Pros vs. Jos: The drywall edition

Jesse Gift applies drywall compound to the ceiling while framed by the 12-inch white pine beams that form the structure of the virtual high school being constructed on the main street of Bayfield. The building was still under construction when photographed on Wednesday December 14, 2011. MIKE HENSEN/THE LONDON FREE PRESS/Postmedia Network

There used to be a TV commercial which had a diminutive, computer analyst-type fellow in the checkout line of some hardware store, supplies in hand, with a couple of contractors in close behind him, slowly moving towards the cashier.

The TV viewer recognizes the little fellow as a do-it-yourselfer because he was wearing a fine dress shirt and dress pants, and everybody knows that amateurs, no matter what the task, be it cooking, painting, or even playing a sport, always wear their good office clothing while participating in such events.

The two gentlemen behind the little fellow were obviously tradesmen because they were both 260+-pound behemoths, sporting hard hats, while classily attired in torn blue jeans and timeworn bowling shirts with mustard stains that dated back to the 1990’s, because that’s what building contractors look like.

Regardless, the two professional contractors see the do-it–yourselfer is about to buy a bunch of cheap building supplies, so they tug the little feller out of the cashier line, remove whatever he has in his hands, then fill his arms up with better tools, with the lesson being buy what the pros use. Once through the cash, the three of them leave the hardware store laughing and giggling like a troop of schoolgirls.

In most cases, it’s better spending a little more money on quality products. However, when it comes to mudding drywall, how the pros work, and how they buy, isn’t always what’s best for the do-it-yourselfer.

Essentially, the amateur drywaller will lack technique, know-how and speed. As a result, his or her product choices will have to differ, at least in a few areas, from what the pros use.

When it comes to taping a joint, especially in the case of a repair, the amateur should consider using a Fiberglas tape. Professional drywallers commonly use a paper tape because it’s less expensive and can be rolled out and applied more quickly.

Fiberglas tape will stick to the drywall, unlike paper tape, which requires the user mudding the joint beforehand. Mudding, or adding joint mix to the seam, then embedding the paper tape into the joint compound, requires speed and technique, otherwise things gets messy, with joint compound spilling onto the floor.

As an amateur, methodically and patiently moving from one procedure to the next, and not speed, is what’s going to get you to the finish line.

After carefully placing the Fiberglas tape over the seam, the amateur can move on to the next step, mudding. The professional drywaller will choose either a beige or white all-purpose light compound. As amateurs, we’re going to go with the dust-control product.

Dust-control compound is heavier and thicker than regular light-joint compound, allowing the user to more easily scoop out a trowel full of mud, check their phone messages, go for a coffee, then calmly spread it on the wall.

Light compound is a lot thinner, and lighter, which makes it a whole lot easier on the shoulders and elbow joints of those professionals who work with this stuff for hours on end. However, light compound won’t sit on the trowel for long, so once it’s scooped out of the box, you had better be quick to get it on the wall.

Dust-control compound is also recommended for the amateur because the dust particles fall to the floor when sanded, in a controlled type of manner, hence the name. With the tendency of most amateurs to over apply the joint compound, followed by the need to sand things smooth, this is a key feature to avoiding dust everywhere.

Next, amateurs should invest in sponge sanders, a handy tool to avoiding dust when removing those not-so-perfect raised edges.

Where to copy the pros? The wider the swath of compound applied, the smoother the wall. So, invest in trowels by having four-inch, six-inch and eight-inch putty knives, as well as a 10-inch and 12-inch taping knife in the tool box.

Good building.

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

That’s a wrap

When building, we need to wrap or protect most of the lumber, while leaving a portion exposed so that the wood may be allowed to ìbreatheî or basically expel moisture at a more natural rate. Postmedia Network

I think the inventors of Baggies sandwich bags, and Saran Wrap, are two of the most intelligent and opportunist people in the world. Intelligent because they’ve managed to develop a lightweight, flexible, and user friendly manner of sealing and protecting foodstuffs. Opportunists because they’ve not only developed something useful, but have enabled us, as humans, to fulfill one of our most instinctive and powerful needs, and that’s the simple desire of wanting to wrap things.

