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Time to find out what's up with backfiring oil furnace

Q My sister's oil furnace backfires about once a month, enough to rattle the house. Then there is a strong odor of oil. The furnace man says everything looks OK. Can this be normal?

AEverything may look OK, but it sure-as-shootin' is not, especially with the smell of oil. The burner seems to be building up oil every so often when the heat comes on, there is no proper flame, and wham! The excess oil explodes. If the oil smell is throughout the house and the system is hot air heat, there may be a cracked heat exchanger, which can be dangerous. All this is conjecture, so it is time to find out what is going on. Find a furnace man at your dealership who knows what he is talking about. If you are on a contract with the dealer, all this work should be free, or at least at a reasonable cost.

The situation is not normal. I have had different brands of oil burners for 40 years in my house, with no puffs or backfires.

Q. Some of the paper came off my bathroom walls, so I took it all off, but not all the paste came off, and the painter painted right over the rough surface. Now the finish is rough and bumpy. What can I do? Another painter suggested putting up a heavy-duty canvas cover to smooth out the bumps.

A. Did you actually pay this bozo? It's amazing what people do, especially with paint. But all is not lost. The heavy canvas the other painter suggested is called Coverall, and it is quite inconspicuous and can be painted. But you can do well this way: Sand off any flaking paint and smooth out the bumps. You don't have to take off all the paint; just enough to give a good, smooth finish. Then apply two coats of a flat latex wall paint. Normally you could use an eggshell finish, which is neither flat nor shiny, but don't do it on this surface because it will highlight any unevenness. The flat paint will not highlight anything, and you will get a good finish out of it. Two thin coats are essential for success.

Handyman on Call also appears in the Globe's Real Estate section on Sundays. Peter Hotton is available 1 to 6 p.m. Tuesdays to answer questions on house repair; call 617-929-2930. Hotton chats online about house matters 2 to 3 p.m. Thursdays at Hotton can be reached at

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