Q. I just read your recommendations for Milsek as the best wood cleaner for cleaning greasy kitchen cabinets. That is what I am trying to do with mine -- get the old grease off them. I am not planning on repainting -- just cleaning.
I went on Milsek's website and it does not have anything called a wood cleaner. There are furniture polishes with either lemon, orange or raspberry and cinnamon. There is a stainless cleaner, antiques and restoration, gunstock barrel cleaner and a leather cleaner. Is it the furniture polish that is recommended, and which one?
A. Either Milsek Furniture Polish with lemon or orange oils is the one to use. Not only does it do an amazing job of removing grease and other pollutants, but it also leaves a protective coating.
Q. I read your column in my paper with pleasure. Twice during the past few months, you have mentioned how wonderful Milsek furniture polish is. I would like to try it on my old cupboards and furniture, but can't find it anywhere but online. Do you know of a store or chain where it might be purchased?
A. I wish you had mentioned where you live; I could be more specific. You should be able to find Milsek in some of the following stores: Ace Hardware, True Value Hardware and Do-It-Best Hardware Stores. It depends on the local manager's decision and consumer demand for it.
You can also look on Milsek's website, www.milsek.com, and click on Store Locator. There you will find stores carrying the product listed by state. Buying Milsek online is also a good choice.
Q. Do you have any suggestions as to whom we may look to contact in the Pittsburgh, Pa., area regarding a home energy audit?
A. Sorry, I don't know, not being from the Pittsburgh area, but call your energy providers -- gas company or electric utility, perhaps even your oil dealer if you burn fuel oil. They should be able to direct you to firms they recommend.
Q. I enjoy reading your column in the weekend Daily Herald in suburban Chicago. It's time to hire a contractor to replace the lap siding on my 23-year-old home. I currently have the LP composite siding (which was a failed experiment). I cannot use plastic or aluminum siding due to restrictions in the neighborhood. I am looking for a good quality product that has some history of reliability behind it. I am not too interested in pine siding (bugs, rot, expansion concerns). I understand the pros and cons of cedar siding.
What is your opinion of the fiber cement lap siding, such as James Hardy? They are used by a number of contractors in this area. What are your opinions (or knowledge) on claims of sound deadening, insulation and durability vs. cedar? Are there any other manufacturers of this type of siding to consider? Are there other types of siding to consider besides cedar and cement fiber?
Some additional information -- not sure what is relevant: two-story frame house, attached garage, brick front, siding on the other three sides, siding planks are 9 1/2 inches wide, full basement with poured concrete floor and walls, forced air heat and air conditioning, low-e glass, double-hung windows (argon-filled), asphalt shingle roof.
A. I know that cement board, known in the trades as cem-board, is used extensively, but I am not fond of it, having seen quite a few problems with it. Some were due to improper installations, but some were the result of the inherent nature of the material itself.
It should be primed on all sides prior to installation (as should wood siding), and it needs to be maintained regularly. I have experienced buckling and cracking with it.
My preference would be clear VG (vertical grade) cedar, back-coated with the chosen final coating material, and all field cuts coated prior to installation.
When the installation is complete, it should receive one or two coats of the selected finish, depending on the product used and the weather in your area. Cedar siding with a coating such as Amteco TWP (www.amteco.com) adds value to a property, which is not easily matched by any other siding.
For utmost success and longevity, it is best to install any wood siding (and cem-board) over a rain screen, which can be provided with Benjamin Obdyke's Home Slicker applied over the substrate. If the sheathing is bare after removal of the existing siding, the combination of Home Slicker with Typar takes care of the housewrap and the rain screen.
Q. We bought our first home last year, an 1860s Cape Cod. The floors are original, wide pine planks, with large gaps (up to 1 1/2 inches) between the floorboards. I'd like to fill in the gaps, but I want to use materials that could have been used 150 years ago. I have heard of folks using manila rope coated with linseed oil to fill in the gaps, because unlike wood slivers, glues or synthetic fillers, the rope will stay pliable as the boards expand and contract with the seasons. Do you have any thoughts about this?
A. Manila rope is one good solution, but keep in mind that the linseed oil will collect dust and anything else that gets on the rope, and it won't be easy to clean them.
Assuming that there is a subfloor, large gaps can be filled with pine strips -- the same material as the original.
Any skilled carpenter or handyperson with a table or radial arm saw can mill these strips easily. In the old days, people also used a paste made of wood sawdust and glue to fill the narrower gaps.
Seasonal movement is hard to compensate for; small gaps may develop during the heating season, but they should close up in the summer.
Q. My family and I have maintained the natural wood finish on our log-sided summer home on Lake Champlain for over 50 years. It looks great in most places. However, where the sun hits the urethane finish, it breaks down. We have put on a new coat about every five years. The problem is, there are fine black streaks in the cracks. I have been told by an experienced painter that they are colonies of bugs.
Do you know of some way to get them out or at least prevent them? The wood is shaped from 2-by-8s from what looks like pine. The original finish was one-third turpentine, one-third varnish and one-third linseed oil. I was told the linseed oil might support the bugs, so recently I have deleted linseed oil from the formula. We still get the black streaks.
So far, only aggressive sanding gets rid of the black streaks. Since this is a lot of work and reshapes the logs, it is not a very good solution. We have also tried TSP, bleach and branded wood cleaner, all to no avail.
The light marks in the photos are where we have sanded and refinished with the revised formula.
Any insight you have would be greatly appreciated.
A. If the painter means that the colony of bugs is mold, he or she is right. Moisture gets in the cracks and does not dry fast enough to prevent the growth; linseed oil is also food for mildew and mold spores.
Straight Clorox bleach applied with a brush should get rid of the black streaks. If not, buy oxalic acid crystals in a paint store or janitorial supply house. Mix them to saturation in hot water in a plastic or glass container; never use metal tools or containers with oxalic acid.
Apply the solution with a paintbrush, but be aware that it is such a bleaching agent that it will bleach areas you may not want bleached. So you may want to use a small artist brush to treat only the black areas.
Wear skin and eye protection as oxalic acid is very caustic, and use great care in its handling.
To apply a coating more resistant to the sun, you may want to check www.logfinish.com and review several products for exterior use. Another good choice is Amteco TWP, www.amteco.com, which contains a mildewcide, insect and sun protection. You can also use marine varnish. But before using any of these products, you will have to remove or neutralize whatever is still on your siding.
Q. If you use XPS rigid foam board for your basement and stud it, can you then use a Kraft faced insulation? Is that a problem, optimal or other?
A. If you use XPS directly over the masonry foundation, applying it on a clean surface with dabs of polyurethane caulking or Styrobond, and build a stud wall against it, you can use Kraft paper or aluminum clad insulation, but why not use friction-fit fiberglass?
Be aware, however, that insulating a foundation from top to bottom may entail some risks. This may allow deeper frost penetration, which can crack foundations. The most susceptible are block foundations, but I have also seen poured concrete foundations badly affected.
If you are not sure that 1. There is a properly installed and effective foundation drain system made of a drain pipe surrounded by stones and which discharges in the open or into a storm sewer; 2. The backfill was done with coarse material and not with heavy clay or silt; and 3. The grade slopes away from the foundation to prevent water from percolating through the soil next to it, it is safest to insulate foundation walls from the ceiling down to no more than three feet below grade. This allows some heat loss through the walls to prevent deeper frost penetration.
• 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 email@example.com.
© 2014, United Feature Syndicate Inc.