A little hot pepper may ward off chipmunks
Q. How can I get rid of chipmunks? They are digging holes in my yard and eating my flowers.
KEN DeBENEDICTIS, Andover
A. Chipmunks are one of the few rodents that are attractive critters and do the least damage to the environment, except of course Ken’s flowers. That said, you can try any number of repellents or deterrents: coyote urine, fox urine, or repellents for various critters, sold in hardware and big-box stores and garden centers.
Or, try anything hot on the tongue and mucous membranes. Only humans like hot pepper stuff; all critters, I think, hate it. So, sprinkle cayenne powder around strawberry beds and other plants. Hot pepper, cayenne, and other hot stuff will not hurt the plants. Be very careful with cayenne powder and other fine-grained hot stuff. Inhaled, it can cause anaphylactic shock. Try red pepper flakes, garlic powder, or crushed garlic cloves. Theresa Hanafin, one of my many editors, said she was told what can be effective: Fill a large jar with ammonia, put a slit in the lid, and insert a cloth wick, with a bit of the wick sticking up out of the lid. All these repellents will need renewing, especially after rain.
Q. My metal door is radiating cold into the house in winter, and the paint peels frequently, no matter what I do. The radiation occurred only in recent years. Now what? Can I stop the peeling? And the radiation? Anything else to save this sorry door? It is completely exposed to the weather. I had a wood door but the exposure rotted it out. The door is a part of an entry with sidelights on each side.
ROSALEE BOISSY, Lowell
A. Steel doors usually have a thermal break, separating the outside shell from the inside shell, preventing just what you experienced. With so many failures and your bad experience with wood, I suggest replacing just the door with a fiberglass door. I checked the Brosco (Brockway-Smith) catalog, and I see that fiberglass doors can be bought individually, so you can keep the present sidelights.
The total exposure of a door is a design failure common to Colonial type houses. You can built a porch over the entry.
Q. I spilled grease on my flagstone walkway three or four days ago. How can I get it off?
A. Ah yes, barbecue season has started, and stone and brick walks, patios, and decks are taking a beating. With luck, you can take up each stained flagstone (if it is not mortared in) and put it back upside down. Short of that brilliant idea, do this: wet the stain with paint thinner to dissolve the grease (the older the stain the more paint thinner you will need). Then sprinkle Speedy-Dry on the wet stain until it builds up a few inches. Wait an hour or two, then sweep up the Speedy-Dry and throw it away. Repeat as necessary. Speedy-Dry (there are several brands, all differently spelled) is an absorbent clay used to pick up grease and oil at auto shops. Other absorbent materials are salt and baking soda.
Q. I had a radon test made in my basement, which is used for little more than storage and was closed up for years. The test has two results: pass and fail. Mine failed. What can I do?
A. You may need a radon remedial system, which is simply a ventilation system to vent radon out of the basement and perhaps elsewhere. But before installing such a system, open all basement windows, and put an exhaust fan in one of the windows exhausting air outdoors. After three or four weeks, do another test.
Q. I have some very old wood Andersen double-hung windows that are very hard to move up and down. How can I make them easier to move?
BETTY, from Norwell
A. First, raise the lower sash and rub candle wax or any other kind of wax on the jamb. It can work. Sometimes you can see a side stop, a thin strip of wood nailed or screwed to the jamb and butting up against the lower sash, on each side of the sash. Loosening this side stop can make the sash move more easily.
Q. Years ago you wrote a story about your garden gate, noting that you built it of vertical pickets held together with a “Z’’ brace, two horizontal braces with an angled board in the middle to form a “Z.’’ I’m doing the same thing. Does it make a difference which way the angled brace goes: left or right?
A. I remember the story, but now I cannot find it. Big help. But I recall further discussions on whether the brace should go left or right. It was determined that it doesn’t make any difference. But for your own doubts and to make you feel better, put in an extra angled brace to form an “X’’ brace. I have two gates with Z braces, and I get no sagging after maybe 40 years.
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 (email@example.com)also chats online about house matters 2-3 p.m. Thursdays. To participate, go to www.Boston.com.