Finishing Plasterboard

Filed Under: Do it yourself, Home repair, Remodeling    by: ITC

Finishing an Imperial ceiling with a coat of plaster is carried out in a similar manner to finishing off a drywall partition. However, when working above your head (which often presents difficulties of its own) it is best to apply small amounts of plaster at a time to avoid tiring your arms.

Deal with the joints first, spreading a thin layer of plaster down the center of each one and pressing lengths of 2in wide nylon mesh or paper tape into the wet plaster with your trowel. Lightly trowel over the tape then apply another thin layer of plaster on top.

Divide into handy bays; fill in each bay with a thin layer of plaster, but not over the joints. Hold the trowel blade at 30° to the surface of the ceiling; the back edge about 1/Gin clear of the board to provide an even layer. Reduce the blade angle as the plaster spreads and pinch the back edge in as you complete the stroke to stop the plaster falling off. Work away from you to avoid flicking plaster into your face.

When you have filled in all the bays, go over the entire ceiling with another thin layer of plaster. Rule it off with a long metal straightedge to remove the high patches and show up the low spots, which should be filled with a thin coat of plaster.

How you treat the angle between the ceiling and walls depends on whether you are replastering the walls at the same time or not. If not, simply run the corner of the trowel blade along the angle from the ceiling and wall sides to cut out the angle neatly. If you are replastering the wall as well, lay on the floating coat then tape the joint between the wall and ceiling before applying the finish coats. Finish the corner as normal.

Finally, polish the hardened plaster with a clean, wetted trowel blade.

If you intend papering or painting directly over the drywall, the joints must first be made to “disappear”. For this you will need drywall joint compound, paper jointing tape and joint finish (see below).

First spread a layer of compound down the seam and, with a taping knife, press the tape into it. Apply another layer of compound over the top, feathering the edges by going over them with a damp sponge.

When the compound has dried, apply a finishing layer, feathering its edges in the same way. Treat the nail head depressions with compound and finish in the same manner.

At the angles between wall and ceiling, fill large gaps with compound; then apply compound to both wall and ceiling and press a creased length of tape into it. Apply two more layers of compound to wall and ceiling, feathering the edges of each one.

Fitting a New Ceiling

Filed Under: Do it yourself, Home repair, Remodeling    by: ITC

Gypsum board for ceilings comes in two thicknesses: 3/sin and 1/2in, the former being suitable for use where the joist spacing is no more than l8in and the latter where the joists are up to 2ft apart. The standard sheet sizes are 8 and 10 x 4ft. You may find the smaller sheets easier to handle and you can cut them in half to make them even more manageable. The edges should meet on the joist centerlines, so you will probably have to trim them slightly anyway.

The first job is to nail lengths of 2in sq or 2 x Sin wood along the walls parallel with the joists so that its lower edge is level with the undersides of the joists. Then fit more short lengths of wood to the walls between the ends of the joists to provide support for the edges of the boards.

The sheets of gypsum board must be fitted with their long edges at right-angles to the joists. Toe-nail more lengths of batten to act as bracing between the joists so that the inner edges of the sheets will fall on their center lines. A length of batten marked with the board width will help position them accurately.

Finally, mark the position of each joist on the walls as a guide for nailing the sheets in place.

To cut sheets to size, use a utility knife and steel straightedge. Cut down through one face of the board, snap back the waste against a batten and run the knife blade down the crease from the other side.

If you intend plastering the ceiling, fit the gypsum- board gray side down. For painting or papering directly over the top, leave the ivory side showing.

Holding large sheets of board against the ceiling for nailing can be difficult so nail lengths of 2 x lin batten together to foiiu T-shaped props with which a helper can support it while being nailed in place.

Nail the first board in place, working from the center outwards and spacing the nails at 6in intervals. Drive them home so that they just dimple the surface; to be filled later. Use 11/4in gypsum board nails for thinner sheets and 11/2in for thicker kinds.

Continue in this way, working across the ceiling. Keep any cut edges up against the wall, but if this is not possible make sure they meet on a joist with a slight gap in between for filling; stagger the joints.

When you have clad the entire ceiling, seal the joints between the sheets and, if you prefer, apply a thin skim coat of plaster.

Removing an Old Ceiling

Filed Under: Do it yourself, Home repair, Remodeling    by: ITC

Taking down an old lath-and-plaster ceiling is an extremely dirty and dusty job, so before you start you must take the necessary action to protect both yourself and the other rooms in the house.

Protective clothing is essential and you will need to wear overalls, safety goggles, a facemask and thick gloves. But the most important item is a construction worker’s hard hat, which you can rent or buy. Hopefully the ceiling will come down under your control, but it is as well to be prepared for unexpected falls.

Because so much dust will be flying about, strip the room of all furnishings and seal the connecting doors to other rooms with plastic sheets or old blankets. It is a good idea to spread a large, thick plastic sheet across the floor to make collecting the debris easier, and you should have a good supply of thick plastic sacks to hand for bagging up the rubbish. If the ceiling is very large, it may be worthwhile renting a small container to dispose of the old ceiling.

You need to be able to reach the ceiling easily so that you can lever sections of it away from the joists. For simplicity, place a scaffold board between two step ladders so that your head will be about 6in from the ceiling — a ladder on its own is not suitable. An alternative is to rent sections of scaffold tower to make small access platforms, but this is probably only worthwhile if the job is large.

Any ceiling-mounted lighting fittings must be

removed (after turning off the power at the service panel or removing the appropriate fuse). Pull the supply cable back above the ceiling if you can get to it; if not tape up the ends and leave it hanging.

If the ceiling is immediately below the roof space, check that there are no other electricity cables lying across the top of the ceiling which you may snag as you remove it. Clip these to the joists.

Any dirt and dust above the ceiling should be removed with a vacuum cleaner.

Many attics are insulated with various materials laid across the top of the ceiling and obviously, these must be removed. Roll up glass fiber mat insulation and put into plastic garbage bags stacked in an unaffected part of the attic until it can be replaced. Loose-fill insulation should be scooped up and poured into garbage bags; or suck it up with an industrial vacuum cleaner before bagging it.

You can use a large claw hammer or a flat chisel and hammer to remove the old ceiling, although you might find the former easier as the latter will mean holding both arms above your head, which can be very tiring.

Hack into the plaster, levering pieces away until you have exposed a large area of laths. Prise these from the joists, always working away from yourself so that any falls will not be on top of you.

Continue working across the room until the entire ceiling is removed. Using pincers, pull out all the lath-fixing nails from the joists. Work round the edges of the ceiling with a chisel to clean up the plaster on the walls.

Repairing an Old Ceiling

Filed Under: Do it yourself, Home repair, Remodeling    by: ITC

There are two types of ceiling construction, depending on their age. Early ceilings were made by nailing thin strips of wood (laths) to the joists so that there were narrow gaps between them. Plaster, often reinforced with animal hair, was then spread over the laths and forced through the gaps in between. The ridges so formed are called “nibs” and these hold the ceiling together.

The more modern method of constructing a ceiling is to nail sheets of gypsum board to the joists and cover them with a thin skim coat of plaster.

Cracks are the most common form of damage found in a ceiling and if they are only fine they can be filled with a filler compound. However, if they are wide and cover a large area of the ceiling the structure will be dangerously weak and should be replaced.

If a plasterboard ceiling sags it is probably because the fixing nails have loosened. Refix the affected area by renailing with 2in drywall nails spaced 6in apart.

If plaster has fallen away from the laths but they appear to be in good condition, replaster them after cutting back the original plaster to make a regular shape and reach sound plaster. Undercut the edges of the plaster and make sure there is no old plaster left between the laths. Then treat the area with an adhesive.

