Q. My elderly mother is coming to live with us. We have a beautiful, sunny bedroom with private bath for her, and the bathtub/shower unit is fiberglass. We asked a handyman to install grab bars, but he said he couldn't because the fiberglass can't hold the screws to fasten the bars. Do you know of a solution?
A. SecureMount by Moen Home Care is made for exactly these conditions. A 1¼-inch hole is drilled through the fiberglass with a hole saw at both ends of the grab bar. (Apply masking tape over the area to be drilled to avoid damaging the fiberglass.) The SecureMount is pushed through the hole, and the anchor is fitted in. It's like a giant molly bolt. The instructions are clear and easy to follow.
You should be able to find SecureMount at plumbing supply houses.
Q. We need some information on bamboo floors. We want to freshen the look on the main floor of our house. We have lived here for 17 years and have the same tile in the foyer area as when we moved in. The tile in the kitchen and laundry areas was updated about 12 years ago. The family room is in between and has a Berber carpet. These are the highest traffic areas in our house. We have a dog, as well.
We'd like to replace the flooring in all of these areas with hardwood, but I have heard that hardwood floors might not be a good idea with a dog running around. I have a friend who told me about all the benefits of bamboo flooring. He is installing his floors later this month. I am still somewhat guarded about them because they are more of a manufactured floor like a laminate, as far as I understand. I am concerned that bamboo might crack if the humidity is not kept up and that it may not stand up to the dog traffic. We plan to be in the house for another 10 to 15 years, so we would like to put in something that will hold up and look good for a long time.
Do you recommend bamboo flooring? Can you share some pros and cons on it? We are considering the bamboo flooring from Costco, but I cannot find the specific flooring on the Web page any longer.
A. Bamboo flooring is extremely durable. The Teragren bamboo flooring we installed in our house is made of narrow strips of bamboo that are glued together, forming the entire depth of the floor. I would not call it a laminate, because it is bamboo throughout and does not use a particleboard wood core.
I haven't seen any signs of shrinkage or sun damage in several years. It is beautiful and easily maintained. But I can't tell you if it will withstand the dog test; I guess that depends on the dog's nails.
Q. Is there a simple way to test the soffit and ridge system, perhaps with canned smoke, to see if there is sufficient air movement? I know that the soffits are not blocked from the inside since the insulation guys applied the foam baffles.
A. As long as the soffit vents are not blocked by insulation, and as long as a 1-inch slot was cut on each side of the roof sheathing and not covered by roofing paper (which I have seen done several times!), there is no need to test for effective air movement. Continuous soffit vents on both sides of the roof and a continuous, externally baffled ridge vent across the entire rooftop will provide a constant air flow on the thermal principle that warm air rises. Just make sure there is a minimum 2-inch uninterrupted air flow between the soffits and the ridge, e.g., a clear space between the bottom of the roof sheathing and the top of any insulation.
Q. We have owned our house for 8½ years. About 10 months ago, I started hearing a humming noise throughout the house. The noise is everywhere, and when I turn my head, I cannot pinpoint it. It is almost like a vibration going through the house. We have turned off the main breaker, checked cable and phone lines … and the noise is still there. I am losing much-needed sleep because of this. Hopefully you have a solution!
A. The first thing you should do is to call a licensed electrician to check the wiring inside the house. Since you mention still hearing the humming after shutting off the main breaker, it is unlikely the noise is due to an interior electrical problem, but it's worth checking.
If the electrician can't find a problem, your next move should be to call your power company and have it investigate. It could be a problem with a nearby transformer.
Are you by any chance in an area where wind turbines were installed in the last 10 months?
That's all I can suggest at this point, short of wearing earplugs when you sleep.
Q. We have a two-story home in suburban Chicago that was built in 1970. The home has a basement with concrete foundation walls in the middle of the house and crawl spaces on each end. Outside, the northwest foundation wall that is exposed above the ground up to the siding has pieces of concrete falling off, exposing the rebars underneath. The home inspector notified us of this seven years ago when we bought the home, saying it wasn't that serious. Since then, it seems to be getting worse, with more pieces falling off. The rest of the foundation seems to be OK.
Is this something I can try patching myself? What would I use to patch this? If I need to hire a professional, who would do this, a mason? When I search the Internet for "concrete spalling," most fixes address spalling on sidewalks and driveways, not foundations. The corner where this is happening is on one of the crawl-space sides. The crawl space appears dry from what I can see, and I don't see any spalling on the inside. Any advice would be appreciated.
A. Even if the rebars were not showing seven years ago, the inspector should have told you that this needed attention, and how to get it fixed. Spalling of concrete can occur for a variety of reasons, one of which is water penetration followed by freezing.
