Q) We have a spray-on acoustic ceiling in our home. It was built in 1959 and we assume it has asbestos in it. The ceiling has cracked in several places and is hanging loose in some. We have to have it replaced or redone or something. However, I have read that removing asbestos can be hazardous. Will you please address this problem in your column? -- T.R.V.

A) There's a good chance there's asbestos in your home if it was built or renovated between 1920 and 1972.

In 1973 the Environmental Protection Agency banned the use of friable (easily crumbled by hand) asbestos for soundproofing and insulation, and five years later it prohibited spray applications for decorative purposes such as ceiling and wall finishes.

But a visual inspection preferably by a professional and a laboratory analysis of materials likely to contain asbestos are required to determine whether there is asbestos in the home.

Most local health departments are able to refer homeowners to trained inspectors. You may want to invest in an inspection prior to deciding the best solution for your repairs.

This way you will know for certain the precautions you need to take in dealing with ceiling repairs.

Actually, wall and ceiling finishes containing friable asbestos-containing materials are most likely to be found in large office or apartment buildings.

However, sometimes the asbestos materials were used in sprayed or troweled finishes on walls or ceilings of private homes.

Only when friable asbestos is deteriorating over a broad area or when asbestos of any kind is likely to be disturbed by a repair or renovation project should removal be undertaken, and then only by a trained contractor who knows what precautions to take to protect his health and yours.

When asbestos materials are in good condition, the most appropriate action is likely to be no action. Or when deterioration is minor and localized, simple steps, such as sealing frayed fibers with duct tape or spray paint, may be enough.

You can hide your questionable ceiling with paneling or install a suspended ceiling with drop-in acoustic tile. But if the ceiling is hanging loose, it is probably wise to have it inspected by professionals and follow their recommendations.

You also should look for the cause of this deterioration. Moisture trapped beneath the roof and above the ceiling could cause cracking and crumbling such as you describe.

It may be that you will have to have a roof repair or some leaks sealed prior to the repair, installation of a new ceiling or both.

Q) Our 7-year-old matte-finish Formica countertop has lost its stain resistance in the most-used areas. It has become difficult to clean.

We formerly used only Fantastic, now even Bon Ami used judiciously barely suffices. Is there any way to reseal this surface and retain the matte appearance? -- M.N.D.

A) If the areas of the Formica that you describe are dulled because the finish is worn and damaged there is little you can do to restore the original look. To effectively clean, household bleach (a strong solution) will help remove dirt, stains and some of the dull look.

It is not possible to paint Formica with success. Most paints will not adhere to the surface, and certainly not on a countertop.

Your best bet may be to have another layer of Formica installed over the existing one. This is quite simple and might even be a do-it-yourself project if you are handy with tools.

Q) In a recent column you mentioned chemical treatment or staining of concrete as an alternative to painting the surface.

I would like further information on these color treatments for a concrete driveway, including brand names, if possible, and where such products can be purchased. -- V.E.J.

A) Chemically reacting stains manufactured for concrete include Scofield Color Stain and concrete stain manufactured by Kemico.

These stains are solutions that react chemically with the lime in concrete to give permanent coloring. They penetrate the concrete and cannot peel or wear away as a painted surface coat can.

The color choice is limited -- generally earth shades of red, rust, green, tan, brown and black.

Firms that carry concrete curing and treating materials will be the best source for products of this type.

These products are not always readily available and it may take a few days to several weeks for the firm to complete your order.

Other concrete stains include Behr concrete stain and Rex-stains manufactured by Pittsburgh Paints. These, however, are not chemically reacting stains.

Thompson's Water Seal also comes in colors and can be used to color concrete.

Send inquiries to Here's How, Copley News Service, P.O. Box 190, San Diego, Calif. 92112-0190. Only questions of general interest can be answered in the column.