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handyman on call

Try a tarp to keep mice from nesting in mower

Q. Several times when we store our tractor mower in the barn for winter, the mice seem to nest and eat the wires in the motor, causing expensive repairs in the spring. Surrounding the mower and motor with mothballs seemed to prevent nesting and damage for a few winters. But this spring, dead mice, wires chewed, etc. What do you recommend to keep this from happening?

MARILYN, BY E-MAIL

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A. I wonder if you could put a light tarp over the tractor with secured ends on the floor. Try putting heavy boards, maybe 4x4s, holding the tarp against the floor. Or, invest in an animal repellent called Stomp, an Ultra sound device that a caller who told me about it said works well. He bought it at an Agway store. Go to Home Depot or Lowe’s to see what they have to offer.

Q. I am trying to paint or stain a new fence. Should I prime and paint, or use a stain of some kind. The fence has red cedar posts and rails, with long white cedar pickets.

ISABEL SLOANE, GLOUCESTER

A. Why bother at all; the fence will weather to a light, then a little darker silver in a year or so and look like it’s a part of the landscape. The posts will last 30 to 40 years, just put them in the ground with no concrete. The pickets will last probably 50 years, except the parts that are close to the ground. In that case, just cut them short a bit.

Q. I have had gutter guards on my gutters for some years now. A gutter man said that gutter guards will collect a lot of snow in winter, causing damage to walls and ice dams, and I should take them down. I have not had ice dams in 20 years. Do my gutter guards have anything to do with absence of ice dams?

KAREN TOLOFF, CANTON

A. Probably not, but it does not matter. Keep the gutters guards; you will get snow buildup in winter whether you have gutters and/or guards. This is natural and when it happens water will flow over the gutters and drip far enough away from the gutters to be no hazard. Ice dams are caused by a warm roof. So, make sure your roof is cold. Which it probably is. Tell that fellow he is wrong.

Q. My 1980 house was built when builders had a habit of digging holes in the yard and burying large amounts of wood: tree stumps and other wood that would take years to rot away. I built a patio of concrete with reinforcing bars some years ago, and now the time has come for the wood to rot away, creating sink holes, one under the patio, which is showing cracks. How can I fix it?

One problem is the size of the yards, so I can only get a Bobcat near the patio.

STEVE

A. There are no really good ways to fill in under the patio. One is to prop up the patio and add filler (dirt, clean fill, or sand) under it to level and stabilize it. This is very iffy. The best idea is also the most expensive: take out the patio and excavate as much as possible to provide a filled in space that is level and stable. Then put in a patio of bricks or pavers set in sand, with no mortar. It will move with the changes in the earth.

Q. I have a new oak threshold under my front door. How should I finish it? Semitransparent stain, polyurethane varnish, paint?

ELIZABETH DEYO, NORTH ANDOVER

A. The only way is semitransparent stain. Only one coat is needed and it will last up to seven years. When it begins to look shabby, give it one coat. It will never peel. Polyurethane or any other varnish will fade and peel almost as quickly. Paint will do nothing but peel.

Q. Two of my skylights are leaking, but it is in the glass and frame, and not around the outside structure. How can I have them fixed?

WEST ROXBURY

A. If the skylights are flat, without the usual skylight dome, they are probably roof windows made by Velux. Call a Velux dealer, which should be able to install a replacement sash.

Q. Our 1800s house has “quarter-sawn” oak floors. What does that mean, and can we match new hardwood to that?

BEN, IN HOTTON’S CHAT ROOM

A. Quarter-sawn is done this way: The oak log is stripped of bark, then sawn in half, lengthwise, and each half sawn lengthwise. If you look at the end of a log, the sawing makes it look like a cross.

Flooring companies have, I’m sure, quarter-sawn boards.

Peter Hotton is also in the g section, and is available 1-6 p.m. Tuesdays to answer questions. Call 617-929-2930 or e-mail photton@globe.com. He also chats online 2-3 p.m. Thursdays at Boston.com.
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