Q: We recently had unfinished, brick-colored clay tiles installed around the stove in our kitchen. The installer did not put a sealer on them, and now there are grease stains on these tiles. There is also a film of grout (cement) over all the tiles. How can I clean them and what kind of sealer should I apply?
A: You shoud be able to wash most of the grout off with muriatic acid, and this may also take much of the grease stain out. You can buy the acid in paint and hardware stores. Dilute it with two or three parts water, mixing it in a glass or plastic bowl. Wear rubber gloves. Cover the stove and everything else nearby with plastic. Scrub the mixture on with a bristle brush, wait about 10 minutes, scrub again to losen the cement and rinse off with lots of water. If grease stains persist, scrub with a detergent solution. When the tiles have dried, apply a clear sealer of the kind sold for use on stone and terrazzo.
Q: The asphalt asbestos tiles on my kitchen floor are laid on a concrete slab with no basement underneath. I would like to put down solid vinyl floor tiles, but have been told that moisture from the concrete will push them up. Is that true?
A: You probably have vinyl asbestos tiles in your kitchen now. I don't think there ever was an asphalt asbestos tile. Many solid vinyl tiles are not recommended for installation on concrete floors that are in direct contact with the ground (called on-grade). But most vinyl asbestos can be used for this. Check with your local dealers for the specifications on the various brands they carry to see that can be put down over on-grade slabs. Don't worry about moisture if you have no indication of it before.
Q: I have a problem with squeaking hardwood floors on the first and second floors of my house. The floors are hardwood parquet. I have removed the carpeting and inserted brads and tenpenny nails, but the squeaks are still there. How can I correct this before new rugs are installed?
A: The brads you drove in are probably too small to do much good, and nails are useless if not put in the right places. Nails must be driven into the joints at about a 45-degree angle slanting inward so they catch the edge of the loose board and secure it to the sub-floor. This keeps from moving up and down, and that movement is what causes the squeaking noise. You can silence the squeak temporarily by squirting some white powdered lubricant -- even talcum powder will do -- in the cracks or joints between the offending boards. This will lubricate the edges enough to stop the squeaking noise -- but the noise may return when the lubricant wears off.
Q: We are moving into a condominium where the ceilings have a textured finish. They still look fine, except for occasional flaking. There is asbestos in the finish. Should we remove it before repainting?
A: I wouldn't worry about it. Scrape off what is loose, then prime with an alkyd-base primer-sealer. Finish with any flat or alkyd paint.
Q: Our hot water comes from coils inside the boiler of our heating system and this water does not seem to be hot enough for us even though the temperature is set at the maximum of 180 F. We have been told that the water in our area has a great deal of rust in it that builds up in the coils. We were also told that a chemical cleaning of the coils would improve the situation. What do you think of this idea?
A: The water in your area is no more rust-laden than any other well-maintained water supply. It does come from wells, so it may contain more chemicals than in some other areas. At any rate, the type of tankless hot-water heater you have eventually builds up a scale or chemical accumulation in the coils that will affect the hot water supply. Cleaning the coils with chemical works sometimes -- but not always.
In some cases the condition is so severe you may have to completely replace the coil. There is one other possibility: These systems ususally have a mixing value on the boiler that adds some cold water to the hot as it comes out so there is no chance of scalding yourself accidentally. This also increases the volume of hot water available. for the shower, etc. Have a plumber check this to make certain it is set properly.