Q: I live in a rowhouse that has concrete steps that are shared with the neighbors in the next house. These steps have a lot of hairline cracks in the concrete and I am worried about what I can do to help preserve them. Is there something I can paint on that will also have a decent appearance?
A: If the cracks are very small and not getting larger as time goes on, you probably have nothing to worry about as far as structural failure is concerned. But it's a good idea to fill in the cracks to keep water out during the winter, because freezing can open them more. Fill the cracks with vinyl concrete patching cement. The patches will show, so you may want to paint over them with latex deck paint, which will dry to a dull finish that should not be objectionable looking or slippery when wet.
Q: We have a problem with the odor of sewer gas coming from the drain in our shower stall when the water is first turned on. There is no odor from the tub drain in an adjoining bathroom, or from the basement drain. I can see the water trap by looking down the drain in the shower and have tried pouring down washing soda, bleach and algicide. Do you have any other suggestions?
A: As a rule, the trap under the shower retains water at all times and prevents sewer gases from backing up into the house. If this trap is leaking, or is not fully open, this could be part of your problem.
If the trap is not interfering with the normal draining of the shower, the next most likely cause is a partial blocking of the vent pipe -- the large soil pipe that acts as a vent for the bathroom fixtures. This pipe goes up through the roof of the house to vent gases and odors, so if it is partially blocked, gases could be accumulating in that pipe.
Q: We want to recover the old linoleum in our kitchen and dinette with no-wax, cushion-back material, but the man who will put it down says we should leave the old material in place and cover it with Masonite, then put the new material on top of this. We have a movable dishwasher that is rolled out from the wall for use, and this has made ridges in the old linoleum, so we are concerned that it will probably dent the new material and crack the Masonite. Is this likely and, if so, would we be better off removing all the old linoleum first?
A: Rolling the dishwasher over a cushion-backed material will undoubtedly leave ridges or dents in time, but I doubt that it would crack or break the Masonite. Removing the old floor covering first would make no difference, except that the floor height would not be raised and you might eliminate the need for the Masonite (depends on how bad the floor underneath is after the old linoleum comes off). The labor cost for removing the old floor covering may be just as much (or more) as for putting down the underlayment.
Questions about home repair problems should be addressed to Bernard Gladstone in care of The New York Times Syndication Sales Corp., 200 Park Ave., New York 10166.