Cracking Up

Salem, Oregon has many, many houses that were built prior to the advent and popular use of sheet rock for walls and ceilings. Prior to that, one of the common construction methods was lathe and plaster.

The procedure for doing lathe and plaster is, to greatly simplify it, attach thin strips of wood (lathe) perpendicular to the studs/ceiling joists, and then cover the lathe with plaster. The plaster would then ooze through the gaps in the lathe securing it to the walls and/or ceiling. Again, that is the process in a nutshell.

Over time, even with sheet rocked walls and ceilings, houses settle and cracks develop. If the cracks aren’t taken care of and if, as in the case of today’s post, they are on the ceiling of a 1st floor room, the plaster sometimes loosens up away from the lathe and starts to sag.

Lathe & Plaster ceiling, large crack

There is a 3/8″ to 1/2″ sag in a good portion of the plaster.

This is obviously not a good situation. First, imaging sitting in your living room with this cracked, loose, and sagging chunk of your ceiling above your head. One good round from Wii Dance Party in the upstairs bedroom and you could have chunks of ceiling in your lap. Secondly, the aesthetics are somewhat less than desirable.

In approaching this project the hope was the plaster could be reattached to the lathe without breaking out large sections of it thereby requiring the need to sheet rock the ceiling. Holes with countersink were drilled along the crack to allow for sheet rock screws to be put in to reattach the ceiling plaster to the underlying lathe.

All Screwed Up FrankenCeiling

As luck would have it on this project, there were no large breakouts of the plaster during the reattachment process. Once everything was secured the screw holes and cracks were filled with Fix-It-All™ patching compound. For those not familiar with this product it sets up fast (30 minutes). Once dry it can be sanded and drilled and it does not shrink to create dimples nearly as much as straight sheet rock compound does.

Cracks & holes filled.

Cracks & holes filled.

Once the Fix-It-All™ was dry, a skim coat of sheet rock compound was applied over the top to smooth the area to give a nice base to come back and add texture to the patched areas. With the skim coat  dry, the ceiling was textured to match the rest of the room and then was able to be primed and painted.

During the course of this project it was fortunate for the homeowner that the plaster didn’t require replacement as this would have greatly increased the cost of the project.





Election Day

Okay, this isn’t exactly a how-to or “don’t do this in your house” post. Today is all about one of the most important responsibilities we have as citizens of The United States of America… voting. We all have things we like and dislike about our “favorite” government entity, but more often than not we are vocal about the dislikes more than the likes. Today is the day in which we can express ourselves through the ballot box and, hopefully, initiate a positive change.

Since this is not a political blog, I will not go into all of the reasons why I think you should vote one way or another, there are many sources for that information. The local radio station talk-show host has his own blog and goes into much more detail about a wide variety of topics.

I really want to just remind you to go vote.

Here in Oregon we have vote by mail. Please remember to get your ballots in by 8:00pm. This election is incredibly important and yes, your vote does matter.

Your Vote Counts, and is Important!







I really have not intended to turn this blog into a water damage centric blog, but water is a large cause of damage in many areas around the house and it doesn’t take much of it to cause issues.

Medium-density fiberboard (MDF) can be, when used correctly, a fantastic product. For many applications, such as baseboards, it comes in a wide variety of profiles, generally comes pre-primed, and takes most paints incredibly well. There are however, in my opinion, certain installation no-nos when it comes to using MDF. One of the most important being, do not install it in an environment in which it may get wet. This includes around bath tubs, toilets, sinks, washing machines, dog water bowls, fish tanks, etc.

The nice smooth look of MDF quickly dissipates when it is exposed to water. MDF winds up turning into a wood fiber sponge, soaking up the water and expanding, and then holding the water allowing for the potential for mold, insects, and damage beyond just the MDF.

So, MDF was installed in a half-bath, or whatever a toilet and sink lavatory is officially called. The years went by without any problem until… the toilet started to leak between the tank and the bowl and simultaneously the valve started to leak. I am not, nor is the home owner, certain of how long the problem went on, but it was long enough to puff up the baseboard and require it to be replaced.

Top View

Top view of baseboard with a view of the cracking of the paint caused by exposing MDF to water.

Back of Baseboard

Back side of baseboard. Notice the beginning of mold growth.


The notch was cutout for the flange of the water line going to the toilet. To make things worse, it was not primed or painted allowing water easy access.

After pulling out all of the baseboard we replaced it with primed, finger jointed wood baseboard, painted it, and then had the toilet fixed and reinstalled. With any luck the home owner will have many years of leak free toilets, but at least the MDF is out of the bathroom.





Daylight Saving Time Ends

For those of us who live in a Daylight Saving Time area, it officially ends at 2 a.m. on Sunday, November 4, 2012.

This is a great reminder for a couple of home maintenance items that I always recommend doing at a minimum at the change in time.

  1. If your smoke detectors are battery operated, now is the time to replace the batteries. If they are of the hard-wired type, now is a great time to check them again. Most smoke detector manufactures recommend testing them once a month, we all do that, don’t we? Push the test button and ensure that it is functioning properly. If not, replace it. I would recommend getting a combination smoke/carbon monoxide detector that is photoelectric.
  2. Changing your furnace filters is another great thing to do this time of year. Depending on the quality of filter one purchases, they should be replaced several times a year anyway. But that doesn’t always happen, so remembering to have it done prior to needing to turn the heat on for the winter is a great way to save your furnace. It is also a good idea to have a professional heating company come out and give the furnace a maintenance check prior to firing it up for the first time.
  3. I live in Oregon in the Willamette Valley. We have already had several days of rain to test our gutters and to discover that they need to be cleaned out. If you haven’t cleaned them yet for the first time this winter, this is a great weekend to do so.

