Ask a Contractor: Alon Toker

Alon TokerEver wish you could ask a licensed contractor some remodeling questions with no hint of pressure to sign a contract? Here is your chance.

This week’s guest expert, contractor Alon Toker, will be answering your remodeling questions online through Sunday.

Here are the facts:

Name: Alon Toker
Title: President
Company: Mega Builders, Chatsworth
Contractor’s License No.: 623980
Awards: Remodeling Magazine Big 50
Remodeling Magazine feature: Before + After: Cottage Remodeling Down to the Details

The question period is over. Check out the Q&A in the comment section below.

21 Comments on Ask a Contractor: Alon Toker

  1. Janet Laich

    Dear Alon,
    I have an old 6’x8′ concrete slab in my entryway that I want to stain and polish. I have used a 5″ angle grinder to remove old tile glue and tile lines. There are shallow holes by the edges I want to fill. What kind of patching compound will accept stain? What stain will result in a solid dark color? What concrete sealer should I use? What diamond ginders will polish to a semi-gloss finish? In what order do I perform the preceding steps?
    Thanks in advance for your help!

  2. Kathy Price-Robinson

    As this week draws to an close, I want to thank you, Alon, for being the first guest in our new “Ask an Expert” series. You have been so generous to the participants. And I’m really impressed with the breadth of your remodeling knowledge.
    As we discussed, you will be willing to do this again in a couple of month. And I look forward to that. Again, thank you!

  3. Alon Toker

    Rick, with regards to recommending a craftsmen for your entertainment unit; possibly of greater value to you (and to all the readers), would be tips on how to find competent craftsmen. Start by identifying candidates. Ask around (friends, family, office, and neighborhood) or get references from referralweb sites (e.g. This should provide enough names to consider. Be clear about what you need and about your budget and make certain all craftsmen are looking at/pricing the exact same unit. Review everyone’s portfolio (don’t be fooled by magazine cut-outs or digitally fabricated images). Eliminate from your list all who are not licensed, not insured and/or all who do not have a perfect record with the CSLB and the BBB. Ask to visit the shop (is it orderly? are there other units similar to yours being made? is it a viable operation? etc.) and talk with several past and present clients. What you should not do is evaluate and give priority to the ‘low-ballers’ or those charging the least, as you will typically get what you pay for.

  4. Alon Toker

    Jillian, with regards to your exterior wall; it is unclear what is the wall’s finish assembly. If the wall is stuccoed, than the problem lies with the studs, in which case the stucco would need to be stripped and the deformed studs replaced. If the wall has siding or paneling, what you observe is most likely a deformity of the finish material and not necessarily the framing members, in which case the siding/paneling would need to be stripped and redone (complete with the water proofing). Whichever it is, the cause need to be identified. You are correct that the likely culprit would be water. Alas, it would need to be established if it is plumbing based (i.e. the ‘sink’) or from the elements (or sprinklers). I would think that any competent siding (or stucco, as the case may be) contractor would know what to do. Good luck!

  5. Rick

    My wife and I own a 1200 sq.ft. home in which everything seems to require the smallest version. As a result, months of shopping for just about any piece of furniture yields few to no good results and we end up have custom items built. So far, we haven’t been completely satisfied with any of the craftsmen we’ve tried. Our next need is for a built-in entertainment unit/bookcase. Can you recommend any craftsmen that serve the West Los Angeles area?
    Thank you,

  6. Jeannie

    Thanks to Alon for taking the time to answer my question about grey water.

