A reader keeps hearing a smoke detector beeping. Is there a hidden one in the attic? (istockphoto.com)

Q: There is a hard-wired fire and carbon monoxide detector in the loft of my townhouse. When it started beeping, I changed the battery. The beeping continued. After some online research, I checked that the battery was tight, removed the unit and vacuumed it. When the beeping persisted, I removed it so that I could take it to a hardware store and buy a replacement.

Now the beeping is coming from the electrical wires in the ceiling! A cursory inspection fails to reveal any sparking or obviously frayed wires. Should I call an electrician or a psychiatrist?


A: Assuming you removed the entire detector, not just its cover, there is probably another detector in the attic. If so, it could be chirping because its batteries need changing or simply because it is old and should itself be replaced. If the sounds are coming every 30 seconds or so, age is probably the reason.

If you do find a detector in the attic and it doesn’t just need new batteries, be aware that there are several different styles. Types that monitor heat aren’t recommended for attics because the air temperature on hot summer days can naturally rise high enough to trigger a false alarm. Detectors that check for smoke are a better option.

Do you have any suggestions for updating the look of teak furniture from the 1960s and ’70s? I know it’s enjoying a renaissance and is almost considered vintage, but I am tired of the look. I do love the solid wood, though.


In a world filled increasingly with particleboard furniture, you’re smart to appreciate having pieces made of solid wood. And, just as you say, people who value retro looks are seeking out good-quality pieces from these decades. Every decor period seems to progress from very “in” to “dated” to “sought-after vintage,” usually in a little over a half-century. So although you might be tired of your furniture, if you don’t want to sell it and buy something else, you might want to focus on changes that don’t permanently alter the pieces.

You don’t say what kind of furniture you own. If it’s a table, you might just want to add a tablecloth. A throw or different pillows do similar magic on a couch. New upholstery freshens up chairs.

If you have a buffet or a dresser, you might want to paint the drawer fronts in different colors. Or you could paint entire pieces. But seal the wood first so the paint will be easier to strip later, if someone wants the original look. Teak pieces from the 1960s and ’70s usually have an oil finish, sometimes with a little shellac added, but rather than worry about whether the surface is already sufficiently sealed, just apply a new coat of shellac before you paint. Paint sticks best to dewaxed shellac, which is sold as a sanding sealer. One brand, Zinsser Bullseye SealCoat, is advertised as guaranteed to stick to any surface and to have any topcoat stick to it.

Another option is to cover drawer or door fronts with wallpaper, either in a period style or something completely different. Seal the surface first so the paper is easy to remove later.

The best approach, though, might be to leave the furniture as it is and redecorate around it in a way that celebrates a vintage look, but in a way that’s fresh for your space. Paint the walls, add decals with period designs, bring in a new accent rug, even consider investing in a few vintage accessories, such as light fixtures, mirrors or sculptures. For ideas, search on the Web for images related to phrases such as “mid-century wall decor” and “1960s decor.”

Find vintage accessories at stores that specialize in the period. These include Millennium Decorative Arts (202-483-1218) and Modern Mobler Vintage Furnishings (571-594-2201) in Washington; Modern Montage (202-316-0066) in Alexandria; and Home Anthology (410-744-0042), in Catonsville, near Baltimore.

Have a problem in your home? Send questions to localliving@washpost.com. Put “How To” in the subject line, tell us where you live and try to include a photo.

The Checklist Read Jeanne Huber’s roundup of home-improvement tasks you should tackle in January, such as taking a home inventory.