Making a house wish list

Nothing like the view from a balcony, though most aren’t as high as this one. Postmedia Network

Building a home this spring? Or, looking to gain a little more living space by putting on an addition?

If this is the case, let’s examine the wish list of home features you and your spouse, if there’s a bit of wiggle room in the budget, and if the landscape permits, should be discussing with your architect.

Please note that the following suggestions are a wish list, as opposed to a dream list of home features. Dream lists are like dream homes, very costly. Wish lists, on the other hand, are far from free, with the following suggestions, or recommendations, no doubt costing you more money than had you stuck with a standard eight ft. deep, rectangular foundation. However, these upgrades are game changers, with the added value of these great home features further differentiating your home from the masses, unless of course everybody starts modifying their homes in the same manner.

Wish list modification #1, the walk out basement. Basically, you’re replacing about six-eight feet of poured concrete with a sliding patio door. The benefit to a walkout basement is of course the fact you’ve now linked the buried portion of your home to the exterior. With an abundance of natural light, and a straight out access to the back yard, you’ll be effectively turning what was traditionally a dungeon, into comfortable living space.

A key factor in making a walkout basement a reality will be the landscaping. How your property manages the rain and snow melt will be essential construction details. Structurally, the walkout basement is a very doable, and feasible adaptation to most regular foundations.

The challenge will lie in preventing the water runoff from pooling at what will be the lowest point of the above grade portion of the home, which will be where the basement’s patio door meets your concrete or interlocking stone platform. So, once the walkout basement has been engineered and drawn up on paper, hand the plans over to a landscape designer. Don’t move forward on your walkout basement project until a landscape designer or engineer, can figure out where to divert the rain water.

Next, if your home or addition is going to have a second story, consider having a balcony extending off the master bedroom. If a walkout basement is going to be a reality, then a balcony overtop makes for the perfect house accompaniment. Basically, balconies are like backyard decks, there’s no mistake to be made with having one, other than going too small. So, whether a balcony is designed to serve a specific room, or extend the entire width of the home, you’re always going to enjoy time spent on a balcony. Similar to a walkout basement, a balcony added to a home after the fact will incur plenty of engineering and construction costs, while making it part of the original plans basically requires the contractor extending the floor joists and pouring a few cement footings in order to accept the supporting pillars. So, if there’s room in the budget, do the balcony now.

Reasons for a balcony? Better sun, better breeze, better view, if it’s a choice between deck or balcony, the balcony is always a better experience. Plus, the security, tranquility, and peace of mind to being on a balcony simply makes it superior to ground level living. When you’re on your balcony, enjoying an early morning coffee, or late night tea, the odds of you being interrupted by the neighbor’s cat, or the neighbor’s dog, or the neighbor, drop to zero.

Next, consider installing skylights. General work areas such as your kitchen, bathroom, or exercise room, will benefit greatly from the supplementary, natural light offered by a couple of skylights. Now, you may ask, don’t skylights leak? Like everything else, they leak eventually. So, and like everything else, some maintenance is required. Regardless, skylights are a terrific modification.

Next week, more wish list tips. Good building.

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

The gambler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Case #465 closed. Good building.

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

Ceramic surgery

When pulling up ceramic tiles, patience is key.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The only thing that looks like wood, is wood

Wood siding is beautiful, but takes work to maintain. Postmedia Network

Case no. 215, titled “the winds of change” has a Mr. Martin V. Particular, aka ‘MVP’, due to his prowess on the local seniors pickleball circuit, looking for a solution to an exterior siding problem he and his wife Penny P., aka Penny Poo, have been dealing with for several years now.

The Particulars own a home with a beautifully stained, pine horizontal siding. The situation? The back of the home faces the south-west, and therefore sees a ton of prolonged sunlight, while having to suffer through the brunt of our inclement weather. The problem? Stained wood sidings don’t exactly thrive under these conditions. As a result, Martin finds himself sanding and re-staining the backside of his home on practically a biannual basis, due to the finish having peeled or crackled.

MVP doesn’t so much hate the task of sanding and staining, since the results make for a very attractive, and unique type of real wood finish, but of course the time involved in keeping this siding looking pristine is edging into his practice sessions, which is killing the chances of him and penny Poo maintaining their no.1 ranking on the seniors mixed doubles tour.

Homeowner’s goal? Martin and Penny are looking for a comparable, horizontal, maintenance free type of siding that will match the color of the three other exterior walls of the home. The challenge? The “V” in Martin V. Particular often stands for “Very”. So, this isn’t simply a case of saying goodbye to a high maintenance wood product, and replacing it with any number of composite, vinyl, steel, or fiber cement type sidings available on the market today. The very Particulars are looking for something that is both maintenance free, and a close match to the walnut stained pine planks on the balance of their home.

