How To: Store boxes of paper in an attic

February 8, 2012

Q. I would like to store some boxes of papers in my attic. I am concerned that mice might visit and think the papers are nesting material. I know they can chew through cardboard, and I’ve been told they can also chew through plastic. Any suggestions?

Bethesda

First, make sure the attic really is the wisest storage place. Conservators warn against storing family treasures, including papers, in attics or basements because hot and/or humid conditions degrade many materials.

“I tell people to get archival storage boxes and put them under a bed or in a closet,” says Suzanne Gramly, senior paper conservator for the Northeast Document Conservation Center. Of course, longevity is a bigger issue if you’re storing family papers that you want to hand down rather than old business papers that you plan to toss as soon you legally can.


A metal filing cabinet is a good way to preserve papers in the attic. (bigstockphoto)

There is also a weight issue with attic storage. If you have many boxes to store, the weight could cause part of your house to sag if the attic floor wasn’t built to carry the load. Ask a builder or building inspector to assess the situation. Or at least store the boxes close to outside walls or near inside walls that line up with walls or posts on lower floors, carrying weight in the attic all the way to the ground.

If, after all these warnings, you decide that attic storage really does fit your needs best, here’s an idea for keeping out mice: Get an inexpensive metal filing cabinet. Secondhand shops often carry them, as do office-supply stores. Gramly recommends placing papers in archival-quality folders first because the folders help buffer the effects of fluctuating temperature and humidity.

I have an old table that needs to be professionally cleaned. It’s in good shape but is sticky after 50 years of dirt, grime, wax, etc. How can I find someone who works with antiques and who will know how to clean it and not ruin the inlay? I’ve tried various products myself. Nothing has worked.

Annandale

Your piece might need more than a thorough cleaning. Sticky finishes often can’t be cured, just stripped and redone. Even though your table doesn’t fit the century-old definition of an antique, you should be able to get an honest evaluation and good results from a reputable shop that refinishes antiques.

With a very old antique, refinishers often try to strip off only the damaged layer or layers so they can preserve as much of the original finish as possible, since a lot of the value of the piece depends on that. But for a table that’s 50 years old, complete stripping makes more sense, says Don Selkirk, owner of Don’s Furniture Restoration in Lorton (703-798-3368, www.donsfurniturerestoration.com ). Steve Strosnider of
A Perfect Finish in Fairfax (703-204-2009, www.aperfectfinish-va.com ) also said that complete stripping will probably be the best approach.

It’s worth taking your table to a restorer or two for an evaluation, though. If the table does just need cleaning, you might get the work done for as little as $200 to $300, including a new topcoat or two to replace whatever finish comes off during the cleaning process. A complete redo could cost three or four times as much, though you might be able to save by having only the top of the table treated.

I had a tile floor installed in my kitchen about two years ago. The next month, I replaced the dishwasher. The new floor was a little too high for the dishwasher to fit perfectly. But the laminate counter had enough give to work. Then, about a year later, I got granite countertops. There was so little give that a few tiles in front of the dishwasher had to be broken, just so we could slide it back into place. I replaced the broken tiles, effectively “tiling in” the machine.

I could live with this, but the dishwasher is unstable. Sometimes I have to brace my knee against it when filling or emptying it. We can’t use the manufacturer’s stabilizing brackets because we can’t slide the dishwasher out. The granite installers gave me some Granite Grabbers, but again, there’s no removing the dishwasher. Any ideas?

Oakton

You probably thought of this, but in case not: Are the adjustable feet under the dishwasher fully retracted? If not, you might be able to create enough wiggle room by screwing them in. Also, since a dishwasher’s stabilizing brackets are usually secured after it is moved into place, why is it necessary to slide out the dishwasher to access them? Perhaps the brackets just need to be pivoted, using a screwdriver. Many dishwashers have side-mount brackets, just for situations with stone countertops. So if yours does, finding them could give you a quick fix.

But before you do a lot of fiddling, call the granite installers and ask them to come back and finish the job. Securing a dishwasher is part of a countertop installation. It’s not enough to just hand you a product and tell you to deal with it — unless, of course, the crew specifically discussed the issue and you waved away their warnings.

If the countertop installers can’t or won’t find a solution, call a company that installs or repairs your brand of dishwasher. The Granite Grabber system uses a slim $6 device with an adhesive backing that sticks to stone; it also includes a threaded recess where you can fasten the dishwasher’s stabilizing bracket. It’s useful in many situations, but it’s not the only solution out there. An experienced installer will know of a few things to try, including possibly removing the dishwasher’s legs to make it shorter.

If these ideas don’t work, perhaps you can swap out the dishwasher for a shorter model. But this would involve taking out the tiles you replaced, so it’s probably feasible only if you still have extras for a second patch job. As a last resort, hire a stone countertop installer or someone experienced in salvaging building materials to lift the stone. This involves alternately slicing through the adhesive underneath and then wedging the countertop up to give access to adhesive farther in. Once the stone is out, a countertop installer can top the cabinets with plywood and create enough space to install the dishwasher correctly. Be sure to fill in the flooring under the dishwasher first.

A tippy dishwasher is a definite safety hazard, so it isn’t something you should just learn to live with. You might get used to bracing it with your knee, but will every visitor to your house?

Have a problem in your home? Send questions to localliving@washpost.com . Put “How To” in the subject line, tell us where you live and try to include a photo.

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