Q: I have quite a draft in my basement. I've traced it to a gap all around the house where the siding meets the foundation. Is this supposed to be there for ventilation, or should I close it off?
A: No, the gap shouldn't be there, and you should fill it with caulk. If the gap is too wide to fill effectively with caulk, stuff it with rope or oakum, them caulk over that. Oakum is your best choice if the gap varies in width. It's a loosely woven rope sold at plumbing shops and it will conform to irregularities more easily than ordinary rope. Shove it into the gap with a narrow putty knife.
Q: The floor of my fiberglass shower stall has always felt soft and springy underfoot. Now it has begun to crack and water is leaking through to the floor below. Is there anything I can do short of removing the stall to repair the situation?
A: It sounds as if your stall may have been improperly installed. Certain brands should be placed over a ring of wet concrete when first installed. The concrete then sets and acts as support for the fiberglass floor of the shower stall.
I'm not guaranteeing anything, but you may be able to make a repair with fiberglass. You don't have anything to lose (your shower is no good as it is), so give it a try. Pick up a gallon of polyester resin and enough heavy fiberglass roving (a coarse fabric) to cover the shower floor with two or three layers. Boating-supply shops and marinas usually stock these materials.
Sand the bottom of the shower with coarse paper to scuff it up. Mix up some resin according to instructions and brush a thick coat on the shower floor. Cut a layer of roving and place it on the floor (keeping it and the resin out of the drain). Saturate with resin and work out all air bubbles. Then add another layer of roving and saturate it. That should do it, but a third layer will give even more strength.
Be sure to pat down any glass fibers that may stick up. Then wait for the resin to set up. Once it has, sand your work carefully to smooth it and remove any sharp protrusions that could cut bare feet. Finish the job off with another coat of resin to get a smooth, easy-to-clean surface.
If you like, you can add pigment to the last coat (buy it where you get your other supplies) to try to match the color of the rest of your stall. This will be difficult, however, unless your stall is white. Other colors are hard to match.
1q: What's the secret to using a pipe wrench? Sometimes I can get mine to grip properly. Other times it slips no matter how I adjust it.
A: I'd guess you're not holding the wrench properly. A pipe wrench is designed with a loose jaw that will grip only when the wrench is turned in the right direction. If you turn it the other way the jaws will slip.
Q: I like using silicone-rubber caulk, but I'm having trouble with it now. Last time I used it, I painted over it with no problem. I tried it again a while ago and this time the paint wouldn't stick to the caulk. Has the formula for silicone caulk been changed?
A: Take a look at your container of caulk. Some silicone caulks can't be painted, while other brands can. If the brand you bought can't be painted, it will say so on the cartridge. If so, either paint first and use clear caulk, or switch to a brand that can be painted.
Q: A joint in my heavy iron drain pipe is dripping, leaving an ugly stain on my basement floor. The joint seems to be stuffed full of coarse steel wool or something. Is there any way I can fix the leak, or will I need a plumber?
A: Sounds as if your joint is sealed with oakum and lead wool. You may be able to stop the leak by packing or caulking the lead. Get a caulking tool (a sort of a blunt-nosed offset chisel) at a plumbing supply house. Use it and a hammer to pound on the lead wool and pack it more tightly into the joint. An even easier solution would be to wipe the joint clean and dry, then seal the leak with epoxy plumber's putty.
Q: My porch ceiling paint peels and bubbles no matter what I try. The ceiling's of wide tongue-and-groove boards, originally stained. I primed it and then painted it white with exterior oil paint. Since the painting eight years ago there have been minor leaks in the roof over the porch, but I recently had the roof repaired, and the bubbling and peeling persist. Do you have a solution to my problem?
A: Blistering is caused by vapor pressure. It simply pushes the paint film right off the wood. Vapor pressure means water. I would guess that even though your roof has been repaired, there's still some water in the area above your ceiling. The water tries to evaporate, but the only way out is through your paint.
The solution is to provide some other means of escape. That means vents. Probably the easiest thing would be to put a couple dozen 2" or 3" round mini-vents right into the ceiling. Then let things dry out for a few months before you repaint.
Note: You'd've been better off with a latex paint, since latex breathes better than oil. But there's no point in switching now unless you remove all the old paint first.
Q: I installed a wood stove to help beat the cost of heat. It's doing a good job, but I have one problem. Dark gooey stuff is leaking out of the joints between sections of stove-pipe and running down the outside of the pipe. My neighbor tells me it's creosote. What can I do to stop the leaking?
A: Your neighbor is right, that is creosote. It's just about impossible to stop it from forming, but you can keep it from leaking out of the pipe. The secret is to assemble the sections of stovepipes with crimped ends toward the stove. If you do this, each section of pipe will fit into the section below it and the creosote cannot possibly run out through the joints.