How NOT to Do-it-Yourself

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

LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

TOM: We’re here to help you with your home improvement projects. Now that we are getting close to the holidays, maybe you’re planning a project for next year. Before you put it on your to-do list, let’s talk about it at 1-888-MONEY-PIT, 888-666-3974. Whether it’s décor, remodeling, improvement or repair, we’re here to give you the tips and advice to get that job done once, done right and then you won’t have to do it again, 888-666-3974.

Coming up on today’s show, are you planning a project for the new year? We have been getting a lot of questions about remodeling. And we decided we would put together the top five most common remodeling mistakes that we hear about day in and day out. We’ll share those with you, in just a bit.

LESLIE: And when your holiday guests travel over the river and through the woods for a visit, it’s a good idea to make sure that they can spot your house by seeing the numbers. We’re going to have some tips for showing off your address.

TOM: Yeah, also important for emergency vehicles, right, to be able to find your house.

And Leslie, it is time to roll out the holly, unless you’ve done it already. Lots of folks now are getting their holiday decorations out early so they can enjoy them all season long. Now, I guess, whether it’s early or not depends on your definition. I know you start decorating in October, I think, for the holidays.

LESLIE: Ugh. I mean truly, I could if allowed by my family. November 1st would be the deal. But you know my son’s birthday is November 9th, so I’m not even allowed to talk about Christmas until after November 9th. And now he’s got stuck on Thanksgiving, so I wasn’t even able to do anything until the day after Thanksgiving which, to me, is already too late.

TOM: No matter whether you’re an early decorator or not, we’re going to have some tips on safe and sound decorating, coming up.

But right now, we’d love to hear from you. What are you working on? What are you thinking about working on? Give us a call, right now, at 1-888-MONEY-PIT.

LESLIE: Joan in California needs some help with a kitchen remodel. How’s it going?

JOAN: Yes, well, we haven’t started yet and I just need some advice on how to get started. Do you start with an architect or what do you do?

TOM: That’s a good question. So, planning makes perfect. You want to start with a plan. Now, are you essentially going to replace the kitchen in sort of the same layout that you have right now, Joan? Or are you thinking about really changing things up a lot?

JOAN: Well, it’s a very small kitchen and I just want to know how to maximize everything.

TOM: Alright. So if it’s a small kitchen, you can probably do this inexpensively by perhaps starting with a home center. A lot of the home centers have designers that work on the – work on designing kitchens for the cabinetry that they sell. And for a very small fee, they can help you lay that out and take advantage of all of the latest options.

If you want to do more than that, what you’re going to do is hire a certified kitchen-and-bath designer. But this is sort of like hiring an interior decorator that works just on kitchens and baths. And that’s going to cost you a few bucks.

But if you want to just do this an easy way, I would start with a home center, in the kitchen department, and see if they’ll lay out some options for you using the type of cabinets that they sell. Those cabinets are usually pretty affordable at that level and they’ll be able to give you some ideas on things, perhaps, you haven’t thought about.

LESLIE: You know what, Joan? I think it’s really smart to keep a notepad in the kitchen. And everybody and anybody, yourself and your family who use the space, as you walk through and notice little areas where you’re tripping over one another or things that just don’t make sense or you wish that X was here and not there, sort of jot all of those down. So when you do go sit down with – whether it’s a certified kitchen-and-bath designer or someone in the home center, you sort of have all of these issues that could be addressed or might be able to be addressed.

JOAN: One thing I really want is more electrical outlets, so that’ll have to definitely be in the plan.

TOM: Well, it’s definitely in the plan and you’ll do these things in order. The first thing you’ll do is rip out the old cabinets and the next thing you’ll do would be to rough-in new wiring and new plumbing to have it exactly where you want it. And then, of course, you’ll start the installation of the new cabinetry as almost the last step.

It’s also a good time to think about universal design in the kitchen, maybe having countertops of different height. So as you get older, you could sit down and work at the kitchen counter as opposed to just standing up. So, think of the sort of accessibility issues when you design this kitchen, as well.

JOAN: How much time should I allow for something like this?