  7. Jillian

    Dear Alon,
    I hope you can steer me in the right direction, and thanks in advance. I live on the ground floor of a gorgeous two storey, six unit condo built in 1940. I suspect that my upstairs neighbors’ kitchen sink (located directly above my back door) had in years past leaked, and the water went unnoticed into the wall, becoming an open invitation to termites. Now, the wall surrounding my door is buckling outward, extending several feet in both directions. I’ve lived here for six years and I’m just now unable to open my exterior security door. I’ll try to describe what it looks like as best I can.
    About 8 to 10 feet on either side of the back door the exterior wall starts to pull away from the building centering at my door. Horizontally the worst of the offset runs about 2 feet higher than exterior ground level, at first floor door jamb height. Vertically the wall sharply slopes out, at ground level the wall is normal. At 2ft above ground level the wall is 4 inches away from where it should be. From 2 feet above ground to 12 ft above ground, the wall gradually slopes back to normal (at about upstairs floor level). I hope this makes sense.
    The good news is that it’s an association issue, so I won’t have to pay for the whole thing myself. I would like to know if there are different options for repair and their cost, as well as who to call. Would any contractor be able to help, or do I need a specialist with specific experience? Lastly, what is it that I need to have done exactly and what is it called? I’ve researched on the net and This Old House etc., but to no avail.
    Warmest regards,

  8. Alon Toker

    John, jacking up the edge of the overhang (needs to be done gradually and in small increments) and replacing the post, should not be too expensive. The exact cost would depend on several variables which are unknown to me, but I would guess the range to be from $500-$2000. You might wish to have the structure checked for termites and termite-damage and/or for dry rot as your installer’s weight should not have caused such damage. Also, 40′ for the overhang beam sounds awfully much and is probably not the case. The crack-zone could be sandwiched with steel plates that would be bolted together or the beam could be replaced or ‘sistered’ to another. Good luck!

  9. Alon Toker

    Grey water system; Jeannie, if your home was built before 1992 the greywater system that was there could not have been permitted (greywater were permitted for use in California in 1992). A grey water system would require review and approval from both Building & Safety Department of the city of Los Angeles (if the house is within the city limits) and from the county’s Public Health Department. As very few such systems are being installed or in operation, finding plumbers with know-how in that area might indeed prove challenging. Start by further educating yourself (many resources on-line). You might than wish to contact equipment manufacturers for local installers of their systems Also try NARI and the NAHB for referrals. Good luck!

  10. Alon Toker

    Ann, with regards to your ‘gap in drywall on downhill side’ question; the phenomena that you describe is not all that uncommon. To better evaluate the significance of the issue you might want to document (measure, take a picture, etc.) the existing condition and revisit the gap in 6 and in 12 months. If you find no further separation, treat this as a cosmetic issue (that would, unfortunately always recur). If the gap widens (as I suspect it would after heavy rains) you might wish to take this further. While consulting a geologist and a structural engineer would be your safest and best bet, if the separation is not ‘alarming’ an experienced builder should be able to help you with beefing up the downhill footing to help mitigate the issue.

  11. John

    To Alon: I have a ranch house built in 1949. An air conditioner contractor working on my roof (that’s where the air conditioner/heating combo is located) walked on an overhang portion of the roof which apparently was not supported well below. The long wood horizontal beam supporting the overhang cracked and the roof now noticably sags slightly causing water runoff to accummulate in the middle of the gutter. How expensive will it be to reinstate the support pole below in new concrete and push the roof back up? Can the cracked beam be repaired? Purchasing a new thick wood beam 40 feet long may be very difficult! Thank you.

  12. Jeannie

    When I bought my house, the previous owners had set up their own “grey water” system” directing the water from the laundry to the garden. Because I did not “get it” at the time, I had the owners convert it to a traditional system (going out to the sewer) before I moved in. Now I realize what a fool I was, especially because I live in a perrenially dry area. I would like to get the system restored to grey water, but I don’t know what kind of contractor to contact. (My plumber didn’t know anything.) The previous owners are no help because he was a builder and had just done it himself.

  13. Ann

    A gap of about 1/4 inch, running a length of about 6 inches, between the wall and ceiling exists in 2 rooms along the same exterior wall. I’ve consulted 3 general contractors, each had a different view, ranging from having a geologist do the soil study and potentially recommend the house be sured up (estimated $30K) to do nothing as this is common with loamy soil and older houses and is more an aesthetic than structural issue. What questions do I ask to set my mind at ease as to the right course of action?
    House situated on a small hill, gaps are on the downhill side, house built in 1963, one story 1400sf home.

