, you mentioned getting rid of the concrete. Actually, you don’t have to get rid of the concrete. You can just throw that in the hole.

DOROTHY: Well, you can put that – most of that in the hole, yeah, now. I thought about …

TOM: So that’s the choice. How long do you plan on staying in this house? I mean this is basically – is this it forever or do you think you …?

DOROTHY: Oh, probably. Probably, possibly.

TOM: Yeah. Because that is one thing to consider and that is if the pool is functional and you take it out, whether or not it’s going to deter from the value of your home.

LESLIE: From the resale value.

TOM: Yeah. And sometimes it will and sometimes it won’t.


TOM: Depends on who’s buying it and what their needs and wants and desires are, OK?

DOROTHY: Yeah. And the house was kind of built around the pool. It’s a U-shaped house and the pool was in the middle of the U.

TOM: Yeah. Oh, OK. Yeah.

DOROTHY: It’s pretty.

LESLIE: It all sounds lovely to me.

TOM: Yeah.

LESLIE: But I know for a fact – you know, my sister and her husband, their house has a pool and they had the darndest time finding an insurance company that would tackle them – that would take on their insurance for the new home, that wasn’t a gajillion dollars. So losing the pool could probably be an insurance break. But maybe there’s a temporary solution of some sort of cover for it, if it does seem that you’ll lose a lot on the resale, that you can make a structural cover.

DOROTHY: Well, yeah, that’s a possibility. There’s all the dilemmas of – it really needs a new liner. I’m looking at spending a lot of money on it either way.

TOM: Right. Alright. Well, hopefully we’ve given you some ideas on what is possible. And good luck with that project. Thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.

LESLIE: You are listening to The Money Pit presented by, where you can find top-rated home pros you can trust. Call in your home repair or your home improvement question 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-888-MONEY-PIT.

TOM: 888-666-3974.

Up next, are April showers driving you a bit nuts? Are you looking to get everybody up and active on those not-so-sunny days? A game room might be the answer you’re searching for. We’ll tell you how to get this project started in your house, after this.

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

LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

TOM: And if you’ve got a décor or improvement question, you can call it in right now. In fact, you can call your question in 24/7. The number is 1-888-MONEY-PIT presented by HomeAdvisor.

LESLIE: And hey, here’s another great reason to reach out by phone or the Community section. If you are dreaming about a beautiful, green lawn this summer – and I think we are all dreaming about this summer if it would just get here already – we’ve got up for grabs a great product.

We’re giving away the Weed Beater Ultra Lawn Weed Killer ready to spray. It’s a quart-size container but that can treat up to 20,000 square feet of lawn or a ½-acre. There’s no mixing. You just hook it onto the end of a hose and spray and then it’ll mix itself at the correct rate. And it can control over 200 broad-leaf weeds in your home’s lawn, which will make for a beautiful, green, lush lawn.

TOM: Absolutely. That Weed Beater Ultra Lawn Weed Killer is going out to one listener drawn at random. Make that you. Call us now at 1-888-MONEY-PIT, 888-666-3974.

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

JOEL: I have a new home that’s now nine years old. From day one, when you flush the toilet, it gurgles in the shower. And then, several months ago, it stopped gurgling. But now, when you take a shower, you smell sewer gas.

TOM: Wow.

JOEL: Yes.

TOM: So you have a ventilation problem, clearly.

JOEL: Yes.

TOM: Some part of the system is not designed correctly.

Now, when you hear the gurgling sound, that’s because the plumbing system is gasping for air. And when you look at a plumbing system and you have drains that are below the floor and then if you stand outside and you see these vent pipes that come out through the roof, basically they’re supposed to be letting the air in and they’ll vent some sewage gas out. But that stops pressure from building inside the pipes, which is what’s happening. That’s why you have that gurgling sound. And the fact that you get a sewage-gas smell is really bad, so I – you need some pretty serious inspection work here to figure out what’s going on.

Is there any chance you can get to the area below this bathroom to see how the pipes are run?

JOEL: Yes. And I really expected there to be a pipe going up to the ceiling directly from that but there’s not. The plumber came in and put in a – I’m going to call it a longer P-trap or a deeper P-trap.

