Kitty through the door

A cat hole in the wall? Easy enough. But first, paws to think about how to do it – safely. Postmedia Network KEVIN GOULD / KEVIN GOULD/STANDARD-FREEHOLDER

Last week we cut out a cat hole, or essentially a large mouse hole, at the base of the wall nearest the staircase to the basement. The purpose of this miniature archway was to allow the home’s two felines, Tigger and Coco, free access to their litter box.

Because it’s worth mentioning a second time, when creating a hole in an existing wall, we don’t simply “cut” out the drywall, but instead, we “surgically” remove it. The reason for caution relates to the consequences one could experience, conservatively estimated at, zero to 10 per cent, ductwork damage – 25 per cent, plumbing and related flood damage – 50 per cent, severing an electrical circuit – 10 per cent, and death – five per cent (which computation is based on your 50/50 chance of surviving the cutting of an electrical circuit) should you simply cut through a wall.

Surgically removing a section of drywall means you’re cutting to the depth of the drywall, then basically letting this portion of drywall fall into your hands, keeping this removed portion intact. Observing what’s behind this removed portion of drywall will lead you to either continue the task, or if you’re faced with a series of copper pipes or wiring, place the piece of drywall back in position, patch things up, and either move on to another section of wall, or take this project off the to-do list.

When cutting out a section of drywall, whether it be for a cat hole or any other small renovation project, locate the center of the nearest stud on either side of where the hole will be, then cut your drywall from the center to center of these wall studs.

The reason for this strategy is twofold. One, you’ll rarely get into trouble cutting down the center of a stud, and two, replacing the piece of drywall, or re-fitting it back into position, will be easier when you have these two anchoring studs to work with.

Last word on cutting drywall, put a new blade in the utility knife, then be sure to lightly score the surface, then progressively cut a little deeper with every passing. Again, we’re looking to eliminate any bloodshed, or loss of one’s typing finger, by digging too deeply into drywall, then tugging on the knife in an attempt to cut out a square patch in four passes.

Hold a level, square, or solid straight edge against the wall, then lightly draw your knife downwards. Once you’ve scored over the line three to four times, either put your non-cutting hand behind your back or keep this steadying hand a few feet away, then make that final cut. No one has ever lost a finger doing things this way.

Next, we frame the hole. In the case of our arched cat hole, we’ll be cutting pieces of 2”x2” lumber the depth of our 2×4 wall, about 3 ½ inches, then stacking them between the drywall, following the contour of the arch. Set a bead of glue in between each block, using drywall screws to help hold them in place if necessary. Next, line the 2”x2” blocks with a fiberglass mesh tape (as opposed to regular paper drywall tape) vertically and horizontally, overlapping the drywall by a couple of inches on the outside of the arch. Then, using a flexible plastic drywall corner bead (available in 10 ft. sections), cut it to the desired length (cuts easily with scissors), then fit it around the arched drywall contour. Use 5/16 staples to hold the flexible corner in position. The flexible drywall bead will ensure a nice contour line around the arched hole.

Now you’re ready to apply the drywall mud. Mud the wall surfaces first, let dry one day, then mud the jamb, or inside wall of the hole. Essentially, we’re creating a classic lath and plaster archway, only on a kitty scale. Similar to any drywall repair, subsequent muddings and sandings will have you going further and further out from the hole, as you attempt to make this kitty entrance as level to the wall, and as inconspicuous as possible.

Good building.

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

Some feline accessibility

Getty Images/iStockphoto GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCKPHOTO / GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCKPHOTO

Today were going to cut out what is essentially a giant mouse hole into a purr…fectly good wall.

What’s the reason for this renovation?

Tigger and Coco, two recently adopted cats, will be requiring access to their litter box in the basement. Why provide access by means of a hole at the main-floor level, as opposed to simply leaving the basement door ajar, or modifying the door slab with some type of spring action access panel?

Because remembering to keep the basement door open will be a chore; and door access panels can have mechanical issues, which will be problematic should your cats end up being separated from their litter box.

Plus, some door styles, such as French glass models and raised panel slabs, aren’t so compatible with such a hinged mechanism.

Conversely, a cat hole can usually be strategically placed under a raised desk or side table. A cat hole will never tap a cat on its backside, or trap its tail.

So, regardless of the cat hole having to occupy a more visually obvious spot along the wall, cat lovers believe there’s nothing more precious than witnessing Tigger coming out of his cat hole.

