Real wood vs. composites
Q. I am replacing my front entry landing (4 by 8 feet) and steps. The carpenter says to use Trex-type composite, but I am leaning toward real wood, possibly fir. While composites are maintenance free, I don’t think it has the “finished’’ look of real wood. I also wonder about curb appeal/resale value when using composites versus wood.
LILLIAN, in Hotton’s chat room A. Fir is good but must be kept well protected to prevent or delay decay. I suggest you use pressure-treated wood. It is of high quality and you can stain it with a semitransparent stain, or let it weather. Try to pick out the pieces yourself.
Here is a trick used by old-timers that will help preserve the floor boards. A 6-inch-wide strip of roofing felt (tarpaper) is placed on each joist for its full length, bent over each side, then floor boards are placed and spaced. This allows water to drain without getting caught in the joints. This trick was abandoned with the development of pressure-treated boards and others that are decay resistant. Let’s revive it!
To add to the curb appeal, install wrought iron rails instead of wood, which can look rather clunky.
Q. My house in Philadelphia has hot air heat and one big problem: The wall above one of the vents (a baseboard type vent) blisters and peels like crazy, so much so that the plaster is affected. How can I stop that?
PHIL SCARFF, Winchester A. That air coming out of the vent is constantly washing the wall with hot, dry air, and is virtually baking the paint and plaster, depriving it of moisture and causing it to blister and peel, etc. I think the cure is to divert that air forward, into the room. You may be able to aim the air flow differently by adjusting the baffle in the baseboard unit. If not, build a baffle above the baseboard, an L-shaped strip of aluminum, with one part of the “L’’ on the wall, the other sticking out from the wall. Ergo, the air will come out straight into the room. Paint it the same color as the wall or baseboard unit.
Q. I am putting 6-inch ceramic tile on my countertops. What kind of a base should I use? Will 3/4-inch plywood do? Does grout sealer on the grout really work?
BOB GILLETTE, Dorchester A. Good choice. Ceramic is better than granite (stains easily, needs regular sealing), marble (stains if you look at it), concrete (yeah, some manufacturers suggest it), or laminated plastic. Resists heat, acids, and anything else you want to abuse it with. The 3/4-inch plywood is good as a base. It will last forever on a countertop, and the wood will not contract and expand enough to be a problem. Put it on with a thin-set mortar or tile adhesive. You may get a few cracks but that is what spare tiles are for. The price is right.
Grout sealer is good to protect grout. It is just like tile sealer or masonry sealer. But if you make the joints 1/8 or even 1/16 inch, you will never have to worry about dirty grout ever again. You just won’t see it, especially on floors. Designers and other peculiar people like to make wide joints filled with fancy colored grout, creating a constant maintenance headache. Don’t let them pull the grout over your eyes.
Q. Is there any easy way for me to increase the water pressure in my shower? Is it possible to turn it up/down from the water heater?
MIKE, in Hotton’s chat room A. No easy way. No hard way, except maybe to renovate the water supply, which means the replacement of the water line from street to house. Well, there may be an easy way. Replace the shower head with one of those big screened heads that produce a fine spray that may feel more pressurized.
Ventilation is important The Handyman has been getting many questions about venting the attic. Don Marcoux, proprietor of VentMaster Inc., set the record straight in a message to the Handyman:
“I saw your article about moldy attics. At VentMaster we specialize in excess attic moisture. We vent bathroom fans through the roof, install externally baffled ridge vents, install soffit vents, etc.’’
Thanks, Don. It is all good to know. One little thing. Just make sure the soffit vents are a continuous 2-inch-wide screened strip. And as everyone should know, a properly vented attic is a giant step toward eliminating ice dams.
Globe Handyman on Call also appears in the Sunday Real Estate section. He is available 1-6 p.m. Tuesdays to answer questions on house repair. Call 617-929-2930. Hotton (firstname.lastname@example.org) also chats online about house matters 2-3 p.m. Thursdays. Go to www.boston.com.