03 December, 2014


When digging or planting in your yard along the house, you may have noticed a difference in the building materials, where the ground meets the foundation. Many homes that were built from about 1915 through to the 1950’s, used structural clay (tile) blocks for the foundation walls. Prior to 1915, cut stone blocks or bricks were often used to build the foundation. Clay blocks were less expensive than stone blocks and easier to handle because their light weight. Their larger size (approximately 8" x 12" or 8" x 16") provided a labor savings in erecting the foundation compared to brick and were usually found on the outside foundation wall, below the soil line (or “grade”) with several rows of the more costly bricks exposed above grade

Clay blocks were not fired long enough to have a hardened surface like brick, so they are vulnerable to the destructive effects of weather exposure. If the outside foundation walls become open to the elements, the blocks can become soft and porous, and will spall or deteriorate in a fairly short period of time. This can lead to voids in your foundation and water seeping into your basement. It’s important that you fill any voids where the block face may have broken away. Use some old bricks and mortar to fill the opening. You can use the same method to make a repair on the interior surface of the wall.

If your lawn has settled over the years, exposing the clay blocks, it is to your advantage to get it covered back up again as soon as possible. There are several ways to go about this. The easiest approach is to ‘ramp’ soil around the house so that the exposed blocks of your foundation are covered, sloping away from the house to the level of the rest of the lawn. The ramped soil will also direct surface water away from the foundation preventing water seepage into the wall. Another way would be to bring in a couple of loads of topsoil to raise the level of the lawn around the house to cover the clay tile. Then, you would have to plant new grass seed. This method involves a lot of labor—your own or paid help—and patience in tending the new grass. A third method would be to take some railroad ties or treated landscape timbers and enclose an area surrounding the foundation. The enclosed area, when filled with dirt high enough to cover the exposed blocks, will give you a raised bed perfect for planting shrubs or flowers. Keep shrubs a couple of feet or more away from the house.

There are some other simple ways of doing all this—but, however you do it, the object is to get the tile covered and protected from the weather. Like many smaller repairs, this situation has a way of turning into a bigger problem, if care is not taken. So, take a look around your home, see what is your situation, and plan your course of action. 

19 July, 2014

Kunselman's laws of home repair

I'm no Albert Einstein (although I admire his genius), I don't even pretend to be that smart and I know I can't compete with the laws of General Relativity.  It was just that in the early 1980's while working as a counterman at a local hardware store in Cleveland, that I came to the realization of my own version of Murphy's laws.  While scientific researchers have never proved or disproved my theorems, I just offer them to you as possible explanations for some of the  mysteries of home repair.  And to immortalize myself; of course, I named the laws after me (me being Kunselman).

Kunselman's First Law:   
Never start a project after the supply stores close.

Even if you think that you have everything you need to do the job, up to and including Aunt Sadie's bloomers--something will snap, break or disintegrate within nano-seconds of the store closing.  Sunday morning is the worst time to jump into a big repair job because whatever it is that you broke will not available at a Home Depot or Lowes' and you'll have to wait until the supply store reopens on Monday.

Kunselman's Second Law:  
Always take the broken parts with you to the supply store.

If you have a Humma-Dunker faucet made in western Austrobovia, is it the model with the what-zit mounted on the front or on the side?  If you bring the old part with you to the store, the counter clerk and you can eyeball the new part to ensure that it's gonna fit.

Kunselman's Third Law:  
Learn the names of the parts on the item that you're working upon. 

I can understand this can be a tough one for most people, because I speak Construction and had learned English as a second languageIt's still very difficult for me, (I am fluent in Profanity, however) but knowing the correct part names makes it much easier to communicate to supply store clerks to get the part you need.  It amazes me how much information is out there on the web, so look it up. Some vendors on the web have exploded views with part names and order numbers. If whatever item you're working upon has a plate or tag with a model number and a serial number, write those down and bring along, too.

Kunselman's Fourth Law:
Never tell anyone that you know how to fix/build things or that you have tools.

Let me tell you, if you let it get out that you can do things around the house, you're in deep trouble. You'll be stuck wiring fixtures in your cousin Eddie's kitchen, then insulating your mom's attic under the shallow pitched roof and getting wedged.  The next-door neighbor will want you to show her how to install a water heater.  In fact, you shouldn't tell your wife, husband or spouse-equivalent, that you know how to work on anything.  My spouse-equivalent has 10 years' worth of 'Honey-Do' jobs for me to complete, I'll never see a Saturday again.  
As for not telling anyone that you have tools--I'll just say that my kid brother has had my pressure washer for five years now. I think you get the idea.