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Open House

Do-It-Yourself Home Improvement Projects Under $50; The Best Wines and Best Grills For Your Money; Tough Economy Causing People to Change Their Retirement Plans; Fueling Your Car with Vegetable Oil

Aired July 05, 2008 - 09:30   ET


GERRI WILLIS, CNN HOST: Hello. I'm Gerri Willis and this is a special edition of OPEN HOUSE, the show that saves you money, but also knows how to have a little fun this July Fourth weekend.
We've got a jam-packed show on tap for you today. Do it yourself home improvement for under 50 bucks to make all the difference.

And we'll get to the best grills and bottles of wine for your buck in just a few minutes.

First, the economy is issue No. 1, and a new survey from shows the tough economy has a lot of people changing their retirement plans.

Earlier this week, I sat down with analyst Greg McBride.


WILLIS: Let's go through some of the results. They're frankly astonishing.

GREG MCBRIDE, BANKRATE.COM: What's particularly troubling is the fact when we ask the question: has the current economic climate changed the way -- caused you to make any changes with regard to your retirement accounts, 401(k), IRA workplace retirement plans, 15 percent say they have decreased their contributions.


MCBRIDE: Nine percent say they have made a withdrawal, eight percent stopped contributing altogether. And this was -- what's particularly troubling about this is the incidence was higher of those aged 50 and up then it was for those under age 50.

WILLIS: Even more troubling. But you know, times are really tough. Now, if you're taking out the loan, if you're making a withdrawal, what's wrong with that? I mean, it is your money at the end of the day.

MCBRIDE: Well, but the problem is you don't get as much as you think you're going to get because of, in approximately cases, taxes and penalties. If you're taking a hardship withdraw from you're 401(k) plan, you're going to pay taxes on the money that comes out, you're also going to pay a 10 percent early withdrawal penalty if you're under 59-1/2 and you're locked out from making more contributions for another six months. So it's really a permanent setback to your retirement planning.

WILLIS: Permanent setback. So, look elsewhere for other money if you have another source, use that instead. Another interesting thing out of this survey, you know, there are long-term effects to not buying stocks when stocks are cheap. You know, we were talking earlier in the day about hey, you know what, if there's a sale on you want to go to it right?

MCBRIDE: Absolutely, I mean, the idea here, after all, is let's buy low, sell high. And very often investors behave very differently. When there's a sale at the mall, people flock to it, but when stocks go on sale, people run the other way, that's the wrong way to be thinking. This is the opportunity to be buying particularly if this is a long-term investment such as a retirement account.

WILLIS: Can we talk just a little bit about what you should be doing during a time like this? What are the right moves? Because, I got to tell you, Greg, people are really concerned out there. The Dow Industrial is down and dramatically stock market down dramatically, here in this country, and all across the globe really we have seen even international markets suffering.

MCBRIDE: Certainly. I mean, there's been a lot of market volatility and there's still a lot of uncertainty out there, so people are -- they're understandably a little bit reluctant, but again, especially if we're talking about retirement planning you to think long-term, keep putting the money in. You're getting better value with your 401(k) contribution from this paycheck than you did from the last paycheck.

That's really the perspective to have and again, retirement in many cases it's on us as individuals. Social security has an uncertain future, pensions are becoming a thing of the past, so you really have to take control of your own financial security. Look for ways to increase your contributions and even if times are though, keep the hands off the retirement account.

WILLIS: All right DIY retirement, I guess, is what you're saying. Greg McBride, thank you for that.

MCBRIDE: Thank you, Gerri.


WILLIS: Coming up on OPEN HOUSE, do-it-yourself home improvements for under 50 bucks that will have your friends and neighbors thinking you spent a fortune.

And what if you can get a restaurant to pay you to cart away their used vegetable oil and use it as an alternative fuel for your car?

Then, bottle red, bottled white, the best bottle for your buck.

And the all American cookout, I'll take you to "Consumer Reports" to talk grills. You won't believe what you can get for your money.


WILLIS: All right. You had Friday to relax, time now to take care of some business around the house. We've got home improvement projects for $50 or less.

Danny Lipford is home improvement expert and host of "Today's Homeowner."


WILLIS: Let's start with painting.

