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Brick and other alternatives for a porch floor

Question: I've always wanted to cover the concrete on our open front porch with brick, but the regular size would make the porch too high for the door. Are there thinner bricks that could be installed and would be sturdy enough? My idea is to do this and then install a brick front walk. --McLean

Answer: Ask at a masonry-supply company for thin brick pavers. These are one-half to about one inch thick, while standard bricks are more like 21/4 inches thick. Manufacturers make thin bricks in a range of colors, just as with standard bricks. So when you pick a color, make sure it's also available in standard bricks.

If one-half inch is too thick for your porch, you may be able to find even thinner tiles that resemble bricks. Shop for these at tile stores.

Thin brick pavers and tiles must be installed over a sturdy base, advises Scott Simmons, the thin products specialist for Potomac Valley Brick and Supply, which has stores in Fairfax County, Rockville, Gaithersburg and Baltimore. A concrete base is perfect. For a walkway with a sand or gravel base, use standard bricks because the thick sides help lock the pieces together.

Standard bricks and thin bricks cost about the same in terms of the area they cover.

Question: I am having trouble finding a company that will advise on the cost to clear an outdoor drain in Arlington. With heavy rain, the drain will overflow. The companies I have spoken to all charge $100 for an estimate. Is a typical drain-clearing job a few hundred dollars or more? --Arlington

Answer: You shouldn't have to settle for that high a fee just for an estimate. Call a few local plumbing companies, not just franchise operations that specialize in drain cleaning.

For example, Kramer & Sons Plumbing of Alexandria (703-360-6400) charges a $49 dispatch and estimate fee within its service area, which includes Arlington.

Actual work is priced by the job according to the company's fee book, says Lori Cheselka, the general manager. For cleaning an exterior drain, the range is $178 to $250. That covers basic draining, cleaning and diagnostics.

The technician might discover that the drainpipe is broken (which could be allowing underground water to seep in, adding to your flooding problem). Or the technician might find that the pipe is clear and intact but that the underground reservoir, or "dry well," where the drainpipe empties is too small. A full fix might cost more if you have these or other complications.

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