Q. I have wainscot wood paneling around the perimeter of the kitchen and would like to paint it white or cream to brighten up the area since we have so much other wood in there -- wood floors and cabinets.
Is there a special way to accomplish this? Do I have to sand all the paneling first and use a special sealer before painting?
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A. If the wainscot is solid wood with a dark paint or stain, a light sanding to roughen the surface enough to accept new paint should suffice. After sanding, wipe the paneling with a tack cloth to remove all residue. As added insurance, you might want to apply a white primer after sanding. You may need more than one coat to cover a darker background.
If the wainscot is plywood with a plasticized finish, you first should coat it with Zinsser's Bull's-eye 1-2-3 or B-I-N. Then paint it with your choice of high-quality latex.
Q. I live in a two-story, Cape Cod-style home. There are two bathrooms, one on top of the other. When I flush the upstairs commode, the bottom one bubbles up. I have run water down the vent pipe, but this did not help. My plumber does not know how to solve this problem.
It started to act up about 15 years ago but had not been a big problem. Do you have any suggestions?
A. It sounds like a venting problem. The lower-level toilet may have been connected to the stack, using it as a waste line. This may require opening a wall and installing a small relief vent.
Consider having another plumber check it out. Be sure he or she is a licensed master plumber.
Q. You have been extremely helpful in the past, so I'm hoping you can give us some help again on our bathroom.
In 1996, we had a liner put over the tub and the walls by Heartland Luxury Bath Systems Inc. of Wheeling. We thought we kept it well caulked, but we started to notice that when we stepped in the bottom of the tub, it felt like air had gotten in there. The tub bottom moved. Now when we step in, we hear water sloshing around.
We have also noticed a leak on our first-floor ceiling. We noticed the leak before we felt the water in the tub liner. We're thinking that this could be a major problem and that mold could be involved. We would greatly appreciate your expert advice. (We have stopped using this tub.)
A. The company that installed your liner has been out of business for a few years, and its units have had a number of failures. Most of those are caulking failures, but some are around the drain, which allows water to get under the liner. Most likely, the installer used a silicone caulking, which, when it gets moldy, will separate from the surfaces, allowing water penetration. The caulking needs to be watched, and replaced if mold develops. The surfaces need to be cleaned and recaulked, which is an art not easily mastered.
Once water has gotten under the liner, it is necessary for an experienced technician to remove the liner -- a difficult task -- and replace it with a new one.
What you are experiencing is not frequent, but it happens. When you step on the liner, the water is pushed up along the sides of the old tub and, if there is enough water, leaks over the front of the tub and runs down the skirt. It can get to where the tub meets the floor, following the plywood subfloor until it finds the end of it. You can test this phenomenon by putting some water in a plastic cup and pushing an identical plastic cup into the one containing the water; the water will squirt right out.
Bath Fitter, an international franchise, is often called to replace failed liners sold by the now-defunct Heartland Luxury Bath Systems. Call the Bath Fitter near you in Northbrook, at (866) 722-0730, or call Steve Clark of Bath Fitter at (773) 474-8619.
Q. Your column recently contained a question regarding a condo building and newer 90-percent efficient furnaces. The questioner asked about other options. Your reply explained the benefits and problems.
Sounds similar to my complex. Although we all have gas furnaces and gas is included in our homeowner association fees, I wonder if newer electric furnaces would cause the same venting problems? If an electric furnace could use the current chimney, it would seem that changing to an electric furnace when the time came would be much easier. What do you think?
A. Electric furnaces and heat pumps do not need venting, therefore, they do not need a chimney. But they are a lot more expensive to operate.
Q. We have a Hydromatic D-A1 submersible sump pump and an Ace-in-the-Hole battery-powered backup sump pump, both installed in 2004. The float switches on both pumps have failed and were replaced. The plumber recommended that both be replaced in spring 2013 or 2014, saying 10 years is the average life of a sump pump. The plumbing company that has been servicing our sump pumps suggested an Aquanot backup sump pump system when the Ace-in-the-Hole float switch previously failed, but the quote to install that system was $1,400 -- and that was in 2006!
Do you have any recommendations as to a reliable brand of sump pump, both for the main sump pump and a battery backup? Is 10 years an accurate average life span for a sump pump? With spring approaching, should we be replacing our sump pumps?
A. Sump pumps have an expected life of 10 years but may last longer. I have used Zoeller pumps in my construction business for many years, both as sump pumps and to remove water from trenches and ditches, and I have not experienced any failure. A pump's life may also be affected by the amount and conditions of use. Zoeller has battery backup models.
I suggest that when the time comes to replace your pumps, you call a Zoeller dealer for suggestions. To find a local dealer, look at Zoeller's website (zoellerpumps.com). Click on "where to buy" and enter your ZIP code.
Q. We would like to change the laundry tub in our basement, and it is connected to copper piping that has been corroded and has a green film over the piping. Can you suggest how we might clean the piping?
A. The green patina results slowly over time as the copper reacts to water and carbon dioxide. It is normal and is called verdigris. It protects copper from corrosion. It is prized in architecture as copper roofs age, because it gives copper that beautiful green look.
To remove it, you can use a copper and brass cleaner and follow the instructions. Or you can rub it with an emery cloth.
Q. My wife and I bought this ranch home two years ago. The house was built in the mid-1950s. When we bought the house, we had a home inspection done, and there were no major problems. We did find that there was no insulation in the outside walls. The roof has some new insulation blown in by the previous owner. In spring 2011, we had a contractor blow insulation into the outer walls and added 15 inches of insulation in the roof.
The problem I need some advice on: There is a closet in the living room that is on an outside corner. That closet gets very cold in the winter. We keep the door closed, and no heat gets into the closet. Sometimes I open the door to let heat in, and my wife closes it.
Could I buy a few sheets of foam insulation -- or an insulation board (not sure what it is called) that looks like pressed fiberglass with a foil backing on it -- and cover the walls in the closet with it, then cover the insulation with paneling? This isn't a serious problem, but there is nothing worse than taking a winter coat out of the closet that is ice-cold!
A. Your plan is a good one. Obviously, the insulation blown into what must be 2-by-4-inch walls is not enough to keep an unheated closet on an outside corner from getting cold. You can use any rigid insulation, as long as it is not left exposed. I suggest you consider 1½-inch-thick XPS (extruded polystyrene or polyiso) if there is enough space for the extra thickness.
Interesting tip from a reader: "I just wanted to comment on your column. The writer was having issues with sewer gas. We were having an issue of sewer gas in one bathroom. We flushed the vent. We pumped the septic. We put a new seal on the toilet. It still smelled. It ended up being a leak in the gas line for the dryer in the bathroom. Please suggest to your reader to check the gas line."
• 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2012, United Feature Syndicate Inc.