TOM: Well, it depends on whether you have sort of all your ducks in a row. Sometimes it takes a while to get all the cabinets delivered. But if everything is accessible and on site, you can tear out this kitchen and rebuild it inside of a week.

JOAN: Oh, wow.

TOM: If you have everybody lined up and everybody is there when they need to be there and the plumber shows up on time, the electrician shows up on time and so on, sure, I don’t see any reason you can’t get it done in a week.

JOAN: Well, thank you very much.

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

LESLIE: Jack in Nebraska is on the line with a flooring question. How can we help you?

JACK: I want to put a new floor in my basement. And I – somebody has told me that some of these new engineered-wood products, like the snap-together floors, they said that some of those are OK for a basement application. Now, is there any truth to that?

TOM: It’s absolutely true. Now, just keep in mind that when it comes to wood flooring, there is prefinished wood flooring, which is solid, and that’s not rated for a basement. And then there is prefinished wood flooring, which is engineered.

Now, engineered flooring is essentially made up of many layers of wood. It’s a bit like plywood in that you have different layers glued together at opposing angles. Except with the engineered-wood flooring, the top layer is hardwood and it looks just like solid hardwood. In fact, once it’s down, you really can’t tell the difference. And because it’s made up of different layers that are glued together at opposing angles, it’s dimensionally stable and it can be exposed to moisture or humidity, like you have in the basement, without swelling and cracking and splitting.

And so, yes, engineered-wood flooring is a perfect choice for a basement. And if you want another option, you could look at laminate floor, also modular in the sense that it locks together. And laminate flooring comes in many, many, many different types of sizes and shapes and colors. In fact, I saw some reclaimed lumber-looking laminate floor recently at a big trade show that was just spectacular. It really looked like the original wood floor.

So, lots of options there for basement flooring. Just don’t go with solid.

JACK: OK. Well, you answered my question. Thank you very much.

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

LESLIE: You are tuned to The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show on air and online at Give us a call with your home repair or your home improvement question 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. As many of you may know, I never sleep so I’m always available to chat. Give us a call. We are standing by 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-888-MONEY-PIT.

TOM: 888-666-3974.

Up next, are you wondering how not to DIY? We’re going to share the top five most common remodeling mistakes, after this.

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

LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

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

So this weekend, we put up our lights, finally, around the house. And you know what I did? I got those – they’re called AppLights.

LESLIE: Yeah, yeah.

TOM: And they’re really cool because there’s an app and it controls the colors.

LESLIE: Then can you do all sorts of fun stuff?

TOM: Oh, yeah. A gazillion colors. It’s really awesome. And they come in different shapes. The thing is, though, you could probably stand outside and maybe operate the neighbors’ lights. I don’t know.

LESLIE: Ooh, I wonder.

TOM: It’s like a – I think of it as a garage-door opener where it could operate somebody else’s door.

LESLIE: Like first round of garage-door openers. You can drive around the neighborhood and see whose lights you can mess with.

TOM: If you set it up right, you can change your lights every couple days. You get tired of them? You just pick a new pattern.

LESLIE: See, now, for me, I would leave them up year-round.

TOM: Yeah.

LESLIE: And I would be like, “Ooh. Winter lights. Ooh. Birthday lights.”

TOM: Well, you know, it’s funny. It was really nice around Halloween. And so my wife says, “Why don’t we put up the lights now and then we don’t have to do it when it gets cold and nasty?”

LESLIE: Because purple and orange for Halloween.

TOM: Right. Because we were thinking we could do Halloween colors. And it was a great idea. I just didn’t …

LESLIE: And then orange for Thanksgiving and …

TOM: Yep, exactly. I just didn’t have the time. But you’re right: you could put them up and change them throughout the year. I mean Fourth of July, red, white and blue, right?

LESLIE: Oh, my goodness. I feel like that’s made for me. Because truly, the day after Christmas or New Year’s Day I start to say, “Oh, they’re not Christmas lights; they’re winter lights.”

TOM: Yeah.

LESLIE: And then I want to keep them up forever.

TOM: Alright. Well, listen, if you’ve got a question about décor, remodeling, repair, give us a call and join the conversation at 1-888-MONEY-PIT.

