The nose knows when to bail on this cottage

Expanding polyurethane foam in spray cans is an essential ingredient when insulating and an excellent adhesive for fastening rigid foam insulation. It is indispensable for air-sealing around the edges of the sheets. POSTMEDIA NETWORK FILES

Today we continue our following of famed local home inspector Jack Nailbucket, aka Insp. Clouseau, as he meticulously examines a peculiar waterfront home that is for sale.

Bill Granite, the potential buyer of this home, and the one responsible for the hiring of Nailbucket Home Inspections, will not be continuing the tour. Unfortunately, our Mr. Granite is clearly dejected by the revealed failings of this home so far, including a cracked foundation, negative sloping landscape, and decking platforms that require a complete reconstruction.

With his dreams of cottage life fading, he’s found himself a comfortable spot down by the water, and for the past few hours has been true to his nickname, passing his time quaffing ale, then crushing the empty tins against his forehead, followed by unceremoniously tossing these tins into Lake Ontario.

From this point on, Crushers’ contribution to the inspection will regrettably be unintelligible babble.

At present, we find ourselves in the home’s basement, with our Clouseau scenting a problem. Besides the obvious moisture issues, evidenced by two dehumidifiers running full-blast, our inspector was detecting a further, potentially more serious problem.

Due to Jack’s rather large schnoz, a hereditary trait passed on by generations of Nailbuckets and Clouseaus, our inspector is capable of discerning odours and smells in the range of one part per million, placing him second only to the American bloodhound in scent detection.

After only a few minutes in the basement, Clouseau noted the presence of mould. Was the mould severe? No, but the 2×8 joists and plywood flooring were in some areas the same colour as the area’s native speckled trout, while being somewhat cool and moist to the touch, which isn’t good.

For some unknown reason, the basement floor was unfinished, having only a gravel base. In a poor attempt to somewhat control the moisture coming from the soil, and concrete block walls, a six-millimetre plastic had been spread and taped over the gravel floor and walls.

The basement housed the furnace, water purification systems, and other electrical units, so this was indeed an area that saw semi-regular human activity.

The problem was this basement was more designed as a cold storage, with an environment better suited to house this year’s batch of pickled beets, than human life. What to do?

Essentially, this area needs to be humanized, which means switching the basement environment from wet and damp, to warm and dry.

First, we’ll need to quash the basement floor humidity issue by installing a layer of two-inch pink rigid foam board, providing R-10 of thermal value, over the existing gravel and poly.

The floor should then be covered with four inches of concrete, spread directly over the foam. This modification would raise the floor about six-to-seven inches, which will also involve raising the furnace, likely affecting the ductwork. With the present basement height being a simply adequate 80 inches, this raising of the floor isn’t devastating news, since 80 per cent of the population will still feel comfortable navigating the area.

Next, the furnace’s ductwork system, now feeding only the living spaces above, will need to accept further venting and cold air returns in order to service the basement.

If we’re creating a living space out of the basement, or at least making it comfortable, then we’ll need to keep the heat in the space by installing a rigid foam board against the block walls, followed by 2×4 framing, then the appropriate levels of fiberglass pink insulation.

Or, forget the whole basement idea, move the furnace and mechanical systems to the main floor, insulate the floor, then seal the basement off altogether.

Simply put, this was a home that required a lot of work, but was fortunately situated on a beautiful lot. Essentially, a situation where all it takes is money to make things better.

With that information, our Mr. Granite accepted the report of our Clouseau, then graciously poured himself into a cab. Case #823 closed.

Good building.

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

Insp. Clouseau looks for clues at the cottage

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Today we’ll be following home inspector Jack Nailbucket, aka Insp. Clouseau, due to Jack’s genealogical connection with his French cousins, and a preference of wearing a white fedora and trench coat while performing his home inspections.

The inspector will be passing his magnifying glass over a potential cottage for purchase by a Mr. Bill ‘Crusher’ Granite, the subject of last week’s column.