When plastering always work across the laths, spreading on a thin coat of bonding plaster first and keying it with a scratch comb made by knocking a row of nails into the edge of a short batten. Apply another coat of bonding plaster and key this with a devilling float, pressing it down to allow for two thin finishing coats. Polish these when hard with a wetted steel trowel.

DIY: Home Improvements that you might leave to a professional

Filed Under: Home repair, Remodeling, Services    by: ITC

Some DIY work is fun and easy. However, through the years we see people trying to do things that might be better left to a professional. If you have a DIY project and know what you are doing, just go for it. But, in some cases, just take care because it can be really daunting to start working on it by yourself. Check these examples of DIY home improvement project that are too difficult for most laymen.

Brick Paths

You might think that using some bricks to form a road is a landscaping idea that will bring harmony to your lawn. While this might be the case for a professionally made brick structure, it is not for everyone. It is difficult for an amateur to create a perfectly flat surface on which to lay the bricks, and if you are not careful, you might wind up with an uneven row of bricks that go up and down.

Instead of buying lots of bricks to create a path, why not lay uneven stones, which do not have to be perfectly flat, and fill the joints with cement?

Removing Wallpaper

Unless you have removed wallpaper before and know how to do it professionally, there is a good chance that you will destroy the drywall. Wallpaper removal is a tedious and difficult process. It can take several weeks for a single room and there’s no turning back.

However, painting over the wallpaper is not that terrible an idea. The wallpaper will give texture to the result and it may well be aesthetically appealing.


A drywall patching can be difficult. It is often better to leave it for a professional instead of doing it as a DIY home improvement project. It does not cost much if you provide the materials and you’ll love it when your walls are completely smooth.

Deck Building

Perhaps you think your backyard deserves a deck. If this is the case, it might be necessary to hire a professional. Regarding DIY and home improvements, this is much harder than it seems. Many decks are attached to the roof to create more stability, but an amateur can indeed destroy the house structure.

For all other projects, no matter how simple they are, carefully plan what you’re going to do and have clear instructions at hand so you can proceed step-by-step.

Casting a Solid Floor

Filed Under: Do it yourself, Home repair, Remodeling    by: ITC

The first job is to remove the old floor and dig out the ground below to at least 12in below the final floor level. Lever up an old wooden floor and saw through the joists for easy removal. Then demolish the dwarf walls. Break up a concrete floor: the best way is with a rented jack hammer. Keep the rubble for use as a bed for the concrete later. Wear stout boots, thick gloves, overalls and safety goggles.

Find the flashing in the walls; it may be a layer of slate or bitumen, or one or two courses of engineering bricks. If necessary, chip away the plaster to find it.

If the floor in the next room is of suspended wood, lay plastic drain pipes between any airbricks and the inter-connecting door threshold, setting them in place with bits of stone or brick: this is vital to provide ventilation throughout the floor. Build a retaining wall across the threshold with concrete building blocks.

Next make up some datum pegs from 2 x tin sawn softwood marked with the depths of the bed and concrete subfloor layers: 6in and 4in respectively. Cut a point on one end of the pegs then drive a peg into the ground near a given reference point, to indicate the surface of the floor. Drive the other pegs in at 3ft intervals, checking that their tops are level with the first.

Put down the brick and stone bed, leveling it with the marks on the pegs and compacting it well with a purpose-made tamper. Spread a layer of damp builder’s sand over the top to fill any voids.

The concrete for the subfloor should be of 1 part cement: 21/2 parts concreting sand: 4 parts gravel.

Lay the concrete so that it is level with the tops of the pegs, tamping it down well and drawing a stout batten across the tops of the pegs to level it. Fill any hollows with more concrete then tamp again.

When the concrete has cured, lay the cleavage membrane. With bitumen emulsion apply about three coats, taking it up the wall to the flashing. If plastic sheet is used, tack it to the walls above the flashing. Fold the corners and overlap the sheets by 8 to 12in, sealing the join with building adhesive.

