Q. I enjoy your column every Sunday. My patio is the problem. The previous owner put latex paint on it for a quick sale. Over the winter, the paint started to lift and by spring, it was a real mess. I cried for days.
We found someone in the newspaper who put down a thin coat of cement to cover the mess. It peeled off the following winter. The cost so far is $3,800. We have sanded it all over but the photos show what a mess we have. Please help me.
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A. What a mess your photos show! The price you paid could have taken care of a new slab over the existing one, which is what you should consider now. Your photo shows a concrete step out of the house, which looks like it is about four inches thick. This step can be removed and a new concrete slab can be formed and poured over the existing one, or a new slab poured around and at the same level as the present step. The only obstacle is the railing, which can be lifted and reset in the new concrete.
You have had such bad luck with poor craftsmanship and work done by people who didn't know what they were doing that I urge you to be very careful in selecting the right person to do the repairs.
Ask friends and neighbors who have had work performed by general or concrete contractors if they are fully satisfied with the work. You can also call concrete companies for the name of the most experienced contractor to whom they provide concrete mix. Other possible sources of recommendations are trusted local builders, who could give you names of their subcontractors.
Whomever you contact, ask for references and check them out. I wish you the best; you have had enough of these expensive problems.
Q. After a heavy rain, I have dirt (sand) coming out from under my concrete driveway, which is on a hill. I moved into this new house two years ago. My husband was very ill and passed a few months ago. The builder has been working with me and filled in the connecting sections of the concrete driveway with caulk where the sections meet. This did not work.
Recently, during a heavy rainstorm, I noticed that the water was coming out where the downspouts connect to the drainpipe. The landscapers came to put the pipe farther down the hill and found that two feet of the black pipe was pinched shut, probably from the Bobcat they used while installing a stone wall for us. The landscapers are paying to fix the driveway, which has not sunk or cracked as yet. The guy who will fix the driveway wants to drill holes to fill in the dirt with a slurry. Can it be pumped in under the driveway without drilling holes, which will be unsightly?
A. It sounds as if the crushed section of the underground pipe caused the roof water to flush the sand base of your driveway through any openings it could find.
I assume the person who is planning the fix has looked at it carefully and does not see the possibility of injecting a cement slurry from the sides. The hollow areas caused by the erosion may be accessible only from the joints between the concrete sections of the driveway, since it appears as if your driveway was poured in several individual sections to prevent cracking.
Drilling and patching holes may not be the most aesthetic approach, but it is likely to be the most successful at preventing further damage.
Q. I enjoy your column every week. I live near Chicago and have a sump pit question. I have a ranch-style house that is around 50 years old. The basement is completely below grade.
I have a clay pit with one clay tile feeding the pit. There are no other holes in the pit except for a couple of small pinholes above the inlet tile. My pit serves as a rainwater and laundry water collection pit.
I just installed a new pump and noticed that the incoming clay tile was not sealed to the pit wall. There is about a quarter-inch gap between the tile and the pit wall. It looks like there may have been some concrete sealing them at one time.
There is an area of about two inches that has what looks like concrete joining them. I sealed the gap using hydraulic cement and filled the pinholes with caulk. Should I have sealed the rest of the gap and the pinholes? If not, why? Did I use the correct product?
A. Unless you have noticed that the gap and pinholes are introducing enough soil into the sump pit to cause a problem, I think that you have nothing to worry about.
Q. My glass shower door looks like it has soap scum on the bottom part of the glass. I have tried to clean it with Scrubbing Bubbles, Tilex mold and mildew remover, CLR and vinegar. Any suggestions?
A. Give Lime-A-Way a try.
Q. Our white aluminum gutters on our new house have black drip marks on them. It looks like the drips were left when rain apparently overflowed the gutters. What do you recommend we use to clean these marks?
The gutters aren't filled with any debris, as we live in a wide-open area. Is there anything you'd suggest to prevent this in the future, or is it something that happens when we have downpours?
A. These streaks are caused by oxidation of the pollutants that settle on the top of the gutters. Rain carries them down the sides of the gutters where they stain the aluminum.
You can try a variety of products, but success depends on your geographic area.
Here are some products to try: Simple Green, any oxygen bleach, whitewall tire cleaner, AlumKlean by WSI, or a mixture of one-third cup of a strong household detergent and two-thirds cup of TSP cleaner.
Read instructions carefully on commercial products, as some of them need to be washed off very quickly in order to avoid damage to the surface.
And always wear protective skin and eye equipment.
Q. What would your opinion be on the following: I live in a house that was built in 1904. The boiler was installed in 1974. The only things we had to replace were thermocouples.
However, two years ago, the fellow who cleans it for me said that I might have to start thinking about a new boiler because the ceramic pilots were starting to crumble. He said that a new boiler would cost $9,000. I am 73 years old with a limited income. Where in the world am I going to get that kind of money?
He said the ceramic pilots could be cleaned, but it would take a lot of time to do it. What advice can you give me?
A. At this point, don't rely on your serviceman's word alone. Too much is at stake. Get another one or two opinions. You haven't told me, so I'll assume that you have an oil-fired boiler. If so, and the igniters need servicing or replacing, and parts for it are still available, this should be done for a lot less money than a boiler replacement.
If needed, a new burner can be installed for around $500 plus labor.
Q. We live in New England in a small cottage with a slope roof that we are re-shingling. The roof has been stripped but is temporarily covered with asphalt felt (Tarco No. 30, ASTM D-226-97, Type II asphalt saturated organic felt), which has done a great job of keeping out all this rain we have been receiving.
My husband would like to apply Grace Ice & Water Shield to the entire roof deck, which is half-inch exterior-grade plywood. Does this sound OK?
I am a big fan of asphalt felt, and I would like to apply that over the Grace before applying fiberglass shingles. My husband thinks that is overkill, but I am mindful of shingle product failure and, at 70 years of age, don't want to face a leak in the near future. Any reason not to include asphalt felt? (Cost is not a concern.)
The attic will be vented with a Shinglevent II ridge vent and continuous eaves-soffit venting. The drip edge will be Lamb & Ritchie Positive "Rite Flow." The eaves' drip edge will be installed under Grace, while the rake's drip edge will be installed on top of Grace. Have we got that right?
A. You have done your research! Congratulations.
Applying Grace Ice & Water Shield over the entire roof is getting more and more common. The fact that you will have continuous soffit and ridge vent ventilation in the attic makes it safe to do so, but all the felt now covering the deck will have to be removed because the shielding must adhere to the sheathing to be effective.
There is no need to add felt over the shielding -- it offers complete protection in case of shingle failure.
Shinglevent II is a very good ridge vent, and you have it right: Lamb & Ritchie's Positive Rite Flow is the best eaves drip edge on the market and it should be installed under the shielding. The rake's drip edge must be installed over the shielding, but it need not be the Positive Rite Flow, since there is no gutter there.
Q. We recently installed a new quartz countertop in our new home. After only three weeks, I noticed that the "colored speckles" beneath the surface were losing their color -- the speckles are turning "gray." Every day it seems to be getting worse. Have you ever heard of this happening before? I'd like to know if this has happened to other consumers, and if so, what was their solution? This is very upsetting as this was not a cheap investment. I'd appreciate any light you can shed on this matter.
A. You have suffered a product failure. Quality quartz is warranted, and your top should be replaced free. The only question is the reliability of the people who furnished it.
• 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.