handyman on call

You shouldn’t have to force slider doors open

Q. I recently bought new windows and a slider, the latter to replace a French door. Everything is OK, more or less, except the slider is heavy and while it seems to be running OK on its rollers, I have to use both hands and body to open and close it. What can I do?


MARY, Quincy

A. Sliders are heavy, but should not be that hard to push and pull. Try spraying WD-40 on the rollers. Don’t expect much improvement, so then call the dealer to set things right. If nothing can be done, I suggest you go back to a French door. They are weather-tight and reliable. Sliders were invented so they would take up no interior floor space when open; you can buy a French door that opens out.


Q. Several large flagstones came loose from my steps. What should I use to reattach them: concrete or mortar? I priced mortar, and discovered it comes in 60-pound bags, far more than I need. Are there smaller batches of mortar available?

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A. Use mortar or Mortar Mix, which can be mixed to an un-stiff consistency to easily embed the flagstones in. As for smaller amounts, buy Top ‘n’ Bond, which comes in 10-pound plastic tubs.

Q. My deck is covered with a rubber membrane and is cut into my roof and faces the street. A drain in the corner leads to a downspout. In winter, the drain freezes and the deck fills up like a washtub. Last year, water seeped in and damaged a ceiling in my den. What can I do to prevent freezing?




A. Good question. You can try heating cables, and turn them on when the deck is wet, snowy, and icy to prevent frost from plugging the drain. Or, use ice melt to prevent freezing.

 You have to be very alert to prevent the cable from staying on when the roof is dry, which could burn the roof. Since you plan to go away for a few weeks in winter, you can’t leave the cables on with no one home. You could hire someone to keep an eye on the cables and melting water.

Q. I have a big bow window with five sections. When a driving rain hits the window, the sill at the bottom allows water in. It has not caused much damage, but I want to stop the seepage. How can I?


NORMAN, Burlington

A. Try putting in a heavy, neat bead of caulk at the bottom of the sash. If the double-glazed glass is leaking, you may have to replace that glass.

That smell in cellar


 Doug Knapp wrote this in response to Don Wade reporting last week a terrible stench, like a dead critter, in his basement: “I would have also asked him if he uses propane gas for cooking/heating in his home. I had a similar problem a few years ago only to learn that it wasn’t a dead animal — rather a propane gas leak. The smell in propane these days has the same stench as a rotting animal; it does not smell like natural gas.”

 The Handyman adds that natural gas is given a bad smell because it has no odor in its natural state.

 Then Kathy from Buzzards Bay called to tell of her experience with bad smells: “I have a bathroom in my cellar. It wasn’t used for a long time and the bowl water evaporated, bringing in the odor of sewer gas. I now keep water in the bowl and everything is OK again.”

Q. How can I get lichen off a tombstone?



A. Try soaking it with a lot of water and scraping with a wooden spatula, not steel which can scratch the stone. It is sometimes very hard to remove, so leave it alone.

Q. This is my first seasonal change in my house without a husband. It is very expensive to have the window air conditioners installed. In six months or so they have to come out again. My question is, what do you think of covers? Can they be left in?



A. Yes, covers are a good idea. If there are no covers for your window air conditioning units, I am sure you could buy covers or have covers built for both inside and outside, so they can be left in place all year. Check the store that sold you the air conditioning units, or a store that carries them. Most covers are made of waterproof canvas. But you can have a carpenter make some fancier ones inside to make them match the furniture.

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 at