A Little Auto Body Work

Add “spray paint the car” to the list of things I never thought I’d do, but have now done. The factory clear coat on my 7-year-old Honda has held up very well. Unfortunately, I was rear-ended a few years ago, and the aftermarket clear coat the body shop used is definitely worse for the wear – it’s peeled off completely in some areas.

I don’t care what my car looks like, and I definitely didn’t want to pay for these areas to be repainted. Nevertheless, I was starting to get a little worried that, without the protection from the clear coat, the paint would deteriorate and the metal would eventually be exposed, making it vulnerable to rust. I plan on keeping this car as long as possible, and rusted panels are not part of that plan. I decided that it was worth trying some DIY body work to make sure things don’t get worse. I’ve never tackled a project like this before, and I was a little embarrassed when I went to the local O’Reilly Auto Parts and asked about clear coat spray paint! I knew that there was no way I would get great results by spray-painting my car, but that wasn’t my goal. I just wanted to make sure the metal body panels were protected. If it was a total failure, I’d pretty much be back where I started – needing to get those areas repainted. I came home with Dupli-Color Protective Clear Coat Finish and some 2000-grit wet/dry sandpaper.

I used the sandpaper with water to remove as much of the chipped areas of the factor clear coat as possible, and to smooth the rough edge where the clear coat had flaked off. The sanding also helped rough up the existing paint and clear coat so the new spray-on clear coat would adhere better. The transition was quite a bit smoother when I was done sanding. On the right side of this photo you can see that the paint has deteriorated some and exposed the primer underneath.

I thoroughly rinsed everything with water to remove any sanding residue, then let the car air dry. Then I masked off the areas that I was going to spray with the clear coat. I decided to spray the entire section above the rear window, but only parts of the panel below it. Most of the clear coat on that panel was in good shape, and I didn’t want to spray the undamaged sections. I masked off these areas with about 1 to 1.5 inches of undamaged clear coating around them, so the new clear coat would totally cover the flaking edge area.

Before I started spraying, I wiped down the areas to be painted with mineral spirits to remove any residue, then with water, then let it dry again. Then I got to spraying. The Dupli-Color paint sprayed really evenly until it was nearly empty. I made sure to start spraying off to the side, then used a slow, even motion to apply thin coats. I sprayed my first coat on one of the sections too heavily and it started to slump. Fortunately, I was able to quickly wipe it off with mineral spirits and start over, but I learned my lesson – use thin coats to start!

I ended up spraying four thin coats and two moderately thick coats. I found that as the coating built up, I could apply a thicker layer without getting any slumping. I was very careful to try to keep the can moving constantly and steadily while I was spraying, so the coating would be as even as possible. I think that applying multiple thin coats to start helped create an even base. Once everything was dry, I removed the masking.

There was a clear line where I had masked off the sections on the panel below the rear window. Not too surprising. The paint can said that any transition lines could be softened by using polishing compound after letting the clear coat cure for 48 hours. I waited the recommended time, then wet-sanded again, then used the polishing compound. I finished by applying a couple of coats of carnauba wax to protect the new clear coat. Here’s the before and after of the panel above the window:

And the panel below the window:

You can still see the line from the new clear coat, but it doesn’t bother me. Even though aesthetic improvement wasn’t one of my goals for this project, I do think the “after” looks a lot better! The total cost of this project, including 2 cans of spray-on clear coat, one package of 2000-grit wet/dry sandpaper, polishing compound and carnauba wax, was $32.

This project wasn’t quick, but it was easy. The prep work was time-consuming (but not difficult), and I think it was essential to achieving good results. I also think it’s important to let everything dry thoroughly and not rush into re-sanding and polishing. All-in-all, I think this was $32 well-spent to keep my car protected so it will continue to serve me well for years to come!

Culvert Troubleshooting

We live on a flat part of an otherwise pretty steep road, and there’s a drainage ditch along our side of the road. Our driveway crosses a culvert that’s aligned with the drainage ditch and allows water to flow under our driveway.

The photo above shows the outlet (downhill side) of the culvert. There are a few problems:

1. The driveway is sinking just a little bit right around the outlet of the culvert.
2. There are cracks in the driveway around the sunken area.
3. It’s hard to see in the photo above, but the culvert looks like it’s partially collapsed.
4. You can’t tell how well the driveway is supported because of all the dirt and wood in front of the culvert.
5. I pulled out a chunk of loose asphalt to the left of the culvert. That’ll need to be fixed!

My big concern was that the culvert wasn’t properly installed. When you put in a culvert, all the fill material around and above it is supposed to be compacted so it won’t settle. I am entirely unconvinced that the previous owner would have done that. If that material is settling, the driveway would sink, damaging the pavement and also collapsing (and eventually destroying) the culvert. There would be no way to fix it without ripping out a section of driveway above the culvert. I really, really, did not want to do that. Since the culvert is still moving water just fine during our winter storms, I knew it wasn’t destroyed, but I decided it was time to figure out what was really going on and tackle any major repairs before any more damage occurs during the next rainy season.

So I started digging. I had to dig out and remove enough stuff to be able see everything. Here are the before and after photos:

That piece of telephone pole wasn’t supporting anything, so I just took it out. You can see where it was used to pour the concrete, but it must have broken away over time. After digging everything out and taking a good look, I realized that things weren’t nearly as bad as I’d feared. The driveway is well-supported, and the culvert isn’t collapsed at all. The reason it looked like it was collapsed is that it’s about two-thirds full of sediment!

The cracks in the driveway had allowed water to flow under the asphalt and wash away a small amount of the dirt underneath, allowing the driveway to settle a tiny bit, which widened the cracks, which let more water in, and so on. The solution is pretty easy: we’ll just push concrete into the small areas that have washed out, then get the driveway patched and sealed to prevent it from happening again. The existing settling is minor and won’t be a problem.

