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How do I smooth the rough spots on my deck?

Q. The 30-year-old deck at my lake house is pretty rough, not smooth like newer decking, more like planks. I’ve read about a new product called Restore, made especially to cover rough surfaces. A friend told me it will not work on treated lumber. What say you?

PETER HALEY, Albany, N.Y.

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A. For starters, your friend may be talking about an old pressure-treating technique that used an arsenic-based preservative, and he’s right. This old preservative was phased out 10 years ago, and the replacement is much safer. Frankly, I would ignore those fancy new materials that claim the sky and often result in disappointment.

For your rough planks, either replace them with pressure-treated boards or mahogany and apply one coat of an oil-based semitransparent stain, or you can sand what you have. If the deck is painted, remove the paint with a stripper, sand it, and then apply the semitransparent stain.

Q. Please advise: How can I cover black patches and dirty areas on a cement patio? How do I clean cement steps that have become black and covered with moss?

PHYLLIS McDONALD, Clifton Park, N.Y.

A. I have to clarify one thing. When you write “cement,” you really mean “concrete.” Cement is a binding agent. Anyway . . . 1) You can clean the step with a power washer, which you can buy or rent. Leave the moss alone. It grows where nothing else grows and is attractive. 2) You can tear up the old concrete and have a new patio poured.

Q. Our house is about 50 years old, and its aluminum siding is loose along the bottom. Is there any way to put it back on? Can it be nailed back into position? You have helped so many people, and I hope I’m going to be one of them!

ROSE & BILL MORRIS, Loudonville, N.Y.

A. We seem to be getting a lot of questions from New Yorkers. The current batch of letters is from readers of the column in the Albany Times Union. That’s nice, and since my father was born in upstate New York and a nephew lives there, too, it’s an extra pleasure to answer them. To the Morrises: Aluminum and vinyl siding are installed in a way that the lengths are snapped together, and by nailing through flanges on those strips. Try to lift the second-lowest strip, which will reveal a flange that is nailed in place. They might have used short roofing nails that have popped, and you can swap out longer roofing nails to resecure them. Call a siding installer (some do both) and ask for hints. A carpenter could help, too.

Q. My 60-year-old Cape-style house has never been finished on the second floor, and I will not change that. There is a proper vapor barrier, and the whole floor is insulated to an R factor of about 40. I have new windows, good ones, but I discovered that there are only 2 inches of insulation in the walls. When vinyl siding was installed, they added about ¼ inch of rigid insulation. Heating water and the house is simple, effective, and inexpensive. The house boiler rarely runs.

Here’s my problem: In winter there is a distinct temperature difference on the first floor where the hardwood floors and the air for a foot or two stay cool. Would insulating the cellar ceiling make sense economically and comfort-wise? Insulation contractors told me there’s no economical way to increase the insulation in my exterior walls, and I find that hard to believe. What are your thoughts?

ROGER HARVEY, Mendon

A. First, the last: The insulators are right, and honestly, adding insulation in the walls will do little and cost big bucks. Adding rigid insulation under the new vinyl siding is a standard procedure to prevent escaping water vapor from condensing into water in the walls and adds a teeny bit of insulation. Your house is in good shape insulation-wise, except for the basement ceiling.

An uninsulated ceiling will lose heat downward, but insulation will make a huge difference in the winter. Fill the space between the joists with rigid insulation, a task that’s easy and quick. Buy Thermax, a rigid foam insulation 1 or 2 inches thick, enough to make at least 4 inches, for an R value of 28, more than enough. Cut the rigid pieces to fit snugly, and hold them in place by tapping in siding nails under them to serve as cleats. Another rigid insulation, with lower R values, is Styrofoam.

Q. The south-facing side of our 20-year-old contemporary never seems to hold paint. It always peels after two to three years. Do I have to take it down to the bare wood and prime before repainting? Will an oil base last better? What say you?

BRUCE HAUBEN, Littleton

A. The relentless sun, especially in south-facing areas, is brutal and is causing your miseries. Take that side to the bare wood, then apply Hotton’s favorite, one coat of an oil-based semitransparent stain. Don’t apply a second coat; the stain is a penetrating preservative, and a second coat will just bubble up and stay wet.

Globe Handyman on Call Peter Hotton also appears in the G section on Thursdays. He is available from 1 to 6 p.m. on Tuesdays to answer questions on home repair. Call 617-929-2930. E-mail him at photton@globe.com.
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