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Robert Lamoureux: A shade structure needs permits

Your Home Improvements

Posted: May 21, 2010 11:13 p.m.
Updated: May 22, 2010 4:55 a.m.
Robert L.
I want to build a shade structure over my back patio. I know you're an advocate for permits, but do I need a permit for a shade cover? Is a permit still required if the structure is under a specific amount of square feet?
Steven G.

Hi Steven,
Yes, you need a permit because it is structural. You have to make sure the footings are correct and it is installed correctly.

Anything that can potentially fall on someone and cause injury - in addition to anything involving an overhead structure needs a permit. You want to make sure the building department agrees it was fastened to the building properly and the loads are calculated correctly.

Remember permits are basically a safety net to protect persons and property. The greater the potential for damage, the greater the need for permits.

Hello Robert,
I enjoy your column. The block wall around the back of our home is cracked. There is about a 1/2-inch crack through both the grout and the block. The crack is very close to a tree, so we thought maybe the roots were causing the damage, but the top of the wall is still straight with no indication of it having been raised. Would you please suggest the most economical way to repair? Thank you very much,
Alex D.

Hi Alex,
If the tree is next to the crack in wall, then it's most likely the tree is causing the damage. You may have to remove the tree to keep it from continuing.

As long as this is not a retaining wall, peel the block back about 4' to 5' on each side in a V formation down to the bottom. It's not an easy thing to do but it's doable. Then just build the block back up.

The foundation is obviously going to have a crack in it, but if it's not too bad, put all the blocks back together and compensate for the elevation with mortar as you reset the new block.

If the foundation is too badly damaged, then you have to demo, pin, form, pour and rebuild.

If there is rebar in the wall, make sure you core and put the rebar back in the same place. All horizontal rebar at eight courses also goes back in place.

Hello Robert,
This is the second time I've written in with a question. This is more of an emergency than last time, and this situation has already been going on for a couple of weeks. My ceiling was dripping so I cut open the wet area and saw water was coming from some PVC pipe. I thought it was a water line but it only dripped when the air conditioner was running. Is this the condensation line? If so, where do I go from here? Thank you again,
Lee H.

Hi Lee,
From what you are telling me, it does sound like the condensation line. There are different reasons these lines leak, but generally it is due to lint on the A coil. Some families tend to leave their doors and windows open and don't change their filters often enough. The lint builds up, bypasses the filter and lands on the A coil, on top of the air handler.

When the dirty coil then condensates, the lint and dust drops down into the pan which goes into the line and causes obstructions. This lint gets wet then dries, builds up some more, gets wet, dries, etc. This process eventually creates a blockage. Once this happens, you come in with an air hose and blow out the lines. Sometimes, an electrician's fish tape will work. If solidified hard enough, you have to chase the line, open drywall, cut it out and replace. It could also be the pan shifted under the air handler.

Or it could be the PVC couplings were not glued. I can't tell you how many times I've seen PVC just pushed together.

The key is to make sure you keep the air filters clean. Change filters every three months. You're looking at $3 which is money well spent. This is nothing compared to what it's going to cost you to make repairs or in costs to damage to the unit. Also, once the A coil gets dirty, it's no longer running efficiently. It's not cooling the way it is designed. The unit will use excess electricity and work twice as hard to keep your home cool.

Besides changing the filters regularly, have an HVAC technician check the furnace every year. Make sure the flames are burning blue and not orange which is indicative of a sufficient amount of air to the furnace. In addition, check to see if water sitting in the pan. If so, this is a tell-tale sign of a problem. The pan should be tilted to the outlet of the primary line, and with the exception of a little bit of water on the bottom, there should never be any standing water. The primary line is tied into the closest lavatory sink, to the air handler. Any condensation discharges out to the drain line. There is also a secondary line which is usually on the outside of the house. If ever you see the water coming out of the secondary line, you know the primary is plugged and needs to be addressed immediately.

Home Improvements,
One of our residents hit a fire hydrant. The fire department said because the hydrant is on private property it is our responsibility. It's been down for about one month. Thank you,
Hugh Y.

Hi Hugh,
That's true. If the hydrant is on private property, then it belongs to the HOA, not the fire department.

If the flange is broken, it has to be replaced. Put new seals in and use breakaway bolts, not graded bolts. If graded, the flange will break when hit. Breakaway bolts are aluminum and hollow on the inside. If a vehicle hits the hydrant, the breakaways will snap instead of doing damage to the flange or hydrant.

We have designed a custom, full-color The Signal/Your Home Improvements T-shirt we will give you if we answer your question.

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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