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

Cementing your future

This guy knows what he’s doing. You might not, when it comes to working with cement. Postmedia Network

Today we’re going to be dabbing into the trade of mixing and applying cement.

I use the term “dab” because cement work, or concrete repair, isn’t something the average office softie ought to jump into full bore. Unless of course through a series of bad investments or sure bets gone lame at the track, you’ve indebted yourself beyond the point of recovery, and as an example to others you’ve been persuaded to jump into a bucket of soon to be cured concrete by fellows simply known to you as “Vito” and “the Razor”, let’s otherwise limit this first stab at concrete to a small repair.

Regardless of what type of concrete, be it wall, floor, steps, or walkway, is in need of repair or resurfacing, the strategy to preparing the area remains pretty well consistent.

First we scrub the area being repaired (using a steel, or otherwise stiff bristled brush), then sweep the surface clean with a fine, softer bristled broom. Next, rinse the area with the garden hose or spray bottle of water. Brush, sweep, rinse, that’s basically the prep work required for concrete repair.

Be sure to wear safety goggles and gloves at all times. Pre-mixed concrete powders usually have a Portland cement additive, which is corrosive. Not that these components will eat through your skin like battery acid, but with prolonged exposure, will certainly cause irritation. Should you get any powdered mix in your eyes, simply douse your face with water.

Tools for the job will include a bucket, trowels (pointing and pool), a quick mixer, and a drill. A pointing trowel is triangular in shape, and is handy for shaping cement to form a corner on a wall or step. A pool trowel is basically a rectangular trowel with rounded corners. Square cornered, or drywall type trowels, will gouge the finish as you spread the concrete mix over a wider surface, such as a platform or walkway. The pool trowel simply allows you to more easily float the trowel back and forth without creating too many lines.

A quick mixer is essentially a heavy duty whisk, or blender, that fits into the chuck of a regular drill. Don’t walk into this project without your quick mixer, thinking its function could be replaced by a paint stir stick and a little elbow grease, with the 15-20 buck investment better spent on a Tim’s run for coffee and muffins.

Depending on your choice of pre-mixed concretes, the working and setting time for many of these compounds is anywhere between 15 and 20 minutes. So, if after 5-6 minutes of stirring, an old hockey injury starts to creep back into play, requiring you to take a few moments of down time to wipe your brow and work the kink out of your shoulder, upon returning to the pail, you may find your first batch of mixed has turned into a secondary anchor for the boat.

The convenient aspect about the concrete repair products available today is that they come in a pre-mixed powder. This powder formula contains both the cement components, and the necessary bonding agents, which basically enables these new cement products to stick to older, existing surfaces. Don’t be intimidated by the number of various cement repair products you’ll find on the shelf of your local building supply store. The industry has become task specific, which was designed to simplify things, but on the other hand has created shelves full of pictured containers that can certainly leave the first time shopper a little bewildered. My suggestion is to let the salesperson know what type of repair project you’re attempting, then let them help you choose the most suitable mix for the job. Although there is certainly some crossover in that some pre-mixed cements could perform a number of tasks, you definitely wouldn’t want to choose a poly-plug compound (which dries in two minutes) and use it to build up a broken step corner that may take you 5-10 minutes to shape.

Good cementing.

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

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

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

About MDF moldings

The focal point of this master bedroom is neither the stunning bed nor the separate sitting area. Rather the eye is drawn to the trayed ceiling with a dazzling uplighting that washes it with light and color. The romance of the mood lighting becomes obtainable by the dial of a dimmer. Decorative crown molding hides the wires and bulbs, leaving only clean lines and light. Postmedia Network

Next to giving your interior walls a fresh coat of paint, investing in new casings, baseboards, and crown moldings is one of the best value added ways of improving your home.

That being so, there are some basic finishing rules to follow, along with a few installation strategies, that’ll help make working with MDF moldings all the more easier.

If you haven’t shopped for finishing trims in the last 15 years or so, the market has almost totally gone MDF (medium density fiberboard). You can still buy the finger-joint, clear pine, oak, and poplar species of casings and baseboards, but with the fashion trend still leaning towards painted moldings, as opposed to staining, MDF delivers the biggest bang for the buck.

Simply put, MDF is far cheaper in price, and is available in far more profiles, than traditional paint grade moldings such as finger-joint pine or poplar. Because the MDF product consists of sawdust and various glues, some home builders, fearing the off-gassing or VOC (volatile organic compound) element of a manufactured product, choose solid wood.

Actually, all wood species omit small doses of formaldehyde in their natural state. However, today’s MDF moldings are purchased factory sealed with a primer, which basically eliminates the off-gassing or VOC factor. As a result, the off-gassing or VOC concern regarding MDF moldings is old news, dating back about 20 years.

If you’ve worked with real wood moldings in the past, and are looking to install your own MDF casings and baseboards today, there’s one major factor that separates MDF from the popular finger–joint pine moldings of the 70’s and 80’s, and that’s the fact MDF moldings accept a nail the same way a cat accepts being tossed into a pool of water.

