In this episode…

As you start to spend more time outside, it’s a good time make sure your yard is pet-friendly and safe. We’ll share tips on the must have elements to keep your pets happy, plus the surprisingly common plants to avoid because they can make your dog sick!   just ahead. Plus, ideas on…

How to build a greenhouse to help you get a jump on Spring gardening and assure a steady supply of veggies until Fall.  We’ll share some DIY options that you can set up in as little as a couple hours.
Adding a backyard deck is a great way to increase your home’s living space and increase its value.  We’ll help you get started with a check list to help you plan the perfect project. If your Spring cleaning includes dirty tile grout, we’ll share secrets to getting back brighter than ever. Plus, answers to your home improvement questions about, electrical fixture replacement, bathroom mold elimination, energy audits, microwave replacement, caulking windows
Do you have a home improvement or decor question? Call the show 24/7 at 888-MONEY-PIT (888-666-3974) or post your question here.
!doctype> Read Transcript
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: And we are so glad to be here with you to talk about home improvement, home remodeling, décor. Whether you’re a do-it-yourselfer or a direct-it-yourselfer, we’re going to make sure you get the job done right the first time and otherwise you become a do-it-to-yourselfer, which is not good. But give us a call, right now, with questions about your projects because that’s why we are here. We are your home improvement – personal home improvement experts, we’re your home improvement coach. The number is 1-888-MONEY-PIT, 888-666-3974.

Coming up on today’s broadcast, after a long, cold winter you are not the only one who is ready for spring. As we start to all enjoy more time outside, it is a very good time to make sure that your yard is pet-friendly and safe. There are a surprising number of hazards that you need to know about and to avoid. We’re going to share those tips, just ahead.

LESLIE: Plus, having a greenhouse is going to help you get a jump start on your spring gardening and it’ll also assure you’ve got a steady supply of veggies until the fall season. We’re going to share some do-it-yourself options that you can set up in as little as a couple of hours.

TOM: And adding a backyard deck is a great way to increase your home’s living space and increase its value. We’re going to help you get started with a checklist to make sure you can plan the perfect project.

LESLIE: But first, we want to know what you are working on. What’s going on at your money pit this weekend? Are you thinking about a project and maybe don’t know where to start or not sure what your skill set is capable of tackling? Whatever it is, give us a call. We’re here to lend a hand at 888-MONEY-PIT.

TOM: 888-666-3974.

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

GWEN: Well, we’re working on a kitchen remodel and I’m looking at sinks. Right now, we have a stainless-steel sink that has three compartments in it. And it just doesn’t seem to hold the water hot for very long. And I was wondering, are different things more insulated or how could we insulate a sink?

TOM: Well, sinks are generally not insulated.

GWEN: Right.

TOM: What should be insulated is the wall behind the sink. And if the wall behind the sink is not insulated, then the cabinet gets that much colder and then, of course, the water doesn’t stay warm in the sink very long. It’s an interesting question, though, Gwen and I’m thinking about how could you possibly insulate a sink.

I mean one idea comes to mind is to spray the whole thing with expandable foam insulation, because it would be under the cabinet. And once you got it done – it would be kind of a messy job but once it was done, you’d be finished. Except that you would want to make sure you keep it away from all the plumbing connections because, eventually, you’re going to want to replace the faucet and you don’t want to have to cut through all that mess, you know. Or you could just wrap it with some other type of insulation: one that’s perhaps encapsulated, like a batt insulation.

But I’ve never actually had anyone ask me how to try to keep a sink warmer but I see why it’s important to you. Because it would make sense, as you’re doing the dishes, to try to keep that water as warm as possible. But I would first want you to concentrate in making sure the wall underneath there is properly insulated.

GWEN: That makes sense. So when we pull it all out and – we’ll double-check to make sure that wall has good insulation.

TOM: Yeah, that might be part of your problem. And if you get it warmed up – insulated and warmed up ­– you may not have to deal with trying to insulate a sink.

