Natural lighting is a kitchen’s best friend

Laurysen Kitchens was a finalist in the 2016 Housing Design Awards and uses the bay window for a lot of natural light With story by Anita Murray. Ottawa Citizen Photo Email CO

With our goal being to build a new home in the spring, let’s continue our kitchen talk. What do we know so far? Two things: One, keep everything off the counter. Although counters inevitably attract various things, make it your goal to keep it clear. So, know the sizes and shapes of the various coffee maker, toaster, and other appliances that have generally cluttered up your counter surfaces in the past, then have your kitchen designer incorporate them into the cabinetry.

And two, because kitchen cabinets last 20 years, while fridges and stoves tend to die after 8-10 years, order your big appliances locally, and, be sure to stick to standard (easily replaceable) sizing.

Next, make room for a center island. Kitchen islands give the cook plenty of elbow space and are great for getting people involved in meal preparation. Plus, islands simply look attractive, while providing some key lower cabinet space. What about a peninsula, or U-shaped type of cabinetry? They’re OK, but can easily trap the occupants if there’s a flurry of activity, which will be frustrating for the head chef. On the other hand, a center island provides for an efficient flow, where rarely is anybody stalled in kitchen traffic by being caught between an open dishwasher and a cabinet, or some slow hand chopping up the onions.

Not enough space for an Island in the new house plans? Bull feathers! Change things up a bit by having your architect move a wall or two. It’s the kitchen that’ll drive up a home’s value, not the large and spacious TV room.

That being said, if missing the hockey game, or CNN’s breaking news regarding Donald Trump’s latest words of wisdom, is causing you stress, due to you being posted on the spaghetti sauce stir stick every weekend, have a small TV screen installed in the cabinetry. Anything’s possible in the design stages.

Next, make lighting a priority. Other than a lack of counter workspace, where homeowners tend to drop the ball next in their kitchen designs is in the lighting, or lack thereof.

Step one, incorporate all the natural lighting you can. If your kitchen is like most installations and will run along the back exterior wall of the home, don’t sacrifice natural light for a few extra inches of cabinet space. Make that window over the kitchen sink area at least 1-1/2 times the width of your sink. If there’s to be no second story or room above the kitchen, then definitely consider incorporating a cathedral type ceiling into the truss plan, and be sure to add a few skylights. Cathedral ceilings are beautiful, with the warmth and early morning glow of natural light provided by skylights being absolutely spectacular.

So, if there’s room in the budget, then make this happen. If the budget is a little tight, then shrink the living room down a little more and be satisfied with a more modest TV screen size.

Essentially, a home is all about the kitchen, and the bathrooms of course, but that’s to come. Now, don’t skylights have the reputation of leaking? In the olden days, where skylights were installed with little more than a gallon of roofing tar, then left unattended for the next 20 years, then yes, they could have leaked. Or, in the days before HRV’s (heat recovery ventilation) where condensation would sometimes collect on the skylights after a serious session of boiling spaghetti, then yes, there could have been a few drips. However, in today’s modern world, with skylights having specific roof flashings for every roof application, along with procedures in installation and the use of roofing membranes having greatly improved, leaks are a rarity.

Now, regardless of all this potential for natural light, you’re still going to need supplementary lighting in the kitchen. Best bet, have round LED lights following the perimeter of the kitchen at every 3-4 feet, with an extra light placed over the kitchen sink.

Good building.

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

Little things on the deck

A little deck lighting is a good thing. File photo.

Building a deck isn’t exactly rocket science.

You’ve got a triple 2×10 beam, supporting 2×8 lumber spaced at every 16 inches on center, with either 2×6 or 5/4 decking planks fastened over top. That’s basically all the background education you’re going to require. Worst case scenario is that it’s built a little crooked, or not so level, with the odd crack and splinter here and there.

In the rocket science biz, one loose valve has 100 people in white jackets scrambling to solve the issue. In deck building, you could have a shaky newel post, missing spindles, and a couple of loose floor boards, and all the attention that would generate from the homeowner is him pulling up his undershirt and scratching his belly as he leans back into his plastic deck chair, along with the comment, “yep, I’ve got to get to that someday” while raising his beer in preparation for another chug.

So, we’re talking about two completely different animals. Regardless, there’s no reason why your deck can’t be a beautiful thing. The key is giving special attention to the little things.

