handyman on call | Peter Hotton

Cellulose may put end to ceiling condensation

Q. I live in a home that has plaster on metal lath ceilings. Our dining room is below two bathrooms and, over the years, we have had to touch up areas that are under the bathrooms. Although there is no obvious leakage, I suspect that there could be some condensation. I have considered placing drywall (plasterboard) over the existing ceiling in order to solve this problem. I have also considered using Blueboard and Greenboard, but I understand that these would be more involved and expensive. Should I also consider placing a vapor barrier in between the existing ceiling and drywall? What are your thoughts?




A. The space between the bathroom floors and dining room ceiling is quite cold, and I think any moisture can condense, not showing actual leaks but wetting the metal lath and plaster underneath, as indicated by small stains which you have treated. Your ideas may work, but I think it is best to have cellulose or fiberglass blown into that space quite compactly, keeping it warm enough to prevent condensation. Or, cut a few small vents in the ceiling, allowing house air to enter that space, perhaps, preventing condensation.

Q. I let a scarf get too close to the glass of my gas fireplace insert. The material burned on the glass. Do you have any cleaning suggestions? I have tried warm water and glass cleaner for stove, grill, and hearth suggested by the company where we purchased the gas insert.

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A. If the burned area does not feel rough, try Easy-Off or foaming oven cleaner. If that doesn’t work, try TSP solution, or paint thinner (slow). If the area feels rough to the touch, try scraping carefully with a razor-blade scraper, or rubbing with Mr. Clean Magic Eraser.

Q. I own a house that is about 150 years old; 35 years ago I put an addition on three stories high. The heating is forced hot air by gas. I think I have one or two vents on the first floor, but the first-floor room gets cold. The heating man did not put in a return for that room, adding that I can use the entire room as a return. What would you recommend?



BOB, sent by e-mail

A. What is happening: The furnace is pumping warm air into the room, but with no return duct there is no place for the warm air to go. Put a return in the floor at the opposite side of the room, and I think things will improve.

Q. My house has old aluminum siding, which needs painting or replacement. I have gotten rough estimates for painting ($4,000 to $5,000), and my neighbor had his similar house re-sided for $14,000 to $15,000. The roof will also need replacing soon ($6,500), but my bigger issue is the painting, as it is really mildewed and weathered. Is re-siding worth the investment? I am a single homeowner, but willing to make the proper investment. My brother suggested making a deal with a local metal salvager to have them take the metal and pay me for the materials, as a way to reduce costs. Do you think that’s a good idea? Also, is it a better idea to paint/re-side the house before OR after I get a new roof?


PAT WOOD, Albany, N.Y.

A. Sand and repaint and do it again in five years, if you are likely. The idea of selling the aluminum is appealing, because it will reduce the cost of re-siding. If you re-side, I suggest you choose Cedar Impressions, which looks like painted shingles and is the best of vinyl siding. Have the roof done first.

Q. I have a question about aging homes. My house was built in 1930. The house has had many repairs over the years, and my wife and I are starting to think it may not be worth it to keep fixing it. Problem is, I do not have the skill set to fix the house, so we have to pay someone. We cannot afford a new house. So I was wondering what your advice may be, to stay and keep fixing the house, or to try for a newer home, which may have issues of its own?



A. Yes, still another dilemma. But there is hope from the Handyman, with this idea. Why not put the house up for sale. It might take a while, but a handyman could find it a good thing to fix it up. A sale will give a good start on another house that you can afford. It’s the only way to avoid all the repairs that you don’t know how to make. Another idea: Stick with the house and buy a handyman’s book.

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 or e-mail Hotton also chats online 2-3 p.m. Thursdays on
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