Q: I am planning to paint a set of maple furniture and would like to know how the professionally painted look can be achieved economically. Also, can I put a coat of lacquer or varnish over the paint to protect it?

A: I am not sure what you mean by a "professionally painted look." If you mean the smooth coating factories achieve, they use commercial spray equipment that will do a better job than a brush in most cases. As to coating with lacquer or varnich: Lacquer will destroy the paint because its solvents react with enamels; coating with varnish will change the original color and offer no additional protection. I think it would be perferable to apply another coat of the same enamel.

Q: Last summer we moved into a small house near the water in a humid area. During the months when the heat is not on, the house has a musty smell and the basement is quite damp. I suspect it would help if the picture windows could be opened to improve air circulation, but they do not open. What can you suggest to get rid of the musty smell?

A: You're on the right track -- you need more ventilation. It may pay to have one or two sections of the picture window altered so they can be opened, and it will help to add an exhaust fan, -- either a large one for the entire house, or several smaller ones in the kitchen, bathroom and basement. Try to track down and eliminate the sources of moisture in the basement. A dehumidifier (electric or chemical) in the basement may also be needed, but ventilation is even better.

Q: The outside of my house has white aluminum siding that was put up some years ago. What product should I use to clean it?

A: Any good detergent will do the job. If possible, use a powered type that contains trisodium phosphate, making a solution of this in hot water. Scrub it on with a stiff-bristled brush, then flush it away with plain water before it has a chance to dry. If some stains or streaks persist, use a concentrated cleaner of the type sold for use on boats and autos. If this dulls the finish noticeably, restore the gloss with wax or polish.

Q: After we were away for several months, we found that our hot and cold water both ran rusty. This condition continues even though we have been home for several weeks and have been using the water continually. We have our own well, and when we were away we left the heat on at 50 degrees. Is the rust due to a tank problem or simply lack of use?

A: I really can't give yoiu an accurate answer without examining all the plumbing. If the rust is constant, it may not be simply the tank or even some pipes. Most likely it is in the well or the well point, (the bottom end of the pipe inside the well.)

I would have this check first by disconnecting the pipe at the top of the well, or where it enters the house, to see if the water is rusty before it gets to the tank or the inside plumbing. If so, a new well point may be needed, or the old one may need cleaning; (call a professional for this). If the water is not rusty from the well, check the tank and, finally, the internal house plumbing.

Q: My porch has a flagstone floor that was once covered with a clear sealer. This sealer is now peeling in spots. How can I treat the floor to restore a smooth, glossy finish to it?

A: If the sealer is peeling as you say, I doubt if it really was a sealer -- unless it was applied much too heavily. Sealers don't leave much of a surface film; they soak in, so they normally will not peel. It sounds to me as though in your case a varnish or lacquer of some kind was used. Now you have to get as much of this old finish off as possible -- the more the better. Then scrub the floor clean and allow to dry throughly. Finally, apply two coats of fresh sealer, following the directions on the can as to thinning and application.