Category archive - Construction

Be Aware of Asbestos

Be Aware of Asbestos

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Around the late 19th century, the use of the minerals known as asbestos was hitting its peak, at least in the United States and Canada. It started as a healthy mining business that begat uses in Westchester home construction and insulation, flame-and-acid-retardant materials, endless building materials (brick, concrete, drywall, flooring etc.) and even lawn furniture. In Japan, a few decades later, it was even used to help rice production, but even at that point, the alarming dangers of asbestos had been largely accepted and were commonly known in the UK and U.S., though the later was tragically late to the party in terms of regulation and education of the dangers.

So, it’s been a little over 70 years since the U.S. caught up to the UK, but the danger the material can cause to your loved ones is hardly a past matter: Cases of cancer in people who work with asbestos or live in close proximity to it are astonishingly higher than the norm. Asbestos is made of long thin fibers and looks similar to fiberglass in consistency. Because of the strengthening, heat resistance and soundproofing qualities, asbestos was used to mold a myriad of materials used in homes in Westchester and elsewhere, including tiling and pipe insulation; it is even commonly found in the production of brake pads. Today, a little less than 850,000 homes, offices and schools can be found to include asbestos and over 20,000 people will die each year for the next 30 years from asbestos exposure. These are not good numbers.

It’s not easy: Asbestos is a notoriously tricky substance. If pained over, asbestos is not easy to locate in a regular home. Scraping and home construction can send asbestos particles into the air, where it can be breathed in by anyone. Even a second layer of wallboard shakes fibers loose, allowing the fibers to drift into the air you breathe. And sadly, this is one of those precautions that depend on professionally trained individuals being paid to do their job.

New coatings techniques enhance the encapsulation of asbestos in walls and ceilings, and have proven highly effective in diminishing the toxic elements of the material. Home asbestos test kits are available at most major home improvement stores, typically include 2 sample collectors, and are dependent on lab analysis, which will run you less than $20. Popcorn and textured ceilings, ceiling tiles, floor tiles and pipe insulation are major culprits and should be collected and tested as soon as possible. The laboratory test identifies asbestos fibers to as little as 1 percent content by weight and is more sensitive than the current EPA standards. So, take an afternoon, collect the samples while following the directions on the test kit closely, and send them into the lab. You’ll have your answer within two weeks and by that time, know if its time to give your Westchester home an overhaul or call the real estate agent.


Where Does The Wind Go?

Where Does The Wind Go?

It’s been a few windy days out here in Queens and the damage being done might be ignored. As much as precipitation might have the upper hand in terms of what can be done to your Westchester home, big gusts of wind can do similar long-term damage that will have you paying an arm and a leg down the road for roof repair or, worse yet, total roof replacement. There are ways to avoid this or, at the very least, make the damage more manageable, but first it’s good to understand how strong winds hurt your roofing.

Usually, shingles are simply nailed to the top of the roof and layered to create a seal to protect from water damage. Now, when high-speed wind gusts hit your roof, they not only does it loosen the shingles placement, but also break that seal. A single, strong gust of wind can lift a loose shingle off the roof completely. So, after any major storms or weeks with high wind velocities, it’s not such a bad idea to check your shingles to make sure they are solidly in place.

As a concerned Westchester homeowner, it would not be wise to simply take roof damage as a minor concern, such as weeds or crab grass or a squeaky door hinge. The roof on a home is like a shield against water and once that shield is broken, the amount of damage that can be done is frankly tremendous. If there is even one shingle loose, then the rain, snow or hail has an access point into the home, and if you know anything about home repair, you know that water is often public enemy number one when it comes to home damage. Water can travel throughout the roof area and cause rotting and a leak, and often the rot or the leak will be on the other side of the home from the entry point.

When wind damage is added to other home or weather factors (clogged gutters, winter mix etc.) that are common in Westchester, it can be the perfect storm for a genuine home repair emergency. Wind damage plus water pooling gives liquid ample opportunity to access the weakness in the roof. In fact, in these cases, a rainstorm is preferable to pooling. Whereas the water only has time to enter until it hits the gutter during a storm, pooling allows the water to take its time and really do a number to your roof.

If wind damage is caught early or only minor in scope, all that really needs to be done is shingle replacement, which is relatively inexpensive. Left unchecked, however, wind damage can cause havoc with the entire roof structure and you may need to do an entire overhaul, which could put a hurt on your bank account, whether it’s you doing the work or a contractor. And if you’re going at it DIY style, why give your back that sort of grief when you could just simply check the shingles and replace a few on occasion.