GWEN: OK. Well, great. Thank you.

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

LESLIE: Alright. Now we’re going to help Bud in Oregon avoid a hair-raising electrical situation.

What’s going on, Bud?

BUD: I’ve got 3 banks of the 2 bulbs each, 4-foot-long mounted up in the ceiling, built into a box directly over my cooktop. And during the summertime, when the humidity is higher, if I get any moisture up there it can take sometimes days before those lights will come on reliably on the first flip of the switch.

Now, in the winter, when I’m burning a wood stove, which means I’ve got lower humidity inside the house, if I’m cooking on the cooktop and don’t turn the lights on before, I get the same problem. Except as soon as the moisture stops going up there and I’ve got 10, 15 minutes, then the lights will start coming back on regularly and be reliable again.

So, what I need to know from you, if you’ve got some suggestions, is before I get up there and start looking for how to do something, I want to know what I need to have in stock. Is there something – a lubricant, a cleanser or whatever – to do something with contacts or got any suggestions?

TOM: I would give up on those fixtures.

BUD: Yeah, I would, too. I think you’re right.

TOM: I would just give up on them. They don’t sound safe to me. I’m not quite sure what exactly is going wrong with them but they certainly shouldn’t be behaving that way. And I would worry about them getting worse and potentially causing a fire.

The cost of a 4-foot, dual-bulb fluorescent fixture is not very much today. And so I would simply take this on as a project and replace each and every one of them. I wouldn’t try to change the ballast out, I wouldn’t try to clean it, I wouldn’t try to do anything like that. I would just replace them. It’s just not worth it.

BUD: It’s not what I wanted to hear but it’s a good thing and it’s probably cheaper in the long run to spend the $8, $10 per what you – put up 3 brand-new ones.

TOM: Exactly.

BUD: OK. I’ll just look for a good time when I can do it without breaking my neck.

TOM: That’s always important. Bud, thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.

LESLIE: Frieda from Ohio is on the line with The Money Pit. How can we help you today?

FRIEDA: Hi. My Amana Radarange microwave, it’s mounted above my stove. And on the bottom, the down light that shines down onto the stove, the light bulbs in that keep burning out. And I have to replace them about once a month and they’re getting expensive.

TOM: What kind of light bulb are you using? Just a regular incandescent?

FRIEDA: It’s like the R11, the little appliance bulbs? Forty watt?

TOM: And is this a fairly new problem, this once-a-month burnout or has it been going on for a long, long time?

FRIEDA: It’s getting worse. We’ve had the microwave in here – it’s probably about 16 years old or – give or take.

TOM: Yeah, that doesn’t really owe you any money. That’s pretty old for a microwave appliance. You’ve pretty much reached the end of a normal life cycle. In fact, I’m kind of surprised it lasted that long, because it’s been my experience that the microwave ovens that are mounted above ranges don’t last nearly as long as a countertop microwave. Because the additional heat from all that cooking has the effect of sort of wearing on those components.

Typically, when you get a bulb that burns out quickly, it’s either because you have a loose connection, you have a loose ground or you have a problem with the voltage that’s going in there.

Sometimes, depending on what’s happening with the power company, you could be getting, say, more than 120 volts. You might be getting 125 or 130 volts, sometimes, because there could be something that is bad down the line with the power supply – the quality of the power supply. So if you have extra volts going into those lights, that is one of the first things that tends to show it. It’s kind of like the canary in the coal mine. When the lights start to go – burn out frequently – like that, it could be an issue with the voltage.

So, have you been thinking about a new microwave?

FRIEDA: Not really.

TOM: What I would suggest is at this point, you really need to have the voltage tested. So I would call the utility company and ask them to meter the voltage going into your house and see if it’s – let’s eliminate that as a possibility.

If that is OK, I would – the second thing I would check is the plug that it’s actually plugged into. I’d check the outlet to make sure it’s properly grounded. And if it’s properly grounded, then I think you’ve exhausted the two things that are the easiest to fix and at that point, you might want to think about replacing the microwave.

