Q. I'm distressed about an unethical handyman who has been taking advantage of my elderly mother. She first called him because the nails in her roof were sticking up. He told her that was normal for the kind of roofing on her house. Then he told her the windowsills need to be repainted. My mom won't say how much she paid him because she doesn't want to upset me. But he got paint onto the siding below the sills, and he didn't remove any of the old, peeling paint. He just painted over the old cracked paint. He also painted the windows shut, and my mom broke the inside handle trying to force the bathroom window open. I think this man has taken advantage of her. What do you think?
A. From your description, it is uncertain which is worse, the handyman's workmanship or his ethics. Unfortunately, incidents such as this, involving financial abuse of the elderly, are commonly reported. At this point, you have two issues: evaluating the roof and dealing with the inequities of the handyman, including getting the windows to open.
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To determine the true condition of the roof, you should have it checked by an experienced home inspector or a licensed roofing contractor. A handyman is not qualified to make that kind of evaluation; especially one who lacks the skills to paint windowsills or who hasn't the integrity to deal honestly with an elderly woman. In my opinion, the handyman should have to explain his questionable performance to a small claims judge.
Q. We have a garage workshop with a flat roof. In the summer, the interior gets so hot we can't stay inside long enough to do any work. Do you have any ideas for helping to keep it cool?
A. The first thing to do is minimize the heat gain from the roof. A flat roof functions as a solar panel, soaking up the heat rays from the sun and turning the garage into a solar oven. Two ways to reduce heat gain are to paint the roof with a metallic sealer to reflect the sun's rays and to install insulation in the garage ceiling to prevent roof heat from entering the garage. Although these measures will reduce heat inside the garage, additional cooling may also be needed. If so, you should insulate the garage walls and install an air conditioner or evaporative cooler.
Q. I am under contract to purchase a home in New Jersey with asbestos siding. This home was built in the 1950s. I am worried I will never find a buyer once I decide to sell. Do you agree?
A. You may find fewer buyers for a home with asbestos siding, but there is always a willing buyer, regardless of the condition of a home. However, asbestos siding is not an inherent health hazard if it is left as-is. It does not release asbestos fibers into the air unless scraped, sanded or sawed. If removal is preferred, the costs are high because of special handling and disposal requirements. If this issue is of concern to you, it would be wise to continue house-hunting until you find a home that won't be a source of worry.
• To write to Barry Stone, visit him on the web at www.housedetective.com, or write AMG, 1776 Jami Lee Court, Suite 218, San Luis Obispo, CA 94301.
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