Home & Garden

Handyman: Advice on testing smoke detectors

Q: I’ve been dutifully checking my smoke detectors with the “push to test” buttons for many years. I’m intrigued by the idea of testing them with actual smoke. I tried it with a match once, but the alarm didn’t go off. Should it have, or do I need much more smoke and/or heat?

A: I tried using a smoky flame some time ago, wrote about it, and received an angry note instructing me never, ever to use an open flame to test a smoke detector! The writer suggested I buy a little gadget that spews out carbon dioxide, the smoky-looking stuff you see in theaters. You could do the same. It sounds as if your alarms are old, so I suggest you buy new ones, both smoke and carbon monoxide.

Regarding testing, the Massachusetts Department of Fire Services says not to use a lighted match and that the following steps are sufficient:

• Test your smoke detectors monthly.

• Replace alkaline batteries twice a year, when you change your clocks, even if your detectors are hard-wired.

• Replace your smoke detector every 10 years (the sensors wear out) and your carbon monoxide ones every five to seven years.

Removing Formica

Q: I would like your advice on removing Formica countertops that have been glued to the cabinets at the edges with construction adhesive. I want to save the cabinets. I’m going to put in stone countertops and undermount sinks and faucets.

A: It’s unusual to use construction adhesive with Formica, even on the edges, but it can be handled. Use as low a heat as possible to soften the adhesive so you can pry up the laminate. Then use heat to soften the contact cement that holds the rest of the laminate. Very little heat is needed to loosen both adhesives, so be very, very careful.

Leaking foundation

Q: Our house is on a slope going down from front to back. A few years ago, water started seeping through a few places in the stone foundation into the basement on the front during heavy rains. Three years ago, during a very heavy rain, I saw puddles against the foundation on the lawn out front. Years of raking leaves away from the house had put a slight depression in the ground.

I put earth and compost against the foundation to create a berm. Now the low-spot puddling is away from the foundation. Result? Problem solved. Water is no longer seeping through the foundation.

A: Congratulations! You solved a significant problem with a simple answer. I don’t think you made a berm, but rather an apron that diverts rainwater away from the foundation so that it seeps into the ground harmlessly.

Hotton: photton@globe.com