Permit me to ask

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good building.

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

Committing to painting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Before we paint

Do it yourself, or hire a painter?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life’s better with a pergola

Pergolas with large fabric panels that can be installed every spring are a great way to reduce the amount of sunlight and heat that a patio absorbs. Postmedia Network

Why build a pergola in your backyard or on top of your existing back deck?

Because planting a maple tree would incur a 20-year wait for adequate shade. So, perhaps your children, or grandchildren, could live to see the day by which they could relax under such an investment, but until such time passes, you’d be moving your rocker every five minutes in order to catch the shade of those first few leaves.

What about patio furniture umbrellas? They’re fine for providing 15 minutes of cover for afternoon tea. Otherwise, they usually aren’t big enough to provide proper shade for a pair of loungers. Plus, umbrellas are about as loyal as a pet rabbit, and seem to love jumping up and bouncing through backyards upon the first strong wind.

So, for ease, beauty, dependability, while being a project the average do-it-yourselfer could have installed by the end of the weekend, pergolas are a great idea. Consisting of four 6×6 posts with a crown of 2×6 or 2×8 lumber overtop, with these joists set on their edges, pergolas are an excellent deck appendage because they provide for semi-shade lounging, without interfering with those delightful summer breezes. Add a little lighting, either by having an electrician install a permanent series of outdoor lamps and fixtures, or by running clear, Christmas type lights along each post and beam, and the nighttime atmosphere can be made to look absolutely spectacular.

Because pergolas are of a very basic, yet structurally sound design, they can often serve as a base for a future screened in porch, if a couple is to really enjoy the nighttime without having to lather up in deep woods mosquito repellent. Pergolas are also beautiful when installed deeper into the backyard, providing an area of tranquility to simply relax and read a book. Plant a grape vine, or series of climbing plants beginning at or around each post base (have one of our local arborists give you a few tips or suggestions) and within a few years you’ll have a beautiful cover of green foliage.

Pergolas can be attached to the home, saving you the cost of a couple of posts, but look better if they’re of the four post, free-standing variety.

Up to this point, I’ve used the term post to describe the legs that support the overhead grilled structure, which would suggest four square shaped timbers. However, for a Mediterranean type of styling, consider replacing the standard 6×6 posts with smooth or fluted, round fiberglass columns. Fiberglass columns are considerably more costly than 6×6 lumber, but they’re structurally sound, will last forever, while the visual impact is profound, creating a backyard retreat that’s all the more unique.

Most pergolas are made of treated spruce or cedar lumber. Wood is easy to work with, and inexpensive, but like your existing deck, or anything else that’s made of wood and has to live outdoors, it’s going to require yearly maintenance. Maintaining such a structure isn’t so easy. Due to the many 2×8 boards set on edge, and considering their relatively close spacing, getting up and in between these joists while avoiding the 2×2 cross pieces above, in order to spread a swath of stain, all while balancing on a stepladder, is actually phase one of Cirque de Soleil training. As a result, and if this task seems a little daunting, you may want to consider a pergola made of maintenance free composite product, or aluminum. The advantage of non-wood products, besides not having to paint or stain, are the many screen, side curtain, or overhead canopy options that can make your pergola all the more special, and versatile.

Some models of pergolas are available with a system of aluminum louvered joists that are hinged in a manner which allows them to stand straight up, or lay flat, offering full shade, or cover under a light rain. Regardless of how it’s constructed, pergolas are a beautiful thing.

Good building.

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

The crooked kitchen

Crooked kitchen? Handyman Hints will straighten this out. Postmedia Network

There was a crooked man, and he walked a crooked mile. He found a crooked sixpence upon a crooked style. He bought a crooked cat, who caught a crooked mouse, and they all lived together in a little crooked house.

What does this 1840, James Orchard Halliwell poem have to do with renovating a home? Well, it reminds us that in most renovation cases, the floors, walls, and ceilings are rarely level. Why, and especially in older homes, they might even be described as crooked. Now, is crooked bad? Absolutely not. Crooked, as long as the area of concern is structurally sound, means only crooked. “Falling over” is what we call something that’s crooked and experiencing structural failure. The difference between the two is that when something’s falling over, we call the bulldozer. When something’s crooked, we pick up an extra bundle of shims.

