Handyman on Call

Do wall and slab problems mean garage must be rebuilt?

Q. My yard is often pretty wet, and my old two-door garage has a fairly deep stone foundation. Over the years the front ends of the two wood-framed side walls have moved 6 inches apart, wider than the original. How can I fix that? Also, the concrete slab has broken up. How can I replace it? A structural engineer said I would have to rebuild the garage.


A. I don’t think you have to move the foundation, but only the wood framed walls. If there are 3 inches of space on top of the foundation inside, you can move one wall to see if it will work. Otherwise, you may have to take apart all or part of the wall and move it that way. And that may mean the engineer is right. You may have to hire a professional. The kind of professional to hire is a renovation contractor who specializes in fixing old, beat-up houses and fixing past screw-ups.


As for the slab, it was poured inside the foundation, so you have to break up and dispose of the concrete and lay in a new slab. This should be done by a concrete specialist.

Q. I live in a big condo project, and all the condo owners were told recently by a lawn company that most of the townhouse yards are infected with the artillery fungus. The fungus lives in the wood mulch around the foundation and shoots greasy, moldy spores against the vinyl siding, as high as 15 feet. To clean off those spores and replace the mulch with hickory mulch, which is resistant to the fungus, would cost $40,000. Isn’t that kind of high?

ANN, Westford

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A. That sounds high, but let’s do the math. The company will treat all the townhouses, even though some do not have the fungus (they probably will, sooner or later). There are 110 condos to treat, so that comes to $364 per unit. That is a very good buy. One change I might suggest: Instead of the hickory mulch, use a medium-size stone mulch. Such a mulch can be moved to allow plants to be put in.

Q. How can I clean and refurbish my wooden kitchen cabinets? They still look good stained and varnished, but are getting a bit tired looking.

A. Sand lightly, roughening the varnish but not cutting into the stain. Clean with Spic and Span and water, let dry, and apply two or three coats of a water-based polyurethane varnish.


Q. We have lived in our house for almost 30 years. We have forced hot air heat and have never had the ducts cleaned. I have noticed myself sneezing quite often and some dust accumulating outside some registers, especially on the tiled bathroom floors. Should they be cleaned now? How often should this be done?


A. I have never seen any official frequency to clean ducts, except from the cleaners of ducts, who would love to do your ducts every year. Standard filters on ducts can catch much of the dust, and electronic filters even more, so doing it every five years is good. Foreign objects in ductwork include dead critters that tend to smell, and mold, which is smelly and can be dangerous. A cleaner can handle mold without introducing too much bleach to the ducts. The problem with ductwork is that a small source can cause an odor to be distributed to the entire house, so cleaning is a good idea. Dust and dust mites are among the most common allergens around, which are two more reasons for cleaning ducts.

Q. My dad is having his house painted, and the painter already scraped and primed. We paid him $1,000, but when he sanded around four big picture windows with a rotary sander, he scratched a wide area of glass. The windows are 6 feet long and 4 feet high. What do you think we should do? One of the biggest problems is a severe language barrier, where the principals (the painter and my dad) simply don’t understand each other. The windows are double glazed, and I found someone who would put in new ones for $400 each.


A. First priority is to find an interpreter. The painter knows he is liable, and if he does not pay for them, here is a compromise that can work. You can pay for the windows, if the painter does not, then persuade the painter to do the final coat(s) free of charge.

Q. I installed several replacement windows, and now the sun is reflecting off them and hitting my neighbor’s vinyl siding, warping and melting it. What can be done?


A. A Google search had lots of info, but no clear solution. Adjusting the angle of the new windows can work, but who wants lopsided or funny angled windows? Re-siding the neighbor’s wall with fiber-cement siding that is resistant to the heat will also work. Finally, contact a window tinting company which may have film that would reflect less heat.

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
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