Are we all having fun yet with the Coronavirus quarantine and social distancing? Not so much for me, but like anyone I’m trying to make the best of it and look for the silver lining in this dark cloud. I was feeling terribly uninspired to write a post this week, then enter my wife to inspire me as usual.
Despite the doom and gloom, she saw the scenario as the perfect opportunity to get some long delayed projects on our home done while we hunker down for a couple weeks. My “honey-do list” has grown far too big (yes, the cobbler’s kids have no shoes) so instead of binging on Netflix for the next couple weeks and becoming a flabby couch potato we’ve decided to knock some projects off our list of home repairs and you can too!
Below are six great projects to do while you wait out your home quarantine. It will keep you occupied and productive while also saving money by not hiring these projects out to a contractor later. Doing these is a win/win also because most of the supplies and tools you need for these projects are available in my store which means you can support a small business (aka The Craftsman Blog) in these crazy times and save some money yourself.
Let’s get to it!
Project #1 Repair Damaged Plaster
Plaster walls and ceilings can last a very long time and are way better than drywall. Plaster is harder, more eco-friendly, a better insulator, a better sound blocker, and sadly a better wifi blocker too. So, if you still have your plaster walls you should definitely keep them even if they need some help.
One of the most common forms of damage is plaster that is pulling away from the supporting lath behind it resulting in cracks which is actually surprisingly simply to fix if you have the right products. This is actually one of the repairs I’ll be doing this month on our self-imposed quarantine because I have sagging ceilings in my house too.
The way I like to fix this plaster problem is to use Big Wally’s Plaster Magic. Silly name, serious product! Plaster Magic is a package of supplies that allows you to drill small holes into the plaster, inject an adhesive, and then clamp it down so that the plaster adheres to the lath again. I’ve used it with a lot of success in the past.
To see the whole process check out the very old video below. I apologize for the audio quality ahead of time. Our YouTube channel has certainly gotten a lot better over the years!
Project #2 Reglaze Windows
Spring is here and even though you are supposed to be social distancing, fresh air and sunlight can be helpful when it comes to viral infections. Didn’t think you’d get medical advice here, did you? Check it out in this well sourced article.
Take your windows out or reglaze them in place now that the temps are starting to warm up again. In order for glazing putty to skin over properly you need temps to remain above about 50°F otherwise it will take a long time to get that glazing putty ready for painting. If your region has warm weather like that then you’re ready to reglaze your windows.
Using a chisel or putty scraper dig out the loose/failing glazing putty. You don’t need to replace all the putty, just the worst stuff. Dust off the surface and apply a quick coat of oil-based primer in the glazing rabbet and then apply some fresh glazing putty in the missing areas and tool it smooth with a putty knife.
Reglazing windows as needed helps with water and air management to keep your windows more energy efficient and helps prevent rot from pooling water in the glazing rabbet. You can pick up some of my special mildew-resistant Austin’s Glazier’s Putty and some Pure Whiting for cleaning the glass after you’re done glazing.
Once the putty develops a skin (usually 3 days to 1 week) you’ll want to protect it with 2 coats of paint to seal everything up nicely.
Project #3 Paint
Is there anything that needs painting in your house? I honestly don’t see how anyone would say no to this. There is always something that needs repainting! Now’s the time. Swing by your local paint shop and grab a gallon of your favorite paint and get busy.
There is a relatively new paint from Sherwin Williams called PaintShield that has microbicidal qualities. That means it kills bacteria! Apparently, it lasts for up to 4-years from when you applied it so that may be an upgrade to think about. Sorry there isn’t an anti-viral paint available but back in 2006 there was a coating invented that accomplished the same thing against the flu virus. When and where it will be available I’m not sure, but I’ll keep an eye out for you.
If you want some help with your painting project I’ve got some great links to posts that will get you all the info you need below.
- Historic Paint Colors
- A Better Way to Paint a House
- How To: Paint a Room Like a Pro
- Picking the Right Paint Brush
Project #4 Hang Pictures
Decorating your walls is a great way to dress things up and I know you have some things that need to be hung or moved. Well, you’re trapped inside so now’s the time to make those walls less dreary. Hanging things on plaster walls is quite different than on drywall. I’ll give you some tips for hanging things securely on plaster walls and how to avoid damaging those great old school walls.
First thing: Put away the hammer. Hammering nails into plaster is a quick way to knock plaster loose from the lath that is supporting it. You may not notice the damage, but as plaster comes loose from the lath, it will eventually begin to sag and soon fall off the wall if the sagging continues unchecked.
Hanging Light Items
Screws (and screws with masonry anchors for heavy items) are your best choice for hanging things on plaster walls without picture rail. For lighter items, simply screwing into the plaster with a 1 1/2” drywall screw is usually enough to get the job done.
I prefer if the screw hits the wood lath behind the plaster for a little extra holding power to make sure things stay hung. You can usually tell when you hit the lath because the screw will grab better. If you miss, back the screw out and move the screw up (or down) about 1/2” and you’re sure to find the lath.
Heavier items need more support, and so I recommend screwing into a stud with a 2” screw. Stud finders rarely work on plaster, but you can find the studs using a handy little magnetic stud finder called StudPop. This inexpensive tool makes stud finding super easy on plaster walls because it detects the metal nails used to hold the wood lath to the studs behind the plaster. It doesn’t even require batteries so it’s pretty hard to misuse.
