handyman on call

Good bets to keep birds from nesting in awning

Q. I have a large awning over a balcony, and it works very well in keeping my balcony shady. But when I close it, birds tend to nest in the folds of the canvas. Is there an easy way to keep them away?


A. One thing that many people have found to work is Liquid Fence, a foul-smelling concoction sold in some stores. If the smell gets to you, wash it off with a hose. Other deterrents: A bobble-headed owl (the moving head probably does more than the sight of the owl), one of those big balloons with a huge eye. Or, sprinkle perfume (the cheaper the better) on the awning.

Q. Something black is dripping from the connector joint in one of my gutters, and is making a black streak down the aluminum siding. I tried cleaning it with bleach or TSP cleaner without success. What is it and how can I clean that streak?

HELEN, Wakefield


A. I think it is some kind of tar-based product, such as roofing cement. If it is black, it is tar based or a material similar to tar. The gutter might be lined with roofing cement in an attempt to make them (and connector joints) waterproof. Check the inside of the gutter. There might be some roofing cement on the joint, so you can spread more roofing cement on it. Clean the excess material from under the gutter with paint thinner. Then clean the streak with paint thinner, which is the solvent for tar and tar products. You can also try Mr. Clean Magic Eraser.

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Q. Your column on incense cedar last week was interesting, so I started to research it, and finally found more sources for incense cedar and aromatic cedar, which are different things. Incense cedar is very pungent, is a true cedar, and is a good moth repellent. Aromatic cedar is Eastern red cedar, but is botanically a juniper, and a dull brownish red, and is good for repelling moths, but less so than incense cedar. So what is best to get?

IRENE, Belmont

A. I think I got that right. Best to get is incense cedar called Closet Liner or Drawer Liner, thin boards that can be nailed or glued to closet walls or to line drawer sides and bottoms. Another caller, Anne from Lexington, asked the same question, and the Handyman can safely recommend Closet Liner. Remember, most cedars (and junipers) repel moths, some better than others, and do not kill them or their larvae.

Q. There is a stain from a pot that has sat in a porcelain sink in a summer cabin all winter that does not seem to come clean with regular Ajax type cleanser. Can pumice stone be used on it, as has been suggested for toilet bowl stains, or would that harm the surface?


A. I think a pumice stone or pumice powder rubbed with a damp sponge will work well on the porcelain stain. Since both sink and toilet bowl are the same (porcelain), there will be no damage to either.


Q. During the Halloween storm last year a portion of our vinyl siding was torn off. I think it should be fixed and covered this summer with some similar vinyl. My husband says it doesn’t matter if we never do anything about it. I said it could cause mold to grow faster, I couldn’t think of any other reason; maybe critters getting in? Who’s right?


A. Oh, dear, the Handyman is on the hook again! Well, here he goes in with both front feet: You are right. It’s a very small hole, but I think it should be attended to. The problem with vinyl being torn off is that the area behind the vinyl will be subject to water during storms, and a possibility of more being torn off. And, being subject to water, mold will grow. It’s easy to replace. Home Depot and other stores carry vinyl siding; if it is white it can be painted to match the color of your siding, with a special paint for vinyl.

Q. I scraped primed and painted our chain link fence and it looks brand new. The only negative is the gate where it latches on the post. that leaves a dark mark on the shiny post. What can I do to prevent it? I was trying to find a clear plastic I can glue on the post and paint it? Any ideas?

MARGIE DOTO, Wakefield

A. You are expecting perfection in an imperfect world. Some things, such as the latch, create a lot of metal to metal contact, affecting the finish. Live with it, and be thankful for small favors in your successful projects.

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