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Wednesday, July 26, 2006 12:58 am

Rule No. 1: Avoid cheap paint

High-quality paint can last up to a decade with proper care

Dear Gene: If we paint our siding, how long can we expect the paint job to last?

It is impossible to say how long a given paint job will last, because so many variables are involved, but the question is certainly worth some discussion.

Some manufacturers offer long-term warranties on exterior paint — some “lifetime” warranties came into vogue a few years ago — but I think these warranties are largely meaningless. If the paint fails and you can show proof of it (and you have saved the receipts), the warranty usually means that the paint will be replaced or the cost of it returned. There is no warranty on the labor, which is 90 percent of any paint job.

It does help to use a high-quality, top-of-the-line paint. Considering the labor involved, buying a cheap paint doesn’t make sense. And one absolutely essential rule in painting is to read and follow the directions on the container. Reading the directions will help control some of the variables — proper preparation of the surface, use of primer in some cases, ideal weather conditions for painting, and proper application tools.

The life of a paint job will be extended if you check it regularly and correct any miniproblems as they occur — remove mildew and touch up small peeled or flaked areas.

My guess is that if you use high-quality paint and do everything right (or hire a painter who does everything right), you can expect an exterior paint job to last as long as 10 years. Anything over that should be considered a bonus.

Dear Gene: We want to dig a dry well in our back yard to alleviate flooding during heavy rains. Can you give us some tips?

The first thing you should do is check with your municipal building-code department to see whether dry-well construction is permitted in your area. There may also be specific requirements for size and construction.

There are several ways to build a dry well, which is basically a covered pit that intercepts water from rain gutters or other sources and allows the water to penetrate into the soil. The best wells have a concrete lining, but I have heard that perforated steel drums, filled with coarse gravel, can be used. Drainpipes can be run into the well, or a grate can be placed on top.

If there are no specific requirements in your area, I suggest that you check the dry-well kits offered at the Web site www.thenaturalhome.com. These wells, built of heavy-duty polyethylene, are 2 feet in diameter and about 29 inches deep. The kits cost $149 each and can be used in clusters if one if not large enough.

Dear Gene: We plan to replace our carpets with hardwood floors. What type of underlayment should be used to prevent squeaks? Also, when is it best to install hardwood floors?

Underlayment (a thin layer of plywood or other material between the subfloor and finish flooring) won’t prevent squeaks. The best defense against squeaks is a sturdy supporting framework for the floor, a strong subfloor, and properly installed finish flooring. Many installers use a thin layer of building felt between the subfloor and finish flooring.

You should insist on hardwood that has been well dried, and it should be delivered and installed during dry weather — preferably when humidity is low. Oak is one of the most stable of the hardwoods used for flooring. A good procedure that is sometimes used is to stack the flooring in the room where it will be installed and let it sit there for a few days to become acclimated to the moisture and temperature conditions in the house. Keeping the humidity in the house low and the temperature about 70 degrees will help reduce shrinkage and expansion that causes cracks between floorboards.

Quick tip: Many do-it-yourselfers try to replace the caulk at the joint between bathtubs and walls but have trouble getting a smooth, neat bead of caulk. An easy alternative to putty-like caulking compounds is to use special plastic tape such as Tub & Wall CaulkStrip (www.magicamerican.com) or Tub Surround Strip (www.improvementscatalog.com). These self-adhesive strips give a watertight seal that is easily cleaned. The strips are simply pressed into place and cut to length.

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