Repairing a Compromised Footer Drainage System

This home is in a zero-lot-line neighborhood.  The East wall of the house abuts the neighbors’ driveway and is roughly two feet below grade. Because the driveway was extended, a larger volume of water was directed toward this wall and quickly became a recipe for disaster.

The existing liquid rubber membrane was deteriorating due to the intrusion of roots, which eventually allowed water to enter the house.  The drain was also clogged with sediment as there was no filter fabric encapsulating the drainage stone, or the pipe itself.

Normally the water would filter through the stone and infiltrate the pipe, but the roots from the plants and years of silt and sediment had slowed the process enough that the water would sit against the wall.  Once the plant roots broke through the membrane, all the water in the soil seeped into the house.

The damage to the house consisted of rotted sill plates, wall studs, and a considerable amount of soggy carpet.  A large storm was all it took for catastrophic failure and the home was suddenly a mess with water and smelly mold.

Instead of replacing what was originally there, the system was completely redesigned.  PVC pipe was used for durability and ease of maintenance.  Two clean-outs were added so that future homeowners could easily flush the drain with a garden hose.

The drain trench was lined with filter fabric and the pipe itself was also wrapped.  Utilizing fabric slows the process of “blinding off”, which is the inevitable accumulation of fine silts and sand particles against the drainage surface.  These particles build up over time and block or “blind” the drain which prevents water from flowing freely into the system.  This essential step was absent from the initial design, which is why the pipe was almost completely filled with soil and debris.

As a final step to retard water entry into the masonry, the east wall was cleaned and re-coated with liquid rubber.  The wall was cleaned with an angle grinder with a wire wheel so that all loose material was removed.  Pressure washing removed any remaining material and soil and the wall was allowed to dry.  Two coats of Ames Liquid Rubber were applied with a sheet of 6 mil plastic between coats for reinforcement.  The filter fabric was also embedded into the final coat to prevent the angular stone from puncturing the membrane over time.

Finally, with everything prepped, the drain and fabric were placed, pitched to 1% slope, and back-filled with #57 crushed stone.  The fabric used was SRW NW 4.5, which provides adequate encapsulation, but is permeable to allow water infiltration.

As a final touch, the exit for the drain was fabricated and encorporated into the existing stone bed-border along the front of the house.  Because of the tight budget, a spillway was not installed, but some effort was put forth to make it look as nice as possible. To prevent rodents, insects, spiders, and debris from entering the outlet end of the drain a screen was secured with a Fernco fitting and ring clamps.




Posted in Project Archive

Finished Edge for Fireplace Hearth

Hearth Tile Border Schluter RONDEC brass

This homeowner had done the work of installing a tile hearth for their antique fireplace but needed help with the finished edge.  Wood transitions, thresholds and other low-profile, “rabbited” trim came to mind, but the homeowner wanted something brass and flush to the tile. The product we used is more often seen in commercial tile applications, but it made a nice, low-profile edge for this hearth.


Finishing the exposed edges of a tile installation can be a subtle process.  To clean this up, we used an “edge profile” from Schluter Systems.  The specific profile used was 1/4″ RONDEC in a brushed brass finish (Model #:RO60AMGB).  A few extra pieces from Schluter for the outside corners and baseboard terminations were also used (Model #:IV/RO60AMGB and Model #:EV/RO60AMGB).

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The edge profiles were cut and fit with a diamond blade.  They were then glued to teh floor with construction adhesive.  The placement of the RONDEC allowed enough space for the homeowner to border the hearth with an uncut tile.  The result was a nice improvement.

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Posted in Project Archive

Custom Chalkboard Paint


  • Flat-finish Latex Paint (any color)
  • Tile Grout (unsanded)
  • Primer
  • Painter’s Tape
  • Sponge Roller or Sponge Brush
  • Sandpaper
  • Dust Cloth


  • Paint/Grout ratio = 8:1   (Example: Mix 1 tablespoon of grout with 1 cup of paint)
  • Sift the grout into the paint to remove any large clumps.  Stir until homogeneous.
  • Clean and dry the area to be painted.
  • Prime the area to be painted and allow to dry.
  • Tape off the area and then apply chalkboard paint with a sponge roller or sponge brush to achieve a smooth finish.  (Apply in several thin coats for best finish)
  • Lightly sand the painted area to remove any high spots or inconsistency.
  • Wipe clean with a damp dust cloth.
  • Pre-condition the new chalkboard by turning a piece of chalk on edge and rubbing the entire surface of the board.  Wipe away the residue with a damp sponge.  By doing this it will reduce permanent “ghosting” of the first few things you write on the board.  Using less-dense “artist’s” chalk will also make erasing much easier.

Posted in How-To

Contain Dust when Drilling Holes

post-it dust collector drill drywall

This isn’t a game-changing tip, but it can be a good way to save on clean-up when in a pinch.  I found this somewhere on the net, but can’t remember who so source for the credit.

