10 tips to improve your home

Q. I put in a flagstone walk six years ago on 3 inches of concrete. Now the mortar along the edges and between the stones is breaking up. How can I repair it?

A. Buy mortar mix in a building supply store. Gouge out the crumbling mortar to the full width and depth of the joints. Mix the mortar dry in the bag; then add enough water to make the mix crumbly, not soupy. Press this into the joints very compactly and tightly; if it is done loosely, leaving air pockets in the mortar, the mortar will fail quickly. The edges are a another problem; if there is no border holding the edge mortar in place, it is likely to fail faster than that between the stones. Before filling the edges, install a border to hold the mortar in place. This border could be bricks on end, patio blocks sunk 8 inches into the ground or a 2-by-6 or 2-by-8-inch pressure-treated board. No matter what border material you use, their tops should be even with the top of the walk. A word about mortar; mix only enough to last about 15 minutes; after that, the mortar starts to set up and will be difficult if not impossible to work. You can add a little water to make stiff mortar workable, but the more water you add the weaker the mortar will be. And, to press the mortar compactly into place, invest in a pointing tool ($2). This is an S-shaped steel bar that eases the job of pressing in the mortar.

Q. How long will my roof last on my pergola?

A. There are several types of pergola roofing options. How long a roof lasts depends on the materials and the climate and the temperature conditions to which it is subjected. Although the life expectancy can be many years, in most cases constant general maintenance is necessary.

Q. I plan to put a Formica ceiling in my shower area; perhaps this will end peeling and mildew problems forever. A friend suggested I put up plywood and paint it, but I want to avoid painting it. Someone else put wallpaper on the ceiling. Would this work?

A. You’re right about the plywood; it would need painting and that could peel, and it certainly would not cure the mildew problem. The wallpaper might work but, if it is put up over a peeling ceiling, it could pull itself right off. The Formica is a good idea but, instead of trying to put it on a painted ceiling with contact cement (it won’t work on a painted surface), put up quarter-inch or half-inch plywood and put the Formica on that.

Q. I have planted a lot of daffodils in my lawn and other areas where they have “naturalized,” looking as if they were always there. I want to add to them, but I’m afraid that in the fall, when I plant the new bulbs, that I won’t know where the existing bulbs are because the foliage has gone. Is there an easy way to mark where the existing daffodils are?

A. Necessity is the mother of invention. Try this: Stick a white plastic golf tee into the ground beside each daffodil. When the foliage goes, the tee will remain. Keep it a quarter to an eighth of an inch above the ground; if you step on them, you will simply drive them flush with the ground. At this height, you can mow over them and, in the fall, you will know where to plant your new bulbs.

Q. My nylon-mesh deck umbrella always collects mildew, either while in use or when it is stored away. How can I clean it?

A. Wash with this trusty solution: 1 part bleach and 3 parts of water. When you store it in the fall, make sure it’s bone dry before folding it. If it is dirty as well as moldy, mix a strong solution of Spic and Span and water to which a cup of bleach has been added. Wear skin protection and eye protection when working with bleach; it is caustic and poisonous.

Q. We picked up a rug on a hardwood floor, but the pad underneath disintegrated, leaving all kinds of pits and pieces embedded in the wood. We were able to scrape some of the pieces.

A. Wet the fragments with paint thinner, let it soak for 30 seconds and scrape with a scraper made of wood or scrub lightly with fine steel wool. If that doesn’t work too well, wet the fragments with any kind of oil, let it sit for 5 to 15 minutes and scrub with steel wool. Wash the oil off with a mild solution of detergent and water and don’t use much water.

Q. What drinks are served at a cocktail party?

A. Drinks is obviously the most important aspect of the cocktail party, and your local package store can help you get things rolling. The following liquors are essential to a home tiki bar when throwing a cocktail party: vodka, gin, rum, scotch, bourbon and a Canadian whiskey, such as Seagrams V.O.

Q. I am putting up red cedar clapboards on my house. Is it OK to put the rough side out? I plan to stain them with a solid color stain. I also was told that stain is no good for the pine trim. What can I treat the pine with?

A. It’s OK to put the rough side out; it gives a slightly rustic look (and in some cases a modern look), but it will hold stain better than the smooth side. Any kind of stain will do, but most important when staining is to put thin coats on. You will need two coats when using solid stain; two thin ones is the secret to success. You can also use a solid stain for the pine trim; the only problem is that if the pine has knots, they will bleed through the stain. To prevent that, paint the pine with an exterior oil primer, then stain over that. As for the clapboards, if you can wait a few months before staining them, you might be able to avoid cedar bleed, which is the color of the cedar leaching through the stain. The longer you let the clapboards cure, or dry out, the less bleeding you’ll get.

