Do It Yourself: Siding fix starts with a match

SUNDAY, AUG. 19, 2012

Q. We recently moved into a pre-owned house and discovered that the vinyl siding on the rear wall has a couple holes about the size of baseballs. How do we repair this?

A. If the damage is small, as yours appears to be, a simple repair can be made without removing any existing siding. If there is more-extensive damage involving a number of panels, it is best to remove the old panels and replace them. In both cases, making an attractive repair depends on having or getting matching siding, which in some cases can be the most difficult part.

For years I have been preaching to homeowners to save a few extra pieces of things like siding, roofing shingles, floor tiles and so forth for possible repairs. So hunt around in the garage, basement, sheds and any other places where the former owner might have stored some extra siding strips. If you come up empty at home, check with vinyl siding dealers in your area to see if they might have small quantities or scraps of siding that might make a reasonable match – even a patch with a slight color difference will look better than a hole.

If you have to order siding, it is sold in “squares” containing 100 square feet of siding. That’s a lot, but it will give you extra strips for possible future repairs. Vinyl siding generally has two panels or strips per piece. Cut one of these long enough to cover the damaged area plus a couple of feet on each side (short patches are too conspicuous). Make sure the joints or ends of the patch won’t line up with any existing nearby ends.

You can cut the siding with tin snips, but mark cut lines with a square to get straight ends. Next, cut off the nailing strip on top of the path panel – you won’t use any nails. Test-fit the patch by sliding it into place over the damage, then remove it and apply a bead of adhesive caulk near the top of the patch and a few inches from each end. Push the patch back in place again, hooking the bottom over the bottom of the damaged panel. The patch should stay in place.

If you can’t find replacement siding, you can try filling the holes with an exterior-grade patching compound, such as Minwax’s High Performance Wood Filler, which can be sanded smooth and touched up with paint to blend into the surrounding siding. More-extensive repairs are made using a hooked metal tool, called a zip tool, to remove the old siding. Replacement panels are then nailed in place.

Q. The kitchen cabinets in our house have sticky areas around the handles. I tried to remove the marks with kitchen spray cleaners, but they didn’t help. What’s the answer?

A. These smudges are usually caused by oils from the skin, kitchen grease, and sometimes wax and dirt. Since your smudges are sticky, they are probably mostly grease. An old remedy for removing them is to moisten a soft cloth with mineral spirits (paint thinner) or turpentine, and gently rub the affected areas. Some cautions before using either of these: They are strong solvents, and while they will not harm most wood finishes, it is best to test a small, inconspicuous area, such as the inside of a door, before using them in very visible areas. Also, both solvents are flammable and have strong odors, so they should not be used around flames and you should ventilate the kitchen well by opening windows and doors.

If you prefer not to use these solvents, you can try Murphy’s Oil Soap, which is sometimes recommended for greasy spots on cabinets. Keep in mind that you are dealing with old grease, and removing it takes a degreasing cleaner. Any cleaner will also do a better job if you remove the handles.

Send questions and comments to Gene Austin at gaus17@aol.com or to 1730 Blue Bell Pike, Blue Bell, Pa. 19422.

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