Handyman on Call

Scaring off woodpeckers is the best approach

Q.I have been plagued by woodpeckers, who are making holes in my siding. I have hung foil pie plates from the eaves to no avail. Are there any preventatives other than shiny pie plates? Can you put this in the paper so others may benefit from your wisdom?


A. Glad to oblige, but it is the wisdom of an army of scientists who have been working on the problem for decades. A leader in this battle is the Cornell Ornithology Department in New York.

It boils down to deterrents such as the hanging shiny Mylar party streamers that will flash in the sun, startling the birds. Other hanging objects include a wind chime, if that does not drive you nuts. Big owl dummies on the roof may work for a while, but the birds are too smart to fall for them for long. But there is another product called Eagle Eye, which moves and seems to use its big old eyes to stare at the birds. If you use pie plates, use the solid aluminum ones, not foil. These will not only flash in the sun but will clatter in the wind, a good startling technique. Many of these items are brand-named Bird-X.


One more point: Install suet bird feeders in the area of activity to lure the birds away from the wall they are pecking at. Take the feeders down in summer, when the suet gets sticky, and can damage the birds’ feathers.

Q. My downspouts go directly into underground drywells, and they have worked for years but now may be clogged because I have dampness in my garage and breezeway. What can I do? Someone mentioned Roto-Rooter to open the lines. Would that work?

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HELEN, from Milton

A. I think the lines are clogged but that is only part of the problem. Your drywells may have filled with silt, and may need to be cleared and cleaned out.

Drywells are often attached to storm sewers in the street, by way of long lines. A specialist in drainage could open them, and so could Roto Rooter. But you can do something about the dampness in the garage and breezeway. Simply open windows to ventilate, to release all that water vapor that is condensing on the floor.

Q.The house I bought five years ago has an all-wood porch that pops and snaps in very cold weather. It seems steady, and brother, is it ever loud. I know that anything that gets cold, then warms up, makes some pretty wild pops. Any way to stop, or relieve those pops?



A. Yes, those pops can hurt, or at least startle you right out of your chair. It is warming and cooling that causes the pops, sometimes wetting and drying out, too. The bigger the board, the louder the pops. A large beam can crack from the wetting and drying, or warming and cooling. There is little chance of a cure unless you shorten the boards. If the boards are 2x6s, replace them with pressure-treated 1x6s that are actually 1 inch thick. Or, cut the existing boards in half, cross-wise, so they meet over a joist. Making the boards smaller can make a difference, as silly as that may sound.

Rust killer?

Here’s a trick from Jim, a reader in Dover, N.H., for battling rust in toilet bowls and other inconvenient places. It’s been a long battle:

We built our home 13 years ago and have a well. With it come unfiltered minerals and classic rust stains. I tried everything, including a pumice stone, with less than satisfactory results until, while shopping at Walmart, I spotted a Rubbermaid product called Acidic Toilet Bowl Cleaner. It worked like a charm. It took a few applications because the stains were so strong but they completely disappeared.

After that, when rust stains reappeared, we could get them right away with a quick application. It’s completely septic safe, too.

It appears that Rubbermaid has stopped making the product because I can’t find it anywhere, even after Googling it. But Home Depot has the same product made by Zep for around $4.50. Also works great! It’s a heavyish liquid that you apply around the inside rim of the toilet bowl right from the bottle and cover all the surfaces. Wait five minutes and clean it off with a brush.


JIM DODGE, Dover, N.H.

Q.I asked two plumbers how to bleed my forced hot water heating system - while the unit is pumping or not? I got opposite answers. What do you think?


A. I think it makes sense to bleed while the unit is pumping, which will purge the water better. Be extra careful, because pumped water will be hotter than the other.