Q. Steve asks: We’ve put laminate flooring in the living-dining area. I have located replacement stair treads (oak) and have cut them to length, finished and varnished them. The stringer is routed for the treads and risers. The treads and risers are installed from underneath. The underneath area of the staircase is accessed from within our shop area. I can access four of the five steps and treads. I anticipate the fifth will be cut out in pieces because it is not accessible from below (due to finished wall that encloses the shop).
I anticipate the sequence will be as follows: remove old wedges from risers, remove risers, remove wedges from tread and remove tread. I was thinking (dangerous I know) that the risers could be spared, but the more I look and ponder, I anticipate that even the tread will be difficult to remove. Any easy way to remove wedges or shims to make the replacement process easier?
A. Sometimes a project seems so complicated we tend to overlook the simplest alternatives. Getting out old hardwood wedges with a chisel can be a bear, especially if the area is tight. You need “little” here — not “big.” Try a miniature drill motor. Several companies make really good ones for use in crafts and model building. You probably can pick one up with many attachments for under $40. Once you own one, you and your family will fight over who gets it next. Use a tiny grinding tip or an emery wheel. It acts just like a tiny reciprocating saw.
Q. Melissa asks: The flue is rusted shut on my earth stove (fireplace insert). How can I get this unstuck?
A. The thing that is rusted shut is called the damper. This is going to be a tough one if you can’t get to the damper itself. Rust is not uncommon at this location, and if not dealt with on a regular basis it can rust to the point where replacement will be the only way to get it open. Spraying the perimeter of the damper with cutting oil is the first order of business. We use WD-40. Spray an ample coat on and let it sit for an hour or so. Next, gently tap the perimeter of the damper with a small heavy object such as a hammer. Repeat this process as many times as necessary. If it doesn’t come loose after several hours, you might have to pull the stove and use heat. A propane-soldering torch (in a can) can be used to warm up the area surrounding the damper. Usually, once heat is applied, the metal surrounding the damper expands just enough to break the rusted connection. Whatever you do, don’t get angry. Anything other than a gentle hand here could damage the damper.
Q. John asks: Do I need to put a floor leveler over a plywood subfloor before laying down an unfinished floor (3/4-inch x 2-1/4-inch oak). What about rosin paper? Do I need it and how do I place it on the floor?
A. We would not use a floor-leveling compound between the subfloor and the hardwood floor. They tend to break up over time. If the floor is way out of level, the house might be due for a jack-up. In any event, we suggest that you attach the hardwood planks directly to the subfloor with only a coat of rosin paper overlapped 2 inches each way, and stapled in place. Don’t use solid plastic sheeting.
Q. Lena asks: After flushing the toilet, when the tank is almost filled up there is a noise. It appears to be the wire and bulb vibrating. Can this be fixed or do we need to get a new valve with parts?
A. Few things are more irritating than a noisy toilet. Fortunately, a toilet has few moving parts. And usually, only one of them will make noise as the toilet tank becomes full. That’s the ball-cock, or water inlet, valve. This valve is operated by the “wire” and “ball” mentioned in your question. The wire is called the float arm and the ball is called the float ball. During the flush cycle, water travels from the tank into the bowl. As the water level in the tank drops, so do the float ball and arm. The dropping float arm opens the ball-cock valve, letting water into the tank to refill it. As the water level nears the top of the tank, the reverse happens — the float and float arm begin to close the ball cock. This is where the noise occurs. A dry or deteriorated ball-cock valve gasket can make the valve vibrate. When this happens, the arm and ball also might vibrate. Your repair is simple: Replace either the gasket in the ball-cock valve or the valve itself. Replacing the gasket is less expensive, but replacement of the entire assembly is easier, and probably prove to be the less expensive in the long run.
Q. Denise asks: Our basement walls have spots that freeze in the winter. The moisture has caused the paneling to discolor. Upon taking one panel off, we discovered that they did insulate with foam sheets but failed to put up a moisture barrier. Can we just add vinyl covering and new paneling on top of the old paneling or must we remove the old paneling first? We’re going to panel instead of drywall because it is a large area and will be much faster just to panel vs. drywall. What do you recommend?
A. You can add a layer of plastic over the existing paneling but you should be aware that the moisture barrier should have been added directly to the basement walls — before the rigid insulation was added. Adding a vapor barrier on top of the insulation and paneling will put the barrier on the “warm side” of the wall and condensation will be more likely to form in the insulation and the paneling. You have no idea what kind of havoc this may create down the road. The foam sheets actually comprise a pretty good moisture barrier. However, we would take off the paneling, remove the insulation, add a vapor barrier directly to the block wall (two or three layers), reinstall the rigid insulation, add a second layer of new rigid insulation and then install your paneling. Anything less will come back and bite you.
Q. George asks: I need to know how much coverage an 80 lb. bag of stucco mix will provide with a 1/4-inch thickness. The information on the bag does not give coverage amount. Thank you so much for your time.
A. Good question. Stucco is usually applied in three coats and is referred to as 7/8-inch three-coat stucco. The first coat is known as the “scratch coat,” the second is known as the “brown coat” and the final coat is known as the “color coat” or “finish coat.” There are various other processes, but the one we refer to is most common. The first coat is about a half-inch thick, the second coat is about a quarter-inch thick and the final coat is about an eighth-inch thick. The first coat is troweled onto the paper-backed wire lath and then the surface is scratched with a comb-like trowel, which results in a ribbed or grooved or “scratched” finish. The scratched surface provides an irregular plane that provides lots of “tooth” onto which the second or “brown” coat can bond. The color coat is nothing more than stucco with color in it. If you are doing patchwork just use plain old gray for your final coat and paint it to match. Anyway, the color coat is usually applied in two phases first a smoothing layer and then texture. The texture can be troweled, sprayed or splattered on.
Each of the first two coats must cure for a minimum of seven days before application of the following coat. Also, stucco cures best at temperatures between 55 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit.
For each 80 pound bag of mix you can figure on getting about 40 square feet of coverage for your first (scratch) coat and about twice as much per bag on your second (brown) coat. Pretty logical since the second coat is exactly half the thickness of the first coat. Figure double again for the finish coat, which, again, is half the thickness of the previous coat. You will experience more or less coverage depending upon how much you spill. Oh, and once you spill it leave it for clean-up later — don’t use it on the wall.
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