New Year’s Resolutions for Your Home

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 want to wish each and every one of you a very Happy New Year. Yes, we’ve come to the end of 2018; 2019 now on the horizon, I’m sure chock-a-block full with projects on your end. Have you been thinking about your to-do list for the year ahead? Have you set up any home improvement resolutions? Are you planning to do your kitchen this year, maybe your outdoor spaces? Whatever is on that to-do list, we’d love to hear from you right now. We’ll talk about how to get it done, how to pay for it, how to make sure it comes out right. If you can’t do it yourself, we’ll have tips on how to hire a pro. All that awaits you at 1-888-MONEY-PIT. So pick up the phone and give us a call right now.

And coming up on today’s show, the days are getting darker for sure. So we’re going to share some tips on a new app that allows you to dim any type of light bulb – we’re talking about mixed lights here, like CFLs and LEDs and incandescents – all at the same time, right from your phone. That’s coming up, in just a bit.

LESLIE: And also ahead, are you ready to give your back a break this winter and finally buy that snow blower? Well, there are so many options out there, so how do you know which one is the best one for you? We’re going to share some expert tips.

TOM: Plus, speaking of snow, we’re going to have some tips on how to prevent snow and ice damage, including our own recipe to stop slippery sidewalks from forming, without destroying your concrete in the process.

LESLIE: But first, we want to hear from you, so let us know what you are planning on working on this 2019. What have you got on your calendar? We’re here to help.

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

Let’s get to it. Leslie, who’s first?

LESLIE: We’ve got Carol on the line from Oregon. How can we help you today?

CAROL: Well, I’ve got a problem. I should know better but I have rented to people with – who brought in a puppy.

TOM: OK. Oh, that’s terrible.

CAROL: And now I’ve got to deal with lots of urine, fecal. It’s damage that’s probably been on there too long, too deep. Gone through the carpet to the pad, to the subfloor. So, my question is: can the stain ever be removed? I’m thinking I should just take everything up. My question would be what to put down new. Replace the subfloors? Solution? People have said something about KILZ and something like Zenix (ph) or something like that.

LESLIE: Well, I mean it really depends. If you even want to attempt salvaging the rug that’s there – generally, with a rental situation, you’re probably better off with a tile or a laminate floor, just because of cleanability. And then let the folks bring in their own area rugs. But if you want to attempt to sort of get the stain away, get the odor away, there’s a product that I used when I was training our dog, who was untrainable for the first year. And it’s on a website called JustRite and it’s And it’s called 1-2-3 Odor Free.

And it’s a series of different products. One’s a stain remover, one’s an odor remover and it sort of neutralizes through enzymes. And there’s an injector that you use to get through the carpet and into the padding and into the subfloor. And I kid you not, it works. Because there was a spot at the top of the steps that Daisy just loved and no problems to this day.

So, you might want to try that. However, if there is a lot of stuff to deal with, your best bet is probably to just pull everything off and you’re right about wanting to seal that subfloor. Because if you don’t put a primer – a good one – on top of it, whatever you put on top, get a humid day and you’re going to notice it.

CAROL: Right.

TOM: Yeah, so that’s why, Carol, what you want to do is use an oil-based primer like a KILZ or a B-I-N. There are a number of different primers out there but I would use the oil-based ones for a problem like this, because they’re going to do a better job of sealing in odor.

CAROL: OK. And if I do decide to put down a rug – because this is a house I would like to sell future forward; it’s a nice house – is there a type of rug that can better be cleaned?

LESLIE: OK, yeah. It is from Mohawk and it’s a carpet that they call SmartStrand. And it’s got built-in stain-and-soil resistance that’s never, never, never going to wear off or wash off or clean off. And it feels soft. And it’s environmentally friendly because it’s made in part with a recycled plastic.

And I think it was last year at the Builders’ Show – Tom and I were at the event – and they were just launching this SmartStrand product. And they had taken carpeting and carpeted the pen of an elephant at the zoo and left it in there for a year and then took it off, cleaned it and brought a patch in and had half under the cover of glass and half out. And there was a little door that you could open up to the dirty side and you opened that up and of course, I didn’t smell just because I always do strange things like that. And it like reeked horribly. And the side that was cleaned was beautiful, clean, soft, smelled fantastic.

So, I’m not really sure about the price point but it is an amazing product and available in a lot of different looks, different piles. So I would start with Mohawk, their SmartStrand.

