Category: Foundation & Framing

The Easy Way to Waterproof Masonry Surfaces

For brick, stone, and concrete surfaces, exposure to moisture can be damaging, if not immediately then gradually and inevitably. Fortunately, it's easy to protect masonry surfaces—and the interior of your home—with a waterproofing treatment from DRYLOK. Here's how.

How to Use Masonry Waterproofer - Drylok Product Isolated

Photo: JNoonan

For the last 50 years or so, new home foundations have almost always been made of concrete. Ranking among the toughest materials on the planet, concrete boasts surpassing strength and durability. It’s also cost-effective and, for the average contracting crew, relatively easy to work with. Considering its many virtues, there’s little wonder that in the construction of my own home four years ago, the builders saw fit to erect the wood frame over a foundation of poured concrete.

Though it’s long-lasting and hard-wearing, concrete is far from invincible. It’s naturally porous, and that means it’s susceptible to moisture. If exposed to enough moisture for a long enough period of time, a concrete foundation can leave a home vulnerable not only to damaging leaks, but also to unhealthy mold and mildew. In severe cases, compromised concrete at the foundation level can even upset the overall structural integrity of the home, necessitating extensive, expensive repairs.

That’s why, prior to backfilling around the foundation, the builders took a precautionary step. They waterproofed the concrete walls that would face below-grade soil—and any groundwater it might contain. The builders did not, however, waterproof the garage. Its foundation walls sit above ground; here, groundwater obviously wouldn’t be a factor. That all made sense to me at the time. But I was new to the area and didn’t know what to expect.

It took only a couple of months before I became fully aware of what would be a defining feature of life here on the Delaware coast. Only two miles from the ocean, our property lies on flat, treeless land that once belonged to a large, old farm. The upshot is that in foul weather a flabbergasting amount of wind-driven rain strikes the side of our house—and, yes, the unprotected foundation walls of our garage. Eventually, as a hedge against water damage, we decided to waterproof the interior.

Of the options available, we settled on DRYLOK Masonry Waterproofer for a few reasons. First, it’s versatile: It goes on either exterior or interior masonry walls and can even serve as a vapor barrier under adhesive floors (we’ll have to remember that for our upcoming basement finishing project). Second, besides resisting hydrostatic pressure, it also withstands driving rain up to 98 miles per hour. Guaranteed for 10 years, the product often lasts longer, assuming proper application.

Working with DRYLOK Masonry Waterproofer couldn’t be much easier. Low-odor and fast-drying, the latex base ensures that the product cleans up easily with warm, soapy water. Once it has cured, the waterproof coating resolves to a high-gloss finish that’s easy to clean, if necessary. For the average, reasonably handy homeowner, applying DRYLOK differs only slightly from painting a wall. It took me just three simple steps to complete the entire process. Here’s how I did it.



How to Use Masonry Waterproofer - Area Preparation

Photo: JNoonan

Before beginning the project in earnest, I made sure to open the garage door, as the product label indicates the necessity of adequate ventilation. From there, I proceeded to clear the area. Next, with no obstructions in my way, I thoroughly cleaned the concrete surfaces to which I would apply the waterproofing treatment. Once the garage walls had dried out completely—and once I’d confirmed that the temperature was above 50 degrees Fahrenheit (again, as stipulated by the instructions), I moved on to the next step. Note that one gallon of DRYLOK Masonry Waterproofer is enough to cover 75 to 100 square feet of surface area with two coats.



How to Use Masonry Waterproofer - Treatment Application

Photo: JNoonan

Having prepared the surface, I gave the DRYLOK Masonry Waterproofer a good stir, just as I would have with paint. Then I began applying the coating with a regular nylon-bristle brush. (For a larger expanse of concrete, I might have opted for a roller with a 3/8″ nap.) Though the product looked milky in the can—and still a bit milky upon initial application—it became transparent as it dried. One thing to remember in applying such a product to concrete: Unlike drywall, concrete tends to be uneven, with pits and pores embedded in its surface. For that reason, put care into your strokes, making sure to fill every crack and crevice in the masonry.



