More on vinyl vs. laminate

Vinyl or laminate? Might depend on how warm you want to keep those tootsies. Postmedia Network

Still in the basement, and trying to figure out which type of click flooring, be it vinyl, or be it laminate, will work best for our application, let’s examine a few installation strategies.

Two advantages to using vinyl click flooring in the basement include the fact this product is usually 5-6mm (aprox. ¼ inch) thick, and a one-step installation process, requiring no underlay foam or vapor barrier. As a result, those persons dealing with a potentially compromised basement floor to ceiling height that could possibly put the basketball and volleyball playing enthusiasts (aka taller people) in your family at risk of concussion, having to sacrifice only about a quarter inch of ceiling height is a bonus indeed.

The only drawback to a thinner vinyl floor is that it replicates whatever it’s laid on top of. So, your vinyl click flooring may deliver a welcomed new look, but if your concrete basement floor is hard (which of course it certainly is) and cold, with maybe little wave from one side to the other, due to a not so perfect leveling job, then your vinyl floor will be adapting those not so enviable traits.

Regardless, if looks and saving an inch or so on ceiling height inevitably trump comfort, whereby all you require is a clean space for the kiddies to rough house in, or for you to put a few pieces of fitness equipment, then vinyl’s an easy choice.

Laminate floors are generally 12mm (1/2 inch in thickness) and minimally require a thin foam underlay. Two bonuses to 12mm laminates. One, they’re usually of the drop-click variety, which means the short edge of the plank simply lays into the adjoining butt edge, which makes for an easy install. Although vinyl flooring uses the click technology, the tongue edges usually need to be worked, or coaxed, into the groove of the adjoining planks in order to ensure a snug fit. This process can be somewhat frustrating to the first time poser, since simultaneously coaxing the clicking edges of both the long and short side of a vinyl plank into position, can be akin to coaxing a cat out of a tree. If profanity, threats, and the throwing of something nearby result, accept these actions as a sign of the installer needing to step back and reassess the situation.

Installing vinyl plank flooring involves the following. Basically, with the plank to be installed set closely beside the existing row of flooring, tip the short edge of the plank into the groove of previously laid piece. Then, reach over to the far edge of the long side of the plank being installed, lift up this edge to about a 30 degree angle, and begin to click into position this far end, slowly working your way towards the short side joint. Moments after securing this long edge, the short side of the plank inevitably de-clips slightly. Without a wingspan somewhat close to the Wandering albatross (measuring 8-11 feet across) you’ll be hard pressed to stretch yourself into the position of having to manipulate both edges of the plank. This element of body physics, combined with your knees starting to go numb due to the pain of being pinned in this crouched position for some time now, is what gets most people frustrated.

Regardless, once you get the hang of things (be sure to YouTube ‘installing vinyl click flooring’ for some viewing tips) the coaxing, manipulation, and the occasional use of a tapping block, will have you laying this floor down in no time. The second bonus to laminates is that due to the various choices in underlayment materials, these wood based composites tend to be a little warmer underfoot, while having slightly more bounce or forgiveness in the way the floor compresses. As a result, laminates are inevitably a little more comfortable to walk on if slippers or sandals aren’t already a standard in the home.

Next week, choosing the proper extension ladder for de-treeing your housecat. Good building.

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

Battle for the basement

Most laminates today look very authentic and are used as basement floors. Postmedia Network

Today’s “battle for the basement” topic, just to be clear, has nothing to do with the Toronto Maple Leafs annual failure to make the NHL playoffs, and their inevitable plunge into the depths of hockey misery, all in the hope of picking up some highly-touted draft choice.

More dealing with the retail side of things, today’s subject examines the battle for basement floor supremacy between the industry’s two most favoured basement floor products, those being traditional composite (wood fiber) laminates and vinyl plank flooring.

When composite laminate flooring first hit the market 25 years ago, the task of laying it down was a horrible process. Not only did every plank need to be glued around the edges, but once fitted together, they had to be weighted down, then clamped with ratchet straps that would extend the full width of the room. Talk about a process.

