Handyman on Call

Fixing a coverup job on new concrete walk

By Peter Hotton
Globe Correspondent / December 19, 2010

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Q. When I moved to a new house, I had a new concrete sidewalk installed, but it was a lousy job, all rust spots all over. The installers corrected the problem by painting it, but that paint peeled in a lot of places, and I can’t get all the paint up. Now what?
RUTH WOLFORD, Covington, La.

A. There’s nothing quite so frustrating as a messed-up job covering a messed-up job. Have the installers grind off the paint. Then try this on the rust: Mix 4 ounces of oxalic acid (sold in paint stores) in 1 quart of hot water. Use great care when handling acid. Pour this on the stains and let it dry. It may eliminate the rust, depending on how deep the rust is in the concrete. If the rust goes, then leave the driveway a good old concrete color. If any rust remains, apply one coat of a semitransparent stain. It will look good for five years, and will not peel.

Q. A chain-link fence surrounds my house, and is a foot inside the property line. My neighbor piles his leaves against my fence, so it is on my property as well. I wouldn’t mind, except the pile of leaves goes all the way to the top of my fence. I don’t want to argue with him, because he is a good neighbor and sometimes plows my driveway. Is there anything I can do?
G.H., Dedham

A. A gentle word or two might help. You could suggest he compost his leaves in a medium-size fenced area. There’s a good reason for this, because those leaves will hasten rust on the galvanized steel fence. Here is one idea: Offer your fence as one side of the proposed compost bin. Or, he can take those leaves to the composting yard, if Dedham has one. No matter the method, in a year or two those leaves will be a nice pile of good, rich loam.

Q. My 50-gallon water heater has a copper tank, so it has given yeoman’s service since 1983. But in recent months the oil burner makes a shrieky, squealing sound when it runs. You can’t believe how many parts of the oil burner have been replaced and how much I have spent. The sound stops for a day or two, but then starts up again. The burner is a Beckett, which I understand is a good one, but possibly noisy.
DOTTY, from Norwood

A. I too have a Beckett, and I was warned it might be noisy, but it is not. I can barely hear it upstairs when it runs in the cellar; the fan for the hot-air heat is louder, but is still barely heard upstairs. I think the nozzle, which sprays oil and air to create the flame, is making a whistle effect. The burner is making the noise; there are few if any moving parts in the tank, so it is not the tank. So, replace the whole burner. It should be free of charge, too. If that doesn’t work get a 50-gallon, stone-lined electric water heater. With oil pushing $3 a gallon, an electric heater is unlikely to cost much more to run. They might not be making the stone-lined heaters any more, but mine makes no sound at all.

Q. Our house is 49 years old. We have steam heat. We recently had some pipes replaced because we were having leaks and they were the original pipes. Since then we have loud knocking in the radiators. It is constant. Prior to the new pipes being installed we just had hissing and no banging. I have two questions: What size pipes should have been installed, and should they be copper or another type?
OUR EARS HURT, near Albany, N.Y.

A. A steam system works this way: The boiler creates steam. It rises in the pipes to fill the radiators where little silver valves at one end of the radiator open to allow the steam to push out the air, then close to hold in the steam. When the steam cools it condenses into water, and drops to the bottom of the radiator, which is sloped, to allow the water to flow back to the boiler. What happened in your system was that the radiators lost their slope, and a bit of water stayed in the bottom of the radiators. It got cold, and when the steam came up again it hit the cold water, making a bang. The cure is to raise the valve end of each radiator an inch or so, (a 3/4-inch-thick board will do), allowing the radiators to drain completely.

OUR EARS e-mailed again to say the radiators are bolted down. The handyman has never heard of that, but the answer is to unbolt them and put in the shims. Radiators lose their slope for several reasons, the most common being the floors tend to slope themselves as the house settles. The new pipes OUR EARS asked about are probably the right size and material, and although they did make the system more efficient, they aggravated the banging problem.

Q. I have ceramic tile floors in my home. I was attempting to remove rust stains from drapes with rust remover when the solution spilled onto the floor. The tile now appears to be stained. It is very dull. How can I restore the tile to its original luster?
CAMILLE, by e-mail

A. I don’t know what rust remover you used, but I think you can rub out those stains by rubbing with a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. Then polish with a dry cloth.

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 ( also chats online 2-3 p.m. Thursdays. To participate, go to