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Home fix-up

Q When the weather gets cold outside, the walls of my house are extremely damp inside on all sides except the south. As a result, there is mold on the walls and in the cabinets. What is the solution? Margaret Salat

Benld, Ill.

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This doesn't sound to me like an easily solved problem and probably relates to the improper construction of the house.

Two things come immediately to mind. One is that no vapor barrier (tar paper) was installed under the exterior siding. The other is that the insulation in the walls was installed with the vapor barrier toward the outside rather than the inside.

I suggest you ask a local contractor to do some exploratory work to find out the cause of the moisture and then provide you with the cost to set it right.

To the real estate editor:

With regard to your recent advice about insulating a cinder-block house, there is another way to go that would not rob the house of the 4 to 6 inches of room and is cheaper and easier to do.

Simply seal the outside of the blocks with a waterproof sealer and put in weep holes in the outside bottom of the blocks by drilling quarter-inch holes where the bottom block sits on the concrete foundation.

Then from the inside of the house, either drill through the plate over the block wall or, if this is not possible, drill a slanting hole downward from the top blocks. With a funnel fill the voids in the cinder wall with treated (waterproofed) vermiculite (which is very light, with ``pebbles'' about the size of a small coffee bean). Refill the holes with caulking afterward. Voil'a! You are insulated with very little work and just a few minutes of time.

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You also can use the new coating, which has fibers in it, on the outside of the cinder blocks. Its primary use is to put up concrete or cinder-block walls without mortar. Simply trowel it on the blocks. It's waterproof and very pleasing to look at if properly applied.

The use of vermiculite, of course, in either concrete or cinder walls is much easier to do during building rather than afterward. Simply fill the voids before the plate on the top concrete beam is poured. Always used only treated vermiculite. W. W. White Houston, Texas Q I've been trying to restore a pine floor to its original natural-wood finish, but first have to remove the asphalt tiles placed over the tar paper. The tiles came up easily using a heat gun, but the tar paper appears to be stuck fast. Do you have any ideas on how to speed up the project? Jonathan Revere Tisbury, Mass.

I have accomplished this same task by using a mechanical chipper with a reciprocating blade about 6 inches wide to get off the ``big stuff.'' The next step involves using a heavy-gritted paper on a commercial-type floor sander which you can rent. Heat causes the tar to get gummy, so keep the sander moving and only work when the floor is cool.

Using progressively finer grit paper, you will find that you'll have a beautiful floor as the end result. Q The exterior of our church edifice, built in 1917, is stucco. In the past the stucco was improperly patched and we now feel it is time for an exterior renovation. Two contractors have given us estimates by using aluminum siding, but this would alter the building's appearance. Can you suggest a better method? Alice W. Brown South Haven, Mich.

I suggest hiring a local architectural firm to help solve the problem. The firm could match the wishes of the church membership with an appropriate solution as well as prepare the specifications for competitive bidding by contractors.

There are several stucco-type new finishes on the market. Most consist of a polymer-modified stucco surface placed over a fiberglass mat and Styrofoam-type insulation board secured to the building's exterior. To get an idea of the products, ask for brochures and a list of local applicators from such firms as Dryvit System Inc. at 1-800-556-7752, or Insul/Crete Company, 4311 Triangle Street, McFarland, Wis. 53558 (1-608-838-4121).

If you have a question about designing, improving, or maintaining your home, send it to the real estate editor, The Christian Science Monitor, One Norway street, Boston, Mass. 02115. Richard A. Kent is a practicing architect and general contractor in southern California.

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