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Robert Lamoureux: Don’t use side of house for planter

Your Home Improvements

Posted: May 5, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: May 5, 2012 2:00 a.m.

We answered a question about sun screens last week and have received several inquiries about a recommended installer.  I called Henry at Complete Screen. 818-470-1444. He installed the screens on my home and has agreed to give a 10% discount on solar screen work as a courtesy to our readers.


Hello Robert,

Now that the summer is around the corner, my wife wants me to build a planter box. We are thinking about using a red brick and using the stucco wall of the house as basically the fourth side.  

The more I think about this though, the more it seems I should not have wet or even damp dirt up constantly against my house. Would this be a problem? Thank you,

Pete W.


Hi Pete,

You’re right, you would not want to use the wall of the house as a planter side.  I would just use the brick to build the fourth side and wall-in the enclosure. 

Stucco is not designed to keep water out of your house.

There’s paper under the stucco that will protect the house, but not if there is constant exposure to water as with a planter. Eventually the paper will deteriorate and you will have leaks inside your home. It would just be a matter of time and would probably happen in less than one year.

The right way to build the planter would be to construct all four sides, have it free standing, and pull it away from the house about 1 to 2 inches to give it some breathing room. 

This would also allow the water to escape from your home’s wall if there is a weep screed. You can put in weep holes along the bottom of the planter so that any excess water will leach out.           

You are also going to want to seal the inside of the planter. Many times I’ve seen where somebody has used roofing tar like Henry’s 208. 

They’ll smear it on and think everything is fine, but it is far from waterproofed. Henry’s is a roofing mastic and is great for sealing roof vents, but is not designed to be buried underground.

I would recommend a product called BT, (bituthene). It’s an elastomeric, rubberized system. 

Once you get your four walls up and complete, make sure you brown coat — taking portland cement and sand and smooth out all of your grout lines on the inside of the planter. 

You want it to be all at one, true level.

Let that dry out for a couple of weeks then come back and apply a 30 mil coat of BT and let dry for 24 hours. 

Then apply a second 30 mil coat. Now, you are waterproof. This will prevent water from saturating your mortar and brick and causing damage. 

You would then put in a protective styrofoam-type board to protect the BT from rocks and roots during the backfill.  

We use Amacore board for this application. Whatever board is left above grade can be trimmed with a razor knife. 

We see it done all of the time at homes and condos, but never use your home as the fourth wall of a planter. If you follow the steps above you’ll be fine.


Hey Robert,

I’m having an RV pad poured. A contractor tells me I need 6 inches of concrete. Is that overkill?  Wouldn’t 4 be enough? I just want to be sure, thank you,

Mel W.


Hi Mel,

He’s right.  I would not only use a minimum of 6” of concrete, but in the path of the carriage, under the wheels, I would install at least 1/2” rebar to reinforce those areas. 

If you were to only put in 4”, the concrete would eventually crack under the weight of the bus. 


Hello Robert,

I’m the new president of the board and am trying to get everything taken care of at once. The Fire Department inspected our building and one of the things on our list is to fire proof the underside of the parking garage, which sits under the building.  

We have three 6 x 6 inch holes that go into the building and it looks like there is plywood under it. So, if you could tell us please, why do we need to fire proof that and how do we do it? Many thanks,

Anastasio Q.


Hi Anastasio,

What the Fire Department wants you to do is to close up those ceiling holes so in case there is a fire, mainly a car fire, the flames won’t burn up through the plywood and allow smoke to infiltrate the building. 

Get some 3/16” steel plate and put 3M Fire/Smoke retardant caulk around the perimeter of the hole.

When the plate is bolted to the ceiling, the smoke will not be able to pass between the concrete and the plate. 

Use expandable anchors or redheads to attach the plates to the ceiling.

Use 1/4” to 3/8” and it will be difficult to core but bolt the plates to the ceiling over the holes. This will sandwich the 3M caulk giving you a smokeproof and fireproof seal. 


Mr. Lamoureux,

My husband is very handy and we are in the process in remodeling our kitchen. I know you are a stickler about permits. 

That being said, my husband has relocated our kitchen sink and cabinets about 4 feet away from where they were, has added an electrical circuit in the kitchen and has moved the stove from one side of the kitchen to the other

We still have plans to add more lighting in the ceiling. He says we don’t need any permits because he’s an owner/builder. I say we do. Answer please? If I win, I get a nice dinner.

Mary H.


Hi Mary,

Call and make your reservations. 

Any time you add circuits and move plumbing, there are rules and regulations you need to abide by.  These changes absolutely require permits. 

If and when you decide to sell your home, many times after a remodel you will be asked if the work is permitted.

You always want to be able to say yes and have those on file in the city. 

It’s also a matter of safety. I’m not disqualifying your husband in any way, but how well does he know the trades?

Improper electrical and plumbing installation can cause fires and flooding. 

This is why you need to go through the right channels of permits and inspectors.

We do this for a living and that’s how we do it. When it comes to building and safety, don’t take any chances.

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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