It doesn’t take much time to survey your roof after high-velocity winds or a rainstorm and this simple act can end up saving big money in the long run. Be vigilant and attentive and you might just find yourself in a constant windfall.


Let’s Talk About Lumber

Let’s Talk About Lumber

For Westchester homeowners looking to get more into the DIY lifestyle, lumber is a material that provides a myriad of uses and can offer a major gateway into understanding how one can build on one’s own terms. Knowing what you want to build and what you want to do with your lumber, however, is only the beginning, as there are several types of popular lumber that can be used for many different projects. One type of lumber is good for small Westchester home jobs, while others are better for big jobs, and it’s important to know the difference.

Western lumber is perhaps the most well known, used for most general building projects and framing, and there are some 15-20 commercially important species of Western softwood. Douglas fir and Hem fir tend to be the most popular and can be classified in three terms: high-quality appearance, general-purpose board or radius-edged patio decking. When looking for western lumber, make sure the brand you purchase has the logo of the Western Wood Products Association (WWPA), which has excellent quality standards and a thorough, check process. Lumber with “WWPA Rules” stamped on it, however, merely indicates the lumber has been graded according to the WWPA rules, but not inspected.

Redwood has two major grades: heartwood and sapwood. Either comes in a variety of grades including a fine finish or a rougher, less attractive finish. Heartwood fends off termites and decay naturally, making it an obvious choice for projects involved in nature or underground. Sapwood, on the other hand, should not be used in contact with the ground, but is good for many Westchester home projects. Architectural redwood is, of course, the strongest redwood, often kiln-dried and used for structural and finish applications. Lastly, garden redwood comprises lower grades and is used commonly for decks, fences, and, you guessed it, gardens.

Less prominent but highly valuable is southern pine. It boasts high strength, resistance to wear and is perfect for projects that require fasteners be used with wood. Southern pine is graded 1-4: 1 has the highest quality and best appearance, 2 has tight knots but usually has no holes, 3 is serviceable sheathing, and more popular than other grades, and 4 contains usable portions of 24 inches long. Then there’s treated lumber, which is resistant to weather, termites and fungus. ACQ and copper azole are the current popular chemicals used to treat lumber, which is used in outdoor consumer projects (decks, etc.). Treated wood isn’t waterproof, but is decay-proof, and comes largely from ponderosa pine, lodgepole pine, Douglas fir, Hem-fir and southern yellow pine. Be certain to wear respiratory protection when cutting it.

Finally, there is pine shelving, Pieces of pine shelving measure about 1-inch thick and at varying widths and lengths. Shelving is a favorite for those doing touch ups in garages or basements; it’s sometimes referred to as simply “garage shelving.” Consumer-grade pieces measure up to 12 feet long but most consumer sales will come in at 4 and 6-foot lengths. It’s the most economical wood, which is where a beginner would most likely want to start, but now that you have some idea about lumber, you can start anywhere you like, really.


Set Your Sights to Siding Repair

Set Your Sights to Siding Repair

There’s no doubt about it: winter is the harshest season for your siding. Wind, rain, sleet, snow and hail all leave their mark, and can cause damage that ranges from minor to major. Vinyl siding repair should be done in the spring or summer to address the damage done by extreme winter weather. We’re just getting into the days of winter, but it’s never too early to prepare for repair.

Vinyl can be a great option for home siding. It is economical, costing less than other popular siding materials, such as wood, and doesn’t require the same level of maintenance. Because the pigment is mixed into the vinyl during manufacturing, the color will not chip or fade over time, as is the case with paint applied to the surface of wood or aluminum siding. The manufacturing process uses less energy than aluminum or wood, making it an environmentally friendly choice. Although it is easy to maintain for many Westchester homeowners, vinyl siding repair may still be necessary at some point.

Even though it offers many advantages – it is economical, versatile and environmentally friendly – vinyl siding has one major downfall: cold temperatures can cause it to become brittle, and more susceptible to damage. When temperatures drop in winter, vinyl siding loses much of its resilience, making it particularly vulnerable to damage from impact. Hail storms are the primary concern when it comes to vinyl siding, but any impact when it’s cold outside can do damage. Rocks, baseballs, and anything else that hits your Westchester house when the weather is cold can hurt your siding.

Vinyl siding repair should be performed in the spring or summer by Westchester homeowners, after the danger of frost is past. Once the weather warms up, there is much less chance of damage to your siding, meaning that the repairs should stand you in good stead until bad weather hits again.


