Here are some more wish list tips

Postmedia Network

As you contemplate your next renovation or upcoming new home build over the winter months, let’s review some of the various home “wish list” features you should be discussing with your architect or home builder while this whole process is still in the drawing stage.

Having to scrap a few blueprint drawings will only draw the ire of your contractor, or minimally throw them into a pout.

Conversely, waiting to make a change or voicing your opinion only after the concrete in the foundation has dried will certainly have your builder self-medicating.

So, if there are changes to be made in your future home or addition, be sure to speak up before the heavy equipment arrives. Plus, avoid the, “all I want out of this new home is a kitchen with an island, and a soaker type tub in the master bathroom, and nothing else matters,” type of thinking.

Submerging yourself in a bubble bath is indeed pleasurable, while kitchens with islands are great— although in my experience during general gatherings, they tend to attract storytellers so full of the drink you will indeed feel like you’re trapped on some secluded isle.

If you’re splitting the reno between rooms, be sure to divide your energy and attention over the entire project. If not, you may get the kitchen you want, but you risk bumping your head on the furnace ductwork in the basement for the next 20 years because you failed to follow up on the mechanical portion of the project.

Last week we talked about the added value of a walk-out basement, second-story balcony, and what the natural light bonus of a few skylights can provide to a new home. Today, we’ll be adding to our wish list of home features, which essentially means getting things right the first time, starting with the aforementioned full-ceiling height basement.

Built in the 1970s, the construction of our present home unfortunately corresponded with the making of the film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory starring Gene Wilder, whereby our furnace ductwork was evidently installed by a team of Oompa Loompas on furlough.

Mechanically we’re good. Everything works. The only issue is with some of the ductwork and heating vents strategically installed slightly below the six-foot level at various intervals, only my wife and our cats can safely navigate the basement. As a result, our basement area serves the home well enough as a storage space, but due to a lack of foresight on behalf of the original builder, the chance of this relatively large area providing comfortable living space has basically been forfeited.

So, be sure to discuss the basement’s ceiling height with your contractor. Basically, the supporting beams, joists, and everything mechanical (furnace ductwork, electrical, and plumbing) should be at least 8’6” to nine feet off your finished concrete floor. This way, a drop ceiling and any future lighting or electrical work can be comfortably installed below the existing floor joists and beams.

You may never finish your basement, but maybe the next homebuyer will, making a full-height basement ceiling nothing but engineering dollars well spent.

Next item on the wish list, keeping your washer and dryer on the same level as your bedrooms— or your best bet, one-level living. Basically, we’re trying to eliminate having to climb stairs, especially while having to carry a hamper full of clothes, or even a vacuum.

This step-saving, more efficient type of living not only will make things easier for young people, with young families, but will of course serve you better in your senior years.

Next, and staying on the home efficiency theme, eliminate a few walls, especially those between kitchen and dining room, or kitchen and living room.

Segregating people at gatherings involving friends and family is passé. Have your living space as open and free flowing as possible. This will allow the home to handle the crowds better, with the rooms being better and more evenly used as a result.

Good building.

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

The gambler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Case #465 closed. Good building.

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

Nothing to weep about

Air movement and ventilation are a must in your kitchen if you like to cook. Postmedia Network

In case no. 647, titled “The Weeper”, we find a Mrs. Deloris W. Willow, crying a river while seated at her kitchen table.

Mrs. Willow, aka ‘the weeping willow’, due to her habitually breaking out in tears as a means of coping with her anxiety, is quite distraught over the fact her kitchen cabinet doors are beginning to delaminate. Basically, the vinyl laminate that seals and encases the particle center core of the doors, is beginning to peel back at the corners, revealing the particle substrate.

Although there are minor signs of this stress on a few of the lower cabinet doors, the more severe cases of delamination are occurring on the doors and framework of mainly upper units. “The cabinets above the stove are the worst” describes Mrs. Willow. “It’s gotten to the point where I feel I have to open the cabinet doors every time I boil water, so to lessen the effect of the steam hitting them directly.”

“Plus,” she continued, “I’ve had to move my toaster-oven from its spot under the corner cabinet, and set it on a nearby table beside the crock pot, while the underside of the cabinet that’s situated over the little toaster, is starting to peal as well.”