TOM: Right.

JOEL: And then he also put in a vent there underneath the floor. It doesn’t go anywhere. It’s just …

TOM: It’s basically designed to let air in, I think.

JOEL: Right. The shower’s at the end of the system and it runs into the toilet. And then the toilet goes on into the sewer. So it’s between the toilet and the end of the – and the sewer is where that vent is. And he’s at a loss, we’re at a loss. We’re going to have to go up through the walls and out through the ceiling?

TOM: Yeah. I mean that’s the best place, because you should be getting plenty of air in there. That first thing, the first clue, is that you’re still getting a gurgling.

JOEL: Well, the gurgling has stopped.

TOM: Oh, it has stopped. So that vent stopped that?

JOEL: Yeah.

TOM: If you’re getting a sewage-gas smell, that might be backing up through the vent.

Look, the best way to do this is to have the vent go up through the wall, through the attic and out the roof. That’s the way it normally would be done. And if that’s not what you have, because of this configuration, that’s probably what I would try. I would be aiming to try to get there the easiest way possible. I know it’s not that easy because running plumbing pipes after the house is built is never good.

How old is this house?

JOEL: It’s nine years.

TOM: Nine years, OK, yeah.

JOEL: Yeah.

TOM: Well, I think that’s what you’re going to have to do.

JOEL: OK. Does the vent need to be between the shower and the toilet or on the downhill side of …?

TOM: The vent would actually probably come out about where it is right now, it would seem to me.


TOM: But it would go in the wall and up.

JOEL: Right. OK.

TOM: Alright? Well, listen, I hope that helps you out, at least, a little bit. Good luck with that project and thanks for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.

LESLIE: Are rainy days driving you crazy? If so, adding a basement game room might be the answer you’ve been looking for. It’s easier than you think, with just three simple steps.

First, let’s cover some basement game-room basics. You’ve got to address any moisture or dampness issues that are stemming from that basement itself. Now, this doesn’t mean you need to finish your basement but adding a space heater or a dehumidifier might be all that you need to help make your guests feel comfortable. Because with basements, you’ve got to feel comfortable. Sometimes they’re damp, they’re chilly.

Now, if there are leaks in your basement, be sure to read our tips on how to fix a leaky basement, on It is a lot easier than you think, I promise.

TOM: Next, let’s talk about the energy needs. Depending on what you plan to add, you might need to add some extra electrical outlets for lamps, speakers, overhead wiring, even phone chargers. Make sure these things are conveniently located.

Another thing you might think about adding down there is, say, perhaps a little bar area or a basement fridge. Now’s the time to think about that before you start taking on some of the décor projects that will really make this space feel comfy.

LESLIE: Alright. And thanks for mentioning the décor, Tom. We don’t want to forget about that, because you want the basement to look good, feel good. You want to go down there, so don’t be afraid to let your creative juices flow when it does come time to add the décor.

You can find some awesome, vintage, game-room finds online that are very, very budget-friendly. And that’s going to give your game room that added touch of enhancement. And you’ll be winning game night in no time. There are so many ways to incorporate a fun game theme, whether it’s darts or any type of board game that your family loves.

You can find décor pieces that sort of accentuate what that game is to your family and really have fun with it. Think of marquee lights with those big letters and maybe spell out the game’s name or your family’s last name or fun, something like that. Think of bringing in these little details that will make the space just stand out and everybody will want to hang out down there and get off of their devices. That’s the goal.

TOM: For all the details, check out “3 Key Design Tips for a Beautiful Basement Game Room.” That’s online, right now, at

LESLIE: Heidi in North Carolina is on the line with an electrical problem. How can we help you today?

HEIDI: Well, I have kind of a two-part question. I have an older home. It’s about 68 years old. We paid an electrician to come in when we converted over to a heat pump from an old furnace to up our service. And we have an old fuse box that are the screw-in type fuses. And when he put the system in – the new electrical box – he was supposed to convert everything over into the new electrical box and he left the little electrical box – the little fuse box – in my kitchen.

