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Thursday, May 18, 2006 08:28 pm

Repairing plaster walls

Nobody should have too many cracks

Dear Gene: How can we make lasting repairs to cracks in our plaster walls? Also, should plaster be primed before it is painted, and what primer should be used? — K.L.
I can’t guarantee that the patches will be permanent, because cracks are often caused by settling or movement in the building. Cracks can reopen if movement continues. A much-recommended way to make repairs is to use a plaster mix or patching plaster, sold in bags at some home centers and hardware stores. Clean out the crack with a knife or similar tool and trim the surface so that there are no protruding lumps or bulges. Mix enough plaster to fill the crack. Moisten the crack with water from a spray bottle, then use a drywall knife to pack plaster into the crack and smooth the surface carefully. Let the plaster dry for at least 24 hours and sand with 120-grit sandpaper. Wipe off dust with a damp cloth. Because you have several cracks, you might want to try a repair kit that includes all of the tools and materials needed. A kit with enough supplies to patch about 20 average-sized cracks costs about $80 at www.plasterpatchkit.com. The kit includes a bonding agent to give the patch better adhesion. All plaster should be primed before painting. A good choice for the primer is Zinsser’s Bulls Eye 1-2-3 (www.zinsser.com), sold at home centers and paint stores.
Dear Gene: The rubber seal at the bottom of our 10-year-old patio doors has deteriorated and worn, letting water and cold air into the room. Our hardwood floors are being ruined, and the sill is swollen so that the doors won’t open and close properly. The manufacturer says the doors are no longer being made and has no solution. Can you help? Replacement isn’t an option right now. — B.T.
You should be able to temporarily stop the damage to floors by packing foam-rubber weather stripping into the gaps in the doors or sealing them with a removable caulk such as DAP’s Seal ’n Peel. A permanent repair will be a lot more difficult. Replacement weather stripping for sliding patio doors is hard to find and hard to install. You should check the weather-stripping departments of home centers and hardware stores to see whether there might be something suitable to patch things up. I would also keep after the manufacturer. Inquire about the terms of the warranty offered on patio doors — it is possible you have a warranty claim. If this doesn’t help, try contacting a contractor in your area who installs that brand of doors — the contractor might be able to make or suggest ways to repair the doors.
Dear Gene: The floors of our house were refinished in 1984 with oil-based polyurethane. About 15 years later we had several rooms sanded and refinished with water-based poly. The last floors sanded were left wavy in places and the finish remains very clear, but the older floors have yellowed considerably. Is it possible to get an even color on all the floors? — C.J.
Your options don’t appear to be very appealing. If you want a uniform color, the approach that makes the most sense to me is to resand the wavy floors to make them flat and then stain them to a color approximating that of the other floors. Finish the stained floors with water-based poly, which will remain clear so that the wood will retain only the stained color. Also make sure you pick an experienced contractor. A time-honored way to do this is ask for references and check them out, a step that many homeowners ignore to their sorrow when expensive renovations are done.  
Gene Austin says he became a do-it-yourselfer by necessity some 40 years ago when he bought his first house, a fixer-upper that needed a lot of work. Over the last 20 years, he has helped thousands of other weekend warriors through his home-improvement column.
Send questions and comments to Gene Austin at doit861@aol.com or 1730 Blue Bell Pike, Blue Bell, PA 19422. Distributed by Knight-Ridder Newspapers.

© Gene Austin 2006
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