CAROL: OK. Thank you so much.

LESLIE: Kevin in Texas is dealing with a dangerous situation. You’ve got water leaking through a light in your kitchen?

KEVIN: I actually live in an apartment but nevertheless, my concerns are obviously valid for my health and so forth. All of a sudden, water started coming through the light fixture in the kitchen. And I threw down buckets and went up and knocked on the gentleman upstairs’ door and it turned out his washing machine had gone crazy and had put a bunch of water in my ceiling that – most of which came right through the light fixture, point of least resistance.

LESLIE: Oh, wow.

KEVIN: However, I can tell that it got into the rest of the ceiling. There’s a place where this living room is bowed in with the stain, so I know that it got wet up inside there. And furthermore, the guy, when he was made aware of it, apparently thought that it wouldn’t act up anymore and actually turned on his washing machine again and went and stepped into the shower. And so it just leaked profusely until we could finally get his attention, between me and Maintenance.

TOM: Oh, my God.

KEVIN: Yeah. I mean we’re sitting there with shop vac, buckets and mops and just shaking our heads.

TOM: Wow.

KEVIN: So it was a one-time event, so it wasn’t an ongoing leak. And I was wondering what my risks are of black mold. Is there a test? Is there a preventative? What’s the story with that?

TOM: Yeah, it’s a good question. But here’s the good news: a single leak like that that happened and then dried out is not going to become an ongoing mold problem. If it stays wet for a long, long time and especially if it’s in an unheated place, it’s more likely to become a mold problem. But a single leak like that is not.

And also, one more point and that is you mentioned that your ceiling bowed. If – and I hope it doesn’t – but if that ever happens to you again, what you want to do is somewhat counterintuitive but that is to poke a hole in the ceiling wherever you see that water starting to form.

KEVIN: Right.

TOM: Because it’s easier to fix a hole than it is to replace the entire ceiling, which is probably what’ll end up having to be done. But when you see water coming through like that, what you should do is grab a screwdriver and just poke a couple of holes until you find the spot where the water just starts dripping out.

KEVIN: Right.

TOM: The quicker you can empty that ceiling of water, the better off you’re going to be.

And we had a problem like that not too long ago because of a piece of flashing that blew off our roof. And the first thing I did was took a Phillips screwdriver and poked three or four holes until I found the right spot. All that water drained right out and all I had to do was fix those holes. And it didn’t even have a stain on the ceiling when we were done.

KEVIN: Wow, yeah. That’s good advice there. I guess I should have thought of that but when you’re renting, you’re a little bit reluctant to do that.

TOM: Yeah, you don’t know. And that’s why I always take the opportunity to mention it, because it’s – first of all, you don’t have the experience because, thankfully, people don’t get these kinds of leaks. But secondly, it’s very counterintuitive because you don’t want to damage your ceiling. Well, it’s already damaged once that water is behind it and it’s going to get a lot worse really fast unless you poke a hole in it.

KEVIN: Good point, though. Good point. Alright. Thank you, guys.

TOM: You’re welcome. Thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT, 888-666-3974.

LESLIE: You are tuned to The Money Pit Home Improvement Radio Show on air and online at What are you working on in this new year? Whatever it is, we want to give you a hand so you can get that project off to a fantastic start, just like this brand-new year. So give us a call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-888-MONEY-PIT.

TOM: 888-666-3974.

Up next, what are your plans for projects for 2019? We’d love to know. Give us a call at 888-MONEY-PIT. Are you setting up some New Year’s resolutions for your home? We’ll share some of ours, after this.

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

LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

TOM: And Happy New Year. It is that time of year where we get to kick off – we get to rejoice about everything we got done this past year. But we also get to kick off our projects or at least plan them for the year ahead.

And I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want to take on at my money pit. And I think that this is the year, Leslie, that we’re going to do the kitchen.

LESLIE: Are you, really?

TOM: It’s not an easy kitchen, though, I’ve got to tell you. Because you know I have a really old house and I’ve got a really weird shape to the kitchen, because the stair to the basement kind of goes through the middle of it, sort of in a way. It’s kind of like an L-shape kitchen. The floor is grossly out of level, as most homes that are 100-plus years are.

LESLIE: Of that age.

