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Handyman on Call

House mysteries: Noises in the attic and dusty residue on the floor and steps

Q.I have been bothered by a cricket noise, or at least a noise like a cricket, for 19 years. It’s in the attic, and I replaced an attic exhaust fan three or four years ago, then took it out. It’s still happening. It often happens when the wind is blowing, and often at night. Do you know what it is, where it is, and is there anything I can do?

Adelle Rabinowitz, Randolph

A. I don’t know anything, but I can give you a guess. Yes, I do know something, that crickets are unlikely to live 19 years, let alone give out a chirp that long. You have no trees nearby or power, phone, or cable wires that are likely to rub against any tree branches. I looked up cricket in Google, and noted a lot of info, but still don’t know how long they live. Incidentally, there are 900 kinds of crickets. But your chirper is not a real-live insect.

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You are hearing the chirps at night because it is quieter at night in the house. Remember, things that go bump always do it at night. Also, mostly when the wind blows. So, check out all metal louvers in vents in the attic. A loose metal vent can rattle in the wind. If you can’t tighten the louvers, install new vents.

Q.I had new red brick steps put on a new foundation, and they look great. But I am getting constant white powder coming out of the bricks and mortar. I sweep it up and even treat it with muriatic acid, and it comes back in a few days. The job was done by a mason. Is there anything I can do?

Disappointed

A. It’s called efflorescence, the leaching of the lime in the mortar. It’s a very common problem, and will recur as long as there is lime in the mortar. Ask your mason if he used a high-lime mortar; if he did, he might be able to chip out that mortar and put in a low-lime mortar or one made simply with Portland cement and sand, which contains little or no lime. I built brick steps with my father-in-law many years ago, and used a Mortar Mix made by Sakrete. My father-in-law was a mason and said that the Mortar Mix I bought was very good. The point is, I have never had efflorescence in the brick steps.

Red bricks contain no lime, so it is the mortar that is at fault.

You can save a bundle by replacing the mortar yourself, but it will cost you a lot of sweat equity. It is hard work, so do it early in the spring.

Q.Where can I get a brass headboard replated in the Boston area?

You are hearing the chirps at night because it is quieter at night in the house. Remember, things that go bump always do it at night.

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Paul Reardon, in Hotton Chat Room

A. Try this first: Put a magnet to the brass. If it sticks, it is brass-plated steel. If it doesn’t, it may be solid brass, and all you have to do is polish it. This may not work; if the headboard is a hollow tube, it might be covering a steel frame, and the magnet will stick right through to the brass. Whatever the situation, you can find these companies: E. Ciardi Co. of Braintree, New England Brass Refinishing in Brockton, and Metal Finishing of Lynn. Others are in the Yellow Pages under brass refinishing or similar titles.

A cure for oak board holes

When Carol Stewart of Newton asked about tiny holes in her engineered solid oak floor, but only in one board, the Handyman guessed that moisture on and under the board could have caused the holes. Two readers e-mailed to suggest that it was powderpost beetles, and sure enough, the Handyman acknowledges that he was wrong.

Wrote Margaret Doris: Powderpost beetles can make their way out of lumber long after it’s been dried and milled. The fact that the damage was not obvious when the floor was first installed, and is confined to one board, lends some support for this idea. Finally, it’s possible that the holes were old insect damage, discovered and filled before the board was installed. The filler may have dried up over time and come loose. I rather like the first idea better, though Ms. Stewart may not.

Wrote David Doyle: Did you consider powderpost beetles? I have an old house and many of these critters. If I leave a board in the shed near the house (oak, cherry, pine, beech, and probably anything else), tiny holes soon appear with fine sawdust as well. On a floor, the sawdust would probably be less noticeable due to traffic. How to kill the beetles is another matter.

Thank you, Margaret and David. If any beetles are seen, fill the holes with bleach or paint thinner to kill them. Mr. Doyle called the sawdust fine. It is so fine that it looks and feels like powder, hence the name of the beetles.

Globe Handyman on Call Peter Hotton is also in the g section on Thursdays. He is available 1-6 p.m. Tuesdays to answer questions on house repair. Call 617-929-2930. Hotton (photton@globe.com)also chats online about house matters 2-3 p.m. Thursdays. To participate, go to www.Boston.com
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