Q&A / 

December 2, 2008 AsktheBuilder News

What’s in This Issue?



Can you believe the holidays are just three weeks away? Stress builds for so many reasons not the least of which is a small nagging project that you or your better half wants you to complete. How can I help? If you are stuck on a small project, send me an email and I'll try to give you a quick tip so you can get it done.

If you're entertaining a group, having a party, relatives are coming for dinner, etc. realize this amount of activity can stress a plumbing drainage system. If your drain lines have chronic backups due to tree roots or some other blockage, twenty guests using the toilet  or you washing all the dishes from the meal can cause a backup at the worst possible time. Now is the time - before the party - to get the sewer line cleaned out. The same is true for water heaters. If you know your heater is ready to give up the ghost, replace it now before all the guests arrive.


My syndicated Ask the Builder column still runs in about 100 newspapers across the land. That number is decreasing because the newspaper industry is on life support. I wrote a blog post about how the newspapers can save themselves, but many don't seem to want to reinvent what they do.

However, I need your help right now if you do get the paper and my column runs in it. Can you please do one of two things for me:

Clip a recent column, scan it and send me the image in an email. Or clip the recent column and mail it to me.

My postal address is:  100 Swain Rd., Meredith, NH 03252-0887

Thanks in advance.


Andy Winford of Fresno, CA wrote to me:

"Tim, we are moving into a home that has aggregate flooring in the kitchen but we do not like that look. What is the best way to remove aggregate? It's been suggested that we tile over it but I'm afraid it will make the floor too high."

My response was,

"Well Tony, if that aggregate flooring is terrazzo, I just can't believe you want to remove or cover that. If the existing floor is smooth and in great shape, I would consider commercial vinyl tile. It's only one-eighth-inch thick. Some of the modern vinyl tiles are stunningly gorgeous.

You can also cover the floor with a thinner ceramic tile. Some tiles are available that are only one-quarter-inch thick. That's not much of an offset to deal with where the kitchen floor transitions to another room."

Imagine getting advice like this when you have an issue with your home. Very soon my new website is going to be live. You or Tony could have gotten that answer from me over the phone or through a live video chat. I've decided to make myself more accessible to you through this new website. You never know when you're going to be in a bind and need help or an opinion from someone who doesn't have a skin in the game. I'll be able to sort out your problem or give you help if you're trying to decipher bids from contractors.

One thing is for sure. You must start opening all my future newsletters. Just before this new site goes live, I'm going to share with you and every other newsletter subscriber something you simply will not believe. So be on the lookout for that!


I'm days away from publishing three different projects. One is an extensive eBook that is long overdue. It's about how to install and grout Slate Flooring. Kathy and I love slate, and have had it in our home for years. It's nearly indestructible, and it's drop-dead gorgeous. Wait until you see the photos in this eBook of the red slate I installed in our Sun Room. This eBook has many detailed step-by-step color photos.

The other two are new products. I haven't picked a name, but I'm leaning towards eGuides. These are shorter publications that will show you how to conserve enormous amounts of money on things around your home. These harsh economic times are making it so all of us have to get more useful life out of things we already own.

The first help guide is a step-by-step guide that shows you how to double or triple the life of your water heater. The second one shows you how to double the life - or at least get 5 or 10 more years of life - from your asphalt-shingle roof.

But once again I need your input. Please tell me what small help guides you would like to see me write for you. Put that thinking cap on. Here are some hints. Tell me what you would like to replace at your home, but can't because money is tight and you can't afford to get a new "fill-in-the-blank". Or perhaps you used to hire a pro to do something and can't afford this person. What task are you willing to tackle? Tell me and I'll try to get the guide you need completed as soon as possible.


It was so great to go back to Cincinnati for Thanksgiving. I hadn't seen Kathy or Kelly since September 8th! It was wonderful to have all the kids together in the same house for a week. I hope your holiday was as good. You may not celebrate Thanksgiving where you live, but it is one of my favorite holidays. It's indeed my favorite meal of the year. Kathy cooks an amazing turkey breast that I help her brine the night before. The dressing with raisins is to die for. Then the pumpkin and pecan pies. Oh my gosh, I get dreamy eyed thinking about it again!

I was doing a number of projects for Kathy while I was home. One was putting up the Christmas lights. Years ago, I painted my house with Sears Weatherbeater ULTRA paint. It has urethane resins in it, and is the best paint I've ever used. The semi-gloss finish allows me to wash the house every two years and the paint looks nearly as good as the day I finished applying it to the house. My Cincinnati house is in the city. I'm only 1.5 miles east of busy Interstate 75 and two miles west of Interstate 71.

As I was installing the lights, I noticed it was time to wash the house again. It was covered with this blackish dust. Then I stopped and thought, "Wait a minute. The house I'm in up in New Hampshire doesn't have any black dust on it and it's six-years old. In fact, it has no dirt on the siding." I'm convinced the previous owner didn't wash the house based upon other things I've discovered in the past few months.

So that got me to thinking. What is the black dust? How much of that have I breathed in the past 50+ years? I'm thinking of having it tested. My initial thoughts are that it's primarily rubber from the tens of thousands of car and truck tires that get worn as they pass my house on those two highways.

We still have some manufacturing going on, but I don't think any of the companies are burning coal. We do have coal-fired power plants to the west of my house, so maybe it's coal dust. Do you have similar experiences? Meaning, if you live in a city do you get the same dust and if you live out in the country your siding is pretty much dust-free? I realize if you live in a desert area your house will be dusty. I'm talking about if you live in an area with lots of vegetation and few dirt roads and deserts.

Oh, and the drive home. Yikes! I've NEVER had to travel for the holidays since all my family was in Cincinnati. It took me nearly 20 hours to drive back to New Hampshire. It rained from Cleveland all the way to New Hampshire. Interstate 90 east of Buffalo to Syracuse was bumper to bumper. That's a long way ...... and it cost us hours of time. I've developed a new level of sympathy for you if you have to routinely travel to get to a loved one during the holidays. We left Cincinnati at 7:15 am and got into the driveway in New Hampshire at 1:38 the next morning. It was brutal.


Next week, I'll share one thing with you a couple of things that I would love for Christmas. You can do them easily. It will only cost you a little time and no money.


As I was getting the car packed to come back to New Hampshire, I ripped the passenger side mirror off my Volvo station wagon. What an idiot I was. That's what happens when you're in a rush. Kathy, of course, had no sympathy for me and just laughed. She said, "If that had happened to one of the kids, you'd ream them a new orifice in the back of their body." I replied that I've mellowed over the years, but she wasn't buying what I was selling.

Today, I went to get the estimate for this mirror. To put it mildly, I was stunned. If I get reincarnated, I'm coming back to work in the auto-parts business. My mistake is going to cost me $600, $472 of it in parts!

Since Kathy isn't buying what I'm selling, I need you to do it. Every year around the holidays, I see the sales of my crown-molding eBook really go up. I'm convinced that people are in a mad rush to get their houses ready for the holidays. If this is you and you're still procrastinating, then I have a deal for you. I'm selling my crown-molding eBook for just $9.97, that's over a 50 percent price reduction off the normal price of $19.97. I've set the inventory counter to stop the sale as soon as I raise the $600.00. This means you better go get your copy NOW, even if you don't plan to install crown molding in the next few weeks.


I've had it with power outages. If you need electric, think about a standby generator. Don't confuse these with the portable ones you fill with gasoline.

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