Likelihood of success? You’d have a better chance of convincing the Habs Carey Price to switch from goaltending, to filling the vacant no.1 center position between Max Pacioretty and Brendan Gallagher. Unfortunately, the only thing that looks like wood, is wood. The composites and various other maintenance free sidings all somewhat resemble wood, and to the neighbor driving by at 80 km per hour, basically looks like wood, but when put side by side with wood, usually makes for a disappointing match.

So, with Martin Particular being very particular, finding a suitable alternative to his existing pine siding has to this point been fruitless. Suggested plans of action? The existing pine siding is beautiful, and in good condition, with the only issue being maintenance. So, instead of replacing it, why not protect it? In essence, all this southern facing wall needs is a little shade.

Extreme option no.1, bring in three 40 ft. hard maple trees. Otherwise, the Particulars should perhaps extend the roof over their backyard deck and patio. Or, consider installing either one large, or a couple of pergolas along this same backyard deck area. If this southwest facing wall is getting too much sun, then so too are the Particulars. The MVP and Penny Poo are already getting more than their share of vitamin D due to regular outdoor pickleballing. With a pergola providing intermittent shade, or full shade if you chose the aluminum model with the movable louvers, it may be the best and least intrusive solution, since a pergola is self- standing, and requires minimum deck preparation.

Or, paint the wall. Painting would keep the shape of the wood siding intact, but obviously forfeit the warmth of the wood grain. However, paints last longer than stains, and require only repainting, as opposed to the more arduous task of having to sand, stain, and seal. Otherwise, this wood siding may have flat-lined, or basically served its purpose, and it’s time for MVP to call it.

The alternatives to wood are many, with several pre-finished steel and aluminum sidings offering beautiful, wood grain type finishes.

Until further notice, case no. 215 is closed.

Good building.

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

Watch fall temperatures

If you’re planning on doing some caulking in the fall, make sure the temperature is at least 5 degrees celsius. Postmedia Network.

So, you’re finally getting around to preparing your home for the winter. Great!

Fall is an excellent time to be doing outdoor work. Not too hot, not too cold, and with the days getting shorter, darkness will force you to quit your tasks at a more reasonable hour, placing you safely in your slippers so that you may be fed and couch bound with a beer in your hand, well in time to catch the start of the hockey game.

What is the task at hand? To bolster our home’s system of defense. Who is the enemy? The demon is well known, and is the same, notorious culprit that’s been slowly destroying homes for years, that being water. It’s form? Rain, snow, sleet, or basically anything that pours or puddles. Strategy? To seal by means of a paint, caulking, or mastic (roofing and foundation cements), anything that resembles or what might be described as a crack.

There are a lot of products that form the exterior shell of the home, and the cracks are usually found where one of these products, such as your windows and doors, butts up against a foreign product, such as a brick or vinyl siding. The products themselves are usually fine, whereby the inherent design of a window, or the manner in which brick or vinyl siding is installed, are by themselves perfectly functional in diverting the elements. However, the challenge to the builder is joining two products such as these to form a watertight seal. Achieving this goal will require the installer using various membranes and flashing products, with the finishing touch to this assembly being a bead of caulking. Over time, it’s the bead of caulking that’s going to shrink and crack, which leaves the homeowner with no other choice but to re-caulk this important first line of defence.

Start by examining the roof (binoculars will help) specifically where the roofs flashings contact either the roof vents, or the side of the home, and make note of where the deficiencies, or problem areas are. Follow the same procedure for all windows and doors.

Although the fall weather provides a comfortable working atmosphere, the challenge at this point will be the falling temperatures. Caulking, paints or stains, and mastics, install better and more easily when the temperatures are at least 5 degrees Celsius. When the mercury drops below this basic user line, you risk the product not sticking properly to the surface it’s being adhered to. When caulking doesn’t stick, it won’t seal, which will mean having to follow this process over again next season.

Basic step number one, remove the paints, caulking, or mastic products from the car and put them somewhere in the house as soon as you get back from the building supply center. Don’t leave them in the garage, or forget them in the trunk of the car overnight. When caulking and mastics are left in temperatures that are close to freezing, they don’t squeeze out of the tube so well. When a cold caulking is moving slowly up the spout, the novice user will become impatient, and inevitably begin to over-squeeze the caulking lever, which usually results in the caulking blowing out the bottom of the tube. A caulking backfire has yet to result in serious injury, but the resulting gooey hands, and loss of what was a perfectly good tube of caulking, will be frustrating.

Next, watch the weather reports, and choose your time accordingly. You’ll want to install the caulking or mastic (roof repairs) while the temperatures will be in the 5 degree Celsius range for two to three hours.

