Cleaning and prefilling large cracks. After this step, apply mesh tape to the cracks.

Covering mesh with plaster.
There are some factors that I’ve used in assessing projects that I’d like to share. I call it the “P.A.T.C.H. System,” and it is made up of the following five factors: 1. P = Problem. Find out the problem, the extent of it and then start looking for what caused the damage. Is it a leaky roof? Is it ice damming? Was it a sudden tub overflow? Or has the problem been an ongoing one, something that has been leaking for years? Is it settling that is causing the problem, the cracks, the nail pops? Could it be vibration, especially where a neighborhood was very quiet and now a major highway has been put through, or the streets are now being used for heavy equipment and higher traffic volume, thus more noise and vibration cracks appearing? Is the problem new lumber that is warping and now putting stress on certain parts of the walls or ceilings? 2. A = Approach. I’m talking about how to deal with the problem. There may be several approaches, ways to deal with the problem and come to a satisfactory conclusion. The approach will depend on individual style and materials available, as well as the type and/or quality of the finished job. 3. T = Time. How much time does a project really take? Is there a timetable that can be established to determine if you’re making good time? How can you look at a project and figure how much time is involved? I’ll bring out different tips that I use in calculating hours and days. 4. C = Cost. How much do you charge? How do you come up with the figures? Do you charge by the hour, by the day or by the project? How do you ensure you will be paid? Do you figure materials and labor separately, and if so, why? 5. H = How. How was it put back together? Some other “how” factors to consider for future reference includes the following: How did I get the job? How did the customer hear about me? Was it radio, yard sign, Yellow Pages advertising, word of mouth? How much material was used? How did the project go (including were there any surprises)? How did the entire project turn out in the end? How was payment made?

After a second coat of is applied, use a wet sponge to smooth out the plaster.

Repair of the month: cracks and holes

Let’s put the five factors mentioned into action right away. This month, I’m including some pictures (taken by my oldest daughter, Miranda, I might add!) of a repair project that had quite a few cracks and a few holes. P: Problem. First question: What’s the problem and what’s the cause (see picture #1)? This was a second-floor bedroom. Two things were apparent to me right away. First, someone had done some foundation work and had jacked up a corner of the room. Second, the outside coat of plaster—the finish coat—was very hard and brittle. I concluded that much of the cracking was from the stress put on the thin finish coat when the jacking up of the corner was done. A: Approach. I am finding a very effective approach to problems like this. Instead of giving the homeowner a “one-price” deal on doing the repairs, I am giving him or her at least two options. This cuts down on the amount of rejections of proposals significantly. Everybody likes a choice. Option #1: This is what I describe as the “minimum daily requirement,” the least that I would feel comfortable doing and still walking away knowing I did a quality job. The first option is usually the most inexpensive way of dealing with the problem. In this case, I outlined what would have to be done: bonding the areas around the cracks, removing loose plaster, stabilizing the wall in areas where this would be necessary, and repairing the cracks and blending them into the existing smooth walls. Option #2: The second option is the more expensive. It involves doing a complete resurfacing of the walls and ceiling areas. Bonder is applied over all surfaces. A basecoat is then applied over the entire room with a heavy mesh being embedded into the wet plaster. When this sets up, a smooth coat is applied over it for the finished, ready-to-paint surface. T: Time: To complete option number one, I figured it would take me about a day and a half. I work alone, so I do all the prep work, mixing, plastering and clean up. If I were to resurface this whole room (and since it’s in the town where I live), I’d come over in the afternoon and put the drops down, roll the bonder on the walls and cut the mesh so it was ready for the walls and ceilings. I’d bring up all the material and get ready for mixing, including getting the water ready in buckets. I’d come back and hit it hard the next day, starting around 7 in the morning and probably completing it around 4 o’clock that afternoon. However, the homeowner chose the first option. He wanted to just repair the cracks that were obvious. Now, here’s a hint: If ever someone goes this route, make sure and have him or her outline with a pencil the cracks he or she wants repaired. You should also take a picture of this and here’s why: I have had the unpleasant experience, after getting all done, where the homeowner comes in and says, “Oh, by the way, you missed a few cracks!” Let the homeowner know ahead that whenever the larger cracks are fixed, the smaller ones that are left behind have a tendency to grow and look larger. That’s why in most cases, resurfacing works the best. I figured this project, troubleshooting the cracks, would take close to a day. C: Cost: The cost on the entire room would be different from just repairing it. This time, let’s stick to the cost of repairing it. The material cost is very small for surface repairs, cracks and small holes. Total cost for material here is probably in the range of about $20-$25. That’s your cost. Now let me add something else before I reveal the pricing I charged. This homeowner is a landlord in our town. This was the first time I worked for him, so I wanted him to be able to see my work. What is that worth? I like to always look long term. If you let customers know you’re looking for the long relationship, it has a tendency to make for a very calm and friendly atmosphere all the way around.

Let's make a deal

I like to think, “How much would I be willing to spend to get a customer like this? How much advertising money does it take me to acquire a hot prospect, someone who could bring me a lot of work?” Sometimes we throw tons of money into Yellow Pages ads, maybe several hundred dollars a month. What is the acquisition cost per customer? If you spend $200 a month on the ads and get 10 customers, you’ve just paid 20 bucks for that job. I’ve never had great success from such ads. Anyway, back to the room. I told him I usually charge $750 per day. However, I would like to have him see the work I do and I’d be willing to make him a deal. I’d do the work for $525. He agreed. H: How did it turn out? The work took me about six hours total. Later, I was also able to do two more rooms and a hallway for him at a higher price. He was comfortable and confident with my work and so pricing was no longer the most important thing on his mind. How did he find out about me in the first place? I use yard signs to attract business and he saw one. In this case, it turned out to be a very valuable yard sign! Now, let’s look at the picture gallery and review some of the steps I did on this project. On the cracks that were very fine, I simply flat-taped them, meaning I applied the mesh directly over them and then applied the plaster over them. For the larger cracks (picture #2) I clean them out and then prefill them. Then the mesh tape is applied over them (picture #3). Picture #4 shows me covering the mesh with about a trowels-width of plaster. Picture #5 shows me doubling back and adding a second coat with the same mix. In picture #6, I use a wet sponge to smooth out the setting plaster. This method leaves no ridges or imperfections in the plaster, so in a few days this room will be ready to paint. I’d like to know what you think about this article. Send your letters to Plaster Man, in care of this magazine. Thanks again for your letters and as always, keep the quality high and the overhead low!