TOM: You know, out of this age, right, are. And it’s got a – not a very tall ceiling. So I’ve got to think about whether or not – what do I want to do first? Do I want to level the floor? Do I want to add onto it? Do I want to take away to kind of drop it down to level? Do I want to use a leveling compound? I’m thinking …

LESLIE: Now, are you going to do all the work yourself or are you going to hire out parts?

TOM: No, I think I’ll do most of this myself. I’m kind of thinking of the structural/mechanical side of it. And I haven’t even thought about the design yet but I think it’s going to be sort of whitish, sort of farmhouse-y kind of a look that sort of fits the house. But it’s such an old house. There’s all kinds of surprises I know that I’m going to have to deal with, as well as the problems I already know exist.

LESLIE: Oh, for sure.

TOM: So, it’s a bold project. It’s definitely my New Year’s resolution. I’m committing to it right now. We’ll see what happens.

LESLIE: I should have bought you a slow cooker for Christmas. Then you would have been able to make your food in any room in the house.

TOM: Yeah. Because I’ll be living off outlet cooking for a while, right?

LESLIE: I don’t know what to tell you, Tom. Every year, I hope that this is going to be the year that I move. And I just – I haven’t found the right house. It’s always a combination of – is it something I can afford with affordable taxes? But then, how much work needs to be done? How much is the work I can tackle myself? Can I live in it while I do the work?

TOM: Right.

LESLIE: So there’s so many different things that I have to sort of factor in in finding the right house for me and the boys. And nothing has fit the bill. And truly, when you are a single person trying to purchase a home in the area that I live in, it’s not an easy task.

TOM: Right. No.

LESLIE: I can’t tell you – I’ve been outbid twice and outbid by tons of money. I just can’t even complete.

TOM: Right.

LESLIE: So I hope that I can find something that will work for us this year, because I would really love a fresh start in a new house.

TOM: Well, I hope you do, too, because then we’re going to have a whole bunch of new projects to talk about.

LESLIE: So many projects.

TOM: 888-666-3974. We want to hear about your projects. Give us a call right now.

Who’s next?

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

KATHY: I have a problem with the squirrels chewing into my roof.


KATHY: And I was wondering, how can I – what can I repair this with and what can I put in there to keep them out?

TOM: Now, where are they chewing? Are they chewing through the trim or the soffits trying to get into the attic space? What’s the story?

KATHY: Well, they have gotten into the attic space.

TOM: The holes. Are you repairing those holes or what are you doing?

KATHY: No. I was calling you to see how you could help me, because I listen to your show all the time and you give such good advice.

TOM: Well, if they get into your attic, you can trap them and release them. You can use something called a Havahart trap. And this is a trap that is a wire cage with a trap door. And the way to bait it is to take an apple and put it in the far end of the cage and wire the apple to the cage; don’t just put it in there. But usually, I’ll take a hanger or a piece of picture-frame wire or something like that and I’ll thread it through the apple and wire it off so that it can’t bounce around.

And if they’re in the attic, they’ll come looking for that food. They’ll get trapped in there. Then you can pick the whole cage up and take it far away from your house and then release them. And believe me, as soon as you lift the door up, they’re out like a light.

LESLIE: They’re gone.

TOM: They just fly right out there and they’ll take off. They want nothing to do with you, so it’s completely safe.

Now, in terms of those holes, you have to repair them. Now, you can put – if it’s a small hole, you can put steel wool in it or something like that. But if it’s a bigger hole, you really should simply rebuild it or repair it, whatever it takes. So if it’s wood or if it’s vinyl or if it’s metal soffit material, you really just need to completely rebuild that.

And then, the other thing I’ll mention that seems to have been pretty effective over the years – and that is if you were to put moth balls down in your attic, that does seem to have a deterring effect on the squirrels, as well. So if you spread them …

LESLIE: Mm-hmm. It will, though – that odor does seep into the house, so don’t go crazy with it.

TOM: Yeah, right. You sprinkle them in there, yeah. Especially along the eaves.

KATHY: But is there anything else I can put up there to keep more from coming in?

TOM: Well, we want to identify the holes and get those fixed. It’s really an entry issue. You’ve got to basically close the door on them here. And so, if we can identify those holes and those entry points and seal them up, then you shouldn’t have a problem with squirrels. They don’t naturally live in the attic but they’re obviously finding a way into your house.

