Robin Jade Conde

PODCAST: Home improvement wins and fails

In this conversation, Reuben and Tessa discuss various home improvement projects that Reuben has undertaken, highlighting both successful and unsuccessful experiences. Reuben shares stories about remodeling his story and a half house, including a catastrophic water leak, as well as his bathroom remodel hacks. He also talks about installing a point-of-use water heater and a urinal in his basement office. The conversation emphasizes the importance of learning from mistakes and being persistent in home improvement projects. In this conversation, Reuben Saltzman and Tessa Marie discuss various home improvement projects and experiments, including installing a urinal in the basement, dealing with Christmas lights, testing air admittance valves, and using solar tubes for natural lighting. They share their experiences, successes, and failures, providing valuable insights and tips for homeowners and inspectors.

Please check the link below for the video about Air Admittance Valves:


Home improvement projects can have both successful and unsuccessful outcomes.
Learning from mistakes and being persistent is key in home improvement.
Remodeling bathrooms can include installing speakers, mirrors with built-in lighting, and in-floor heating.
Installing a point-of-use water heater can provide instant hot water and save energy.
Adding a urinal to a basement office can be a convenient upgrade, but caution is needed when drilling holes in floor joists. Installing a urinal in the basement can be a fun and unique addition to a home, but it’s important to consider functionality and aesthetics.
When installing a urinal, it’s essential to ensure proper plumbing and water pressure to avoid leaks and ensure a good flush.
Christmas light installations can be challenging and time-consuming, but with proper planning and equipment, they can create a beautiful and festive display.
Testing air admittance valves can help understand their functionality and potential issues, such as leaks and sewer gas escape.
Solar tubes can be a cost-effective alternative to skylights, providing natural light in rooms without windows, but proper insulation and installation are crucial to prevent condensation and heat loss.


00:00 Introduction and Setting the Topic
06:29 Lessons Learned from a Catastrophic Water Leak
13:38 Installing a Point-of-Use Water Heater
32:19 Testing Air Admittance Valves
41:27 Solar Tubes: Cost-Effective Natural Lighting Solutions



The following is a transcription from an audio recording. Although the transcription is largely accurate, in some cases it may be slightly incomplete or contain minor inaccuracies due to inaudible passages or transcription errors.


Reuben Saltzman: Welcome to My House. Welcome to The Structure Talk podcast, a production of Structure Tech Home Inspections. My name is Reuben Saltzman. I’m your host alongside building science geek Tessa Murry. We help home inspectors up their game through education, and we help homeowners to be better stewards of their houses. We’ve been keeping it real on this podcast since 2019, and we are also the number one home inspection podcast in the world, according to my mom. Welcome back to the show. Tessa. Great to see you. How you doing on this gorgeous sunny day where it feels like spring is right around the corner? 

Tessa Murray: Hey, Reuben. I’m doing well. I’m doing well. I’m glad that the snow has melted mostly. And here we are in April, starting to feel like second spring.

RS: Yeah. It’s been still officially for a month, but [laughter] it’s feeling like it now.

TM: Yeah. Yeah. How are you doing? 

TM: I’m doing pretty well. Can’t complain. Life is good.

TM: Good. Well, I’m excited because we just got done recording a three part series with Tom Harris and we did a deep dive into everything spray foam, which was very informative, but extremely technical as well. And we were, I learned a ton from him. And hopefully so did our listeners. If you wanna learn more about spray foam and you didn’t listen to those podcasts, go check them out with Tom Harris. But I’m excited for today. Reuben, you and I were discussing off air what should we talk about next? And you’ve discussed in the past over different podcast episodes, you’ve brought up different projects that you’ve done on your house, or different experiments you’ve conducted as well, which is always very interesting and sometimes hilarious. But I thought, you know what, why don’t we consolidate that discussion into one podcast and highlight some of the best updates and improvements and successes and some of the worst experiences you’ve had as well. [laughter] And so what do you think about that? Should we, should we dive into that today? 

RS: That sounds great. I feel like I’m gonna be doing most of the talking Tess. I mean.

TM: You are. You are.

RS: Okay. All right.

TM: This a show about you today.

RS: Okay. All right. Well, we’re gonna do one about you next week then. And I’m gonna pick the topic.

TM: I was gonna say… You’ve got more than enough content and experience to fill a full podcast today. So I’m excited.

RS: Well, you prompted me a little before we started recording. So the first one that came to mind, Tess, and this was like one of the biggest projects that I’ve ever undertaken, and it also went catastrophically wrong, which was me redoing the… When I used to live in Minneapolis. I had a storey and a half house, and it’s when we decided to redo the upper level, the half storey, or whatever you wanna call it.

TM: I thought you were going a different direction with this story. Okay. All right. Yes. Your storey and a half house in Minneapolis, please. Sorry to interrupt. Continue.

