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Handyman on Call

Why does the paint on the north side of her house peel so quickly?

Q. Greetings from a faithful reader. My 1890s-era clapboard house in Cambridge has a history of paint jobs that begin to peel soon after application, most radically but not exclusively on the north side. Many professional opinions of the “Well, you could try . . .” variety have been offered: Vents, special primers, total removal of old paint, etc.). It’s time to try again — but I dread another $15,000-$20,000 failure. I’m considering replacing the wood clapboards with fiber-cement clapboards, at least on the north side. To me they’re visually indistinguishable from wood, and I understand that the material retains paint very well. Advice?

ANN GOODSELL

A. Keep the faith! Your opinion makers have good intentions, but their suggestions will fail. Yes, fiber-cement clapboards are the best non-wood clapboards you can buy, so try them. One of the reasons most of the failure occurs on the north side is because that wall is the coolest (in the shade longer), retaining rain water and causing water vapor to condense into more water, longer. Yes, a good paint job can last 15 years. A final good thing about the fiber cement is that the clapboards are rigid, allowing them to be nailed at the top, with each clapboard covering the nails of the clapboard below.

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Q. Who do you call when looking for advice on whether to install a sump pump, if you need a French drain, or to regrade the yard? Currently we are making do with portable pumps in a house that sits low on the street and has water issues after heavy rains and pooling water in the yard.

BOB and GLORIA

A. Look for “wet basement contractors.” They are well versed in treating all those terrifying situations and are probably pretty busy this snowy, wet winter.

Q. My new, professionally installed bathroom heat fan cuts out after a minute or two. It is a combination light/exhaust/heat item and the other components work fine. Any ideas?

DAVID GAIN

A. Maybe the heat part cuts out on purpose to prevent too much heat buildup. Call the professional who installed it for an explanation and/or a repair.

Q. I’m planning to replace my bathroom sink and vanity, and have run into an odd snag. Almost none of the sinks I’ve seen have an overflow tube. When I’ve asked about this, I’ve gotten almost identical replies: “the building code doesn’t require one.” This, of course, is an excuse, not a reason. The closest to a reason I got was from my inquiry about the St. Paul custom sinks: It was to eliminate a place for bacteria to breed. My take: The real reason is that it’s cheaper without one. My question: Should I get hung up over this?

J.M. GRAETZ

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A. You are right; those excuses are as lame as any reason. Actually, they might be helpful to prevent flooding by someone dumb enough to leave the tap on.

Actually, overflow tubes were used in closed systems that had no relief valve when emptying, slowing the flow. It’s like dumping out a soda bottle; all you get are huge bubbles, slow flow, and agitated liquid. Chances are high that yours is an open system, so an overflow tube is not needed. Enjoy that St. Paul sink.

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 (photton@globe.com) also chats online about house matters 2-3 p.m. Thursdays. Go to www.boston.com.
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