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Handyman on call

Hints for handling slippery steps, mystery leaks

Q. I remodeled my 1926 Cape style house in 2005 and had a screened porch built, using heavy (3/4 inch) cedar shakes on the shallow roof. Since then, whenever it snows, I have a small leak, which no one can find until one man said the roof would have to be partially removed to find it. I don’t want to do that. The leak stops when the snow melts, and when water enters, it falls harmlessly on the bluestone floor, and it is not a bother. Alternatives?


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A. The only alternative is to reroof with asphalt shingles or rubber roof. The heavy cedar shake roof is way too big and cumbersome on a shallow roof, even though it looks good if you can see it. But it’s not worth doing that because the shakes are prohibitively expensive.

 Since you are not discombobulated by the leak, live with it. The leak might even go away some day but will not get any bigger if it doesn’t. Since the roof has a cedar saver ventilating layer under it, it will far outlast you. Perhaps your great grandchildren can appreciate it some day. But goodness, don’t walk on it.

Q. Help! My plants are being devoured by a herd of deer. Is there any way to keep them at bay? Also, I have stored rock salt in its original plastic lined bags, but it always cakes up, from moisture. How can I keep it viable?


A. You can try any number of deer repellents on the market. Google has many, all claiming to work, either contact or environmental. Heavy netting might work, but deer can tear it off because most netting is for birds. To keep rock salt from caking up, store it in a plastic bucket with a sturdy plastic cover, then seal the cover with Gorilla tape.

Q. I have a leak at the seam of my copper gutter that resists fixing. I had it resoldered, without success. Now what?


A. Try this: Slather the inside of the gutter with roofing cement (heat it carefully if it’s too cold outdoors), several inches on each side of the seam. Press heavy-duty aluminum foil into the cement, and slather cement on the top.

Q. I have to restain my board-and-batten house because the natural wood waterproofer has worn out. What should I use that is better than that clear stain?


A. Those clear stains are not stains at all, but are clear preservatives, which usually last only three years. Now you can ­apply a semitransparent stain of the earth color of your choice. Only one coat will look good for seven years. Wait for warmer weather to do that.

Q. During the humid summer of 2011, I stained my deck with Cabot’s semitransparent deck stain, which I had previously used. Since then, the deck and privacy walls have been dirt magnets. I don’t believe that it is mold; detergent and water does as good a job as bleach. It always comes clean, but collects dirt very quickly, almost as if it’s sticking. Could this be a result of not drying properly, because of the humidity? Is there a cure?

 One more question: My new steps are, what I believe the mason said, limestone, and very slippery, especially with the smallest bit of snow or ice. What is safe to use on these?


A. I think you applied the stain too thickly, and it did not dry well enough, or dried too soon before penetrating the wood. You have two choices: Wait several years for the stain to wear off, then apply a single light coat of stain (or Olympic). Or, sand the deck and apply one thin coat of semitransparent stain.

 For those slippery limestone steps, the mason might be able to sandblast them to be rougher and less slippery. Or, apply step treads made of rubber to simulate wrought-iron grilles. In the Improvements Catalog, 800-642-2112.

Q. I have about a dozen old cast-iron pans that I use regularly, but they’re all full of gunky buildup, mostly on the outside. How to strip the gunk off and re-season them?


A. Fill the sink with a strong detergent and water and soak the pans for at least a day, then scrub off the gunk with Brillo pads. The inside will be good enough to season. Add a few drops of olive oil on the pan and swiggle it around so it covers the bottom. Then bake in a low heat until the oil is gone. If the oil starts to smoke, turn off the heat and ventilate the room, and take the pan outdoors.

Peter Hotton is in the g section on Thursdays. He is available 1-6 p.m. Tuesdays to answer questions. Call 617-929-2930. He ( also chats on 2-3 p.m. Thursdays.
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