Brent Briggs Home Improvements


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Q:  Why are most caulks mislabeled?
A:  This is a great frustration of mine, as I frequently encounter caulks that were applied per the manufacturer's suggestion.... but entirely inappropriately.  For example, most caulks that say for "Sink, Tub, Shower," should NEVER be used there.  The constant presence of water in those settings requires 100% Silicone, preferably with a mildew guard.  Any caulk that says "Acrylic" or "Siliconized" on it, is not silicone.  If in doubt, look at the instructions for cleanup.  If it instructs you to clean up with soap and water, it's NOT silicone and should not be used around really wet areas.  Another misuse is silicone on vinyl or aluminum siding, exterior door trim, window trim, etc.,  It's really hard to get silicone to stick permanently to these surfaces.  Roofing and Siding suppliers are about the only ones who carry "Quad" and "GeoCell" caulks for these purposes.  Experience has taught me to confine my use of latex, acrylic and siliconized caulks to materials that will be painted.
Q:  I have a stain in the middle of my upstairs ceiling.  What's it from?
A:  The most common roof leak I encounter comes from the rubber seal around the plumbing vent pipes that protrude through your roof.  You may have a 25 yr shingle, but those rubber seals dry and crack in 6-10 years, allowing water to drip down the pipe.  I inspect those seals every time I get on a roof...and, since I'm up there for a reason, it's usually an aging roof, so I replace lots of cracked seals.  When I install a new roof, I put two seals on every pipe; the second shields the first from the sun and they'll last far longer. 
Q:  I want to remove wallpaper and just paint the room.  Any suggestions?
A:  There are two extremely important suggestions here.  First, get a quality wallpaper removal product (I like DIF) and follow its instructions.  If the room is large, invest in a garden sprayer, because you're going to need to wet the paper many times.  Protect your floors with towels.  Strip or perforate the paper's surface layer and then wet it...keep wetting it...keep wetting it.  Don't try to remove it until the paper comes off easily.  If it's hard, wet it more.  Let the DIF do the work so you don't damage the drywall.  Second; after you've cleaned all the glue's residue off the walls with your DIF solution, let it dry a day or so, then prime the walls - this is important - with a non-latex primer.  Use a shellac-based or an oil-based primer.  If you use a latex product directly over the previously glued surface, it will crack and craze.  No amount of spackling or repainting will solve the problem until it's sealed from water based paints.  I've seen some otherwise beautiful paint jobs ruined by omitting this specific step.  If you need to spackle any damaged areas, do it after priming.  You want that barrier between the water-based products and any glue residue.

Q:  I want to replace the hollow, flat doors in my house, but don't want to replace all the door trim.  Can this be done?
A:  Yes.  Removing the trim and jambs is not necessary, as long as they are in good shape.  New doors can be installed into the existing jambs.  Perhaps the only drawback to this is the height of the door knob.  Often, the flat panel doors have knobs set kind of low.  If you select a 6-panel type door, the knob may need to be set higher than the strike plate on the original jamb.  If that's an issue, the mortise in the jamb can be filled with a plug of wood, called a "dutchman" or with auto body filler.  Moderately advanced carpentry skills are required.

Q:  I want to remodel my bathroom.  The tile floor is solid and sound, but ugly.  Does it have to come out?
A:  No.  If the existing tile floor is sound, it can be tiled over.  I like to score the surfaces of the existing tiles with a diamond blade on a grinder to give it a "tooth."  Then, I ALWAYS use latex modified thinset mortar.  It's extremely adhesive and flexible.

