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September 2021
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Lowes steps up on Toxic Drywall

The majority of the ongoing toxic drywall cases have involved home builders and wholesale suppliers. On smaller projects and remodeling, Lowes is a great source of material. Lowes and the orange stores use local wholesalers to stock their shelves. Therein lies the tale of Lowes getting involved in this.

Lowes stepped up, acknowledging that some stores has sold it, and offered reparations. As the extent of the problems became more apparent, Lowes has upped it’s settlement offer.

Lowe’s Companies Inc. has dramatically increased the amount of money [1] it is prepared to offer customers whose health or homes were harmed by defective drywall they bought from its stores. Those customers are now eligible for up to $100,000 in cash, instead of the maximum $4,500 in cash and gift cards that was previously agreed upon in a class action lawsuit that is being negotiated in a Georgia state court.

The rest of the article is here; Lowe’s Amends Settlement to Get Drywall Victims More Money

Will this be enough to make folks whole? I don’t know as I am not dismantling these houses and testing them. But one thing is sure, Lowes is stepping up, and that is a good thing for DIY’ers.

Toxic Drywall Update

The latest chapter in the Toxic Drywall Saga has Knauf Plasterboard Tianjin, the major producer of the toxic drywall is stepping up to repair up to 300 homes as part of a settlement with a number of owners. Or at least the guy without a chair when this tune stopped. This is so not close to being over….

“The homes will be repaired according to a protocol developed by U.S. District Court Judge Eldon E. Fallon, who is presiding over the litigation in New Orleans. It requires, among other things, that all the drywall be removed, along with the wiring, the air-conditioning system and other components – a procedure that will effectively gut the interiors of the houses. One of the program’s goals is to settle on a cost for the work. Homeowners who have paid to fix their homes themselves have often spent more than $100,000.”
Source:Pro Publica

Also contributing to the repair settlement is Interior Exterior Building Supply(one of the drywall suppliers in LA.), and several insurance carriers.
This is an interesting development, but being the glass half empty sort of guy that I am, I see a few issues.

First, we have the demo work ripping down the drywall, removing the electrical, including the A/C, and even though it is not specifically mentioned, any copper plumbing and or underfloor heating systems. These procedures will remediate the apparent damage, but I haven’t seen any mention of testing the frames for secondary absorption of the out-gassing byproducts in wood framing and/or removal(which would basically require a bulldozer and a lot more dumpsters to just knock the houses down and starting over) or some type of sealant that could trap any toxic vapors in the wood. Also no mentioned but of concern is the cabinetry, especially cabinets whose boxes are particleboard. Carpet is an issue as well. Not to mention your major appliances.

Second, the settlement is going to do 30 homes initially to establish a ‘cost basis’ for repair. Here is where it will get interesting. Insurance companies do not make money by paying claims. By establishing a ‘cost basis’, by taking the cost of a series of repairs and adding them up, and dividing by the number of repairs, they hope to assign a dollar value that they will want to pay for repairs. If your house falls inside this ‘cost basis’, great. But if your house does not, it will get ugly.

Let me take a moment to outline a couple of things that insurance companies do. I will use auto body repairs to demonstrate. When you have an accident and your car is towed to the bodyshop, two things happen. The bodyshop uses a software program to prepare an estimate of the damage and the repair costs. The bodyshop and the insurance company both use the same software. Almost. An Adjuster who is the insurance company representative, checks the estimate, negotiates with the shop and signs off on the repair so that your car can be fixed.
There are differences based on the version used by each party. In the case of the body shop being a Direct Repair Facility, the estimate is created by an insurance company representative, and the car is delivered to the shop for repair. The difference between an Independent shop and a DRP is that in exchange for priority in work assignments, any number of concessions are made, usually being in the labor rate paid for repairs.

Here is where the plot thickens. The estimate is solely based on visual inspection without tear down. Tear down happens when the bodyshop removes the bent and damaged sheetmetal and other parts to determine how extensive the damage is, and what will be required to bring the car back to pre-accident condition. In other words if your car has a dent in the door, chances are that fixing it will solve the claim. In the case of a front end collision where the hood is jammed shut and the doors are jammed closed, the true cost of repairs cannot be measured. Teardown creates another estimate called the Supplement. Note that your car has not been repaired yet. This is the insurance dance.

