Handyman on call

Ants marching in the basement

By Peter Hotton
January 14, 2010

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

Your article has been sent.

  • E-mail|
  • Print|
  • Reprints|
  • |
Text size +

Q. This past summer I had ants coming up through holes they dug in my basement floor. I managed to keep them out by sprinkling diatomaceous earth wherever I found ants, which was effective in keeping the ants out until flooding in the basement washed it away. Is it worth sealing the holes and cracks and putting another layer of cement on the floor or should I just keep sprinkling more diatomaceous earth?


A. I don’t think it is a problem because the ants are probably not causing a problem. What you can do is prinkle boric acid in the opening, then seal it with concrete. Boric acid is an ant killer, but I bet they will eventually make it past your new barrier.

Q. I have a piece of plate glass 20-by-72 inches on a cabinet top. Is it tempered? Water has come between glass and wood top and I cannot budge the glass. How can I get it off and how can I keep moisture from collecting under it?

VAN STEVENS, Sherburne

A. I don’t think the glass is tempered. Tempered glass usually has a built-in label. Water vapor condensed under the glass, causing it to stick. Very smooth surfaces tend to stick to each other; I think there is a technical term for this, but I’ll be darned if I can think of it. To lift the glass, put some ice cubes at one end; this will contract the glass, so it should be easier to slip a wide prying device like a putty knife under the edge and pry it up. If that doesn’t work, blow a hair dryer on one end of the glass; this will expand it and may make it easier to pry off.

Once it is off clean it and wipe it dry. Clean the cabinet top and put small rubber bumpers on the top, in each corner and about 12 inches apart along the long edges. This will keep the glass above the cabinet top and any water vapor that condenses will not make any difference.

Q. Since ripping up carpeting in our 1895-built home when we bought the place five years ago, our wide pine floorboards have gaps between them that let in quite a bit of cool air during the winter. I’ve considered filling the gaps somehow, getting blown-in insulation into the floors, or even re-carpeting, but both may be a Band-aid solution. Would it be worth getting some kind of in-home energy assessment to see where I’m bringing in cold air and how I can make the house more airtight?

IAN, in Hotton’s chat room

A. If you don’t know what has been done with the house to make it weatherpoof, then an in-home energy audit will reveal a lot of things such as insulation, lack of it, or not enough; windows, good, bad, or disastrous; weatherstripping; and other things. If you can get underneath those floors, you can install insulation. You can also fill the gaps with a brown caulking material. Or, if you are ambitious, you can pick up those boards, apply tarpaper or builder’s paper on the subfloor and reinstall the wide boards tight.

Q. I have a customer who wishes to have a handicap rail installed on the interior wall of her fiberglass tub unit (this is not a one-piece tub enclosure). Why, when I went to my local Home Depot, would the lengths of these handicap rails be incompatible with 16-inch stud construction? i.e., the longer lengths (which is what my customer desires), are available at 36 inches or 42 inches, which means I can only “hit’’ one stud and will have to use some kind of drywall screw/bolt for the other end?

CMA, by e-mail

A. I checked the Watertown Plumbing and Heating Supply Co. catalog, and there they were: Pioneer grab bars, stainless steel with a satin, bright, white, bone, or brass finish. Lengths, in inches: 12, 16, 18, 24, 30, 32, 36, 42, and 48. Don’t thank the Handyman, thank Bill Tragakis, the president, who gave me the catalog and has advised me on occasions when I screwed up. Call him at 617-924-2840 or 800-323-3233. If he’s not there, his son will be. The catalog costs $12.

Globe Handyman on Call also appears in the Sunday Real Estate section. 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. Go to