Recovering the potential in your cold storage

There are two strategies to dealing with a cold storage.

Either you close it off from the rest of your finished basement with a steel insulated door, or you embrace it as an area of great potential.

Now, you may question the great potential designation given to a room that was – up to this point – the go-to storage area for beets and potatoes. I understand the skepticism.

However, if you own a fridge and don’t have to hitch up the team of horses and wagon in preparation for your weekly ride into Dodge for supplies, then it’s probably safe to decommission this former storage site.

Where’s the potential? Well, the room most likely has four concrete walls and a concrete ceiling, creating the perfect soundproof environment for an office. Or, if space will permit, this could be a terrific theater, or fitness area.

Now, how do we make this room livable?

First, we’ve got to solve the outdoor issue. Cold storage areas are usually located under a poured concrete slab, which serves as a porch or landing, leading to the main entrance. To prevent moisture from seeping into our future living space, the porch surface will need to be sealed, or better yet, covered with a roof extended over it. Then, before we insulate, you’ll need to call your heating and cooling contractor, an electrician – and a plumber, if the room is to be served by a sink, shower, or some type of water supply.

The room will minimally need a little lighting and a few plug outlets. If the room is large enough, it will most likely need its own warm/cool air supply and cold-air return.

So, with this impending ductwork and electrical wiring to come, you’ll need a mechanical plan so that the ceiling joist can be framed in a manner that will least effect the floor-to-ceiling height. With a mechanical plan completed, we can insulate the exterior walls and ceiling.

It was common practice to put a couple of round, four-inch vents in the cold-storage wall. Because the air temperature and quality in this former cold storage area will now be serviced by your furnace, you won’t be needing this outside air source anymore. So, block them up with a pre-mixed sand/concrete product.

Next, and like any other concrete basement wall, we install a Johns Manville polyiso, ridged foam board, directly onto the concrete. With the reflective side of the foam board facing the interior, the Johns Manville polyiso can be fastened to the concrete with PL premium glue. Choose at least the one-inch thick foam sheathing, which offers R-6 of thermal value. A 1.5-inch thick foam sheathing is better, with a two-inch polyiso, offering R-12 of thermal resistance, being the best option. Seal the concrete ceiling of the cold storage with this same polyiso product.

Normally you wouldn’t need to insulate the ceiling area of a basement, because usually there’s a heated home over top. In the case of a cold storage, all you’ve got overtop is about eight inches of concrete. As a result, this cold storage ceiling is basically an extension of the foundation wall, and should be treated as such.

With the polyiso sheathing glued to the walls and ceiling – Tapcon screws with washers will help with the gravity issue – frame a 2×4 stud wall directly over the foam board. The existing cold storage height will determine whether 2×4 framing will be possible on the ceiling.

Added insulation, light fixtures, and ductwork, will all be easier to install if the ceiling can accommodate 2×4 or 2×6 framing. Otherwise, the ceiling will need at least to be strapped with 1×3 spruce.

Once the wiring is complete, fill the 2×4 cavity of both wall and ceiling with R-14 fiberglass pink insulation. Next, install a six-mm clear plastic over the insulation, then cover the wall and ceiling with a 0.5-inch, mold tough type drywall.

Enjoy your new found space.

Good building.

As published by the Standard-Freeholder
Handyman's Hints Standard-Freeholder Cornwall Ontario by Chris Emard

What to do about slow drains

Why does my kitchen sink drain so slowly?

It’s a question asked by many a frustrated homeowner after post supper cleanup has once again created a sink full of murky water.

Not surprisingly, the answer to this dilemma is quite simple. Basically, you’ve tossed, or have been tossing, something down the pipe other than water.

Solution? First, this may require a change in lifestyle. In other words, stop crushing food waste and vegetable cuttings through the sink drain basket like it was some type of manual garburator. Perhaps it’s time to get into the habit of composting.

Plus, make sure all oil, grease, and food matter get wiped clean off those pots and pans, then get tossed into the garbage. When the only thing going down the kitchen drain is soap and water, the chance of future clogs drops to zero. Concerning this present kitchen drain clog, you’ll either need to retrieve whatever waste matter you’ve allowed to go down the drain, or you’re going to have to flush it through.