FRIEDA: Alright. That sounds good.

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

LESLIE: Jim in Illinois is on the line with some drafty windows. Tell us about your money pit.

JIM: Well, I have an historic, old home. It’s over 100 years old.


JIM: And it has all of the original windows and glass in it.

TOM: Alright.

JIM: And they are, needless to say, very drafty. So I was trying to figure out a way that was fairly cost-effective closing up those drafts.

TOM: So if you want to keep the original windows, then you essentially have to work with what you have. So, adding weather-stripping is really the limit of what you can do with those.

I will say that if you’ve got one that’s really drafty, in a room that maybe you don’t need to open the window, there is a product that’s called “temporary caulk” or “weather-stripping caulk.” It’s basically a caulk that’s designed to go on clear and then in the spring, you can peel it off. It comes off sort of in a rubbery strip. So, that’s also an effective way to seal a window that you’re not going to open. But remember, you’re kind of sealing it shut, so you’ve got to be careful not to do that in a bedroom or a place where you need to have emergency egress.

Now, if you want to replace the window, you could look at different manufacturers that make very historic windows. Marvin, for example, is very good at this. Andersen is good at it, as well. They make windows that fit well into a historic building. Then, of course, you’ve got all the modern conveniences that are associated with that.

I think that you would find, obviously, huge energy differences, not only in the drafts but also in the solar heat gain in the summer. Because I’m sure there’s nothing stopping all of that heat of the sun from getting into those windows. And if you have new glass that’s got a low-E coating, it’s going to reflect that heat back out.

So, weather-stripping – liquid weather-stripping or temporary caulk – or window replacement. Those would be your options.

JIM: OK. Thank you very much.

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

LESLIE: Well, after a long, cold winter, you aren’t the only one who’s ready for spring. As we start spending more time outside, it’s a good time to make sure that your yard is pet-friendly and safe. Here’s a few things you should be considering.

TOM: Now, first step, you want to sort of map out a dog-friendly backyard. We’re talking about soft foliage, sturdy turf grass, smooth stones and dog toys. These kinds of things can make your pet feel very, very comfortable. And you want to add a water station so your pet can hydrate after some playtime and even a fun water feature that might help your pooch cool off when it’s hot.

LESLIE: I mean this sounds like a luxury backyard for these puppers, so also think about planning for fun. You know, you can set up an area for your dog to dig. Maybe it’s a digging box or a digging bed. Add some chew toys in the dirt, maybe leave one even poking out to help your dog get the idea that they can dig in that area. I know my dog will dig a hole pretty much anywhere he’s allowed or not stopped.

TOM: Or not stopped from.

LESLIE: So, seriously, this is a great thing to have in the yard because it encourages them to still have that behavior but in an area that you’re saying it’s OK to do so. Now, if you’ve got the space, I say go for it.

TOM: Now, let’s talk about some things you need to be careful to avoid: toxic plants. There are many that can be harmful to your pet. So dogs actually will not naturally avoid these plants, which makes it even more important that you avoid them for them. A few of them that we’re talking about are carnations, chrysanthemums, daffodils, hostas. Even ivy or lilies or morning glories and tomatoes and tulips are also bad for dogs.

LESLIE: That’s interesting, because a lot of those plants I wouldn’t have thought would be hazardous. So make sure you’re checking what you’re putting in the yard and that it is OK, just in case your animal does ingest it.

You’ve also got to look for some hazards and then eliminate them. Paved or sandy surfaces might get too hot for your pet to walk on comfortably. And tiny pebbles, thorns or even gravel can get caught in between the pads on their paws. So you want to ensure that your pet’s main play area includes grass.

Double check your fence, make sure that it’s solid, including the gate. A lot of dogs are going to patrol the edges of the yard and make paths near those fence lines, so make sure that everything is secure around the perimeter.

