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    Keep rodents from enjoying your hot tub

    They say all good things must come to an end. I wrote that sentence in 2001, when I officially retired, but then I started freelancing two columns a week, one to the Sunday Real Estate section and another in the Thursday Living/Arts section. I’m writing it again because in the new year, I will be submitting only one Handyman column — to the g section on Thursdays. So, hail and farewell, adieu, dear people.

    Q. We have a hot tub on our deck, one story off the ground. It appears that animals are eating into the edge. Small bits of material are appearing in little piles, and they have chewed the bottom edge to get in. I see a lot of squirrels on the deck, but maybe mice are the problem? I don’t see any of them running around.

    Last winter I put duct tape over the area, but this hasn’t stopped them. Have you ever heard of mothballs keeping these critters away? I am afraid they are going to chew into a hot hose in the tub or an area where the hose might freeze. Any ideas would be very helpful. I have never seen anything addressing this issue.

    SUE, Peterborough, N.H.


    A. I don’t think they are mice, but rather squirrels, who must gnaw to stay alive. So do other rodents, but squirrels are your problem, I think. You can buy squirrel deterrents at hardware and garden centers, but most stink to high heaven and can ruin a hot tub party every time. Transporting squirrels out of the yard is illegal, so your best bet is to build a big cage of hardware cloth (1/2-inch steel mesh) that can be put over the hot tub when it’s not in use.

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    Q. During a recent paint job on our house, the shutters were removed and painted and only half of them were put back on. This is an old house (circa 1860) with folding shutters that were originally installed on each side of the windows. In an emergency, these two-piece shutters could unfold. We always kept them in the folded position. When the painters put them back up, they were no longer folding; the second part of each shutter was missing. We queried the foreman, who checked with the painting crew. They denied any knowledge of this and will do nothing.

    Should we try to have each set of shutters rebuilt, or should we live with what they put back? Should we buy new folding shutters and paint them ourselves?


    A. You know something? I think they stole the shutters and lied about it. Suing the painters may cost more than the shutters are worth, so I suggest that you keep the halves on the sides of each window as decoration. After all, the purpose of closing the shutters against the weather is obsolete, given storm and new double-glazed windows, replacements or not. It’s a shame, but a fact of life. Also, if you look around your neighborhood and others, you will see that the vast majority of shutters do not close and are decorative only.


    Q. I have a small speaker that seems to be stuck onto a nice Hitchcock wood table. The table has beautiful stenciling, and I’m afraid I’ll damage the finish if I force the speaker free. Any idea what would be safe to use? I have always put something under phones and other electronics but didn’t think of keeping something under the speaker.


    A. Warm water can be a safe method of removal if you force it carefully between the speaker and the table, until it releases, although excessive use of the liquid might affect the unique finish. Another solvent is boiled linseed oil. Or try olive oil, which might be gentler than the linseed. You can also go to the Hitchcock store to see if they have any ideas.

    Q. I have a bathroom sink that has a terrible odor when I first turn on the water — hot or cold. I have had all the pipes under the sink changed, and the water heater, too. The city checked my water and said everything is OK. I have used several things to wash out the odor. Nothing works. Can you please tell me what is creating the gas/sewage odor and what I can do to get rid of it? I love your column in the News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C.



    A. I think a question like yours ran last week in this column or the one in the g section, so I will repeat. The odor is hydrogen sulfide that occurs naturally in the water, smells of rotten eggs, and is harmless. Keep draining the water until it stops smelling; there is little more you can do except find another source of water. You mentioned a gas/sewage odor, but if it is that, it is lethal. If the city said everything is OK, it’s likely that it is hydrogen sulfide, although they should have told you.

    Q. I bought a house recently that is more than 50 years old, and I’ve been hearing a cracking noise coming from the ceiling, which is not solid. I guess they used drywall for that. There are no rodents in the attic. How can I stop the noise?


    A. Old houses have an unnerving way of talking to you. Your house has some fair-sized beams holding up the ceiling, and those beams are expanding and contracting when they dry out and gain moisture, or making snapping noises as they move. Sometimes this movement is enough to split the beams. This is harmless, and there is little you can do except appreciate that the house is acting naturally and giving you shelter. Sometimes water pipes will pop when they heat up and cool down. There is little you can do.

    Q. Do the stains containing a poly finish really work well?

    HENRY AUBUT, Franklin

    A. I think I tried Minwax PolyShades once to see if it works well, and indeed it does. It is much better than the old varnish stains I dealt with just after World War II.

    Globe Handyman on Call Peter Hotton 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