DANNY LIPFORD, TODAY'S HOMEOWNER: Right. Well, it's no surprise you can really improve almost anything in your home by applying a fresh coat of paint.

WILLIS: Oh, yeah.

LIPFORD: And this is a very easy and neat way to do a lot of paint jobs. Because if you don't cover up everything around that you don't want to get painted, it will get painted, so with pressure sensitive tape like that and some lightweight plastic, you can protect the floors, those shrubs. And a fresh coat of paint on the shutters or the front doors, any of that can make a big difference for less than $50.

WILLIS: It does make a big difference and it'll really change the -- you know, if you're putting your house on the market, you definitely want to do it.

LIPFORD: Absolutely.

WILLIS: Now, let's talk a little bit about energy efficiency, because you're got some great improvements on a cheap. Start me out here.

LIPFORD: There you go. Well, certainly using a caulking gun around the perimeter of your home to really seal any crack that you have. Because that air infiltrating your home is going to cost you more money to keep it comfortable. And another thing, on a resale situation with a home, many prospective buyers are really looking how energy efficient that home is, because it's not the mortgage payment, it's also the utility bills, so using weather stripping, use expandable foam and certainly caulking up any crack you can will save you money all year long.

WILLIS: OK, you've got some great tips too for improvements to the bathroom. Now, this is a room people see right away every time they visit your house, quick improvements, let's start with some of the hardware changes you can make.

LIPFORD: Right, yeah, you can go in a bathroom particularly if it has old antique brass-type of hardware and hinges and completely replace it, this polished nickel is really popular now. And, but you want to make sure that you take one of the old hinges with you when you head down to the home center, because a lot of different patterns and everything, you want to make sure it fits the same footprint. Then you can change the doorknob, you can change the different types of towel rings and toilet rods.

But you want to make sure that you install them properly and if you have one like this, the best way to do it is to use a toggle bolt if you're not able to attach it to a stud, use a toggle bolt that will really old that because you don't want a big hole in the wall when those kids are grabbing things.

WILLIS: Now, you brought me toilet paper here, I'm very happy to see. But there's actually a moral, a lesson in this. A lot of people have these kinds of electrical outlets, you feel a lot of cold air coming in. You say you can stop that.

LIPFORD: Right, especially on an outside wall, you can go by and feel whether it's cold or hot air coming through and this is just a simple outlet gasket that these are very inexpensive. Also, the kids will love to help you on this. You take the plate off, you put that right in place like that and then you put the cover back over and it will really make a difference. Think about all the different outlets, switches, plugs, everything on the outside perimeter of your house, if you can seal those up that will save you money all year long.

WILLIS: Danny, great idea. If you have any one thing you would say to homeowners this weekend, something they should definitely do, what would it be?

LIPFORD: Well, I would certainly take a slow walk around the perimeter of the house and see anyplace air might be sneaking in. Now, if air is sneaking in, also those bugs are sneaking in. So, it kind of helps to seal anything up that you can. You'll save than money and you'll keep those bugs out of there, too.

WILLIS: Danny Lipford, great tips, thanks for your help today.

LIPFORD: Thanks, Gerri.


WILLIS: OK, this next story is really cool. Imagine you take vegetable oil, the same stuff you cooked last night's dinner with and use it to fuel your car. Now, you probably heard stories of people doing this, you can do it too with a little help, of course.

CNN's Thelma Gutierrez has the story.


THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Imagine a world where the price of gas is irrelevant and fuel, almost free, is everywhere. Sounds farfetched, but that's exactly the world that Jeff Phillips, Justin Dervaes, and Robert Metcalf have created for themselves. Jeff Phillips is a former Hollywood musician on a mission to convert diesel cars into vehicles that run on vegetable oil. (on camera): How busy are you right now?

JEFF PHILLIPS, CEO, THE GREENLAB: I am slammed right now. In the last month, I've probably gotten more business than I have in the last year.

GUTIERREZ (voice over): Justin Dervaes is an urban farmer who makes biodiesel out of old fryer grease to run his '88 diesel Chevy Suburban.

(on camera): If you had to gas up this car, how much would it cost?

JUSTIN DERVAES, USES BIODIESEL FUEL: It would cost about $250 to fill up a 40-gallon tank on diesel.

