The oil vs. latex paint debate, and the browning of a lawn

Q. Which is more durable in the long run, latex or oil-based paint?

- C.T.,

Atlanta

A. The decision of whether to use latex- or oil-based paint depends on the surface being painted, says Richard Moalli, paint manager for Model Hardware in Allston, Mass.

Traditionally, oil-based paints had two significant advantages: Better adhesion to surfaces, and durability. But the new generation of acrylic latex paints available today are now just as adhesive and long-lasting. They also have several additional advantages.

Acrylic latex paints tend to have better color retention, fading less than oil paints. And with latex paint, cleaning and storage is easier as well; you can use soap and water to clean up after latex paints, while oil paints require a thinner or other solvent to remove.

But make sure to use premium acrylic latex paint, which is somewhat thicker than lower grades. Economy latex paints use fillers instead of only acrylic, which significantly reduces the quality and durability of the paint.

Q. We recently bought a house that had a nice green lawn. However, with winter approaching it is turning brown. Our neighbors say this happens every year. Apparently it is some African type. Is there any alternative than replanting a new type of grass?

- A.P.,

Bogota, N.J.

A. Grasses are divided into two types, says Judy Lowe, an award-winning garden writer in Chattanooga, Tenn. One is cool-season (such as bluegrass, rye, and fescue), which can go dormant in hot, dry weather and will green up again in fall. They're planted in the northern United States. Then there are warm-season grasses. These include Bermuda, zoysia, St. Augustine. They are normally planted in southern climes. In some transitional areas both fescue and warm-season grasses can survive, but, as soon as there's a frost, the grass (usually Bermuda or zoysia) goes brown and doesn't green up until hot weather. (Some homeowners overseed the lawn with rye in early fall. That will stay green until the next spring.) Ms. Lowe suspects that the former owner planted zoysia grass.

Cut out a sample of turf and take it to the local cooperative-extension service office (in New Jersey, it's the Rutgers Cooperative Extension). They will probably be able to identify it. They can also make recommendations, based on your location.

Readers: Pose your questions and we'll seek out experts on home repairs, gardens, food, and family legal issues. Send queries to the Homefront Editor, The Christian Science Monitor, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115 or e-mail home@csps.com.

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