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Chipper Hatter

Note to readers: Every year, thousands of Arizona residents email our website or call our radio show with questions about everything from how to prevent fires in their chimneys to what to do about the tree roots invading their sewer systems. One of our goals is to provide answers that suit the specific lifestyle wherever someone lives in Arizona. In this column, we focus on questions about home maintenance and improvement in the Tucson area.

Question: I have a concrete walk that has a crack or two, some signs of wear along the edges, and a birdbath in one slab. The concrete is about 25 years old. What would be the most practical way to cover over these problems in terms of durability and price?

Answer: There are many products that are practical to cover your concrete walkway, including concrete pavers, ceramic tile, porcelain tile, flagstone, travertine and on and on. The choice would probably be your call based on financial and design criteria. Concrete pavers are among the lower-cost choices and also are very easy to install. A homeowner can actually lay these pavers themselves, although a bed of sand would have to be put down over the old walkway. Your choice could vary depending on whether you have a slope and/or steps and what the surrounding plants are like.

Q: We are having the exterior painted on our stucco house. We have three bids. Some painters have told us that it's not worth paying extra money for more expensive paint. What do you say?

A: Thanks for your question about paint quality. We ask a lot from a very thin layer of paint. It is all that there is to protect your investment from all the environmental influences that your home is exposed to. Basically, the higher the acrylic content of a can of paint, the better able it is to provide the protection and longevity that you are looking for. You're right; the best paint containing higher acrylic content is a little more expensive. But compare that extra expense right now to what it will cost to repaint in a couple years when the work has to be redone, due to the failure of lesser quality paint.

Q: We have funds to upgrade our kitchen, with new counters, cabinets and backsplash. Or we could redo the floor throughout the 1,550-square-foot house. The house is 13 years old, and the flooring is unglazed stone for the most part, neutral in color, but hard to clean. The tile in the master bath is also different from the tile in the master bedroom. Should we put the money into a kitchen redo or the flooring in the house?

A: If you are trying to sell, a kitchen upgrade would probably boost the value of your home more than the flooring would. But if the flooring really bothers you, maybe you should change that first. It's really a personal choice, however, and you're the one who will have to make the decision.

Q: I pay a good deal more on my electric bill than my neighbors do, and I'd like to have someone come in and tell me why I'm running up my bill. I had a home-energy audit done and had my ductwork sealed, but my bills continue to run a good deal more than at my neighbor's house.

A: We have never found two people or two families that could be considered as fair comparisons for much of anything, much less energy consumption. To try to justify one billing for energy use against another is probably an effort in futility. There are just too many variables to consider, including the age of the homes and which way they face, the exterior wall insulation, the type of roofing, and the amount and quality of ceiling insulation, window type and placement and natural shade.

Now perhaps your home is very similar to the home next door. But other considerations could be the age and size of your air conditioner and its efficiency, the age of your water heater and its location, when your water heater was last flushed out and cleaned, what light bulbs you use and how many ceiling fans you have. Do you turn down your air conditioner or furnace when you leave your home for long periods of time? Do you cook at home more than your neighbors? Do you do more loads of wash?

Be judicial in your use of electricity and aware of what and when you use it and you will go far toward conserving as much as possible. But please don't beat yourself up trying to equal your neighbor's use of energy.

For more do-it-yourself tips, go to An Arizona homebuilding and remodeling industry expert for 35 years, Rosie Romero is the host of the syndicated Saturday morning "Rosie on the House" radio program, heard locally from 8 to 11 a.m. on KNST-AM (790) and -FM (97.1) in Tucson and KGVY-AM (1080) and -FM (100.7) in Green Valley. Call 1-888-767-4348.