Find the source of those white stains

Efflorescence, a fibre-like mineral deposit — mostly salts — that indicates small, persistent moisture inflow. Before getting fluffy like this photo, it starts as white-coloured stains. Steve Maxwell/Postmedia Network

Got a tough laundry stain to get out? No problem.

Rinse the garment with cold water, then scrub in a little laundry detergent, let sit for a few minutes, then scrub and rinse once again.

Still not clean? OK, if were talking a piece of white apparel, try a little bleach, then rinse and scrub once again. Continue this process for 15 minutes, or until the next period of the hockey game commences.

If after giving this stain issue its due attention, the unsightly blotch consisting of a mélange of Molson Ex, chili sauce, and Dijon mustard, still persists, well, you’re going to have to live with the fact that balancing a meal on your stomach, the size of which could have fed a small village in Tanzania for two weeks, while watching the game, was probably a bad idea.

As a result, you can either live with the blotch, since a belly stain of this sort on a white t-shirt isn’t such an uncommon fashion statement for a man of your age, or toss the fine garment into a container in the garage containing various other undershirt apparel, that being the box simply labelled “rags.” Problem solved.

Now, what about house stains, and specifically, those relating to the white, powdery stuff on your brick or stone work— how does a homeowner deal with that relatively common stain issue?

Well, water, soap, and a little scrubbing will help, but it won’t solve the problem. The white residue often seen on cement floors, concrete foundations, as well as various cement sidings, including brick or man-made stone concrete products, is called efflorescence.

Taken from the French “to flower out,” efflorescence describes the action of salt in the cement product, or mortar, migrating to the surface of the concrete by moisture that has infiltrated the concrete.

Where does the salt come from? Salt exists in the ground, in the air, and can be found in just about every type of food and living organism.

If you’ve ever worn a ball cap on a scorching summer afternoon, where you likely perspired off a few pounds, then left your cap on the coat hook to dry at the end of the day, only to find a white residue having stained its surface by morning, that, in a nutshell, defines the action resulting in efflorescence.

Salt in the brick or stone gets liquefied by rain water or moisture that has infiltrated the brick. This salt infused moisture then makes its way to the surface of the brick through various pores in the product, then dries when it hits the open air, leaving a salt residue.

How do we clean off the efflorescence? First, scrub with a stiff bristled brush, then rinse with water. If the efflorescence contains calcium deposits, as well as salt, this is going to be a much more stubborn removal.

As a result, you may have to revert to using muriatic acid (diluted 1 to 20 in water). Muriatic acid is extremely corrosive. Therefore, you’re best to hire a professional cleaner for this task. They will have the proper clothing, ladders, and harnesses to safely work with this product.

The only issue with cleaning is that it’s likely a temporary solution. Efflorescence is unattractive, but not harmful to you or your brick. However, it is a sign of moisture entering the brick wall, or foundation, in some way.

So, avoiding further efflorescence issues means eliminating the cause. Basically, you’ll need to check your water management systems. This includes verifying the manner in which your landscape slopes away from your foundation, ensuring the roof valleys and flashings are effectively directing water to the roof’s edge, and everything in between. The in between stuff includes window sills, caulking around windows and doors, and making sure your roof edge properly deposits water into the eavestroughing.

If you’ve got efflorescence on your siding or foundation, moisture is somehow making its way in.

Next week, roof stains. Good building.

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

Once upon a roof

Roofing has changed quite a bit over the years. Postmedia Network

Home builders once used 1×8 spruce planking to cover the roof trusses of a new home under construction. That was once.

The strategy basically involved the following. Build the retaining walls for the poured concrete foundation using 1×8 spruce lumber. Then, once the cement was dry, the spruce planking would be removed and used as sheeting material over the roof trusses. One product, serving two purposes, and although a little labor intensive, produced hardly any clean-up or waste to speak of. In those days we also put chains on our summer tires for better winter traction, used rotary phones, and thought lawn darts to be a great summer game for the whole family.

Times have changed. Winter tires have become the standard, rotary phones are about as common as a Stanley cup parade down Yonge Street, while lawn darts have been taken off the retail consumer shelves completely, having been remarketed as the preferred weapon of choice for those low-budget mercenary types.