Regardless, it was still a do-it-yourself, achievable project that certainly took less expertise than having to lay carpet or linoleum flooring. Those early glued laminates led to snap, or tap n’ click laminates, otherwise known as the age of chips, since connecting the laminate planks required a rather firm, and relatively violent blow, to effectively jamb a boards tongue into the receiving boards groove. Then came click flooring, followed by today’s drop click, compiling an innovative 20-year engineering journey that effectively made the traditional laminate floor installation process a whole lot friendlier.

And, now that the composite people have finally got things right, in come the vinyl plank folks. Having basically adopted the laminate click technology, vinyl clicks are seriously challenging the composite laminates for market share, and are definitely trending as the product of choice for today’s generation of shoppers. All good for the consumer, I suppose, since the friendly click system of installing a floor now includes a very versatile vinyl product.

So, how does the consumer choose one click product over the other? Well, let’s examine the attributes of the new vinyl clicks, and see how they compare with our traditional laminates.

The competitive edge that vinyl has over its fellow manufacturers, whether it be composite flooring, wood siding, ceramic, or basically any natural product, is that it’s a great imitator. Basically, vinyl can be molded, coloured, and imprinted, to look pretty much like anything. And, it can achieve this metamorphosis, or copy of the real thing, for a fraction of the cost of the original product.

Now, will vinyl perfectly match what it’s duplicating? Perfectly, no, but darn close. And, when you consider the vinyl alternative to slate or ceramic will never crack, while the real stuff almost always does, eventually, vinyl suddenly becomes a real good value. A further advantage is that while vinyl can be made to look like wood planking, slate, or ceramic tile, it still installs with the ease of vinyl, which is either by click form, or in some cases, a simple glue down application. What also makes vinyl flooring attractive to a person finishing their basement, is the fact that it’s extremely water resistant, or water impermeable.

I don’t like to use the term “waterproof”, even though the product is somewhat marketed that way, because the word “proof” is a little too encompassing. Sure, vinyl planking will handle spills and mop up easily. However, if you were to have a flood, or sewer backup, I’m not sure if most of us would be willing to dismantle the floor, clean each plank piece by piece, then spread it out on the back deck, or hang it out on the clothesline to dry, in order to salvage it.

Although composite laminates are available in a variety of thicknesses, the 12 mil (1/2 inch thick) v-edge product is what I would recommend. Looks good, assembles easily, and although limited in colour choices, 12 mil laminates are half the price of vinyl flooring, making them still a great value for your basement floor.

Good building.

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

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

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

After the last spike

Building your deck is one thing, keeping proper care of it quite another. Postmedia Network
Building your deck is one thing, keeping proper care of it quite another. Postmedia Network

As you drive in the last 2-1/2 inch decking screw, number 1,836 in the journey, the screw you’ve been looking for, and the last spike in this backyard decking project, the sense of accomplishment temporarily distracts you from an aching back, and the torn callouses that have ravaged your once soft and pudgy, office bound hands.

Moments later, sitting on your newly constructed deck, you tilt back the first cold beer of the day, a just reward for a job well done. And, as the golden goodness trickles down your dry gullet, the liquid relief is satisfying, while a firm clasp of the cool bottle helps ease the pain of many a bruise and cut.

However terrific, this construction afterglow will unfortunately be short-lived.

From this point on, we move on from a world of measurements and construction, to décor and finishing, otherwise regarded as the total unknown. I use the term “unknown” because history has shown there is no special treatment, or evolved system of finishing, to owning a beautiful wood deck, that doesn’t include regular maintenance.

Basically, the next procedure regarding your treated lumber deck is as follows. You can either paint, stain (opaque or semi-transparent), clear coat, or do nothing.
A do nothing strategy will certainly free up at least two weekends per year, but will have your deck go from a warm hue of golden brown, to a rather unhealthy weathered grey.

Maybe a natural, silvery grey, is what we’re looking for, you may counter. I agree, the silvery grey look certainly has its place, such as on an ocean front boardwalk, and the deck of a saloon in a western movie, while being the official color of most telephone poles. But, on a backyard deck, grey, aged, splintery wood, is about as charming as roadkill at the edge of your driveway. If you like the look of weathered grey, choose the appropriate deck stain of that color.

