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Robert Lamoureux: Hydraulic cement is quick fix for cracked pond

Your Home Improvements

Posted: August 14, 2009 3:11 p.m.
Updated: August 15, 2009 4:55 a.m.
Hello Mr. Lamoureux,
We will be renting a house in the High Desert soon. There is a waterfall with a fair sized fish pond. The pond has a substantial crack across the shallow end. I'm hoping this water feature will help my wife accept the move to the desert.
Do you have an economical solution for this repair? Thank you for your interesting column.

Bud R.

Hi Bud,
OK, so she hasn't seen the house yet? Does she know she's moving? It's none of my business, but those could be two big strikes against you with or without a fish pond.
First of all you're going to have to drain the pond. Does she like sushi? At least get the water down below the crack and let this area dry out before the repair.
Open up that crack - "V" crack it out and get a good wedge cut out below the surface. Then come in and fill the crack with hydraulic cement. The reason why you would open the crack more, into the shape of a "V" would be to give the hydraulic cement more surface area to bond and hold on to. Wipe up any excess cement during this process and keep the area as clean as possible.
Once the hydraulic cement dries, you'll want to apply some plaster over the top. All you're doing is just feathering it out and laying down a spot repair so that it doesn't leak. The hydraulic cement is not 100 percent waterproof, but use with plaster and now you've got a no-leak pond.
Buy white plaster mix and some dye to match up to the existing color. Make sure you have plenty of mix on hand because you don't want to stop and have to go buy some more in the middle of the repair. By the time you got back, the first mix would have dried and now you've got a cold joint. This would not be nearly as strong or waterproof as a solid plaster repair. So make sure to buy enough mix - you can always return what you don't need. And, mix it up in small quantities because it bangs up in a hurry.
After about one hour, it would be fine to start filling the pond. You are probably going to be able to tell a repair has been made. Since it is in a pond, you could move some rock or plant life over the crack to help hide that area if necessary. Good luck with the Mrs. on this one, Bud.

Hello Robert,
I have hot water in my toilet. I mean hot, not just warm. There's steam coming out of it. It's very strange. Even the handle is hot. I told my HOA about this problem and they said, "It sounds like a homeowner responsibility and we are not going to special assess the other 17 units to pay for your repairs." So, how do I repair this myself? Thank you,
Rachel B.

Hi Rachel,
With a multiple dwelling building, whether it's horizontal or vertical, it's very common when one unit will start having problems like this. Hot water in a toilet, or you turn the hot water on and it turns cold and the cold water goes hot.
Generally, based on all of my years of experience, the problem usually goes back to a mix-it valve. This is a one lever controller that adjusts the hot and cold water instead of having individual controls. Mix-it valves could be found in the shower where you pull out the knob and turn it left or right to control the temperature. They are also very commonly found on kitchen and bathroom faucets.
Unfortunately these are usually considered to be a homeowner responsibility because it is a cartridge and it is serviceable.
What happens is either the orifices gets plugged with dirt which will cause this problem, or internally it could be that the cartridge goes bad. It could be the rubber or plastic breaks because it's old. When this happens you'll get the cross-connection of hot to cold and cold to hot in that valve.
There are times when the re-circulating pump will go bad. This will also give you similar problems. There was an instance recently at one of our jobs where the pump was vibrating as if it was working, but when we put an amp probe to it, it was only pulling one amp. A pump like this should be pulling 9 - 10 amps, so that was a dead giveaway of a bad pump.
Usually though, you'll find this type of problem with the mix-it valve, and that valve could be located in any unit of the building. You may live in unit No. 101 and having these problems, but the bad valve may be located in unit No. 301. Or, the problem may be within your own unit. If ever you hear of your neighbors complaining about these kinds of problems, be aware that it could be coming from your mix-it valve and that it would be your responsibility to repair.
You can see how time consuming this repair could be, depending on how many units are in the building. It is very difficult to coordinate a time when people are all at home in order to test if their valves are working properly.
One of the ways to find a problem is to use a stethoscope and listen to the plumbing inside the walls. You'll be able to hear the water flowing without any demand.
Once you do actually locate the bad valve, going unit to unit, the replacement is relatively easy.

Hi Robert,
I've got a leaking shower head. I have done pretty much everything I can think of - even replacing the stems. I wanted to replace the seats but could not get them out. I tried but they are frozen shut and pitted around the edge. Not sure where to go from here,
Tom B.

Hi Tom,
That's what is causing the problem. I would strongly urge you to open up the drywall on the backside, if there's drywall, and replace the diverter. I know it's a lot of work and a little costly, but this will take care of it. Do it once, do it right.

Robert Lamoureux has 25 years experience as a general contractor, with separate licenses in electrical and plumbing contacting. He owns IMS Construction Inc. in Valencia. His opinions are his own and not necessarily those of The Signal. Opinions expressed in this column are not meant to replace the recommendations of a qualified contractor, after that contractor has made a thorough visual inspection. Send your questions to


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