RS: Oh, no, that’s fine. So when we bought this house, it was kind of finished at the upper level. They had a rough in for a bathroom up there. There were water lines and there was a sealed off line that was illegally tapped into the vent for the first floor toilet. And it was kind of set up where you could set up a sink and a toilet. And I did set up a sink and a toilet. We had them up there for a little while, ’cause I had a cousin living up there and then when he moved out it was like, all right, we’re gonna redo this. We’re gonna make this really nice. It had paneling on the slant walls and on the walls, just that thin stuff. It was brown and dark and super ugly. And the insulation was like this paper stuff. It was called Kimsul and…

TM: Oh. Yeah.

RS: Yeah. It was terrible and so messy. And so we started our project by kind of gutting it up there. We took down all the paneling, we took down all the insulation. It was the world’s biggest mess. We removed all the plumbing fixtures, capped off the water lines and not really thinking. I don’t know what I was thinking, Tess. This was so stupid. We did this when winter was coming. We did it like in November or something. And what happens when you take out all of the insulation [laughter] at your half storey, it gets really cold.

TM: You’re losing a lot of heat. Yeah, a lot of heat.

RS: Yeah. So you’re losing a lot of heat and it gets darn cold. Well, it got so cold that one of those pipes burst and…

TM: Oh no.

RS: When I say burst, I mean I had a shutoff valve on the end of the pipe and the shutoff valve popped off. Yeah, Tessa is covering her mouth for the listeners.

TM: I feel bad you tell that part of the story before. And this is new…

RS: Yeah, well, it’s because it’s so embarrassingly stupid.

TM: Oh, no. That’s terrible.

RS: Now that it’s been about two decades, I can talk about it. [laughter] And so what happens when the shutoff valve on a half inch water line pops off? You get a lot water coming out of that pipe. And it happened while nobody was home. So Anna gets home from work at 5 o’clock or whatever. I’m doing a home inspection and I did not answer the phone. She may have called once and I didn’t answer ’cause I’m talking with a client and her next call is to my dad asking where’s the shutoff valve for the house? ‘Cause when she walks in, there is water pouring out of everything. It’s coming out of the doorways, it’s coming out of the light fixtures.

TM: Oh no. Oh my God.

RS: It’s coming down the stairs. It is the world’s biggest mess. So that… That was a remodel. Gone horribly wrong.

TM: Oh my gosh. That’s terrible. And we’ve talked about on the past podcast episodes, failures as home inspectors. And it is the worst dealing if you have a tub that overflows that you forget about. I’ve had that happen. And just water dripping through one light fixture is enough to make you want to die. So I can only imagine what you were feeling when that happened.

RS: Oh yeah. That was awful. And I wasn’t even there. I just came home to see the aftermath. I didn’t get to see it as bad as my wife saw it. I probably got home about half hour after she had shut the water off. And my goodness. What a mess. And so there’s water on the walls.

TM: What did you do? 

RS: Well, we filed an insurance claim, I’ll tell you that. We cleaned up everything that we could just to, and there was water, standing water in the basement. It made its way down to there, boxes, stuff soaked. We cleaned up as much as we could. And we spent the next couple of days living at my parents’ house ’cause our house was kind of uninhabitable at that point. Everything was just destroyed. And we ended up having to gut the first floor bathroom, which was the only bathroom at that point. So we had to gut that bathroom. We tore out all the walls. We ended up having to semi gut one of the bedrooms too, take down the ceiling and the walls ’cause there was tons of water in there. And that was a couple of good learning experiences. Number one, I knew there was tons of water in the wall.

RS: And I had another home inspector come out. This was before we had invested in infrared cameras. And I knew there was home inspectors using infrared cameras to find water in walls. And I thought this would be a good alternative to doing intrusive testing. You could just use an infrared camera instead. So I had this home inspector come out and I said, let’s scan this wall with your IR camera. I want to see the water. Well, we scan that wall, and it was all the same temperature Tess. The dry areas, the wet areas. It was all the same temperature.

TM: Couldn’t tell.

RS: Why? Because infrared cameras do not find water. They find temperature differences. And to get a temperature difference, you need to have water evaporating. If your water is just closed up within a wall and it can’t evaporate, you don’t have cooler temps. So we scan that wall and it showed nothing. And then I took my hammer and I busted the wall open. ‘Cause we were waiting for it, and I grabbed the insulation and I squeezed it, and I just squeezed water out of it. I mean, it was soaked.

TM: Oh my gosh. Wow.

RS: And the infrared camera couldn’t see it.

TM: You know what an important lesson. And that is definitely, that’s a story that helped educate the entire structure tech team of inspectors, I think, as to how to use a infrared camera responsibly and things that you could miss with an infrared camera that other people are looking for with it. And so, you know what? I think there’s a silver lining to that whole experience, Reuben. And I didn’t realize that that’s where that story came from.

RS: Yes. Yep. Yep. This is closing the loop on that.

TM: Okay.