If you’re not quite sure where they’re getting in, you obviously can’t get in there – up there – to kind of look that closely, then work from the street level, walking around the outside of the house and looking up. Try to get a pair of binoculars or borrow one and see if you can spot the holes where they’re getting in. But that’s what has to be closed up.

KATHY: OK. Thank you so much. I’m so grateful.

TOM: You’re very welcome.

LESLIE: Well, as the days are getting darker, you might be interested to know about a new smart-home product that allows you to dim any type of light bulb, right from your phone. It’s called Caseta by Lutron and that’s just one of the many things that it can do.

TOM: Yeah. And the difference is it puts that smart-lighting control right at the switch, not at the bulb.

Now, think about it: that means you can control all the lights on that same switch, not just one bulb at a time. Which a lot of these smart-lighting products are like that: they just do one bulb at a time. But this is much better because you can do all of that – the entire lighting set – from the free Lutron app. So I like that.

LESLIE: Now, what Caseta does is it makes those lights come on night after night, exactly at dusk, even as the seasons change. So you don’t constantly have to go back in and reset the timer. It has a built-in sunset tracker and that’s going to adjust the schedule so that when you’re not home, those lights will still come on at dusk. And it’s never going to keep you in the dark.

TOM: That is very cool. It also integrates seamlessly with all the leading smart-home devices. And that makes it simple to expand the system over time. The Lutron Caseta Wireless Smart-Lighting Dimmer-Switch Starter Kit starts at $99. You can learn more at That’s

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

PETE: Well, I’ve got lime deposits in my toilets and I’ve got probably five toilets in my house that I’d like to get them out of it. They’re around the upper part of the rim, where the water comes out, and then down in the bowl.


PETE: And I’ve tried LIME-A-WAY and I tried a vinegar soak. Maybe I just didn’t do it long enough but I’d like to find a way to get those lime deposits out of there and get my toilets looking nice.

TOM: Have you tried CLR?

PETE: Yes, I have.

TOM: You have tried CLR and CLR didn’t do it either?

PETE: Didn’t do it, no.

TOM: Well, Pete, if the commercial cleaners like CLR and LIME-A-WAY are not working, there’s a couple other things that you can try but you have to be very careful. One of them is to use something that’s abrasive, like pumice or a rubbing compound. And you can try to abrade away the deposit.

Theoretically, these abrasives are softer than the porcelain but you have to do it very carefully. You don’t want to rough the surface of the porcelain because if you do, it’ll get dirtier that much quicker the next time around.

Some folks also use muriatic acid. I don’t like to recommend that because it’s pretty harsh stuff and you’ve got to be super, super careful when you use it.

PETE: Yeah.

TOM: But it is a possibility, as well.

And then, you know, the other thing that you can try is you did use vinegar but I don’t know if you mixed it with baking soda.

LESLIE: Yeah. Because that helps.

TOM: And that helps, as well. You kind of make it into a paste and let it stand for a while and then you rinse it.


TOM: So, there’s a couple of additional things that you can try.

I also found a great article online. Whenever you find an article from a university or an extension service, it’s usually pretty well-researched. And if you just Google “removing mineral deposits and North Carolina Cooperative,” you’ll find it. And it’s an extensive article that’s a little old but has a lot of great suggestions in it. And specifically, it has solutions for the different types of deposits that you get on these fixtures, whether it’s rust, iron, copper, what kinds of stain it is and so on.

PETE: That sounds great. Thanks so much. I really appreciate it.

LESLIE: Alright. Wishing you a very Happy New Year and thanks so much for calling The Money Pit.

Hey, are you ready to give your back a break and buy a snow blower? Well, with so many options, it can be kind of confusing. So, how do you know which one is the best one for you? We’re going to share some expert tips, next.

TOM: Making good homes better, this is The Money Pit Home Improvement Show where we make good homes better. I’m Tom Kraeutler.

LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

TOM: Pick up the phone, right now, and give us a call. We want to talk about your New Year resolution projects. It’s a project that you’ve thought about tackling this coming year. We’re here to help you get those jobs done, as well as any fix-ups that are going on, right now, in your home. The number, again, is 1-888-MONEY-PIT.

LESLIE: Well, when I was a kid, I was the snow thrower. But these days, shoveling snow is a chore that I’d rather avoid. My allowance doesn’t get any kind of boost for doing that job.

