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posted: 7/13/2014 12:01 AM

Chimney leaves black stains on bricks

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Q. Please help! We have a wood-burning stove in our basement. Last fall, my husband put a chimney cap on and now we have creosote on our chimney brick and vinyl siding. What can we use to clean this off?

A. It may be impossible to remove the creosote stains from the bricks, as it may have penetrated deeply. But try this: Using a stiff-bristle brush, like those that look like a giant hairbrush, rub the stains with a strong solution of TSP (if you can find it) or TSP-PF. Then rinse with a strong jet from your garden hose, or use a pressure washer.

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For the vinyl siding, first try WD-40; it's a miracle product that takes care of so many problems. An alternative is to use Goof Off following the directions on the container. If you apply Goof Off onto a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser, and gently wipe the creosote on the siding, it may even work better.

Q. We have a restored 1850s farmhouse with well water that has a lot of minerals and iron in the water. We run a high-powered water conditioner and pre-filter, both of which are working well. The water pipes in the house seem to have an advanced state of "atherosclerosis." Our water pressure is not good, and frequently we will get burst of black oily gook when we turn on the faucets, especially the hot-water faucet. Is there any product or service that can blow out the residue in the pipes to clear them of whatever residue that has accumulated in them over the years?

A. It sounds as if you have old galvanized pipes. Rust can develop inside the pipes over time and result in a reduced water flow. If that is the case, it is probably time to think about having them replaced with plastic piping.

If you do have copper or plastic piping, you should have an HVAC contractor inspect your system and see why you are having this problem, and get it corrected.

I am assuming that you have had your water specialist make sure that this is not due to the treatment system itself.

Q. Please forgive another senior moment. The last time you had a column about roofing, I forgot to keep it. Could you please tell me what shingle you said you did not like and should be avoided?

We expect to be in our home about another five years or less depending on our health. The house is 15 years old with no problems at the moment. Also, should we ask for an inspection of our roof, and should we get an independent inspector or can we use a roofing company -- and would we get an honest answer?

A. Glad I am not alone with senior moments; you are very much forgiven.

Not only I, personally, but many readers and clients have had very bad experiences with IKO shingles failing in half or less of the advertised life expectancy. But IKO is not the only shingle manufacturer to have experienced early failure; most of them have, and have suffered class action suits with varying results.

The worst problem with IKO has been its stubborn reluctance at honoring warranty claims, going as far as fighting them in court. I am most familiar with this practice because I was an expert witness for a client who filed suit against them.

Although I have been an expert witness in several cases of early shingle failure and have handled several warranty claims for clients over the years, I have had no recent experience with the current crop of shingles to be able to recommend any particular brand. My favorite contractor has used BP shingles on a number of roofs, including ours, but BP has also had problems with early failure.

This is a very frustrating situation for everyone. Years ago, in my long career in the construction business, I know that shingles lasted as long as, and even longer than, the stated life expectancy. I replaced a 25-year roof after 28 years before selling the house.

Yes, you should have your roof checked before deciding on a new roof, but if you choose to have a roofer do the inspection, make sure you choose an honest one. Fortunately, there are some around, but there are also those who will want to sell you a new roof whether you need one or not.

It is safer to have a certified home inspector or professional engineer do the inspection in order to get an unbiased opinion.

Q. I live in South Dakota, and my ranch house was built in 1959. It has a 4-foot crawl space as the contractor ran into water when digging the basement. The crawl space is lined with a thick, tar-paper-like material. In 1997, during an unprecedented snowmelt and heavy rain, the crawl space got about 12 inches of water in it. Since then, I have developed sinus and respiratory problems.

My landscaping around the foundation is sloped and all downspouts go out at least six feet from the foundation. I can see mold on the north side siding. My house has a very musty smell. I have a forced air furnace and all the ductwork runs through this crawl space. I have closed off the outside vents as best as I can and a humidifier has been installed in the crawl space. The humidifier is not very large due to the small access hole to get under the house. Currently there is no drain tile or sump pump.

I have been given a number of suggestions: (1) Install a circulating fan; (2) install vent piping with fan to pull air into crawl space and then out through roof; (3) install drainpipe around outside of crawl space, install sump pump, completely encapsulate crawl space with heavy vinyl, and install a dehumidifier.

In order to accomplish this, an outside crawl space entry will need to be constructed. The last option is expensive, but I am at the point where something needs to be done. I have not tested for mold or radon, but my neighborhood area is known for having radon. What is my best option besides moving to a top-floor condo?

A. At this point, I would not recommend that you do any of the suggested solutions until you can get to the bottom of this situation, which is affecting your health.

Your problem sounds serious enough to warrant an investigation by an environmental engineer. You should be able to find one in the Yellow Pages under "Engineers-Environmental."

It's been seven years since the event, and it has not recurred, but why did it happen in the first place? Was the reason determined and measures taken so it would not happen again? Is it after this event that the landscaping was changed to divert water away from the foundation?

My concern is that you may have a deeper problem not just confined to the crawl space, but throughout the house, since your house has a musty smell and you are noticing mold on the siding.

Remediation may entail removal of the tar paper and more aggressive measures to dry up the crawl space. But what has happened in the walls and attic of your house needs to be determined, and this will best be done by an environmental engineer. Please have one investigate as soon as you can.

Q. Thank you so much for printing the letter from the person in Illinois who was hearing loud booms at certain times of the year. I have not been able to work for the last two-plus years due to a traumatic brain injury. The first year, I was pretty much confined to the house, and I heard it in January or February and it scared the daylights out of me. As the other person did, I checked my house as much as I could but did not see anything amiss.

I am still fairly housebound, and this year, again, I heard a loud boom. It scared me and the dogs and the cat, and the fish looked a little frantic, also. Again I checked the house as much as I could, but found nothing obvious. It was incredibly loud and shook the house!

We live on a small lake and have water all over. I was beginning to think my head injury was making me experience "unusual" happenings. I can rest easier knowing I am not totally nuts!

A. These loud noises are caused by the changes in the moisture content of the roof framing members. They occur in the winter and again in the spring when the moisture content changes again.

These noises are startling and scary, but do not present a danger.

Interesting follow-up from a Pennsylvania reader: "You had a letter from a consumer who wanted to know about recovering his tub but not the surrounding tile walls. We had this problem a few years ago and we chose Re-Bath to cover our tub and not the surrounding tile walls because our tile walls were in very good condition.

"Bath Fitter would not even come out to give us an estimate because we didn't want the walls. They said they only do the complete job. My husband saw the ad for Re-Bath on the television and he called them. We had the tub done about 2008 and we are very pleased with it. It looks as good today as the day they put it in. The salesman, the district manager and the installer all came out to see our old tub situation.

"I love the tub and would recommend Re-Bath to anyone. It is easy to take care of because they give you a list of cleaners you can use on the tub. I use Scrubbing Bubbles about once a week or so and it always has a nice shine. It took one day do the job and the installers were nice and careful. I was well pleased with the service."

• 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 to First Aid for the Ailing House, Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106 or via email at henridemarne@gmavt.net. Henri de Marne's book, "About the House," is available at www.upperaccess.com and in bookstores.

© 2014, United Feature Syndicate Inc.

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