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Handyman on Call

Snakes alive! What can he do?

By Peter Hotton
Globe Correspondent / May 31, 2012
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Q. My wife and I own a home built in 1774 with stone foundations, and numerous stone walls I have built around our gardens. But when it comes to garter snakes, I run and cry like a baby. I know they are good for my gardens but one of us has to go. I can’t live with them, and need your help. I have tried moth balls and other home remedies, but we have many gardens, where the dreaded serpents sun and lie in wait for me. Any ideas, old friend?

BIG SISSY, snake-wise

A. You indicate the snakes are in your yard and garden, but are they in the cellar? Sometimes you can sprinkle rough ashes around the outside to keep them out of the basement. There are other snake deterrents on the market, and some might work, some don’t. Otherwise, I dare to say you can live with them. They are harmless, except to you, so you could call a herpetologist, who might or might not add any words of wisdom. The only control is to find a good-size feline, or terrier, whose very presence may scare the snakes away. Or move to Ireland.

Q. What can you suggest as a tape to use when putting big labels on plastic storage buckets in the attic. I have used transparent postal packaging tape and my next trip to the attic finds labels on the floor. The heat may cause the failure. Any ideas?

MARY, in Hotton’s chat room

A. I don’t know for sure, but try surgical tape. That stuff will hold on anything, it seems. Mary called back to ask, “How about duct tape?” So why didn’t I think of that? If you opt for duct tape, use Gorilla duct tape.

Q. I have a large water stain (seepage or what?) that appears on the top floor of my three-story house, sometimes, when it rains. It doesn’t stain the ceiling below and there is no leaking from above. Several people have looked at it and they are baffled. When the stain is dark, it feels damp.

DELANEY, in Hotton’s chat room

A. That water stain on your boards is probably darkening the wood when an increase in water vapor (during a rainstorm) fills the room air and enters the wood and/or condenses on the surface. If the wood is unfinished, this is more likely. Varnishing the wood when it is dry (in winter, for example) will also help to keep out moisture. Or, put in a vapor barrier such as tar paper, or a film called Tyvek, and install a prefinished hardwood floor.

Q. I have a fine-looking quarter-sawn oak floor, which looks great, except in winter a gap shows up between two boards, very near one wall. I know why this is happening, when the wood dries out, but the gap is a full ½-inch wide. It closes up a little in the summer. There is also a ½-inch expansion joint under the baseboard. But why that one board, with such a big gap?

JOHN MILLS, Lincoln

A. We’re agreed on the phenomenon, which is normal. But I do think I know why: The boards were more lightly nailed along the wall because it was impossible to drive a nail into the tongues, the normal way, because the tongues are too close to the wall, restricting hammer space, even a power hammer. So in winter, the wood dries out, the boards contract, and actually move across the floor, creating the big gap.

Next winter, when the gap is at its widest, take up the boards on the wall side of the gap, and, one by one, fasten them tightly against the intact board, closing the gap. If you cannot nail them, use brass screws. Leave the expansion joint; it keeps the boards from buckling when they expand.

It’s an opinion, but if John does this, we will find out if it really works next winter. We can wait.

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

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