Now to be clear, the use of the term cottage in this case is purely subjective. What’s for purchase here is a standard 1,600-square-foot home with nearly a full-height basement, and not an 800-square-foot hunting lodge raised up on cement blocks. There’s no way we’ll be closing this baby up for the winter.

In order for this cottage to remain healthy, general maintenance, a few upgrades, and providing heat for this home year round, regardless of occupancy, will be absolutely necessary.

Our Clouseau was also suspicious of the sales person’s repeated mention the sellers of this cottage are a physics professor and his wife who are looking to retire to the city. Very good, the home has been lived in by someone capable of splitting an atom.

Unfortunately, this same fellow was befuddled by the soggy state of his loafers as he walked the perimeter of his home, and failed to recognize the fact the home’s landscape was working in a negative manner, directing water towards the foundation.

So, be leery of trusting all is good simply because a home has been lived in by persons of means or intelligence. It should be viewed as little solace or guarantee your future dwelling has been well cared for, or built to code.

The home had several little decks that permitted seating on the east, west, and north sides of the home, allowing the homeowners to view the water and strategically follow the sun, or the shade, throughout the day.

A lovely idea, except for the fact each deck was in its own stage of decay. This was due largely in part to the puddles of water and moisture-filled soil that lay beneath these decks, and the fact all three decks had been framed perilously close to the ground.

Further to the deck issue was a relatively significant crack in the corner of the foundation wall that supported the garage. Our Clouseau suspects rainwater and snow melt had been allowed to pool in this area, with this moisture infiltrating the concrete, then expanding during the freezing periods.

We haven’t even entered the cottage yet and we’re facing a foundation repair, dismantling the existing decks (which thankfully are of treated lumber, as opposed to composite, and represent no great loss), a total re-do of the landscaping (which may or may not include replacing the weeping tile, if it ever existed), then re-building the decks once again.

Properly grading the landscape is going to be a challenge because there’s little to no foundation left to work with. It’s as if the house had sunk into a hole. Built on bedrock, this cottage has never sunk, but its foundation was probably two or three rows of concrete blocks too short, a strange error considering the age of the home and the general guidelines of building.

Next, we visited the basement, which was for some reason only accessible from the outside. Our Clouseau was at a loss as to why the professor forfeited a standard stairwell to the basement, in exchange for added closet space.

His thought was that should an explosion occur in the basement as a result of the professor experimenting with a new rocket fuel, the main living area would have been shielded, with the ensuing damage limited to the basement’s block walls blowing out. With the basement walls gone, the home would have simply crashed down upon the rubble, which would have unfortunately included the professor, but on a positive note, saved on the cost of internment.

Next week, the inspection continues.

Good building.

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

It’s your serve

Reilly McMillan, 12, plays ping pong with her sister Gracie, 9, and Joy McCullagh under the Fourth Avenue flyover on Wednesday August 9, 2017, in Calgary, Alta. Gavin Young/Postmedia Network

Today we’re building an outdoor ping pong table.

Why outdoor ping pong? Because its summer.

Why the sport of ping pong? Because it’s as much fun as tennis, but a whole lot cheaper, considering the average paved backyard tennis court starts at about $150,000. All in, we should be able to build this baby for under $250.

Plus, a ping pong table usually adapts quite well to most backyard decks (tennis courts, not so well) with one of the supporting leg options being to lay the ping pong surface on top of an existing outdoor dining table. And, ping pong has fewer rules and etiquette boundaries than tennis.

Essentially, backyard ping pong has one rule— regardless of any prevailing winds and rain, table slope, variable conditions including spilled beer and crushed nuts on the playing surface, if the ball hits the table before it drops to the floor, the point’s good.

Ping pong clothing? Optional, it’s your backyard.

Materials for the job will include one litre of exterior latex primer, one litre of exterior ‘super white’ flat latex paint (for the lines), along with two litres of exterior flat latex paint (tinted to your surface colour of choice).

Choosing a ‘flat’ sheen of paint will be key to eliminating glare. Although dark green was the traditional table surface colour of choice, navy blue has been the preferred ping pong surface colour since the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. Basically, any dark colour will do.

