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Handyman on Call

Danger: His fireplace is leaking fumes

Q. We use the fireplace in our 100-year-old house maybe three times a week, burn only hardwood, and have the chimney swept every year. In the last couple of years we have noticed that when we have a fire we must keep a towel on the floor of the second floor guest room or the room gets a bit smoky. Not bad but there is an odor. Also a built-in china cabinet on the first floor has a smoky odor. I don’t know if the chimney is suspect, but should I be worried about a crack in it, and that sparks may be getting into the walls. Is a fix as simple as having a liner installed? I’d hate to have the walls torn apart to fix the chimney.

JIM, in Hotton’s chat room

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A. Get thee to a chimney specialist or chimney sweep ASAP, because that chimney is leaking fumes! It probably does not have liners, and the chimney just provides flues, which are passages to allow fumes to go up and out. The cracks allow some fumes go into the bedroom closet and the china cabinet.

It might be possible to put in a stainless steel liner for the fireplace. But others should have them too, because other flues are shared by gas burning appliances. I think every appliance needs a flue liner. I am not sure the cracks have to be repaired; that would be up to the specialist or the sweep. Contact someone as soon as possible.

Q. My basement ceiling joists are all unevenly spaced. Should I go with the pink stuff or the rigid foam board? Which would be easiest/quickest to install?

A. Go for the rigid Styrofoam insulation, which can be cut to fit snugly in the space between joists.

Q. The brick in front of my fireplace is ugly. So says my wife. I’d like to cover it with a slab of bluestone cut to shape. Is that the right material to use?

A. Ugly is in the eye of the beholder. I suggest you get your wife to decide what she wants, and then do it or pay for it. Your idea of bluestone is perfect for a hearth.

Q. I have a bluestone patio that I put in a few years ago. Shallow pieces are flaking off the stone and look terrible. Is there anything I can do to smooth it out to make it look “normal?”

A. I can’t quite see them as ugly; that is the nature of stone. To fix the problem, and if they are set in sand, turn them over. They should not be mortared.

Q. Last week my heat kicked on early, and I was told the batteries in my thermostat may need replacing. That sound right? For now, I just switched it off.

A. Your thermostat is one of those newfangled programmable units that have batteries. So, replace the batteries. My thermostat is old-fashioned and manual, with no batteries. And while I have to handle it manually, I think it is simpler and superior to programmable thermostats, which I think are gadgets.

Globe Handyman on Call 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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