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Try clear finish to preserve wood door’s look

By Peter Hotton
Peter Hotton
Peter Hotton has been the handyman expert for the Boston Globe for more than 30 years.

Q: We had a new oak wooden front door installed five years ago. We wanted a natural wood look. The builders finished it with a polyurethane varnish. It looks horrible. What are the appropriate steps to finish the door to look natural?

A: It is very difficult to keep a wood door in its natural look. First, you have to remove the varnish or any finish to the bare wood. One finish that tries to achieve a natural look is CWF, Flood’s coating called Clear Wood Finish. This often causes a yellowish look. A clear preservative will work for a while, but will usually cause weathering to a light to deep gray, which some might find satisfactory. Finally, try applying a coat of oak-colored semitransparent stain.

Q: My next-door neighbor put in some new windows, and now my vinyl siding is melting and distorting. I called a window person, who said: If the neighbor’s windows have half screens, have him install full-sized screens. And my goodness, that worked.

A: I love questions like yours, which are already answered. You lucked out, and had cooperation from your good neighbor. Another solution is to re-side your wall with fiber-cement siding, which will resist the heat from the reflection, but the paint on the fiber-cement may not.

Q: This will appear like the usual crawl space moisture problem. But there is a big difference. I have a workshop whose floor is mostly below grade. The crawl space is quite deep with concrete walls except where the foundation hit ledge – so there is one area with a partial dirt wall. The bottom of the crawl space is dirt. The workshop floor consists of a subfloor covered with particle board. The floor cavity was filled with blown cellulose – there was sheetrock under the floor joists. There has never been any hint of a moisture problem in the shop.

Precautions: I knew that moisture in the crawl space could be a problem, so I covered the dirt with plastic and strapped a rubber membrane under the sheetrock screwed to the underside of the floor joists.

The problem: The cellulose soaked up water, causing the rubber membrane to sag between the strapping. I just had the cellulose, sheetrock, rubber, and plastic removed. There is some mold on the joists, but the joists seem solid – there is no need to replace the floor structure. I mistakenly believed that the rubber membrane would prevent moisture in the crawlspace from migrating up into the floor cavity.

Your advice when people have moisture problems has always been to ventilate. However, I have read building scientists argue against ventilation. On warm, humid days, ventilation will increase the moisture content of the air in the crawl space. That’s why I installed the rubber membrane. It may not be possible to eliminate water seepage into this space because of underground water in the spring and the difficulty of making a tight seal around the ledge and between foundation footings and walls.

The one company I know of with expertise in this area has a minimum charge of $3,000. That is a bit much. So I turn to you for both advice and perhaps a referral to an experts.

A: For starters, insulate the ceiling of the crawl space with rigid Styrofoam insulation tucked between the joists. Put 6 mil polyethylene plastic on the dirt floor, and bring the poly up against walls, and put weights along the walls to keep the poly in place. This will keep the moisture in the ground, except perhaps for the spring water. Ventilation is the key, although it will not solve the problem of that spring water. If the crawl space has windows, ventilate. If no windows or vents are available, install some. The $3,000 charge is probably a French drain.

Yes, it is true venting should not be done on very humid days, but this is answered by closing the vents those days.

I keep my basement vents open all year long, and find no real problem on humid days. And I keep the vents open in very cold weather, because the air is drier on very cold days. I have had very small moisture problems, despite the fact that half my basement has a dirt floor. Closing up unoccupied spaces is a sure invitation to mold.

photton@globe.com
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