Unfortunately, it seems that every time I need to hang something heavy, there is never a stud where I need one. When that happens, I am stuck using anchors. There are a number of anchors available, all rated by how much weight they can hold. Find one appropriate to your project and go to town.
Anchors aren’t my favorite because they require you to drill larger holes into plaster, but it is a reality of life in an old home. A word of caution, avoid the drywall anchors that are made to be installed without drilling. These self tapping anchors don’t work on hard plaster walls. To put any anchor into plaster, you’ll need to drill first.
Once you’ve got everything hung just where you want it and your spouse decides it needs to be rearranged, you can always fill small holes with spackle or even add some sand to the spackle to help it blend into a sanded texture plaster.
If you did some big damage, you can use my post How To: Patch Plaster to get your walls back on track.
Project #5 Weatherstripping
Everybody thinks about weatherstripping doors and windows in the winter when it starts getting drafty and cold, but if you have the time off now why not get it done ahead of schedule so you can relax come fall and winter?
My favorite weatherstripping for years has been spring bronze because it is effective, long-lasting, and relatively easy to install. It doesn’t require big modifications to the window or door to install it and that saves a ton of time and trouble. Below, I’ve got two tutorials for you to walk your thru the process on windows and doors as well as a video showing you the window process from start to finish.
Project # Refinish Your Deck
If the weather is nice enough then now may be the time to clean and refinish your deck to get it ready for all those summer grill outs. Cleaning off the grime from the cold wet months and staining and sealing the deck will not only make it look more beautiful but will also protect and extend the life of your deck.
Clean Your Deck
Using a pressure washer over around 1500-1800 psi will blast the wood fibers right off your deck damaging the wood and giving it a rough feel as it eats away significant portions of the wood. The homeowner grade pressure washers work best, in my opinion, even though the work proceeds a bit slower you get a better end result. For my deck, I used a very affordable GreenWorks pressure washer with great results.
The last time I cleaned my deck, I used a Turbo Tip which was very helpful to remove the build up without needing the higher pressure. Wash the deck thoroughly- you can use a deck cleaner like Sherwin Williams Deck Wash if you have a lot of dirt or staining or just clean water for minor stains and dirt build up.
When you’re done, you need to wait at least a few dry days but a week is better in order to make sure the moisture content of the wood has dropped back down to a manageable level under 12% moisture content. If you try to stain or paint before then, you will have all kinds of problems with your finish and potential issues with wood rot because you are trapping moisture in the wood. Pressure washing wood forces water into the wood in a significant way and it takes a lot longer for the wood to dry out than when it simply feels dry to the touch.
Picking the Right Stain
You have a lot of stain options for your deck, and a stain is a better option than paint for decks. Stains are designed for wood decks and they hold up better that paint which has a tendency to flake and peel with wear. While you have a ton of brands and colors to choose from, you really have three different types of stains to pick from.
- Transparent – Transparent stains last the shortest of all the stains. They work great for showing off the attractive grain of the wood, so for newer decks that aren’t quite so battle worn, these are a good option or if you have a deck built of a particularly attractive wood species.
- Semi-Transparent – These stains obscure the wood grain a bit and have a higher solids content. They last a bit longer and provide a little more protection than transparent stains.
- Solid – When you look at a solid stain you would have a hard time telling that it wasn’t paint, but it does have a different formulation than a standard paint. Solid stains totally obscure the wood grain and have the longest life of any exterior stain.
Just like with paint, you also have the option to pick between oil-based or water-based stains. In my opinion, since a stain is designed to penetrate deep into the wood, I prefer oil-based because they have better results still. One day water-based stains may catch up, but that day has not come yet. For my deck I used Sherwin Williams SuperDeck Transparent in Cedar Tone.
Applying the stain is tedious but straightforward with a roller and brush and you can watch my technique (for better or worse) in the video below. Make sure you wipe up any puddles and spread the stain evenly. Once the stain has been applied you need to stay off the deck until it is thoroughly dry, which is usually 24-36 hrs depending on weather. Check out the video below to to show you the whole process.
I hope these projects have given you some ideas to break the monotony of these odd times we are living in. Have faith that things will get back to normal soon and try to use this time productively. Be safe!
Founder & Editor-in-Chief
I love old houses, working with my hands, and teaching others the excitment of doing it yourself! Everything is teachable if you only give it the chance.
3 thoughts on “6 Home Projects to Do While Quarantined”
I love your blog it’s very informative and timely relevant, it gives a spark of ideas for plaster renovators like us.
Thanks Scott for the quaratine deck work, that’s exactly what we’re doing, but it’s a much bigger job than yours (the previous owners painted, apparently many times, doesn’t seemed like it was sealed etc, and it’s a much bigger surface, with tonnes of railings and spindles!). Question for you: i see you didn’t use a mildew/mold/algae remover like 30 second cleaner. Aren’t you worried that it will just return after you finish? Or does the sealer take care of that? Thanks, new fan, Kim in Canada
I have been using many of the tips from this site to work my way through my to-do list of home repairs – thank you for all the helpful information. Question: what would you recommend for repairing vertical cracks around the bottom of porch columns? Caulk (not silicone!) or something like liquid wood/wood epox? I wasn’t sure if caulk is better because the wood would continue to expand and contract. Any suggestions? Thank you!