  14. Alon Toker

    To J Reyes, with regards to your siding question; while in theory you could recover old siding with new, I would advise against it. First and foremost, you would miss an excellent opportunity to address any possible dry rot or termite damage to the framing. You will also be unable to properly waterproof around openings. Further, as the ‘wall condition’ changes (becomes thicker) the jambs (of both doors and windows) would need to be extended. If you would cover over the old siding, the end result would not be as attractive as in a new install. Besides, unless your old siding has asbestos in it (you should have it tested), there are really no savings involved is going over.

  15. Alon Toker

    Ellen, with regards to your question about the asbestos ducts; as there is no likely risk of getting the asbestos in the old ducts airborne, your home inspector’s input is accurate. If, however, you wish not worry about any legacy issues, abating the ducts should cost $600-$800. Good luck!

  16. Alon Toker

    Drywall Vs. Plaster; Given the substantial cost spread between drywall and plaster (plaster costing two to four times more) the main reason to consider interior plastering would be odd-shaped surfaces (e.g. coved ceilings) or a very strong preference for the more luxurious finish.
    drywall, on the other hand, could be more easily repaired, would be faster to install and competent installers are readily available. Additionally, plaster being a moisture-intense product is less desirable for interior work.
    As far as sound insulation goes, both plaster and drywall are unremarkable. Specific methodologies in wall construction will help you there.

  17. J Reyes

    Can siding, e.g., fiber cement, be re-sided without being torn down? Can a moisture barrier be applied over the existing siding and sided over?

  18. Ellen

    For this house I am interested in buying, my home inspector warned me that the ducts from the old furnace system (gravity heater) in the basement has asbestos. Because the house is being sold “as is,” the inspector told me that since the gravity heater was no longer in use, I could simply paint over the ducts to ensure that the asbestors would be “enclosed.” Otherwise, I could have the ducts removed. What do you think? How much do you think it would cost to have the ducts properly removed? (The house is about 1400 sq. ft.) Personally, I’d feel nervous about moving into a house knowing that there’s asbestos in it. I’d appreciate any advice. Thanks in advance.

  19. D.C.

    In a remodeling article a few months ago, there was passing mention of the couple redoing the walls and ceiling with actual classic plaster — then nothing more about it, even in the cost recap sidebar. This really piqued my interest.
    I, too, have an early-century home with plaster walls and ceilings. It seems plaster professionals are increasingly hard to come by. Part of me looks at these cracked surfaces and thinks, ‘Yes, it’s cracked, but it’s almost a hundred years old. Would drywall fare any better?’
    My questions:
    1) How easy/difficult is it to replace real plaster?
    2) How much does it cost?
    3) What are the advantages and disadvantages of drywall vs. plaster. For instance, the plaster seems to hold sound in better, and is perhaps more durable.
    On this last question I’ve found it’s difficult to get an objective answer from people. Certain people maintain there are no advantages at all to plaster and that it’s more expensive and far more difficult to install. I always suspect these people just don’t know how to do plaster and therefore advocate drywall.
    What’s your opinion? Thanks in advance.

  20. Alon Toker

    To CK, regarding your wood floors; If at all possible, I would advise to avoid another sanding of the floors as the number of times the floors could be sanded is limited. You can try red oak wood filler (for pre-finished floors) on a section and see if you like the result. You can than make a weekend project out of doing the whole floor. Just remember that when applied to large gaps the filler will likely fall out in time.

  21. CK

    During our remodel, our existing wood floors got soaked during an unexpected rainstorm last spring. They were refinished in September. Since December, I’ve noticed some gaps between the lengths of the boards maybe 1/16 inch wide. Is there a way to fill the gaps without refinishing the whole floor? Should I fill these gaps or leave them alone? The wood floors are 3/4 inch red oak about 40 years old and they have been refinished two times.

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