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Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2006 04:27 am

Hitting the bricks

How to tuckpoint your home

Photo by Charles Osgood/MCT
Dear Gene: I live in a 50-year-old brick house. The material surrounding some of the bricks has disintegrated, and the surface of some bricks also shows damage. How can this be fixed without replacing the damaged areas?

The damage is caused by the penetration of moisture into the wall resulting from deterioration of the mortar (the cementlike material that surrounds the bricks). The damaged mortar should be cleaned out and replaced with fresh mortar, a process called tuckpointing. If only a few bricks are involved and you have some do-it-yourself skills, you can buy mortar mix and the inexpensive tools needed at a home center.

Use a screwdriver to dig out the deteriorated mortar to a depth off at least one inch. Mix enough mortar to fill the gaps and put some of it on a flat board that is about 12 inches wide. Hold the board under a gap and push some of the mortar mix into it with a tuckpointing trowel. Use the trowel to smooth the patch. Patching vertical gaps is more difficult: Pick up some of the mortar mix on the trowel and “spoon” it into the opening, holding the board underneath to catch spilled mortar. Fill all the gaps completely to ensure a water-resistant patch.

If more than a few bricks are involved, it is best to hire an experienced bricklayer to make the repair. This is also true if some bricks may need to be replaced.

Dear Gene: How often should I change the orange ring that forms a seal between a toilet and the plumbing?

The wax ring that seals the floor joint between the toilet and the drain-waste pipe normally does not have to be changed unless there is a leak at this joint or the toilet is removed for some reason, such as to remove an object clogging it. If the toilet is removed, the bolts that secure it should also be replaced.

Dear Gene: What are the pros and cons of sealing an asphalt driveway? Also, how often should it be sealed?

The main advantages of sealing a driveway are that it helps protect the asphalt from dripping oil and other automotive fluids, fills small cracks to help prevent water penetration, and temporarily improves the driveway’s appearance. The main disadvantages are that the asphalt sealer can be tracked onto other surfaces if not allowed to dry completely and can cause color changes in some vinyl flooring even after it dries.

Experts differ on when a driveway should be first sealed. Most advise waiting at least a year after installation, but some recommend a wait of as long as five years. After the first sealing, two to three years should pass before resealing is performed.

Dear Gene: I have a white electric range with a lot of small scratches around the burners. Do you know of a paint I can use to paint the whole top?

I don’t know of any do-it-yourself product that can be used for this project. So-called appliance paints usually specify that they should not be used on stoves because they cannot withstand the high temperatures.

Also not recommended for stovetops are special high-temperature paints made for use on barbecues and cast-iron stoves. Representatives for two manufacturers of high-temperature paints told me they did not know of any suitable paint. A couple of commercial processes — powdercoating and baked-on enameling — might be suitable, but it would probably be difficult to find someone in your area to do it, and the cost might make it impractical.

You might also check with a dealer who sells your brand of range. It could be possible to obtain a replacement top for the range. If that fails, my advice is to live with the marred top until you are in a position to buy a new range.

Quick tip: Reader J. Bailey offers a strong endorsement for an inexpensive tool called the Cobra Zip-It, used for cleaning sink and tub drains. The tool is a miniature plumber’s snake, made of plastic, with a 24-inch probe covered with small spines that hook onto hairballs and other drain-clogging debris. The probe can be slipped into many drains without the need to disassemble the plumbing.

Rinsing and wiping keeps the tool clean. The Cobra is available at some hardware stores and home centers or can be bought for about $2.50 at www.sears.com. Click on Tools, then enter “Cobra drain cleaner” in the search space.

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.

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