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posted: 6/24/2012 5:22 AM

Home repair: Granite is subject to imperfections

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Q. We had our bathroom remodeled about three years ago and have had an ongoing problem with a dark spot on the granite right next to the sink. We sealed the granite with Aqua Mix Ultra Seal for Premium Stone and Tile when it was installed.

We should have contacted the installation company, which is now out of business. We are convinced the spot is from water getting on the granite. We have tried drying it with a towel after each use, but when the grandchildren are visiting, it doesn't get dried off immediately.

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Last year and again this past February, we were gone on long trips. The sink was not used for about five weeks. On both occasions, the dark spot was gone when we returned. We sealed the granite both times with the Aqua Mix sealer, but the darkened area returned shortly after our return.

We don't expect to be going on any long trips soon and would like to know how we can dry it out and if there is another sealer you would recommend that would not allow the water to darken the granite.

A. Rest assured that water darkening the granite does not damage the stone at all. You know the darkening is caused by water since the spot disappeared when the granite dried completely during your absences.

There are a number of stone sealers on the market, and not all of them are effective. It sounds as if the one you tried is one of the ineffective ones.

Let the granite top dry thoroughly and seal it with DuPont BulletProof; that should do it.

Q. We had beautiful Tropical Green granite countertops installed two weeks ago. The workers sealed the granite before they left, and we cleaned it the next day. We noticed a gritty covering just minutes after cleaning it with mild soap and water and then drying as instructed by the installers. This is ongoing. We also noticed a white scratch on the surface of the island top.

We called the place where we purchased the countertops to report all of this, and they said they had never heard of granite having a grittiness to it. They sent back the same guys who installed the granite. They said they could polish the area, but that it would change the color of the granite and look bad. They covered the scratch with a black china marker, which took away the white, but I still can notice the scratch.

We are now noticing some small, pitting-type holes. The installer still has not commented on the grittiness, and I'm not happy about getting something so expensive with a scratch.

I've read many conflicting things on the Internet about the grittiness and what to do in cleaning granite. Do you have any thoughts on this gritty substance, and what do you suggest for proper cleaning?

A. Granite is a natural product with flaws. Grittiness usually is caused when the surface of the stone dissolves and wears away, and, unfortunately, there is nothing that can be done to correct the problem. No sealer will help.

Grittiness, pitting and scratches are usually a sign that the stone is not of the highest quality, but Tropical Green is considered to be a very good granite that seldom has problems such as the one afflicting your countertops. As an expert I consulted on the subject told me: "Sometimes it just happens." Sorry for the bad news.

Q. After purchasing our house two years ago, we hired contractors to spray stain (although I would have preferred brush staining, except for the cost) our exterior cedar siding after I prepped, washed and scrubbed with JOMAX.

My concerns are with the east and west sides of the home, which receive the most sunlight and heat of day. (The south-facing side of the home is brick facade.) The contractor at the time, and without solicitation, stated he would spray stain on these sides twice to provide "extra protection." Now, two years later, I might be imagining a slight cupping to the side boards (pictures enclosed) that worries me.

We have been told we should restain the house every five years, but I'm wondering if I shouldn't restain the east and west sides more frequently (i.e., every two years) to doubly protect them from the blistering sun.

We live in the Chicago suburbs. The contractor at the time used Sherwin-Williams' solid Exterior WoodScapes stain with "advanced waterborne formula." Should I also insist on brush staining the whole home?

Additionally, do you see any problems in providing a sheen or gloss to my exterior raw cedar patio/entryway tongue-and-groove ceilings to enhance their look? If not, what might you suggest to provide this look? I would so appreciate your comments/advice.

A. The photos you sent do not show any significant cupping of the clapboards. But that does not mean it can't happen over time.

Cupping of wood clapboards and other board siding usually occurs because the wood was installed raw, i.e., the wood was not backprimed with paint, stain or other preservative before installation. This is something that has become prevalent in the last few decades of "build them fast" and among less experienced contractors. In the 1950s and '60s, no carpenter would install wood siding or trim without first backpriming it.

