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Pest control companies can address ant problem
By Henri DeMarne | United Feature Syndicate
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Published: 6/26/2010 11:00 PM

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Q. I have a sunroom, built in 2005; it is post-and-beam construction, fully insulated and is off my dining/kitchen area. I have ants for the first time; they are confined to this room and don't migrate into the kitchen. The floor is not hardwood; the room sits on posts and the surface under is very sandy. I don't think they are carpenter ants, but they are black and the size that I see in the summer. I'm a senior and not too familiar with these problems. Should I be concerned or just accept their existence?

A. . You should be concerned. If they are carpenter ants, you must get rid of them. Post-and-beam construction has been responsible for carpenter ant infestations. The only way for you to be sure that it isn't the problem is to have a licensed, family-owned pest control firm check it out. If they are found to be carpenter ants, a yearly treatment of a granular pesticide applied in the spring should prevent further invasion, but there might be need for more aggressive measures initially if the infestation is severe. In my experience, dealing with these small, family-owned firms, there is no need to buy the expensive year contracts that some national companies are pushing on people. That is what I successfully do every spring.

A female friend of mine has made an offer on a house. It absolutely reeks of cigarette smoke. Do you think it's possible to get rid of it? I've been in the house and it is pretty bad. They are pulling and replacing all the carpeting for starters. The house has such potential if a couple of issues can be resolved!

A. . Your friend has a real problem on her hands. Ripping the carpet off should help a lot. Next, the drywall and all other surfaces need to be treated. Because most drywall is painted with latex, cigarette smoke penetrates the gyp board, making it very difficult to get rid of. One person who tried spraying an enzyme deodorizer on the walls experienced yellow streaking on the drywall from the dripping nicotine.

The best solution, short of ripping the gyp board off, is to paint the walls, ceilings, woodwork, etc., with KILZ followed by an alkyd paint. It may take more than one coat. Latex paint will not seal the gyp board, as it is porous. It needs to be a synthetic oil-base paint. The floors may also need to be refinished, and all non-paintable surfaces will have to be washed with Nok-Out (see below). Then, if there is a residual odor, your friend can place open containers of Magic-Zymes, (866) 478-2368, magic-zymes.com, in every affected room for several days. Another possibility is to try washing every surface in the house (walls, ceilings, floors, doors, windows, cabinets, light fixtures, all hardware, etc.) with Nok-Out, which she can buy from nokout.com, (866) 551-1927. Another product recommended by a reader is X-O odor neutralizer (XO Corp., www.xocorp.com), also available at amazon.com.

If the house has a warm-air heating system, it will also have to be treated. The filter will need to be replaced and misted with Nok-Out, which will also need to be sprayed onto the squirrel cage of the fan as well as inside each register and duct to kill any odor in them. The whole thing seems like a nightmare!

I would suggest that your friend get an estimate from Servpro (servpro.com) or an equivalent and from a painting contractor to get all this done. She should make a counteroffer in consideration of these estimates. That is the price the sellers may have to pay for their ghastly habit.

I have a concrete patio that is very stained. I power-washed it last year, and it became stained again after the summer. What can I use to clean it, and how can I prevent it from coming back? Is there some kind of sealer that prevents it from staining?

A. . I assume that the staining is due to leaves and other tree debris. Following directions, scrub the concrete with a solution of Oxy-Boost. You can buy the powder from www.ecogeeks.com; click on "Exterior Products." You can buy a concrete sealer in masonry supply houses.

Our toilet soil pipe flange is below the level of the cement floor. One wax ring does not make a tight seal.

A. . You can double the wax seal or add a sleeve to the waste pipe and use a waxless toilet kit.

There are valves under sinks to shut the water off while repairing washers. Too many times, these cut off or back up valves are useless. They don't turn, or leak after turning, so they need repair. That means that the main water has to be shut off anyway, making these valves worse than useless. I can loosen the packing nut, hoping that loosens the main valve so it can be turned off, but then there is sometimes a threaded part under it that comes loose and leaks. It looks like there is some sort of cartridge instead of the old washer and seat type valve. How does a plumber handle this situation? How do we prevent this problem for the future?

