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Handyman on Call

Covering exposed rafters with plywood panels

By Peter Hotton
Globe Correspondent / April 22, 2012
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Q.I have a screened porch that has a funny ceiling: exposed rafters that are level for 12 inches at the eaves and then rising until they meet a steeper roof. What can I use to cover the rafters? I would like to use grooved unfinished 4-by-8 foot plywood paneling. Would that work, but how? How can I paint it?

PAUL MOTYKA, Acton

A. Install the paneling so that the grooves are parallel to the side walls. Cut short pieces to fit that 12-inch flat part, and then put full panels on the slanted part so the grooves line up. If the rafters are spaced properly, you will be able to nail onto the rafters, even at the edges. It should work well. The only miserable part of the project is working overhead.

But there is one important thing you have to do first: Ventilate that space between ceiling and roof. Before you put up the panels, make sure there is a 2-inch-wide screened gap in the middle of the short paneling going the full length of the room, and another gap about 6 inches from the top of the ceiling, going the full length of the room. That will allow fairly good venting.

You mention the outside has a solid color latex stain. Use that to paint the ceiling. If you have difficulty nailing well on the rafters, nail 1 x 3 strapping across the rafters, 12 inches apart. That way you can nail into the grooves for an invisible connection, and nail anywhere you please into the strapping.

Q.Water was spilled on my kitchen tile floor, and now a fungus is growing on the caulking in the 1/4-inch gaps. How can I clean it off and keep it off?

UPSET

A. What you call caulking is really grout (mortar), so here is what you can do: Use straight bleach, let it set a few minutes and scrub with a small scrub brush. Repeat as necessary. When the grout is clean, seal it with a tile sealer. Those gaps are too wide. It is best to make the gaps 1/16th or 1/8th inch wide. That way grout will not show the dirt or change. You can’t fix the present floor, but any future floor with large ceramic tiles should have those thin gaps.

Q.I’m thinking of putting up a fence and was told I need to call a surveyor to locate the border. Some estimates exceed $1,200. Is that the norm?

CAB, in Hotton’s chat room

A. Surveyors can be expensive, but it is their skills that are costly. One way to avoid such expense is to confer with your neighbor(s). They may be cooperative, and you can put the fence 1 foot in from the border line. But neighbors change and you might see an old curmudgeon move in and sue the skin off your hide if the fence does not “comply.’’ So, find a surveyor.

Q.I bought my house last June. Everything was OK, until I recently saw a group of small holes in the wood on the outside. I can stick the point of a ballpoint pen in the holes. What are they and what can I do?

KATHY MURRAY, Milton

A. I think they are powderpost beetles, which tunnel in the wood and kick out a very fine powder-like sawdust; hence the name. The holes are probably exit holes for the beetles, which are long gone. There are many species of powderpost beetles. They also might be the old house borer. Such beetles often come and go. Or, you can have an exterminator use various insecticides to battle the critters. Boracor (I think it is a borate or borate relative) is a common treatment. One source I found in Google said that the bug is one to fear. I personally doubt that, but if you are concerned, look up powderpost beetles in Google, or call an exterminator.

Those carpet depressions

When a caller asked last week about getting depressions out of the carpet from furniture legs, the Handyman suggested putting a wet cloth over the depression and running a hot iron over it. Works every time, but two readers e-mailed with another idea.

From Grateful Homeowner: I have had great success over the years using the following: place ice cubes on depressed area, and leave them to melt, and then let the area dry. This is often all that is required. It also works on Berber. When the ice melts, ruffle carpet fibers with fingertips if necessary. Repeat all steps if necessary

May, from Exeter, N.H. offered the same advice.

Another reader said to be careful using a hot iron on some synthetic rugs. Some synthetics will melt under a hot iron.

Q. How can I extract cat urine from a finished hardwood floor?

JOHN HAGARTY, South Medford

A. There is no sure fix for cat urine or any other kind that creates black marks. You have to sand to the bare wood, bleach the stain, and hope it will lighten up after several applications. If it does, revarnish. If it doesn’t, you have to replace the boards or put a rug over them.

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 (photton@globe.com) also chats online 2-3 p.m. Thursdays. To participate, go to www.Boston.com

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