Handyman on call

Q. For 20 years I have been planting up to 500 impatiens each year, in every color, and they have come through with all colors flying. Except this year, when animals, probably rabbits and chipmunks, devastated all but the red ones. I’d certainly like to know why.


A. I’d like to know, too. There is probably some kind of repellent mechanism or chemical in the reds. There is one repellent that might work on future plantings. It is Liquid Fence, which smells to high heaven and should repel both rabbits and chipmunks. Its odor is like coyote urine. It won’t hurt the plants.

Q. Now that my fledglings have flown from my big house, I am thinking of turning off the thermostat on the second floor to save on fuel. But the thermostat goes only to 50, and I’d like it to go lower. Can I get a different thermostat?



A. Call your heating dealer, who can put in a thermostat that goes to 40 or lower, and might be capable of shutting off. If your house is well insulated, the upstairs is unlikely to go under 40 degrees in most winters, although be sure to keep a wary eye on the upstairs plumbing.

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Q.I installed Bird fiberglass roof shingles in 1992. They failed in eight years, and I was involved in a class-action suit to get some money back. I then installed BP Emco organics in 2000. They failed in 12 years. What kind of shingles can I buy that will last as long as their warranty?

 Also, some of my storm windows leak water, and might have to be replaced. Is their leaking the fault of the soffit vents in the eaves just above them?


A. Bird and GAF were involved in a class-action suit for their defective fiberglass shingles. Bird went out of business, but GAF survived and is making much improved shingles. So look for any well-known fiberglass shingle makers, such as GAF and Owens Corning.

 Don’t blame the storm leaks on the soffit vents. The storms, being quite old, may have lost their caulking, so you can take them off, scrape off all the old caulking materials, and put a heavy bead of an adhesive caulk around the casing or the inside of the storm frame before reinstalling them. Two good adhesive caulks are PhenoSeal and PolySeamSeal. Another reason they leak is that the sash parts (two of them) are in the wrong position. The top sash faces outdoors and the bottom sash faces indoors.


Q.I installed Pergo flooring 18 months ago, and everything was OK until suddenly some sections are squeaking when walked on. What went wrong?


A. The Pergo might have come loose, so it squeaks when it moves. Call your installer to correct this. Or, if the Pergo was installed over a regular hardwood floor, the squeaks might be coming from the hardwood floor, which has dried out and contracted, losing its grip on the nails. This could be more serious, because the Pergo might have to be removed to allow the old floor to be nailed or screwed down permanently. Call your installer for that problem as well.

Q. I have used your advice on treating wood gutters with boiled linseed oil and something, but my wife threw away that part of your column. What is the other ingredient? I think I remember it was something like 1 to 3 parts of each.


A. It is 1 part boiled linseed oil and 1 part paint thinner (mineral spirits), not turpentine, which is more expensive and has a fierce, but not unpleasant aroma. Treat the gutters twice a year.

Q. My beautiful wrought-iron post is in good shape, but the lamp above it is a rusted shambles, and I can’t get it off to replace it. An electrician tried and failed. What can I do?



A. Try using WD-40 to get between the post and the lamp base. That is unlikely to work, so find a metal worker, one who builds iron railings and other outdoor beauties. He might be able to cut it off.

Q. I need a new roof, a new overhead door in my garage, and outdoor painting of my house. Do I need a general contractor for these projects?


A. Probably not, if you can handle each project with an individual professional who is prepared and trained properly. For the door, call any overhead door company. For the roof, call an experienced roofer, preferably more than one that you can choose from. For the paint project, call an established paint contractor. Or, join Angie’s List, a clearinghouse that can suggest contractors .

Peter Hotton is also in the g section on Thursdays. He is available 1-6 p.m. Tuesdays to answer questions. Call 617-929-2930. Hotton ( also chats online 2-3 p.m. Thursdays. To participate, go to