Permit me to ask

I don’t like having to get a building permit, basically because the whole process is a pain in the butt.

Building permits, due to the rules, regulations, and compliances that accompany even the changing of a kitchen sink, inevitably incur delays. That being said, I’d still never start a project without one. And, until somebody comes up with a more streamlined version of today’s turtle-like procedure, building permits are the public’s only assurance, or confidence, that what they’re investing in has been properly assembled.

A lot of homeowners find little need in procuring a building permit. They justify this omission by hiring experienced carpenters, or people that just know how to do things. This way, they save a few bucks on labor, permits, and the future tax hit. Unfortunately, this strategy is short sighted. You personally, may be comfortable with the fact a few buddies from keg league hockey and yourself managed to create extra living room space by removing a couple of walls that may or may not have been load bearing, but what’s the next home dweller going to think?

That’s why you get a permit, because it’s as much for you, as it is the next fellow. Permits and the accompanying structural drawings, are the next buyer’s only assurance that whatever renovation was performed on your home, was done correctly.

Which, brings us to case #245, tag name “Stairway to Heaven”, and involves a young couple visiting a century old farm house that had most recently been put up for sale. As suspected, and somewhat expected, the floors of this former farm house were a little crooked. Which is understandable. After 120-plus years of supporting weddings, births, and funerals, expecting a floor of this age to remain true and level would be a little unjust. Plus, this type of floor slant is often coveted, due to it providing generations of occupants with what’s regarded as the ol’ homestead advantage when it came to games of pool or salon bowling.

Generally, a little forgiveness to straight and level would be afforded a home of this age. As the couple progressed through the home, and ventured into what was most likely an addition, the unevenness of the floor became even more evident. Unfortunately, the present day occupants were unable to relay any information regarding the year this addition took place, and of course had no permit documentation for reference.

So, we know the house is old, has slanted floors, and that someone, at some point, built an addition. House is a little crooked, floors are a little crooked, and the addition, without documentation, is a little suspect.

I know, happens all the time. A home is purchased, then usually renovated, then gets sold to a younger generation that wants to implement their own changes or additions all over again. It’s the life cycle of a home. However, without documentation, how is the next buyer supposed to feel comfortable mortgaging their future on such an investment?

Moo…ving along, the visitors find themselves upstairs, to which they notice a steel framed spiral staircase, leading up to a finished room in the attic. Not sure, but the last time I visited the homes situated at Upper Canada Village, I didn’t notice many second floor spiral staircases. Most likely because heat retention was key to survival, whereby the opening up of an attic for supplementary space would have been considered a deathblow. So, the chances of this oddity being part of the original 1887 house plan were unlikely. Documentation and stamped engineered drawings relating to having cut open the ceiling joists and modified the 120-plus year old rafters? None. Assurances that this undocumented, permit-less, and otherwise unauthorized renovation won’t lead to roof collapse, where this circular stairway to the next level may indeed be this young couple’s stairway to heaven? Again, none.

Recommendation to this young couple, who otherwise found the house quite endearing. Walk away. Case #245 closed.

Good building.

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

Cementing your future

This guy knows what he’s doing. You might not, when it comes to working with cement. Postmedia Network

Today we’re going to be dabbing into the trade of mixing and applying cement.

I use the term “dab” because cement work, or concrete repair, isn’t something the average office softie ought to jump into full bore. Unless of course through a series of bad investments or sure bets gone lame at the track, you’ve indebted yourself beyond the point of recovery, and as an example to others you’ve been persuaded to jump into a bucket of soon to be cured concrete by fellows simply known to you as “Vito” and “the Razor”, let’s otherwise limit this first stab at concrete to a small repair.

Regardless of what type of concrete, be it wall, floor, steps, or walkway, is in need of repair or resurfacing, the strategy to preparing the area remains pretty well consistent.

First we scrub the area being repaired (using a steel, or otherwise stiff bristled brush), then sweep the surface clean with a fine, softer bristled broom. Next, rinse the area with the garden hose or spray bottle of water. Brush, sweep, rinse, that’s basically the prep work required for concrete repair.

Be sure to wear safety goggles and gloves at all times. Pre-mixed concrete powders usually have a Portland cement additive, which is corrosive. Not that these components will eat through your skin like battery acid, but with prolonged exposure, will certainly cause irritation. Should you get any powdered mix in your eyes, simply douse your face with water.

Tools for the job will include a bucket, trowels (pointing and pool), a quick mixer, and a drill. A pointing trowel is triangular in shape, and is handy for shaping cement to form a corner on a wall or step. A pool trowel is basically a rectangular trowel with rounded corners. Square cornered, or drywall type trowels, will gouge the finish as you spread the concrete mix over a wider surface, such as a platform or walkway. The pool trowel simply allows you to more easily float the trowel back and forth without creating too many lines.

A quick mixer is essentially a heavy duty whisk, or blender, that fits into the chuck of a regular drill. Don’t walk into this project without your quick mixer, thinking its function could be replaced by a paint stir stick and a little elbow grease, with the 15-20 buck investment better spent on a Tim’s run for coffee and muffins.

