Cementing your future

This guy knows what he’s doing. You might not, when it comes to working with cement. Postmedia Network

Today we’re going to be dabbing into the trade of mixing and applying cement.

I use the term “dab” because cement work, or concrete repair, isn’t something the average office softie ought to jump into full bore. Unless of course through a series of bad investments or sure bets gone lame at the track, you’ve indebted yourself beyond the point of recovery, and as an example to others you’ve been persuaded to jump into a bucket of soon to be cured concrete by fellows simply known to you as “Vito” and “the Razor”, let’s otherwise limit this first stab at concrete to a small repair.

Regardless of what type of concrete, be it wall, floor, steps, or walkway, is in need of repair or resurfacing, the strategy to preparing the area remains pretty well consistent.

First we scrub the area being repaired (using a steel, or otherwise stiff bristled brush), then sweep the surface clean with a fine, softer bristled broom. Next, rinse the area with the garden hose or spray bottle of water. Brush, sweep, rinse, that’s basically the prep work required for concrete repair.

Be sure to wear safety goggles and gloves at all times. Pre-mixed concrete powders usually have a Portland cement additive, which is corrosive. Not that these components will eat through your skin like battery acid, but with prolonged exposure, will certainly cause irritation. Should you get any powdered mix in your eyes, simply douse your face with water.

Tools for the job will include a bucket, trowels (pointing and pool), a quick mixer, and a drill. A pointing trowel is triangular in shape, and is handy for shaping cement to form a corner on a wall or step. A pool trowel is basically a rectangular trowel with rounded corners. Square cornered, or drywall type trowels, will gouge the finish as you spread the concrete mix over a wider surface, such as a platform or walkway. The pool trowel simply allows you to more easily float the trowel back and forth without creating too many lines.

A quick mixer is essentially a heavy duty whisk, or blender, that fits into the chuck of a regular drill. Don’t walk into this project without your quick mixer, thinking its function could be replaced by a paint stir stick and a little elbow grease, with the 15-20 buck investment better spent on a Tim’s run for coffee and muffins.

Depending on your choice of pre-mixed concretes, the working and setting time for many of these compounds is anywhere between 15 and 20 minutes. So, if after 5-6 minutes of stirring, an old hockey injury starts to creep back into play, requiring you to take a few moments of down time to wipe your brow and work the kink out of your shoulder, upon returning to the pail, you may find your first batch of mixed has turned into a secondary anchor for the boat.

The convenient aspect about the concrete repair products available today is that they come in a pre-mixed powder. This powder formula contains both the cement components, and the necessary bonding agents, which basically enables these new cement products to stick to older, existing surfaces. Don’t be intimidated by the number of various cement repair products you’ll find on the shelf of your local building supply store. The industry has become task specific, which was designed to simplify things, but on the other hand has created shelves full of pictured containers that can certainly leave the first time shopper a little bewildered. My suggestion is to let the salesperson know what type of repair project you’re attempting, then let them help you choose the most suitable mix for the job. Although there is certainly some crossover in that some pre-mixed cements could perform a number of tasks, you definitely wouldn’t want to choose a poly-plug compound (which dries in two minutes) and use it to build up a broken step corner that may take you 5-10 minutes to shape.

Good cementing.

As published by the Standard-Freeholder
Handyman's Hints Standard-Freeholder Cornwall Ontario by Chris Emard

Paint like a pro, not a monkey

What type of painter are you meticulous and thorough, or apelike?

There are two types of painters.

There are those who simply walk into a room, use their hip to shove the couch and recliner out of the way, pile their supplies directly on the hardwood floor, then open the can of paint with a four-inch nail. These are referred to as monkey painters, or Neanderthal type decorators, referencing the fact this degree of painting excellence could probably be equaled by a primate, or a human being whose concept of painting has yet to evolve past the stage of spreading mud on a wall with their fingers.

Those who meticulously fill every crack, seal every miter joint, then fill and sand every dent beforehand, are called finishers, and that’s the type of painter you want to be.

Before preparing the wall though, prepare the room. Basically, whatever’s not nailed down to the floor should be removed. Painting requires space, and even though it may seem like a plausible strategy to simply push everything towards the center of the room, it’s important to eliminate the risk factors associated with tripping over a rolled up carpet while carrying a full can of paint. Plus, if you’re going to be repairing drywall and sanding, why add the task of cleaning the furniture to your to-do list.

