Q&A: Brett Tutor of Trading Spaces on DIY Projects

Sep 12, 2019

Brett Tutor has been a home inspector, carpenter, stuntman and reality TV star. Tutor started flipping houses in his hometown of Austin and worked as a home inspector and general contractor there. He also founded Off the Grid International, to help build clean water and sanitation systems in remote places. While he previously starred in Discovery Channel's Treasure Quest, he is now the carpenter for TLC's show Trading Spaces. Tutor will be appearing at the Capital Home Show September 20-22 at Dulles Expo Center in Chantilly, Va.

Every week, Jura Koncius helps you in your quest to achieve domestic bliss. She and weekly guests, whether Martha Stewart, Marie Kondo, the Property Brothers or Amy Astley, editor-in-chief of Architectural Digest, answer your decorating, design and decluttering questions. Jura is always happy to whip out her paint chips, track down a hard-to-find piece of furniture or offer her seasoned advice on practical living and organizing. For more than 20 years, our Thursday Q&A has been an online conversation about the best way to make your home comfortable, stylish and fun. We invite you to submit questions and share your own great tips, ideas and gripes. No problem is too big or too small.

Brett Tutor is a man of many talents, from home inspector to carpenter. He previously appeared in  Discovery Channel's Treasure Quest and he is now the carpenter for TLC's Trading Spaces. Tutor will be appearing at the Capital Home Show September 20-22 at Dulles Expo Center in Chantilly, Va. Meanwhile, we have him for the next hour to answer your questions!

Good morning everyone and thanks for joining me here! I am excited to take your questions soon and to hopefully see you at the CAPITAL HOME SHOW at the Dulles Expo Center Sept 20-22! 

Good morning! Thank you for joining me here. I am excited to take your questions and to hopefully see you in person at the CAPITAL HOME SHOW Sept 20-22 at the Dulles Expo! 

Is it worth spending top dollar on replacement windows? Could a mid-range window company be just as good as the ones that advertise all the time?

That is such a great question. When I was in my early 20's I worked as a window installer for a window company one summer and I got to learn about the reality of this question. The truthful answer is this: It totally depends. It depends on many factors but the main question is how long will you be in this home?  New windows can definitely save you money on your energy bills, especially Energy Star windows. But you may have noticed that new windows aren't cheap... If you are planning on staying in this house for good and currently have single pane windows, it most likely makes a lot of sense to get new windows. But if you might move out soon then it may not make sense. As far as adding to the home's value it may be wise to consult your realtor and appraiser. From what I understand you will recoup about two thirds of the cost of the windows in regards to home value. But again there are many factors here too, do all the homes in your neighborhood have double pane low E windows or none of them? These are some of the questions to ask! Best of luck! 

My attic is not insulated and we live in a cold climate in an old leaky house. Is it better to replace the windows on the second floor or have blown in insulation?

Great question, I would recommend spray foam insulation over new windows by far. That should make a much bigger difference in your situation from what I can tell.  

What do you think is the most comfortable and durable kitchen floor to install?

There are so many flooring options these days it's crazy! But with kitchens I usually prefer tile. Kitchens floors are known for getting pretty messy so you definitely want a surface that won't ruin if it gets wet and something that is easy to clean. There are tiles now that look like real wood and almost any other surface imaginable. Cork can also be fun! Just depends on the look you are going for. 

I plan on selling my house in the next five years and my wood floors are a mess. Should I wait until I'm about to put it on the market to do them? I have to remove everything from the two-story house as it's old and small.

I would talk to your realtor first and see what they think. It depends on if the floors can be re finished or if they need to be totally replaced. Maybe you just need to repair a few areas or maybe you don't need to at all. If it turns out you need to I would do it sooner than later because it always takes more time than you plan! 

What’s a common error homeowner’s make when they take on a home improvement project all by themselves?