What do we do with a newborn baby? Although it’s referred to as a swaddle, we’re essentially wrapping ‘em. Bloody finger? Wrap it. Christmas gifts, sprained ankle, hole in the car’s muffler? Wrap, wrap, wrap.

After supper the other night, I wrapped or bagged 10 different leftover items and tossed them in the fridge. Approximately 50 per cent of these items will see action in the immediate future, two to three things might be caught in time for use, with the last one or two items forgotten and allowed to develop into 15 types of mold. Regardless, they were all good wraps.

What do we do with a staff meeting that’s gone 30 minutes into overtime? We wrap it up. So, what do we do with basically any wood project or structure? Well, if you’re still not sure as to the theme of this week’s rant, for the good of the wood, you wrap it. For all intents and purposes, plywoods, basic framework, and wooden posts, will stick around for the long term if they’re kept dry. The strategy to keeping wood dry in a four season climate such as ours is challenging because wood is a product that naturally absorbs moisture. So, with a “dry season” unfortunately not forming part of the four seasons we experience, our plywoods and 2×4 framing lumber are always in a state where they’re retaining some level of humidity, regardless of the fact the lumber was kiln dried at some point in its production. As a result, we can’t simply saran wrap every piece of lumber because that would trap the humidity, which would lead to our lumber looking like the aforementioned science experiment regarding the 15 types of mold. Instead, we need to wrap or protect most of the lumber, while leaving a portion of the plywood or lumber exposed (with these exposed sides usually facing the interior of the building) so that the wood may be allowed to “breathe” or basically expel moisture at a more natural rate.

So, whether you’re building a shed, or 3000 sq. ft. home, we always protect the plywood walls with a house wrap. Because the interior, or what’s referred to as the warm side of a standard, insulated wall, must have a plastic vapor barrier, in order to prevent moisture from entering the wall cavity, the outside wall cannot be saran wrapped, or covered in the same manner, because that would trap the moisture already in the plywood, and stud framework. So, we cover the exterior wall with a house wrap, a product that sheds water, should rain or snow makes its way past the siding, but is still porous enough to allow the wood to breathe.

Our plywood roofs require the same type of protection. Although asphalt paper was for the longest time the product of choice, synthetic felts are the better product. Similar to a house wrap, synthetic roof felts shed water and breathe. However, they differ from house wraps in that they reflect UV light, and are far superior to paper felts because they can protect a roof for up to six months, which is a real bonus when inclement weather causes unforeseen delays.

Other areas in need of protection are the wooden framework around windows and doors. When the caulking around a window or door frame begins to shrink or crack, water infiltrates into the wall and puddles on the sill, leading to mold or rot. For this reason, we now wrap three out of the four sides of the wooden frames with a rubberized membrane.

Next week, more on wraps. Good building.

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

How to buy a window

When installing windows, try to avoid the inserts and replace the whole thing. Postmedia Network

Whether you’re replacing an existing window, or buying windows for your future home, the process involved in choosing a type of window, along with the desired finish and depth of frame, is basically the same.

The only difference will be the sizing, whereby a new window going into the space of a window scheduled for termination, will of course have to conform to the existing parameters of this space.

What about insert windows? And are they a viable option? Insert windows are like fast food restaurants, in that they’re seemingly convenient at the time, but a choice you inevitably end up hating yourself for afterwards. An insert window refers more to the install strategy than any actual style of window. Essentially, they’re either a casement, guillotine, or slider type of window with a narrower, 3-1/4 inch frame.

The insert strategy has the contractor removing only the moving parts of the old window, or basically the sash and perhaps a few track moldings, leaving the frame of the old window intact. The replacement, or insert window, is then positioned in this remaining space. The insert strategy is convenient because the narrow, 3-1/4” depth of this unit, permits the installer to set the unit permanently in position with the use of a couple of quarter round moldings, and a tube of caulking. Unfortunately, like a trip through the fast food drive-through, the tummy ache to purchasing an insert window comes shortly afterwards.

Although the insert strategy satisfies the need for new glass panes, it does nothing to remedy the air infiltration issue surrounding the existing window frame, or rectify an often hidden water penetration (most likely causing mold) situation, or fix the general deterioration of the existing framework and interior moldings. Essentially, you’ve replaced an energy loser, that being the existing glass, with another energy loser, that being the new thermal pane, with a very marginal gain in energy-saving performance. Plus, the insert strategy has you basically placing a window inside of another window, which results in a slight forfeiture in natural light, never a good thing.

