Category Archives: Home Maintenance

How To Repair Plaster Walls And Ceilings

How To Repair PlasterLearning how to repair plaster walls and ceilings isn’t as hard as you think. But it isn’t like drywall and uses very different techniques and materials. Plastering is an ancient art that is sadly dying in our modern era. Drywall has almost completely replaced it in North America. And it is very hard to find any tradespeople still doing it. Due to the fact that chemistry is going on during the hardening process it is quite easy to have things go wrong.

Plastering is a skilled trade and some types of plastering are simply too difficult for the average homeowner. I have tried some of them myself and the biggest issue one faces is knowing what retardants are needed to slow down the cure. Retardant information is not readily available on the internet in any meaningful form. The tradespeople aren’t giving up their secrets. ‘A few drops of dishwashing detergent’ isn’t really helpful is it? Cream of tartar supposedly works too but I’ve had no luck with it.

Having said all that I ended up using a gypsum plaster product to patch up some rather large holes I’d made in my ceiling. While it was a big very messy job I am super happy with the end result. Renovations, electrical work and plumbing problems often require plaster repair work in your house. Watch the video or continue reading and you can learn how to repair plaster walls and ceilings too.

Materials needed

Don’t use straight plaster of Paris. It will set up before you can get it out of the bucket. Use Durabond 90 instead. It’s a plaster of Paris based product with premixed retardant. It will give you around an hour of working time. Use general purpose sand for your 1st and 2nd layers. You can use metal lath, or wood if you prefer. The wood should be roughly an inch and a bit wide and a quarter inch thick. Plaster bonder is also a great idea as it really helps with adhesion. It’s a latex product that washes up with water. Get some galvanized nails for fixing down the lath.


Hammer and chisel for opening up the plaster. Heavy tin snips for cutting metal lath. Small saw for cutting wood lath. A couple of buckets. Mixer attachment and drill. Float, trowels or putty knife. Paint brush. Spray bottle

Plaster wall and ceiling construction

Plaster construction has two parts, the foundation called lath, and the plaster that is spread through it and on top of it.

Lath nowadays is a metal screen-like material but earlier construction is thin strips of wood. In both cases the lath is fastened to the ceiling joists or wall studs. When repairing or restoring a plaster surface it’s important that the lath is secure and sound.

Plaster can be gypsum or lime based or even a mix of the two. Lime plaster is the oldest type, made by burning limestone in a kiln. The resulting lime is used for plastering and for cement. Gypsum plaster, known as plaster of Paris is also made by heating in a kiln.

Lime plaster is the superior choice especially for kitchens and baths but it’s much harder to work with. For general interior work gypsum based materials are a better choice for amateurs.

Working with the plaster

Plastering is usually done in 2 or 3 coats. You can spread the coats out over a few days or even do them all on the same day. The existing plaster and lath needs to be slightly damp. Each coat of new plaster should be misted with a squirt bottle before the next coat is applied as well.

The first coat, called the scratch coat, is a mixture of sand and plaster. In older homes it often had horse hair or other fibres to help it stick to the lath. Applying the scratch coat is tricky. The plaster is more or less squeezed through the holes or gaps in the lath. Lots of it can end up on the floor or on your head.

How To Repair Plaster

The second coat goes on much easier as most of the holes and gaps in the lath will already be filled in. This coat is a mix of sand and plaster as well. This coat should sit a bit below the final surface to leave room for the finish coat.

The finish coat is straight plaster. It should be fairly thin, perhaps a ¼ inch or so. Before laying this coat it’s a good idea to scrape down any areas of existing plaster that have sand stuck to them. You can see me do this with the edge of my float in the video several times. Doing this will keep sand out of the finish coat. Hopefully you can get a nice smooth surface with your trowel on your first attempt. Doing so will save you a lot of very difficult sanding once everything is hard and dry. Now you know how to repair plaster walls and ceilings in your home!

Plumbing In Your Home

Knowing about the plumbing in your home is a required skill when working as a Realtor. Being able to identify plumbing types is part of the job. Prior work experience in construction is definitely a big plus. Of course I learned about plumbing in Real Estate College too. But my biggest source of knowledge about plumbing when I first became a Realtor is the very old house I call home.

Having said all that I’m pretty quick to note what’s in a home, both the good and bad. So here’s a quick break down of the various types of plumbing in your home and your neighbours.

Plumbing Supply Types

On the supply side copper pipe is the most prevalent here in Ontario. I’d say it’s in 95% of the homes, with the balance being mostly PEX tubing. There are other types as well but they are way less common.

PlumbingCopper is an excellent material for water sources that are slightly alkaline in nature. A pH above 7 stops metal leaching and corrosion that occurs if a water source is acidic. This keeps your pipes intact and prevents lead from leaching out of the 50/50 lead/tin soldered joints common in older properties. Municipal water supplies are made intentionally alkaline for this exact reason. Alkalinity also protects against lead leaching in places where lead supply piping still exists such as the Beaches area of Toronto.


Pex Tubing Photo Claude Taylor

PEX tubing is the other popular choice for water supply. It’s easy to install and cheaper than copper which is why it’s found in so many modern homes. But there are several different manufacturers so it’s important to know which brand you are working with. Concerns about PEX center on chemicals leaching from the plastic over time. I think this is a valid worry due the relative newness of this material in supply piping.

Kitec is the other type of plastic supply piping. It’s bad stuff! You still find it from time to time unfortunately. This piping eventually ruptures if given enough time. It was used in Canada from 1995 to 2007. The manufacturer settled a class action lawsuit a number of years back. It’s big bucks to have it ripped out and you would be entitled to a hefty discount if you were buying a property with Kitec.Plumbing

The last type of supply piping you’ll find is galvanized steel. You can still get this stuff although it’s hardly ever used anymore. It rusts out over time both inside and out and can become clogged and even plugged up from internal corrosion. It can be hard to identify by sight alone. Using a magnet is a great way to find out.

Plumbing Drain Types

PlumbingIn Ontario the gold standard for single family residential waste plumbing is ABS plastic. It has been in use since the 1970s. It’s cheap, durable and really easy to work with. PVC is a great alternative too. It’s less common though and a bit more complicated to join together. The usage of one type or the other is dependent on your local building code.
You’ll often find other types of waste lines in older properties. Homes in the 1960s and early 70’s had sewer lines entirely of copper. This material can be a poor choice in many applications. Waste water is acidic and eventually corrodes copper from the inside out. Runs of line that hold standing water are especially problematic.

PlumbingIn many older homes cast iron was the material of choice. It’s durable due to its very thick walls but brittle and will rot out eventually due to corrosion. Cast iron was common in properties from early last century into the 1950’s. Large vertical sections of cast iron (called the stack) will often have galvanized steel or even copper coming in from sinks and bath tubs. Toilets are usually connected directly to the stack with bronze and lead.

I’ve come across many older homes with several types of waste plumbing from various repairs or renovations over the history of the property. Replacing the entirety of the waste system is an expensive and daunting proposition and it’s rarely done. So knowledge really helps. Get a good Realtor and an inspection too. And make sure you know what to look for when buying property.

Your Home Plumbing

Check Your Sump Pump!

It’s fall, check your sump pump!

Flooded basements make the news in the spring and fall each and every year. Neglect, power failures, poor drainage, changing seasons, and rapidly changing weather are almost always one or more of the causes of a flooded basement.

You can’t control the weather or the seasons. Sudden heavy rains, warm snaps in the dead of winter, the spring thaw and the onset of rainy fall weather can all cause wet basements.

sump pumpBut battling mother nature isn’t always hard. Checking your sump pump and making sure you’ve got good drainage for your eaves troughs is often all the work you need to do to keep your basement dry.

Living in a 130 year old home and working as a Realtor has taught me quite a bit about drainage and sump pumps. My 1889 property has a sump pump just like almost every new home built over the last 20 years.

sump pumpThese are installed in new homes as a preventative against water penetration and as remediation in old homes such as mine. The system consists of perforated piping (called weeping tile) on the outside of the foundation that directs ground water to a sump, which is a shallow pit in the basement that collects the water. The sump pump sits in the sump and periodically empties this water to the outside of the home.