I feel like I could write a novel on this question... I cannot tell you how many times I have seen people try to emulate something that they have seen on TV and then end up getting in way over their heads. That is not to say that you can't have a successful DIY project, but many home owners and even experienced contractors over estimate how long things can take and how much money things really cost. And there are ALWAYS surprises. I just tell people to start small. Don't make your big new kitchen you first DIY project ever. Please. Start small, like a deck, dog house, or guest room and get an idea of how much materials cost, how much time things take, the tools you will need, the things that you should not do yourself like electrical, plumbing, drywall etc. That may save you some time, money and possibly your marriage! 

Will you be doing any project demonstrations at the Capital Home Show next weekend?

I will be at the Capital Home Show SEPT 20-22 at the Dulles Expo! So come on out and see me in person! I will be talking about my favorite home renovation tips, crazy stories from real life and TV shows, and walking you through some tools in my tool belt that you can take home and apply yourself! I will also be taking all of your questions there too so make sure to come on out!!!!!!

Is it best to do all white in bathrooms? They look so boring - I know you can get colored towels, but I'd love to do some colored tile.

I agree 100%. White bathrooms can be boring but the good part about white wash is that it doesn't take much to make them look amazing because of the contrast of color. There are so many great tile options that you can go with, maybe just on the floor. And don't be scared to paint!!!

20 yr old stand alone oven is hard to replace as new ovens are bigger in size and same is true for the old stove top. Does this mean the entire kitchen has to be redone?

No not at all, if you look hard enough I am sure you can find an appliance with the same specs as what you have in there now. However it is not uncommon to change the nearby cabinet and counter top to accommodate a new fancy oven. But it ultimately depends on how good the cookies are... 

It's so expensive to have bookcases built. What do you think of buying Ikea bookcases and having them DIYed into the wall so they look better?

I am a huge fan of this if you are on a budget. One of my biggest secrets is going into the damaged/returns section at IKEA and then altering the piece a little. Sometimes a little trimming, paint and hardware can go a long way! I even used a broken desk once from thee are a counter top in my airstream. 

My porch roof is leaking and rotting (structure is wood, roof is shingled), and I know I need to do something about it. Would it be better to contact a roofer or a contractor or an inspector, then one of the first two? If just some parts need to be repaired, I'd love to avoid replacing the whole thing, but I also want to make sure the problem is fully solved.

Good question. Well an inspector will just tell you to contact a contractor so I would find a good carpenter. Wood rot is a conducive condition for mold and termites so you definitely want to fully replace all rotted areas as soon as possible and make sure that there is no further water damage that the eye can't see once you start opening the area up. Try do get it done sooner than later! 

You must see a lot of flooring as a home inspector. What kind of wood floors, in your opinion, hold up best over time? Real wood? Engineered?

There are so many great products now it is hard to keep up! And of course it just depends on what the client is looking for. There are pros and cons to both but if you are asking a carpenter, I will always say real wood is my favorite! 

Hello! I live in a small apartment and want to get a new dresser, specifically the Ikea TARVA dresser, so I can paint it. My decor is a little boring and I'm not finding anything I like for less than $200, so I was thinking of buying this dresser and painting it an aqua blue or seafoam green color (my room is all light wood, white metal, and white... it desperately needs color!) However, I don't have a place to paint except in my room and it gets very poor ventilation. What should I think about before undertaking a DIY like this?

That sounds like a fun project! You can definitely paint away inside your room, make sure to get low VOC paint. Educate yourself on paints a bit so you don't get anything harmful in your room, especially with poor ventilation. But try to keep your windows open and fans on and just make sure to prep the area so you don't accidentally get paint on something that you didn't want to! 

Do we all have to get all stainless steel kitchen appliances? It's so boring!

HAHA, so true. They look great and are easy to clean but SMEG has some really cool ones that look pretty awesome. I wish people would take more risks sometimes too, but you have to keep re sale in mind...

I want to convert my old 1-car garage into a first-floor bedroom. What is the most cost-effective way to keep it from seeming dark, cold, obviously a garage conversion?

