handyman on call | Peter Hotton

Grout may be better way to go around tubs

Here’s a great way to start this column: Happy birthday today, Lucia, and many returns of the day, from your handy, loving husband of 57 years.

Q. I have a continuous problem with the caulking around the tub. This tub is used only for baths: no showers. I dutifully wipe down and dry the caulk and tub after each use. Is it possible to edge the tub with small, rounded tiles (like quarter-round edging that is used on a floor, but smaller) so that I do not have to redo the caulking so often? Should the caulking be left in place as a sort of inner seal, or should it be removed?




A. The problem is due to the wrong material, caulking instead of grout (a little like white mortar). When a long-lasting caulk was developed, everyone thought it was a cure-all for sealing permanently. It didn’t work out. Grout is still the best, and only material to use, especially around tubs.

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Dig out all that caulk, and install a sandless grout in the space. Compact it heavily with a pointing tool. Press it in with pressure. A pointing tool is an elongated S-shaped steel bar, normally used with brick and mortar, but will serve you well.

Q. We have a propane fireplace with marble stone and a wood frame with a mantel. The vertical stone on the left has shifted and moved to the right about 1/4 inch from the wood frame. You can almost put your finger between the stone and the frame. There might be some cement showing, too. The stone on the right has also shifted slightly, but the big problem is the left one. We haven’t spent a winter here for several years and wonder if it’s due to cold/hot expansion and contraction.

I bought a rubber hammer to try to move it back but it’s stuck. I have contacted Anderson Fireplace, which installed the propane fireplace, but can’t get anybody to visit because they are busy. Any suggestions?




A. That is a lot of information just for a marble upright coming off the wood frame. Since it is outside of the firebox, I think it is OK to use the propane fireplace. I suggest you get after the company that built it like ugly on an ape and get them to fix it. Or, if the wood is OK, take off the marble and secure it with adhesive caulk.

Q. I had iron railings installed on my front steps about seven years ago. The steps are poured concrete with a brick cap. Two years after the installation they became loose and within a year, I had them repaired. Two years after that, I had them repaired again by the same mason, who then used hydraulic cement. Lo and behold, I have the same issue. What now? Is this an installation problem or repair issue?



A. It sounds as if the post is only going into the brick, and not into the concrete. You can have a wrought-iron worker extend the posts so they go at least 4 to 6 inches into the concrete.

Q. I recently bought several gallons of Benjamin Moore latex paint and, unfortunately, selected the wrong finish — pearl (a finish between eggshell and satin) instead of eggshell.


I have read online that the finish can be changed by mixing the same paint with different finish values — i.e., matte with pearl to approximate eggshell. The Benjamin Moore customer service line representative didn’t see any problem with this approach, but had no guidelines to offer. I expect this to be trial and error to get the right proportions. Do you have any suggestions for how I might proceed?

I had iron railings installed on my front steps about seven years ago. Two years after that they became loose.


JOAN GAZILLO, Longmeadow

A. Can you really not live with pearl? If you could, you will avoid a lot of iffy work. How much to mix with how much to change to eggshell finish? If you really want an eggshell finish, repaint with the eggshell finish. Try a small area to determine whether you need a primer first.

Peter Hotton is also in the g section on Thursdays. He is available 1-6 p.m. Tuesdays to answer questions on house repair. Call 617-929-2930. Hotton ( chats online about house matters 2-3 p.m. Thursdays. To participate, go to