Common DIY Questions and Answers

I live in an older house which has rising damp in the walls because they have no damp-proof course. Can I insert a damp-proof course myself?

No. This is definitely not a job that an amateur should tackle. To give you some idea of the problem, to put a strip-bitumen damp-proof course in a brick wall you must remove all the bricks, yard by yard, at just above ground level. Then insert the damp-proof course strip, replacing the bricks as you go. Cementing in of bricks like this requires a high degree of skill, otherwise the whole house fabric may sink, perhaps causing major cracks to appear. If you have severe damp caused in this way your only solution is to call in professional help.

One wall in our older-type house is made from vertical planks of painted tongue-andgroove timber. How can I prepare this for wallpapering?

This sort of wall rarely takes paper well because the planks expand and contract with the season. Your best approach is to cover the wall completely in nailed-on hardboard sheet (as we show for floors), filling the joints and any remaining gaps with filler. Paint the hardboard with emulsion before papering.

The ceiling of our bay-window is damp. How can I fix this? This is almost certainly a job for a builder. The lead ‘fleshings’ above the bay may be displaced or damaged, or the brick pointing deteriorating. Certainly you should not apply any waterproofing material inside the room or you may be trapping damp near your window—a sure way of asking for dry rot.

Some joints between the walls and doorframes in our house have opened. I have tried filling them without success, because the filling falls out when it dries. What can I do?

Joint gaps near wood often expand and contract with the seasons. Fill them with a non-hardening ‘mastic putty that you can buy from builders merchants.

I strongly suspect that there is dry rot in one window sill of our older house. I cannot afford a major job at present, so what can I do to check the attack temporarily?

Rot in window sills is one of the less serious attacks. Provided there is no other woodwork near-by it will probably not spread very fast. The best cheap solution is to cut away the window sill and replace it with a new one. Better still take out the whole window frame and fit a complete new frame and sill. You can probably save the glass. The old frame should be burnt. Just before fitting the new window frame make sure that the walls immediately adjacent are flooded with a strong fungicide to destroy any remaining spores or roots of the dry rot fungus. Also, in the future, keep an eye on near-by floors or other woodwork, and act immediately if you find dry rot is appearing there. If even this job is too much for you at present, you can flood the affected sill with fungicide, drilling holes down into the wood to help it to soak in deeply.

I have a concrete floor in my kitchen which is constantly giving off fine concrete dust. What can I do about this? Concrete which produces dust may be sealed by applying a proprietary sealant over the entire surface. There are several makes, mostly obtainable from builders merchants.

I live in a rented house and do not wish to fasten down a vinyl floor permanently. Can I lay this loose like linoleum?

You can certainly lay vinyl loosely. Cut the material to shape as shown in our series. Vinyl shrinks after first layout so allow 1- in. for this. After a week or so you can trim the edges accurately. At joints between the pieces use self-adhesive 2 in. wide canvas strips fitted underneath the joint. At door openings, where loose vinyl may lift, use a metal screw-down strip, obtainable from large hardwear dealers.

My builder often refers to joists. What exactly are these? Joists are the framework which holds up a floor or ceiling. They are usually seven or eight inches high by two inches thick and stretch right across the room. The floor boards (and the ceiling sheets in the case of an upstairs floor) are nailed to the joists. Their exact size will depend on how wide a gap they span between the walls.

I have tried to replace some damaged vinyl tiles, but have.difficulty getting the remnants off the floor. How can I loosen them?

We have not been able to get much information about removing glued-down vinyl.

The quickest way seems to be to peel off the loose pieces, use a table knife slid beneath to prise up the edges, and then a Surform tool to shave away the remnants and adhesive.

If I apply thin rolls of expanded polystyrene to my walls, will this insulate them, and how is the job done?

Expanded polystyrene ‘papers’ about one-sixteenth of an inch thick make walls feel warmer because the material does not transfer heat readily. It does not, though, have much effect on the actual heat loss from a room. You would need material an inch thick for this.

Application is easy enough. You apply cellulose wallpaper paste to the wall and unroll the polystyrene on to it. We have found this easier than cutting off

measured lengths, as it is hard to avoid tearing these. Be fairly generous with the paste.

This material is good for walls that show minor roughness and irregularities. We would welcome, though, some official tests to show whether fire risk is increased by its use, as with thick polystyrene tiles. At all events, we would never use it as a base for oil painting.

We have plain glass in an upstairs bathroom, now overlooked by a new block of flats. Can I replace this glass with a patterned type?

Upstairs window repair is tricky. Instead, apply a self-adhesive transparant film with a pattern, such as clear FabIon. This is just stuck to the inside of the glass.

I want to do certain work in my home, but I am told there are various regulations relating to the building of walls of houses. What are these?

The building bye-laws are extremely complicated but in general they are designed to provide a wall which is safe, damp-proof and gives adequate insulation. The commonest modern method is to build a double brick wall having a cavity between the two leaves of bricks. There is, however, no legal limitation on materials. Wood, plaster, concrete blocks, etc. can all be used. Naturally their sizes must be in proportion to the load they have to bear. The most severe restrictions are placed on materials which have a fire risk and, speaking broadly. Those walls which are less than 3 ft. from the nearest boundary of any house site must be non-inflammable throughout and have a resistance to fire of at least half an hour. Wood-framed walls would therefore not normally be used here. Walls that are more than 10 ft. from a boundary do not have this requirement, but all load-bearing walls must have a fire resistance of at least half an hour. However, even a timber-framed wall covered with plaster board and a final coating of ordinary plaster will satisfy this requirement. If you are considering altering in any way the main walls of your house it pays to have a chat with your local building inspector who will give you most helpful advice. It is very rare indeed for these officials to bE obstructive and any objection to your proposed work would certainly be on the grounds of safety.

Our wallpaper has become badly marked over a small area. How can I repair this invisibly. I still have a little spare paper. There are two ways of patching wallpaper. You can place an irregular-shaped patch over the mark, then razor-cut down through both paper layers. Remove the patch and peel away the old paper beneath. This leaves a hole of exactly the right shape and size for the patch piece.

Alternatively tear a patch from fresh paper. With practice you can make a patch have ‘feather edges’ and when stuck down these blend smoothly to the wall.

In one bedroom we have blocked up the unwanted fireplace and decorated over it. However, the chimney breast now shows signs of damp, which it never did before. How can we cure this?

The chances are you have failed to leave ventilation holes in the board blocking up the fireplace opening. Without these, the static air will often cause damp to accumulate in the flue. Put a proper vent, rather like a letter-box, in the fireplace cover and the damp should clear.

We have a sound, quarry-tile floor but some tiles are cracked. How can I replace these? You will find it difficult to remove a tile that is only slightly cracked without disturbing its neighbours. The best plan is to shatter it completely with hammer blows and pick out the pieces. Dig away the cement beneath and at the edges of the hole. Then mix mortar (1 part cement to 3 parts sand) and lay this in the hole. Press in and level up the new tile. When this cement is dry, fill the joint with practically liquid mortar, well worked down, rubbing the surplus from the surface.

The bedroom floors in my house appear to be made in large solid sheets, not in planks. It looks rather like hardboard. What material is this?

You probably have heavy grade chipboard flooring. This is quite satisfactory and makes a good floor which will hardly ever warp. It is an ideal surface on which to glue vinyl sheeting.

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