Water stains on brick may clean easily

Q. My home was built during the 1950s and has a fireplace wall, 8-by-15 feet, made of what someone told me was Arkansas Marble. I recently purchased this home with an $500 allowance to clean a small section below the ceiling of that wall over the fireplace that was damaged by water leaking around the chimney. Would a commercial product such as Lime Away be appropriate to clean this area or could you recommend another solution. A new roof has been installed after a complete tear off. Can you recommend a type of contractor that does this type of work if I wanted to hire a contractor to clean this entire wall?

A. The two photos you sent show what appears to be efflorescence. All masonry products contain certain salts, which are dissolved in water and are brought to the surface. The water evaporates and the salts are left behind, similar to how sea salt is obtained (seawater is collected in shallow ponds where the water eventually evaporates, leaving the salt behind to be collected).

Try brushing the salts off using a stiff-bristle fiber brush (do not use a steel brush, as it could damage the bricks). If dry brushing is not successful, dampen the fibers of the fiber brush and scrub again. It should clean the bricks up.

But if the stains remain for some reason, a cleaning service or masonry contractor should be able to remove them using muriatic acid. Muriatic acid is so caustic that its use is not recommended for people not trained in handling it safely.

Q. Two of my garage foundation walls are bowing out and cracking, both vertically and horizontally, and the slab is sinking inside it. This situation definitely got worse last winter. I am having a hard time figuring the solution and getting a price from anyone. Seems there are three ways to do it:

• Add about 10 big metal plates outside and anchored from inside with bolts to pull the walls in and hold.

• Piering from underneath the walls and footings, going down to something solid (then would still need plates to hold cracked walls in).

• Take the garage down (not the greatest built garage anyway), and start new with all new footings if needed, and new foundation walls and new slab, all dug out with proper stone and materials placed inside and out, and improved drainage. The soil around here is not good and does not drain well, and after working on this house for 20 years, I would not be at all confident that the original builders did anything special down there in 1981 or followed all proper steps.

One company waited eight months without a price then said I needed a structural engineer to look at it from outside to determine what is happening. Other companies say it's just water getting inside and freezing and to pay for a $500 engineer report is totally unnecessary. They advise removing the slab and go from inside and see what is needed, either part or all replacement of walls and footings and materials. An engineer says that inside won't tell anything. The walls don't appear to be sinking but the slab definitely is going down within the walls.

Sounds like fixes one and two still leaves me with cracked walls and sunken slab, but held in place. Option three obviously costs more, but would seem to take care of all problems. Any advice?

A. Because the walls are cracking, they are obviously not stable, which indicates that the footings will also have to be replaced.

I think your best option is to tear the garage down and have a competent contractor rebuild it. It's likely to be competitive in cost with all the repairs needed to stabilize the existing structure.

Q. We have to redo our bathroom, which has a glass block window and only has a ceiling fan. We took down drywall and the fiberglass insulation that was in the ceiling. I noticed the insulation was damp and looked like maybe mice nests were in it. We found mold on the underside of the wood that was against the insulation in the ceiling. What can we do to get rid of the mold and put in the ceiling to insulate it properly?

A. If your plans include the replacement of the glass block window, I hope you contacted a window replacement company that can either match the existing opening or suitably and aesthetically finish whatever space there will be around a new window on the outside.

I would recommend that you spray all areas showing mold with straight bleach and, when all is dry, replace the insulation with Rockwool batts. They are denser than fiberglass, do not itch and are more resistant to moisture.

I assume that the moist wood that was in contact with the fiberglass insulation is a wood floor above, perhaps an attic floor. If so, the dampness is likely to be condensation from excessive water vapor (steam) in the bathroom air convecting through and around the ceiling joints and the insulation and coming in contact with a cold wood floor.

Once the insulation is in place, staple 6-mil plastic to the entire ceiling as a vapor retarder, which it seems you did not have. Reinstall drywall and prime it with B-I-N and paint it with two coats of latex paint.

To discourage mice from nesting, plug any hole you see, as small as one-quarter inch, with stainless steel wool and put several Bounce dryer sheets on the Rockwool batts before putting them between the ceiling joists.

Q. Your column about venting bathroom fans appeared in our Daily Herald recently. It did not address what to do in our house situation: a small ranch house with bathroom in the center of the house (no windows). We have gables on two sides of the house. It is built on a slab. Our bathroom fan is vented to the roof, but in the winter we have a problem with condensation dripping into the bathroom through the fan and moisture accumulating on the ceiling around the fan. Our bathroom steams up terribly without the fan running. Please advise on how should it be vented to get the moisture out of the bathroom?

A. Perhaps you missed my detailed description (published Nov. 11) of the only proper way to vent bathroom fans to avoid the type of problem you have: through a gable wall. If it was not printed in your newspaper, let me know and I'll get back to you. It's such a common problem that a lot of readers have similar questions, which is why I printed an extensive discussion of the problems caused by all other venting options.

• 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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