Next, line the perimeter of the room with cloth drop sheets. Avoid using clear plastic for this task. Cloth sheets absorb paint drops, unlike sheets of plastic that basically support the droplets, allowing you to periodically step into these mini puddles, then track the paint throughout home should you forget to leave your shoes in the room when you go for a coffee break.

Next, wear clothing deemed expendable, or that you’ve worn for previous painting jobs. Although most paints are listed as water soluble, for whatever reason that doesn’t really apply to clothing. So, if a drop of latex paint should land on your pant leg, you’d have about 15 seconds to disrobe and get your new pair of jeans under a stream of hot water before these Levis officially become paint wear.

Also, avoid the white, one piece “painters” outfits that zipper up at the front. Wearing one of these suits at a gathering this past Halloween cost me about 10 pounds in essential life fluids, and reminded me of my high school wrestling days of trying to make weight by jogging with a garbage bag on.

Use a paintable latex caulk to seal the miter joints, as well as the gap between the casings or baseboards, and the wall. Don’t use a silicone or exterior caulk because that’s what you have hanging around, and because it’ll save you a trip to the building supply center. Your paint won’t stick to these types of caulk, which will be frustrating.

Small dents or nail holes in the wall can be filled with a pre-mixed product called spackling, or sheetrock 20, a just add water powder that dries and sands in about 20 minutes. I like the powder form because it stores easy, and never really goes bad, so there’s always wall repair stuff on hand. For larger holes created by the elbow or fist of a person under duress, be sure to use a fiberglass tape, along with a dust control compound. Fiber tape is self-sticking, so it’s just easier to use, while the dust control compound does exactly what it suggests, and limits the amount of airborne dust due to sanding.

Next, choose only the best of brushes and rollers, and invest in a good quality of paint. Buying dollar store brushes is like attempting to chop down a tree with a dull axe, while a good brush equals the efficiency of a chainsaw. Plus, a quality angled brush will save on the necessity of using painters tape. The same goes for paint, where anything under 15 bucks per gallon would be little more than colored water. The better paints have a thicker consistency, and as a result will apply more evenly, while requiring fewer coats.

Good painting.

As published by the Standard-Freeholder
Handyman's Hints Standard-Freeholder Cornwall Ontario by Chris Emard

Committing to painting

So, you’ve decided to pass on the calling of a professional, and have committed to painting the living room, dining area, and kitchen, yourself.

Very well then . . . hopefully this endeavor won’t come back to haunt you in the same manner as your last two decisions, where your choice to capture and raise park pigeons, in an effort to revitalize the medieval ‘bird transit business’, ended up in the crapper after confidential memos were randomly dropped off at whatever destination the creatures decided to stop and poop, followed by your personal attention given to the dismantling and replacing of the hot water tank in the basement, which inevitably garnished your home with the neighborhood’s first indoor heated swimming pool.

One of the biggest challenges to painting involves choosing and coordinating colors. If you find people are consistently complimenting you on your apparel, and the manner in which you happen to co-ordinate this particular scarf with that particular color of bonnet, and how the whole softness of your wool jacket and contrasting crocodile skinned boots creates a wondrous flow of color and texture, then you’re likely more than capable of choosing your own colors. If, on the other hand, you choose to wear black every day, because it’s easy, and have no problem wearing socks with your sandals, then style may be your handicap, dictating the real need to seek help with the matching and choosing of colors. Otherwise, you’ll end up picking a series of taupe, light greys, and slightly off-white colors for your walls and moldings that will look absolutely uninspiring.

If you don’t have a stylish friend that can help you make a few riskier color choices, then hiring an interior decorator for a few hours would be a wise investment. Another strategy related to the risk management of choosing colors, is to invest in a few litres of some of your preferred choices before going all in. Spending hundreds of dollars on a paint, based on a color chip the size of a Toonie, can be risky indeed, especially if the choice was made under the bright fluorescent lights of your local paint supply store. Colors will look different under a natural light, or even the lighting in your home. So, unless these colors have been chosen by the trained eye of a decorator, I would recommend investing in a litre or two of the colors you’re thinking of going with.