Finally, although an insert offers the convenience of requiring only a bead of caulking on the exterior to somewhat complete the installation, the old, existing frame often gets left as is, which looks lousy. Or, the old frame gets covered with aluminum, which is effective, and looks slightly less lousy, but has the home basically screaming at each passerby, “Hey! My owner was too cheap to replace my windows properly, so please don’t judge”. Essentially, the insert strategy disappoints.
So, when it comes to replacing an existing window, avoid this quick-fix alternative of an insert, and instead, choose the strategy of complete window replacement. Window style options include the casement (crank-out), guillotine (single or double hung), and horizontal slider. Fourth and fifth options include awning windows, which are basically casement windows that are hinged at the top, as opposed to the sides, and fixed windows, which are inoperable panes of glass that sit in the same, identical frame as your other functioning windows. Fixed windows have a purpose in that they’re more efficient than their working counterparts, and require zero maintenance, due to the lack of moving parts. Plus, and because it’s not necessary that every window in the home be operational, fixed windows offer the option of large, unobstructed viewing. So, don’t dismiss the value of a fixed window.

Awning windows, on the other hand, have limited value because the operating mechanism allows it to open to about 50 per cent of its potential. Plus, with the sash hinged at the top of the window frame, and the crank-out mechanism stretching out from the bottom of the frame in an accordion type manner, escape via an awning window during an emergency type of situation, would be challenging, if not impossible. As a result, its placement in most cases is limited to over the kitchen sink, or some first story bathroom.

Next week, which type of window will best serve most homeowner’s.

Good building.

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

A handful of reasons to change your windows

Windows

One, they’re old.

I drive a 15-year-old sports car during the summer months. Why? Because its purchase seemed like a good idea at the time.

Basically, it’s hard on gas, develops a shimmer at about 50 km/h, and isn’t near as comfortable as my newer pickup truck. Essentially, the appeal of such a vehicle is limited to the retractable roof, which seemed pretty cool at the time, until one realizes that driving in air-conditioned comfort, while still being able to hear the radio, is probably more relaxing.

So, if your window is 15 years of age or older, I can guarantee you it’s tired and has forfeited not only its efficiency, but its will to operate.

Two, you can’t see out of them from Dec. 1 to March 15.

Condensation between the thermal panes, or frosty windows, aren’t factors that necessarily demand a complete window overhaul. Glass panes can be replaced, while the issue of thermal panes “sweating” due to high humidity issues, then frosting up on those really cold days, can be solved with a mechanical air system.

However, a broken seal, often blamed on a pigeon’s confused fight pattern, or the little baseball touting rascal next door, is more often the sign of an unstable frame or sash.

While frosty glass was once a common occurrence, today’s high-efficiency glass panels, no matter what the temperature outside, and no matter how much pasta mamma has on the burner, rarely condensate up the pane more than an inch or so.

Three, the windows no longer open.

Somewhat related to the age issue, window sashes that are either painted shut, or are so stubborn to open they require the homeowner preparing themselves with the same 15-minute warmup used by Olympic weightlifters. If the herculean feat required to open your double-hung window may risk igniting your sciatic nerve issues, are definitely past the rescue stage.

Four, a cool draft curls around your toes, then sweeps up and grabs you by the wazoo every time you step out of the shower.

Some people believe drafts to be a somewhat effective means of getting fresh air into the home. They’re the same folks that anxiously wait for the Easter bunny and Santa Claus to show up every year.

Drafts signify cold, outside air, infiltrating the home envelope, eventually meeting up with the warm, inside air. When cold meets warm, you get condensation.

With condensation comes mold, and with mold comes poor air quality, leading to colds and sniffles that last all winter long.

Every home can benefit from continued fresh air being circulated throughout. However, the answer to a fresh-air source can’t be you depending on the lack of insulation and caulking surrounding your windows and doors, or the lack of weather-stripping on your window sashes, or the fact the sash is warped, and no longer sits tightly within the window frame.

The solution to fresh air and consistent humidity levels will be an HRV (heat-recovery ventilation) unit. The answer to drafts is a newly installed window, properly insulated with spray foam and sealed with a quality exterior caulking.

