The gambler

Replace a few cracked tiles, or do the whole thing over? Our handyman gives his answer. Postmedia Network

Case #465, titled “Dealers Choice” has a Mr. Jacques Chardonnay, aka “Black Jack”, due to his propensity to lay down a few bucks at the gaming table, unsure as to where to place his next bet. At stake is the future of his ceramic kitchen floor.

Black Jack very much likes his ceramic floor, but with six to seven cracked tiles in need of replacement, the question is, does he roll the dice, and surgically remove and replace each cracked tile individually? Or, with a five-pound sledge, cover all his bets, pound the hell out of the floor, then replace the entire surface?

Jacques, a gambler, and with several spare ceramic tiles in the basement (because a good gambler always hedges his bet) he’s leaning towards the strategy of replacing the six to seven tiles, since it would would be far less intrusive to the general workings of the household, rather than having to destroy and replace about 200 pieces.

The gamble of course, or risk factor in replacing only the cracked tiles, lies in the fact his kitchen floor may inherently be compromised. In other words, if the integrity of the floor’s joist system falters as guests linger around the center island, thereby allowing for a little bounce, or the plywood used as the underlay was too thin, these newly cemented tiles may crack as easily as their predecessors. After all the effort that would be required to carefully remove, reinstall, and grout even a small number of tiles, it would be heartbreaking to watch them crack all over again.

Decision? We’re replacing only the cracked tiles. Are we carelessly throwing caution to the wind, tempting fate, or playing a game where the odds overwhelmingly favor the house? Perhaps. However, before setting these new replacement tiles in position, we’re going to tilt the odds a little more in our favor, load the dice, or mark the cards, so to speak, in order to lessen our risk of going bust.

The reason for tile failure is most likely related to the floor moving, as opposed to these tiles being simply defective. Once the cracked tiles have been removed, and before we simply mortar the new tiles in position, we’re going to re-strengthen the bond between the 5/8” plywood floor, and what’s in this case, a half-inch plywood underlay. Once standard issue, spruce plywood is no longer the preferred choice as an underlay. Plywood is strong, but it always remains somewhat flexible, which is great in most cases of general household construction, except for the case of ceramic tiled floors, which need an underlay to be inflexible and rock solid.

Today’s first choice for ceramic tile underlays include Fiberock and Durock, both fiber-cement based sheathings, or Schluter’s Kerdi matting, an orange colored, dimpled plastic.

With some of the cracked tiles sporadically spaced amongst the good tiles, and others creating only a small cluster of cracked tiles, it’ impossible in this case to replace the underlay. With the cracked tiles removed, make sure to completely remove the old mortar and grouting from the space. Because any mortar or grout residue left behind will either lessen the strength of the bond between ceramic and plywood, or interfere with how the replacement tiles lay in position, really cleaning out the space is key. Use a Shop-Vac and water dampened cloth to ensure every bit of dust is removed from the plywood underlay. Next, use 1-1/2 inch laminating screws, screwed every four inches apart, to effectively bond this weak spot in the underlay to the plywood subfloor.

Don’t use regular wood or floor screws. Floor screws work well to fasten plywood to spruce lumber, relying on their length for strength. Laminating screws have a heavier thread that runs the entire length of the shaft, and are more effective at bonding two sheets of plywood together. With this weakened area now a lot more solid, the tiling can begin. Then, we wait and see how the cards fall.

Case #465 closed. Good building.

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

Ceramic surgery

When pulling up ceramic tiles, patience is key.

Today we replace the few cracked ceramic tiles in our kitchen and/or bathroom floor areas.

One of the keys to this renewal attempt will be, of course, having the available replacement tiles on hand. That’s why buying a couple of extra boxes of tiles, just in case, is good insurance against having to replace the entire room, or simply leaving things as is, both undesirable situations.

So, with our replacement tiles (either actual, or hopefully close replicas of the originals) in hand, let’s review our goal, procedural strategy, and compile a list of the necessary tools for the job.

Our goal? As always, to specifically and successfully complete the task at hand, without the careless creation of collateral damage that may incur further, unrelated type repairs or renovations to unspecified portions of the home, incurring further expense and emotional strain between you and your spouse.