Being of Mediterranean descent, Mrs. Willow loves to cook. This passion has her regularly boiling water, while simultaneously operating counter top appliances, which unfortunately have created a room environment with a humidity level slightly under that of a Turkish bath. What boost of humidity her tears add to the kitchen area is unknown, but the resulting salt deposits on the counter and hardwood flooring cannot be good.

Solution? Weeping Willow refuses to modify her cooking habits, and with local fresh corn soon to be available, she expects to be keeping all four stovetop burners on high for about a three-week stretch, pumping enough boiled water to effectively change the climate zone in her neighborhood from temperate, to humid subtropical. As a result, there will be no modification or change to what’s causing the moisture and humidity issues.

Can we change the cabinet doors to something more resistant to moisture than a regular PVC wrapped product? Materials such as stainless steel or glass can hold up to sustained high moisture, but the cost of switching to such a series of doors and hardware would be exorbitant. Plus, this style of cabinetry would be far from the standard colonial or shaker type panel door that Mrs. Willow prefers. Solid wood or solid MDF cabinet doors come stained or painted, and due to them being effectively contained in this manner, would certainly resist the effects of moisture, but not forever.

Therefore, with our goal being to keep the costs of satisfaction to a minimum, and with Weeping Willow having no desire to drastically change the entire cabinetry, but perhaps replace only the affected cabinet doors, the solution to this moisture dilemma will have to be mechanical. Basically, the $50 existing range hood will have to be go, and should see its last hurrah as the feature item in next week’s garage sale. It’ll be replaced by a 400-500 cfm, exterior venting, range hood unit that will be able to expel steam as quickly as it’s produced.

Next, we’ll check the HRV (heat recovery ventilation unit). If it’s old, replace it. If it’s nonexistent, let’s get one hooked up to the existing furnace. The HRV works in conjunction with the furnace fan and ductwork, drawing fresh air in, and expelling stale air out, operating 24/7, while also balancing the humidity levels in the home.

Then, let’s allow for more air movement by de-cluttering, or basically moving those counter top appliances into drawers or cupboards. Next, replace the center light fixture with a lighted ceiling fan. We need air movement, and this will help big time. Finally, and if humidity levels remain high, we’ll plug in a dehumidifier.
Case #647 closed.

Good building.

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

Living on the edge

Imagine the dinner conversation around this live edge table. Postmedia Network

Why would anyone want to attend a rock concert where the lead singer is 74 years old? Because in this case, the fellow with the microphone in his hand is Mick Jagger, and the band behind him is called the Rolling Stones.

This ain’t the “Hot Rocks”, the “Rolling Pebbles”, or some tribute band you can catch for 15 bucks at the local watering hole, or grand opening of another Suds ‘n Duds dry cleaning outlet. We’re talking being in the presence of arguably the greatest rock ‘n roll band of all time, along with 30,000 others, enjoying the real thing. Real things, or seeing real things live, have value, and that’s why they demand the big money.

That being said, not all senior performers can draw a crowd. I play old-timer hockey with a bunch of former great athletes, guys who used to fill their respective barns to the rafters come playoff time. These days though, the crowds are a little slimmer, where the average attendance Tuesday nights has unfortunately dropped to about one, and that includes the Zamboni driver. But don’t kid yourself, challenge any one of these guys to a chug a lug, or pie eating contest, and they will bury you.

This need or desire to own, see, feel, and touch the real thing, has developed a niche in the world of furniture known as ‘Live Edge’. Live edge basically describes the strategy of using slabs of trees to serve as table tops, shelves, desk tops, and if cut from a large enough, and long enough tree, even board room tables.

Now, why buy a slice of a tree trunk, complete with the worm holes, cracks and splits, along with the mishmash of color and grain patterns you’re bound to find on a slab of raw wood? Not so strangely, it’s these general imperfections in the wood that make each piece so naturally attractive, and of course unique.

We live in a world where a tree is sliced up, graded, then cut up into smaller pieces, graded again, then glued back together in an attempt to achieve the most perfectly uniform table top, or cabinet door. Plus, and depending on where and what you’re buying, so called wood furniture these days is about as close to being 100% real wood, as a multi-chain, fast food hamburger has of being 100% real beef. In other words, there’s a lot of particle core furniture out there, and it all looks good and seems solid enough, until of course you have to move it, or reassemble it, a second time.

