Q: I want to do some interior repainting, but the ceilings have dark stripes on them that I was told are caused by burning candles and my wood stove. The stripes don’t seem to wash off. The stripes coincide with the locations of the ceiling trusses. The attic is well insulated. What really causes these stripes and if I repaint, will they be a problem?
A: The dark areas are often called ghost stripes and they are not unusual. The basic cause is moisture that collects along the underside of ceiling joists or trusses, and sometimes along wall studs.
The moisture is condensation that collects, usually in winter, because the joist areas have less insulation than the cavities surrounding them. When soot and dirt land on the moisture, it sticks there and creates the stripes.
There are several things you can do to help prevent the stripes from forming. One is to reduce the relative humidity in your house, which should be no more than 50 percent; this will help prevent condensation.
Also, stop burning candles. If you must use the wood stove, make sure it is properly vented and kept clean. Finally, you can try to improve the insulation over the truss areas.
Ghost stripes are often difficult to remove and repainting is a good option. If you repaint, first apply a coat of stain-killer primer such as Bulls Eye 1-2-3 or Kilz to the affected ceilings or walls. The stain killer will prevent the stripes from bleeding through the finish paint.
Q: For the past few years wrens have made nests under the eaves of our house. By the time we get to the nests, they usually have baby birds and we don’t have the heart to move them. We think they are causing bird mites in our house, and the mites have a painful bite. How can we keep the wrens away and what can we do about the mites?
A: If possible, put a few wren houses at some distance from your house. You can buy these small houses, ready to use, at many garden centers.
Another strategy that should keep the birds away from the eaves is to staple fine screen over the eave areas to block entrance. Be sure to use fine screen, such as vinyl window screen, because small birds can become trapped in a coarse screen.
Screening should be installed in late fall after the birds leave the nests or in early spring before nest-building starts.
If you see bird mites in your house, wipe them up with a damp cloth or paper towel. If possible, put a few of them in a plastic sandwich bag and have them examined by an experienced exterminator to make sure they are actually bird mites. They are tiny and not usually a serious health hazard, but their bites are annoying.
Dispose of cleanup cloths or tissues outside the house.
Q: Some paint was spattered on my furniture when the walls were painted. Is there a way to remove this?
A: There are strong solvents that would easily take off the spatters, but they would also remove the underlying finish. That leaves you with some milder remedies you can try, but if none of them works you might have to get the pieces refinished.
The spatters are probably latex paint, which is somewhat easier to remove than oil-based paint. Solvents such as mineral spirits might also remove some of the gloss; waxing will usually restore it.
First, try rubbing a spot briskly with a clean cloth soaked in warm water. Try to saturate the spatter to soften it. Then try scraping carefully with a plastic scraper to see if you can dislodge any of the paint.
If this doesn’t work after a couple of tries, use rubbing alcohol instead of water. Again, make several efforts before giving up.
If the spatter is still intact, use mineral spirits (paint thinner) and rub gently with very fine (4-0) steel wool. Mineral spirits and alcohol are flammable and good ventilation is needed.
Before you try any cleaner or solvent to remove the spatters, test it on an inconspicuous part of the item to make sure it doesn’t harm the finish.