Q: Our fireplace has a facing of red brick that is dark and discolored by smoke. Is there a cleaning method that I can do myself that will work on this?

A: Much of this soot will probably come off if you scrub with a stiff bristle brush using a strong detergent containing trisodium phosphate. These detergents are sold in many paint and hardware stores. If some stubborn stains persist, you may be able to get them out by scrubbing with a muriatic acid solution (sold in paint stores). Mix 1 part acid with 2 or 3 parts water in a plastic or glass bowl and scrub on with a bristle brush while wearing rubber gloves. Allow to soak for a few minutes, then rinse off with plenty of water.

Q: Can you give me directions for cleaning the flues in my chimney? There are two, one for the fireplace and one for the furnace.

A: This is a job I always advise people to have done professionally, if possible. Aside from the safety factor (you have to climb up on the roof), it is quite messy if you don't have the right equipment. If you still want to tackle the job yourself you can use a burlap bag weighted with a few bricks or some tire chains. After you climb up on the roof, tie the weighted sack to a long rope or chain, then lower it up and down the length of each flue so that it scrapes along the sides. This will knock the soot off and down into the fireplace.

To avoid a mess inside, the fireplace opening should be covered with a damp sheet to confine the soot. Downtairs you will need a commercial vacuum (you can rent one) to clean the fireplace. The flue going down to the furnace will have to be cleaned the same way, but at the lower end the clean-out door will provide access to the bottom. You may also have to temporarily disconnect the stovepipe that connects the furnace to the chimney flue to get at the base of the flue for cleaning.

Q: Our two-year-old house has sheet vinyl on the kitchen floor and oak parquet over the rest of the house. We would much rather have wood on our kitchen floor too. The vinyl seems well stuck, except where joined. Can we put wood flooring over the vinyl, either by nailing or gluing down parquet squares to avoid having to remove the vinyl and sand the underlayment?

A: If the vinyl is really stuck good and solid I think you can apply parquet wood flooring directly over it, but I am a little worried about "except where joined." If it is lifting at the seams, it may not be sticking as well as you think and this could affect any wood flooring applied over it. Most do-it-yourself wood flooring sold in squares is put down with adhesive, and this can stick no better than what is under it. If you nail, the nails would have to go through the vinyl to penetrate into the wood subfloor. Frankly, I think if you are going to the expense of buying new wood flooring, it would be better to take off the vinyl material first.

Q: One of our bathroom sinks developed rust where the finish wore off and the bare metal was exposed around the drain. We had a commercial restorer paint this, and while the color was a perfect match, he apparently did not sand off all the rust, and the paint he put on peeled. Is there any remedy we can apply without replacing the sink?

A: Sinks can be repainted successfully with two-part epoxy paint, which can be putchased in paint and hardware stores, as well as in marine supply outlets. They will last for many years if properly applied, but eventually you will have to repaint. Scrape off all the old peeling paint, then do a very thorough job of sanding the bare metal until it is clean and bright and shows no signs of corrosion. Sand the rest of the sink, because you will have to paint the entire surface if you want it to look right.

Clean the surgace according to the directions on the paint cans, and follow the instructions exactly in mixing and application. Remenber that cleaning and preparation are all-important, so don't neglect this part of the job. allow the paint to cure for at least 24 hours at room temperature before using the sink.

Q: The concrete surfaces on the walls of my basement are powdering in many places, with the concrete apparently turning to sand and powder. This has been going on for the 22 years we have lived in this house. Is there any way to stabilize the concrete so that no further deterioration takes place?

A: It depends on how bad the powdering or crumbling condition is. Chances are that if it has been going on all these years and nothing much has happened structurally, it is not very serious. You can probably slow the process by applying a prime coat of masonry surface conditioner or a concete sealer made for surfaces that are dusting and powdering. Over this apply one or two coats of good quality masonry paint.