Depending on your choice of pre-mixed concretes, the working and setting time for many of these compounds is anywhere between 15 and 20 minutes. So, if after 5-6 minutes of stirring, an old hockey injury starts to creep back into play, requiring you to take a few moments of down time to wipe your brow and work the kink out of your shoulder, upon returning to the pail, you may find your first batch of mixed has turned into a secondary anchor for the boat.

The convenient aspect about the concrete repair products available today is that they come in a pre-mixed powder. This powder formula contains both the cement components, and the necessary bonding agents, which basically enables these new cement products to stick to older, existing surfaces. Don’t be intimidated by the number of various cement repair products you’ll find on the shelf of your local building supply store. The industry has become task specific, which was designed to simplify things, but on the other hand has created shelves full of pictured containers that can certainly leave the first time shopper a little bewildered. My suggestion is to let the salesperson know what type of repair project you’re attempting, then let them help you choose the most suitable mix for the job. Although there is certainly some crossover in that some pre-mixed cements could perform a number of tasks, you definitely wouldn’t want to choose a poly-plug compound (which dries in two minutes) and use it to build up a broken step corner that may take you 5-10 minutes to shape.

Good cementing.

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

Paint like a pro, not a monkey

What type of painter are you meticulous and thorough, or apelike?

There are two types of painters.

There are those who simply walk into a room, use their hip to shove the couch and recliner out of the way, pile their supplies directly on the hardwood floor, then open the can of paint with a four-inch nail. These are referred to as monkey painters, or Neanderthal type decorators, referencing the fact this degree of painting excellence could probably be equaled by a primate, or a human being whose concept of painting has yet to evolve past the stage of spreading mud on a wall with their fingers.

Those who meticulously fill every crack, seal every miter joint, then fill and sand every dent beforehand, are called finishers, and that’s the type of painter you want to be.

Before preparing the wall though, prepare the room. Basically, whatever’s not nailed down to the floor should be removed. Painting requires space, and even though it may seem like a plausible strategy to simply push everything towards the center of the room, it’s important to eliminate the risk factors associated with tripping over a rolled up carpet while carrying a full can of paint. Plus, if you’re going to be repairing drywall and sanding, why add the task of cleaning the furniture to your to-do list.

Next, line the perimeter of the room with cloth drop sheets. Avoid using clear plastic for this task. Cloth sheets absorb paint drops, unlike sheets of plastic that basically support the droplets, allowing you to periodically step into these mini puddles, then track the paint throughout home should you forget to leave your shoes in the room when you go for a coffee break.

Next, wear clothing deemed expendable, or that you’ve worn for previous painting jobs. Although most paints are listed as water soluble, for whatever reason that doesn’t really apply to clothing. So, if a drop of latex paint should land on your pant leg, you’d have about 15 seconds to disrobe and get your new pair of jeans under a stream of hot water before these Levis officially become paint wear.

Also, avoid the white, one piece “painters” outfits that zipper up at the front. Wearing one of these suits at a gathering this past Halloween cost me about 10 pounds in essential life fluids, and reminded me of my high school wrestling days of trying to make weight by jogging with a garbage bag on.

Use a paintable latex caulk to seal the miter joints, as well as the gap between the casings or baseboards, and the wall. Don’t use a silicone or exterior caulk because that’s what you have hanging around, and because it’ll save you a trip to the building supply center. Your paint won’t stick to these types of caulk, which will be frustrating.

Small dents or nail holes in the wall can be filled with a pre-mixed product called spackling, or sheetrock 20, a just add water powder that dries and sands in about 20 minutes. I like the powder form because it stores easy, and never really goes bad, so there’s always wall repair stuff on hand. For larger holes created by the elbow or fist of a person under duress, be sure to use a fiberglass tape, along with a dust control compound. Fiber tape is self-sticking, so it’s just easier to use, while the dust control compound does exactly what it suggests, and limits the amount of airborne dust due to sanding.

Next, choose only the best of brushes and rollers, and invest in a good quality of paint. Buying dollar store brushes is like attempting to chop down a tree with a dull axe, while a good brush equals the efficiency of a chainsaw. Plus, a quality angled brush will save on the necessity of using painters tape. The same goes for paint, where anything under 15 bucks per gallon would be little more than colored water. The better paints have a thicker consistency, and as a result will apply more evenly, while requiring fewer coats.

Good painting.

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

Committing to painting

So, you’ve decided to pass on the calling of a professional, and have committed to painting the living room, dining area, and kitchen, yourself.

Very well then . . . hopefully this endeavor won’t come back to haunt you in the same manner as your last two decisions, where your choice to capture and raise park pigeons, in an effort to revitalize the medieval ‘bird transit business’, ended up in the crapper after confidential memos were randomly dropped off at whatever destination the creatures decided to stop and poop, followed by your personal attention given to the dismantling and replacing of the hot water tank in the basement, which inevitably garnished your home with the neighborhood’s first indoor heated swimming pool.

