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home maintenance and dealing with water damage

Red Flags in Your Home

Maintaining the structure and appearance of your home is important not only because your quality of life is directly linked to the state of your home, but also because you are taking a risk when you fail to address your red flags.  In this article (the first of 2), we will show you how to recognize and triage key red flags. 

If you address minor issues when they appear, you will save a lot of money in the long run. You may also prevent health side effects, especially when water damage turns into insect infestation or mold! Listed below are the water-related red flags to take action on: they could be harmless or a major issue: better to know and fix it before the problem gets more serious (and expensive)!

water damage in bathroom wall

Rust coming through the wall is a sign of water damage

1. Bubbling paint could be a sign of a serious leak, where moisture is dripping behind a wall. The fix depends on the source: for example if ice damming is occurring on your roof then there’s no sense repairing a wall until the source of the damage is fixed. There could be a leaky drain or wet line from the floor above: the solution for that would be to cut out the damaged area, access and fix the source of the leak and then replace the affected drywall and repair the wall completely. 

2. Foul or unpleasant smell – can point to a sewage leak or pipes that are not plumbed, trapped, or vented properly. For this, the floor may need to be excavated to access the drain, and new plumbing installed).

3. Damp smell, mould, mildew – you may think these are harmless but they can only get worse over time – moisture issues do not go away by themselves. whether its water leaching into your foundation or plumbing ventilation or drain leak issue if the odour is coming from under a cupboard or under a sink. If a leak has been present for any length of time, construction materials such as drywall or framing may be rotted and need to be replaced.

4. Buckling tiles or floor boards in a basement can indicate moisture/dampness underfoot. If this is happening in a finished basement, there is likely a crack in the foundation. Excavation on the exterior of the foundation is required to fix this, followed by polyurethane injection, tar and blueskin application.  

5. Floor Stains around showers, toilet or vanity point to a plumbing issue. Once the plumbing issue is ameliorated there is still the issue of water damage in the construction materials. Finishes and subfloor may need to be replaced, depending on the level of degradation.

6. Discoloured ceiling or wall or rotten carpet: as above, the fix depends on the source of damage. Water and most interior and structural construction materials don’t mix. The trickle of water from a leaky roof or window over time can rot away structural wood members. Proper flashing placement and caulking are half the battle when preventing water infiltration.

Wall and ceiling board can be replaced quite easily. A small leak onto  a carpet on the other hand must be caught and dried quickly. If left unchecked, it can turn to a mold farm very quickly. Mold is a major health hazard for your family. 

7. Carpenter Ants Outside – if you see one, you can be sure there are thousands more where he came from. Carpenter Ants like to live in places where there is darkness and moisture. If the ants are found around your garage or shed, there could be a leaky hose causing the wood in the joists to rot. This is a perfect home for ants. The fix is to stop the leak and replace the damaged timber. 

Carpenter Ant Damage

This moulding was damaged by Carpenter Ants - Fine Finish to the rescue!

If other types of ants are spotted inside, they are looking for one thing: food. They come in through a crack around your window or door usually. The solution could be as simple as a little caulking replacement. 

FineFinish Cartoon - crop knee

Different Types of Contractors – What’s the Difference?

Tradesman, skilled labourer, builder, general contractor, commercial contractor, craftsman, handyman, what’s the difference between all these types of contractors? It’s valuable to know, so you can make the best choice, when selecting a company to work in and on your home.

FineFinish Cartoon - full

There are two main categories of contractors:  Commercial and Residential. 

A commercial contractor usually takes on medium or large commercial projects and they are chosen through a tender and bidding process which is overseen by governing bodies. Price is generally the main factor that decides which company is hired to complete the project. It is also slightly political and business relationships are very important between contracting companies and development businesses who oversee hundreds or thousands of projects.  Most commercial contractors are incorporated and hire labour that is unionized. The nature of union work is that workers must qualify through achieving different certifications and once they are hired, their hourly wage is dependent on seniority and experience level. They do exactly what they are asked to do and no more. They clock in and clock out and they are fairly reliable, however don’t care much about the quality of their work, as long as it meets minimum standards.

Residential contractors come in all shapes and sizes, and pricing is not always the best way to determine who does the best work.  Many homeowners want to pay the cheapest amount possible with their after-tax dollars, but they have trouble determining the best company to hire.

