After 45 years, oil tanks may need to be replaced
Q. I have a three-decker in Dorchester, and I am concerned about the oil tanks in the cellar. They are about 45 years old. Is there a way to test them for safety, so they don’t leak?
PETER JACKSON, Quincy
A. Your oil dealer can test, but it will be pretty simple: He can check for soft spots in the tank, and he will probably recommend you replace them soon, because at their age they can go at any time. And that is what I suggest. Your dealer will refer you to a tank disposal/replacement company. It will cost at least $1,800 each to drain the oil, remove the tank, install a new one, and add the drained oil.
Q. My concrete front steps and stoop are pulling away from the foundation, leaving a small gap. A repairman wants to fill the gap with hydraulic cement. What is hydraulic cement and will it work? My door and stoop are exposed to the weather.
A. Hydraulic cement is a cement-based mortar that expands as it sets, making a very tight joint. It also is used to stop running water. Filling that joint with hydraulic cement will seal it tightly, making it a good plug. The steps and stoops separated from the house because they are not on a proper foundation 4 feet into the ground. That is not easily fixed, but the tight seal in that joint should be good for several years. A new roof over stoop and steps will protect the filled gap and the stoop and steps.
Q. In 1977 when we moved into our large house, I put contact paper into my 54 kitchen cabinets and drawers. It is worn now and so outdated. I have tried everything under the sun to remove that old paper with vinegar, special knives, etc. And since many of the boards are not removable, they cannot be taken out to be sanded. Your advice would be worth a lot to me.
REGULA MEIER, Norfolk, Va.
A. I also used some of the old material in a cabinet, and it took me hours of treating it with paint thinner, and heavy scraping, to remove it. If the old paper is in good shape, you can put new paper over the old. The new material is easily removed. You do not have to remove the old paper.
Q. We will be out of the house this winter. I will drain all water, so I can turn down the heat. How low can I set it?
A. If you put antifreeze in the toilets and all traps, as well as drain all water, you can turn the heat off entirely. Cold temps in a house will not harm anything. But if you insist, turn the thermostat to 40, if it will go that low, or as low as the thermostat will allow. That furnace is warm air, so there will be no concern about the heater.
Q. My old gas kitchen stove is still in great shape, but the metal trays under each burner are seriously caked with baked on materials. I think they are stainless steel. How can I remove all that gunk?
NANCY SNIDMAN, Newton
A. Hope that they are stainless steel, or at least aluminum, both of which will clean up nicely. Even enameled steel can clean up well enough. Try this: fill a big bowl or roasting pan with a strong mix of baking soda and water; half a cup of baking soda in 2 or 3 quarts of water. Soak the trays in for a day, even more. Then scrub with steel wool, or a nylon pot scrubber.
Q. I have some nice, but old, natural-finished oak cabinets. They have no handles, and now they have developed some greasy, grubby areas where they were handled when they were opened. How can I clean those areas, without messing up the finish?
TIRED OF SMUDGES
A. Try rubbing with a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. It will take hard rubbing. If some of the dirt is in the grain (pores of the wood) it will be hard to remove because oak is an open-pore wood. If nothing much helps, make a mix of half a cup of baking soda in 2 to 3 quarts of warm water, and scrub with that mix with a nylon pot scrubber.
If the stains clear up and are clean, you can prevent future stains by putting in some interesting handles.
Q. I am getting quite a bit of condensation in the house; the windows are fogged in the morning, but it goes away by noon or late morning. What’s wrong and how can I prevent it? Someone told me that closing the soffit vents will cure it.
WENDY AHLBORE, Cambridge
A. Yes, there is always “someone’’ there to give you advice, often wrong. When I talked with you I found you don’t even have soffit vents (“someone’’ was referring to gable vents), and even closing the gable vents will not help. Basically, you have nothing to worry about and the problem is hardly fixable because nothing is wrong. Here’s the true scoop: We manufacture water vapor by breathing, cooking, bathing and washing. It tends to build up in the house, until it saturates the air and condenses on those cold windows. Since it dissipates in a few hours, no problem.
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org) also chats online about house matters 2-3 p.m. Thursdays. To participate, go to www.boston.com.