Q:  What's the difference between replacing a window, and a replacement window?
A:  First, let's get some terminology;  The part of the window that moves up and down, with the glass in it, is the "sash."  The frame in which the sash slides is the "jamb."  The moldings inside and outside are called "trim."  Now, let's say you have old fashioned wood windows.  If the jambs and trim are in good condition, the sashes can be removed and a "replacement window" can be custom-sized to fit where the sashes were.  It is then caulked to the jamb on the interior, and pre-finished aluminum is bent and installed to slip into a groove on the replacement window and cover the exterior trim.  That's all caulked with an exterior siding caulk.  This is the most cost effective way to upgrade a window, because all the trim stays intact.  Now, suppose your wood windows are in terrible shape...rotten, etc.  We would then need to "replace the window."  That means a window is ordered to fit the "rough opening" (the opening of the framing in the wall) and the entire existing window is removed...trim and all.  The new window is installed, trimmed inside and out, then caulked inside and out. This method is more expensive.

Q:  When I turn on the hot water, it gets hot, then cools off.  Sometime, when I turn on the cold water, it gets warm.
A:  Single handle faucets are usually the culprit for inconsistent water temperatures.  Unlike two-handle faucets, which control hot and cold individually, single handle faucets have the hot and cold control in the same valve.  Even though the valve is not leaking in a visible way, it can be leaking inside, causing what's called "crossover."  The worn faucet can allow hot water to flow over to the cold side.  So, when you call for cold water elsewhere, that pressure difference can cause the hot water to flow along with the cold, turning the water you get at your location warm.  The reverse can also happen.  Crossover can be tricky to diagnose, but is usually solved with the repair of the single handled faucets in the house.

Q:  I have a new front entry door, but cold air still seems to leak in in the winter.
A:  The weather stripping on newer styles of entry doors is a very cushy foam-filled gasket.  Most door manufacturers pre-cut the mortises for the door hardware, so installation is faster and more accurate.  However, and this is where experience pays off for the homeowner, I consistently find that the mortises for the strike plate (the metal plate on the door jamb that catches the latch) is pre-cut too far forward.  If I put the strike plate in the pre-cut mortise, the door does not shut tightly enough to create an optimal seal.  I find that I must extend the mortise 1/4" deeper, so the door pushes a bit harder on the weather strip and makes a better seal.  This is the most common problem I encounter when I walk through a door on my customer's house.  In fact, very often, when I am visiting a customer for the first time, I'll pause to evaluate the front door before even ringing the doorbell.  If it's new, I typically find that it is not sealing tight, and I find the next problem, as well.....

Q:  I have a new front entry door, and it operated smoothly at first.  Now, it is hard to open and shut, and I see places where the paint is rubbing off.
A:  This is the second most common problem I see with new entry doors;  The door sags in the jamb soon after installation.  Every door I install gets very long screws driven through the hinges and into the framing behind the jamb.  I rarely see this on my customers' doors.  By running a long screw through the jamb and into the framing, you eliminate the ability for the door to sag.  If you rely on the strength of the jamb, alone, to support a heavy entry door, it cannot stay square in its will sag.

Q:  I needed some shingles replaced after a storm.  I called several roofing companies and asked for estimates, but none called me back...why?
A:  There's no such thing as a "free estimate."  To stop making money and drive an expensive truck across town to tell a homeowner that it will cost $150 to repair a few shingles can be a really bad business gamble.  The homeowner who is asking for multiple estimates on a very small job will take the first number they get and compare it to the next couple. Every roof guy knows that, if he gives his number first, the next guy will offer to do it for $5 less, and get the job.  On small jobs, it is often not worth the investment or gamble.  A $150 roof repair will barely pay for the time and fuel to drive over twice (once for the estimate, then to do the job).  You're better off working with someone you know and trust to just do it right and charge you a fair price.  I do lots of roof repairs, simply because so few roofing companies will deal with them.  My approach is to give the customer a not-to-exceed price on the first phone call, and then work within that....even if my profit is less than optimal, it's better than running all over the county giving free estimates on the chance that I'll get the work.  As the professional, I need to be able to give a reasonable cost estimate up-front.  It is also important that the homeowner realize that the professional needs to profit from his work, or his services will soon be unavailable.  Now, if you're thinking of a full roof replacement, that's a different story....there is enough involved for more resources to be invested up front.  That's why they come running when you mention a new roof.

