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Trim made simple with urethane millwork

Dear Ms. Builder: At a recent home show, we saw a lot of ornamental interior and exterior wood trim in the new houses. We would like to jazz up our house with it too. Is this a job that we can do ourselves? - Karl M.

Dear Karl: Adding decorative ornamental trim (often called millwork) can make a striking improvement in the appearance of any house. Both indoors and outdoors, this trim is what often gives an older house "character".

Most ornamental trim that you see on older houses, and many expensive newer houses, is probably made of real wood. Although you may think that you see only one trim piece, it is often made up of many pieces and hidden spacers. This is usually a job for an experienced carpenter.

Don't fret if you are not a carpenter. Technology has come to your rescue with urethane millwork. Although it is more expensive than wood, urethane millwork and moldings require less installation time. They are available in almost any architectural style, Colonial, Victorian, etc.

If you are an inexperienced do-it-yourselfer, urethane millwork is your only real option. Considering the labor savings by doing it yourself, it is substantially less expensive than having a carpenter build it from wood. You basically work with it just like real wood with the same tools.

Another advantage of urethane millwork is that it is practically maintenance free once installed. It will not rot, warp or split like wood trim that was not properly finished on all sides before installation. You can paint it with any acrylic latex house paint.

Make sure to check out all the styles and designs available before making your selection. If you have trouble finding urethane millwork, try some of these suppliers - Chemcrest (800-665-6653), Focal Point (800-662-5550),Fypon (800-537-5349) or Stylemark (800-446-3040).

Urethane millwork is easy to work with, but the key to a satisfactory job is following the manufacturer's instructions carefully. Cutting, assembling, gluing, etc. procedures can vary among the various manufacturers.

When installing urethane trim, keep in mind that, even though, it feels very strong, it is strictly for decorative applications. Do not try to use it to support anything else. It should only support its own weight. Any flower boxes, curtain covers, etc. should be attached to a structural member in the walls.

When installing urethane trim outdoors or near a window, keep it out of the direct sun rays. Since urethane is basically a plastic material, it will expand if it gets hot. If you cut a hot long piece to the precise length needed, it will shrink and be too short when it cools.

I cannot overly stress to read the manufacturer's instructions. Some designs require that you cut the pieces slightly longer than you would think they should be. When installing them, you force them into place with a snap fit. Depending on the style that you select, you may glue some pieces together. Be sure to buy the proper adhesive or you are asking for future problems.

Exterior urethane trim can withstand most temperatures and thermal expansion/contraction. The only concern is when installing exterior urethane trim over vinyl siding. Vinyl has a very large expansion/contraction rate and it is always attached loosely to the house, with slots in it, to accommodate the size changes.

Driving nails through the urethane trim into the wall would lock the vinyl siding into place and cause problems. To do it right, lightly tack the trim in place with nails just deep enough to mark the vinyl siding. Remove the trim and drill larger holes through the siding. Caulk the holes and nail the trim in place. Don't nail it down so tightly that it restricts the vinyl movement.

Tools and materials required: Hammer, countersink punch, square, level, saws, miter box, caulking gun, tape measure, stainless steel nails, caulking, adhesives, sandpaper, paint

Send your questions to Ms. Builder, 6906 Royalgreen Dr., Cincinnati, OH 45244 or visit www.dulley.com/msbuilder.