The table surface material of choice will be ¾-inch, Baltic (aka Russian) birch plywood. Avoid cheaper surface alternatives such as fir (good one side), particle board, or MDF (medium-density fiberboard). Their surfaces are too soft, are subject to warpage, and they definitely won’t last outdoors.

On the other hand, there are several reasons why Russian birch plywood makes for the best choice in ping pong surfaces.

First, Russian plywood comes in a 5’x5’-sized sheet, which is perfect in our case, since a standard-sized ping pong table is five feet wide, by nine feet long. So, all you’ll have to do is trim (or have your local building supply dealer perform the cut) six inches off the edge of two 5’x5’ sheets.

Further to that, ¾-inch Russian plywood uses an exterior-grade adhesive, and is made of 12 plies of solid, cross-banded birch. As a result, the Russian plywood will remain flat and stable. Russian birch plywood is also super smooth, allowing it to be painted to a perfect finish, and is super hard.

Hardness in a ping pong surface is important because it provides for better ball bounce.

Be sure to paint the ¾-inch x 5’ x 4.5’ ping pong surface panels before assembling them, it’ll be easier to manoeuver them around this way. Start with the exterior primer, painting both sides of the sheet, along with the edges. Next, after the primer’s dried (60 minutes) apply your first coat of blue (or whatever your chosen surface colour is) finish. Again, do both sides, and don’t forget all the edges.

When this first surface coat is dry (four-to-six hours) give all the sides and edges a second coat. Wait a day for this second coat to dry, then using green painters’ tape, prepare the surface for the white lines.

Because we’re making this table to official standards, have a ¾-inch white line follow the perimeter of the sheet, along with a 1/8-inch dividing line running down the centre.

Connect the two sheets using a piano hinge, fastened to the show or playing side of the table. This way, the show side can be folded upon itself, better protecting the playing finish. Cut the piano hinge about four inches shy of the surface edges. This will prevent the hinge from interfering with the standards that support the netting.

If no existing table is available for support, or you’ve got the room to have this gem stand alone, folding table legs could be easily fastened to the sheets.

Good building.

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

The civil deck

One way to put a damper on that backyard barbecue? Splinters from your deck. Postmedia Network

So far we’ve managed to build a deck that can deflect the effects of direct sunlight or a light rain, that can control the winds and skew the view of peering neighbors, and that can provide valuable storage for seat cushions and pool supplies.

Today, we further our quest to build the most civilized of decks by eliminating one of the most dreadful components of exterior deck building, that being splinters.

Essentially, when it comes to entertaining, the book of host etiquette deems it a major faux pas to expose your guests to an environment that can inject them with a pain so formidable, that during times of conflict, the piercing sensation of a splinter was considered an effective means of getting information from infidels.

Basically, if splintering is to be avoided, we are to never screw or nail into wood without first pre-drilling a hole. The best case scenario when fastening down cedar or pressure treated decking will have the installer avoiding the use of surface screws entirely. Surface screws can be replaced by one of two systems, them being the ‘Decktrack’ band, or the ‘Camo’ clamp.

The Decktrack band is a 45 inch strip of powder coated steel that gets nailed along the top edge of the deck’s 2×8 or 2×10 joists. The Decktrack bands are perforated, and allow the installer to insert 7/8 inch screws into the decking planks from underneath.

The Camo clamp is a mechanism that sets the special Camo deck screws in position on an angle. The installer then clamps the plank in position with one hand, then drives the screws into the edge of the plank with the use of a cordless drill, held in the other hand.

The Deck track and Camo systems require a little more time on the part of the installer, and are a little more costly than simply having to buy regular decking screws. However, a deck surface free of screws is a beautiful thing. Surface screwing not only promotes splintering, but by penetrating the wood grain, will enable your decking planks to regularly absorb moisture, which isn’t a good thing. Decking planks that are constantly wet do a poor job of absorbing stain, which will translate into a future of watching your painted or stained decking wear or peel off every season.