TOM: Well, I sympathize with you because my snow-shoveling staff is dwindling, because my kids are away at college. So I guess both of us could use a machine that can tackle the job quickly and without a ton of effort. But with so many mechanical snow-removal machines on the market, how do you begin to choose? To help us, we welcome Roger Cook, the landscaping contractor for This Old House.

Roger, welcome.

ROGER: Thank you. First of all, have you tried to hire a kid nowadays to shovel it?

LESLIE: You can’t find them.

ROGER: No. And they’re pricy.

LESLIE: They want like 50 bucks.

TOM: Exactly.

ROGER: Oh, man. I remember I got paid in candy bars one time.

TOM: Remember that? So…

LESLIE: I think I might still do it for candy but I’m just saying.

TOM: So, first, tell me what’s the difference between a snow thrower and a snow blower.

ROGER: Basically, it’s stages. A snow thrower is a single-stage machine that has a blade that’s turning very quickly that scoops the snow and throws it out the front of the machine.


ROGER: A snow blower is a two-stage machine where a blade turns slowly and feeds the snow into an impeller, which is moving very quickly, which sends the snow out of the machine.

TOM: OK. So I guess a snow blower is good for heavier snowfalls.

ROGER: Exactly.

TOM: Because you’re taking that snow and I guess probably more hard-packed snow and icy snow and grinding it up, essentially.

ROGER: Right. So that it’s being brought into the machine, grinded up and then pushed out very fast.

TOM: Now, there’s a third version of this called a “three-stage snow blower.”

ROGER: Yeah.

TOM: That’s sort of like both on steroids or what?

ROGER: Pretty much. If you have a double-wide driveway with a big snowplow mound at the end of it, this three-stage machine will throw it and they say up to 50 feet, so make sure you’re careful of the neighbors.

TOM: Right. Good point.

LESLIE: OK. Is there one that’s better for a different type of surface or perhaps an amount of area, depth of snow?

TOM: Depth.

ROGER: There is. Think about – we start from the least amount of snow up to the most.


ROGER: A snow thrower, the single-stage one, is good for maybe 8 to 10 inches of snow at the most, because the opening on those machines is not very big. And if snow gets higher than that, you can’t get the machine through. And it’s not great on heavy, wet snow and it’s not great on the end-of-the-driveway snowbank, that’s for sure.

LESLIE: Ugh. Those snow trucks that come in and – after you’ve done a beautiful job shoveling – fill it back in for you.

TOM: Exactly.

ROGER: They know just when you’re done and they come and …

TOM: Perfectly timed always, right?

LESLIE: With like icebergs that weigh 80,000 pounds.

ROGER: Right. But that’s where the two-stage one – the snow blower – comes into place. That actually feeds the auger with that heavy, wet snow and then throws it out. So it can chew up and eat much more denser, higher or even snowplow-packed snow.

LESLIE: But will that work on a low quantity of snow, as well, or do you have to have a combination of the two?

ROGER: It will. It’ll do a good job. But usually, when you have the least amount of snow, you want that thrower because it’s really quick and easy. The thing with the snow thrower is if you have a gravel driveway, it’ll dig down in and you’ll be sending stone everywhere and cleaning it up all spring long, so …


TOM: Now, besides the snow thrower and the two-stage machine – the snow blower – there’s also a three-stage snow blower. You’ve got to have a pretty serious storm for that.

ROGER: Yeah. You must live in Buffalo.

TOM: Yeah, exactly.

ROGER: And it’s just a big machine. I mean this thing is made to clean a double-wide driveway with a big plow blowup in the end and they say it’ll throw snow 50 feet. So, be careful of your neighbor’s house.

TOM: Wow.


TOM: Be careful what you ask for, right?

ROGER: Yeah.

TOM: Exactly. So I guess the question is: how do you choose between the options? It’s really down to the amount of snow you need to clear?

ROGER: Yes, it is. Just knowing what you’re going to have to do. We don’t want to be undersized but we don’t want to pay extra money and be oversized either. So let’s start with – we talked about the snow thrower. That’s good, maybe – like I said, 8 or 10 inches of white snow it’ll go through. But once it gets beyond that – and again, there’s going to be times where it’ll fit perfectly for the amount of snow you have but Mother Nature doesn’t always give you the same amount of snow and the same density.

LESLIE: No, she does not.

ROGER: So it’s better to oversize a little bit than it is to undersize.

TOM: Yeah. Bigger is always better.