RS: We ended up moving back into the house. We kept the bathroom as functional as possible for as long as we could. I mean, we gutted all the walls, but we took the toilet out, we took all the flooring out, and then we put the toilet back in because you need a toilet. And for the shower surround and the bathtub, I think we ended up leaving the bathtub in place. We ended up reusing it, and we stapled poly to all of the walls to the studs, and we left the shower head in place so I could still take a shower in my gutted bathroom.

TM: Oh my gosh.

RS: But there’s no insulation on the walls, and it’s dead of winter. So you had to have a space heater go in there nonstop. And then there was no sinks. You’d have to wash your hands in the kitchen. That was rough in it. And this was before we had kids. I couldn’t imagine doing this with kids, but talk about a rough…

TM: No, nightmare.

RS: Remodel. It was…

TM: Oh my gosh. Brutal.

RS: And so, we ended up having to do a lot of projects simultaneously.

TM: Oh my gosh. Was it lath and plaster that you had to remove from all the interior walls? 

RS: Exactly. Yep.

TM: Oh no. Yeah.


RS: Yeah.

TM: No. Huge project. It was already a big project, but it became a huge project.

RS: It became a huge project. But when it was all said and done, we ended up putting in a very nice master, no, not, can’t say master. Primary suite.

TM: Primary suite, yeah.

RS: Primary suite at the upper level. We put in a nice tiled shower and a nice double sink and all that. I mean, the bathroom was just gorgeous. And the bedroom turned out gorgeous. I mean, it was beautiful when we were all done. I still miss that bedroom. It’s the nicest bedroom I’ve ever had.

TM: Really? 

RS: Yeah.

TM: Wow. And that was the house that you did the spray foam in the slant as well, right? 

RS: That’s right.

TM: Or in the hot roof? 

RS: Yeah, we did the hot roof. We did closed cell foam. And I kept thinking about that project when we had Tom Harris talking about all of these different things with spray foam and all these things that could be done wrong. And I thought, oh my goodness, if I knew 20 years ago what I know now, that project would’ve gone very differently, and I would’ve overseen a lot more instead of just trusting these guys. Hey, they’re the pros. They know what they’re doing.

TM: For sure, for sure. Do you think that the foam was applied correctly? Did you ever notice any issues with it pulling away from the rafters or discoloration or off-gassing or anything like that? 

RS: We ended up covering it up pretty quickly after it was all put in. I ended up putting the drywall up over it pretty quickly. So I don’t know.

TM: Yeah. And another lesson too that I think you shared with the team as well, and we use this to help educate home buyers as well, that even if you put spray foam in between the rafters, unless you have some sort of continuous ventilation or continuous insulation installed on the underside of the roof deck across the rafters or on the exterior and build up the roof decking and have additional ventilation installed, then you will likely still have snow melt because of all the heat loss happening through the thermal bridging through the rafters. Right. And that’s something, is that something you learned the hard way doing that project as well? 

RS: Oh, 100%. 100%. I mean, it made things way better. I still had snow on my roof when all my neighbors had bare shingles exposed, so it was much better than it used to be, but it didn’t completely lick the ice dams. When you get heavy snow, I would still get some ice dams.

TM: Yep.

RS: I would’ve done it differently had I known then what I know now.

TM: Okay.

RS: So that was that project.

TM: Yeah, a lot of lessons learned from that house. Thank you house.

RS: For sure. It segues into another thing that we’ve talked about on the show, which is just some nice bathroom remodel hacks. Some of my best tips for remodeling a bathroom.

TM: Yeah. These are some wins that you’ve shared in past podcasts, I think, and it’d be nice just to hear a little recap of some things that you’ve done to upgrade your bathrooms. You’ve got some luxurious bathrooms in your house.

RS: I’ve done a bunch of them. One of them, which I just absolutely love, is putting speakers in the wall. You fish, you fish the wires, and when the walls are wide open, boy, it’s a piece of cake. But I’ve retrofitted on my existing house too, where I fished wires up through the wall and I put speakers in the wall, just computer speakers. It doesn’t need to be anything super expensive, like $100 set of computer speakers. Put a little subwoofer in the cabinet down below, and all you’ve got sticking out of the wall is a little jack and you plug in your Amazon or Alexa device. I’m hoping mine doesn’t activate here. Oh, I named mine computer. I’ll say it quietly so it doesn’t start talking to me, but you just plug that in there and then you can talk and get music and whatever you need when you’re shaving or showering or whatever, it’s great.

TM: Do you have discussions? Is that where you plan out your day and you get help organizing things and you send yourself memos and notes? Or are you just jamming out? Are you listening to music? 

RS: I’m just jamming out, or if I do think of something that the family needs to know about, you do whatever. Alexa, make an announcement and we’ve got these little pucks. Those things are like $20, so we’ve got ’em all over the house, and so we use it as our built-in home intercom system for each other.

TM: Oh my gosh. See, I don’t use anything like that, and I never have. For some reason, it just kind of, I know that our devices are listening to us, like our cell phones and all of that, but it weirds me out to think that there’s these devices that are listening all the time and then filtering your ads and filtering commercials and all of that stuff. It just feels like an invasion of my privacy, especially if it’s located in the bathroom.

