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Home fix-up

Q Water is coming into my house through the bricks in an old chimney. Although I've already had some work done on the chimney, moisture is still getting into the bricks and causing damage to the plaster inside the house. The chimney was built when a coal furnace was in use. What do you suggest? Marion L. Gottschall Jersey Shore, Pa. The problem could be twofold. First, the flashing between the chimney and the roof could have failed over time and is in normal need of repair. And second, the masonry exterior could have become porous over the years and the mortar joints broken down, thus allowing the brick to absorb and conduct water.

Sealing the brick with a clear masonry sealer after repointing the mortar joints would stop this form of moisture intrusion.

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Your letter seems to indicate that the chimney is no longer in use. If this is true, I suggest you have it broken down to below the roof line and then place a new roof over the hole. This should eliminate chimney leaks. Q The grout in our new ceramic-tile floor is staining and breaking down and moisture does not seem to be the problem. The tile setter says it is the fault of the product, but I have tried unsuccessfully to get the tilemaker and grout manufacturer to deal with the problem. In a recent column you mentioned the Ceramic Tile Institute in Los Angeles as providing an inspecting service. Is there one in Houston as well? Anne Binder Houston

There is no tile institute branch in Texas, according to the people in Los Angeles. While the organization does indeed perform inspection services all over the country, the charges would be prohibitive for a small job such as yours.

The problem seems to stem from improper curing. The grout should be cured for 72 hours under a plastic sheet to create maximum hardness. Aqua Mix makes a stain-sealer which may work for a while, but the soft grout will just keep on coming out of the joints.

I suggest you press the issue with the expert whom you hired and whose judgment you relied on for a good job. Let him go after the other finger pointers. Q I read your recent column on termites and now wonder if I have any reason to be concerned with infestation in my house. The basement floor and walls are concrete and no wood touches the ground. While I have seen termites in the pine-bark mulch in the planters which are attached to the outside of the house, there is no evidence of them inside. John E. Birmingham Jr. Richmond, Va.

Termites are in every pile of wood delivered from a lumber mill. The critters love decomposing, moist wood, which is why you see them in the pine-bark mulch. Termites, in fact, need moisture to propagate. They get inside the walls of a house near the foundation walls by building mud columns up to the wood members from the surrounding moist ground.

Habitually moist wood is also a prime target for them.

You can see evidence of them by the sawdust-like droppings which they leave behind. It sounds to me as if your home is in fine shape, although you may want to consider another mulch so you aren't providing a nearby breeding ground for the pests.

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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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