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?
— JESS WILSON-BROWN, WATERTOWN
JESS WILSON-BROWN, Watertown
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?
— SAME HOLE
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.
All those countertops
When the Handyman told Joe Hollyday last week that Quartz and Silestone countertops are Corian or like Corian, several readers said, Peter, you’re all wrong, or words to that effect.
Here is what Christina McMahon wrote: Corian is a brand of Solid Surface countertop made by Dupont. LG Hi-Macs, Formica, and Allen + Roth are other examples of Solid Surface carried in our store. Solid Surface countertops are made of acrylic material. Silestone is a brand of Quartz countertop made by Cosentino, a company that also makes Eco countertops. Quartz countertops are considered a “stone” countertop, being made of 93 percent quartz chips with 7 percent resins. You are correct that quartz countertops do not need sealing.
Her info was confirmed by Douglas MacLeod of Littleton on a hotline call to the Handyman.
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.
62 years strong!
Here’s a little story I enjoyed immensely when I noticed the date of today’s column. It was on that date in 1953 that I joined the New Britain Herald in Connecticut to start my brilliant career in newspapers. I was there 12 years, and so far 50 years at the Globe. That is 62 years, but there is more: Just six weeks in 1950 with the Elkhart (Indiana) Truth, a daily newspaper. The two-year hiatus was spent in the Army, 1950-’52, with 16 months in Korea.
They were all great years, but my favorite years are the 36 years as the Handyman.Peter Hotton is also in the g section on Thursdays. He is available 1-6 p.m. Tuesdays to answer questions. Call 617-929-2930 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. He also chats online 2-3 p.m. Thursdays. To participate, go to www.Boston.com