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Turn flaw into asset by showcasing wall above fireplace

Question - The wall above the fireplace in my 1960s house is about 1/8 inch thicker than the rest of the wall on each side of the fireplace, and that bothers me; the wall is not even. How can I straighten it or make the wall over the fireplace even with the rest of the walls? Rich Giangregorio, Swampscott, Mass.

Answer - It sounds as if someone replaced that wall and made it just too thick. You have two choices, one easy, the other a lot of work.

The easy way: Install a vertical board on each side of that raised wall. You could make it go from floor to ceiling, just skirting the fireplace. Stain the board or paint it a contrasting color, making it sort of a border, highlighting the wall as a feature. You could even put a board at the top of the wall, so the boards would form a frame of sorts.

The hard way: Take off that jutting wall and see what it is made of. You may need only to put up a thinner sheet of plasterboard to bring it back even with the other walls. Cover the edges with joint compound and paper tape for an invisible seam.

Trying to taper the edges of the jutting wall to even it with the other walls won't work.

Question - I plan to stain siding shingles on my 40-year-old house when the weather improves. They were primed last fall, and now I see some of the shingles are shrunk, and there are gaps between them. We are replacing some of the shingles, but should I put some sort of caulking in those gaps? My concern is that since the shingles will expand and contract, the caulking might bulge. Rob DeMattia, Revere, Mass.

Answer - The caulking certainly could bulge with the movement of the shingles, but there is no need to fill those gaps and you really shouldn't do it; you're just asking for trouble. Live with the gaps; the only way to get rid of them is to reshingle, and that does not sound necessary. It is characteristic of shingles to form gaps.

You can restain in good weather, but the priming last fall may cause a problem; it is generally recommended to stain or paint over the primer within two weeks of applying the primer.

Question - When I had a leak in my water service, the town turned down the pressure and fixed the leak, but when the service was restored, the pressure came very high. What can I do about that excess pressure? Anne White, Lexington, Mass.

Answer - If the pressure is indeed too high, install a pressure-reducing valve.

Question - I plan to put plywood on my attic floor for storage purposes. Should it be 3/4 inch, or can I get away with 1/2 inch? Also, the plywood will go over recessed lights, where there is no insulation. Would plywood over those lights allow the lights to heat up excessively? Paul O'Brien, Duxbury, Mass.

Answer - In a word, yes: the plywood could hold the light heat in, causing a fire hazard. As for plywood, you could use 1/2-inch, but 5/8-inch would be better becsause it will not sag or bounce like 1/2-inch. As for the plywood over the lights, drill holes in the plywood for ventilation. If the plywood panels meet over the lights, open the seam to 3/4 inch.

Question - Some of the slate tiles on a pine floor are loose, and I would like to remove them all and restore the pine floor. How can I remove them, and how can I remove the gray cement under the slate? Maureen Bernsee, Lexington, Mass.

Answer - To remove the intact tiles, insert a chisel under an edge and pry up; as you drive the chisel under the edge, the tiles are likely to pop. If they don't, a little prying will pop them. If not, you may have to break up the tiles.

Question - I have a two-zone hot water system in my 35-year-old house. It works OK, but I hear sloshing of water in the expansion tank. The tank has a diaphragm. Is there a way I can stop that sloshing. L.L., Newton, Mass.

Answer - Yes. You can recharge the tank. Since it is a diaphragm tank, add air to the tank with a bicycle pump. If the tank is a conventional one, it is recharged by draining it. This is done by closing the shutoff valve between tank and boiler and opening the discharge valve to drain the water into buckets or into a drain.