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Commercial gutters produce residential success
By Henri DeMarne | Columnist
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Published: 9/11/2010 11:58 PM

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Q. I would like to replace the existing house gutters with the industrial size that you claim never need cleaning. My house is surrounded by oak trees, which is a mess in the spring. What should I do?

A. All you have to do is ask a gutter installer of your choice if they install commercial gutters and downspouts. Commercial gutters are 6 inches wide instead of the 5 for residential gutters, and the downspouts have a cross-section of 3-inches-by-4 inches instead of the 2-inches-by-3 type - twice the cross-section - and that is why they seldom clog up. Because of their size, they also are much less apt to fill up with ice and crack at the seams. The extra width of commercial gutters allows the accumulation of tree leaves and debris without much problem, unless you have a huge quantity. The leaves have the chance to rot and are washed away in time. I have had a very good experience with them over many years.

I have two marble coffee tables - one black and the other white - that have water spots on them from holding plants and drinks. Is there a way to remove these spots without damaging the marble?

A. Unfortunately, the marble polish has been etched, and the tops will have to be refinished. To do this, use marble hand polishing powder (putty powder). When the polish has been restored, seal the marble with Tri-Seal.

We have a 17-year-old house with a full-length, covered front porch. We built our house in the late fall and did not stain the porch, waiting until the following summer. I washed it, let it dry for a couple of weeks, went to Home Depot and purchased their Behr stain and primer. We restain it every couple of years. Is there a better product to use next time? The area has big black mold stains, so I am kind of lost as to what to do. Home Depot says I am doing it wrong.

A. What did Home Depot say you did wrong? I gather that the stain is peeling, which is why you need to redo the porch finish so often. I am also assuming that you are referring to the porch floor and not to the other woodwork? The fact that you had to use a primer before applying the finish coat means that the so-called "stain" was not a penetrating stain, but a thin paint - the primer would seal the wood from absorbing the stain. If the porch floor is made of pressure-treated wood, a penetrating stain would be best, but you will have to remove all traces of what you now have to be able to do the job successfully, and, after so many coats, you have a very difficult job ahead of you. Under the circumstances, I think that you are pretty much stuck with what you have and will need to continue scraping and recoating every few years.

However, if you insist on correcting the situation, there are better products to use than the Behr stain you used (which is a solid color stain, i.e., a thin paint). Amteco TWP and Wolman are two penetrating stains that must be applied on bare wood. They will also need to be reapplied every three to five years.

My daughter has an aluminum-sided home with the usual paperbacked, tacked-in fiber insulation. Several of the walls are exposed to the elements, and the corners of each side bead up with sweat during the cold spells. It appears to be an insulation problem. Can additional insulation be blown-in by making holes on the drywall? Which contractors here in the Chicago area could do it?

A. You haven't told me how old your daughter's house is, but I assume that the condensation is on the inside walls of the outside corners of the house. If so, it may not be an insulation problem, but one due to the type of construction that was common until we changed our way of building outside corners after the energy crisis of the early 1970s. We now use two-stud corners, leaving space for insulation, whereas outside corners were built with three studs that prevented the use of insulation. If that is the case, here are several suggestions to remedy the situation:

Decrease the relative humidity in the house; Raise the heat if it is kept low to save fuel; Cover the inside of the exterior walls with rigid insulation and new drywall; If replacing the siding is planned, add rigid insulation to the exterior sheathing and apply new siding.

What are senior citizens to do? My husband is 89 years old, and we have trim and gutters on our brick home that have been painted with white lead paint. He can no longer scrape the paint and repaint them, and the contractor we called said that the government is trying to put contractors out of business with their new laws. As a result, we are stuck with peeling paint on our trim and on our wooden gutters.

A. You have been dealing with a malcontent contractor. Laws are often enacted to rectify abuses or correct situations as necessary. Lawmakers are not usually enacting laws just to put contractors out of business. Call other painting contractors until you find one who is willing to take care of your painting problems. There are many contractors looking for work, who are not as discontented as the one you have been talking to.

I have a house built in the 1870s constructed of solid brick with a sandstone foundation. Over the years, the basement has been whitewashed, and the resulting chipping is making a constant mess in my basement. I've been thinking of taking a putty knife and chipping it all off. Is this OK to do? And if so, should I leave the sandstone blocks natural or is there a product that would be safe to use on them?

Finally, there's one sandstone block in the foundation holding a small porch up that seems to be disintegrating. This is exposed outside, not in the basement. The stones around it seem fine, but the sand is very loose on this one, as you can brush the sand off with your hand. Is this a defective stone? Can I seal it in some way to stop the deterioration?

A. Removing the whitewash should be fine. There is no need to apply any coating on the stones. You should have a masonry contractor check out the disintegrating stone to make sure that it is not a structural problem in the making. He or she can suggest the best way to deal with it.

I just read your column for the first time today -brilliant column! I've been looking for someone like you that I could consult with. I live in a 44-year-old, tri-level, all-brick house. The house was built with a crawl space, which I hate! My dad had the original construction men fill in the gravel floor with cement, which helped a lot in making it more usable. I hate storing anything in there, and it is wasted space to me. I have wanted to turn it into a full basement, but many people warn me that it could cause structural damage to the house.

My secondary problem is that the land that the house is on is very moist all the time. We used to get lots of seepage water in the recreation room (half-basement area), but we have eliminated about 99 percent of it. I know if I turned the crawl space into a basement, I would definitely need to install drain tile and sump-pumps all around the house. Do you think doing something like that is worth it?

There is some settling occurring, as the drywall in the house from the main level is cracked. And there is some cracking in the mortar of the bricks in the back of the house. Should I be worried about that? What can I do to fix the problem without incurring a $50,000 bill or more?

A. I think that you have a tiger by the tail. A tri-level brick house built on land that is always moist with a half-basement that has moisture problems is not the best candidate for excavating the crawl space to make it into another basement space. However, why don't you consult with a structural engineer in order to get on-the-spot advice, which I cannot give you from a distance. The cost may discourage you, even if the engineer tells you that it can be safely done.

Since the question is on your mind, I assume that the existing half basement is not enough to satisfy your storage needs. A much less expensive way to deal with the needed storage, if you absolutely have to keep what needs to be stored, is to rent a self-storage unit. If the drywall settling has been there for quite some time, it may not be a significant problem, as lumber shrinks and a masonry house has no forgiveness. But the cracks in the mortar may be of greater concern, as it may indicate some settlement of the foundation. These two concerns will be addressed by the structural engineer.

• 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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