What Would Bob Do? Wallpaper, Vinyl Siding, and Asbestos

Bob Vila answers your questions about hanging wallpaper, cleaning vinyl siding, and removing asbestos-containing flooring.

1. HANGING WALLPAPER IN THE BATHROOM

What Would Bob Do? Paint vs Wallpaper

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Painting is easy and the result is resilient, but I can’t help thinking that painted walls are a little plain. On the other hand, wallpaper offers great designs and prints, but it’s a pain to install, at least in my mind. Also, wouldn’t bathroom humidity, over time, cause wallpaper to blister and peel? I don’t know how to apply wallpaper but am willing to learn.

Using wallpaper in a bathroom is fine, so long as you choose one that is washable and are able to prevent it from having direct contact with water. If your home is subject to dampness or high levels of humidity, avoid impermeable wallcoverings, such as those made from solid Type II vinyl, Mylar, or foil, as they can foster mold growth. Instead, ask your supplier to help you choose one of the many vapor-permeable wallpaper products on the market today.

Because there are so many interrupted surfaces in a bathroom, it can be a difficult space within which to learn the art of hanging wallpaper. Expect to cut around cabinets, outlets, plumbing and tiled areas. Buy a little extra material in deference to the little mistakes you’re bound to make along the way, and before you begin, prepare by watching a video or by reading a how-to about the process.

 

What Would Bob Do? Power Washing

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2. PRESSURE-WASHING VINYL SIDING

The Homeowners Association sent me a notice to remove the green algae appearing on my home’s vinyl siding…. I thought I’d hire a power-washing company, since I see some black dirt on the vinyl also. I have two different companies: One uses steam and one uses a regular power washer. Which one should I hire?

To clean vinyl siding, pressure washing with one of various detergents has been the method of choice for decades. However, there’s much to recommend steam cleaning. For one thing, it’s generally more effective than the more traditional approach. Plus, it involves no detergent runoff. Steam cleaning also uses less water and as a result, it carries less risk that water will get under the siding, where it can cause a host of problems.

Ask the steam-cleaning company about its warranty, insurance, references and equipment. To deliver enough steam to get the job done in a reasonable amount of time, the rig will most likely be housed inside a truck. That probably means the job will take longer and cost more, but for superior results, the added time commitment and expense may very well be worth it.

 

3. REMOVING ASBESTOS-CONTAINING FLOORING

I have a house built in the 1940s. We are getting ready to re-do the kitchen and have begun pulling up the vinyl floor (probably pretty new). Underneath it is at least one further layer of either linoleum or vinyl (big long pieces, not individual tiles). We are trying to get to the original hardwood floors. What is the possibility of asbestos being under that first layer? How do I remove it?

True linoleum, popular during the period when your house was built, has never contained asbestos. It’s always been made of natural ingredients, such as linseed oil, wood flour, and cork dust. But if the mystery flooring is an asphalt- or vinyl-based product from that era, asbestos may be found either in the material itself or in the adhesive used to install it.

Don’t panic, though! Unless the material is friable—that is, unless it crumbles easily—there’s not much to worry about. You could leave it in place as the underlayment for a new wood floor, assuming it’s non-friable. But if you’re intent on getting to the original wood floor, the safe course is to hire a professional trained in safe asbestos removal. Whatever you do, avoid aggressive techniques like cutting, grinding, abrading or sanding.