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Handyman on Call

With some roof types, there’s no need for gutters

By Peter Hotton
Globe Correspondent / October 9, 2011

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Q.I have an L-shaped ranch with two valleys where the roof forms the “L.’’ Water and ice tend to build up in the valleys, and I have other problems with gutters. Can I take them off?


A. Yes, no, and maybe. How’s that for a hedge? But seriously, some houses do not need gutters. Mine, for instance, with a hip roof, a fair overhang, and good yard drainage. Your ranch could do well without gutters because ranch houses generally have shallow roofs, so water flows slowly down-roof except along the valleys, which will produce heavy streams of water but should not leak. You need an overhang of at least 10 inches or so, so water will drip harmlessly on the ground, and flow away if the ground slopes a little. One problem is that a lot of water along the foundation can flow down the foundation and can leak into the basement. This can be corrected by regrading to create a slightly sloping yard, or by building a concrete apron 2 or more feet around the foundation to guide the water away. Finally, you may have to move foundation plants away from the falling water.

I suggest you try removing gutters from one side of the house to see what happens during the next four seasons. And as I have chattered about, gutters or lack of gutters does not cause ice dams.

Q.I can walk under my closed-in porch, which has fiberglass insulation in the ceiling. The space under is exposed. Trouble is, the insulation is damp, mice are messing it up, and birds pick at the fiberglass. I took it all down and am letting the ceiling area dry out. What can I put in there that would resist mice and birds?


A. You could put in new fiberglass insulation with the paper vapor barrier facing up, touching the ceiling above, then staple Tyvek on the joists to keep the fiberglass in good shape and dry. But better yet, I suggest you put in 4 inches of Thermax, a rigid insulation with aluminum foil on the side, cutting it to size and fitting it snugly but not tightly. Thermax comes in 2-inch thicknesses, so you will have to put in two layers. Nails driven under the Thermax will hold it in place, and Tyvek stapled to the joists will complete the job. For more protection, nail plywood on the joists.

Q.My daughter bought a house in which the owner pulled up the rug in the basement, leaving a layer of adhesive that just stays there. She would like to put something else down, but not until she gets rid of the adhesive. How can she do that?


A. There are many ways to remove that goo. Try one of these: paint thinner, denatured alcohol, Oops, or any of the citrus-based cleaners, such as Citrus Green. Even a stripper like Citristrip will work. If any of these do not work well, try this final one: apply any kind of oil, wait 15 minutes, and then scrape it up. Once you get all or most of it up, consider applying ceramic tiles, with a thin-set mortar. This would be permanent, and you can put down area rugs, if you use the space as a living space.

Q.One of my pups soiled a hardwood floor, staining it with big black spots that cannot be removed. The floor is prefinished T&G oak 9/16-inch thick and 7 3/8-inches wide. I took out the solid boards, but my dealer said it is not made any more. I think the manufacturer is Harris Parquet of Johnson City, Tenn. Now what?

ROBERT, Rhode Island#

A. Have the dealer call the Harris company or call them yourself. Even if they don’t make such boards any more, there should be some lying around, enough to sell to you. Or, beg them to make a few for you.

Q.Here’s one for you. I bought a nightstand made in China for $300, so it was not cheap, but it has a peculiar odor inside. Not mold, but an odor I can’t identify. How can I get rid of that odor?


A. The odor is coming from the inside wood, which is not finished. Oak is a good example of smelly wood, which has a sweet but not unpleasant smell when freshly cut. It will dissipate with time. But if you don’t want to wait, apply one or two coats of a water-based polyurethane varnish to all unfinished surfaces. I had suggested oil-based varnish, or an emulsion, but water-based varnish is also a good sealer and being water-based it will have less of an odor than the nightstand.

Q.I chose beadboard as wainscoting in my completely gutted bathroom. It came in 3-foot widths and was installed in February between baseboard and chair rail. Now it is badly warping. How can I fix this?

ELIZABETH, West Roxbury

A. And a mess it is, caused by faulty installation, probably glued on spaced horizontal strapping. Get after the installers. Perhaps gluing the sheets on a solid wall of plaster or plasterboard will work better. Additional nails, driven into solid wood such as studs, will also help.

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