Q: I have been researching how to fix my horrible plaster ceilings and found a few solutions. My question relies on any or all knowledge you have regarding classic tin ceilings. Can you provide any answers to this? The American Tin Ceiling Co. seems to have some cool products for homeowners. Do you know of them? –Daniel M.

A: I’m familiar with these products, and in my opinion they’re quite good. They have a number of different sizes and pattern to choose from, along with all the necessary trim pieces and other items you might need to complete the installation.

The most important thing to consider is that the panels need to be attached to something solid — you can’t install them directly over the old plaster. You can cover the old ceiling with plywood, oriented strand board (OSB), or even strips of one-by-two or one-by-three lumber.

Whatever you do, remember that the plywood or wood furring needs to be as flat and even as possible, so that may entail shimming the wood or removing some of the old plaster. Also, the panels need to be supported on all four sides, since that’s where the attachment nails are installed. If you opt for the furring strips, they will need to be installed on 24 inch centers, with cross pieces installed every 24 inches as well; in other words, you need to form a 24-by-24-inch grid across the ceiling.

After the plywood or furring is installed, the tin panels are installed one at a time, either hand nailing them or using a small brad nailer. This is a two-person job: one to set and hold the panel, the other to nail it in place.

This is not a particularly difficult do-it-yourself project, but it does require a lot of preplanning to have it come out right. Also, you mentioned that your old plaster ceilings are "horrible." If that also means any mold or water damage, be sure that you get that cleared up first; do not just cover up mold or moist building materials.

Q: I have insulation in my unfinished attic in the rafters with the paper facing in towards the heated part of the house. My problem is the paper is brittle and the insulation is falling down, rows at a time. I could put the wire up to hold the insulation up in place, but it will not look pretty. What else can I put up over the whole surface to hold the insulation in place? –Keith M.

A: If you don’t want the expense of replacing the insulation, here’s a solution that’s a little more labor intensive but it won’t cost you very much. One row at a time, remove the insulation from between the rafters. Peel the paper face off the insulation — it should peel off pretty easily — and discard it, then push the insulation back into place between the rafters. Friction should hold the batts in place temporarily.

When you’ve done several rafter cavities, or even one entire half of the attic if the insulation will stay in place OK, you can then cover the insulation with 4-mil clear plastic sheeting. Simply staple the sheeting to the face of the rafters. If you have to seam the plastic in any areas, make sure it overlaps at least a couple of inches. If you live in a high-humidity area, the seams should also be sealed with tape. The plastic sheeting will hold the insulation in place and also act as a vapor barrier.

All this assumes that you have adequate ventilation behind the insulation to prevent any potential problems in the event that any moisture does get into the cavities. If you’re not sure about the ventilation situation, it’s best to contact a qualified roofing or insulation contractor to inspect the situation before you proceed.

Q: I am currently doing a project of painting all the exterior trim on my house. It was painted with an exterior alkyd gloss 10 years ago, so I was told to continue using the oil, which I am. I am having a problem during application, with a brush or roller, thinned or not thinned, with air bubbles. The paint is bubbling about five to 10 minutes after I apply it and it’s drying like that. Any suggestions on what’s causing this? A remedy would be great. — Anonymous painter

A: The old trim that you’re painting has to be dry, clean, and slightly rough, otherwise the new paint won’t adhere to it. It sounds like the trim either has some underlying moisture or some type of surface coating (a film of dirt, oil, or something else) that’s preventing adhesion. I would suggest you make sure the wood is dry, then lightly sand the old paint with 180- to 220-grit paper to roughen it so the new paint will grip better. Wipe off any sanding dust, then paint. If you have any bare wood showing, be sure it’s primed with oil-based primer before applying the new paint.

Incidentally, you can also make the switch to latex paint, which would actually be my preference. The trim, as I mention, needs to be clean and dry. De-gloss the old paint with 180- to 220-grit paper (old oil-based paint actually sands much more easily than latex) dust it off, then apply a coat of oil-based or shellac-based primer. I like BIN pigmented shellac myself. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions, and have good ventilation. Once the primer is dry, you have a solid surface for painting over with latex.

These suggestions apply only to homes built after 1978. For pre-1978 homes, you need to have the paint tested for lead before doing any sanding. For more information, please go to www.epa.gov/lead.

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