The Supplement is added to the Estimate to gauge the total repair cost. Now in the case of car repair, the insurance company uses a percentage of ACV,(Actual Cash Value, which is an aggregate number of actual sale prices of the same vehicle nationwide) as the threshold for deciding whether or not to repair the vehicle. It doesn’t matter that you first got laid in this car, or your first born was conceived therein, some choices are made in providing you insurance, and one of them is that the insurance company gets a large say in how far they will go. Say for argument, 80% of ACV is the Total Loss theshold. If the repair estimate and supplement cost is above this dollar amount, the insurance company can choose not to repair the car,(It’s in your Policy) declaring it a Total Loss, writing you a check for the ACV, take your title, and going home. If you are still making payments, and the value of your car is not great, you will be without wheels and still have a car payment.

In the case of auto repair to save money the insurance company will require the shop to look for LKQ parts. LKQ stands for Like,Kind and Quality. In the case of brand new cars, in most cases this means Manufacturer Factory Parts. Which are spendy. Aftermarket Parts (produced by independent companies. most notably sheetmetal) are classified as LKQ, although there has been years of debate over finish, quality and suitability. In the case of older cars, this is where auto salvage/wrecking yards come into play. If you need a front end for your 2000 whatever, the factory is only required by law to produce and stock parts for 7 years. An salvage yard buys cars and dismantles and or cuts them up and can sell a front end from another 2000 whatever that was bought because it was hit in the rear and the front end is good. Recycling, Save the planet, etc.

Now if you are bummed out thinking about this and how it relates to toxic drywall houses, I have one more little thing to add. Betterment. Betterment is the difference between the value of what was damaged and the value of it’s replacement. The best example of this are tires. Your tires have 30K miles on them and two need to be replaced to repair your ride. You got tires that were good for 60k miles. So you have used 50% of their value. The insurance company buys you two new tires, which cost a little more than your originals. This difference in price between the new tires and the 50% value of your old tires is called a betterment and this cost is passed on to you. The insurance company to the bodyshop will be light by the betterment amount, and this is over and above your deductible. You will need to come up with this money to get your car.

To Recap: Remember these terms: Estimate, Supplement, ACV, Total Loss, LKQ, Betterment.

Third, the concept of making you whole, or returning you to a semblance of life before the drywall from hell turned your life into shit, is the end game of every homeowner affected, and should be the top priority of everybody involved in making the necessary repairs.

I can think of a lot of things that can go wrong with the repair rather than replacement of these homes. Like property values, or resale.

Removing Painted Popcorn Ceilings 2

In our last episode we had bagged the garage, and scraped the popcorn ceiling. So at the end of the day it basically looked like this.

You can see the straight lines that tell the tale of mechanical tools for taping. Tools work fine in the hands of an artisan. They are adjustable so that a really fine line can be set. Not the case here. On of the drawbacks to the homeowner/remodeler is repairing taping done with tools. Because the mud has extra water added to run though the ‘tools’ one of the unfortunate byproducts is the dust from sanding. Taping mud contains adhesives that help it to stick, and when you change the mix by adding water beyond the mfg. recommendations, it doesn’t work as well, and creates much more dust than normal.

The secret to living through sanding is getting someone else to do it:) In this case I enlisted the aid of my daughter, Amanda.

She is no stranger to remodeling having grown up around it, and working construction. Anyhow, after sanding and cleaning up the blizzard of dust, we spotted nails and taped seams with speed set. One of the other unfortunate aspects of using really soupy mud is shrinkage. So at the end of the day it is almost like redoing the taping completely as the paper  gouges, nail holes, and previous mud application was not feathered out.

Tomorrow, a quick sand, another coat of speed set in the morning, touch up, and a finish coat of Dust Control Mud, so that we can prime and paint on Thursday.  Hopefully, as the heat in this room is astonishing, having no insulation over the ceiling, having a cement blockwall with due west exposure, and outside temps over 100.

Removing Painted Popcorn Ceilings

Popcorn Ceilings are really so over. They were another ‘innovation’ by builders to cut the cost of construction. Calling them Acoustic Ceilings was more of a marketing ploy rather than any serious sound deadening benefit.  Vermiculite and some sort of water based paint, they were fast and cheap. Tape, cover coat, and spray. No sanding No priming, just spray thick and move on to the next house.