So, if anything, live edge wood slabs are a refreshing change to what we see every day. If you’ve been to some of the larger cities, live edge products can be found in specialized or boutique type retail outlets. You’ll know when you’re in a boutique type store when the person serving you is a size 2, very fashionably dressed, and offers you an expresso coffee if you happen to show the least bit of interest in the boardroom table, fashionably priced at $22,000.00.

The big city outlets usually offer South American type species of wood, which no doubt cost a bundle, considering this lumber is harvested from a rain forest, then sailed down an Amazon River filled with piranha, while surrounded by a jungle occupied by tigers and other man-eating creatures.

So, in all fairness to the seemingly high price point requested by these boutiques, there’s a cost of shipping factor tied to these products that we usually don’t experience in Cornwall and area. Regardless, creating your own live edge furniture won’t be near as pricey as the finished versions if one, you sand and finish these slabs yourself, and two, stick to local species of wood.

Simply google “Goodfellow Live Edge” to see what’s available, and the possibilities that exist, in the world of real live lumber.

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

The party is always in the kitchen

Every kitchen is unique and should be designed around your needs. (Alair Homes)
Every kitchen is unique and should be designed around your needs. (Alair Homes)

If you’re looking to build a new home, or looking to buy an existing home, or are thinking of renovating your kitchen, stop!

As sure as PK Subban has already come out with his own line of rhinestone cowboy hats and has likely recorded at least one duet with Nashville country pop star Carrie Underwood, the kitchen you’re planning on building, or renovating, is going to be too small.

For reasons unbeknownst to me, because I have no problem enjoying the comfort of a Lazy Boy recliner in the confirmed living room area of a home, when there’s a gathering of friends and family, people converge on the kitchen. If the kitchen happens to have a centre island, things get even worse.

Without provocation, the menfolk will surround the island, using it to prop themselves up like they were preparing to witness a cock fight. Then the golf stories and tales of past conquests begin. The remainder of the visiting crowd will either stand and talk in the archway leading into the kitchen, or grab a chair around the kitchen table.

Regardless, we’re all in the kitchen. Not that I have a problem with confined gatherings, but logistically, and if you’re the host, trying to get access to the fridge or utensil drawer once you’ve got this traffic jam of people can be a nightmare.

Why are people so attracted to an area that not only restricts movement, but in most cases, offers the least comfortable seating in the home? As far as I can deduce and regardless of the various discomforts, my research tells me the magnetic draw of the kitchen is directly correlated to its proximity to the booze and snacks.

So, with an “if you can’t beat them, join them” type of attitude, we enlarge the kitchen space.

Where to start?

Basically, the area once known as the living room has become redundant. The traditional dining room, which might see use a handful of times during the year, has become a total waste of space. So, we combine both these areas with the kitchen. We don’t want to cut down on bedroom space, nor storage area, while the main floor will require a bathroom and a small area for TV watching.

Every other bit of square footage needs to be dedicated to an expanse of space that in the future will be simply regarded as the kitchen.

How do we combine a series of rooms without having people feel they’re chatting in the old dining room or the former living room? After all, we don’t want our guests feeling alienated from the in-crowd of those persons standing in the original kitchen, where God forbid, they miss out on the 110th rendition of how my buddy Shooter Rockell managed to salvage par after driving his tee shot into the bunker on the 18th hole, maintaining his one-stroke advantage and eventual victory in the 1969 junior club championship.

Essentially, there are two key factors to designating your space as kitchen area – being the flooring, and, of course, an open concept.

Even if the floor tiles match, nobody will believe they’re in the kitchen if a wall is separating them from the cock fight gang around the centre island. So, and with your contractors’ and engineers’ stamped approval, we remove the wall once separating kitchen from dining area.

Next, we include the living room. If this means taking down a wall, or opening up an archway, then do what it takes to make this happen.

Basically, you should be able to flow freely along the entire space, engaging in a conversation about golf here, then about the PK Subban/Shea Webber trade there, all without risk of spilling your chardonnay by bumping into a sofa or tripping over an ottoman.

Where do the Leaf fans share their conversation? No change here, these persons are still restricted to the garage.

Make the best room in the home even better by creating a bigger kitchen.

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