Kevin O'Connor on home improvement tips | Home Front

Jan 09, 2014

Kevin O'Connor is the host of the award winning series" This Old House" and "Ask This Old House." The show is currently in his 10th season. O'Connor also serves on the editorial board of This Old House Magazine. In 2011/ Kevin published his first book, "The Best Homes of This Old House." O'Connor will be co-headlining the Home + Remodeling Show at the Dulles Expo Center this Jan. 17-19.

Every week, Jura Koncius helps you in your quest to achieve domestic bliss. Got a question about decorating? She's happy to whip out her paint chips and suggest the perfect hue, call a retailer to help track down a hard-to-find accent piece or offer some do-it-yourself. Built on years of reporting experience, Home Front is an online conversation about the best way to feather the nest. We invite you to submit questions and share you own great tips, ideas and, yes, the occasional complaint.

Follow @jurakoncius on Twitter.

Home Front Live Q&A archive Older Home Front Live Q&As

Welcome today to Kevin O'Connor, host of  This Old House" and "Ask This Old House."  O'Connor serves on the editorial board of This Old House Magazine. In 2011 Kevin published his first book, "The Best Homes of This Old House." O'Connor will be co-headlining the Home + Remodeling Show at the Dulles Expo Center this Jan. 17-19. We already have a lot of questions for Kevin so let's get going.

Hi everybody, I'm excited to be here. Thanks for joining the conversation.

We watch "Ask this Old House" regularly with my 5-year-old daughter. She absolutely loves the show, and knows all of you by your first names. Just wanted to say thanks!

Well thanks for watching, the shows are a blast to make!

There's been a lot of buzz about improvements in home and building technology recently, from 3D printing in construction to home automation devices. What is This Old House paying attention to in the new year?

We just did a story on 3D printing using a portable "camera"that scans the object in place.  In this case we scanned a plaster medallion on the ceiling and "printed" an exact replica.  Very cool.

We will also look deeply at energy effeciency and maybe even how you get a house to "net zero," where is makes as much energy as it uses.  Wow.

Hi Jura! Can you recommed some good resources in the VA/DC/MD area to view and buy tile? We are likely going with a plain white subway tile, but it would be nice to see some options. Thanks!

Yes. A few I know about are Architectural Ceramics, which has a number of area locations;  Renaissance Floor & Carpet in Rockville; and Ideal Tile with several locations as well.  Please you guys, send in your favorite tile stores to add to the list.

Want new flooring in basement. Glued on indoor-outdoor carpet from 40 years ago now. How will I ever get that carpet up? Dorothy from Red Bud, Il.

You should be able to get it up with lots of elbow grease, try starting with a long handle scrapper.  Depending on what new material you put down you might not have to get up all the adhesive. If you do, then consider renting a floor grinder or having a pro come in and grind the concrete floor for you.  Watch out for mold, if there is any take proper precautions.

Are you familiar with Josh & Main furniture website? I am interested in knowing if they sell quality furniture or if anybody has had problems with their furniture.

Yes I am familiar with it but have never ordered anything. Has anyone out there had experience with them?

Good morning, my husband and I own a old brick three family in the historic area in Hartford ,Ct. The problem is on the three floor apartment it has awesome attic style apartment with slant ceiling it has the original plaster on some walls. My Tentant was painting the wall some of plaster started pilling. I have two big holes very close to pointed angle (I can send a picture). Should we just drywall the whole wall or just holes. The holes are pretty deep you can see the wood.

It’s an easy patch, something you can do yourself or a good painting crew can handle.  It might be hard to find a good plasterer but if the holes are small you can patch it with drywall and a mesh tape or scene over the hole.  Joint compound and a good sanding once it’s dry should do the trick. If the existing plaster is textured then it might be time to find a pro who can replicate it for you.

I seem to be constantly running out of space. I know that each year, I seem to accumulate more and more "stuff". I had to replace a bathroom sink and was amazed how much stuff was actually in the cabinet below the sink. I no longer seem to have places to put things or even enough room to sort through items to decide what to keep or throw away. Past attempts have yielded minimal bags of trash and little to no recovered space. It seems that boxing items only creates hidden voids inside boxes that take up any space gained. I really don't know what to try beyond moving to a much bigger house.

