Stain Deck Using an Oil Finish

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Question: I am getting ready to stain my deck and would like a natural finish that will last as long as possible. What is the best product to use?

Answer: We suggest that you use a high-quality penetrating oil finish. Oil restores the natural resins that give wood its natural beauty and prevents cracking, cupping and checking. Be sure that the oil finish contains a mildewcide and ultraviolet protection. Plan to spend about $20 to $25 per gallon.

As with painting, the key to a lasting deck finish lies with the preparation.

If the decking is new and is not kiln dried, allow the material to air dry for a few weeks since "green" lumber will prevent the finish from penetrating.

If the decking has been in place for awhile, it should be thoroughly scrubbed with the strong detergent TSP and rinsed with fresh water. A pressure washer can make easy work of the process.

After washing the deck you might also consider using a deck brightener (wood bleach) to restore the natural color of the wood. Sanding might even be required if the deck has been neglected.

Next, working in the shade during a cool time of day, apply a thin coat of the penetrating oil finish using a sheepskin pad or a short nap roller. Use a clean terry cloth rag to wipe off any excess, and don't allow the material to puddle.

Apply a second thin coat after the first has had the opportunity to be absorbed--usually after several hours or the following day. Be sure to apply plenty of finish to the cut ends of the decking. They are especially vulnerable to damage.

Finally, a light touchup coat each year will make your deck the envy of the neighborhood.

Use Epoxy Filler When Fixing Crack in Fountain

Q: We have a crack forming on our cement fountain. It shows inside and outside the bowl but it doesn't leak yet. How can I seal it before we spring a leak?

A: First, drain the water from the fountain. Use an old chisel along with a wire brush to remove any loose material along the length of the crack, wash with a mild detergent and rinse with fresh water. After the concrete has dried, inject the crack at the inside of the fountain with epoxy filler.

No action should be necessary at the exterior unless you wish to conceal the crack. If so, clean the outside as suggested above, and apply a latex caulk. Use a damp sponge to wipe away the excess caulking.

Strategies to Minimize Seasonal Expansion

Q: I have a problem in my house where the drywall separates from the ceiling and opens up a quarter-inch gap in the winter. In early spring the gap closes completely and stays that way until late fall.

The drywall tape comes loose from the wall and the gap is most significant on the walls toward the interior of the home. There is negligible or no separation of the tape along the walls around the perimeter. Also, the problem is severe on the second floor although it is nonexistent on the first floor.

A specialist firm inspected my home and told me that the foundation slab in the basement was in perfect condition and settlement was not a factor.

I have had many contractors come to look at the problem and received two standard responses: One is that the workmanship of the original builder was poor and poor quality tape was used; the other is that this is related to humidity.

Do you know what is going on? More importantly, do you know how I can fix it?

A: What you describe is a classic case of seasonal expansion and contraction.

The problem stems from excessive dampness because of poor attic ventilation and/or a poorly insulated attic. The moisture content of the framing members (rafters and ceiling joist) in the attic (above the second floor) increases during the "damp" season and, thus, they expand.

This expansion causes the roof/ceiling framing to "pull away" from the wall framing, resulting in the gap between your walls and ceilings. The problem will disappear when the weather warms and the framing dries out.

The reason this is occurring on the second floor and not the ground floor is because the attic area is subject to moisture and condensation more readily than the area between floors.

Moreover, the condition is manifesting itself at the interior walls rather than the perimeter because attic ventilation is usually most prevalent at the perimeter, which would prevent condensation and, hence, expansion.

Another possible reason is that interior walls are usually not insulated. The heat in your home is, therefore, allowed to escape through the walls into the cool attic. Consequently, condensation occurs at the ceiling joist causing them to expand.

You can solve the problem by taking the following steps:

* Make sure your attic is well-ventilated. Add eave vents, gable venting, a ridge vent or turbine ventilator.

* Be certain that household exhaust fans (range top, bathroom and laundry) do not discharge into the attic.

* Check that the attic is well-insulated--R-38 minimum and more if you live in a cold climate.

* Control air infiltration by installing gaskets at electrical outlets and switches.

* You will only "minimize" expansion by taking these steps.

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