Handyman on Call | Peter Hotton

Pesky snakes are just looking for shelter

Q. I discovered a whole bunch of garden snakes in the second-floor storage space of my detached garage. I killed them all, and also dispatched more that I found in the folds of my pool cover. How can I keep them from these places?

CONFUSED, in Bridgewater

A. You should rue the day you killed the critters, because they are among the most beneficial reptiles that eat all kind of pests and are harmless to humans and other animals too big to swallow. Cold-blooded critters have to seek warmth and shelter in order to survive, and even exposing them to prolonged cold can kill them. To keep them away, secure all storage in the garage and make that pool cover nice and smooth, without folds. Or, just let them alone and they will help you out in the garden next spring.

Q. We have a cedar closet in the basement in which we store our offseason clothes. Our basement flooded in 2010. The drying/mold abatement company advised replacing the floor in the closet. We incurred so much expense removing walls, etc., I couldn’t face removing the cedar floor. I had the company dry the closet thoroughly. This is what has transpired recently: suddenly the closet smelled of mothballs, although I didn’t put any mothballs in it. I think there were a few leftover from the previous owner, but they seemed to have lost their smell. That smell has disappeared as mysteriously as it appeared.


 Now, I discover that some clothes smell bad/mildew-ish, and a couple of hanging wool dresses had some white residue on them. The home dry cleaning system seems to have remedied that. A) What to do with/how to treat the closet. B) Am I home free with the dresses, or should I have them dry cleaned?


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A. With what your basement and closet went through, it can happen again and you might never get it completely dry anyway. The musty smell and the white stuff on the dresses is mold. Any suspicious looking or smelling clothes should be dry cleaned. And I recommend that you relocate the closet to a space on the first or second floor. Keeping clothes in a basement is almost impossible to keep dry. You might be able to convert a first- or second-floor closet into a cedar one.

Q. My 12-room house was reroofed with architectural shingles. The roofer was supposed to put in an Ice & Water Shield first, but he did not. Now symptoms include a lot of water getting inside my storm windows from blowing rain. What can I do?


A. Water on the inside of the storms and between storms and main windows are not symptomatic of a lack of an Ice & Water Shield. Usually water or dampness on the inside of the storms is due to water vapor condensing. The latter is cured by opening storms to let that water and water vapor out. But that is not the problem, either.

 I think what is happening is that you or someone else lowered the storms in the fall to get ready for cold weather. But you did it wrong, allowing water to flow right between the top and bottom sash, called the check rail. Storm windows are double hung, meaning that one sash is up, and the other is down. The position of the sashes is important. The top sash is in the outer groove, the bottom sash is in the inner groove, just as a regular double hung window is. So, check your storms to make sure they are in the correct position. If they are wrongly situated, rainwater will flow through the check rail very easily, and air will be escape as well.


Q. We recently had our roof replaced. The shingle nails go right through the roof boards and protrude into the attic by an inch or more, giving the appearance of a medieval torture chamber. Besides the obvious danger of bumping our heads on the nails in the attic, was our roof properly installed?


A. You are right about the torture. I remember tales about the Iron Maiden, a hollow iron body shape with spikes strategically spaced facing inside. Yes, the roof was installed properly; the roofers used way too long nails to make sure they hold properly. If you do not plan to convert the attic, you can buy 1-inch-thick Thermax, a rigid foam insulation; cut it to fit between the rafters and press it onto the nail points, then secure the Thermax by nailing with 1½-inch roofing nails. If you ever convert the attic, you can leave the Thermax in place.

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