Handyman on Call

Don’t paint fireplace bricks, it’s hard to remove

Q. Our daughter lives in an arts and crafts bungalow that has been extensively modified over the years. She is installing a gas fireplace in the living room. The surround is tapestry brick with extruding buttresses at the top next to the mantle. The mantelpiece is much undistinguished and needs either some tarting up or to be replaced.

 The real issue is the tapestry brick. My daughter wants to paint it off white. I have a concern that it will not take paint well, leaving blotches and tiny holes that will show through the paint. I say it should be painted black and the imperfections will show a lot less.

 Paint or not paint? White or black? Mantelpiece, tart up or new?


John G., by email

JOHN G., by email

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A. Ah, the perennial conundrum of painting brick. Never, I say, never, for two reasons. 1) There is a place in hell for people who paint bricks because it is hell to remove. 2) Tapestry bricks are handsome and historical. My old high school in Michigan was built of tapestry brick and marble or granite trim. When it came time to replace it with a one story ticky-tacky flat box, the town fathers didn’t even try to save it, and left a field where it once ruled supreme.

 I think it best to work around that brick with a new mantel (piece). There are 14 pages of mantelpieces of all designs in the Brosco catalog. Go to any lumber or big-box store for the catalog, and take your pick.

Q. Our house was built in 1963 with electric heat. The original owners installed wood stoves to supplement it. We had a forced hot air, gas furnace installed 20 years ago. The installer wrapped all the ductwork (rectangular ducts) in the basement with insulation that has a smooth, gray covering outside. It’s dirty now but still tight at all joints.

 Ductwork to the second floor used the backs of closets and cupboards. Two ducts go up through the back of my husband’s first-floor closet. He cut Styrofoam to fit as best he could and wired it onto the ducts. For years, it has seemed that his closet is warm but the rooms above are downright chilly. I’d like to get something like the wraps in the basement so that the ducts will be more tightly covered and the heat in winter, central AC air in summer will better travel upstairs. Where can I find this?


Mary Tajima


A. You can wrap everything that is not insulated with duct insulation, rolls of ­fiberglass backed by gray vinyl, like what you have in the basement. Take off the Styrofoam, buy the duct insulation at a big-box store or heating contractor. Cut the insulation to fit over the duct pipe (round or square), then wrap the insulation around the duct until its ends create a standing seam, then staple that seam with a gun that staples on itself. These staple guns are sold in hardware stores.

Q. I live in a Colonial built in 1963, we are the second owners. If you look at the hearth it has either raised up from the hardwood about 5/8ths of an inch or the floor has sunk; I can tell as the mortar is 5/8 of an inch off the floor. My first floor is level as is the hearth. When I moved in and took the paneling off this wall I found substantial gaps in the drywall along the seams. I patched those with plaster of Paris, painted them and they looked great for awhile.

 The issue now is that the wall above the mantel is protruding and has cracked, and I would say that the protrusion is out about 1.5 to 2 inches from what it should be. I had a mason look at it and tell me the chimney has not moved at all that it is rock solid, and is not leaning or pitched improperly. The chimney has a wood stove insert in it with a liner that was installed around 2007. I am nervous about removing any plaster to see what I might find. I suspect that this is simply not replacing wall board. What might I expect to find?

Jay Giordano, Burlington

JAY GIORDANO, Burlington


A. Yes, the masonry is rock hard and in good shape, which means part of the wall is messed up. It sounds as if the drywall was put up rather sloppily because paneling was put over it. Also, the floor dropped evenly, so you can put in more mortar to fill the gap.

 Now, take off the drywall to determine the condition of the studs (vertical posts). They might have bent inward under the weight of the second floor, or for a number of reasons. If you can’t figure out a cure, then have a renovation contractor figure out the problem and make repairs.

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 Hotton’s e-mail is