Don't box it up, you'll never see it again and it will take up space.  Use the three month rule -- put some items out where you can see them.If you don't touch them again for three months get rid of them. Donate what you can.


can you ever have too much insulation? We have about 50 inches of blown insulation in our ranch house attic. they extended the air baffles on the sides for air circulation. Then in the cathedral ceiling part of the house they really packed it in, with the proper baffles for air circulation. Our home is very warm. Very energy efficient. We also had our exterior walls filled with spray foam insulation. We have changed out all our windows for new energy efficient model. So is there such a thing as too much insulation?

You really can’t have too much insulation.  Load it up and fill it up, I say. Start with the attic, then hit the rim joist in the basement, then fill the walls. And look to plug air leaks wherever you can. 

What you can have, however, is improperly installed insulation. As you tighten up the house you have to protect against trapping vapor. The warm air in your house is full of moisture and wants to condense when it hits cold air.  So you often have to use a vapor retarder and use it on the correct side of the equation.  If you have any doubts, make sure to consult a pro before you make a mess of things.  Good luck and stay warm.

My daughter's home, circa 1914, has very cold floors in the winter. Location is Buford, GA, a northern suburb of Atlanta. There is crawl space. I don't know how high. I've suggested having spray foam insulation blown beneath the home. The interior first floor rooms are heart pine with tile in kitchen/mudroom/laundry. I've read about open and closed cell foam and want to know if you'd recommend one of these in this application. Also could forms be installed to give the foam great thickness. And what thickness do you recommend? Wow,I'm psyched to be able to ask Kevin O'Connor this question! Rosemary

And I’m psyched to get the question.  Yes, the floors are cold because of the crawlspace below, and insulation will help.  Closed-cell foam costs more than open-cell foam but it has a higher r-value per inch and it blocks vapor transfer, so it’s the better choice.  Don’t worry about how many inches, just fill the joist-bay.  You can also consider using a rigid foam insulation that comes in boards.  I don’t recommend using fiberglass. 

Again, make sure you aren’t trapping moisture (vapor) and causing more of a problem. A good insulation company can do this small job for you easily. 

If we wanted you all to come out and help us with our house, how would we do it?

Send us an email. We make house calls for both shows, This Old House and Ask This Old House. Got to our website, and submit one.  But be forewarned, we get thousands of emails!  Good luck.

I have a teak Danish modern style kitchen table (not antique -- purchased during the Danish modern craze of the 1980s). Overall it is good shape, but the tabletop is dried out and stained from years of use and poor storage. I've oiled it regularly, but it seems too far gone for that to do too much good. Are there any options for getting it refinished/reconditioned?

For sure.  You might think about starting off with a lite sanding.  If it’s solid teak that should be no problem. Teak is very hard and last A LONG time so I suspect you have plenty of life left in the table.  Sand it enough to remove the blemishes and then refinish with a stain and water-based polyurethane.  Be sure to try out the stain color on a test piece of wood. 


If you don’t want to do it yourself look for a furniture refinisher in your area and make an antique shop that has some contacts.  Good luck!

My (11 year old) Crate and Barrel fabric couch is starting to fray at the top of the back. How do you know whether you should reupholster a sofa or just get a new one? I assume a similar new sofa is going to be between 2 and 3K. Do you have a ballpark for how much it would cost to reupholster? Thanks!!

If your sofa is over ten years old, you should think long and hard about whether it's worth it to have the sofa redone, since cushions will probably have to be refilled and the fabric cost alone will be steep. Start saving for a new one.

I've run out of placed to look at area rugs for a decent price. I've tried Macy's and Overstock. Looked at Room and Board and West Elm, but their selections are too expensive. I have a studio apartment with sky blue walls, grey/blue couch and a tan chair. I want something that is in the grey/beige range that is busy enough to hide stains but doesn't overwhelm the small pace, like an oriental wood. I don't have a dining room so I eat over it. I'm at a loss and hoping others have ideas. I don't have a car, but I'm willing to rent one to look.

Ikea has lots of very reasonable rugs. Look on their website. Check out flea markets and thrift shops too. World Market might have something.

My wonderful 1935 home has it's original double-hung sash weight windows; three have original storm windows. The window frames are in good condition, and all panes were reglazed last summer - but I'm freezing! Although the TOH website has great tutorials on repair/maintenance for old windows, the addition of storm windows isn't addressed. Any thoughts/ideas on purchasing appropriate storm windows? Thanks so much!

A single pane, double hung window in good condition and with a good storm can be about as efficient as a new window with insulating glass. They key of course is that it’s in good condition. 

