Handyman on Call

Covered asbestos a sale deterrent?

By Peter Hotton
Globe Correspondent / June 3, 2010

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Q. I m looking at buying a house that has vinyl siding but has asbestos-cement shingles underneath. Is it worth removing them or just leaving it as is? I’m concerned for future sale if it comes up.

BUDDY, in Hotton’s chat room

A. It is amazing that Massachusetts allows vinyl siding to be put up over asbestos-cement shingles. The procedure involves putting a blanket of 3/8-inch Styrofoam insulation over the shingles, then nailing on the vinyl siding. Such nailing is sure to break up the asbestos shingles, although it is claimed the blanket of insulation keeps the broken asbestos shingles from falling down or being exposed. The broken shingles are not a hazard until they are exposed. This situation is unlikely to affect a resale in the future, but if I were you, I would look for another house.

Q. I bought a 1900 house that was abused, but still in reasonably good shape. In two rooms I took off four layers of rugs, plywood, and linoleum, then sanded the floors. They came out beautifully. But in a third-floor room, tar paper was applied under a plywood top floor. I simply cannot scrape off that tar paper, which seems embedded in the wood under it. Any tips?

JACK CUNHA, Cambridge

A. Soak the tar paper with paint thinner, and use lots and lots of ventilation. Work on small areas at a time. The paint thinner will dissolve some of the tar in the paper and should make it easier to scrape up. If necessary, use a long-handled scraper so you can put your back into it. A heavy duty ice scraper makes a good tool for this.

Q. Could you please suggest a good paint for an outside bulkhead door? Beyond scraping, what prep is necessary?

FM, in Hotton’s chat room

A. If the door is wood, scrape off loose paint, sand heavily, and wash with a strong detergent and water. Let dry, apply an exterior primer, then two coats of a latex house paint. If it is metal, sand heavily, and sand off all traces of rust. Apply a metal primer and finish off with a Krylon Aerosol spray paint.

Q. I’m buying a house that has great hardwood floors that are in need of some TLC. I’ve heard pros and cons about refinishing hardwood floors on your own. What are your thoughts?

GUEST, in Hotton’s chat room

A. It is easy to do (the skills are pretty basic, and practice will make perfect). But it is very hard work. I’ve done many floors that are pretty good, but in my dotage I won’t do any more, partly because I can afford having it done. To refurbish, you can sand with a power sander using only the fine grade paper. Rent a flat-plate sander, which is much easier than one of those rotary sanders, which can pull you right through a door if you are not careful to hang on for dear life. For full refinishing, use three grades of paper: coarse, medium, and fine. Then apply the finish. A professional job, complete, will run several hundred dollars a room.

New lead regulations
When the handyman replied to caller Dan about sanding his house before painting, the handyman admitted not knowing anything about new regulations prohibiting sanding houses built before 1978, because of lead paint hazards, but said it was probably OK for the homeowner to sand.

Wrong! said several e-mailers, including Rick Cutler, production manager/project developer of Out of the Woods Construction & Cabinetry Inc. of Arlington, who e-mailed: Your recommendation about the exterior sanding overlooks the fact that sanding on the exterior has been illegal for some time, and if you haven’t read up on the new EPA RRP rule about lead and the updated dust containment procedures, please do before you give anymore inaccurate advice.

That the handyman will do, with thanks to Rick Cutler, and I notice the regulations apply not only to renovation contractors and other professionals, but to homeowners as well.

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