Q: What should I do to prepare an existing deck for a new finish? The current finish is Cabot decking stain that was applied after the wood was sanded. It has lasted well, but needs to be redone.
A: There are two ways to make an old wooden deck look new again. You can strip the surface back to bare wood chemically, followed by power washing and sanding. This is a ton of work, but remains the best option for decks that are peeling like crazy or show a lot of grey wood.
Is the current finish just a little worn? A simple option is to scrub off all dirt with a brush and water, then lightly sand the wood with a 100- to 120-grit abrasive in a random orbit sander. This removes small areas of loose finish, and roughens the remaining stain so new coats stick better.
If a single coat is enough to make your deck look good, then leave it at that. Apply a second coat only if needed. Too many layers of deck stain can cause premature peeling, even if you’re using a good product.
Warming a cold floor
Q: How can I warm the cold floor of my upstairs bedroom? There’s a garage underneath and the bedroom floor was really cold this past winter, even with carpet under foot.
A: Cold floors are common in Canada because so many home designs have rooms located over an unheated space — usually a garage. You need to add more insulation to the floor, and possibly add more heat to the bedroom.
Exactly how you do this is the big question. If the ceiling of your garage is open and uncovered with drywall or wood, then you’re in luck. Apply 3- or 4-inches of spray foam to the underside of the subfloor and you’re done. This both insulates the floor above, and seals out drafts perfectly. You can buy tanks of foam to do this work yourself.
If you can’t conveniently add insulation to the garage ceiling, then you’ll need to add it to the top of the bedroom floor. A couple of inches of extruded polystyrene foam on top, with sheets of 1/2-inch plywood over that, all secured with screws driven down into the underlying floor joists does an excellent job.
On the downside, this approach does raise the height of the floor significantly, and only makes sense if you’re replacing the finished floor anyway.
If you choose to insulate on top, live with the foam and plywood for a while during cold weather, without a new finished floor installed. If your toes aren’t quite toasty enough, consider adding electric radiant infloor heating mats before the new finished floor goes down.
Dry basement quest
Q: What can we do about a very leaky finished basement in the home we just bought? This is our first place, and the previous owners (who’ve lived here for many years) assured our real estate agent that the basement was dry. Estimates for fixing the problem is $10,000. What should we do?
A: Depending on where you live, start by lodging a formal action with the real estate council in your province. Google “real estate council” plus the name of the province where you live.
Among other things, organizations like these enforce codes of conduct for all registered agents and brokers. If the issue of basement leaks had been mentioned during negotiations, but your agent didn’t include any written assurances in the contract, then there may be something that can be done in your favour.
That said, it’s a sad situation when people like the previous owners so easily turn their back on basic honesty, all to make a quicker sale at a higher price. Laws, courts and arbitration boards are a poor substitute for integrity.