If your windows have been re-glazed then I would definitely make sure each window has a good storm window.  They are easy to find at the big box home improvement stores, window companies and specialty shops as well.

More importantly, be sure to insulate around the window and in front of the weight pocket, which is a “hole” in your wall that allows the weight to move up and down. My guess is you are getting lots of air-infiltration, and some weather sealing and additional insulation would help a lot.  We have several videos on showing how to do this.

I was inspired by your article about the designer who redecorated her rental apartment (which I cannot find anymore!) and would like to do the same to my space, as I think I've been excusing myself from it because its a rental! Can you recommend professionals that can help with decorating a small rental space or even how I can look for someone? Thanks!

Here is the article on rental decorating about Kerra Michele Huerta of the Apartmeng Envy blog. You could contact the Washington chapter of ASID for their Spring Spruceup program  information and that might be a good way for you to find a designer. 

I LOVE The Tile Shop. (and for some unsolicited advice: remember to seal your tile if needed, and always seal your grout. Makes for easier cleanup and cleaner tiles and grout).

Thanks and thanks.

Thanks for these articles. I work from home and, so this was very timely. I love putting little collections on my desk--I have some wooden and glass animals for my son to play with and a collection of antique glass inkwells.

Thank you. I will pass this along.

We have an old brick house with plaster walls, and no insulation on the exterior walls. Needless to say, the energy bills are through the roof. We would like to keep the original plaster, but desperately need to do something. Is there a way to do this? Also, we will eventually need to rewire & replace some plumbing. Should we just bite the bullet now & gut the place, or is it feasible (cost sensible) to do the work separately? Thanks, Kevin! Love TOH! -Jim, Park Hills, KY

Jim – If you have brick on the outside and want to keep it then you have to attack the insulation from the inside.  Before you take down the plaster walls consider having an insulation contractor blow in dense packed cellulose into the walls.  They make two small holes in each stud bay and fill the cavity. 

If you go this path I suggest using a pro, there are lots of ways for a homeowner to screw this up themselves.  A pro will also make sure you don’t have nob and tubing electrical wires, and take care to protect necessary cavities, like the weight pockets next to double hung windows. 

Check with you local utility and ask about an energy audit and subsidies for adding insulation.  That could save you a few bucks. And if you do decide to gut the place, consider using foam insulation instead of fiberglass or cellulose. 

Can you offer any advice for finding someone who is honest, reliable, and competent to help with those littlel jobs around the home? Many companies have minimums so it's hard to find someone to just do a few relatively small things.

Wow, we get this one a bunch.  I hate to say it but the best way is to ask around and make sure you get a personal referral from someone you know and trust. Services like Angie’s List might help you make some connections.

But keep in mind, you might think it’s a one hour job but the contractor probably has to block a half day to whole day to get it down, and they need to eat too!

We had a great experience with the Tile Shop. I think they have a few locations.


Good morning, love your show! We have an old house, with a kitchen redone in the early '80s. We have 2 smallish wall ovens, one of which has given up the ghost. What are people doing about wall ovens these days? Should we look for replacements or do we need to pull everything out? Thanks.

It’s mostly an aesthetic decision. There are plenty of wall oven options out there that you can get as a replacement.  Or you can give up on those and use a range, or do what did in our current project and install two ovens below the counter (assuming you have the space). 

This is for the person wanting more storage space--why are you keeping the things you are storing? It will be a problem when you move (I've moved 8 times, so I've cleared a lot in the process). It will be a problem when your heirs decide to put it all in a dumpster without looking at any of it (which is how valuables get lost--something I wanted is now in a SoCal landfill because my relative died without being able to give it to me). Stuff can be overwhelming. It even causes people to buy duplicates when they can't find what they already own.

So true.

I bought the area rug for my living room from Home Goods. It took several trips to the store before I found that one, as their stock rotates so frequently. But the price was great, the quality is nice, and I love the gray/yellow pattern.

Of course. I forgot about Home Goods and that is indeed a terrific suggestion.

I am having a bench built for my entryway. I need to find a company that can craft a fabric covered cushion for the exact dimensions of the bench. I have no idea where to start. Any recommendations on who does this kind of work? Thanks!

Any reupholsterer could do it for you if you give them the measurements and the thickness you want. Also a place such as the chain Calico Corners.