And unfortunately, he put the new electrical box on the outside of my house. That would be OK, except I’m a single woman and I don’t – safety reasons. I don’t think it’s really smart considering I have a full-size basement it could easily be put in.

LESLIE: Right.

HEIDI: So do I need to – I mean I would never call this guy again, for lots of reasons. But do I need to pay somebody else to come in and convert that last part of my home into this other fuse box or – you know, these little fuses are hard to find and when they blow …

TOM: So, it’s definitely an active panel, right? The fuse panel?

HEIDI: Oh, it’s active. Yes, sir.

TOM: OK. So that’s called a “sub-panel” and that’s going to be a sub-panel from the main panel. You said the main panel is now in the basement or the main panel is outside?

HEIDI: It’s outside. We have a full basement and why he put it outside, I have no clue. But he put the main panel …

TOM: Yeah, that makes no sense. Because the only time you usually see full panels outside is maybe a condominium situation and then they’re in utility closets. So I can’t imagine why that was done that way. It doesn’t make sense. It sounds to me like you do need a better electrician to come in and take care of this.

If it makes you feel any better, the fact that you have a fuse box does not mean that it’s unsafe. Fuses are actually quite safe if it’s the right-size fuse matched against the wire that’s hooked up to that circuit.

And so, to know if that’s the case, somebody has to open the panel and say, “OK, this is Number 14 wire, so it’s a 15-amp fuse. And this is Number 12 wire, so it’s a 20-amp fuse,” and so on and physically write that right above the fuse on the panel so you know what size to put in there. Because it’s too easy, with a fuse box, to put in a 20-amp fuse on a wire that’s only rated for 15 amps. Then, of course, that’s potentially unsafe.

So, it does sound like you need another electrician. It’s obviously not a do-it-yourself project. And unless there’s some compelling code reason in your part of the country to put that outside, I don’t understand why they would have done that. And you could consider rerunning it back to the inside and unfortunately, that’s kind of where we’re at. It’s not an easy fix; it’s one that’s going to require the investment of a good electrician.

HEIDI: Alright. Well, thank you very much.

TOM: You’re welcome, Heidi. Thank you for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.

LESLIE: Alright. Now we’ve got Dan on the line calling in from Ontario, Canada with a question about a drafty home. How can we help you?

DAN: To try to explain this stuff, you know the backer boards – what they put on cabinets?

TOM: Yes. Mm-hmm.

DAN: OK. Now picture that made in tile but 4×4 sheets.


DAN: And it’s white and it looks like it’s got this stucco tile.

TOM: Yeah, it’s called “composite siding.” So what’s going on with it?

DAN: Well, I’d like to know if I could put this – they’ve got this paint, OK? It’s like a stucco? I was just wondering if I – could I put that kind of material on this fiberboard?

TOM: Well, you can generally paint fiberboard or composite siding with anything that you – with any typical exterior-grade paint. It doesn’t require a special paint. In fact, it actually requires quite a bit of paint. Because I used to joke that that kind of siding stood up as long as you painted it every day before you went to work. It’s not known for its durability, you know?

So, any paint that’s a good-quality exterior paint should work. Now, are you trying to get a textured look to it to places?

DAN: I’m trying to get that stucco look.

TOM: Yeah, the stucco look. OK. Well, if it’s a paint product that’s designed to do that and you’ve researched the paint product and it is a good-quality product, I don’t see any reason why it won’t work.

DAN: Well, you’re telling me more than what these two guys knew at the paint store.

TOM: Just tell them you want to buy more stuff; they’ll agree with you.

Good luck, Dan. Thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.

DAN: Well, thank you. I enjoy your program. It’s very informing.

LESLIE: Alright. Thanks so much for calling The Money Pit.

Hey, are you thinking about getting your kids involved in gardening? Well, one kind of garden that they might like to plant is a butterfly garden. We’re going to have the step-by-steps for creating that garden, next.

TOM: And today’s edition of This Old House on The Money Pit is brought to you by ADT. Introducing ADT Go, the new family mobile safety app and service. Go to to learn more today.

