Q: The paint on the wooden columns and trim around the outside of my house is peeling in many places, apparently because of dampness. Is there a special paint I can apply to eliminate this problem, and should there be weep holes in the columns to eliminate moisture?
A: If dampness behind the wood trim or inside the columns is a problem, paint will always peel, no matter what you use. Latex paint is less likely to peel than oil paint. Check all the caulking around the trim and make sure all joints are watertight. There should be weep holes in the hollow wood columns to allow moisture vapor to escape.
Q: A very large and ugly radiator pipe runs from floor to ceiling on one wall of my living room and I have been thinking about covering it. In a hardware store I recently saw some 1 1/2-inch-wide foam insulating tape that is covered with aluminum foil on the outside. I would like to cover the pipe with this tape, then cover this with carpet -- thus making a giant scratching and climbing post for my cats. Will this create a fire hazard?
A: Not at all. Even if you put carpet directly on the pipe without insulation I doubt if there would be a hazard, because the pipe should not be getting hot enough to cause scorching. But putting the insulation on first is a good idea because it will keep the heat from drying the carpet. One thing I should point out, however, is that if the extra heat this pipe adds to your room is needed, you may want to reconsider covering it.
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 chemicals 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 usually have a mixing valve 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.
Q: I recently purchased a home that had been severely damaged by fire. Because of this, the walls of plaster and the ceramic tile in the bathroom are heavily coated with soot. I have tried all the solvents I can think of to remove it with only partial success. Can you recommend a solvent that will work on the soot?
A: As a rule, the best way to remove soot is to scrub it off with a strong detergent solution, preferably one containing trisodium phosphate. Wet the surface well, scrub it with the detergent, then rinse it off promptly. On the plaster the soot may have seeped into the pores and the only solution is to paint over it, using a shellac-base stain killer and sealer; (BIN and Enamelac are two well-known brands). These dry to a flat white finish, and you can then apply any paint of your choice.