Excerpt from my regular column in the Santa Barbara News-Press.
Patching Plaster Cracks
Question: We live in a home in San Roque that was built in the 1920’s and all the inside walls and ceilings are finished with lathe and plaster. There are several door ways inside the house that have unsightly cracks in the walls over the doors. I have tried several times to patch these cracks using spackle and even fiberglass mesh drywall tape but the cracks just come back in a year or two. What can be done to permanently patch these cracks?
Your Handyman: The problem that you are experiencing is quite common in older homes and is usually caused by nothing more than the stress caused by settling of the home. Most homes that were built pre depression have a perimeter wall style foundation with a raised wood floor instead of the cement slab foundations that new homes are usually supported by. These older perimeter wall foundations tend to shift a very small amount as the soil heaves up in the winter when it is saturated with rain, and then drops a tiny amount as the soil dries and cracks in the summer months.
This minor movement in the foundation causes stress throughout the structure of the home and much like an earthquake fault, the cracks in your plaster wall are release points for this stress. Permanently patching such a crack is often not easy and using the fiberglass drywall tape is probably the best possible solution you can try short of removing the plaster in this area and replacing it with drywall. We have had several jobs where we installed a new layer of drywall on a ceiling that had numerous cracks.
Drywall is not as brittle as plaster and if installed correctly may be the only permanent way to seal the cracks but matching the texture of the drywall to look the same as the plaster is probably past the limits of a homeowner project and you may need an experienced drywall contractor. The sign of a quality patch is no sign at all: meaning the work is done is such a way that the plaster and drywall patch blend together as if nothing happened.
Question: Our kitchen faucet is quite old and looks horrible. I have no idea how to go about shopping for a new faucet and I am afraid that I will purchase one that will not fit. The selection of faucets at the hardware store is a little overwhelming. How do I pick one that will fit my sink?
Your Handyman: You are not the only one who often feels lost in the plumbing section of the hardware store with the seemingly endless options, sizes, and colors to sort through. However, with a quick look at the underside of your kitchen sink you can easily determine what type of faucet will work.
Most kitchen sinks will have holes in the back surface which allow for the installation of the faucet valves, spout and spray hose. The most common arrangement is 3 holes, but some sinks will have 4 holes, some will have 1 hole and some sinks will have no holes in the sink itself but have holes in the countertop behind the sink.
3 HOLES: If your sink has 3 holes then the faucet will need to have a separate hot and cold valve and a spout for middle hole. You can also purchase a faucet that has a single riser that combines the spout and the valves in one post, and then an eschuteon base plant that mounts onto the sink surface covering the 2 unused holes.
4 HOLES: With 4 holes you will have to purchase a faucet as described for the 3 hole sink but with a separate spray hose that is fixed in hole #4. If you do not want a spray hose then a cover for the 4th hole can be purchased at most plumbing stores.
1 HOLE: You will have to purchase the single riser style faucet that usually comes with the eschuteon base plate that you will not need for the single hole sink.
It is also a good idea to replace the hot and cold water supply lines at the same time that you install the new faucet. Check first to see if the hot and cold water wall valves under the sink can be easily operated and if they shut completely off. If the valves are hard to turn or won’t shut off completely, they should also be replaced.
Most hardware stores will have a salesperson with plumbing experience and don’t be afraid to ask as many questions as you need to get the right supplies for your project. Even if you are planning to hire a contractor to do the work, you will still want to select a faucet that you like and having the materials on hand before the contactor arrives will make the job go much faster. In my opinion it is important to always purchase name brand plumbing fixtures as opposed to a generic brand. A name brand like Kohler, Moen, Grohe, etc. will be much less likely to develop any problems and replacement parts will be available if needed in the future.
Question: We just had a new tile floor laid in our master bathroom but we just noticed that there is a small amount of water coming out from under the toilet. My wife says that we just need to caulk around the toilet base but I think the toilet is leaking and needs repair. What should we do?
Your Handyman: The situation you are describing is very common where a new tile floor has been installed in a bathroom so the finished height of the floor has been raised, the metal plumbing flange that connects the toilet to the drain pipe is left at the original height, and the toilet soon leaks at the base. It is my guess that this happens so frequently because the tiling contractor resets the toilet as a courtesy to the client so the client doesn’t have to call a plumber, but unfortunately the toilet is not set correctly despite the tile setter’s good intentions.
A toilet is moisture sealed to the toilet flange with a wax ring that looks like a big doughnut that is compressed between the porcelain toilet base and the metal toilet flange, creating a water tight seal. With the additional height of the new tile, the standard wax ring is not thick enough to make a proper seal and sewage water leaks out when the toilet is flushed.
Your solution is to remove the toilet, discard the old wax ring and reseat the toilet using an extra large wax ring with a second wax ring sitting set on top. The weight of the toilet will compress the wax into a reliable seal and the leak is solved.
Caulking around the base of the toilet is done for cosmetic reasons only and has nothing to do with the proper installation, sanitation or sealing of the toilet. In fact, caulking the toilet base can hide a leaking toilet seal and thus delay the prevention of water damage to a wood subfloor or wood flooring. Unless requested by the customer, we do not caulk the base of the toilet.
Owner, YourHandyman & Construction
CA License #935259