The mortar needs repair. Is this something we can do ourselves, or should we have a professional do it?

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Question: We have a brick and mortar edging on our driveway and steps leading up to the front door. The mortar needs repair. Is this something we can do ourselves, or should we have a professional do it?

Answer: These are the kinds of jobs performed by masons with years of experience. Although I have built brick walkways and garden beds over the years, I’ve done it for the experience, rather than from necessity. I’ve also pointed brick chimneys and stone walls because they were jobs that had to be done quickly, or they were too small to be cost-effective for a mason to do them.

Because the description of the problem isn’t detailed enough for me to envision, I would recommend looking at a few concrete product websites for suggestions about procedure and products.

One is, which has project videos in addition to technical information. Another is, and a third is the website of the Portland Cement Association at

In every maintenance or repair job, decide first whether doing it yourself is worth your time. If you don’t have the resources or the expertise, you may end up rushing the job and making things worse.

I was standing with two joggers on South Michigan Avenue in Chicago several summers ago when I was covering the National Hardware Show.

One complained to the other about a porch in great need of repair.

“I could do it myself,” the man said, “but I worked a weekend of overtime to pay a carpenter to do it instead.”

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Steve Ash, service director for, the do-it-yourself appliance repair website, offers tips for averting disaster while you are away from home.

Turn off your ice maker before disconnecting the device from the water supply. If you turn off the water supply but not the ice maker, the ice maker will be calling for water several times a day and will eventually damage the fill valve. For most models, directions are on the outside of the maker or ice container.

Dishwasher: After your last load, leave the door ajar to let the appliance “breathe” while you’re away.

Washer: Leave the lid/door open to let the basin dry completely. Chances are you’ll have plenty of laundry to do upon your return, so you’ll want the washer to be empty and fresh. And don’t forget to disconnect the unit’s water supply.

Refrigerator: Consume or discard any perishables and wipe away puddles of spilled milk, no matter how small, with a damp cloth to prevent odors.

Garbage disposal: Run a cycle to clean the unit and prevent odors from any buildup hiding beneath the drain. Add a cup of vinegar to your rinse for an extra-deep clean.

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Alan J. Heavens: