Handyman on Call

Try paint or contact paper on rusty baseboard units

By Peter Hotton
Globe Correspondent / July 10, 2011

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Q. The metal covers of my baseboard heating units are getting quite rusty. How can I get rid of the rust and repaint?

R.R., Sudbury

A. It’s a common problem, especially in bathrooms and kitchens, but there are two pretty good cures.

1. Sand off as much rust as practicable, then paint the remaining rust with Rust Reformer or any brand containing phosphoric acid, which will turn the rust black and make it paintable.

Apply a metal primer and finish with a metal finish paint. Here’s a variation: Apply Krylon Contractor paint or Krylon Door and Shutter paints, which need no primer. Colors may be limited, but here’s another idea: Paint all of the units black with the wrought iron paint, which will serve two good purposes. It will be dramatic in any room, and the black color will make the units more efficient heaters. A high heat resistant paint is not needed because the units do not get too hot for ordinary paint.

2. Lots easier and probably less expensive: Buy contact paper of the color you like, cut it to fit the top of the unit and apply it to the top.

Unlike the old contact paper, which was impossible to remove, the new paper is easily removed when it gets grungy, and you can easily replace it. And while you are at it, change colors whenever you like.

This answer is also for Sally Brown of Brighton, who asked the same question.

Q. My son has a large dry well in his driveway in Sharon. It has worked well for 35 years. The well is lined with flat stones, and never overflows, but it has dropped a bit, leaving the steel grid cover an inch below the driveway. How can I raise that steel grid cover? Should I rebuild the well with concrete?


A. It ain’t broke so don’t rebuild it. Take off the grid cover and put in a ring of aluminum or wood to bring the grid cover up to the right level.

Can’t find a ring? Ask your town’s public works department, or glue short pressure-treated wood blocks every few inches around the ring.

Q. A drain pipe fell off a gutter and made a hole in my asphalt driveway a few inches in diameter and several inches deep. How can I fill that hole so it will not reappear?

GRACE McGRATH, Somerville

A. You can fill it with cold patch, a bag of asphalt to match the driveway. Put a few inches of this stuff in the hole, then tamp it down with a sledge hammer or other heavy pounder. Add more asphalt patch until you reach the top, and top it off with more and tamp it down with your sledge until it’s even with the driveway.

If it drops a little, add more patch. A lot easier is to fill the hole with Concrete Mix. It’s a premixed concrete (just add water) sold in lumber and big-box stores.

Puddle the fresh concrete with a steel rod. Puddling is pushing the rod up and down to compact the concrete. Add a little more as you go along. Stop puddling when the concrete starts to set up, which is about 20 minutes. Pull the steel rod out before it gets stuck in the concrete.

Q. My house is made of blocks, with big porches with concrete floors and low walls 12-inches thick that act as railings. There are drain holes in these walls at floor level, designed to let water flow out. There is a pipe sticking out of the outside, but no pipe inside, which is filled with debris. I can’t seem to dig out that broken mortar and concrete. What can I do? The holes are two inches in diameter.


A. The trick is to dig out all that loose debris without disturbing the outside pipe. Try this: Use a long barbecue fork, which will give you sharp points to break up the stuff and enough room to reach in and pull it out. Buy some 2-inch PVC pipe and cut it to length to fit into the opening.

Q. We have stamped concrete around our pool area. It’s four years old and in certain areas it is very discolored and dirty looking. Is there a way to clean this or will good old soap and water do the trick?


A. The stamped concrete is probably well compressed, so it should stand up to power washing. Try it, power washing, and if that does not mess up the concrete, go ahead with it. If not, clean with water and detergent to which a cup of bleach has been added.

Globe Handyman on Call Peter Hotton is also in the g section on Thursdays. He is available 1-6 p.m. Tuesdays to answer questions on house repair. Call 617-929-2930. Hotton (photton also chats online about house matters 2-3 p.m. Thursdays. To participate, go to