Wooden decks aren’t meant to look like indoor floors
Q. I had my mahogany deck power washed, then treated with Thompson’s Water Seal. Not long after that, the water seal is like salad dressing, sticky and cannot be walked on. What’s wrong, and how can I fix it?
DEBBIE ALMY, Needham
A. Welcome to the deck season. When in the world of home improvements have so many deck owners had so many silly things done to their decks by so few “experts?’’ This is all in the name of keeping outside decks as pristine and beautiful as the highly polished floors in Victorian novels. Highly polished? If we polished our indoor floors they would be as slippery as wet ice. A deck cannot be made to look like indoor floors, so no one should try.
So, what’s wrong. I think the applicator put the water seal on too thickly, or it did not sink into the wood, or both. The fix: power wash that stuff off and leave the mahogany as is. It resists decay and will weather to a very handsome (in my opinion) silver.
You cannot keep it looking new; Mother Nature is going to change the color of the wood no matter what. There are products that claim to keep the wood new looking, but they have to be applied every year or so and tend to turn the wood yellowish. If you really want to preserve the wood, apply a single thin coat of a semitransparent stain. It will sink into the wood, will not peel, and will last five years. It comes in earth colors.
As for the clear sealers, their manufacturers are laughing all the way to the bank, because such sealers do not last more than a year, two at the most.
One other commonly available wood that resists decay even better than mahogany is pressure-treated wood. It is not the old p-t, which contained the scary words chromated copper arsenate, but one that contains less scary chemicals.
Q. I just put a coat of semitransparent stain on my mahogany deck, then learned that it will rain tomorrow. Anything I can do about that?
AL, from Newton
A. If the deck is not too big, throw a tarp over it. Otherwise, hope that the stain has dried by the time it gets wet.
Q. I have access to a lot of free fiberglass insulation, backed by a paper vapor barrier. I have insulation up to the tops of the floor joists in my attic. Is there any point of no return as to the thickness of insulation in the attic?
ROB AHEARN, Tewksbury
A. Not really. Take off that paper backing, and you can add up to 4 feet, as long as it doesn’t cover the soffits (eaves) or any vents, or block any routes of ventilation. Put the first layer on at right angles to the joists, then alternate the direction with each layer. Wear gloves, eye protection, and a mask when working with fiberglass.
Q. An insulation man would like to blow insulation in my walls, after removing some of the vinyl siding on my house. Is that OK, even acceptable? I have a few rust stains on the vinyl that resist cleaning off. Is there a sure way?
FRAN RICHARD, Lynnfield
A. It’s OK. There are special tools for releasing vinyl clapboards, one at a time, after which holes are drilled and insulation blown in. The clapboards can be put back in place with the same tool. Go for it. For the rust stains, buy the finest sandpaper you can get, and rub lightly. The abrasion should take off the rust without messing up the vinyl. Rubbing with Mr. Clean Magic Eraser also may work.
Q. When we looked at our new 15-year-old house, there was a strong odor in the room that we attributed to there being a pet in the house. Once we moved in and gave the house a good cleaning, the odor did not go away. We shellacked the insides of the cabinets thinking that if there was a smell inside the wood, the shellac would seal it. Over the winter the odor subsided and disappeared. We used the fireplace several times. Now that the warm weather is back, so is the smell. I don’t get it. The smell is the strongest inside the cabinets beneath the bookcase. Smells like stinky cheese. I’m thinking we need to rip out the bookcases and the cabinets and see what is behind them.
DIANNE and TOM, by e-mail
A. I am not convinced there is anything behind the cabinets, but it might come to that. As weird as this might seem, the odor I think is burnt wood and creosote. I think the odor is coming from the fireplace, where air rushes down the chimney and comes into the room. It’s called a reverse chimney effect. The reason I think this is because the odor disappeared over the winter, and you burned a fire in the fireplace, forcing air and exhaust fumes up the chimney and out. Try this to get the air moving up. Open the damper, and light any kind of a kerosene lamp (an old fashioned railroad lamp is best) and put it in the fireplace. That will provide just enough heat to get the air moving up again.
Peter Hotton is also in the g section on Thursdays. He is available 1-6 p.m. Tuesdays to answer questions. Call 617-929-2930. Hotton (firstname.lastname@example.org) also chats online 2-3 p.m. Thursdays. To participate, go to www.Boston.com.