Well, paint is the easiest and cheapest way. Light colors for sure. White or yellow. You can also get creative with the lighting, there are tons of cool lighting example you can find on Pintrest. Windows are always the best if possible! 

I would like to promote the local salvage building materials yards we have in the area. Community Forklift in Hyattsville https://communityforklift.org/ Second Chance in Baltimore https://www.secondchanceinc.org The Loading Dock http://www.loadingdock.org They have gorgeous old flooring, marble tiles, slaps of granite, lighting fixtures, PVC piles, sinks, paint and often donated new items. If you are renovating please try to donate your items to them or buy supplies from them.

Come out and promote at the Capital Home Show! 

My 80 year old staircase, on an outside wall, has gaps between where the flat stair surface meets the riser of the next stair in two places. Perhaps not amazingly, crickets have managed to find their way in through these gaps. While we search for the outside entrance, we’ve taped over the stair gaps. Is there a permanent way to close the gaps without opening the staircase?

Getting rid of unwanted bugs is usually a 3 step process.

1. You need to to seal off the entry point outside, so no new bugs are getting in. It sounds like you are already on the hunt!

2. Before you permanently seal off the interior stair entry point, you should treat the interior area that you can access. I highly highly recommend doing this with an ORGANIC insect exterminate application or spray foam.

3. Finally seal up the stairs with a permanent solution. Maybe some wood trim or silicon. 

Good luck! 

What do you do for a fundamentally dark interior that is the opposite of bright and airy? Two years ago I purchased a north-facing split level (i.e., raised ranch) house in the Seattle area, where the sky is gray 8 months of the year. My outdoor surroundings are beautifully PNW, but the very tall trees and gray skies make for a fundamentally dark interior; even at the height of summer the interior is dim. Skylights seem like a necessary reno project, but until that happens - do you have any suggestions or tricks that could fool the eye? Strategic lighting? Particular paint choices (I've avoided dark shades thus far)? The winters get long here, and I'd love to bring some brightness inside before the season rolls around this year.

Well windows or sky lights would obviously be best, but paint is the easiest and most affordable. I would stick to a white or yellow paint, something very light. You can get very creative with lighting to make an area feel lighter. Mirrors are always a great way to make a small area feel more open!

I have a small 3 bdrm. split level home (1350 sq. ft.) that I would like to remove a wall from the mid-sized room to have a large closet and more room in the master, and in turn make the smallest room larger. I also have a wall separating the dining room and kitchen which would open the space, but don't know if it's more modern to put in an island with seating or make a nook out of the half wall. Any suggestions? I don't plan to sell and live here in retirement. Thanks!

If you are not planning on selling then definitely do what you love best! That is all the matters! I like islands a lot, I think they usually look more modern and just open a room up and create a great space for entertaining. Best of luck! 

Apologies, I'm a week late on your pillow article. https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/home/are-some-throw-pillows-better-than-others-experts-share-their-secrets/2019/09/03/f98accf0-ad5c-11e9-bc5c-e73b603e7f38_story.html 2 questions: 1) I have some Frontgate pillows and they all have pretty visible tags with the name on it. Should I take the chance of trying to cut them off? I'm worried it'll look raggedy if I do, but I also don't like them. 2) Do you agree with the designer that said that 20-inch pillows look cheap? To me, bigger than that look weird, they look more like floor pillows! But I am prepared to be wrong.

Good questions ! Yes cut the tags off carefully. And as for the small pillows, my own sister just said our beach cottage sofa pillows look ridiculously small so I guess out they go! I agree that the bigger ones are a better look and don't seem skimpy!

Do you want your vacuum to last longer? Lots of good info on taking care of your vacuum here. Here is my article.

Thank you all for joining me here and asking such great questions! I hope you can come out and see me in person at the Capital Home Show at the Dulles Expo Sept 20-22!!!! 

I hope to see you there! 

Love that Brett suggested taking risks - and getting a SMEG appliance - love their colors. Anyway, thanks Brett. Next week we will be talking preserving heirlooms with Julia Brennan of Caring for Textiles.

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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 and organizing.

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