Q: My house was built in 1887 and is still in good shape except for the ceilings. They are all horsehair plaster, with many cracks that I tried to patch with a hard-setting Spackle that did not work, very uneven surfaces, and, it seems, unfixable. What can I do: new skimcoat, new ceiling, or what? Can I do new ceilings myself, or is it worth hiring a pro?
A: If you have ever worked upside down on a ceiling, you know the work is as hard as anything in the field of do-it-yourself repairs. So hire a pro to put up a new ceiling. This is how: First, remove the old plaster, leaving the wood lath in place. Then put up 1 x 3 strapping, to allow new ceiling to be screwed or nailed on.
Then there is the choice of ceiling: 1) Plasterboard (drywall), with seams and nail heads covered with tape and joint compound. 2) Blueboard with a skimcoat. 3) Ceiling tiles, either distinct square tiles or acoustical tiles with fissures (not round holes) that fit together without lines.
I think the Blueboard and skimcoat is the best, and probably the most expensive, but worth the effort. One more ceiling, a suspended one, is not considered in a Victorian house. Tiles are the best candidate for DIY, because the ceiling elements are small (12 by 12 inches) and easy to work with.
Q: I have ceramic tiles on my bathroom floor and walls of a built-in shower (no tub). A tiler said he can cover all the tiles with new tiles. Is this really OK?
A: Well, yes and no. It is OK to put new tiles over floor tiles, using a thin-set mortar, as long as adjustments are made for the toilet, which must be lifted and put back on over the new tile. But I suggest you remove the wall tile before putting up new ones, because the added weight might damage the walls.
Q: I have a very old medicine cabinet that I want to remove, and replace with a new one in the hole where the old one fit. I have found nothing that fits in big-box stores. What can I do?
A: Go to a kitchen and bath dealer and ask if they have any, or can build one for you. No? Then you have to buy a similar sized cabinet and have the hole enlarged or reduced to accommodate the new cabinet.
Q: Three of the four steps to my basement collapsed recently, with a railing as loose as it can be. I am having a carpenter replace three of them and the railing, and he is asking $275 for the job. He said he would use pine for the wood, which comes to $60. Is that total of $275 a bit extravagant?
A: I really don’t think it is, considering the prices professionals charge by the hour. I don’t think you will get much of a different price if you found another carpenter.