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

LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

Well, whether you are buying, selling or just enjoying your home, we are here for you every step of the way. Call in your improvement or décor question now to 888-MONEY-PIT presented by HomeAdvisor, the fast and easy way to find the right pro for any kind of home project, whether it’s a small repair or a major remodel.

John in Massachusetts on the line with a heating situation. What’s going on?

JOHN: Yes. My question is – I moved into a new condo. I have gas heat and the vents come up above in the ceiling. And in one of the vents, when the heat goes on, there’s a ting-a-ling – it comes – sometimes it comes right away. Sometimes it’ll come 10 minutes after or 10 seconds after. And it’s just like ding-a-ling (inaudible). It maybe lasts for about 30, 40 seconds, aggravate you and then it will go away as the heat continues to run.

TOM: So, there’s a couple things that can be causing that. It’s basically expansion of the metal ductwork. And the way it’s attached to the surrounding framing, it’s rubbing.

Now, it could be that where the ducts are heating up and expanding and so you get that creak-creak-creak or tingle-tingle-tingle sound, whatever you’re hearing.

JOHN: Right.

TOM: Or it could be a condition we call “oil-canning.” And that’s a term that is – has a lot of history. When we had oil cans, before we had plastic oil bottles, they were made of a very heavy metal. And if you sort of pushed your thumb into the side of it, it would make a ping sound. Now, we don’t have those anymore but the concept stuck around. And what that means is that when the duct itself gets inflated, it kind of pushes outward in all directions and that could cause the duct to actually flex. And that makes a sound that we call an “oil-can sound.”

So it’s probably one of the two that I just described. The good news is that the only thing that it’s really damaging is your nerves. But it’s really not hurting the house or the system in any way. It’s just a little bit of poor workmanship there.

Now, if you can get to that space above the ceiling, where you hear this coming from, it’s possible that you could do some things to straighten that out. But if it’s inside of a concealed ceiling, it’s almost certainly not worth it.

JOHN: Yeah. So, now, if I took the vent off itself and looked up there, I could see if something was …

TOM: No, it’s probably on the outside of the vent, not on the inside. It’s probably on the outside of the vent where it’s attached to the framing, yeah.


TOM: At least you know what’s causing it now and you have nothing to worry about, OK?

JOHN: OK. Thank you.

TOM: Well, good luck and thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.

Houses have a lot of noises that happen and we can usually explain them. And that’s one that’s pretty clear what causes it.

LESLIE: It is amazing how noisy homes can be. And it’s funny: you can be in a home forever and it can be a new sound or maybe a sound that’s been there, for the whole time you’ve been but you’ve just noticed it, that can be completely unsettling.

TOM: Right. Right, exactly.

LESLIE: It can give you a whole new appreciation for your home.

TOM: Yeah. Well, people deserve – develop a sensitivity, right? Like those that live near train tracks never hear the trains come.

LESLIE: Never hear the train.

TOM: If you were visiting that person for a weekend, you’d be like, “Oh, my God. How can you live here?”

LESLIE: You’d be like, “What train? There’s a train?”

Well, one of the most pleasant sights of summer are butterflies taking flight around your home. And if that’s the kind of wildlife you’d like to see more of, there are butterfly-friendly landscapes that you can create to make them feel even more welcome.

TOM: That’s right. Butterflies actually have some favorite plants that deliver them the nectar that they need to stick around your yard. Here to tell us how to create our very own butterfly garden is landscaping contractor, Roger Cook, from TV’s This Old House.

Welcome, Roger.

ROGER: Thanks for having me.

TOM: Now, is it possible to create a butterfly garden pretty much anywhere in the country?

ROGER: It is. And what you have to do is figure out what type of butterfly you have in your region and then there’ll be specific plants that that butterfly comes to, that it really likes.

TOM: So if we see butterflies no matter where we live, there are things that we can do to get them to hang out a little bit longer.

ROGER: Right. But before you think about the plants, you should think about the caterpillars that are going to become the butterflies. Every butterfly has a tree that it specifically will lay its eggs on.


ROGER: And that’s because when those eggs hatch, that tiny, little caterpillar that comes out has to start feeding right away. And it has a preferred leaf it wants to feed on. If it’s not on the right tree, they won’t grow up to be butterflies.