Please avoid the toxic waste strategy. Otherwise known as the lazy man’s answer to a clogged drain, a quick fix chemical solution like ‘Plumber butt in a drum’ is a horrible alternative. One, you’re handling something where even inhaling the fumes is hazardous, let alone spilling a little on your hands.

And, for those septic system people, it’s probably the worst thing you could put into the tank, which eventually reaches the soil. Plus, if the chemical solution doesn’t de-clog the drain, and you continue the attempt to flush water through, the toxic liquid will back up into your sink, or dishwasher, and all appliances you have hooked up to the main kitchen drain.

When that happens the fumes will bowl you over quicker than news of the PK Subban trade. Then you’ll have to deal with what is essentially a toxic spill, where your sink and appliances will have to be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected.

Drains that move slowly, or continue to clog, could be due to a plumbing issue. Drain pipes need to be vented to the open air in order for waste water to flow properly. So, if the drain in question is lacking a proper air vent, or this air vent is blocked, or the cheater vent, a small mechanism used to vent a pipe when connecting to the main stack isn’t convenient, is jammed shut, then this will have to be remedied.

Or, the slope of the drain pipe could be too steep, or too level. Drain pipes need to be sloped to 1/4 inch per foot, and be of the correct size. A larger than necessary diameter of pipe will not be helpful in creating good flow if the water being fed into it is minimal.

Venting, as well as pipe slope and diameter, are issues that should be checked and corrected by a certified plumber. If the sink contains a few inches of standing water, try plunging. Similar to a toilet plunger, except smaller, and, try not to get the two mixed up, a sink plunger should be able to shake things up to the point where there’s at least a little movement.

Once the sink is dry, set the tap to hot, fill the sink back up to a few inches deep, then repeat the plunging. If plunging doesn’t work, you’ll need to insert a sink auger, a.k.a. snake, into the drain, pushing and twisting it until the entire length is buried in the piping.

Still not de-clogged? Get a bigger snake. Or, insert a “Y” with cover into the drain pipe in a section that may be close to the clogged area, normally where several pipes converge. Be sure to have a garbage pail, shop-vac, and towels at the ready, because who knows how much water is backed up. Then, try a longer drain auger. If all fails, then call in the professionals.

Good building.

As published by the Standard-Freeholder
Handyman's Hints Standard-Freeholder Cornwall Ontario by Chris Emard

Avoiding the shake down

REUTERS photo

It’s the same sensation of gut wrenching trauma the Montreal furriers’ felt when PK Subban was traded to Nashville.

What just happened? Well, due to your newly installed porch railing section having just failed the shake test, you, like the furrier shops, will be suffering a yet to be determined financial loss.

When a newel post, which is essentially the backbone of your spindle and rail system, fails the shake test, it brings two things into question.

One, is the newel post perhaps missing a few lag screws, and simply lacking the proper blocking (when extra pieces of 2×8 lumber are used to secure the post into the joist system)?

Or two, has the newel and subsequent railing system been installed in a manner that contradicts the stamped drawings regarding this product?

If it’s a case of adding a little lumber and a few screws, then the burden is one more trip to the lumber yard, and yet another opportunity to pick up a coffee and blueberry muffin at the local drive-thru.

If it’s a case of the railing not meeting code, or being improperly installed, the sense of nausea is your body’s reaction to the fact this deck is yet going to require more time, and money.

What is the shake test? The shake test is a battle between a fixed 4×4 newel post, made of either treated lumber, aluminum, or composite matter, and one motivated inspector. I’m not sure what amount of education and practice is required before an inspector attains his “shake ’em up” certification.

What we do know is that the training is intense. Once the inspector gets his or her hands on the newel, and the “shake” procedure begins, it would take a crow bar to pry their fingers off. Basically, the integrity of the post is challenged by clasping the top of the newel, and with subjective force, an attempt is made to move this post backwards and forwards.

If the degree of deflection (the measure to which the post can be forced off its 90 degree perch) is significant, the inspector will ask for the proper documentation regarding the manner of install.

This “documentation” element is going to be the make-or-break factor in how well the rest of your day is going to proceed. Either the next few hours will be spent in calm repose, once the documentation confirms your manner of install as being correct. Or alternatively, an error or omission is discovered in the strategy, leading to you performing donuts on your front lawn in therapeutic frustration.

