Q: What are your thoughts on replacing an above-ground residential oil tank in the basement? My oil tank is about 55 years old and shows no signs of rust or wear, although being close to an outside wall, one side cannot be seen. I recently read that once a tank hits 50 years old it should be replaced for preventive measures. –Beth H.

A: Oil tanks typically begin to deteriorate from the inside out, due to moisture and sediment that gets trapped inside the tank over the years. As such, they can appear perfectly fine from the outside, but be corroding from the inside.

When a tank fails, it usually begins as a small pin hole, and you’ll notice a drip of oil beginning to escape. However, there have also been instances of more catastrophic failures, where a substantial amount of oil has spilled from the tank all at once. If that oil isn’t immediately contained and leaches into the soil, you have the potential for a hazardous waste cleanup situation on your hands, which can be very expensive. Even if your basement floor is concrete and you do contain the spill, the oil can leave a lingering odor that’s tough to deal with.

Finally, a 55-year-old tank is going to have a layer of sludge and sediment in the bottom of it. If you allow the oil level in the tank to get low and some of that material is drawn into the fuel lines and into the furnace, you run the risk of clogging the lines and also potentially damaging the furnace itself.

For all of those reasons, I think it’s good preventative maintenance to talk with your oil supplier or a heating contractor about replacing the tank.

Q: I have a friend who wants to clean up and restore her deck, which is treated two-by-six lumber. It is not in bad shape, but just needs to be cleaned up, re-stained and freshened up. I did some of this in the past and some products were very expensive, others less so. What do you recommend for a product that will clean the wood and a product to put a new finish on it? –Doug B.

A: For cleaning the deck I really like Wolman’s DeckBrite. It’s safe and easy to use, and does a great job of cleaning up old decks, including pressure-treated lumber. Wolman’s DuraStain is a good semitransparent stain that should work fine for putting a little color back into the wood.

You might want to check out the Wolman website. They have application tips and other information, as well as other types of stains and color charts. They’re at wolman.com.

Q: We have a beam that is sagging in our family room. Our family room is located right above the basement but below the main level and the bedrooms. I have contacted numerous builders, but none will take on this job, claiming their insurance won’t cover it. I think my husband and I have heard every excuse in the book. We are worried that the situation will get worse. Can you please give us some advice? –Susan C.

A: There are only a couple of reasons that a structural beam will sag. It could be that the beam was undersized for the span and/or the load when it was originally installed, or it could be that the beam is defective. It’s also possible that something was added that increased the load on the beam, or something was removed — for example, an intermediate post or wall — that increased the length of the area that the beam is spanning.

With any of these circumstances, the likelihood is that the sag will worsen over time, which could cause additional structural problems for the home or, worst case, create a potentially hazardous situation for the occupants.

With that in mind, I would suggest that you hire a licensed structural engineer to examine the house. The engineer can measure the size of the beam, the span, and the load that’s on it, and do the necessary calculations to determine where the problem lies and what the best solution would be. You can talk with your homeowners insurance agent, the building department, or your local builders association to get some recommendations for engineers in your area.

The engineer should also be able to recommend a competent licensed contractor to do the repairs. With an engineer involved to specify the repair, much of the liability shifts from the contractor to the engineer, so contractors will be much more comfortable taking on the job.

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