About MDF moldings

The focal point of this master bedroom is neither the stunning bed nor the separate sitting area. Rather the eye is drawn to the trayed ceiling with a dazzling uplighting that washes it with light and color. The romance of the mood lighting becomes obtainable by the dial of a dimmer. Decorative crown molding hides the wires and bulbs, leaving only clean lines and light. Postmedia Network

Next to giving your interior walls a fresh coat of paint, investing in new casings, baseboards, and crown moldings is one of the best value added ways of improving your home.

That being so, there are some basic finishing rules to follow, along with a few installation strategies, that’ll help make working with MDF moldings all the more easier.

If you haven’t shopped for finishing trims in the last 15 years or so, the market has almost totally gone MDF (medium density fiberboard). You can still buy the finger-joint, clear pine, oak, and poplar species of casings and baseboards, but with the fashion trend still leaning towards painted moldings, as opposed to staining, MDF delivers the biggest bang for the buck.

Simply put, MDF is far cheaper in price, and is available in far more profiles, than traditional paint grade moldings such as finger-joint pine or poplar. Because the MDF product consists of sawdust and various glues, some home builders, fearing the off-gassing or VOC (volatile organic compound) element of a manufactured product, choose solid wood.

Actually, all wood species omit small doses of formaldehyde in their natural state. However, today’s MDF moldings are purchased factory sealed with a primer, which basically eliminates the off-gassing or VOC factor. As a result, the off-gassing or VOC concern regarding MDF moldings is old news, dating back about 20 years.

If you’ve worked with real wood moldings in the past, and are looking to install your own MDF casings and baseboards today, there’s one major factor that separates MDF from the popular finger–joint pine moldings of the 70’s and 80’s, and that’s the fact MDF moldings accept a nail the same way a cat accepts being tossed into a pool of water.

MDF moldings don’t like regular finishing nails, or being hammered, or being pre-drilled, and due to being so hard and somewhat brittle a product, the moldings’ edges can dent easily if over-handled.

Therefore, if you’re about to take on the task of installing MDF, be sure to buy, rent, or borrow, a pneumatic finishing nailer. What about pre-drilling the MDF, then tapping in a finishing nail, you may ask? Although a useful technique with hardwoods, a finishing nail tapped into MDF (even if pre-drilled) will cause the surface material to puff out once the nail head embeds the surface, creating a bump, which will essentially look lousy. MDF moldings absolutely need to be air nailed, and there’s no getting around that.

Rules to follow when choosing a casing and baseboard? One, they should match each other, of course, and two, the casing always needs to be thicker than the base. The baseboard molding will in most cases be wider than the casing, but it should never be thicker.

Some folks choose a thicker baseboard, with the strategy that it will hide the expansion spacing required between a wall and the hardwood or laminate flooring, thereby saving on the need for a shoe molding. Please don’t commit this finishing faux pas. Too thin a casing, or even a casing that is the same thickness of the base, looks horrible. When these two moldings meet, the shadow line created by having the casing thicker than the base, is key to proper finishing.

If you absolutely can’t live with a shoe mold following the perimeter of the floor, or have fallen in love with a particularly thick baseboard molding, and as a result, are left with too thin a casing, consider using a back-band molding to beef up the thickness of the casing.

Next, pre-paint your casings and baseboards before installing them. This strategy simply takes advantage of gravity, given that it’s easier to paint a molding while it’s lying flat, than sitting up on a wall.

Finally, caulk the seam where the casing or baseboard meets the wall, but never the miter joint. Gaps in a miter or butt joint can’t be saved with caulking. If the joint’s not tight, accept the loss and cut it over again.

Good building.

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

The should’a, could’a, would’a dilemma

I got a call the other day from a lady, a senior, who’s completely dissatisfied with the renovation work just completed on her older home.

I don’t know this lady, nor was I familiar with the contractor responsible for this debacle, nor did we supply any of the material for this project, but she wanted me to pass by her place in order to inspect the job, pass judgment, confirm the inadequacy of this job performance, so that once documented, this fellow could be taken to court for the sake of her complete financial restitution.

When I informed this person I am not a licensed contractor, nor a home inspector and that I don’t really feel comfortable leaving the safe confines of my office – because I’ve watched enough horror movies to know unassuming retailers like myself, upon entering a dark and gloomy century home owned by some little old lady will, nine times out of 10, end up buried in the basement – she understood my apprehension.

