The crooked kitchen

Crooked kitchen? Handyman Hints will straighten this out. Postmedia Network

There was a crooked man, and he walked a crooked mile. He found a crooked sixpence upon a crooked style. He bought a crooked cat, who caught a crooked mouse, and they all lived together in a little crooked house.

What does this 1840, James Orchard Halliwell poem have to do with renovating a home? Well, it reminds us that in most renovation cases, the floors, walls, and ceilings are rarely level. Why, and especially in older homes, they might even be described as crooked. Now, is crooked bad? Absolutely not. Crooked, as long as the area of concern is structurally sound, means only crooked. “Falling over” is what we call something that’s crooked and experiencing structural failure. The difference between the two is that when something’s falling over, we call the bulldozer. When something’s crooked, we pick up an extra bundle of shims.

This week on the docket, case #333, has our Mr. and Mrs. Straight looking to replace the kitchen in a most recently purchased older home. The Straights are professional people, very level, not a hair out of place, by the book perfectionists. Unfortunately, they were charmed by an older stone house, which they recently purchased. Now Mr. and Mrs. Straight are owners of a beautiful, charming old stone home, that’s of course, a little crooked.

First renovation task on the to-do list, replace the crooked kitchen. The challenge facing the people measuring and installing the cabinetry, is that the upper and lower cabinet units are of course perfectly square. So, how do we fit perfectly square things into a space where not only the floor is slanted, but the walls are somewhat off level as well? Plus, the counter top the Straights have chosen will be made of granite, a versatile product in many ways that nevertheless doesn’t include the term pliable in its list of characteristics. Therefore, it appears we’re being asked to fit a flat, rectangular top, and a bunch of square pegs, into what appears to be a space more fit to receive a trapezoid.

Considering the Straights demand and general expectations of perfection, how can we possibly make these square things fit nice and snug into a not so square space? In most cases, when faced with installing cabinets into an area where the floors and walls are not level, the homeowner will have to face one of two choices. Either you level the floor and re-address the walls, or you increase the ordered height of the toe boards (a.k.a. kick-plates) that run along the floor, have a few filler pieces on hand, and add to the length of any cabinet panels that will see use as a finished end. The reason these finishing pieces will need to be slightly exaggerated in size, is so that they can be cut down and custom fitted on site, once the main cabinetry units have been shimmed and leveled to the appropriate height.

In the case of an older stone home, where 100 years of settling have left you with an old dog that really doesn’t want to be moved, you would usually work within the parameters of whatever the space provides. In a newer home or apartment, floor leveling compounds can bring a floor back to level, provided your plan is to refinish the floor. There’s also the engineering option, where existing beams and posts can be replaced or fortified, after hydraulic jacks have lifted a sagging floor structure back to level. Because Mr. and Mrs. Straight didn’t want to risk the integrity and charm of the slanted, older pine floor, and hand finished lath and plaster walls, those items were left and accepted as crooked. With the cabinetry and counter top installed at a perfectly level working height, along with a new sink, new taps, and improved lighting, the fact that the toe plates were slightly narrower at one end was only noticeable to those who knew. With the world of level fitting into a world of crooked, along with two happy Straights, case #333 was closed.

Good building.

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

Mysterious moisture

Do mysteries exist? Or, is there usually an explanation for everything?

Did the discoverers of King Tut’s tomb open themselves up to a deadly curse? Or, do people sometimes die in a strange, untimely manner? Are the mid-western crop circles proof of aliens visiting earth? Or, simply a case of what a few artistically inclined, Jack Daniels inspired rednecks can do with a couple of 4-wheel drive vehicles under a full moon? However, nobody has an answer surrounding the mystery of why Carey Price can’t stop anything less than a beach ball.

Today’s situation, file #742, titled “The Mystery Puddle”, has us examining the case where a homeowner, upon descending into his basement, discovers a small section of his carpet drenched in water. A visual inspection confirms that the sump pump is working, and there appears to be no type of rain water, or sewer type backup. Therefore, we’re not talking flood.

Furthermore, there’s no water trickling down due to a cracked pipe or leaky fitting from the kitchen above, while the gyprock on the finished basement wall adjacent to the puddle, is completely dry. So, where’s this water coming from? Again, we’re not talking about a ton of water, but still enough squishy dampness in the carpet to soaker you if you happen to be wearing socks or slippers.