Procedural strategy? As mentioned in today’s headline, this will be a surgical procedure, thereby requiring patience and pinpoint accuracy. If we were talking total tile replacement, then the headline would have been “No Holds Barred” or “Seed of Chucky Renovation Day” relating to the fact a five-pound sledge, pry-bar, and a whole lot of blood and mayhem, would have been the order of the day.

Basically, we will begin by removing the grout surrounding the tile, followed by tapping the tile lightly in order to encourage it to pop off its mortar base. Next, insert a chisel into the crack on the tile’s surface, and begin chipping away at this week point in the tile until you’ve made your way through to the plywood substrate. Once you’ve hit plywood, tap the chisel so that it wedges under a small portion of the tile, then begin to gently pry the tile upwards. Pry forward, by tilting the chisel handle upwards, instead of forcing the chisel handle down towards the floor. This way, the tile is forced up in a manner that is less threatening to the neighboring tiles.

The process of removing a tile can be painstakingly slow at first, but its necessary risk management. Damaging a perfectly good neighboring tile should you work too aggressively will be lousy, and frustrating, since you’ve now created another 30 minutes of patient, careful work for yourself. Once the tile has been broken up and removed from the space, use your chisel to pry up any remaining grout and mortar. Key point. The road to success regarding the removal of a tile starts with the removal of the grout. Because the grout connects and somewhat bonds the side of each tile to its neighbor, it needs to be completely removed. Otherwise, even the most careful prying might cause you to damage an adjoining tile should they still be connected by a bridge of grout.

Tools for this procedure? Because the removal of grout is so important, and the most technical, meticulous part of the task, I would strongly recommend you either borrow, rent, or invest in an oscillating tool. A carbide tipped utility knife could remove the grout, but you’d be hating yourself five minutes into the task. You may consider using a grinder, since it’s likely an existing weapon in your tool arsenal, but its high speed action is far too aggressive, risking you damaging adjoining tiles, while spreading a fine dust into every crack and crevice in the home. The shimmering, or vibrating action of an oscillating tool (along with the proper carbide tipped blade) will safely and effectively cut through the grout like it was butter. A three-quarter inch wood chisel and three pound mallet serve well to pry up the tiles and remove bits and pieces of grout and mortar, while a dust mask, safety glasses, knee pads, and Tylenol (taken before and after the job to ease the lower back pain) complete the cast of supporting tools.

Next week, floor prep and tile installation. Good building.

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

Potentially ours

If you have the time, and the funds, a house with potential can be a good idea. Postmedia Network

Case #527, titled “temporarily cramped”, finds homebuyer Fred Frigozia, aka ‘Freddy the Fridge’ due to his rather large 6 ft. 10 inch, 400 pound frame, and unwise habit of dressing completely in white, which on occasion has created some awkwardness as unassuming shoppers check out his body for the optional ice dispenser should he locate himself in the appliance department of the local mall, somewhat undecided.

Fred just married Freda, a petite lady, and their plans are to have children, with these offspring likely having careers as either ballerinas, or starting linemen for the Dallas Cowboys. Fred and Freda are at a turning point in their lives. What’s at stake? Fred’s a big guy. Big guys require space, and with the family about to grow, Fred and Freda are concerned that their possible purchase of a 1000 square foot bungalow that’s most recently come up for sale, won’t suit their needs in the long term.

Now, why not just bypass this rather smallish home and continue the search for something else? Although the home is small, and in need of repair, the yard is huge, with the home beautifully located in an older community close to schools, the hospital, and various other resources. So, even though this existing home would receive a poor grade if judged on its own merit, the fact that the location is terrific, boosts this home’s grade up to one of great potential.

If money isn’t an issue, then the strategy regarding such an investment would be a no-brainer. Buy the property, tear down the home, or attempt to sell it to somebody looking for a pre-built hunting cabin, then erect a two story home on either the existing, or modified foundation walls.

In Fred and Freda’s case, the money would be available to purchase the property, with another 20-30 thousand left to put towards renovations. So, the existing needs of the home, including minor siding, kitchen, bathroom, and back deck repairs, could be accomplished well within their budget, but as far as tearing down and rebuilding, well, that’s a dream that would only be years away.

So, what to do? In Fred and Freda’s case, the answer’s as plain as the heel on Freddy’s size 15 boot. If you’re old, you base your purchases on necessity. If you’re Fred and Freda’s age, you probably have the energy, and hopefully a lot of years ahead of you, to make a purchase based on potential.

