handyman on call

Improperly installed plank siding may erode

Q. I have Hardy plank siding that has been affected by water because the boards are touching the roof. This has caused water to seep further into the boards. Can I use a small circular saw and cut a quarter inch off the boards then seal the ends with that rubber spray I see on television?


A. My goodness, how wrong can installers be? That plank is touching the sloping roof, and as such water is likely to erode the Hardy plank, which is fiber cement and is susceptible to erosion.


 At least the fix is relatively easy, or the plank installers should come back and do the fixing. Cut 3/4 to 1 inch off the plank, following the slope of the roof. There should be aluminum flashing under the roof shingles and the plank. If not, a roofer can install it.

Get Talking Points in your inbox:
An afternoon recap of the day’s most important business news, delivered weekdays.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

Q. I had my ceilings painted, then vinyl wallpaper installed in several rooms. The paper hanger smeared vinyl paste on a wide perimeter strip on the ceilings, and now, three years later, I can’t get it off. How can I solve that problem? I tried water, and vinegar, without good results.


A. I think water and vinegar (not together) will do the job, if used long or multiple times. Although the job was done three years ago, they should come back and fix that mess. If water softens the paste on the ceiling, you know it is working, and you can wipe the softened paste off with a dry cloth, or scrape it off before continuing. Try Googling vinyl paste solvent. Also, check any wallpaper shop for a solvent.

Q. How late in the season can I paint the outside of the house, or have it done?



A. There’s plenty of time. The general rule, printed on paint can labels, is that you shouldn’t paint if the temperature outside has been under 55 to 50 degrees for two consecutive days. Generally, that means you can probably have a big paint party on Thanksgiving weekend. Actually, Thanksgiving is Nov. 22 this year, the Handyman’s (and his lovely wife’s) 57th wedding anniversary. That is not unusual in this day and age, but it is phenomenal to me.

Wrong information?

From an anonymous helper: Your advice to the guy with the Pergo floor was dead wrong. (The Handyman suggested reinstalling the Pergo that was on a concrete slab after the Pergo popped up.) The key is that it was installed on a cement (concrete) slab. Concrete is notoriously ­hydroscopic; that means that it easily wicks water up.

 To properly install any wood floor, including floating Pergo, you must install a vapor barrier over a concrete slab such as inexpensive vinyl flooring glued down. What has happened is that the ground water pressure has wicked up through the cement slab, the Pergo has absorbed it and swollen. They did not install enough gap to accommodate for this swelling, thus the floor buckled in the center.

Fruit flies and other plagues

Here’s what Marilyn Halpern of Watertown found that is deadly to fruit flies: “I sliced a very ripe tomato and put a piece of Saran wrap over it. I collected dozens of dead fruit flies in minutes,” she said.


 Hmm, the Handyman hummed, I had the same experience when I left a ripe banana on the counter. Apparently the liquid remains are toxic to the flies.

 And, wrote Jan O’Hara: “An interesting question in today’s (9/23/12) Globe about ‘hundreds of fruit flies’ reminded me of a time when I was beset with fungus gnats. The two appear very much alike. Overwatering house plants is a major attraction to fungus gnats, and you can check on the Internet for various ways to be rid of this pest. The following site is quite informative, and involves the use of a raw potato slice on the house plant’s topsoil to determine if you have an infestation:

 “Fungus gnats are the most frequent house plant annoyance and are distinguished from common fruit flies because of their darker color. While fruit flies hang out primarily in exposed fruit, rotten food, and in leaky fridges, you’ll find fungus gnats in wet plant soil, in sewer situations, and in household drains. They’re also attracted to CO2 (carbon ­dioxide) which explains why they’re always right up in your face . . . ”

 Thanks, Marilyn and Jan.

Peter Hotton also appears in the Thursday g 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