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posted: 12/15/2013 12:52 AM

Ceramic tile is not the best choice for front stoop

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Q. I've sent you pictures of the cracks in my front stoop. This is the entrance to my house and it is under a roof, but open to the weather. It has been sealed about four times in 14 years. I think the house foundation runs under the front of the stoop, which would be about where the cracks are. They are about one-eighth-inch wide at the largest point. My question is: Can I ceramic tile over this or will the cracks appear in the new tile? I live in the Chicago area, so there are severe weather conditions.

A. You certainly can cover the concrete stoop, but I would recommend something besides ceramic tiles, which may be slippery when wet or covered with light snow. Rough surface flagstones would be a safer solution.

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Q. I am a recent widow trying to take care of my home myself. I have a tree that hangs over my kitchen and dining room gutters. Instead of asking someone to constantly clean them out, my friend and I recently put in Gutter Stuff. These are black, 4-foot-long meshlike pieces that fit in the gutter under the straps. They do work well, letting the water through and keeping the leaves out.

What I am concerned about is whether or not they can form an ice dam under the shingles in the winter. The hardware guy says no, but I have my doubts.

I live in the Chicago area and the kitchen faces north. What do you think about them?

A. Gutter Stuff is one gutter guard I have not tested, and at up to $15 per 4-foot piece, it is quite pricey.

Ice dams form when the snow cover on a roof begins to melt because of heat loss in the attic. As the melt water flows down and reaches cold eaves and gutters, it freezes and an ice dam builds up. This happens whether or not you have gutters, and if you do, whether they are open or have any type of gutter cover.

If you have had ice dam problems in the past, they are likely to recur and I can't tell you whether or not the Gutter Stuff will aggravate the problem. It all depends on a combination of the weather conditions in your area at any given time and your house's energy efficiency.

Having all convective paths from the living areas to the attic sealed, the attic insulation increased and an effective ventilation system can prevent ice dams.

A professional energy audit can identify any deficiencies and offer solutions. There are a number of programs to help people with certain income levels make their houses more energy efficient. Your utility provider may perform these tests or lead you to contractors who do and advise you on helpful financial programs.

Q. I enjoy reading your advice on ailing houses. Our house is about 50 years old. When it rains, water comes into our basement. We invested in an indoor French drain. Now in certain sections, there are watermarks that look like oil.

The person who put in our sump pump and French drain in our laundry room says they are water stains. They are in the same areas and the same way after two months; they haven't dried up. I think that if it were water coming through the floor, it would have dried up after eight months without rain.

The company says the problem is because our concrete floor isn't thick enough. They suggest a dehumidifier would solve the problem. Please advise us what to do. I don't want to get involved in a fight.

A. Are you sure you just recently became aware of these marks? Could they have been there all along? If they are new since the work was done, it's a mystery.

Standing water would certainly dry in a short time during dry periods, but it could leave darker areas from constant moisture coming up through the concrete by capillary attraction and evaporation. These marks could be due to concrete that was poured directly on soil without a vapor retarder over a stone bed -- and the thinner the concrete, the more likely it can happen. However, this would be unusual in a house that is 50 years old. But unusual things happen all the time in construction where there are no strict building codes and several site checks from code officials during the construction process. Is it the case in your area?

Q. My grandfather recalls an article from quite a bit ago in which you mentioned a caulking that completely resisted mildew. Do you have any idea what I'm referring to? If so, could you please kindly share the product name with me and I'll pass it on back to him?

A. I would need to know where your father plans on using the caulking. Indoors, bathroom, kitchen or outdoors? I have recommended different brands for different circumstances.

Q. I'm sure many people have this problem, and I would appreciate your opinion. I have to dust every other day in my home. I have had my ducts cleaned and I change the furnace filter often. The other day, I had my furnace cleaned and asked the tech if he knew of anything I could do about the dust. He suggested I have an electronic filter installed in my furnace. I thought he said something about negative pressure.

I would appreciate your opinion before I spend $400 or $500, which is money I really cannot waste.

A. There is a much less expensive possible solution to your dust problem than having an electrostatic filter installed. You should be able to find the correct size pleated filters with a MERV rating between 7 and 13 in hardware stores, and they are almost as effective as electronic filters.

However, the unusual dust problem you have may be due to a leaky house -- particularly windows -- in a dusty industrial or agricultural environment. You should consider investigating this aspect and take measures to mitigate it (new windows, caulking, etc.).

Holiday gifts: Following my annual practice, here are stocking stuffers and holiday gift suggestions for the handy men and women in your life. At the top of my list this year are two new tools that are very handy:

• Black & Decker's Snake Light (model BDCF4SL) is a powerful flashlight at one end with its charger at the other, joined by a long, flexible wire encased in a black, ringed cover. Its uses are many. I have coiled it to shine a light upward in a kitchen sink cabinet to adjust a timer buried deeply in the back, and I have also used it to wrap around my neck to check a breaker problem in our electric service panel. Hence its "snake" name. Your needs and imagination are the only limits, and at a cost of $30, it's the handiest light I have ever seen.

• Black & Decker's new impact driver (model BDCS801). It is an impressive tool for its price of $40, compared to prices two to five times higher for others on the market. I have used mine a lot since getting it, and it has yet to run out of juice from its original charge. Impact drivers are so superior to regular drivers that someone told me that he gave away his other drivers after getting his B&D impact driver.

According to Black & Decker's PR firm, the Snake Light should be available at NAPA Auto Parts stores and other select retailers, and the impact driver should be available through Amazon and from www.blackanddecker.com -- both at the suggested retail prices listed above.

• Three other great additions to your tool collection are the Dremel and Rotozip tools, as well as the more recent RotoSaw, which makes cuts in a variety of materials easy; its accessories are also helpful. Their versatility around the shop is considerable.

• The Gordon wrench: This small plastic wrench offering two sizes is used to free frozen oval pot-metal valve handles found under sinks, lavatories and toilet bowls. Trying to free these valves in an emergency with regular wrenches or channel locks often results in breaking them. The Gordon Wrench prevents this from happening. You can see what it looks like and buy it online at: www.gordonwrench.com. No house should be without it. It can be hung on a nail under the sink or vanity cabinet.

• The SKrAPr is a hard plastic tool originally designed to scrape encrusted spills off glass-top cooking surfaces instead of using a razor blade, but it's also great to clean barbecue grills. It comes with a mini 4-inch SKrAPr and two SKrAPr Papers to sharpen the edges -- www.TheSKrAPr.com.

• Open It! is a multi-tool developed by women that makes it easy to open the cellophane tape on packages with its retractable utility knife or rugged jaws, and to open battery compartments on electronics with its very small Phillips screwdriver, among other uses -- www.enjoyZibra.com.

All will make great stocking stuffers.

• For bird watchers pestered by squirrels, The Yankee Flipper -- a bird feeder that spins into action when a squirrel jumps on it and will send it flying; www.drollyankees.com.

• Books: And if you will forgive this bit of self-promotion, my own book "About the House with Henri de Marne," is a nearly 500-page compendium of your questions and my answers for over 38 years, available directly from the publisher, Upper Access Inc., www.upperaccess.com. To order, call toll-free (800) 310-8320. It is also available in bookstores or on Amazon.

• 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.

2013, United Feature Syndicate Inc.

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