RS: Yeah, you’re right. It surely is, but oh well, I’m willing to pay that price.

TM: I should just get over it though because that’s the way the world is changing.

RS: Yeah.

TM: I can’t fight it.

RS: I love that upgrade for bathrooms. Another one I did in the one I got now was installing one of these mirrors that’s got lighting built into it. It’s got this nice light strip going around it. It makes you feel like you’re in a hotel. That was kind of my little splurge. I absolutely love that mirror. It’s my favorite part of the bathroom in floor heat. If you’ve got tiled floor in a basement, I strongly recommend putting in, in floor heat. That is a great upgrade to have.

TM: Even if it’s not a basement. Any tiled floor always feels cool. I think.

RS: It does. You’re right. You’re right. I agree with you. Yeah, that could be done anywhere. And I’ve got a bunch of other ones, but those are my favorite ones. The speakers though, gosh, it is so inexpensive. Everybody should have it.

TM: Your bathroom is your getaway place, it sounds like, Reuben. That’s where you go to just shut yourself in and get away from the world and your fam. Spend some time with your speakers and your smart mirror. Come out a new man.

RS: For 10 minutes. For 10 minutes. I’ll admit. I’m a…

TM: With warm feet.

RS: I’m a power showerer. I am in there for two minutes. I do not dilly dally, but it is great. It is great.

TM: I love it. I love it. Okay, so those are some good success stories of different projects that you’ve taken on for your house. Do you have any other stories about projects that you’ve done on your house that either you would like to share that have been very successful or maybe not so successful? 

RS: Well, I’ll share one I’ve shared before, which falls into both categories, which is the point of use water heater in my kitchen. It’s a cute little one and a half gallon, or maybe no, it’s a two and a half gallon water heater. It’s got hot water plumb directly into it, so you never run out of hot water. When you turn on the kitchen faucet, instead of waiting two minutes to get hot water, hot water comes out the second you turn on the faucet. I mean, it is instantly hot. It hardly costs anything to operate this thing. And by the time you’ve drained the hot water out of that thing, you’ve got hot water refilling it. So it is a perfect solution. The water heater itself costs about $150-$200, something like that. The installation took about five minutes. It couldn’t have been any easier. Absolutely love that thing. Now, on the downside, I know I’ve shared this before, I think we did a whole episode on this.

RS: When you install a water heater, technically you’re supposed to have a drain pan, and I never really thought about this thing as a traditional water heater, so I never installed the drain pan. Well, you know where this is going. It leaked and I wake up one morning, go down to my exercise room, and there’s water coming out of the ceiling there. That was an insurance claim. Ended up replacing the water heater. I ended up putting in a drain pan this time, but it is got nowhere to drain to, so it’s just a pan. And I put a water sensor in there, and the water sensor wirelessly connects to an emergency shutoff valve. It’s made by Guardian and it’s like a $300 system. And I’ve got these little pucks. I’ve got one underneath my dishwasher. I’ve got one under my water heater. I’ve got one. I got them all over the place, these little pucks. So if something starts leaking, it shuts off the water to the house. So that was a good addition. And this time when my water heater leaked for the second time after 18 months, it shut off all the water to the house and I had no catastrophic damage to deal with.

TM: Yeah, man. You know what, Ruben, I appreciate how you take these risks. You do these things, these little upgrades, you make it sound so easy and efficient, but then that stupid little thing costs you so much headache when it flooded. But then you learn from it and now you upgraded your whole house and you’ve got this cool system in place that prevents any other appliances from damaging your house if they leak or fail. Which is really cool.

RS: That’s the goal. And I think what it comes down to is just being persistent.

TM: You’re resilient. Yes. Resiliency.

RS: We can say that, I don’t give up easily I guess. We had Dr. Ben Franske on the podcast earlier this year, and he had joked about how IT guys aren’t necessarily any smarter. They just don’t give up and they’ll keep trying stuff. At least that’s what he said about himself. I got a good chuckle out of that. I thought that’s about accurate. Doesn’t mean I’m going to do better than the next person, but I’m willing to make mistakes and I’ll do it again.

TM: Yep. Well, and thank you for doing that, Ruben. Being willing to make mistakes. Learn from that and share, because we’re all learning from your failures as well. And okay, failures is harsh. We’re all learning from these experiences that you’re having. Thank you.

RS: Failing forward. That’s what John Maxwell would say.

TM: Yep. Yep. You learn and you grow for sure.

RS: I got another one that I’d put in the positive and negative category at my last house. I had an unfinished basement and my office was down in the basement and I’d spend the whole day working down there and I got tired of going up and down the stairs every time I had to use the bathroom. So I said, I’m putting in a urinal. We already got a rough in for a bathroom down here. I’m putting in my own urinal. No more of these trips up and down. And I ran the water lines over to the area, and I know that on a flushing meter, which is that thing that you hit on a urinal to get the water to flush, there was something in the Minnesota plumbing code that said you’re supposed to have a three quarter inch line going to that. And I thought, well, I better do a three quarter inch line. Get a really good flush out of this. I don’t want to have too small of a flush. And I ruffled with that thing.

