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HANDYMAN ON CALL

Fixing cracks in chimney

By Peter Hotton
Globe Correspondent / November 4, 2010

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Q. My house is 16 years old and I noticed that about 1 1/2-2 feet below the top of the chimney there is a crack that appears to go all around the chimney but in some areas going up the side of a brick and then continuing straight. The mortar appears to be in place in some places below the crack and in other places beside the crack (when it goes up the side of the brick). None of the bricks are cracked. My question is: Do I need to repoint or is there a caulking that I can use that would sufficiently seal the void?

SCOTT, Ashland

A. Keep an eye on that chimney, being alert for more cracks and possibly more severe settling. Settling may have caused the cracks, and fortunately they follow the mortar joints, not cracking any brick. You can repoint the bricks, but you must dig out the old mortar to a depth of 3/4 of an inch before putting in new mortar. You can’t use any kind of a caulk, or at least you shouldn’t. The best mortar to use is Mortar Mix, made by Sakrete and Quikrete.

Q. I have a bathroom towel rack that won’t stay on the wall. Should I replace it?

HOMEOWNER, in Hotton’s chat room

A. If your house is new or renovated, you are the victim of incompetence and/or slipshod work. The workers simply screwed the ends of the rack into the plasterboard, where it might last a year or so, instead of into the wood studs (posts behind the plasterboard). But you don’t have to replace anything. Locate a stud, then screw the ends (usually with two screws) through the plasterboard and into the wood. The other end may not land on a stud, but you can attach it with molly bolts, which will expand tightly into the holes when they are driven. If the rack is adjustable, you can find studs to drive both ends into.

Q. I recently bought a summer house in East Wareham. I noticed several shingles that were removed but left on the roof. I thought it was caused by the wind but a neighbor said I have raccoons. How do I get rid of those critters?

JOYCE HAMLON, Watertown

A. There are many repellents on the market, mostly in garden centers. A caller mentioned an ultrasound repellent called Ultrasonic Cordless Repeller by Garden Creations. H.S. of Lexington said it worked for him to trap 33 squirrels on his deck, deter turkeys that poop on the deck, and maybe even the woodpeckers pecking on his house. I saw one at Amazon.com for $18.99. For that price, it’s worth a try.

Q. I would like to keep the wallpaper in my bathroom. How can I wash it, and is it washable anyway? The paper was there when we bought the house in 1995.

JUDY A. The question is, is it vinyl coated and washable? To find out, press a wet sponge on the wall. If a dark water stain marks the paper, it is not washable. If the water just lies there without the paper changing color, you can wash it with detergent and water. If it is not washable, you can buy a dough-like cleaner that will clean off non-coated paper without water. Ask for it at any wallpaper shop.

Q. I am having windows replaced in my brick house. On one opening, the steel lintel spanning the opening is bowed downward. I received two proposals on ways to handle the lintel and put in the window. A carpenter thought he could jack up the bowed lintel, then put the window in. A mason said he would take out some bricks at each side of the opening at the top, so he could take out the old lintel as he puts in a new one. What should I do?

TOO MANY ANSWERS A. The two ideas have limitations. The lintel is holding the brick above it, and taking it out could cause the bricks to collapse. The mason has a good idea but I’m not happy with his technique. The lintel must come out, and the opening shored up (temporarily supported) until a new one is inserted. That will take the skill of a structural engineer and his professional crew.

Globe Handyman on Call 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 (photton@globe.com) also chats online about house matters 2-3 p.m. Thursdays. Go to www.boston.com.