Handyman on Call

Plastic pipes are a less expensive option for plumbing

By Peter Hotton
Globe Correspondent / June 26, 2011

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Q. My plumber used plastic tubing for my water supply pipes. It cost 40 cents a foot compared with $4 per foot for copper. Is this OK? I thought copper was the be-all and end-all for supply lines and drains. Also, I had three recommendations for deck flooring. Two suggested Azek 5/4 x 6 flooring, one suggested pressure treated 5/4 boards. Which is better?

ROY, from Methuen

A. For your plumbing, if the plastic is within code, it’s good to go. The price of copper is a disadvantage, of course, but another negative for copper is that thieves are looking for copper to resell. For deck flooring, it’s not a matter of “best,’’ but a lot of matters. Azek is solid vinyl (not siding) and performs well, although it does not have a track record longer than a few years. It’s also very expensive, several times the cost of pressure-treated. If you can afford it, it is maintenance free, except for occasional washing. Pressure-treated boards will last indefinitely, and can be left unfinished or stained with a semitransparent stain.

Pressure-treated is natural, and will weather to a nice-looking gray color without finishing. Some deck owners have complained of splits at board ends. This can be controlled with a wood preservative or stain. The term 5/4 means that the boards are a full inch thick, and are very sturdy.

Q. The concrete steps on my porch are cracking, with big cracks, and some small to medium chunks falling off. Can I fill the cracks with mortar? If so, can I put the chunks back on, but with what?


A. Yes to both questions. The cracks must be wide enough for you to pour thinned-down mortar into, as deeply as possible. This is by no means permanent; the cracks may reappear, wider than ever. But it is worth a try.

For the chunks, glue them in with Liquid Nails, a construction adhesive that comes in a caulking cartridge, so you need a caulking gun. You will have to hold the chunks for a few minutes. I have done brick chunks with the Liquid Nails, and it is weatherproof and will hold for years.

A little about mortar
Mortar is mortar, right? Not necessarily, says Steve Finberg of Cambridge, who often calls me to add to or correct some of the information that I have dished out. This time it was about mortar. Mortar Mix, widely sold in stores, is sold as Type N, and is good for above-grade work. Type S, called Mason’s Mix and also widely sold, is for below-grade work, but you can use it for any projects — above or below grade, said Finberg.

Incidentally, there is also a type of mortar recommended for antique brickwork. It doesn’t expand like modern mortar, and will not damage the old, old brickwork.

Q. A painter and I buffed the wallpaper that could not be removed in one room, then painted with two primers and one finish coat, and after several weeks, it still smells bad. How can I reduce that smell?


A. Ventilate, ventilate, ventilate! Also, there is a new odor buster on the market that might work. Ellen Gormley of Foxborough told me about Room Shocker, sold at Put a cup of this on the floor (not poured on the floor) and close the room up for 12 hours.

Q. We are about to have our fence posts replaced and the question is: concrete or nothing as a base. I recall reading that nothing is best, but cannot remember where or why. Also, I painted some outdoor wood with oil-based paint — granted in cold, damp weather — and it isn’t drying. It remains sticky a day later, even after I spent time aiming my hair dryer at it.

ANN HERSHFANG, by e-mail

A. You may have read my column about putting fence posts in the earth, because I and other fix-it gurus have been yammering about this for years. Why? Because there is no way to keep water from entering the space between the concrete and post. The post stays wet there forever, causing early decay.

The oil-based paint was applied on a damp surface, or when it was too cold (50 degrees), or applied without a primer, or too thickly. Be patient and wait. Eventually it will dry.

Q. I have had aluminum siding on my house since 1975. How can I wash the mold and mildew off the white aluminum on the north side of the house?

P. LEVINE, by e-mail

A. Ordinary Spic and Span in a medium-strong solution to which a cup of bleach has been added (to tackle the mold) will work. Do not power wash. Careless washing can force water behind the siding. The cleaning solution may take off some of the paint, but that is because the paint is 36 years old.

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