According to the descriptive manner relating to how these various wall, window, and floor products were installed, there was more than likely a cause for concern.

However, passing judgment on the work of others is easy, especially if you haven’t seen the before picture and are unfamiliar with the circumstances and limitations relating to this project.

In other words, sure the floor is crooked and maybe the windows don’t fit so flush with the inside wall, but was it contractor incompetence that led to these errors, or a restricted budget with limited resources?

Regardless, there are legal means by which to pursue somebody who’s failed to satisfy the stipulations set out in your working contract. Although I’m unqualified to comment further on the legal or courtroom process, what I can say with assurance is the strategy of chasing somebody who doesn’t want to be found in order to be financially compensated should be a last-ditch effort.

How do we avoid these legal costs of time and money?

Do your contractor-research homework before starting the project.

In this case, the person hired was a friend, of a friend, of a neighbour, and was known to do renovation jobs for cash after completing his regular job of delivering pizza and smuggling cigarettes across the St. Lawrence River.

There’s nothing saying such a versatile fellow can’t be a qualified and licensed contractor as well. But, when their cell phone numbers change from week to week, and always with a robotic message response, the odds of this guy being legit are pretty slim.

This lady should have given one of us building supply dealers a call. From a list of qualified and licensed carpenters, she could have chosen a few names and requested quotes pertaining to each job. Upon meeting the various carpenters, she would have then chosen the person most qualified for the job, based on references provided, who best understood what she wanted, and who she felt most comfortable with.

Two mistakes first-time, or only occasional renovating homeowners do, is one: choose a contractor based on who’s available at the time; and, two: go too big, demanding too many tasks of a contractor, especially if they’re only a two-or-three-person outfit.

If your preferred contractor is weeks away from being available, book him in accordingly, and wait.

Unless you’ve got a foot of water in the basement, or a tree limb puncturing through the east side of your home, rarely does a home renovation fall under the category of urgent.

If you’ve got a lot of jobs to get done, break up your renovations into manageable segments. So, if you’re going to be replacing a few windows, get that done, assess the quality of the workmanship, then move on to the flooring, or whatever’s next.

Taking things step by step keeps you in control of the situation, helps minimize the mess, and maintains your sanity throughout.

Good building.

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

Band aids are for cuts

File #182, case name “Moldy Band Aids ”, has a young couple searching for a mold resistant paint in order to protect their joists and plywood from mold.

The couple had just added a 400 sq. ft. four season sunroom, including a full height basement, onto their existing 1200 sq. ft. home. While in the freshly poured basement, they noticed mold growing on the 2×10 floor joists and plywood below the newly finished area above. Their intentions were to scrub off the mold, then paint the floor joists and underside of the plywood, creating a less desirable surface for this household menace to grow on.

Although their strategy to paint the joists and plywood wasn’t totally flawed, with there certainly being mold resistant paints and primers available, it was definitely a young person’s solution. Encouraging somebody who’s 60-plus to reach up and paint floor joists, providing them with the opportunity to revive some of those old shoulder joint pains, would be like convincing them to bungee jump.

As they were further explaining the situation, my thoughts were more directed towards what was causing this mold issue in the first place. They requesting my recommendation of paints or primers, was kind of like seeking my advice as to what size of pail would best remedy a leaky faucet.

Bandage solutions are for the young, because they have the energy to watch them fail, then do them all over again. When you get older, your goal is to do things once. My suggestion was to focus on the real issue, which is what’s causing the mold, as opposed to choosing the proper roller and angled paint brush.

Mold requires the same three elements for survival as us humans, them being air, food, and water. Eliminate any one of the three, and you will have solved the mold problem. Air, we all require, while food particulates floating around in the home’s atmosphere are going to be practically impossible to control. So, that leaves water. Upon further questioning, it was discovered that the basement area had yet to be heated, and was simply accessible through a doorway, whereby the finished area above was being serviced by a gas stove. The original 1200 sq. ft. home is being heated by the only unit the house has ever known, a 16-year-old gas furnace.

Solution? This newly poured basement is exuding gallons of moisture, which is no doubt feeding this thriving colony of mold. As a result, this couple has got to get some air circulation and heat into the basement. When I inquired as to the existence of a heat or air exchanger, the fellow thought that there was indeed a unit attached to the furnace, although its age was uncertain. When I inquired as to their plans on replacing the furnace, since their existing unit was certainly near the end of its life cycle, and was going to be asked to further handle 30 per cent more living space, the fellow assured me the unit was in good working order, and that there were no plans for a change.

