Termite problems, moulds, light & sound insulation…



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.


The electric distribution box of our house is of poor quality and was damaged during construction. Its cover does not shut properly, and when we wanted to install an additional air conditioner, we were told that the box was too small to house an additional MCB. The maintenance staff of the housing society also told us of a fire that started from the distribution box of the neighbouring flat. Is this problem really dangerous? Is it better to redo the wiring or just change the box itself? Please advise us on this process and the cost implications.
Samir Bhatia, Gaziabad

This is not the kind of problem that you put off for later. You may not be required to replace the existing wiring of the house, but I strongly recommend that if the distribution box is damaged and has a history of starting a fire, then you need to address his problem immediately. Typically, these boxes can’t be repaired, so I suggest you find a replacement that is slightly larger than the existing one.

You don’t need a civil contractor to do this job; your electrician will be able to do the needful easily. The only inconvenience you’ll face is no electricity for about 6 to 8 hours. Look for a double-cover, powder-coated MS box that has sufficient space to house the MCBs as well as has provision for earthing. The new box cannot be placed next to the old one as the existing wires may not be long enough to travel that extra distance. A 24 in x 18 in box costs between Rs 1,500 (unbranded) to Rs 4,500 (branded) and a good electrician will take between Rs 1,000 to Rs 2,000 to replace the same. Another Rs 1,500 to Rs 2,500 may be spent in minor civil repairs and repainting of the existing wall. The total expenditure will amount to between Rs 4,000 to Rs 9,000.

Our house is situated near a popular street temple that is located in the corner of a local market. We have become immune to the light and the noise from the market and the temple, but it really troubles our guests. The light keeps them awake most of the night and shutting the windows to keep the sound out suffocates them. How do we tackle this problem?
Rajeev Gupta, Kanpur

You could make a few small changes to your guest room to make visitors a little more comfortable. For the disturbing electrical glare, start by installing double sets of curtains on the windows. The outer-most layer could be made of a special thick material that does not allow light to pass through it. This is a standard feature in most hotels. The inner curtain could then be made of sheer material that could be drawn during the day. Make sure the curtains overlap on all side of the wall as well as the top and bottom by at least 9 in (230 mm), otherwise the light will ‘leak’ into the room.

For the noise, one option would be to seal the window completely. If you don’t want to do that, then the other alternative is to install hermetically-sealed double-glazing in your existing windows. Though not very expensive (Rs 180 per sq ft to Rs 300 per sq ft), such glass has to be manufactured specially for a given size. Double glazing typically consists of two sheets of glass with a gap (vacuum) in between. You will need to make special provisions in the existing window shutter to house the additional thickness of this sandwich glass panel. The total thickness of this panel will be at least 22 mm (5-mm-thick inner glass + 12 mm gap + 5-mm-thick outer glass). But remember, double glazing will work as a soundproofing layer only when the window is shut.

If you choose to air condition this room and decide to shut the window for all practical purposes, then options like hollow glass bricks are also available. These will allow natural light to filter in and eliminate sounds completely. Glass bricks will also do away with the need for safety grills on the window. The extra thick, light-absorbing curtains will also help in absorbing sound.

We have to deal with mould growing out of the house walls and in clothes after we come back from short trips. What do I do to tackle the problem? With the constant rains and dampness, it is very difficult to keep anything free of fungal growth.
Suman Jain, Mumbai

Moulds and fungi travel through air, floating as tiny spores. As soon as they settle on a moist surface, they grow quickly. Ideally, they need cool, dark and damp environment to thrive and, like most microorganisms, moulds also need a non-acidic environment to survive. Once they settle on a surface, they grow quickly if left undisturbed. In case you suffer from breathing problems like hay fever, you will need to pay special attention to spaces like false ceilings or the gaps between modular cupboards and the rear wall or counter, etc. Fortunately, hollow wall construction has not picked up momentum in our country or else we’d have to find a way to prevent moulds from growing inside the cavities of the wall as well.

Some simple prevention techniques include keeping the air in the room moving as best as possible to discourage fresh growth of moulds. Keep the ceiling fan or the exhaust fan on for few hours in the day. Put on the light in the room during the day (if it is unduly dark). Dust off excess fungi from the wall surface using a dry soft cloth or a broom. Use the regular hand-held hair dryer to remove moisture from the fungi stains left behind on the surface after wiping it with a cloth. Washing the surface with light acid (white vinegar, diluted hydrochloric acid) will kill the fungi, but it tends to spoil the paint surface. Take this option only if the problem is very serious. Ensure there is no water leakage anywhere in the house. Moulds are unable to thrive on smooth wall surfaces clad with ceramic tiles.

There are a lot of termites in the chaukhat (frames) of our doors. Is it okay if we have them made in stone instead of wood? We are considering fixing flushed doors of 8 ft x 3 ft 3 in with floor springs and making all the hardware workable in granite stone frames. Will there be any issues if we don’t put regular butt hinges for door shutters and use floor springs to hold the shutters in place instead? We are keen on using this specification as then the internal frames will match the external ones where the sill and jambs are treated with Black Galaxy granite to accommodate uPVC doors and windows.
Fiza Khan, New Delhi

Termite and wood: Traditional wood frames are easy to work with as they possess the ability to hold the weight of the shutter by gripping the screws that are connected to the hinge. That said, most varieties of wood are prone to termite attack. This can be a big problem if the area is heavily infested. Most anti-termite treatments last for 4 to 8 years. Regular treatment becomes the only deterrent after a while.

Elimination of frame: Yes, you can replace wood frames with alternative materials like stone, glass, moulded polyurethane or even GRC (glass reinforced fibre concrete). You can also eliminate it entirely by fixing the shutter directly on floor springs (as mentioned by you). Door shutters, when fixed on floor springs, end up getting small gaps along their edges. This gap leads to air-conditioning losses with ingress of dust, sound and light into the room. This makes option less viable.

Creating a rebate in stone: You can create a rebate in the stone jamb by fixing an additional strip of stone along the edges of the shutter. Stone can easily be fixed onto stone using an epoxy compound (for example, Araldite). However, this will restrict the movement of the shutter to one side of the frame.

You could also fix the wooden shutter to the stone jamb using regular butt hinges. The flap of the hinge will be depressed into the side of the door shutter as well as the stone jamb as in a regular carpentry detail. The screws will now have to be drilled into the stone jamb and secured into place using an epoxy compound. Use a low RPM drill to make the holes, otherwise the stone might crack. Also use additional hinges so that the weight of the shutter is distributed over a larger number of hinges or screws.

Fixing wood frame on stone jambs: This concept of fixing stone on the jamb makes the edges of the windows and doors very neat but if the stone face is equal to or more than the entire face of the jamb, it will lead to complications in fixing the door/window frame to the masonry wall beneath the stone.

The most practical but aesthetically weak solution to this problem is to connect the frame to the rear masonry with expansion or chemical bolts. Having loosely fixed the wooden frames in their place, these bolts are drilled through the thickness of the frame continuing onto the stone jamb and the masonry wall behind. The bolt is then inserted into the hole and the nut is tightened into place from the exposed face of the door/window frame.

I suggest you keep the topmost edge of the nut slightly depressed within the exposed face of the frame. Ideally, the topmost surface of the nut should be 1/2 inch below the surface of the frame. This depression can be filled with a shallow wood piece of matching colour/grain.

Alternatively, you can secure the frame to the masonry first and then fix the stone jamb on either side of the frame. Other options/products are vendor specific and their hardware is not freely available in the market.