Once a few litres of colors have been chosen, paint a small section of the wall, maybe even in a few spots, then wait a day or two. If, after this time period has expired, you’re still okay with your color choices, then you’re safe to invest in the required gallons, or 20 litrr pails of product. If you don’t think you can spend the next few years living with your living room choice of hot pink, alongside a traditional sunshine yellow for the kitchen, give the painted spots a coat of primer and start the process over.

As far as sheen is concerned, use a semi-gloss paint for your doors and moldings, an eggshell or satin finish for the walls, and a flat or mat finish for the ceiling.
A coat of primer is always a good thing, but is most necessary when you’re painting new drywall, or if the wall is water, oil, or smoke stained. A coat of primer is also recommended when transitioning from what was an oil based paint, to an acrylic or water based paint, and if you’re looking to put a light shade of paint over an existing wall that is medium to dark in color.

Should the primer be tinted? If you’ve chosen a medium to deep tone color, tinting the primer is a good idea, and should save you from having to roll on a third coat. Color matching? Not a problem these days. Simply bring in a small sample of the color you like, and the computer eye will match it perfectly. Next week, more painting tips.

As published by the Standard-Freeholder
Handyman's Hints Standard-Freeholder Cornwall Ontario by Chris Emard

Before we paint

Do it yourself, or hire a painter?

Just like plumbing work should be done by plumbers, and electrical work performed by electricians, better painting results happen when you hire a painter.

So, before embarking on a project in which you’re no more qualified to paint, as you would be to change the oil in your car’s engine, perhaps a call to one of our local professional painters would be best.

Painting seems like an easy do-it-yourself project because it’s a surface thing. “After all”, as some people say, “you’re just covering one color of paint with another color of paint, it’s that simple”. Those are the same people who never play golf, but refer to it as a game where all you have to do is put the little white ball in a hole almost three times its diameter.

As anybody who’s performed a proper job of painting knows, the quality of the finished product is directly related to the effort put into preparing the wall. Holes and dents in the gyprock will need to be puttied, sanded, and primed. The gap above the baseboards will require a paint grade caulking in order to smoothen the transition between molding and wall. While this same caulking will be required to seal the miter joints of any casings and ceiling crowns.

Sure, you could avoid these steps and go straight to rolling on paint, just like you could skip putting snow tires on your vehicle come December, or not toss a cube of butter into the fry pan before cracking in a few eggs, but the results will be disappointing.

What about paints that contain no VOC’s (Volatile Organic Compounds) or are low in VOC’s, are these a better choice than regular paints?  Volatile Organic Compounds are the chemical fumes you smell when you open up a gallon of paint. Some people react to these fumes by getting a headache, or by suffering an irritated throat, or itchiness in the eyes and nose. So, if you’re the type of person who’s sensitive to smells, or this type of chemical off-gassing, then choosing a Zero-VOC, or Low-VOC paint, likely makes sense. The only issue with choosing a No-VOC or Low-VOC (less than 50 grams of volatile organic compound per liter of product) is that you’ve limited yourself to the contractor level and mid-range quality paints, along with a color choice of white, white, or white, since the VOC content is graded on a base white paint before any coloring is added. Contractor and mid-range quality paints are fine, and are the preferred choice in new homes since there exists the very strong chance of the homeowner wanting to change color schemes after a year or two.

So, there’s no need to spend $45 per gallon for the best of quality, instead of $22 bucks for a generally good series of paint, until people have lived in the home for a while, with the final color scheme yet to be decided. The top quality paints are thicker, provide a better color base, offer a tougher, more cleanable surface, and they apply nicer and more evenly.

Therefore, there are several good reasons why a homeowner would invest in a high quality paint, or for the sake of accent or decorum, use bright and vibrant colors on the walls of their home. However, the VOC content will undoubtedly go up a bit. That’s why spring is such a good time to paint, because the VOC content of some of those deeper colors or quality paints can be largely subdued by opening a couple of windows and placing a few oscillating fans in the rooms under renovation. Or, as suggested earlier, hire professionals, and let them deal with the fumes while you enjoy the sunny outdoors.

Picking your own home’s colors? Can be risky. Some have the background to do this well, while others have difficulty matching their shoes with their socks. Next week, good color choices.

As published by the Standard-Freeholder
Handyman's Hints Standard-Freeholder Cornwall Ontario by Chris Emard