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Robert Lamoureux: Brick can pose earthquake threat

Your Home Improvements

Posted: March 26, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: March 26, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Hello Robert,
I own a commercial building. The face is old brick about 20 feet tall that has been there for 100 years. What do you recommend I do to prevent it falling on someone in the event of an earthquake?  Thank you very much,

Hi ML,
I’d have the brick removed and then either go to a wooden or stucco front. Personally, I like stucco. One of the reasons is it screams maintenance free. Put it up and forget about it for years. Also, you can use architectural elements like plant-ons that will allow you to give the building a modern look.
Hi Robert,
A few months ago, I wrote to you about plant-ons. You were right, it’s not that difficult to really make a nice difference in the appearance of my house. My house used to be flat and plain and now looks beautiful. Thank you! I’ve only got the top coat to go. Can I put on a 100 or 200 base, stucco finish, and leave it in the original color? Or can I paint it or dye it?  What is your recommendation? Thank you again,
Juliet J.

Hi Juliet,

You always want to use dye. Whenever you put paint on any surface, it becomes a maintenance issue down the line. If it’s dyed and impregnated into the stucco, then you’ve got 15-plus years of zero maintenance involved. 
I would take the base — whatever you want — use the 100 or 200 at your preference and add dye. I think you’ll be a lot happier this way. Even if it’s a shade off of the color you truly want, it’s not that critical in my eyes. 

Hi Robert,
I read your column every week  I’m a board member for our homeowners’ association and we had a enclosure wall fall down. We’re wondering can we reuse the same foundation and do we have to call the building department for permits? Thank you,
Hector G.

Hi Hector,

If the wall was more than four courses tall, then you will need a building permit. 
It’s not a foundation, it’s a footing for the block. That’s the purpose of the inspection. It is necessary to ascertain if the footing can be re-used or if it has to be demolished and repoured. The inspector will tell you how he wants it pinned.
Generally, the contractor you hire for the work can tell you that information, but once you pull your permits, the inspector can come out for a site visit and tell you.

Hi Robert,
We have a subterranean crawl space that we remodeled and now it is filled with water from the rains.  All of the furniture and walls, everything is ruined.

We would of course like to be sure that this never happens again. How is it possible to determine how the water got into this space? Thank you,

Min A.

Hi Min,

First, you have to cut out all of that wet drywall and get it out of there.
Then you would need to conduct an extensive water test. Start by watering the baseline — the floor, in and around that area. I would test 20 minutes at a time. If after 20 minutes of wetting the floor outside of that space, I would come up one foot above that grade and go for another 20 minutes. 

Water testing requires two people. One on the inside watching for water intrusion, and one outside with the water. You just keep working your way up until you find it. Light fixtures and barbecues are notorious for trapping water and allowing it to seep below grade. 

Until you get it to leak, it’s a mystery and everybody is guessing. The way we would do the testing would be to come in and remove all of the drywall.

Then we would start the water test to recreate the effect. That way, we are 100 percent certain we found the cause and location of the leak. 

Keep in mind that just because you find a leak, this does not mean that there are not additional leaks further up the wall. Be very thorough. Check every possibility. A water test can take four to five hours with two people. 

Hi Robert,
We’ve lived in our house almost 20 years. Last night, for the first time, we had three separate leaks around our bedroom window. Is this something to be concerned about or do you think it’s just because of the unusually heavy rains? Thank you,
Frank R.

Hi Frank,
That all depends on how much water came in. Was it on one of the wind driven walls? I had something in my home that leaked once, 15 years ago, and it’s never leaked since.
My decision was to ignore the one time occurrence, it was very slight.   
For your home, how you should proceed depends on the severity of the leaks. If you have wet drywall or wet floors, you want to get everything dried out. 
You need to decide if it’s necessary to conduct a water test. Know that if you ever sell, you need to disclose that information. 

Hi Robert,
After the rain, I discovered the backyard drains don’t work at all. I tried to snake them out and for some reason, the cable stops after 10 feet. It’s like it just hits a wall under there. What do you do when this happens? Sincerely,
Gene J.

Hi Gene,
It could be anything under there. It could be tree roots, or mud, or you could be hitting a 90 degree turn. Unfortunately, some contractors use 90 degree fittings instead of using long sweeps.
A sweep would allow the cable to make the turn. If the cable hits a 90 degree turn, it will just keep burrowing straight ahead. You have to be careful, especially if it’s a power cable or it will drill a hole right through the fitting. 
If you can’t clear the drains, then you’re going to have to excavate to make the repairs. If it’s under concrete, then you’ll have to break all of that out and then repour when finished. 
Once you get it all exposed, clean the obstruction and/or change the 90’s into sweeps so the lines can be serviced in the future. 
We have designed a custom, full-color The Signal/Your Home Improvements T-shirt we will give you if we answer your question. The T-shirt is available to be picked up at our office.

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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