Get the lint out

(Getty Images)

Before spring fever hits us and your promise to clean the dryer ductwork gets filed in behind your spouse’s 2013 request to “remove Christmas lights from spruce tree in front lawn,” let’s get what we need to make this job as quick and easy as possible.

A key tool for this task will be a shop vac. Along with the TV remote control and vice grips, a dependable shop vacuum easily ranks in the top three of must-have tools. So, if you don’t have one, get one.

Or, if that special person in your life has a birthday or anniversary on the horizon, few things say love like the hum of a shop vac.

Other tools for the job will include aluminum duct tape, and a 25-foot length of 1-1/4-inch flexible sump pump hose. Notice my reference to the fact your ducts will require aluminum duct tape, and not the popular grey duct tape referenced in Red Green’s quote “duct tape is only temporary, unless it works.”

Based on the premise that if you wrap something enough times, it’s bound to stop leaking, or, if it weighs more than 50 pounds, there’s no shame in having to secure it with a second roll, the grey, material type duct tape – unlike what the name suggests –  is not recommended for ductwork.

The grey duct tape, over time, will dry up, shrink, and lose its elasticity.

So, if you’ve got a leaky boot, broken rear view mirror, or forgot to pack your suspenders, grey duct tape will get you through the next few days, but it’s not to be considered for ductwork.

So, realizing regular duct tape should only come into contact with a dryer if for some reason the door needs to be taped shut, let’s move on to cleaning the ductwork. Dryers that vent directly to the exterior are a pretty quick clean.

However, is your clothes dryer is somewhat centrally located in the home, then the exhaust may be travelling upwards of 30 or 40 feet. These are the instances where clean ducts are essential to the safe and continued good operation of your dryer. If lint collects and clogs the duct, then overheats, it can ignite.

Some of the key strategies to keeping your dyer ductwork clear include using 60-inch lengths of solid four-inch pipe, along with the four-inch solid (manipulatable) elbows. Furthermore, always use aluminum duct tape to connect and seal the duct work joints, and never screws.

Duct screws, even the very short ones, will snag the lint, causing it to accumulate and clog the duct. Accordion type ducting, especially the cheap white plastic stuff, should be avoided as well, simply because the bumpy accordion surface will reduce the effectiveness of the dryer fan, causing lint to collect in the folds.

If flexible ductwork is necessary, use the aluminum product as its folds are extremely small, and much more conducive to proper air flow.

For easier cleaning of your solid-pipe dryer ductwork, consider adding a short length of aluminum flex pipe at the halfway point in the assembly. Ductwork that’s taped and sealed at every joint can be a burden to dismantle, while simply unclamping a piece of flex hose will take only seconds. Once you’ve dismantled a duct connection somewhere between the dryer and the outside, peer into both lengths with your flashlight. The amount of lint you see stuck to the edge of the duct pipe will give you a good indication of how air is flowing. If the lint clumps are quite severe, you’ll have to re-strategize the exhaust route.

Next, stick the sump hose onto the shop vac attachment, start up the vacuum, then wiggle and gently shake the sump hose as you bury it inside the ductwork.

Conversely, switch the shop vac hose to blower, and the pipe can cleaned by blowing lint towards the exterior.

Good venting.

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

Nothing simple about this standard

Keep it simple! Those were the bold words expressed to a supplier by the chairman of our negotiating committee as we were discussing a pricing and rebate program some years ago.

This fellow, the owner of 24 lumberyards across Western Canada, was probably the most intelligent person in the room. Regardless, his goal was to negotiate the simplest program possible, something your average fourth grader would understand. He has since retired, sold lock, stock, and barrel, then built himself and his family an ocean front home in Hawaii. Now that’s keeping life simple.

Perhaps it’s being a little selfish, but I wish this fellow had delayed his retirement and been given the task of running the MMA (Ministry of Municipal Affairs). At issue is the MMA’s Supplementary Standard SB-12 for 2017. I refer to it as Supplementary Bullcrap-12, due to the fact my lack of education prevents me from fully comprehending what exactly is being asked and specified in this new for 2017 insulating home initiative.

