Q. Last night, while loading the wood stove, an ember popped out, just missing the hearth rug and landing on our wood floor. The floor is unstained solid oak with a urethane finish. The ember was quickly scooped up, but left a burn mark about the size of a quarter. I'm pretty sure the burn went down into the oak.
What would be the best way to mitigate the damage? If anyone could tell us, I'm sure it is you. Our floors are in great shape otherwise, so I'm hoping there is a simple fix.
A. Because you removed the ember quickly, the burn damage may be light. It may only need a light sanding, but if the burn is deeper, try gently scraping it with the tip of a pocket knife, always going with the grain of the wood. It may remove most of the affected finish and the dead wood.
Follow this with gently brushing the affected area with a brass bristle brush to remove any dead wood left (you may have one in your kitchen drawers). Be sure to work with the grain of the wood, never against it, as it would damage it.
If there are any remnants of burn after brushing the area, use a sharp utility knife to gently scrape them off and use the brush again to remove the loosened specks. Again following the grain, gently rub the affected area with stainless steel wool.
Since the floor is unstained, you may simply need to apply the urethane finish to the repaired area, but if the affected area looks quite different, try rubbing it gently with a clean cloth dampened with tung or teak oil.
Q. This question may be out of your scope but you probably know someone who can answer it. This Christmas I took some gift bags and wrappings out of my attic crawl space. I put them all in my bedroom and when I went to wrap and bag my presents, I found lots of stink bugs in and around all these paper wrappings. UGH!
My question is wouldn't there be a plethora of stink bugs in everything else in the attic? I have lots of other Christmas stuff, boxes, luggage, rolled up carpets and all other things we somehow accumulate. I'm crept out about having to go up there again.
A. Stink bugs enter homes in the fall as temperatures drop to find a secure home for the winter, as do a number of other insects. Can we blame them?
It is likely that there are more of them in other containers in your attic. Consider having a licensed pest control operator treat the outside of the house next October to discourage their entry into your home. It is also important to seal all cracks outside the house, but it may be quite difficult to prevent them from getting into an attic. The pest control professional you choose should be able to advise you on any method to control these pests inside.
Meanwhile, vacuuming the bugs as you find them is one way to dispose of them. But be sure to dispose of the bag after vacuuming them.
Q. I have tried the Milsek oil you mentioned in your column. It is a great product, but both the lemon and orange scents cause me to have breathing problems. I called the company and I was told they do not make an unscented product. In addition, I was told they rarely have calls regarding this problem. Is there another product you might suggest that is not as strong or, preferably, unscented?
A. There are several unscented furniture polishes with a beeswax base. You should be able to find them in local hardware or box stores, or on Amazon.
If you prefer not to use a wax-based polish to avoid build up, another choice is Amish Heirloom Essentials Fine Furniture Polish Unscented, which does not contain any wax.
Either type may be a fine choice, but I haven't tried any of them, as I am a fervent believer and user of Milsek after using it for years with great success.
Q. I have a question about insulating the rim joists (band joists) of my 100-plus-year-old house. It seems there is sawdust in the space above the foundation, against the joists above the sill plate, and plywood covering it. Should I remove the plywood and sawdust, and place the extruded polystyrene directly against the joists? Am I OK to simply add the foam insulation to what is there? Obviously option one will be messier and much harder, but is option two the correct method?
A. I am not clear about the plywood covering the sill plate; what is it doing there?
But the sawdust you see is almost a sure sign that carpenter ants are nesting in the sill plate or the joists (which I assume may be logs in a 100-plus-year-old house).
Carpenter ants do not eat wood, as do subterranean termites; they excavate it to build nests and they usually choose wood that is moist. As my late old friend, a well-known entomologist, told me years ago in his usual humorous style: "Carpenter ants are a homeowner's best friend; they tell you that you have a leak somewhere."
The damage they cause may become structurally substantial over time. Consider having a licensed pest control professional investigate and treat these spaces before more damage occurs if the infestation is still active.
Carpenter ants will drill holes through foam insulation to get to their choice of nesting places. You need to clear the problem before using any type of insulation on your band joists.
Comment from a reader: In response to a reader who had a problem about his stack vent freezing in cold weather, which negatively affected the functioning of his plumbing, I received the following:
"Hi Henri, still follow you even though I am semiretired -- in the blood I guess. A trick I tried many years ago: I attached a 90-degree elbow to the pipe (the stack vent above the roof) to prevent not only freeze-ups, but the down drafting of vent odors. Never glued it, and it has held up. Keep them coming."
A. Attaching a 90-degree elbow (unglued) to a vent stack and aiming it in the direction of the prevailing wind is a way to prevent sewer odors from ruining the enjoyment of the outdoors.
I have never heard of it preventing frost from plugging a stack vent. You must have experienced the problem to mention it. If it does, great!
Frosting of vent stacks is usually caused by a pipe, which is:
• Of too small a diameter.
• Over 6- to 8-inches long over the roof.
• Has a long run in a cold attic.
Thanks for the feedback.
• 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, www.henridemarne.com. Email questions to email@example.com.