Ask the Experts

How can you tell if your deck is safe?

Paul Daniele has run a home inspection business on the Vineyard since 1995.

Usually when decks collapse, it’s from overloading of people.

In 90 percent of decks, a ledger board is the method of attachment to the house. The board runs horizontally to the house and the deck joists attach to it. Improper attachment or a rotting ledger board can lead to trouble. If the ledger board is attached by nails, the nails can pull out or shear off or break the ledger board, which can cause the deck to collapse. This is one of the biggest factors in deck failures.

Depending on the age of the house, I look for rot-resistant wood. If a homeowner wants to see if the wood in their deck is rotting, go between the boards with a screwdriver and see if the joists are starting to rot, if there’s fungus or mold.

Theoretically, with pressure-treated wood, it does not rot. It will dry out and splinter, which is uncomfortable for bare feet. Keep it sealed with an oil-based or clear sealant. That will make it last longer and the boards won’t cup or make the nails pop, which also is uncomfortable for bare feet. All wood moves, but it moves less with a sealant. And it won’t rot. If the wood is not pressure-treated, it’s critical to seal it, except for mahogany and ipe, an expensive decking hardwood from the rainforest – people let it go gray.

Another issue is the railing, which should hold 200 pounds leaning against it. The “sleeper” part is that with one or two people, it’s fine; if you overload with a lot of people and any of the components are weak, then you’ve got a problem.

Typically use a 2-by-10 or 2-by-12 for a ledger board. It should not be nailed to the house. Use bolts or lag screws. The goal is to attach screws to line up with the joists inside the house.

The support columns should be on concrete footings of adequate size. Brace the columns at 45-degree angles to prevent sway. The taller the deck, the more sway and greater need for bracing and support. Most decks I see have adequate spacing and materials. Ten percent of decks are cantilevered, with one-third of the joist sticking out from the house. That’s ideal. Chances of collapse are extremely low.

How do you prevent mold in a basement?

John Jones has been in construction on the Island since 1990. He is self-employed and works out of Vineyard Haven.

Most of the time basements don’t need to be wet. But because of our location, we get humidity. You have to run your dehumidifier for six months a year.

The basement is pretty impervious, but if there is mold from water, it comes from the grade or gutter, outside circumstances. If the backfilled grade is not good or there are poor downspouts, that’s how you get water in a basement. If water’s there, you have to deal with it.

A block foundation is more porous than a poured foundation. You can tar up the outside, but that doesn’t always do the job. I’ve seen an ice and water membrane, a water barrier, or another pliable membrane for water protection. Put on this membrane and then a plastic bumpy corrugated layer to get water to run away from the house. Of course if you’re sitting in clay or on a hill, you may still have problems.

Most of the issues with mold come from a grade that is too low or a gutter too close, like within six inches of the foundation. It’s pretty obvious. Walk around and look at your downspouts. I’m one of those guys who’s against the plastic barrier inside. You can use Drylok [concrete] paint.

If you have mold already, how can you get rid of it?

John Gonnella is a mold remediation specialist with Oceanside Inc. in Hyannis, which does work on the Vineyard.

The primary goal is to stop the source of moisture. I won’t begin if I can’t find the remediation.

I would repair breaches to the foundation. Divert gutters at least four feet away from the house. Make sure your landscaping is pitched away from the house. Operate a dehumidifier from April to October, with an automatic pump-out, so the homeowner won’t have to do it. As a preventative measure in unoccupied houses, I suggest shutting off the water at the main.

If a customer has visible mold or a moldy odor, we bring in an air quality specialist to identify the type of mold and what the work entails. We remove wet building materials, such as sheetrock and wooden frames, and go in with a HEPA [high-efficiency particulate air] vacuum to remove the mold spores, then do a micro wash. We use a large intake fan to filter and trap the spores; this is called air polishing. Then we bring the air hygienist back for air sampling and inspection.

Mold is caused by masonry cracks, groundwater breaches, broken pipes, or extensive moisture due to high humidity. A faulty exhaust fan from a bathroom shower can cause mold in the attic.

In extreme cases we use a dry ice blasting to score surfaces to take off spore growth, then put on a latex sealer, which is an anti-microbial, to get into the wood.

How can you make your hydrangeas more blue?

Sara Alwardt runs Down to Earth, a garden maintenance and design business in West Tisbury. Farm Neck is her largest customer, with at least fifty hydrangeas.

The acidity in the soil can affect the color of the plant. Most people want their blue hydrangea to be bluer. Hydrangeas kind of do their own thing. It’s sort of hit or miss. Each plant has different colors. They’re unpredictable. I use aluminum sulfate to control the degree of blueness. You can get it at the hardware store or any nursery. It’s like crystal or pellets. I add it to the soil every three to four years. There’s different schools of thought on this. I’ve done it as often as twice a month. It won’t hurt the plant.

They say to mix it in the soil at the base of the plant at the root ball. All I do is just sprinkle it at the base of the plant, around the circumference, water it in. I do it before I mulch, so the water goes through. In a new planting, I put it in the hole to give the plant the sulfate, as well as the humus and manure. I add it right there.

I always work with ‘Nikko [Blue’] hydrangeas at Farm Neck. They have kind of a rounder ball, a true blue variety. Everyone’s hydrangeas are a basis of comparison. Some pink hydrangeas turn blue or purple with the aluminum sulfate. With any white hydrangea, I’ve had no luck changing the colors.