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posted: 3/2/2014 12:01 AM

Shower panel systems have track record of reliability

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Q. What do you think of the new panel shower systems? If they're OK, do they work in old tub/shower areas with old tile?

A. I have not only seen, but also experienced these shower panel systems in my brother's condo in Europe and at my son's house in the United States.

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They are great, and should be able to be installed in any bathroom. But I suggest that you have a master plumber look your situation over and tell you if its installation is feasible. The cost seems pretty high.

Q. We have a modular home that had a leaking water heater. The water got under the flooring and dissolved the glue in the subflooring. After the wood dried out it seems to have hardened back up. The problem is the subflooring sagged in between the floor joists. In order to fix this, we may need to tear down a couple walls to replace the subflooring. We were wondering if there was a product we could pour on the surface to level the sagging floor (like cement or something), or do we indeed need to rip out walls to fix this?

A. Are you asking if you can level the sagging floor by applying some leveling product on top of the finish floor? This would mean installing a new finish floor over the patch and the existing flooring material. This can be done with a product like Levelastic, which you should be able to find in big-box stores, or some hardware and building supply stores.

But my concern is the soundness of the subfloor. It could have been so damaged as to break up over time. I would hesitate to trust it.

It would be safer to cut out the subfloor next to the walls. Blocks -- known as scabs -- can be screwed to the sides of the joists still supporting the walls, and headers screwed between joists at both ends of the room. Apply new, sound subflooring to the blocks. This is a job best entrusted to an experienced carpenter if you are not capable of doing it yourself. It needs to be done well to be safe.

Q. The previous owner of my home used more of a stain base painting the house, so I have done the same and it holds up well, although a professional painter says it can harm the wood.

The south side of the house gets the most wind, rain, snow and sun, and the upstairs master bedroom's exterior (over the garage) peels much faster. Should I consider an oil-based paint on this section of the house?

Also, I repaint two wooden porches ("minidecks" is a stretch) every two years, since snow shoveling just rips the paint off the surface. Any cost-effective suggestions to end this problem?

A gap seems to be growing where the bulkhead meets the house. Should I just keep caulking it?

Would a rubber sealant canned spray (as seen on TV) on the paint line above the gutters be a good idea?

A. I don't know why the painter told you that using a stain would harm the wood; there are a lot of houses with wood siding that has been coated with semitransparent or solid color stains.

Since you mention peeling, the existing coating is likely to be a solid color stain, which is really a thin paint. Clear or semitransparent stains penetrate the wood and should not peel.

Remove all peeling stain, thoroughly clean the areas to be recoated and either apply the same type of stain or a quality latex paint. If you opt for paint, you should apply a primer first. Keep in mind that stains require more frequent applications than paint because they are thinner.

The two porches will need to be recoated more often -- probably every year. The more coats you apply, the longer the paint will last. I do not know of a miracle cure that would last for years under the conditions you describe.

Why is the gap between the bulkhead and the house growing? Is there some ongoing settlement? To be able to obtain a permanent fix, this should be addressed. Repeated caulking is not the best answer. It may be worth considering installing a piece of flashing set under a horizontal siding course and bent to cover the gap.

If your siding is vertical, it may be possible to set the top of the flashing in a bead of polyurethane caulking, add caulking to the top of the flashing and the siding to seal the joint, and hope for the best. An alternative is to cut a shallow groove in the siding and let the flashing into the groove and caulk it.

Instead of applying a rubber sealant on the fascia at the gutter line, it is best to have a metal flashing cover that joint if the metal drip edge does not do so.

Q: Thanks for answering an earlier question I had about water heaters.

I have another water-related question. We are on one acre in an unincorporated area, and are on well water with septic system. Our house was built in 1988, and we are the original owners.

My basement has two sump pumps. One is the typical sump pump that collects drainage water and ejects it to the back of our property. Because of a fairly high water table, this sump pump runs year-round, and cycles fairly often, about once per hour, but I have the float set to allow water to back up into the drain tiles a bit, otherwise the pump would cycle every five minutes.

The other sump is the one I have a question about. It is what our builder called the "gray-water" sump. It is situated near our laundry, and receives the water ejected from our washing machine. It also receives water from the kitchen sink. Those are the only two inputs to the sump pit (which is sealed). The gray-water sump pump ejects the contents up to the line that goes out to our septic.

Here's my question: The gray-water sump pump has been cycling more frequently lately, even when we are not doing laundry or running the dishwasher. Is it possible that this sump also receives drain tile water? Also, do you think it is a problem to be sending more water into our septic system? I am not sure why this pump is running more lately -- there have been no changes to gutters, downspouts, grade around the foundation, etc.

I was just wondering if you had any ideas or comments.

A. It does sound as if the gray-water sump is getting water from the high water table. You should open up the sump and examine it carefully, and see if a crack has developed, in which case it should be replaced.

It is not a good idea to dump additional water into the septic system; it could interfere with the necessary process, cause too fast dilution of the tank's contents and not allow them to settle properly, and it could overload the absorption field.

Q. I recently pulled up the 1980s tile-on-plywood covering our bathroom floor to discover, to my delight, the original 1925 white hexagonal tile floor below in excellent condition. However, there are gobs of brown construction adhesive on it that I can't get up with a razor scraper. One website suggested mineral oil, but I worry that it might stain the unglazed tiles. I tried turpentine, which I had on hand, but that didn't soften it. How can I get the adhesive off without damaging the tiles?

A. The chemical you need to use, acetone, is noxious. You will need to use eye and skin protection and plenty of ventilation. It is also best to wear a chemical respirator labeled for acetone, which you may be able to rent from a janitorial supply firm.

Apply the acetone to the construction adhesive with a soaked rag, which should be left for about 15 minutes, covered with plastic to keep the vapors at a minimum and the rag from drying too fast. Scrape the loosened adhesive with a plastic scraper. Repeat if needed.

Q. I live outside Burlington, Vt., and recently we had some extremely cold weather (minus 10 degrees Fahrenheit) and a lot of wind.

I live in a refurbished camp with gas-heated hot water for heat. I have had some antifreeze added to the heating pipes to protect against freezing.

When we had the very cold temperatures, I heard a lot of gurgling in my pipes -- particularly at night. It almost sounded like air being pushed through the pipes. Now that it has warmed up, I hardly hear the gurgling.

Is there an explanation for this? Needless to say, the idea of frozen pipes is never far from my mind, but I don't want to drive myself crazy if there is another explanation. Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated.

A. Yes, it sounds as if there is air in the pipes, but there is also another issue. When the antifreeze was added, was the size of the circulator increased? Antifreeze causes additional resistance and restriction in the lines, which requires a more powerful circulator.

You should have an experienced HVAC contractor make sure that the pump is properly sized and have him or her purge the air out of the lines. Antifreeze also reduces the efficiency of the system.

• 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.

© 2014, United Feature Syndicate Inc.

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