Q. You have spoken many times in your column about Milsek cleaner and what a great product it is. My daughter and her husband, who live in Boston, plan to remodel their kitchen next spring. They plan to paint their cabinets, among other things. I am sure the cabinets need to be cleaned before they can be painted. I bought a bottle of Milsek for them (a little Christmas gift) and then wondered if Milsek would do the job. I know it will shine cabinets, but will it also clean them in preparation for painting? Thank you for any help you can give me.
A. Milsek will do a great job of cleaning the cabinets, but it will leave an oil residue that needs to be absorbed by the wood or removed for paint to adhere to the cabinets.
Your daughter and son-in-law can wait a few days for the oil to be absorbed and hope the paint will stick in the long run, or they can wash the cabinets with a vinegar and water solution a day or so after the Milsek has been used.
Q. Love your column and read it every week. I'm about to lightly sand and apply a finish to the ranch molding around the windows, doors and baseboards of the bedrooms of a 1953 ranch house after painting the rooms. It appears to have been finished with varnish. Do I need to continue to use varnish, or can I apply polyurethane (clear satin)? I'm concerned that poly cracks and peels over time, especially on the windows that get direct sun. True? Your opinion and advice would be greatly appreciated.
A. You can apply polyurethane over varnish after making sure the surfaces are thoroughly clean and that you have scuffed them lightly with 220 sandpaper. However, most polyurethane and varnishes will suffer from sun exposure, as do most finishes, but polyurethane will fare the worst.
Varnish is a generic term that includes shellac, Danish oil, etc.
When several coats of varnish are applied, they will integrate into one solid coating, whereas several coats of polyurethane will not and will remain as separate layers, which makes them more susceptible to sun damage.
The best coating for exposure to sun is marine spar varnish.
Q. Once you wrote about a light that was geared up to temperatures in a house. When the owner was away, the light flashes if the furnace goes off and is not producing heat. A nice neighbor who sees the light can call the furnace man, etc. Where can you get such a light setup?
Lowe's and other stores sell a phone setup where you can call your own number and the recorder tells you the temperature in the house. Very good, except you need a smartphone, and I don't want to get into that.
A. Technology has evolved since I mentioned this product. It was then a simple red-light box powered with D-cell batteries that was placed on a visible window sill. When the indoor temperature dropped below the set temperature, the light began flashing. I had a neighbor who lived in Florida and had a vacation house next door to my house. We installed such a light and I once had to get in his house and sort out the problem.
Nowadays, these lights are getting quite sophisticated. You can find several models on the website of Lumastrobe Warning Lights, www.lumastrobe.com, Midland Park, N.J. 07432; (800) 775-5862.
You can also find more sophisticated warning lights that will dial up to three preprogrammed landline or cellphone numbers (neighbor's, yours, etc.) on the Home Security Store's website, www.homesecuritystore.com.
A reader's suggestion: "In an early December column in our newspaper, you supplied a writer with information on how to clean an algae growth off a granite headstone. At the end of the column, you mentioned that the "chore will be a challenge if you do not have access to pressurized water to rinse."
There is a possible solution for at least moderately pressurized water in remote places that do not have the capability for this. A 1- or 2-gallon garden pressure sprayer (for weed or bug killer) can be used for a relatively small project like a headstone. They can be purchased at a reasonable price at many garden centers or home centers. For extra water, if no water is available at the site, plastic gallon jugs can be used to haul some extra water to the site. This will not be suitable for a large cleaning and rinsing task, but should work sufficiently for small remotely located projects such as this headstone cleaning problem."
A. Thank you. Great suggestion!
Q. We have five interconnected hot-wired alarms: one on the lower level and the remaining upstairs. We seem to have lost power to the last two in the line, the ones in two bedrooms, because the green light does not show.
We bought two new alarms that are both ion and photoelectric to replace them. We moved the lower level's alarm, which was still working, to one bedroom (the first one not working in the line previously), and then replaced it and the last one in line with one of the two new alarms.
The new alarm downstairs works fine, but the last two in the bedrooms (which includes a new alarm) still have no power light. We checked all wiring and found nothing loose.
We need to know what else to check and what kind of tester to use. When changing out the alarms, we turned off all power through the main breaker. All alarms are on a circuit with the master bedroom. We have worked with electricity numerous times and take precautions, but we are stumped on this problem and hope you have some solutions before we have to call an electrician.
A. Sorry, but this is beyond me. You should call a licensed electrician.
Q. I thoroughly enjoy your column and always look for some tips on how to solve a problem I have; so far I haven't found them, so I am emailing you in hopes you can help me with it.
I live on the first floor of a four-unit condominium. The upstairs unit has an air conditioner outside of my living room wall; The pipe from the air-conditioning unit runs between the outer wall and the inner wall, which is also my living room wall. It then goes up between these walls to between my ceiling and the floor of the unit above, where it goes to their furnace, which is above my laundry room, as my furnace is below their laundry room.
Outside, their air conditioner makes surprising little noise, but inside my living room, the wall vibrates and gives off a loud wailing sound. The noise makes it all but impossible for me to sit there, let alone read, which this 77-year-old man likes to do every night.
To make matters worse, they run their air conditioner almost constantly from spring to early winter, so I don't get much respite from that sound. Neither the condominium association nor the owner of that air conditioner will suggest or do anything about this problem. Legal issues aside, can you suggest anything I could try to ameliorate this problem?
A. Your best option is to have an acoustical engineer study the situation and offer a suggestion on how to reduce or eliminate the wailing sound and vibration. It may be that the air-conditioning pipe is not properly insulated or fastened in the wall. One solution may be to relocate the pipe from between the exterior and interior walls of your living room to run up the wall outside.
If possible, another option may be to add sound-deadening board or 2-inch thick XPS to the offending wall and apply 5⁄8-inch drywall over it.
Q. We bought a 150-year-old farmhouse in 1967 and have remodeled it over the years. We tore down the old plaster walls and rewired, replumbed and replastered. We insulated with 6-inch fiberglass and bought double-pane R-O-W or Marvin double-paned, double-hung windows, some of which had to be replaced over the past few years because of rotting. We resided with vinyl siding.
The question is: Do we need to caulk the windows? The contractor told us at the time (1986) that the vinyl would expand and contract, so there was no need to caulk because it would pull away from the windows anyway. But it is cold next to the windows. I tried renewing the weatherstripping on the bottom of the sashes, but that didn't help. The two new windows that we replaced last year are just as cold. Would caulking help?
A. I assume that you mean caulking where the window frame meets the vinyl siding. The J-bead around windows and doors is installed tightly, whereas the vinyl siding must be allowed to move with temperature changes. You can caulk the joint of the J-bead and window jambs and head, but you should not caulk under the window sill. You should not caulk the joint between the J-bead and the siding panels.
The cold you feel around the windows may have more to do with improper or lack of chinking between the window frame and the house framing. If it has been done with fiberglass, it is best to remove it and replace it with low-expansion canned foam especially formulated for this purpose.
The puzzle is, why did some of your windows rot? Were they the Marvin windows that had such a problem because of faulty preservative treatment at that time? Marvin replaced many windows that had suffered from this problem.
• 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.