Builders loved this shit, and real estate agents cried ‘elegance’.  A few years down the road, they turned gray from dust or an ivory yellow depending on how much you smoked.  Spiders loved them for all the anchor points for their webs. Sweeping them to get rid of the webs created more mess and loosened up what was left so you had a light snowfall over time. Painting them is an option, but is expensive. Since there is no primer, what ever paint you used, you would need twice as much, and the only useful color was white.

If you are ‘lucky’ enough to have popcorn that has been painted, removal is not as hard as you might think. Here is a ceiling that fits the bill.

Yes it is a garage ceiling.The ‘Elegance’ is just oozing out. Originally this garage was cinder block and firewall drywall. Behind the ladder is the storage unit I built from the recycled materials left over from the Storage Project.

Since this is an unfinished  garage we will not be covering the floors for the first part. Details on Red Rosin Paper are here.

The first order of business is to bag the walls. Cover them with poly. I am using.7 mil 12′ wide poly and  blue painters tape.

Blue Painters tape does not leave residue like regular masking tape and comes off cleanly. The 12′ length insures that the plastic will reach the floor around cabinets and other things next to the walls. If you bag the room there is a whole lot less cleanup. Bag the entire room.

Here I overlapped the plastic over the doorway into the house. This allows access for stuff in the garage while this project is happening.

Scraping the ceiling works best with a 6 or 8” drywall mud knife at around a 30 degree angle. Push the knife away from you in a steady motion to remove the maximum amount of material as you go. Less sanding later. You can use a wider knife but you will get tired real quick. Take your time as if there are any nail pops your knife will catch on them. Here is a partway shot.

This house was taped using ‘tools’. these are expensive mechanical tools usually reserved for large commercial projects. There are two indicators. One is the same width on the seam and butt joints. The other is the straight lines over the nail holes.

You will have small gouges in the drywall that will be fixed with mud after you clean up the mess.

Next up will be filling the gouges, sanding and taping the joints.

Storage Project 4 Details - Long Post

At the beginning of the Storage Project I said, “What I am going to do is to open this side of this wall, remove the pocket door and frame in the opening, remove the short wall between the existing opening and the new wall creating a long storage room. I will wire it for cable, network and electricity for future uses.”
This is standard stuff and sounds easy. If you do this for a living it is. If you are just starting with a small project around your house, here are some of the drywall detail work to help you conquer your projects.

I have mentioned that I screw drywall. After you have bought the basic drill, circular saw, and hand tools, you very next purchase should be a screwgun. Screws work better for holding drywall. A screwgun has an adjustable nose so you can set depth of your screws just below the surface. This is important because of the design of drywall screws and the ability of them to hold the drywall to the walls without popping.
You cannot use a regular drill and get a consistent depth for maximum holding power by hand. You will be either not deep enough requiring you to use a screw driver to get them deep enough or you will go to deep past the paper making the screw useless in terms of holding power. Trust me on this one.

Here are a few of the details on this project.
Wall Fix.
This is the wall where we removed the small wall that formed part of the old storage closet.

The ceiling is how they hung the drywall just over the top plate. You can barely make out the mesh tape I have bridged the gap with. The wall was a little different. I cut a line into the inside of all the corners before removing the old drywall, to prevent the walls from running. After I removed the old drywall and studs, I used a 4” mud knife and slid it along the wall cutting into the leftover corner material before filling in the gap left by the old studs. I screwed the drywall to the blocking that was in the wall that they used to build this wall. I meshed taped both seams. This will be filled with speed set. I use speed set for pre fill as it dries quickly and shrinks very little requiring much less labor to blend. (That comes later when I skim coat) Also I can add less water to produce a stiffer mix to fill these gaps without runs or bulges.

Ceiling Outlet Repair

This is a typical ceiling outlet hole.  This is made by using a circle cutter and then bashing it open with a drywall hammer. When you are hanging footage, it takes 5 seconds to bash the hole, and up to 30 seconds to use a keyhole saw. Bashing the hole this way breaks the core of the back side of the drywall, which you remove by sweeping it with the hatchet side of your drywall hammer. You should take the time to cut these out with a keyhole saw.

I mention this because if you have small pot lights or retro fit ceiling cans, that keeping falling down or loosening up, this is the reason. There is not enough material around the sides to allow the clamps to hold it tight to the ceiling. You can loosen the clamps, rotate the light and hope you get lucky, or remove the light and build up the top of the sheet with compound. It doesn’t work very well in most cases.