TOM: Yeah. And don’t forget to set up some chill-out space. We’re talking about shade; your dog is going to need that to relax after a hard day of play. We’re talking about trees or bushes that provide shade for your pet or a doghouse. Great place for your four-footed friend, perhaps, to take an afternoon snooze. But just think through these things as you start to work on your yard this spring, to make sure that both you and your pet enjoy the outdoor spaces.

LESLIE: Rob from Utah is on the line who’s looking to save some green by going green and needs some help with an energy audit.

How are you doing today, Rob?

ROB: We are interested in getting a home energy audit and mostly trying to figure out what to expect. Like how much should it cost?

TOM: Well, that’s a great question. Now, have you looked around for audit providers?

ROB: I haven’t really reached out to people yet but tried to get in a little bit. But no, not really.

TOM: OK. So I would start with your local utility company. Because sometimes, they provide home energy audits themselves or will provide those at a discount. What I would like to see you find is someone that’s not tied in with a repair operation, so you get somebody that’s truly independent. There are some energy auditors that work for the same companies that offer insulation services and weather-stripping and that sort of thing. And what you really want to do is find someone who’s completely independent.

The scale of the energy audit can vary dramatically. A couple of things that I would look for – one thing that is really good to get is what’s called a “blower door test.” And this is where they take a device and pressurize your house with air or depressurize it and can measure the amount of leakage your house has. And that can help you pinpoint the worst offenders and teach you how to get those sealed up.

Other parts of an energy audit would determine how energy-efficient your windows are, how much insulation you have in your attic space. Does it match with the right kind of ventilation? How efficient are your appliances? You know, it really looks at all of those areas.

And then it should boil down to a specific list of recommendations that are prioritized. Because I think a lot of times when we try to make our homes more efficient, we guess. We guess at where we’re suffering the most, whether it’s new windows or insulation or whatever we think we need or a salesperson tries to sell you. It ends up being a guess. But an energy audit really can nail that down with some cold, hard facts and help you prioritize where to put the money.

ROB: OK. Great. Thank you very much.

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

LESLIE: Heading out to Wyoming to talk to Mike about a flooring project.

What are you working on, Mike?

MIKE: My house is probably 55 years old or so and I’ve got an attached garage. And it’s got a concrete floor in it at present and I’m wanting to make it into a workshop. So I – the floor that’s in it is – concrete’s broke up. It looks like people have tried to patch over the top of it. And I was just wondering about putting a subfloor over the top of that, if I needed to do anything with that concrete or what I should use for a subfloor material.

TOM: So, basically, you just kind of want to cover that concrete surface so you have something that’s more comfortable there?

MIKE: Yes, correct. Something I can sweep easily and it’s level.

TOM: Is the concrete just cracked? Is it actually broken into chunks or does it just have cracks going through it?

MIKE: Well, neither, really. It’s real wavy. I have a son that did concrete for a living for a while and he said he’s never seen anything like it. Don’t even know how they accomplished it.

TOM: Oh, so it’s sort of deformed, huh?

MIKE: Yeah, it’s got low spots in it and ridges.

TOM: How big is this floor?

MIKE: It’s probably 20×8. It’s not very big.

TOM: OK. Would you consider replacing it with a new concrete floor?

MIKE: No. No, I don’t want to go to that expense.

TOM: Yeah. Because my concern is that whatever you put on it is going to follow the curve of the old floor.

LESLIE: Yeah, unless he builds out sort of like a framed floor to sit on top that has angled bottoms.

TOM: Yeah. Even if he does that, it’s going to be really hard to customize that and get – yeah, what Leslie is suggesting is that if you put, say, furring strips down on the concrete floor and you adjust the height of them to compensate for the curves and that sort of thing – that’s going to be a bit of a challenge for you to do that.

MIKE: Yeah.

TOM: Could you live with the curving if we could give you a surface that’s easy to sweep?

