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Can a house get along without gutters?

Q. My wood gutters are quite old and just about ready to go. My house is on top of a steep hill. Does it make sense not to have gutters at all?
BRUCE WALLIN, Jamaica Plain

A. Well, why not try it and see what happens? Whenever the Handyman mentions the idea of gutters or no gutters, he receives some pretty strong replies, pro and con.

Gutters and downspouts were developed to keep roof water from dripping along the foundation and into the basement. There are certain criteria that your house needs in order to go without gutters. One is to make sure there is at least a 6-inch-wide roof overhang. The wider the overhang, the better. Another is to ensure the ground is level or, ideally, slopes downward from the house, to allow good runoff (but not eroding the land away). Still another is to install a concrete apron around the house to prevent dripping or cascading water from getting into the foundation.

One more caveat: If you have a large gabled roof (one with two slopes down from a ridge), you can get heavy runoff from each slope, which you may find excessive. If you do find the runoff excessive, it's time for gutters and downspouts. Runoff from a hipped roof (four slopes running down from a peak) is not likely to be excessive.

Now you are ready to try this noble experiment. Disadvantages to such a system are erosion of the ground where the water runs off and a possible deep drip line. A concrete apron along the foundation can control this problem. The apron should be about 6 inches wider than the roof overhang.

Q. I need a new front door. The edges of the panels are showing bare wood, while the middle of the panels, and the frames, are still painted. Can I caulk the panels to keep this from happening? As for a new door, which is better, wood or fiberglass?

A. First of all, you do not need a new door. The wood in the panels and in the frame has dried out and contracted, exposing the unpainted edges of the panel. The panels are free-floating inside the frame, and readily move when they expand and contract. They are supposed to do that; if they were glued in place, they would crack when they contract. So, do not caulk them; that will do more harm than good.

To correct the problem, repaint the door, and be sure to paint all edges -- side, top, and bottom edges as well as the front and back -- to seal out moisture that caused the expansion and contraction in the first place.

If you ever need a new door, it is not a matter of what is better, but how much you want to spend. Fiberglass is excellent, and is insulated, and can be carved and stained or painted to look like elegant wood. It is expensive. Wood is also excellent and is a natural insulator, is less expensive, and can be stained or painted. Forget about steel. A storm door can be put over a wood or fiberglass door, but it is not necessary with a fiberglass one. A storm door should not be put on a steel door because heat buildup between the two can distort any plastic trim on the steel door, especially around windows.

Q. One of your rather old articles gave a formula for killing Japanese bamboo: ''Mix 6 ounces Roundup concrete in a gallon of water." Now what in the world is Roundup concrete?
JOE DOYLE, Weymouth

A. What a ditz. And what a typo! How about Roundup concentrate? That will kill the Japanese bamboo. You still may need to root it out bodily, even with roots stuck between big stones. The job is tough, but you can prevail. The Handyman got rid of two sections of the stuff in two years. Roots and all is the secret.

Q. I would like to paint one of my cast-iron radiators. Any tricks?
MAURA McDONALD, South Portland, Maine

A. Sand with as much energy as you have left after a busy summer. Sand off any rust spots. Apply one coat of an oil primer, and finish with an oil enamel. Why oil? Because latex can cause rust. And, there are two tricks: the darker the color, the more efficient the radiator will be in providing heat. The other trick: Get cracking, because the radiator must be primed and painted while it is cold.

Q. We have a nice old soapstone double sink in the basement, and it has collected a thick layer of unknown scum over the years. I have tried scraping off the scum with a razor blade but I'm afraid I'd damage the soapstone. How can I clean it and keep it clean? Would it be a good idea to seal it?
F.D., Waltham

A. Try this for the scum: Apply a strong solution of ammonia and water, which will dissolve the scum or soften it so you can scrape it off with a razor blade scraper. Do not mix anything with ammonia, and definitely not bleach. When scraping, just be careful. Any other scum blaster, such as Kaboom or similar silly-named concoctions, may also work.

Nicely cleaned, the soapstone might come out rather grayish. If you like that, you can seal it by applying boiled linseed oil or mineral oil. Apply it liberally, let it stand for 15 minutes, rub with your hands, then take it all off, or as much as will come off, with a dry cloth. This will turn the soapstone dark green or black. Then clean the sink with ammonia and water or other cleaner each time you use it.

For a complete refurbishing, sand the sink to the bare stone with fine sandpaper and apply the oil. If the oil is not removed (as much as will come off) with the dry cloth, it will stay sticky indefinitely. Another caveat: Dispose of oily cloths carefully by burning them; left lying around, they will spontaneously combust.

Q. My house has double-hung windows with triple-track combination storm windows and screens on the exterior of the windows. A contractor told me that replacement tilt-in windows could not be installed if I wanted to keep the existing storm/screen units in place. Is this true? And if so, why is it true?
A.B., Framingham

A. I think the contractor just does not want to be bothered with the storms and screens. It also might be that the tilt-in frame will bump up against the storm when the tilt-in is tilted in. It also may mean that the frames of the replacement windows are larger than the original, and if so it would be impossible to remove the storms. Try to get an explanation from the contractor. If he comes up without one, find another window man.

Q. The pressure-treated floor boards of my covered deck are spaced too far apart, and unsightly debris gets caught in the gaps. The debris cannot fall through because the under part of the floor is screened. How can I fill those gaps?
L.K., Kennebunk, Maine

A. Try this: Cut pieces of pressure-treated wood to the width of the gaps and tap them into the gaps. Be sure the strips are snug in the gaps, and make sure they are the same depth as the floor boards. If the covered porch is exposed to the weather, the water might find its way through the gaps, but that should not matter. Vacuum out the debris before putting in the filler strips.

Globe Handyman on Call Peter Hotton is available 1-6 p.m. Tuesdays to answer questions on house repair. Call 617-929-2930. Hotton also chats on line about house matters 2-3 p.m. Thursdays. To participate, go to Hotton's e-mail is

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