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Tile floor in basement will withstand water
By Henri DeMarne | Columnist
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Published: 9/4/2010 11:09 PM

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Q. Our family room flooded twice, causing considerable damage and expense. Both times, we had to get rid of very large, expensive rugs. Would we be better off installing ceramic tiles on the floor? If it flooded again, would the water lift the tiles? Would the water crack and loosen the grout? After the first flooding, we installed drains in the yard, which were supposed to carry the water away from the house, but the water still comes in.

A. First, let's find out why the drains were installed and did not work, causing the basement to flood. Are there grade deficiencies around the foundation that allow the water in the yard to accumulate or run toward the house? Do the walks, patio, driveway, porches, etc., slant toward the house and lead the water against it? Are there downspouts that dump the roof water too close to the foundation and allow it to percolate down and cause the leakage because of the flatness of the grade? If surface water is the cause of the flooding, these problems should be corrected first, and they might have made it unnecessary to install ineffective yard drains. However, if the flooding was caused by an underground water course or spring swollen by recent heavy rains, the situation is radically different and requires different solutions, which yard drains may not help, regardless of how well they were installed. If this is the case, let me know and I'll try to explain how it can be dealt with. Ceramic tiles are an option, of course, and they should work fine. With the proper adhesive and installation, they should not be adversely affected by water; after all, they withstand water in bathrooms and swimming pools.

We have a patio with clay pavers that were installed two years ago. We have moss and weeds growing through the sand between bricks. What is the best way to clean the pavers and also get rid of the growing vegetation? It is my understanding that clay pavers must be treated differently than regular brick pavers.

A. How thick are the pavers, and were they set over geotextile (landscape) fabric? This might prevent weed growth. To clean them, try scrubbing the pavers with Oxy-Boost; it may also do the weeds in. If not, your choices are to keep pulling the weeds out, which should not be difficult from sand joints that are only a couple of inches deep, or carefully pouring a weed killer between the joints after checking with the pavers' manufacturer or distributor to make sure it will not damage them.

I hope you can offer some insight into what kind of insect is boring into my exterior door. Please see enclosed pictures that show the hole and resultant sawdust. Based on the pile of dust, this insect must have bored a cavernous cavity in the door. We are located just northwest of Portland, Maine. Do you have any suggestions on how to exterminate the culprit and repair the door?

A. What a lot of sawdust! There is no way I can tell what type of insect is doing such damage from your photos. The culprits may be carpenter ants. But to be sure, have a pest-management professional investigate. He or she may be able to catch a live or dead insect to identify what is doing such damage. As always, my preference is to work with a local, independent, family-owned firm.

Last year I purchased a 100-year-old mining-company house (duplex). It has a slate roof and asbestos siding. I am afraid to have anyone look at the roof because I am afraid it will just all fall off. I need to get some kind of ventilation up there because there isn't any now. I was thinking of putting vents in the peaks on the two sides but I do not know how to go about cutting through the asbestos. I have e-mailed two different sources and neither has responded to my request. Do you have any suggestions or can you recommend someone I can contact? I would greatly appreciate your assistance on this matter.

A. You haven't told me why you need to add ventilation. Is it really necessary? Cutting through asbestos siding is a job for people trained in this type of work. Would two gable louvers accomplish what you want? If it is simply to cool the attic, I don't think that you will significantly improve the present situation by incurring the cost of having these louvers installed. Old houses usually have large attics that are not prone to condensation problems, so winter ventilation may not be needed.

Propane is our primary heating fuel. The previous owner of our home had the propane tank buried in 1995. What type of maintenance, inspection or replacement is recommended to ensure safety and environmental security? Whose responsibility is the upkeep? Is it the homeowner or the propane company?

A. There is no need to do anything unless you change providers, at which time you should ask them to perform an inspection.

My cinder-block basement is 145 linear feet. During the bad rains this past March in New Jersey, water came in, I believe through the walls. I had a basement guy come in and quote me between $8,000 and $14,000 to remediate the problem by trenching the interior floor around all walls, drilling holes to relieve water and laying some plastic piping (not French drainage). Would you agree this is the only solution? One corner has a yellowish streak going down the wall.

A. The proposed system is one way to correct a frequent leakage problem, as long as it has been positively identified as coming from the base of the walls. But the quote you got seems excessive, particularly for what I gather is a one-time event. There are other ways to deal with repeated basement leakage, and certainly with a one-time unusual incident. The first thing to determine is whether the grade around the house and its appendages are responsible. This particular one-time event may have happened because the ground was so saturated or the amount of water was so overwhelming that the soil could not absorb it, when it would have under less stressful downpours. If this is the case, the success rate of the suggested corrections is almost 100 percent, and far less expensive. That is the first thing I always recommend, so check for deficiencies with a critical eye. Another system that waterproofing contractors use is to drill holes in the cores of the blocks at the floor level and glue a fiberglass gutter which captures the leakage and leads it to a sump pump. That should be less expensive than cutting the concrete around the perimeter of the basement, laying a drain pipe and patching the floor - and far less noisy and messy. You should also get two more estimates. If they all come close to each other, that may be what the market price is in your area.

I read your advice regarding washing and sealing a concrete driveway. I would like to proceed with that advice, but first I need to fill many small potholes ranging in size from 1 to 2 inches in diameter by 1/4-inch deep. How do I go about this repair? I am an 89-year-old lady homeowner, and am a weekly reader of your column.

A. Wow! At 89, you are planning to do this work yourself? I am impressed and take my hat off to you! There is hope for a lot of other seniors who should rejoice at your spunk. You can fill the driveway's potholes with a vinyl-reinforced cement mix such as Thorocrete Concrete Patch, which comes in quart containers for small jobs, or Top'N Bond.

I have a second-floor, master-bedroom ceiling fan upon which my wife and I are dependent even with central air conditioning, particularly in these dog days of summer. Recently the fan has been operable only intermittently. There seems to be power in the hand-held unit, which activates the fan; I know its batteries are fresh and it lights up, but the unit does not consistently cause the fan to operate. My wife said that she has also noticed that the attic fan is not turning on lately. I have checked all the circuit breakers and found no problem there.

A. The receiver in the fan assembly may be reaching the end of its life. A licensed electrician or a tech from the store from which the fan was bought can check this. The attic fan may be set on a reverse thermostat and the attic temperature may not have gotten high enough to kick the fan on. Or the thermostat may need adjusting or replacing.

Help! For almost two years our monthly electric bill has been on average almost 50 percent higher than usual. What makes this so questionable is that in many of the months when this occurred, we were out of the country for three to five weeks and there was no major temperature change from the previous year to account for this. When we go away, the main electric appliances that are left on are the refrigerator and an upright freezer in the kitchen. We usually leave three or four small lights on in bedrooms and bathrooms. Of course the air conditioner is off, and I unplug my computer and kitchen appliances like my toaster, bread machine and blender. After our complaining when the increased costs amounted to about $1,00 (sic), our provider replaced the meter saying that there was nothing wrong with the readings and it must have something to do with the electricity in the house. We have ample electric power in the house and we are only two seniors living here. There has been no change in appliances and/or usage during this time. This is becoming an expensive situation. What do you suggest that we do?

A. : Do you mean $100 or $1,000, and for what length of time? To determine why the unusual load, you can buy an inexpensive meter into which you plug your refrigerator and freezer to monitor their usage. Your power company may have some for loan or rent. Once you have established data for them, plug in some other current-consuming appliances, if you have any. Or better yet, have an energy audit performed by your utility provider or someone they recommend. The audit may reveal the reason for the dramatic change you have noticed.

• 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

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