Was the use of 1×8 spruce planking as a roof sheeting a bad idea? In retrospect, no. Back then we were roofing homes with what was known as an organic shingle, due to its base consisting of a mixture of asphalt and wood fibers. Organic shingles were flexible, and molded themselves easily over the not so perfect 1×8 planking. Plus, warranties back then were in the 10-15 year range. So, if a roof lasted 10-12 years or so, people were generally satisfied. If tearing off these old shingles and replacing them with new ones seemed excessive, people would simply re-roof, adding a second, or even third layer of asphalt shingles. If the homeowner chose to go with steel roofing, as opposed to asphalt, then the steel would either get screwed directly to the planking, or the installer would first install 1×4 rough spruce, spaced every 16-24 inches, over the existing 1×8 planking. Either way, emphasis concerning the protection of one’s home was placed on the surface product, not so much on the substrate.

Today, roofs occasionally leak. In the olden days, they leaked a lot. Why roofs leak less today has everything to do with the substrate, along with better education and information relating to proper venting, and attic insulation. So, what have we learned over the years? 1×8 spruce lumber will expand, shrink, and with prolonged exposure to water, will of course rot. However, the main knock against the old plank system is the issue of movement. You can’t install something that doesn’t want to move, like fiberglass shingles, or steel roofing, over something that naturally, due to our varying climate and atmospheric conditions, can’t stay still. That would be like wrapping a puppy in gift paper, setting it under the tree Christmas Eve, and expecting it to stay still, without wrinkling or tearing the wrapping paper, until the surprised recipient picks it up the next morning.

When the substrate moves, screws loosen, nails pop, and when the shingle tiles separate from each other, or in the case of steel roofing, the overlap on the ridge develops a gap, your roof will no longer be water impermeable.

The first sign of a breach in the roofing system is the decorative sunburst that develops on your ceiling, or a domed ceiling fixture filled with water, enabling you to create the very unique ceiling fish bowl (just don’t turn on the power).

The key to a roof’s long term success in shedding water is stability, and that can only be achieved by nailing or screwing it into plywood. So, if you own a home with a boarded roof, be sure to remove all existing shingles, then fasten a layer of 3/8” spruce plywood directly to the 1×8 lumber. Next, cover this plywood with a quality synthetic felt, then install the required roof venting. Your roof is now ready to receive the finished product.

Good building.

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

Mysterious moisture

Do mysteries exist? Or, is there usually an explanation for everything?

Did the discoverers of King Tut’s tomb open themselves up to a deadly curse? Or, do people sometimes die in a strange, untimely manner? Are the mid-western crop circles proof of aliens visiting earth? Or, simply a case of what a few artistically inclined, Jack Daniels inspired rednecks can do with a couple of 4-wheel drive vehicles under a full moon? However, nobody has an answer surrounding the mystery of why Carey Price can’t stop anything less than a beach ball.

Today’s situation, file #742, titled “The Mystery Puddle”, has us examining the case where a homeowner, upon descending into his basement, discovers a small section of his carpet drenched in water. A visual inspection confirms that the sump pump is working, and there appears to be no type of rain water, or sewer type backup. Therefore, we’re not talking flood.

Furthermore, there’s no water trickling down due to a cracked pipe or leaky fitting from the kitchen above, while the gyprock on the finished basement wall adjacent to the puddle, is completely dry. So, where’s this water coming from? Again, we’re not talking about a ton of water, but still enough squishy dampness in the carpet to soaker you if you happen to be wearing socks or slippers.

As always, when something happens for the first time, we refer to problem solving question number one, that being, what changed? There are no apparent faults in the piping, wall, or concrete floor, and, with average temperatures well below zero, there’s no winter thaw that could have put added pressure on the foundation or weeping tile. So, what’s up?

This water couldn’t have just appeared out of thin air. Well, maybe not thin air, but just maybe, out of thick air. Getting back to the question concerning what changed? We discover that our subject is a good neighbor. With the person next door having water issues, as in no water, due to a broken main line, our fellow was helping out by feeding his neighbor’s home with water 24 hours a day, for about two days, until the situation was remedied. As a result, the copper line feeding into our subject’s home was continually being fed with water, very cold water, as it strived to serve two homes. So, what happened? And, where did the pooling water come from?