Keeping up with these basic home maintenance items can save a lot of expense in the long run, and may indeed save your life.



Out with the old.

Old houses come with old construction technology. While some of it can be beautiful, like wooden windows, big porches, and full basements, other aspects can lead to problems. Add to that various remodeling projects over the years, some done well, others not so well and you wind up with all sorts of problems.

Got called by a customer who lives in a house built between 1915 and 1920. Nice, large old house, lots of nice wood work, large rooms, etc. The customer initially called because there were some loose tiles around his bathtub, so he wanted those repaired along with additional tile added up the wall instead of the glued on laminate sheets that were there. At some point the tub in the master bathroom had tile put in part way up the wall. Sometime later, undoubtedly, someone added a hand held shower to allow for a shower. When that happened, all of the previous construction errors became very pronounced.

Once the loose tiles were removed below the through the wall soap dish, the plaster came pouring out. Notice the water stain beneath the hole for the soap dish. If you are going to put in a soap dish like this, it needs to be sealed. Water from the shower had been leaking through there and turned things into a mess. Obviously if any repairs were to be done, all of the loose tiles would have to carefully come off as replacement tiles are nowhere to be found.

In the process of pulling off more and more tile several other areas became noticeable. Lots of the grout had cracked over the years and the caulking between the top of the tile and the wall was not in great repair. As a result there was not much holding much of the tile in place. Notice the dark spots in the plaster, they were damp from cracks in the grout even after several days of no use of the tub.







Due to the amount of damage and crumbling plaster we wound up pulling the tile and plaster off all the way to the lathe. Once that was done, the walls had to have a new surface onto which the tiles could be set. HardiBacker® fit the bill splendidly allowing for a great surface for the tile and a mold and moisture resistant surface.








Once the HardiBacker® board was shimmed and installed the seams, gaps, and low spots were taped and filled with thin-set.








The surface was now ready for the waterproofing step prior to the tile installation. Following the instructions for RedGard® Waterproofing and Crack prevention membrane we applied the necessary layers of RedGard® and scared the homeowner with their bright red wall.








If you remember from the first few photos, the original tile around the tub was white with pink streaks through it. Not exactly something you run down to the local tile shop or box store and find a match. So, we had to reclaim as many of the original tiles as possible and then utilize simple 4″ white tile for the rest. Due to the number of original tiles that were available and survived the reclamation process, the pink streaked tiles would wind up being an accent in the new design surrounded by the white tiles.

To reclaim the tile I was able to scrape off the old plaster and adhesive from the backside of the tiles utilizing a screwdriver. Perhaps not the preferred tool by some, but for this project it worked wonders.

With the reclaimed tile ready to go and enough 4″ white tile purchased from the local box store we started tiling. Nothing super special about that process and wound up with a happy homeowner, a nice looking tub, and the knowledge that with the proper surface preparation the tile and home will last without leaks.



Water is not your friend, especially if you are cedar siding.

It is estimated that almost 71% of the earth’s surface is covered in water. On average Mehama, Oregon has 164 days a year with measurable rainfall, or close to 45% of the year. What does that have to do with construction? Well, nothing if things are built correctly, everything if they are not.

I got a call from a frequent customer about needing some shingle siding replaced in Mehama, Oregon. Neat single story house, probably originally built in the 1920’s that overlooks the Santiam River. The house has had many additions tacked onto it over the years, but the siding was going bad on part of the original building.

Upon inspection, the first problem that was noticed was that there was not a starter row of shingles installed. What is a starter row? It is the very first row, along the bottom of the house, that is put on to cover the vapor barrier (in this case tar paper) and to give the first row of visible shingles a bit of a slant away from the house to keep water from dripping straight down. Without this important starter row water can, and did, run down the siding and turn the structural wood into a playground for ants, termites, rodents, etc. Not the type of house guests you want at your river front weekend house.

After taking off a few of the broken shingles I noticed that there was a bit of rotten wood falling down. Never a good sign. Off come more shingles, and voilà lots of rotten wood.
Shingles Taken Off

The bottom plate, rim board, mud sill, and under lament are all rotten for ten feet along and two feet up the western wall of this house. The vertical gray lines at the bottom of the picture are house paint from a lack of vapor barrier or starter row of shingles. Time for more severe demo to get all the rotten wood out and to make sure there are no rodents left in the nests we found.

Western Wall

After cutting out the rotten wood, opening everything up, and rebuilding the structural portion of the house it was noticed that there was water running down the hot water line going to the kitchen sink with large rust areas on the exterior of the pipe.

Obviously this isn’t good and probably was a large contributing factor to the problem with the rotten wall. Since the wall was structurally secure, any gaps or holes filled with spray foam, and it wasn’t supposed to rain, it was time to call it a day and get a plumber out to replace the pipe in the morning.

Day 2

Upon arrival in the morning, there was standing water beneath the problem pipe. The plumber came in, cut out the pipe, replaced it, pressure tested the system, and let us have at finishing up the repairs. Upon examining the pipe it was discovered that there were two separate lengthwise cracks in the pipe, each about 1.5″ – 2″ in length. Probable cause was freezing during the winter due to uninsulated walls.

Splits in Pipe

Now that the hard part was done, ready to button everything up. Started with insulating the walls in the areas that were accessible, put 3/4″ plywood sheathing on vapor barrier, and then the cedar shingles.

Total cost of 20+ years of rain exposure to the siding, and an unknown time of a broken water pipe?

Materials: $325
Labor: 24 hours @ $45/hour, $1,080.





As a Licensed Contractor in the State of Oregon specializing in small repair and remodeling, i.e. handyman services, I come across many situations typical to home owners. I hope to share my experiences, discuss preventative measures, and show some of the thinks that can occur due to a lack of maintenance.


%d bloggers like this: