handyman on call

A little heat will help end condensation

Before we start with questions (and answers), I’d like to tell you about the New Fall England Home Show, running Nov. 1-3 at the World Trade Center in South Boston. It is a first for New England shows, to see how it will do in the autumn. It will pay to come on down, because the Seaport District has new hotels, restaurants, and venues, so you can make a day of it. Hours are Friday 2 p.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

And, the Handyman will be there, in his usual place, near the entrance, every day, all day.

Q. We are the owners of a brand new (2013) house, built by a respected builder, who we feel did an excellent job. We are having one issue with the finished basement, however. The basement is underground with an interior staircase. It is finished with hardwood floors, bathroom, and laundry room as well as a media area. It is done very nicely. The issue we are having is condensation on the walls and staircase walls. What is odd is that (most) of the walls with the condensation are interior — including the staircase walls. From what I have read this is mostly an exterior wall issue in basements. This is NOT water leaking from anywhere. We have glass framed pictures on the walls that condensation also builds up on. We are concerned this will damage the walls as well as create mold. Is a dehumidifier our only option? The interwebs are confusing on this topic.




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A. Interwebs or sites are not the best source of information, although I think I am on some of them. Even getting info from professional contractors and engineers may not bring peachy results, but this time the Handyman knows, just like the Shadow. A closed up basement and a buildup of moisture are the causes. Ventilate that space to release that water vapor, which builds up from breathing, cooking, washing, showers, and bathing. When you heat the basement space it should disappear. Air conditioning in summer will work, too, because air conditioning is also a dehumidifier.

Q. I have pressure-treated wood on my deck that is quite old. Can I sand it to smooth out the wood to reduce the splintering? The splintering is mainly a hazard for bare feet.


ERICA, in Hotton’s chat room

A.Then wear shoes. But seriously, you can sand the pressure-treated boards. There is not enough preservative in the wood to be a problem sanding outdoors. If the deck is not finished in any way, you can apply one coat of a semitransparent station.


Q. My cedar clapboard Cape-style house is primed and painted, and things are good except on the south side, which gets a lot of sun, and the horizontal boards are cupping, splitting, and warping. What’s wrong? All boards are applied the same way, using 3/4-inch nails.



A. The sun is the problem, and so are the nails that are too short, and their kind may also be at fault. Buy 1½-inch-long siding nails, which are also hot zinc-dipped galvanized, which will hold better than bright (ungalvanized) nails. Exposure is also important; clapboards should be exposed 4 inches to the weather, no more, no less. Location of nails is also important; they should be at least 1/2 inch from the bottom, and be face nailed with the nail heads exposed, and about 2 inches from the ends. And, nailing 12 inches apart won’t hurt. So you can reside, using these specs, and buying replacement clapboards when necessary.

Q. Can you suggest someone on the North Shore that I can contact for air quality and mold problems? I want to have my basement checked.


MIKE SENECAL, North Andover


A. It doesn’t matter where most professional people live or have a shop. They will go to most places. Call the May Indoor Air Investigations, in Tyngsborough. Talk to Jeff May, 978-649-1055.

Q. Earlier this fall, I got 10 to 30 yellow jackets and wasps a day in the space between floors, coming in through the soffits. How can I get rid of them and keep new ones from coming in?


BOB, from Plymouth

A. Wait until a heavy frost. A frost will kill them off. Then you should somehow take them away, because that many corpses will smell pretty bad. Then repair the soffits (the under parts of the roof overhang). Fill all cracks and holes, and make sure any vents are bug proof.

Peter Hotton also appears in the g section on Thursdays. He is available 1-6 p.m. Tuesdays to answer questions. Call 617-929-2930 or e-mail He also chats online 2-3 p.m. Thursdays on