LESLIE: So now that you know exactly what type of butterfly you have in your area, you head on over to the garden center armed with your research and you sort of pick out a variety of flowers and plants that will both host the caterpillar and then feed the butterfly?

ROGER: That’s right. And you want to get plants that are going to flower throughout the season so you keep the butterflies in your garden. So you have a sequence of plants. And when you buy the plant, don’t buy one; buy like three or five because that really attracts the butterflies and will hold them in the garden.

TOM: Now, besides the plants, what about water? Don’t they need moisture to hang around, as well?

ROGER: Well, they don’t need a big water feature. What they need is a little area that’s moist, that has mud. And they’ll land there and then they’ll take and get minerals from the mud, which helps their diet.

TOM: Alright. So we’re not talking about a big pond; big, aggressive waterfall; a big aerator spraying water all over the place. That’ll just chase them away. We’re just talking about something with maybe just a little tiny bit of movement to keep the mosquitoes down but allow the butterflies to be happy, correct?

ROGER: It doesn’t even have to have standing water; it just has to be wet mud. That’s all you need. So pouring a little bucket every day on an area will be enough to suffice.

TOM: True. You could water your own butterfly garden that way, couldn’t you?

ROGER: You could, yeah.

TOM: Now, what are some of the most common plants that butterflies would like – you’d say it would apply to a good part of the country?

ROGER: Well, we see them on lilacs, which is a fairly common one. There’s one called “butterfly bush,” aptly named because the butterflies love it. And even a plant called “milkweed,” which you see a lot growing in meadows but you can actually plant in your garden.

TOM: So the whole process starts with a bit of brain work, followed up by a little bit of grunt work: putting those right plants in the right place. But after that, it’s a very relaxing feature to have around the house.

ROGER: Well, it’s a great way to adapt the gardens that you already have and just make them a little bit bigger. Get some more flowering plants and just make sure you do it in a sunny area, because that’s what the butterflies like.

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

ROGER: Thanks. I love butterflies and I’m glad to share the information.

LESLIE: Alright. You can catch the current season of This Old House and Ask This Old House on PBS. For your local listings, you can visit

TOM: And This Old House is brought to you on PBS by American Standard.

Just ahead, is spring rain showing up in places it should not be, like your basement? We’re going to have three tips to help end those damp spaces, in today’s Building with Confidence Tip presented by Rocket Mortgage by Quicken Loans, after this.

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

LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

TOM: We’d love to talk with you, right now, about your home improvement or décor question at 1-888-MONEY-PIT. And we’d also like to help you create a beautiful lawn this summer through a phenomenal giveaway we’ve got.

LESLIE: That’s right. We’ve got up for grabs the Weed Beater Ultra Lawn Weed Killer ready to spray. Now, it’s a quart container but it can treat up to 20,000 square feet of lawn. And that’s about a ½-acre. There’s no mixing. You just hook it onto the end of a hose and spray. Everything is going to automatically mix at the correct rate. And you can control over 200 broad-leaf weeds in your home’s lawn. You will be on your way to a beautiful, lush, green lawn in no time. And hopefully, summer comes soon so we can all enjoy this.

TOM: Yep. That Weed Beater Ultra Lawn Weed Killer is going out to one listener drawn at random. Make that you. Call us now at 1-888-MONEY-PIT.

LESLIE: Erin in Louisiana is on the line. How can we help you today?

ERIN: Hi. I have a slab house that’s about 35 years old and it’s showing signs of needing to be leveled. But I thought I heard on a previous show of yours that you do not recommend leveling a house; just fix the issues that come up as it needs it. And I didn’t know if I heard correctly or not, so I thought I would call and ask about that.

LESLIE: Well, tell me, how much of a slope are you noticing, throughout the property, on the interior of the home?

ERIN: No, we’re seeing cracks in the walls, cracks in the ceiling, cracks in the floors.

LESLIE: OK. Now, if you put a marble on the floor in some of these rooms that you’re seeing these cracks, does it roll all around wildly? If it does roll, how fast?

ERIN: I actually have not done anything like that.