How to Use Masonry Waterproofer - Second Application

Photo: JNoonan

I continued brushing on the treatment until I had covered all the garage foundation walls with a continuous base layer. Then I waited. Just as with a thorough paint job, proper application of DRYLOK Masonry Waterproofer requires two coats. Dry times vary based on temperature and humidity, but it typically takes at least four hours for the product to dry. Once I was sure that the initial application had cured, I followed up with a second coat, applying it just as I had applied the first. Before calling it a day, I finished up by closely inspecting the walls, making certain to coat all the little pinholes that I had missed earlier.


For my project, I chose a clear formulation of DRYLOK Masonry Waterproofer, because my sole intent was to prevent the incursion of storm water into my garage. Given my objective, I was happy to see that once the second coat had dried, the treatment was completely invisible, apart from its sheen. If I had, however, wanted to introduce a design dimension to the upgrade, I could have easily done so. That’s because DRYLOK offers a suite of waterproofing products, several of which are available in a variety of non-clear finishes. For instance, DRYLOK Masonry Waterproofer is tintable, in addition to coming in a number of ready-mixed colors, enabling you to waterproof a masonry wall—indoors or out—and transform its visual appearance at the same time. DRYLOK Extreme waterproofer is also tintable, permitting decorative flexibility even in demanding applications. Finally, the Designer DRYLOK line includes an array of unique speckled finishes that masterfully conceal damaged exterior surfaces. These give you the power to boost the curb appeal of your home and protect it from moisture damage, all in one fell swoop.

I cherish the peace of mind that accompanies knowing that even if the wind blows hard, the masonry walls of our garage are bound to stay dry. Bring on the rain!

How to Use Masonry Waterproofer - Drylok Project Materials

Photo: JNoonan

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of UGL. The opinions and text are all mine.

Bob Vila Radio: The Best Screws for a Strong Hold

Get to know structural screws: They're the quicker, easier fastener alternative in heavy-duty applications that don't require lag bolts.

If you need to securely fasten boards together—for framing or other heavy-duty applications—you might want to check out structural screws.

Structural Screws


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Listen to BOB VILA ON STRUCTURAL SCREWS or read the text below:

Structural screws are a relatively new fastener option that’s been getting a lot of good reviews, and for good reason. Though they’re much thinner than lag bolts, they’re made of hardened steel and are extremely sharp. That makes them easier to drive with a drill—no pilot holes needed. Their design also virtually eliminates any chance of shear-offs.

A number of manufacturers produce structural screws, and each makes a different. Some brands actually embed a special drill bit into the points of the screws, which helps the fasteners bite through wood dust and shavings. Other brands have rippled threads near the tip of the screw; these create a path for the remaining threads, allowing a strong hold.

Structural screws are not cheap. They usually run about three times the cost of lag screws. But if you figure in the time you’d have to spend pre-drilling holes for lag bolts, then ratcheting them all the way in, the extra cost of structural screws isn’t a bad deal.

Bob Vila Radio is a 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day carried on more than 186 stations in 75 markets around the country. Click here to subscribe, so you can automatically receive each new episode as it arrives—absolutely free.

5 Home Repairs That Can Break the Bank (and How to Avoid Them)

Every homeowner knows that avoiding regular maintenance and upkeep can result in costly repairs. Here are five "sleeping giants" that left undetected—could break the bank.


A home is like a relationship—it requires a little bit of money and attention to keep it going strong. Neglect some easy, quick home repairs, however, and you may end up shelling out tens of thousands of dollars in expensive fixes. How can you discover these sleeping giants before they wake? Read on.