MIKE: Sure, certainly. That’s basically what I’m looking for.

TOM: Well, I’m going to try to give you the easiest thing to do here and I think that if you were to use a very good-quality epoxy floor paint, I think you’ll get the surface that’s very easy to clean.

Now, the way epoxy floor paint works is when you buy it, it’s in a gallon container but it’s only filled up to be about ¾-gallon of material. And then there’s usually a hardener that makes up the other quart.

You mix them together after the floor is thoroughly cleaned and you apply the paint to the floor. You work it, say, from the back out. Usually, there’s some sort of a decorative chip that you can add to it, which gives it some ability to kind of hide dirt and that sort of thing. And you work your way out of the garage with that. Then after that dries good and hard, you can add a clear finish on top of that. And it actually looks quite attractive and is very easy to clean when it’s done.

That’s the best way to get a very quick finish on that floor that’s going to look good and be easy to take care of. Because even if you were to cover it and build it up with, say, a false wood floor, that’s still going to be hard for you to sweep. As long as the concrete is not cracked and unsafe where the sections are lifted up, I’d just tell you to paint it and forget it and move on.

MIKE: I’ll certainly look into it. That sounds like the best option for me, at this point.

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

So Leslie, you got any spring projects planned for the Casa Segrete?

LESLIE: I’m really thinking of doing the big renovation this year.

TOM: Yeah?

LESLIE: I’m going to revisit all of our architectural drawings. I’m going to see if anything needs to be updated. I’m going to get on the list with the village for review to make sure I can get the variance. I feel like this is the time. And while I’ve been so chicken about moving for so long, I feel like it’s better to stay with what I know, taxes that I’m comfortable with, payments that I’m aware of rather than making the big move and sort of being unsure with things.

TOM: Yep.

LESLIE: So I think this is going to be the year I do it. And I doubt by Christmas but maybe by next summer I’ll have that extra bath and a little bit more room?

TOM: And that is very realistic. You know, a lot of folks dig into these projects and they think they’re going to be done in three weeks but not going to happen. So as long as you set an ample time for that and you’re willing to work through it, go for it.

LESLIE: Yeah, I’m excited.

TOM: Well, if you love fresh vegetables and a good salad but you can’t always find what you need in the grocery store, growing your own in a greenhouse is an awesome option. Now, typically, any vegetable that can thrive outside can also be grown much earlier in a greenhouse.

LESLIE: When it comes to gardening, especially veggies, it all comes down to timing. So if you tend to grow late spring and early summer veggies, you’ve got to start them earlier in a heated greenhouse so you can have things like tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers. Those are the things that you want in those summer salads. But you’ve got to remember you’ve got to plan for those much earlier.

Now, if you’re looking for some year-round freshness, you can grow veggies like onions, garlic, lettuce, salad greens, peas, a couple of different varieties of beans. And you can even extend the season of late-fall veggies, like cabbages, without having to worry about the dropping temperatures killing them off. I mean these are all the benefits of a greenhouse.

TOM: Growing veggies in a greenhouse is a really fun project that can deliver a lot of great treats all year long.

Now, you can buy your own greenhouse. I was surfing on Amazon for a post that we did about greenhouses, which is on, and I was amazed. There are so many different sizes available. They’re not expensive. Even one that’s like a cute, little house when it’s all put together was under a couple hundred bucks. But you can buy a polytunnel greenhouse, which is the kind that’s sort of the half-circle tube on the ground. You can buy those for $20, $30 and up. There are some really cool racks that have shelves and then the greenhouse goes over the shelves.

So many options in prefab out there right now. Or of course, if you really want to be ambitious, you could build your own but you can get started very quickly inside as little as a couple of hours.

For all the details you can check out our post, “Grow Fresh Veggies All Year Long.” It’s online, right now, at

LESLIE: Ann in North Dakota, you’re on The Money Pit. How can we help you?

