Q: I have several brass and copper antiques that I love, but I hate to have to keep polishing them. I know that new items made of these metals are treated to eliminate the need for polishing. Is there anything I can treat my antiques with so they will not need polishing anymore?
A: The new items you speak of are coated with a good-grade clear lacquer -- after they are thoroughly cleaned and polished. You can do the same to your antiques. Many paint and hardware stores, as well as department stores and home centers, sell kits for just this purpose. These include a cleaner to remove any lacquer or polish that remains, a polish to restore the luster and a spray lacquer to apply a protective coat that prevents tarnishing for a fairly long time. You can also use regular clear spray lacquers: Be sure you clean and polish the metal first, then remove all residue by wiping with lacquer thinner before you spray the clear lacquer on.
Q: We are planning to insulate the attic crawl space in our house before next winter. It has no insulation now. The opening in the ceiling through which we must go to reach into this crawl space is rather small, so we plan to unroll the insulation batts down below, then pull them up. To make things easier would it be just as effective to use two layers of 3-inch-thick batts as one layer of 6-inch-thick material and, if so, should the vapor barrier of the top layer be facing the same way as the one on the bottom layer (both facing down)?
A: Insulation layers are additive -- in other words, adding insulation rated at R-10 to the top of another one rated R-10 would result in a layer of insulation that had a rating of R-20 (if the two layers were not compressed or forced together excessively.) There is nothing wrong with using two thin layers instead of one thick one if that is more convenient. Using two vapor barriers is another matter -- there should be only one and that should be on the bottom.
Q: I recently applied a lot of caulking compound to the tile around my bathroom shower stall in the mistaken notion that I was correcting a problem I had been having with a water leak. Later I found the leak was caused by a bad plumbing connection that has since been fixed. I would now like to remove all the caulking. Can you tell me how to do this without damaging the tile?
A: Since you do not say what kind of caulking you used, it is hard to be specific. If you used a silicone-rubber type you will find that if you carefully dig one corner out by using a plastic scraper or a tapered piece of wood, you will be able to peel or strip most of the caulking out in a long string. If you used a latex-type caulking, you should be able to scrape the bulk of it out with a narrow putty knife or plastic scraper (similar to the kind used on auto windshields or freezer compartments).
If you are reasonably careful, even a metal scraper will do little or no harm to the ceramic tile, as long as you hold it almost flat against the surface while scraping. Any residue can be softened with paint thinner or lacquer thinner, then rubbed off with a cloth. Just remember that these solvents are flammable -- be sure the room is well ventilated, and there are no open flames nearby.