SLEEPING GIANT #1: Water damage in the bathroom

When the Giant Wakes: “There’s one thing that a homeowner could do that could save them thousands and thousands of dollars: prevent water damage,” says David Niskanen, owner of NW Property Preservation, a Seattle-area company that offers everything from basic handyman services through whole-house remodels. “Water kills houses,” says Niskanen.

The biggest place people let water go unchecked is the bathroom, says Niskanen. “They don’t keep the caulking around the tub. They’ll notice that caulking is going but let it go, or see that it’s molded and pull it out…. In showers it’s always caulking or grout between the tiles,” he says. If left unchecked, mold, mildew, and water will rot the underlying wood, chew through the shower pan, “and just destroy everything around it. It could easily be $10,000 or $15,000 to replace everything around a shower.”

Take Action Now: Homeowners should examine their bathroom with fresh eyes. “They should look for gaps in the caulking, either around the shower or the tub, including around the spouts in the tub, and also look for any missing grout,” says Niskanen. “They should also look for mold.” Mold isn’t the underlying problem, but the symptom of larger issues, cautions Niskanen; it indicates moisture coming from behind the caulking, likely thanks to a leak higher up in the bathroom. Replace any frayed, gapped, or absent caulking, or missing grout.

A few bucks on grout and waterproof caulk—and a few hours of work—will save you untold dollars and aggravation later.

SLEEPING GIANT #2: Poor attic and crawlspace ventilation

When the Giant Wakes: “What happens is that an unvented crawlspace or an unvented attic traps heat or moisture in those spaces,” says Mike Kuhn, the New Jersey owner of a HouseMaster inspection service and coauthor of The Pocket Idiot’s Guide to Home Inspections. “Eventually the plywood is going to delaminate; that’s what the roof sits on. It’s also going to lead to excessive moisture” in those spaces, which creates mold, says Kuhn. He recently inspected a home that contained two separate attics—one side had a fan and was fine, the other had no fan and was coated in toxic black mold. “They probably have to tear off all of the roof” to get at the plywood, he says. “That’s not an unlikely scenario.” If a crawlspace isn’t vented and moisture festers there, “it could lead to framing decay,” he says.

What’s more, moisture and mold prematurely age roof shingles. “If you think you’re going to get 20 years out of a roof, you might just get 15 years.”

Take Action Now: Step one is to see what you can see on your own. Go into the attic and look (and smell) for trouble. Does it smell musty? Do you see mold or water? Do your eaves have soffit vents to help your attic “breathe”? Does your attic have a mechanical vent? If so, make sure the vent is working. If you’re unsure what you’re seeing, consider calling in a home inspector or a roofer to take a look—“somebody unbiased who’s not going to sell you something,” says Kuhn.

Next, check your crawlspaces—and remember, many people forget they have them, especially in cases where renovations or additions have obscured them.

One of the best simple solutions is an attic fan. “A simple exhaust fan and soffit vents that cost together maybe a few hundred dollars could save you thousands of dollars in roofing and structural repairs,” says Kuhn. “It’s not unusual to put in an exhaust fan that is controlled by both a thermostat and humidistat.” An entire system might cost $1,600. “But you might save yourself $16,000 in roofing damage.”


Termite Damage



When the Giant Wakes: Termites, those prolific munchers, can be devastating if they go unnoticed and unchecked. In most parts of the country, homeowners deal with subterranean termites that are hidden but come up to the house to forage, so “they might be very difficult to spot,” says home inspector Kuhn. Otherwise, they’re most obvious only twice a year when they swarm and come up out of the colony for a few days, flying around like ants with wings. “If you don’t understand that or you miss that indication of a potential termite colony in a house, you might not notice the termites until it’s too late.”

If termites go unnoticed for a long time, “The structural damage and repairs themselves could be $15,000” or more, says Kuhn; one current repair project Kuhn knows of will cost the homeowner $20,000, not including the inconvenience of moving out while floor joists are replaced.