LESLIE: Ah, the marble test. It’s very fun. That will tell you if the ground itself is level.

Now, if you’re seeing cracks in the walls and in the ceiling, are they sort of near a doorway or a window or are they just square in the middle of stuff?

ERIN: Well, there’s a crack in the floor that’s square in the middle of the floor and it extends out into a – we have a sliding-glass door and the brick above the sliding-glass door is separated.

And then, we also see it – I also see it in rooms next to the wall, where it’s like – the house is shaped like a T. And where one part of the top of the T goes into the long part of the T, I can see it separating there against the – in the ceiling.

LESLIE: You know, generally, if you see cracks and they’re by a doorframe or a window, that’s just general movement because of the opening in the envelope of the home, being in a window opening or a doorway in an interior wall. Now, if you’re seeing it like in the middle of the floor and above a doorframe in brick, you might be concerned that there could be some structural issues going on. However, you might want to bring in a structural engineer.

You bring in an engineer or even a home inspector and for a couple of hundred bucks, they’ll come in and look at these areas and diagnose, specifically, what’s going on there. Because it could be something structural that could need to be fixed in a way that you can’t just do by repairing the crack. Or it could just simply be natural settlement of the home over the duration of the home’s lifespan and that’s easily fixable.

But because you have a crack forming in the middle of a floor and that continues to a doorway, I would definitely bring in somebody who’s a structural engineer and they can write up a report on it. And the benefit of doing that is that when you do fix this, whatever the problem may be, you are going to have a full, written pedigree of what you’ve done to the problem in the home, how you’ve fixed it and what everything was done correctly. This way, if you go to sell the home and somebody says, “Oh, I saw a crack,” or whatever the situation might be, you can say, “Actually, this happened. We did this repair and it’s all square.”


TOM: Erin, some cracks are really typical wear and tear, so to speak. But this one definitely sounds like you need a pro to check it out. Thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.

LESLIE: Well, the basement is a tremendous source of extra space in homes that have one. But many homeowners just don’t utilize them as they could or should because they’re leaky. Now, the good news is that in most cases, this really is an easy thing to fix.

TOM: Yeah. Now, the first thing you need to do is to make sure you’re maintaining adequate gutters and downspouts. Preventing a wet basement really does start on your roof. That’s the main collection point for the water during any rainstorm, whether it’s big or small.

And a well-maintained, continuous gutter system, well, that’s going to carry things basically in the right direction. You’ve got to keep those gutters clean, they’ve got to have no debris in them that’s going to dam up that water flow. Because if it happens and they overflow, it’s going to send water right where you do not want it: against your foundation. And guess where that leads to? Well, it leads to your crawlspace or your basement. Or even if you have a slab, it’s going to get under that slab and it could make the floor structure weak.

So, gutters, really important to maintain.

LESLIE: Alright. Well, next to those gutter problems, the angle of the soil around your foundation’s perimeter is the second major cause of wet-basement woes. So, the soil should slope away from your house so it doesn’t allow water to flow back towards the house and then collect against those outer walls. If you do need to improve the grading to make it flow away, you want to do it with clean fill dirt and then add just a small layer of topsoil over that to support grass and whatever other plantings.

Heavy amounts of topsoil itself can actually hold that water against a foundation. And you should avoid that at all points possible, because you don’t want that water right there. You want to improve the drainage, not add more water-soaking things there.

TOM: Yeah. And along those same lines, don’t do anything to trap water against the house. So, sometimes you see folks do railroad ties or brick edging around the sort of the landscape bed, around the front of the house or the side of the house. Don’t do that because that’s like a pool; it’s holding the water against the house. You want to make sure that water runs away and doesn’t get obstructed in any place.

LESLIE: And today’s Building with Confidence Tip has been brought to you by Rocket Mortgage by Quicken Loans. It’s completely online, reduces annoying and time-consuming paperwork and gives you a real, accurate and personalized mortgage solution based on your unique financial situation, with no hidden fees or hassles.

TOM: Rocket Mortgage by Quicken Loans. Apply simply, understand fully, mortgage confidently.

