Handyman on Call

Shingles made from recyclables hold up for years

By Peter Hotton
Globe Correspondent / May 29, 2011

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

Your article has been sent.

Text size +

Q. What purpose is served by the “sprinkles’’ on asphalt shingles? I ask, because I am thinking of re-doing a roof with shingles made from recycled tires. I have seen them in place on another building. They really look pretty good, though, as you might expect, they are a solid, flat black and do not have sprinkles. Have you heard of the product? What do you think of the idea. It just sounds like such a great example of recycling/reuse, but I don’t want it to be at the cost of being functional.

DANA LADD, by e-mail

A. “Sprinkles?’’ I love it: You should offer the roofing manufacturers your description for those little bits of gravel. They are fine bits of gravel, colored to provide a color, and also to keep the tar from wearing away. Yes, I have heard of the ex-tire shingles, and they are very good and last for decades. They are limited in color and style, but a great way to recycle stuff. They don’t need the sprinkles because the tire material is very hard, unlike tar, which is soft.

Q. I had a man point out all the loose chipped bricks and stone in my foundation, then he suggested installing a steel mesh against the inside foundation, then applying stucco, which is essentially mortar. Is this OK?


A. You bet it is, maybe even overkill, because that parging (the stucco) is not going anywhere for decades. Be content with this, and enjoy the new basement, especially if it is dry or has a flood-control system.

Q. My boiler is fired by oil. A man recently suggested I put the tank outdoors because I have no access to the basement except from the kitchen. Does that make sense? The tank is about 40 years old.


A. Not in my opinion because the tank would be subject to all kinds of weather, from excessive heat to ice and everything else winter has to offer. How in the world did they get the tank in in the first place?

Also, you should have that tank checked out because 40 years is a critical point for a tank. I say replace it. It will be easy to take the tank out of the basement because the tank company cuts it up anyway into itty-bitty pieces. If it’s impossible to get a standard tank into the basement, the company could install two smaller ones.

Better yet, it would be a good idea to build a bulkhead to make things a lot easier and more convenient.

That icky tobacco smell
When a caller asked last week how to get rid of the tobacco contamination in a house she plans to buy from a relative, the handyman suggested cleaning ever so thoroughly and ventilating forever.

Good advice, said Ellen Gormley of Foxborough, adding that she found a marvelous odor buster online. It is called Room Shocker. Set a cup of this on the floor of a room and close the room for 12 hours.

I tried it for various odors and was amazed and pleased at how well it worked. Find it at

Q. I am putting down ceramic tiles in one of my rooms. Can I put down plywood as an underlayment, or the cement board called WonderBoard?

BOB from Burlington

A. In the olden days, people put down plywood because there was nothing else but a layer of mortar, which most people skipped because it was hard to get it all level. The only thing wrong with the plywood is that it is not very stable, expanding and contracting with moisture content, and this movement often broke the grip of the tile adhesive.

Along came two miracles: WonderBoard, half-inch cement board, and thin-set mortar.

Apply thin-set to the floor and then put down the WonderBoard (there are other brands) and nails or screws. Screws are better. Finally, apply the tiles with thin-set, and you have a mud job (mortar and tiles) at half the cost. And you can do all this yourself.

Q. I read your recipe for cleaning old cast-iron tubs, but I lost it. I do know it contained cream of tartar. Can you repeat it?

REGINA CROUSE, Glenfield, N.Y.

A. Sure can. If just the bottom is in bad shape and dirty, dirty, dirty, wet the bottom thoroughly with hydrogen peroxide. Then sprinkle cream of tartar liberally on the wet surface.

Wait overnight, then scrub and rinse. If the whole tub is bad, make a paste of equal parts hydrogen peroxide and cream of tartar. An interesting thing I ran into when looking up the spelling: cream of tartar was invented in 1662.

Another tidbit. Once when I ran this item, a woman called to complain: “Did you know that cream of tartar costs $4 an ounce?’’ It beats the heck out of the handyman, then as now.

Globe Handyman on Call Peter Hotton is also in the g section on Thursdays. He is available 1-6 p.m. Tuesdays to answer questions on house repair. Call 617-929-2930. Hotton ( chats online about house matters 2-3 p.m. Thursdays. To participate, go to