This week on the docket, case #333, has our Mr. and Mrs. Straight looking to replace the kitchen in a most recently purchased older home. The Straights are professional people, very level, not a hair out of place, by the book perfectionists. Unfortunately, they were charmed by an older stone house, which they recently purchased. Now Mr. and Mrs. Straight are owners of a beautiful, charming old stone home, that’s of course, a little crooked.

First renovation task on the to-do list, replace the crooked kitchen. The challenge facing the people measuring and installing the cabinetry, is that the upper and lower cabinet units are of course perfectly square. So, how do we fit perfectly square things into a space where not only the floor is slanted, but the walls are somewhat off level as well? Plus, the counter top the Straights have chosen will be made of granite, a versatile product in many ways that nevertheless doesn’t include the term pliable in its list of characteristics. Therefore, it appears we’re being asked to fit a flat, rectangular top, and a bunch of square pegs, into what appears to be a space more fit to receive a trapezoid.

Considering the Straights demand and general expectations of perfection, how can we possibly make these square things fit nice and snug into a not so square space? In most cases, when faced with installing cabinets into an area where the floors and walls are not level, the homeowner will have to face one of two choices. Either you level the floor and re-address the walls, or you increase the ordered height of the toe boards (a.k.a. kick-plates) that run along the floor, have a few filler pieces on hand, and add to the length of any cabinet panels that will see use as a finished end. The reason these finishing pieces will need to be slightly exaggerated in size, is so that they can be cut down and custom fitted on site, once the main cabinetry units have been shimmed and leveled to the appropriate height.

In the case of an older stone home, where 100 years of settling have left you with an old dog that really doesn’t want to be moved, you would usually work within the parameters of whatever the space provides. In a newer home or apartment, floor leveling compounds can bring a floor back to level, provided your plan is to refinish the floor. There’s also the engineering option, where existing beams and posts can be replaced or fortified, after hydraulic jacks have lifted a sagging floor structure back to level. Because Mr. and Mrs. Straight didn’t want to risk the integrity and charm of the slanted, older pine floor, and hand finished lath and plaster walls, those items were left and accepted as crooked. With the cabinetry and counter top installed at a perfectly level working height, along with a new sink, new taps, and improved lighting, the fact that the toe plates were slightly narrower at one end was only noticeable to those who knew. With the world of level fitting into a world of crooked, along with two happy Straights, case #333 was closed.

Good building.

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

Composite vs. wood: like trading in Trigger for that Mustang

Purchasing a new automobile can be expensive, as can be the purchase of composite decking.

Further to that big expense, driving your new car off the showroom floor will have you suffer an immediate investment loss of about nine per cent— and by year end, this once-shiny beauty will have declined a full 19 per cent in value.

Following the automotive trend, the ROI (return on investment) of a composite deck is about 75 per cent, essentially incurring the home renovator a 25 per cent hit on their just-made purchase.

So, if purchasing an automobile is such a lousy investment and if owning a composite deck means losing 25 cents on every dollar spent, why would a consumer consider either one of these products?

Because the alternative to owning an automobile is basically riding a horse, while the options to composite decking include cedar, treated spruce, or IPE, all falling under the category of wood.

Am I suggesting the ease of using and caring for an automobile, in relation to having to stable a horse, is in any way comparable to the merits of investing in a composite deck, as opposed to real wood?

Absolutely.

After two years of living with a composite deck, which followed 25 years of maintaining both treated lumber and cedar decks, I can without prejudice, qualify the distinction of composite decking relating directly to the experience of driving off in a new car, compared to lumber, which would be like saddling up your 20-year-old plug every morning.

Are we to altogether forget lumber as it relates to decking? Absolutely not.

Lumber will always provide the framework for whatever surface material of choice, and still remains the best value for decking materials, provided you don’t mind the maintenance.