Q. My driveway slopes toward the garage. Water collects there and seeps into the garage. I propose to build a small trench in front of the garage door 2 feet long, 1 foot wide and 18 inches deep and insert a pipe leading to one side of the driveway that will let the water dissipate harmlessly. It was suggested that the trench need only be 6 inches in diameter and 18 inches deep. And will a plastic pipe stand up under the driveway?

A. Either size trench will do, but the bigger one will work better. Fill the trench with crushed stone. The plastic pipe will definitely stand up under the driveway.

Q. Can I varnish the rush seats on my ladder-back chairs? My oak vanity was shimmed on one side to make it level, but there’s a 1/4- to 3/8-inch gap between the bottom of the vanity and the floor. How can I fill that gap and seal it against water seepage?

A. Rush is usually not finished, but two coats of satin polyurethane varnish will keep it from staining. Two thin coats, that is. It is not a matter of filling the gap under the vanity, but of covering it. Buy some oak trim (pine will do, but oak will match the vanity); you can get a piece an inch or more wide and 3/ 8-inch thick. Tack this to the sides and front of the vanity with finish nails. To seal it against water seepage, apply a bead of caulking compound to the bottom edge of the trim; when you place it on the floor and against the vanity, it will ooze out, making a good seal. Wipe or scrape off any of that oozing. Apply the same varnish you used for the rush seats to the trim. It might be necessary to stain it first to match the color of the vanity itself.

How to hire your plumber

If you can’t replace the toilet yourself – do-it-yourselfers swear it’s not that difficult – call plumbers minnesota. The Plumbers Association recommends several steps for choosing a plumber:

1. Ask friends and neighbors for a recommendation. You might join with several neighbors to have all your toilets retrofitted at once by the same plumber, so negotiate a special group rate.

2. Look in the telephone Yellow Pages under “Plumbing Contractors.” All licensed contractors are supposed to list their license numbers, but the directory does not verify this information. Call the Contractors’ State Licensing Board to verify if the licensee is still active and in good standing.

3. Ask if the contractor is a member of the local association. About 60 companies are members, and they handle about 75 percent of the residential plumbing work in the county.

4. Ask the plumber how a toilet replacement will be billed. Many contractors have switched from a time-and-materials basis to a flat, fixed charge.

5. Ask for a bid over the phone. Many plumbers will decline to estimate the cost until they see if there are any complications. They normally charge a trip fee to make a bid.

6. Ask if you can buy your own toilet and have the plumber install it.

7. Insist on a written contract before authorizing the work. And read it. Be present when the work is done or ask a knowledgeable friend to watch the plumber work.

8. The plumbers doing the work are not necessarily licensed contractors themselves. Members of Plumbers & Steamfitters are experienced plumbers but most of them are employed in new construction and commercial work.

9. If additional plumbing work is recommended, it is cheaper to have it done while the plumber is on site. You may want a second opinion.

10. If you have a complaint, call the plumber’s employer, then the local association, and finally, the state contractors board, which processes complaints. Be sure to retain all receipts and copies of correspondence.

Old Brownstone Architecture

Back in 1889, Salt Lake City’s streets were utterly lacking in automobiles. Fact is, a majority of our town’s thoroughfares lacked pavement and I’m not certain whether a light-rail line ran along 100 South east of Main. If it did, it was not as yet called an electric trolley line – the motive power doubtless consisted of mules or horses. At any event, Mayor Francis Armstrong did not have to contend with pollution from autos or diesel trucks – four-footed animals gave street sweepers work enough.

Mayor Armstrong seems not to have been too swamped with civic duties or at least he had more spare time on his hands than Mayor Deedee Corradini, time enough for him to found and operate a bank. His Commercial Savings Bank being in need of a spanking new building, he commissioned one of our town’s finest architects to build him a proper structure for his proper new commercial institution – to be located on company property at 22 E. 100 South. His three-story, rough-hewn brownstone building still stands, pretty much as designed by Brownstone architect Richard K.A. Kletting. But unfortunately, and through no fault of banker Armstrong or architect Kletting, the century-old structure has been vacant for the past dozen or so years. It’s been vacant so long its future has been in doubt.

There were, of course, some recent years of occupancy. Almost a decade ago an eatery called the Red Apple took root in the old bank building’s basement – but it quickly moved next door into the modest structure occupied by the Deseret News. A short-lived newspaper and magazine shop also occupied the basement for a time – briefly. Simultaneously, a pub called the Brownstone Ltd. and a shop specializing in beauteous wedding gowns occupied the main floor — but again, not for long.

This past month, however, there’s been good news for those architectural buffs who cherish the outwardly unmodish, slightly decrepit building. It has been purchased from recent owners (the West One Bank) by the finance firm of Belsen Getty Inc. In turn, its new principals, William Campbell and Terry Dern, have promised to respect the old-time look of the structure.