And five, you’re getting older.

Regardless of the fact we heat our homes in the winter, cool them in the summer, and have mechanical systems to control the air quality and humidity levels, sometimes it’s just nice to be able to open a window.

When you’re young, this doesn’t present much of a challenge.

When you’re a little older, leaning over the kitchen sink in order to tug that sliding sash over will put your lower back in a very vulnerable position. Single and double-hung, guillotine-styled units, can also be challenging if they no longer function smoothly.

Unless you can get your hips tight up against the window sill, what’s equivalent to about a 50-pound barbell curl will definitely cause some strain.

Answer?
Consider the more user friendly casement window.

Next week, how to buy a window.

Good building.

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

A crowning achievement

A necessity, no, but crown molding can really make a room. Postmedia Network

If you’re the type of do-it-yourselfer that is willing to try most any small renovation at least once, provided of course the potential for injury or loss of home due to fire or flood is kept to a minimum, then at some point in time you’re probably going to attempt to install a crown molding.

For the uninitiated, a crown molding is the decorative trim used to elegantly bridge the harsh corner between your interior walls and ceiling. Is the crown molding a necessary part of a home’s finishing? No. However, will a home be all the better for having crown moldings, providing an upscale setting, allowing you to host guests and dignitaries somewhat above your normal social status? Very likely. So, for the décor value, as well as the potential to expand your guest lists, thereby elevating the conversation of your gatherings beyond such subjects as to whether Mankind really deserved the win over The Undertaker in WrestleMania 13, we install crown moldings.

Basic tools for the job will include a 10 inch chop saw, and an air-compressor type of finishing gun. Because your crown molding will most likely be painted, and as a result made of MDF (medium density fiberboard), you’ll require the power and blade count (at least 60 carbide teeth) of a 10 inch blade, along with the superior performance of an air gun. Don’t attempt to pre-drill and install a crown molding with finishing nails. Finishing nails are fine for pine and real wood moldings because real wood, even when dry, maintains some of its elasticity. MDF material, on the other hand, is simply too hard, and offers no forgiveness, causing the amateur carpenter to make a mess of the molding’s surface when countersinking the finishing nail.

Considered the most challenging finishing molding to install, due to the crowns two beveled edges needing to be placed squarely against the wall and ceiling, there are strategies to installing this molding correctly. As a precautionary measure, and before loading the car up with tens of moldings, be sure to purchase the two following items. One, an 8 ft. piece of the crown molding of your choice, and two, an “OGEE” cutting guide. Once at home, carefully remove the OGEE cutting guide from its box (because you may have to return it) and read the how-to instructions. Finishing carpenters each have their own type of wooden jigs or strategies when it comes to holding a crown molding in place as they cut it. The OGEE guide is simply a plastic version of one of these jigs, and safely sets the crown molding in position under the saw for the amateur finisher. The 8 ft. length of molding is basically a 10-12 dollar research and development expense into whether you’re capable of performing this task or not. Because the crown molding sits on an angle, has beveled edges, and must be further cut at 45 degrees, all while being positioned in an upside down manner for at least half of the required cuts, the directionally challenged person is going to find this experience frustrating.

So, read the OGEE guide’s instructions, take your 8 ft. molding, and try a few left and right hand, inside and outside corner, practice cuts. Then, using these short lengths of moldings, see how they fit up into the corners of where the wall meets the ceiling. Once you’ve established what an inside left corner cut is, as well as an inside right, and any right or left outside corner cuts, label these short pieces with a marker. These “pre-cuts” will be a great help in directionally guiding you when it comes to cutting the longer lengths. On the other hand, if after cutting an entire 8 ft. crown into bits and pieces you still can’t get the hang of it, don’t despair, some people can perform open heart surgery, then can’t figure their way out of a round-a-bout, it’s just what is.

Good building.

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

A great comeback

Paneling is making a comeback, and that’s a good thing according to our Handyman. Postmedia Network

“Fifty-five seconds left in the penalty, 1:27 left in regulation time, Boston 4, Montreal 3, Lafleur, coming out rather gingerly on the right side, he gets it up to Lemaire, back to Lafleur, he scores!!”

