Patching places where winter came in


March 26, 1994|By Karol V. Menzie and Randy Johnson

Probably by now you know the worst . . . all the places where the gutter gave up, the flashing froze and cracked, the ice backed up under the shingles, the water got inside and ran down the walls or made a blotch on the ceiling.

This terrible winter certainly took a toll on our houses. We got a letter from some folks who had water dripping out of a doorknob, and Randy's seen a house where water blew through the center of a second-floor double French-style door, staining the carpet there, and then ran down the inside surface, damaging drywall around a door on the floor below.

But that was then. Now it's time to think about repairing the damage.

If you've got interior damage from a leak, the first step is to figure out exactly where the water is coming from. This is not necessarily an easy task. The actual leak could be around a chimney or pipe -- 50 feet from the place you notice the problem. And if the problem involves a roof leak, your next challenge may be getting a roofer to respond. They're all pretty busy these days.

Of course the source of a leak is not always the roof. If the mortar gets cracked, water may get through masonry walls and damage plaster (or drywall) inside.

Some water-problem fixes are simple: Repointing between bricks or stones, caulking around doors and windows.

Once the leak is taken care of, wait a few days before proceeding to let the damaged area dry thoroughly -- and to make sure your leak-proofing worked.

If plaster or drywall is badly damaged, you may have to remove and replace it. Patching plaster is easier than patching drywall, but both can be accomplished by a handy homeowner. And if the problem is limited to superficial damage, repairing it should be a snap.

We asked our paint consultant Larry Horton, general manager of Budeke's Inc. paints of Fells Point and Timonium, for some tips.

The key to getting rid of water stains, Mr. Horton says, is using the right paint.

"Water will bleed through plain latex paint right away," he says. The stained area needs to be primed first with the appropriate primer.

"The best primer is still a pigmented shellac, solvent-based primer-sealer," Mr. Horton says. A good primer of that type will "lock in" a water stain in one coat. (Be sure the area you're painting in is well-ventilated.) Latex primer-sealers may take two or more coats.

Whatever their type, most primer-sealers dry pretty quickly. Check the label -- some are ready for recoating in an hour or so.

It doesn't have anything to do with paint, but there's another simple home-maintenance step that can prevent some future water problems. The winter was pretty hard on shrubs and other plantings. If you lose an azalea or other plants from an area near the foundation, remember to fill in the hole when you take them out. Otherwise the depression left in the ground could trap water, and eventually channel it into your basement.

Other things to do: Check concrete steps, walks and "parged" (mortar-coated) foundation walls for cracks and holes and repair them. Even if you didn't get any leaks from roof problems, it might be a good idea to get up there and check on flashing, low spots, loose shingles.

And this just might be the summer to get the house painted. A coat with rips and holes is not good protection for you when the temperature drops and the sleet falls; it's not good protection for your house either.

"Mother Nature did some bad things this year," Mr. Horton says. "People are going to be doing all the painting and caulking they've been putting off."

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