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Maintenance DIY: Insulation, Caulking and Creating Bathroom Storage

June 2021

Q. My apartment building was built in the 1950s and has no insulation in the walls or ceiling. What do you recommend as the most cost-effective method of insulating the building?

A. It is very common for older buildings to have no insulation whatsoever. As far as maximizing your spend, ceiling insulation is the winner. For single-story or top-story apartments, ceiling insulation is very easy and inexpensive to install. Wall insulation is much harder and involves a more invasive approach. To illustrate the differences, ceiling insulation can be either be batt insulation or loose fill insulation. The batt method is a bit more labor intensive and is less effective than loose fill. If you decide to use loose fill, be careful not to block ventilation holes or cover any through-the-ceiling light fixtures. Insulating existing walls typically involves drilling holes just below any fire blocks and blowing loose fill insulation into the wall cavity. Repairs to walls will be needed after the work is completed. The best of all worlds would be to do both wall and attic insulation, but if you must choose one over the other, we recommend doing the attic first as we have found this to be the most effective at cutting heating and cooling costs. You may want to check with your city or utility supplier since they often have low-cost energy saving programs or rebates. 


Q. One of my maintenance chores is caulking and sealing shower/tub fixture flanges and shower walls. My problem is getting the caulking to dry before a resident uses the shower. Any suggestions

A. A lot of people will say, “Just tell the resident not to use the shower until the caulking is dry.” Well, it doesn’t work and by the time you are driving away from the building, your resident is already taking a shower and your fresh caulking is washing down the drain. Your caulk should cure at least 24 hours before use. Water-based latex caulking is easy to use, but very susceptible to water until it is cured. Try using a silicone- or polyurethane-based caulking for doing tubs, showers, toilets, sinks or other wet locations. It tends to set quickly and will repel water during its cure time. 

Another solution we have found works well with very busy showers is to remove all the fixtures, including the showerhead and arm, valve handles and tub spout, before caulking (a bit extreme, but effective).  We then plug the showerhead and tub spout with a capped pipe. Then caulk the tub/shower. We come back 24 hours later and reinstall all the fixtures.

One more thought: If you have sliding shower doors for your tub, check the bottom track. If it is loose, do not caulk until the track is removed, cleaned and dried. Reinstall the track with new adhesive caulk to hold it down and caulk the edges to keep the water out.


Q. How can I add more storage to my utilitarian-type bathrooms?

A.  It does seem bathrooms are sometimes designed as an afterthought. Sink, toilet, bath and that is it. A modern bathroom will take into consideration the need for storage, electrical devices, personal hygiene, etc. The first item that comes to mind is installing a sink cabinet. An older-style cabinet might only have a set of doors under the sink, which is inadequate. A cabinet should have drawers along with under-sink access. The drawers can store hair dryers and all manner of personal bath items. A unique system we like utilizes the space between the studs in the wall. Cabinet doors or mirrors can be used to cover storage in the walls. The wall storage is perfect for toilet paper, rolled-up towels, toothbrushes and most other small items. Install multiple towel racks on the back of the bathroom door for additional towel storage. The space above the toilet can easily accommodate an overhead cabinet for larger items. Reversing the swing of the bathroom door from inward to outward will greatly increase the usable room and make the bathroom appear larger. 


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