From what I can decipher, and based on such factors as heating systems, window efficiency, floor design, number of levels, whether you have two to three cats in the house, and your preferred brand of beer, there are between six and 13 manners in which to strategically insulate a home.

I use the term strategic because even within the parameters of the SB-12 compliances, there exist sub-manners of install, based on whether these particular areas will be regarded as finished areas, storage, or simply open.

So, when my limited intelligence prevents me from understanding a concept being presented, I naturally seek the aid of someone more educated. My question was simple, and related directly to the proper and allowable use of sheeting tape and vapor barrier on a finished concrete basement wall. First I spoke with a building engineer, who gave me his interpretation of the standards, and as such, related to me his preferred method of install. “OK, I accept your interpretation”, I said, “but based on the various scenarios I was presenting, what was the rule? There’s got to be a rule, or procedure to follow, right?” I stated. “Well, we’re not all on board yet” was his reply.

How can the “we” (a.k.a. next level of intelligence) not all be on board? What type of direction will us lesser folks be facing if the “we” don’t have the answers?

At this point I decided to go straight to the horse’s mouth, called our local planning department, and asked them the same basic question regarding the insulating of a basement wall, and the necessity or use of a vapor barrier and tape. That was two weeks ago. So far I’ve co-ordinated with two people, neither of them are familiar or confident enough in their interpretation of the new regulations to forward me an answer, and have as a result, differed my inquiries to the building inspection staff for further consultation.

Now when I call, in an attempt to speak with a human being, I get the answering service, which transfers me to a mail box, to which I leave a message received apparently by no one. This whole scenario reminds me of the movie Terminator 3 Judgement Day, whereby the engineers, planners, and architects working on this SB-12 proposal, have designed a system so complicated and so complex, that they’ve lost all control to a series of computers that will someday bury us all in mounds of fiberglass.

My real lack of understanding of the SB-12 document is in part due to the over use of the word “coefficient”, which in the document is often followed by a series of shapes and lines that appear to be more closely related to oriental calligraphy. When I look up “coefficient” in the dictionary it simply states ‘term used by those of higher learning, with there being no actual meaning’. Very strange, very strange indeed.

Next week, insulating your basement with Arnold Schwarzenegger. Good building.

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

More on vinyl vs. laminate

Vinyl or laminate? Might depend on how warm you want to keep those tootsies. Postmedia Network

Still in the basement, and trying to figure out which type of click flooring, be it vinyl, or be it laminate, will work best for our application, let’s examine a few installation strategies.

Two advantages to using vinyl click flooring in the basement include the fact this product is usually 5-6mm (aprox. ¼ inch) thick, and a one-step installation process, requiring no underlay foam or vapor barrier. As a result, those persons dealing with a potentially compromised basement floor to ceiling height that could possibly put the basketball and volleyball playing enthusiasts (aka taller people) in your family at risk of concussion, having to sacrifice only about a quarter inch of ceiling height is a bonus indeed.

The only drawback to a thinner vinyl floor is that it replicates whatever it’s laid on top of. So, your vinyl click flooring may deliver a welcomed new look, but if your concrete basement floor is hard (which of course it certainly is) and cold, with maybe little wave from one side to the other, due to a not so perfect leveling job, then your vinyl floor will be adapting those not so enviable traits.

Regardless, if looks and saving an inch or so on ceiling height inevitably trump comfort, whereby all you require is a clean space for the kiddies to rough house in, or for you to put a few pieces of fitness equipment, then vinyl’s an easy choice.

Laminate floors are generally 12mm (1/2 inch in thickness) and minimally require a thin foam underlay. Two bonuses to 12mm laminates. One, they’re usually of the drop-click variety, which means the short edge of the plank simply lays into the adjoining butt edge, which makes for an easy install. Although vinyl flooring uses the click technology, the tongue edges usually need to be worked, or coaxed, into the groove of the adjoining planks in order to ensure a snug fit. This process can be somewhat frustrating to the first time poser, since simultaneously coaxing the clicking edges of both the long and short side of a vinyl plank into position, can be akin to coaxing a cat out of a tree. If profanity, threats, and the throwing of something nearby result, accept these actions as a sign of the installer needing to step back and reassess the situation.

