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First Aid for the Ailing House: Gentle power washing should clean grimy deck

| Saturday, April 14, 2012, 4:02 p.m.

Q: I am a real estate agent, and a client just purchased a home with a large composite deck. Regular cleaning had not been done for at least four years, and it is covered (rails and floor) with a mildewlike, greenish growth. Can this type of deck be gently power washed• — North Huntingdon, Pa.

A. Power washing may be sufficient, but it should be done using either an electric power washer or the low setting of a gas-powered washer to avoid damage to the deck and railing. (Gas-powered washers have about twice the psi of electric ones.)

If power washing does not do the job, the deck and rails can be scrubbed with Oxy-Boost or Exterior PROx Nontoxic Deck & Patio Cleaner, followed by power washing or a thorough rinsing with a garden hose. Both products can be purchased online at , and either should do a great job for your clients.

Padded vinyl flooring is easier on the legs

Q: A large portion of our home has tile flooring. My husband and I are looking for a more flexible or softer walking surface because of age, leg and hip issues.

How can these tiles be totally changed without pulling them up• Can they be re-covered with cork, wood or carpet• We are trying not to go through all the dust, etc. Is there hope, or should we buy giant rubber shoes• Ha! Actually, we already are wearing shoes with orthotics.

Love reading your scoops all the time. — via email

A: The simplest thing would be to install wall-to-wall carpeting with a thick pad. Another option is Armstrong CushionStep, a vinyl flooring that has a built-in soft pad. There are three grades: Good, Better and Best. CushionStep comes in many patterns, from wood grain to slate and everything in between. It can be installed by a DIY'er, but you'll have to remove the baseboards and door casings to fit the flooring tightly to the walls and prevent wrinkling, then reinstall the trim. A commercial Armstrong retailer is more likely to glue down the floor without having to remove the trim, but that is not a DIY job.

Dead-critter smell doesn't last long

Q: I think a small creature has died in between the first and second floors of our bedrooms. There is a terrible smell and a couple of dark spots on the corner ceiling. Do we have to break through the ceiling• — via email

A: Small dead rodents such as mice will smell for a few days. Larger ones, such as squirrels, will smell for a week or two.

The dark spots are likely the animal's body fluids. You can simply repaint the ceiling. Unless the smell persists for weeks, which I doubt, there is no need to tear open the ceiling.


Q: Eleven years ago we bought a town house. We have the model of the 12 units with two gas fireplaces -- very nice to look at, enclosed in marble with wooden mantels.

However, it has been impossible to use them for more than 30 to 60 minutes without the mantel and wall becoming exceedingly hot. Of the 12 units, six have fireplaces, and all have the same problem. We all should have contacted the builder and had him do something, but we didn't. We would like to sell our unit, but we are afraid the next owner might burn the place down.

Do you have any suggestions• The name on the booklet says Monessen Hearth Systems. Of course, the warranty has expired. — via email

A: Monessen sells only through dealers, but you can find the one nearest you at ; click on Customer Care. If a dealer is in your area, ask him or her to send someone to check out the unit and its installation.

Hot marble may not present a danger, but any hot wood can. The installation may be the problem; in that case, you may have to call a contractor to take care of it.


Q. My parents recently installed an attic blanket in their house. The company, Energy Solutions of America (based in Ankeny, Iowa), makes an aluminum insulation. I think this thermal material is similar to Mylar, and it is touted as having great insulating properties that will save homeowners a lot of money in heating costs.

My parents were wondering what you thought of this product. Does it work• Will it save them a substantial amount of money (because it was not cheap to install)• Because of the mild winter we have had, they do not see any difference in their heating bill, but they also do not feel that the house has been any warmer since the attic blanket was installed.

They also wonder if there might be any health effects. It is an aluminum-based product, and we know that cooking with aluminum pots has been linked to adverse health effects such as Alzheimer's disease. Do you know of any potential harmful side effects to having this product in the house?

Your thoughts on this matter would be very much appreciated by my folks, as the 90 days for product satisfaction will soon be up. — via email

A: Reflective insulation works best in hot climates and has limited value in climates requiring significant heating, which is where your parents live since this was the reason they bought it.

Reflective insulation is most effective at reducing downward heat flow. In hot climates, stapling reflective insulation to the bottom of the rafters will keep the attic cooler -- in turn, keeping the rooms below cooler as well -- as the insulation re-emits radiant heat upward. The effect is to reduce the load on the air-conditioning system.

A reflective film, also known as a radiant barrier, installed on top of fibrous insulation will not only collect a lot of dust, reducing its effectiveness considerably, but also act as a vapor retarder on the wrong side of the insulation. That could possibly lead to condensation within the fibrous insulation.

If increasing the attic's insulation for both the winter and the summer is the goal, the best way to do so is to blow in additional cellulose insulation. The cost is reasonable, and the effect is immediate.

Your parents may want to consider getting their money back and investing in additional insulation instead.

Cooking with aluminum is totally different from having a material coated with aluminum in an attic.

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