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Building queries

Built-in cupboards

I have the old type of built-in cupboards where you have a steel frame built into the wall and large doors hanging on ordinary door hinges that are fixed onto the steel frame. Can you give advice on how to upgrade this type of setup to make it more modern without removing the steel frame from the wall?Ashwin Rampersad, Middelburg


Ed replies:

I would suggest you replace all doors with sliding doors and paint the steel frame or clad the steel frame using wooden profiles available at most hardware stores, including Timber City and Penny Pinchers. The sliding doors would be top hung and slide in front of the cupboards. Slide ‘n Space Doors sells these sliding door systems in a kit, which includes a pelmet to conceal the sliding gear so the finish is professional. You would need to check whether they sell the size door you require to cover the top section and hanging section.Another option is to purchase a sliding door system and pelmet from Hillaldam Sliding Door Systems and purchase the doors separately. Both products are available from most hardware stores nationwide.


For more information contact Harry Crassas at Hillaldam Sliding Door Systems on 011-626-1001.

Gate track repair 

How can I repair my driveway sliding gate track? Moles have undermined the foundation and constant driving over the angle iron track has caused it to sag in two places, and now the gate drags on the concrete. Is there a way to provide support underneath without ripping out the whole track, or will I need to buy a large disk grinder to cut up the old foundation?Les Irwin, by email 


Sharl Bennie, our building expert, replies: 

I do not think it is moles that have undermined the track and caused it to sag. I say this because the tracks are normally embedded in concrete and moles do not dig in concrete.What I suspect has happened is that the angle iron was mounted on top of a tubing base and embedded in the concrete. Over the years the tubing has rusted away and the angle iron no longer has the support of the tubing base.The only way to repair this is to dig out the old track and replace it with a new one.You could try to drill next to the angle iron track and install steel pin supports that you weld onto the angle iron, but I have not had major success with this in the past. Gate tracks take quite a load with vehicles passing over them and if not installed properly they will always give trouble.I can’t think of a quick fix to the situation and buying a disc grinder may be a good place to start. You could save a bit of money by hiring a grinder if you are confident that you will not need it for more than one or two days, more than that and it is worth buying your own.I do not know what your skill level is but if you have the necessary steelworking and welding skills you can take on a project of this nature. It does, however, go beyond the average DIY project.For more information contact Sharl on 082-554-1921.

Airbrick installation 

I am struggling to find anyone who can install an airbrick for me in one of the rooms of my house in Muizenberg, Cape Town. Can you please recommend someone?Derek Elliott, by email


Ed replies: 

Rod Baker, our Cape Town feature writer who has had work done by this company and was very satisfied with their work, suggests you contact Dave Nelson atFairwinds Developers on 021-782-3996.


Building joints

When building a new structure, what is the best way to join the new wall to the old existing wall?(a) I have heard about an expansion joint where soft board is placed between the two walls and then plastered so the joint is not visible.(b) Another joint is a ‘tooth’ joint where one cuts into the old wall and builds from the inside of the old wall. After plastering, the hole in the old wall will be covered.Different builders have given me different options and good reasons why they would use that particular join. Please help me select the correct joint.Sean Johnson, Swaziland


Sharl Bennie, our building expert, explains:

The best way that I have found from experience is to key the new wall into the old one. This can be done every fourth line and still be very successful. Remember to use brick force in the new wall every fourth line as well.The success of the tie-in is also dependent on the tie-in of the foundation and the quality of the new foundation. Any movement or settling of the new foundation will result in a crack appearing at the join in the wall.An expansion joint using soft board is a way of ensuring that the crack that normally appears when building onto an existing wall is controlled and confined in a specific place. There is no tie-in and therefore any movement of the new wall should happen at the expansion joint.Another way to tie-in a new wall is to use a wall plate. This is a steel tie band that is attached to the old wall and has strips cut into it, which can be folded over into the lines of the new wall to tie the walls together. You can also use steel pins as ties or make your own ties from thin steel band. The success of a join in the wall without any cracking still lies in the foundation, however. Any movement of the foundation will result in a crack in the wall. Proper compaction of the new area before digging foundations is important. Alternatively, dig down to solid ground before laying the foundation. There is no short way to do it properly.


For more information, contact Sharl Bennie on 082-554-1921.

