Ask the Experts - Scott McGreggor DIY Expert

Ask the Experts – Scott McGreggor DIY Expert


Home Renovation

DIY expert and author Scott McGreggor outlines his top DIY tips for renovators.

Scott McGreggor, DIY expert, television personality, and book author, is a self-taught handyman. From a young age, Scott has always wanted “to do the stuff around the house”. Scott describes the source of his wealth of DIY information as “gathered by years of working with tradies”.

All that expert information has now been pulled together (with the help of his delightful wife, Wendy Day) in one concise book, FIX IT.

Describing his inspiration for FIX IT, Scott says, “I looked around the shelves at the bookstores and found there was little for the average enthusiastic home DIY handyperson. The gap was between the expert books and really low-level, almost useless advice. FIX IT assumes a basic knowledge of tools and is based on practical, useful advice for almost every area around the house. The other inspiration comes from noticing that a lot of women are doing DIY around the home. Either they live on their own, or they’re sick of waiting for the men to do it! Tradesmen can be really expensive and if you can do it yourself properly, you can save yourself a lot of money.

FIX IT by Scott McGreggor is now available at good bookstores, $24.95.


The following tips are edited extracts from FIX IT. For more details on all these topics, refer to the relevant chapter.

1. Fixing damaged floorboards
If you have a damaged tongue and groove floorboard, you can fix it yourself with a bit of care and accuracy. Once you’ve removed the broken board, or section of board (being careful to preserve the tongue and groove of the neighbouring boards), remove any remaining nails and clean up the newly exposed edges of the existing boards and the tops of exposed joists. Then screw a small cleat to the side of the joist, flush with the top of the joist and extending under the bottom of each neighbouring board. Prepare your matching replacement board by removing the bottom lip of the groove so the new board fits neatly into the gap with the tongue of the existing board supporting the replacement when it is slotted into the gap. Apply a small bead of construction adhesive to the groove of the existing board, adjacent to the repair and to the underside of the modified groove of the patch piece. Nail the replacement board to the cleat and to any exposed joists; drilling small pilot holes for the nail will prevent the new piece from splitting. Punch the nail heads below the surface. If the new board sits slightly proud or lower than the existing floor surface, a belt sander can be used to even it out. Finish off by hand sanding, also sanding a little of the neighbouring boards, gradually feathering off the sanded area. Now apply the finish.

2. Repairing flyscreens
It’s reasonably easy to fix flyscreens. Remove the damaged mesh from the frame and ensure it’s in good shape. Then cut a new piece of fibreglass mesh with a 50mm overhang on each side. Place this piece over the frame and then diagonally cut the corners of the piece of mesh. Cut a length of flyscreen spline slightly longer than required. The flyscreen spline is the flexible PVC tube with little ridges on it; the ridges are designed to catch and pull the mesh into the channel. Push the spline in with your finger initially then follow through with the spline roller. This will force the spline and mesh deep into the groove. Continue this all the way around the frame. Keep a little bit of tension on the screen but not much. As you work around with the spline roller the screen will become taut. Trim off any excess mesh with a sharp blade. The screens can be help in place with the aid of four (two each side) small plastic toggle clips. These are secured to the surrounding window frame with a single screw each to allow them to pivot back and forth to release the screen for future cleaning and maintenance.

3. Repairing/replacing cornice
You can install a new decorative cornice if your room has none, and you can even put a new decorative one over the standard old basic 55mm cove cornice as many of these decorative profiles are designed to fit right over the top. Check out some of the options at a plastering trade centre or log on to a plasterboard manufacturer’s website. It’s also possible to repair a damaged one by removing the damaged section and replacing with a new matching piece. To attach, mark on the ceiling with pencil where your cornice will sit, then partly tap a few nails into the wall along the bottom pencil line, about 1800mm apart. These will help hold the cornice in position while the cement dries. Measure and mark the position to be cut on the cornice. Cut the cornice to size using a mitre box for the corners. Use cornice cement to attach, mixing a small amount at a time. Where the corners meet, some more cornice cement can be applied to fill any gaps. After about 20 minutes the positioning nails can be removed and excess cement wiped away with the broadknife. Tidy and smooth out the finish with a damp sponge. Wait 24 hours and then you can paint your cornice.

