Q: My brick fireplace has been painted a number of times. How can I remove all the paint without chipping or damaging the brick?
A: You can use a semi-paste, water-wash paint remover that is sold in all paint stores. Follow the directions on the label. I should warn you that several applications will undoubtably be required, and even then some of the paint may remain in the pores where you cannot get it all out.
Q: Several years ago I insulated the cathedral ceiling in my mountain cabin by the following method: First I pushed 3/4-inch Styrofoam up between the beams, then I nailed 1-inch by 2-inch strips on the edge of each beam so the space would be deep enough to accept 6-inch-thick insulation. I used insulation with the foil facing down, pushing this up against the Styrofoam. Then I nailed Sheetrock up under that. Within two years I started to develop mold on the ceiling about a foot wide on each side of the peak, mostly at the end farthest from the fireplace. I suspect that I packed the insulation in too tight and that the Styrofoam is acting as a second vapor barrier and keeping moisture from escaping. What do you think I should do?
A: Your problem is undoubtably due to tightly packed insulation and lack of ventilation above that insulation. I don't think the Styrofoam is acting as a vapor barrier, but because it goes up to the peak there is no chance of ventilation. You need space above the insulation -- at least in the peak. You may be able to get by with ridge vents in the roof. Otherwise, you will need vents in the peak at each end, but you will have to lower the insulation. Another idea: Since there is less mold near the fireplace due to the heat, it might be worthwhile to use a small fan or blower to circulate heated air to the far end of the room up near the ceiling.
Q: I recently bought a cocktail table that has a top covered with unglazed quarry tile. What do you recommend as a finish that would provide the most durablity and the best resistance to staining?
A: Quarry tile is porous and easily stained, so it should have several coats of sealer. You can use a clear stone sealer (sold for use on stone and tile floors), or a clear penetrating wood sealer. Several coats will be needed (until a slight sheen is built up) after which I suggest you use a coat of paste wax. Clean spilled liquid promptly and renew the wax periodically.
Q: We need a new roof on our 90-year-old wood frame house. It already has several layers of tar shingles on the roof; the top one was put on about 15 years ago. This top layer of shingles did not lie flat when originally put on, and still looks somewhat wavy. Before we put the new shingles on, should the old ones be removed, and if so, should all or only some of the original layers be taken off?
A: Where more than one or two layers are already on, it is generally advisable to remove all the old shingles back to the original wood and tar paper, especially where the last layer was not put on properly. This will let you see if repairs are needed in the wood sheathing underneath, and ensure a solid nailing base for new shingles.
Q: My home has a fireplace, but the chimney has no cap on the top. I have seen ads that say such a cap is really a must for chimneys with a fireplace. Is this true?
A: A chimney cap or hood is usually a good idea, but is not essential. Many fireplaces work well without them. The cap helps keep water out, and prevents down-drafts that might cause smoke to puff out into the room. This is true usually for installation where there are tall trees or structural projections higher than the chimney and less than 10 feet away from it.