TM: You’re trained to tell the manufacturer’s installation instructions yes.

RS: Yeah, exactly. I’m going to do this right. I’m not going to cheap out and do a half inch line. Who would do that? So the difference between three quarter and a half, it’s substantial when you’re trying to bend PEX tubing and get it to go through your floor joists and making these little holes in the floor joists to run through and trying to bend it. Right. It is a pain in the butt on a ladder and you’re trying to bend the stuff and you’re twisting and all that. And man, it was so much work to run that. And oh, side note, here’s a tip for you. If you’re going to bore holes in your floor joists, if you’re going to drill holes, always look at the other side of the joist to figure out what you’re going to be boring into. So what do you think it was, Tess? Was it a water pipe or was it an electrical wire? 

TM: Well, you’re still here. Hopefully it was a water pipe.

RS: No, it was a wire. Yep. I went right through a wire. There was a big spark and of course it shorted the wire. So my circuit breaker did its job and killed the circuit right away. But I ruined my nice boring drill bits. It put a big nick in it when it arched.

TM: It could have been a lot worse though.

RS: It could have been worse. It could have been worse. And then of course I had to patch the wire. You got to put in a couple of junction boxes to splice it together and all that. It’s like, okay, it’s an extra hour of my time that I didn’t budget for and I ruined a drill bit. So I always look on the other side. Waterline would’ve been a lot more of a mess. I’ll say that.

TM: It would’ve, yeah, if your basement’s finished for sure too.

RS: Yeah.

TM: Although in that area is probably concrete.

RS: So it was great getting the urinal in. I mean, I finally did it. I put it in a sink too, so I could wash my hands. Of course.

TM: Great for you. How did Anna feel about it? 

RS: She was a little bit weirded out. I did this when she was out of town. She and the kids were out of town, so they were out in town for two days.

TM: She had no idea? 

RS: I said, when you come back, there may or may not be a urinal down there. And she kind of rolled her eyes. She’s like, It’s your space. And surprise. Here we go. But.

TM: Lemme just stop this and pause for a second. You were running up and down the stairs to use the bathroom. So instead of installing a toilet and making it a functional bathroom for anyone in the basement, you decided to go with a urinal? 

RS: Yeah, it’s my space and I’ve always wanted a urinal in my house. I mean, what guy wouldn’t want that? 

TM: Okay. Okay. All right, continue. Continue.

RS: You know what I will say eventually I did put in a toilet down there too, but it was all just wide open. I mean, it looked so cheesy. I sold the house like that.

TM: Yeah. There’s a lot of houses where they claim there’s two bathrooms and you go into the basement and it’s just a toilet in the middle of an unfinished room.

RS: This was not listed as a quarter bath, half bath, any of that. It was not listed in any of the pictures. It was just a little surprise for anyone coming through like, oh, what’s this? 

TM: There’s a urinal here. Hunny, we are getting this house.

RS: Yeah. Apparently the husband really got a kick out of it. I don’t know what guy wouldn’t like that.

TM: Oh my gosh. Hilarious. Okay. I thought there was going to be something that happened with the three quarter inch line.

RS: Oh yeah. About that. Okay. So here’s the deal. So I put in a huge pipe. As it turns out, I didn’t need to because on the flusher meter, when you flush it, it’s got this little adjustment screw, which controls how much water comes out with a flush. So I get it all plumbed in. It’s all connected. I turn on the water, I give it the first test flush, and the water just rages out of this thing with so much velocity, it shoots all over me, all over the floor. I mean, it is coming out fast and furious. So I dial that screw down about halfway. Same thing all over the place. I dial the screw down more and more and more. I turn the screw all the way off, flush it. Nothing comes out. I give the screw like a quarter turn and then it’s the perfect flush.

TM: Oh my gosh.

RS: So all this time I’m wrestling with this three quarter inch line and a half inch would’ve been way more than enough water to get a great flush out of this. So huge waste of time and effort. That’s what it comes down to.

TM: So moral of the story. For anyone listing listening that wants to install a urinal, you only need a half inch line.

RS: Yeah, yeah. I’m sure there’s just thousands of people who are going to appreciate that advice.

TM: Oh my gosh, that’s pretty funny. That’s pretty good. Oh man. Okay. Well, I know that you’ve got another one that I’ll say is also a win and a fail category. I’m thinking.

RS: Oh, the Christmas fights. Oh yeah. That’s a win and a fail. I just talked about that recently.

TM: Yeah.