A Little Luck for a Broken Lock

A Little Luck for a Broken Lock

Some things you just can’t prepare for. You drop your air conditioner while taking it out of the garage and crack a tile or damage hardwood floor; there’s no real way to expect that, other than asking the brawny neighbor to help you out. A rock hits your windshield on the way to work and you get a crack; what could you have possibly done to deter that? As Elvis Costello (and yeah, okay, a lot of more people before him) said, accidents will happen.

Having your key break-off in a lock is about as common as having your windshield cracked by some rebel pebble flicked off the pavement, and it is, by every measure, something that can be handled without professional care. You’ll need WD-40, or a similar spray lubricant; even spray olive oil could work in this situation. Besides that, you will need utensils for removing the key, chiefly any sort of thin saw blade and something to pick the protruding key piece out of the lock. Tweezers or pliers are your best bet and are easy to find around the house usually.

Begin by spraying the lock with the spray lubricant, to give you some help when it comes to dislodging the key piece from the lock. Thin saw blades are best for this situation, as the blades can easily hook into the grooves of the key. On one side of any key (take a look at one right now), the indent of the grove is more uneven, less smoth, and has a greater indentation. That’s the side you’re going to want to insert the saw blade into the lock. Once its in as far as possible, twist it a bit and try dragging out the key with the saw blade; you really only need a little bit but get as much as possible.

Once you get a little bit out, you should be able to grab the lodged key piece with the tweezers or pliers and presto! Now, in some cases, the key piece just will not budge from its place. This is likely because your lock isn’t in neutral position. Twist the saw blade a bit and it should solve the issue.  If it still won’t budge, only then should you consult a licensed and insured locksmith to help you out, as the locking mechanism likely has a bigger issue. And, as always, it’s easier to prevent this issue with preparation: check your keys every few months to see if there are any cracks or major bending that would signal a possible break. Sure, its an easy enough issue to solve, but wouldn’t you rather be able to crash on the couch instead of performing surgery on a doorknob?


Fixing Tiles on a Fixed Budget

Fixing Tiles on a Fixed Budget

Installing tiles is something that needs to be planned out carefully on various levels. One has to pick out color and design, consider how it will look in the designated area, make decisions as to what the rest of the kitchen will look like and then, inevitably, there is the task of actually putting down the base, the mesh, the tiles and the grout. Nothing can really be left to chance or ignored.

In contrast, damaging tiles is often done with the most minor and ignorable of actions: Erosion from constant wear, scrapes from furniture and other harsh edges, dirt rubbed and ground in, dropped items both weighty and sharp, and certain chemical cleaners. Naturally, replacing damaged tiles is something that comes up frequently, especially in kitchen floors and bathrooms. You’ll need the following items:

  •       Colored Masking Tape
  •       Replacement Tiles
  •       Nails & Hammer
  •       Chisel
  •       Trowel
  •       Grout & Grout Float
  •       Sponge
  •       Set Mortar
  •       Gloves (optional)

Begin by taping off the surrounding area of the tiles with the masking tape, being sure to cut the tape before the grout, as that will be getting replaced as well. So, the damaged tile(s) and the grout directly surrounding it should be taped off. Take a nail and hit it into the center of the damaged tile(s) to shatter the tile and make it easier to pick up in pieces. Use a chisel to clear out every last trace of the old tile, so that you can lay the new tile on an even surface. (You might want to use gloves while picking up the small shards to make sure you don’t get cut.)

Once the space is clear, take your replacement tile(s) and put a very thin layer of thin set mortar on the bottom of the tile with a trowel. Make sure it is just enough to set the tile in place, as you don’t want to have any mortar squeeze up around the sides of the tile. Let it dry (six to eight hours, to be safe) and then lay down some grout using a grout float to make sure it gets deep into the surrounding area.  When you’re done, use a sponge to clean up any unwanted grout on the tile(s). Let the grout dry and pull up the tape to take a look at your brand new tile(s). It’s just one more thing to ensure you don’t have to call in an armada of contractors to fix a minor problem in your home.


Paving Your Patio with Precision

Paving Your Patio with Precision

Having a patio on which to place furniture, enjoy summer barbecues and relax on warm days is a great advantage. It allows you to expand your house from the inside out, giving you additional living space and a place to enjoy the outdoors from the convenience and comfort of your home. However, if your patio space is unpaved, it won’t be nearly as nice! Bare dirt and gravel from an unpaved patio can easily be tracked into the house, creating a mess that you’ll have to deal with day in and day out. An unpaved area is also much more susceptible to erosion from the elements, and can get muddy after rain or snow. In order to truly enjoy the patio of your home on Long Island, patio paving is absolutely necessary.