As a homeowner about to build a deck, especially if a pool’s involved, it’s important to understand one key point. Your deck drawings may have been good enough to earn you a building permit, but this in no way signifies your deck and railing system is to code.

In other words, the building permit has simply OK’d your drawing. From this point on, it’s up to you to follow code, and have the proper engineered stamped drawings regarding your chosen components.

As an example, a deck plan with newel posts placed at every 8 ft. on center, will pass the permit stage.

However, not all railing systems are permitted to span 8 feet. Some composite railing systems are stamped acceptable for 6 ft. on center newels only.

Vinyl, composite, and aluminum railing systems, all have their specified manor of install, which will differ from wood, and even from manufacturer to manufacturer.

What happens is that 8 ft. composite railing sections get purchased and installed, and then it’s discovered the Ontario building code has only approved the 6 ft. long series of components.

Or, the newel posts get surfaced mounted to the deck, when the approved drawings indicate they should have been integrated into the joist system. So, avoid those big headaches by procuring the stamped drawings regarding your specific chosen line of products, first.

Then, proceed accordingly.

Good building.

As published by the Standard-Freeholder
Handyman's Hints Standard-Freeholder Cornwall Ontario by Chris Emard

The party is always in the kitchen

Every kitchen is unique and should be designed around your needs. (Alair Homes)
Every kitchen is unique and should be designed around your needs. (Alair Homes)

If you’re looking to build a new home, or looking to buy an existing home, or are thinking of renovating your kitchen, stop!

As sure as PK Subban has already come out with his own line of rhinestone cowboy hats and has likely recorded at least one duet with Nashville country pop star Carrie Underwood, the kitchen you’re planning on building, or renovating, is going to be too small.

For reasons unbeknownst to me, because I have no problem enjoying the comfort of a Lazy Boy recliner in the confirmed living room area of a home, when there’s a gathering of friends and family, people converge on the kitchen. If the kitchen happens to have a centre island, things get even worse.

Without provocation, the menfolk will surround the island, using it to prop themselves up like they were preparing to witness a cock fight. Then the golf stories and tales of past conquests begin. The remainder of the visiting crowd will either stand and talk in the archway leading into the kitchen, or grab a chair around the kitchen table.

Regardless, we’re all in the kitchen. Not that I have a problem with confined gatherings, but logistically, and if you’re the host, trying to get access to the fridge or utensil drawer once you’ve got this traffic jam of people can be a nightmare.

Why are people so attracted to an area that not only restricts movement, but in most cases, offers the least comfortable seating in the home? As far as I can deduce and regardless of the various discomforts, my research tells me the magnetic draw of the kitchen is directly correlated to its proximity to the booze and snacks.

So, with an “if you can’t beat them, join them” type of attitude, we enlarge the kitchen space.

Where to start?

Basically, the area once known as the living room has become redundant. The traditional dining room, which might see use a handful of times during the year, has become a total waste of space. So, we combine both these areas with the kitchen. We don’t want to cut down on bedroom space, nor storage area, while the main floor will require a bathroom and a small area for TV watching.

Every other bit of square footage needs to be dedicated to an expanse of space that in the future will be simply regarded as the kitchen.

How do we combine a series of rooms without having people feel they’re chatting in the old dining room or the former living room? After all, we don’t want our guests feeling alienated from the in-crowd of those persons standing in the original kitchen, where God forbid, they miss out on the 110th rendition of how my buddy Shooter Rockell managed to salvage par after driving his tee shot into the bunker on the 18th hole, maintaining his one-stroke advantage and eventual victory in the 1969 junior club championship.

Essentially, there are two key factors to designating your space as kitchen area – being the flooring, and, of course, an open concept.

Even if the floor tiles match, nobody will believe they’re in the kitchen if a wall is separating them from the cock fight gang around the centre island. So, and with your contractors’ and engineers’ stamped approval, we remove the wall once separating kitchen from dining area.

Next, we include the living room. If this means taking down a wall, or opening up an archway, then do what it takes to make this happen.

Basically, you should be able to flow freely along the entire space, engaging in a conversation about golf here, then about the PK Subban/Shea Webber trade there, all without risk of spilling your chardonnay by bumping into a sofa or tripping over an ottoman.