Is there any good way of using a surface screw? Yes, by pre-drilling, and using the appropriate countersink bit beforehand.

How else do we avoid splinters? By using connecting hardware every time one piece of lumber meets up, or butts up, against another. The key is avoiding the toe nailing technique. Toe nailing, or toe screwing, is a rough framing strategy whereby a nail or screw is inserted at an angle into wood, in close proximity to the just-cut edge. No matter how careful one is when toe nailing (or screwing) the piece being nailed always cracks and splinters, at least slightly.

With rough framing (that’s inevitably hidden inside the wall cavity) this strategy is quite common and poses no issue. In the world of finishing, the toe nailing procedure looks horrible. So, where the 2×4 railing butts up against the 4×4 newel post, or where your 4×4 newel meets the decking platform, use the appropriate connecting brackets.

Now, connecting hardware isn’t cheap, costing at least a few dollars per assembly joint, compared to paying pennies for a couple of nails or screws. However, and again, we’re building a civilized deck here, not a tree fort.

Next, avoid painting or staining when you can. So, be sure to consider the aluminum spindles (available round, square, or in flat iron) instead of wood, and be sure to cap off your newel posts with the matching aluminum caps.

What’s new in deck accessories? The sliding door kit. Swinging doors can sag over time. So, if cordoning off your back deck is necessary, due to having small children, or small puppy dogs on board, consider the very effective, and smooth operating action of a sliding door.

Good building.

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

Civilized decking

Pergolas can be built to allow the light to shine in or for sun protection, or as a stand-alone unit or attached to an existing structure. Postmedia network

With the term civilized defined as ‘bringing a place or people to a stage of social, cultural, and moral development considered to be more advanced’, and decking defined simply as ‘a wood planked platform or terrace that is attached to a home’, how do we combine the two?

Like everything else, with focus, foresight, and a little determination.

Essentially, we want our deck to be a comfortable place to live on, and not just on those slightly cloudy, 25 degree Celsius days. Which brings us to advanced decking feature no. 1, the SunLouvre pergola.

Scorching sun or a mid-afternoon rain need not send the party indoors. A regular pergola is a good deck feature because it offers partial shade. Partial shade on a sunny afternoon is a good thing. However, when it’s high noon, and the sun’s at its strongest, those pieces of 2×6 or 2×8 lumber overhead, fixed in position on their edges, will be offering limited relief. And, if it should happen to rain, well . . . unless you’re a member of our national ballet core, there will be no staying dry under a plank of lumber that’s 1-1/2 inches wide.

So, in comes the SunLouvre pergola. Built completely out of aluminum (making maintenance, staining, and cracks or warpage, a thing of the past) the big advantage to a SunLouvre pergola is that the top sleeves are movable, operating on a system of louvres. This feature allows the homeowner to relax under full sun, full shade, or anything in between.

When the louvres are closed, the sleeves overlap in a manner that prevents rain from entering. So, and unless we’re talking a torrential downpour of biblical proportion, there will be no need to corral your guests indoors at the first sign of a few droplets. In most cases, the pulling down of one mechanism will operate an entire ceiling structure. Although the aluminum columns that support the SunLouvre system are quite decorative, if you’re a wood lover who absolutely wants to keep their wooden columns intact, the SunLouvre system works independently of the posts, and as such, can be custom ordered to fit and operate on an existing wood frame.

Next, if inside storage space is considered to be an essential asset, then it’s going to be just as valuable a commodity outside. Decks can be like any other living space, either spacious and neatly staged, or cluttered with furniture, side tables, and any number of appendages. So, where is a homeowner to store chair cushions and those extra folding chairs?

Plus, decks often cozy up to pools. Pools require brushes and leaf nets, long hoses for vacuuming, and little floaty devices, with all this stuff having to be placed somewhere when not in use. You can always toss these items into a pool or storage shed, but it certainly would be more convenient if things could be tucked away in a drawer.