When raw wood is installed directly over OSB or plywood sheathing covered with felt or housewrap, any moisture that has penetrated the wood's surface is driven toward its back by the sun. As the surface dries, it causes the wood to curl.

This is why all wood siding and trim should be backprimed and all field cuts should be coated prior to installation, and why some provision should be made to provide a rain screen between the housewrap and the siding to allow for drainage and ventilation. There are several products on the market designed for that purpose.

In your case, applying new stain more often than every five years is not a bad idea. It would reduce the chance of rain penetrating the wood that is exposed to the drying effect of strong sunlight, which will age the existing finish faster than normal weathering would. Every two to three years may be wise.

It is best to apply the finish by brush, although spraying is OK if the stain is immediately brushed before it dries to force it into the wood fibers. This usually takes several workers -- one to spray, while one or more follow right behind to brush in the finish.

I am not clear about your reference to your "raw cedar patio/entryway ceilings." Do you mean that the patio is covered and has a ceiling as well as the entryway?

If you are asking about the patio floor, the only product I can think of that would give you the sheen you are looking for is marine varnish, but be warned that it may make the patio slippery when wet. As for the ceilings, they can be coated with any glossy varnish since they are not exposed directly to the weather.

Q. I have a seasonally wet basement due to seepage at the base of the foundation wall. I also have a crack on an interior wall that divides the basement from a crawl space that weeps 2 feet above the floor. I would certainly consider the fiberglass gutters, as I was quoted $4,500 to install a drain under the concrete slab along two walls and replace the sump pump. Can you guide me to the product or installer?

A. From your description of the seepage and leak, it sounds as if you have a grade problem. Before spending a large sum of money to install either a sub-slab drainage system or a fiberglass gutter at the base of the walls, you should carefully check the grade around the foundation and correct any flat or negative grade by adding soil to obtain a slight slope. A slope of 2 inches per horizontal foot is plenty.

It is also best to avoid shrubs or flower beds close to the foundation, because they may not allow proper drainage. It is best to plant grass, as it allows good drainage and draws moisture out of the soil.

You should also make sure that any walk, driveway, patio or stoop does not allow water to run toward the house. If they do, they should be corrected to move water away from the foundation.

These steps should take care of the leakage coming through the crack in the wall, as it appears as if the leakage is due to water coming from the crawl space.

If you still experience seepage at the base of the basement walls after all grade problems have been corrected, you may have an underground water problem, such as a spring or seasonal high water table. In that case, there are ways to deal with the problem depending on its severity, which does not seem to be great in your case.

After you have run through the steps above, if you still have a problem, please give me more details, and I'll try to help.

Q. I'm currently looking for someone to repair my chimney crown. I have gotten a couple of quotes, one to replace and one to repair. My question: Is it necessary to replace the crown because of a crack? Can it be repaired with a product called CrownCoat? Would this be a viable long-term solution? Or would I end up replacing it anyway in a couple of years? I need an expert's opinion.

A. Repair or replacement depends on the degree of damage. If the mortar cap on top of the chimney is simply cracked, there should be no need to replace it. But if the edges are spalling and areas are crumbling, replacement may be the best way to go.

For cracks on the top, repairs can take several forms. Large cracks will need to be filled with patching cement; smaller ones can be sealed with polyurethane caulking. CrownCoat can then be brushed over the entire top. CrownCoat does not fill cracks larger than hairline cracks. As for all products, carefully read and follow application instructions.

Information for Daily Herald readers: I have received the following information that should be helpful to you. If you are looking for a source for the Sikaflex-1a polyurethane caulking compound, which I highly recommend, a Chicago-area reader just sent me this: "I purchased Sikaflex 1A at McCann Corp. in Addison. The price was very reasonable at $4.94 plus tax for a 10-ounce tube."

• Henri de Marne was a remodeling contractor in Washington, D.C., for many years, and is now a consultant. Write to him in care of the Daily Herald, P.O. Box 280, Arlington Heights, IL 60006, or via email at henridemarne@gmavt.net. His book, "About the House," is available at www.upperaccess.com and in bookstores.

2012, United Feature Syndicate Inc.

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