My suggestion: Buy the little home with the great lot and establish a five-year plan. In the interim, accept the cramped conditions, and slowly start making this place a little more comfortable.

The good thing about owning a home with potential is that it forever holds its value, with generally every penny put into the home recouped in the event of a sale.

Where to start? Well, the four exterior walls are the only untouchables. Other than that, and with the OK of a local engineering firm, you could possibly eliminate the wall that often separates a small kitchen from small living room. With a little ingenuity, two small rooms can add up to one big space. The same goes for the bedrooms. Three bedrooms can be reduced to two, with the master bedroom possibly gaining its own bathroom in the transition.

Next, look to the outdoors. Your new acquisition may not be able to handle you hosting the entire clan for Christmas dinner, but there’s no reason why you couldn’t have the folks over for Canada Day. If indoor living space is limited, then create an outdoor living area by replacing the existing back door and 4’x6’ laundry hanging platform, with a patio door and deck that spans the width of the home. Cover this deck area with a pergola to help shade the sun, or leave a portion of the space available to accommodate a screened in gazebo.

With potential comes greatness.

Case #527 closed. Good building.

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

Speech from the throne

Tub separate from your shower? A must, says the handyman. Postmedia Network

Visiting Europe is always an enlightening experience. Besides being overwhelmed by the medieval castles, and the stories of revolution, pillaging, and conquest, where inevitably somebody gets beheaded, I must say I was quite impressed by the bathroom in our hotel room.

Basically designed to serve two people, the bathroom contained all essential services, including a walk-in shower stall, double sink counter top, tub and toilet. Beside the toilet was a bidet. A relatively common feature in European bathrooms, the bidet offers the toilet user a post cleansing spray of warm water, instead of having to use toilet paper. For whatever reason, the bidet has never really caught on in Canada, which is unfortunate, since the use of toilet paper seems so barbaric, and wasteful, compared to the more effective, and pleasurable experience of cleansing that area with a fountain of warm water.

So, if a bathroom renovation, or new home build are in the plans, save a little room for the more culturally enlightening bidet. Will the bidet replace the need to have a roll of toilet paper fastened to the wall? Theoretically, you could eliminate this forever shrinking roll as a bathroom appendage. However, the peasants and commoners who frequent your home may not understand the mechanics of the bidet without the aid of a user friendly diagram on the wall, or they may be bashfully intimidated by it. As a result, and until those persons evolve past their regular, trailer park manner, you will most likely require having the optional soft grade paper on a roll.

Next, and excellent bathroom feature no.2, the closet toilet, or essentially, an enclosed toilet. Basically, instead of the toilet (and accompanying bidet) being out in the open, this quaint area would be sealed off from the balance of the bathroom by means of a few walls and a door, hence the toilet in a closet effect. Now, toilets behind closed doors are nothing new, with every sports complex or school offering some form of toilet segregation. However, when you can see the feet of the person beside you, and the sounds or conversation are unhindered, where even the space under the separating wall will allow you to pass a supply of paper to this toilet neighbor, should he or she have run out, then this moment falls somewhat short of a private experience.

Regardless of the fact the bathroom areas in a home are rarely shared, sometimes someone has to get in while the other is stuck on the throne. For that reason, and for those times when two people are preparing themselves for a night out on the town, the closet toilet is a nice, and relatively easy modification to any bathroom space.

Best case scenario would have the closet toilet containing such amenities as an independent exhaust fan, and classical music settings. While the reason for an exhaust fan is obvious, your classical music settings should include renditions of Bach, for times of personal reflection and contemplation, and a few of the more powerful classics, including Beethovan’s 5th symphony, to effectively drown out the disturbing effects of somebody carelessly choosing the extra spicy hot sauce at Tuesday’s wing night.

Last but not least, keep the shower separate from the tub. Showering in a tub may save space, but the sliding doors, or curtains, can be an unattractive, pain in the butt to clean. Plus, we tend to shower a lot more than we bathe, making the ritual of stepping in and out of a tub an obstacle us 50+ people should be avoiding. So, for ease and simplicity, consider the walk-in shower stall. If stall space permits, add a second shower head, because that can be fun also.

And the tub? Leave it on its own, and make sure it’s of the deep, soaker variety. Showers are easy, but nothing soothes achy bones like being submerged in a hot bath.

Good building.

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