Handyman on Call

How best to update finished basement?

Q. The finished part of our basement needs updating — the walls are dingy and the carpet is worn and smells faintly of cat urine. We want to paint the walls/ceiling and replace the carpet.

The walls aren’t painted but are covered by textured plaster. There are a few plaster patches where we had electrical work done, and the plastering doesn’t match. Can we paint over textured plaster? Will the patch jobs look funny? Or, should we get someone to re-plaster?

In terms of the flooring, we’ve never had a problem with dampness. We do run a dehumidifier in summer. Is there any special treatment/barrier that needs to go under basement carpet? Once the carpet is up, is there something special we need to do to get rid of the cat urine smell?


Finally, the woodwork (baseboards and trim around doors) is unfinished — pine I think. Paint it? Stain it?


in Natick

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A. For starters, dump the carpet and kiss it goodbye forever. I feel strongly that carpet does not belong below grade. I get this opinion from hundreds of callers who have had the same trouble. To get rid of the urine smell, there are lots of products in hardware stores; some work, some may not. With the concrete clean and dry, install large ceramic tiles with a thin-set mortar. Then you can put down area rugs.

For walls, you might be able to paint the smooth patches with a texture paint; if that succeeds you can paint the walls with latex wall paint. No primer needed.

For the woodwork, you can stain and varnish, or prime with a latex primer-sealer and finish with a latex eggshell finish paint.

Q. We have a very persistent woodpecker who taps on one section of our house every day. I can’t find any holes, but is there anything that I could spray onto the painted shingles to deter him?



A. If there are no holes, let him do his thing. For serious pecking, hang shiny silvery party streamers from the eaves, which will shake in the wind and flash in the sun, keeping him off. Next spring may bring more pecking, so you can re-hang the party streamers, and also put up suet bird feeders; the peckers might find the suet better than ground-up insects, which they might not be finding anywhere.

Q. I have a set of good-looking dining room chairs, but they are dull from wax buildup. How can I remove that dullness and restore the shine?


West Roxbury

A. Clean the wax, caused by too many applications of furniture polish, with paint thinner. (Try this on a less-visible spot first as a test). Then polish with a soft cloth. That is all the shine you will get, and it’s enough. Eschew the polish, or keep it down to once a year.

Another mouse deterrent

If you are bothered by mice in the house, Frank Regan of Tewksbury called with an idea that will help deter them. Stuff any holes you see, outdoors or in, with anti-static paper tissues. Two or three Bounce tissues in each hole will stop them. I don’t know why, Regan said, but they will not touch the tissues.

Well said, Frank, and thanks. After the deterring, on to plastic snap traps, which will finish the job.

Globe Handyman on Call Peter Hotton also appears in the Sunday Real Estate section.
He is available 1-6 p.m. Tuesdays to answer questions. Call 617-929-2930. Hotton ( also chats online 2-3 p.m. Thursdays. Go to