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    handyman on call

    What’s a reasonable price for fixing chimney?

    Q. The upper section of our chimney has deteriorated and we are looking at getting it repaired by a local mason. He is looking to charge $1,500, and to seal the bricks and mortar. He is also willing to guarantee his work.

    My question is twofold: Is the price reasonable to repair the 4 to 6 feet of chimney above the roof line, and is sealing necessary?

    My thought is that in the 1950s, when this Cape-style home was built, no one sealed anything. I also am concerned about moisture being sealed in to the bricks.



    JIM STEELE, Worcester

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    A. The $1,500 charge is a reasonable price for repointing the chimney, but don’t let him seal the chimney and mortar unless it is with Chimney Saver. This will protect the chimney but will not seal in moisture, and is usually installed by chimney sweeps.

    Q. I live in a circa-1972 raised ranch that, as far as I know, still has the original toilet in the upstairs bathroom. It seems that I have to replace the wax ring every two to three years, as the water-warped dropped ceiling tiles below can testify. Doesn’t this seem more frequent than is typical? In addition, the entire commode is easily moved in place. I can actually swivel it to the left or the right. Should I be concerned about this and what would you suggest for remedying action, if any is needed? I would really prefer not to replace the entire commode if it can be avoided.



    A. A twisting toilet and multiple replacing of wax rings: My goodness, that is a semi-disaster, and unnecessary. A toilet is normally installed over the toilet hole with a wax ring and a steel ring with two vertical bolts, which go through holes in the toilet’s base and are then tightened with nuts to secure the wax seal and keep the toilet from moving. An installation like that can last as long as the toilet. Have a competent plumber install the toilet properly.


    Q. Just moving into a house built in 1954. In the area of the basement that we would like to use as an office there are rather high mounds of hardened concrete. They are in odd spots toward the center of the area, which means one could easily trip over them.

    Do you have any suggestions for chipping out this excess? It will be covered with a rug so it doesn’t have to be beautiful. I just don’t want to do damage to the actual floor.


    KATHY KUCAB, by e-mail

    A. The Handyman has heard of many doozies, and while yours is rather prosaic, it still boggles the Handyman’s mind. Houses are built by several contractors, called subs, and the basement concrete was poured by an inept sub — simply dumping the concrete in, not bothering to smooth it off or prepare the earth, sand, or gravel under it. Sloppy, negligent, and unbecoming of any contractor.

    There are two ways of fixing this mess: Have a concrete contractor grind off the high spots to achieve a relatively neat, level floor. Or, have the contractor break up the whole floor and lay a new floor level and smooth.

    Some reader feedback


    Just read your column in Sunday’s Globe, concerning galvanized nails on a reader’s red cedar clapboards. In my experience, zinc galvanized nails react with the tanins in cedar claps causing black stains. Stainless steel siding nails (with rings), while more expensive, will neither stain nor rust over time. Also, using 2 inch or longer nails driven into the studs behind the sheathing will anchor claps for pretty much eternity.


    JIM GRANT, Beverly

    Concerning one reader’s mother-in-law’s treasured, burned out, baked on coffee pot, Jim Polyefko wrote: Read the morning paper here in Fresno (California) about the coffee pot situation. Put a bit of water in the pot. Throw three or four dryer softener sheets in there. Let it sit overnight. Everything comes out clean. This works great on things burned in the bottom of cookware too. Amazing. Just wipes away.

    Finally, Chris Demers wrote to tell us about rescuing a beat-up deck: Many companies make a product that “restores” wood deck surfaces, including filling small cracks. Rustoleum and Behr are two companies that make such a product. Rustoleum’s product is called (of course) “Restore.”

    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 or e-mail He also chats online from 2-3 p.m. Thursdays on