Do It Yourself: Battered baseboards: Salvage or replace?

Q. The baseboards in my house are really beat up from collisions with vacuum cleaners, toys and shoes. They are dented, scratched, and some of the paint is peeling. Do I need new baseboards or can these be salvaged?

A. They can be salvaged if you plan to stay with a painted finish, and it is not much more difficult than installing new ones. For best results, the baseboards should be removed — a room at a time is a good pace. Care is needed in removal to avoid splitting the boards. A good system is to work a putty knife behind a section of board and wiggle it free of the wall enough to insert a flat pry bar. Pry very carefully, at nailing points if possible. As each piece is removed, number it on the back so it can be put back in the same place. The pieces will have nails protruding from the back — don’t try to pound the nails out through the front of the boards, you will splinter them. Instead, pull the nails out through the back with pliers or nip them off with wire nippers. If the paint is badly damaged, the best bet is to remove it using a paste-type paint remover. If paint is only moderately damaged, you can probably sand it smooth enough to proceed; use 80-grit or 100-grit sandpaper.

Fill dents, nail holes and any other damaged places with a vinyl spackling compound. Let the patches dry and sand smooth. Prime the entire surface of each piece with a water-based primer. Let the primer dry and sand lightly with 200-grit sandpaper. Next, apply one or two coats of acrylic enamel. The final step is to re-install the baseboards using finishing nails at least 2  ½ inches long. If possible, nail into wall studs. Drive the nails slightly below the surface of the wood and fill the holes using a wood-putty stick that matches the finish you have applied.

If you want a natural finish on beat-up baseboards, it is best to replace them; it is very difficult to fill dents and holes and then apply stain and varnish.

Q. My kitchen floor is covered with self-stick vinyl tiles, and a couple of them were damaged. I have a few replacement tiles, but how do I get the damaged ones off without new problems? —T. Roberts

A. Use a sharp utility knife to make a big X in the center of each of the damaged tiles. Next, heat the tile with a heat gun or gun-type hair dryer on medium setting; this will soften the adhesive and make the tile much easier to remove. Wiggle a putty knife or 5-in-1 tool (best because it is stiffer than a putty knife) under one of the inside points of the X. Pry toward the outside of the tile carefully until you reach the edge of the adjacent, undamaged tile. Return to the center of the X and pry another tab until you have removed the entire tile, always working from the center toward the edges. Scrape the underlayment clean and vacuum up any dirt or small bits of tile. Your replacement tile should fit neatly in the cavity. Use a wallpaper roller or some heavy books to press down the new tile and give it a good bond with the underlayment.

The new tiles will probably be a little shinier than the surrounding tiles, but that will be hardly noticeable in a few weeks. Incidentally, you are fortunate to have saved a few spare tiles. Manufacturers change patterns and colors so often that it might be impossible to find matching replacements after some years have passed. This is true not only of vinyl tiles and other flooring, but of roofing shingles and siding. It pays to keep some spare materials for repairs.

Q. Years ago I bought aluminum gutter screens that had a double layer — a coarse mesh on top and a fine screen underneath.

Nothing got through these screens.

I have tried to find some replacements, but the company seems to have disappeared. Can you help?

A. I haven’t seen this type of screen for a long time. If any reader knows a source, I’ll pass it along.

But I think it is unlikely that you will be able to find duplicates of the old screens.

One reason is that the trend now is to “micro mesh,” which generally has a strong single screen with small perforations that manufacturers say will keep out very small debris such as pine needles as well as leaves.

Many of these screens are made of stainless steel. If you want to try these and can’t find them locally, search the Internet with the words Micro Mesh Gutter Screens.

Questions and comments should be emailed to Gene Austin at gaus17@aol.com. Send regular mail for Gene Austin to 1730 Blue Bell Pike, Blue Bell, PA 19422.

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