Next, you have the choice of paints or opaque stains. I group these two products together because they both will benefit, and stick better, with the aid of a primer. Opaque stains have a dull tone, while paints offer the option of a semi-gloss sheen.

The term “gloss” often spells fear for some, due to its “slippery when wet” reputation. True, gloss paints are slippery when wet, as is every other surface known to man, other than a bed of nails.

Then we have semi-transparent and clear coat finishes. I group these guys together because they have a higher liquidity, and as a result, adhere better to the surface when the wood planks have been pre-sanded.

Semi’s and clear coats allow only one coat of finish per season, which is pretty easy. However, in our climate, the chore of lightly sanding, then staining or clear coating, will become a yearly event if your goal is to keep things looking pristine.

Paints and opaque stains, on the other hand, allow the homeowner to apply several coats of product, if they feel so inclined, over the course of a weekend.
The bonus of 2-3 coats of product is a tougher surface, more durable color, and a finish that should last 2-3 years.

Why can’t stains and clear coats last as long as the fine print on the can suggests? Because our climate can be just too hot, too humid, too rainy, or too cold, and that’s just over the course of one weekend, to really give paints or stains a chance to really adhere. Plus, most of us don’t prepare the wood with a proper sanding, or brushing, before we start.

And, we tend to bring out the pressure washer, the absolute death blow to any possibility of your stain properly adhering. Broom, soap, and a rinse with the garden hose, is all the cleaning force your deck should see.

When to stain? Wait 2-3 months following construction, the decking should be suitably dry by then.

Good building.

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

Practical kitchen flooring

A crisp white kitchen with Cambria quartz Summerhill countertops, vinyl plank flooring and stainless appliances. (Designer: Cassandra Nordell/Copyright William Standen Co. 2015)
A crisp white kitchen with Cambria quartz Summerhill countertops, vinyl plank flooring and stainless appliances. (Designer: Cassandra Nordell/Copyright William Standen Co. 2015)

When renovating a kitchen, one question always arises, “do we install the flooring first?”

A pretty straight forward question, indeed, and one that should come with a relatively straight forward answer.

However, nothing in the home construction biz is conveniently simple. Basically, there are two trains of thought when it comes to kitchen flooring.

From the contractor, or installer’s point of view, you install the flooring first.

Why? Because it’s easier. Installing hardwood or ceramic in a rectangular room is definitely preferable to having to cut and custom fit tiles around cabinets.

And logistically, it makes sense. The kitchen cabinets sit on the floor. So, why not install the flooring first. Plus, it’s absolutely essential that the cabinets not be buried inside the expanse of flooring.

When this happens, the dishwasher becomes practically irremovable for servicing, or replacement. And, the counter top height shortens by as much as an inch.

If you’re 5 ft. tall, then a shorter counter top is of little consequence. For a tall person, whose home life duties include having to chop up the vegetables for the weekly batch of spaghetti sauce, a shorter counter top will be the kiss of death for the lower back.

Finally, we don’t want the kitchen cabinets to sit directly on the subfloor, in their own type of moat, so to speak, because a leaky sink valve or faulty dishwasher connection could go unnoticed until the water makes its way well under the flooring, or into the basement below, creating all types of new problems.

So, we install the flooring first, right? Well . . . not so fast.

Logically and logistically, installing the flooring first might make sense.

However, when you examine the flooring issue from a more practical point of view, there are two reasons why I like installing the floor afterwards.

One, there’s far less chance of damaging a floor when it’s installed as the last piece of the puzzle. With finishing carpenters, plumbers, and electricians, all vying for elbow room within a standard 12×16 kitchen space, the trade traffic over the 3-4 week installation period is going to be busier than the front of a goalie’s crease come playoff time.

As a result, the chances of somebody dropping something, be it a drill battery, copper coupling, or piece of crown molding, on the floor, is conservatively estimated at 100%.

So, with most floors getting covered by a scattering of painter’s drop cloths, will the floor suffer a dent or scratch? Maybe, maybe not.

