Mail brings cheaper ways of living with formstone


Removing formstone is usually an issue for owners of brick rowhouses, but some time ago we got a letter from the owner of a frame house that had been covered with the concrete-like substance applied like icing and carved into stone-like blocks.

Since formstone is not an original surface, we're strong advocates of removing it, and restoring the surface underneath.

That's usually fairly easy in a brick dwelling -- unless the formstone was applied over soft brick or over a large crack.

The frame-house owner wanted to restore the home's Victorian look. Since trim and other protrusions are usually hacked off when the formstone is applied, considerable damage could have been done to a frame house when the formstone was applied. And that means restoring the original siding, our recommendation, could be an expensive and arduous undertaking.

A pair of readers from Baltimore wrote to suggest simpler -- and cheaper -- ways to deal with the formstone:

* Paint window frames and other trim an authentic period color.

* Replace formstone-covered porch supports with wooden ones, for a more period look.

* Use reproduction gingerbread trim accents judiciously.

* Replace plain glass with stained glass in door lites and/or upper sashes of front-facing windows.

* Use of appropriate porch furniture and planters to create a period ambience.

All these ideas are fairly inexpensive (though custom stained glass can be pricey), and fairly easy. Of course, you'll still have a formstone house.

Some other items from the mail bag:

Unless you're Clark Kent, you have probably had these problems some time in the course of house repairs: you need to find a stud in the wall, to hang a mirror, picture or shelf; or you need to locate a duct, pipe or conduit, to track its path through the house.

Two new devices make these tasks easier. From Zircon Corp. comes the StudSensor Pro, a hand-held electronic tool that beeps and flashes a light when it reaches the edge of a stud. Zircon says it can detect objects through 1 1/2 inches of solid oak. The device costs $29.95.

For more information, call (800) 245-9265.

ABCO Electric has just introduced the Duct Finder, a battery-powered device that uses a magnet to locate pipes, ducts and conduits. You attach the device at the point where the object to be tracked disappears into a wall, floor or ceiling. When you turn it on, the device emits a pattern of sound and vibration that resonates along the particular duct. You trace its path by walking through adjoining rooms and identifying where the sound is loudest. The Duct Finder costs $24.95. It's obtainable by mail: Call (216) 831-6068.

Finally, here's some good free stuff:

*Georgia-Pacific building products is offering a brochure with plans for a simple, attractive, peaked-roof garden shed that contains nearly 40 square feet of space. It's big enough for a 6-foot workbench. There's also an exterior hutch on one side for recycling, refuse or more storage. The brochure contains a materials list and has photographs to help direct the building.

For a copy, call (800) BUILD-GP, or write Georgia-Pacific, P.O. Box 1763, Dept. Garden Shed, Norcross, Ga. 30019.

*Velux-America, the window company, is offering a free video called "Light Entertainment" that offers advice on buying window products, placing windows in the home, and construction and installation tips.

For a copy, call (800) 283-2831, or write Velux-America, Dept. M, P.O. Box 5001, Greenwood, S.C. 29648-5001.

Mr. Johnson is a Baltimore construction manager. Ms. Menzie is a feature writer for The Sun.

If you have questions, tips or experiences to share about working on houses, write to us c/o HOME WORK, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St. Baltimore, 21278. Questions of general interest will be answered in the column; comments, tips and experiences will be reported in occasional columns.

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