ROGER: That’s what we say, don’t we?

LESLIE: Do you find that the way it’s fueled sort of impacts the power or the aggressiveness of the snow blower/thrower?

ROGER: They’re both gas-powered, for the most part. There are some electrical ones out there. For the most part, they’re gas-powered and the size of the gas engine – the snow thrower has a very small engine. The two-stage snow blower has a much bigger engine on.

LESLIE: Will you find electric options in both?

ROGER: You will, you will. I have a little – we call it a “power shovel.”

TOM: Power shovel? Right.

ROGER: Yeah. For the snow, you plug it in and you just go out on your deck and it takes care of 4 to 6 inches of snow like that.

TOM: Yeah. Really? Wow.

ROGER: It’s amazing. But once it gets over that, you’re lifting it up and then it gets really heavy and you can’t do anything with it. The same thing – again, even an electric snow blower will work fine in a small amount of snow.

LESLIE: So, Roger, if you want this snow blower or thrower to work when you really need it, what kind of maintenance do we have to do to keep it running?

ROGER: Well, you want to do the maintenance in the fall before the snow comes, not being out there during a snowstorm trying to get everything going again.

LESLIE: Mm-hmm. Right.

ROGER: Make sure you have a new spark plug or at least a clean spark plug in it. But the most important thing is the fuel. I like to bake and make up a batch of fuel, right before winter, that has stabilizer in it so that fuel will stay good all winter long. The worst thing you can do is put aged gas that’s not treated in the machine, because it won’t start.

LESLIE: Mm-hmm. And how long will the fuel last with stabilizer?

ROGER: Three to six months, depending on what you use.

LESLIE: Perfect.

ROGER: And then one other key thing to remember is that in the two-stage models – they have shear pins in the blades. So they turn and if they hit something, it’ll break the shear pin. So always have a few of those extra hanging around.

TOM: Let’s talk about safety. That’s going to be very, very important when you’re using a snow blower and probably a snow thrower, as well. But you’re got very powerful blades that are spinning with those machines.

ROGER: I still can’t believe every year how many people are injured by sticking their hands inside a snow thrower or a blower.

LESLIE: Oh, this blade is stuck. Let me free it with my hands.

ROGER: Yeah. Not a good idea. Never ever put your hand inside of the machine. All of the machines nowadays come with a small plastic shovel. Or you can take a piece of wood or something. If it does get clogged, shut it off, go in there with a tool or the wooden stick, get that loosened material, get it out and then start it up and make sure it’s cleared again. Do not ever put your hand inside a machine.

TOM: Good advice. Roger Cook from TV’s This Old House with tips on how to pick the perfect snow blower or thrower for your house.

ROGER: Hey, have a lot of fun in the snow. I’m going to Florida.

TOM: We will.

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

TOM: And This Old House is brought to you on PBS by State Farm.

Just ahead, we’ve got some tips on how to prevent snow and ice damage, including our recipe to stop slippery sidewalks from forming without destroying the concrete in the process. That’s all coming up, 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: What are you working on? Well, today, probably not so much since it’s the New Year’s weekend, basically. But if you’re thinking about a project for the year ahead, this is your chance to get through, on the phones, at 1-888-MONEY-PIT because everybody’s busy this weekend. So there’s plenty of room for you to get through to those lines at 888-666-3974.

Give us a call, right now, with your how-to question, your DIY dilemma. Is it a project you can do yourself? Do you need to get a contractor? How do you find a good contractor? How do I build a deck? How do I improve my patio? I’ve got a tough spot I’m trying to paint. You know, anything that’s going on in your house that’s a project that you want to get done to make it beautiful, to make it comfortable, to make it energy-efficient, we’d love to hear from you. The number is 1-888-MONEY-PIT.

LESLIE: Keith in New York, you’ve got The Money Pit. How can we help you today?

KEITH: What I have is I have an oil-fired boiler system. Does hot-water baseboard heating and also heats my hot water. And I have a well. And my question is whether I can actually divert water off of the well system, from the boiler, and put in an electric hot-water heater system, because oil is so expensive now.

TOM: So you want to stop heating your domestic hot water in the boiler and instead heat it via an electric water heater?

KEITH: Yes, whether it’s just a regular hot-water heater or an instant-hot. And that doesn’t concern me but I want to try using a little less oil.

