Hear how to remove paint from a brick fireplace, our thoughts on the best way to build a chicken coop, how to stop rot on wood posts and more.
Removing Paint from a Brick Fireplace
It’s one of the most debated issues in home improvement: to paint or not to paint brick.
And it’s hitting very close to home for one homeowner.
Before Mary Savoy in Reno, Nev., bought her home, the sellers painted the fireplace with white latex paint. Now, she wants to remove all the white paint and return it to its original brick-and-mortar.
“Is this something a DIYer can easily do? What is the best way to get this done?” she asks.
It sounds like this fireplace was painted very recently, so you shouldn’t have to worry about testing the paint for lead before you try to remove it.
However, if the paint is older, you should purchase a lead test kit from a home center to make sure the paint doesn’t contain lead.
Removing paint from a fireplace can be a challenge. You never know what stripper will work for a particular paint, so what I like to do is buy a few small cans of different types, and test different areas to see which one works best.
Start with a lesser-aggressive citrus stripper, and if that doesn’t work, move up to a more aggressive one. Lay down plenty of plastic drop cloths to protect your floor, and wear eye protection and gloves when you’re brushing each one on. Use a wire-bristle brush or scraper to remove the paint.
The challenge will be in the mortar joints because they’re so porous. When the paint is originally applied, it really soaks deep into it. Often, you simply can’t get that out, and you end up with painted mortar but the brick is clean.
Plus, the mortar is recessed into the bricks, so the paint will stick to those top and bottom edges.
To remove the paint from the mortar joints, use a drill with a wire wheel. This will not only remove the paint from the mortar, but it will also clean the top and bottom brick edges.
Building a Chicken Coop
Jeffery Dean in West Virginia says, “My wife wants me to build a new chicken coop for our flock (apparently the chickens were complaining that it wasn’t ‘cute’ enough).”
He’s received his marching orders but now wants to know if he should use pressure-treated wood or untreated lumber — and there’s a good reason to be careful with the selection.
“I want it to last and not warp or rot. I’m planning on painting it,” Jeffery says. (The chickens said they wanted the coop to be red, according to his wife). “What would be the best route to take?”
Here’s our advice: Use pressure-treated lumber, and rather than paint it, stain it. The paint would blister off because it will be exposed to the elements.
Make sure the lumber is dry before you stain it. If you can’t find a color you like in a semi-transparent stain, use a solid-color stain instead.
Also, here’s a tip: When building the chicken coop, create enough doors in the front and back so you can clean it out easily.
Stopping Rot on Wood Posts
Our friend Jeffery Dean has another home improvement question! The 6-by-6 wood posts on Jeffery’s 25-year-old deck are showing their age.
They are freestanding on concrete that was poured in Sonotubes, and the bottoms have some dirt around them and are starting to rot.
“Is there some product that is heavy (like a tar of sorts) that would be more protective than just deck stain?” he asks.
Here’s our advice: First, you need to keep as much dirt as you can away from the posts. If the grade is such that you have to have dirt on it, it’s time to seal the posts.
Next, probe the rotting area with a screwdriver to see if it’s just surface deterioration or if it’s deep enough to be a structural issue.
To keep the damage from worsening, if it’s below grade, put some type of roofing tar around it and backfill it with gravel after it dries. This will keep it from wicking moisture into the post.
You can also retrofit the deck posts with Post Saver sleeves. These heat-shrinkable outer sleeves are made of thermoplastic with an asphalt interior liner.
This forms a waterproof air-tight barrier against the fence post.
Learn the best place to install a vent on a first-floor bathroom, our thoughts on whole-house water filters and more.
How to Vent a First-Floor Bathroom
A caller wants to know where’s the best place to vent a first-floor bathroom.
There’s no way he can access the roof for the vent fan, so he wants to know, “How do I get it to the outside of the house or can I vent it safely to another place in the house so that there isn’t any damage from the moisture?”
If a vent fan is not exhausting to the outside, it’s almost not worth having one. It’s just recirculating the air and moving the problem from one spot to another.
Getting it to the outside is difficult in most cases. If your floor joists overhead are running toward the outside of the house, you can use the cavity area between the joists to lead the vent to the outside. To find out the direction of those floor joists, use a stud sensor.
With careful feeding through the vent pipe cavity, assuming there’s no cross-blocking or insulation in there, you can move that vent to the outside, through the band joists, and put a cap over it.
If the bathroom is on an exterior wall, you can install a wall-mount vent. With this method, there’s virtually no ductwork that you have to deal with.
The key to proper ventilation is to have the shortest path from the source to the outside. Always go with a smooth vent pipe as opposed to a corrugated flexible pipe, because there’s less resistance to getting that hot moist air out.
Whole-House Water Filters
Paul Robinson recently received a notice from his town’s water system that said there are high levels of PFAS in the water.
Since then, he and his wife have been running about three gallons of spring water a day from a local distributor, which has been inconvenient.
He wants to know: “Is it better to spend the money on a whole house water filter system or should I only install filters in specific areas, like the freezer dispenser in my commercial freezer?”
Ordinarily, our feeling about whole-house water filters is you don’t need to filter the water to the whole house. Much of the water is going to the toilet and washing machine, and you’re not drinking or cooking with it.
However, if you have PFAS in the water, this might be a separate issue. You can be exposed to some harmful chemicals by showering in them.
If you can find a whole-house filter that will remove the chemicals in the water, then go ahead and buy that system.
But, you also have to consider that the town might be able to adjust the PFAS levels to a safer amount in the future. Then you’ll have already bought the system to correct a problem that’s no longer there. You can always disconnect it, but you would have already purchased it.
A whole-house water filter can cost between $1,200, which is about the same as a water softener, to $4,000, which is on the high side.
Test the water yourself to get the list of chemicals in the water, then find a water filter that is going to remove those chemicals. Most filters only remove sediment and rust, though some more expensive models filter out other contaminants as well.
A whole-house water filter requires professional installation, so be sure to hire someone who is familiar with the water filter system you’ve chosen.
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Fast Fix for a Sagging Gate — Wooden gates have an annoying tendency to sag over time as gravity puts stress on the hinges and pulls the frame of the gate out of the square.
Here’s how to keep your gate swinging freely.
Attach a rolling caster to the bottom of the gate. That way, you’re not fighting gravity, and the weight of the gate isn’t being supported solely by the hinges.
Start by notching a pressure-treated 2×4 block to fit under the horizontal rail of the gate. Then, cut another notch in the bottom of the block to accept the caster.
Drill a hole through the block for a carriage bolt, which serves as an axle for the caster.
Finally, secure the block to the rail with four 2-inch-long decking screws. Now, whether the gate is open or closed, it’s supported by the caster, not the hinges.
Removing Pet Hair from Furniture — Here’s a quick and easy way to remove stubborn pet hair from upholstered furniture: Slip on a pair of disposable rubber gloves and aggressively wipe pet fur right off of the upholstery.
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