Alternatively, if the kitchen flooring is safely acclimatizing in the adjoining living room, carefully stacked in perfect, pre-packaged form, the odds of it being dented or scratched drop somewhere close to Carey Price’s GAA. And, once the floor is scratched, that’s it.

With 6-8 possible culprits, it might be difficult to pinpoint the guilty party. Then comes the awkward conversation regarding payback for floor repair or replacement which, of course, means this tradesperson has just worked the week for no pay.

Two, kitchen cabinets usually outlast their floors. If the original flooring goes underneath the cabinets, and prematurely needs to be replaced due to water damage or several cracked tiles, the cost of replacement, due to having to move the lower cabinet units, has just doubled.

Plus, with granite and quartz counter tops becoming the norm, along with ceramic tile backsplashes, everything is connected, which means touching a lower cabinet will inevitably affect the whole system. When the flooring simply butts up against the cabinet’s kick-plate, all these variables become a non-issue.

Key to the practical floor strategy is cabinet height, whereby the cabinet bases must be of equal height, or higher, to the finished floor. This will require the homeowner installing a three/quarter-inch fir plywood, and sheet of 1/4 inch mahogany, if necessary, underneath all cabinetry and islands. Treating the cabinetry and flooring as separate entities, in my opinion, is just practical.

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

Never underestimate the resourcefulness of water

Yep, that's definitely water in your basement. Not usually this bad, but it happens. Steps can be taken to avoid it though. Just ask Handyman Hints. Postmedia Network file photo
Yep, that’s definitely water in your basement. Not usually this bad, but it happens. Steps can be taken to avoid it though. Just ask Handyman Hints. Postmedia Network file photo

In the home biz, if it’s wet where it shouldn’t be wet, we call that a flood.

Case #322, File name “kitty knew first”, has our homeowner victims quietly watching television on their sofa, when not so suddenly, the family cat jumps from the floor up onto the lap of the lady of the house. A regular occurrence at this late point in the evening, all except for the slightly wet paw prints left on the homeowner’s thighs.

“Where have you been?” the lady inquires. Unfortunately though, and at this same moment, Alana, a.k.a. ‘Honey Boo Boo’, is receiving her last few tidbits of instruction from ‘Mama’ June, moments before she prepares to hit the stage in yet another gripping episode of Toddlers in Tiaras. Alas, the distraction of reality television causes this first hint of trouble to get lost in the drama.

What could be the issue? Well, the cat could have fallen into the toilet, or, could have just come in from the rain. But, with only its paws dampened, and the cat being in the house for the last few hours, the evidence was suggesting something else. In fact, water was trickling into the sump pump well quicker than the flow of Honey Boo Boo’s tears after a heartbreaking second-place finish to her archrival Anastasia a.k.a. ‘pumpkin’, following a horrific drop of her cheerleader’s baton during the talent segment of the competition.

The following morning, the real world had our homeowners discovering their basement floor two inches deep in water. Fortunately, the basement wasn’t finished. However, every boxed item on the floor was lost, and the perimeter drywall ruined.

So, what happened? Well, water trickles into sump pump wells all the time. In fact, the sign of a healthy, unplugged, uncrushed, and otherwise efficient weeping tile system, is confirmed by this collection of rain and snow melt draining into the well. If water isn’t being effectively diverted into the weeping tile, it will be making its way into the basement through whatever cracks or compromised areas in the concrete floor or walls.

In this case, the homeowners didn’t have a working sump pump in the well. Where was the pump? Collecting dust on one of several basement shelves, of course. Reason? There was never a need for a sump pump. The home sits atop a hill, has a proper gutter system along the entire roofline, and is surrounded by a favorably sloping landscape. Plus, in the 10 years these people have owned the home, and in the 20 years experienced by the previous owners, never was there a flood, or ever the need for a working sump pump.

Which, brings us to lesson #1 in the world of being a homeowner. Wind, sleet, snow, rain, and especially ‘water’, have little regard for precedence. So, if your home has a sump pump well, and, regardless if it’s as dry as a bone, make sure it’s equipped with a working sump pump and hose line directing the water outside, well away from the foundation.

