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posted: 8/31/2014 12:01 AM

Handle aluminum gutter cleaner with care

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Q. I enjoy your articles. A past article included a "recipe" for cleaning aluminum gutters. I've used it before but have misplaced it. I believe it included TSP and possibly another detergent. Could you forward the copy?

A. You can make a solution consisting of 1 cup TSP-PF, 1 quart fresh Clorox bleach and 3 quarts of hot water, making up one gallon, and apply it with a soft bristle brush or a clean, white rag. Be aware that TSP-PF and bleach are harmful to vegetation, so you should soak it first, cover it with plastic and rinse the plastic, and soak the plantings again when all dripping has stopped.

Simple Green All Purpose Cleaner has also worked well, but there is a question as to its use on aluminum. There are reports that it can dull the finish, so try it in an inconspicuous area first, such as the end caps.

You can either wet a paper towel with the cleaning solution and wipe the gutter, or use a spray bottle and thoroughly wet the areas to be treated. Let stand for a few seconds and rub the stains with a soft brush or clean cloth. Rinse well.

There are commercial gutter cleaning solutions; one such can be purchased at www.gutterworks.com, or by calling (888) 376-6871.

Another one is Gutter Brite Black Streak Remover, which you can buy at www.sprtub.com, or by calling (800) 346-7882.

Others have reported that Jomax, available at Home Depot, works well, and so do oven cleaners.

Q. In researching Wet & Forget, I see that its active ingredient is alkyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride. Will this have any negative effect such as staining or bleaching the roof shingles? I have gutters, but if it reaches the ground, will it have any bad effects on plants or pets? I realize that the product is fairly diluted (9.9 percent).

Parts of my roof have moss that is fairly built up -- about one-quarter inch. Will this product be up to killing that off?

A. Wet & Forget claims to be environmentally safe to all surfaces and vegetation. It also claims that it uses no harsh chemicals, and that it is non-caustic and nonacidic, with a neutral pH close to that of water. It also claims to kill all moss, lichen and algae.

It seems as if it should be safe to use on your roof shingles.

Just be sure to follow directions on the container; it's always the safest way to use any product, but so often ignored.

Q. During the summer of 2011, we had a deck and two sets of stairs installed on the back of our house. We used AZEK decking materials to replace our old wooden deck and stairs. We are very disappointed in the AZEK decking, in part because of the fading that has taken place. The color we had chosen was "Brownstone," and at this point in time, it has faded and has lost much of its original color. We are extremely disappointed in this product, not to mention the thousands of dollars we have spent thinking that this would be a great addition to our home and would help with future maintenance issues.

I am wondering if you would have any suggestions and/or solutions to help us out.

A. There are several lawsuits against the manufacturer of AZEK decking, alleging fading, discoloring, cracking and chalking.

Customers from a number of states, including someone from Massachusetts, have filed suit over these issues, and these lawsuits have been concentrated in New Jersey by the courts for efficiency since the first suit filed was in that state.

You may want to consult with your lawyer on how you can join the class action suit against CPG, the parent company.

Q. I am looking for some expert guidance or advice as to what to do about my wet basement problem. I am not even clear as to the extent of the problem.

I live in a condo development that was built 15 years ago. The ground here is rock-hard clay that holds onto every drop of water. For all of the years here, I have run a dehumidifier 24 hours a day, every day of the year. Despite doing that, most all of my possessions in the basement have mildewed and rusted, even the items in plastic tote bins.

I have all gas appliances here, along with gas heat, and yet my electric bill still averages about $125 per month.

The concrete floor pulled away from the concrete wall a few years ago and I filled in the three-quarter-inch wide area with concrete filler and packed it down as hard as I could. Then I put basement floor paint/sealer over it. (FYI: I do not have a drain in my basement floor.)

Outside, it is obvious that grading needs to happen with the ground surrounding my unit as the ground drops down next to the foundation wall, and is always wet. When my back deck was originally built, the builder did not grade or level the ground at all, so there has remained a significant pool of water under my deck.

Last summer, I had some asphalt laid on my driveway where it meets the garage concrete floor, as the driveway had dropped down 5 inches from the floor and it became a feat to get my car in the garage. The sidewalk that leads to my door has sunk as well and is leaning significantly. My back deck also leans toward the house. This past spring, I had a significant amount of water pool up in my basement for the first time ever.

My unit is in the middle of a triplex. Coincidentally, I am trying to sell my unit, which I am most uncomfortable doing with this water issue in my basement. I have no idea what needs to be done to resolve the problem; I don't even know how much of my issue is a legitimate problem. I do want to be completely honest with any potential buyer, but I really don't know what I should be concerned about or not, or what is a problem or what isn't.

Can you shed any light on this for me please, or advise me as to what action needs to be taken?

A. Your letter has been considerably edited due to its length. You have many problems and it would have been best to have an experienced person, such as a civil engineer, compile a set of solutions to all of them.

It sounds to me as if you have received some hodgepodge advice that did not solve any of the problems.

You obviously need major grading in the front and back of your unit. The deck boards should be removed and soil added to slope away from the foundation. Then some black plastic should be laid on top of the soil and be either covered with stones or held in place with landscape staples (like croquet wickets) to prevent it from blowing away in the wind.

The sidewalk should be replaced so it does not contribute to the basement moisture problem.

Basements no longer have drains; they cause more problems than they were intended to solve.

As to your high electric bill, the constant use of the dehumidifier is a considerable contributor. Perhaps your utility provider may be able to help you identify other heavy uses of electricity and suggest ways to reduce them. An energy audit may also help.

Q. In today's Burlington Free Press, you advised homeowners to set the thermostat at 45 degrees during their absence, which makes sense to me. My gas company told me to set it at 50 degrees "because it's better for the house." I don't know if my system is what makes the difference in their recommendation -- it's a 1949 steam furnace. Do you have any thoughts on the matter? Obviously, I'd rather not spend more to heat an empty house than I have to, especially with a furnace that's not very efficient. I'm of the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" philosophy and I'm reluctant to upgrade my system.

Good recommendation to install a warning system, thanks.

A. The difference in fuel use between 45 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit is not very significant, so set your thermostat at the level which gives you peace of mind.

Steam boilers, properly maintained, are very efficient at distributing heat quickly throughout the house.

A tool every handyperson should have: All auto repair shops and garages have compressed air impact wrenches to use on the lugs of auto tires and any other bolts that need loosening. Now such a tool is available to construction workers, tradespeople and homeowners.

I have just tried Porter Cable's new corded, 7.5 amp ½-inch Impact Wrench to loosen up the bolt on our lawn mower blade to sharpen it.

The bolt was so tight that it was very difficult to loosen it manually, and it was also very awkward to do so because of the angle. I don't want to turn the mower upside down because of the gas and oil in it, so I usually just tilt it slightly, which makes it difficult to use a manual ratchet wrench.

The Porter Cable impact wrench worked like magic! And I am also sure that the blade is very securely tightened. The Porter Cable impact wrench feels very solid in the hand and has a price tag of $119. It is a very welcome addition to my workshop.

• Henri de Marne's book, "About the House," is available at www.upperaccess.com. His website is www.henridemarne.com.

© 2014, United Feature Syndicate Inc.

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