These were the immortal words of broadcasting great Danny Gallivan, as he called the tying goal in Game 7 of the Boston vs Montreal 1979 semifinal series. Yvon Lambert would go on to score in overtime, giving Montreal the series win, and a berth in the Stanley Cup final, which they won.

Lafleur’s tying goal followed by Lambert’s overtime score was one heck of a comeback. Although this decorating comeback may not stir your emotions, or cause you to leap out of your lazy-boy in the same manner so many Habs fans did back in 1979, this product’s comeback is nevertheless pretty big.

What product are we referring to? Paneling! Yes, that’s right, paneling. Popular in the 70’s, and basically the go-to product for anybody finishing their basement walls in those days, paneling is not only back, but it’s back in style.

Will consumers be seeing some of the birch and walnut woodgrain patterns that so faithfully adorned our basement and bedroom walls growing up? Mercifully, no. We expect that soft, woodgrain look to come back into play sometime around the year 2070, or when Montreal wins their next Stanley Cup. Today’s preferred paneling is made of 100 per cent recycled wood, and is referred to as HDF (high density fiberboard). Available in the standard 4’x8’ sizing, the advantage of a high density panel is that it can be grooved in any manner possible. This versatility allows the manufacturers to not only offer a series of standard V-groove, or beaded patterns, but also a stone looking, and more formal, raised panel type of wainscotings as well.

Further to these grooved HDF panels, that come painted white, but can be repainted by the homeowner in the color of their choice, is a series of HDF prefinished panels. This new series of prefinished paneling is much like the paneling of old, in that the wood finished surface was essentially a picture of wood, and not actual wood. The only difference is of course the guys and gals in the product development department these days have thought of a lot more fun surfaces and textures to copy, other than birch and walnut. Furthermore, the picture quality and definition of these portrait type paneling is absolutely excellent, creating a remarkable trompe l’oeil, embossed pattern, out of what is otherwise a flat surface. So, and like touching a trompe l’oeil painting to see if it’s really a portrait, and not an actual shelf, these panelings will definitely have you touching them to test their authenticity.

That being said, at about 50 bucks per 4’x8’ sheet, these panelings aren’t cheap, however, it’s a fraction of the price of a real brick or stone wall, and is something the relatively handy homeowner can install themselves, since one panel simply butts up against the other, with no special moldings or brackets needed.

What are some of the favorite patterns? Remarkably enough, and maybe it’s due to the old factory loft, or industrial type of living theme that has become somewhat popular, the look of concrete is now in vogue. So, we have engineers and architects telling us homeowners to cover up our concrete basement walls with insulating products, because that’s the environmentally responsible thing to do, with the décor people suggesting we cover this insulation with something that appears like concrete, because that’s the stylish thing to do.

To further that industrial theme, concrete looking panels are also available in 2’x4’ sheets, designed to fit into existing suspended ceiling grid systems. Other than the look of concrete, wall images of slate, marble, a variety of barn-woods, and even copper, are some of the terrific panels that are also available.

So folks, look to go with paneling, it’s made an impressive comeback.

Good building.

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

Big Gulp moldings

Unusual and elaborate crown molding is kind of old school, and that can be a good thing. Postmedia Network

Because door and window casings, as well as baseboards, account for about 90 per cent of the finishing trims in a typical home, let’s look at how to effectively choose a casing and baseboard.

First, and not so much a rule, but more of a general recommendation, don’t be shy to go big. In fact, buying casings and baseboards is kind of like ordering popcorn and pop before taking your seat at the movie theatre. A small drink and medium sized bag of popcorn may seem sufficient when presented to you, but once in your seat, the drink’s gone in moments, while the popcorn inevitably gets eaten during the movie prelims, leaving you with nothing but a dry mouth, and un-popped kernels to munch on during the feature film.

Back in the olden days of home building, generally referred to as the frugal 1970’s and 80’s, where disposable incomes were put towards the purchase of polyester leisure suits in anticipation of hitting the discotheque Saturday night, a standard casing of 2-1/8 inches in width, was paired with a very modest 3-1/8 inch tall baseboard. Today, casings are a standard 2-3/4 inches wide, and get combined with a 3-7/8 to 4-1/8 inch baseboard, which seems heavy enough, especially if you’re renovating a 1970’s styled home, or grew up surrounded by those somewhat diminutive 70’s moldings.