You can fix it yourself by cleaning the affected areas with a garden hose and applying a vinyl-reinforced cement patching compound such as ThoroCrete, Quikrete or Sika Mix & Go. Most building supply, hardware and big-box stores should handle this type of product. Be sure to follow instructions. If you prefer to have the work done by an experienced craftsman, call a mason.
You also should consider having the concrete wall sealed with a clear sealer to keep it from absorbing moisture, which may be the cause of the spalling. Be sure the sealer that is used allows any moisture within the wall to evaporate while preventing moisture from penetrating it.
Q. Thanks for the reply regarding the frequency of the on/off operation of my sump pump. So I guess it does not matter if water sits stagnant in the drain tiles, as long as it does not create flooding in the basement? Some of the opinions I have read say the drain tile is meant to move water, not hold it. That is where my confusion lies. I obviously do not want to listen to my sump pump if I do not need to.
A. Drain tiles are used to drain water away, but where the water table is seasonally high, as you mentioned in your earlier question, and the water remains in the drain tiles, that is the static level of the high water table.
If you want all of the water to drain out of the tiles, your pump will be working a lot in an effort to lower the water table -- a losing proposition as long as the conditions keep it high.
Your pump will activate when the water level rises with the water table, guaranteeing that your basement won't flood.
You may want to pour a cup of bleach in the sump once a month to keep the stagnant water from developing a scum. That's the best you can hope for.
Q. In a recent publication, you highly recommended Sikaflex-1a caulking compound. For what applications do you use or recommend this compound?
A. Sikaflex-1a is a polyurethane compound that has been used by commercial builders the world over for more than 50 years. I became aware of it when a salesman stopped by my office in the 1950s and gave me two tubes to try. We haven't used anything else since then, so great is the product.
We have used it for general caulking and as an adhesive and sealant. We have reset ceramic tiles that fell off bathroom ceilings, and we caulked the joints between a tub and tiles where silicone products had failed. I have even repaired the sole of my favorite sneakers that separated from the body because I could not bear to part with them. The experiment was a great success.
You can use polyurethane caulking for so many tasks that only your imagination is the limit.
In the 1950s, Sikaflex-1a, a Swiss product, was the only polyurethane caulking/sealant available. Now there are a number of brands, including German- and U.S.-made, but I remain faithful to Sikaflex-1a.
Q. My GAF roof shingles have an oily soot stain. The chimney is stainless steel. The stain area is from the base of the chimney to the gutter, an area of about 25 square feet. Can you recommend a cleaner to remove the stain, or do I need to replace that area? The shingles are 12 years old.
A. It sounds as if you are burning wood in your chimney, in which case the stains are creosote. Creosote is a product of incomplete wood combustion and is very hard, if not impossible, to get rid of.
You can try cleaning the stained area with a strong solution of TSP-PF and water. Use a large sponge to dampen the stained shingles repeatedly while gently scrubbing them from side to side with a soft-bristle brush, so as not to dislodge any of the mineral granules that protect the asphalt binder in the shingles from the destructive UV rays of the sun. Change the solution as soon as it becomes dirty.
You can also try an oxygen bleach solution, such as OXY-Boost, which you can buy from www.ecogeeks.com. Use the same caution as for the TSP-PF. Another product you may want to try is ACS Home and Hearth Cleaner. You can buy it from www.chimneysaver.com.
Be aware that walking on a roof is dangerous -- more so as the roof pitch increases. It may also cancel any warranty you have left on the shingles. If you decide to attempt it, wear soft-soled shoes, such as sneakers, with good grips. Do not walk on wet shingles.
Cleaning creosote from shingles is a time-consuming job with little hope of success. Moreover, the stains will recur as long as you burn wood and do not address the creosote problem.
Spraying every piece of wood before using it in your stove with ACS (Anti-Creo-Soot), which you can buy from ChimneySaver, fireplace and stove shops, chimney sweeps and Amazon.com, is likely to help a lot and keep your chimney cleaner and easier to sweep.
Mosquito season is here: Mosquitoes carry many diseases, of which the West Nile virus is of most concern to us in North America. And the biting females are hungry for blood.
Mosquito larvae grow in stagnant water, such as ponds with no fish, old tires, outside dishes, flowerpots, etc. The larvae can be killed using a biological control called Mosquito Dunks -- disks that float on the surface of stagnant water and that are said to pose no risk to other living things.
Mosquito Dunks were recently approved by the USDA National Organic Program. Anyone can use them following the directions on the package. They are widely available in garden centers, mail-order catalogs, hardware stores and home stores. You can find out more at www.summitchemical.com.
• 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 email@example.com.
© 2012, United Feature Syndicate Inc.