ANN: I am living in a house that is over 100 years old and it has an open staircase. The problem is is that there is a bedroom that is above the staircase and adjoins it at the top. And part of that bedroom is cantilevered partially and then totally over the open staircase. And I have a big crack that’s developing on an open area. And that area is cantilevered out about 6 feet from a load-supporting wall.

And I don’t know if I can just patch it or if I need to put a support beam or jack or something underneath it, because this area is getting pretty worrisome. I’ve got two cracks that are about 3/8-inch and pretty long.

TOM: So, Ann, are these new cracks or has it always been cracked?

ANN: It’s always been cracked but it’s been a hairline for many years.

TOM: Oh, boy.

ANN: And then we had a massive flood.

TOM: How long ago was the flood?

ANN: That was in ‘97. And then the ground has been shifting ever since. Since that flood, the cracks have gotten bigger. That was in ‘97.

TOM: When we have cracks in walls and foundations and things like that, we always like to determine if they’re active or inactive because, frankly, all homes have cracks. If you tell me that over the last 20 or so years that this crack has opened from a hairline to 3/8-inch, it might be active. I’m not actually convinced of that yet but I am concerned enough to tell you that you probably should have it looked at by an expert.

What I’d like you to do is go to the website for the American Society of Home Inspectors; that’s ASHI – A-S-H-I – .com. And find a home inspector in your area – there’s a zip-code sorting tool there – that’s a member of ASHI. And talk to two or three of them and find one that specializes in structural issues like this and have them look at it. And see if we can determine, based on that inspection, whether or not this is an active, ongoing situation or just a crack in an old, plaster wall that needs to be fixed.

It’s not unusual for old homes to have lots of cracks in them and especially around a staircase, because just the way homes were framed back then is different than they would be today. And so, that’s not an uncommon area for cracks to develop. But I think we need to determine – for your own sort of sanity, if nothing else – whether or not this is active and ongoing or something that’s really just historical. Does that make sense?

ANN: It sure does.

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

LESLIE: Well, adding a backyard deck is a great way to increase your home’s living space and increase its value. And now’s the perfect time to plan and build your new deck so that you’re all set to begin when the summer kicks in.

TOM: Yup. And the first thing to consider is whether you’re going to do this yourself or hire a pro. Keep in mind that if you do tackle the job yourself – it’s a very fun project, by the way – your labor costs will be nil. But if you’re not experienced and you make some mistakes, it could actually cost you a lot more at the end. If you do go with a pro, it’s going to drive costs up but the deck’s going to get built faster. And it’s also more likely to be built in a safe and very sturdy manner.

LESLIE: Now, the next step, when it comes time to actually think about the deck, is to plan your deck and that’s really the big step here. You’ve got to plan your work and work your plan. So the time you spend now planning the process is really going to be time well spent. You’ve got to seek out deck-design plans. You can look online; there’s a ton available.

You can also just get inspiration by looking at summer catalogues, Pinterest. Just search online “outdoor escapes” and you’ll find a ton of different places and different decks that could inspire you for what yours is going to look like.

Now, you’ve got to think about the layout of the deck, so you want to consider traffic flow, convenience. Most people like the deck to be just outside of the kitchen. I mean that’s kind of obvious, so you’re going to be in and out a lot. Chances are you’re serving food, drinks. You have to have access to your kitchen to get that stuff outside and that’s really great. Now, if you’re going to build a wraparound deck, try to have the door to the deck just off of the kitchen, which is going to make all of that food service a lot easier.

Now, you also want to make sure that you include space on that deck for dining. You want to have a table with chairs and that’s not in between you and the pathway from the kitchen or the pathway to the grill. You’ve got to make sure that you’ve got a good area, walking space, a good flow. You don’t want to trap yourself.

And don’t forget to consider options like, perhaps, a built-in bench, maybe even built-in planters. Lighting, super important. Think about that now while you’re on the planning and design process so you can build that in. It’s all going to make it easier to use, easier to entertain and much more comfortable.