Regardless, even though the standard casing and baseboard sizes have gotten larger, people should really be looking to duplicate what was put in the grander homes of the early 1900’s. With casings measuring anywhere from 4-6 inches wide, along with 8-10 inch baseboards, this generation definitely new how to finish a home, and how to dress up for the weekend. Recommendation, go with the ‘Jumbo’ sized bag of popcorn, and two-litre ‘Big Gulp’ every time.

Translated into moldings, custom home builders, as opposed to those building rental units, should consider using at least a 3-1/2 inch casing, along with a 5-1/2 base. Again, when comparing moldings in your local building supply centre, these casings and baseboards may look a little big at first glance, but don’t despair, the hesitancy you’re experiencing is due to your familiarity of being handed a medium bag of corn and small pop since infancy, when you really merited the Jumbo and Big Gulp.

How do you pick a casing and baseboard? These types of moldings form part of a series of either Colonial, Victorian, modern, or Contemporary styles, with casings generally having a matching base to partner up with. So, depending on the home and interior door style, a person would be directed towards one of these particular series of moldings.

Once a style or series of casings and baseboards has been decided on, it’s then time to experiment. Because each series of casings and baseboards will have a number of profiles to choose from, the most effective way of picking one over the other is to have a few chosen baseboards butt up against their matching casings, while both moldings lay on the store’s floor. This way, you can stand back and better evaluate all the pairings. Try to avoid comparing moldings by standing or leaning them up against whatever wall, or racking is available. It’s our experience that when a bunch of casings and trims get leaned up against something, either the moldings or the something gets bumped, with the whole mix toppling over. When things are laid out on the floor, they’ve got nowhere to fall. Laying the casings and baseboards out in this manner also allows you to add a back-band trim (casing enhancing molding), various quarter round moldings, or to mix and match the various styles and sizes, in a much more effective manner.

The only one rule to keep in mind when matching moldings is that the casing must always be thicker than the base, and the base always wider than the casing. Enjoy choosing your Jumbo and Big Gulp moldings.

Good building.

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

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 only thing that looks like wood, is wood

Wood siding is beautiful, but takes work to maintain. Postmedia Network

Case no. 215, titled “the winds of change” has a Mr. Martin V. Particular, aka ‘MVP’, due to his prowess on the local seniors pickleball circuit, looking for a solution to an exterior siding problem he and his wife Penny P., aka Penny Poo, have been dealing with for several years now.

The Particulars own a home with a beautifully stained, pine horizontal siding. The situation? The back of the home faces the south-west, and therefore sees a ton of prolonged sunlight, while having to suffer through the brunt of our inclement weather. The problem? Stained wood sidings don’t exactly thrive under these conditions. As a result, Martin finds himself sanding and re-staining the backside of his home on practically a biannual basis, due to the finish having peeled or crackled.

MVP doesn’t so much hate the task of sanding and staining, since the results make for a very attractive, and unique type of real wood finish, but of course the time involved in keeping this siding looking pristine is edging into his practice sessions, which is killing the chances of him and penny Poo maintaining their no.1 ranking on the seniors mixed doubles tour.

Homeowner’s goal? Martin and Penny are looking for a comparable, horizontal, maintenance free type of siding that will match the color of the three other exterior walls of the home. The challenge? The “V” in Martin V. Particular often stands for “Very”. So, this isn’t simply a case of saying goodbye to a high maintenance wood product, and replacing it with any number of composite, vinyl, steel, or fiber cement type sidings available on the market today. The very Particulars are looking for something that is both maintenance free, and a close match to the walnut stained pine planks on the balance of their home.

Likelihood of success? You’d have a better chance of convincing the Habs Carey Price to switch from goaltending, to filling the vacant no.1 center position between Max Pacioretty and Brendan Gallagher. Unfortunately, the only thing that looks like wood, is wood. The composites and various other maintenance free sidings all somewhat resemble wood, and to the neighbor driving by at 80 km per hour, basically looks like wood, but when put side by side with wood, usually makes for a disappointing match.

So, with Martin Particular being very particular, finding a suitable alternative to his existing pine siding has to this point been fruitless. Suggested plans of action? The existing pine siding is beautiful, and in good condition, with the only issue being maintenance. So, instead of replacing it, why not protect it? In essence, all this southern facing wall needs is a little shade.

