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

Attach or self-stand?

There are two manners of construction, or building strategies, when it comes to adding a deck to the back of your home.

Basically, a deck can be free-standing, or attached to the house. Either way, both types of deck provide a home with the living space to host such basic necessities as a barbecue, ice cooler, and of course the standard plastic or steel tubing furniture on which to relax, discuss, and solve world issues. And, there will be no issues regarding size of living space, railing systems, or number of descending tiers and platforms, due to your deck being attached or self-standing.

However, there are slight advantages to using one system, over the other. The biggest advantage of an attached deck is stability. Generally, attached decks don’t sink or tilt. This is due to the fact that our building code, when it comes to attached decks, will require you to first install buried piers, in order to support the beams, which in turn support the joists and framework. Buried piers will require you having to dig big holes, since these piers will require 24-28 inch wide footings, dug about 54 inches below grade.

Unless you’ve been exercising your back by performing 500 lb. deadlifts three times per week, the task of digging a series of holes this wide, and deep, is best performed by a backhoe. If you’re unfamiliar with this type of heavy machinery, backhoes are to your lawn what a few raccoons are to an unprotected bag of trash put out the night before garbage day.

So, there’s the lawn devastation factor to deal with if you invite one of these fine, big boy toys onto your property. However, attached decks also have the advantage of being more easily modified into gazebos, or three season sun rooms. This is because the footings and piers, and the ledger boards (bolted to the home’s foundation), are all resting, or attached to, concrete that is sitting on undisturbed soil, and below the frost line.

So, if you’re looking at a deck for now, but maybe an enclosed area in the not so distant future, consider attaching the deck to the home. Self-standing decks cozy up to the house like a fellow on his first date with a gal at the movies. The advantage of a self-standing deck is that it’s adaptable. The ledger board of an attached deck provides a secure anchor for the joists and frame work, but it’s got to be fastened to something solid. Many homes have vinyl or composite sidings that extend well under the patio door, leaving little foundation to work with in order to install a ledger board. Or, pipes and duct venting that are usually found at the rear of the home, often interfere with the proper fastening or alignment of a ledger board. Also, some homeowners may not feel comfortable drilling into a brick or stone façade, or having to remove existing siding in order to find the necessary studs in which to bolt the ledger board.

So, for all those folks we have the self-standing deck. Because a self-standing deck is basically a large table, it requires at least four legs. If the deck is any larger than 12 feet, or the maximum span of a triple 2×10 beam, you’re going to require at least a second, or third beam. More beams will of course require more supporting legs (6×6 posts). But, that’s what happens with a self-standing deck. Without the house being relied on to supply support, you’re going to need more legs. Now, a self-standing deck can be pier supported, or simply float. Floating decks are riskier for newer homes because the 6-8 feet of ground that extends out from the foundation, has yet to fully settle. As a result, the weight of a deck will surely have a couple of the deck legs sinking slightly. Older homes (15-20 yrs.) have surrounding soil that’s had plenty of time to settle, providing a solid base for a floating deck.
Good building.

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

I’ll take a sprinkle of water please

The art of spreading cement is similar to that of icing a cake.

Easy stuff, provided you have 1,000 cake icings under your belt. Not so easy if you’re last cooking experience was with Hasbro’s easy bake oven.

However, and regardless of the surface being a little thick on one edge, and slanted to your weak side, the cake usually tastes good just the same. The same goes when it comes to resurfacing a chipped or deteriorated concrete surface with new cement.

With experience and practice comes near perfection.

Until then, well . . . you’ll have to live with a not so level, and perhaps even a little wavy, newly surfaced walkway. But hey! It’ll be crack free, and hardly noticeable to the undiscerned and visually impaired.

The convenient thing about doing cement repairs these days is that the homeowner has only one major factor to keep in mind, and that’s water.

Plus, attempt to read the mixing instructions. I know, the writing on these containers is incredibly small, which if unreadable with your aging eyes, is perhaps fate letting you know you may be too old to be mixing concrete.

If this is the case, relish the fact that you’ve been around long enough to have witnessed Montreal’s last Stanley cup win, and hire someone who, unfortunately, hasn’t experienced this euphoria.

But, be sure to maintain your supervisory role, because there’s still a difference between young and older person standards. In the olden days, mixing cement was a chemical art, requiring the mixer to add varying amounts of Portland cement, sand, gravel, various bonding agents, and, of course, water to form the correct density for the task at hand.