Where do the Leaf fans share their conversation? No change here, these persons are still restricted to the garage.

Make the best room in the home even better by creating a bigger kitchen.

Good building.

As published by the Standard-Freeholder
Handyman's Hints Standard-Freeholder Cornwall Ontario by Chris Emard

Practical kitchen flooring

A crisp white kitchen with Cambria quartz Summerhill countertops, vinyl plank flooring and stainless appliances. (Designer: Cassandra Nordell/Copyright William Standen Co. 2015)
A crisp white kitchen with Cambria quartz Summerhill countertops, vinyl plank flooring and stainless appliances. (Designer: Cassandra Nordell/Copyright William Standen Co. 2015)

When renovating a kitchen, one question always arises, “do we install the flooring first?”

A pretty straight forward question, indeed, and one that should come with a relatively straight forward answer.

However, nothing in the home construction biz is conveniently simple. Basically, there are two trains of thought when it comes to kitchen flooring.

From the contractor, or installer’s point of view, you install the flooring first.

Why? Because it’s easier. Installing hardwood or ceramic in a rectangular room is definitely preferable to having to cut and custom fit tiles around cabinets.

And logistically, it makes sense. The kitchen cabinets sit on the floor. So, why not install the flooring first. Plus, it’s absolutely essential that the cabinets not be buried inside the expanse of flooring.

When this happens, the dishwasher becomes practically irremovable for servicing, or replacement. And, the counter top height shortens by as much as an inch.

If you’re 5 ft. tall, then a shorter counter top is of little consequence. For a tall person, whose home life duties include having to chop up the vegetables for the weekly batch of spaghetti sauce, a shorter counter top will be the kiss of death for the lower back.

Finally, we don’t want the kitchen cabinets to sit directly on the subfloor, in their own type of moat, so to speak, because a leaky sink valve or faulty dishwasher connection could go unnoticed until the water makes its way well under the flooring, or into the basement below, creating all types of new problems.

So, we install the flooring first, right? Well . . . not so fast.

Logically and logistically, installing the flooring first might make sense.

However, when you examine the flooring issue from a more practical point of view, there are two reasons why I like installing the floor afterwards.

One, there’s far less chance of damaging a floor when it’s installed as the last piece of the puzzle. With finishing carpenters, plumbers, and electricians, all vying for elbow room within a standard 12×16 kitchen space, the trade traffic over the 3-4 week installation period is going to be busier than the front of a goalie’s crease come playoff time.

As a result, the chances of somebody dropping something, be it a drill battery, copper coupling, or piece of crown molding, on the floor, is conservatively estimated at 100%.

So, with most floors getting covered by a scattering of painter’s drop cloths, will the floor suffer a dent or scratch? Maybe, maybe not.

Alternatively, if the kitchen flooring is safely acclimatizing in the adjoining living room, carefully stacked in perfect, pre-packaged form, the odds of it being dented or scratched drop somewhere close to Carey Price’s GAA. And, once the floor is scratched, that’s it.

With 6-8 possible culprits, it might be difficult to pinpoint the guilty party. Then comes the awkward conversation regarding payback for floor repair or replacement which, of course, means this tradesperson has just worked the week for no pay.

Two, kitchen cabinets usually outlast their floors. If the original flooring goes underneath the cabinets, and prematurely needs to be replaced due to water damage or several cracked tiles, the cost of replacement, due to having to move the lower cabinet units, has just doubled.

Plus, with granite and quartz counter tops becoming the norm, along with ceramic tile backsplashes, everything is connected, which means touching a lower cabinet will inevitably affect the whole system. When the flooring simply butts up against the cabinet’s kick-plate, all these variables become a non-issue.

Key to the practical floor strategy is cabinet height, whereby the cabinet bases must be of equal height, or higher, to the finished floor. This will require the homeowner installing a three/quarter-inch fir plywood, and sheet of 1/4 inch mahogany, if necessary, underneath all cabinetry and islands. Treating the cabinetry and flooring as separate entities, in my opinion, is just practical.

Good building.

As published by the Standard-Freeholder
Handyman's Hints Standard-Freeholder Cornwall Ontario by Chris Emard