Building Confidence

Volume 17 Issue 7
ISSN 1923-7162

Welcome to Dave's Shop Talk's Home Improvement Newsletter of questions from our members on their construction projects, a Tip of the Month and a home remodeling article, both from our website at

Tip of the Month

Don't mix bleach with ammonia or household cleaners that contain ammonia such as Mr. Clean, Fantastic, Windex, etc, as it can make very toxic gasses. Read the label first if unsure.

And a Bonus Tip:

To remove stains on a stainless steel sink and restore its luster, use the product called Bar Keepers Friend, a powdered cleanser and polish. Wear gloves and form a paste right in the sink with a scour cloth, rinse with water and buff with a dry cloth. As always, follow the instructions on the label.

Ask Dave!

Dave, I hope you have some sage advise. I own a property in S Philly that was built about 1920. The upstairs bathroom was remodeled about 40 years ago and needs to be updated. Some of the floor tiles are cracked. This is a small bathroom in Philly style townhouse. Since the house was built, bathrooms have gone from small to large. There is no room in the house for a large bathroom but we can make it as large as possible. With careful measurements of the inside of the bathroom we discovered whoever remodeled the bathroom, all those years ago, literally built a bathroom inside a bathroom. Rather than cleaning the original tile out they erected walls over old tile and then added new tile. If we get back to the original plaster lath walls we can gain 2 inches on each side of the bathroom. An extra 4 inches in width will make a real difference. As for the floor, again tile on tile, if I add a third course of tile you will have to step up into the bathroom. So my question is: How best to remove the old tile and the old walls. Is a medium sized rotary drill / hammer with both a big and small chisel the best way to go? The next question is about the new walls once we get back to the original. In the rest of the house, the original plaster lath is somewhat cracked and brittle. I assume I should add cement board (or alike) over the tub area and mold proof drywall (3/8" thick) over the rest of the walls. Elsewhere in the house, where someone added drywall or paneling over the original plaster lath, they added strapping as nailing strips but this takes up 1/2" of space. Can I basically glue the new wall surface to the old walls? It would be nice if I had the budget to do everything absolutely right (as Holmes on homes would do) but I need to be frugal and some good quality compromise is needed. Thanks, Nick

Hi Nick,

Rather than a rotary drill/hammer, I would get an air chisel/hammer. Here is a link to Amazon, just to view what I'm talking about: air chisel/hammer.

I bought one similar to this and used it for knocking the top off some rotten rock, in my driveway. I paid about $30 for it at the time and figured the chisel would mushroom over. I was amazed that it stayed fairly sharp. You can rent a higher priced model as well, for about $50, so you may as well buy it!

I've done some renos on 120 year old houses with lath and plaster. On exterior walls I removed the lath and plaster so I could improve the insulation and add vapor barrier, as well as wiring and/or plumbing upgrades. Maybe keep that in mind. Also, be aware that when built these old houses used rough lumber as studs and joists. They would make it all nice and straight with the plaster coats. On the inside walls, I would leave the plaster, if it was in good shape - cracked, but secure. I never used the 3/8" drywall, always the 1/2" thick, with the water resistant type in bathrooms. If I was putting on ceramic tile as a tub surround I used cement board.

I would not glue drywall to the old surface, no matter how smooth it is. Fasten the new drywall over the existing plaster with drywall screws, long enough for the screws to penetrate the studs by 1". Screwing is more desirable than nailing to prevent cracking the plaster even more!

For the floor, if installing ceramic tile again, you need a thickness of floor of 1 1/4", that's 2 layers of 5/8" subfloor. Usually these old houses have thick floors - shiplap or solid boards + hardwood, built before plywood. Try to maintain this required thickness of 1 1/4".

When removing walls, do it gradually. You don't know what to expect, the new ceiling may be resting on the new walls. Remove the plaster and lath carefully before you take a sledge hammer to the studs.

Just take things easy and be aware of monsters in the walls - live wires, vent pipes leading to the soffits, instead of through the roof, etc.


My renovation project in my 1920's Philly town extends beyond the bathroom. All the floors will need to be replaced. For the first floor I am thinking of floating hardwood floors. However for the bedrooms, and maybe the kitchen, I may want to glue down premium vinyl or even cork. My question is about glue. I have done some glue down tile in my home. The glue they sell you is pressure activated as it has no organic vapors. Both jobs were small areas where getting a 200 lbs floor roller was difficult or impossible. (By the way, I don't own a floor roller.) I was told by the salesperson: "No problem, just take a piece of plywood and a 10 lbs hammer and hammer it in place, this will give you the needed pressure." The problem was within a year about 1/5 of the tiles had become unglued. Back to my question: renting and dragging a heavy floor roller up stairs does not work very well particularly if you don't want to damage the wood stairs. How do I glue down vinyl tile? Is there another way to set pressure glue or are there other glue systems I can buy? Thanks, Nick

I've never used pressure required glues. All glues were the contact type, but only applied to the floor using a notched trowel. I've installed cork tile on concrete and wood with this type of adhesive.

There is a vinyl type of laminate style flooring which is very easy to glue down. Clean and vacuum the floor then apply the glue, wait, then drop the tile in place. I have a small hand roller that I use for arborite plastic laminate which is helpful. This job, as with most, requires preparation work before the actual installation process. Use floor cement to even out wood and concrete floors. Re-nail or screw wooden floors down, if loose, shim and level, if needed. Sales people who sell these materials should also sell the proper glues and give you expert advice. Also, read the instructions on the label. There are lots of consumer products out there that are very easy to apply with well done instructions on each bundle.

