Ask the Carey Brothers
Home Q&A.BY MORRIS AND JAMES CAREYTHE ASSOCIATED PRESSQuestion: The following refers to a two-story frame house with basement in upstate New York, the “new” part of which was completed in 1820.The exterior wall is wood clapboard on the outside and wood lath and plaster on the inside. In 1930 a brick chimney was constructed on the outside next to the wood clapboard, and is connected to an oil burner (furnace) in the basement. The house is now closed during winter and open only in summer months.In the last few years there has been moisture on inside of the wall in the chimney area. This may be only leakage from chimney flashing, or ice formation under eaves, but since the house is closed and unheated in winter, could it be bricks retaining moisture? When re-papering and plastering should a moisture barrier be put on the chimney wall, or would moisture be trapped either on the clapboard side or the inside wall and ultimately produce dry rot?I have heard that the Carey Bros. indicate that improper use of moisture barriers can produce problems in dry rot. Is this such a case? – NichalAnswer: It sounds like your house is old enough to go back to Louis XIV.Actually, you have all the answers written into your question. By adding a moisture barrier to the inside surface of the wall you will stand the chance of creating a rot problem. Moisture will condense on the outside surface of the moisture barrier (the inside face of the wall studs) trapping moisture against the studs, and eventually causing a fungal growth, and yes, this can happen even on a house as old as yours.The clapboard is a good moisture layer, and doesn’t sound like the culprit. Our guess is that the flashing you mentioned is probably leaking. The flashing can be easily checked for leaks with a water hose – in the summer time!There shouldn’t be any heat transmission from the chimney to the exterior wall. If there were heat transmission from the chimney to the wall, it could cause condensation. If this were the case (and we don’t think it is) a heat barrier (constructed from drywall, or mortar or sheet metal) would be in order.Question: We love our family room corner fireplace with rock, but hate the color of the grout. The grout is dark to medium gray and we prefer light gray which we think would look better. Can the fireplace grout be re-grouted over the existing grout? – Maurice and GenevaAnswer: The term “grout” is more commonly used with ceramic tile installations. What you have surrounding the stone at your fireplace is most certainly mortar. Where grout is used to fill joints between tile, mortar is used to join stone together. In addition to providing a solid bond between the stones, it can also add to the design and interest of stone or brick.In any case, you can change the color of the mortar a couple of ways. If the mortar is just a touch too dark and you want to lighten it up a wee bit, start with a 10 percent solution of muriatic acid. Apply the solution to the mortar joints only using a small bristle brush or similar device. A little of this mild acid on the stone or brick will generally not hurt so long as you don’t allow it to remain for very long.Allow the acid to remain on the mortar joints for at least five minutes or until it has stopped fizzing. Rinse the area completely and allow it to dry. You may need to wait a few days until the mortar has dried completely to determine if the process worked. If the mortar has lightened but the desired result has not been achieved, give the mortar another acid treatment and allow it to dry to check the results.And remember, safety first. Wear rubber gloves and eye protection and make sure that there is plenty of ventilation in the area when working with acid.
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