Q: Can you settle an ongoing disagreement I’m having with my neighbour? I maintain that parging on the outside of a block wall is only there to look good and is a waste of time and money because it usually cracks and falls off. Am I right?
A: I’m with you. Parging is a thin coat of mortar-type material that’s usually troweled on to the outside of a block wall. It serves no practical purpose and is virtually guaranteed to fail. I’ve never seen parging that didn’t crack and fall off in time. Even contractors who’ve assured me that their parging is different than the rest deliver no better results. Maybe parging works well in warm climates, but the freeze-thaw cycles we get here in Canada eat parging for breakfast.
If appearance is the issue, then you’d be better off painting bare block with exterior latex paint (100% acrylic works best). Paint will wear out in time, but at least it can be recoated. Failed parging looks bad and can never be repaired flawlessly.
Finishing Wooden Outdoor Furniture
Q: What can I do to fix the finish on my new outdoor wood furniture? I applied a clear sealer that was recommended to me, but it left a milky film behind.
A: The easiest option for anyone with new wood furniture is to let it go grey naturally, but not everyone likes that. You’ll get a more refined appearance with annual applications of exterior oil along with covered storage of the furniture during winter. Exterior oil is ideal because it forms no surface film, so there’s nothing to peel off. This makes reapplication much easier. Minwax Teak Oil is the best and most widely available option I’ve found so far. Whatever you do, don’t use ordinary linseed oil. Regular hardware store stuff often turns outdoor wood black in time.
In your case you’ve got the added complication of the milky finish that needs to be removed before oiling. I’d start with a water soluble deck stripper, followed by a gentle pressure washing. Let the wood dry for a couple of days, then sand off any fuzziness that may have developed from the washing. You won’t need to do this stripping and sanding process again, it’s just to get you back to bare wood. Start with two coats of Teak Oil this year, then add another coat every spring. Your furniture will slowly go darker brown in time, but it will resist going grey.
Squirrels in the Attic
Q: What can I do to get rid of chipmunks or squirrels in the space between a ceiling and the floor above? I think the animals may be in the cold air return duct, Is there anything we can put in this duct to discourage them?
A: No, I don’t think any kind of repellent will work. You can try moth balls, but they don’t remove an established colony in my experience. And in your case, you’d have mothball smell all through your house whenever air is moving through the ducts. All this said, you really do need to do something. Both squirrels and chipmunks cause lots of damage when they enter a house. I’ve never seen an exception. The worse cases involve chewed wires and a subsequent fire.
The good news is that sooner or later, squirrels and chipmunks always leave the building during the day. This means it’s possible to trap them and relocate. It’s important to seal up areas where the animals enter once the space is clear. Peanut butter is the best bait I’ve found for live traps. I use the Havahart cage traps at my place.