Handyman on Call

Replace poorly placed bricks for smooth finish

Q. I recently purchased a 1925 house that had a bulge on an inside wall abutting the chimney. Pulling off the plaster revealed some sloppy brickwork that had been patched over. I’m planning to install new gas heat that will eliminate the need for this chimney. What would be the most economical way to fix this? Can I break the bricks back a bit and just plaster over everything?

Matt Collins, Boxford

A. Wow, I have seen a lot of horrifying brickwork, but this one takes the cake. Even for an inside job, which does not have to be fancy. There are two things you can do. 1) Those bricks are a sloppy job of filling a hole. Chip out all bricks, buy new ones, and mortar them in, so that a new wall finish will skip the bricks without a bulge. Use Mortar Mix, sold in hardware and big-box stores. 2) Chip off the protruding mortar, so the new lath and plaster will clear it. Then power sand the ends of the bricks that stick out. I don’t think you will have to take much off the brick ends, but sanding is good idea because the brick is soft, and sanding will not jar the bricks loose.


Q. I am inquiring about refinishing my front porch, a farmer’s porch. Yesterday, my father slipped coming into the house, and the reason is that my brother painted the porch with a glossy paint that makes the porch slippery after precipitation. I plan to sand the porch with a power sander, and wait until the spring or early summer to repaint the porch.

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 My brother put Ice Melt on the floor and since then the porch has remained constantly wet. My sister defended the use of Ice Melt, and I hope you may be able to reaffirm my position that the glossy paint and the Ice Melt are the culprits. I am OK with drying the porch, and sanding the paint down until the spring or summer. My mother suggested that Trex from Home Depot may solve the issue, but I am not convinced.

Robert Aufiero, by e-mail

A. It sounds like a real family affair, but there are not many good answers. Ice Melt is OK, but when the ice melts, sweep off as much water as practicable. The wood is fir, mahogany, or pressure-treated, all of which is OK. But the idea of Trex solving the problem is wrong because it will make little difference, and the old wood would have to be removed, an expensive project.

 So, when you sand the floor clean of paint, DO NOT paint the floor again. A painted surface is the slipperiest when wet. Instead, apply one coat of a semitransparent stain (Olympic is a good stain, although other brands make good semitransparent stain). Only one coat is needed, it will last at least five years.


 Or you can buy rubber stair treads (for steps or porch floor) that will help make treads and floors non-slip. In the Improvements Catalog, 800-642-2112.

Q. My Cape-style house has an attic space behind a knee wall on the second floor. It runs the full length of the house. Each one is located at one of the bottom corners of the triangular shaped gable, covered by siding. It used to be ventilated by a vent at the peak gable, both of which are now gone. How can I ventilate that space? Would a vent at each end of the space work?

Bill, from Williamstown

A. Well done, Bill, you are thinking like a Colonial, who were a lot smarter that we moderns sometimes give them credit for. Yes, a square vent in the lower corner of the triangle, at each end of the space, will work nicely. In fact, walk or drive around town; you might see some Cape styles with square windows or vents at the lower corner of the triangular-shaped gable. Better yet, you might see a coffin window, a regular window in a low part of the triangle, following the slope of the roof.

Q. I broke several of the plastic wall tiles in my bathroom. They are pink with a marbleized pattern. Where can I find replacements?


Lady, 86

A. These are the listings that I have: General Flooring, Route 18, Weymouth, 781-337-3200; Vermont Salvage in Manchester, N.H., and White River Junction, Vt.; and Colonial Floors on Waverly Street in Framingham. If you have a computer, Google “plastic wall tile” or “vintage plastic wall tile.” Another possibility: If there is any tile hidden behind a vanity, you can take some down and put them in place of the broken ones. To get them off, heat with a hair dryer to soften the adhesive, and pry off with a chisel or putty knife. Nobody will know.

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