Home & Garden

Don't let your bricks erode; also learn about CFLs, energy standards

We had a fireplace built in our living room in 1976. It is a grayish brick, but the bricks are not flat; they're bumpy to look more like stone. We have not used the fireplace in many years.

Now the bricks at the bottom of the fireplace are starting to disintegrate. The outside surface is crumbling into a white powder, and the inside seems to be made of this white powder also. What is causing this, and what can we do to prevent it happening to all the bricks?

It’s likely moisture is causing the bricks to crumble. The white powder is efflorescence — it can be brown and yellow, too — soluble salts more often in the mortar than in newish brick that are sort of wrung out when moisture intrudes.

Persistent efflorescence means water is entering the wall through faulty copings, flashings or pipes, running down the chimney and into the fireplace. If allowed to continue, there will be further deterioration. Call a mason or chimney service and ask them to find the source of the moisture.


Compact fluorescents revisited. My request for reader comment on compact fluorescents or CFLs has reached the other newspapers in which this column appears, and so far, of the 612 e-mails I’ve received, comments are running two to one against the alternative light forms.

Typical comments?

R. Lawrence: “I could not resist this opportunity to say that CFL lighting affects my eyes annoyingly and also my balance. “I am an aged man who suffers vertigo primarily caused by problems with my hearing, and I believe that this kind of lighting may contribute to the balancing problem.”

Chris: “I’ll tell you this, they may give off 100 watts when they’re new, but within months, you can see they begin to dim. I have also found they do take a long time to heat up no matter the brand — cheapo, Phillips or GE! I think they will become obsolete when LEDs come down in price.”


Manufacturers and environmentalists are hailing energy-efficiency standards for refrigerators proposed by the Department of Energy.

A typical new 20-cubic-foot refrigerator with the freezer on top would use about 390 kilowatt hours per year, down from about 900 kwh/year in 1990 and about 1,700 kwh/year in the early 1970s. The standards will save consumers about $18.5 billion.

Standards take effect in 2014.