Extreme option no.1, bring in three 40 ft. hard maple trees. Otherwise, the Particulars should perhaps extend the roof over their backyard deck and patio. Or, consider installing either one large, or a couple of pergolas along this same backyard deck area. If this southwest facing wall is getting too much sun, then so too are the Particulars. The MVP and Penny Poo are already getting more than their share of vitamin D due to regular outdoor pickleballing. With a pergola providing intermittent shade, or full shade if you chose the aluminum model with the movable louvers, it may be the best and least intrusive solution, since a pergola is self- standing, and requires minimum deck preparation.

Or, paint the wall. Painting would keep the shape of the wood siding intact, but obviously forfeit the warmth of the wood grain. However, paints last longer than stains, and require only repainting, as opposed to the more arduous task of having to sand, stain, and seal. Otherwise, this wood siding may have flat-lined, or basically served its purpose, and it’s time for MVP to call it.

The alternatives to wood are many, with several pre-finished steel and aluminum sidings offering beautiful, wood grain type finishes.

Until further notice, case no. 215 is closed.

Good building.

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

Watch fall temperatures

If you’re planning on doing some caulking in the fall, make sure the temperature is at least 5 degrees celsius. Postmedia Network.

So, you’re finally getting around to preparing your home for the winter. Great!

Fall is an excellent time to be doing outdoor work. Not too hot, not too cold, and with the days getting shorter, darkness will force you to quit your tasks at a more reasonable hour, placing you safely in your slippers so that you may be fed and couch bound with a beer in your hand, well in time to catch the start of the hockey game.

What is the task at hand? To bolster our home’s system of defense. Who is the enemy? The demon is well known, and is the same, notorious culprit that’s been slowly destroying homes for years, that being water. It’s form? Rain, snow, sleet, or basically anything that pours or puddles. Strategy? To seal by means of a paint, caulking, or mastic (roofing and foundation cements), anything that resembles or what might be described as a crack.

There are a lot of products that form the exterior shell of the home, and the cracks are usually found where one of these products, such as your windows and doors, butts up against a foreign product, such as a brick or vinyl siding. The products themselves are usually fine, whereby the inherent design of a window, or the manner in which brick or vinyl siding is installed, are by themselves perfectly functional in diverting the elements. However, the challenge to the builder is joining two products such as these to form a watertight seal. Achieving this goal will require the installer using various membranes and flashing products, with the finishing touch to this assembly being a bead of caulking. Over time, it’s the bead of caulking that’s going to shrink and crack, which leaves the homeowner with no other choice but to re-caulk this important first line of defence.

Start by examining the roof (binoculars will help) specifically where the roofs flashings contact either the roof vents, or the side of the home, and make note of where the deficiencies, or problem areas are. Follow the same procedure for all windows and doors.

Although the fall weather provides a comfortable working atmosphere, the challenge at this point will be the falling temperatures. Caulking, paints or stains, and mastics, install better and more easily when the temperatures are at least 5 degrees Celsius. When the mercury drops below this basic user line, you risk the product not sticking properly to the surface it’s being adhered to. When caulking doesn’t stick, it won’t seal, which will mean having to follow this process over again next season.

Basic step number one, remove the paints, caulking, or mastic products from the car and put them somewhere in the house as soon as you get back from the building supply center. Don’t leave them in the garage, or forget them in the trunk of the car overnight. When caulking and mastics are left in temperatures that are close to freezing, they don’t squeeze out of the tube so well. When a cold caulking is moving slowly up the spout, the novice user will become impatient, and inevitably begin to over-squeeze the caulking lever, which usually results in the caulking blowing out the bottom of the tube. A caulking backfire has yet to result in serious injury, but the resulting gooey hands, and loss of what was a perfectly good tube of caulking, will be frustrating.

Next, watch the weather reports, and choose your time accordingly. You’ll want to install the caulking or mastic (roof repairs) while the temperatures will be in the 5 degree Celsius range for two to three hours.

If you’re hoping to do some fall painting or staining, or if the foundation is in need of parging, then you’ll require a 24-hour window of plus temperatures, due to these water based products taking longer to cure. So, if frost is expected overnight, you’ll have to wait until the next warm spell before proceeding.

Good building.

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