Q. I am a regular reader of your column in The Daily Herald. I am going to replace two 9-by-7-foot single garage doors in our 35-year-old raised ranch in the spring. The original wood ones are still there, painted black to match the trim on our house.
I am being told that metal doors are not available in black; is that true? Also, I seem to remember in one of your columns that some of the door opener companies were having trouble with doors opening by themselves in cold weather. Consumer Reports rates Sears openers very high. That is what we have now, but I was wondering if they should be replaced also, and if so, what brand would you recommend?
A. Metal garage doors can be successfully painted. Make sure the doors are thoroughly clean and dry, and paint them with a paint formulated for metal. Your local paint store can advise you as to which is the best paint to use.
Since you have no problem with your Sears door openers, there is no need to replace them. Metal doors are insulated with a foam core and should be less heavy than your wood doors, so this should not be a problem for the existing openers.
Q. I am a widow in my late 80s, and the gutters are a problem. Both in the front and the back of my house where sections of gutters meet, they have separated and water pours through the cracks. The front gutter is like a kitchen faucet, and the back gutter like a tub faucet full blast. Both leaks occur at my front and back doors, which makes it worse.
Can you give me some advice on how this problem could be remedied, or is it a lost cause?
If I were 20 years younger, I'd attempt the job myself. With the arrival of cold weather, icicles form on the places where the sections of gutter meet.
A. Although there are ways to repair leaky gutters, you'd have to get various pieces in hardware stores, such as fiberglass cloth and resin generally used for auto repair. But from what you describe, I think it's a lost cause; the problem is too big for a worthwhile repair. I suggest you have a seamless gutter specialist replace the gutters. You may want to consider commercial gutters and downspouts so you will have less potential for a clogging problem. They are slightly more expensive, but will save you money on frequent cleaning if you have a lot of trees around.
Q. I live in a one-story home. I use a 60-day disposable furnace air filter (MERV rating 6). My question is about the MERV rating on the filter I use.
I understand the higher the MERV rating, the more air pollutants that are prevented from getting into the system. But, also the fan/blower has to work harder to bring air into the system. How high a MERV rating disposable filter can I use without damaging the blower by causing too much strain on it?
A. Unless you live in an area where airborne pollutants are severe, the MERV rating you use is fine. Filters with a MERV rating between 7 and 13 are almost as effective as electronic filters and a lot less expensive, and your filters are close to that. They should not cause any problems with the furnace's blower.
Q. I have an 80-year-old brick house. The plaster on the attic chimney was getting funny looking. I had a roofer check the outside for a leak. He said there wasn't any and that the change in appearance was from condensation. He told me to remove the area and put up new drywall.
Since I have plastered walls, I removed the funny-looking plaster and replaced it with ready-mixed plaster. It looked good for a year, but now I have the same problem. If I removed the plaster and left the brick exposed, would I get the condensation on the brick? What else can I do?
A. If I understand correctly, the part of the chimney in the attic is plastered. I don't see why the roofer would recommend replacing it with drywall, since it is not in a living part of the house.
If indeed what is affecting the plaster is condensation, it must be because the gases within the chimney are cool, the chimney is not lined and the moisture penetrates the bricks, affecting the plaster. Did you recently replace an older furnace or boiler with a modern, energy-efficient one that is using the chimney instead of venting through a wall? This would account for it.
Unless there is a reason for it, why would you need to replace the plaster? If you need to remove it, the moisture would evaporate into the attic and should not cause any harm if the attic is sufficiently ventilated.
It is also possible that the chimney bricks are absorbing water from the elements when it rains or that the chimney cap needs caulking or replacement to keep rain and snowmelt from being absorbed by the bricks.
If the chimney is unlined, it can be lined with the appropriate size metal liner or clay liners.
Q. We moved into our new home about a year ago. It's 1.5 stories, although our living space is all downstairs. We keep the door to the guest quarters upstairs closed. Last year, we had significant condensation on all our windows upstairs and down. The windows are Marvin Ultra double-paned, clad exterior and wood interior. The insulation is a combination of spray foam and some fiberglass.
When we called the dealer last year to report the condensation, he said it's normal given that the house is new. It's happened again this year. We heat with wood and an oil backup, so we thought, if anything, the house would be dry.
We have three heat zones: one in our bedroom, where we keep the door closed when the wood stove is going and keep the thermostat at 60. We don't turn the heat on upstairs, and it never goes below 55 degrees. There is one more zone in the main house, which we also keep at 60 degrees. The main part of the house has a full cellar, while the bedroom and living room wings have 4-foot frost wall/crawl spaces. After mentioning all these factors, I hope it's not too much information!
Any thoughts as to what could be causing the condensation?
A. It is not unusual for a new house to suffer from condensation on windows for a couple of seasons, especially in one with tight, energy-efficient construction and quality windows.
In your case, keeping the three zones as cool as you do exacerbates the condensation problem because cooler air cannot absorb as much moisture as warmer air.
Lifestyle also makes a huge difference. Since you heat with wood, do you store some or all of your wood in the cellar? This would add a huge amount of moisture to the air.
If the heating appliance is a combination of wood and oil heat, a modern boiler is getting its makeup air from the outside directly and not through various cracks and crevices in the house envelope, which would result in air exchanges that would dry the house.
Other factors also may come into play: the number of people and/or pets living in the house and the size of the house; the number of water-loving plants; the number and length of showers; your cooking style; whether you use bathroom and kitchen fans; whether you dry laundry on racks or with a dryer, etc.
Also critical is the soil in the crawl spaces. It needs to be thoroughly covered with 6-mil plastic, and it needs to remain dry at all times. This requires good drainage outside, a sloping grade away from the foundation and effective control of roof drainage by means of gutters and downspouts discharging water away from the house.
If your house has no gutters, make sure that roof water is caught on some masonry units embedded in the sloping grade at the roof's drip line so it can be directed away from the house. All appendages, such as walks, driveway, patios, etc., must also allow good drainage away from the foundation.
If you do not see a considerable improvement next year after having made sure your lifestyle is not a major contributor, you may need to look into an air-to-air heat exchanger to remove moisture efficiently.
Q. I live in mid-Michigan in a two-story Tudor style with cedar siding. I have battled carpenter bees for quite some time. The bees burrow into the cedar and then follow the side of the house. They do this at the beginning of the second story up to the roofline. The house has a Bavarian theme -- all cedar on the first floor with white inserts on the second. Not only do they destroy the cedar, the mess they make stains the white inserts. A few years back, I replaced all the damaged cedar and rebuilt the faux beams on the overhang. I also had the house treated by a national pest control company. I didn't see the results I had hoped for. Now the bees have enlisted the help of the local woodpeckers -- which, I might add, are a protected species. I have thought of replacing the cedar with a composite, cedar-looking siding, but have been overruled by my lovely wife.
My question to you is, where do I go next? Is there something I can add to the stain that the bees and woodpeckers would find distasteful? What are my options?
A. The pest control firm you hired should come back and treat the house again at no charge to you. I prefer to work with locally owned small and independent pest management companies, having had much better follow-through with them than with large national franchises. If the people who treated your house aren't willing to come back and see the problem through, you may want to try a local firm.
If you prefer to do the work yourself, keep in mind that using the necessary chemicals is risky, and their application requires extreme care so as not to affect you.
You can buy the chemicals online and apply them with a duster that is part of the kit. Be sure that you follow the directions.
Once you have plugged the holes with the suggested or supplied material, you should paint or varnish the treated areas; the bees do not like these finishes. But stains alone will not discourage the bees.
• 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.
© 2013, United Feature Syndicate Inc.