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Handyman on call

Boxing in wood beams

By Peter Hotton
Globe Staff / March 31, 2011

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Q. I have to replace some plasterboard covering structural beams. I’d prefer to use a box beam this time around. Do you know where I can buy a prefabricated plastic unit, if they exist?

HOMEOWNER, in Hotton’s chat room

A. I assume the plasterboard was nailed to the sides and bottom of the beam. Any new work is strictly DIY. Take off whatever is left, then you have two choices. If the beams are wider than 2x8 or so, leave them untreated; if they are not dirty they might look good in contrast to the white ceiling between beams. Or, stain them with a brown oil stain. Do not varnish them.

To box them in, use 1/2-inch stock pine. Nail the sides on first, so each side goes beyond the bottom by 3/4 inch. Then cut the bottom piece to fit. The bottom will look like it is nicely fitted to form a hanging lip, something that makes a beam look professional.

Q. I have a sliding glass door on my bathtub and tub surround that I think are fiberglass. I want to remove it, so I took the screws out, but it’s still up with either grout or caulking. What can I use to remove it? Or do I need to replace the whole thing?

DIANNE CARTER, by e-mail

A. You don’t have to replace anything. The doors were probably installed with a construction adhesive, so you can insert a utility knife between frame (you have already taken off the doors) and wall of the surround. This will cut the adhesive so you can pull off the frame from each wall and the edge of the tub. You can tackle any adhesive with a solvent, such as any citrus cleaner (Citrus Green or Citrus Clean), or any other one that will work.

Q. I live in a three-decker condo in Boston. The stone foundation needs maintenance. Inside, the mortar has turned to dust. I’m concerned about the cost of repointing inside and out. Does it make sense to repoint inside only? How much work is involved?

RYAN, in Hotton’s chat room

A. A lot of work. Repointing is hard work and very expensive to have done. Try this: Hire yourself out to the condo association and do it yourself. It is simple work, but physically challenging. Do both inside and out, but pace yourself. Outside needs only be done above grade. Here’s the work: Dig and chip out old mortar to as deep as workable and as wide as the joint. Buy Mortar Mix, made by Sakrete and Quikrete and mix it with water, then press it into dampened joints. Press and press some more; the mortar must be compacted heavily; otherwise it will fail. Use a pointing tool (sold in hardware stores) to do this. Mix small batches of mortar; it sets up in 15 minutes and will harden before you use it up.

Another ‘Correction’ Here’s a demand for a correction from John Wilder, a Florida reader who keeps an eye on allegedly wayward handyman columnists. Recently the Handyman advised a caller to try screwing down a laminated plastic floor in his basement that had bulged upward, apparently from water.

Wrote Wilder: Your advice to the guy with the Pergo floor was wrong. The key is that it was installed on a cement slab. Cement is notoriously hygroscopic, that means that it easily wicks water up through it.

To properly install any wood floor including floating Pergo, you must install a vapor barrier over a cement slab such as inexpensive vinyl flooring glued down. What has happened is that the ground water pressure has wicked up through the cement slab, the Pergo has absorbed it and swollen. They did not install enough gap to accommodate for this swelling thus the floor buckled in the center.

Good point, John, but my answer was to try to give the guy a chance to make corrections by himself to save the floor. All of this reminds me that very few materials will work well on a below grade concrete floor prone to flooding, or dampness. By the way, that slab material you wrote about is concrete, not cement.

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