Squaring the hole.

Just like it sounds. Cut a square scrap of drywall, cover the hole, trace around it, and cut it with keyhole saw.


Install blocking above your hole. This is a scrap lumber that is long enough to extend beyond the cut line and narrow enough so that you can hold it tight while you screw it in place. The point here is to repair the area and keep it flat. On walls you can use the “tapeless drywall patch technique” But on ceilings I recommend blocking.


Screw in the block that you used as a template for cutting the hole.

Mesh tape and you are ready for mud.

Here is a wall patch. This was an exploratory hole for a cable run into the dining room. Measurements get you only so far, Sometimes you just have to perform surgery. Here also I used blocking rather than a tapeless patch which is really much better on smooth walls.

Here is our hole covered before skim coating.

Here is another patch. This is actually a twofer. When I disconnected this outlet, it turned out not to stop here but was also connected to the porch light. So I had to cut it open both top and bottom to trace the wiring. I wire nutted the connections, pushed them in the box, and will be covering this with blank cover plate.

Never !Ever! bury  a box that contains live circuits. It is against code, and if there is ever any problem, you or your electrician will thank me.

Note that I covered the box opening with blue tape. This prevents filling the box with mud as you work. This saves time and aggravation when it comes time to  install outlets,switches,  and cover plates.

It makes taping easier not having to worry about crap in the box or loose wires sticking out, live or not.

Drywall over Concrete
This is the west end of the storage area. On the left and back is the concrete block that forms part of the veranda in front and the garage wall.

Here we use drywall with heavy adhesive(PowerGrab) on the back and use short spiral shank concrete nails to hold it in place while the glue sets. Here is the intrepid client lending a hand.

In the photo below on the right side, the brown area is where we did not cut the inside corner deep enough  so when we pulled the drywall down, the top ran, taking the paint and texture off. This will have to be pre-filled before skimcoating.

The walls are taped and covered coated prior to skim coating the walls smooth. Because there is so much patching, skim coating is the best wall treatment.

Skim Coating
Because of depth of texture multiple coats of mud will be needed. This is the first coat applied vertically. The second coat should be applied horizontally, and the final coat, with vertically. I used speed set for the fill coats and Dust Control mud for the final coat. Because you have to sand it smooth eventually:)

Second Coat.

Sanded and Primed

Not everything goes according to plan. In finishing up one last connection in the attic, which is another whole post. Suffice to say , in arizona the shortest distance for wiring is anywhere you want.

Attics are dark dusty, and slippery.

One small step for mankind, one more repair for the taper.

Here we installed blocking between the ceiling joists, and screwed through the joists into the blocks with 3” screws, because folks will step on any thing that looks solid. So screw up the drywall, tape over the cracks, and skim over it.

The repaired area is in the middle of the ceiling over the end light. Came out okay.

These are some of the most common challenges you may face in remodeling, but hopefully not all at the same time or in the same room.

Storage Project 3

In our last exciting episode we had done the demo, framed the new walls, filled in the old pocket door area, ran wiring for CATV, network, and electric.

Here is the inside of the new storage area. This is looking east.

On the left side is the pocket door opening and the new doorway framing. The door in the center of the photo leads into the house. Note the switch and push button on the left side of the door. They are the garage light and the garage door opener. Moving right, is the original wall. the two wires on it are the CATV and Network cables for the dining room.

Note the two electric boxes on the right side  wall. We removed the outlets and are covering them with blank cover plates. As it turned out, the boxes were also a feed for outlets further in the house. So after tracking and reconnecting the necessary wires we will be using blank cover plates.

Tip. If you are removing outlets or switches and not removing the boxes, Do Not Bury Them!! Wire nut  whatever connections are necessary and use blank cover plates. Make a note with a sharpie on the back explaining what they fed or/are feeding.

Moving toward the right is a dark vertical line. This is where we removed the stud on the short wall. Further right are the horizontal lines left from the shelving in the old storage room. Also note the drywall stops there and the concrete block continues. This marks the end of the house framing and the concrete block formed a wing for the front porch.

Here is the west view. On the left is our dining room wall and beyond it the concrete block wall which also turns the corner and becomes one of the garage walls.