So, helpful little deck thing no. 1, the “Decktrack” or “Camo” system of installing your treated lumber or cedar decking planks. Composite decking’s biggest advantage over regular wood decking is the fact the planks are pre-grooved on their edges, allowing the boards to be installing using a side mounting clip. So, no surface screws, which makes for a significantly more attractive finish. Decktracks are 4 ft. long pieces of angled steel that get fastened to the joist system, and allow the installer to drill into the planks from below, pulling the decking planks down snugly against the joists. The Camo tool is basically a clamp with two angled insert holes, and allows the installer to fix the decking plank into position by driving a specially designed deck screw into each side of the plank.

Either way, the result is no surface screws. No surface screws in lumber means no splinters, less chance of cracking, while providing a surface that will not only look better, but will sand and clean more effectively, which translates into the better acceptance of a stain.

Next, and regarding the issue of privacy between neighbors, consider the “Deck Sunblind” louver kit. If you’re looking to spend a little time in your hot-tub, and are a little bashful about exposing the neighbors to your newly acquired mesh speedo swimwear, you may prefer the intimacy of a solid side wall. Those will be referred to as closed louver moments. Otherwise, if it’s an especially warm day, you may want to experience a little breeze as you lounge on your deck with a sandwich and cool beverage, a.k.a. open louver times. The Deck Sunblind kit offers the versatility of both, providing you with the hardware to transform regular decking planks into a very decorative, and obviously very useful, louvered wall that can serve a number of various applications.

Next, consider post cap and deck lighting. Maneuvering on a back deck that may have a number of levels, and most likely a few steps, while being occupied by a full crew of family and friends can be awkward enough under direct sunlight. Under the moonlight though, with vision down about 75 per cent, and with 100 per cent of the remaining family and friends now half in the bag, relating barely discernible stories to themselves, lack of lighting could prove hazardous. So, consider the very easy to install solar post cap, that conveniently fits over a standard 4×4 treated or cedar post.

Deck lighting, following the perimeter of the deck, and especially on your stair risers, is also a good thing. Deck lighting units are best wired into your homes electrical panel, or an available outlet. Providing a brighter, more durable light, these wired lights can be controlled by a very convenient hand held device. So, click-em on at dusk, and click-em off once you kick the last straggler out at 2 am.

Good building.

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

Don’t sweat it

Wet windows? Handyman Hints can help. Postmedia Network

Why are my windows sweating? This is one of the more common questions asked by many a frustrated homeowner during this time of year. And, the answer to this dilemma is not always easy.

If you’re a Leafs fan, it’s just indicative of a clouded vision that will most likely plague you throughout the entire winter season. If you eat pasta with every meal, then use this carbohydrate overload to sweat it out in your home gym, then follow things up with a 20 minute hot shower, you’re likely stirring up more humidity than tropical storm Otto. Or, if you’re the sort of person who’s deathly scared of the cold, and have resorted to saran wrapping every window and non-essential entrance door with the same diligence you used on your luncheon pork chops, proper air circulation is going to be an impossibility.

Basically, you’re trapping humidity in the home. As discussed last week, too much humidity in the home can lead to all kinds of damage to your finish trims, framework, while ultimately encouraging mold growth. So, how do we eliminate excess humidity? It’ll take a combination of air intake, air exhaust, and air circulation.

Unless you’re willing to confine your brisk walks to the areas of the home, going from kitchen, to dining room, then up the stairs, through the bedroom, and back down again, air circulation is best handled by mechanical means. If you own a furnace, keep the fan working fulltime, and, don’t forget to change or clean the filter on a monthly basis. If your home lacks the necessary ductwork to circulate air, consider replacing your ceiling light fixtures with lighted ceiling fans.

Again, and especially during the really cold days, have the fans turning on a continual basis. A working ceiling fan will not only prevent condensation, but with the air being constantly churned, should eliminate any cold areas in the room that are close to the windows. If replacing every ceiling fixture seems excessive, then at least install a table top oscillating fan in the more problematic rooms.

Proof of air flow successfully removing condensation can be witnessed every time you turn your car’s windshield defrost switch on.

