Q: New doorway with new casing and new skim coat on the wall. Should I stain casing (walnut) first or paint (light green) wall first? I'm thinking I can paint over stain on wall but can't stain properly if paint gets on edge of casing. CHARLIE

A: Good thinking. Do the casing first because it is easier to stain the edges of the casing without getting any on the wall. Also, if you get stain on the wall, the paint will cover it. Q: I have two fireplaces in my Colonial-style house: one on the first floor, the other in the basement. Whenever I have a fire on the first floor, I get smoke in the basement. How can I correct that? TROUBLED

A: There may be a difference in air pressure between the first floor and basement, and smoke from the first-floor fireplace is going up the chimney and down to the basement. Try this: Add more combustion air to the first-floor fireplace room; open a window opposite the fireplace. There are other ways to fix it, but call a fireplace expert to help you.

Q:My daughter's home is a front-to-back split with four levels. The top bedroom level has the thermostat. The lower living/kitchen area is colder, the office area six steps below is even colder, and the basement is colder still. The one heating zone and thermostat are on the bedroom level in the hall.


Advertisement

The hot-air heat and central air come through the same vents. Can a heating system like this have more than one zone, preferably one for each level? The heating/cooling apparatus is in the attic. WONDERING

A: I am wondering, too, how screwed up that heating/cooling system is. How many hot-air vents and returns does the system have? Vents provide the heat, and returns actually return cooled air back to the furnace. Contact a heating contractor (specializing in hot-air systems) to do an analysis and make corrections.

Q: We have a house built in 1925 that has a granite-block foundation. Our problem is that we are getting a leak in one corner when it rains, and it appears that the mortar or cement between the stones is the source. There is a gutter above that corner, and I have tried to divert water away from the house. Any suggestions on how to repair this situation without digging a trench and installing a pump? BOB CALIRI

A: I think water is coming through those degraded joints between the blocks. Keeping water away via gutters is also good. To fill those places that have lost mortar, you can repoint, chipping out old mortar and pressing in new. A mason can do this, but you can, too, but be aware that it is heavy work. If it is successful and stops leaks above the floor, then you can tackle ground water that is coming up between the floor slab and block wall.

The Boston Globe