Catching up on the mail:
A reader from Baltimore asks how to preserve the "pressed cardboard wall covering" in her basement. "The one problem is that one or two sections of it are in bad shape, while the rest is fine," she writes. "The other problem is that it is scratched and scraped. I've been told I can't paper over it. Can I paint it? We are ready to deal with that room."
The simple answer is yes, you can paint it, but heavy paint, or many coats of paint, will obscure the design. What kind of paint you use depends on the current finish. If the surface is already painted, you may need to consult someone at a specialty paint store about the best kind of paint to apply.
Specialty stores, such as Renovator's Supply, and some specialty wallpaper outlets carry modern versions of this wall covering, some of it reproductions of old designs. You may be able to find a pattern like yours, or close enough, to patch the bad places. As for the scratches and scrapes, there is a very complicated method of replicating the old paper using auto-body putty that appeared in the Old House Journal some years ago, but it may not be worth doing. If paint will measurably improve the looks, and if you can live with a few scrapes and scratches, it may be better not to fool with it too much.
A reader in Ft. Myers, Fla., has floors with carpet glued to vinyl tile. She would like to take up the carpet and leave the tiles, but wonders what to do about the glue residue left on the vinyl.
There may not be any way to save the vinyl. Any solvent powerful enough to remove the residue could mar the surface, or even seep through and remove the glue on the bottom of the tiles as well.
The other potential methods of removing the residue -- sanding or scraping -- also will mar the surface. In addition, there is a possibility that the tiles and even the adhesive might contain asbestos. Removing it by yourself could be dangerous, and may even be illegal in some locales where asbestos abatement is strictly regulated.
Our best advice, if you can't stand the carpet, is to take it up and put new tiles down over the old sticky ones.
A reader in Raleigh, N.C., wants to know how to take the squeaks out of a second-floor bedroom floor. He's already tried pounding on it with a block of wood and a heavy hammer, which gives only a few days relief.
He wonders if it would be a good idea to drill holes through the floor and countersink long, thin screws into the joists, then fill the screw holes with plastic wood.
The answer depends on finding out why the floor is squeaking. If there's a subfloor, and if the squeaks are caused because the hardwood is separating from the subfloor, screwing the hardwood from the top may eliminate the noise. However, the holes, even filled, will show, and the plastic-wood plugs tend not to stay in over time.
Sometimes nails can be driven in predrilled holes between boards to catch the tongue of tongue and groove flooring; the nails can be hidden in the crack. This only works if there's something underneath -- such as subflooring or a joist -- to nail into. Another possibility, if there's a subfloor, is to inject a powerful adhesive under the flooring, pound it down and hold it ** there until the adhesive takes. (This may be a solution best left to a professional.)
Actually, the best method of repairing squeaks -- even where there's a subfloor -- is by screwing from underneath, through the joist or subfloor. If the problem is caused by a gap between the joists and the subfloor, or by a slipped or twisted joist not being in contact with the floor, the only good way to fix it is from underneath.
To stop the noise you have to stop the movement between the joist and the flooring or subfloor. This involves shimming or reinforcing the joist, and gluing and screwing into the floor from below.
Obviously, this is a lot of work, and if there is a finished ceiling below you don't want to disturb, it's out of the question. Well, some people actually develop an affection for their house's characteristic creaks and squeaks.
Finally, a reader in Towson, Md., is planning a complicated addition/renovation project and wants us to recommend an architect. The truth is, architects and clients have to be "recommended" to each other. The only way to find someone who will work with you compatibly is to interview candidates until you find a match. Ask neighbors, friends and relatives for recommendations, or check with local professional groups to see if they provide lists of architects who specialize in residential projects.
L Next: An architectural historian on preservation philosophy.
Johnson is construction manager for Neighborhood Housing Services of Baltimore. Ms. Menzie is Home Editor of The Sun.
you have questions, comments, tips or experiences to share about working on houses, write to us c/o HOME WORK, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md. 21278. Questions of general interest will be answered in the column; comments, tips and experiences will be reported in occasional columns.