Handyman on Call

How to fix shrunken painted floor planks (and warm up the house)

Q. Our home in the Berkshires was originally built as a gardener’s shack and subsequently expanded in every direction. The floorboards in the living room seem to have shrunk over time and now permit cold, damp-smelling air into the house. There’s only a few inches between the floor and the earth so there’s no solution from beneath. I have area rugs over the space now but wonder what, if anything, I can put under them as a moisture barrier. I thought of plastic sheeting but there may be condensation that might damage the lovely old painted planks.


A. The only satisfactory solution is to remove the boards, put them aside, put sheets of polyethylene on the dirt under the floor to act as a vapor barrier to prevent earth moisture from rising. So far so good. Then apply exterior grade plywood on the joists, then put the old boards back. The old boards had shrunk after becoming a little drier, so when you nail them into the joists (through the plywood), you can position them nice and tightly. Now’s the time to put the boards down because they are at their smallest.

All this will be relatively easy, though fussy. But there is one problem: How to get the old boards up in order to do all this wonderful work. In modern construction, the floor boards are built first, then walls built on top of the boards, making it impossible to pry them up. Older construction methods built walls first, then nailed joists from wall to wall, and then nailed boards inside walls. All anyone had to do is pry up the boards.


So, see if your nice old boards go under the walls, or inside them. If they go under the walls, you will have to cut their ends in order to pry them up. You are not losing much of the boards, if you have to do that. Prying is not easy, and without great care, you run the risk of splitting them. To prevent this, insert the chisel end of a pry bar. The longer the tool, the more leverage. And here is the critical part: Use two pry tools, about 2 feet apart. Use one in each hand, or have a companion use one tool while you use the other. Pry up the board a little along its full length, then pry up more and more laterally.

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Q. We just had a bathroom floor retiled. It looked great initially but after it was grouted the next day it was “hazy” and not very attractive. Unfortunately the tilers used unglazed tile. Despite washing the grout, haze doesn’t come off. I Googled the problem and found various recommendations including a product called Aquamix and a mixture of vinegar and water.

BILL DAVIS, Cambridge

A. Who in Tophet uses unglazed tiles any more, especially in bathrooms? Try rubbing with a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. If that does not help, wash with vinegar. When you have all the haze off, use the 511 Impregnator Sealer the tiler suggested, or any masonry sealer. That sealer will be good for some years, and if you see some wearing off, do it again. If all else fails, try a weak muriatic solution. Mix 1 part muriatic acid in 10 parts water; always pour the acid into the water, and paint this on the tiles. Any haze left will fizz up, and when the fizzing stops, rinse and wipe with a dry cloth.

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