TOM: You absolutely can do that. And when it comes to choosing the right electric water heater, you want to make sure that you’re choosing one that’s as energy-efficient as possible. And they do have some electric water heaters that are heat-pump water heaters today. And they use a fraction of the electricity that the traditional tank water heaters use but they’re more expensive.

If you get a good-quality, heat-pump water heater, you’ll be very happy because that water will be far less expensive than what you’re – what it’s costing you now to run the boiler with the oil. I understand what you’re saying: it’s a very inefficient way to heat your house.

Now, the other thing that you can do is – do you have a storage tank on that boiler?

KEITH: I have a pressurized storage tank that serves the domestic water. I don’t know if that’s …

TOM: Right. Is it – look big? Is it like 30, 40 gallons?

KEITH: It’s 40 gallons, yes.

TOM: It’s oil-fired?

KEITH: It’s oil-fired, yes. Comes directly off the boiler.

TOM: Oh, OK. Yeah. When you say directly off the boiler, it’s separate from the boiler or it’s – the hot water is heated through the boiler?

KEITH: No, it’s separate from the boiler.

TOM: Oh, OK. Yeah, alright. So, yeah, then my original answer applies. You can replace that with an electric water heater: either a standard one or a heat-pump unit. If you can’t afford the heat-pump unit and you’re going to use the standard electric water heater, make sure you put it on a timer because you don’t need to run it 24-7. You could set it to go off in the middle of the night.

KEITH: Oh, OK. Yeah, that’s – yeah, that’d be very good.


KEITH: Yeah, I appreciate that. Thank you very much.

TOM: Well, you know, if you get a bad storm, you’ve got to stay on top of the snow removal. The longer you wait, the heavier it gets. And your sidewalks are not going to be safe and you’re going to get ice. So the key is to shovel those walkways and driveways right after it happens. Because the longer you wait, the heavier it does get.

LESLIE: That’s right. So after shoveling, you should also apply salt to melt any ice on the walkways and the steps. But you’ve got to choose the right salt. That’s really important, guys, because the wrong salt can cause a whole bunch of damage.

Now, traditional rock salt is going to work but as I said, it’s corrosive because of what it’s made out of. And that’s going to leave your concrete pitted and worn. And truly, while that salt is going to work great, it’s just going to make that concrete look terrible.

TOM: Yeah. And it’s funny because we will get the calls from all of you folks that did use rock salt, in about two months.

LESLIE: In two months.

TOM: It happens every year. Every year we get calls about how to fix this. It’s better to avoid it.

So, the product you do want to use is calcium chloride. Now, it’s far less corrosive. It’s not going to harm your sidewalks or your indoor floors when it’s tracked into the house. It’s really the best approach.

Now, here’s a recipe that we use at our house. You want to mix a bag of that calcium chloride with sand – playground sand – the kind you buy at the home center. And then keep it in a container near your front door. I do that at both the front and the back door. I have some of those 5-gallon buckets and I mix it up sort of 5 gallons at a time. Just keep turning it and it works great. So convenient to have it there. And this way, the sand gives you a little traction on the ice while the calcium chloride melts it. And it does not destroy your sidewalks in the process, so …

LESLIE: Yeah. And it expands the amount of salt that you have for the entire season, by mixing it with the sand.

TOM: It does. Yeah.

LESLIE: So it’s so smart.

TOM: Now, you’ve got to read the bags, right? Because it comes from a lot of manufacturers. But you’re looking for calcium chloride. That’s the best way to go.

LESLIE: Linda in Rhode Island, you’ve got The Money Pit. How can we help you today?

LINDA: Yes. This is an old house and in the basement – on the wall, which was fieldstone – in the past, they had painted it with “whitewash” or – that’s what it was called back then. And no matter what kind of paint I’ve applied, it flakes off.

TOM: Hmm. Yeah, because it’s damp and wet, that’s why. Yeah. You can’t just – if you put any kind of regular paint on that, it’s going to do that. You have to use a basement wall paint. It’s a lot stickier and it can handle the dampness of that wall.

Now, you could also take steps to reduce the dampness by improving your drainage outside. But if you put typical wall paint on the stone, it is going to flake off because water and paint don’t go well together. And those stones are like little sponges and the paint’s just going to peel right off of it.

So, what you want to use is a basement wall paint. And it’s really smelly but it’s really sticky.

LINDA: Right.