As always, when something happens for the first time, we refer to problem solving question number one, that being, what changed? There are no apparent faults in the piping, wall, or concrete floor, and, with average temperatures well below zero, there’s no winter thaw that could have put added pressure on the foundation or weeping tile. So, what’s up?

This water couldn’t have just appeared out of thin air. Well, maybe not thin air, but just maybe, out of thick air. Getting back to the question concerning what changed? We discover that our subject is a good neighbor. With the person next door having water issues, as in no water, due to a broken main line, our fellow was helping out by feeding his neighbor’s home with water 24 hours a day, for about two days, until the situation was remedied. As a result, the copper line feeding into our subject’s home was continually being fed with water, very cold water, as it strived to serve two homes. So, what happened? And, where did the pooling water come from?

Water enters the home via a one inch copper pipe that feeds off the city’s main line. During the winter months, this water is very cold, sometimes just a few degrees above freezing. If the water enters the home, and just sits in the pipe, seeing occasional movement by means of clothes washing, showering, cooking, or whatever, then both the water and intake copper pipe will warm up to room temperature. However, if the water is always flowing, as in the case of supplying a few homes with several occupants, or if the person you’re supplying water to happens to be building a regulation sized hockey rink in their backyard, then the cold water entering your home will stay cold, as will the pipes. That’s the, what’s happening?

When a cold pipe is left in a warm environment, condensation occurs. That’s where the water came from. In this case, the intake copper pipe was buried behind the drywall. With the copper pipe in a constant state of cold, condensation resulted to the point where water droplets would run down the pipe, through the gaps in the framed wall, then hit the concrete floor, spreading underneath the carpet. Solution to pipes sweating or creating condensation? Wrap the cold pipes with lengths of foam insulation, reduce the moisture content of the basement air by means of a HRV unit or dehumidifier, run a few oscillating fans in order to help circulate the air, and keep those backyard rinks somewhat smaller than regulation. Case #742 closed.

Good building.

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

Composite vs. wood: like trading in Trigger for that Mustang

Purchasing a new automobile can be expensive, as can be the purchase of composite decking.

Further to that big expense, driving your new car off the showroom floor will have you suffer an immediate investment loss of about nine per cent— and by year end, this once-shiny beauty will have declined a full 19 per cent in value.

Following the automotive trend, the ROI (return on investment) of a composite deck is about 75 per cent, essentially incurring the home renovator a 25 per cent hit on their just-made purchase.

So, if purchasing an automobile is such a lousy investment and if owning a composite deck means losing 25 cents on every dollar spent, why would a consumer consider either one of these products?

Because the alternative to owning an automobile is basically riding a horse, while the options to composite decking include cedar, treated spruce, or IPE, all falling under the category of wood.

Am I suggesting the ease of using and caring for an automobile, in relation to having to stable a horse, is in any way comparable to the merits of investing in a composite deck, as opposed to real wood?

Absolutely.

After two years of living with a composite deck, which followed 25 years of maintaining both treated lumber and cedar decks, I can without prejudice, qualify the distinction of composite decking relating directly to the experience of driving off in a new car, compared to lumber, which would be like saddling up your 20-year-old plug every morning.

Are we to altogether forget lumber as it relates to decking? Absolutely not.

Lumber will always provide the framework for whatever surface material of choice, and still remains the best value for decking materials, provided you don’t mind the maintenance.

However, if your budget can handle the price point of composite decking, the decision should be as easy as handing over the reins to Trigger, in exchange for a Mustang.

The reason for choosing composite decking can be summed up in two words— low maintenance.

Basically, the only maintenance tools required when owning a composite deck is a 50-foot garden hose extension and a 24-inch fine bristle broom. Actually, you could probably get away without having to touch your deck at all.

However, if you’re going to keep that composite surface looking absolutely pristine, and there’s no question you’ll want to, it’ll require the occasional hose down and sweep.

Notice that I did not use the term pressure wash when referencing cleaning. Please do not pressure wash your composite decking, or anything else other than the box of your dump truck, or the hull of your 500-foot sea freighter. The power of these machines will eventually destroy the PVC finish and drive moisture into the composite fibres, causing the boards to swell, promoting mold growth.