Use 1 x 2in battens to divide the floor into 3ft wide bays for the finishing screed. Set them in place with dabs of mortar, level if necessary by packing offcuts underneath: check with a spirit level.

Fill the bays with a 3:1 mortar mix and draw it off level with a straight-edged batten held across the tops of the dividing battens. When two bays have been completed, lift out the batten in between and fill the resulting slot with mortar. Then trowel both bays smooth with a metal trowel. When the mortar has stiffened, give it a final polish with a wetted trowel.

Floors, Ceilings and Staircases

Filed Under: Do it yourself, Home repair, Remodeling    by: ITC

Solid concrete floors in modern houses are usually made up of a layer of gravel, topped by a layer of concrete (the subfloor), on top of which there is a waterproof membrane linked to the flashing in the base of the surrounding walls and finally a screed of mortar, which provides a smooth, level surface for your floorcovering. This type of construction is very tough, but even so, defects can occur; cracks, uneven surfaces and damp patches due to faulty waterproof membrane are all common problems.

Rotten wooden floors can be replaced with solid concrete ones relatively cheaply and they have the added advantage of providing a much more stable surface for laying something like quarry tiles or wood blocks. In this instance, however, you must incorporate pipe work air ducts to link any ventilation holes or grilles in the external walls with the suspended wooden floors in adjacent rooms.

If the surface of the floor is uneven you can smooth it with a self-leveling floor screed. Supplied in powder form for mixing with water or latex (depending on which it is based) the screed provides a smooth ‘Ain layer on which you can lay floorcoverings.

Pour small amounts of screed onto the floor at a time and trowel roughly level. There is no need to work out trowel marks, since they gradually settle out. Before you apply the screed you must remove the baseboards and make sure there are no major cracks or depressions in the floor — fill these as previously described.

Nail a batten temporarily across the threshold of any interconnecting doorway to provide a positive edge to the screed. When it has set, remove the batten and trowel a narrow sloping fillet of mortar along the edge to blend it into the adjoining floor.

Water-proof membranes may be thick plastic sheet, PVC, butyl rubber or painted-on bitumen emulsion, and to be effective they must provide a continuous layer across the floor and be joined to the wall flashing.

If the waterproof membrane becomes punctured, damp patches will appear on the floor- covering. Small areas of damp can be treated by breaking through the surface screed and coating the damaged area of waterproof membrane with bitumen emulsion, then rescreeding with mortar.

If the problem is widespread, or if the floor has no waterproof membrane at all, the real solution is to dig it all up and lay a new floor.

Relaying Floor Boards

Filed Under: Do it yourself, Home repair, Remodeling    by: ITC

Buy boards at least two weeks before starting work and stack them in the room in which they will be laid. This will allow them to dry out properly, preventing shrinkage later. Ideally, choose tongued-and-grooved boards (T&G), but if you are just replacing odd boards, square-edged ones would be better. In the latter case, make sure you get the right size: 4in and 6in are common widths and the usual finished thickness is 3/4in. but thicker boards are available.

Removing the old boards

Lift the second board in from the wall. Then use a length of stout wood to lever up the others. Take care along the walls, since the boards are likely to be tucked under the baseboard. Tidy up the joists by pulling out any remaining nails and fitting packing strips if necessary.

Fitting the boards

Fit four or five boards at a time, keeping any end joints between them to a minimum. Where joints cannot be avoided, make sure the boards meet at the center of a joist and that their ends are cut square. Use up offcuts when you can and stagger the end joints so they do not all fall in a line.

Mark and cut the first board to clear any obstructions and fit it up against the wall. Force a chisel blade into the top of the joists and use it to lever the board tight against the wall while you drive two nails through it into each joist. Use cut floor brads at least twice the length of the depth of the board.

