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Maintenance DIY: Noise Reduction, Interior Doors and Controlling Costs

September 2021

Q: I am a new owner of a 1965 four-plex, and I am living in the front owner’s unit. It truly is a great place
to live but I am concerned about my privacy—I can hear my residents’ conversations, TV and radio through the common wall between the units. I figure if I can hear them, they can hear me. I know I probably lack insulation but would like to avoid the expense of ripping drywall out and so on. Do you have any other suggestions?                         

A: It’s agreed: The worst job to do in an occupied unit is significant drywall work. The dust and debris are awful no matter how good your dust control method. Fortunately, in your case, you can address this problem by using a product called Acoustic-coat #150, which is basically a lightly textured, water-based flat latex paint formulated with hollow, ceramic microspheres and sound absorbing fibers and resins.

To spare readers a crash course in chemistry, we will give you the basic highlights: Acoustic-coat #150 is a sound reduction paint that can reduce sound transmission by 30% and will dramatically reduce sound echo in the room. Acoustic-coat #150 can be used on walls and ceilings and has excellent insulating properties. This sound-reduction paint is most effective for speech-range frequencies and can be bought premixed or as a powdered additive and added to your paint.

Q: My husband and I are installing new interior doors in our vacant apartment. My understanding is using pre-hung doors is better and easier and my husband insists that buying a door slab is cheaper and faster. We’ve never installed doors before and want to do it right the first time. 

A: We have found that there are no two doors hung alike. They are all unique to their doorways.   

When you buy a slab door, it does not have a hole for the doorknob or latch; it also does not have the hinges attached. It might take a master carpenter to perfectly fit the door because the door frame might not be square, which means you will need to trim the door to fit the opening. You will find that getting the hinges to line up with the existing hinges on the jamb is not an easy feat. You also need a special tool to drill the doorknob hole and latch. It might take you a few doors to get it right, but that might negate the savings of buying a slab door.

As you might guess, we recommend buying a pre-hung door, which comes as a package with the jambs already square to the door. A pre-hung door can be easily installed by a novice the first time and is much faster than trying to wrestle with a slab door. After removing the old door jamb and trim and exposing the rough opening, insert the pre-hung door into the rough opening.  Using a level, plumb and level the hinge side of the jamb using shims and gently nail the hinge side of the jamb in place. Level the top of the jamb using shims and nail into place. Using shims on the doorknob side of the jamb, be sure the door opens freely and closes without binding and nail the jamb in place. Most pre-hung doors come with the trim in place. The trim can now be nailed in place and caulking applied around the trim to hide any gaps. Paint, install the knob and you are done. Installation tip: Do not disassemble the pre-hung door package. Install it as it came from the hardware store. The ridged packaging will help in keeping everything square while you install the door.

Q: How do I keep the cost of maintenance down while still maintaining good living conditions for my residents?

A: The short answer is to prioritize and bundle. To elaborate, you will want to prioritize all of your non-emergency maintenance work by unit, building and area and then bundle enough work for each unit, building or area to efficiently use your maintenance tech or supplier. The less they need to travel between jobs, the lower the cost of each job will be. 

Essentially, you would accumulate all non-emergency routine maintenance work placed on a P.O. or work order and forward it to your supplier or tech as authorized. This dramatically reduces the costs related to gas, trip charges, mobilization, purchase hours, etc. (It works even better if your parts are already onsite.)

Establishing a “time and material” (not to exceed) approach to billing versus a per-unit price method would also give you more bang for your buck. Talk to your suppliers or techs about bundled service to help cut costs. Most will appreciate a more organized approach to servicing your properties.   

Do you have DIY maintenance questions? Send them to [email protected].