Notice of continuing suspension

The biggest single factor related to the effective finishing of a basement space is ceiling height.

Basically, and in most cases, there’s rarely enough of it.

So, other than spending $150,000, to have your home raised off its foundation, or conversely, hammering out your basement’s concrete floor, and gaining the headroom by digging down a few steps, the challenge to finishing a basement involves dealing with the many ceiling obstacles. Our goal is to install a suspended ceiling.

It’s a logical choice for a basement due to the vast series of ductwork, plumbing, and wiring that may on occasion require cleaning, repair, or adjustment. The dilemma?

In order for our ceiling tiles to be installed and removed (if necessary) with relative ease, the grid components will need to be four inches lower than the floor joists above. Or, four inches below whatever’s lower than the joists.

Basically, there are three things we shouldn’t touch in a basement, being the floor joists, which support the first floor components, the beam supporting the floor joists, and the jack posts supporting the beam. If you didn’t make the connection, “support” was the key word here.

So remember, you never touch something that is, or in any way could be, supporting something else.

Unless, of course, you’re willing to put down the big bucks for some re-engineering.

If we can’t touch the posts, or the beams, or the joists, then in order to get a reasonably high ceiling, let’s look to move some of the plumbing and ductwork that are cluttering our otherwise perfectly good ceiling. If the original homeowner, or builder, didn’t have a finished basement strategy in mind, then the tradespeople would have taken the simplest, most direct route when making the various plumbing and ductwork connections.

Now that we’re talking finished ceiling, it’s time to call the plumber and HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) fellows back. Their goal will be to re-route the plumbing and mechanical venting, if possible, around what would be the future finished area. With a little imagination, and the help of some engineering mechanics or motorization, plumbing and ductwork can be directed through the utility, or storage areas of the basement.

If logistics dictate that certain plumbing lines or venting must pass through the finished area, then perhaps it can be relegated to the edges of the room. This way, the pipes and vents could be hidden by a false wall, or bulkhead, and go practically unnoticed.

As mentioned last week, we want to install the perimeter moldings first, then the main tees, placing them four feet apart, and perpendicular to the joists. With the room’s dimensions drawn to scale on a sheet of graph paper, outline where the four-foot and two-foot crosspieces will be placed.

The graph paper will allow you to more easily centre the tiles and avoid too narrow a border – less than six inches is too thin, and unattractive. Plus, it’ll strategically help you avoid obstructions such as beams and posts.

Inserting the cross pieces should not be left to guesswork, or trial and error. These components are stubborn to detach if you’ve inserted them in the wrong hole. So, avoid the hassle, and get things drawn on paper first. Having things on paper will also help you plan a lighting schedule.

Be sure to secure the help of your electrician when deciding how much recessed lighting will be necessary. What size of tile works best? The larger 2’x4’ tiles are easier and quicker to manipulate, while the 2’x2’ tiles, due to their softer, less etched surface, and recessed edge, generally look better.

If you’ve got a lot of border cutting to do, a recessed tile will require a lot of extra trimming. In this case, you may want to use a non-recessed tile for the border only, keeping the more decorative tiles for the center of the room.

Good building.

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

Suspended ceilings

When installing a suspended ceiling, our handyman recommends going in with a plan. Postmedia Network.

Today we’re going to be discussing the consumer’s most versatile ceiling option, that being a grid system of T-bar shaped metal tracks with either 2’x2’ or 2’x4’ sized tiles, otherwise known as a suspended ceiling.

Suspended ceilings are popular, especially in basement renovations, because the manor of assembly is a relatively quick learn, and a natural progression for those homeowners who received gold stars in kindergarten for their excellence in manipulating Lego blocks.

The grid system is comprised of four basic components — a 12 ft. wall angle, a 12 ft. main tee, along with 2 ft. and 4 ft. cross tees. The strategy to assembling the grid components in a basement involves following three basic steps. One, the 12 ft. wall molding gets installed first, using regular wood or drywall screws, and follows the entire perimeter of the room. Next, sit the edges of the 12 ft. main tees in the L-shape of the perimeter molding, making sure they lie perpendicular to the floor joists above. Then, space these main tees four feet apart.

Whether the ceiling space is square or rectangular is irrelevant. Spacing the main tees four feet apart allows you to lay the tiles (if we’re talking 2’x4’ panels) in whatever direction you wish. Laying the main tees perpendicular to the floor joists, allows you to easily support these main tees with wires strung down from screws inserted into the joists. Place a supporting wire every four feet along the length of your main tee. With the perimeter moldings installed, and the main tees secured in position, two and four foot cross tees can then be installed. This, in a nutshell, are the basic steps regarding the installation of a suspended grid.