LESLIE: Alright. Now we’ve got Cheryl in Texas on the line who’s looking to redo a bathroom and make it more modern with just a shower. How can we help you?

CHERYL: Well, I am the mother of four sons and as they get bigger, they no longer like to get in the bathtub.

LESLIE: Right.


CHERYL: And we find that they are always in my room, in my shower. We’re wanting to take out the tub that’s in their bathroom and turn it into a shower. My issue is I don’t have a lot of space. It’s a Hollywood bath and then the tub and toilet are in a separate little room that you can close off. And the door facing – of that little room sits right next to the tub itself.

So, my question is – when I pull that tub out, the plan was to put a shower pan down and tile the area and then put a glass door – either a sliding door on there. Will that be a wide-enough space if it’s only the width of a standard tub?

TOM: Cheryl, I think you definitely can find a shower pan that can fit the width of that tub, sort of elbow to elbow if you’re standing in it. Think about it: if you’re in the tub, you’re taking a shower, right? You’ve got room on – to the right and to the left of you. So we want a shower pan, essentially, that’s the same size.

Now, when it comes to residential, prefabricated shower pans, they start at around 24×24, so that’s 2-foot-square. That would be probably the smallest that you would need but you might be able to go up even bigger.

But a little trick of the trade: if you were to find, for example, that for whatever reason – the way this room is configured – a 24×24 would not work, then you should shop for a smaller shower pan, which you will find, sold for RVs – recreational vehicles. Because they have tiny showers in them, right? And there’s a whole host of RV shower pans that are smaller than 24×24. I don’t think you’re going to need it. I think you’ll be fine starting there, maybe even going up.
But the size of the shower pan is what you want to figure out first. Then you can basically build around that, OK? Does that make sense?

CHERYL: Sure, sure. That’s what I want to do. OK.

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

LESLIE: Cody in Texas is on the line with a garage-door question. How can we help you today?

CODY: I’m interested in insulating the garage door. The garage has insulated ceiling, the walls, everything, except for the door. It’s just that thin, metal panel and I wasn’t sure if it’s worth my money to go ahead and buy a door that’s insulated, like from Overhead Door Company, or if it would be just as good to buy the foam panels from Lowe’s or Home Depot and cut them out and try to fit them into each panel themselves.

TOM: Well, you’ve got nothing to lose by taking the inexpensive route first, because those foam panels are pretty cheap. And yes, if you can fit them securely inside those garage – those existing, metal, garage-door panels, you’re probably going to pick up as much insulation as you would if you replaced the whole thing.

An insulated garage door doesn’t, in and of itself – even if it’s brand new is not going to add that much insulation value to it. So, really, all you have is as much foam as you can squeeze in there.

But remember, just as important as the insulating – the door panels is to make sure that you have weather-stripping along the edge of the door and that it’s adjusted so that it sits well against the concrete floor and it sits well against the jambs – both the side jamb and the overhead jamb. Because I would think that wind is probably your biggest enemy in trying to keep that garage warm. And it’s good that you’ve got the rest of it insulated and certainly, insulating the panels will help. But garage doors aren’t really known for their comfort, so whatever you do is going to have a limited effect.

CODY: OK, OK. Good deal. So the bid I got was $880. I think I will go with the foam sheets first because that’s – I’ll probably have $80 total in that.

TOM: Yeah, exactly. And see how that goes.

CODY: OK. Well, I do appreciate it. I always listen to the show and appreciate the advice.

TOM: Well, thank you so much. Good luck with that project. Let us know how you make out.

CODY: Thank you very much.

LESLIE: Well, home improvement can be one of the most rewarding times of home ownership. But with the excitement of planning a new project, it’s really easy to make errors that can end up driving those costs way beyond what you even thought about budgeting. And I’m talking about thinking about budgeting.

TOM: Yeah.

LESLIE: Because so many times, you think, “Ooh, it’s a dollar,” and it’s nowhere even close to a dollar. So, here’s our list of the big errors that we hear about, that come up over and over and over again.

First of all, overimproving. And you’re thinking, “Can you overimprove? I don’t know. I feel like it’s just right for me.” Well, so many projects contribute real value to your property and others have about same resale value as a, say, used lottery ticket that you didn’t win, that didn’t have $5 on it that you just totally lost with that ticket.