4. Waterproofing
When concreting or repairing cracks in concrete, or rendering bricks, its a good idea to add a waterproofing agent such as Silasec. It’s a water-based compound that when mixed with cement creates an impervious waterproofing barrier. Great for using on cement tanks, rendered masonry walls, planter boxes.

5. Wet rot and dry rot
These are both types of Fungi that love to grow on timber where there is a source of moisture present. The rot grows, breaking down the timber and leaving it mouldy, crazed or broken up into cubes or spongy. Damage mostly occurs in timber in contact with damp subfloor walls, wet areas such as around baths and showers and soil. To prevent rot, make sure your under-floor ventilation is adequate, allowing good drainage in the subfloor area and check that stormwater and paving is graded away from the house and that there are no plumbing leaks. Rot can be treated easily by removing the source of moisture or humidity and opening up the affected area to ventilation. Rotten timber will need to be replaced and the immediate area cleaned and treated with a fungicide.

6. Lead paint in old houses
The number one cause of lead poisoning in children in Australia is from old paint found on buildings built prior 1970. It is far too easy for the DIY renovator busily sanding or heat gunning, to poison themselves and their children or pets. You can get a simple lead testing kit from any hardware or paint store. Follow the instructions on the pack and make sure you test all the layers of paint — not just the surface layer. It is the lower layers of paint that are likely to be a worry and some old paints contained up to 50 per cent lead. If lead is present in your peeling paint you’ll need to work out the best, most safe methods of removing it or covering it. When removing old paint always protect yourself with a dual filter respirator, gloves and overalls. Don’t work near children and animals, do use a plastic drop sheet below your work area to gather up the old paint for safe disposal and try to avoid dry sanding. If you do have to create dust, organise a dust extractor system fitted with HEPA filters. These also can be hired and are the only filtration recommended for fine lead dust and fume removal from extracted air.

7. Laser level/stud finder
I think that one of the most useful tools a renovator can get is a Laser level with a built-in stud finder. Invaluable for attaching shelves, hanging pictures and mirrors (even the occasional plasma TV), ensuring joists are even and so on. It will give you extremely good accuracy across long distances as well. Those designed for wall work can be attached to the wall and will project a long level line of light for you to work with and give you both hands free for the other tasks. The stud finder function is also very useful for hanging anything heavy and some will also warn you of live wires or pipes lurking behind.

8. Acrylic grout
Acrylic grouts with no added cement are much more flexible than standard grouts and are ideal for repairing old, damaged grout in your bathroom or kitchen by just overcoating. It’s also useful on tiles that have been laid directly over timber, and so move more than they normally should.

9. Make your own paint tin holder
If you are working high on a ladder painting, it’s always a problem as to what to do with the paint tin. To make a simple paint tin holder, take a piece of dowel or an old broom stick and put it through the top rung of your ladder. Attach firmly with tape, rope or wire and cut a small v-shaped groove into one end of the dowel. Then put the handle of the paint tin into the groove. Easy!

10. Sticky sliding wardrobe doors
Most sliding wardrobe doors have rollers that run in a track at the top and small plastic glides at the base to keep the doors in line. As with entry doors, you may find the roller bracket needs adjustment or the rollers have worn. Without removing the doors, check for the adjustment screw on the roller bracket. When tweaked, this will raise and lower the door. Raise the door slightly and test if this helps the movement. If, after raising the doors, they are still stiff or bumping along the track like a red-rattler, the rollers may need replacing. Another problem with sliding wardrobe doors (and some sliding screen doors) is that the actual metal track along the bottom of the door has become damaged — bent or split. You may be able to repair it, or you can remove the entire track profile with a screwdriver and replace it without too much difficulty.