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posted: 6/22/2014 12:01 AM

Years of varnish can be removed like paint

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Q. Can you tell what is wrong with the finish on this woodwork (photo attached) and how we can repair or improve its appearance? Much of the woodwork in our 1929 house has this bumpy mottling. We're happy to refinish it, if necessary, but aren't sure how to go about it.

A. The woodwork is suffering from too many coats of varnish. These many coats can be removed with a semisolid varnish remover, but this will take a lot of effort and time, and be messy.

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Your best option is to use Peel Away 1, www.peelaway.com. Someone (at a paint store) can order it for you, as it is not a usual stock item.

You apply the paste to the surface to be treated and cover it with a special paper to retard evaporation.

Once the remover has done its job (it claims that it can remove 30-plus coats of paint in one application), you simply peel the paper away, which comes off with all the removed paint or varnish attached to it, leaving the wood surface free. Roll the paper and dispose of it in the trash, as it is biodegradable.

One gallon will be enough to remove paint or varnish from 20 square feet of surface to be treated.

Once the paper has been removed, follow directions on neutralizing the cleaned surface before applying any new finish on it.

Q. I have a 60-year-old home with a cement slab front porch. Under the porch is a storage room, for which the ceiling is the underside of the aforementioned slab. I would like to tidy up the storage room, and there is tar paper on the ceiling of the storage room. Some of the tar paper is hanging down.

What is the function of this tar paper, and does it need to be there at this point? Can I peel it off and paint the ceiling, or should I glue up the sagging parts and leave it in place? If I paint, what kind of paint would you recommend?

The ceiling/slab does not leak or drip, but I feel that a painted surface would make a tidier ceiling, as well as making my wife happy.

A. The tar paper was probably laid on top of a reinforced form to keep the concrete from adhering to the form so the form could easily be removed after the concrete had cured. It is OK to remove it.

It is always best to use a concrete stain, but it will not be easy to apply it overhead. Stains penetrate the concrete, whereas paint does not and is likely to peel off.

There are some coatings made especially for concrete, which you should be able to find in specialty masonry building supply houses, such as A.H. Harris, www.ahharris.com. Click on Locations to find the store closest to you. You may also order online.

Q. I will need to repave my driveway and a section in front of my house this year. The driveway was paved 35 years ago and the area in front of my house to be paved has very small limestone stones on the ground.

Since I have never dealt with this type of project, I have some questions. What is the best time of the year in northern Vermont to have your driveway repaved? Are there any type of specifications or requirements I should be requesting? The driveway is old and has numerous cracks. Is it OK to repave over the existing pavement? Besides obtaining more than one bid, doing reference checks and making sure they are fully insured, is there anything I need to know or beware of as a consumer? Finally, is it OK to pave over a cement walkway?

A. The best time to pave with asphalt is in hot weather in order to allow the oils in the asphalt to evaporate so the new pavement can harden before cool weather sets in.

You should contact a couple of long-established paving contractors for advice. They can tell you whether your present driveway is suitable for paving over or if it should be removed. I can't do that, as it needs to be looked at.

Your stated cautionary statements are just what you need to do. And you certainly can lay asphalt over concrete.

Q. What procedure should I follow to prevent zoysia grass from growing up through the sides of an asphalt driveway? I've tried different remedies, but none of them killed the grass. Help!

A. Have you tried Round Up? It's supposed to kill all vegetation down to the roots.

Round Up chemical is glyphosate. It is widely used in agriculture to kill weeds, but some concerns have been raised about its potential for negative effects on humans and the environment. If you are considering using it, I suggest you go to your local hardware store and read the instructions on the container carefully before deciding to buy it.

Q. I currently have a bathroom with no bathroom fan in it. I don't have a gable wall to install the venting into and I don't want to put another hole in my roof. Is it better to vent through the soffit (putting in a new vent specifically for the fan), or run the venting pipe up near an existing roof vent for the humidity to escape through? Of these two options, which is the better?

A. It is never a good idea to discharge a bathroom or kitchen fan through a soffit, gable or ridge vent, or the roof itself.

The most efficient way to vent bathrooms is to do so downward through a basement or crawl space and outside through the rim joists.

So if the fan is to be installed in a first-floor bathroom, see if this can be done in an inside wall so as not to disturb any insulation in exterior walls. If need be, the vent can be run through a closet or in the corner of a room, and boxed in.

A bathroom fan does not need to be installed in a ceiling; it can be installed on a wall.

Venting downward respects the laws of physics, which allows us to save energy. When a fan is vented upward through an attic to the outside, the stack effect encourages warm, moist air to continually exhaust because the flap of the outside jack is not airtight, and is constantly pushed open by the exhausting air.

When a fan is vented through the rim, or band, joists, the normal stack effect in the house seals the flap, thus preventing the loss of energy suffered by upward venting.

But if the bathroom is on the second floor, and it cannot be vented down using the strategies outlined above, and you have a hip roof since you have no gables, you may have to vent it through a soffit.

If you have soffit vents now, here is a possible solution: Have a metal piece about 2-feet wide and as deep as the overhang made up to cover the vented soffit above the fan's jack. It should have both ends bent down at a 90-degree angle and dropping about 3 inches. The far end at the roofline should flare out at a 45-degree angle and also extend out about 3 inches to deflect the exhausting air away from the roof fascia. If your soffits are white, use the white side of the metal; if dark, use the other side. A contractor with a metal brake can easily fashion this.

If your soffits are not vented, you can use a special jack that spreads the exhaust to each side. This may eventually cause paint problems from all that moisture unless you install a metal shield as described above.

If the duct runs in the attic, it should be insulated by snugging R-15 batts on each side and on its top to reduce condensation.

The best ducting to use is Schedule 20 bell-end PVC pipes. The bell ends should face the fan, and it is best to slant the pipes slightly toward the outside by placing small blocks of diminishing size under the ducts. Any condensation will run to the outside. Insulate them as described above.

Q. I have a 12-by-12-foot entryway with full-height windows on two sides. The area is unheated. The base is cement covered with vinyl flooring, which is glued in place. The flooring is 30 years old and discolored in places and needs to be replaced. Other than a couple of places where it has bubbles, it is otherwise securely attached. We would like to replace it and ask your advice on how to go about this.

A. You should call a couple of well-established resilient flooring companies and have them assess whether new flooring can be successfully installed over the existing flooring, assuming that it will not interfere with the door.

If the vinyl tiles need to be removed, these firms can determine if the tiles are likely to contain asbestos, as did vinyl-asbestos tiles in those days.

Q. I read your column on windows. I have been looking at Andersen and Jeld Wen windows. I want a strong screen and Jeld Wen had a sample at Home Depot, which I liked a lot. They had no samples for Andersen Windows.

But your article got me on Marvin's site. They have no prices. For a double-hung Jeld Wen, the cost could go about $700 to $800. Would Marvin be in line with that price?

A. I have had no experience with Jeld Wen windows or its service, which is all-important. You may ask a Jeld Wen dealer to give you some references of jobs done in the last two years (so there has been time for the homeowners to test the windows and the dealer's service), and be sure to check them out.

Marvin's service, in my experience, has been quite good. You will have to go to a Marvin dealer to compare prices.

• 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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