Do It Yourself

By Gene Austin
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
Saturday, September 6, 2008

Q: I want to put an insulated cover on the whole-house fan, which is in the attic floor, when the fan is not in use. Can you help?

-- E. Ryan

A: Factory-made covers are available for whole-house fans, and some do-it-yourselfers make their own covers. Make sure the fan cannot be turned on accidentally while the cover is in place.

An insulated cover that is easy to install and remove is available from This cover is like a thin blanket that attaches to the ceiling side of the louvered fan opening. (You don't have to go into the attic.) It is attached with hook-and-loop fasteners; the manufacturer says it has an R value of 11, which is equivalent to some wall insulation. The company also makes insulated covers for pull-down attic stairs, attic hatch covers and other energy-saving products.

If you have good access to the attic, you can make a simple cover by taping together strips of fiberglass wall insulation with a foil or paper vapor barrier. Drape the blanket over the fan housing in winter, foil side down, and remove it in spring when you put the fan into use. You can make a box-type cover out of rigid foam insulation with a foil covering such as Thermax. Assemble the box with tape and construction adhesive.

Q: My concrete driveway is extremely smooth and gets slippery when wet or icy. Is there a product that will minimize the slipperiness?

-- M. Landon

A: A number of anti-skid products are available for concrete, but I'm not aware of any that would be tough or effective enough for a driveway. Most of these are like gritty paint or sealers and aren't practical for vehicle traffic.

Smooth concrete can be given a slightly rougher texture by etching it, a step that is often recommended before painting. Muriatic acid is often used for etching. It is sold in jugs at many paint stores and home centers. Some less hazardous products, such as UGL's Drylok Etch, are also available. Any etcher should be used with extreme caution.

Etching gives smooth concrete a texture much like that of fine sandpaper. But it won't help if the driveway becomes icy. De-icing chemicals such as calcium chloride are the best solution for ice.

If you try etching, I suggest doing a small area first to see if you like the results.

Q: There are old oil stains on my asphalt driveway. How can I remove them? -- J. Lawrence

A: Old stains can be difficult to remove because the oil has had time to penetrate deep into the driveway. The best bet is to use a product specifically made for removing oil and grease stains, such as Oil Eater or Griot's Oil & Grease Cleaner. The best bet is to fix oil leaks and clean up any stains promptly.

Questions and comments should be sent to Gene Austin, 1730 Blue Bell Pike, Blue Bell, Pa. 19422. Send e-mail to Questions cannot be answered personally.

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