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Build an aromatic cedar closet

Dear Ms. Builder: We just moved into an older house that has a cedar closet, but the smell is gone. How can we get it back. I also want to add another cedar closet in a bedroom addition. Any tips for us? - Bobbi J.

Dear Bobbi: There is nothing like the scent of clothes just taken out of a real cedar closet. This reminds me of my grandmother's home at Christmas. You can also be pretty certain that you will not find moth holes in your clothes. Moths hate a strong cedar scent and they avoid it.

The cedar scent is created by cedar oils evaporating from the millions of pores in the cedar wood. I bet your old cedar closet has lost it reddish color. Most of the surface oils have already evaporated out of the surface over the years and there also probably is a fine layer of dust on it.

To bring back the cedar aroma, vacuum closet walls. Lightly sand the walls with medium sandpaper to open new cedar pores and to allow the cedar oils to start to evaporate again. Never, never finish a cedar closet with varnish, urethane or any sealer. This coating will block the cedar scent.

If your old closet still does not have a strong enough cedar scent to satisfy you, you can treat the wood with natural cedar oils. These oil are available from Giles & Kendall (800-225-6738) and Cedar Fresh (800-763-9500).

Cedar Fresh also makes cedar moth balls, bags filled with cedar shavings, cedar shoe trees and cedar-lined storage bags. Columbia Forest Products (800) 237-2428 also manufacturers aromatic cedar veneer plywood and has local distributors throughout the country.

When you build your new cedar closet, make sure that you use to proper type of cedar wood. Aromatic eastern red cedar, mostly from the Appalachians, is the proper variety. Western red cedar, used for the construction of cedar homes, has very little scent at all.

There are three primary types of aromatic cedar that you can use for the inside of your closet. Solid cedar planks are the best, but they are also the most expensive. A lower-cost option is cedar veneer plywood. You cannot tell it from solid cedar inside the closet.

If your budget is really tight, and whose isn't today, choose cedar chip flakeboard. This flakeboard costs less than half as much as solid cedar planks and it is available in standard 4 by 8 sheets. This also makes construction much easier with lower labor costs.

The basic construction of a cedar closet is similar to any other closet with one exception. It must be well sealed (airtight). By limiting air leakage out of the closet, the aroma will last years longer without resanding. Also, the cedar scent will be stronger so there is a greater chance that it will repel moths.

To make the cedar closet relatively airtight, I often use an inexpensive, weatherstripped exterior door instead of a standard interior door. Install a spring-type door closer to make sure that you do not forget and leave it open.

Don't forget the threshold seal under the door. It is also very important to carefully caulk all joints and gaps at the corners, ceiling and floor.

Don't throw away your cedar scraps. When you store clothes for the season, store them in plastic bags with several pieces of freshly sanded cedar scrap pieces. Each season when you store more clothes, sand the cedar pieces and use them over and over again.

You needn't feel bad about using aromatic cedar wood for your closet. It is an earth-friendly building material. The trees grow relatively fast and the lumber companies have very aggressive replanting programs.

Send your questions to Ms. Builder, 6906 Royalgreen Dr., Cincinnati, OH 45244 or visit www.dulley.com/msbuilder.