Frequently Asked Questions

Q: I’m a new homeowner. What tools do I need to get?

A: You need at least these.

  1. screwdriver
  2. Phillips screwdriver
  3. straight-claw hammer
  4. adjustable (crescent) wrench
  5. tape measure
  6. pliers

The first power tool you should get, which I guarantee you will use a lot, is a cordless (lithium battery) drill and a set of drill bits.

Q: Should I rent tools or buy them?

A: If you enjoy working with tools you should usually buy them unless,

  1. You are sure you will only use them once, or
  2. They are too big to store, or
  3. You can’t afford them.
Q: When should I hire a pro and when should I do it myself?

A: Ask yourself, What’s the worst thing that could happen if you did it yourself and it didn’t turn out well? If it really won’t matter that much and you can do it safely, then go for it. You’ll learn a lot, save some money, and build your confidence. Even if you occasionally get in over your head you can still fall back and call a pro and come out ahead in the long run.

I’ve found that it is often faster to do it myself than to spend time locating a pro, setting up an appointment, waiting for the pro to show up, supervising the work, paying the bill, etc.

Q: How can I lower my heating bill in the winter and my A/C bill in the summer?

A: Seal leaks. Seal leaks. Seal leaks. Forget about insulation until you’ve sealed every air leak. Insulation only works if the air is absolutely still. Any air moving through the insulation will simply carry the heat with it.

Caulk around window frames both inside and outside where the frames meet the walls.

Use interior or exterior storm windows to make a dead-air space.

Put weather stripping around the door frame where the door meets the frame.

Q: Can you add insulation to an old house?

A: Yes, but it can be difficult. First be sure to seal leaks. (See previous question.)

Some old houses have inadequate insulation in the walls. The only practical way to add more is to drill holes at the top of each stud bay and blow in loose-fill insulation in each bay. As you can imagine this is messy and expensive. There are always barriers of various kinds running through the walls so the insulation doesn’t always fill the bay completely and other holes have to be drilled.

The easiest place to add insulation is in the attic. Many older homes have very little attic insulation and it is not difficult to blow in additional loose-fill insulation or even fiberglass batts. Of course this is a job for cool weather only.

Q: Do I need to get a building permit?

A: The purpose of a building permit is to ensure that the alterations result in a safe house and it is the building inspector’s job to check the alterations at each step so that problems can be addressed right away.

The rule of thumb is if you are changing the floor plan of the house, e.g. adding or removing a wall, moving the wiring or plumbing, adding an electrical or plumbing fixture, then yes, you need a permit. If you are replacing something in the same place, or repainting, or building something movable, or fixing something, then no.

Q: Is it OK to exhaust my dryer into the attic or crawlspace?

A: No. Dryer lint is extremely flammable. If you vent a dryer into the attic or crawlspace the lint will build up and a spark could set it on fire and burn down the house.

Q: If I see a little mold or mildew on the ceiling should I be concerned?

A: Yes. Mold is toxic. Mold spores are everywhere but they start growing in the presence of water. If you see mold or mildew you have a moisture problem. Maybe a pipe is leaking. Maybe there is a crack in the bathtub or kitchen sink. Maybe the windows are letting in too much cold, wet air and it is condensing on the walls.

In general mold and mildew mean a leak. You need to fix the leak(s) as well as protect yourself from the toxic mold.

Q: What’s the big deal about lead-based paint?

A: Lead is poisonous. If it gets in your body it tends to stay there and cause problems, especially in the brain. Young children are particularly susceptible to brain damage from lead.

Paint with lead in it is often found in older homes. (Lead-based paint hasn’t been sold since 1978.)

If the paint is undisturbed it won’t cause any problems. Trouble arises when it chips off or is sanded. Then the lead becomes airborne or ingested. Contractors have to follow very strict rules about containing and disposing of lead-based paint.

Simply painting over lead-based paint is fine and probably a good idea because it helps to contain and seal the lead. But don’t scrape or sand before painting.

Q: What should I do if I find out that my house has asbestos?

A: Don’t panic. As long as it is undisturbed it will be OK. If you cut it or break it or sand it, the particles of asbestos will become airborne and can lodge in your lungs and cause respiratory problems. If you need to remove it, you should definitely hire a pro. This is not a DIY project.

Q: What lawn-care tools do you recommend?

A: Gas-operated tools cause too much pollution and noise. Get cordless rechargeable lawn tools.

  • Rechargeable mulching mower so you don’t bag any clippings or leaves.
  • Rechargeable string trimmer.
  • Rechargeable leaf blower for blowing off the sidewalk.


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