If you’re hoping to do some fall painting or staining, or if the foundation is in need of parging, then you’ll require a 24-hour window of plus temperatures, due to these water based products taking longer to cure. So, if frost is expected overnight, you’ll have to wait until the next warm spell before proceeding.

Good building.

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

Just be clear

Don’t assume your contractor will guess right as to what you want done. Handout/Cornwall Standard-Freeholder

With my broken elbow about to go under the knife in the next 15 minutes, the orthopedic surgeon pushed his way through the swinging doors of the surgical room, making his way towards the gurney on which I lay. “We’re doing the left elbow today, is that correct?” he questioned.

Being very careful not to respond “that’s right”, I simply stated “that is correct”. “OK then” he confirmed, to which he then lifted my forearm, pulled a wax pencil from his breast pocket, and drew a large “X” on my left elbow.

Here was a 50-something-year-old fellow, with years of education, practice, and probably a thousand repaired knees and elbows under his belt, relying on an “X” to remind him of what body part he was about to repair that morning.

A few months later, I’m buying sod from one of our local growers, and as he’s getting set to leave the property after dropping off the several pallets of rolled up lawn, he says to me with a smile, “Oh by the way, green side up.” To which I responded, “Okay, I’ll try to remember that.”

Before the procedure of using X’s, were perfectly good body parts being operated on? Or, without the 10-second ‘green side up’ product knowledge seminar, had somebody in the past really laid their sod grass side down? Not sure, could have happened. Regardless, the moral of these stories is that no matter what the education, experience, and overall competency of the people you’ve hired to perform a new build, or renovation work on your home, leave absolutely nothing to chance.

After 35 years in retail, along with having witnessed construction and finishing work done by any number of very qualified individuals, if there’s anything I can pass on to the next person or couple looking to build or renovate, it is this: “Thinking your contractor will make the right decision, without your input, simply because he’s knowledgeable and experienced, will disappoint you every time.”

So, how should the average homeowner equip themselves in order to avoid disappointment when building or renovating a home? One, educate yourself about the product you’ve chosen, including how it’s to be sealed, installed, and finished. Two, make a list, or plan, as to how you want your flooring or windows installed, then hand this over to your installer. And three, go over the installation strategy before work begins. Until humans develop the advanced mental capability of being able to link minds, you and your contractor will never be able to truly work as one. As a result, if you’re teaching class, and the fellow installing the windows at your home couldn’t remember whether you had wanted a sill extension or not, whereby seeking the information from your husband was fruitless, due to him abstaining himself from all decision making, then with time being of the essence, the contractor will most probably make a decision on your behalf, and likely the wrong one.

Educating yourself on how a product is to be installed is usually as simple as reading the back of the product box. Some ceramic floor and wall tiles, especially the long and narrow styles, recommend a 1/3 coverage, instead of the more standard 50/50 or brick type pattern of placement. However, if the installer, although well versed in ceramic, is unfamiliar with this new type of tile you’ve chosen, then these specialty tiles will most probably be installed in a very regular fashion. Will they look bad? Probably not. Will visitors realize the error while sitting on your bathroom throne? Most likely not. But, if you happen to be in the lobby or washroom of some fancy hotel, and you see a similar tile installed in the manner to which it was supposed to be, you will have wished you’d had taken the few minutes to read the back of the box.

Leave no decision to chance.

Good building.

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

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

To float, or to dig that deck’s foundation

There are two ways to support a backyard deck.

Either the deck, or more specifically the deck’s platform, can be supported by beams and columns that rest on deck blocks, or these beams and columns can sit on poured concrete piers.

Deck blocks, often accompanied by an 18”x18” patio stone underneath, placed there in order to lessen the chance of the deck block sinking by strategically spreading the working load of the deck, create what’s known as a floating deck.

Concrete piers, poured about 48-54 inches deep into the soil, require the homeowner to first dig a hole in order to accommodate the sono-tube (cardboard cylinder) and accompanying Bigfoot base the concrete gets poured into.

Why a homeowner would dig, as opposed to float a deck, depends entirely on circumstance.

A Bigfoot base, or footing tube unit (plastic base and cylinder in one) demands such a large hole, you’re going to require the services of a backhoe. Don’t attempt to dig this hole by hand, or bother hiring the manual labour to do so, unless of course you’ve happened upon a band of migrant workers from some third-world country.

You likely shouldn’t be getting your heart rate up to the level of horsepower necessary to effectively move this amount of earth, while the chances of getting a local young person to drop her or his cellphone in exchange for a spade shovel, separating them from the outside world for the few hours this task will require, is conservatively estimated at zero.

Backhoes require space to manoeuvre, which will be a challenge if you’ve cut off access to your backyard by means of a fence or stone walkway. Then you’ll be faced with having to ask your neighbours for permission to have the backhoe access your backyard through their property, which could be awkward if ties are somewhat strained, due to you allowing your Rottweiler to regularly poop and basically run amok through their gardens for the past six months.

