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Handyman on call

Roof patches are tricky, especially if roof is old

Q. Sandy ripped about a square foot of shingles off our roof. A roofer said we need a new roof. His reasoning was that shingles were curling at the bottom. He also noticed our shingles are light green, making a matching patch impossible, because light green has not been made for a while. We have lived here for 14 years, so they are older than that. How long should shingles last? Will a patch work for a few years? What’s the cost for a new roof? We were quoted $6,300.

LARRY, ARLINGTON

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A. Small damage, but patches are tricky and don’t always work. Since the shingles are about 20 years old and some are curling, I think you need a new roof. Shingles are rated to last 20, 30, and 40 years. I think $6,300 is a good buy.

Q. My son just renovated his fireplace and chose soapstone as a base and the frame. It is very soft and scratches easily. I guess he likes the color and texture. He was told to rub baby oil on it until it is saturated to protect it. I am worried what the heat will do to the soapstone especially with the oil on it. Is there anything will protect this stone?

BRIDGETTE CARANGELO, WINTHROP

A. If the soapstone base is the floor or hearth, and it goes into the firebox, do not oil it. But other parts, such as the outside frame and anything else outside the firebox, can be oiled. Use mineral oil, and wipe it on heavily, rubbing with your hands for several minutes. Then wipe off any excess with a dry cloth. If you don’t wipe off excess oil completely, the finish will stay sticky indefinitely. You can repeat this practice at any time. Any excess must be removed. Dispose of oily cloths by burning them. They can burn spontaneously if left around.

Later, Brigitte’s son Eric wrote to ask: How can you make it less resistant to scratching? I have heard of products like Bulletproof by DuPont but apparently that only makes soapstone resistant to stains, it doesn’t actually make it harder.

You can’t make soapstone resistant to scratches. But you can remove shallow scratches by sanding with fine sandpaper and re-oiling.

Q. I am having a new roof installed on my half Cape, and I’ve been offered copper flashing in the valleys, or shingles woven across the valleys. Which is best?

ALEX, IN HOTTON’S CHAT ROOM

A. Take the copper, but check the price first. Copper is very expensive, and has been the target of copper thieves. If you can handle the cost, go for copper. It is handsome and gives good service, but is difficult to repair for leaks.

 Woven shingles are popular in parts of New England. A good thing about woven shingles, I think, is that the valleys are flashed before the shingles are woven, giving double protection.

Q. My wife and I are going to redo our bathroom in a few years, but now our “Harvest Gold” toilet gets dark stains below the waterline. It’s impossible to get the stains completely clean, even though the water is clear. Is the finish deteriorating?

JOE KIRCHNER, ALBANY, N.Y.

A. I don’t think the finish is deteriorating, but here is what you can do: drain the water, then use a pumice stick, or solid piece of pumice, or powdered pumice to rub the stains right off.

Q. Hoping you can help. We have oak floors in our kitchen. There’s one spot where it squeaks. We have access to the underside of the floor in our basement. How can we stop it?

MARK MCCUMBER, SCHENECTADY

A. It’s an old problem with old answers.The oak floor is nailed to a wood sub-floor. The squeaks started when the oak boards dried out and contracted, and the nails lost their grip. This happens in cold weather, when the heating system dries out the wood, making the two floors loose. The squeak occurs when someone steps on the floor, pulling the two floors together. If nails are driven into the sub-floor and not joists, the problem is worse.

The cure is easy because you have access to the under part of the floor. Drive shims (cedar shingles make good shims) between the subfloor and joist, where needed. This will bring the floors together so they don’t move, ending the squeaks.

If you have no access to the under part of the floor, drill pilot holes and drive in one or more galvanized finish nails in the area of the squeak. The holes will show, but you will soon forget where they are.

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. Hotton (photton@globe.com) also chats online 2-3 p.m. Thursdays. To participate, go to www.Boston.com.
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