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Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2006 02:33 pm

Insulating basement walls

You can’t go wrong with polyisocyanurate foam

Dear Gene: I want to insulate a cinderblock basement wall. I want to avoid any moisture problems in the insulation and thought of using foam panels, but I’d like the highest possible R-value. Can you help?

Among foam panels, polyisocyanurate foam has the highest insulating value, about R-7 per inch of thickness. A 2-inch-thick panel is about equal to the R-value of 3.5-inch-thick fiberglass, which is often used to insulate residential walls. These panels have a foil skin on both sides that serves as a vapor barrier and also helps strengthen the panels.

You can buy polyisocyanurate panels, under such brand names as Thermax, at some building-supply outlets. Foam panels are generally installed between wood furring strips, with adhesive used to hold them to the wall. Gypsum wallboard (drywall) is then screwed to the furring strips to give a smooth surface and protect the foam.

Dear Gene: We have a large used-brick fireplace in our living room. I would like to update it to a more contemporary appearance, possibly by painting it white. Do I need a special paint? Are there any drawbacks to painting?

You can paint the exterior of the fireplace (not the firebox) with any high-quality latex paint that is suitable for masonry. You will also need to clean the bricks thoroughly. Scrub them with TSP (trisodium phosphate, sold at paint stores) and rinse by sponging with clear water. Carefully follow directions on the paint container for other preparation. Because bricks are porous, at least three coats of paint will probably be needed.

However, be warned that it will be very difficult to remove the paint if you don’t like the new look. I regularly receive inquiries from readers asking how to remove paint from fireplaces. Also, the fireplace will still appear to be made of bricks, even if they are colored white.

An option is to encase the fireplace in a painted wood façade, which can be removed if you decide you like the old bricks after all. You can check fireplace dealers for ideas. Any reasonably skilled woodworker can custom-build a façade for you, using moldings to decorate it. A wood façade will also have a smoother, neater look than painted bricks.

Dear Gene: I have a flagstone patio that has some of the filler missing from the joints and outer edges. Can I just add more filler? What type should I use? Also, some of the stones have a green tint — how can I remove that?

The joints are probably filled with ether mortar or sand mix, both of which are sold in bags at home centers. You could use either for repairs, but sand mix will be stronger. Dig out all loose material and moisten the sides of the area to be repaired with a sponge or spray bottle. Use a small pointing trowel to add and smooth the patching material.

The green tint is probably algae. After your repairs have had time to cure properly, scrub the stained areas with a half-and-half mixture of chlorine bleach and water, then rinse.

Dear Gene: We had laminate floors installed in our house. The floors have a waxy look. Damp mopping seems to smudge them. Are we doing something wrong?

When any type of new flooring is installed, including laminate, you should obtain and follow the manufacturer’s or dealer’s directions for cleaning. If your floors have a wax finish, you should not be damp-mopping them — water should never be used on waxed floors. Get in touch with the person who installed the floors and get cleaning instructions. In the meantime, use a dry dust mop or vacuum for cleaning.

Quick tip: Driving a screw or nail near the end or edge of a board will often split the wood unless a pilot hole is drilled first. Pilot holes should be slightly smaller than the diameter of the screw or nail being used. A pilot hole will also make it much easier to drive a screw in harder woods, no matter where the screw is located. Special bits that countersink the screw hole (make a funnel-shaped space for the head) are available, or a separate countersinking bit can be used. In softer woods, screws with flat heads, such as deck screws and drywall screws, will generally sink into the wood without countersinking.

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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