Now that the weather has improved a little, people are starting to get out and examine the ravages winter may have wrought on their property.
A reader in Baltimore has discovered that the concrete patio behind her 40-year-old rowhouse is wearing away.
"The pebbles are washing away," she writes, and "the wrought-iron upright posts are rusting where they go into the cement.
"I painted the iron with Rustoleum after sanding away the rust and covering them with Rustoleum primer. Then I filled in around the base of the posts with silicone caulking. Over the winter, rust stains are exuding through the silicone.
"One man gave me the advice that I should cover the patio with 'Top and Bond.' It measures about 8 feet by 12 feet. He wanted $400. I don't want to pour good money after bad. What should I do?"
We can't recommend "Top and Bond" -- especially if it costs $400 for an 8 by 12 surface. It sounds to us as if the concrete slab isn't graded properly, and is allowing water to collect at the metal posts. It's hard to tell how much the posts have deteriorated, but they may simply have to be replaced.
Probably the best course is to break up and remove the old slab, regrade the area to slope away from the house (a slope of at least 1/4 -inch to the foot), and install a new slab.
A new 8 by 12 slab, graded and poured, should cost $500 to $600, but it's a more effective and long-lasting treatment than topping a badly graded slab.
This reader also has an interior problem: flaking plaster on walls and ceilings. She says she was told the problem was caused by TTC dampness. She had the exterior walls repointed and had the outside sprayed with silicone. "But I don't think that has been too effective," she writes, "because the pointing has run in some spots."
We can't recommend spraying silicone on brick, either. It can trap moisture and salt deposits (efflorescence) and cause the brick to crack. It's also a temporary solution; it has to be redone every couple of years.
With the brick already pointed, the next step is to seek out other sources of moisture. Make sure the roof isn't leaking; one prime spot for such leaks is under the edge where the roof meets the gutter. Make sure all the doors and windows are caulked. Another common way for water to enter is the bottom of the window frame. If the storm window leaks, water becomes trapped and ends up in the house.
It might be a good idea to feel the walls at intervals, to see if they feel damp. If they don't, and the flaking continues, it could be another problem -- incompatible paint, for instance. But sealing up potential leaks is not a bad idea in any case.
A reader and a plumber both offered a simple suggestion for the reader whose tub goes "glub glub" every time the toilet is flushed. We thought the bath was not properly vented. "If the vent is cleaned, the glub glubbing disappears," the reader writes. "I had that experience. -- Sand and leaves were in it! A plumber or Roto-rooter could do the job." The plumber agreed that the drain could get blocked and not be able to pull in all the air it needs to operate silently. It's worth having the drains and vents cleaned. The other possible solution -- running new vents -- is certainly more expensive and, in some cases, not rational.
Finally, a reader from Baltimore questioned our advice against using joint compound, which is water-soluble, in a bathroom. We offered the advice for a specific problem, where water had gotten behind wall tiles and ruined the surface. The cure is to remove the tiles, dry everything out, and repair or replace the surface, before replacing the tiles.
People do use joint compound on bathroom walls where it will be primed and painted or papered over. But the surface behind the tile -- where there's already been a water problem -- should be repaired with a product like Durabond 90, from U.S. Gypsum, or Sta-Smooth 90, by Gold Bond Building Products. (It comes in powder form and is usually available at building supply places.)
If we were skim-coating a bathroom wall before painting, we would probably still use Durabond 90. Not only does it help keep moisture in its place, it usually dries in less than two hours.
Next: Preparing for the plumber.
Mr. Johnson is construction manager for Neighborhood Housing Services of Baltimore. Ms. Menzie is a home writer for The Sun.
If you have questions, tips or experiences to share about working on houses, write to us c/o HOME WORK, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278. Questions of general interest will be answered in the column; comments, tips and experiences will be reported in occasional columns.