Installing vinyl plank flooring involves the following. Basically, with the plank to be installed set closely beside the existing row of flooring, tip the short edge of the plank into the groove of previously laid piece. Then, reach over to the far edge of the long side of the plank being installed, lift up this edge to about a 30 degree angle, and begin to click into position this far end, slowly working your way towards the short side joint. Moments after securing this long edge, the short side of the plank inevitably de-clips slightly. Without a wingspan somewhat close to the Wandering albatross (measuring 8-11 feet across) you’ll be hard pressed to stretch yourself into the position of having to manipulate both edges of the plank. This element of body physics, combined with your knees starting to go numb due to the pain of being pinned in this crouched position for some time now, is what gets most people frustrated.

Regardless, once you get the hang of things (be sure to YouTube ‘installing vinyl click flooring’ for some viewing tips) the coaxing, manipulation, and the occasional use of a tapping block, will have you laying this floor down in no time. The second bonus to laminates is that due to the various choices in underlayment materials, these wood based composites tend to be a little warmer underfoot, while having slightly more bounce or forgiveness in the way the floor compresses. As a result, laminates are inevitably a little more comfortable to walk on if slippers or sandals aren’t already a standard in the home.

Next week, choosing the proper extension ladder for de-treeing your housecat. Good building.

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

Battle for the basement

Most laminates today look very authentic and are used as basement floors. Postmedia Network

Today’s “battle for the basement” topic, just to be clear, has nothing to do with the Toronto Maple Leafs annual failure to make the NHL playoffs, and their inevitable plunge into the depths of hockey misery, all in the hope of picking up some highly-touted draft choice.

More dealing with the retail side of things, today’s subject examines the battle for basement floor supremacy between the industry’s two most favoured basement floor products, those being traditional composite (wood fiber) laminates and vinyl plank flooring.

When composite laminate flooring first hit the market 25 years ago, the task of laying it down was a horrible process. Not only did every plank need to be glued around the edges, but once fitted together, they had to be weighted down, then clamped with ratchet straps that would extend the full width of the room. Talk about a process.

Regardless, it was still a do-it-yourself, achievable project that certainly took less expertise than having to lay carpet or linoleum flooring. Those early glued laminates led to snap, or tap n’ click laminates, otherwise known as the age of chips, since connecting the laminate planks required a rather firm, and relatively violent blow, to effectively jamb a boards tongue into the receiving boards groove. Then came click flooring, followed by today’s drop click, compiling an innovative 20-year engineering journey that effectively made the traditional laminate floor installation process a whole lot friendlier.

And, now that the composite people have finally got things right, in come the vinyl plank folks. Having basically adopted the laminate click technology, vinyl clicks are seriously challenging the composite laminates for market share, and are definitely trending as the product of choice for today’s generation of shoppers. All good for the consumer, I suppose, since the friendly click system of installing a floor now includes a very versatile vinyl product.

So, how does the consumer choose one click product over the other? Well, let’s examine the attributes of the new vinyl clicks, and see how they compare with our traditional laminates.

The competitive edge that vinyl has over its fellow manufacturers, whether it be composite flooring, wood siding, ceramic, or basically any natural product, is that it’s a great imitator. Basically, vinyl can be molded, coloured, and imprinted, to look pretty much like anything. And, it can achieve this metamorphosis, or copy of the real thing, for a fraction of the cost of the original product.

Now, will vinyl perfectly match what it’s duplicating? Perfectly, no, but darn close. And, when you consider the vinyl alternative to slate or ceramic will never crack, while the real stuff almost always does, eventually, vinyl suddenly becomes a real good value. A further advantage is that while vinyl can be made to look like wood planking, slate, or ceramic tile, it still installs with the ease of vinyl, which is either by click form, or in some cases, a simple glue down application. What also makes vinyl flooring attractive to a person finishing their basement, is the fact that it’s extremely water resistant, or water impermeable.