Connecting a solar water heater 

My house is fitted with a supply tank for hot water, which feeds a boiler with a hydrostat. Can I connect direct to municipal water (pressure issue) and how do I add on a solar water heater in series?Stefan Greyvenstyn, Tweeling 


Sharl Bennie, our building consultant, advises: 

It sounds like you have one of those low pressure geyser systems that have a water tank situated at a level slightly higher than the geyser and the water is gravity fed into the geyser, which you refer to as the ‘boiler’.If this is the case, there is normally an open header pipe installed that acts as both a pressure header pipe as well as an expansion overflow pipe, should the geyser overheat and the pressure of the boiling water need to be released.In this case, a low pressure solar geyser can be fitted which will replace the water tank. The inlet to the water tank will now be connected to the inlet of the solar geyser and the outlet from the solar geyser will be connected to the inlet of the ‘boiler’ geyser, that is, the water tank is discontinued and the solar geyser will take the place of the old water tank. I would install a ‘Latco’ pressure relief valve on the end of the header pipe, which will create a closed low pressure system. It is possible to adjust and control the pressure inside the system to a maximum of 100kpa.The advantage of doing this will be that the solar geyser will be supplying ‘warm to hot’ water into the ‘boiler’ geyser and this will result in an electricity cost saving since the water does not have to be heated from cold water.I hope this answers your question and that you will enjoy having reduced your carbon footprint as well as saving yourself some money over the long term.


Contact Sharl Bennie on 082-554-1921 for further information.

Bee blocker 

I live in a fairly old home that has airbricks. My problem is that the gauze on the inside of the airbricks has disintegrated and bees now enter and make their hive under the floorboards. To solve this, I have placed gauze on the outside of the airbricks, but have had difficulty finding the right adhesive to keep the gauze stuck to the airbrick – any suggestions or alternative solutions?Gavin Robertson, Pretoria


Sharl Bennie, our building experts, replies: 

Here are a couple of suggestions that you can use to solve this issue:* Cut a piece of expanded metal large enough to cover the airbrick plus at least 50mm or more around the edges. Then attach the netting to the expanded metal using a thin wire or very small cable ties. You can then fix the expanded metal over the airbrick opening. The overlap will allow sufficient space to ensure that you drill into solid wall and that the anchor plugs are firm.Another way to secure this cover without drilling is to first attach a few pieces of wire to the airbrick openings and, as you install the cover, use the tags of the wire to secure the cover.* If you are having difficulty finding a piece of expanded metal, you could just make a wire frame and attach the netting to the frame. This is not the ideal way to do it, but a bit of creativity should make it work just fine.* If you are feeling a bit lazy, you can always get your local wire model man (on the corner of the road) to make up a frame for you. Just give him the sizes and a sketch of what you want and he will make it for you.Remember, if you are not going to drill the frame into the wall, you could make the frame the same size as the airbrick. The overlap is purely to find solid brick to drill into.

Airbrick covers

I am looking for covers for airbricks. We need to stop the cold wind blowing in through 15 airbricks. I bought plastic clip-on covers a few years ago, but can’t seem to find them anymore. Cheryl Hall, by email 


Ed replies: 

I think you speak for all of us, especially in Gauteng, when I say we are freezing! None of the franchise hardware stores stock this product. According to specialist building and hardware stores Chamberlain’s and Ferreira’s Hardware, this product is no longer available since the only manufacturer closed business. Your best bet would be to use fibre tape and coat with Rhinolite. Rod Baker suggests you go with a removable option, using nylon toggle screws or Molly bolts to attach a piece of Masonite, cut to fit neatly over the airbrick, so that come summer, the Masonite can be removed if necessary.Attention readers: If you know where to buy these airbrick enclosures or have any other suggestions, we would like to hear from you.

Concrete mixing ratios

I wonder if you could please assist me – I saw an article in one of your magazines that had about three or four pages of step-by-step information on concrete mixing. It gave ratios and SANS info. I asked my brother-in-law for the copy, but he no longer had it, so I am not even sure which issue it was. Please could you send me these ratios for concrete mixing?Sharon Holmes, by email 


Ed replies: 

The article ‘Building Blocks’ was featured in the August 2011 issue. Visit the Cement and Concrete Institute’s (CNCI) website: It offers comprehensive information and brochures on the subject that can be downloaded free of charge.

Rain water storage

I want to store rain water for my garden but cannot afford to buy a ready-to-install storage tank. Is there a more affordable way to make a simple but functional storage tank?Meagan Kinsman, by email 


Sharl Bennie, our building expert, replies: 

Unfortunately, any form of container will cost a bit of money unless you are lucky enough to find something that someone is disposing of. I would keep my eyes and ears open for some second-hand 200-litre drums or something similar if I were you.If you place a couple of these drums next to each other, interconnect them at the bottom with a pipe of sorts and then fit a tap at the base of one of the drums, it would serve as a perfect water storage system. An offcut or piece of garden hose with fittings from your local hardware store can easily be adapted to form the connection between the drums. Just about any form of container can be used in this application; it depends on what you can find at the right price. It is worth the effort to preserve our most precious resource.


For more information, contact Sharl on 082-554-1921.

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