Recently, on my weekly radio show, I interviewed a man who I have admired for years, David Oreck, the vacuum- and air-cleaner inventor and sales person extraordinaire. He's 82 years old, still rides a Harley to work everyday and flies his vintage airplanes on a regular basis. He truly loves life. Though we talked about his products on the show, we focused mainly on what has happened-and is happening-in New Orleans, where the Oreck headquarters is located. He said the figure is in the range of 250,000 houses that have been destroyed. He went through World War II as a pilot and yet said he never has seen devastation as in New Orleans and along the coast in the south.

It was a moving interview, as one could tell clearly from his words that the loss experienced is something that is simply impossible to comprehend in a complete sense. One thing is certain: Putting things back together again in the South is going to take time. Many years, some estimate.

This opens up opportunities for us in the sense of either working on relief projects or on "for profit" rebuilding work (perhaps both). This brings up the topic for this and next month's columns on estimating.

Up to this point in the column, I have shared a lot of the technical points of plastering. Something new (and hopefully helpful) this year is to share more of the time, material and dollars involved in doing this work. I think this will add more details that are needed at this time-especially in talking about the money that can be made at this trade. Simply put, without money coming in, the best intentions of helping out with the relief work down south will remain that: just intentions. Making enough to cover the bills while away is key to helping everyone that relies on us while we're traveling and working.

It's also a great topic to talk about to try and get everyone on the same page. For years now, I have received letters, e-mails and talked personally with many readers of this magazine. One thing that strikes me is how cheap some plasterers are doing work for. To be blunt and right to the point, it's intolerable from my standpoint. The Dark Ages are over. It's high time for all of us to come into the light. And from here on out, I aim to do something about it (I invite you to write me on this subject as well, to let me know what you think and what you're doing to raise the standard as to what's charged for such important and wonderful work that you are doing in the field).

That being said, let's talk about what I consider the ground rules of estimating. For many, doing the actual plastering is much easier than sizing up exactly how to estimate a job or project and what to charge. In my workshops, I use an acronym to talk about the 8 points involved in putting an estimate together. These are principles I've used out in the field for years and that have worked better than fantastic. I used to use $750 per day as a number to get people interested in doing this type of work. However, those numbers have been smashed and more than doubled in the last year or so.


The minute I walk into a home, business or any other building, there are certain factors that I start thinking of immediately. These factors fall into eight different areas or categories. We'll start off with a few of them here and then continue with more of them in the next column.

#1: E = Extent. One of the first things that must be considered is the extent of the damage. Is it cosmetic or do things go deeper than we may think with the first glance? I was called in recently to look at a ceiling in a living room. The first look could have fooled some, as it looked like water damage. The ceiling paint was bulged down in small pockets and cracks were apparent in several places, with dark smudges showing around the edges of the cracks. However, upon closer review and inspection, it turned out to be a major case of termite damage. In the end, nearly half the ceiling was affected. One thing that helped in assessing the true situation was the use of a 500-watt halogen light. Natural light is great but to see things as they really are a powerful light is a key tool in making the right call. The extent also has to do with the initial feeling you get as to the condition of the area.

Some areas obviously have been under stress from water for some time. Others have simply had water intrusion from a rare water leak caused by an unusually strong storm or by winds that have driven the water inside. The existence of rusted metal lath or the dank smell of wet wood are indications that the extent of the damage are more than superficial.

The answer to "how extensive is it?" will help you start calculating one of the most important factors-the "deep" factor. How deep will you have to go? How much demolition and rebuilding will be involved? Will you simply have to touch up the slight imperfections caused by scrapes, scratches or dings? Is the basecoat sound and secure, and is this a case of removing and replacing damaged finish coat? Or are we talking something more extensive, calling for the replacement of base and finish coat, as well as the removal of rotten wood lath or rusted metal lath?

On rare occasions, the damage has penetrated into the joists and studs, and these must be removed and replaced. As you can tell, this first factor is a huge one in determining how you will proceed. It also will help you in putting together the numbers that will translate into the overall amount you will charge to do the job. Though there is much more to say on this topic, we'll conclude this first point with the rule of thumb that is good to use for every project: The more extensive, the more expensive.

#2: S = Surface: This second point ties in closely with the first. However, instead of how deep, it has more to do with the surface-how wide an area is affected. With termite damage for instance, you may at first think the area is quite small that is affected. However, after looking closer, you find that it keeps going and may cover the entire surface of the ceiling or wall. Remember their goal: Eat the paper layer of the drywall that is between the gypsum board and the paint, or between the gypsum board and the plaster that has been applied over it. The surface may appear strong, until you apply pressure with your thumb or a margin trowel. Suddenly, whole areas give way, as if the whole surface is a brittle eggshell. Missing the cause of the damage can mean misdiagnosing the solution or how much surface is going to need repair work done to it.

Besides termites, other questions can be asked: Are there cracks that are isolated to one or two on a ceiling or is the entire surface affected by cracks and loose plaster? Will patching or repairing a hole or two suffice or is a resurfacing of the entire ceiling or wall in order?

My rule of thumb for ceilings is that if more than a third of the surface is affected and in need of repair, I usually recommend a resurfacing of the entire ceiling or wall. This is especially the case when the surface is plagued by cracks. Often, the cracks are settling cracks and pose no danger (the plaster is not loose or going to come crashing down).

In the next column, we'll continue with the third point, time.

In the coming months, we will look at past projects I've written about, as well as many new ones. These will focus specifically on repair and resurfacing projects. One many of these I talked mostly on how things were put back together. From here on out we'll go into more details. Until then, Plaster On!

If you read this article, please circle number 173.