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posted: 10/1/2017 6:00 AM

Clean brick mortar with muriatic acid

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Q. I recently wrote to you and sent pictures of my brick front steps, which are an eyesore. I subsequently took a wire brush to scrub them, both dry and wet, with no measurable results. Should I now try the 12 percent peroxide and ammonia solution on them or do you have something else for me to try? I am desperate for this to look better.

A. Sorry for the missed diagnosis; the photos showed what looked like efflorescence. But it is obviously something else since you were not able to brush it off.

So it may be a sloppy mortar job. Try buying a small amount of muriatic acid in a hardware store and mix one part acid to nine parts water in a plastic or glass container. Do not use metal with muriatic acid. Muriatic acid is very corrosive. Wear heavy rubber gloves, old clothes and eye protection when handling it.

Wash the bricks with the solution using a fiber brush, which we used to call a calamine brush in the old days. It looks like a giant hairbrush. Then rinse with clear water.

Let me know if this is what the problem is and if you were able to clean the bricks to your satisfaction.

Q. How late is too late in the fall (Northwest suburban Chicago area) to install a new asphalt roof?

Our contractor wants to do it in October, but I have read that in order for the new materials to seal properly, the temperature must be 45 degrees for a few weeks after installation. We are not sure what to do.

A. It is best to wait until the sun will be warmer, but many roofs are installed in October, and there may be enough sunny days to seal the tabs.

Unless there are unusually strong winds, you will not likely experience a blowoff of shingles before next summer, when the tabs will surely seal off. Snow on the roof over the winter, as is common in your area, also should prevent any blowoff.

Q. I follow your column with great interest in the Daily Herald. I live outside of Chicago. I'm retired and thinking about replacing my water heater, which is about 10 to 12 years old. A few years ago it seemed that a tankless was the rage -- now, not so much.

My question is what's the verdict on these? Are they better than gas high-efficiency heaters in as far as life span and use?

I live in a four bedroom, 2½ bath house with three people and grandkids are a constant! Baths, laundry, etc.

A. Water heaters have different life expectancies. Some can last more than the 12 years yours has, but it is getting chancy. As luck would have it, water heaters have a way of failing on weekends when plumbers charge double.

If your present heater is electric, and you decide to replace it, consider the plastic Marathon tank; it can last a long time because it can't rust.

Tankless water heaters are almost exclusively used in the European countries with which I am familiar, and probably in many others. For them to be satisfactory, the right size must be selected; the heater's location in relation to the majority of the plumbing fixtures in the house is also important, especially the kitchen, which is where water is most often drawn in short spurts.

Some years back, a Consumer Reports review of tankless water heaters mentioned that, although they save energy in daily use (approximately $70 a year), they are so much more expensive than tank heaters to buy and install that it can take up to 22 years to recoup the additional cost on a heater whose life is only 20 years on most models. This may be why tankless water heaters seem to have lost some of their earlier excitement.

Tankless water heaters may need upgraded gas lines and additional electrical connections, as well as more expensive venting systems that require the services of licensed HVAC and electrical contractors.

They cannot deliver hot water during power outages. Inconsistent water temperatures have also been reported. And neither do they deliver instant hot water, as often claimed; it takes time for the water to be heated.

Calcium buildup is also a potential problem requiring expensive service calls from licensed plumbers.

Q. We found your recent recommendation for Amteco products. We have a pressure-treated deck on Cape Cod that will not hold stain for long and we were hoping that Amteco had a Cape Cod gray color we could purchase. The 100 series has the perfect color and a recommendation that it is excellent for decks.

The company will not ship it to Massachusetts (or any state near us). Do you have any recommendations?

It seems that since stains and paints have changed formulas for environmental reasons, we cannot find a product that holds up to the sun and weather. Our local dealer warned us that this might be the case.

A. Amteco's 100 Series does not meet environmental regulations in a number of states; the 1500 Series is replacing it. But unfortunately, it seems as if Cape Cod Gray is not available in the 1500 Series. You may want to try finding another suitable color on their website

Q. I cleaned my stainless steel refrigerator with a soft scrub product and damaged the finish. Is there anything I can do to restore or repair it?

A. It is possible that the cleaning process was performed against the grain of the stainless steel. Any cleaning of stainless steel must be done following its grain.

I can only think of two products that might work on repairing the damaged finish, but they will have to be applied following the grain.

Try Milsek One-Step Stainless Steel Cleaner. To find out where to buy it, go to, and click on Where to Buy and enter the requested information.

The other product that may help is the famous Bar Keepers Friend. They have a cleaner and polisher for stainless steel. Their website is

• Henri de Marne, a former remodeling contractor turned columnist and consultant, is the author of "About the House with Henri de Marne" (Upper Access Publishing). He continues to take questions from readers for this column and his website, Email questions to

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