Once you decide that you want to pave your patio, selecting a paving material is the first step. There are many paving materials to choose from: flagstone, brick and concrete are all great choices that allow you to customize your patio to suit your tastes and preferences. Whether you’re going for a classic, understated ambiance, or you want to make a bold statement with your patio, brick, stone and concrete are all versatile materials that allow you to create your own unique look. For residents of Long Island, patio paving is a great opportunity to beautify your home and showcase your personal style.

When you decide to pave your patio, you have a couple of options. If you have experience with home improvement projects and you have some time on your hands, patio paving is a project you can do yourself. It does, however, require time, patience, dedication and attention to detail. Hiring a professional means that all the work is done for you – and that you can count on professional results. Whichever route you take, patio paving is well worth it. If you want to give new life to the backyard of your home on Long Island, patio paving is a great way to do so!


Make Those Squeaky Floorboards Silent

Make Those Squeaky Floorboards Silent

Squeaky floorboards are one of those things that most people consider a necessary evil of homeownership. Some people think it’s a sign that the entire floor is about to give way, or that a poltergeist is secretly creeping around, or that they really need to hit the gym. In reality, this is a natural deterioration of the floorboards that have dried out after awhile and are now sliding and grinding against each other; there’s also the factor of unstable subflooring. Bare hardwood floors tend to be the main culprits but the squeaks are still perceivable in carpeted areas and tiled areas.

Fixing these common annoyances is an easy enough project for an active home improvement weekender. In any situation, the first thing to do is locating the squeak and mark it with some electrical tape. Now, the toughest situation is when you have no way of getting under a bear hardwood floor and must fix it from above. This will require a drill, breakaway screws, matching screwdriver bit and a depth-control fixture. (O’Berry’s makes a handy counter-snap kit for this sort of job.) Drill a pilot hole (approximately 3/32 in.-dia) and use the depth-control fixture provided in the kit to drill one of the provided screws into the hole until it snaps off. To conceal the work, fill the hole with wood putty.

Carpeted floors that need to be looked at from above can be similarly fixed. In this case, I highly suggest a squeak-no-more kit, which contain everything you’d need for this job, including breakaway screws and a pilot screw for locating joists. If you have a joist locator, it’s a bit easier and quicker. Using either, locate the joist that is in closest proximity to your squeak and mark it. To ensure your carpet doesn’t get damaged, wrap the special breakaway screw with scotch tape when you drive the screw through the fixture. Screw it in and then use the fixture’s side to break off the top of the breakaway screw. All of the work you’ve should be concealed by the carpeting.

The more common and easier task is fixing squeaks from underneath, through a basement. Have a member of your family or a friend walk over the squeaky area while you’re below. Take a thin wooden shim, cover it with carpenter’s glue and tap it into the area between the closest joist and the subfloor. Follow this up with a drywall screw driven through the joist, the shim and into the subfloor at an angle. This is an easy enough fix, but for a more secure fix, get your hands on a hold-down bracket – the most popular one is the Squeak-Ender. This usually consists of a steel mounting plate being held next to the trouble spot’s closest joist, screwed into the subfloor and then tightened via attached nuts so that the joist and the floor are brought closer together.

Floorboards make noise, so don’t get out your kits and tool belt every time you hear the faintest utterance of sound. Be reasonable, but there’s no denying the sound of a floorboard that needs attention. Now, at the very least, you’ll be able to walk across your home without wanting to run for the scale or checking the notches on your belt.


Be Yourself With A New, Personalized Backsplash

Be Yourself With A New, Personalized Backsplash

Kitchen renovations are expensive, obviously, but that doesn’t mean that one’s kitchen has to remain a dull workspace for home cooking. A very popular way to give a kick of color and personality to a kitchen is installing a new kitchen backsplash with some personally chosen tiles. And whether you currently have a backsplash or merely painted drywall in your kitchen, the job is, as it turns out, relatively easy from a DIY standpoint, though removing old backsplash can get a bit messy to say the least.

In the case of painted drywall, you can start by sanding the area to rough up the surface for installation. If you already have a tile backsplash, however, you need to get rid of it completely, which tends to involve cutting out and getting rid of both the drywall and the attached tiles before putting the new backer board onto the studs; cement backer is best but green drywall is ultimately almost as good.

