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Do It Yourself: Fill cracks one room at a time

Q. I recently bought a small apartment house that needs a lot of work. The plaster walls and ceilings have numerous small cracks, which I have already patched. I don’t think regular paint will cover them up well, but I’d like something fast and inexpensive. Can you help?

A. Texture paint, a heavy-bodied paint with excellent covering ability, could give good results. I used a sand-texture paint more than 25 years ago to finish a problem ceiling, and it still looks good.

Of course, there is no guarantee that some of the cracks won’t reopen or some new ones won’t appear in time.

My suggestion is to paint just one wall or one small room to see how you like the results before proceeding. This will also sharpen your application skills.

Sand-texture paint is sometimes available in coarse and regular versions. Both give a so-called stipple finish, with many tiny peaks on the surface. Check paint stores and home centers to get an overview of the possibilities.

Typical sand-texture paint has the consistency of a thick milkshake when stirred. It’s usually applied with a roller or brush; read the directions carefully before buying to see what tools are needed. Special texture rollers are sometimes available.

Keep in mind that texture paint will cover much less area per gallon than conventional paint; rough-texture paint may cover only 50 or 60 square feet per gallon.

The usual procedure is to start by priming the wall or ceiling with a latex primer. After the paint is applied, it can be “tooled” with implements such as a sponge, trowel or stiff-bristled brush to give special effects such as the swirl finish, featuring many overlapping swirls.

Since texture paint can be difficult to clean, many decorators let it dry thoroughly, then apply a coat of regular satin-finish wall paint.

Q. I want to remove the asbestos-cement siding shingles from a house. I don’t see any great danger in doing this. What is your opinion?

A. Asbestos-cement siding, which was banned in the 1970s but still exists on many older buildings, can be a health hazard if it crumbles or is fragmented and particles get into the air so they are breathed.

In general, the shingles are not a hazard if they are in good condition and are left alone. I can tell you from personal experience that it is nearly impossible to remove asbestos-cement shingles without breaking some of them into pieces.

There are also a variety of federal, state and local regulations covering the removal and disposal of asbestos-containing materials. For these reasons, I can’t advise you to remove the shingles yourself.

If you want to follow the rules, you should check with local building officials for help in learning what regulations are in force in your area. There is also a great deal of information on the Web that can help you decide how to proceed; use a search engine and the words “asbestos shingle removal regulations.”

Q. My concrete patio isn’t level and gets a puddle in the middle when it rains. How can this be fixed?

A. There are several options. If the patio is in good condition, you could have an overlay or topping poured to give it the proper slope and eliminate puddles. This could be expensive.

There are also special concrete-patching mixes that can be applied in very thin coats; one of these could be used to level the depressed area. However, I have tried these products several times and all of them cracked or loosened in a few years.

Another option is inexpensive but requires some effort each time a puddle forms: You can use an ordinary broom to sweep the water out of the puddle and move it over the edge of the patio. For faster sweeping, buy one of the long-handled brush-squeegees used to apply blacktop sealer; you can buy one at a home center or hardware store.

Still another inexpensive option is to use a wet-dry vacuum cleaner to slurp up the water in the puddle after a rain. Since you would be working with an electric appliance on a wet surface, make sure the outlet you use is protected with a GFCI (ground-fault circuit interrupter) to prevent electrical shocks.

Questions and comments should be emailed to Gene Austin at Send regular mail to 1730 Blue Bell Pike, Blue Bell, PA 19422.