Q I was reading your column and wonder if you could clarify your answer to "Upset Over Brown" asking about his now-brown caulking around the bathtub. You mentioned that if the joint was between the tub and tile, he should use grout. I am in the process of a bathroom renovation and my contractor was going to have the tile people remove the grout between the tub and tile because he says it should be caulked and not grouted. Do you think we can stay with the grout? I selected a charcoal-colored grout and I like the way it looks against the white subway tile and tub, and would love to not have the tile people come back for another round of mess to remove that grout.
A I think the contractor is wrong in suggesting that grout be removed and caulking inserted. Grout, a cement-based material, has been used between tub and ceramic tile for centuries, and has stood up well, is washable and mold resistant (if you seal it with a tile sealer). Then someone discovered caulk as the be-all-and-end-all; it is not, and should not be used where cast iron (tub) and ceramic tile meet. Caulk is okay to seal between, say, fiberglass components, but hardly nothing else in bathrooms and kitchens. I know of no caulk that does not get rusty looking or black from mold. And it is impossible to clean.
So, stick with your charcoal grout; it does not show the dirt. And as you already know, it looks pretty good.
Q Last week, late at night, my sons found a frog in the basement bathroom. Now, last night, I found another one in the basement floor. How did they get into the house? Also, only this year, my house is inundated with lots of one-inch millipedes. Quite a few are in the house. How can I get rid of these? What can I do to avoid these from happening again?
A First question: Are they frogs, smooth, green critters? Or toads, brown and warty? Either critter is looking for water, although frogs need water more than toads. Put both in the back yard, but try to put the frogs near a small pond or stream or natural water of some kind. How they got in is the question of the year -- through some kind of opening, even tiny ones. You can check the foundation and where the wood wall meets the foundation to see if there are any gaps. Good luck.
The millipedes are finding good flora to eat. They don't eat bugs, so they are not particularly beneficial, unless they eat floral debris, acting as nature's rubbish collectors. Squish them if you like. Or, if there are many, scoop them into a paper bag and let them outdoors. Or, sprinkle boric acid or Roachproof along baseboards, very sparingly. Do not use it if you have pets or kids that could get into the boric acid, which is toxic. Incidentally, the millipedes are usually dark gray or black, with flat bodies, and are very fast on their many, many feet, and do not bite. Centipedes, on the other hand, are larger, have fewer legs which are longer, supporting the critter's body a bit off the floor. They are beneficial, eating bugs, but they can bite, too.
Q After my neighbor took down a big tree on the property line, my roof developed mold. Big green stains of mold. I had it power washed, but that blew off several shingles. Now what can I do? Also I have a wall of railroad ties -- some 3 1/2 feet high -- topped by a white fence. Some of the ties are decaying. Can I remove the decayed tie and replace it? How?
A Ah yes, the question of mold -- black, green, white and all colors -- has come up many times, and has been answered an equal number, even some in the paper. The answer is easy: The green mold is not mold but algae, and it can be treated with one part bleach and three parts water. In fact most mold and algae can be treated this way.
But that simple treatment is not the reason for mentioning it. It's the power washing that certainly got rid of the algae but some shingles. You do not power wash asphalt-shingled roofs. You do not power wash vinyl siding, because of the danger of water getting behind the vinyl; if that happens, it is likely never to dry out. Then you get decay. The same goes for aluminum siding. Any other finishes deemed sensitive to power washing also should not be power washed.
Of course, the washing power can be reduced to prevent problems as with asphalt shingles and vinyl siding, but then again, its effectiveness also will be reduced.
As for the railroad ties, they can be removed and replaced, one at a time. If you can't find a railroad tie to fit, you can use a pressure-treated timber instead. A tie in that wall may be secured with one or more steel reinforcing rods, so you have to locate the rods and cut through the tie to allow it to be pulled out bodily. Then when the new tie is installed, cut a vertical slot in the back of the tie to accommodate the steel rods as the tie is pressed into place.
Q I had a new asphalt driveway put in, and it is a very poor job. The surface is very uneven, with shallow spots and humps. The man agreed to seal the drive, but when?
A Don't seal until next spring. Sealing may make it look a little better, but will not change the depressions and humps. I suggest you have the company roll the driveway several more times, in very hot weather, to try to compact it and straighten out the bumps and depressions.
Q The double-glazed half-door of the slider on my Cape has developed moisture, fogging the glass. What can I do? Also, my rattan furniture is 50 to 60 years old and is in good shape. I wash it down occasionally to keep it pliable. Recently some of the rattan ties have gotten very brittle and broke off. Where can I find fresh rattan and retie them?
A If you can determine the brand, you can have the glass replaced. Sometimes the whole door would have to be replaced. If there is no brand name, you might have to find a door or half-door to fit. Incidentally, the insulating value of the door has not been reduced, so you can keep it as long as the fogginess does not drive you bananas. As for the rattan, you can buy strips of caning and rattan, even fiber rush which may make tying easier, in the Rockler Catalog, 800-279-4441.
Q I have vents in my soffit and a large gable fan, exhausting to the outside. I recently had a ridge vent installed. Should I continue to use the fan? The soffit vents are in the roof overhang, 2-inch diameter screens spaced every 16 inches.
A Keep using the fan until you replace those soffit vents. They are useless, way less than adequate. Replace them with a continuous screened strip, 2 inches wide and going the full length of each and every soffit. Once this is done, you can remove the fan.
Q I had some fiber-like composite (fake boards) trim installed on my porch. It was white when I put it in, but now it is pretty badly yellowed. How can I restore it to a good white? The contractor suggested painting it with a latex house paint.
A The composite was the low man on the quality scale. It was inexpensive and of low quality. You can use latex house paint or latex solid color stain, then probably repaint every few years, defeating the purpose of the plastic in the first place. Since the plastic probably has quite a bit of vinyl in it, I suggest you use instead of latex paint a Krylon aerosol spray paint called Fusion, which is supposed to be good on vinyl.
Globe Handyman on Call Peter Hotton is available 1-6 p.m. Tuesdays to answer questions on house repair. Call 617-929-2930. Hotton also chats on line about house matters 2-3 p.m. Thursdays. To participate, go to Boston.com Hotton's e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.