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Pachysandra patch won't stay put

Q. I have a big plot of pachysandra in my yard, and it is thriving. In fact, it is thriving too much, encroaching into the lawn. The division between pachysandra and lawn is a row of bricks on their wide sides, and roots are getting under those b...

Q. I have a big plot of pachysandra in my yard, and it is thriving. In fact, it is thriving too much, encroaching into the lawn. The division between pachysandra and lawn is a row of bricks on their wide sides, and roots are getting under those bricks. How can I keep the pachysandra where it is supposed to be? I like it, but it should stay where it belongs.

A. What you have to do is make a deeper border, so that the roots will not go under it. Trouble is, the pachysandra might just stretch itself onto the grass, over the barrier. Mine did that, and while it is weird, I like it; it adds to the wildness of the yard.

So, you can turn those flat-laid bricks into soldier bricks, plunging them lengthwise into the ground, 8 inches or so. Or, put in patio blocks, 8 by 16 inches, in the place of the bricks. You can put the patio blocks 8 inches into the ground, or all 16 inches. You will need more bricks to make the soldier bricks, and you will need more patio blocks if you plunge them in 16 inches. The deeper you go, the less the roots will travel under the blocks or bricks. If the plants stretch over onto the grass above ground, you can simply cut them off at the border.

Q. The first-floor ceiling of my house is getting peculiar water stains. They are not from leaks because there is another story above. They are yellowish in color, almost light brown, and follow the ceiling joists. What is causing them and how can I keep them away?

A. No, they are not leaks. They occur when water vapor in the air condenses on the ceiling where the ceiling is attached to the joists. That is the coolest part of the ceiling, right up against the wood of the joists. Sometimes mold will grow on the moist areas, sometimes ordinary dirt. For you, venting the water vapor out of the room will help prevent recurrence. To get rid of the water marks, paint them with clear shellac, then repaint the ceiling.


Q. My 1870s house is covered with aluminum siding, quite old. A fire damaged two sides of the house, doing a job on the aluminum siding. What can I do: Patch the two sides with aluminum siding or vinyl siding, or take off the aluminum and see what the wood clapboards underneath are like, and perhaps restore them?

A. If you try to patch the old aluminum siding, do not use vinyl. You can buy aluminum siding, just make sure it matches the width of the old. Or, take off the old siding on the two damaged walls and put up new aluminum or vinyl.

This is one place you can mix the two, but only one material on each wall. Check out Google to find aluminum siding dealers.

While removing the siding, you will have a chance to inspect wood clapboards underneath. If it is in good shape you could stain it. Having been under the siding for many years, I have little hope that the wood clapboards are in good condition.

If you opt for new vinyl siding, consider Cedar Impressions, a siding that looks like shingles and is the best of the vinyl. It's a shame to put vinyl on a grand old house more than 130 years old, but sometimes that is the least expensive, most hassle-free way to go.

Q. Do I need a new roof? My house was built in 1985 and I have discovered a leak in one bedroom, and we also have had some flashing repaired. And moss and mold are growing on the north side of the roof.

A. Your roof is 22 years old, and that is pretty young for a roof, which could last for 25 to 35 and more years, depending on the type of shingles used. But some tract or spec houses were built with the cheapest goods and slipshod construction, as cheap and slipshod as the builders could get away with.

You could have a roofer check for signs of deterioration, and recommend how to fix that leak. From what you describe, you may need a new roof. The moss and mold will grow on any roof, mostly north sides, which get wet and stay wet longer than south-facing roofs.


Q. I have a vertical crack in a wall where two drywall panels meet. I've had three contractors come in now, and each one spackles it and repaints, but the floor-to-ceiling crack reappears within 48 hours. What can I do about it?

A. You should have fired the first contractor, who was the first of all three to get it wrong. That joint is missing a nylon mesh tape, or a paper tape, that will prevent cracks. Find someone who will do this, or do it yourself; it is tedious, not difficult: Scrape out all joint compound in that joint, and remove the tape if it is there. Then fill the joint with joint compound, embed a mesh tape in that fresh compound, and add a thin layer of compound over the tape. Smooth off and let dry. Apply a second coat the next day, let that dry, smoothing it off by sanding, if necessary. And do it a third time.

One caveat: If this is a skimcoat on Blueboard, theoretically you may not need the tape, but from what you described, it is drywall and needs a tape. If it is a skimcoat on Blueboard, then a nyon mesh tape will solve the problem.

Soapstone and fish: Perfect mates

Here is what Ann K. from Melrose had to say to Mark Straffin, who asked the handyman what he could do with an old soapstone sink in his house.

"Eighty-four years ago my aunt and my parents bought a house in Malden fror $1,000 (It's now selling for $434,000.) My father found a double soapstone sink in the house and moved it to the yard, first drilling a hole in the section between the two sinks. He buried the sink up to the rim and filled it with water, adding a small school of goldfish. He put a screen over the sink to keep the cats away and planted dahlias around the sink. I enjoyed the sink, the fish and the dahlias for many years. The hole in the divider piece allowed the fish to go from sink to sink and back again."

Well, that is one use for an old soapstone sink. Thank you, Ann K. from Melrose.

Q. I want to finish the interior of my sunroom with pine, 1-by-6s. I want to use screws and putty the screws over. Any advice?


A. No need to use screws if you use nails. If you want putty over the screws, you will have to countersink them, which is tedious and really not the way to go about it. I assume the walls are exposed to the bare studs. If so, you can put up the boards horizontally, nailing into the studs. Use tongue and groove pine boards, better yet cedar, if you do not finish them. You can nail through the tongues (ooh, that hurts!), and the nail heads will not show. Use galvanized finish nails.

If you want the boards to be vertical, you will have to nail 1-by-2 or 1-by-3 strapping on the studs, horizontally. Then you can nail into the strapping. Set the strapping every 16 to 24 inches apart, starting at the floor.

Q.I washed the exterior of my house with TSP cleaner, and got some on the window glass and I can't get it off. Any suggestions?

A. Wash the glass with vinegar, and repeat with Windex.

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

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