TOM: Now, as you are planning, here’s a little trick of the trade that will help you really feel what that space is going to be like. Lay it out on the dirt, right where the deck’s going to go. But you can use rope. Maybe not string but rope. You want to see it so that you lay out the perimeter of that deck exactly as the shape will be. This way, you can put some chairs on it, you can walk from the door to where you think the grill’s going to be and sort of make sure it feels right.

A lot of the times folks have difficulty imaging what something’s going to be like on paper, so why just do it on paper? Once it’s on paper, you can transfer it right to the ground and have a good idea kind of what that space is going to be like and how things are going to fit.

And the next thing you want to think about here, though, is deck materials. Pretty much two options. You can go with a wooden deck, which is pressure treated. It’ll be least expensive but requires the most upkeep. Or you can use one of the many versions of composite decking or vinyl decking. Usually requires very, very little upkeep but a lot more expensive. So, I’d make that choice based on maybe how long I think I was going to be in the house. If it’s a really long time, I’d probably go with the composites. But if it’s a short-term house for myself, I’m not going to get the ROI when I sell it, so I would go with pressure-treated.

LESLIE: Yeah. Lastly, guys, permits. And I shouldn’t say lastly, because this is kind of important. A lot of cities and towns make it that you have to have a permit if you’re planning on adding a deck to your house. And although it seems like a hassle, there’s a lot of good reasons for the permitting laws, so make sure that you check into whether you need one or not.

TOM: Good point. This is The Money Pit Home Improvement Show. Give us a call right now. If you are planning an outdoor project – a deck, a patio – anything inside your house – a new kitchen, new bathroom, updating the basement – replacing your roof, we are ready to help. The number is 1-888-MONEY-PIT or post your questions online at

LESLIE: Karen in Pennsylvania is dealing with some mold in the basement. Tell us what’s going on.

KAREN: My mom has a house that the basement is – we put it up for sale and nobody noticed this. And one person came in and tore wallpaper off the wall and we noticed that it had mold from the floor to the ceiling and even in the inner walls. So I had a gentleman come and look at it and he said it would take $30,000-plus. And he would come in, remove all the interior walls – all the wood, the paneling, everything off the wall – down to the bare. He would have a chemical put on, clean it and then it would never come back.

And then the second guy came in and he said he would rip everything out, as he said. He would coat it, clean it and guarantee it that if it did come back, he’d fix it for $10,000.

TOM: Yeah, I don’t think you need either of these guys. You don’t have enough information yet and I don’t think you’re talking to the right people. I doubt either of them are professional mold mitigators. It sounds to me like they’re just trying to size you up for as much money as they can get from you.

The first thing you want to do is test the mold to figure out what kind of mold it is. And that’s done – there’s a couple of easy ways to do that. Basically, you take a sample and you send it out to a lab and they tell you what you’ve got. And then you can kind of design a mitigation plan around that.

I need to get a sense as to how much mold is there. But if it’s just a little bit of mold behind the wallpaper, you may not need to pull all this out; you might be able to treat it right in place. But it doesn’t sound right.

KAREN: Where the bathroom is has an inner wall. And that is halfway down with mold.

TOM: OK. How much mold are we talking about here, square footage-wise? Is it like a 4×4-foot by 4-foot space or …?

KAREN: We’re going to say all the outer walls. Because we’ve since went around and pulled off some wallpaper here and moved some paneling. And we also – the first guy that came in for $30,000 brought in a light and to me, it looked like a black light. But he brought the light in that was a special light and it can tell what type of mold it was and where the mold was.

TOM: That is completely wrong. Do not call that guy back. It is completely wrong, OK? That guy was not giving you accurate information if he comes in with his magic light that supposedly tells mold.

LESLIE: Yeah, they can’t actually tell you what kind of mold unless they do a chemical test on a physical sample.


TOM: Well, it’s a mold test. They send it out to a lab and they read it, so that guy’s a snake-oil salesman.