Now, if the value of your current home plus the cost of the improvement that you’ve planned far exceeds the average home value in your area, you will be very unlikely to get a return on that home improvement investment. Now, bathrooms, kitchens, decks, those usually provide the best return on investment. And projects geared more toward personal tastes – like decorating, for example – really isn’t going to significantly improve the value of your home. So only do those if you enjoy living in the house and you want to stay there long enough and really enjoy them. But the big stuff – decks, kitchens, baths – that’s really where you’re going to see a return.

TOM: Absolutely. Now, next you want to plan your work and work your plan. Before you hire a remodeling contractor, do your homework. You need to research the products and read reviews with a mind towards developing a sort of spec or specification for that project that identifies the products you’d like included in the remodel.

Now, for small projects, you can do this yourself but for large projects, it’s important to hire an architect or a designer. If you get that spec nailed down, then all the contractors you call in to bid on it will be bidding on the same work. Otherwise, you can’t compare their bids and it becomes super confusing. Plus, you lose control over the finish product. So develop that specification first.

LESLIE: Mm-hmm. Next up, I think, is people forget to mind the zone, if you will. You know, when you’re building a new shed or a fence, that really might seem like an easy enough home improvement project. But it can quickly turn into a legal nightmare if you don’t first check the local land zoning codes for your property.

Now, even if your project gets completed without a visit from the local zoning official, a violation could haunt you years later when it comes time to sell your home. And I mean so much so as – “Oh, you have to tear out that other bathroom and put it back to whatever it was before, before we’ll go ahead and say you can sell the house.” These things are huge and time-consuming and money-sucks, truly. So you’ve got to do your research.

TOM: I just heard a couple of months back about a guy who built a treehouse out on Long Island. And I was watching the news story thinking, “Well, listen, you probably didn’t even check for a building permit and you deserve what you get,” because it was, of course, about the fact that they wanted him to tear it down, right? And it was a beautiful treehouse that he built for his son. But the thing was the guy did get a building permit. And when he got it, nobody told him he couldn’t do it. Later on, he starts getting these ridiculous letters and fines, so I don’t know what happened with it. So, you’ve just got to be careful about the zoning and the permits and make sure that everyone is really clear about what you’re doing, to try to stay out of trouble.

Now, when you are ready to tackle a project, you need to have a contract with your contractor. And you want to make sure all of those agreements are in writing. Good contracts are going to include a very clear statement of the scope of the work. It’s going to include the list of materials and the price, of course, and also a schedule of payments. So, you want to make sure all of that info is there.

Now, for small projects, I think a lot of folks get in trouble because it’s kind of loosey-goosey. The contractor comes over and says he’s going to do X and he does Y and you’re like, “But you said you were going to do this and you did that.” I have a real simple solution to that. Sometimes, those contractors are not really good at sort of documenting things, so I do it for them. I ask for their email address and I might write the plumber a note that says, “Hey, Bob. It was good seeing you today. This’ll confirm you’re going to replace my toilet in the lower bathroom for 400 bucks and you’re coming next week,” or something like that. Just sort of outlining whatever the parameters are of the project. And this way, you have some record and you’re kind of almost helping the contractor out, too, because it’s real clear what they promised to do and what the conversation was.

LESLIE: Yeah, that is true. And I think, lastly – we touched on it a bit but having no permit – in so many areas of the country, getting a building permit is a requirement before you start a home improvement project. Now, some contractors might attempt to make getting a permit the responsibility of the homeowner but that’s a huge mistake. You need to make sure that that contractor is the person responsible for getting the permit and complying with the building codes every single step of the way.

Now, the local building inspector really is going to be your best resource for making sure that you get that job done properly, to code, to everything that’s correct for what you need and what’s correct for your building. So just, truly, do the research, lean on the village, lean on the building inspector and you will get all of the things done correctly.

TOM: Yep. Good advice. You want to do it once, do it right and you won’t have to do it again.

Hey, if you’ve got a question about a project you’re thinking about doing, now or in the near future, give us a call. We’d love to help you out at 1-888-MONEY-PIT.

