The nose knows when to bail on this cottage

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Today we continue our following of famed local home inspector Jack Nailbucket, aka Insp. Clouseau, as he meticulously examines a peculiar waterfront home that is for sale.

Bill Granite, the potential buyer of this home, and the one responsible for the hiring of Nailbucket Home Inspections, will not be continuing the tour. Unfortunately, our Mr. Granite is clearly dejected by the revealed failings of this home so far, including a cracked foundation, negative sloping landscape, and decking platforms that require a complete reconstruction.

With his dreams of cottage life fading, he’s found himself a comfortable spot down by the water, and for the past few hours has been true to his nickname, passing his time quaffing ale, then crushing the empty tins against his forehead, followed by unceremoniously tossing these tins into Lake Ontario.

From this point on, Crushers’ contribution to the inspection will regrettably be unintelligible babble.

At present, we find ourselves in the home’s basement, with our Clouseau scenting a problem. Besides the obvious moisture issues, evidenced by two dehumidifiers running full-blast, our inspector was detecting a further, potentially more serious problem.

Due to Jack’s rather large schnoz, a hereditary trait passed on by generations of Nailbuckets and Clouseaus, our inspector is capable of discerning odours and smells in the range of one part per million, placing him second only to the American bloodhound in scent detection.

After only a few minutes in the basement, Clouseau noted the presence of mould. Was the mould severe? No, but the 2×8 joists and plywood flooring were in some areas the same colour as the area’s native speckled trout, while being somewhat cool and moist to the touch, which isn’t good.

For some unknown reason, the basement floor was unfinished, having only a gravel base. In a poor attempt to somewhat control the moisture coming from the soil, and concrete block walls, a six-millimetre plastic had been spread and taped over the gravel floor and walls.

The basement housed the furnace, water purification systems, and other electrical units, so this was indeed an area that saw semi-regular human activity.

The problem was this basement was more designed as a cold storage, with an environment better suited to house this year’s batch of pickled beets, than human life. What to do?

Essentially, this area needs to be humanized, which means switching the basement environment from wet and damp, to warm and dry.

First, we’ll need to quash the basement floor humidity issue by installing a layer of two-inch pink rigid foam board, providing R-10 of thermal value, over the existing gravel and poly.

The floor should then be covered with four inches of concrete, spread directly over the foam. This modification would raise the floor about six-to-seven inches, which will also involve raising the furnace, likely affecting the ductwork. With the present basement height being a simply adequate 80 inches, this raising of the floor isn’t devastating news, since 80 per cent of the population will still feel comfortable navigating the area.

Next, the furnace’s ductwork system, now feeding only the living spaces above, will need to accept further venting and cold air returns in order to service the basement.

If we’re creating a living space out of the basement, or at least making it comfortable, then we’ll need to keep the heat in the space by installing a rigid foam board against the block walls, followed by 2×4 framing, then the appropriate levels of fiberglass pink insulation.

Or, forget the whole basement idea, move the furnace and mechanical systems to the main floor, insulate the floor, then seal the basement off altogether.

Simply put, this was a home that required a lot of work, but was fortunately situated on a beautiful lot. Essentially, a situation where all it takes is money to make things better.

With that information, our Mr. Granite accepted the report of our Clouseau, then graciously poured himself into a cab. Case #823 closed.

Good building.

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

Insp. Clouseau looks for clues at the cottage

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Today we’ll be following home inspector Jack Nailbucket, aka Insp. Clouseau, due to Jack’s genealogical connection with his French cousins, and a preference of wearing a white fedora and trench coat while performing his home inspections.

The inspector will be passing his magnifying glass over a potential cottage for purchase by a Mr. Bill ‘Crusher’ Granite, the subject of last week’s column.

Now to be clear, the use of the term cottage in this case is purely subjective. What’s for purchase here is a standard 1,600-square-foot home with nearly a full-height basement, and not an 800-square-foot hunting lodge raised up on cement blocks. There’s no way we’ll be closing this baby up for the winter.

In order for this cottage to remain healthy, general maintenance, a few upgrades, and providing heat for this home year round, regardless of occupancy, will be absolutely necessary.

Our Clouseau was also suspicious of the sales person’s repeated mention the sellers of this cottage are a physics professor and his wife who are looking to retire to the city. Very good, the home has been lived in by someone capable of splitting an atom.

Unfortunately, this same fellow was befuddled by the soggy state of his loafers as he walked the perimeter of his home, and failed to recognize the fact the home’s landscape was working in a negative manner, directing water towards the foundation.

So, be leery of trusting all is good simply because a home has been lived in by persons of means or intelligence. It should be viewed as little solace or guarantee your future dwelling has been well cared for, or built to code.

