Expert tips on walls, floors and doors…



Architect Navneet Malhotra is a perpetual student. He loves to break myths and unmask the true cause for bad work by constantly sharing experience… “Path to gaining knowledge is through sharing,” is his motto.


I had put wallpaper in one of the rooms some years back and I am now keen on removing it. Is there an easy method to do this without destroying the entire undersurface? When my friend undertook a similar exercise, her painter forcibly scraped the surface with a metal plate and spoilt it badly. They eventually had to apply a fresh coat of POP on the entire wall before painting it. I am not keen on increasing the quantum of work or creating a mess in my house for weeks. I’d rather stick another wallpaper on the existing surface, or simply repaint it.
Geeta Dewaan, Mumbai

If done correctly, you won’t need to repaint the existing surface or replaster the wall. Start by covering the floor at the base of the paper-clad wall. Ask your painter to mix tap water and ordinary fabric softener in equal proportions in a bucket. Heat the solution to a comfortable temperature. Simultaneously, some of the work force could scratch and create small, shallow incisions at close intervals on the wallpaper.

Fill the solution in a spray bottle. Instead of spraying the entire wall, let one person wet small segments of the wall, with the other following soon (after 1 to 2 minutes). This way, the wallpaper will absorb the solution and weaken the adhesive. The paper can now be peeled off comfortably. However, keep in mind that it needs to be removed within 10 to 15 minutes of application of solution. For best results, start with the top edge of the wallpaper. You can grab this edge, spray the solution behind the wallpaper, and pull it off in a downward direction. Use a metal plate (patti) to gently dislodge tough sections.

Stubborn patches of adhesive can then be washed and scrubbed clean with additional solution or by rubbing the dry surface with mild (100 to 200) sandpaper.

My dishwasher has stopped working for the second time in two months and I am now regretting investing in it. Am I doing something wrong? The maintenance person from the company insists that I should rinse the utensils before putting them in the machine and use only company-specified detergent. He also mentioned that these machines don’t function well with greasy food. But then how am I supposed to use them with Indian cooking? And what use do I have for it if I have to clean all the dishes before putting them in the dishwasher?
Ritu Jain, Gurgaon

It’s good to use the best detergent possible, but it is more important to use the right quantity of the same. The machine will not give optimum results if you use too little or even too much of it. The better machines available today in India no longer require a pre-wash.  Either the maintenance personnel is shirking responsibility or your machine is not of the desired standard. Even if you choose not to rinse the dishes before loading them, it is  advisable to remove leftover food. Hard water could also lie at the root of this problem. It is best to get your water quality assessed at a lab or check if white residue has accumulated on your plumbing fixtures. If the water is indeed hard, attach a water softener or RO system in the feeder line. You could also periodically (once every 3 to 4 weeks) run the machine without the dishes using 200 ml of white (food grade) vinegar (acetic acid) mixed with one cup of baking soda. This compound is a mild acid that will help unclog nozzles and pipes. It is also important to identify the exact location of the sprayer in your machine. Make sure you don’t block its path while stacking up the utensils. This will also prevent the nozzle from choking.

The kitchen in our new apartment came with basic finishes and simple single-line placement of essential fixtures (hob, sink and refrigerator). Even though, it is reasonably wide (11 ft), the builder chose not to provide a ‘fancier’ layout, for instance including the dining table inside the kitchen. Will it disturb the existing layout if I get this done now? Also, what type of flooring material would you recommend for a kitchen? Currently, we have non-skid ceramic tiles.
Vikas Kapoor, Uttar Pradesh

The desire to have a breakfast (eat-in) table inside the kitchen is  subjective and  personal. I believe it functions better when a family member, rather than domestic help, cooks. Often, people create more than one dining area (formal and informal) when they plan an eating counter inside the kitchen.

If the builder has provided a (standard) 2-foot-deep counter on one side in an 11-foot-wide kitchen, I think you’ll have enough space to introduce a 5-foot-long table on the opposite wall. You will still be left with a 4-foot-wide  passage even if you choose to place the table perpendicular to the wall. Keep in mind that the height of the table (ideally, 2.5 ft) should be 4 in or 100 mm less than that of the counter. Its width could be 2 ft to 2.5 ft. This way, you won’t have to change the locations of the fixtures. As for flooring, non-skid ceramic or vitreous tiles are very popular in residential kitchens as they are easy to maintain and don’t stain easily. But you could always replace them if you don’t like their look, size or colour.

We want to introduce a lot of glass (including frameless glass doors with hinges) in the bathroom attached to our bedroom. How do we go about this the right and, more importantly, economic manner. Do elaborate on the type of glass, required thickness, etc.
Amit Saha, via email

Frameless glass partitions can be created easily by using special hardware called patch fittings. These include hinges, handles, locks and floor springs, which are designed to be fixed directly on glass. They come in a wide range of shapes and sizes (depending on the load-carrying capacity and the location of application), as well as several external finishes like stainless steel, copper, chrome and matte.

As for the type of glass, I recommend float glass. You could ask the vendor to provide crystal clear glass, priced between Rs 300 per sq ft to Rs 350 per sq ft for a 12-mm-thick product. An economic alternative of same thickness (which is just as good) is regular float glass with a greenish tinge. This costs between Rs 175 per sq ft to Rs 225 per sq ft.

Even though glass of 10-mm thickness is acceptable for a panel that is 2.5 ft to 3 ft wide and 7 ft high, it will better if you use one of higher thickness. Also remember to get the panels toughened for increased safety and longevity. This can be done at a  nominal additional cost of Rs 35 per sq ft to Rs 50 per sq ft. You’ll need to select hardware before the glass is sent for toughening. This is because the vendor will need to drill holes and cut out small sections from it to fit handles and hinges. Such alterations cannot be done after the glass has been toughened.

 Here are two photographs of 4.5-inch-thick pillars made from fly-ash bricks that are unstable and cannot stand on their own during construction. They are short on length, but stand quite tall, on the first and second floors. They have been designed to flank a window. The contractor is unable to find a solution. Will RCC be a better option?
Sandeep Anand Goyal, Faridabad

You can clearly see that the two short walls are quite unstable and have collapsed due to minor disturbances at the site. This could be due to the several reasons. Some fly-ash bricks (as seen in pictures) don’t have a ‘frog’ or an indent (shallow cavity) on their biggest face. The frog facilitates a good grip between the bricks and the mortar. Fly-ash bricks are also smoother than the regular terracotta ones. These two factors could have contributed to a weak mortar-brick bond. Lack of proper curing could have also caused the bricks to soak the moisture from the mortar, leaving it dry and crumbly.

A half-brick-thick (4.5-inch-thick) wall such as this one will attain better stability if it is loaded from the top, like the placement of a concrete beam or slab, or joined to other masonry walls such that they together form an ‘L’ corner or a ‘T’ junction. Neither is possible here.

One solution may be to recreate these walls in RCC, but the electrical conduits and plumbing pipes will have to be planned and placed in advance. Alternatively, you could try red terracotta bricks with a mild reinforcement embedded in their mortar  joints. I think the latter will do the trick, provided the brick wall is cured regularly for  15 to 20 days.

You could also rebuild these fly-ash brick walls with a mild reinforcement (use 1 no, 8-mm mild steel bars) at every alternate mortar course stretching across the window opening and connecting the masonry pillars. This reinforcement will give additional support to the connected walls and give it the desired stability while the mortar joint is still wet. Once the masonry has stabilized, the reinforcement across the opening can be cut to fix the window.