What lives in flooded holes?

By Peter Hotton
Globe Correspondent / April 1, 2010

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Q. My ranch house had a big flood, especially in the furnace room and garage. After the water subsided, I noticed two holes in the ground near the wall. I’m afraid animals might get in the holes and then into the basement or house through those holes.

WEST ROXBURY A. Those holes are channels where flood waters found the weakest earth. There are no animals in them; if there were, they would likely have drowned. Be sure to check the foundations of your basement for any suspected holes. Fill the holes in the ground with sand, then sod over them.

Q. Our 1922 house has a full basement. The cellar is dry. In the summer we must run a dehumidifier. There is a drilled hole through the concrete floor with a screen over the top. When you look into this small hole (about 3-inch diameter), you can see dirt and sand on the bottom. Is it advisable to have our dehumidifier drain into that hole? We do not have another obvious drainage possibility as there is no sink or set tub, nor is our washing machine in the cellar. We cannot drain it into the pump on the side of the furnace as it will burn out the pump and flood.

TOM, on Cape Cod A. You should not drain a dehumidifier into the hole in the floor or any place else in the basement, because that just returns the condensate to the original source of moisture. But you can buy a small pump that will pump it outdoors, where it belongs. Such pumps are available in hardware stores. Also you can buy such a device at Little Hero Pump Co. in Centerville, 508-771-8677, and George Washington Toma TV & Appliance in East Weymouth, 781-335-6435.

Be careful running that dehumidifier too long. If it runs steadily, pumping out lots of water, you may be pulling water vapor through the concrete slab. Leave the water vapor under the slab. Ventilating the basement may be the better way to go. Open windows for cross-ventilation , and see what happens. It’s free, too, and dehumidifiers, which work on a refrigerator basis, are expensive to run.

Architects and engineers
Margaret McKinney of Brookline called to ask about her house, which was making crashing noises and creating large gaps in walls. The tipping floors were rather severe. The handyman suggested she call a structural engineer or and architect to assess any damage. The handyman added that most architects are engineers.

Wrong! While the advice was correct, at least a dozen engineers and architects e-mailed to say that very few architects are structural engineers.

E-mailed Ed Buteyn, who read the column in the Denver Post: I am a structural engineer. I design buildings and generally team with architects on building design projects. I can assure you that most architects are not structural engineers. They had a course or two in college to give them a little bit of engineering knowledge. The reader with the damaged home should talk to a structural engineer, not an architect.

Thank you, Ed, and all the others who corrected the handyman.

Q. I repointed the bricks on my front steps, and got quite a bit of mortar on the face of the brick. How can I remove it? Also, when repointing, what consistency should the mortar be?

BOB WELCH, Methuen A. Make a mix of one part muriatic acid (sold in hardware stores and other outlets) and one part water (always pour the acid into the water). Pour this solution on the mortar; it will fizz up. When it stops, scrub with a scrub brush or wire brush. In extreme cases you may have to do it twice. You can do this the day after repointing or 100 years from now. Wear skin and eye protection when working with acid, and be careful. Incidentally, repointing is the removal of old mortar from the joints, and filling them with fresh mortar. As for consistency of the mortar, it should be wet but not soupy, wet but not crumbly.

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