Q: When our basement flooded, we had a contractor pull up the carpeting and install vinyl tiles. He prepared the concrete floor by scraping up the rug glue that remained, and used commercial adhesive to put down the new tiles.

Some of the tiles do not lie flat against the floor; their edges bow slightly, creating a space that rises above the adjoining tile. This looks bad, and I expect that dirt — or water, when the floor is mopped — will eventually accumulate in the spaces.

The contractor says the floor is not even. Is there a way to correct the way this looks? Should some sealant or grout be used to close the spaces?

A: I assume you paid the contractor for this job.

In its do-it-yourself vinyl tile installation instructions, Armstrong says it all: "Make sure the floor you're laying over is clean, dry and flat."

I've done laminate, vinyl, wood, and ceramic tile floors and the first thing I've done in each case is make sure the surface on which each is installed is level. Otherwise, you are going to have problems, and you are.

What compounds the problem is that these are glue-down tiles rather than self-adhesive, which are easier to install and to fix.

With self-adhesive, you simply cut the affected tile, pry it up, and sand the glue. Glue-downs are embedded in mastic, which is tougher to remove.

The unevenness should have been determined beforehand and corrected with a leveling compound designed for use on concrete surfaces.

Vinyl tile is not designed to be grouted. You snap chalk lines and then you butt each tile up against the next.

Solution: It is a do-over.


Q: Anything I put on my back deck gets mildew on it every year.

I clean it with ammonia and water, then put on a new coat of stain about every two to three years.

Just wondering if there is anything else to do.

A: You can try a sealant, but if your back deck is on the north side where the sun doesn't shine very much, regular maintenance is probably the only answer.

I've tried many things over the years, but periodic "de-greening" and sealing is usually the best answer.


Q: I have a fine dining room table with a dark stain and the standard, I assume, urethane protective finish.

By mistake we placed on the naked wood hot plates without an undercover protection. The result is a series of three white spots. My guess is that the urethane coating blistered and turned white.