  • Tradesman have gone through an apprenticeship program with a certain number of hours to complete. These are businesses that specialize in a specific trade: eg. electrician, HVAC, plumber, plasterer, drywaller, concrete rebar setter, tile setter;
  • Skilled labourers don’t generally run their own business, but they are hired by companies for their basic skill set;
  • Builders are companies that organize new-build projects for homeowners and small business. They must hold a builder’s license from Tarion;
  • A general contractor is not a builder. They do all the same things as a builder, but only for accessory structures like additions, garages or cabanas: not new-build homes. Generally they are the ones who will oversee a renovation project. They have their own skilled labourer employees, and long-term trusting relationships with subcontracted tradesmen. As with any small business, there are differing standards of customer service provided: some are excellent communicators and organized with documents and invoicing, and others are not as organized. You get a good feel for their standards when you first meet them in person for your initial interview;
  • A handyman generally takes on small jobs that a general contractor won’t do. Their skill level is usually low and their costs reflect that skill level.  There are some highly competent handymen and their reputation is what keeps them busy. A handyman who has lots of availability is probably not the one you want to hire;
  • A craftsman is a skilled tradesman who has achieved mastery in their chosen field, such as carpentry, plaster work, tile setting, or artisan painters.

If you hire a handyman or general contractor who is not a skilled framer/drywaller or plasterer himself, then he should subcontract that work out to an expert. Any contractor who lacks knowledge because they have not been properly trained does not know the difference between low quality and high quality work.

Some of the results you will see that result from low quality work:

  • Walls that are not plumb (straight on the vertical plane);
  • Walls that are not level (straight on the horizontal plane);
  • Inconsistent finishes that include plaster and paint will be easily noticed;
  • Low quality framing often causes undulations in the walls from crowns and bows;
  • Improperly filled joints cause visible joints on both trim and drywall: joints should be seamless.
Plaster Cornice Sample with Lighting

Modern Plaster Mouldings – What Are They Made Of?

Gone are the days when cornice and crown ceiling mouldings are constructed of pure plaster. The material is very heavy and difficult to repair if damaged. There are companies who say wood is best because it is lightweight and easily carved. The problem with wood (pure wood or MDF) is that it always splits and cracks within one to two years because of temperature and humidity changes in the typical Canadian home.

Then there are PVC mouldings, which are made through injection, requiring the use of moulds. Like wood, the selection is limited to flat and shallow profiles to save on costs. The only way to achieve a detailed design would have to be done by layering and nailing sections together. These would eventually split due to environmental factors. Also PVC is plastic, and it looks like plastic. (It fits well in certain situations such as vinyl siding exteriors but if your façade is, for example, brick, you may want to consider our mouldings that are authentic in finish and a genuine fit on any exterior.)

Perfect Plaster Cornice Sample Laser Line - Fine Finish Wall Systems Bradford
Plaster Mouldings

Installation of PVC mouldings also requires consideration of expansion and contraction due to shifts in temperature. Manufacturers recommended leaving a 1/8” gap over 18’ spans which are then filled with caulking, leaving a visible seam.

Considering the deficiencies and drawbacks of plaster, wood and PVC, the modern solution to interior and exterior architectural mouldings is EPS – Expandable Polystyrene. For interior spaces, EPS is coated in plaster.

For exterior applications, the EPS is coated in a modified polymer cement rather than plaster.  EPS is a highly durable material used in a large number of consumer products. It is environmentally friendly not only for it’s long-lasting durability and heat-insulating qualities, but EPS has never contained CFCs, HCFCs, HFCs or formaldehyde – all of which are chemicals harmful to the environment. EPS is inert and stable and does not produce methane gas or contaminating leachates. The extrusion process allows the manufacturer to create any detail and any size in one piece with no seams at an economical price point.

Because EPS mouldings are a custom product, the exact profile needed is what is produced and installed: any shape is possible! Homeowners can choose their profile from a catalogue, but if a specific profile is required, or a match to something already in your home is required, it is a simple process. A computer software automates a heated wire to cut the exact profile out of a block of EPS, which is already in its final state of hardness.

Here s a great video of the extrusion process used.

An added bonus is that once complete, EPS mouldings do not require the use of nails for installation, so the final finish will be much more consistent with no holes to patch. Ultimately, their integrity and durability are second to none and literally require no maintenance for the life of the product. We have one client who had his plaster cornice installed in 2009 (10 years ago) and we call him back every year – it’s like a running joke now, that he has “nothing to report”. He is one of our happiest customers.

If an EPS plaster moulding is damaged (from water or structural shifting or impact), then repair is easy and seamless. We simply cut out the affected area, get the profile matched, triple-coat it, wet-sand and re-paint. Voila!

It takes a skilled craftsman to install EPS mouldings properly, where the proper substrate and moisture barrier are implemented, and expert application of the finish coats. Learn more about our professional service.

healthy family home

Does Your Ceiling Contain Asbestos?

Dealing with Asbestos Properly

It is a little-known fact that the material used by builders to produce the stippled look for ceilings sometimes contains asbestos, a very hazardous material with serious potential health consequences.

