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Robert Lamoureux: Cracks should run with the grain

Your Home Improvements

Posted: September 24, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: September 24, 2011 1:55 a.m.

We have 8” x 8” posts in our courtyard and throughout our building. The beams are cracked from top to bottom. Should the beams be replaced? We are concerned because the beams are structural and between balconies on the first and second floors. The beams are stacked all in a row leading me to believe that each post is holding the other above. Thanks,
Rich M.

Hi Rich,
The cracking you describe sounds like “checkering.” Are the cracks running in the direction of the wood grain? If so, this is a common occurrence with timbers and the beams do not need to be replaced. 

Aesthetically, it doesn’t look nice, and many buildings will go to steel posts to alleviate this. 

If it’s a diagonal through the beam crack, then this is a structural problem. But if the crack is running the length of the beam as you describe, it is with the grain — not through the grain — and the beams should be OK. 

Check and make sure that there is no rot on the bottoms of the posts where they rest on the ground. You can ascertain this by taking an awl or screwdriver and giving it a punch to see if its solid. If so, there’s nothing to worry about.

For the repair, I would take a power sander to the beams and also blow out any of the residue that may be in the cracks. Then use a wood filler, and then prime and paint.

Just know that this solution is only temporary and cosmetic. It will also be an on-going maintenance issue. Keep it filled and painted if it bothers you, but these type of cracks are very typical of wood.

If you’re really concerned, have a licensed general contractor take a look at it, but from what you’ve described, it’s just checkering.

Hi Robert,
A plumber made a few holes in our garage because of a bad pipe. There was some plywood under the drywall that he cut out, but he didn’t save those pieces. The drywaller said nobody will ever know there are holes in the plywood because it will be covered with the new drywall. He said everything will be OK, and the repair will be earthquake proof. There are 3 square-foot areas where the plywood was removed. My question is, doesn’t the plywood need to be replaced? Thank you,
Leonard B.

Hi Leonard,
You’re referring to the sheerwall. It is very important this be repaired and repaired correctly. For example, you can’t have any parallel lines.

Although you only have a 1-square-foot section of sheerwall to repair, you can’t just piece it. Cut it out and replace at least two square feet.

Also, the edges of the new plywood can’t line up with any existing borders of the original plywood. If so, it has to overlap by at least two feet. This way it will be staggered for strength. 

The repair, the nailing pattern, the field nailing, the perimeter nailing all has to be done correctly.

The bottom line is yes, it must be replaced. We continue to learn more and more about earthquakes, but we still don’t know everything.

After the Northridge Earthquake, I know there were many individuals who drove around with handwritten “earthquake experts” signs, but I’ve been in the industry 30 years and I still feel green regarding earthquakes and the damage they cause.

Sheerwall is there to protect you from an earthquake. Don’t take any shortcuts. Be sure to use a contractor who knows what he or she is doing. 

Hi Robert,
I live in Canyon Country. We have flat fake brick glued on the front of the house. Some of it has been falling off. How can I repair this? I’d like to get this taken care of before it starts raining. Thank you,
Clint A.

Hi Clint,
Start by inspecting the rest of the veneer. I don’t know if you’re talking about overhead brick, but make sure that none of veneer is going to fall off and land on someone’s head.  

You can take a surface grinder and grind off the mortar, but don’t grind it smooth. Mix up some mortar with some adhesive and apply your new veneer.

Soak the brick in water before setting. This will prevent the brick from pulling the moisture from the mortar. You’ll also want to wet the wall beforehand. 

Also, check the condition of the wall. If you see any damaged paper, you’ll have to take this a step further and replace the paper before the brickwork. If it gets to that point, and you’re not 100 percent sure on what to do, you may want to hire a professional because this is the waterproofing to your home. 

If all you need to do is grind the old mortar off, then all you need to do is make sure everything is nice and moist and reset the brick. Once it’s dry, come back and mortar your joints. 
Hello Robert,
I’ve been hearing both good and bad things about tankless water heaters and wanted to get your opinion.  What are the major differences and are they difficult to install? Thanks,
Mildred T.

Hi Mildred,
If it’s new construction, these units go in fairly easy. How easy it is to remove and replace a tankless water heater in an existing home all depends on where the meter and the exhaust are. The exhaust for standard water heaters are double walled.

With tankless, you have to triple flue the exhaust — triple walled because of the amount of heat these units emit — especially from a gas unit.

If you’re on the ground floor and have to go up through two stories with a triple flue exhaust, you’ll have to open drywall and it would get costly. Plus, you have to run a gas line for the connection. It can get fairly labor intensive to change from a standard to a tankless.

The tankless systems are very efficient. With a standard water heater, the water is being heated to maintain a specific temperature 24 hours a day. So whether you’re using hot water or not, the gas is burning. While you’re working or sleeping, it’s cycling all day and night.

With the tankless, it only heats when you use the hot water and turns off again within a couple of seconds of when you’re finished. This will save you 50 percent or more on your water heating gas bill. They work very well, but you usually can’t run two showers at the same time with a tankless, especially if you have teenagers in the house. 

Everyone who sends in a question answered in this column will be given a full-color, limited edition The Signal/Your Home Improvements T-shirt. The shirt is available for pick up at IMS Construction in Valencia.

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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