One of the biggest challenges to painting involves choosing and coordinating colors. If you find people are consistently complimenting you on your apparel, and the manner in which you happen to co-ordinate this particular scarf with that particular color of bonnet, and how the whole softness of your wool jacket and contrasting crocodile skinned boots creates a wondrous flow of color and texture, then you’re likely more than capable of choosing your own colors. If, on the other hand, you choose to wear black every day, because it’s easy, and have no problem wearing socks with your sandals, then style may be your handicap, dictating the real need to seek help with the matching and choosing of colors. Otherwise, you’ll end up picking a series of taupe, light greys, and slightly off-white colors for your walls and moldings that will look absolutely uninspiring.

If you don’t have a stylish friend that can help you make a few riskier color choices, then hiring an interior decorator for a few hours would be a wise investment. Another strategy related to the risk management of choosing colors, is to invest in a few litres of some of your preferred choices before going all in. Spending hundreds of dollars on a paint, based on a color chip the size of a Toonie, can be risky indeed, especially if the choice was made under the bright fluorescent lights of your local paint supply store. Colors will look different under a natural light, or even the lighting in your home. So, unless these colors have been chosen by the trained eye of a decorator, I would recommend investing in a litre or two of the colors you’re thinking of going with.

Once a few litres of colors have been chosen, paint a small section of the wall, maybe even in a few spots, then wait a day or two. If, after this time period has expired, you’re still okay with your color choices, then you’re safe to invest in the required gallons, or 20 litrr pails of product. If you don’t think you can spend the next few years living with your living room choice of hot pink, alongside a traditional sunshine yellow for the kitchen, give the painted spots a coat of primer and start the process over.

As far as sheen is concerned, use a semi-gloss paint for your doors and moldings, an eggshell or satin finish for the walls, and a flat or mat finish for the ceiling.
A coat of primer is always a good thing, but is most necessary when you’re painting new drywall, or if the wall is water, oil, or smoke stained. A coat of primer is also recommended when transitioning from what was an oil based paint, to an acrylic or water based paint, and if you’re looking to put a light shade of paint over an existing wall that is medium to dark in color.

Should the primer be tinted? If you’ve chosen a medium to deep tone color, tinting the primer is a good idea, and should save you from having to roll on a third coat. Color matching? Not a problem these days. Simply bring in a small sample of the color you like, and the computer eye will match it perfectly. Next week, more painting tips.

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

Before we paint

Do it yourself, or hire a painter?

Just like plumbing work should be done by plumbers, and electrical work performed by electricians, better painting results happen when you hire a painter.

So, before embarking on a project in which you’re no more qualified to paint, as you would be to change the oil in your car’s engine, perhaps a call to one of our local professional painters would be best.

Painting seems like an easy do-it-yourself project because it’s a surface thing. “After all”, as some people say, “you’re just covering one color of paint with another color of paint, it’s that simple”. Those are the same people who never play golf, but refer to it as a game where all you have to do is put the little white ball in a hole almost three times its diameter.

As anybody who’s performed a proper job of painting knows, the quality of the finished product is directly related to the effort put into preparing the wall. Holes and dents in the gyprock will need to be puttied, sanded, and primed. The gap above the baseboards will require a paint grade caulking in order to smoothen the transition between molding and wall. While this same caulking will be required to seal the miter joints of any casings and ceiling crowns.

Sure, you could avoid these steps and go straight to rolling on paint, just like you could skip putting snow tires on your vehicle come December, or not toss a cube of butter into the fry pan before cracking in a few eggs, but the results will be disappointing.

What about paints that contain no VOC’s (Volatile Organic Compounds) or are low in VOC’s, are these a better choice than regular paints?  Volatile Organic Compounds are the chemical fumes you smell when you open up a gallon of paint. Some people react to these fumes by getting a headache, or by suffering an irritated throat, or itchiness in the eyes and nose. So, if you’re the type of person who’s sensitive to smells, or this type of chemical off-gassing, then choosing a Zero-VOC, or Low-VOC paint, likely makes sense. The only issue with choosing a No-VOC or Low-VOC (less than 50 grams of volatile organic compound per liter of product) is that you’ve limited yourself to the contractor level and mid-range quality paints, along with a color choice of white, white, or white, since the VOC content is graded on a base white paint before any coloring is added. Contractor and mid-range quality paints are fine, and are the preferred choice in new homes since there exists the very strong chance of the homeowner wanting to change color schemes after a year or two.

So, there’s no need to spend $45 per gallon for the best of quality, instead of $22 bucks for a generally good series of paint, until people have lived in the home for a while, with the final color scheme yet to be decided. The top quality paints are thicker, provide a better color base, offer a tougher, more cleanable surface, and they apply nicer and more evenly.

Therefore, there are several good reasons why a homeowner would invest in a high quality paint, or for the sake of accent or decorum, use bright and vibrant colors on the walls of their home. However, the VOC content will undoubtedly go up a bit. That’s why spring is such a good time to paint, because the VOC content of some of those deeper colors or quality paints can be largely subdued by opening a couple of windows and placing a few oscillating fans in the rooms under renovation. Or, as suggested earlier, hire professionals, and let them deal with the fumes while you enjoy the sunny outdoors.

Picking your own home’s colors? Can be risky. Some have the background to do this well, while others have difficulty matching their shoes with their socks. Next week, good color choices.

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

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