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posted: 10/13/2013 12:37 AM

Varying humidity levels will affect laminate flooring

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Q. I am sure you can tell me what is causing my problem. We had a laminate floor installed in our dining area one year ago. When it is dry outside, it is quiet. But when the weather is humid, the floor crackles when you walk on it. Home Depot says humidity is the cause of the problem. I have never heard of this before. I would appreciate it if you could give us your opinion and a possible solution.

A. Laminate floors are floating floors. They move with changes in temperature and humidity. I don't know that you can do anything to stop the crackling.

Q. I had garage built in 2004. Within six months the floor started to crack, originating from the bolt that was put in to attach the wood to the cement floor. Most of the bolts were loose, so I tightened them. It wasn't long before the crack was all the way across. I noticed that the walls didn't meet the framework, and some of the nails that were supposed to go into the beam didn't, so I installed caulking and will install some insulation soon, hoping that it keeps most of the heat out in the summertime and keeps it a bit warmer in the winter.

The other day, I noticed that the insulation on the roof was wet, so I called the person who built it and he said that it was caused from the frost over the winter and the roof wasn't leaking. It has never done this before, so I have a hard time believing him. Then he tried talking me into having siding put on.

I guess he thinks he can get some more money out of me and not have to correct the old problems. Would you please tell me if he is telling me the truth or am I being taken advantage of again?

A. It sounds as if the concrete was not properly cured and it dehydrated early, causing it to be weak. This is assuming that the substrate was dry, sound and not frozen when the slab was poured -- hopefully over a deep stone bed.

You haven't told me what kind of roof you have; is it a flat roof or an A roof? If it is a flat roof, what is the roofing material: a built-up roof (BUR) made of layers of asphalt-impregnated felt embedded in hot asphalt or synthetic rubber? Very few roofs are BUR nowadays; synthetic rubber has taken over the residential market. If the roof has a small pitch, is it covered with roll roofing?

Any of the roof coverings mentioned above could be leaking, and the leaks are not easy to detect. In such a case, wet insulation would be likely to be localized in the area of the leak.

If the insulation is wet throughout and uniformly, and is the kind with a paper or aluminum vapor retarder, you may be suffering from condensation. When cars are brought in with snow or are wet from rain, unless the garage has some means of ventilation, that moisture can work itself past the ineffective Kraft paper or aluminum foil vapor retarder. Condensation would occur in cold temperature and, when sufficient enough, soak the insulation.

The insulation should be removed and the framing and sheathing allowed to dry. Then wait for the next rain to see if the roof is, in fact, leaking.

If you have an A roof, it should be easy to determine if it is leaking, which is less likely than it would be on a flat or very low pitch insulated roof. The attic should be ventilated by means of continuous soffit and externally baffled ridge vents.

If you insulate the walls for comfort and warmth, be aware that it may increase the condensation issue by creating some within the walls, and that it won't make much difference in warmth because, without heat on one side, inside and outside temperatures will be only a few degrees apart. We have a garage in northern Vermont with no insulation, and the temperature in the winter is usually 10 degrees warmer than outside, regardless of how cold it is. Conversely, in the summer, the garage is slightly cooler.

Since you mention that the contractor is trying to get you to install siding, I am assuming that the exterior of the garage is exposed sheathing. Siding will protect the sheathing, which is not made to remain exposed to the weather. But installing siding is not for the purpose of insulating the garage or preventing condensation.

If you decide to have siding installed, you may want to talk to another contractor with a good reputation; it sounds to me as if the one who built the garage didn't do a good job.

Q. I am writing with an unusual problem in my mother's home. The house is about 80 years old and made of heavy sandstone. The issue is that the plaster is falling from the walls upstairs. It is falling off in pieces about 12 inches square, from the lath and off the nails. There are no leaks. You can see these squares throughout several of the upstairs rooms.

The plaster is quite thick, about inch. We have talked to everyone we can think of who might know a reason for this mess. No one has even a clue. We would appreciate any thoughts you have on it.

A. It sounds as if the keys holding the plaster in the lath are failing from age and perhaps from some unseen moisture through the sandstone.

Q. I am really sorry to send you pictures of my shower. It doesn't look as bad in real life! The problem, as you can see, is the door has discolored the marble sill. I've tried getting it out to no avail. Is it possible to paint over the marble? Or cover it with something less porous so any iron can be washed off?

A. The photos show a very bad rust stain on the marble sill. The sill should have been sealed right after installation.

The rust stain looks like it has penetrated deeply into the marble over time and is now part of the stone, and probably cannot be removed. The shower door is responsible, and it is unfortunate that it rusted. A different door should have been installed.

I doubt that any paint will stay on over the long run, but you can try cleaning the marble thoroughly and painting it with epoxy.

Q. I had a new asphalt driveway put in three years ago and feel it's time to seal it for the first time.

It is somewhat more porous than what you would find on a street due to the aggregate used. I have researched various products online and am confused as to the best one to use. I've received several estimates from various outfits, but none seem to be using a very high-grade product.

I want something that will last more than two years, provide good sealing quality, keep its color, stand up to snow blowing, normal usage and not be too slippery. My total surface area is slightly less than 500 square feet, and I'm able to do the work myself or would consider a reputable contractor if you happen to know of any.

A. You were wise to wait three years before attempting to seal the driveway. The oils in the asphalt need to dry completely to avoid later problems that arise if a driveway is sealed before they do.

Here is a list of the three coatings that are good, in order of ascending preference:

• Coal-tar pitch emulsion -- the old standby -- which must be applied in very thin layers and not more often than every three to five years until some wear is evident, in order to avoid what are known as "shatter cracks" if the emulsion becomes too thick.

• Asphalt-based emulsion is healthier than coal-tar pitch emulsion, which is like creosote and can cause burns.

• The best is an acrylic sealer, which was originally used for tennis courts, but is now available in black and is used on driveways. It is quite costly, but worth it.

Q. My problem is little spots of mold on my siding (located in an area unreachable except by professional ladders). It is only on one side of my house under the attic vent. This siding area is above my garage doors. You had mentioned in other columns that the mold comes from mulch. We do mulch our flower beds every other summer with a triple-shredded wood-chip mulch.

Two years ago, I had my siding professionally power-washed and the mold was removed, but grew back the following summer. I am desperate -- what should I do to remove this permanently or for a longer time period?

A. I doubt very much that the mold you are seeing is from your mulch for two reasons: 1. It is only located high and under the gable vent, not all over the siding; and 2. It was removed by power-washing. Besides, you do not have mulch where the garage door is located.

Artillery fungus cannot be removed by power-washing.

The mold is more likely caused by some other mechanism -- perhaps a damp area that is catching pollutants floating through the air. Is there an upstairs through-the-wall heater vent or some other moisture-generating vent just below the gable vent? This should be investigated and the source removed.

If your siding is painted wood, you can paint the affected area with your regular paint to which a mildewcide is added. If you have vinyl siding, your local paint store should be able to match its color for you and add mildewcide to an acrylic exterior paint, or suggest one of the clear mildewcide sealers now on the market.

• 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

2013, United Feature Syndicate Inc.

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