Q. I plan to install new drywall in my house and will tape and spackle the joints in the usual way. How can I keep the dust down?
A. A good strategy is to smooth the joints with a damp sponge before the joint compound sets up. This should greatly reduce the amount of dust, but unless you are very skillful you will still have to do some sanding, which can create fine dust that can coat furniture and floors and even infiltrate into other rooms.
When the time comes to sand, use plastic sheets to cover everything that can’t be removed from the room where you are working. Try to isolate the work area – close doors or cover the openings with plastic sheets.
A good way to reduce dust when you start sanding is to use a powered finishing sander with perforated sandpaper and a vacuum attachment; this tool will suck up most of the dust before it can escape into the air.
If you don’t have that type of equipment and don’t want to invest in it, you can hand sand with a sanding block wrapped with sandpaper, but hold the nozzle of a vacuum close to where you are sanding.
While sanding, you should wear a dust mask and goggles.
Q. We recently had a pine entrance door installed and the contractor applied a coat of sealer to the wood. I had wanted to stain the door a walnut color, but wonder if that is possible now that it has been sealed. Someone suggested using a gel stain. Any ideas?
A. You might be able to apply a heavy-bodied gel stain over the sealer.
Since pine is a soft wood that often blotches when stained, the sealer might act to keep the stain more evenly toned. I suggest Minwax gel stain, which can be used on exterior surfaces if it is protected with exterior varnish.
It is difficult to find an inconspicuous spot on a door, but you should test first to check the results. If the edge of the door was sealed, that could provide a test area. The best bet would be to use the same sealer on a pine board and test and practice staining on the board.
Use a soft brush to apply and smooth out the stain. When the stain is dry, apply at least three coats of a high-quality spar varnish or marine varnish; Minwax recommends its Helmsman Spar Urethane. Three or more coats will hold up better under outdoor conditions than one or two coats.
If all this sounds like a lot of work, you can always paint the door. Paint generally lasts longer and looks better in outdoor conditions than a stained or clear finish.
Q. We have a couple of window air-conditioners that we used to remove for storage in fall and re-install in spring. They are too heavy for us to move anymore and there is no one to help. How can we keep the coolers from causing heat loss and drafts in winter? We tried a plastic cover, but it didn’t help.
A. If you don’t have a husky relative or friend to remove the coolers, try this: You will still use a cover, but it will be mostly for appearances.
First, go to a home center and buy a water-heater insulating kit. The kit will probably have fiberglass insulation about two inches thick, with a vinyl facing.
Cut a panel of insulation big enough to wrap the front and sides of the inside portion of the cooler. The vinyl facing should be exposed. Tape the insulation in place with 3M’s No Residue Tough Duct Tape, also sold at home centers.
Cut two more insulation panels for the other sides of the cooler and tape them in place. The entire inside portion of the cooler should now be covered with insulation.
Now measure the insulated cooler and buy a cover to fit it. This will still leave the telescoping side panels of the cooler uncovered, so cut two more pieces of insulation and tape them over the extensions. The cooler should now be snugly wrapped up and relatively energy-efficient.
You can buy air-conditioner covers in three different sizes from Improvements (about $20 each, www.improvementscatalog.com or 800-642-2112). These covers already have some insulation.
In spring, carefully remove the cover and insulation and store it in a plastic bag until the cooling season is over, then repeat the cover-up.
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