LESLIE: Hey, are you getting your deck ready for the warmer weather but really wondering where to begin? We’re going to have a trick of the trade for replacing those cracked deck boards without having to buy any new wood, next.

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

LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

TOM: You can call in your repair or home improvement question, 24/7, courtesy of our friends at HomeAdvisor.

LESLIE: Or you can post your question online, just like Joanne did from New York who writes: “Our wood deck has many cracked and/or split boards and some are starting to peel. We can’t afford to replace it at this time. Is there any way of fixing this problem? Can it be sanded? We coated it last year with a semi-transparent seal, which took a beating over the winter and it looks terrible now.”

TOM: Yeah, that’s unfortunate. Some of those semi-transparent products, if they’re not applied properly or if it’s not a good-quality product, it really should last certainly more than a winter’s worth.

But anyway, here’s a trick of the trade, Joanne, for that cracked deck board. It’s actually pretty easy. What you want to do is take that board up. Now, you can pry it up. You can use a pry bar, you can use a tool called a “cat’s paw,” which basically is a way to sort of dig in and grab the nails and pull them out of the board. And don’t worry about damaging that top surface of the board because what you’re going to do is take it and flip it over and then put it back down.

You’ll be surprised to know that the other side of that board is almost as perfect as the day it was first put in there, because it hasn’t been exposed to the sun. Since it’s got no UV exposure, it’s not dried out, it’s not cracked, it’s not checked. In fact, you might find it’s a little mossy or mildew-y which, of course, you can clean. And then when you restain the whole thing, you won’t even know that the board was ever replaced. A really great way to fix up a cracked board without even having to buy a single piece of wood.

LESLIE: Now, I would recommend going with a more solid stain now that you’re going to be refinishing the whole deck surface again, because that will really saturate those boards a lot better. It’s going to have a lot more pigment. It doesn’t look like paint. You still see the grain but it stays on a lot longer. It protects it from the UV. It really just does a better job of protecting that wood. And then it keeps you from having to redo it again next year. You should get five years out of it.

TOM: Yeah, great point. Absolutely. Totally agree.

LESLIE: Alright. Next up, Barbara writes from Florida. She says, “I’m thinking of buying a house but when the owner turned on the microwave, the lights in the family and dining room went out. And then he had to reset the circuit breaker. Is this a serious problem and what would cause it?”

And note to that seller: don’t use the microwave when the people are in the house.

TOM: Yeah, yeah. There’s no telling what caused that to happen, Joanne, but it’s certainly not a good indication of a solid electrical system. So, at least, you need to have that system evaluated.

Now, if you had a professional home inspector go through the property, certainly that’s a question you should raise with that individual. But if not, I would highly recommend that because this is something – you happened to be there and happened to notice at that very second, right?

LESLIE: Right. And what else is going on?

TOM: Right. What are the chances that something else is going wrong? Probably pretty good. Because you’re just not that lucky, right? Otherwise, you’d probably would have won the lottery already and buy a much bigger house.

So, anyway, I would definitely get a home inspector to check that place out. And at the least, you ought to have an electrician fix that one particular problem, because it certainly doesn’t sound right. You know, in older houses, they’ll have one circuit that everything will be on, including the refrigerator. Sometimes it can get overwhelmed and it might be that some of this has to be split off to a second circuit.

LESLIE: And I think the point is if you bring in an inspector, you’re going to get a full sort of workup of what’s going on with that house. And then you’re educated in knowing what you can negotiate. And if the electrical work is something that you feel like taking on or making that seller take on for you, you can negotiate that in the price. It’s really important to do so.

TOM: This is The Money Pit. Hey, thank you so much for hanging out with us for this hour of the show. We’d love to chat with you about what’s going on in your house, giving you some tips and advice to help you get those projects done that maybe you’re stumped on or just don’t know where to begin with.

You can reach out to us even when we’re not on the air, 24/7, by calling 888-MONEY-PIT, 888-666-3974. And the way that works is we’ll call you back next time we are in the studio. And of course, you can always head on over to The Money Pit Community page and post your questions right there.

That’s all the time we have this hour. The show does continue online. 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 2018 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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