Water enters the home via a one inch copper pipe that feeds off the city’s main line. During the winter months, this water is very cold, sometimes just a few degrees above freezing. If the water enters the home, and just sits in the pipe, seeing occasional movement by means of clothes washing, showering, cooking, or whatever, then both the water and intake copper pipe will warm up to room temperature. However, if the water is always flowing, as in the case of supplying a few homes with several occupants, or if the person you’re supplying water to happens to be building a regulation sized hockey rink in their backyard, then the cold water entering your home will stay cold, as will the pipes. That’s the, what’s happening?

When a cold pipe is left in a warm environment, condensation occurs. That’s where the water came from. In this case, the intake copper pipe was buried behind the drywall. With the copper pipe in a constant state of cold, condensation resulted to the point where water droplets would run down the pipe, through the gaps in the framed wall, then hit the concrete floor, spreading underneath the carpet. Solution to pipes sweating or creating condensation? Wrap the cold pipes with lengths of foam insulation, reduce the moisture content of the basement air by means of a HRV unit or dehumidifier, run a few oscillating fans in order to help circulate the air, and keep those backyard rinks somewhat smaller than regulation. Case #742 closed.

Good building.

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

Band aids are for cuts

File #182, case name “Moldy Band Aids ”, has a young couple searching for a mold resistant paint in order to protect their joists and plywood from mold.

The couple had just added a 400 sq. ft. four season sunroom, including a full height basement, onto their existing 1200 sq. ft. home. While in the freshly poured basement, they noticed mold growing on the 2×10 floor joists and plywood below the newly finished area above. Their intentions were to scrub off the mold, then paint the floor joists and underside of the plywood, creating a less desirable surface for this household menace to grow on.

Although their strategy to paint the joists and plywood wasn’t totally flawed, with there certainly being mold resistant paints and primers available, it was definitely a young person’s solution. Encouraging somebody who’s 60-plus to reach up and paint floor joists, providing them with the opportunity to revive some of those old shoulder joint pains, would be like convincing them to bungee jump.

As they were further explaining the situation, my thoughts were more directed towards what was causing this mold issue in the first place. They requesting my recommendation of paints or primers, was kind of like seeking my advice as to what size of pail would best remedy a leaky faucet.

Bandage solutions are for the young, because they have the energy to watch them fail, then do them all over again. When you get older, your goal is to do things once. My suggestion was to focus on the real issue, which is what’s causing the mold, as opposed to choosing the proper roller and angled paint brush.

Mold requires the same three elements for survival as us humans, them being air, food, and water. Eliminate any one of the three, and you will have solved the mold problem. Air, we all require, while food particulates floating around in the home’s atmosphere are going to be practically impossible to control. So, that leaves water. Upon further questioning, it was discovered that the basement area had yet to be heated, and was simply accessible through a doorway, whereby the finished area above was being serviced by a gas stove. The original 1200 sq. ft. home is being heated by the only unit the house has ever known, a 16-year-old gas furnace.

Solution? This newly poured basement is exuding gallons of moisture, which is no doubt feeding this thriving colony of mold. As a result, this couple has got to get some air circulation and heat into the basement. When I inquired as to the existence of a heat or air exchanger, the fellow thought that there was indeed a unit attached to the furnace, although its age was uncertain. When I inquired as to their plans on replacing the furnace, since their existing unit was certainly near the end of its life cycle, and was going to be asked to further handle 30 per cent more living space, the fellow assured me the unit was in good working order, and that there were no plans for a change.

“What about installing an air/heat exchanger in the new basement area, wouldn’t that solve the moisture issue?” the fellow questioned. Perhaps, but again, we’re talking an $800 band aid solution. Basically, the budget for this rather extensive renovation should have included a complete reconfiguration of the heating systems and ductwork by a HVAC (Heating, Cooling, and Air conditioning) contractor or engineer. What this home needs is a high efficiency furnace and HRV (Heat Recovery Ventilation) unit, along with the necessary ductwork to circulate heat, and draw air out of the new basement and living space above.

If you’re not sure as to the efficiency of a mechanical unit, or whether it needs replacement, consider the age and reliability of your machine in dog years. That big number should help in your decision to upgrade the mechanical services in your home.