The advantage to composite decking is that it it’s not wood. So, besides it eliminating hours of sanding and painting over the next 25 years, composites are free of all the other not-so-admirable characteristics of wood decking, such as cracks, splinters, rot, and surface screws.

Two drawbacks to composite decking: One, it can get hot to the touch on a scorching, sunny day. Remedy? Wear sandals, or give it a hose down at high noon.

Two, composites are beautiful, but they’re not perfect. Actually, they would be as close to perfect as possible, if your deck was indoors. However, due to our seasonal fluctuations in temperature, composite decking will shrink and expand, which can cause heartbreak for those who cherish a perfect miter joint.

How to choose the right composite? That’s easy.

Providing you’re looking at comparable 25-year warranty products, choose the colour, or combination of colour and texture, you like best. Products can be solid PVC, PVC wrapped on four sides, or PVC wrapped  on three sides.

As long as it’s a quality, 25-year warrantied product, its technical composition will make little difference in your everyday life.

Good building.

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

A real shocker

Going with the composite deck? Why not include the oversized hot tub and a fire pit. Postmedia Network

Shocking probably best describes the sentiment felt by most people who inquire about the price of composite decking.

“Really!” they say, followed by a pause, then a “hummm…” as they rub their chins and look up to see if the proper response to their inquiry is by some chance written on the ceiling. Without a doubt, composite decking is a first class product, and without a doubt, first class costs.

I’m always shocked by the cost of travelling first class. Just the other day, while browsing through a cruise vacation catalog, I came upon the list of various pricing options. Ten day, Caribbean voyage on this particular cruise line, 5,000 bucks per couple if you didn’t mind sleeping in the belly of the ship, with the rhythm of the pistons lulling you to sleep, or 20,000 smackaroos for a room with a balcony. Same ship, same food, same ocean, with one set of folks enjoying the stars at night, while the belly people have the enviable task of alerting the crew should an iceberg rudely puncture its way into their living quarters.

While boarding a plane some years ago on a nine-hour flight to wherever, one of our fellow business travellers remarked that the 10 steps it took him to walk through the corridor of the first class section was the easiest 3,000 bucks he ever made. My wife and I have never paid for first class flight accommodations, but due to some chancy circumstances, have been bumped up three times in maybe 25 years of flying. I remember only the first class flights, because they were glorious, and included better food, better movie choice, and far better comfort.

Being a first class occupant, even temporarily, doesn’t necessarily change you as a person, although I do remember asking the stewardess to close the drapes separating coach from first class. With the coach class pesants constantly peaking in on us first classers, you could just feel their envy, which was disturbing my enjoyment of a lovely, happy hour chardonnay.

As it turned out, on the nine-hour return fight, our fellow business traveller (who was quite affluent) found he and his wife in first class. Ah, the power of wifely persuasion.

This all to say that yes, composite decking is expensive, but like most things that cost a little more, or in some cases, a lot more, it’s almost always worth it.

Essentially, composite decking can be anywhere from three to four times the price of a cedar surfaced deck, or about five to six times the price of treated lumber decking.

These figures, again, may seem a little shocking. However, these numbers refer to the price of the decking, or surface materials only, since a deck’s framework, regardless of what product’s being used as the surface, will in most cases be made of treated lumber. So, we’re basically talking about costly decking material, whereby the cost of the deck’s framework will remain constant.

Are some composite decking products better than others? And, why the price difference between brands of composites? These are probably the two most often asked questions. Whether one decking plank is better than another can be determined by warranty. Basically, the better brands of decking carry 25 year warranties against staining or fading. Due to this relatively long warranty period, the surface quality of such decking’s are also more resistant to scratching and wear.

Composite decking brands, or even series of products within the same manufacturer, can also differ in price due to their manner of composition. Although all still referred to as composites, since the original recipe for these manufactured decking products contained a mixture of wood slivers and recycled plastics, composite decking has evolved to include the more popular solid PVC decking, and PVC wrapped products.

Other variables that can sway the price are the more pronounced textures, or variegated color schemes of some planks. Basically, you get what you pay for.

Next week, shocking or not, composites are the way to go.

Good building.

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