Q: The wall of my entire basement stairway is covered with a hard, cement-like material that is very rough and hard as a rock. Can I plaster over it with a softer material? Over the years, the kids’ grubby hands have soiled it. How can I clean it? The same goes for the very hard surface of the laundry room. Cleaning helps little or nothing.
A: That finish throughout the basement is mortar, similar to the poured concrete walls. It cannot be sanded. Try pressure-washing that hard stuff. If that doesn’t work, paint it with a cement-based paint, sold in paint and big-box stores.
Adding ceiling insulation
Q: I live in a Cape-style house. The ceiling insulation is 40 years old. I’d like to add another layer or so, but I am not sure if I should remove the insulation that is there before I add more layers. Compounding the situation is this: The builder put plywood over half the joists so that area could be used for storage. Any suggestions?
A: If you think the floored area is more than you can use, take some of the flooring off. Then add unbacked fiberglass batts between the joists. Don’t put insulation in the eaves, where it can block soffit vents. Also, check to see if there is any plastic or paper vapor barrier under the existing insulation. If there is none, take out all the old insulation and throw it away. Then put lengths of plastic vapor barrier on the ceiling between joists, and add several inches of unbacked insulation, even dozens of inches’ worth. You will be warmer, and happier, that you did.