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advice on improving your home

That Noise You Hear Is Weathering, Not Settling

January 11, 1998

QUESTION: Our house is making settling noises in the attic over the bedroom. Day and night, we hear loud cracking or popping sounds--usually three or four in succession. Our house was built 10 years ago. Is it still settling?

Henry Spies of Spies Home Inspection Services in Champaign, Ill., replies:

ANSWER: The noise you hear is not from settling, but from wood framing members moving in relation to one another. The wood warms during the day, losing moisture and shrinking slightly. At night it cools, absorbing moisture and expanding a bit.

As one piece of wood tries to move against another, pressure builds between the two. Finally the joint slips, causing the popping. It's a mini-version of an earthquake--two sections of the Earth's crust try to move against each other, pressure builds at the fault until it causes movement and an earthquake results.

Fortunately, your problem is not structural. You can minimize it by reducing both temperature swings and indoor humidity. Make sure the attic is well-ventilated. If you have a crawl space, be certain the soil is completely covered with a plastic vapor retarder. Coat basement walls with damp-proofing material and be sure the kitchen and bath have vent fans that discharge moisture outdoors.

Old Cedar Shingles Add Insulation, Reduce Cost

Q: I want to re-side my circa-1938 cedar-shingle home with vinyl. Is it necessary to take off the shingles first?

Thomas W. Greene, owner of American Vinyl Co., based in Pickerington, Ohio, replies:

A: Not only can you re-side over wood shingles, you should. Leaving the old layer of wood shingles intact offers extra insulation and saves you the added cost of removing them.

I routinely re-side with vinyl over wood. First, I replace any shingles that are rotted or damaged. Then I put up quarter-inch-thick or half-inch-thick insulation board using two-inch galvanized nails. The insulation board not only provides a flat, smooth surface for hanging the vinyl but also increases energy efficiency.

Cleaning Up Without Harming the Greenery

Q: Some type of moss or lichen has darkened our concrete patio. Full-strength chlorine bleach will clean up the growth beautifully, but because the patio drains onto the lawn and a flower bed, I'm afraid to use it. How can I safely kill the growth?

Thom Philbin, a former painting contractor in Centerport, N.Y., and author of three books on painting, replies:

A: If a cleaner is strong enough to kill moss and lichen, it can certainly damage greenery. You can reduce the chance of killing vegetation and still get concrete clean by using a milder homemade solution and some liberal watering.

Wearing rubber gloves and eye protection, add 1 quart of chlorine bleach to 3 quarts of water. Pour in 3 ounces of trisodium-phosphate or a substitute for extra cleaning power.

Then, thoroughly wet surrounding lawn and flowers with a garden hose; the water acts as a barrier by diluting any cleaner that flows off the concrete. Use a scrub brush to apply the cleaner to a three-foot-square area of the patio. After waiting at least 10 minutes, soak up as much of the cleaner as possible with a sponge mop.

Finally, hose the area you cleaned and the lawn and flowers around it. Proceed in three-foot-square sections until the patio is clean. Be sure you keep the lawn and flowers wet throughout the process.

Options for Reglazing an Old or Ugly Tub

Q: We just bought a home that has putrid blue bath fixtures. The sink and toilet are easy to replace, but I don't want to pull out the cast-iron tub for fear of damaging the ceramic-tile floor. Is there a way to paint or reglaze the tub to produce a durable white surface?

Joe Brint, owner of American Appliance Refinishing in Wallingford, Conn., answers:

A: Yes. You can buy a do-it-yourself tub reglazing kit at a home center. Another option to consider is hiring a professional tub refinisher.

The problem with a kit is that the two-part epoxy coating is difficult to apply smoothly, and the results often are disappointing, especially when covering a dark color with a white finish. So, I highly recommend calling a pro.

Tub refinishers prepare the tub with an acid wash that cleans and etches the porcelain surface. Then they spray a multicomponent urethane coating onto the tub. The high-gloss coating is stain- and abrasion-resistant and can expand and contract as the temperature of the tub fluctuates.

Professional tub refinishers usually charge between $200 and $400 to refinish a standard five-foot tub. Before hiring a pro, check with the Better Business Bureau for prior complaints. This industry is plagued by fly-by-night operators who travel from state to state. And be wary of "limited-time discounts" that boast incredibly low prices. The limited time often refers to how long the company will be in business.

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Looking for an answer to a remodeling or repair and maintenance question? Mail it to Questions & Answers, Today's Homeowner, 2 Park Ave., New York, NY 10016. Send queries by fax to (212) 725-3281. Please include your name, address and phone number. Questions selected for publication will be answered by experts.

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