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Dense and oily Ipe hardwood deck resists yearly staining
By Henri DeMarne | United Feature Syndicate
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Published: 10/2/2010 11:18 PM

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Q. We have an Ipe hardwood deck that was installed about eight years ago. We just love the reddish-brown color. The first couple summers we coated it with Messmer's U.V. Plus, natural color. The color faded almost immediately. This fall I plan to sand the deck and would like to seal it with something that will keep the color for at least one year. What would you recommend?

A. Here is a comment from the chemist at Amteco: Ipe is a very difficult wood to coat because it is dense and oily. It is hard to get penetrating systems inside the wood, and film-build varnish-type systems don't adhere well. As you know, TWP-100 series lasts about two years on decks made from cedar or pressure-treated yellow pine. In our tests it lasts only 10 to 12 months on Ipe. Therefore, we haven't really recommended it for that use. Many people who have used it say it is the best thing that they have used on their Ipe decks, though. If after telling someone TWP-100 series isn't going to last long and they still want to use it, I recommend the following procedure. Get rid of any mold on the deck surface. Sand with 60- to 80-grit paper. Clean with a degreasing solvent. After drying, apply TWP-100 series and remove any material that does not penetrate. Unless the wood is weathered well, there won't be much penetration thus the short life span of the finish. In states where TWP-100 series can't be sold, our TWP-1500 series is the next best thing for Ipe. I hope this helps.

Our sump pump is not a closed system. It's in a cylindrical shallow well through the slab, covered by a piece of wood. We should probably have that replaced by an enclosed sump pump unit to stop that source of basement humidity, right?

A. Not necessarily. Depending on how the piece of plywood fits on the slab, you may be able to stick some self-adhering weatherstripping on the edges of the plywood, putting some weight on it to ensure that it fits tightly.

I would like to have your professional opinion on why my basement still leaks from the walls to the ground during storming days if I already have a sump pump in the middle of the basement. Somehow the water never goes to the middle of the hole where the sump pump is, because I do not see any water filling the sump pump hole. Isn't water supposed to go there? What would be my solution to fix that situation?

A. It means that not enough water leaks through the walls to reach the sump pump or to overcome the unevenness of the concrete basement floor, which may be higher where the sump pump is than around the walls. The first thing you need to do is to check the grade around your foundation to make sure that it gently falls away from the house. Also check any appendages like patio, walk, driveway, steps, etc. Any with a negative slope will need to be corrected, as the great majority of foundation leakage is due to negative grades that allow water to flow down against the foundation walls to the footings, where the flow is stopped. At this point, water seeks the weakest spot to get through the walls. If these defects are not the cause of the leakage because of a high water table, a waterproofing contractor can install a fiberglass gutter system at the base of the foundation walls and a new sump pump in the most logical place. Be prepared for a very large expense.

We recently bought a 10-year-old house with a brick porch, a brick patio and a brick wall surrounding a pool in our backyard. There are also brick walls on either side of the driveway on the side of our house. The house had been neglected for some time before we bought it, and there is a seemingly thick cover of black mold/mildew on a large portion of the brick.

Our initial plan was to buy a pressure washer and gradually clean the brick, but we learned this may cause serious damage to the bricks and mortar between them. We tried soaking the bricks with a 50/50 bleach-and-water solution, which was rinsed off. While we could see some of the mildew washing away, it was only in terms of how bad it was to begin with.

Also, on several areas where the mold was the thickest, very small pieces of the brick seemed to be chipping away. Can using a pressure washer at around 1,000 PSI be safe and effective at removing mildew from brick? If the pressure washer wouldn't be our best choice, is there another alternative? If the cleaning solution/rinsing process is our best bet, do you know of any product that will work better than bleach? Could the mildew have been let go so long that the bricks were damaged?

A. Because some bricks were flaking, it would not be safe to use a pressure washer. It may be that regular bricks were used on all flat surfaces instead of pavers, which are harder burned than standard bricks. The safest solution is to scrub the affected areas with Exterior PROx Nontoxic Deck & Patio Cleaner, an oxygen bleach that is safe for the environment and the surfaces on which it is used. You can buy it from As always, be sure to follow the directions carefully.

Ever since we had new springs and a new garage door opener installed years ago on our two-car garage, I've struggled with the door not closing, as if there was something blocking the door from coming all the way down. Then it returns to the completely open position. The garage is below a bedroom. In the summer, the heat and humidity requires that we adjust the chain tension, because the wood materials have expanded. In the winter, we increase the tension. Do you have any idea what I can do to avoid these tension adjustments completely?

A. The best thing to do is to call the company that installed the garage door and have a service person come and adjust the spring tension. If they are no longer in business, any firm that installs garage doors can make the adjustment.

We had landscaping work done after the construction of our new home. Part of the landscaping included flat stones for walkways and stones for steps. Some of the stones used for the steps are flaking. The stones flake from pressure from a garden hose. Is there a sealer I can use on the stones to stop the flaking? Other than replacing the stones, what are my options?

A. The photos show what appears to be natural flagstones. Minor flaking is normal, but the flaking on your stones is exceptionally high. It looks as if you have defective stones. You should call the people who installed them and have them replaced. The store from which they were bought should replace them free. There should be no need to seal good-quality flagstones.

We need guidance on the best paint solution for our home's exterior. We are looking to repaint our ranch's cedar shakes. A recent article in Jersey Living Central touts an exterior coating system called Tex-Cote Super-Cote. The article cites several advantages and claims to provide a lifetime solution to constant repainting. We have been unable to get information about this paint from Home Depot or Lowe's. We will appreciate any guidance you can provide.

A. You will find a negative report when you Google the top line of the Tex-Cote Super-Cote listings. That does not mean that the product is bad; it is possible that the person who wrote this negative report did not follow directions. But why take chances when you can get very good results from regular-quality paints?

If the paint on the cedar shakes of your ranch is in good shape, power-wash them to remove any airborne pollutants and repaint them with a quality exterior latex paint. If there is a lot of peeling, power washing should help remove most of the poorly adhered paint. Scrape off any remaining loose paint. Prime any bare areas with an alkyd primer before applying the new paint.

My husband insists on smoking and throwing his cigarettes butts down the toilet. Can this be harmful to our plumbing? I am concerned, because the toilet recently became clogged and overflowed, causing considerable damage. We even had to replace the toilet because the plumber broke it when he removed it. I know this is unimportant compared to the serious problems other people have, but I hope you'll find time to answer my question.

A. No question is unimportant. Sorry that you are having such an unpleasant problem, and I hope that your husband can shake the habit for the sake of your health and his. You may want to tell him that if you are ever thinking of selling your house, you may have a very hard time because of the lingering smoke smell, which is extremely difficult to get rid of. I have had a number of questions about this problem over the years.

I doubt that flushing cigarette butts has caused the toilet to clog, but if you have a septic system, it is not a good thing to do. I once saw this dilly in the toilet room of dear friends from Maine: "Don't throw nuttin in ere that you ain't et first." A good thing to remember! And I am sure that any municipal water-treatment plant is not well served by that habit either.

• 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

© 2010, United Feature Syndicate Inc.