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As home ages, some defects unavoidable

November 14th, 2008 3:53 PM by Ron Mastrodonato

As home ages, some defects unavoidable
How to fix out-of-square corners, saggy doors

November 14, 2008

By Paul Bianchina
Inman News

Over time, many homes develop little nonstructural problem areas that need to be dealt with, and it seems like the older the house, the more of those little problems that occur. Here's some advice on fixing a few of the more common door and trim situations you might typically encounter.

Out-of-square corners

If you've tried installing trim in a corner and can't get the miter joint to come out right, it's probably because the corner is out of square -- meaning that it's not an exact 90 degrees. To rectify the problem, you need to get an exact measurement on the angle of the corner, then adjust your miter joints to compensate.

The easiest way to do this is with an adjustable bevel gauge, which can be purchased inexpensively at any hardware store or home center. The bevel gauge has a wood or plastic handle with a metal blade that's held in place with a wing nut. To use the tool, simply loosen the wing nut and place the handle in the corner against one of the walls. Move the blade until it's flat against the other wall and tighten the wing nut, accurately duplicating the angle of the corner.

Using a protractor, measure the angle between the handle and the blade then divide that number by two, giving you the angle of the miter cut you need to make. For example, if the angle of your wall corner measures 94 degrees, your miter cuts would each be 47 degrees instead of the standard 45 degrees (94 divided by 2 = 47).

Doors that sag and won't latch

Over time, a door's own weight will have a tendency to make the door want to sag down away from the frame at the top hinge. This can result in a door that rubs against the frame at the top corner, or that doesn't latch properly.

To correct the sag, remove one or two of the screws that hold the upper hinge to the frame and replace them with 2- to 3-inch-long screws that will go all the way through the door frame and into the wall framing behind. Drill a pilot hole first to make it easier to install the screw. As the screw is tightened, you should see the entire door frame pull up tight against the wall framing, eliminating the sag.

Removing the sag is usually enough to correct any problems with the door latching, since it pulls the latch on the door back into alignment with the metal strike plate on the door frame. If the door still won't latch, you'll need to make an adjustment in the strike plate.

Coat the face of the latch where it protrudes from the door with lipstick or crayon, and slowly close the door. When you open it again, you'll see where the lipstick has transferred marks onto the strike plate, giving you a good indication of how much the plate needs to move in order to have the latch fully engage it again. Unscrew the strike plate, and use a sharp chisel to mortise the door frame enough to allow the strike plate to move. Drill out each of the old screw holes and insert a piece of hardwood dowel coated with glue into the holes -- this seals off the old holes so the screws won't wander back into them. Finally, place the strike plate in the adjusted position, drill two new screw holes, and reinstall the screws.

Camouflaging defects

Exposed ducts, surface-mounted pipes, and miscellaneous bumps and bulges are all items you might encounter that you'd like to put under cover. The easiest and cleanest solution in most instances is to simply box over them, and blend them into the surrounding area as well as possible.

Start by measuring the protrusion at the widest point, and then figure how best to construct a cover. For example, if you have a piece of pipe sticking out of the wall an inch or two in one corner, the best solution is to build a small box that's open on one or two sides as necessary -- 1/2-inch or 3/4-inch plywood works well for this -- and slip it over the pipe, securing it with nails, screws or even adhesive, depending on the situation.

If, on the other hand, you have a duct running along the ceiling for three quarters of the length of the room, you'll probably need to construct a framework from 2-by-2s or 2-by-4s to box in the entire duct. Oddly enough, it sometimes looks best to make the box larger than it needs to be -- in this example, the box will probably be less obtrusive if you make it the entire length of the room, rather than stopping it three quarters of the way across where the duct stops.

After the plywood or 2-by frame is constructed, think about how best to cover it. There is often a temptation to cover things with inexpensive paneling, or to just leave the plywood as "good enough," but if the surrounding wall is drywall that's been painted or wallpapered, the new cover will look much better if you do whatever you can to match it to what's around it.

Remodeling and repair questions? E-mail Paul at

Posted in:General
Posted by Ron Mastrodonato on November 14th, 2008 3:53 PM


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