Lesson #2, sump pumps enjoy company. So, if you’ve got only one sump pump in the well, add a second pump. Reason? A basement flood will totally disrupt your home and lifestyle. So, we do everything we can to avoid them. The second ‘backup’ pump should be powered by either a separate, trickle charged battery, or better yet, a pressure water system that can be supplied from your existing water line, or a permanent generator.

Lesson #3, if you disturb the landscape, then you’ll have to accommodate the certain change in water run-off. In this case, the homeowners added an above ground pool and surrounding deck, which in theory, shouldn’t have changed the landscape so drastically. Regardless, water knows only one direction, and that’s downhill. In hindsight, the pool and deck construction should have been followed up with a series of weeping lines installed in between the house and pool, providing an outlet for the dam of water created by the pool and deck pillars.

Never underestimate the resourcefulness of water.

Good building.

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

A little respect for the underlay

“My wife used to be afraid of the dark . . . then she saw me naked, and now she’s afraid of the light.”

And, “I drink too much, the last time I gave a urine sample it had an olive in it”,  are a couple of classic one-liners by the man who never got respect, Rodney Dangerfield.

So, how does today’s ‘lack of respect’ theme have anything to do with building products, and specifically underlays?

Well, in the residential building biz, homeowners tend to place the utmost of importance on what you see, as opposed to what’s underneath. What you see, or the finished product, is of course important because that’s what you’re going to be waking up to, coming home to, and entertaining guests on, so you want it to look good.

As a result, homeowners tend to splurge the bulk of their budgets on the finished product, while kind of forgetting, or paying little attention to, the seemingly irrelevant underlay, simply because it’s buried.

Underlays are what you place in between the finished floor, and the existing subfloor.

Subfloors may consist of concrete, if we’re dealing with a basement renovation, or plywood, if we’re focusing on any other room in the house. The amount of attention, or money, a homeowner puts towards an underlay, will coincide directly with the basic requirements of the chosen finished floor, and/or on how you expect this finished floor to perform.

Because the subfloor is tied into the structure or framework of the home, you’re basically going to have to accept whatever’s there as your starting point.

So, whether the subfloor consists of concrete, plywood, or in the case of an older home, 1×6 spruce planks, unless you’re prepared to open up the entire joist system, changing or tampering with the subfloor is unlikely.

Therefore, with the subfloor a fixed asset, and the finished floor decided on, it’s important to realize the value of, and give a little respect to, the product that’s going to make or break the long term performance of your finished floor, and that’s the underlay.

Why do we have underlay products? Because in most cases, finished floors aren’t directly compatible with the existing subfloor.

Laminate or engineered floorings, for example, are popular choices for the basement because they’re a good value and easy to care for. However, due to possible moisture issues, wood composites and concrete aren’t good partners.

As a result, laminate floors placed over concrete will minimally require the buffer of a poly (vapor barrier)/ foam underlay. A poly/foam underlay is all you need, and at pennies per square foot, is certainly an affordable must have.

However, there are better choices out there.
Does better cost more? Always.

Poly foams solve any potential moisture issues, but unfortunately will do little to negate the cool dampness one feels when walking on a basement floor. This ‘coolness on the feet’ can be resolved by first installing 2’x2’ Barricade, or DRIcore, underlay panels.

Referred to as sub-floor panels, these floating underlay sheets take the chill out of a basement floor, making life in the basement a whole lot more comfortable.

Barricade is an OSB (oriented strand board) underlay panel with a ridged foam backing, while DRIcore has a plastic dimpled backing. Both do the job, whereby choosing one over the other is entirely based on whether extra R-value, or moisture control, is of greater importance.

Ceramic tile? Même chose, whether it be installed on the wall, or on the floor, you’re going to need an underlay. Tiles being installed in a shower area will absolutely require an impermeable membrane such as Schluter’s Kerdi matting, or Hydraflex sealant, installed over the plywood or mold resistant drywall.

Because floor ceramics require absolute rigidity, cement board or Schluter’s Ditra membrane are your best choices.

Moral to the story? Don’t skimp on the underlay, it’s the key to a long-lasting finish.

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