RS: I’d say if you want the whole story, go back and listen to the podcast. We recorded, I think in the fall of 2023 or winter of 2023. But the short version is I decided to install permanent LED lights on my house, and Amazon had a sale on this kit. It was a few hundred bucks, and I spent a ton of time in the cold. I didn’t do it at the right time. I mean, it was freezing out. My hands were going numb, but you can’t wear gloves if you need the dexterity. Tons of ladder work in the freezing cold. I had to rent a 40 foot ladder to get to the highest portions of my house.

TM: Oh my gosh.

RS: I only own a 28 foot extension ladder.

TM: Yeah, 40 feet. That’s scary. You had help with that, right? 

RS: Yeah, my wife, I had Anna and my son Sye out there helping me. It was like three people to set this up. And I’ll tell you, Tess, after I was done messing around with that 40 foot ladder, I grabbed my 28 foot ladder and it felt like a dinky little toy.

TM: It’s all relative, isn’t it? 

RS: It’s all relative. And I thought, who has a hard time with a 28 foot ladder? This is nothing. But yeah, I got it all put in, and I thought I was going to make it all nice and custom, and I had all these splices in there. Turns out you can’t splice it. If you cut it, it don’t work. It’s not like a traditional light set. Each individual light has its own address and it needs to go in order. So I ended up having to basically redo a huge section of it at the upper level. It took me many weeks to get that done. It was supposed to be a relatively easy project. It’s done now, but it was one of the most frustrating projects I have ever done in my life.

TM: Which is saying something because you have experienced a lot of projects not going the way you intended, and you always pivot and bounce back from them. But this one, I remember you were just pulling out your hair and it was, yeah, it was painful.

RS: It was demoralizing.

TM: Okay, but since then, have you been able to illuminate your house the way that you’ve wanted to with these different holidays and seasonal changes? 

RS: Oh, heck yeah. We had pink and white on Valentine’s day. We had all green on St. Patrick’s day. I don’t know what what’s coming up next year. I forgot to do something for Easter. I didn’t think of Easter colors. I should have. Man.

TM: What would you have chosen? 

RS: I don’t know. Something pastel right? 

TM: I don’t know.

RS: Yeah, I’m not sure. Maybe some light yellow and blue. My whole weekend was spent volunteering at church. Easter was definitely on my mind.

TM: Yeah.

RS: I never did my lights. Oh, well. Next year.

TM: Missed opportunity. Yeah, next year. There’s next year.

RS: Yeah. Next year I’m sure my neighbors are all very annoyed with my cute little lights, but too bad. I like them.

TM: Surprise. No one’s copied you yet, Ruben. Trendsetter.

RS: Oh, well, you know what? I did it during awful weather. Just wait. If I was smart, I would have done it when it was nice outside. Yeah, we’ll see.

TM: Okay. And then I don’t know if we, you have something else in your mind, but there is one thing that I wanted to make sure we touched on, which is one of my all time favorite experiments of yours that has to do with plumbing.

RS: Oh my gosh. I know where you’re going with this Tess.

TM: You know what I’m talking about. Yeah.

RS: Yeah. Why don’t you set it up? 

TM: Okay. So I appreciate your curiosity, Ruben, and you’ve always been willing to try to set something up to test it a theory or an idea. And so you do a lot of experiments with plumbing, I think. And you have this archive of videos, which I think you’ve posted a lot of them on YouTube and use a lot of the content for blogs, but I stumbled across a video that is my all time favorite video of yours that I incorporated into our training process. So all of our inspectors were forced to watch it. It was quite enjoyable though. And it came from, I think a series of tests you did on air admittance valves and whether or not they will fail or they work or not. And one of the reasons for that being is that Minnesota does not allow for, the plumbing code does not allow for mechanical vents in the plumbing system. The plumbing vent has to go up and out through the roof.

TM: And so when a home inspector comes across a mechanical vent we call it out and let the home buyer know about it, why it’s a deal, a big deal or not. And in this experiment you were testing to see why is it a problem? Why doesn’t Minnesota code approve of this? Are these mechanical vents? Do they fail? Will they leak sewer gases out? What’s going on with that? So, okay. You take it away, Ruben. What did you find out? 

RS: Okay. So I put together my own and I had heard that if there’s a lot of back pressure, it’ll actually fail. And so I put together my own little tube and I put a air admittance valve on there and I thought, okay, I’m going to pressurize this. So I connected to my air compressor, but before I did it, I wanted to prove that it was functioning. So I held it up to my mouth and I just sucked on it to show that there’s air coming through. And I did that shortly after I glued everything together. And the fumes I inhaled from that were just toxic. And I coughed. I coughed hard. I was like, oh my gosh, there’s gas in there. And then I get super lightheaded. I was high. And so I continued on with the experiment, not thinking clearly. And I hooked up this contraption to my air compressor and I just opened it up all the way. Now my air compressor gives PSI of about like 100 or something like that. And the typical pressure that you’re supposed to have in a plumbing system. If you test that system with one, I think it’s a half inch of water column. I don’t even know how many PSIs that is. I don’t know how to do the conversion. I mean, maybe one or two, something like that.

TM: Not much pressure.

