Q: I have a spot on my flagstone patio that was caused by spilled motor oil. Any idea how I can clean it? –Scot C.

A: You can typically remove oil from stone by making a poultice to draw the oil out. First, clean the spot thoroughly with hot water and a strong soap such as Spic and Span, using a nylon-bristle brush on the spot. This will remove as much of the residual oil as possible.

Next, you’ll need to purchase some fuller’s earth. This is a clay product that is used in things like kitty litter, but is also very effective in the absorption and removal of oil. It comes in powdered form, and is available from some cosmetic and chemical retailers, or online. Mix the fuller’s earth with hot water to form a paste about the consistency of peanut butter, and spread it over the stain. Cover this with a piece of plastic sheeting that has some holes poked in it so the poultice can dry, and leave it on the stain overnight. Scrape up the residue the next day with a plastic scraper, then rinse with clear water. You may need to do this more than once.

Keep the poultice isolated to just the stained area, keeping it off the surrounding stone as much as possible. I would also try this on a piece of scrap stone or in an unobtrusive corner to make sure of how the stone will react before doing it in the middle of your patio.


Q: I would like to use cable railings on my deck — except for the high price. Do you think it would be possible to substitute a thick, strong wire instead of the cable? These wires keep in huge farm animals … so their strength is comparable to cable … well over 1,000 pounds in breaking strength.

A: You can actually construct a deck railing out of any materials that comply with the requirements of whatever building codes are in effect in your area. I have seen some very nice railings made from square-grid and rectangular-grid wire livestock fencing set into wood frames, as well as wood dowels, metal conduit, and other materials.

Whatever you choose needs to be strong enough and secured tightly enough to meet the building codes, and also has to be spaced closely enough together — most codes require a spacing of no greater than 4 inches. You also want to avoid materials with sharp edges or ends, as well as materials that won’t weather well. Finally, you want to select a material and an installation method that is safe, pleasing to your eye, coordinates well with your home’s style, and maintains your resale value.


Q: About a year ago, we moved into a home with electric forced-air heat. In the winter, every time the furnace kicks on, the lights in the house dim for a nanosecond. Is this something that can be addressed or fixed?

Before we moved in we had to replace the electrical panel (it was made by a company that went out of business years ago because their panels were known to start fires) and I’m wondering if there is something associated with that we can correct.

A: The dimming of the lights is caused by a voltage drop that occurs during the startup phase of the furnace. When your thermostat calls for heat, the electric elements in the furnace begin to heat up before the furnace motor kicks on — this is called "heat anticipation" — and it is set up that way so that the furnace fan doesn’t blow cold air before the furnace itself heats up. So when you hear the furnace kick on, that’s actually the sound of the fan motor starting up and activating the fan itself.

A couple of possible problems that come to mind: The wires leading to the furnace may be too small, or you may have a loose or corroded connection. There should be two circuit breakers on the furnace itself, and they may be loose or faulty. It’s also possible that the furnace motor is going bad, or that you have some problems with the fan, the belts or other internal furnace parts that are requiring an excessive amount of electricity in order to get turning.

Given the fact that the panel was replaced recently, you definitely want to have an electrician come out and inspect everything — the new panel, the circuit breakers, wire sizes, connections (including the connection to the utility company wires), grounding, etc. All this should be covered under the 1-year warranty from the electrical contractor who did the work. I would also strongly recommend that you have the furnace checked and serviced by a heating company that deals with your particular brand of furnace.

One other thing: Since the electrical panel was replaced recently, your local building department will have a record of the permit. I would suggest that you obtain a copy of that, and make sure that the installation was inspected and approved and that the inspector didn’t note any problems. If the work was done without a permit, then you may have some legal action worth pursuing against the seller of the home and whoever did the electrical work.

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


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