Your sump pump has to work extra hard if you live in an area with a high water table, or have soil with poor drainage such as the clay that is quite common in Waterloo region. Ground water simply wants to go wherever it can, running as water does, from high places to low. Draining water away from the foundation is the weeping tile’s job since it sits lower than your basement walls, but it’s also a good idea to get the water away from your foundation so your sump pump doesn’t have to deal with it.

sump pumpYou can do this by adding extension pipes to the ends of your downspouts. 10 feet is a good distance, or you can get really ambitious like I did. A couple of years back I dug drainage piping for my eaves-troughs a good 20 or 30 feet from my house.

Prior to my hard work, the spring thaw and heavy thunder storms would often mean a wet laundry room but now the room is bone dry. As an added bonus my sump pump hardly comes on at all except for a couple of weeks in the spring.

Needless to say, having a working pump is even more important than good drainage. Pump failures definitely cause the vast majority of flooded basements. Check your sump pump now and keep your basement dry! Watch the video if you want to learn even more.

Everything You Need To Know About Sump Pumps

Should I Get A Home Inspection?

‘Should I get a home inspection?’ is actually a question for a lot of buyers, but I don’t understand why anyone wouldn’t want one. It’s a trivial amount of money to spend for some real peace of mind, and an inspection can save a buyer thousands of dollars if things are uncovered.

should I get a home inspection

US Navy photo Jimmy Johnson

I’d never advise against getting an inspection but sometimes market forces make it impossible to secure a property with an inspection condition, or any conditions for that matter. This was the case in the multiple offer environment we saw in the spring of 2017.

Things are better now but a significant number of homes are still selling ‘firm’ with no conditions. It’s very much a sellers’ market and it can be difficult to buy conditionally.

Nevertheless the vast majority of my offers have inspection conditions. No doubt we’ve lost out on a few properties because of this. But I’m pretty certain several of my clients who answered ‘yes’ to the question ‘Should I get a home inspection?’ are pretty happy having spent four or five hundred dollars.

should I get a home inspection

Photo Laura Scudder GFDL / CC-BY-SA-2.5

In one property the inspection uncovered some significant roof and siding issues. In two other cases asbestos was found. Lastly a supposedly rewired house had knob and tube hidden away between floors.

If significant issues are uncovered a buyer has the option of abandoning the deal, renegotiating on price or having the seller remedy the deficiencies. We’ve done all three of these things at one time or another, saving my clients tens of thousands of dollars as a result.

Even if nothing serious is found the inspectors have a wealth of invaluable knowledge and experience to pass on to the buyer. My clients get a thorough education on every aspect of the home which is why it’s essential that they attend the inspection.

Should I get a home inspection? Yes, without a shadow of doubt you should. Getting a home inspection is a good thing.

Here’s three great inspectors I work with:
Canadian Home Inspection Services
Green Trust Services
Pillar To Post

Mould, moisture and sump pumps

My buddy Joel and I covered the topic of mould, moisture and sump pumps in a recent video. I wrote about sump pumps a while back so I thought I’d dig up the old post for you and also share some information about mould from Health Canada. Mould, moisture and sump pumps

My sump pump has been running a fair bit lately with the spring thaw well underway. All that freezing rain last week and then this week’s 24 hour rainstorm has saturated the ground which is also in the process of thawing out. My very old house is not unlike new houses since I too have a sump pump. These are installed in new homes as a preventative against water penetration and as remediation in old homes such as mine. The system consists of perforated piping (called weeping tile) on the outside of the foundation that directs ground water to a sump, which is a shallow pit in the basement that collects the water. The sump pump sits in the sump and periodically empties this water to the outside of the home. Maintaining the pump is essential for having a dry basement. I’ve experienced two floods, once from a power failure and the other time from a blocked float. Luckily my basement is unfinished and the damage was minimal. However, several people I know have had major damage from a sump pump failure. Rehabilitation could easily cost a homeowner $20,000 plus. Continue for the entire post.

Here’s a quick video on the subject of mould, moisture and sump pumps, and more videos can be found on my YouTube Channel or on my Videos Page.