Note to readers: Every year, thousands of Arizona residents email our website or call our radio show with questions about everything from how to prevent fires in their chimneys to what to do about the tree roots invading their sewer system. One of our goals is to provide answers that suit the specific lifestyle wherever someone lives in Arizona. In this column, we focus on questions about home maintenance and improvement in the Tucson area.
Question: Is it possible to refinish a fiberglass entry door? If so, is it something I could do? I'm pretty handy and not afraid to take on projects.
Answer: Yes, you can, but the process is complicated and will vary depending on the brand and quality of the door. Some fiberglass doors cannot be re-stained because their wood-grain finish will be damaged by the stripping or sanding that you have to do first. But many manufacturers sell kits that contain both stain and finish for these doors.
You can, however, most likely sand it down to remove oxidized or chipped and peeling areas, and then you can prime, paint and seal. But once that door is painted, you cannot stain it again.
If you decide to paint, you must do all six sides of the door at the same time in the same painting application. These sides are the front, back, top, bottom, hinge side and lockset side. That way you can ensure that the door will be 100 percent sealed up. The problem is that only the front and back faces are covered with fiberglass. The edges of the door are just plain wood. If the entire door isn't sealed at once with paint, the door can fall apart after a couple of years of exposure to sun, rain and humidity.
Q: I have heard people talk about high-pressure water cleaning of plumbing pipes and the possibility that they could be a scam. Are they? All the drains in the 60-year-old home of our 85-year-old aunt operate slowly. What is the safest, most economical way for her to have the pipes cleared?
A: High-pressure water or hydro-jet cleaning is acceptable in some cases, but probably not in a home that old. In many houses this age, the sewer line may be very fragile. These older pipes are laid in two-foot lengths and the joints are not sealed up to today's standards. So a hydro-jet device could break pipes or loosen their connections. But a plumber with an electronic camera can examine those drains and find out where the problems are and then use a snake auger to clear out the tree roots or other obstructions. As for home improvement scams, homeowners can avoid risks by hiring contractors who are registered with the Arizona Registrar of Contractors and who are bonded and insured.
Q: I have cut down a palm tree in my backyard, but do not know how to get rid of the root system. Could you give some suggestions?
A: The most cost-effective method is to rent a stump grinder and then grind down the palm stump to below the surface of the ground. Drill some holes in the stump and pour stump killer into them and then fill the entire area involved with soil. However, it may take a while for what is left of the palm tree to decompose. You may later have to dig out some long, stringy roots as well.
Q: A few years back, you reported that if you don't have a water softening system, you might run into trouble if you install a tankless water heater. For Tucson, in a 1,700 square-foot older home, would you recommend one now?
A: We still do recommend that tankless water heaters should not be used without a water softening system. The problem is that the flash heating of water seems to build up more of the hard water scale on fixtures and appliances than when you use a conventional water heater. There are many pros as well as cons about tankless systems, of course. They use much less energy than conventional systems. They're only about the size of a large medicine cabinet, so you gain some square footage in your garage or closet. Prices are much higher than conventional water heaters; and when you turn them on, you still have to run your faucet for a while to wait for the cold water in your pipes to flush out.
For more do-it-yourself tips, go to rosieonthehouse.com. An Arizona home building and remodeling industry expert for 35 years, Rosie Romero is the host of the syndicated Saturday morning Rosie on the House radio program, heard locally from 8-11 a.m. on KNST-AM (790) and -FM (97.1) in Tucson and KGVY-AM (1080) and -FM (100.7) in Green Valley. Call 1-888-767-4348.