Take Action Now: Don’t think you’re immune from termites. The insects live in nearly every state. Do an annual termite patrol around your house, paying particular attention to unfinished basement areas and darker nooks and crannies. (Underground termites need moisture to survive.) You’re looking for the termites’ tell-tale, pencil-thin mud tubes. If you see one, break it off to see if it is rebuilt. Also look for termite damage to beams, and possibly swarming. If you find some wood that might be infested, probe it with a knife blade or screwdriver to see if termites have hollowed it out; it might sound hollow if you tap on it.

Have any concerns or doubts? A detailed survey of your home “is best left to the professionals,” says Kuhn. “It might cost you $150 annually to have somebody come out and check.”

If termites are found, “The cost of a treatment might be $500 to $1,500 for an average home,” he estimates. That’s a pittance compared with the damage if you let it go any further.


SLEEPING GIANT #4: Poor septic system maintenance

When the Giant Wakes: An estimated one in five of all U.S. housing units are on septic systems rather than hooked up to a municipal sewer system, according to the EPA. “With proper usage, [the life of a septic system] can be extended…. They can go for quite a while,” says home inspector Kuhn. But “septic systems don’t have an infinite life span,” especially if they’re mistreated.

Think of a septic system as a machine, and if you don’t maintain this machine, it can essentially clog and stop working. “Generally, once a septic field is done, it can’t be repaired,” says Kuhn. “It has to be replaced.” Rules vary by state, but in New Jersey, where Kuhn lives, if you have an older system that fails, it has to be brought up to today’s standards, “and a new system can cost you anywhere from $25,000 to $45,000,” he says.

Take Action Now: Septic systems are pretty simple: Human waste goes from the toilet into an underground septic tank. The solids settle at the bottom. At the other side of the tank is an outlet baffle where the (lighter) liquids leave the tank and are dispersed into a leach field that usually consists of gravel and soil.

To keep this machine running smoothly, be sure to have your septic tank professionally emptied of solids every two to three years, depending on the occupancy of your house, says Kuhn, at a cost of roughly $200 to $300. (Check your system’s requirements.) If your tank isn’t emptied regularly, the solids and foreign items may work their way into the leach field, clogging it so it loses the ability to absorb liquids. To further reduce the chance of clogging, don’t put anything down the toilet except toilet paper (for example, no baby wipes or feminine products).


poor water drainage


SLEEPING GIANT #5: Bad drainage outside the home

When the Giant Wakes: Water that pools around the outside of your house looks harmless enough, but that water can cause major trouble, says contractor Niskanen. That water can leak into a basement, causing major mold and rot issues. It can even saturate the soil and cause the entire home’s foundation to shift, experts say. Now you’re talking tens of thousands of dollars in repairs.

Take Action Now: The next time it’s really pouring, head outside (with an umbrella!) and stroll slowly around your home’s exterior, looking for areas of ponding—a danger sign.

If you’ve got landscaping, make sure you haven’t simply piled up mulch and dirt around the house and created a big dam that keeps water next to the house. Pull that material away from the house. It’s doubly smart to get dirt and mulch away from the house and its siding because water will wick up the siding, and insects like termites can often use the dirt as a highway to enter the house, says Niskanen.

If you’ve got downspouts and gutters, make sure everything is connected and that they carry the water at least 10 feet away from the house. If needed, buy extenders.

Finally, make sure that your yard slopes away from your house so that gravity naturally carries water away from the foundation, says Niskanen. If that isn’t happening, you may need to bring in some dirt and grade your lawn so that water is pulled away. Aim for a minimum of six inches of slope for every 10 horizontal feet.



Quick Tip: Engineered I-Beams

Engineered I-beams surpass traditional framing lumber in strength and stability, avoiding many of the pitfalls to which the latter is sometimes vulnerable.

To save time and money on your next building project, one option is to use engineered I-beams. Made from engineered lumber products rather than whole trees, they’re extremely stable and uniform; they can be manufactured to spec; and they have pre-drilled punch-outs that save electricians and plumbers time and work.

