Q: I just had a paver driveway installed last month. Unfortunately, while installing the pavers the company did take out a chunk of my foundation. It’s in the front of my townhouse on the corner of the house. It is approximately the size of a brick. I had a structural engineer look at the damage and he said it is strictly cosmetic — no damage to the structure of the house or foundation.

My question to you is since I live in the Chicago area, with the freeze-thaw situation, I am wondering if there is any better product out there to fix this type of damage. The company responsible said it would send an employee out to patch this with concrete.

Also, am I better off having the company send out someone in the concrete foundation repairing business rather than its employee? I ask this because I can envision that this will just keep falling out. –John D.

A: First of all, let me applaud you for doing everything right in this situation! You had an independent structural engineer examine the damage to make sure there were no structural issues, and you have a healthy skepticism about having the paver company do the repairs for you.

I suspect, as you do, that if the paver company were to do the repairs, it would probably use a standard patching material that is not as durable on vertical exterior repairs such as a stem wall, and would indeed be subject to cracking and possibly falling out over time. Your best bet is to use a company that specializes in concrete repairs, and to use an epoxy product for making the repair. Your engineer should be able to give you suggestions for both a repair contractor and a specific repair product.

Be aware that many states give the original contractor the opportunity to make the repairs, so while I agree that you should use a specialized company instead of the original contractor, you may get a little resistance to this idea from the contractor.

Q: How do I know if a sump pump will or won’t be enough? How do I know if I will need more extensive waterproofing? We’ve lived in our house for 40 years and never had water in the basement. We did have quite a bit this season, but we did not have a pump. The water seems to have come from the area where the hole was for the pump. It filled up. I don’t know if it filled up and wandered around or if the water was coming in from the table anywhere else. How do I check, if at all possible, before we go through the expense of waterproofing? –Mary G.

A: The only way you could know if a specific sump pump would or wouldn’t have the capacity to handle your water problem would be if you could calculate the actual amount of water in the basement, then select a pump that has enough pumping capacity to handle that amount of water.

Realistically, I would suggest starting with the installation of a pump and go from there. Sump pumps range from around $60 for one that will pump about 1,800 gallons per hour (GPH) to larger units with a capacity of 4,500 GPH or more that cost around $175. I’d suggest one of the higher-capacity pumps.

On top of the cost of the pump, you need to extend a pipe from the pump to outside the house. The pipe handles the discharge from the pump, so it needs to end in a location where the discharge water won’t run back into the house, or onto a neighbor’s property. You’ll also need a grounded electrical outlet near the pump. After that, the pump’s operation is automatic. When water builds up in the sump hole, a float on the pump will rise and trigger the pump to come on. When the water level drops, so does the float, which shuts the pump off again.

From there, you can assess how well the pump alone is handling your water problem. Then your next step would be to locate how and why the water is coming in, and do the necessary waterproofing. Waterproofing a basement can be a time-consuming and potentially expensive undertaking, and there are ways to do it from both the inside and the outside. I would contact a general contractor or excavation contractor with specific experience in waterproofing basements, and have them come out and examine the situation. Get estimates and opinions from two or three of them before undertaking any work.

A word of warning: There are a lot waterproofing products that don’t work very well, and there are also a lot of out-and-out scams. Take your time in selecting a company to do the waterproofing work, and check out their license and references. In the meantime, I’d definitely get a sump pump installed.

Q: How can I perk up some dark kitchen cabinets that I do not want to completely refinish? I considered some dark Old English scratch cover oil, but wondered if some dark oil stain would work better. I have washed the cabinets with some Murphy’s oil soap. They need something to freshen them up. What would you suggest? –Jan J.

A: First of all, you’ll need to determine if the cabinets have a clear finish on them, such as polyurethane. You can probably tell this looking closely at the cabinets to see if they have a slight sheen to them, especially compared to how the interiors look.

If they don’t have a finish, my recommendation would be to wipe them down with a stain that is the same or a little lighter than the existing color, which should brighten them up a little and even out the appearance. When that is dry, apply a coat of clear polyurethane to protect the wood, which will also give the cabinets a brighter, fresher look.

If they do have a finish on them, which is likely, nothing is really going to penetrate the finish. You best bet is going to be to wipe the cabinets down with very fine steel wool to remove any traces of grease, dirt, and remaining soap or oil, wipe them again with a tack cloth (available at any paint store) to remove dust, and then apply a fresh coat of polyurethane. Again, this will brighten up the cabinets.

Because there are so many variables in woods and cabinet finishes, before doing all the cabinets with either of these techniques I would try it out on a small, out-of-the-way spot to see if you like the finished appearance.

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