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handyman on call

Bugged by humidity and spiders in basement

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Q. We recently moved into a home built in 1860 that has a basement with a concrete floor and rock wall/foundation. Humidity is an issue in the basement in the front part of the house. If I do not use the dehumidifier, it becomes musty and spiders galore. I would prefer not to use the dehumidifier. Will spray-foaming the walls help? Will opening the basement windows and using a fan help? How do we eliminate/control spiders?

PIO LOMBARDO

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A. Spiders are your best friends. You may not like them, but let them be because they are eating bugs all day, every day. If you did not have spiders, you would be inundated by bugs. Reducing humidity will help control bugs and spiders. Lower the humidity by opening windows for cross-ventilation and use an exhaust fan in one window. That is much less costly than a dehumidifier. If you use the dehumidifier, use it at half speed, or full speed for half a day. Spray-foaming walls or using Thompson’s will not help much, but you can apply Drylock, a cement-based paint, to the walls to help reduce water vapor infiltration.

Q. The doors of my painted corner cupboard have become warped and cannot be opened. Sometimes a closet door becomes sticky, but can be pulled open. The cabinet doors are immovably shut. Can you help?

ROSEMARY SUPKIS

A. The closet door and the cabinet doors have expanded from increased humidity, and will dry out and contract when house heat is applied in cold weather. You can work open the cabinet doors, and plane down the edges where they stick. Do the same with the closet door. When the wood dries out and the doors fit OK, paint their edges with oil primer and finish with a latex paint, which will help prevent a new invasion of humidity next summer. The warp may or may not fix itself when the doors are released from their closed position.

Q. We have a very damp dirt floor in our 4-foot-high basement crawl space. It has to be contained and corrected. Two experts recommended encapsulations with heavy plastic covering the entire floor and wall. The problem is the floor has many large and sharp rocks that can’t be moved. Is there some other way to correct the dampness problem? Our house is in Maine on the coast.

NORMAN, BY E-MAIL

A. The idea of encapsulation is good. To avoid those sharp points, I suggest adding sand to bury them so they will not puncture the vapor barrier, and perhaps knocking off the sharp points or covering them to prevent punctures. Ventilation and dehumidification are the other ways to reduce the moisture. Ventilation is iffy and dehumidification is expensive.

Q. My next door neighbor has asked me if I would mind if he painted his side of the cedar fence that is between our properties (technically it is all on my property, and I paid for it). He wants to paint it white. I don’t know what type of paint he is planning on using. Is there any reason for me to deny his request? I want to be neighborly, and as long as I don’t see it from my side I don’t mind if he paints it, unless there is some reason that painting only one side of a cedar fence is a bad idea. Can you give me any reasons why I might regret saying yes?

JAMES MAROHN, BROOKLINE

A. There is nothing wrong with painting a fence on his side, but he is in for a lifetime of peeling paint and scraping, sanding, and repainting. I suggest that you advise him to paint his side with a light gray semitransparent stain, which will not peel and will last for years, giving you both peace of mind. I also admire your neighborliness.

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 (photton@globe.com) also chats online 2-3 p.m. Thursdays on www.Boston.com.
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