Strategically, we’re looking to place the hole in an area that’ll enable the cat to hop down onto the basement stairs, or hop up from the basement stairs into the hole, with relative ease.

So, even though cats can comfortably spring up anywhere from four to five feet, let’s not ask that of your cats, especially if they’re a little older, or a little heavier.

Generally, a two-to-three-step hop (15-24 inches) will be easily manageable.

Hole size and shape? On a sheet of cardboard, draw a hole about six inches wide, by about 11-12 inches high, using the traditional arch-top design gnawed out by mice worldwide. Then, carefully cut out the shape.

After choosing the spot for the cat hole, and before removing the baseboard, gently cut along the top of the molding with a utility knife. The knife will cut through the strip of caulking used to seal the gap between the baseboard and the wall, and will prevent you from tearing the drywall paper when prying off the baseboard.

With the baseboard removed, choose your desired spot for the hole, then use a small finishing nail and hammer to find out where the wall studs are. Because there’s always a sill plate that extends up about 1.5 inches, gently tap through the drywall at a 2.5-inch level above the floor.

The words gently tap through are key.

Once your nail has penetrated about 0.5 inches, the next thing you’re going to hit is either a wall stud, or air, or something else. The something else will be a tinny sound, indicating ductwork, or a pinging echo, indicated copper pipe. In both cases, stop the nail penetration, and continue the piercings a few inches over.

Once you’ve spanned a six-to-seven-inch area of hitting just air, sit your cardboard cutout on the floor, then trace the mouse-hole shape onto the wall. Our cat hole will follow standard archway procedure, and will be built flush to the floor.

This as opposed to cutting a hole above the baseboard, which to me would look odd, unless of course the balance of archways in your home have you leaping through holes from room to room as well.

Caution! Do not use a recipro/sawsall demolition tool, jigsaw, or drywall saw to cut out the cat hole profile.

Your “oops, what was that,” will be followed a millisecond later by either a shower of water, or shockwaves running up your wazoo, should you hit a copper water line, or electrical wiring buried in the wall cavity.

Insert a new blade in your utility knife, then carefully cut through the drywall. With the shape cut out, pull back the arched piece of drywall. Hopefully you’ll see nothing but air.

Next week, finishing the hole. Good building.

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

Outdoor fine finishing

Handout Not For Resale SUPPLIED

So, what have you done to improve the curb appeal of your home lately?

Perhaps you’ve swept the spider webs off the soffit areas, painted the mailbox, or finally picked up that dead crow that had flown into your bay window some two weeks ago.
Not exactly impact related changes. Kind of like the Montreal Canadiens finally getting rid of aging forward Tomas Plekanec last year, then resigning him to a new contract for this upcoming NHL season. This stellar management move will likely impact Montreal’s chances of making the playoffs to a degree equal to that of changing the burnt signal light on the team’s bus. At the other end of the NHL spectrum, you have the Toronto Maple Leafs signing star center forward John Tavares, immediately boosting the Leafs into Stanley Cup contention. Now that’s a positive impact decision.

So, if your home’s façade has pretty well looked the same for the last 15-20 years, with the only hint of added decor being a few pairs of equally aged louvered shutters, then it’s perhaps time to create a little impact. Habs management might suggest you simply paint the front door a light cream color, then tint the aforementioned shutters a lovely hue of mint green. Conversely, a more enlightened sense of décor would have you considering Replico’s door and window surrounds.

Exterior door and window surrounds are essentially large casings, architraves, and decorative pillars that were once all the craze back in the post WW2 days of grandiose type estate homes. Why the trend to trim the exterior of our doors and windows, as well as rooflines, with these elegant moldings, somewhat declined in the 1960’s and 70’s, can be attributed to a number of reasons. First, with marijuana flooding the market, and disco taking over the radio sound waves, all sense of class, decorum, and traditional style were lost for about 15 years, with recovery of our former state of building integrity taking another 20 years.

Other than that, homes were getting smaller, and simpler. Mostly though, it was the cost of these ornate moldings that mostly turned people off, and the fact they were made of wood, which of course required maintenance. Now, maintaining a wooden deck and railing is one challenge, but having to climb an extension ladder every year to paint trims around second story windows, or crown moldings that follow the roof line, is a whole different commitment. As a result, people who owned homes with these types of surrounds would often lapse in their maintenance schedules, which would lead to these trims rotting over the course of a few years. And, once things rot, homeowners become fearful of ever dealing with that type of headache ever again, especially if it’s something decorative.