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

Hey, when your holiday guests travel over the river and through the woods for a visit, it’s a pretty good idea to make sure that they can spot your house by seeing the numbers. We’re going to have some tips for showing off your address, next.

TOM: Where home solutions live, welcome back to The Money Pit Home Improvement Show. I’m Tom Kraeutler.

LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

TOM: Give us a call, right now, with your home improvement question – the number is 1-888-MONEY-PIT – or post it to The Money Pit’s Community page at

LESLIE: Virgil in South Dakota, what can we do for you today?

VIRGIL: Hi. I’ve got an old home that I am restoring and renovating and remodeling. It’s over a century old. And part of the process has been installation of a relatively high energy-efficient furnace.


VIRGIL: And I just got it started and was away from the home for a while. Came back and everything was froze solid. The exhaust had developed a plug of ice and the furnace would not run.

TOM: Ooh, that’s not good.

VIRGIL: No, that’s for sure. Anyway, the contractor that installed it rerouted the pipe so it would go through a heated room instead of up in the attic.

TOM: Right.

VIRGIL: And so I have it going above the lay-in ceiling over my bathroom. So I’ve got probably a foot to a foot-and-a-half for the inch-and-a-half exhaust pipe sticking out of the side of the house. And I’m wondering, am I going to have a problem with that? And if so, how can I prevent it from happening again?

TOM: Yeah. That’s a good question. In this situation, I would turn to the manufacturers, making sure that they’re – that you follow the recommended installation instructions for this type of a system. With a high-efficiency furnace, what happens is you take so much heat out of that exhaust gas that what’s left is mostly water vapor. Eighty percent of it or more is water vapor. And so that’s why you have to be able to have a way to deal with that.

Now, if that pipe is in a heated area, if it’s insulated, that’s going to stop the ice from forming. But of course, it’s dangerous if it does form because if you can’t exhaust the gas, then that’s going to shut down the furnace, which is a safety switch, basically.

VIRGIL: Right.

TOM: So, I – to me, I would make sure first that I’ve – that the contractor has installed that venting consistent with the manufacturer’s recommendations, which I’m sure you can find on their website. There are very detailed instructions on that sort of thing. And secondly, I would just watch it now and see what happens. Time is going to tell.

VIRGIL: Kind of a vacation home and I’m not there for a good part of the time. So I can’t be out checking it.

TOM: Right, yeah. Do you have a smart thermostat for that house?

VIRGIL: No. There’s no internet there.

TOM: Ugh. That’s too bad. I was going to suggest that this would be a great application for a smart thermostat that can monitor the temperature in the house. This way, you’ll know if it’s working or not.

VIRGIL: My other choice might be if I put in one of those smart outlets that turns on at 35 and off at 45. And if it turns on at 35, maybe one of the neighbors would see a flashing red light or something.

TOM: See a light, yeah. Exactly. Yeah.

Listen, I think that you need to work with the contractor and the manufacturer to figure out why this was – why this is happening. But I do suspect that that venting has to run – be run through a heated area and it’s got to be better insulated. OK?

VIRGIL: Well, he did have it insulated and it was in the attic, which is totally unheated. So, he did move it down to a heated area. And I can even move the temperature up a little bit by lifting one of the tiles in the lay-in ceiling in the winter.

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

Well, hard-to-spot house numbers aren’t just frustrating for visitors, they can also slow an emergency response. They need to find your house. So, to prevent confusion, now is a good time to spruce up that display. You want to make sure your numbers are large, they’re clear on both your home and on your mailbox.

LESLIE: Yeah. If you’ve got a long driveway to or maybe a hard-to-spot entrance, you’ve got to make sure that the address is easily visible to those who are driving by. You want to make sure you’re lighting it up after the dark so people can see it. Because the last thing is – you know, you’re looking at the house before, you’re looking at the house after, you’re trying to figure out which is the correct house. That’s a huge waste of time in an emergency, so you’ve got to make sure people can see that number.

TOM: That’s right. Now, if your community allows it, you can also spray-paint your house numbers on your curb. And that’s a cool trick because if you do it with reflective paint, it’s really easy to spot your house.