I'm so happy Kevin is on today! I live in a 1750's colonial in NH. We're redoing one room to use as a nursery. The room has exposed posts in two exterior corners, as well as a beam running the length of the exterior wall between the post. It also has a fireplace and mantle/surround that goes up to the ceiling. All of the wood work is painted white and was painted within the last 3 years. I'd like to expose and stain the posts, beam and fireplace surround to make the room a little warmer. How big of a job is stripping paint? And is it safe for a pregnant woman to do?

Any paint you hope to strip should be tested for lead.  There are kits available and plenty of pros who offer this service.  Lead paint hasn’t been available since the 70’s so if it was painted recently it’s unlikely to contain lead, but you never know what’s under there so err on the safe side.

Pregnant or not if you strip paint use a respirator, vent the room and get a HEPA vac involved.  The less you sand and the more you scrape the better, since it will keep down the dust.


In terms of how big the job is, that depends on how smooth the wood is.  Since you are hoping to stain the wood when you are done it’ll be more work than if you were going to paint over it. 


And the best advice I can offer to a pregnant woman is to get you husband to do it!  Now is the time, what’s he going to say, no?  Good luck and congratulations.

To the person asking about wall ovens- just a piece of advice- we have a kitchen aide double wall oven- it is great except when it comes to the self clean. The circuit blows. WE found out this happens because the oven was installed to close to the wall and creates to much heat having the oven blow the circuit. We have a number of friends that this has happen to as well. Be sure whoever installs your oven reads the manual and/or calls the company for the correct amount of spacing between the wall and the oven. Good luck!

Wow. Definitely good to know. Thanks.

If you are on Facebook, post a question there. I bet you get lots of recommendations from local friends.

Yes. Or send a tweet.

I'm in the process of retro fitting stairs to my finished basement with oak treads. I plan to attach the new treads to the squared-off existing treads using brads and adhesive. Do you know of a better approach to fastening the treads? Thank you, Jack

I suggest you get rid of the old treads.  If you don’t you are likely to run into height problems with each step because you’re adding more thickness (height) to each stair but more thickness to the landing at the top and bottom of the stair run.  The height of the steps should be consistent for each one. 

In terms of fasteners screws are always better but I suspect you want to hide the fastener, so a small nail might suffice, but use some glue as well.  They do make finish screws with small profiles and the hole can be filled with a bung or putty.

For the person looking for a rug: Try a handmade nomadic rug -- rug dealer or e-bay. They're exquisite and affordable!

Thank you.

Thanks so much for the response! I've looked at the TOH tutorials and plan to begin insulating around the windows (one at a time!) once the weather warms.

Thank you Kevin.

Glad to see the Arlington project begin this week. Since you had a hiatus before this project started, does that mean there will be fewer total episodes this season?

Nope, we are making just as many episodes this year as in years past – 26 for This Old House and 26 for Ask This Old House.  The hiatus was to accommodate the pre-empting that often occurs due to PBS pledge, and we wanted to make sure our series wasn’t interrupted any more than necessary.  Thanks for asking and thanks for watching!

Kevin, I finally figured out why I, a 55-year old guy from Brooklyn who barely knows which end of the hammer to use, love This Old House. It's for the same reason my son watched road construction videos when he was little. There's a problem, something needs to be done or fixed, a guy comes in with knowledge and cool tools, and after a while, the problem is fixed and everyone's happy. That said, you're also why I bought a cool Nest thermostat! You four are the Car Guys of the home improvement business.

I think you are right!  Who doesn't want to see a problem fixed?  Hope you enjoy the Nest, it's a pretty slick thermostat.

Thanks everyone for your questions, happy to help out. Sorry I didn?t get to them all, but feel free to get more answers from our web site, or from me on Twitter @KevinOConnorTOH.

We covered a lot of ground here today and Kevin you were a great source. Thanks so much for doing the chat today and all the best to you in 2014. We'll be watching!

In This Chat
Jura Koncius
Jura Koncius is a Washington Post staff writer who specializes in home and design. Read her daily twitter feed @jurakoncius for the latest in decorating trends, shopping, decluttering, organizing and DC retail.

Home Q&A archive
Kevin O'Connor
Kevin O'Connor is the host of the award winning series" This Old House" and "Ask This Old House." The show is currently in his 10th season. O'Connor also serves on the editorial board of This Old House Magazine. In 2011/ Kevin published his first book, "The Best Homes of This Old House."
Recent Chats
  • Next: