Dear Ken: How can I remove wallpaper stuck to drywall? There was no sizing, priming or sealer applied underneath. — Terri
Answer: It’s going to be pretty tough. The glue has penetrated the paper surface of the sheet rock and won’t want to yield. Try the traditional removal routine first. Peel off what you can, then score the surface with a wire brush or a specialized scoring tool (not too deep), then mist on some enzyme-based wallpaper remover mixed with a little fabric softener; repeat two or three times over a 20- minute period. You should then be able to scrape the residue away with a wide-blade knife. Remove the glue with a sponge soaked in the removal solution, and, finally, wash the walls with vinegar and warm water.
Dear Ken: I’ve installed one of those pull-down stair systems in my garage. How do I finish a floor up there, and with what kind of material? — Don
Answer: Garage roof systems usually aren’t designed with storage in mind. Each ceiling joist is the bottom of an engineered truss member, which was designed to support only the roof load (plywood + shingles + snow load) and the drywall hung underneath. So any load you add will technically overstress the system. Nontechnically, the system is a little over-designed, so only store light stuff up there — linens, holiday trimmings, tents, suitcases — but especially no books, magazines or your rock collection. For the floor? Five-eights-inch plywood is a good material to use.
By the way, you’ve probably violated the fire separation system in your garage. We install special sheet rock on the common walls and ceilings of garage spaces to delay a garage fire spreading into the house before the fire department arrives. Your wooden stairway creates a convenient, flammable hole for the fire to spread up and into the attic roof system. So, surround the opening with a 2-inch-by-4-inch picture frame and apply some 5/8-inch, type “X” sheet rock or galvanized metal to the garage side of the stairs.
Dear Ken: The caulking around my bathtub just doesn’t last. It keeps shrinking and pulling away, making cracks and gaps. What should I be using and how do I get the old stuff off? — Dee
Answer: First you need to make sure that it’s not the tub’s fault. Many acrylic soaking tubs and even shower floors don’t have enough underlying support. They can flex up and down from your movements or in response to the considerable weight of the bath water. An easy way to spot this problem is to simply listen while you tiptoe around inside. If the tub creaks and groans, or you can see some minuscule movement at the edge seams, you may need to stabilize it. One way is to drill a couple of small holes underneath and inject some of that expansive insulation under the bottom of the tub.
You can use a liquid caulking dissolver gel to loosen the old material, or you can scratch it out with a screw driver. Use a good siliconized tub and tile caulk — like DAP, in the red tube — not pure silicone. Not only is that stuff expensive, but it also tends to yellow over time.
One other suggestion: Start with a smaller tip opening on the tube than you may have used before. You can always enlarge it with scissors, but smaller beads of caulking will cure more quickly and shrink less.
Dear Ken: We live in a house that was built in 1902. The rock foundation is in good shape, but the basement is very dusty and dirty. What can we seal it with to eliminate the dust and the crumbling? — Pete
Answer: The first step is to remove all any old material that wants to break off. Wear a protective mask, keep the surface damp and dispose of the detritus in sealed plastic bags. Then you can apply an acrylic-based liquid masonry sealer, available at the home center. More permanent fixes include plastering the wall (check with a stucco contractor) or building a stud/sheet rock wall in front of it. Finally, make sure the basement is well ventilated to get rid of ambient moisture, which can accelerate further deterioration.
Dear Ken: I have a swamp cooler vented into my hallway. The trouble is, the vent isn’t square with the walls. Can I cover it with more sheet metal to square it up? — John
Answer: I’d try wood first. Engage a finish carpenter to build a “picture frame” out of flat wood trim that can be installed over the opening to align it with the surrounding walls.
They might have to dado or rabbit (groove from behind) the boards so they fit snugly against the grill. Since the new frame will partially block a corner or two of the vent, there will be some excess moisture under the wood. So, layer as much as the backside of the boards as you can with some 26-gauge, galvanized sheet metal.
Moon is a home inspector in the Pikes Peak region. His radio show airs at 4 pm Saturdays on KRDO, FM 105.5 and AM 1240. Visit aroundthehouse.com