Handyman on Call

To minimize storm window condensation, open twice daily

Q. All storm windows on the second floor of my Colonial have heavy condensation on inner glass. The primary double-glazed windows are clear. The problem occurs when outside temperatures drop below 45 degrees. The storms are cheap, but seem to be preventing air leaks. Storms on first floor are clear. Exhaust fan used during showers. Attic heavily insulated and all vents closed. Insulator could not find anything wrong. I asked Andersen Windows for advice and got none. We are at a loss as to who to turn to.



A. First, there is nothing basically wrong, but there is something you can do. The water on the inside of the storms is condensation, and it’s on the second-floor windows because moisture, humidity, and water vapor rise, leaving first-floor windows clear.


 What is happening: The upstairs air is high in humidity, and makes its way around those primary windows, then condenses on the inside of the storms, because the storms are doing what they are supposed to do: prevent loss of air. Those storms have two or more weep holes in their frames, designed to release water vapor, but often that is not enough to prevent the condensation.

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 What to do about it: open each storm about 6 inches, for 5 or 10 minutes twice a day, to release that water vapor. If your exhaust fan exhausts to the outdoors, use that for 15 minutes twice a day. It won’t lose much heat.

 You could install a dehumidifier, but it is expensive to operate and not needed. Another thing that might help is an air-to-air exchanger, which exhausts humid house air and brings in fresh air (cold and dry), without losing heat. They are expensive.

Q. My hard-wired smoke detectors with battery backup on three floors and the cellar keep going off, sometimes when I am cooking, sometimes when I am not. What can I do?




A. Sometimes heat can set off an alarm, and the reason might be that the alarms are overly sensitive. Check with the installer or an alarm company.

Q. The light colored roofs in my neighborhood are turning black, in a particular pattern: narrow strips 4 inches wide running from ridge to eaves, about 16 inches apart. What’s wrong and how can I correct this on my house?



A. It’s a classic. The rafters under the roof and the shingles are cooler than the space between rafters. Water vapor in the outside air condenses on the cool strips above the rafters, and rainwater stays on those parts long enough for mold to grow. You can clean off the mold with bleach and water, or ignore it. The only permanent cure is to install black shingles. The mold won’t show on black shingles. In northern areas, black or light-colored shingles will not affect the house in any way. In southern climes, light-colored shingles help reflect heat.

That blocked toilet

 When a caller asked about a blocked toilet that let liquids through but allowed solids to block the toilet so much that it overflowed, the Handyman suggested thorough plunging and taking the toilet apart if all else fails.


 Here’s what another caller consequently told the Handyman: From Neil, of Winthrop. I used to work on a ship, and found a blocked toilet a big pain. Finally I discovered it was blocked by a toilet brush; the one shaped like a horseshoe: One end came loose and lodged in the toilet, out of sight. It let liquids through but not solids. Removed it, and problem solved.

Q. I bought Enviro logs and burned two of them in my fireplace. When they burned completely, the house smelled of wax. Is wax coating the flue? Would this be dangerous, or cause a chimney fire?


ANN GOERING, Yarmouthport

A. No matter what you burn in a fireplace, even one that draws well with the damper and chimney wide open, there will be a lingering odor of burning wood, which will go away in a day or two. The same goes for the smell of wax; there might be a bit of wax lining the flue just as smoke tarries in the flue. I Googled fireplace logs and wax, and discovered that the wax used in some logs is being changed from petroleum based to “food-friendly based.” You can try Googling to see if the wax is dangerous. In the meantime, don’t burn the logs.

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 ( also chats online 2-3 p.m. Thursdays. To participate, go to