QA toaster oven scorched my plastic-laminate countertop. I tried bleach and sanding to remove the mark, but that didn't work. Can you help? -- S. Schachne

AIt is possible to patch small chips and burns in plastic laminates such as Formica, but I know of no way to repair a sizable scorch mark except to cover it up. There are several ways to cover such damage:

* Use a cutting board. Put one over the damaged area and leave it there, except when the counter or board needs to be cleaned. Wood and plastic cutting boards are sold at most home centers, and they can go a long way toward preventing countertop damage. Putting your toaster oven and other hot utensils on one of these would have prevented the damage to your counter. Using one for slicing and cutting can prevent scratch marks on the counter.

* Paint the countertop. Plastic laminates can be painted, but don't expect paint to be as durable as the original surface. Use of a cutting board is essential to prevent scratching and chipping of the paint. Some firms that refinish bathtubs and sinks also refinish countertops. Check in your phone book under Bathtubs & Sinks Repairing & Refinishing.

You can also paint it yourself, but it is a tricky project. Clean the surface thoroughly with an ammoniated detergent, rinse and let dry. Sand the surface lightly with very fine sandpaper (150 or 220 grit). Vacuum the surface to remove all dust. Apply an alkyd-based primer and let dry, then apply two coats of high-quality alkyd or acrylic enamel. For best results, let the paint dry for several days before using the counter.

* Resurface. Countertops with square edges can be resurfaced with new plastic laminate, but this requires removing the sink. The work is best left to an expert. Contact kitchen-remodeling firms in your area for price estimates.

A section of my asphalt driveway measuring about eight feet by three feet has many small cracks. The rest of the driveway is in excellent condition. I'm told that an unstable base is the cause of the damage to the small area. How can I fix this? -- W. Lander

You can make this repair yourself if you don't mind digging and working with asphalt. Dig out the damaged asphalt down to the soil underneath it. A heavy digging bar works well for getting out the asphalt. Keep the edges of the excavated area as square and neat as possible. If the underlying soil is soft, tamp it down firmly. A four-foot length of 4-by-4 lumber makes a good tamper. The heavier the tamper, the better.

Put an inch or two of gravel on the soil and tamp that down firmly. Fill the rest of the excavation with cold-mix asphalt, sold in bags at most home centers. Again, tamp the asphalt down firmly. Another way to compact the asphalt is to put scrap boards on top of the patch and run a vehicle over them repeatedly. If properly done, the patch should hold up for a long time.

I have an old house with asbestos-cement shingles for siding. The shingles are hard and brittle and pink. I'd rather not remove the shingles. Can I paint them or am I stuck with a pink house? -- D. Reller

I have lived in two houses with asphalt-cement siding and painted both of them and they looked fine for years afterward. So, if your shingles are in good condition, have a firm surface and are clean, they should be easy to paint. I used a large painting pad with long nap to paint, and the work went fast. In each case, I used high-quality acrylic-latex paint and no primer.

Have plenty of rags on hand and, before painting, wipe down the surface of the shingles to remove dust. If the shingles are dirty, wash, rinse and let them dry before painting.

We have recessed ceiling lights in our kitchen and want to insulate the attic in that area. Is it true that the lights could pose a fire hazard if insulation is placed around them? -- K. Christesen

Unless the lights have an insulated ceiling (IC) rating on labels inside the fixtures, insulation must be kept at least three inches away from them on all sides to avoid the risk of overheating and fire. If the lights do have the IC rating, insulation can be installed loosely around them. Barriers are sometimes placed around lights without the IC rating to keep insulation at a safe distance.

Questions and comments should be sent to Gene Austin, 1730 Blue Bell Pike, Blue Bell, Pa. 19422. Send e-mail to Questions cannot be answered personally.