Now, however simple this procedure seems, frustration and profanity will be your future if you don’t come up with a strategy beforehand. Because the cross tees insert quite easily, but are about as much fun to disconnect as having to undue a tight knot in a shoelace, you’re only going to want to fasten a cross tee to a main tee, or cross tee into an adjoining cross tee, once.

Getting every connection right the first time you assemble grid in a room requires either a lot of previous practice, or a plan. So, assuming you’re not a professional ceiling installer, let’s come up with a plan that’ll leave all our trials and errors on a few sheets of paper in the recycle bin. On a sheet of graph paper, outline the exact co-ordinates of the room. In order for the ceiling panels to be easily placed into the track, the entire grid system must hang four inches below the lowest beam or length of ductwork. Please understand that the four inch drop is a minimum. With the main tees measuring about two inches in depth, a four inch minimum drop leaves you with about two inches of air space to slide in, and manipulate a tile into position. If you’ve purchased a ridged tile, and because of their superior quality and sound attenuation value, I definitely recommend that you do, these panels are going to be a son of a gun to handle if you’ve shorted yourself drop space. If dropping the grid system four inches below the lowest beam is going to create a living hazard for those with futures in basketball, with the proposal that persons susceptible to head scuffing protect themselves with the coveted basement helmet, receiving little praise, then the beam may have to be left as is. In cases such as these, beams get boxed-in with drywall, or simply painted, to somewhat camouflage their existence, with the grid systems butting up to it on either side. In most basements, it’s not so much the low lying beams, as much as the low lying ductwork, that can make finishing a ceiling all the more difficult.

Next week, what to do with ductwork and other ceiling obstacles.

Good building.

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

Find the source of those white stains

Efflorescence, a fibre-like mineral deposit — mostly salts — that indicates small, persistent moisture inflow. Before getting fluffy like this photo, it starts as white-coloured stains. Steve Maxwell/Postmedia Network

Got a tough laundry stain to get out? No problem.

Rinse the garment with cold water, then scrub in a little laundry detergent, let sit for a few minutes, then scrub and rinse once again.

Still not clean? OK, if were talking a piece of white apparel, try a little bleach, then rinse and scrub once again. Continue this process for 15 minutes, or until the next period of the hockey game commences.

If after giving this stain issue its due attention, the unsightly blotch consisting of a mélange of Molson Ex, chili sauce, and Dijon mustard, still persists, well, you’re going to have to live with the fact that balancing a meal on your stomach, the size of which could have fed a small village in Tanzania for two weeks, while watching the game, was probably a bad idea.

As a result, you can either live with the blotch, since a belly stain of this sort on a white t-shirt isn’t such an uncommon fashion statement for a man of your age, or toss the fine garment into a container in the garage containing various other undershirt apparel, that being the box simply labelled “rags.” Problem solved.

Now, what about house stains, and specifically, those relating to the white, powdery stuff on your brick or stone work— how does a homeowner deal with that relatively common stain issue?

Well, water, soap, and a little scrubbing will help, but it won’t solve the problem. The white residue often seen on cement floors, concrete foundations, as well as various cement sidings, including brick or man-made stone concrete products, is called efflorescence.

Taken from the French “to flower out,” efflorescence describes the action of salt in the cement product, or mortar, migrating to the surface of the concrete by moisture that has infiltrated the concrete.

Where does the salt come from? Salt exists in the ground, in the air, and can be found in just about every type of food and living organism.

If you’ve ever worn a ball cap on a scorching summer afternoon, where you likely perspired off a few pounds, then left your cap on the coat hook to dry at the end of the day, only to find a white residue having stained its surface by morning, that, in a nutshell, defines the action resulting in efflorescence.

Salt in the brick or stone gets liquefied by rain water or moisture that has infiltrated the brick. This salt infused moisture then makes its way to the surface of the brick through various pores in the product, then dries when it hits the open air, leaving a salt residue.

How do we clean off the efflorescence? First, scrub with a stiff bristled brush, then rinse with water. If the efflorescence contains calcium deposits, as well as salt, this is going to be a much more stubborn removal.

As a result, you may have to revert to using muriatic acid (diluted 1 to 20 in water). Muriatic acid is extremely corrosive. Therefore, you’re best to hire a professional cleaner for this task. They will have the proper clothing, ladders, and harnesses to safely work with this product.

The only issue with cleaning is that it’s likely a temporary solution. Efflorescence is unattractive, but not harmful to you or your brick. However, it is a sign of moisture entering the brick wall, or foundation, in some way.

So, avoiding further efflorescence issues means eliminating the cause. Basically, you’ll need to check your water management systems. This includes verifying the manner in which your landscape slopes away from your foundation, ensuring the roof valleys and flashings are effectively directing water to the roof’s edge, and everything in between. The in between stuff includes window sills, caulking around windows and doors, and making sure your roof edge properly deposits water into the eavestroughing.

