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    Handyman on Call

    Sitting room beam has a gap: What should she do?

    Q. One of my exposed beams runs across the center of my first floor sitting room. It goes from a left wall above a main fireplace to a right, outside wall of the room. I hope this makes sense. After 17 years of living here, it gradually has a separation gap now. It seems to have stopped and continues to about a third of the length of the beam. I wonder if this might have had epoxy and been painted over before we bought the house and now needs to be done again? Is it serious and dangerous (a roof fellow looked at it and said this beam is not structural)? And if it should be corrected, how and whom would I contact? The mirror room on the other side of this central fireplace has the same beam and it is only slightly separating, through an old correction of epoxy and paint.

    NANCY, by e-mail

    A. The beams ain’t broke so you don’t have to fix them. Large wood beams and posts, indoors or out, will crack when they dry out and contract. Nothing can stop it. Filling cracks with epoxy and painting makes an unsightly mess. One way to fix it is to clad the beam with pine boards, but this makes the beam larger and spoils its proportions. I think they are supporting, but the cracks are neither serious nor dangerous. I have four hand-hewn beams (10-by-10-inches square) in my dining room and living room (since 1768) and they have plenty of cracks. Other beams I installed 40 years ago are 4 by 10 inches and because they are smaller, are not cracking.


    Q. Two sparrows are trying to build a nest inside my dryer vent. I’m on the second floor of a three-story turn-of-the-century brick apartment block. Outside access to that window is limited. How can I keep them out?

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    GLEN, in JP

    A. One answer is to let them nest, then in spring they will produce little ones and all will fly the nest. Or, fasten an insect screen just inside the flapper door. Or, have a new fan installed with a heavier flapper door that will stay closed when the fan is off.

    Q. I have several smoke detectors from about 10 years ago that have turned brown. I see that they say “do not paint” on the covers. What causes this discoloration and is total replacement the only answer or what can I do to make them white again so they do not stand out on the bright white ceilings?

    WAYNE PETERSON, Holliston, N.H.


    A. I don’t know how or why they turned brown. Did they go off when they detected smoke, which could have discolored them? At any rate, generally it is suggested to replace them every five years, so you can do that to keep safe.

    Q. My family room with a separate bedroom is in the basement. How can I improve its air quality?

    JANET, from Abington

    A. I think the air is stale, even a bit musty, because the basement has been closed up all winter, and may remain so in the summer, too. The answer to this is to invest in an air cleaner. Another way: Simply open windows twice a day. Still another: An air-to-air exchanger, which exhausts heated air outdoors and takes in outside air that takes up the warmth of the indoor air. The essential part of these ideas is ventilation.

    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