QMy beat-up kitchen cabinets are made of laminated particleboard. Is there any way to paint or refinish them, or must I replace them? -- C. Rogers
ACabinets and furniture of this material have a thin plastic covering, called melamine, which can be painted if the surface is prepared carefully. The main problem with painting any type of plastic is that most paints adhere poorly to the slick surface. Peeling and chipping can occur if steps are not taken to overcome this problem.
Start by cleaning the surface carefully to remove grease, wax or polish, which can compound the adhesion problem. Use an ammoniated household detergent or a solution of trisodium phosphate, sold at paint and hardware stores. Dip a sponge or soft cloth into the solution and wring it out well before cleaning. Do not get water on any uncovered particleboard surfaces -- the particleboard will swell. Rinse with clear water.
After the surfaces are clean, sand them lightly with 120-grit sandpaper and wipe off or vacuum up sanding dust.
The surface must now be primed to improve adhesion of the finish paint. Use a glossy-surface primer, or check paint stores for any special primers for plastic. Be sure to read and follow all directions and cautions on the container.
When the primer is thoroughly dry, apply two coats of high-quality acrylic-latex enamel, sanding lightly between coats with 120-grit sandpaper.
A few special melamine paints are also available, but they are often difficult to find. If you are interested in one of these, inquire at paint stores.
In the winter when it snows, several ceilings in my townhouse get wet spots near the eave of the roof. I was told this is caused by ice dams. How can I stop this? -- Mike
The ice-dam diagnosis is probably correct. The dams form when water from melted snow runs down the roof until it reaches a cold area, usually at the eaves, where the water refreezes and forms dams that block proper roof drainage. Water is sometimes forced back under the roof shingles and causes leaks. The best solution is to install a waterproof membrane under the shingles, but this isn't always practical except when new shingles are being installed.
Another good solution, most experts say, is to "keep a cold roof." This means thoroughly insulating the attic or roof so that heat from the house doesn't escape to the roof and cause premature melting of snow. Obviously, this helps conserve heat and fuel as well as relieve the ice-dam problem.
A simple solution, if your roof eaves are close enough to the ground, is to pull snow off the lower part of the roof with a roof rake. Keeping the eaves clear helps water run off properly instead of forming dams. A roof rake should be used as soon as possible after snowing ceases. The rake has a wide blade and long extension handle. A mail-order source of rakes is Improvements (www.improvementscatalog.com, item 152169, about $33; phone, 800-642-2112).
Roof-heating cables are another good treatment. The cables, which warm up automatically when it is cold enough to snow or can be controlled by a switch, are clipped to shingles in the eave area and run through gutters and downspouts. The cables can be removed in spring and summer. Heating cables can be bought at home centers and hardware stores.
Questions and comments should be sent to Gene Austin, 1730 Blue Bell Pike, Blue Bell, Pa. 19422. Send e-mail to email@example.com. Questions cannot be answered personally.