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HANDYMAN ON CALL | PETER HOTTON

Chill slipping through French doors

December 14, 2008
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Q. I have a set of French doors, one I keep permanently closed by bolting it to the floor. I don't want to make it so permanent that I can't open it on occasion, but now I have a goodly breeze between the doors. How can I weatherstrip that meeting space? There is no weatherstripping now.

CHILLY AT THE DOOR

A. If there is no weatherstripping there now, you can install spring bronze weatherstripping that will make a good closure. Spring bronze is a strip of crimped brass that can be nailed to the edge of either door. When the door is closed, it will press down on the crimped edge, making an opening airtight. Spring bronze is hard to find. Most hardware stores do not carry it but you can get it at the Boston Building Materials Coop in Roxbury. Another thing you can do to make a tighter fit is to nail a 1 1/2-inch-wide wood strip, 1/2-inch thick, to the movable door to cover the opening.

Q. I put in a few inside doors last winter, the molded type with hollow core. In June and July, they swelled so much they stuck and would not shut. I noticed the top edge is not painted. Would that have something to do with the swelling? And do hollow doors tend to swell as much as solid wood ones? How can I fix the problem?

RAY MELLO, Narragansett, R.I.

A. Hollow core, molded doors are just as prone to swelling because they have a solid wood frame - rails and stiles - on all four sides and possibly in the middle as well. This wood takes in moisture and will swell. You can plane down the edges so the doors will fit, then repaint all edges: top, bottom, and sides, with an oil-based primer and latex house paint. Properly done, this paint will keep out moisture; ergo, no swelling.

Q. A contractor put in two aluminum storms in my house, with hydraulic closers that worked quite well until I noticed that when the main door is shut, the closers do not shut the storms properly because they are pushing against a closed area. I adjusted the closers to their strongest, without success. New closers also did not work. Now what?

GEORGE BERBARIAN, Arlington

A. Those closers are the bane of everyone's experience, it seems. You could try installing a heavier closer. Or, drill a couple of small holes near the bottom of the storm door, to relieve the pressure against the closing storm. In fact, why not drill a couple of holes near the top of the storm as well. The insulative value of the storms will not be affected.

Still, another trick is to take off the closer and put in a strong spring in the middle of the door. A screen door spring is too weak. I put in a strong bungee cord. It worked too well. I am hard put to keep the door from smacking me when I go in the house. I have to replace the cords occasionally because of all that stretching.

Q. What is the best way to clean bluestone steps that have gotten dirty with brown spots?

BOB

A. Power wash when necessary. Or, treat with a bleach and water solution, any strength will do. Paint it on and let it dry, then hose off.

Q. Here is my dilemma: It took me a year to take off some very expensive ceramic tiles. I took off 25, lost another 20. But they are too nice to get rid of. Now how can I get rid of the mastic on the backs of the rescued tiles? I am soaking them in very hot water to soften the mastic, but it is a slow process.

SOUTH WEYMOUTH

A. If the mastic is slightly soft, boil the tiles in water. Boil as long as you like, and take one out at a time with tongs and try scraping.

Q. I plan to insulate all my ductwork in a hot-air system. I figure I will save a fair amount of heat that is now lost into the basement. I have the big trunk supply and return ducts side by side in my basement, about 1 1/2 inches apart. Should I insulate the two ducts together or do them separately?

PETER UMILE, Weymouth

A. Don't be tempted to do them together. Insulate them separately, even if it is difficult. If you tied them together, you would still be losing warm air to the cold air return. But here is a way to insulate both: Insert 1 1/2-inch rigid Styrofoam insulation between the two, then wrap the whole double unit in insulation. The ducts never get so hot that the Styrofoam is compromised.

More on air conditioner covers
Recently "Sherri" asked what kind of covers can go over air conditioner vents to prevent condensation leaks when they are not in service. The Handyman suggested a homemade wood frame filled with rigid insulation and held on with Velcro strips.

That was a good idea, of course, but here is what Bruce from Bedford e-mailed: Another kind of cover is a magnetic cover, which I recently ordered from a company where you can get custom-cut magnetic covers or buy the roll and cut your own. The company is Magically Magnetic Inc. The website is www.lyt.com. The link for the rolls is www1.ecxmall.com/stores/lyt/carsign magnet.html#rolls. Check it out. It might be a good one for your files.

And from Mike Douglas of Waltham: Here is what I have done every year for the last 19 years. I bought a sheet of 1 1/2-inch rigid insulation board and cut it into pieces to fit in the duct and marked them for the individual diffusers by room. Every fall I remove the diffuser and install the rigid insulation in the duct and then put the diffuser back on. I don't mind making the change twice a year.

Both ideas will go into my file.

Q. Here's another squirrel story, with a twist: My critter is trying to get in a bay of the roof just behind the side trim on my dormer. He has gotten in previously by chewing on the fascia trim board. I finally got him out and nailed some lightweight metal to cover the holes. He made short work of those metal patches, so the next time I got him out I covered the entire fascia with galvanized steel. He keeps scratching on the metal. How long will he take to get in, one way or another?

SHAKAR CHANDRASHEKAR, Norwell

A. Once squirrels and other critters are in a nice, warm, dry place to spend the night and winter, and are evicted, they will move heaven and earth to get back in, sparing nothing. But with your galvanized steel in place, he may have to try another place or another house. Here is one thing you can try if he succeeds in dislodging the metal. Replace the fascia with a solid vinyl board called Azak. It's harder than any wood and never needs painting. I made some balusters with Azak and they are remarkable.

Q. The ceilings are peeling in several rooms in my house. How can I repaint and not have the paint peel again? There doesn't seem much difference in the rooms where the paint is peeling and where it is not.

LORRAINE JIMENEZ, Lynn

A. As for the cause: 1) It could be paint over calcimine, in which case the peeling would be immediate. 2) The plaster got wet and dry over the years and cannot hold paint. 3) This is most important: The paint was not latex ceiling paint and it was put on too thickly. So, sand the ceiling to remove all loose paint and apply two thin coats of a latex ceiling paint. Ceiling paint is lighter in weight than any other paint and will resist peeling.

Globe Handyman on Call Peter Hotton is also in g on Thurdays. 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. To participate, go to www.boston.com. Hotton's e-mail is photton@globe.com.

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