The home had several little decks that permitted seating on the east, west, and north sides of the home, allowing the homeowners to view the water and strategically follow the sun, or the shade, throughout the day.

A lovely idea, except for the fact each deck was in its own stage of decay. This was due largely in part to the puddles of water and moisture-filled soil that lay beneath these decks, and the fact all three decks had been framed perilously close to the ground.

Further to the deck issue was a relatively significant crack in the corner of the foundation wall that supported the garage. Our Clouseau suspects rainwater and snow melt had been allowed to pool in this area, with this moisture infiltrating the concrete, then expanding during the freezing periods.

We haven’t even entered the cottage yet and we’re facing a foundation repair, dismantling the existing decks (which thankfully are of treated lumber, as opposed to composite, and represent no great loss), a total re-do of the landscaping (which may or may not include replacing the weeping tile, if it ever existed), then re-building the decks once again.

Properly grading the landscape is going to be a challenge because there’s little to no foundation left to work with. It’s as if the house had sunk into a hole. Built on bedrock, this cottage has never sunk, but its foundation was probably two or three rows of concrete blocks too short, a strange error considering the age of the home and the general guidelines of building.

Next, we visited the basement, which was for some reason only accessible from the outside. Our Clouseau was at a loss as to why the professor forfeited a standard stairwell to the basement, in exchange for added closet space.

His thought was that should an explosion occur in the basement as a result of the professor experimenting with a new rocket fuel, the main living area would have been shielded, with the ensuing damage limited to the basement’s block walls blowing out. With the basement walls gone, the home would have simply crashed down upon the rubble, which would have unfortunately included the professor, but on a positive note, saved on the cost of internment.

Next week, the inspection continues.

Good building.

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

This ain’t no cottage

The Cottages on Salt Spring Island. Courtesy, Steve MacNaull

Case No. 823, titled “The year-long investment,” has Mr. Bill Granite, aka “Crusher” to his buddies – due in part to Granite’s profession of pounding stones into gravel, and being capable of reducing an expired beer can into a pancake by firmly pressing it against his forehead – looking to spend his weekends by the water.

As a result, a “Cottage for sale” sign, located about 2.5 hours from his Toronto home, has garnered his attention.

First, I think we need to have the Webster Dictionary people either eliminate the term cottage from our vocabulary, or come up with a better word to define what exactly people are getting themselves into.

As I recall, our cottage on Stanley Island was essentially a four-wall, one-roof, 20’ x 30’ structure, supported by concrete blocks about two feet off the ground. By today’s standards, it would be like building a residence on top of a standard backyard deck.

We had electricity, and indoor plumbing, with the water pumped into the cottage directly from the river.

Water purification system? None that I can recall, other than a piece of metal screening loosely fitted at the submerged end of the flexible pipe. The screen basically prevented small stones and sea shells from entering the system, with river bacteria and most other components allowed to flow in freely. But hey, we were always healthy, and rarely missed a day of work or play.

Upon arriving at this residence for the first time, it was clearly evident that this structure was not a cottage, at least by my definition.

What stood before us was a nice, but still modest, 1,600-square-foot bungalow, equipped with all the heating, cooling, multiple bath and shower conveniences of any regular home. The house also had a full basement, which spanned most of the home’s square footage, with the exception of the crawl space found under a most recent addition.

Essentially, this was a home, and would have been called such in any other environment, except for the fact there was a great big expanse of water in front of it, thereby earning its classification as a cottage.

Besides having country experienced friends on board to offer advice, Crusher also engaged the help of a professional home inspector, which is a good idea, and something I would definitely recommend all potential home buyers do before signing on the dotted line.

Friends will usually tell you all the good things about the home, while a home inspector will do a thorough inspection (which should take about two-to-three hours) then give you the straight facts about the joint.

After walking through the home and inspecting the grounds, there were minor issues here and there that were certainly noteworthy, however, the big issue from my perspective, and the one undeniable factor regarding this purchase, was the fact this was an investment in a second home, not a cottage.

Prepping our cottage for the winter months meant disconnecting the water pump, pulling the line out of the river, boarding up a few windows and doors, then motioning to the summer homestead with a final “see ya in six months” salute.

You can’t do that with a modern home, unless of course it’s located in Arizona, where the humidity varies from dry, to very dry.

However, this residence faces the winds of Lake Ontario 365 days per year— winds that’ll not only be pelting this home with rain, snow, and sleet every other weekend, but will be enveloping this house with sufficient humidity to effectively grow mushrooms on the ceilings. The battle to keep this “cottage” viable is going to be, like any other home, a full-time job.

So, does a person move forward with such a purchase? As long as you realize you’ll be caring for and paying expenses on two homes, instead of one and a half, like you might have expected, it’s all good.

Next week, the cottage inspection.

Good building.

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