Here's a tip: use heat to remove old glued on tiles, etc. There are special heat guns that look like hair dryers, but with a hotter heat.

All the best,


Feature Article of the Month

(taken from our website:

Electrical 3: Home Wiring Tips

VERY IMPORTANT! Before working on any electrical modifications of your home read the first article in this series: Electrical 1: Electrical Safety.


Lights and plugs (duplex receptacles) circuits are 15 amp # 14 wire and can have up to 12 plugs or lights combined. It is best to combine plugs and lights, then if the circuit blows, some lights are still left on another circuit, so you are not totally in the dark. When connecting lights and plugs, keep them polarized with the black wire going to the brass screw and the white wire connecting to the silver screw. Only one black and white wire per fixture. To carry on to another fixture use a short wire, called a pigtail, to connect back to the circuit wire by using a marrette, or wire nut. Don't connect another wire to the double screw in the plug or light receptacle.

GFCI Rules

All plug outlets within 118" of a tub or shower must be a GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter). All plug outlets within 118" of a wash basin must be GFCI. These first two do not apply to the washing machine or dryer plugs installed in a combined washroom, or bath and laundry room. All carport plugs must be GFCI.

All outdoor plugs are GFCI, except for the Christmas lights receptacle, in the soffit, if over 8' above the ground. All outdoor plugs should be on one circuit by themselves up to 12 plugs. Install the GFCI in the first receptacle from the panel, which will protect the entire circuit. Use only a 2 wire cable, a GFCI won't work with a 3 wire cable. Lights only, are not required to be protected by a GFCI.

Kitchen Plugs

Kitchen counter plugs are normally #14 - 3 wire 15 amp, split receptacle and should be within 36" of each other along the same counter. If the counter top is more than 12" wide it needs its own plug. These plugs are on a separate circuit, only 2 per circuit and not adjacent to each other.

A split receptacle is when the brass side of the receptacle is split, removing the tie between the two screws. Just twist it off with pliers. This creates two circuits - a black wire is attached to the one screw and a red to the other. The black and red wires are called the load and are directly attached to two separate breakers in the panel. The white wire is attached, as usual, to the silver screw with the tie left attached.

Notice on the panel the two main vertical bars on which the breakers are attached. Unless you shut off the main breaker, these are hot so don't touch them and hang onto the panel at the same time. Notice that the breakers attach to each of the bars alternatively.

When installing a double breaker for 220 volt or a split receptacle for two circuits, be sure to install the breaker so that the connections of the breaker attaches to alternate bars. Each bar is 110 volts. The black or red wire attaches to the breakers and the white wire attaches to the neutral bar obtaining 110 volts. For 220 volts the red and black are attached to opposite bars through the breaker without a neutral, the ground is attached to the ground or bonding bar.

In a dryer connection you need the red and black wires for the 220 volt element as well as the white for the neutral for 110 volt to run the motor and timers, light, etc. The 110 volt is obtained internally off the terminal block inside the dryer. 20 amp plugs are allowed in the kitchen, but must be wired with #12 wire and have a special 20 amp receptacle, only one 20 amp receptacle per circuit.


Receptacles around a room must be no further than 6' away, along a wall; most lamps, etc. have 6' cords. For these areas, don't count the swing of the door against a wall, windows that extend to the floor, fireplaces, or other permanent installations which limit the use of a wall.

All walls more than 36" need their own plugs. Bedroom plugs must now be protected with an arc-fault type breaker. A normal breaker will only trip with an overload, not a short. This new type will trip with both. Check this out in your area.

Hallways have their own rule, one plug within 15 ft of each other without going through a doorway.


Microwaves require their own circuit if installed in a built in cavity, or microwave shelf. These are 15 amp 14 wire. Otherwise, a counter plug will do.


Fridges should be on there own 15 amp, #14 wire circuit. A clock receptacle is also allowed on this same circuit.

Junction Boxes

No hiding junction boxes, they should always be accessible.

Protective Plates

Nail protective plates over any wire less than 1 1/4 inches from the stud surface.

Hot Tub

A hot tub needs its own circuit, which depends on the size of its motor and heater. Contact your dealer for this. A GFCI breaker is also required. The heater is usually 220 volt, possibly needing 2 circuits, if the motor is 120 volt.

Wire Size

Amperage in relation to wire size. A 15 amp circuit at 120 volts is 1800 watts and requires a #14 wire. A 20 amp circuit at 120 volts is 2400 watts and requires a #12 wire. A 30 amp circuit at 240 volts is 7200 watts and requires a #10 wire and a 40 amp circuit at 240 volts is 9600 watts and requires a #8 wire.

If not absolutely sure of what you are doing while wiring your house, hire an electrician. Don't put your family and property at risk.

Better safe than sorry.

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(Ask Dave) (About Dave)

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Hi, I'm Dave Osborne. With over 50 years experience as a journeyman carpenter, foreman and contractor in heavy construction I enjoyed working with apprentices and sharing the tricks of the trade that others shared with me. Now I get emails from Members all over the world and we include many of my answers in our Free Monthly Newsletters. Some of my answers include drawings and instructions specific to a project, but may also answer your questions. I use correct construction terminology, so you can confidently inform your building supply dealers or contractors exactly what you need.


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