Now, its measuring time! You’ll need to get the length of the backsplash and measure the distance from the top of your counter to the bottom of your top cabinets to calculate what will be your tiled area. Now, this is where you begin to have fun. Use graph paper and draw a scale outline to see how you’ll want to set-up your tile pattern. 4 x 4, 6 x 6 or 3 x 4 subway tiles tend to be the favored types but using 1 x 1 tiles attached to a back mesh has become just as popular over the years. Calculate your tile quantities from there but be sure to tack on 10-15% for cutting and wastage and be sure that you’re using glazed tiles.

So, when you get back from the Home Depot or local hardware store, it’s time to install. First, remove the stove or range hood, outlet or switch cover plates, and anything else that will be in the way of a precise tiling job. (Also, be sure to turn of the electricity to that particular area!) If you need to, install the backer board first by using galvanized drywall screws. A 1/8″ gap between the edges is a solid distance when installing the boards. Use mesh wire and filler to cover. In case of any gaps (ex. the range area), use a temporary ledger board along the base of your tile line to help hold your tiles in place. Find, mark and draw a visible startling line with a level at the central focal point of your design. This is to line up your tiles vertically in the correct way.

It’s best to lay your tiles out somewhere open, just to have the design set in your head, and then get ready to place the tiles. From the center, begin with the bottom row. You will need tile mastic or thin-set mortar to set the tiles. Add a little of either to a small section of the wall using a trowel, preferably grooved. Put the edge of the first tile on the starting line you made and remember to leave a 1/8″ gap on the bottom for caulking. Press the first tile into place, then put in a temporary 1/8″ spacer vertically and continue on like this.

At one point, you will likely have to cut a tile to fit certain areas and for this, you will need a scoring cutter, which can be rented or purchased. Mark on the tile where you will need to cut before putting the tile in the tool and scoring said mark on the surface. Used properly, the cutter will break the tile along the scored line. In the case of an electrical outlet, you may be need to cut two tiles and then use tile nippers to cut out the opening and put them on each side of the outlet. After the tiles are in place, apply a mixed sandless grout with a rubber float. Make sure to push it down into the gaps between the tiles and remove any excess grout. Then, just let it set for about an hour or so.

Use and regularly rinse wet sponges for the cleanup and it doesn’t hurt to employ a clean dry cloth to give the tiles a good buff and shine. 
Your electrical outlets will likely need box extenders before you place the cover plates back on and then, finally, apply caulk, preferably the same color as your chosen grout, all along the bottom seam where the backsplash meets the countertop. With this, your kitchen should not only be a workspace but will emanate the feeling of a distinct place for friends and family to take a moment and share a story or take a peak at what you’re preparing.


Let’s Change the Light Fixture!

Let’s Change the Light Fixture!

The act of installing a light fixture is, at the end of the day, a relatively easy task to do by one’s self in the home improvement arena. By learning a few basic truths about electrical work, the job can be done with little more than wire cutters, a flat-head screwdriver and something sturdy to stand on. Oh! And safety measures, of course. Picking and putting up your new light fixture should be one of the easier electrical jobs an amateur DIYer can come to.

First things first: turn off the current. You can turn off the circuit breaker or, if you’d prefer, take out the fuse that supplies energy to the area you’re working in. It’s really your choice. Remove the glass covers on both your new fixture and any existing fixtures, as well as the light bulbs on the existing fixture. If you are indeed replacing an existing fixture, you must disconnect it from the electrical box. There should be one or more screws on the fixture that are used to mount it on the electrical box, behind the fixture; the mounting brackets must be removed as well.

Now, be sure to take down how the existing fixture has been connected to the electrical box; you’ll need this to connect the new fixture. For instance, the wires might be connected directly with the screws that are on the light fixture, or there may be wires that come out of it which are connected to the wires that are coming from the electrical box found within the ceiling or wall. Either way, you will have to disconnect these wires and remember how they are connected.

Once you’ve disconnected everything, attach the wires to your new light fixture. There should be three kinds of wires — white, black, green. The white is the negative, the black is the positive, and the green is the ground; the ground may also be copper. If connected directly to the light fixture, the black wire goes with the brass screw, the white wire goes with the silver screw and the green goes with the green screw. If the new fixture already has wire connections, you will have to connect these with the wires from the electrical box, which means you’ll be using plastic colored wire nuts in this case. When using this type of connection, nut and wire colors are corresponding (black with black).

After everything is connected, simply mount the new fixture to the electrical box with the screws that came with the fixture; in some cases, a mounting bracket may be needed. Put your covers on, screw in your light bulbs and switch your power supply back on, and you’ll be ready to go.