Handyman on Call

A house-repair order of operations

Q. I need to replace my roof, re-secure stones in my foundation (hole is approximately one foot wide), replace leaking gutters, and repaint my house. I need others to do the work. Which job should be done first and in what order should others be done?

GUEST, in Hotton’s chat room

A. The size of that hole in the foundation indicates that it should be fixed first, especially if it allows critters and bugs to come in. It also sounds like a short project, so it can be gotten out of the way, leaving others that can be done over a period of time. So, after the foundation, replace the roof, and because of the leaks, the sooner the better. Then the gutters. Lastly, paint the house. When I talked to you in the chat room, I didn’t realize the hole in the foundation was so big. And that is why I made it the first priority.


Q. I had a carpenter install wood steps outside and he painted them with a gray deck paint. The paint is peeling and underneath the peeling paint is a yellowish coloring. I looked underneath the steps and I can see all the boards have yellowish coloring. Is it wax? How can I repaint the steps without the paint peeling? I plan to do this work myself. BY E-MAIL

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A. Paint almost never lasts very long on outdoor steps. So, you have to sand or use stripper to take off that old paint, right to the bare wood. That yellow color might be the chemical used to preserve pressure-treated wood, and you should wait six months to a year before treating it with any stain. I suggest that next year you use semitransparent stain, which will penetrate the wood and never peel. You can repeat the stain every five to seven years. But you have to wait until the wood and the chemical dry out.

If you know the steps are not pressure-treated, then go ahead and stain the wood right after you remove all paint.

Q. I recently washed my vinyl siding and it came out great. Now, I’m wondering if there is anything that I can put on the siding to keep it clean or cleaner, and to prevent mold or mildew from forming.

WALTER KLICH, Springfield


A. Originally vinyl siding was thought to be the be-all-and-end-all for siding, reducing or eliminating mold, algae, and other growths forever. Guess again! Vinyl is petroleum-based, and just the right food for mold to thrive on. Algae will stay around forever unless you clean it off. Mold is easily removed by an anti-mold solution or bleach and water. Sorry, you will just have to tackle these plagues as they occur.

Q. The ceramic tile floor was grouted right up to and over the kick plate at the base of my dishwasher. I need to pull the washer out for repair work, and was told to use a grout “rout” tool with a triangle shaped carbide blade to cut through the grout. Sound right to you?

CHUCK, in Hotton’s chat room

A. Sure does. There are a few grout rakes on the market, and the “rout” is as good as any. Be careful that you don’t break a tile or jar it loose.

Q. When I installed an attic pull-down ladder, the installer said everything looks good in the attic, with about 10 inches of insulation. I want to put down plywood so I can use part of the attic for storage, but I don’t want to compromise the efficiency of the insulation. How can I do that?SANDY, in Hotton’s chat room


A. Install 2 x 6 joists on the old joists and at right angles to the old, wherever you want to have the floor. Fill the space between the new joists with insulation, then install 5/8-inch plywood as a floor. You can put 24 to 48 inches of insulation on the rest of the floor, but be sure to leave the eaves free of insulation so any soffit vents will be clear for good ventilation.

Globe Handyman Peter Hotton is available Tuesday afternoons (1 to 6 p.m.) to answer questions on house repair. Call 617-929-2930. Hotton ( also chats online about house matters 2-3 p.m. Thursdays.
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