GUTIERREZ (voice over): And Robert Metcalf is a mechanical engineer, who now dumpster dives for restaurant waste to convert into fuel that he puts into the gas tank of his '83 diesel Mercedes. Metcalf says this isn't just about being green, it's about surviving the squeeze at the gas pump. Fed up with paying way over $4 a gallon, Metcalf bought an old Mercedes for $700 and took it to Jeff. It cost $1,300 to get it running and another $850 for a vegetable oil conversion kit.


GUTIERREZ: A word of caution, the EPA doesn't recognize vegetable oil as a motor oil and drivers can be fined for using it. But, Metcalf says it's the ultimate in recycling.

ROBERT METCALF, USES VEGETABLE OIL FUEL: In the carbon cycle it's what you'd call closed carbon loop because there's carbon in the air, the plants breathe it, metabolize it into the oil, which I am then putting back in, oxidizing it, and turning it back into carbon dioxide.

GUTIERREZ: And, he say, it's the best investment he's made.

METCALF: I already have a waste oil source, so I don't actually have to pay for the oil and so I get to save $450 or $500 in gas every month. So, in four months it'll pay for itself.

GUTIERREZ: Justin Dervaes is getting similar results another way. Instead of converting his diesel SUV, he converts the waste restaurant oil into biodiesel, which is a legal fuel.

(on camera): So this stuff comes right out of the fryer at a restaurant?


GUTIERREZ: It looks pretty nasty, isn't this bad for your car?

DERVAES: It is nasty.

GUTIERREZ: The waste has to first be filtered and processed, which cost about $1 a gallon.

DERVAES: We have an electric water heater and we pump in this oil and heat it up. And this little container here is -- it's clear -- it's methanol and lye mixed together. When you mix those two at high temperatures, you mix them for a couple of hours, the reaction is biodiesel.

GUTIERREZ (voice over): Biodiesel that doesn't smell, isn't flammable, and doesn't produce black smoke.

(on camera): You don't have to worry, like everybody else does, about the cost of gas.

DERVAES: Yeah, that's empowering right there in itself. It's freedom.

GUTIERREZ (voice over): The kind of fuel freedom that's keeping Jeff in high demand.

PHILLIPS: Just really trying to get a lot of these cars on the road and get a lot more people more educated.

GUTIERREZ: An option that takes commitment. If you convert to biodiesel, you still have to register your car with the state and pay an 18 cents a gallon fuel tax and there's the time and labor involved collecting the fryer grease and turning it into biodiesel.


GUTIERREZ: You definitely don't want to put waste vegetable oil straight into your car and here's why. This is exactly what it looks like, all of this would go into your car, all the debris, the French fries, the falafel, the breading would go in your car. Don't want to do that.

What you have to do first is you take this waste oil and you pour it into a container like this that has a filter and it goes in just like that and then once it goes through the filter, then you can pump it into a clean container, takes a little effort and then once you're done you can take it and put that directly into the car.

Now, there is a down side. To convert this jetta diesel that you see right here cost back seat $2,500 and that's because it needs an extra fuel tank, but if you convert a Mercedes-Benz diesel, it only costs about $850 because it only needs one tank and then there's the additional hassle of having to go out and find the oil from a restaurant and then you have to be willing to go through the hassle of filtering it. Not many people are going to be willing to do that.

Gerri, back to you.

WILLIS: Well, lots of work but big payoff. Thank you for that, Thelma.

Calling all wine lovers. The best vineyards, the best vintages, most importantly, the best bottles at the best prices. And it's time to fire up that barbecue, but which one? We're going to put them to the test. You're watching OPEN HOUSE, the show that saves you money.


WILLIS: The best wine for every occasion at the right prices. Plus, a total spurge to blow your stimulus check on. Gary Vaynerchuk is the author of "101 Wines" and hosts his own show on

All right Gary, let's start by talking the best value in red wines.

GARY VAYNERCHUK, 101 WINES: I'm very bullish on Portugal. I think Portugal is bringing enormous thunder.

WILLIS: Portugal?

VAYNERCHUK: Yes. Portugal. Wine is like handbags. You pay for brand.

WILLIS: So, not French, not necessarily California. Off the track.

