Q: The white paint keeps peeling off the chimney above the roof. Would capping it help if moisture is getting in from the top?
A: I am not sure what you mean by "capping it." If you mean would a hood of some kind help, I doubt it. You might inspect the concrete cap that is in place on top of the brickwork. If this is cracked, or if sections of it are missing, water could be entering the brickwork and this could cause the peeling.
Q: I have badly faded wood paneling in my home. What kind of paint or stain should I use to change its color without hiding the grain?
A: If you want the grain to show on any wood, do not use paint. Stain on wood is more like dye on fabric; it changes the color or tone, but it does not hide the grain pattern or texture. But stain will only take on raw or unfinished wood, so the likelihood is that you will have to strip the finish off first. You can do this with remover, or by sanding and scraping.
When the wood is clean, apply the stain or stain-sealer (colored wood sealer), then apply a clear finish over this.
Q: Our unfinished attic is floored over with planking and has fiber glass insulation under the planks. We plan to finish the attic by building several rooms, and will have to take up most of the planking in the process. Should we add a vapor barrier under the insulation while the planks are up?
A: If you are finishing the attic you will need insulation under the roof rafters, so forget about insulation in the floor.The new insulation under the roof should have the vapor barrier on its underside.
Q: The mortar between the bricks in the steps leading to my house is crumbling, and I feel that eventually the bricks themselves will come loose. I have tried to remedy this by, applying cement to the empty spaces, but this does not last. What do you suggest?
A: Thin layers of ordinary patching cement will not adhere, as you have already discovered. If there is only a slight amount of motar comming out, chances are you have no immediate worry -- it will take years for enough to fall out to cause the bricks to loosen. Otherwise, you can try vinyl concrete patching cement; this will stick in thin layers. I am inclined to think you are better off leaving it alone. When and if the bricks start to loosen, you can patch the mortar joints properly. CAPTION: Illustration, no caption, By Bethann Thornburgh for The Washington Post