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What to do when your house makes cracking sounds

Q. My house was built 10 years ago. During our first winter we heard strange sounds — loud cracking sounds. We heard them that spring, too. They seem to be occurring when there is a significant temperature change. I checked for cracks in walls and ceilings, but did not find any. I checked the basement, and the support posts seem fine. There are no major cracks in the foundation or floor. We have gotten used to these sounds, but I am concerned. A couple of facts: the house foundation, framing, and roof were all done in January. When I was checking the status of the construction, I noticed the plywood put down for the subfloor was wet, and looked like it might expand after the installation was completed. We have wall-to-wall carpeting in the four bedrooms on the second floor, so it’s difficult to check.

The cracking sounds are still occurring to this day during major temperature changes: cold to extreme cold (10 to minus 10 degrees). Also when the temperature drops 20 degrees at night. When we run the central air conditioning in the summer we do not hear these cracking sounds. What is causing this, and do you have any suggestions on how to correct it without taking out a second mortgage?

— PETER

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A. Your house is talking to you, and you are getting only some of it. The wood is expanding when it warms up, as in the spring, and contracting when it cools off, as in winter. This is all natural and harmless. Some of the big beams in the cellar may crack, and that is harmless, too. For the wet subfloor, the basement ceiling in this case, install four or more inches of rigid foam insulation, which can be cut to fit snugly between joists. Do this whether you use the basement for living space or not. Continue to ventilate, which is a lot cheaper (free) than a dehumidifier.

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Q. My pressure-treated wood deck was not in great shape (1986), and last year, a well-intended handyman painted it with Behr (rails and floor) without first removing the existing Thompson’s (from a few years past) and also without priming. Now, he is sanding down to the bare wood. His position is that he will not be able to remove all of the paint embedded in the wood on the rails, but will certainly use a cleaner, then a primer and sealer. Once again, he is going to paint. He said a stain will not adhere to the embedded paint from last year. He has already sanded a small section of a top rail to the bare wood, and while, yes, there are faint remnants of paint, I actually like the general appearance of the “natural” grains.

My question: Is there a clear product that’s perfect for applying to the sanded, bare wood? I really wish to avoid having the rails painted. I would then also insist that the floor be “prepped” and the same clear product be applied. This is a small deck, but it is exposed to sun, tree droppings, etc.

— DESPERATE

A. First, do not “prep,” whatever that means. Have your man apply a single coat of Thompson’s WaterSeal. That will last a few years, and then you won’t have to do anything with it. Especially, NO PAINT!

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Q. I have a disposal that is about six years old. There has been a musty smell coming from it near the sink drain. I have used baking soda and white vinegar, ice cubes, hot and soapy water, Drano, and other products. I also cleaned the black rubber flaps near the opening. It is fine for a few days and then the smell comes back. Any more suggestions?

— BARRY FISH

A. Carefully add a cup of bleach, then run the disposal with the faucet on. If that doesn’t work, call your appliance dealer.

Q. I enjoy your column in the Sunday Globe and have used a number of your suggestions. (I consider “painting over wallpaper” to be one of the best.) My new stainless-steel dishwasher has stains on the inside of the door. The stains are white and obviously from something that dripped off dirty plates. I’m hesitant to scrub too hard for fear of scratching the door. Any suggestions?

JOE D’URSO, Holden

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A. Try rubbing the stains with Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. If that doesn’t work, go to a hardware store and ask for stainless-steel polishing lotion or cream.

Q. My toilet runs and runs for hours, and no amount of jiggling the handle stops it. How can I fix it?

— STUMPED

A. Turning off the valve under the tank will stop the water, but that won’t fix the problem. This happened to me some years ago, and this is what I did: I opened the tank cover and found that the chain that raises and lowers the rubber stopper at the bottom of the tank had gotten hung up on the handle. I released it and all was well.

Q. My parents had water rushing down their sloped driveway and building up against the garage door, threatening to ruin everything. So they built a sump (12 feet long and 3 feet wide) in front of the door, so it would collect water and force it to each side of the garage. Now I have the house. The sump worked for a while but then filled up with leaves. How can I get the leaves out and keep them out of the sump?

— CATHY

A. Scoop them out with your hands. To keep them away, you could try covering the sump with a sturdy iron grate that can take the weight of cars. This will keep most of the leaves out.

Globe Handyman on Call Peter Hotton also appears in the G section on Thursdays. He is available from 1 to 6 p.m. on Tuesdays to answer questions on home repair. Call 617-929-2930. E-mail him at photton@globe.com.