Good building.

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

Basement heartbreak month

Installing a second sump pump in your basement is never a bad idea. Postmedia Network

If your home made it through the fall months without incurring any flooding damage due to power failures, general mishaps, or acts of nature, then congratulations, your home’s water dispersal system is seemingly in good working order.

However, fall weather to a home is kind of like Japan showing up to face Team Canada in pre-tournament Olympic hockey. In other words, the ol’ homestead has yet to be truly challenged. A few days of rain, perhaps a little snow, combined with maybe a heavy downpour of leaves, is usually all the fight you’re going to get out of October and November, and, relatively nothing compared to what’s coming this March.

Besides having long been the heartbreak month for Maple Leaf fans, as they helplessly watch their team play themselves out of playoff contention, March has also earned the reputation as the month for basement heartbreak. This due to after months of sweat, blood, tears, and expense put into a basement renovation, the odds favour an exhausted homeowner waking up some morning in the month of March, to a just installed floating composite floor, actually floating, in about four inches of water.

What happened? Well, the various weak spots in your home’s drainage system were working well enough to handle a little rain, but when it came to diverting the water from those banks of melting snow and ice, the systems obviously fell well short of the task.

So, if you’re planning on turning your basement into extra living space this winter, let’s look at how to avoid heartbreak this spring.

First, if your home’s basement floor is below the water table, thereby requiring you to have a sump pit, and accompanying sump pump, in order to collect the water surrounding the foundation, and pump it clear of the home, get a second pump. When one little bobble floating up and down a thin steel shaft is all that protects your $20,000 basement renovation from disaster, it’s time to re-evaluate your risk management.

Sump pumps can jamb, get clogged, or just stop working. So, invest in a second pump, two bobbles are definitely better than one. Plus, have this second pump tie into your water line. This way, you’re not depending on electrical power, or a backup battery (that requires a constant trickle charge) to power the pump, it’ll all be done by the existing water pressure in the line.

Call your local plumber in order to have this job done properly.

Next, let’s check the foundation, and make sure those systems designed to properly divert rain and snow melt away from your home are intact. Checking the foundation means essentially looking for cracks. Whatever the size of a crack, be it hairline, or severe, they’re all potentially problematic, allowing water into the home, while further deteriorating your foundation. Cracks can be temporarily covered, or filled, with a pre-mixed, just add water, hydraulic cement powder. The next step, if weather, and your skill set will permit, would be to cover these repairs with parging, a thin coat, smooth finishing compound that you see on most finished foundations.

Next, if you’ve got window wells, cover them. Window wells collect water and deposit it against the foundation wall, basically the two things you absolutely want to avoid. Easy to install, clear plastic “flip up” covers can be ordered to size, are durable, and lightweight, allowing any basement dwellers to easily escape in an emergency.

Next, clean your eavestroughing, and, make sure those downpipes are depositing rain water at least five feet from the home, not into your weeping tile. Back in the olden days, it was thought efficient to run the downpipe straight down into the weeping system. We now realize this strategy unnecessarily overburdens the drain pipe with water and various debris.

Finally, grade the landscape so that rain and snow melt flow away from the home, with a slope of at least one inch per foot for the first ten feet.

Good building.

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

Go-bag is a worthwhile investment

A flooded basement can be a nightmare. (File photo)
A flooded basement can be a nightmare. (File photo)

“I just don’t get why our basement flooded.” Or, “our house is built up so high, so where’s the water coming from?” And, “we’ve never had this type of flooding before.”

These are some famous last words expressed by many an exasperated homeowner, standing in their basement, watching the house cat float by on a yoga mat, salvaged from an exercise room that is now four inches deep in water.

The how’s and why’s of water infiltration will be argued, strategized and brainstormed until we all reside on the planet Mars, or until a Canadian-based team makes it to the Stanley Cup finals, whichever comes first. What we know for sure is that flooding can happen in both new and older homes and is exponentially more likely to occur once you’ve finished the basement, or have used the term “never” to describe your basement flooding experiences.