A. . You can view and buy a Gordon Wrench from gordonwrench.com. It was developed by Bob Gordon for that very purpose and works beautifully. I have one in each vanity cabinet and under the kitchen sink. If you make it a habit to use the wrench to operate these pot-metal valves monthly, they will stay loose.

I have an old tub that has shown its wear. I was thinking about having it refinished or refinishing it myself. There is one small chip. Do I need to fix the small chip before I refinish it myself? Can you recommend good products to fix the chip and to refinish the tub? What are some reputable companies I can contact for a price?

A. . Hardware stores sell enamel repair kits and epoxy paint for refinishing the entire tub. However, the results are not always satisfactory, and the finished product may look quite amateurish, which may affect the resale value of your house.

There are firms that do porcelain repairs, resurfacing the entire tub. You should find them in your Yellow Pages under: "Bathtubs & Sink Repair & Refinishing." Another option is to have the entire tub relined with an acrylic tub liner by a company like Bath Fitter.

Are you familiar with linear French drains? They may work as a solution (with a new upgraded sump pump) to keep my basement dry. I want to avoid installing French drains inside the basement. I prefer to keep the water away from the foundation instead of allowing it to enter the basement and then sump pumping it out. Let me know what you think about linear French drains as a solution to my occasional wet basement.

A. . I certainly am, having installed quite a number over the years. But this is the first time I have seen the term "linear" to describe them, probably just a fancy way of describing them. French drains can be very effective if done properly. They do not solve the problem of rising water tables unless they are deep enough to capture the water before it reaches the basement or crawl space floor. They are particularly effective at capturing water from shallow, underground springs or surface water running downhill toward a house. The easiest and least expensive fix to foundation water problems caused by surface water and roofs without gutters or equivalent rain-disposal systems is to make sure that the grade is sloping away from it.

I have three skylights in my north-facing roof (20 years old), and they have all been leaking for years. The past winter was the worst. Is there a way to stop the condensation, or do I need new skylights or a new roof?

A. . If condensation is the problem, which is most likely if you only experience it in the winter and not during rainy periods, installing a Plexiglas or similar acrylic storm panel under each skylight should eliminate it or at least reduce it considerably. New skylights are not likely to solve a condensation problem.

You may want to measure the relative humidity (RH) in your house, which may be the cause of the condensation. If the RH is above 30 percent in the winter, you may not be able to stop the condensation. Look at what you can do to lower the RH.

How about an article about small window air conditioner units? Which one would be the quietest, etc.? Anything new on the horizon in regard to A/C technology?

A. . A better alternative to window air-conditioners that need to be removed or covered up during the winter, while still allowing cold air around the sashes, is a nearly silent through-the-wall unit. Mitsubishi is one of the manufacturers of these units, and any HVAC contractor should be able to install them for you.

As a single homeowner, I have learned so much from your column. A recent column discussed an improperly installed ridge vent. It made me wonder if my own ridge vent was installed properly. Six years ago I bought a rehabbed Cape Cod built in 1927. The previous owner did most of the work himself, including the roof, I believe. I had the house inspected before I bought it, and no problems were noted. However the attic is, of course, very warm in the summer. Would this be a sign of an improperly installed ridge vent, or would I see other problems as well? The attic is finished, so I can't see the underside of the roof. Is there a way I can check it, without damaging anything, to see if the slots were cut?

A. . For a ridge vent to work effectively, there needs to be an equal or greater amount of intake air from the soffits. That means a full-length soffit vent on both the front and back of the house. It also needs an uninterrupted air space of a minimum 11/2 inches from the soffits to the ridge. Since the attic is finished, it is difficult to check some of these things out. The soffit vents are easily identifiable; the ridge vent would have to be removed to make sure that there is a continuous 1-inch slot on each side of the ridge. Once the ridge vent is removed, the air space can be inspected with some difficulty, using a strong flashlight and a mirror. But is it worth it? All attics can get hot in the summer, regardless of an effective ventilation system; it also depends on the amount of insulation between the rafters. You may need to add an air-conditioner.

• 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 via e-mail at henridemarne@gmavt.net.

© 2010, United Feature Syndicate Inc.