If you’ve got efflorescence on your siding or foundation, moisture is somehow making its way in.

Next week, roof stains. Good building.

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

Mysterious moisture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good building.

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

This old house

There’s much to like about older homes, but they can also come with some challenges. Postmedia Network

We purchased an old house once, ONCE!

Actually, we still live in an older home, built in the 80’s. So, when people question what type of home is the better investment, new or old, several factors come into play. Plus, our history of home ownership somewhat bucks the seemingly natural progression of buying an older home first, fix it up, sell, then buy an old home, renovate, sell, then build a brand new home.

We progressed from building a brand new semi-detached, followed by a brand new home a few years later, to buying a century old farm house, then moving into our existing, simply older home of today.

After 30 years of living in various new, old, and very old structures, what single distinguishing home feature separates the then and now of home building? The use of the basement.

Our first two homes were new, with finished basements. Our last two homes were old, where in the century home we were faced with a dungeon, essentially unsuitable for modern human life, whereby a basement renovation would have cost more than the price of the home. Our existing basement space is typical of most homes built in that era. That being a generally low ceiling, unfriendly placement of duct work (requiring anybody over 5’8” to duck every five steps) and the occasional puddle of water on the floor. So, other than being a relatively good venue for youngsters to hone their wrist and slap shot skills, the 30-year-old basement can be a risky investment living space wise. Risky, but not impossible.

The advantage new homes have is that the basement walls have not only been sealed with foundation tar, but they’ve been subsequently covered with either a plastic dimpled membrane, or water sheading type of fiber matting. Plus, the weeping tile systems are perfectly clean, effectively diverting water into a sump base, or sewer system.

In the olden days, concrete basement walls were simply tarred, with sediment and soil settlement certainly having somewhat compromised the weeping tiles effectiveness by now. When the homes defensive system breaks down, water gets in.

So, what do you do if this great older home comes for sale, but you really need the space provided by a finished basement? Well, you either walk away, or forget putting money into the more fun, kitchen and bathroom areas for now, and call in the backhoe. Only by excavating around the foundation, installing a new impermeable membrane, and new weeping tile drain, can you really be guaranteed a dry space for the next 20 years.

Although never chosen for their basement advantages, older homes are often attractive due to their uniqueness, reasonable price, but most often, location. Location is huge, whereby the best strategy asset wise, is usually to buy the worst home on the best street. Therefore, if this old house is livable by your standards, then every penny you put into it should increase its value, and be recuperated if you decide to sell years later.

What can you expect to replace or repair in an older home? Well, if history, or our experience, is any indication of what is, most homes for sale are at the end of their work cycle. In other words, we haven’t met a homeowner yet who chose to update their furnace, re-shingle the roof, or renovate the kitchen and bathroom areas, before putting their house on the market. It’s been more of a take it as is, sure we’ve just given the place a coat of paint, but basically that’s the price, and if anything should break or go wrong, may the strength of your faith pull you through.

Best bet, have an accredited home inspector, or home builder friend, take a walk through this older home with you. They’ll have the experience to ignore the staged bowl of fruit and fresh flowers on the counter, and get right to checking the age of mechanical systems, roofing, windows, and the general integrity of the homes envelope.

Good building.

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

A well that you want to keep dry

“Are you a fireman?” was the question posed to me after giving this particular customer a quick lesson on the building code regarding egress basement windows and window wells.

“Don’t be ridiculous madame,” was my reply, “my proficiency at playing ice hockey is far too poor to be ever considered for such a position.”

This response references a local hiring practice that’s enabled our firefighters to go undefeated in charity hockey games for the past 40 years.

The issue at hand was her basement window, which had an existing window well, that she wanted to cover with some type of plastic canopy. Her idea was to somehow fasten the appropriate-sized canopy to the steel wall of the well.

Window wells are one of those necessary evils. They aren’t so attractive and they have a tendency to collect water against the foundation, which is not a good thing. In severe rains, they’ve also been known to create an interesting type of aquarium featuring some of our local frogs, insects and plant life, which can be a little unsettling for the unsuspecting basement dweller upon opening the curtains at sunrise.

However, when the landscaping has buried a portion of your basement window into the soil, a window well is what you’ll need to provide the necessary spacing for light, and escape. So – and addressing the issue at hand – this person’s desire to cover the window well is a prudent decision.

Window wells are good at collecting water, doing what wells are designed to do. However, water that pools at the foundation will creep down the wall and then infiltrate your finished basement through some little crack.