VAYNERCHUK: Correct. Portugal is this one country, they've known for their ports and now they're starting to distill red wines, they're extremely good, but still somewhat unknown. And the area you want to look for is Douro, d-o-u-r-o, they're making amazing wines and a lot of value.

WILLIS: A lot of value. How much for that bottle?

VAYNERCHUK: It's $16 bottle of wine price tag, but in your pallet at least a $40 play.

WILLIS: OK, impressive. Let's do white wine.

VAYNERCHUK: Chile. A lot of people think of Chile as value. I'm going to a Sauvignon Blanc from Casa Marin, a very interesting producer. A little under 20 bones. A lot of people talk about Sancerre, but the Euro is dismantling the dollar right now, so we have to find other value. Casa Marin produces this amazingly crisp Sauvignon Blanc, but you have to like jalapeno because it's got a little jalapeno action. A little kick. But a great wine, clean, crisp, perfect for summer.

WILLIS: All right, OK. I'm barbecuing all the time this summer and I would much prefer to drink wine than a beer. You have something here that you say is really good for barbecue.

VAYNERCHUK: Yeah, I mean, a lot of people have become familiar Shiraz because of Yellow Tail, and that's great, and we want people to try different things. So, Terra-Barosa, very small producer, very high quality. This is 10 bucks.


VAYNERCHUK: It's gotten 90-point scores from all of the major critics. Drinks easily, great with food, but you can drink it yourself -- to me, that makes a perfect barbeque wine.

WILLIS: All right, and so that's under $10?

VAYNERCHUK: Right at $10.

WILLIS: OK. Champagne. People are still drinking Champagne, even though the French Champagne is through the roof.

VAYNERCHUK: I think champagne is the biggest misplay in America. People don't realize that you can drink bubble with every meal. We think of it as a celebratory item and that's it. Huge mistake. And this something I'm real passionate about, Champagne has gotten extensive, but Kava, the area in Spain that's producing bubbles are pumping out amazing Champagne for 12 -- or sparkling wine, for $12 to $18. This 1+1=3 is $11, $12, $13 and an amazingly perfect wine with food.

WILLIS: I go with Prosecco, that's also cheaper.

VAYNERCHUK: Prosecco is a great play. Good job. Seriously, it is.

WILLIS: All right, you know what, though? What I'm noticing here as I look at these wines, some of these are screw-top, and some of these are not.


WILLIS: I always -- I always assume if it's screw-top, it's not the same value. Is that true?

VAYNERCHUK: It's time for Americans to get off the Boones Farm, Maddog 20/20 kick. Screw-tops are great. Most wine is consumed right away and I'm a big fan.


VAYNERCHUK: It's very much OK if you're not a jerk about it.

WILLIS: OK. I'll make an effort at that. Now, if you wanted to spend a lot of money...


WILLIS: Then, what do you buy? You've got a bottle here that you want us to pay attention to.

VAYNERCHUK: I really want people to pay attention to 2004 Bordeaux -- 2004 Bordeaux was the last of the Mohicans. With the '05 vintage, Boudreaux has exploded in price. For example, this is Clos L' Eglise Pomerol is $95 in '04, which is a lot of money.


VAYNERCHUK: The '05 counterpart, though, is about $250. The '06 is about $150 and it's nowhere as good as the '04. The '04's were Bordeaux is right before the price shift, so '04 Bordeaux is a huge play in value. Hard to say 95 bucks is value, but in the scheme of things, in that world, it is.

WILLIS: OK, if I'm out there shopping, which I do for wine occasionally, tell me what I look for when I'm shopping. Clearly you like to pick wines from specific regions and specific countries. Anything else that will clue me in to whether a wine is a good value?

VAYNERCHUK: This is great, I want to give a really good, you know, tidbit. Wine is a journey, and you need to try different wines. People find a wine they like and they drink it like it's got the cure inside. I mean, you need to expand. And so, what too many people do is they try to find wines they've had before. I say, make sure you try a deferent wine, a variety you've never had before. And that's how you expand your pallet.

How do you know that chicken is your favorite meal if you've never tried it? And that's what people are doing with wine. They're not exploring enough. So, Portugal or South Africa, the (INAUDIBLE) is a grape, things like that. Mix it up, it really enhances your wine journey.

WILLIS: OK, experiment, that's your message today. Gary, thank you so much for being with us. That was great.

