Q. We have older aluminum-framed sliding windows that are incredibly drafty. Is there some way to seal these things? We can’t afford new windows now.
A. There are a couple of relatively inexpensive treatments that should improve the performance of these windows in cold weather. The same treatments can be used on wood-framed windows.
Keep in mind that either of these treatments will temporarily prevent you from opening the windows – at least until the sealing material is removed.
If the problem is drafts around the perimeter of the sliding panels, you can seal them with a removable weather-stripping caulk such as DAP’s Seal’n Peel. This clear caulk can be applied to the inside of the window frames and can be peeled off when the weather improves.
DAP says the caulk won’t harm painted surfaces. Look for it in the weather-stripping department of home centers or visit www.dap.com for more information.
A second treatment, which can improve the overall energy-efficiency of the windows, is to cover the insides with shrink-type plastic film. The plastic is generally sold in kits with enough material to cover several windows.
Window-sized sheets are taped to the interior frames of the windows; when heat is applied with a hair dryer or heat gun, the plastic shrinks to a wrinkle-free cover that serves the same purpose as a storm window.
Despite their low cost (a kit usually costs less than $20), these covers are highly effective at stopping drafts and heat loss. They can be removed in good weather.
Again, check the weather-stripping department of home centers or buy online by using a search engine and the words Inside Plastic Storm Windows.
Q. I want to cover a brick fireplace with ceramic tiles. Should I apply cement backer board first and if so, how?
A. You don’t really need the backer board or the problem of fastening it to the bricks. The best method is to use latex-modified thinset mortar to prepare a surface for the tiles and to hold them in place. Do not use mastic.
Start by cleaning the fireplace bricks as thoroughly as possible. Use a stiff brush and vacuum to remove any loose dirt, then scrub with a detergent to remove embedded soot and dirt.
The mortar is sold in bags and should be mixed to the consistency of soft butter. Let the bricks dry out, then spread a coat of mortar over the bricks with a wide drywall knife or trowel; the goal is to provide a smooth, flat surface for the tiles.
Apply a second coat if needed to fill depressions, and let dry. The final coat of thinset mortar is applied with a notched trowel and will hold the tiles in place.
If mixed properly, the mortar has a strong grip that will prevent sagging and sliding of the tiles. Remove any squeezed-out mortar with a wet cloth; if allowed to dry, it is very difficult to remove.
Q. My plaster ceiling has cracks wall-to-wall in a step pattern. Can these be patched or do I need new plaster?
A. Cracks like these can be difficult or impossible to repair with the usual methods, such as patching plaster or taping with fiberglass drywall tape.
If you can find an experienced plasterer in your area, have him check the ceiling and make recommendations for restoring it. Finding an expert might be difficult because of the extensive use of drywall in finishing walls and ceilings.
One solution, if the plaster is beyond repair, is to cover the ceiling with 3/8 -inch drywall, screwing it to the ceiling joists while leaving the plaster in place.
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