Q: My apartment is in an old building that faces a highway and we get a good deal of traffic noise. We have double-hung windows and storm sash. Is there any economical way we can acoustically insulate against this noise with wall panels or a window treatment? And what about in the summer when we want to keep the windows open?
A: I'm afraid there is not too much you can do without major alterations that will really help very much. If your storm windows, or the windows themselves, fit loosely, then stuffing plastic or fiberglass weatherstripping around the edges will help some. Also, heavy hangings or drapes in front of the windows will have some additional effect in keeping sound out. However, these will only be of use when the windows are closed. Acoustical panels on the walls will have little or no effect - they only serve to deaden the noise which is created inside the room, not that which originates outside.
Q: Several years ago a roof leak caused paint to peel off a section of a plaster wall in my house. We have repainted this section twice and each time it peels again. The plaster appears to be sound underneath. Is there any type of treatment that will remedy this?
A: Although you say the plaster looks sound. I suspect that it has been affected by the leak and is no longer solid enough to serve as a firm base for painting. If the area is not too big. I would advise knocking or digging the section out, then either applying new plaster or a patch made of gypsum (plaster) board. Use spackle around the edges to fill the joint or seam where this patch meets the old plaster, then apply a primer sealer and paint the entire ceiling in the usual manner. If the damaged area is too large for patching in this manner, then you can try scraping off all the peeling paint and lining the ceiling with canvas, after which it can be painted as usual. Lining canvas is sold in all wallpaper stores.
Q: I have a wood panel on the door of my dishwasher. It is finished with a dark stain to match the cabinets in the rest of the room. During the last cycle of the dishwater, steam comes out at the front and this has left a large white area on the wood panel. Can this be fixed? If I have to buy a new panel, how should this be finished to prevent this happening again?
A: You can refinish the panel by taking it down to the raw wood and sanding until the wood is a uniform color. Then stain to match and finish with three coals of a varnish that is heat and water resistant, such as one of the better grade spar varnishes or table top varnishes. If you decide to replace the panel, why not try to find a plastic laminate that will match your wood, instead of using real wood again? These plastics come in a wide range of wood tones, and you should be able to find one that will blend in.
Q: I have acquired an old but handsomely designed butcher block bar-table which is scarred and stained. I intend to refinish it, but am not sure whether I want to continue using it as a bar or table. I assume the refinishing procedure would be different for each purpose, so can you tell me how the finishing procedures would differ?
A: Normally, a butcher block that is used as a chopping and cutting surface is not finished at all; it is merely scrubbed clean or sanded, then kept clean by periodic scrubbing. Oils or other finishes used on this type of surface might possibly contaimate foods. However, if the unit is to be used as a table or bar, then you would probably be better off applying a table top finish. For this you would first have to sand the surface until it is smooth and clean, then apply at least three coats of the finish selected. This can be a bar top varnish, or a penetrating sealer which will give an oiled finish. Either way, protect the finish with wax after it has dried thoroughly.
Questions about home repair problems should be addressed to: Home Improvement Department. The New York Times, Times Square, New York N.Y. 10036. Only those questions of general interest can be answered here.