LESLIE: That’s right. By making your house more visible, you’re going to help keep your family safe, your visitors happy and the big guy can find your house more easily on Christmas Eve.

TOM: 888-666-3974. We’re here to make you happy with the answers to your home repair or remodeling questions. Give us a call, right now, at 1-888-MONEY-PIT.

LESLIE: Janice in South Carolina, you’ve got The Money Pit. How can we help you today?

JANICE: Yes. I have bought a new outside storage shed-type building you get it at the big-box stores. And I wanted to know how you can – what’s the best way to treat the exterior wood to keep it lasting longer? And also maybe the inside – the wood inside – the best thing to do for it.

TOM: Is it made of pressure-treated lumber, Janice?

JANICE: They call it – well, it’s got lumber on the trim and then the other, they call that “smart siding”? And that’s the side of the walls and stuff are – on the outside – smart siding?

TOM: OK. So has it been painted?

JANICE: No, no. It’s just raw wood.

TOM: OK. So what we would do is we’d recommend that you prime it first. And I guess you have an option to paint it or stain it, depending on how the siding actually looks. But you want to prime it first. And then after you prime it, then you could add a couple of coats of either good-quality exterior paint or good-quality exterior stain.

You don’t necessarily have to do anything to the inside as long as it’s watertight. But I would definitely work on the outside before it gets any colder out.

JANICE: OK. Alright. Alright. Thank you.

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

LESLIE: Up next, news flash: it’s two weeks until Christmas, guys. We’ve got some safe and sound holiday-decorating tips, right after this.

TOM: Where home solutions live, welcome back to The Money Pit Home Improvement Show. I’m Tom Kraeutler.

LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

TOM: And it is the ho-ho-home improvement season. So if you are rushing to get a project done before the holiday arrives, give us a call, right now, at 1-888-MONEY-PIT.

LESLIE: Ronnie in Maryland is on the line and has a question about a paintsicle – you know, when a gallon of paint freezes and you wonder if you can still use it.

Welcome, Ronnie. How can we help you?

RONNIE: Yes. I was wondering if that’s – I have some latex paint. It was out in the garage. I live in that (inaudible) part of Maryland here where things freeze up. I was wondering if the paint was still good when it’s frozen. And if it is frozen, how I find out if it was frozen or not.

LESLIE: Alright. So is it currently frozen? Do you know? Has it been frozen only once or have you had it like a year or two and it’s probably frozen a couple of times?

RONNIE: I have no idea how old it is. It was actually – I bought a house and there were just lots of gallons of leftover paints that were in the garage.

TOM: You not only have frozen paint, you have old, frozen paint that could have had a long history to it. The short answer is a definite maybe.

I think that if you asked the manufacturers, Leslie, they’d say no. But I think we’ve all used some frozen paint before.

RONNIE: They’re brand-new cans of paint I opened up. I could see that they’re separated a little bit but the – that’s why I didn’t know if they were actually good or if they were bad. If I mixed them back up they were good or …?

LESLIE: Well, here’s the deal. I would start by bringing the paint indoors. Let it get to room temperature and then stir it. If it stirs and starts to go creamy, then it’s probably OK. If it still looks lumpy, then I’d say no. The issue is that latex paint has a large quantity of water in it. So, obviously, that’s going to freeze and cause things to separate. And then you might end up with problems with adhesion and peeling and perhaps color not matching.

RONNIE: That’s why I thought if there was any lumpy stuff that might be in – I could run it through a cheesecloth or something like that.

LESLIE: No, you wouldn’t want to. If it’s lumpy or cottage-cheesy looking in any kind of way, that just means that all of the additives that cause it to adhere have completely separated and are not sort of going back into the paint itself. So I wouldn’t strain it off, because then it’s just truly not going to stick.

So if it’s separating like that, chuck it. But if you mix it and it looks creamy and it seems OK, I’d give it a go.

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

LESLIE: Well, it’s time to pull out those holiday decorations and get festive. But before you deck the halls and trim the tree, first you’ve got to test all of those holiday lights, indoor or out. You need to make sure that all of those lights are marked with a UL – that means the Underwriters Laboratory seal of approval – and marked for outdoor usage, if that’s where you want to display them. You need to make sure that each strand is clear of damaged or frayed wires. And if you have any doubts at all – and I mean I apply this phrase to things I find in the freezer that may have been there a long time – when in doubt, throw it out. If you don’t think it’s going to work or it’s going to be safe, get rid of it.

Now, if your strands aren’t lighting, you’ve got to check each bulb. I know it’s tedious but checking each bulb truly is the way to make sure to get it working again. So you’ve got to check each bulb, see if it’s loose and then replace each one individually with a working light bulb. This way you can see which bulb is the dud until that strand comes on. But if that doesn’t solve the problem, just simply give up. Sometimes, it’s just not worth it.

TOM: Yeah. It’s definitely not worth it. Because we used to put a lot more effort into these things but now it’s just not worth trying to fix those old light strings. Use the opportunity to pick up some LED holiday lights.

The prices have come way down. They are a lot less expensive. In fact, a look at the monthly electric bill really says it all. You can pay $13.65 a month to have colorful strands of Christmas lights outlining your home’s rooftop or you could pay 22 cents. That’s the typical cost difference between powering five strands of those old-fashioned, incandescent holiday light bulbs and the same number of LED lights, according to a survey done by utility provider Xcel Energy. I thought that was really shocking. Almost 14 bucks or 22 cents. So, it doesn’t take a lot of common sense to figure out which way to go. We switched all of our lights to LEDs last year.

LESLIE: I did, too.

TOM: And I’m so glad we did, because they’re so much brighter. Really bright. And they just last.

LESLIE: And I think it’s important to remember – I know a lot of people might feel turned off by LEDs because they think there’s not a temperature choice or the light might look blue or cool or not exactly what you want for the holiday décor. But you can pick a warmer look or a different color temperature that will really give you that same effect that you want. And I’ve been super happy with them.

LESLIE: Cynthia in New York is on the line and has a question about some steps. What are you working on at your money pit?

CYNTHIA: At last Labor Day, I had a new entranceway put onto an old, renovated cottage. There’s pretreated wooden steps and they’re open. Now, the water has settled along cracks and so I filled in these cracks with wood putty. I was intending to paint it. Then I sanded the cracks and then the rains came and snow came before I could even paint it.

Now, is that putty still good? And the second thing is I’ve heard you mention something about primer. And I don’t know what primer is but do these – they’re pretreated. Do they need primer? And is that what would help the wood putty? I’m really not quite sure. And is it too late now to even consider doing this before spring?

LESLIE: Now, when you’re looking at the area that you put the putty in, has it shrunken away from the edges of the cracks? Or does it seem like it’s still holding within the area that you filled?

CYNTHIA: I think it’s still – they’re long cracks. The pretreated wood must not have been the very best of wood. And so they are long. Like some of them are a foot long but very – an 1/8-inch aperture. And I adjusted that and I sort of scraped over the top. It was called “wood putty.” But someone had mentioned that once rain gets to it, it disintegrates and it’s not worth trying to even paint over it.

LESLIE: Well, I think if you’re seeing that it’s still adhering to the crack or it’s still filling in fully and hasn’t shrunken away from the edges, I think you’re in good shape. And you definitely do want to prime the wood surfaces. The only issue is if the wood is wet. Has it rained or has there been snowfall on it? So you want to make sure that the wood is nice and dry before you go ahead and apply anything onto it. So, if there’s been rain, let it dry out for a couple of days. And then once you feel that the wood is dry, definitely prime it.

CYNTHIA: I don’t understand what prime is.

TOM: So, Cynthia, primer is a type of paint. You have paint for inside your house, you have paint for outside your house, you have paint that has different shininess to it. A primer is simply a type of paint and as Leslie said, it’s designed to give good adhesion between the original surface – which, in this case, is the wood steps – and then the finish coat of paint. So, when we say to prime it, what we mean is to paint it with a primer. And then once it dries, then you could put your topcoat of paint on top of it. So you’re just going to want to make sure that you’re working with exterior-grade primers and exterior-grade paint.

CYNTHIA: OK. Well, thank you very much, sir. I listen to you all the time and you’re a great help.

