Q: I am having a problem with my blacktop driveway. I have lived in my townhome for seven years, and I have always had it seal-coated every year. The townhome is approximately 20 years old. Last year I noticed that the driveway seemed to be cracking and splitting. I had the seal-coating done and the cracks filled. The gentleman who did the job said that the driveway was heaving due to pipes that ran from the house to the street. I called our public works department and they said that could not be the case because we would notice water in the grass or street area. I called our architectural committee and the gentleman from there said it was simply settling. My neighbors’ driveways do not seem to be having the same problem or seem to be settling.

I live in a cold part of Illinois, and would like to repair the drive or perhaps put in pavers, but am not sure of what to do. I am a widow and do not have any close males in the family. I really do not understand some of these household problems. Could you recommend someone who could properly advise me in this matter?

A: Asphalt is typically laid over a subbase of compacted gravel, and it’s relatively stable unless something happens to the gravel underneath it. Given the fact that the driveway is 20 years old, and has been OK up to this point, I doubt it has suddenly started to "settle." My suspicion is that there may be a water leak of some sort that’s happening under the driveway and causing the gravel to move. If there are indeed water lines running under the driveway and one of them is leaking, you would not necessarily see water in the street or lawn — it could be a slow leak that is going straight down.

You are going to need to have a paving contractor come out and take a look. Your homeowner’s insurance agent should be able to make a recommendation for a trustworthy local contractor, or you could ask your architectural committee or the person who did the recent sealing. The contractor will need to come out and examine the situation, and perhaps remove a small section of the driveway to determine what is going on underneath.

If there is a leak or some other source of groundwater that is causing the problem, then it will need to be repaired before you either repave or install pavers (the pavers would probably be the better choice). You will also need to determine who is responsible for the repairs: you, the city or the condo association. Unfortunately, you may need the assistance of an attorney for that one.

If the problem is not a leak, then the contractor should be able to grade and compact the gravel again, and then pave or do the pavers for you.

Q: I have a home that was built in 1969 and have a real insulation problem. The home is brick on the outside, has 2x4s with that pink 1/2 insulation then drywall on the inside. I live in the Midwest and of course most of my problems are from the house situation with north exposure. I have thought about building a second interior wall, but unfortunately all the cabinets in my kitchen would have to be removed and installed elsewhere. When I open the cabinets on a breezy 10-degree day, I literally can feel the cold. Are there any other options such as a spray-in-type insulation that can be done from the inside of the house that would seal it better?

A: If you have a house that already has insulation in the walls, there’s nothing you can add to those cavities for more insulating value unless you tear into them. Since you mention particularly noticing the cold on a breezy day, I would look at air leakage as being the primary culprit. With brick siding, there are dozens of areas around windows, doors and other penetrations where gaps exist, and by sealing those with a good-quality clear silicone sealant you should see a definite difference. In other areas that you have access to, such as the attic or crawl space, use an expandable foam sealant in a can to seal plumbing and wiring penetrations where they enter the walls. It’s a small thing, but you can also stop interior air leaks by adding foam gaskets to all your outlets and switches.

Finally, make sure that you upgrade the insulation in those areas that you have access to, like the attic and the floor above crawl spaces and unheated basements. Helping those spaces to better retain heat will make the entire house feel warmer, and will have a positive effect on your comfort and your energy bills. Also, while you’re up in the attic or under the floor, be sure that all ventilation fans as well as your clothes dryer are vented all the way to the outside of the house. This will help prevent unwanted moisture, and will also help from pressurizing the house and forcing cold air into cavities where it can eventually get into the house.

Remodeling and repair questions? E-mail Paul at paulbianchina@inman.com.

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