Molding, Foundation & Acoustic Patching

“We do not recommend the use of acoustic spray from a can unless it is in a very inconspicuous area…”

Dear Maintenance Men:

I have noticed the base molding in the living room and leading into the kitchen is starting to come off the wall. The corners are splitting and it is starting to look very rough. What do you think is causing this? I don’t see any water anywhere.


Dear Randy:

We would bet you do have a water problem somewhere. Chances are it will be traced to the refrigerator. There might be two issues you can look at.

First, check that the drain line for the defrost cycle is not clogged, and second, if the refrigerator has an icemaker, check that the line is not leaking. Chances are the icemaker line has a hole, or the drain line is leaking, and the walls are sucking up the water. That is why you don’t see any standing water.

Look under the fridge or pull out the fridge and look at the water line. It should be a small quarter inch nylon or polyethylene line; often they are white or translucent in color. If the water line goes though the cabinets to the kitchen sink, follow the line and look for rough spots or kinks in the line. Because these small water lines often leak for a long time before they are discovered, your walls may very well be saturated. The swelling baseboards are an indication they are full of moisture.

The repair for this leak goes far beyond repairing the pinhole leak in the icemaker line. You will have to remove the drywall in order to allow the walls to dry properly. Chances are you will also have a major mold issue inside the walls. You should seek professional help for an evaluation of the potential mold issues involved. Please note when replacing icemaker or filter lines, only use tubing specified for that use. Ask for icemaker tubing—it will be marked icemaker compatible.

Dear Maintenance Men:

While walking around my building, I found white powdery stuff growing on the surface of the building’s concrete foundation. What is this and do I need to worry about it?


Dear Fred:

The effect is called efflorescence, and it is a naturally occurring condition on wall or floor material such as concrete, brick and stucco. These porous materials absorb water, and when the water evaporates, it leaves behind an alkaline salt. The efflorescence appears as a white, crystalline powder. Water is always the culprit.

First thing to check would be sprinkler locations, and if the spray hits the wall, relocate the sprinkler.

Another problem is moisture wicking up into the stucco from the ground. Older buildings built before 1974 probably do not have a “weep screed” at the bottom of the wall. A weep screed is a metal flashing designed to act as a vapor barrier and transition between the concrete slab or stem wall and wood framing. Installing a weep screed after the fact is not feasible. A solution would be to locate the transition between the slab or stem wall and the wood framing. Saw cut through the stucco to the base plate. Now fill the saw cut with a bead of silicone sealant. The silicone will act as a vapor barrier, effectively stopping the moisture from wicking up into the stucco. Refinish your stucco and paint to suit.

Dear Maintenance Men:

I am having a very difficult time with an acoustic textured ceiling I am trying to repair. Fortunately my building was built after 1980 so my work should be simple and straight forward. Well it’s not. I am trying to make spot repairs in an occupied unit with “acoustic spray” in the can. Not only are the repairs horrible but the weight and consistency of my “spray” keeps pulling down the existing acoustic around my patches. Can anything be simple?


Dear Paul:

We have never seen a decent patch job by using “acoustic in a can.” We do not recommend the use of acoustic spray from a can unless it is in a very inconspicuous area like a closet or very small area that does not warrant a proper and more involved repair. For areas larger than one square foot or in clearly visible areas, we recommend the use of a hopper gun fed by an air compressor for a professional finish. The hopper gun is actually easier to use and control.

Mix together water and dry acoustic material to the consistency and look of oatmeal. Pour the mixture into the hopper and test on a piece of cardboard for texture and consistency; if acceptable, point it at the ceiling at a distance of two to three feet away and shoot. Make two light passes in different directions and a final pass one foot outside the patch area to blend into the existing texture. Do not over apply as it will tend to fall or sag.

Obviously, shooting texture in an occupied unit is challenging, but can be done. Plastic sheeting is your friend! Using painter’s plastic or 6-mil visqueen, completely cover the floor directly below your patch, and then cover the plastic with a drop cloth. Using a staple gun, attach more plastic sheeting to the ceiling forming a circle creating a “cocoon.” The sheeting cocoon should drape from the ceiling to the floor. This should adequately protect the surrounding area from overspray. And if you were wondering, yes, you need to stand inside the cocoon to spray the acoustical mixture, so make it big enough to move around in it. Use goggles, mask and other recommended safety equipment, as well as disposable coveralls, as it will be messy.

WE NEED Maintenance Questions!!! If you would like to see your maintenance question in the “Dear Maintenance Men” column, please send in your questions to:

If you need maintenance work or consultation for your building or project, please feel free to contact us. We are available throughout Southern California. For an appointment please call Buffalo Maintenance, Inc., at 714-956-8371. Frank Alvarez is a licensed contractor and the Operations Director and co-owner of Buffalo Maintenance, Inc. He has been involved with apartment maintenance and construction for over 20 years. He is also a lecturer and educational instructor for the Apartment Association. Frank can also be reached at For more info please go to: Jerry L’Ecuyer is a real estate broker and has been involved with apartments as a professional since 1988.