Q:  How can I know that the person I'm hiring to work on my home is going to do the job right, and that they are trustworthy?
A:  Get references!  I've met some of the finest people I know in the trades.  I've also met some real losers.  Even before I hire a laborer for a day, I ask the last guy who hired him for a testimonial.  Past performance is about the only reliable predictor of future ask for references.  If it takes too long to get them, or if all the references are related to him, or if he cannot give you references for the type of job you need done, then you need to be cautious.  I've engaged more than one customer to tear down a structure badly done by a contractor that was ultimately fired, and then I built it back properly.  I walked into one of the most beautiful Kitchens I've ever seen, but immediately noticed that the floor tiles were "crunching" beneath my feet.  They had come loose from the substrate!  My customer told me his project had cost him over $90,000.00, and it was literally a commercial kitchen in his home.  However, the tile guy had not done a deflection test on the floor's structure before setting the tiles and they came loose.  Because the cabinets were sitting on the tiles, and there were granite counter tops on the cabinets....the repairs cost a great deal more money than the original floor installation.  Too bad he did not check the references on the floor guy.
Q:  Is there a difference in the quality of products you get from a local lumber or hardware versus a big home center?
A:  On many products, yes, there is a difference.  Those big chain stores buy in such quantities that some manufacturers produce product lines sold only there.  There are certain products I will not purchase from any chain home center, because I consistently see poor quality.  However, they are big, carry lots of inventory, and have a wide range of selections.  If you look at the "Solving Complex Problems" tab on this site, you'll see that I had to make a special tool to get over a problem with ten door hardware sets purchased from a chain home store.  Every time I've bought that manufacturer's door sets from my local lumber yard, they came with two "strike plates;" one with rounded corners (for installing with a router) and one with square corners (for installing with a chisle).  All ten sets had only the one rounded corner strike plate, and left me with a problem to solve.  I could have blown an hour an a half driving back and getting squared plates, or just make a tool for it.  This is the type of problem I consistently encounter from chain stores' products, so I'm getting more and more careful when I buy from them.  They are also famous for shelving "returned" items without inspecting them.  I have frequently bought items in which some customer carefully opened the package, replaced the contents with the old item and put the package back together.  I've bought plumbing parts that leaked like crazy, only to find that the critical components had been removed.  A friend of mine bought a can of ceiling paint that turned out to be a bucket of sand.  So, I always inspect everything very carefully there.  At my local yard, I get first quality every time.  An old carpenter once told me "Buy cheap, buy twice." 
Q:  There is a crack in the drywall over the top of my interior door.  Each time it's repaired, it returns.  What can I do?
A:  This is most commonly caused by the house settling.  Now, "settling" may mean many things; it could just be the house's foundation finding its final resting position after construction, which can take more than 15 years, or there could be some kind of rot or erosion, or decay happening with the structure.  This is definitely NOT a job for the novice.  You need a pro who can analyze what's going on and make the appropriate repairs.  For example, a customer called me out to replace some rotten molding on an exterior door.  The house was built on a concrete slab.  I told him the water could have been migrating through the molding, onto the concrete, and soaking the studs, causing rot.  I went upstairs to look at the drywall.  Several cracks!  Doors were sticking in their jambs.  I told him that the structural wood was probably rotten, and the exterior wall was settling.  The repair was to take off drywall 3 ft high across the back of the house to expose the rotten wood.  I jacked up the back wall of the house, cut all the rotten studs off by 12 inches and removed the rotten, moldy wood.  I then installed a treated wood plate (which should have been done in the first place), then sistered the studs.  New insulation, new drywall, new paint.  It came out great, but it was a serious problem thankfully discovered!

Brent Briggs * Kintnersville, PA 18930 Phone: (215) 262-1340

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