Then you’ll have to hire a crane to lift the backhoe over your home, dropping it into your backyard. It’s a quite spectacular and doable feat indeed – and perhaps costly – with you certainly forfeiting a little anonymity, if your goal was to build this deck under the radar of the local building inspector.

The advantage of having concrete piers is stability, being that it allows the builder to secure the balance of the deck’s weight to the home’s foundation.

Decks supported by poured concrete piers and ledgers attached to the home don’t generally move.

Plus, poured piers can accept tons of weight, which along with the proper engineering, will permit the -homeowner to transform an existing deck into the floor of a future three- or four-season sun room.

If you’re not thinking sun room in the future, or at least a screened in porch, you ought to be, it’s often the natural progression of a deck if as the homeowners, you plan on sticking around for the foreseeable future.

Because floating decks are subject to sinking or heaving up at certain times of the year, although quite mildly in most cases, they should work independently, and not be attached to the home. As a result, and to ensure your floating deck remains stable and level, the beams supporting the joists should be constructed of three-ply 2x10s, spaced no more than eight feet apart. This triple beam should rest on 6×6 timbers (4x4s are no longer permitted) which will sit in the heavier 6×6 deck block.

If the floating deck is to be three or more feet off the ground, homeowners should consider using adjustable post brackets. Basically, the 6×6 posts get locked into the U-shaped, adjustable brackets, which in turn rest in the deck blocks.

The adjustable brackets are insurance against severe sinking or heaving, since they allow the homeowner to adjust the height of the supporting beam with the simple turn of a nut.

Good building.

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

In the hole

Adding to your deck? There are a few things you should know. Postmedia Network

Case #662, titled “Digger” has a Mr. Conrad W. Crete, his close buddies refer to him as “Con” or “CW”, looking to extend his existing backyard deck by another six feet.

His present deck spans the width of the home, but only extends out about 10 feet, which up to this point, has provided plenty of sitting and lounging space.

However, with a just purchased hot tub on the way, measuring about eigh ft. in diameter, the existing 10 foot depth allowance is going to be eaten up pretty quickly. Plus, C dub’ya wants to access his hot tub comfortably from all sides, which would require a new deck depth of at least 16 feet.

Mr. Crete’s present deck is of standard wood construction, complete with a ledger board attached to the home’s foundation, and four poured concrete piers, which support a beam and the balance of the joists system. At issue is the fact ‘Con’ wants to simply attach this deck extension to his existing deck, using deck blocks to support this new framework. In essence, he wants to attach a floating deck to a poured concrete pier deck.

Adding more challenge to the situation is the fact Mr. Crete is hoping to simply butt this new piece of framework up against the existing series of joists, enabling him to make a seamless transition from old surface decking to new.

In theory, and if all things could remain as dry and as warm as the day of assembly, then a floating deck attached to a permanent structure could possibly work. However, that’s not going to happen. Once the rain and snow melt seep through the floor boards, and/or the water runoff from the downspouts surround the deck blocks, with this dampening of the soil either causing the blocks to sink slightly, or heave up a little during the colder months, you’ll be able to sell tickets to school children by having them experience your crooked deck exhibition. Floating decks and permanent structures (such as a deck supported by piers, or your home) are like the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Stanley Cup. They’re fine apart, but never the two shall meet.

A floating deck can provide a good surface to live and play on, but because it’s susceptible to whatever ground forces lie underneath, it’s got to work independently. So, a floating deck can butt up to a home, or existing deck, which would allow you to make various adjustments to this deck if necessary, but it should never be attached.

C dub’ya really wanted to float this deck addition, since the thought of mixing cement was about as enticing as attending a 6 a.m. outdoor yoga class. The challenge would be in maintaining a seamless transition between existing deck structure and floating deck, since the floating deck is most likely to move a little bit, whereby even a one-quart to one-half inch of difference would create a dangerous trip hazard. It was then suggested to Con that he add 16 feet of floating deck, positioning it one step lower than his existing deck, creating a second tier (which would look quite attractive) while solving the issue of having to maintain a perfect seam, or transition, between the two surfaces.

This suggestion was quashed. Con and his wife Babette enjoy winter hot-tubbing, where C dub’ya felt the 10 ft. sprint between patio door and hot tub, dressed only in his bathrobe, at any point below 10 degrees Celsius, would result in shrinkage significant enough to affect the intimacy.

So, it looks like we’re digging. Because we’re elongating an existing deck, the support beams already in position were simply made about six feet longer, and would be supported by a second series of poured concrete piers. Additional lumber was then added to the existing piers, in order to help them support the connection between new and existing beams.

Case #662 closed. Good building.

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