Q: I have used table pads on my mahogany table for years. I would like to be able to use this table without the pads, just with place mats. Is there any way I can treat the top to make it heat resistant?
A: There are special varnishes usually referred to as bar-top varnishes, that are moderately heat resistant and fairly resistant to staining from spilled foods (many polyrethane varnishes fall into this category).
Sanding the old finish down, and then applying two coats of one of these varnishes will give you a table top that will not normally need pads for every meal -- but I would still advise place mats for dishes, and you should use a regular hot pad under hot pots or oven dishes before placing them on the finished table.
Q: We recently had aluminum replacement windows installed in our upstairs rooms. Now wheneve the weather turns cold, condensation develops on the inside on the exposed metal of the window frames, and during the night ice sometimes forms. Do you have any suggestions on how to minimize or eliminate this problem?
A: Your metal-frame windows apparently do not have a built-in thermal barrier. The metal conducts heat out so rapidly that the inside soon gets as cold as the outside, and the moisture in the air inside the room then condenses on it (and freezes when it gets cold enough). In frames with a built-in thermal barrier this doesn't happen because there is a plastic insert that stops the transmission of heat. At any rate, your only solution now is to put up storm windows in the cold-weather -- either inside or outside, or maybe both.
Q: I have a kitchen table with a butcher-block top that originally had some sort of clear shiny finish on it. Over the years this finish started to wear off unevenly. The surface of the table is now blotchy and the uncoated areas have become grimy and dirty. I have sanded off all the old finish and dirt marks, but now I don't know what kind of finish I should apply. I would like to retain the matte look, but I also want a protective coating. What do you suggest?
A: I don't know what was on there originally, but for the finish you want I would suggest a satin finish or semi-gloss polyurethane varnish. This is one of the toughest surface coatings you can apply. It is very resistant to scrubbing and to staining from household chemicals and food. You can also use a penetrating wood sealer instead.
Q: My seashore house has insulation under the joists of the first floor with the paper side toward the ground (it is about 24 inches above the sand). This insulation is wet and falling down in places, so I want to replace it. Should I remove the insulation first, or put the new insulation right under it? Should the paper side be toward the ground or toward the floor above?
A: When you speak of the paper side I assume you are referring to the vapor barrier. Remember that some insulation has paper on both sides, but only one side is the vapor barrier -- the paper on that side has an internal layer of what looks like tar, and that is what forms the vapor barrier. The barrier should always face the heated side of the insulation, so this means under the floor the vapor barrier should be on top. Since your old material is wet and falling down, and since you don't know if it has a barrier, I would take it down and put the new material up between the joists. To keep the new insulation from sagging, nail wire mesh under the insulation, or use wire woven back and forth between nails driven into the edges of the joists.