Today, specific formulas have been pre-mixed and bagged for us. So, if you’re walkway or concrete steps have deteriorated due to any number of factors, then you would choose a resurfacing product such as Spread n’ Bond.

If the thin layer of cement covering your foundation wall has begun to crack and fall off (which happens to 99 per cent of all homes, due to the home settling, or moisture making its way up into the concrete) then there are parging mixes available.

Cracks in the foundation? Again, no problem with hydraulic cement compounds such as Poly-Plug.

I mention these three products because they cover the most common concrete issues facing today’s homeowner. Other than cracks in the foundation, a chipping foundation wall, or rough concrete steps, pre-mixed cements and/or caulking, are available to re-mortar in between brick and stone, repair cracks in cement surfaces, and level off sunken concrete slabs.

Key tools for mixing these specific cement formulas? Depending on the size of the job, have both standard two and five gal. pails on hand.

Next, invest in a paint mixing tool, which fits into a standard drill, and somewhat resembles the beater component of a cooking mixer (again, the cake baking people are going to have the advantage here).

Because these repair cements are made of such a fine powder, the mixing tool is 15 bucks worth of efficiency and time saving.

Pour water into the bucket, then add the cement compound as you’re power mixing.

Basically, there are three water related issues regarding successful cementing. One, soak the area you’re about to repair, then brush off any excess water or puddled areas. Two, no matter what the job, use as little water as necessary to create a workable batch of concrete.

And three, once the concrete has been troweled into position, sprinkle it with water for the next three days. The components of concrete will bond more effectively if the surface is kept wet for the 72 hours following.

Some concrete people say keep it wet for a week. What’s at risk to not following the rules of water and mixing? Cracks, and a weaker concrete surface that would be susceptible to crumbling.

So, follow the water procedures, and avoid having to repeat the task.

Good building.

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

Suiting up your home with siding

Conrad Hofmeister, installs siding in this July 6, 2015 file photo in Grande Prairie, Alta. Alexa Huffman/Grande Prairie Daily Herald-Tribune/Postmedia Network
Conrad Hofmeister, installs siding in this July 6, 2015 file photo in Grande Prairie, Alta. Alexa Huffman/Grande Prairie Daily Herald-Tribune/Postmedia Network

Whether you’re building a new home, addition, garage, or storage shed, one of the big decisions is going to be choosing the kind of siding that will best suit your investment.

Key to success? Don’t fret over which siding will be the easiest to install, or conceivably last the longest, resist dents or scratches, require painting, or cost you more or less money.

If you’re going all brick, or all stone, then there’s nothing to worry about. But, if you’re going to require a siding other than brick or stone, whether it be to accent the home, or completely cover it, then siding your home with the proper product, or one that best “suits” the home, is key.

Basically, siding choices can be slotted into four categories, vinyl, composites, cement board, and real wood.

Vinyl siding can be the least expensive of the three, if you’re considering the standard horizontal lap pattern, or the most expensive, if you happen to like one of the heavier stone or simulated cedar shake sidings.

One thing to keep in mind about vinyl siding, it doesn’t play well with others, and tends to look best on its own. So, if vinyl siding is what you’re leaning towards, then go vinyl all the way.

It’s often been the strategy, when building a modest sized new home, to install brick on the facade, with the three remaining walls relegated to regular vinyl.

This “looks good from the street, because the sides and back don’t matter so much” mentality only cheapens the structure, and let’s everyone know your house plan is fresh out of the 70’s.

So, if you can stretch the budget in order to have four brick walls, then terrific, you’ll end up with the classic “wolf will never blow me down” Ontario type home.

If the budget is fixed, then consider putting your brick facade money towards a higher quality, deeper tone, more refreshing and updated vinyl colour scheme on the entire house.

“Doesn’t vinyl siding fade, or break easy should it get struck by a hockey puck in the winter” is a question we field often.

Fade? Yes, and like everything else exposed to the sun, perhaps a little over time. And break easy? Well, things break easy when hit by hard, fast moving objects, just ask Brendan Gallagher of the Montreal Canadians.

The convenient thing about vinyl siding is that it’s probably the easiest type of product to replace, even if the damaged panel is in the middle of a wall.

Solution to the puck issue? Build your kid a decent perimeter of rink boards. Otherwise, vinyl siding is a respected, harsh weather product.

