Q: I want to install ceramic tile in the kitchen area, which now is covered with sheet-vinyl flooring. Is it possible to install the new tiles over the existing vinyl flooring, or must the vinyl be removed?

A:Ceramic tile can be installed directly over a number of existing floorings, including sheet vinyl, linoleum or an existing layer of tile. It is essential that the existing surface be sound, clean, flat and properly prepared. If the existing surface is coming loose, badly cracked or damaged in some way, it must be repaired, removed or covered with a new backing before you begin tiling. If your foundation is a concrete slab, vinyl flooring that is in good condition and firmly attached will actually act as a "slip sheet"--a material often placed over concrete to prevent any movement and subsequent cracking in the concrete from transferring through to the tile flooring.

To prepare the surface, you will need to remove any old wax with a commercial wax stripper, available at home centers, flooring dealers and hardware stores. When the surface is clean and wax-free, rough it up with a coarse grade of sandpaper as a final step before setting the tile in thin-set, a cement adhesive. If the subfloor is plywood, it would be best to install a backer board or similar product over the vinyl before tiling. This will enhance the stability of the flooring. An unstable subfloor will result in cracking and popping of the ceramic tile after it has been installed.

Use an adhesive to glue the backer boards to the existing vinyl and then nail every six inches with half-inch galvanized roofing nails. Where the boards abut, you will need to use a tape, similar to drywall tape--applying some of the thin-set adhesive, positioning the tape and then covering the seam with more adhesive. This seaming process is done later, during the actual tile installation.

Backer boards vary in thickness, usually from one-quarter inch to one-half inch. For flooring, stick with the half-inch panels to avoid raising the floor level so high that it causes a problem with existing doors and cabinets. (Remember, you also are adding the half-inch thickness of the tile.) While backer boards provide a smooth, rigid surface for tile installation, the boards will not sufficiently stabilize a weakened, older plywood flooring.

If your existing flooring moves when walked upon, it should be checked professionally before tile is installed. You may need to install an additional layer of plywood subflooring using exterior-grade plywood to give this subsurface the desired strength and rigid quality needed for ceramic floor tiles.

When laying tile directly over vinyl, be sure that an acrylic additive is used in the thin-set. Some thin-sets already have an acrylic additive; others do not. Your local tile dealer or home center carries all of these materials--and the tools you need to successfully lay your new ceramic floor tiles. Consult with them on recommended adhesives, grout selection and the proper tools needed for the job. Some tile outlets schedule how-to seminars, demonstrating techniques in tile installation.

Q: I am adding some brick walkways in the garden area as an extension beyond our patio area, which is a concrete slab. I would like to convert the concrete surface to brick. Is it feasible to install red clay brick over the existing concrete surface? If so, what type of installation do you recommend? I am setting the walkways in sand.

A: If the concrete is in good condition--not crumbling, scaling or showing large cracks--you should have no trouble topping it with a new brick installation.

The easiest way to install the new surface would be to dry-set the brick in sand, like your walkways. First make sure that you select a brick that is durable, abrasion-resistant and meant for outdoor floors.

Edge the patio slab with vertically set bricks. Lay a thin bed of clean sand about one inch thick over the concrete. Set the bricks on that and level them evenly. Sweep fine sand into the joint spaces or use a mixture of one part cement to six parts sand. Carefully sweep all of that off the surface of the bricks and into the joints, then fine-spray with water to moisten.

Be sure that you plan for the raised height this application will create. You may have to change doorjambs and framing to accommodate it.

Q: I discovered an old pewter coffee service in my aunt's attic. It is tarnished. I tried a metal polish on the bottom of one piece, but it didn't remove the discoloration. I want to clean these pieces, but I am not familiar with cleaning methods for pewter. Do you have any suggestions?

A: Recommended general cleaning is to dunk your pewter pieces in hot, soapy water--rinse, then dry immediately and thoroughly with a soft cloth. Light tarnish can be removed with silver polish or with one of the special pewter commercial cleaners.

If you like your pewter to have a mellow, antique glow, finish by polishing with a paste made of rottenstone--a finely ground limestone--and salad oil.

For mirror-bright pewter, polish with rottenstone moistened with rubbing alcohol. If your pewter is badly tarnished and the above methods fail, try rubbing with "00" bronze wool (or a non-rusting steel wool product) dipped in olive oil to prevent scratching the surface. If the set has a brownish scale rather than a blackened appearance, soak the pieces in a strong lye solution. (Anything with wooden knobs or handles or of Japanese origin should not be treated this way, however.) Cover items completely, letting them sit about 15 minutes, then remove with tongs, rinse carefully and scrub with a soft brush. Then polish the pewter in the regular way.

Write to Here's How, Copley News Service, P.O. Box 120190, San Diego, Calif. 92112-0190 or e-mail copleysd@copleynews. com. Only questions of general interest can be answered.