“What about installing an air/heat exchanger in the new basement area, wouldn’t that solve the moisture issue?” the fellow questioned. Perhaps, but again, we’re talking an $800 band aid solution. Basically, the budget for this rather extensive renovation should have included a complete reconfiguration of the heating systems and ductwork by a HVAC (Heating, Cooling, and Air conditioning) contractor or engineer. What this home needs is a high efficiency furnace and HRV (Heat Recovery Ventilation) unit, along with the necessary ductwork to circulate heat, and draw air out of the new basement and living space above.

If you’re not sure as to the efficiency of a mechanical unit, or whether it needs replacement, consider the age and reliability of your machine in dog years. That big number should help in your decision to upgrade the mechanical services in your home.

Good building.

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

So, what’s changed?

Stuff happens for a reason. The domino effect. If you fail to plan, then you plan to fail. We have found the enemy, and he is us. These are phrases the average homeowner and do-it-yourselfer knows all too well. And, barring the existence of Gremlins, or the phenomena of bad luck, why is it that home renovations never go quite so smoothly, with the results often being below expectations?

Understanding that most products have undergone some type of testing, quality control, and have a general history of use, there are still a couple of variables that can make or break the success of a renovation project, them being the labor factor, and the environment in which these products are being installed.
Not hiring a professional tradesperson, and doing the job yourself, certainly adds risk to any project, as does not preparing or modifying the home’s structure, in order to effectively accept whatever you’re proposing to add or change.

Matter at hand, Case # 625, the mysterious popping ceramic floor tiles. After renovating their kitchen, this couple installed ceramic floor tiles on their kitchen floor, and the adjoining hallway. Then, a few months later, tiles in various spots began to pop loose. The homeowner was at a loss as to why his tiles weren’t sticking, since he had laid tiles before, and therefore was somewhat experienced. Plus, the kitchen had an existing tile floor (which was removed purely for esthetic reasons), in which there was never an issue of cracked tiles or loose grout lines beforehand, therefore the subfloor was presumably sound. “With all things being consistent, why are these new tiles not sticking?” the fellow questioned. “So, what’s changed?” was my response. “There were no changes” he said. “We simply replaced the kitchen cupboards and counters, added some lighting, and basically worked within the same rectangular area as before” he continued. “But” he then paused for a moment, “we did add an island to the middle of the space”, he remembered, “but that was it” he concluded.

Just to be clear to all you folks out there in home renovation land, using the terms “replace” and “add” are indeed indications that changes have occurred. In this case, about 900 pounds of granite top and cabinetry was added to the center (essentially the weakest, and most bouncy part) of the kitchen floor. You have to then consider that a kitchen Island is a natural magnet for family and guests to gather around, sampling snacks, enjoying a beverage, all while recounting compelling tales of their storied past. This presents another 800-1200 pounds of walking, moving matter, all combining to somewhat deflect the natural state of the floor joists, while certainly creating stomping reverberations throughout the underlay plywood.

Ceramic, porcelain, and slate tiles make for excellent kitchen floors, provided of course that the subfloor, and substrate, are absolutely rock solid. This beautiful kitchen was no doubt adding tremendous living quality to this couple’s home, but it was unfortunately creating a somewhat unstable environment for their ceramic floor.

Again, stuff happens for a reason. This isn’t a case of bad luck, just poor planning. And the enemy? The homeowner, of course, for not dealing properly with this 2000 pound hippopotamus in the room. In hindsight (and not that it’s too late), the kitchen floor should have been bolstered with additional joists, perhaps doubling up on every cross member. Or, if the basement area is unfinished, and should space allow, a supporting wall could be framed directly underneath the island. Furthermore, a Ditra matting would have been a good idea in lieu of all this extra cabinetry, and heavier appliances. Ditra is an orange, dimpled membrane that effectively distributes the weight bearing load of a ceramic floor, ensuring its stability. Finally, was the proper, or quality mortar and grout used to glue these tiles in position? Premium mortars and grouts are more costly, but offer greater flexibility, and are a better choice for larger floor tiles and high traffic areas.

Good building.

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