However, if your budget can handle the price point of composite decking, the decision should be as easy as handing over the reins to Trigger, in exchange for a Mustang.

The reason for choosing composite decking can be summed up in two words— low maintenance.

Basically, the only maintenance tools required when owning a composite deck is a 50-foot garden hose extension and a 24-inch fine bristle broom. Actually, you could probably get away without having to touch your deck at all.

However, if you’re going to keep that composite surface looking absolutely pristine, and there’s no question you’ll want to, it’ll require the occasional hose down and sweep.

Notice that I did not use the term pressure wash when referencing cleaning. Please do not pressure wash your composite decking, or anything else other than the box of your dump truck, or the hull of your 500-foot sea freighter. The power of these machines will eventually destroy the PVC finish and drive moisture into the composite fibres, causing the boards to swell, promoting mold growth.

The advantage to composite decking is that it it’s not wood. So, besides it eliminating hours of sanding and painting over the next 25 years, composites are free of all the other not-so-admirable characteristics of wood decking, such as cracks, splinters, rot, and surface screws.

Two drawbacks to composite decking: One, it can get hot to the touch on a scorching, sunny day. Remedy? Wear sandals, or give it a hose down at high noon.

Two, composites are beautiful, but they’re not perfect. Actually, they would be as close to perfect as possible, if your deck was indoors. However, due to our seasonal fluctuations in temperature, composite decking will shrink and expand, which can cause heartbreak for those who cherish a perfect miter joint.

How to choose the right composite? That’s easy.

Providing you’re looking at comparable 25-year warranty products, choose the colour, or combination of colour and texture, you like best. Products can be solid PVC, PVC wrapped on four sides, or PVC wrapped  on three sides.

As long as it’s a quality, 25-year warrantied product, its technical composition will make little difference in your everyday life.

Good building.

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

So, what’s changed?

Stuff happens for a reason. The domino effect. If you fail to plan, then you plan to fail. We have found the enemy, and he is us. These are phrases the average homeowner and do-it-yourselfer knows all too well. And, barring the existence of Gremlins, or the phenomena of bad luck, why is it that home renovations never go quite so smoothly, with the results often being below expectations?

Understanding that most products have undergone some type of testing, quality control, and have a general history of use, there are still a couple of variables that can make or break the success of a renovation project, them being the labor factor, and the environment in which these products are being installed.
Not hiring a professional tradesperson, and doing the job yourself, certainly adds risk to any project, as does not preparing or modifying the home’s structure, in order to effectively accept whatever you’re proposing to add or change.

Matter at hand, Case # 625, the mysterious popping ceramic floor tiles. After renovating their kitchen, this couple installed ceramic floor tiles on their kitchen floor, and the adjoining hallway. Then, a few months later, tiles in various spots began to pop loose. The homeowner was at a loss as to why his tiles weren’t sticking, since he had laid tiles before, and therefore was somewhat experienced. Plus, the kitchen had an existing tile floor (which was removed purely for esthetic reasons), in which there was never an issue of cracked tiles or loose grout lines beforehand, therefore the subfloor was presumably sound. “With all things being consistent, why are these new tiles not sticking?” the fellow questioned. “So, what’s changed?” was my response. “There were no changes” he said. “We simply replaced the kitchen cupboards and counters, added some lighting, and basically worked within the same rectangular area as before” he continued. “But” he then paused for a moment, “we did add an island to the middle of the space”, he remembered, “but that was it” he concluded.

Just to be clear to all you folks out there in home renovation land, using the terms “replace” and “add” are indeed indications that changes have occurred. In this case, about 900 pounds of granite top and cabinetry was added to the center (essentially the weakest, and most bouncy part) of the kitchen floor. You have to then consider that a kitchen Island is a natural magnet for family and guests to gather around, sampling snacks, enjoying a beverage, all while recounting compelling tales of their storied past. This presents another 800-1200 pounds of walking, moving matter, all combining to somewhat deflect the natural state of the floor joists, while certainly creating stomping reverberations throughout the underlay plywood.