That’s the reason why we cover our window wells. The only flaw in her strategy was that she wanted to fasten the window well lid to the well. That’s when I explained to her the error in performing such a task, since it would eliminate an escape route, should there be a fire emergency.

“Oh well,” she continued, “if it was an emergency and I had to force it open, I could certainly do so.”

That’s when I explained the egress principle, which states a proper escape route must not require the escapee to figure out a latch or combination lock, or have prior knowledge as to how something opens— and certainly not require force.

When smoke fills a room, you’ve got about as long as you can hold your breath, which under duress is about 30 seconds, before the carbons and smoke matter overwhelm you. So, escape has got to be swift, and easy.

That’s when she blurted out the fireman quip.

The best system is a flip up lid that attaches to the foundation. These well covers are available with ridged, clear plastic tops that are extremely lightweight, requiring little pressure to open, while effectively diverting water away from the well. Then we discussed depth of the lid, which in this case needed to be about 14 inches.

A 14-inch lid indicated a 12-inch deep window well, which of course raised the question as to what use this basement room served. The building code doesn’t require storage, closet, or furnace rooms to have a window, so regardless of the size of the window, or depth of window well, compliance would not be an issue.

However, if this basement room were a bedroom, then we’d have a problem. Basement bedrooms require a window that when slid open, provides at least 3.8 square feet of escapable space, with 15 inches being the minimum opening of any one side. Along with this minimum window size, comes a minimum window well size, which states that the well must have a depth of at least 22 inches.

If you’re planning on renovating your basement with the idea of creating a few new bedrooms, make sure the window sizes and window well depths, conform to code.

Good building.

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

Basement heartbreak month

Installing a second sump pump in your basement is never a bad idea. Postmedia Network

If your home made it through the fall months without incurring any flooding damage due to power failures, general mishaps, or acts of nature, then congratulations, your home’s water dispersal system is seemingly in good working order.

However, fall weather to a home is kind of like Japan showing up to face Team Canada in pre-tournament Olympic hockey. In other words, the ol’ homestead has yet to be truly challenged. A few days of rain, perhaps a little snow, combined with maybe a heavy downpour of leaves, is usually all the fight you’re going to get out of October and November, and, relatively nothing compared to what’s coming this March.

Besides having long been the heartbreak month for Maple Leaf fans, as they helplessly watch their team play themselves out of playoff contention, March has also earned the reputation as the month for basement heartbreak. This due to after months of sweat, blood, tears, and expense put into a basement renovation, the odds favour an exhausted homeowner waking up some morning in the month of March, to a just installed floating composite floor, actually floating, in about four inches of water.

What happened? Well, the various weak spots in your home’s drainage system were working well enough to handle a little rain, but when it came to diverting the water from those banks of melting snow and ice, the systems obviously fell well short of the task.

So, if you’re planning on turning your basement into extra living space this winter, let’s look at how to avoid heartbreak this spring.

First, if your home’s basement floor is below the water table, thereby requiring you to have a sump pit, and accompanying sump pump, in order to collect the water surrounding the foundation, and pump it clear of the home, get a second pump. When one little bobble floating up and down a thin steel shaft is all that protects your $20,000 basement renovation from disaster, it’s time to re-evaluate your risk management.

Sump pumps can jamb, get clogged, or just stop working. So, invest in a second pump, two bobbles are definitely better than one. Plus, have this second pump tie into your water line. This way, you’re not depending on electrical power, or a backup battery (that requires a constant trickle charge) to power the pump, it’ll all be done by the existing water pressure in the line.

Call your local plumber in order to have this job done properly.

Next, let’s check the foundation, and make sure those systems designed to properly divert rain and snow melt away from your home are intact. Checking the foundation means essentially looking for cracks. Whatever the size of a crack, be it hairline, or severe, they’re all potentially problematic, allowing water into the home, while further deteriorating your foundation. Cracks can be temporarily covered, or filled, with a pre-mixed, just add water, hydraulic cement powder. The next step, if weather, and your skill set will permit, would be to cover these repairs with parging, a thin coat, smooth finishing compound that you see on most finished foundations.

Next, if you’ve got window wells, cover them. Window wells collect water and deposit it against the foundation wall, basically the two things you absolutely want to avoid. Easy to install, clear plastic “flip up” covers can be ordered to size, are durable, and lightweight, allowing any basement dwellers to easily escape in an emergency.

Next, clean your eavestroughing, and, make sure those downpipes are depositing rain water at least five feet from the home, not into your weeping tile. Back in the olden days, it was thought efficient to run the downpipe straight down into the weeping system. We now realize this strategy unnecessarily overburdens the drain pipe with water and various debris.

Finally, grade the landscape so that rain and snow melt flow away from the home, with a slope of at least one inch per foot for the first ten feet.

Good building.

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