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posted: 8/18/2013 12:38 AM

Electrical questions should be answered by an expert

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Q. We are planning to replace our vinyl bathroom flooring with tile. We have an electric line to the bathroom initially installed for an electric radiator, but it has not been used. Would this electric line suffice for electric radiant heat? What voltage would be necessary? How reliable is this type of heat -- if it failed, I imagine the whole floor would have to come out to repair or replace the heating element.

A. These are questions that can only be answered by a licensed master electrician.

Radiant electric mats are quite reliable. The important thing to watch out for is that the tile setter does not damage them.

Q. You have helped this 90-year-old a few times and I appreciate it very much. I am trying to continue to stay in my home and at least see if I can have the small things fixed that I can afford. Sometimes I tell my two sons, who are both married and have their own health problems, but I try not to ask them for help if I can figure it out myself or tell a repairman what you have suggested. It really helps.

I keep having black gunk around the faucet in the sink in my bathroom. I had a plumber here once and he said I needed a new faucet. I had the faucet replaced and the problem continues. To me it looks like toothpaste that has turned black; it is the consistency of toothpaste. Please tell me what you think.

A. What a marvelous example you are for us! My best wishes for your continued independence. The gunk at the base of your faucet is a sort of mold that develops because the bases of faucets are usually wet. It is a shame that your plumber had you go to the expense of changing the faucet.

Try drying the base of the faucet every time you use it, but if the black gunk recurs -- which it may -- just brush it off with an old toothbrush kept handy for just such a job.

Q. I enjoy reading your column in the Daily Herald. I'm hoping you can help with my problem. My former roommate decided to be "helpful" and cleaned my stainless steel sink with SOS pads. Needless to say, it now has many scratches and I cannot make them go away. Is there a way I can fix this? I asked the manufacturer, Moen, and was told: "You're not supposed to use steel wool on a stainless steel sink." I already knew that! If there is no way to fix this, how difficult is it to replace an undermount sink?

A. What Moen told you is only partially true, as removing scratches involves using some material with steel wool in it. But it depends on how it is used.

Try this: Apply a stainless steel cleaner to the sink to remove any dirt or residue. My favorite is Milsek Stainless Steel Cleaner. It's one of Milsek's great cleaning and polishing products, which many of my readers have raved about for cleaning and restoring kitchen cabinets and appliances as well as all types of furniture pieces and leather.

Apply the cleaner to a slightly dampened clean cloth and wipe the entire sink with it to remove any residue. Wipe it off with a clean, soft rag.

Apply the cleaner again to keep the sink damp and rub it with a scuff pad. Start with the gentle, extra fine, No. 000 scuff pad. If this doesn't remove deeper scratches, use a No. 1 scuff pad. If the scratches are not completely removed by the No. 1 scuff pad, rub the sink with a sanding pad. These products can be found in the cleaning and sanding aisles of hardware and big-box stores.

The Milsek Store List, available on the company's website, has a list of store locations that carry Milsek products. If your local retailers do not carry it, you can buy Milsek online at

The most important thing is to wipe the entire sink from one end to the other using long, even strokes -- not just rubbing the scratched areas -- following the grain of the brush finish to get a uniform finish and avoid a "touched-up" look.

When the scratches are gone, wipe the sink again with the cleaner applied to a slightly dampened clean cloth.

Q. When the previous owner built our house, it seems he did a poor job on the concrete floor of the two-car, attached garage. There's no support on the end where the floor butts against the house foundation, and some fill under the concrete seems to have settled. There's a crack down the center, with the side next to the house having dropped about 3 inches at the back, and maybe 1.5 inches at the door. Also, tapping on the concrete at the door end reveals a few areas where a hollow sound is produced. The driveway slopes down to the garage entrance. It was originally blacktop, which I had removed. But I suspect a good deal of rain went in under the floor in those earlier years.

I have heard of a process known as mud-jacking and/or slab raising, but am concerned about the compressed mud causing possibly damaging lateral pressure against the house's poured foundation. I would appreciate your opinion of this approach to re-leveling the floor, and of any other you might suggest, short of breaking up the old floor and starting over.

A. I assume that, by door, you mean the garage door and not the door from the house to the garage. If there is a settlement drop at the garage door, it's related to some other condition for which I would need more information before attempting an answer. Has it affected the closing of the garage door, and is it leaving a 1.5-inch gap below the door?

Is the crack, which you say is down the center, parallel to the house or perpendicular? That's also important to know. You also did not say what was done after the blacktop driveway was removed.

It was a mistake to have poured the garage floor directly on the backfilled trench between the foundation and the undisturbed soil a few feet away. This area is always subject to settling as time goes by. The slab should have been pinned to the house foundation.

Mud-jacking is certainly an option, albeit an expensive one for such a small job, but it would need to be done by an experienced contractor, who should be able to tell you if it can be done safely. A poured concrete foundation, particularly if steel rebars were used near the top, may be a good candidate for mud-jacking.

Another thing to consider is pouring a new slab pinned to the foundation and terminating at the crack if the crack is parallel to the house, which would indicate that the substrate under the unsettled concrete section is undisturbed soil.

If the 1.5-inch drop is at the garage door, and the settled section is not too deep into the garage, an experienced contractor may be able to lift it with a front-end loader or backhoe. The void should be filled and tamped down and the section dropped back down. The crack can be patched.

The void could be filled with a cement slurry to support the settled section before capping it with new concrete.

You need to have an experienced general or concrete contractor inspect the damage and advise.

Q. My Andersen patio door is 15 years old and is in perfect working condition. The interior is wood-clad; the exterior is white vinyl-clad and is beginning to show its age, especially in contrast to the new white vinyl trim that was installed around it when my townhouse community replaced the siding and trim.

I've tried regular household cleaners, and while they didn't harm the vinyl, they didn't clean or whiten it, either. It just looks slightly dirtier than its surrounding trim. Any suggestions?

A. You didn't say which household cleaners you used. If you haven't tried Oxy Magic by Clorox or any other oxygen bleaching cleaners, please do so.

Another suggestion is SuperPrep heavy-duty cleaner by PTB Enterprises, The company's toll-free number is (866) 478-2368.

Painting the Andersen Perma-Shield vinyl trim is also an option. Clean it thoroughly, prime it with B-I-N and paint it white with a top-quality acrylic exterior paint. Do not use dark colors, as the vinyl trim is likely to get distorted under the sun's heat.

A mosquito repellent: At this time of year, and especially this year in the Northeast and other areas with abundant rainfall, the mosquitoes have been fierce in both numbers and aggressiveness. Even covered with DEET repellent, I have been chased indoors. This is making outdoor picnics and meals on the deck or patios unbearable.

I have found something that really works: ThermaCELL Mosquito Repellent,

To test it, I went outside without lighting the lantern or the handheld "appliance." The mosquitoes came after me. I lit the lantern and went inside, waiting for the specified time for the unit to start working, and when I went back onto the deck, I could sit peacefully without the unwelcome attacks.

The portable handheld appliance worked very well, holding the 'skeets at bay while we were seating on the dock by the water enjoying the sunset.

• 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

2012, United Feature Syndicate Inc.

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