DIY Q&A

Using a clear finish outdoors

December 7, 2012 

  • Quick tip Battery-powered wall lights, some of which cost only a few dollars, can help illuminate poorly lighted and often unsafe areas like basement and attic stairs, uneven floors, hallways and storage sheds. They are also useful in unlighted closets. Most aren’t powerful enough to be the main source of illumination for a stairway, but they can fill in dim spaces that regular lights don’t reach fully. I use a battery light at the foot of my basement stairs to illuminate the floor. Some battery lights include remote controls, which make them especially useful for fill-in lights on stairs. While most are inexpensive, battery life might be a problem with some. Battery-powered lights can be bought at home centers, hardware stores, on the Internet and on television.

Q: We bought a beautiful hardwood entry door that we want to give a natural finish. Several people have told us these finishes don’t last long outdoors. Is that true and what do you suggest? – Beth

It is true that most clear finishes don’t last long outdoors. The main reason: They have little or no resistance to the sun’s damaging ultraviolet rays, unlike paint and pigmented finishes, in which the pigment helps filter the UV. This is why clear finishes on decks seldom last more than a year or two. If you want a clear, natural finish on your door, there are a couple of ways to help make the finish last longer. One is to use marine varnish or spar varnish, which usually holds up better than polyurethane (even though some poly containers specify they can be used outdoors). Another strategy is to apply multiple coats – not just two or even three coats, but four or more. One clear outdoor finish that some users swear by is Epifanes. This is a marine varnish developed for yachts but often used on doors and similar outdoor surfaces. For information, vist epifanes.com. In the Information section, there is a telephone number and email address where you can get answers to questions. Remember: Applying a lasting clear finish will take a lot of time and effort.

Fog in window sash

Q: We have double-glazed replacement windows that are more than 20 years old. Two double-hung windows have a foggy appearance between the two panes of glass in the bottom sashes. Is there a way to fix this? – Bert

The fog is caused by moisture getting between the panes of glass as the result of a leaking seal. Your question used to be one of my most asked, but manufacturers have steadily improved the seal on so-called thermal windows so that fewer leaks occur. The best bet is to replace the fogged-up sashes, which isn’t as big a project as it might seem. First, check the warranty on your windows. Even as far back as 20 years ago, some manufacturers offered long-term warranties against seal failure, sometimes lifetime warranties. If you know who installed the windows, start by contacting the installer; otherwise contact the manufacturer directly.

It isn’t necessary to replace the entire window, just the damaged sashes. Information needed to duplicate a sash is usually printed on small stickers on the edge of the top sash. Window warranties don’t include installation of replacements, but once you have the correct replacement sash it is not difficult to correct the problem.

I encountered this same problem when a window bought at a home center – one of many I installed myself – developed a foggy sash. The manufacturer quickly sent a replacement sash, with no charge and no red tape. The replacement fit perfectly and I have had no problems since.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

Austin: gaus17@aol.com

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