Check attic floor insulation if heat is on

Q. The upstairs of our house gets unbearably hot in summer, even though we have central air conditioning that cools the first floor. We are thinking of installing fans in the attic to cool it.

A gable fan, roof fans and turbine fans were suggested. There is not much space in the attic.

What suggestions do you have to cool the upstairs? — J. Slater

A. The first thing you should do is check the attic floor insulation. If you have adequate insulation in the floor, it will provide a buffer against attic heat infiltration and you might not need those fans. Adequate attic insulation also will reduce heat loss in winter, so it could significantly cut your energy costs. To find out how much attic insulation is recommended for your area, visit

Even if there isn't much space in the attic, it should be possible to blow in cellulose insulation. If your air-conditioning ducts have dampers, make sure ducts leading to the upstairs are fully open. If a damper handle runs parallel to the duct, it is fully open.

Booster fans in ducts leading upstairs or on the room registers also can help pull more cool air into the upstairs. Duct booster fans are most effective, but register fans are OK if there isn't good access to ducts. You can buy these fans at some heating-cooling supply outlets or find a selection on the Internet. Use a search engine and the words Duct and Register Booster Fans.

Finally, there are few better solutions than auxiliary room air conditioners to cool problem rooms. A 5,000 btu window air conditioner will cool a small bedroom. With one of these operating at night, you can turn off the central air and be quite comfortable.

Painting melamine is OK

Q. My kitchen has older cabinets that appear to have a thin plastic coating. They are dingy and dull and I can't clean them properly. I asked two contractors if I can paint them and they told me I can't.

Do you have any suggestions for an inexpensive makeover? —V. Sheppard

A. The cabinets are most likely finished with a plastic called melamine, which is used on many lower-cost cabinets and furniture of all types. Melamine can be painted; in fact, there are special paints for it.

One well-known brand is Cabinet Rescue, which is sold at some home centers and on the Internet.

For best results when painting cabinets, remove the doors and hardware and paint the doors separately. Number the doors and cabinets so you know which door goes where; a given door might not fit well on another cabinet.

Be sure and read and carefully follow directions on the paint container for preparing the surface and applying the paint. Some paints are best applied with a small roller with very fine nap. A good-quality paint brush also will help in achieving a smooth finish.

Thrift is back in style

The recession has made it cool to cut costs, but some reformed spendthrifts can use a little help. That's what's offered in "Be Thrifty: How to Live Better With Less."

The book is a compilation of money-saving ideas, from necessities such as fixing your toilet to luxuries such as creating a spa at home. The point is that cutting costs doesn't need to mean sacrificing or turning into a cheapskate.

"Be Thrifty," edited by Pia Catton and Califia Suntree, is published by Workman Publishing. It sells for $14.99.

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