Matter of fact, vinyl siding is the preferred product in the Maritime provinces and along the east coast, which arguably endures Canada’s toughest weather conditions.

Although style and affluence minimally affect the numbers, where cement-based products have failed, due to the constant moisture and corrosiveness of the sea air, and where wood and composite sidings require constant paint touch-ups and general upkeep, vinyl sidings do very well.

Composite sidings include such brand names as Canexel (wood fiber base) and Goodstyle (wood chip base). Composites are the closest thing to looking like real wood, and have the advantage of being significantly more stable than wood, which means they don’t warp or crack like wood.

Like real wood sidings, composites are a good accent product for stone and brick homes. Cement-based sidings, such as James Hardie board, work extremely well in our weather zone, and a super tough, fire proof, good looking siding that can work on its own, or act as an excellent complement to your brick or stone home.

Like wood, composite and cement products will require painting every 10-12 years, but don’t let this fact discourage you from the many great features of both these sidings.

Good building

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

Accepting your stone foundation

Old stone homes are beautiful. They're also pretty cold, especially in the basement. Our Handyman Hint solution? Accept it for what it is, unless you're willing to pour a lot of money into it.
Old stone homes are beautiful. They’re also pretty cold, especially in the basement. Our Handyman Hint solution? Accept it for what it is, unless you’re willing to pour a lot of money into it.

We owned a century home with a stone foundation once. Once!

As a result, when it comes to giving advice to those persons looking to invest in a home built before the invention of the automobile, and who have further ideas of transforming this stone foundation into useable storage space, I can only offer the following, “may the strength and courage of your faith guide you accordingly”.

My faith guided me right back up the stairs to our kitchen table, where within 45 minutes I had completed a drawing and structural details to our future garden shed. That’s my recommendation to those persons looking to use a stone basement for anything other than keeping a few bottles of wine slightly chilled — build the more convenient and certainly more practical alternative, that being a shed.

Should all stone foundations be judged so harshly? Absolutely.

However, the guidelines as to how user friendly a stone basement is, lies entirely on the reparation work done by the previous owner. In our case, the previous tenants were farmers and retired crafters.

So, the basement was left relatively unchanged since its modest beginnings in 1825. Which, meant whitewashed stone walls, an uneven ground floor, along with the standard “be prepared to duck” floor to ceiling beam height of about 5-1/2 feet.

Plus, two inches of floodwater would appear like clockwork every first day of spring. As a result, considering this basement area for storage space (provided it was off the floor) was slim, with any thoughts of potential living area being created out of this dungeon about as likely as a Stanley Cup parade down Yonge Street.

Needless to say, we continued the trend of ignoring the basement issue, and chose to instead direct our home renewal funds towards a new kitchen and subsequent pool.

However, what an engineer, or more structurally inclined fellow would have done, is address the basement.

How? By steadying the home with a new series of joists and strategically placed hydraulic jacks, the basement floor would be dug down a further three feet.

Next, with a new footing installed, and poured concrete knee-wall supporting the existing stone structure, we would lay the lines to our internal weeping tile system and sump pump well.

Finally, a concrete floor would be spread and levelled overtop. That’s a previous owner who would have done us one heck of a favor, regardless of the cost.

Moral of the story, for best results, buy a home formerly owned by an engineer. Otherwise, most stone foundations are caught somewhere in between their original state and complete renewal, having been subject to the usual piecemeal grout repairs.
Should a future home buyer be concerned about investing in a home with a stone foundation? Absolutely not.

We loved our stone home, and could we have logistically moved it to our new property without the aid of four Sea King helicopters, we probably would have.

Like everything else in this world, if you love most of what you see, you’re going to accept some of the weaknesses.

Is a stone foundation a concern? Stone foundations are energy losers. Solid rock is a poor insulator, while the mortar joints are responsible for continual air and moisture infiltration.

Now, combine that scenario with a ground floor, or concrete floor that may be cracked or in disrepair, and we’re talking one heck of an influx of dampness.

Remedy? If you’ve got 200 thousand bucks to spend, you re-do the basement in the aforementioned manner. Otherwise, your goal will be controlling the water, which can be accomplished by addressing the sloping landscape and eavestrough systems outside, with the possible help of a weeping tile line and sump pump unit inside.

With a strategy in place to handle the rain and ground water, a proper concrete floor, complete with ridged foam board and vapor barrier, would be the next step, solving most of the moisture issues, while at least providing you with a somewhat useable storage space.

Good building.

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