LESLIE: Hey, is this the weekend that you’re heading out to buy a Christmas tree? Well, we’re going to tell you how to know if that perfect tree is actually fresh or not, after this.

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

LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

TOM: Give us a call, right now, with your home improvement question or post it to The Money Pit’s social-media pages at Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest or Twitter or The Money Pit community. There’s lots of ways to get in touch with us, just like Linda did who’s having an issue with her dryer.

LESLIE: That’s right. Now, Linda writes: “My dryer vent is running under my house that’s built on a slab. Since it’s such a long run and hard to clean the lint, I’m venting on the inside of the garage with a device that catches into a large container with a small amount of water. Will this device cause moisture damage in the walls and the stored items?”

TOM: Yeah, really bad idea. You know, I’ve seen those devices where you dump the lint into the bucket with the water in the bottom. But you’re right.

LESLIE: It’s so weird to me.

TOM: It’s very strange. And all of that moisture, basically, just gets dumped into the air. In your case, in the attic. I’ve seen them done in the basement, too, which is just as bad if not worse.

That humidity definitely is not going to help the situation and it could lead to mold and problems like that.

So, your one challenge is how do you clean a duct that’s that long, right? Well, there’s a tool for that. It’s called a “lint-eater.” And it’s basically a fiberglass brush. There’s sections of them. They all screw together and there’s a brush on the end. You can start at one end of the dryer, go all the way in, say, halfway to the house, pull it out again, go to the other end, work it backwards. You’ll pull out a ton of lint from that space.

And then you want to make sure that you are basically discharging it right outside. I mean if you can get it to the garage, why stop there? Just turn it to an exterior wall and dump it outside where it belongs.

LESLIE: And let me tell you, that lint-eating task is kind of really fun. You’re going to enjoy it.

TOM: Well, shopping for a fresh Christmas tree is a fun holiday activity for the entire family. You just want to make sure the tree is right for you. Leslie has tips on how to do just that, in today’s edition of Leslie’s Last Word.


LESLIE: That’s right. Are you looking for a fresh, living, gorgeous, real-life Christmas tree? Well, there are a few things that you’ve got to keep in mind to make sure that that tree fits and is fresh enough to last all the way past the new year.

Now, I know I’ve said this before: my birthday is February 28th. It’s always been a personal dream to keep the tree up until February 28th. It’s never happened but maybe this’ll be the year.

So, first of all, you need to look at the needles itself. The needles should look shiny. They should be green and fresh, not dry or brown. And they shouldn’t fall off when you pull on the branch. Now, don’t be crazy but generally, shaking the branch or sort of brushing backward up the branch itself – against the grain, if you will, of the needles and they fall off – that’s not really a good idea there.

Now, you also want to remember to measure the space for your tree, both horizontally and vertically. You want to bring the tape measure with you to that tree farm. The last thing you want is to get that tree home and realize it’s just not going to fit.

Now, you also want to look for a tree with stronger branches, like a Fraser or a Noble Fraser Fir. Those are always the ones I go with. I go with a Noble Fraser Fir. They smell great. They’ve got lots of nooks and crannies, so you can put those heavier ornaments on and just, truly, a ton of little spots to put the ornaments into.

Now, if possible, you want to lay the tree inside your car or your trunk for the drive home. If you drive with the tree on the roof of the car, you need to make sure that you tie it down securely. I remember one Christmas my sister and her husband were driving back to the city with the tree on the roof. And literally, at one point, the tree just slid off the side of the roof and was sort of leaning on the passenger-side window.

TOM: Not good.

LESLIE: They were terrified. Luckily, tree and everybody arrived safely. But make sure that you do tie it down securely.

And if buying a fresh tree isn’t for you, you want to check out the amazing options in artificial trees, including so many that come prelit. We have an official guide to buying artificial trees, right now, at So real or fake, whatever you choose, have a wonderful holiday season and pick the right tree for you.

TOM: This is The Money Pit Home Improvement Show. Coming up next time on the program, are you looking for that wood-burning fire feel without the wood-burning fire hassles? We’re going to have some tips on how you can convert an old fireplace into a safe, new, efficient and easy-to-maintain one, 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 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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