Q. My house was built about 1964 and has painted cedar-shingle siding. The siding has been repainted several times and is in dire need of painting again.
Some of the shingles are rotted. Several contractors have recommended replacing the shingles with vinyl siding. Is this a good investment? I plan to sell the house in a few years.
A. Replacing your rotted, ugly shingles with vinyl siding would be an excellent investment. In fact, according to the latest cost vs. value survey by Remodeling Magazine ( www.remodelingmagazine.com), replacing old siding with vinyl has one of the best paybacks of any remodeling project.
The survey tracks the payback of various projects if houses are sold within a year, and vinyl siding scores about 80 percent as a national average. Some regional paybacks are even higher.
Don’t put too much faith in survey numbers, but the improvement in the appearance of your home with vinyl siding will undoubtedly make it more appealing to both you and prospective buyers, and should increase the value even if you don’t sell for several years.
I know of many homes with vinyl siding that is more than 20 years old, and it looks as good as new. The vinyl might require occasional cleaning, but otherwise is virtually maintenance-free.
The cost of new vinyl siding, when compared with some other sidings, is quite reasonable. You also can add energy efficiency to your home by choosing insulation-backed siding.
A couple of cautions: Choose an experienced contractor and be sure and have the old shingles removed before new siding is installed. It is important to start with a smooth, sound surface to get a good-looking, long-lasting job.
Q. Some of the outside walls of my townhouse get very cold, especially a powder room that adjoins the garage. Would it be possible to attractively add insulation to this wall?
A. If there is a wood-framed wall between the powder room and garage – which I suspect – and it is not already insulated, it would be quite possible to add insulation.
If the wall is finished on both sides with drywall, cellulose insulation can be pumped into the cavities through small holes drilled in the drywall on one side. The holes are patched afterward and are almost invisible.
To determine if the wall is already insulated, turn off the electricity to the room, remove the cover from an electrical outlet (if there is one) and poke around inside the wall with a wire to see if you encounter any filling. If there is no outlet, a small test hole can be drilled in the garage side of the wall.
If the wall has no drywall on the garage side, which is sometimes the case, the cavities can be filled with fiberglass blankets. Drywall should be installed over the new insulation.
Keep in mind that while insulation will help prevent heat loss from the powder room, it has no heating value of its own. That means the powder room must have some source of heat to keep it cozy.
If your central heater isn’t doing the job, consider a small auxiliary heater such as the oil-filled electric radiators sold at many home centers. One of these heaters can warm a small room quickly and efficiently, and needs to be turned on only when heat is wanted.
Q. The brick hearth of my fireplace looks dusty and not shiny as I would like. I have tried all kinds of cleaning products but they haven’t helped. Any ideas?
A. Some strong cleaners can damage bricks, so you should use them sparingly if at all. If the bricks are simply dusty and dull, try going over them with a stiff-bristled brush. Vacuum thoroughly after brushing.
If you are still not satisfied, try scrubbing with the brush and hot water, or add one tablespoon of TSP (trisodium phosphate or a substitute, sold at paint stores) to a gallon of hot water.
Let the bricks dry well and apply a masonry sealer, which should give them some gloss or sheen while protecting against stains and dirt. You can buy masonry sealers at any home center.
Vacuum the bricks regularly – it is the best way to keep them clean.
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