Outwardly, this survivor of livelier days in the Main Street district is a three-bay affair, with the central bay topped by a triangular element that may have, in times past, been flanked by twin cornices.

As observant downtowners know, the brownstone structure has a variety of window styles – or fenestration. There are twin windows beneath an elaborately carved arch centered on the top floor, with tripled windows flanking the central pair. Still another trio of arch-topped windows occupies center stage on the second floor, while twin windows capped by rough-hewn stone arches are balanced on either side. The ground floor – likely the banking floor in the old days – has large showroom-style windows on either side of the arch-topped doorway. Entrance is via a broad stone stairway, while the full basement or cellar has large windows admitting light into the below-street-level premises.

While few local residents are elderly enough to remember the years when the bank occupied the premises, many can recall the period when the brownstone was chiefly occupied by the Saltair Railroad and its popular Saltair Resort. By that time, of course, electric trolley-car tracks crisscrossed the city, and gasoline buggies had become more than plentiful.

The weathered brownstone has long had problems that are an outgrowth of its original building material. The fact is, it was not built of brownstone at all, or at least, not the sort of brownstone used for many years to face row houses in New York City. The building material is really a red sandstone, quarried locally in nearby canyons – and it spalls. That is to say, the stone, when set in place for building material, weathers poorly. It flakes off, at many exposed joints, in the wake of our several local winters in which there is alternate freezing and thawing. It is not unlike the flaking politic limestone used for such mansions of note as the Kearns home on South Temple, now used as the Utah’s gubernatorial mansion.

Well, whether it has weathered poorly or not, whether it is called brownstone mistakenly or not, the building at 22 E. 100 South is certainly a survivor. It is good indeed to learn that financial folk of the new generation are astute enough to see that such a building on the National Register is well-worth saving, and utilizing. The foundation stones were laid in 1888; the bank building was occupied a year later. That’s 103 long years ago!

And by the way, banker/mayor Francis Armstrong went on, when his mayoral term ended in 1890, to gain some fame, and, one hopes, some fortune, by buying our town’s initial horse-car lines – after which he electrified same.

Modern sofa beds: tips for buyer

Sofa beds are comfortable, come in a range of appealing styles and sizes, and are still very affordable.

Engineering improvements have now made the sofa bed about 90 percent as good as sleeping on a traditional innerspring bed. And the sofa bed offers most buyers a lot more flexibility.

In the last eight or 10 years, the sofa bed has improved dramatically. The biggest change was probably moving from a steel-linkage deck supporting the mattress to a trampoline-style deck.

This means you no longer feel the bar underneath your back. What’s more, the trampoline design innovation has reduced the overall weight of the sofa bed and has also improved the way the sofa sits.

No matter what brand of modern sofa bed you’re looking at, chances are the mechanisms are provided by one of the big manufacturers.

Notable improvements have also been made in sleep sofa mattresses.

The mattresses now feature heavy-gauge coil construction and more generous padding. And they actually longer – today a 6-foot-tall man can sleep comfortably without his feet hanging off the end.

Though sofa bed mattresses are still shorter and thinner than traditional bedding, deluxe models feature a 75-inch length, 5- to 7-inch-thick innerspring construction, and come with a five-year or seven-year manufacturer’s warranty.

Because the mattress has to fold, the sofa bed mattresses are constructed differently. ‘When you are shopping for a quality mattress, you can’t just count the number of coils, or use other traditional methods of evaluating standard bedding.

The best way to shop for a comfortable bed is to actually try it out. Absolutely. Just fold it out and try it.

Bed manufacturers are using new kinds of bearings and bushings, making the operation of opening and closing a modern sofa bed quite easy.

The bed has come out of the spare bedroom and den, and is finding its way into the great room and living room. About one out of 10 sofas we sell are beds.

Sofa beds now come in all shapes and sizes. Buyers can now shop for sofa beds with matching love seats, coordinating club chairs, or even as part of a sectional unit, which may also feature a built-in recliner.

You used to spot a hide-a-bed from across the floor. Now our customers can’t tell at all without looking underneath the cushions.

The fabric choices are better, too.

Ten years ago it had to be Herculon. But today’s dressy fabric selections include damask, tapestries, chintzes, nylon blends and casual cottons. And some sleep sofas include the same custom treatments available to conventional sofas. Among them: down-filled and spring-coil cushions; throw pillows in coordinating fabrics; assorted skirts and pleating styles; skirtless styles with bun feet; and contrasting welt trims.

People are looking at furniture more as an investment. Manufacturers can often fulfill custom orders in only six to eight weeks. And our customers can get exactly what they want. It doesn’t cost any more to special order.

If your guest’s immediate arrival won’t permit ordering, never fear. All stores surveyed had a healthy selection of readily available sofa beds.