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Octagonal Picnic Table

Octagonal Picnic Table

This table is HUGE!  I wanted a table that could seat more than a traditional, rectangular design.  Although it looks intimidating, there are relatively few steps involved in its construction.  A few of the steps will require two people and you will definitely need a few buddies to help carry it to its final position in the yard.  It also really helps to have a flat surface on which the table can be assembled.  The height of the seats and table surface are the standard 18″ and 30″ respectively, but the width of the table is over 9 feet.


Tool List

  • Compound Miter Saw
  • Drill / Impact Driver
  • Tape Measure
  • Carpenter’s Square
  • Pencil
  • Socket Set (for bolts)
  • Hearing Protection
  • Jig Saw
  • Sander & Sandpaper
  • Level
  • Hammer
  • Driver Bit
  • Paintbrush (optional)
  • Eye Protection

Materials List

  • 2x4s Pressure Treated
  • 3 1/2″ Deck Screws
  • 3/4″ Pressure Treated Plywood
  • 2x6s Pressure Treated
  • 4″ Deck Screws
  • Deck Stain or Outdoor Paint (Optional)

Creating the Components

You will need to cut three (3) tie-plates for this project.  To make the design, just draw 2 lines, ninety degrees apart, then rotate 45° and repeat.  Place a scrap piece of 2×4 over the center of the lines and trace around it to achieve the proper thickness.

Assembling the Table


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Drywall Techniques: California Patch

[enlarge diagram]

There are, of course, many ways to patch holes in drywall, all of which have their advantages and disadvantages.  The “California Patch” or “Butterfly Patch” is a nice technique if you don’t have any drywall tape or if you are trying to minimize the thickness of the finished repair.  Adding layers of seam-tape and compound can be undesirable in certain applications, especially well-lit ceilings…This is where the California patch can be a very handy solution.

Tool List

Keyhole Saw

Utility (Razor) Knife

Carpenter’s Square


Drywall Knives (size depends on area being repaired)

Sanding Sponge

Surform Tool

Dust Mask

Clean Cloth

Vacuum Cleaner


Drywall Compound

Drywall Screws

Lumber (scrap)

Drywall (scrap)


I. Prepare the Damaged Area

· Shine a flashlight into the hole to check for any studs, electrical wires, or plumbing that could be damaged with a saw

· Use a square to draw a rectangle around the damaged area

· Cut out the rectangle with a keyhole saw

· Locate any nearby studs or joists – If there is a stud/joist nearby it may be convenient to widen the hole and use the existing wood as a support

· If no stud/joist is near the hole, create a brace by using a piece of 1×2 or scrap lumber.

· Clean up the edges of the new hole with a surform tool and a sanding sponge

· Wipe down the surface with a damp cloth to remove excess dust

II. Making the Patch

· Measure the new hole

· Transfer the measurements to the back side of a scrap piece of drywall and add a two inch border around the perimeter.

· Score along the lines and into the drywall gypsum – do not cut through the paper on the front side

· Snap the outside pieces off that surround the center rectangle and gently peel them away from the paper on the front side.

· You should be left with the center rectangle with a 2″ flap of paper around the perimeter

· Clean up the edges of the patch with a surform tool and a sanding sponge

· Test fit the center rectangle into the hole that was cut earlier

III. Apply the Patch

· While holding the patch in the hole, trace around the outside of the 2″ flap onto the existing drywall

· Remove the patch and score along the lines made in the previous step (just deep enough to cut through the paper facing)

· Remove the paper surrounding the hole by slowly peeling away from the gypsum

· Test fit to see if the flap lays flush without overlapping

· If using a brace, install it now – If you place the screws inside the area where the tape is removed, it will be easier to conceal

· With everything fitting nicely, go ahead and apply mud to the perimeter of the patch, under the flap

· Apply a bit of mud around the perimeter of the hole where the face-paper was removed

· Place the patch into the hole and secure with drywall screws

· Use a drywall knife to set the flap and to squeeze out excess compound

· Wait until the compound is dry and knock down any high spots with the drywall knife by scraping over the surface at a low angle

· Thin down a bit of compound with water (spray bottle works well) and skim the entire surface to blend the repair with the existing drywall

· Lightly sand when dry and repeat if necessary

· Thats it! Now it is ready to paint.

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Tool Cubbies for Garage Workshop

While working on a few projects with my father-in-law I realized that my tools are getting out of control. It always seems like you can’t finish a project without getting out every tool you own, so it is time to get organized! Wood for this project is reclaimed hardwood bracing from a local granite supplier. I will be working on this a few hours a day (in my free time) and will update this post with any significant changes.



To simplify the cutting of all twenty-four upright pieces I made a crude auxiliary fence with a stop set at 15 inches.


It is starting to look like something useful now. I will be adding sides and interior dividers before sanding and painting.


While I was working a giant moth flew into the garage. It hung out on the wood-pile until I set it free later in the afternoon.