LESLIE: Right. Right. But it’s actually holding a piece of that mold and testing it with certain things. And that’s done by a lab.

TOM: It sounds like you could use a basement renovation but I wouldn’t get too crazy over it. If it’s done by the right kind of company that can take that apart very carefully and dispose of all of that material – and maybe you don’t even want to put the walls back. Maybe you just want to leave it unfinished.

KAREN: Oh, good.

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

LESLIE: Don’t forget you can always post your questions at, just like Joe in Delaware did.

Now, Joe writes: “What’s the best way to clean grout on a ceramic-tile kitchen floor?”

TOM: Ah, a very good question, Joe. The type of tile you have and the degree of grout grime, so to speak, is going to really determine the best approach to cleaning it. With unglazed tile, it’s always good to use a natural cleaner but if the tile is glazed, you can use perhaps a stronger chemical application.

LESLIE: Yeah. And I think a paste is always better than any other cleaning form and you can make one from baking soda and water. And that’s easily going to freshen the look of your tile’s grout.

Now, you might want to apply it with a toothbrush and then work in small areas so that baking soda doesn’t dissolve and lose the abrasiveness. Then you can rinse with water once you’re done with the cleaning. If you do find you’ve got some more stubborn stains on the grout, you can use diluted bleach before you start to think about using a chemical stripper.

TOM: You probably don’t want to use the toothbrush that you use to brush your teeth, either, huh?

LESLIE: Oh, no, no, no. Use the one that you use the clean the hair dryer, obviously.

TOM: Alright. And once your grout is clean and thoroughly dried, last step: apply a sealer – an acrylic grout sealer. It’s going to block out the dirt and stains and keep that grout looking as sharp as the tile.

LESLIE: Alright. Next up Barbara in Florida wrote us a question. 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. Was this a serious problem?”

TOM: Possibly, yeah. I mean it depends on how often it happens but it does sound like it’s definitely worth investigating. When a circuit breaker trips, it’s for one of two reasons: either there’s too much on the circuit already, which could be the case, or the circuit has a short.

So in either event, I would make sure that you first get a professional home inspection done before you buy that house and alert your home inspector to that problem. Perhaps he or she can look into it deeper and may even recommend that an electrician be brought in to check it out, as well. Because sometimes you get lucky when you’re finding those sorts of things with a house. Having done thousands of home inspections over the years, sometimes things just happen when you’re there. And so, when it does, you’ve got to definitely pay attention to it.

LESLIE: Yeah. You know, it is better to find out now than later, when you can actually use that info to help you with a better deal for the house or make the decision not to get it.

TOM: Well, you thinking about growing a new lawn this spring and wondering, perhaps, whether sod or seed is a better choice? Leslie has got some answers, in today’s edition of Leslie’s Last Word.


LESLIE: Yeah, it’s hard to know. Is sod better than grass seed? Is grass seed better than sod? Well, that really depends on what you need.

Now, sown seeds take time to bear their fruit or in the case of grass, their blades. Sod, on the other hand, is green and fresh from the moment that you buy it. Now, since all of the work and watering and waiting is already done when you get sod, it’s a lot more expensive, at about five times more per square foot than the seed itself.

And the difference between those two also depends a bit on your timeline. If you don’t plan to sell your home any time soon, choosing a variety of grass seed that works well for your climate and lighting conditions really is a better choice. However, if you’re planning to sell within the next month or two, sod’s a much better choice because with a sod lawn, you are quickly going to have a beautiful look. And it’s going to establish into a lush, green lawn more quickly.

Now, if you want to learn more, check out our post, “Best Outdoor Projects,” on We’ve got some comparisons there of the five most popular outdoor projects.

TOM: This is The Money Pit Home Improvement Show. Coming up next time on the program, if you’re thinking about taking on a tiling project, the most important part of that project is not the tile, it’s what goes underneath that makes sure it lasts. We’ll share those details, on the very 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 2020 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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