TOM: And it’s …

LESLIE: Mm-hmm. It’s going to stick to where you need it.

TOM: It will last a lot longer. Does that make sense, Linda?

LINDA: Oh, it certainly does.

LESLIE: Just ahead, we’re going to solve a mystery for one of our followers. Andrew is seeing mysterious black stripes on his ceiling and wants to know what the heck is going on. We’re going to have that answer and more, after this.

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

LESLIE: And I’m Leslie Segrete.

TOM: So, we’ve got some questions here from our listeners. And was it Tyler?

LESLIE: Yeah, Tyler in Oregon. He’s up. Now, Tyler writes: “I have a very, very large tree between my house and my detached garage. So large that cutting it down does not seem like an option without damaging one of the structures. What is the best way to safely remove this tree?”

Piece by piece?

TOM: Well, yeah – no, you’re absolutely right. It is, in fact, piece by piece, Leslie, because you can’t do this kind of job yourself. Because you literally have to disassemble the tree from the top down. That can only be done by a tree service with the appropriate equipment, which includes a bucket truck and a crane.

I’ve seen this done. I’ve had large trees near buildings and it’s amazing to watch these guys work, because they pretty much will hold onto one of the branches with the crane. Then the tradesman gets up there with a chainsaw, cuts it off. It gently disconnects. They swing it out of the way. They can swing it up and over buildings, they can swing it over power lines. They drop it down to the street and then they grind it up and put it on a truck and take it away. So, this is not, Tyler, a job that you should do yourself.

And while they’re there, I would opt for them to grind out the stump. Now, you can get rid of a stump on your own – that’s usually sort of an additional charge – but it takes a long, long time. There’s several methods to do it. We’ve got a great article about how to do it, on But essentially, you have to drill it out, you have to treat it with one of a number of different over-the-counter products or you can use salt, because it promotes degradation. But it takes over a year for the thing to completely rot out, maybe even …

LESLIE: If not more.

TOM: If not longer, right. So, I would definitely – you’re going to have the guys out there with the equipment. I’d definitely have them grind it out at the same time and then you’ll be good to go. And believe me, it will happen in a very short period of time. We’re talking hours if it’s a big tree.

LESLIE: It’s amazing. And Tyler, this is the kind of case where you really need to find the right pro for the job, so definitely do your research, interview a couple of different vendors. Make sure you check their references, because you want to make sure you’ve got somebody that’s going to do a fantastic job and do it correctly. So, don’t go for the cheapest bid; find the right person for you.

Alright. Next up, we’ve got a post here from Andrew in Buffalo. Now, Andrew writes: “In the last few years, my 12-year-old house has developed dark areas where the sheetrock was screwed to the trusses. This is only at the outer edges where the ceiling meets the wall. I assume this has to do with the cold winters. Should I be worried and should I seal the spots and then paint?”

TOM: You’re correct that it has to do with the cold winters. You should not be worried and yes, you should seal the spots with paint. But essentially, what’s happening is you have identified correctly that this is the cold area of the house. And because heat rises, as the heat in your house rises it carries up with it any dust or dirt that’s in the air. And over time, that dirty air, so to speak, is going to sort of wash against that cold spot, which is where the framing sits on the outside wall. It’s a very hard place to insulate, right? And because of that continual convection, that continual washing of the dirty air up to that spot, you get the dark deposits.

You often see this behind radiators, too, because of the same reason. That convective loop pulls that hot air up and moves that air against the wall. And wherever it’s cold, it tends to kind of stick and it gets a little bit dirty.

So, nothing to worry about. You can clean it, prime it, paint it and you will be good to go.

LESLIE: Now, Andrew, don’t worry. This doesn’t mean that you keep a messy house. It’s just, truly, what goes on in every single house. It just happens to be the way the airflow is in your house. But that said, if you put a better filter into the HVAC system in your home, you’ll probably see far less of this occurring in the future.

Easy fix. Go for the best-quality filter you can.

TOM: You are listening to The Money Pit Home Improvement Show. Hey, thank you so much for spending part of your day with us. We hope that we’ve given you some ideas, some inspiration for projects that you’re going to want to tackle in the year ahead. We’re here to guide you, coach you, encourage you and hopefully keep you out of DIY trouble.

Remember, you can reach out to us at 888-MONEY-PIT, 24/7, or post your questions to The Money Pit’s website at

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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