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    Handyman on Call

    Vinyl isn’t the top choice for deck flooring

    No questions to start, as I want to say that I will be in the New England Home Show for the 46th straight year. If that is not a record of some kind, then I don’t know what is. So come on down to the World Trade Center in the Seaport District.

    Show days are Feb. 23-26. Hours are Thursday and Friday, noon to 9 p.m.; Saturday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Come on down and say hello. I’ll talk about houses and homes, fix-ups and screw-ups, triumphs and delights, food and books, music and opera, but no politics, religion, or organ recitals.

    See for lots more info.

    Q.I am having my front porch replaced, and the contractor gave me a lot of good things he will do, including Sonotubes (concrete piers up to grade with 6 x 6 posts supporting the porch, good-sized joists, fiberglass columns, Azek (solid vinyl) trim and railings, and other things that will be as maintenance-free as possible. But I am a little stuck on the flooring. I would like to use vinyl, but I fear it might be slippery when wet. What do you suggest?


    DAN, from Merrimac

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    A. Yes, a vinyl floor can be slippery when wet, but I don’t know of any surface that is not. I suggest you use the pressure-treated 5/4 boards, which are virtually pristine, with no knots or blemishes. While the trim is white, you can stain the treated boards with a semitransparent stain to go with your color scheme. Usually, it is a good idea to wait six months for the boards to dry out before staining them.

    Q.The exhaust fan on my range and microwave leads to a soffit vent, which works OK, but when it is off in the winter, the incoming air makes the microwave cold. Is there any way this can be fixed?


    A. Call the installer and ask him to put an insulated door in the vent that you can open and close as needed from indoors. It should be insulated with a good seal; a metal damper will not do. It is probably exhausting heated air, in addition to allowing cold air to enter. That is a lot of wasted heat. Another possibility is to eliminate the outdoor vent and let the fan blow its exhaust into the kitchen. When the fan is on, you can open a kitchen window, just a tad.

    Q. When I was in the attic in my house with the grandchildren, trying to balance on the floorless joists, my grandkids asked, “What are those dead white things between the joists, with wires going through them?’’ Are they dangerous? There is loose insulation under them, and also insulation that was blown in all my walls.



    A. Those dead white things are knob and tube wiring; the tubes are white ceramic, the knobs are connectors. They are not dangerous per se, because the wires are separated by a few inches, and are unlikely to cross or short out. The exposure of the wiring is also good, with insulation installed under it. It also may be disconnected, but that is for an electrician to determine. As long as the wires are not touching, and not gnawed by rodents, it is safe.

    If there is knob and tube wiring in the walls filled with insulation, they are a hazard if they are live. Have an electrician inspect them and check for wires are in the walls. They may have been disconnected and replaced with modern cable wrapped in metal, cloth, or plastic. If they are still in the walls, they must be disconnected permanently, without a chance of reconnecting.

    More on brass beds

    When the Handyman explained last week how to check to see if a brass bed is solid brass, plated, or a steel frame enclosed in an a tube of brass, Susan Grabowski called to say the information is not quite correct.

    Ms. Grabowski, who operated a brass bed store for years, said antique brass beds have steel frames with a thin layer of brass, you can see a seam on the frames, and magnets will stick to it. Other beds are brass-plated over aluminum, which Ms. Grabowski said is not good. Finally, newer brass beds are framed with solid brass tubes. “I thought I’d give you this information to keep the records straight,’’ she said.

    Q.Some of my pewter candlesticks have turned a strange brownish color. What can I do to restore them to look like other pieces, which look like new?

    BARBARA, from Harwich


    A. I think that is ordinary tarnish, and the pieces are quite old, which means the pewter contains lead as well as tin, so rust can occur. I think the brown is the color of rust. Polish them with a good pewter polish. Or, for a brilliantly polished pewter, use polishing rouge (sold in jewelry stores) rubbed on with a soft cloth. For dull finished pewter, use fine pumice powder and water, rubbed on with a soft cloth.