Handyman on Call

Water heater’s on the fritz

Q. I bought a home that doesn’t have natural gas service. It has an oil-fed boiler with a tankless coil for hot water that appears to be failing. It looks like our hot water options are: an indirect water heater (very expensive, uses oil and keeps the boiler going all summer); a hybrid electric tank (very inexpensive with rebates, but noisy and may make downstairs living space too cold); or an electric tank (cheap to buy but maybe expensive to run). What do you recommend? We are a family of five but one will be away at college next year. One plumber recommended the indirect but quoted us about $4,000 to install it.

ELIZABETH, by e-mail

A. An indirect heater at $4,000 is way too expensive, in my opinion. How about a new coil? That is certainly possible, but sounds like the same as indirect water heater. I don’t know what you mean by hybrid electric, but an ordinary 55-gallon electric heater may be a good buy; inexpensive and surprisingly not expensive to operate. My current heater is electric (Stonelined) and I think it costs me $15 a month; check with your plumber or your electric company. In fact, National Grid has informed me that I am midway among my neighbors for savings on electricity. That isn’t bad, although I must say there are just two people in my house at the moment.


Q. We have a large picture window in the dining room with a great view to woods and ponds. It faces south and gets a lot of sun. Is there a surface coating that will cut out the glare and heat and protect our rug and furniture but be invisible from the inside? We don’t want to cover up the view with shades or curtains. JOAN B., by e-mail

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A. Contact a window tinting or window film company, in the yellow pages under window tinting, or Google window tinting. There are many ways to treat your windows for protection of all kinds, including an awning. Tints and films can go outside or inside. I think that inside tinting, protected from the elements, would be the best. One local company I have in my files is East Coast Window Tinting in Needham.

Q. Could you please tell me if it is safe to remove wallpaper from a horsehair plaster wall using a steamer? There is one layer of paper that is probably more than 20 years old. I have removed some of the paper by spraying it with hot water and fabric softener and then using a plastic scraper. I’m worried that the steamer may pull down the plaster.


A. Yes, I think it is safe to use a steamer to remove wallpaper from horsehair plaster, because a steamer uses less water than simply soaking the paper. If it was put up 20 years ago, it is vinyl coated, so you will have to score the paper to allow steam to penetrate it. And, if you plan to paint or repaper other rooms, it might be worth leaving the paper up, if it is in good shape and tight, allowing you to repaper or paint right over the old paper.

Globe Handyman on Call Peter Hotton also appears in the Sunday Real Estate section. He is available 1-6 p.m. Tuesdays to answer questions on house repair. Call 617-929-2930. Hotton ( also chats online about house matters 2-3 p.m. Thursdays. Go to