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Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2006 12:57 am

Sticking it to the bricks

Here’s how to repaint your fireplace

Clean bricks thoroughly to ensure good adhesion
Dear Gene: We have a brick fireplace that was painted white but has become sooty and drab. We want to repaint it. I have had different opinions on whether I can use regular paint or must buy expensive high-temperature paint. What do you say?

You should be able to use regular water-based paint unless you plan to paint the inside of the firebox, which isn’t usually practical. Regular paint can withstand temperature of up to about 200 degrees, and it is very unlikely that the painted outside surface of your fireplace gets that hot.

You will need to clean the bricks thoroughly before painting to ensure good adhesion. Scrubbing with TSP (trisodium phosphate), a heavy-duty cleaner sold at most paint stores, should remove the grime. Spread plastic sheets around the fireplace to protect the floor and wear goggles and gloves when using TSP (a phosphate-free version is sold in some areas). Rinse by sponging with clear water.

Paint with high-quality acrylic or latex paint. Because your fireplace is already painted, a primer should not be necessary.

Dear Gene: Several companies in my area advertise a spray-on siding, a vinyl-type coating. These companies claim that you will never have to paint again. What is your opinion of these products?

I don’t have any personal experience with spray-on siding or liquid siding, as it is sometimes also called, but my research convinces me that anyone considering it should proceed with caution.

Here are three guidelines you should follow:

* Make sure any company you deal with has been in business in your area for at least three years and is covered by liability and worker-compensation insurance.

* Make sure all warranties are made in writing; don’t accept oral promises about

* Ask for names of several previous customers and check them out; visit and inspect a couple of jobs and talk with the customers.

Dear Gene: There are thousands of small black spots on the vinyl railings of my front porch, apparently caused by spider droppings. I have been unable to remove them. Can you help?

I suspect the black dots are artillery fungus, not spider droppings, and if you have hardwood mulch near the porch, I think you can be sure of it. Artillery fungus is actually mold spores, sprayed by old hardwood mulch onto surfaces up to 25 feet away. Unfortunately, it is extremely difficult to remove, even with pressure washing, and many times the most practical solution is to replace or paint the affected surface.

You can prevent future attacks of artillery fungus by raking up the mulch, putting it into trash bags, and disposing of it. Safer mulches include pine-bark chunks, shredded cedar bark, and marble chips.

Dear Gene: The lock to my entrance door has become very hard to open and close. The key sticks sometimes when I insert it or remove it. What is the best way to lubricate this lock?

Powdered graphite is generally considered the best lubricant for locks. You can buy a small squeeze bottle or applicator at many hardwood stores and home centers. Inject some of the graphite into the keyhole, then insert the key and open and close the lock several times. The lock will usually begin working normally again after this treatment. If the lock remains balky, put a little graphite on the key itself, insert it, and open and close it several times.

Don’t get the graphite on carpets or clothing; it is the same stuff used in lead pencils and can leave stains.

Quick tip: Metal extension ladders, often used for painting, washing windows, cleaning gutters, and other home-repair tasks, can leave scratches and marks on siding or other surfaces where the tops of the ladder sides make contact with the surfaces. This can be prevented by slipping an old sock over each of the ladder tips — the thicker the socks, the better.

Send questions and comments to Gene Austin at doit861@aol.com or 1730 Blue Bell Pike, Blue Bell, PA 19422. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

Copyright © 2006 Gene Austin

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