Questions We Have

Instead of answering a bunch of questions from readers, as fun as that might be, this time I thought I would just ask a bunch of questions we have about things around the house. With pictures, so you can see how sincere we are.

What is this black gunk coming out of our columns, and what can we do to make it stop?

Nasty black gunk

This stuff has been coming out since we bought the house, over nice fresh paint and through scrubbings. The wood underneath the paint is redwood or pine, like the rest of the house. We know there are no water leaks into the column. If you know what it is and especially know how to make it stop reappearing, we're all ears.

Speaking of the front porch, we'd love to be able to put in a screen door out front so we can let the wind blow through the house.

Does anybody have any suggestions for a screen door that will not cover up the half-blocked arched window (to be replaced with a stained glass window that is not half blocked) over the door?

Front door

As you can see, we have a little niche that the front door fits into. I've thought of various ideas including just screening off the whole niche with a removable screen setup. Or even deepening the doorway so we had enough depth for a door and screen door under the arched window. We get a fair amount of leeway on alterations to the doorway itself from the city because we're only on the provisional historical list, but I don't want anything outright offensive.

(A tip of the hat to Goldie and neighbor dog Beanie, who very politely sat mostly still while I took their picture. As you can see, as usual, Goldie was able to hold a pose for all of two seconds before she had to shift around.)

And while we're admiring how dirty our house is (hello, island breezes and sandy soil), here's another one.

I'd like to put some window boxes on the front bays. Should they go above or below the lip of the sill?

It'd be nice to see them from inside, but to be honest that is not the point of window boxes in this location. I figure I could attach them to the frieze zone under the sill, right around the sill height (much harder), or just set them on the sill (esy, but maybe a little sloppy looking?).

Window box location

Of course, if we put them below I can avoid having to come up with replacement dot medallions for the bay for quite some time.

Now, the biggie.

Is it a bad idea to drop a ceiling we just spent so much time and energy raising?

We're going to eventually redo the upstairs bathroom. I'd like all the plumbing to be hidden inside of walls, instead of on the outside of the house as is common around here. It's a tidiness thing. Anyway, I'm thinking that this back section of the hallway might allow me to put in a slightly dropped ceiling (maybe 8" altogether) to accommodate the shower drain, so I have one drain from the bathroom instead of two.

Back hall ceiling

I hadn't thought of it until we took down the dropped ceiling from before and found the archway in the middle of the hall. But now I think that would be a natural place to put a slightly lower ceiling (not as low as it had been, of course). And that would save me a lot of plumbing, both in terms of the cost of pipes themselves, and in terms of time spent putting pipes in.

It also occurred to me that having a slightly lower ceiling there right by what will be the door to the side porch when we get around to moving it, will actually make a lot of architectural sense, and give you a sense of entry in a space that will be otherwise kind of weird.

Who thinks this is a terrible idea and will lead to my eternal damnation?

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posted by ayse on 07/31/09


As much as the concept pains me on general principles, I think this would be a fine place to lower the ceiling a bit. Definitely worth the reduced hassle in plumbing.

Re the front door--how about making the panels in the door hinged or removable and setting the screen in there? I just got a flashback from Young Frankenstein, but you know what I mean!

It is hard to tell from the picture but could the black gunk be mildew? In anycase, on the off chance that whatever it is might be alive, I would try bleach. Also for the screen door you could try those instant drop down screens. They aren't beautiful but they seem to work. Also I would just try the window boxes out on top first and see how they look, or maybe post pictures.


Home Depot has custom screen doors for an awesome price. I have a Queen Ann with double door front entry and we wanted to do the same thing. The doors fir perfect and look original after adding some hardware

Shannon, the question is not where to buy screen doors (Home Depot doesn't carry anything remotely appropriate to the Italianate style, but plenty of places do), but how to install them without blocking the arched window. I'd really like to not have to entirely rebuild the door frame, but I think that's going to be the only thing that will work.

I'm not sure what the material on the columns might be - here in the south, I've seen 100 year old heart-pine beams continue to ooze resin/sap even after all these years. Could redwood possibly do the same thing? As for the screen doors, could a shallow frame be added around the doors, with a shelf added below the transom (along the transom bar) to hold the new screen doors? I've seen that done before and doesn't look too obtrusive. It would also be easily reversable, if you (or a later owner) ever wanted to remove the frame. On the window boxes, I'd definitely mount them below the moulded trim at the sills - maybe you could plant a combination of trailing plants and upright flowers that would allow you to see some from inside. Finally, on the ceiling question, don't worry about lowering it some to hide the plumbing lines. Sometimes it has to be done - its in a place that is isolated, and I doubt it will even be noticeable. Its just one of those things that has to be done (but kudos to you for being concerned about it...the house is lucky to have you guys!).

Attaching the window boxes under the sill may provide a more finished look. As for the ceiling with the beautiful arch you uncovered, it sounds like the pros for lowering the height and concealing the plumbing might outweight the cons. Best of luck with your projects, the columns and screen door!

We have a home built in 1906 that has redwood columns on the front porch. We used Peel-Away to remove layers of old paints and after it was re-primed and painted we began to see black ooze coming out particularly when it was humid outside. We have been told that the tanins in the redwood did not take kindly to the peel-away and that the wood had not dried sufficiently. We re-stripped the paint, let it sit for 3 more months and re-primed and painted (with oil based only due to the tanins). It continues to ooze, just not so much. Ugh. If you solve it, let me know.

Oh, yum, Lori. We use a primer that has tannin blockers in it, but if this stuff is tannins, I can see that is not nearly enough.

Well, we already knew we had a lot of paint repairs to make. Kind of annoying, but what do you do when your painter turns out to have been a criminal?

We were told that you shouldn't try to seal the wood but instead let it dry for a very long time to get rid of the most moisture you can. It did help, we rarely see ooze now, but really? They couldn't have mentioned this BEFORE the paint went on??? Our painter had also done jail time and had a serious drinking problem to boot. Nice. I have become very handy with paint/wood filler and epoxy.

What is it with painters? It has to be the ease at which one can enter the trade.

What about those Phantom Screens? I haven't seen them in person, but from what I read, they retract and you don't see them.

Kathleen, the thing about those phantom screens is that they have to retract into a frame thing. That's actually quite bulky, but usually you can sort of hide it along the frame of the doorway. In this case, the frame thing would be really obvious.

As for painters, I have no idea. But everybody we know who's hired a painter has had a horrible experience, and it seems like half of those painters have turned out to have done time in jail. Maybe it's the fumes? A good argument for low-VOC paints if I ever saw one.

Note: We're getting pummeled with spam comments, so I've turned off the ability to use any HTML or include any links for the time being. Email with any issues.

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