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posted: 2/10/2013 5:01 AM

Rotted doorframe can be patched

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Q. I can't recall whether my problem has been addressed or not, but after years of saving your articles, I feel a need for my own advice from you.

My basement is accessed from the outside by concrete steps (12). A squared area is at the bottom of a cinder block wall around the steps, and a drain is near the back of the cinder block. The door is at the bottom after descending the steps. The door is equipped with a metal storm door that opens out, then the doorframe as you are entering and, finally, the main metal door that opens in. There is one step down into the actual basement.

My problem is that in previous years, we failed to realize that occasionally the drain would clog. Water would sit in that bottom well, in turn seeping under the storm door and causing the doorframe to rot. It isn't too bad, but since I'm now painting that area, I'd like to finish it off right and attractively.

What product can I use that could withstand the freeze/thaw cycle in my area? I'd like a product that could be troweled on and that would bind to the existing wood. The rot is on both sides of the frame, extending up about 3 inches from the bottom of the frame. I purchased a product by Armstrong that I figured would get me by called, "patch, underlayment and embossing leveler," but I'm not so sure that product could withstand our winter weather. I think it is an inside product.

I realize that ideally I should replace the wood. However, I'm limited as I am an older woman who never learned the art of that technique. But I do know how to use joint compound, having done many walls. I've also refinished wood projects. Also, we live on a fixed income and would not want to pay to have it done.

A. The product you chose is for leveling floors and is not appropriate for repairing a doorframe.

The best way to repair the rotted bottom of a doorframe is to cut out the rotted sections and replace them with new wood that is either treated with a wood preservative or pressure treated, or, as an alternative, with pieces of PVC composite material.

However, considering the conditions in your last paragraph, I suggest that you use an epoxy product such as Minwax Wood Filler and Minwax Wood Hardener, which you can buy at Lowe's or Home Depot and in hardware and paint stores. You will need to remove the really badly rotted wood, treat the remaining wood with the hardener and fashion the new pieces with the filler. Minwax Wood Filler can be sanded, sawed and drilled like wood. Read and follow the directions carefully to avoid disappointment. There are similar products on the market, but I have used these two Minwax products with great success.

Q. We installed a new colored Kohler toilet about 18 months ago. Our hard water has already caused white "calcium" to build up in the bottom of the toilet bowl. How do we remove it without discoloring or damaging the toilet bowl? In the past, I let chrome faucet parts soak in vinegar overnight to remove hard water deposits. But this can leach away the surface of the chrome and discolor it. Might it do the same to a toilet bowl? I fear that using products like Lime-A-Way might have similar disastrous results in a toilet or not work at all.

The toilet was expensive, so I am reluctant to replace it so soon. I can install a water softener to avoid future problems. But what do I do now to remove the stains from inside the colored toilet bowl? Any ideas would be appreciated. By the way, is it really calcium that builds up from hard water?

A. Yes, it is calcium deposits from hard water.

First, turn off the water to the toilet tank; there is a water supply valve under or to the side of the tank. If you have an old oval pot metal valve that is frozen from lack of use over time, you need to get a Gordon wrench in order to operate the valve without breaking it (gordonwrench.com). Then flush the toilet to empty the tank.

Vinegar and lemon juice are the first options to try. You may need to repeat the application if the deposits are thick. Lime-A-Way or a toilet bowl cleaner are also effective, and so is borax. Apply these products over the stains and let stand for a few hours or overnight.

Q. We built a house with a frame of poured concrete inside Styrofoam blocks (finished around June 2002). When we installed our kitchen, plywood sheets were hung on the concrete so we could fasten our cupboards. We opted for an all-refrigerator model from GE Monogram, which was installed in December 2002.

Within six to nine months, mold started to appear inside the refrigerator. Discouraged and perplexed, we notified GE. A specialist performed test after test, which all proved that the refrigerator was working fine.

By early 2005, I was so disgusted with the mold growing in the refrigerator (in all the drawers, on the door, on our food bottles) that I insisted GE replace it, which it did (!) at no cost. Much to our dismay, when the old refrigerator was taken out, we found black mold growing on the wall behind the appliance. (Mold was isolated to the back of the wall and fridge.) I bleached the wall, and we installed the new model. We also put ventilation holes in the wood that surrounded the fridge, trying to promote better air circulation.

Fast-forward to today, when the refrigerator is 7 years old. Mold continues to grow on the inside and outside (in the back), and the bottom of the inside of the appliance is rusting from too much moisture inside the fridge. We want to replace it, but I want the problem fixed first.

Is it possible the concrete never fully cured when we installed the first refrigerator? We live on the lake, and it was a very hot summer in 2002. We plan on replacing the plywood before we install the next refrigerator, but can you think of another precaution we should take to avoid this problem in the future?

A. There are several manufacturers of ICF (insulated concrete forms), and it would be helpful to know which brand was used. Some ICFs have 2-inch EPS (expanded polystyrene or bead board) walls, while others have only 1-inch walls. A 2-inch ICF has an R-factor of only 14, and if that is the only insulation on the exterior walls, it's not anywhere near the recommended R-factor for the Vermont climate. ICFs with only 1-inch walls have an R-factor of 7.

One benefit of this type of construction is its tightness, but this has drawbacks as well. Unless the house has a heat recovery system, the indoor RH (relative humidity) may be at the tipping point for mold formation.

Is the back of the refrigerator alcove the only place in the house where you have found mold? If you have closets on exterior walls, check to see if there is mold on the exterior walls, more often found near the bottom of the closet. Another place to look is behind furniture placed tightly to exterior walls.

Regarding the mold on the plywood behind the refrigerator, if the fridge exhausts its warm air through the front toe kick, it exacerbates the cold condition in the back of the alcove, which has no air circulation.

There are two possible solutions: If you do not want to remove the sides of the enclosure, try installing a small computer-type fan on the plywood above the refrigerator. It should draw warm air from that height and blow it down the entire back of the refrigerator and plywood. The better solution is to add 2-inch-thick XPS (extruded polystyrene) or polyiso rigid insulation over the plywood and cover it with new drywall.

It is possible that the poor wall insulation is responsible for the mold inside the fridge, in which case either proposed solution may help.

Eliminating box-elder beetles: A reader in Vergennes, Vt., writes: "These beetles were so embarrassing, especially when we had company -- and when our old house was for sale! Our hardware store recommended spraying dish detergent on box-elder beetles. It kills them and does not harm the environment. Our house was heavily infested on the south side, so it would have taken mammoth amounts of pesticide to do the job.

"I sprayed water with a couple squirts of dish detergent almost daily during the late summer and fall, when the mature beetles blanketed our siding. After two years of doing this, the problem was almost gone, and no beetles were seen inside the house.

"We did find an old stump in our neighbor's yard that was covered with red immature box-elder beetles. Heavy spraying of the stump and lawn around it probably saved us a lot of trouble later on. The neighbor then removed the stump."

Thank you for this environmental solution. I wonder why it took two years for it to be effective?

• 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.

2012, United Feature Syndicate Inc.

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