If you are using T&G boards, the groove of this first board should face away from the wall and be nearer the joist than the top. Set the next four boards in place and push them tightly together using wooden wedges or floor cramps.

In the former case, nail a length of wood temporarily across the joists and fit pairs of opposing wooden wedges between it and the boards. Tapping the wedges together will force the boards tight up against each other. Floor cramps clamp to the joists and when tightened exert great force against the edges of the board, (you should be able to get them from a good tool rental company).

In both cases, cut short offcuts of floorboard to fit between the edges of the boards and the wedges or cramps to protect the board edges. With the boards cramped tight, nail the outermost one down. Then remove the wedges or cramps and nail the remainder.

Continue in this way across the room. Where there are pipes or cables below the floor that you might want to reach in the future, screw the boards down. Cut off the tongues of T&G boards to make lifting easy.

The final boards

Stop within the width of two boards from the far wall since you will not be able to cramp these last boards. To fit the final boards, first lay a full board up against the last one to be nailed down. Lever it tight up against this board with a chisel. Next, take a short offcut of floorboard and hold it against the base so that its other edge overlaps the full board. Hold a pencil against the edge of the offcut and run it along the full board to mark the profile of the wall on it.

Cut the board along the pencil line and then refit it, but this time along the wall, springing in a full board between it and the others at the same time. Nail both boards down.

Renewing Floor Joists

Filed Under: Do it yourself, Home repair, Remodeling    by: ITC

You may find that a problem floor is simply due to one or two joists having become twisted and this can be cured by toe-nailing tight fitting wooden struts between them. However, if the wood is being eaten away by insects or rot, you will have no option but to replace every affected piece.

Lever up a sufficient number of floorboards to get at the affected joists, using a claw-headed hammer with a wooden batten to help leverage. Pull out all the nails and stack the boards so that you can replace them in the same order.

If only a small section of a joist is damaged, the affected area can easily be sawn out and replaced. However, for safety, make sure that the cuts are at least 24in beyond the damage.

Removal of a complete joist will mean levering it from its wall plates at each end, and also any intermediate wall plates. If the ends are set in sockets in the wall, cut through the joist just short of the wall and pull the stubs out. Brick up the sockets, cementing metal hangers into the top joints.

If only a section of joist has been removed, cut a new piece of joist to the same size plus extra wood so that it will overlap the ends by at least 18in. Bolt this to the old joist with two carriage bolts at each end.

If a complete joist is to be fitted, trim back its ends to a taper so that there is no chance of it touching the external walls. Toe-nail the joist to its wall-plates.

If the wall plates themselves are affected, replace them at the same time, simply laying them on top of the sleeper walls. Make sure you prevent contact with the masonry by laying a strip of flexible flashing along the wall first. It is recommended that pressure treated lumber be used for replacement sections.

Something to watch out for are pipe and cable runs below the floor. Pipes are usually set in shallow-cut notches in the tops of the joists and cables pass through holes drilled in them.

Always remove the fuse, or flip the circuit breaker, controlling any underfloor electrical circuit before work begins. Cut the cable out of the old joist by making two saw cuts down to the hole. Make similar cuts in the new joist and glue the offcut back for added protection. Alternatively, disconnect the cable from the nearest fitting and thread it through the holes.


Filed Under: Do it yourself, Remodeling    by: ITC

While the upper floors of a house will always be constructed of wood, the ground floor may be made of wood or it may be of solid concrete.

All wood floors are based on the same method of construction with minor differences. They all have a supporting framework of wooden beams called joists onto which are nailed wooden boards or plywood panels and may have a plain or decorative finish.

The joists of wooden ground floors are supported at their end — and sometimes at one or two points in between — or additional wood beams known as “wall plates”. These, in turn rest on the tops of low brick “sleeper” walls.