So, why am I suggesting homeowners consider door and window surrounds one more time? Because door and window surrounds have never stopped looking good, and because these moldings are now made out of a ridged polyurethane, which will never rot or succumb to moisture. And, with today’s high quality paints, you’ll be painting your surrounds due to a change in color scheme, as opposed to them needing a re-coat due to peeling or crackling.

Regardless, even if you aren’t so willing to maintain these PVC moldings, there’s no fear of them falling apart. Having the weight and consistency of pine lumber, the convenient thing about PVC door and window surrounds is that they are a non-structural, purely decorative feature that can be easily fastened (glued or screwed) to basically any brick, stone, vinyl, or composite siding surface. So, you’re not needing to cut sidings, or necessarily caulk around these trims once they’re fixed in position. Plus, surrounds aren’t restricted to a few widths, like shutters, and come in a wide enough variety of shapes and sizes to fit most any door or window space. For pictures and more information on door and window surrounds, be sure to visit the Replico website at www.replico.ca.

Good building.

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

It’s a cake walk

This kind of deterioration of parging is common. Not to worry though, it’s a pretty easy fix. Postmedia Network KEVIN GOULD / KEVIN GOULD/STANDARD-FREEHOLDER

In keeping with our do-it-yourself motto of “you’ve got to try it at least once” today we’re going to be parging our foundation.

After a home’s foundation has been poured, and the plywood forms removed, the homeowner is left with an exposed concrete wall that isn’t so attractive. In order to remedy this situation, since there’s often 30-36 inches of exposed wall between the grass and the siding, the contractor will apply a thin coat of a cement product called pargemix.

The same situation exists with today’s foam foundations. Whatever portion of foam that isn’t covered by siding, will need to be sealed with a parging compound.

Because all homes settle a bit over time, this thin coat of concrete can develop a few hairline cracks. As water and moisture enter these cracks, thereby infiltrating this cement layer, the parging will tend to break off in small chunks over time, once again exposing the foundation’s rough surface.

The good thing about the task of parging is that it’s a non-structural operation. Parging is essentially a decorative, or esthetic feature. So, if the parge mix happens to fall off in a month or two, or your habit of creating cupcakes with lopsided frosting tops somehow transfers to a foundation wall that is somewhat less than perfectly smooth and level, only your pride and status as a true do-it-yourselfer will be hurt.

However decorative, parging is still the first line of defence against water penetrating the foundation. So, and regardless of the fact a foundation simply looks better after it’s been parged, parging does serve a purpose.

When parging a concrete foundation wall, first tap off or chip away any loose pieces of existing cement with a small hammer and concrete chisel, then sweep things clean using a steel brush. Other tools for the job will include a clean 20L. pail, 24” drywall mixer, 4”x12” cement trowel, 4”x9” sponge rubber float, a notched trowel, margin or pointing trowel, and a tin can or similar type container for scooping.

The drywall mixer attaches to any standard drill, and is essentially a giant beater blade that will blend your pargemix compound in the same manner a power mixer stirs up a cake mix. Besides saving you time and energy, the mixer is key to avoiding further wear and tear on those achy shoulder and elbow joints.

Once the concrete surface has been brushed clean, rinse the area to be covered with your garden hose. Next, pour four litres of water into your pail, then slowly scoop the 30 kg bag of pargemix into the pail, while at the same time operating your drywall mixer. To increase the sticking power of your pargemix, you can replace one litre of water with a one litre bottle of “All-Crete”, a concrete adhesive designed especially to encourage new concrete to stick to old.

Mix the pargemix/water solution for about five minutes. With the pargemix at a nice, spreading consistency (add more water if it’s too thick) use your smaller margin or pointing trowel to gather up a load of pargemix out of the pail, then place this mass on your 4”x12” cement trowel, then apply it to the wall. Start at the bottom (grass level) spreading the pargemix onto the wall as you move your trowel vertically upwards. Perform a few more vertical strips, then work your trowel horizontally to spread things out. A dampened sponge trowel will further help smoothen the parging compound.

Pargemix should be applied no more than half an inch thick. If your foundation wall is severely pitted, you can apply a thin coat on day one, then a second layer a day later. If a second layer is in the plan, etch your first layer with a notched trowel before it dries. This will give the second layer something to grab onto.

If you’re parging a foam foundation, prepare the surface by fastening diamond lath to the foam blocks using deck screws and foam washers.

Good building.

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