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posted: 6/1/2014 12:01 AM

Pressure washers can be powerful tools when used correctly

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Q. I am thinking of buying a power washer and would like some advice on which type to buy. It will be used to clean my deck, fence and vinyl siding. Thank you for any help you can provide.

A. There are two basic types of pressure washers for homeowners to use: electric and gas-powered. Some electric pressure washers are portable (the least expensive ones), while others are on wheels, as are the gas-powered models.

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Electric pressure washers have a lower pressure (PSI) than the gas-powered ones, and are tied to an electric cord -- an inconvenience -- but they do a reasonable job of cleaning decks and fences of minor pollution.

Gas-powered models have considerably higher PSI and can remove embedded soil and peel paint more effectively. Gas-powered models must not be used indoors. Each type comes with several heads for particular uses.

Extreme care must be exercised in using pressure washers. The water jet is so powerful that it can peel skin off to the bones, and damage wood and masonry. If used on an asphalt driveway that has cracks, a jet directed into the cracks can actually break and lift chunks of the asphalt.

Care must also be used when pressure-washing siding; water can be forced through joints and cause problems in the underlying structure.

Be sure to read and follow the directions for safe use under all circumstances, including ensuring that your water connection at the faucet has the required water pressure. It must be strong enough to activate the pump; if it is inadequate, the pump can be irreparably damaged.

I have a Briggs & Stratton gas-powered pressure washer and find it invaluable in cleaning many surfaces.

Q: In a recent column, I read your answer to the reader who had a rotten knee wall on his cabin foundation. Your answer was: "Instead of coating the plywood with a tarlike substance, the best way to protect it is by applying a 6-mil black plastic sheet to it."

I would think it would be better to apply the tarlike substance, as you would not have a layer where moisture could get between as could happen with plastic. Can you explain why you think the plastic would be better to put on a wall?

A. Applying a layer of plastic sheeting over a pressure-treated plywood foundation is the recommendation of the former All-Weather Wood Foundation, now renamed the Permanent Wood Foundation System. The AWWF was first developed in 1961 by the National Home Builders Association of Canada, in concert with the Central Mortgage and Housing Corp.

In 1965, several forest products associations, together with the Forest Service of the United States, contacted the Research Foundation of the National Association of Home Builders to do a study of the feasibility of such foundations. One was built in the Washington, D.C., area, and I was privileged to have been made aware of it and invited to look at it by my very good friend Arthur Johnson, the senior analyst of the Research Foundation.

The thickness of the plastic can vary from 6-mil to much thicker, as is commonly used by some commercial PWFS builders.

Although the potential buildup of moisture between the plastic and the plywood is unlikely, since the two are in tight contact from soil pressure, if it does occur, it is of no concern as the correct grade of plywood for ground contact is treated not to be affected by moisture.

Q. We have a home that is 55 years old. Our garage floor is very pitted and we would like to know who to contact to help with this problem. I know there are very expensive ways to do cement floors, but we would just like to go with the traditional cement flooring.

Also, there is a support beam through the basement. This is a tri-level home. There is a post in the center to support the beam and it is rusting at the bottom. There, again, I need someone in the Pittsburgh area who could replace this pole. I would imagine that both our problems are from winter after winter of salt coming off the cars.

A. Either a concrete contractor or a mason can fix the pitted garage floor by applying one of the special products manufactured for concrete repairs. Thorocrete is one of them, but there are several others.

The lally column in your basement is probably concrete filled. It may only need to be scraped to remove the rust, and covered with a rust-inhibiting paint. Any handyperson or painting contractor should be able to do this simple repair.

Q. I enjoyed your column in today's paper about floor options for garages. I am wondering about another option -- Armstrong Commercial Floor Tile. I have used it in a basement shop and really like it. I am wondering how it would work in a garage with rubber tires and extreme temperature swings.

A. I doubt that it would survive the traffic, but you may want to check with a flooring contractor. If the contractor tells you that it will work, insist that he or she guarantees it in writing.

Q. We have a patio attached to the back of our house that is also the roof of a secondary garage/storage room. The roof/patio is concrete slab over steel joists. The concrete has a long crack, which allows water to leak into the room below.

We would like to permanently remedy the situation, creating an attractive flooring for this frequently used patio. This flooring would need to stand up to shoveling and a snowblower. What would you suggest?

A. If there is enough space between the concrete and the doorsill that allows access to the patio, consider having the crack caulked with the appropriate size backer rod and polyurethane caulking.

Have a contractor apply a rubber membrane over the existing concrete, and pour a fiberglass-reinforced cap of at least 2 inches thick over the membrane.

Q. How do I remove a "smell" from an old wood blanket chest? I inherited my aunt's nice antique blanket chest and loaded it up with blankets, sheets, etc. The only problem is everything I put in the chest smells horrible -- so bad I want to wash the towels, sheets, blankets, etc. before using them. I have tried using small cotton balls with essential oils, but it hasn't worked. Any suggestions?

A. What is the interior of the chest? If it's bare wood, you may want to try a very light spray of Nok-Out, an odor eliminator, which we have used with great success to get rid of a skunk odor. Spray it very sparingly and wipe it off immediately in order not to damage the bare wood.

If the wood has a finish on it, dampen a soft, white cloth with Nok-Out and try applying it in an inconspicuous place first to make sure it does not damage the finish, as Nok-Out contains a bleaching agent. If it is OK, either wipe the entire inside with the dampened cloth or spray Nok-Out and let it stand for a minute or two before wiping it off with a dry cloth.

You can buy Nok-Out online at www.nokout.com, or by calling the company's toll-free number: (866) 551-1927.

Q. My front entry door is one of those typical steel doors with a glass insert on the top half. The door is in excellent condition with the exception of the molding around the glass, which has yellowed, and the caulking between the molding and glass, which is gunky and brown.

I'd like to have the molding replaced or cleaned to its original white and I'd like the old caulking removed and replaced. Is this even possible without compromising the integrity of the door? If so, what type of company would do this? I am not handy and would need to call someone in.

I own a condominium townhouse in a community that requires that we all have the same type of door, so I can't replace it with a regular wood door.

A. The molding and caulking can be replaced by a glass shop, but they may suffer the same fate if the discoloration was caused by the sun, which is generally the case. It may be possible to clean and paint the two affected components.

If the caulking is plain silicone, paint will not stick to it, but other types of caulking compound should be able to take paint successfully. The fiberglass molding will need to be primed with B-I-N to ensure that paint will stick to it. A top quality latex paint is the type to use, and a painting contractor is the person to call.

Q. I have a large kitchen with wood furniture, quartz countertops and a 9-foot ceiling. I have blinds on the windows and hardwood floors. When we speak it sounds like we are in a stadium, so I am thinking of getting something to absorb the sound. Could you recommend anything? I bought some throw rugs for the floors, but that doesn't help.

A. Perhaps hanging soft tapestries and paintings on as many wall spaces as are available might help. The paintings should not have a glass cover.

If anyone has other more helpful suggestions, please let me know, and I'll pass them on.

• 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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