The bigger problem is the sediment in the culvert, and I think I know why it’s happening. The drainage ditch wasn’t graded properly below the outlet, so the water coming out of the culvert wasn’t moving very fast. Slow-moving water can’t carry much sediment, so the sediment dropped out, right in our culvert! To fix that problem, we have to regrade the drainage ditch below the culvert, but that’s a heck of a lot easier than ripping up the driveway! 🙂

Espresso Maker Troubleshooting

Yesterday, I found what I now know to be a Bellman CXE-27 espresso maker at a local thrift store. Some people apparently consider these to be more of a Moka-type machine than a true espresso maker, but if it makes some type of coffee and also foams milk, it’s good enough for me.

Bellman CXE-27 Espresso Maker

Although the stove-top Bellmans are pretty common, there’s surprisingly little info out there on the electric models. Anyway, it didn’t work. The heating element didn’t come on, even though the machine was getting power. After a little quality time with my multimeter, I figured out that the problem was a busted thermostat. The thermostat is supposed to have a very low resistance when it’s cold, so it completes a circuit that allows the heating element to get power. Once the temperature reaches a certain point, the resistance increases enough to basically break the circuit. The purpose of the thermostat is to turn the heating element off when things get hot enough. Because this thermostat is broken, it has a really high resistivity when it’s cold and the heating element never gets power. I contacted the thermostat manufacturer to see if I can get a replacement.

That little round black thing is the thermostat.

In the meantime, because I am a complete and utter fool who you should never, ever take advice from, I jumped (used wiring to bypass) the thermostat to see if the heating element worked. And it did, like a champ! Unfortunately, once the pressure builds up, water leaks where the heating elements enter the water tank.

Water leaks around the heating coil in the bottom of the tank.

To make things worse, the water leaks out right onto the wiring for the machine and forms a nice puddle. And although I’m stupid enough to bypass what is essentially a safety mechanism, running electric equipment that’s sitting in a pool of water seems like a bad idea. At this point, I’m not sure what I’m going to do. I’m thinking of getting some high-temp gaskets to install at the heating element outlets, to see if I can stop the leak. Or, I could return it to the thrift shop. There’s a good return policy on electronics, and this doesn’t work when you just plug it in. I’m undecided. Care to weigh in? Can you tell that I really, really want this to work? 🙂

What is Dry Rot and How Do You Fix It?

“What the heck is dry rot and how do I fix it?” That was the question I found myself asking several months into home ownership. Overall, owning a home has been a great experience, and in most cases we got what we expected. We paid for a home inspection during escrow, and also had access to a recent prior home inspection report (our house had been in escrow before but that sale never closed, thank goodness). We knew there had been some issues with dry rot in the siding. But the siding had been replaced. According to the previous owner’s disclosure forms, all the damage had all been repaired. Our home inspection didn’t turn up anything new. It wasn’t until we started to pull up the nasty old carpet in our den that we realized that we had a problem.

Uh oh. The subfloor had white stains on it and the wood crumbled easily when poked with a screwdriver, or even just a fingernail. The problem was worse than that – it had extended into the header below the floor, which crumbled completely apart when we scraped the wood.

Of course I had heard the term “dry rot,” but I didn’t really know anything about it. What is dry rot? How do you fix it? As strange as it seems, dry rot is actually a type of fungus that can get established in wet wood. Weirdly, “dry” rot doesn’t happen in really dry wood – the wood has to be moist. In our house, dry rot occurred where there were leaks. Even where the leaks had been fixed, the dry rot remained. Apparently, once the fungus takes up residence, it can survive a wide range of conditions by staying dormant when it’s too wet or dry. Once the dampness of the wood returns to the ideal range, the dry rot starts to grow again. Creepy!

Since our problem was structural, we hired a licensed, qualified contractor to make the repairs, and I recommend that you do the same.

I’ve never done this type of repair, and even though I’m pretty handy, I would NEVER tackle a structural problem on my own – I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night for fear our house would fall down! Our contractor did a lot of work to provide another means of structural support when he was replacing our dry rotted header. Here’s an example from a different part of the house, where he used a beam to support our deck while he replaced the ledger.

Here are the basic steps our contractor used to fix the dry rot:
1. Expose all the dry rot by taking off the siding, insulation, dry wall, whatever. All the damaged wood needs to be replaced.
2. Cut out all wood that’s been damaged. (Hire a contractor, especially with anything structural! Don’t cut anything structural!)
3. Treat any wood that looks like it’s been exposed to the dry rot fungus but isn’t otherwise damaged (i.e. it is still strong), to impede the spread of the fungus.
4. Replace the wood that was removed. This can be tricky, especially with structural stuff.
5. Get rid of all the dry-rotted wood and dispose of it away from any other good wood! We burned ours. It was cathartic.
6. Put everything back together.

Yeah, fixing dry rot is a major pain. And it costs a lot of money. At least, that’s been my experience. Here are some more of our dry rot photos for your viewing pleasure.

All of the dry rot we’ve found in our house has been repaired by a licensed, qualified contractor. (Doesn’t that just sound reassuring? Licensed. Qualified.) We’re trying to prevent future problems by keeping our house weatherproofed with good caulk, paint, and roofing. We’ll probably always have little problems that come up here and there. One thing we learned along the way: dry rot spreads slowly; fix it when it’s still a small problem. Isn’t that true of so many things?

Dry rot is a very common problem. See how others have tackled the problem here, here, and here.

Make me feel better and tell me you’ve had dry rot problems too! Have you fixed them on your own? Or did you hire a professional?