Asbestos is most hazardous when it is friable: meaning it is actively releasing its fibers into the air. Sprayed-on asbestos insulation and ceiling stipple are highly friable, but asbestos floor tile is not. Damage and deterioration will increase the friability of asbestos-containing materials. Water damage, continual vibration, aging, and physical impact such as drilling, grinding, buffing, cutting, sawing, or striking can break the materials down, making fiber release more likely.

Because it is so hard to destroy asbestos fibers, the body cannot break them down or remove them once they are lodged in lung or body tissues. The fibers remain in place where they can cause disease (Asbestosis, Lung Cancer and Mesothelioma are the diseases mostly commonly associated with exposure to Asbestos fibers).

At Fine Finish Wall Systems, we care about health and safety. We think it’s important that homeowners know about the health risks of the materials used to build their home. Because of demand, we now offer Asbestos testing for your ceiling, through an accredited laboratory that will tell you if your stippled ceilings contain asbestos. Results can be collected in as little as 24 hours.

If we discover asbestos in your ceiling then we will not sand it down, due to the health risk. Instead we will seal the ceiling and apply a level 5 plaster system directly over it. This is an advanced technique.


Asbestos Lab Testing Cost: This includes collection of sample, delivery to lab, emailed report.
5-day turnaround $250
24-hour turnaround $450

FineFinish Drywall for Ceiling

Installing Drywall the Professional Way

Homeowners and handymen are often under the false impression that drywall installation is the simplest part of a basement renovation. It seems almost as easy as LEGO!  Once the framing is up, simply screw in the wall boards to cover the entire surface and voilà, on to taping!

…. Well sorry to say, but actually proper drywall/sheetrock installation involves some strategy to get the best result. 

It’s very important to consider the end product. A wall system that will stay straight and smooth for decades. You don’t ever want to have to go back and fix a wall that’s cracking or warping, so you better just do it right in the first place.

The way the sheetrock is installed has a direct impact on the integrity of the entire finished product. 

Professional Drywall Installation
Staggered drywall joints strengthen the integrity of a wall system.

First of all, the boards should be staggered so that the “butt joints” in one row do not match up with the “butt joints” in the next row. Next, it’s important to install horizontally rather than vertically. Next, drywall sheets must always span doors and windows: this fortifies the wall or ceiling strong and minimizes potential for cracks.

Think about it: a taped joint inevitably creates a small section that is weaker than the surrounding drywall. So if the butt joints are aligned, then it increases the length of each of these weak points. If a crack starts along an improperly installed joint, it will meet little resistance until it reaches the other end. This is the cause of one of the worst eyesores in a home next to water stains.

Staggering butt joints is clearly a more difficult and time-consuming method for installing drywall. This practice requires more measuring and cutting and it creates more T-shaped seams, which are more difficult to finish than non-staggered joints.  

In the end, you will get what you pay for. Inexperienced contractors will quote you a low price because they need your work, and that’s the only way they are likely to be hired. Call the professionals: at Fine Finish Wall Systems we are classically trained master plasterers who take pride in our work.

stipple ceiling water damage

Homeowner Beware! 3 Ways NOT to Repair Your Damaged Ceiling

Water Damage in a Stipple Ceiling

We get it – spending money to repair your ceiling is not sexy or even interesting. Most homeowners want to spend the bare minimum, when it comes to home repairs and maintenance. They’d rather spend money to put up cornice moulding, or perhaps install some built-in cabinets to increase visual appeal and enjoyment of their living space.

Unscrupulous contractors with little experience or training know they can profit from this fact. They will take advantage of this situation and propose a “quick solution” that will in the end come back to bite the naïve homeowner.

Here are 3 “quick fix solutions” that homeowners often fall for. If a contractor suggests any of these, run the other way!

1. Applying drywall directly over top of a stipple ceiling application is dangerous, lazy and improper. This is due to the fact that the contractor doesn’t know what they are screwing into.  In order to execute this,  a minimum 2” screw is needed. If the contractor misses the stud with just one screw and there is a rogue electrical or gas line in the joist cavity (run improperly by a homeowner or lazy/improperly trained contractor), then there is a real risk of driving the screw into that rogue line – resulting in a gas leak, explosion or even a fire via electrical arcing that causes sparks in the ceiling that will ignite dry timber/debris in the hoist cavity.

2. Re-spraying an existing damaged area. This procedure involves scraping off the damaged or stained area of stipple, skim-coating the area and then trying to re-spray stipple on that affected area only, hoping to blend that with the rest of the ceiling using tape lines and sponge techniques. This is practically impossible to do well because the contractor doesn’t know what type of stipple was used for the original application, what nozzle tip was used on the gun for the spray application, nor the consistency of the original stipple mix. The end result is improper blending.

3. Re-spraying the entire ceiling with new stipple over the old stipple. If the stipple was unpainted and you try to mask the damaged area that’s now either missing stipple or has been water damaged, by respraying over the entire ceiling just to mask the damaged area, then the new stipple will activate the old, being that both are water based, the ceiling will start to blister and fall off in big chunks. If the original stipple ceiling was painted, then you’re not going to get proper adhesion on the oil-based paint on the existing ceiling.