MDF moldings don’t like regular finishing nails, or being hammered, or being pre-drilled, and due to being so hard and somewhat brittle a product, the moldings’ edges can dent easily if over-handled.

Therefore, if you’re about to take on the task of installing MDF, be sure to buy, rent, or borrow, a pneumatic finishing nailer. What about pre-drilling the MDF, then tapping in a finishing nail, you may ask? Although a useful technique with hardwoods, a finishing nail tapped into MDF (even if pre-drilled) will cause the surface material to puff out once the nail head embeds the surface, creating a bump, which will essentially look lousy. MDF moldings absolutely need to be air nailed, and there’s no getting around that.

Rules to follow when choosing a casing and baseboard? One, they should match each other, of course, and two, the casing always needs to be thicker than the base. The baseboard molding will in most cases be wider than the casing, but it should never be thicker.

Some folks choose a thicker baseboard, with the strategy that it will hide the expansion spacing required between a wall and the hardwood or laminate flooring, thereby saving on the need for a shoe molding. Please don’t commit this finishing faux pas. Too thin a casing, or even a casing that is the same thickness of the base, looks horrible. When these two moldings meet, the shadow line created by having the casing thicker than the base, is key to proper finishing.

If you absolutely can’t live with a shoe mold following the perimeter of the floor, or have fallen in love with a particularly thick baseboard molding, and as a result, are left with too thin a casing, consider using a back-band molding to beef up the thickness of the casing.

Next, pre-paint your casings and baseboards before installing them. This strategy simply takes advantage of gravity, given that it’s easier to paint a molding while it’s lying flat, than sitting up on a wall.

Finally, caulk the seam where the casing or baseboard meets the wall, but never the miter joint. Gaps in a miter or butt joint can’t be saved with caulking. If the joint’s not tight, accept the loss and cut it over again.

Good building.

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

The should’a, could’a, would’a dilemma

I got a call the other day from a lady, a senior, who’s completely dissatisfied with the renovation work just completed on her older home.

I don’t know this lady, nor was I familiar with the contractor responsible for this debacle, nor did we supply any of the material for this project, but she wanted me to pass by her place in order to inspect the job, pass judgment, confirm the inadequacy of this job performance, so that once documented, this fellow could be taken to court for the sake of her complete financial restitution.

When I informed this person I am not a licensed contractor, nor a home inspector and that I don’t really feel comfortable leaving the safe confines of my office – because I’ve watched enough horror movies to know unassuming retailers like myself, upon entering a dark and gloomy century home owned by some little old lady will, nine times out of 10, end up buried in the basement – she understood my apprehension.

According to the descriptive manner relating to how these various wall, window, and floor products were installed, there was more than likely a cause for concern.

However, passing judgment on the work of others is easy, especially if you haven’t seen the before picture and are unfamiliar with the circumstances and limitations relating to this project.

In other words, sure the floor is crooked and maybe the windows don’t fit so flush with the inside wall, but was it contractor incompetence that led to these errors, or a restricted budget with limited resources?

Regardless, there are legal means by which to pursue somebody who’s failed to satisfy the stipulations set out in your working contract. Although I’m unqualified to comment further on the legal or courtroom process, what I can say with assurance is the strategy of chasing somebody who doesn’t want to be found in order to be financially compensated should be a last-ditch effort.

How do we avoid these legal costs of time and money?

Do your contractor-research homework before starting the project.

In this case, the person hired was a friend, of a friend, of a neighbour, and was known to do renovation jobs for cash after completing his regular job of delivering pizza and smuggling cigarettes across the St. Lawrence River.

There’s nothing saying such a versatile fellow can’t be a qualified and licensed contractor as well. But, when their cell phone numbers change from week to week, and always with a robotic message response, the odds of this guy being legit are pretty slim.

This lady should have given one of us building supply dealers a call. From a list of qualified and licensed carpenters, she could have chosen a few names and requested quotes pertaining to each job. Upon meeting the various carpenters, she would have then chosen the person most qualified for the job, based on references provided, who best understood what she wanted, and who she felt most comfortable with.

Two mistakes first-time, or only occasional renovating homeowners do, is one: choose a contractor based on who’s available at the time; and, two: go too big, demanding too many tasks of a contractor, especially if they’re only a two-or-three-person outfit.

If your preferred contractor is weeks away from being available, book him in accordingly, and wait.

Unless you’ve got a foot of water in the basement, or a tree limb puncturing through the east side of your home, rarely does a home renovation fall under the category of urgent.

If you’ve got a lot of jobs to get done, break up your renovations into manageable segments. So, if you’re going to be replacing a few windows, get that done, assess the quality of the workmanship, then move on to the flooring, or whatever’s next.

Taking things step by step keeps you in control of the situation, helps minimize the mess, and maintains your sanity throughout.

Good building.

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