QWe recently had our asphalt driveway resurfaced, and workers left asphalt tracks on the nearby concrete sidewalk. How can we remove the stains? -- E. Pitarelli
AThese could be the toughest stains you will ever try to remove. When contractors cause damage, they should be asked to correct it before final payment is made. It is also much easier to protect sidewalks and other nearby surfaces from possible asphalt stains than it is to remove the stains. Plastic sheeting or even thick pads of newspapers held down by bricks or stones can be used. Do-it-yourselfers who seal their own asphalt driveways should also wear shoes that can be thrown away after the job and remove the shoes before entering a house (vinyl flooring can be permanently stained by asphalt).
But after-the-fact advice isn't helping you now. I would still make an effort to have the contractor remove the stains. You can also find tar-and-asphalt removers at some home centers, hardware stores and auto-parts stores, but their effectiveness on stains like this is questionable.
Here are some other products and solvents that have been used to treat asphalt stains, with varying degrees of success: Goo Gone, a solvent sold at some department stores and home centers; paste-type paint remover; kerosene; acetone (fingernail-polish remover); and carbon tetrachloride (dry-cleaning fluid). Any solvent must be used with care, and some are highly flammable. Wear goggles and gloves. Wire brushing after application of a solvent might also be necessary, and the surface should be thoroughly flushed with clear water after working on it. Many solvents work best if applied as a poultice made from pads of paper towels soaked in the solvent. Never mix solvents -- pick one and give a good try before using anything else. Follow label instructions for safe use and disposal of solvents, rags and other materials used. (Solvent-soaked rags or paper towels should be allowed to dry out in outdoor air before disposal.)
I'd like to hear from any readers who have successfully removed asphalt stains from concrete or bricks and will pass along the information in a future column.
Our older stucco house needs a paint job. Someone suggested that instead of painting, we have a skim coat of stucco applied, which would be much more expensive. Is there a big advantage to the skim coat beyond aesthetics, or would paint be adequate? The old stucco has some cracks and patches. -- M. Knoth
If you can afford the stucco coat and the contractor is willing to warrant it against cracking and peeling for a reasonable time, the stucco should give you a tighter, more attractive house.
But a skillful paint job can make a dramatic improvement in the appearance of stucco. Ask for an elastomeric paint, which has some flexibility and normally does an excellent job on stucco. This paint will fill hairline cracks, but anything larger should be patched before painting. If the surface is dirty, chalky or mildewed, it should be cleaned. A light pressure washing is best for this. After cleaning, the surface should be allowed to dry out thoroughly before painting.
I recently moved into a 1950s house with forced-air heat. The adjustable heating vents are in poor condition, but I have been unable to find replacements. Can you help? -- W. Congleton
Heating and air-conditioning vent covers or registers in many sizes, as well as many other parts and accessories for heating and cooling equipment, are available at http://bestbuyheatingandairconditioning.com. Go to the site and type "heating registers" in the search space to view a selection.
More on toilet troubles.
When a toilet makes intermittent flushing noises, the culprit is generally a tank that is leaking water into the bowl. But, as several readers have pointed out, there can be other causes. Cameron Fletcher and Bob Schmidt say they both traced flushing noises to the thin rubber refill hose that is attached to the overflow tube near the center of the tank. If the hose extends too far into the tube, it can siphon water slowly and silently until the tank's refill cycle is started and running water is heard. Raising the tip of the hose to a higher level will generally stop the siphoning.
W. Aross said he found faulty caulking inside the tank and repaired it with underwater epoxy caulk, stopping a mysterious tank-to-bowl leak.
Questions and comments should be sent to Gene Austin, 1730 Blue Bell Pike, Blue Bell, Pa. 19422. Send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Questions cannot be answered personally.