Which, brings us to advanced decking feature no. 2, the ‘Deck Storage Drawer’. In general, the space underneath a deck would be regarded as a damp, spider infested no man’s land. However, the Deck Storage Drawer changes all that, enabling the homeowner to gain 64 cubic feet of quality, dry storage space. The Deck Storage Drawer is essentially a box of hardware, containing the necessary tracks, wheels, and brackets to assemble (along with the required treated plywood) a drawer that can be up to 48 inches wide x 24 inches deep x 96 inches long, capable of holding up to 250 pounds of whatever you like. The added bonus of the deck drawer is that it doesn’t take up valuable deck floor area, while having about twice the storage capacity of one of those plastic, surface deck boxes. It also comes with its own pull handle and keyed lock mechanism. The front of your Deck Storage Drawer can be finished with whatever product you’ve chosen as a skirting material for around the deck, be it lattice, treated lumber, or composite decking.

Good building.

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

Raised gardens

A raised garden bed can be much easier on the back and knees. Postmedia Network

With spring in the air, the strategy of the raised garden bed will no doubt be the subject of discussion amongst those homeowners looking to grow their own prized tomatoes and zucchinis.

The raison d’être, or the “why’s” to building a raised garden bed, which is essentially a bunch of ground poured into a raised frame, lies primarily in the simple fact this structure raises, or elevates, the planted vegetables to a more accommodating height, thereby alleviating the knee joint and lower back pain normally associated with the task of gardening.

Psychologically, the raised garden bed, or box, is a good value because it makes gardening easier, with the good results rewarding the homeowner with sense of purpose and accomplishment.

Physically, the raised garden box delivers all of the health benefits associated with a person simply being outdoors, thereby allowing them to enjoy a little sunshine, while participating in a relatively light duty activity at their own pace.

Money wise? Well… and depending of course on several factors relating to the manor of construction, and the types of materials used, the ROI (return on investment) on the average raised garden box is not stellar. Essentially, you’d be better off putting your disposable income into a travelling petting zoo, the local Ponzi scheme, or a series of honor system, unmanned lemonade stand franchises. However, the pride associated with growing your own fresh vegetables usually outweighs the fact your cherry tomatoes are probably going to cost you about a buck a piece to produce.

If you’ve never built a raised garden box before, go small, making this first build something in the 4’ X 4’ or max 4’ X 8’ size. If this is your second or third build, then you’re obviously familiar with the process, and realize it’s probably time to go big, incorporating a screened-in, removable cage over a more permanent, beefier type of raised box made of 6 X 6 timbers. However, with this being your first attempt at a box, let’s not break the bank on this project, and perhaps choose a plan that’ll have you investing about an afternoon of your time.

A raised garden box could be made out of a number of products, including concrete blocks, stacked stones, or the very classy choices, and definitely worthy of front lawn display, old bathtub on legs, or tractor tire. Otherwise, 2” X 8” lumber is probably your best choice, due to it being lightweight, with a pretty easy assembly strategy. If this raised garden is to be something totally experimental, due to you being unsure of where to place it on your lot, your commitment to watering, or the fact you might be adding a deck or installing a pool in its place next summer, and all you might need is a couple of seasons out of this structure, go with spruce boards. If this is to be a longer term project, or more permanent structure, then cedar or BC fir would be the better choice. Although treated lumber would seem a logical choice, since the arsenic element in the treatment process has been replaced with a stronger copper content, which has been deemed an environmentally friendlier alternative by the powers that be, I would suggest avoiding the use of any chemically sealed or infused product around food. Retired railway ties would also be a poor option. Theoretically, treated lumber could be painted, or sealed from the ground with a plastic membrane, but why risk the chance of contaminating the soil.

Using 4” x 4” lumber for the corners, and pieces of 2” x 4” lumber every few feet along the perimeter, create a frame by stacking 2” x 8” planks, 2 boards high. Using 2” x 8” lumber, create a triangular seat in every corner, which will also provide strength to the structure. This plan provides you with about 15 inches of raised bed, a good start. Any higher will require a lot more ground, and a doubling up of the framework.

Good building.

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