Question: Our house is a 1950s Cape Cod. An aluminum awning supported by aluminum posts was part of the house when we bought it eight years ago. After many winters, this structure has deteriorated and is an eyesore from the street. We want to replace it, but we also want to avoid over-remodeling. We have been trying to find an aluminum awning similar to the original. We looked at different Web sites but have mostly found retractable awnings, door-only awnings and commercial awnings. Where can we find a contractor or vendor that deals with aluminum awnings for older houses? —Annandale

Answer: You might not be able to match the skinny posts often used in the 1950s, because posts three inches square are the norm today.

Except for that, you should be able to get what you want from Awnings by Bigley and Hogshire (877-326-7423, This family-run company is based in Norfolk but has a representative who serves the Washington area, including Annandale. It supplies and installs aluminum awnings, as well as ones made of acrylic fabric. The company orders from other suppliers or fabricates components in its shop, depending on what’s most practical, said Taylor Bigley, one of the family members in the business. For a roof that projects out about six feet and runs alongside the house for 10 feet, the cost, including labor, would run about $2,200. For several hundred dollars less, it could install a fabric awning with a warranty of eight to 10 years (vs. the half-century life of your existing metal cover).

Another solution would be to order a kit and either install it yourself or hire a contractor or handyman. Try-Tech Industries (866-337-2381, is a California company that ships nationwide. It offers two types: patio covers that resemble a wooden structure and simple ones that are more about functionality. A 6-by-10-foot wood look-alike would cost around $1,300, including delivery. The basic style would be around $900. Tina Verle, a spokeswoman for the company, estimated it would take one person about a day to erect the structure.

Whatever approach you take, be sure to get something that stands up to the weather. In Fairfax County, that means a ground snow load as heavy as 25 pounds per square foot and a wind speed of up to 90 mph. You need a building permit because the cover is attached to the house and the replacement involves the structural parts. But for a simple roof, you won’t need an engineer’s stamp, said Norm Carlson, a residential plan reviewer for the county building department. Some communities require that, adding about $1,000 to the cost.

I have a small bathroom that has been wallpapered. Is it possible to paint over wallpaper? If so, what primer and paint should I use? —Alexandria

It’s often possible to paint over wallpaper, but the seams will show because of the texture difference, and there’s always a risk that the paint might cause the wallpaper to curl up. In that case, you’d need to remove it all, and the process would be harder than if you hadn’t painted. Be especially wary if some of the wallpaper is coming loose. If your small bathroom is used mostly as a powder room, you’ll have a better chance of success than if the room has been exposed to a lot of steam from showers.

If you decide to try paint, first determine whether the wall covering is vinyl or paper. Flick some water at the wall. If it beads up and runs off, the covering is vinyl. If the water sinks in, it’s paper. You can use pretty much any primer over vinyl, because the vinyl effectively seals the surface. With paper, you need a primer that seals: either an oil primer or a special water-based product, such as Gardz Problem Surface Sealer, sold by Rust-Oleum under the Zinsser brand. For the finish coat, use a standard water-based paint, because the cleanup is easier than for an oil paint.

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