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Handyman on call

Practice patience when tracking down noises

Q. I have an old garrison Colonial, and recently I am hearing a rumbling sound in the house, maybe in the basement, a little like a car idling outdoors. It comes and goes. I had a new boiler installed recently. A plumber came over and listened and listened, and heard nothing. Are there any other ways to track it down?

JACK THOMPSON, ANDOVER

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A. Rumbling, groaning, pops, crackles, and other unseemly sounds are very elusive, and take a lot of patience to locate and identify. There are two things you can do: First, shut off all power in the house to see if any noises are electrically related. Turn the power back on and try this: Look for any tree branches that might have grown over and through electric, or any other, wires: cable, telephone, Internet. In any kind of wind or breeze, the branches will brush against the wires, and the sound is like a bass fiddle being played, low and rumbling, amplifying the original sound. Whether you find a sound or not, the branches should be cut to clear any wires because they are a hazard.

Q. In the course of doing some spring cleaning in our basement, I discovered a horizontal 21-inch split along the top of a 4-inch diameter cast iron sewer drain pipe. I did a test by pouring water into the split and letting it sit. It was still there 20 hours later. I have determined that the split does not go through the pipe wall. Can I repair the split with some type of epoxy or should I have a plumber replace the pipe? The house is over 70 years old and the pipe runs from a bathroom that is used most days but not our primary bathroom.

JON CASHER, BY E-MAIL

A. Since the cast iron pipe is a main drain to the sewer or septic tank, there is nothing under pressure, so you could have a plumber wrap a protective sleeve around the split and seal it, because any sewer drain should be sealed to prevent sewer gases from entering the basement. Or, have him replace that section with new cast iron or PVC.

Q. I had a Behr semitransparent stain applied to my deck, and the stain job resulted in many indelible white streaks. I called Behr and was told to strip it with Stripper #24, and clean with a conditioner before refinishing. Is that necessary?

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JANICE, FROM BILLERICA

A. More and more deck stains and more and more strippers and conditioners and cleaners are coming on the market, and the more they are foisted on the public, the more confused the public gets. So let’s settle that once and for all. Many wood decks, pressure-treated wood specifically, do not need any finishing and can be left to weather. Not everyone likes it, but it works. Other woods, such as mahogany and cedar, are resistant to decay, but not as much as pressure treated.

I don’t know what those streaks are, but you have to strip the deck to the bare wood. Use Citristrip, which is citrus based and pretty good because it can be hosed off. Then apply one thin coat of a semitransparent stain. My favorite is Olympic. It can be latex or oil. Only one coat is needed, because the stain penetrates the wood and preserves it; if you try a second coat, it will bead up and never dry properly. It will last 5 to 7 years. Colors are limited to earth colors. Clear preservatives are good, too, but will not last as long.

I have been yipping about this for 40 years, so it’s about time I stopped. Future questions will be answered personally.

Q. I am reluctant to replace my 70-year-old wood 6-paneled door, but I guess it’s necessary because of heat loss and leaks that I can see the outdoors through. It’s time to replace. My carpenter suggested a fiberglass door, and my son suggested a couple of small windows at the top. But I like what I have, black and solid (no glass), and no sidelights. How about steel?

MARY PICKERING, ARLINGTON

A. Fiberglass is good, is insulated, and is easily stained black to your satisfaction. Keep it solid if you like, but two windows near the top will make it welcoming and more friendly, and the two high windows will pose no security problem. Don’t buy steel; it is often the least expensive, but must be kept well painted to prevent rusting. You will not need a storm door on the fiberglass door, but you can keep your present combo storm-screen door to use as a screen door in summer.

Globe Handyman on Call Peter Hotton is also in the Thursday Styles g Section. He is available 1 to 6 p.m. Tuesdays to answer questions on house repair; call 617-929-2930. Hotton chats online about house matters 2 to 3 p.m. Thursdays, at Boston.com. Hotton can be reached at photton@globe.com.

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