Ceramic, porcelain, and slate tiles make for excellent kitchen floors, provided of course that the subfloor, and substrate, are absolutely rock solid. This beautiful kitchen was no doubt adding tremendous living quality to this couple’s home, but it was unfortunately creating a somewhat unstable environment for their ceramic floor.

Again, stuff happens for a reason. This isn’t a case of bad luck, just poor planning. And the enemy? The homeowner, of course, for not dealing properly with this 2000 pound hippopotamus in the room. In hindsight (and not that it’s too late), the kitchen floor should have been bolstered with additional joists, perhaps doubling up on every cross member. Or, if the basement area is unfinished, and should space allow, a supporting wall could be framed directly underneath the island. Furthermore, a Ditra matting would have been a good idea in lieu of all this extra cabinetry, and heavier appliances. Ditra is an orange, dimpled membrane that effectively distributes the weight bearing load of a ceramic floor, ensuring its stability. Finally, was the proper, or quality mortar and grout used to glue these tiles in position? Premium mortars and grouts are more costly, but offer greater flexibility, and are a better choice for larger floor tiles and high traffic areas.

Good building.

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

The hammer is in heaven

Did you hear that?” said Al. “No, I didn’t hear anything,” replied Hank.

It sounded like a crack, are you sure you didn’t hear anything Hank?” says Al.

Listen Al,” says Hank, “the sound you heard was probably my old knee acting up again. So stop your worrying and give that last 2×4 wall stud a good shot with the sledgehammer.

Moments later, the boys find themselves seated in a rather crowded little room.

Gee Hank, you don’t look so good,” says Al. “Really,” says Hank, “other than the fact I seem to have crushed my lower body, I feel pretty good, and as a matter of fact, the knee pain is gone.

But I gotta tell you Al,” says Hank, “your head’s about as flat as a pancake.” “And hey Al,” says Hank, “look at that moron seated over there.

Who?” says Al. “The guy with the crowbar passing through one ear to the other? What a maroon, they’ll be calling him ol’ crowbar head from now on,” and the boys share a laugh.

Unfortunately, the boys, along with ol’ crowbar head, have found themselves in the Unfortunate Home Repair Tragedies Department of what they’re about to discover is Do it Yourself Heaven.

The mistake was taking down a load bearing wall in a just-purchased older home without having studied the original plan, or having consulted a professional engineer. What a home purchaser has to realize is that every previous owner has in some manner, altered the home.

This home modification could have been limited to drywall repair and a subsequent coat of paint. Or, buyer #3 could have attempted his own bit of household engineering, with the former owner and a buddy having shocked the obituary pages decades before.

So, if you’re buying an older home, it would be useful to know the number of previous owners. Homes that are 80+ years old can be spectacular with their solid wood doors, large casings and baseboards. However, with six to eight previous owners, it’s pretty well a given that somebody has fiddled around, or removed something, from somewhere. Or, even with fewer owners, homes tend to see a major renovation, especially to kitchens and bathrooms, every 12-15 years.

Therefore, if the century home you’re about to purchase has an open staircase, and a couple of eight-foot patio doors leading to an interlocking brick terrace, along with an open loft area above, with the whole picture conspicuously resembling last August’s cover of Modern Country Home Monthly, then something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

Not to say that there’s cause for concern. Hopefully, the proper engineering strategies would have been put into play. Creating an open concept from a space historically carved up into smaller rooms requires a sound strategy. If however, you wanted to see how the home might have looked, and been divided up originally, a visit to our local Upper Canada Village might be in order.

Can a bearing wall be removed? Absolutely. Basically, the weight of the roof trusses, plywood, and shingles, now being supported by a wall, must be transferred to a beam. This beam would then be supported by a post at each end, with the weight on these posts being passed on to two posts directly beneath them.

Essentially, weight needs to be transferred from one key point to another, with the last spot of contact being the concrete floor, a.k.a. terra firma.

How large a beam will be needed? Should it be constructed of composite lumber or steel? And, how thick a concrete pad will be required in order to handle this immense weight? These are all questions that will need to be addressed by an architect or structural engineer, not Hammering Hank and Al’s Renos, may they rest in peace.

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