YOUR HOME Q&A: Lasting clear varnish for a wood entry takes effort

McClatchy-Tribune News ServiceDecember 19, 2012 

Q: We recently bought a beautiful hardwood entry door that we want to give a natural finish. Several people have told us these finishes don’t last long outdoors. Is that true and what do you suggest? – Beth

A: It is true that most clear finishes don’t last long outdoors. The main reason is that they have little or no resistance to the sun’s damaging ultraviolet rays, unlike paint and pigmented finishes, in which the pigment helps filter the UV. This is why clear finishes on decks seldom last more than a year or two. If you want a clear, natural finish on your door, there are a couple of strategies that can help make the finish last longer. One is to use marine varnish or spar varnish, which usually holds up better than a finish such as polyurethane (even though some poly containers specify they can be used outdoors as well as indoors). Another strategy is to apply multiple coats – not just two or even three coats, but four or more. One clear outdoor finish that some users swear by is Epifanes. This is a marine varnish developed for yachts but often used on doors and similar outdoor surfaces. For more information, vist epifanes.com. In the Information section, there is a telephone number and email address where you can get answers to questions. The bottom line is that applying a lasting clear finish to your door will take a lot of time and effort.

Q: We have a lot of double-glazed replacement windows on our house that are more than 20 years old. Two double-hung windows have developed a foggy appearance between the two panes of glass in the bottom sashes. We haven’t been able to remove the fog. Is there a way to fix this? — Bert

A: The short answer is that I don’t know of any practical way to fix the foggy areas, which are caused by moisture getting between the panes of glass as the result of a leaking seal. The best bet is to replace the fogged-up sashes, which isn’t as big a project as it might seem. The first thing you should is check the warranty on your windows. Even as far back as 20 years, some manufacturers offered long-term warranties against seal failure, sometimes lifetime warranties. It isn’t necessary to replace the entire window, just the damaged sashes. Information needed to duplicate a sash is usually printed on small stickers on the edge of the top sash. Window warranties don’t include installation of replacement, but once you have the correct replacement sash it is not difficult to correct the problem.

I encountered this same problem a few years ago when a window bought at a home center – one of many I installed myself – developed a foggy sash. The manufacturer quickly sent a replacement sash, with no charge and no red tape. The replacement fit perfectly and I have had no problems since.

QUICK TIP: Battery-powered wall lights, some of which cost only a few dollars each, can help illuminate poorly lighted and often unsafe areas such as basement and attic stairs, uneven floor levels, hallways and storage sheds. They are also useful for getting some light into unlighted closets. Most of the battery-powered wall lights I have seen aren’t powerful enough to be the main source of illumination for a stairway, but they can fill in dim spaces that regular lights sometimes don’t reach fully. I use a battery light at the foot of my basement stairs, to better illuminate the floor. Some battery lights include remote controls, which make them especially useful for fill-in lights on stairs. While most lights are inexpensive, battery life might be a problem with some of them. My light uses four AA batteries. I buy batteries in bulk at Costco, but they cost too much to replace four of them frequently, so my basement-floor light is in a sort of probationary period. Battery-powered lights cam be bought at home centers, hardware stores, on the Internet and television.

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