As soon as it starts to dry out, it will flake and pop and fall off in little bits and pieces. By the time all this has taken place the contractor is long gone and good luck getting him to come back and correct it. You don’t really want that, do you? Of course not. 

The only proper way to deal with any type of ceiling water damage is to scrape and smooth the entire area, replace the affected drywall or rip down the entire ceiling and apply new drywall. It costs a little more, but it will last for years.

Ultimately, you get what you pay for, when you hire a quality master plaster applicator from Fine Finish. Request your free estimate today

5 Reasons to Smooth Your Ceilings

Valuable Information for Homeowners

ceiling stipple arguement
Many couples are conflicted over whether to smooth out their stipple ceilings.

Couples are divided on the topic of whether to smooth out their ceiling stipple, technical term is “vermiculite” (often referred to as Popcorn Ceilings) in their home. This article provides facts to inform your decision on whether to leave your stipple ceilings alone, or to smooth them out.

What is popcorn ceiling made of? 

You can’t address an project properly without first understanding what you are dealing with. The “popcorn” ceiling mixture can be made of a number of different materials. Some ceilings are made of styrofoam, some are cardboard based and others are made from a naturally occurring mineral known as vermiculite. While vermiculite is not the same as asbestos, it does OFTEN contain it. So proper precautions and remediation equipment should always be used.   

One point to consider is that hardly anyone ever chooses to add stipple to a smooth ceiling. Stippled ceilings are basically a builder’s shortcut to hide imperfections in their plasterwork, and that is common knowledge. The question then becomes “can I live with this look, or is the alternative worth the investment?” 

Here are the top five reasons people choose to smooth their ceilings:

1. Smooth ceilings are a home upgrade. Did you know that smooth ceilings increase the value of your home? Ceiling stipple makes your home look dated.

2. Smooth ceilings add visual height and spaciousness to rooms and hallways. In contrast, stippled or textured ceilings draws your focus to the texture, making the room seem smaller.

3. Spaces with smooth ceilings maximize the light. A flat surface reflects light and an irregular surface,such as stipple, under the same light sheer will cast thousands of tiny shadows on your ceiling lending to a dark and dingy appearance and feel, no matter if it is ambient or directional light.

4. Aesthetically, a smooth ceiling is less visually distracting, busy and induces a general feeling of calm.

5. Air Quality and room cleanliness are a concern for 50% of homeowners with unpainted stippled ceilings.  Stipple is porous and holds a lot of dust and pet or smoke odour, and as mentioned before, the stipple itself COULD contain asbestos. Finally, unpainted stippled ceilings are “live” systems and continuously shedding dust particles “dandruff” which have been linked to respiratory problems in young children and the elderly. Also stipple becomes discoloured over time.

We hope that this information is useful for you. If you are ready to get an estimate to smooth out your ceilings, contact Fine Finish Wall Systems, certified Master Plasterers. 

Woodpecker in stucco

Dealing with Nesting Birds in your Exterior Wall System

Woodpeckers will create holes in your wall system to look for food.

Woodpeckers are always looking for food, and they will peck a hole in your exterior stucco in the springtime. When they realize there are no worms or ants inside your wall, they will move on to another spot.

Small birds such as sparrows or swallows will spot the hole and go into the hole and pick the foam out, to build a nest inside the wall cavity. This hole will cause damage to  your entire elevation if not repaired.  This occurs due to water infiltration at the breach, saturating the foam. Come winter the water-logged system expands as it freezes and pushes the coatings away from the foam. This causes giant blisters and in some cases entire elevations to fail. If left unchecked these little holes can lead to major problems from substrate rot to interior water damage and mold.

There are 2 ways to fix holes in your stucco: 

The cheap fix  is to pump polyurethane into the hole, grind it back, add a mesh, base coat and finish coat. This patch will become thicker than the wall itself because it’s layers do not integrate with the underlying system. The result is a “bull’s eye” bulge, which will only last for 1 or 2 years, and you’ll be at risk for patch failure and further surface and potential structural damage.

The correct fix will cost anywhere from $250-$450 per hole, which is much cheaper than fixing an entire elevation (the eventual result of not doing anything or performing cheap fixes). We cut a 1’x1′ square and replace with new foam, a new moisture barrier if necessary, and then grind the finish coat back on existing wall about 3 inch apply a 5oz mesh, scratch coat and finally a finish coat. In the event the wall has been imprinted with carbon (pollution) or has been bleached by the sun, we guarantee a minimum 90% colour match or better. with the proper procedures followed.

Done properly the result  will be a seamless patch that will last the life of your wall system.