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posted: 6/8/2014 12:01 AM

A reciprocating saw can fit into hard-to-reach places

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Q. We have a 5-foot retaining wall in our backyard that is constructed of 6-square-inch, pressure-treated timbers. The timbers are connected by three 12-inch spikes driven through each one. Many of the timbers are still in very good condition and we would have use for them if they could be salvaged.

Have you ever heard of a method that could be used to separate the timbers and then remove the spikes so they could be reused?

A. The best way to sever the spikes to free the logs is to use a reciprocating saw, known as a recip saw, but also generically called a "Sawzall." The Sawzall was developed by Milwaukee tools, and is now copied by many other manufacturers, but the name stuck, as does Kleenex for any tissue.

The spikes cannot be removed; they need to be cut. Use a bimetal blade and hold the saw nearly parallel to the logs. Slowly work the blade between two logs in a semicircular motion until you have cut the spike. Repeat at every spike. This is a lot of work.

Q. My daughter and son-in-law recently bought a house with a two-car garage. The biggest concern I have is the concrete floor is extremely smooth, and as a result is very slippery when there's either snow or slush on it. Is there anything we can do to the floor to increase the traction? The driveway is not a problem at all; if only the garage floor had the same texture. I imagine something could be done once the weather warms up. Would anti-slip traction strips survive the environment?

A. Concrete garage floors are generally hand-troweled to make the concrete more resistant to salt and wear and tear. Outside concrete is usually broom-finished for better traction.

Here is an amended rerun of an earlier answer I gave a reader inquiring about how to improve a concrete garage floor:

There are important considerations with liquid-applied coatings, which come in three forms: latex, epoxy and polyurethane. Latex is the poorest choice for a garage, as it will not resist the wear and tear of hot car tires and chemicals dripping on it, such as oil or other fluids. Epoxy, and particularly epoxy coated with polyurethane, is the safest, but its application exudes hazardous chemicals that may drive you out of the house, and it is difficult to apply. Performance Floor Coating Systems ( utilize epoxy installed by trained mechanics.

These coatings are likely to be slippery unless you mix silica sand in them before application or embed it before they dry; dark colors may fade over time.

The bond between the concrete floor and the coating is critical, but it is difficult to guarantee because much depends on the condition of the surface after thorough cleaning and etching. You may end up with a mess.

Another drawback of all applied coatings is that it takes several days to allow each coat to dry.

There are other choices that include the application of interlocking tiles.

Plastic or aluminum interlocking tiles are simple to install and to trim, and individual tiles are easy to replace if need be. They do not require that the concrete floor be thoroughly cleaned. They are tough and very durable, and come in a variety of colors and patterns.

Here are some choices: Race Deck,, (800) 457-0174; XFloor makes aluminum tiles,, (888) 983-4327; JnKProducts,, (877) 873-3736; Swiss Trax,, (866) 748-7940; Auto Deck,, (800) 862-6602; and Big Floors,, (877) 244-2214.

Q. I am a longtime reader and fan, and each of our nine kids has received a copy of your book. We have an old bathtub in an equally old house. We had it refinished about 10 years ago. We were not terribly happy with the results, but they were better than what we had. Now it is time to "redo."

I would like to get the whole tub recovered. Most of the Bath Fitter places I have checked out advertise an entire unit, including the walls surrounding the tub. The ceramic tile in my bathroom surrounding my tub is beautiful, and I have no desire to cover it. Is there a system (airtight, of course) that can cover just the tub?

A. Thank you for your confidence and for supporting my book as you have. I very much appreciate it. My publisher, Upper Access, has now published a much larger, updated version of the book in electronic form (about 1,000 pages). The new book is titled: "About the House with Henri de Marne Extended e-book Edition." It is available in all e-book formats through independent bookstores and on Kindle through Amazon.

There are a number of Bath Fitter franchises in the Pittsburgh area. Each franchiser decides whether it chooses to do just tub relining or insists on including the walls.

I suggest you call all those listed in your phone book until you find one that will simply do what you want.

There are other methods of bathtub refinishing, but installing a new liner may be the best way to go, since your old tub has already had work done.

Q. In 2008, we purchased a brick ranch house built circa 1957. The walls and ceilings are plaster. At the time of our purchase, the home was being sold by a trust/bank. It is possible it had the interior painted before placing the house on the market, as all the walls and ceilings -- except for the wallpapered kitchen and bathroom -- were all the same color (generic off-white).

Before moving in, we had the living room, dining room and hallway painted. Benjamin Moore Waterborne Ceiling Paint was used on the ceiling, and Sherwin-Williams Interior Super Paint Architectural latex was used on the walls. After moving in, we had a new roof installed and additional insulation added to the attic area.

I don't recall when (maybe about a year later), but we started noticing a few lines in the ceiling; and then later the ceiling paint started peeling/cracking all around the edges. The living room and dining room form an L-shaped area. The problem has worsened, and I noticed that at a few areas the cracking from the ceiling extends into the side wall paint.

Last year, I had two people look at the problem, and their responses varied. One said that the major lines in the living room area ceiling could be caused by shifting and temperature change. The other said that at some time two incompatible paint types were used and are now separating. I've attached a few pictures. I've been scraping the peeling paint as I find time and energy. Your thoughts on the cause?

And now, do you have a solution? What do we need to do in the way of prep work to both the ceiling and walls before repainting them? I'm hoping to get the walls and ceiling looking as they should and not having the same thing occur later.

A. You do have major problems, and I lean toward the diagnosis of the person who thinks that they are due to incompatible paints.

If this were a shifting problem, the plaster would show some cracks. Temperature changes would be very rare in a house, unless left vacant and unheated over winters, in which case the plaster could also have been affected. The ceilings may have been skim-coated with drywall compound to take care of cracks or other problems.

There are several other possibilities:

• The original paint job, when the house was built, was calcimine, a common coating used in the 1950s, which is incompatible with later coatings.

• The ceilings were painted with a glossy paint, also common in those days; unless properly prepared, new paint is likely to separate, as the bond is weak.

• The removal of earlier-applied ceiling wallpaper, very commonly used at that time, was not followed by proper removal of the paste.

One of the photos you sent shows three layers of paint and, possibly, skim-coating.

Considering the extent of the problem, and the several possible causes, you might ask your neighborhood Benjamin Moore dealer to send a factory rep to your house to investigate and suggest solutions.

You may choose to keep on removing all loose paint, and smooth out the rough edges where those three layers are by feathering with joint compound. When this is done, prime with an oil-based primer and apply a quality latex paint over it.

But another option would be to have three-eighths-inch drywall screwed to the ceiling joists, properly primed and painted with a quality latex paint. This would alleviate continuing problems.

Reader comments: "I spent my life building homes and developing real estate. I have seen so much to do about mold and the extremes people have been forced to go to eliminate it. It has created an industry based on fear. I respect the professionals that deal with legitimate problems, but you approached this problem with logic … not fear. Thank you."

In response to a reader's question about the vibrations from a clothes washer, a Pennsylvania reader sent this:

"Yes, using the plywood base to spread the weight over the floor makes a more solid base. To better absorb the movement, however, sandwich Styrofoam (¾-inch or greater) between sheets of plywood; amazing how much vibration it absorbs. Of course, the washer may not be within specs itself."

Thanks -- I should have mentioned the Styrofoam sandwich. Great idea!

• 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

© 2014, United Feature Syndicate Inc.

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