For more on framing, consider:

Rough Construction
Engineered Wood Beams (VIDEO)
Factory-Made Flooring and Roofing Systems

How To: Toenail Lumber

Nailing a board at angle is a basic carpentry skill known as toenailing. Although the technique can be challenging to master, these guidelines can help you learn how to toenail wood the right way.

When framing a house, there are many applications in which you have to join two pieces of wood at a right angle, such as roof rafters, ceiling joints, and wall studs. Here’s how to hold your lumber temporarily with a toenail. Spike in a large nail to hold against your lumber to keep it steady while you toenail the opposite side. Remove the temporary spike and toenail the remaining side.

For more on framing, consider:

Rough Construction
Wall Framing (VIDEO)
How To: Make a Mortise-and-Tenon Joint

Quick Tip: Framing with Engineered Wood

Professional builders agree that compared with traditional lumber, engineered wood framing proves superior time and again. Here are just a few reasons why.

Framing a house using engineered wood has many advantages. Glue-laminated beams are stronger than their conventional solid, sawn counterparts. Engineered I-joists span greater distances, and their stiffness prevents squeaky floors. Oriented strand board sheathing prevents racking and provides good nailer for siding.

For more on framing, consider:

Rough Construction
Deconstructing Engineered Wood
Engineered Wood Joist System Discussed (VIDEO)

Quick Tip: Structural Insulated Panels

Instead of traditional framing lumber, homebuilders nowadays often use structural insulated panels, or SIPs, as the material combines insulating properties and remarkable strength.

Building with structural insulated panels is becoming a popular way to save construction time and energy dollars. Composed of thick, rigid expanded polystyrene foam sandwiched between sheets of oriented strand board, these structural insulated panels replace traditional framing, sheathing, and insulation.

For more on framing, consider:

Bob Vila Radio: Metal Studs
Advanced Framing Techniques
Structural Insulated Panels Discussed (VIDEO)

Quick Tip: Joist Hangers

Joist hangers not only simplify the framing process but also strengthen the deck or floor you are building.

When hanging floor joists, use joist hangers to make building a floor deck simpler. Place hangers every 16 inches on center. Position each hanger using the tab to hold it in place. Nail one side on at a time. Use a scrap of two-by as a nailing guide for the other side. If possible, nail them to your ledger board in advance. Now properly secure the ledger boards onto your walls. Set each floor joist into place and secure them with nails. Always check with your local building inspector.

For more on framing, consider:

Quick Tip: Using Metal Studs
How To: Identify a Bearing Wall
Engineered Wood Floor Joist System (VIDEO)

How To: Install a Sill Plate

Building a new home or addition? Here's how to install a sill plate directly onto the foundation.

Here’s how to properly install a sill plate on top of a foundation wall. Sink anchor bolts into your foundation every four feet, laying a sill seal on top of the foundation to create a weather barrier. Pre-drill two-by-six sills to accommodate the bolts. Use pressure-treated lumber to resist water and insect damage. Secure the sill in place with a washer and nut.

For more on foundations, consider:

Advanced Framing Techniques
Concrete, Block, and Slab Foundations
Home Foundation Inspection (VIDEO)

How To: Measure Concrete

For those building a new foundation, there's an easy way to calculate the concrete needed for the job.

If you’re pouring a concrete foundation, how do you figure out how much concrete you’ll need? There’s a pretty simple formula. Take the length in feet times the width and height of the wall to figure your cubic footage. Then divide that figure by 27 to get your cubic yards (because there are 27 cubic feet in a cubic yard). Most cement trucks hold between eight and 14 cubic yards. An average house with a full foundation will take four truckloads.

For more on cement, consider:

9 Easy DIY Concrete Projects
Bob Vila Radio: DIY Concrete
Concrete and Cement: A Case of Mistaken Identities