First Aid for the Ailing House

A Reciprocating Saw Can Fit Into Hard-to-Reach Places

Q: We have a 5-foot retaining wall in our backyard that is constructed of 6-inch-by-6-inch pressure-treated timbers. The timbers are connected by three 12-inch spikes driven through each one. Many of the timbers are still in very good condition and we would have use for them if they could be salvaged.

Have you ever heard of a method that could be used to separate the timbers and then remove the spikes so they could be reused? -- Essex, Vt., via email

A: The best way to sever the spikes to free the logs is to use a reciprocating saw, known as a recip saw, but also generically called a "Sawzall." The Sawzall was developed by Milwaukee tools, and is now copied by many other manufacturers, but the name stuck, as does Kleenex for any tissue.

The spikes cannot be removed; they need to be cut. Use a bi-metal blade and hold the saw nearly parallel to the logs. Slowly work the blade between two logs in a semi-circular motion until you have cut the spike. Repeat at every spike. This is a lot of work.

Q: My daughter and son-in-law recently bought a house with a two-car garage. The biggest concern I have is the concrete floor is extremely smooth, and as a result is very slippery when there's either snow or slush on it. Is there anything we can do to the floor to increase the traction? The driveway is not a problem at all; if only the garage floor had the same texture. I imagine something could be done once the weather warms up. Would anti-slip traction strips survive the environment? -- via email

A: Concrete garage floors are generally hard-troweled to make the concrete more resistant to salt and wear and tear. Outside concrete is usually broom-finished for better traction.

Here is an amended rerun of an earlier answer I gave a reader inquiring about how to improve a concrete garage floor:

There are important considerations with liquid-applied coatings, which come in three forms: latex, epoxy and polyurethane. Latex is the poorest choice for a garage, as it will not resist the wear and tear of hot car tires and chemicals dripping on it, such as oil or other fluids. Epoxy, and particularly epoxy coated with polyurethane, is the safest, but its application exudes hazardous chemicals that may drive you out of the house, and it is difficult to apply. Performance Floor Coating Systems (www.performancefloor.com) utilize epoxy installed by trained mechanics.

These coatings are likely to be slippery unless you mix silica sand in them before application or embed it before they dry; dark colors may fade over time.

The bond between the concrete floor and the coating is critical, but it is difficult to guarantee because much depends on the condition of the surface after thorough cleaning and etching. You may end up with a mess.

Another drawback of all applied coatings is that it takes several days to allow each coat to dry.

There are other choices that include the application of interlocking tiles.

Plastic or aluminum interlocking tiles are simple to install and to trim, and individual tiles are easy to replace if need be. They do not require that the concrete floor be thoroughly cleaned. They are tough and very durable, and come in a variety of colors and patterns.

Here are some choices: Race Deck (www.racedeck.com, 800-457-0174); XFloor makes aluminum tiles (www.diamondlifegear.com, 888-983-4327); JnKProducts (www.jnkproducts.com, 877-873-3736); Swiss Trax (www.swisstrax.com, 866-748-7940); Auto Deck (www.instantgaragefloors.com, 800-862-6602); Big Floors (www.bigfloors.com, 877-244-2214).

Q: I am a longtime reader and fan, and each of our nine kids has received a copy of your book). We have an old bathtub in an equally old house. We had it refinished about 10 years ago. We were not terribly happy with the results, but they were better than what we had. Now it is time to "redo."

I would like to get the whole tub recovered. Most of the Bath Fitter places that I have checked out advertise an entire unit, including the walls surrounding the tub. The ceramic tile in my bathroom surrounding my tub is beautiful, and I have no desire to cover it. Is there a system (airtight, of course) that can cover just the tub? Thanks! -- Pittsburgh fan, via email

A: Thank you for your confidence and for supporting my book as you have. I very much appreciate it. My publisher, Upper Access, has now published a much larger, updated version of the book in electronic form (about 1,000 pages). The new book is titled: "About the House with Henri de Marne Extended ebook Edition." It is available in all ebook formats through independent bookstores and on Kindle through Amazon.

There are a number of Bath Fitter franchises in the Pittsburgh area. Each franchiser decides whether it chooses to do just tub relining or insists on including the walls.

I suggest that you call all those listed in your phone book until you find one that will simply do what you want.

There are other methods of bathtub refinishing, but installing a new liner may be the best way to go, since your old tub has already had work done.

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