I don’t like to use the term “waterproof”, even though the product is somewhat marketed that way, because the word “proof” is a little too encompassing. Sure, vinyl planking will handle spills and mop up easily. However, if you were to have a flood, or sewer backup, I’m not sure if most of us would be willing to dismantle the floor, clean each plank piece by piece, then spread it out on the back deck, or hang it out on the clothesline to dry, in order to salvage it.

Although composite laminates are available in a variety of thicknesses, the 12 mil (1/2 inch thick) v-edge product is what I would recommend. Looks good, assembles easily, and although limited in colour choices, 12 mil laminates are half the price of vinyl flooring, making them still a great value for your basement floor.

Good building.

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

Life’s better with a pergola

Pergolas with large fabric panels that can be installed every spring are a great way to reduce the amount of sunlight and heat that a patio absorbs. Postmedia Network

Why build a pergola in your backyard or on top of your existing back deck?

Because planting a maple tree would incur a 20-year wait for adequate shade. So, perhaps your children, or grandchildren, could live to see the day by which they could relax under such an investment, but until such time passes, you’d be moving your rocker every five minutes in order to catch the shade of those first few leaves.

What about patio furniture umbrellas? They’re fine for providing 15 minutes of cover for afternoon tea. Otherwise, they usually aren’t big enough to provide proper shade for a pair of loungers. Plus, umbrellas are about as loyal as a pet rabbit, and seem to love jumping up and bouncing through backyards upon the first strong wind.

So, for ease, beauty, dependability, while being a project the average do-it-yourselfer could have installed by the end of the weekend, pergolas are a great idea. Consisting of four 6×6 posts with a crown of 2×6 or 2×8 lumber overtop, with these joists set on their edges, pergolas are an excellent deck appendage because they provide for semi-shade lounging, without interfering with those delightful summer breezes. Add a little lighting, either by having an electrician install a permanent series of outdoor lamps and fixtures, or by running clear, Christmas type lights along each post and beam, and the nighttime atmosphere can be made to look absolutely spectacular.

Because pergolas are of a very basic, yet structurally sound design, they can often serve as a base for a future screened in porch, if a couple is to really enjoy the nighttime without having to lather up in deep woods mosquito repellent. Pergolas are also beautiful when installed deeper into the backyard, providing an area of tranquility to simply relax and read a book. Plant a grape vine, or series of climbing plants beginning at or around each post base (have one of our local arborists give you a few tips or suggestions) and within a few years you’ll have a beautiful cover of green foliage.

Pergolas can be attached to the home, saving you the cost of a couple of posts, but look better if they’re of the four post, free-standing variety.

Up to this point, I’ve used the term post to describe the legs that support the overhead grilled structure, which would suggest four square shaped timbers. However, for a Mediterranean type of styling, consider replacing the standard 6×6 posts with smooth or fluted, round fiberglass columns. Fiberglass columns are considerably more costly than 6×6 lumber, but they’re structurally sound, will last forever, while the visual impact is profound, creating a backyard retreat that’s all the more unique.

Most pergolas are made of treated spruce or cedar lumber. Wood is easy to work with, and inexpensive, but like your existing deck, or anything else that’s made of wood and has to live outdoors, it’s going to require yearly maintenance. Maintaining such a structure isn’t so easy. Due to the many 2×8 boards set on edge, and considering their relatively close spacing, getting up and in between these joists while avoiding the 2×2 cross pieces above, in order to spread a swath of stain, all while balancing on a stepladder, is actually phase one of Cirque de Soleil training. As a result, and if this task seems a little daunting, you may want to consider a pergola made of maintenance free composite product, or aluminum. The advantage of non-wood products, besides not having to paint or stain, are the many screen, side curtain, or overhead canopy options that can make your pergola all the more special, and versatile.

Some models of pergolas are available with a system of aluminum louvered joists that are hinged in a manner which allows them to stand straight up, or lay flat, offering full shade, or cover under a light rain. Regardless of how it’s constructed, pergolas are a beautiful thing.

Good building.

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