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    Handyman on Call

    Repair appraisal seems extreme

    Q. We have a 40-year-old colonial house. We recently hired a handyman to replace some water damaged wood shingles that were soft. When he removed one next to our front door, he saw a nest of carpenter ants that had chewed away part of the sill behind our front stone stairs. He recommended that we remove the stairs, jack up the house and replace the damaged part of the sill. We have an exterminator service that regularly sprays. We haven’t noticed any issues with the sill in terms of sagging floors, etc. The stairs are concrete and jacking up the house sounds expensive and extreme. Should we get a second opinion?

    NANCY, by e-mail

    A. Removing or getting to a sill, which is the large wood member set on the foundation and supporting the floor and house walls, is often extremely dangerous, and should be done by a professional. But if the sill is accessible and the decay is minor, small sections can be cut out by you or a professional and replaced with 2 x 8s or larger timbers. Or, the decay dug out and filled with Minwax’s epoxy wood rot filler. If you are in any doubts at all, call a construction engineer or contractor. If anything happens again, I am old enough and wise enough to have it done by a pro.


    Q. While painting the doors in my house, it spread onto the hinges. The paint is a water base. The hinges are brass. What is your suggestion for removing the paint?


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    A. Try using Citristrip, a brand of citrus-based, water-based paint stripper. It will soften the paint enough to so it can be wiped off with a cloth, washed off with a damp sponge, or scraped off with a wood spatula.

    Q. The basement of our condo flooded, causing a lot of humidity. Eventually the water subsided, and we removed the rug permanently. The floor is heavily broken up concrete and is very uneven. How can we smooth out the floors so they can be used for more than storage?

    DENA, Cambridge

    A. The concrete floor sounds like the usual cheap job done on condos: No drainage, way too thin, and without rebars. What to do: Rip out all the concrete, make sure there is 6 inches of crushed stone under, and pour a new floor, 4 inches thick and with steel reinforcing rods. A few inches laid on top of the old can indeed follow the contours of the old.


    Q. How can I stop wood floors from squeaking? Luckily, I can get to the floors from underneath, in the basement.



    A. The boards are quite loose, having shrunk from drying out over the years. When stepped on, the boards move, and the wood squeaks on the nails. Have a friend walk slowly in the room, while you look for movement of the boards underneath. Where there is movement, drive shims (cedar shingles or plastic wedges between joist (supporting beam) and boards, stopping the movement and squeaks.

    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