Next, air exhaust. Basically, if you’re creating steam or heat, then you’ve got to exhaust it to the exterior. Not into the attic, or the garage, or into the wall or joist system, but into the great outdoors. So, make sure every bathroom, and the kitchen, have their own exhaust fans. Bathroom fans should operate on a timer, set to 30 minutes once you step in the shower. Clothes dryers also create a ton of moisture. As a result, make sure the joints in the dryer ductwork are taped, and lead to a proper dryer exhaust vent (one with a flapper inside). Plus, disconnect the pipe every couple of months to verify that the lint hasn’t balled up inside. Definitely avoid choosing one of those interior exhaust kits for your dryer, they’re about as effective as investing in behavior lessons for your cat. Next, with all this mechanical air circulation and exhaust, comes the need to mechanically bring fresh air into the home.

This duty can be handled by installing a HRV (heat recovery ventilation) machine in your basement, or adequately sized utility room. About the size and weight of a 26 inch television (Quazar, not flat screen) the HRV system exhausts the stale air in the home, and replaces it with an equal amount of fresh outdoor air. The heat recovery is handled by a honeycomb type core that transfers the heat from the air going out, to the new air coming in. HRV units can work independently of your heating system, or be connected to your furnace, taking advantage of the room to room service provided by the existing ductwork. HRV’s will also filter this new air entering the home, and help control overall humidity levels, delivering a healthier living environment for the home’s occupants.

Good building.

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

Do not be afraid of the light from above

Skylights give the impression of more space and can completely change the feel and ambience of a room. (Free press file photo)
Skylights give the impression of more space and can completely change the feel and ambiance of a room. (Free press file photo)

My wake-up ritual is pretty well the same practice every time – get up, shower, get dressed, make my way down the stairs and as I walk through the archway that leads into our kitchen, I stop, turn to my right, flick on four light switches, and move on through.

I like plenty of light to work in. When spreading the almond butter on my toast so that it’s perfectly level, covering every bit of exposed toast surface, it’s essential in providing a positive start to each and every day.

In our previous home, my up and out of bed routine was basically the same, minus the light switch pause. Was I buttering my toast in the dark back then? That would be ridiculous and way too risky, of course. The difference, or game-changer, was that back then we had a kitchen with skylights. Now we don’t.

Whether it be a second floor, bedroom balcony, detached garage, or walkout basement, the topic of home must-haves, if they’re architecturally possible and feasible budget-wise, has been discussed before. Well, add one more home must-have to the list, and that would be skylights.

Providing twice the light of an equal-sized exterior wall window, at about half the price – although the extra installation procedures would essentially make it a break-even scenario, then factor in the energy savings, there are few better values in home options than a skylight.

So, why aren’t they more popular?

Unfortunately, skylights have the reputation of leaking. Which is not only an undeserved slander, but a weak argument to avoid skylights. The reason? Everything, given time, will leak.

Windows leak, roofs leak, 95 per cent of basement foundations leak. A strictly confidential office memo, distributed to our most senior management, was in the hands of the part-timer mopping the floor not five minutes after it was issued – leak!

We live in a society that is comprised of nothing but leaks and procedural failures, so why have skylights become the fall product? Not sure.

Regardless, you won’t find a better, more decorative and more useful home feature than a skylight.

Where to put them?

Any room in the home that would benefit from the bonus of daylight. Which, could be everywhere of course, except for perhaps your theater room or storage areas. Rooms that specifically benefit from skylights are kitchens and bathrooms, since these areas, due to wall space occupied by cabinetry and counter tops, often have smaller windows, yet require the most light. As a result, you get the bonus of light, without forfeiting privacy, unless of course you’ve built beside an airport runway.

Skylights are most effective when installed in a cathedral ceiling, where the light tunnel is minimal. However, regular roof trusses, or flat ceilings, can certainly accommodate a series of skylights. Due to the longer shaft, or walls stemming down from the skylight, the light reflected in will not be as great as a cathedral type installation. However, the look will be every bit as impressive.

Why do skylights leak?

As is the case with our windows and exterior doors, the caulking and various membranes that seal around these units will shrink and somewhat deteriorate over the useful lifespan of the product, which can be anywhere from 15 to 20 years. When it comes to the seal around our windows and doors, we notice when gaps develop or when the caulking cracks and becomes brittle, forcing us to deal with the issue.

Skylights fall under the out-of-sight, out-of-mind type of maintenance schedule, whereby years of caulking neglect will no doubt result in a leak. When this leak eventually makes its way down to the ceiling’s drywall, well, the whole idea of having a skylight gets put under scrutiny.

Having no skylight issues is like every other household appendage. Have it professionally installed, and check the seal every few years, adding a bead of roof tar once those first little cracks appear.

Good building.

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