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    Handyman on call

    Some leaning is expected in retaining walls

    Q. We have a townhouse with a garage below ground level. The building was new when we bought it 17 years ago. The driveway ramps down from the sidewalk to the garage door, and we have concrete retaining walls on both sides, about 7 or 8 inches thick. It’s about 6 feet tall at the bottom of the driveway. About two years ago, we noticed that the exterior retaining wall was leaning .

     Now, I’d say it’s leaning slightly more, about 2 inches at the top. Is this something to be concerned about? How do I figure out if I need a masonry company?



    A. That wall is still holding a huge weight of earth, and it should have leaned into the earth to make it hold better. One or 2 inches of slant toward the driveway in 17 years is not significant, but keep an eye on it.

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     If after several years it leans more (a few more inches in a few years), it means the concrete wall was under-built. Now, you can contact a retaining wall company to give you an opinion and perhaps rebuild all or part of the wall to lean toward the held earth. They could also possibly put in some “dead men” — heavy steel rods extending from the wall and into the earth, perhaps 2 feet down from the top of the wall.

    Q. I had my house power-washed to clean the painted clapboards. It was quite expensive. Can I do that myself?


    A. Yes, you can power wash painted clapboards and shingles, which will remove mold, algae, dirt, loose paint, and probably lichen, those light gray-green growths about the size of a silver dollar.


     The only things that should not be power washed are vinyl siding and aluminum siding. If washed with full power, water can be trapped behind the siding. You can power wash that kind of siding safely by reducing the power and aiming downward. You can rent a power washer. If you use one often, buy one.

    Q. I have a 1929 home with an old aluminum storm door. It is clearly a custom door with an arched top to match the arch on the front door. I’m sure it would be less expensive to have it blasted clean than to replace it, but I don’t know of a company that does this. Any ideas?


    A. I don’t know of anyone but a painter who can sand with emery cloth the old aluminum finish and paint it. But you really can’t make a silk purse from a sow’s ear. Better yet is to look into an arched wood storm. The Brosco catalog shows an arched wood storm that looks very good. I have two wood storms . Go to any lumber store for the Brosco (Brockway-Smith) catalog.

    Q. We moved into a new house that has a cedar closet in one bedroom. When the closet door is shut for any length of time, the smell from the cedar becomes overpowering. I sealed the cedar with varnish, and it still smells. I read that activated carbon will absorb the odor, so I made a couple of sachets and hung them in the closet. It’s been over a week, and the closet still smells. The odor pervades the second floor. Any ideas?



    A. That closet is lined with incense cedar, which is a moth deterrent or repellent, not a moth killer. It not only repels larvae, it also repels some people. If you used water-based varnish to cover the cedar, it did not keep the odor away because the odor goes right through water-based varnish. Another reason it did not work is that the back of the cedar boards were not varnished, and the aroma went through the house.

     You can try one or two things: Apply one coat of an oil-based polyurethane varnish, or take it off and apply wood paneling. Removing it is your best bet. You can probably sell the incense cedar to someone who might want it.

    Q. My fiberglass tub is getting too deep, or rather the sides of the tub are too high to lift my old legs over. Is there any way to cut a notch in the side so I can walk into the tub more easily?



    A. I doubt if anyone would attempt to cut a notch in the tub side to ease entry and exit, but you really can’t be sure until you try. Call a fiberglass fabricator (Mirror Bond is one brand) to get their opinion. The only alternative is a walk-in tub shower, which is very expensive. One other thought is to sink the tub part way into the floor, which would take a considerable amount of work, and also requires room under the floor.

    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 or e-mail Hotton also chats online 2-3 p.m. Thursdays. To participate, go to