Posted in Project Archive Tagged

How To Hang Pictures and Shelves with Masking Tape

There are several methods that can aid in hanging those tricky picture frames and shelves.  You know the ones…with the extremely specific screw holes, that must be perfectly aligned.  Using masking tape to make a template is a very easy solution to this problem.



Posted in How-To

How to Clean Burners on a Glass Flat-Top Stove

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Carbon build-up around burners on a flat-top stove is a common problem.  There are many products on the market that can help, but they all seem to leave something behind.  A method that I recently stumbled upon is to use a razor blade to gently remove the carbon.

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To clean up the mess, I pre-soaked the build-up with isopropyl alcohol, then scraped gently with a razor blade scraper.  I kept the razor at a low angle and held steady pressure to prevent scratching the surface of the stove.  Overall, I was very pleased with the results and it took much less work than I have previously put in with compounds and abrasive pads.

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Shower Pan Upgrade – Oldschool Mortar-bed meets Modern Thin-bed Membrane


A few weeks ago this bright bathroom had a serious problem… The shower pan was showing serious signs of water infiltration.  Tiles were loose on the curb of the shower, and the joints between radius tiles around the perimeter of the shower were soft and discolored.  Much of the grout had eroded from the joints between the field tiles and appeared to be depositing in the drain.  Due to the amount of buildup in the drain, it was clear this had been going on for quite some time.




It was obvious this problem was more than skin deep.  When I pressed on the loose tiles, water seeped from between the joints.  The mortar bed underneath was clearly saturated with water and would need to be replaced.   There was also the issue of that horrid drain… which would need to be replaced with a new drain assembly from Schluter Systems.  Schluter offers a shower pan system which is a combination of products specifically designed to drain water away from the setting bed and into the drain.  Older installation methods place a liner under the mortar pan, which is too low for the water to flow into the drain assembly.  Modern thin-bed membranes are installed directly under the tile and divert water into the drain before it can soak into the setting bed.  Schluter also offers a pre-sloped shower pan which is much easier to install than a traditional mortar bed, and is custom fit to the drain assembly.  I had Progressive Plumbing of Durham install the new drain section and flange, which was a breeze.  After a short explanation, Steve made quick work of installing the drain.  He even managed to find the base of the drain, in the garage, on his first try!  (I could have sworn it was in that chase).  After everything was installed I taped up the flange and opening to prevent debris from falling in.





With the drain installed, I was free to complete demolition.   The rest of the floor crumbled away with a few well placed strikes from my hammer.  I was in for a surprise when I reached the radius tiles on the walls and curb… The tiles in these areas were laid on top of a drywall product!  As water accumulated in the mortar bed, it merely wicked into the drywall.  Over time the bond between drywall and tile was broken, which let water enter the lower portion of the wall.  My guess as to why these lower sections were drywalled instead of using treated plywood or backer board is because of the thick folds in the Chloroloy liner.  Because typical Chloroloy liners can be 30-40 mil in thickness they are difficult to work into corners.  Folding the liners into inside corners created a buildup of material which can throw things out of alignment.  To avoid this, the original installer used drywall because it can be easily shaped to compensate for  “proud” areas in the corners.  To retrofit the new membrane system, I replaced the drywall patches at the bottom of the shower wall with treated plywood, which I built up to the proper thickness.  Once I had built the area out to the correct height and thickness, the boards were removed and wrapped in Shcluter Kerdi membrane.  I chose to use the wrapped plywood instead of cement backer board in this case, because it was easier to work  into shape with my table saw.  A continuous sheet of Kerdi membrane was then installed over the wrapped plywood, shower pan and drain.  After troweling out the sheet of membrane and installing the pre-formed corner pieces, I cut the hole for the drain.  It is easy to see that any water which manages to get beneath the tile will flow across the surface of the membrane and into the drain assembly.



Now that I have a watertight pan which has the proper sloped of 1/4 inch per foot, it is time to lay tile!   Because of a tight deadline, I needed to work long hours to complete this project on time.  To do this I needed to set my saw up inside the garage.   I pulled this off without a mess by using a couple of tricks.  First of all, I used good hearing protection!  I also took the time to set my saw up a little differently than usual.  I rented the saw from Triad Equipment and after a bit of tuning, I had it making perfect cuts.  I tore open one side of a trash bag and taped it to the saw so that any water slung from the blade would drip back into the tray below.  I also have a habit of placing the water pump in a bucket of fresh water instead of  in the pan beneath the saw.  This keeps it clean and clog-free!  Laying the tile went quickly.  I used polymer-modified thin-set to adhere both the membrane and the tile, and fortified non-sanded grout in the joints.  After cleaning up, I installed the new stainless steel Schluter drain cover which also serves as a sharp accent to the new tile.  With the door and glass replaced and the grout sealed, this shower is ready to rock for years to come.





Posted in Project Archive