RS: Not much. So whatever it was, hooking up 100 PSI for my air compressor was just stupid. The second I opened this thing, it explodes like right in my face. The thing hits the floor joists and my wife, she’s outside gardening and she could hear it. And she’s like, what is he doing? I’m not even going down there.

TM: She heard the explosion and she’s like, oh Ruben, he’s at it again.

RS: I can’t remember what the sequence was, but I tried doing it again and it kept leaking. And I thought I was just going to have a little bit of air coming out and it kept leaking. So I went to shut the valve off, but instead I opened the valve all the way. It explodes in my face again.

TM: You’re still recording at this point.

RS: I’m still recording. And then I don’t remember what the situation was, but it happened a third time too. It exploded in my face three times before I made a successful video. And I had the camera rolling for all of it. So at the end of my video, I’ve got the blooper reel. You can watch it explode in my face over and over again. We’ll be sure to put the link in the show notes for this one.

TM: We’ll put a link to this video for anyone that wants to watch it. It’s a classic and it’s very enjoyable. Ruben, I’ve also never seen you look that upset. You were so mad, by the third time you were just pissed.

RS: Yeah, I was coming down off my high. I am pretty sure.

TM: Oh man, that was a classic. Oh, but you did do a couple other good plumbing experiments that I thought were really interesting. One of them had to do with a vented or an unvented fixture. Do you want to just do a quick recap on that? 

RS: Well, we’ve heard people say so many times that something isn’t draining well or it’s draining slowly because it’s not properly vented. And so I set up an experiment where I set up a laundry sink and I had a drain going out the side of my house going down about 10 feet, connected it to that and I filled it up with water and I let it drain with both a vent and without a vent. And I did the same thing at my kitchen sink. So it’s not just saved. This is an actual kitchen sink and I cut into my vent and I blocked it off. I’ve got an island vent.

TM: You did, you cut into your vent, you didn’t go onto the roof and cap it? 

RS: No, no, no. I just went right at the sink.

TM: Oh my gosh.

RS: It was probably winter time and I didn’t want to go up there and so I capped it off right at the sink. And you know what? Fixtures actually drain faster when they’re not vented.

TM: That was the key. That’s the takeaway from that. That was very interesting. Yeah.

RS: Yeah. And what happens is that you’ve got all the water going down, another storey or whatever it is, and all of that water leaving creates a siphon action where it wants to pull the rest of the water in that fixture out. And so it sucks like crazy. And that’s why you need a vent is to prevent that siphoning and prevent that water from getting sucked out so fast that it clears out the trap. That’s why you need vents. So it actually pulls the water through faster when you don’t have a vent. So you hear that home inspector or plumber or handyman folklore, oh, it’s not draining well, ’cause it’s not vented, not true.

TM: Yeah. Very interesting. Very, very interesting. And I think you’ve got, I don’t know if this is posted on YouTube, but it was part of our training process too.

RS: Good.

TM: Was watching that experiment that you did.

RS: Yeah. And it, you know what…

TM: You documented it really well.

RS: It helps to just see this stuff in action and hear what it sounds like because there’s a definite difference in sound between a vented and an unvented fixture. You hear all this gurgling and siphoning and just to see the difference between the two, it tunes your ears to listen for that and you have a better understanding of what this means and why it’s happening.

TM: Exactly. Yep. Agreed. Agreed. Yeah. You’ve produced some really good content, Reuben, for not only the structure tech team of home inspectors, but for just the general population. Anyone that wants to understand the nuances of these things, these systems, plumbing, electrical, Christmas lights, whatever, you are a rich resource.

RS: Well, thanks. Yeah. Subscribe to our YouTube channel please.

TM: There we go. Yeah.

RS: We’ll put a link in there.

TM: There we go.

RS: In the show notes. Yeah.

TM: Perfect.

RS: All right. Well, this is going longer than I thought it was gonna. Let’s just go to two other wins, Tess. Two other good projects.

TM: Two wins.

RS: One of them was installing basically an upside down roof underneath my deck. I got this idea from an article they had in the family handyman. There’s under decking that you can buy for a deck. It means that the area under your deck stays nice and dry. They’re fairly expensive products. It’s this whole kit that’s meant to drain that area, but you can do it yourself just using what’s basically corrugated steel roofing panels and you get the right pitch on there and you have them drain into a gutter and to a downspout. You install it underneath your deck and it catch all that water and you got this fantastic dry space underneath your deck. And now it’s one of my favorite things to do in the summer. You got a big lightning storm or something like to sit out underneath the deck and just watch it. You got a nice dry space. I absolutely love that. That was a nice project to do. It did not cost me much. Just took a little bit of time to put up the panels.

TM: Sure. If you were hiring a professional, I’m sure it would cost a lot more. Right. Just the labor.

RS: Oh tons. Tons. I got bids on it.

TM: Did you get estimates? Okay.

RS: I don’t remember what it was, but I just went, I can do this.

TM: I’m sure you did. Yeah. Nice. Very nice.

RS: That was a fun project and I’ve had a couple of friends do the same thing to their own decks and they turned out great. So it’s very much a DIY project. And then.

TM: Very nice.

RS: Okay, last one. And Tessa, sorry, this is going to be the most controversial one. I know you hate these things. Solar tubes.

TM: Oh, you’re looking at me waiting for my reaction.

RS: I love solar tubes it’s… I guess some people might call it the poor man skylight. Instead of having this big insulated skylight shaft and you got to frame it all and all this to get a ton of light into a room, you basically just install a tube. It’s got a lens right at the ceiling. It’s got this tube that goes through your attic space, and then it’s got this bubble dome thingy that installs. It lapse in with your shingles and it lets light in and it’s like having a bright light on in your room, whatever it is. I’ve always, I’ve done it in the bathrooms at every house I’ve lived in and I absolutely love this. It’s tons of light, it’s natural light, it’s an easy installation. And I know the reason Tessa doesn’t like them is ’cause that tube is not insulated. But I’ve never had any issues.

TM: You haven’t had problems with it creating snow melts or anything like that, leading to ice dams. I’m sure I would actually prefer one of those solar tubes to an actual skylight.

RS: Would you? 

TM: Yes, I would. I mean there’s a saying in our industry, what is it, skylights, there’s two types of skylights. Skylights that leak and skylights that are going to leak. Right? And I’ve seen so many of them that do leak and create problems or you know, you get condensation on them and then the water drips back down. And then also too, it’s like you’ve got this big cut opening that goes all the way from your air conditioned living space up to the roof deck. And if it’s not perfectly air sealed or insulated, then of course you’re losing heat. You’re maybe you’re creating condensation or moisture problems, mold problems, all of that. And on top of it, if you’ve got a skylight in a vault or a cathedral ceiling, you are stopping any sort of airflow that could have been happening in that cavity as well from the soffit up to the peak.

TM: And so, number one, you’re creating a hole in your roof. The water can leak in. Number two, it’s a, you’re losing heat because of that skylight to the roof deck. And number three, you’re losing any sort of ventilation if it’s a vaulted ceiling. So for all those reasons, yes, I’m not a fan, but in some situations, if you got a big attic, if you got a interior room without any natural light and you’ve got good attic ventilation and you’re installing it and you know that you can air-seal it and insulate it, go for it. [laughter]

RS: Yeah. Yeah. And you know, something I wanna touch on, Tess, you said is that old saying roofers have, there’s two types of skylights, those that leak, those that are gonna leak, I did a video and a blog post about that recently where I said, I think the vast majority of skylight leaks, and we’re doing quotation mark leaks are actually building science problems.

TM: Yeah.

RS: It’s actually condensation happening around it.

TM: Condensation.

RS: From all my days of inspecting, I think I found maybe two or three skylights that were actually leaking all the rest of them, with staining around the skylight, around the ceiling, staining in the attic on almost every single one. I could trace it down to a condensation problem. And of course, people blame the roofer. They think it’s leaking, but the vast majority of the time, it’s not a leak, it’s a condensation problem. It’s a building science issue. They didn’t insulate the skylight shaft properly.

TM: Yeah. Well, and even if you do insulate the skylight shaft, you still have just the glass where if it’s really cold outside and you know it’s 70 degrees and 30% relative humidity inside, you’re gonna get condensation on that glass. It’s just gonna happen. So it’s hard to avoid that too.

RS: Sure.

TM: So yeah. I would think twice about installing a skylight in a extremely cold climate like ours. Especially if you have a vaulted ceiling. But other than that, [laughter], the natural light is great.

RS: I love the natural light. I love it. And in all these cases where I did it in a bathroom, of course it’s a bathroom that doesn’t have any windows. It’s…

TM: Yeah.

RS: Yeah. I just gotta figure out a way to get one of those with a shaft going all the way down to my basement. I, it ain’t gonna happen, but I’d love to figure out a way to make it happen. That’d be great.

TM: Oh my gosh. A solar tube going up three stories.

RS: Yeah. Yeah. Probably won’t happen.

TM: It sounds a little willy Wonkish. [laughter]

RS: Yeah. Yeah. All right. Well, that…

TM: Creative idea.

RS: That is a show Tess, we covered a lot of ground here today.

TM: And you doubted that we’d be able to fill up a show and I told you, Reuben, you have enough experiments to fill up a whole series. So.

RS: That’s a good call. Tess.

TM: Thank for sharing your wins and your, and your “failures” with all of us and making us smarter, wiser, better prepared homeowners and…

RS: Well, thanks for listening.

TM: Inspectors. Thank you. Thanks Reuben.

RS: Well, if you have any comments, thoughts on any of this, you got any good stories to share, we would love to hear your wins or failures. Failures are more fun, let’s be honest. [laughter] Please write into the show All right, we’ll catch you next week. I’m Reuben Saltzman for Tessa Murray saying, later.