Q: About 10 years ago we had an interior decorator refinish our living room. He used some kind of mixture on the brick face of our fireplace. Over the years the bricks have lost their true color and luster. Is there any way I can revive the color? The decorator passed away a few years ago and I can't get any information on this. A: An ordinary stone or masonry sealer should do what you want unless the old sealer was applied too thickly and has yellowed or deteriorated. Try some sealer (sold at hardware, masonry and paint outlets) and see if it helps. It should restore the luster, but I'm not sure about the color. Q: A while back you suggested insulating heating and air-conditioning ducts with foil-faced insulation. How is it installed? Which way should the foil face? A: Wrap the insulation around the ducts, foil side out. Seal the seams with duct tape. You want the foil side out for two reasons: First, it makes installation neater and easier. Second, it acts as a vapor barrier, keeping warm air away from the ducts during the cooling season. If the warm air could reach the cool ducts, you might get condensation, which would soak the insulation and cuts its effectiveness. Q: We want to repaint our ceilings, which are finished with a very rough pattern. We tried brush and roller, but the surface is water soluble so repeated rolling and brushing causes the oil finish to fall off. Besides, it's such a rough surface the roller won't cover it. We tried an airless sprayer, but got very little paint on the ceiling and lots on us. Sometimes it would spray, but more often it would squirt. We finally had the job done by a professional with a spray gun. But what can we do next time? A: There are a few things you can try. One is a long-napped roller and oil-base paint instead of latex. The long nap will cover the rough texture, and the oil-base paint shouldn't loosen the old paint. Another approach is to rent a good spray gun. I have tried a few of those inexpensive airless sprayers and found them almost useless. Q: I have a house with a fireplace, which I have been using on and off for 30 years with no problem until last year. Now when I have a fire going and the oil burner cuts in, the fireplace reverses itself and the draft comes down the chimney on the burner side with smoke and smell. Now I can't use the fireplace when the burner is on. I have some trees that are 30 feet above the ridge. They may be causing the problem, but I do not want to remove them. I would very much appreciate it if you could give me an idea that might correct the problem. A: I wouldn't blame the trees. My guess is that you must have done some weatherstripping and general house-tightening last year. Your home is now so airtight that your fireplace and burner can't breathe at the same time. Remember that any time a fireplace or burner is going, it must draw in fresh air from outside. If your house is very tight, your fireplace has to drawn its combustion air into the house through the flue for your oil burner. It may do so all the time, and you notice it only when the burner is running because of the smoke and smell you described. It's a little late to try this now, but next heating season, if the problem recurs, open a window, preferably one near the fireplace. If the problem stops, you know the problem is insufficient combustion air.
Solution? Keep the window cracked open a bit whenever you use your fireplace.