Handyman on Call

How can she get rid of a bird’s nest in an exhaust fan?

Q. My front steps are 8-by-8 railroad ties. They’re on the north side of the house, so they’re in the shade and don’t dry out after it rains. They get covered with moss or some other green stuff, but the real problem is that they’re very slippery. Do you have a solution?

FRED LEVY, Cambridge

A. Moss and that other stuff, algae, do contribute to the slippy-slidiness of the ties. Install heavy duty rubber stair treads with an open pattern that allows debris to settle in the openings; to clean, pick them up and sweep off the debris. The Improvements Catalog carries them. Go to or call 800-642-2112. It’s also a good idea to clean off the algae and moss, then treat the ties with a solution of one part bleach and three parts water. Let dry, rinse, let dry, and apply one coat of a semitransparent stain. The stain is a preservative that will resist the return of moss and algae.


Q. I recently discovered a bird’s nest in the exhaust fan over my kitchen stove. I usually hear them chirping in the early morning, but then the noise goes away. How would I take care of getting rid of it?

MARION, from Newton

A. That exhaust fan is exhausting to the outdoors, where presumably a flapper pops down when the fan is shut off. It may not be working well enough, so you can have a mechanic check it out. Better yet, install a screen at the end of the unit, just behind the flapper, to keep the birds out. Or, let the birds chirp. They will soon fly the nest and won’t be back until next spring. The trouble with that is that the nest might stay in the exhaust, blocking it.

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Q. We have a natural gas generator for emergencies. It’s pretty loud. How hard is it to build a fence around the unit to spare the neighbors from listening to it sometimes for days when the power is out. I need nine feet of fence (two 4-foot sides and one 5-foot front). I want to use white vinyl, maybe 3-feet high.

ANDY, in Hotton’s chat room

A. OK, it is not difficult, but build it 5 feet high; the higher sound goes up, the weaker it will sound. White vinyl is rather sterile looking. Instead, use pressure-treated 4-by-4 posts, pressure-treated 2-by-3 rails, and white cedar pickets, spaced ¼ to ½ inch apart. They will give a much more natural look and be hardly noticeable.

Q. Our gas cook stove produces carbon monoxide, which accumulates over time if it is on for a long time. Is a small amount of CO normal? If not, I assume the burner is out of adjustment. Is it possible that air flow into the stove is restricted by dust or a clogged filter so that gas cannot burn completely to carbon dioxide?

JIMCANT43, in Hotton’s chat room


A. All gas cook stoves produce CO, but usually not enough to be a problem. If the flame is blue, you should have no worries. If the flame is yellow, it needs adjustment from a gas technician. If you are that concerned, open a window or turn on the exhaust fan (if it is exhausting to the outdoors).

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 on house repair. Call 617-929-2930. Hotton ( also chats online about house matters 2-3 p.m. Thursdays. Go to
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