It’s Spring … Time to Check Your Seams

The layers of snow have melted, and the ground is beginning to thaw. The seemingly endless winter has finally loosened its grip — but not before doing some damage to the exterior seals of your home. The time to take inventory of what needs fixing is now, when these fixes are easy and inexpensive to make. They may cost a lot more later, when serious damage has occurred.

Caulk, just like paint, deteriorates from harsh weather, temperatures, and UV exposure. Therefore, although most homeowners don’t give it much thought, it must be maintained annually. Where to begin? Take a look at the seals around windows and doors, and at the siding of your home. You want to see tight seams between door trim and the siding, the window or door and their stops, window sills, thresholds, cracks in siding concrete pads or mortar … the replica watches list goes on. Any time you see a crack in the seal of your home’s materials, it is a place where water, carpenter ants, termites, and other pests can get in. Make a list of any cracks and breaks you find and note their location. Then, take that list to your local home center or good, old-fashioned hardware store so you get the right caulking for each location. Some seals require silicone. On others, mortar should be used. Still other seams require a good latex caulk. Most caulks can come in many colors, making the final finish very nice. Always use the right sealer for the seam in question.

While you’re at it, pick up a really good caulk gun that has a cutting tool, an “off” button and a fold-out “poker” to open the seal in the caulk tube. You don’t want to run around looking for a utility knife or a coat hanger to open a tube of caulk.

When I prepare to do a caulking job on the outside of my olive-painted house, I use a brown-colored paintable latex caulk. I put a few tubes in a 5-gallon bucket, along with my caulk gun, a dust brush, and a damp cloth to use for clean up. With this kit, I can work my way around the house in about an hour. Typically, I can touch up the caulked area with good quality exterior latex paint on the same day. To repair the broken caulking seams, I scrape out loose or failed caulking from the seam, dust it clean, and then apply a new layer of the right type of caulk to the crack. Usually I “tool” it in with my fingertip, making it smooth.

Like caulk, mortar will break down over time, especially in the presence of excess moisture. There are different types of mortar mixes to use. On modern homes, mortar is typically cement-based and very hard. You know it’s been used because if you tap a piece of it, it will make a ringing sound. This cement-based mortar is used against hard-fired bricks that can withstand the pressure of this mortar. Never use this cement mortar to patch old masonry work. Old masonry work requires lime-based mortar, which is softer and won’t damage soft stone or low-fired brick. This mortar makes a very dull sound if you tap a piece of it.

Once you know the mix ratio to use, it’s very easy to mix up a small batch of a cup or two at a time to patch a few seams that may have deteriorated. These small repairs will typically be required around downspouts or other wet areas of the house. Take the time to clean out the old joints, moisten the area, and then carefully tuck the mortar into the seams. Once set but still moist, you can soften the look of the mortar by brushing it with an old dry bristle brush. If the repair requires more extensive quantities of mortar, it’s best to call in a professional because the wrong mortar mix or technique can cause serious damage to the masonry work on your home.

Happy caulking,
The Myers Constructs Team

DIY? Better Think Twice

As a professional design build remodeler, I have seen a lot of do-it-yourselfers (DIY) over the years. In fact, when I was a little girl, I helped my dad, who was a handy home repair guy. He couldn’t keep fresh oil in or useful tires on his cars, but he could tile, paint, renovate a bathroom, and do plumbing work. I remember when he and my grandfather had me on the peak of the roof when I was 8 years old. I was literally scared stiff when my grandfather, a member in the German carpenters’ guild, saw my pale face and suggested my dad get me off the roof “aber schnell” (but fast)!

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Save Thousands of Dollars By Using One of These!

We get a lot of calls from home owners who have stars in their eyes for solar arrays, geo thermal heat/cooling, or other fancy expensive “green” gadgets.

Here is a device that costs around $100 or less that can save you thousands of dollars in energy bills. Better yet, you can buy one at the home center and even install this yourself.

These are programable thermostats. A programable thermostat allows you to program various temperature settings into it, so you only use the fuel you need to be comfortable when you need it.

The thermostat on the left handles whole house/zone heating and cooling. You can see, its set for 57 degrees. Thats our “away” setting for the house. This thermostat, combined with some new insulation and the low settings when we were sleeping or away from home saved us well over 20% in heating costs last winter.

The thermostat on the right is for the electric radiant heat in our foyer area. This can be an efficient way to heat a room but it has to be planned for before renovation.

Call us if you need a hand.

Easy DIY Projects #2: Fire Prevention

Regular readers will remember my blog post “Where There is Smoke, There is Fire.” Here is the link

In that post, the problem of dryer vent fires was discussed. These fires are very common and easy enough to prevent. So easy, in fact, that I, too, had neglected to do the necessary maintenance at my house that would help prevent such a fire. It occurred to me recently that I hadn’t checked on how much lint was built up in my ducting. (That reminds me of the movie Brazil, when they asked, “How are your ducts?”)

Here are the steps involved. The whole process should take about 30 minutes or less:

  • Pull the dryer away from the wall and disconnect the vent hose.
  • Look inside the vent hose, and also inspect the area where it connects to the dryer outlet and to the outlet that goes to the outside of the house. See any lint buildup? If so, pull it out and then vacuum the fine lint out of the outlets and the vent hose. A shop vac is great, but a regular household vacuum with a hose works, too.
  • While you’re there, collect the loose change and missing socks from behind the dryer. Vac up the dead spiders and wash the floor.
  • Reconnect the vent hose to the back of the dryer and the outlet to the outside. Mine is easy because it has spring circlips. You may need a screwdriver to do yours if it’s screwed or has a large hose clamp. If it’s taped, you will need to cut the tape, and then use a different mechanical fastener so you can do this regular maintenance procedure again in the future. I like circlips and hose clamps for this.
  • I like to see rigid metal ducting for this use, but flexible metal ducting also available. These two options are more fire resistant than my Mylar hosing. I’ll create another blog post discussing my switch out for my dryer duct soon. And never use white plastic hosing, since that will certainly burn in a fire.

    FYI, in the case of my dryer ducting, the greatest area of build up was on the outside flapper, where condensation made the metal wet, and then lint built up. Less likely to cause a fire, but the clot was making my dryer work very hard.

    Easy DIY Projects With Big Results

    When we bought our house, it was a “granny house.” No offense to the grannies out there, but everything in the house was either pink, or ruffles, or completely vintage and spotlessly clean circa 1957. The house even smelled of lady’s powder.

    “Granny” is an adjective that no homeowner wants to hear when someone is talking about their house, but it’s a great descriptor to hear when you are buying a home. It generally means you will get a house with good bones, but perhaps some stylistic or cosmetic issues. So you can buy the house a bit cheaper than if it had been updated, and then update the house the way YOU would like. This was the case with our house.

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