Last but not least, grills with all of the bells and whistles for less than you'd think.


WILLIS: It's summertime and that means it's time to break out the grill. But, if you're in the market for a new one, which one should you buy? I went to "Consumer Reports" to find out how to get the best grill for your buck.


WILLIS: So Bob, you're going to show us the best grill for in money. You're going to tell us how to find value when we're shopping for a grill. Of course, the first thing you say is think about the size of grill you need. A lot of people overbuy.

BOB MARKOVICH, EDITOR, CONSUMER REPORTS: Oh, absolutely. So, if you're not cooking for a crowd, you could probably get by with a small one. And then, by our measurements of cooking area, you're looking at about 10 to 15 burgers. You cook for more people, you get a midsize, maybe about a 16 to 30, which is a lot. But if you're really cooking for a crowd, only then will you probably want the big one and there you're looking at 30+ burgers.

WILLIS: You know, you should consider your menu when you're choosing one of these grills, obviously. A lot of people just want to do dogs and burgers, some people want to rotisserie. How do you come to the right conclusion?

MARKOVICH: Well, again, if you're really just a dog and burgers person, you can really save a lot of money by not paying extra for side burners or extra for say, rotisseries everything if you're doing roasts. But if that's not you, then you're probably going to want to pay a little bit more. The good news is that even the less expensive grills, as little as $200, are including the side burners, which is great. You don't have to run in and out of the kitchen, you can do the veggies right there. So, that's a lot of good news right there.

WILLIS: Now, one thing people really pay up for is stainless steel. And you say, one great way to save money is not to choose it at all.

MARKOVICH: You can do that. I mean, one of our grills, it's a nice mid-size Brinkman, has only a little bit of stainless on it for the hood. But, these days, too, you can buy grills with lots of stainless, but what they're doing is using a less expensive grade of stainless, it's magnetic.

WILLIS: All right, well let show our viewers what you mean by this. I've got a magnet right here.

MARKOVICH: That's right. See it sticks.

WILLIS: Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

MARKOVICH: Well, it's good in that it's saving you money. If there's a negative, it means you're going to spend about 30 bucks or so and make sure and have a cover or else it's more likely to stain and you will have to clean it a little bit more often.

WILLIS: All right.

MARKOVICH: But not too bad.

WILLIS: All right, but you do want to make sure the magnet sticks, right?

MARKOVICH: At least you know what you're getting.

WILLIS: OK. Let's talk about what is your favorite grill, here? Because we've got five grills out here. What do you think is the best value for the money?

MARKOVICH: For sheer value I'd go for this charbroil. This one did very well in our tests all across the board. And you've got a $1,000 look over here for a price of, believe it or not, about $300.


MARKOVICH: You know, and this even includes a side burner and a griddle beneath that. So, it's got really a lot of high-end features on a grill that costs really bare bones, 300 bucks is not a lot for a mid-size grill with this much stainless.

WILLIS: Before we move on, I do want to say you should test these grills for safety.

MARKOVICH: Absolutely right.

WILLIS: And how do you do that?

MARKOVICH: We do our own tests. And basically do what we would do. You want to shake it, you want to see that it's sturdy.

WILLIS: It shouldn't turn over, right?

MARKOVICH: Absolutely not. But, the cart should be sturdy. You're really looking to be sure that there aren't sharp edges. You're also looking, and in this case, it's great, you've got enough room between the handle and the hood so that your knuckles aren't touching. Very simple, but it's important.

WILLIS: Oh, that's interesting. I would never have thought of that. So, just a little space here, so you don't burn yourself.

MARKOVICH: You want to be sure you've got that.

WILLIS: Bob, I love talking about grills but I'd rather use one. Let's eat.

MARKOVICH: Absolutely.


WILLIS: OK now, before we go, we want to share with you the best money-saving tip from today's show. When it comes to your money, think long-term. With Social Security facing an uncertain future and pensions disappearing left and right, it's up to you to plan ahead.

The best way to do that is to make sure you're maxing out your 401(k) contributions. The added bonus here, many employers will match a portion of your contributions. It's all about growing that nest egg, and we're here to help you do just that.

As always, we thank you for spending part of your weekend with us. Don't go anywhere, your latest headlines are next. Have a great weekend.