We will be dry walling the block, patching the drywall, and skim coating the inside.  It is about half new sheetrock and half old wall with a relatively heavy texture. It is a judgment call. I can skim coat much faster than I can texture so that is the way we will go.

We have run our wiring, marked the location of the studs on the floor and ceiling,(this is so you know where to screw your drywall) and are insulating the wall. This will act as not only an energy feature but also sound control.

Drywall is up.
Here is the west garage wall where the pocket door was. Note that the right side does not extend into the storage cabinets on the right side. This is by design. It is much easier to float the mud this way and get a smooth wall.

Here is the east garage wall with the door installed. On the left are the garage light switch and the door button. In the center of the photo are two outlet boxes on top of each other. the bottom is the outlet, the top is the network and cable for the flat screen TV when this becomes a play room or man cave. In doing these projects, I always cover the outlet boxes with tape before drywall. This keeps mud and dust out of the boxes, and makes installing outlets and switches much easier if you are not excavating the boxes and the screw holes.

The new storage area.
This is looking east toward the house. The blue tape on the trim will prevent extra labor when taping and skimming that wall. The box above the new door is one of three for new energy saving florescent lights. All the flat joints are mesh tape and the corners are paper tape. The first coat is done with 90 minute ‘speed set’.

This is looking west. We have covered the block wall with drywall fastened with PowerGrab adhesive and short spiral shank masonry nails to hold the drywall as the adhesive sets.

Next post I will show some of the details of blending old and new work.

USG Dust Control Mud Coupon

dcmudTaping drywall is an art as well as one of the messiest procedures in remodeling. I have mentioned USG products before including their Dust Control Mud. It has its own website.

This is probably the greatest stuff for the home remodeler since the blue and orange stores.
I really wished they had this stuff years ago.

They have a coupon on their website.

Toxic Drywall

As the Chinese Drywall mess continues, CBS News is reporting that there may be problems with American drywall.

Homeowners Charge U.S. Made Toxic Drywall

The Consumer Product Safety Commission has received more than 2,000 complaints to date. The agency recently released details on 44 of them under the heading “imported drywall.” But CBS News discovered that 10 of the cases – nearly a quarter – actually involve drywall made in the United States.
Source CBS News Online

Here is a video

Chinese Drywall Update Nov 2009

There is growing evidence that the Chinese Drywall Hazards are becoming more definitive. A Nov Press release[PDF] from the Consumer Product Safety Commission, is showing that the ongoing investigation is tending toward proving the health hazards of this drywall.

While the Commission is not concluding this drywall as the culprit, the New Your Times reports:

The commission has sent a letter to the Internal Revenue Service asking that the service allow homeowners to deduct drywall-related costs as a casualty loss on their federal income tax returns.
Source NYT

For homeowners this may be bittersweet news, as insurance companies are already denying claims, and doing a ‘to the studs’ demo including the electric, plumbing and HVAC is gonna be expensive for those builders still in the market, impossible for those who have already gone bankrupt, and will have folks tied up in court for a long time.

Flat Screen TV Install Episode 2

One of the objectives is to de-clutter the viewing area for the new flat screen. Behind the old TV was this.
Cables everwhere
Here is the rats nest of old cable, new cable, surround sound cables, connectors for the old vcr and splitters.

After demoing the box on the closet side, I reused the lumber to create the new wall on this side. I used the bracket to locate the 2- 2 1/2” holes for the various cables to pass through. The new TV has the connectors on the right, but in the case they replace this TV they have the ability to hide the cables regardless of which side the TV connects.

I may have mentioned before that remodeling is never as easy as the plan. You know, demo the closet, build a wall, mount the TV, build some shelves. Well the demo brought up a surprise with the outlet that had been supplying power to the old TV. There was a standard piece of 12/2 romex as expected for the end of a circuit. There was also a piece of 12/3 romex that terminated in the box. Somebody had wired 1/2 of the plug on one circuit and the other half was a different circuit, both fed from the same breaker.

But Wait! There’s More! Not only were there two circuits in this box, but the outlets, lights and fans in the viewing room were also on the same circuit. This led to computers eating power supplies, fans shutting down computers and other interesting effects.
Code? Code is not even in the same county!
A call to Joe the Electrician brought him out to straighten out this mess. We now have a dedicated circuit for the computers, a separate lighting and fan circuit, and a circuit for the TV.
We are moving on.