Handyman on call

She needs new floor plan

By Peter Hotton
Globe Staff / July 29, 2010

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Q. I had vinyl asbestos tile removed from my basement, leaving a black mastic. I am not planning to do anything fancy because of a continuing water problem; I just want to cover the mastic so it can be walked on, and maybe throw down some area rugs. Can I paint it, and if so, with what? Can I use Drylock?

JOY G. , in Hotton’s chat room

A. The only paint that can work on the black tar emulsion adhesive is pavement paint, which might be sold in big box and paint stores. If you are considering rugs, how about putting down runners leading to a laundry area or other work area? Or, bite the bullet and use paint thinner (and lots of ventilation) to dissolve the mastic, then wipe it up with dry cloths so when you walk on it shoes will not stick in it or track the stuff all over the house.

Q. I bought a 1965 house occupied for years by a chain smoker. How can I eliminate the smoke stains and odor? Some of the rooms have been painted to try to cover the stains and odor, but not all. I threw away all the rugs, curtains, and blinds. Any ideas? The realtor suggested an ozone treatment, but it costs $1,000.

RON A. On Google, I found some treatments for less than $1,000, some ideas to disguise the odor by cooking garlic, and other tricks that might work. Before you spend a ransom for treatment, wash, wash, and wash again, with a strong detergent and water, which will eliminate the source of the odor and stain. Have upholstered furniture cleaned by a professional and wash other pieces. Eventually the odor will be gone or you will get used to it.

Q. Is it worth the cost and effort to put in solar-powered fans to take heat from the attic, which is like a furnace on these hot days? As of now I have a small vent at each end of the attic, up near the peaks.

BOB FISHER , Weymouth

A. Frankly no, because there is a better way to do it with the right kind of vents, and they will give you free ventilation. Those vents include a ridge vent, and soffit vents. The best of the soffit vents is a continuous 2-inch-wide screened strip along the full length of each soffit (the underpart of the roof overhang). A roofer can install the ridge vent, and if it is not too high, you can cut the soffit vents. Ventilation experts claim that with these vents, the temperature in the attic will be no more than 10 degrees above the outside air.

Q. I have Andersen windows in a modular house. Every winter the windows are black with mold, and it is ruining them. I called Andersen, and a representative said the mold growing is not the fault of the windows. Well, whose fault is it? What can I do about it? What can I paint the windows with to get rid of the mold and keep it away?

EILEEN A. Sorry, it is your fault, and also the fault of the builder of the modular house, and Andersen, too. The house is super tight, and the windows are tight, too, allowing water vapor to build up until there is just too much and it condenses on the cool wood of the windows. Ergo, mold. The tight house and windows are saving heating and cooling costs, but the mold is a byproduct. So, ventilate the rooms involved to let all that vapor escape. An air conditioner is also a dehumidifier. As for the window frames, they are far from ruined, and you can get rid of the mold with bleach (1 part) and water (3 parts). Or use Moldex, a new mold buster on the market. Then refinish the windows or prime and paint them.

Nothing you can paint the windows with will affect the mold. Well, maybe there is: Zinsser makes a super white latex paint that is very glossy and hard; the gloss and hardness is a deterrent to the growth of mold because the mold has a hard time sticking to such a surface. Glass is hard, smooth, and glossy, and you never see mold growing on it. But alas, the mold will find another soft place to grow on. Reducing water vapor is the only sure-fire method.

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