These are not solid, but are laid in honeycomb fashion with spaces between the bricks to allow the air to circulate below the floor to prevent condensation and rot forming. For the same reason, vents are usually fitted at the base of the external walls and must always be kept clear. Slates or strips of flexible flashing material are laid between the wall plates and sleeper walls to prevent damp attacking the wood.

Sometimes the joists are laid on top of individual bricks set on the ground. Upstairs, the joists are also supported by wall plates but these are held by metal brackets called joist hangers, which are cemented into the walls. Sometimes the joist ends may be set in sockets between the bricks, with a metal plate below to spread the load through the wall.

Most modern houses have solid ground floors. These comprise of a layer of compacted gravel on top of which is a 4in layer of concrete called the subfloor. A damp-proof membrane bitumen or thick plastic is laid next and is carried up and down the wall to link with the flashing around the base of the house.

A thin layer of mortar can be laid on top of the membrane which will provide a level surface for most types of flooring.

Over the years a wooden floor can suffer considerably from wear and tear. The joists may warp or sag, boards may shrink to open up gaps through which draughts whistle, or they may become loose or damaged. The whole structure may be further weakened by woodworm or rot. Fortunately, many of the minor problems can be cured easily, although serious rot or insect attack may mean complete replacement and should be dealt with by a specialist.

Probably the most common fault with a wooden floor is creaking floorboards due to the fixings working loose. The cure is simple: either drive the nails back in or replace them with longer nails or screws. Punch nail heads below the surface and countersink the screw heads.

Gaps of less than 1/tin can be filled with papier-mdché, which you can make yourself. Half fill a bucket with small pieces of torn, soft white paper, gradually adding boiling water while you pound the paper into a thick paste. Allow it to cool and stir in enough cellulose wallpaper paste to make a thick mixture. Add wood stain to match the color of the boards.

When the papier-mâché is quite cold, force it between the boards with a filling knife, leaving it slightly proud of the surface. Leave it for at least 48 hours then sand smooth.

Fill wider gaps with softwood fillets: cut the fillets fractionally wider than the gaps they are to fill, using a backsaw. The fillets should be fractionally deeper than the floorboards: that is, about lin. Plane the fillets so that they taper slightly at the bottom then tap them into the gaps with a hammer and block of wood. Use a plane to shave the top edges of the fillets flush with the tops of the floorboards. Make sure the ends of fillets meet on a joist: secure them to the joists with brads.

Damaged boards

Damaged sections of boards should be cut out and replaced, or a new board fitted if the damage is substantial. First check that there are no pipes or cables running below the damaged section, otherwise you will have to remove the entire board in case you cut into them by accident.

To cut out a section of board, first find the edges of the joists at each end. Do this by sliding a knife blade along the gap between the boards. If the boards are tongued-and-grooved, you will have to cut through the tongues by drilling a starting hole and using a keyhole saw or with a circular saw set to the depth of the board.

Drill a starting hole for the saw just in from the edge of each joist and cut through the board at each end in line with the joist edges.

Lift out the damaged section; if it is nailed to intermediate joists, lever it free using a masonry chisel and a stout length of wood. Lever the board upwards at the fixings with a chisel until you have lifted the end enough to be able to slide the wood below it, while resting it on the tops of the boards on each side. Pushing down on the end of the board will spring the fixings from the joist. Continue in this fashion until you have freed the board. A complete floorboard can be removed in the same way.

Screw or nail lengths of 2in sq batten to the sides of the joists flush with the undersides of the old boards. Then nail a new section of floorboard to the tops of the battens.

Sagging joists

On wide, unsupported spans, the joists may sag in the centre of the floor, giving it a slightly “dished” surface. To overcome this, add packing pieces to the tops of the affected joists.

Lift the floorboards and place a straightedge across the joists at several points. Measure any gap between the tops of the joints and the straightedge and use the measurements to mark out lengths of softwood batten. These must be the same width as the joists. Plane the battens to size and nail them to the tops of the affected joists. Finally, re-lay the floorboards.