Painting aluminum siding

By Peter Hotton
Globe Correspondent / August 4, 2011

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Q. I’ve been in my house since 1998, and the aluminum siding is much older, and is fading and chalking quite a bit. Can I paint it? If so, how? Can I user a latex paint with built-in primer?

MIKE , eager to go

A. Yes, you can paint aluminum siding. Wash the surface first with a strong detergent and water solution, then rinse. This will get rid of the chalking. After everything dries, apply two thin coats of a latex solid color stain. Thin coats spell success. Do not power wash. Careless power washing will get water behind the siding, and it is likely to stay there for a long time. Painting with a paint with built-in primer is OK, but a thin coat is essential to success, and I think the solid color latex stain will work better.

Q. One of my two bathrooms is a full bath, and the other is a sink, toilet, and shower. When I leave the house for several months, on my return I carefully run the water in sink, tub, and shower to make sure the traps are full, to prevent sewer gases from coming into the house. The last time I did this I turned the water on in the shower but got no water at all from the shower. What happened? Is there something wrong?

M. , from Brookline

A. It sounds weird, but try this before calling a plumber. Turn on the taps in the sink, then turn on the shower. If still no water, it beats the heck out of the handyman, so the better part of valor is to call a plumber. I talked to Jim Thompson, a plumber from Woburn, who said the stem probably seized up, and an amateur would find it difficult to try to fix it.

Q. I have a few cans of latex paint in the basement of my house in Acton. How long is the shelf life of those cans? They have never been opened.

MILLIE , from Peabody

A. If they were not frozen in that cellar, they will last probably for years, many years in fact. To find out, open a can. If the paint is nice and creamy and you can work it with a paddle, it is viable. If half of it is water with the solids very solid at the bottom, it is probably not worth trying to remix it. Or take it to a paint store to see if it can put the can on a shaker to re-emulsify it.

Q. I removed most of the varnish from my slate floor. What do I put on for a sealer? I want a dull finish. Some of the varnish still remains and some of the streaks remain even after washing.

TEDDI DOKU , by e-mail

A. Varnish is not a good finish for a slate floor. Keep removing the varnish, then you don’t have to do anything to it. Its finish will be dull, which slate is supposed to be in a house. You could seal it with a masonry sealer, but that is all you should do, and try the sealer in an obscure area. Use a thin coat, to check to make sure it will dry.

Q. I have a wall in an extension of my kitchen that is just 2 inches thick, consisting of Sheetrock, wood boards, and clad boards. It is very drafty in winter. How can I insulate it?

MARTY RYAN , by e-mail

A. It’s not drafty, just feels that way because it is very thin for a wall. Also, by clad boards I think you mean clapboards. Anyway, since it is fairly narrow it does not contain much if any woodwork. So, try this: Nail 1-inch-thick Thermax or High-R sheathing to the inside, then put on another layer of Sheetrock. This will add an R factor of about 7, half of a standard insulated wall. Or, to reach an R factor of 14, put in 2-inch-thick Thermax.

New kind of stain When Rob Fahey of Sagamore Beach heard the handyman suggesting he use a semitransparent stain, he called the handyman back to say he found that oil stains are not always available, but he found another semitransparent stain that worked wonders: Benjamin Moore’s Arbor Coat, an emulsion of alkyd and latex. Still semitransparent.

Thanks, Rob. I think that an emulsion will work.

Globe Handyman on Call also appears in the Sunday Real Estate section. He is available 1-6 p.m. Tuesdays to answer questions on house repair. Call 617-929-2930. Hotton ( also chats online about house matters 2-3 p.m. Thursdays. Go to