So, assuming a basement flood, or water in the basement – since whatever pipe break upstairs will have water eventually showing up in the basement anyway – is part of every homeowner’s inevitable future, we all need to prepare a Go-Bag. Actually, considering the amount of supplies needed to efficiently rid a basement of water, realistically, you may need a Go-Closet.

Now you may question: “Why go through the time and expense of creating a Go-Bag, when a simple call to the insurance agent is usually all it takes?”

Two key points here.

One, the quicker you can get rid of the water, the better. Depending on a number of circumstances, including time of day and the availability or proximity of a restoration crew, it may be hours before the fellows start hauling equipment  down your basement stairs. If you can get a jump on the crisis and get things somewhat under control before the clean- up crew arrives, the less chance there will be for total loss.

Don’t get me wrong, the first call out in a flood situation has got to be to the restoration people. You’ll require their manpower, expertise, water-removal pumps, humidity control units and dryer fan machines in order to get the basement atmosphere back to normal. However, every bit helps, and if that means being able to keep the flood flow to a minimum, or even dropping the water level a bit, then that will pay dividends.

Which, brings us to Go-Bag reason number two. By taking early action, you may not want, or need, to file an insurance claim. Insurance claims regarding flood losses are a relatively easy process to complete the first time, not so easy the second, with there likely being no third dance.

So, we do what we can to avoid the first claim. Plus, there’s likely a deductible in your policy that will cost you hundreds, or thousands of dollars, depending on which program you’ve chosen.

As a result, if you can keep the damage to an affordable amount, it might be best to pay now, when the damage is  relatively minimal and file for compensation later, should your home suffer a full water disaster.

If the Go-Bag expense and strategy sounds a bit like having one insurance policy in order to guard against another, well, it kind of is. However, having a plan B is never a bad idea.

What goes in the Go-Bag?

Rubber boots, of course, rubber gloves, sump pump and the all-important and never too long sump-pump hose. Sump-pump hoses come in 25-foot sections and cannot be spliced together without the proper connecting flange and tie-clips, which don’t come in the bag with the hose. So, be sure to pre-attach the hoses to a length that’ll easily reach and go beyond, the nearest window.

Next, besides a few buckets, old towels and water scoops, you’ll need the indispensable shop-vac. Capable of drawing up water as well as dirt and practically indestructible under general use, no home should be without one of these guys.

Good building, and good luck avoiding any floods.

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

Never underestimate the resourcefulness of water

Yep, that's definitely water in your basement. Not usually this bad, but it happens. Steps can be taken to avoid it though. Just ask Handyman Hints. Postmedia Network file photo
Yep, that’s definitely water in your basement. Not usually this bad, but it happens. Steps can be taken to avoid it though. Just ask Handyman Hints. Postmedia Network file photo

In the home biz, if it’s wet where it shouldn’t be wet, we call that a flood.

Case #322, File name “kitty knew first”, has our homeowner victims quietly watching television on their sofa, when not so suddenly, the family cat jumps from the floor up onto the lap of the lady of the house. A regular occurrence at this late point in the evening, all except for the slightly wet paw prints left on the homeowner’s thighs.

“Where have you been?” the lady inquires. Unfortunately though, and at this same moment, Alana, a.k.a. ‘Honey Boo Boo’, is receiving her last few tidbits of instruction from ‘Mama’ June, moments before she prepares to hit the stage in yet another gripping episode of Toddlers in Tiaras. Alas, the distraction of reality television causes this first hint of trouble to get lost in the drama.

What could be the issue? Well, the cat could have fallen into the toilet, or, could have just come in from the rain. But, with only its paws dampened, and the cat being in the house for the last few hours, the evidence was suggesting something else. In fact, water was trickling into the sump pump well quicker than the flow of Honey Boo Boo’s tears after a heartbreaking second-place finish to her archrival Anastasia a.k.a. ‘pumpkin’, following a horrific drop of her cheerleader’s baton during the talent segment of the competition.

The following morning, the real world had our homeowners discovering their basement floor two inches deep in water. Fortunately, the basement wasn’t finished. However, every boxed item on the floor was lost, and the perimeter drywall ruined.

So, what happened? Well, water trickles into sump pump wells all the time. In fact, the sign of a healthy, unplugged, uncrushed, and otherwise efficient weeping tile system, is confirmed by this collection of rain and snow melt draining into the well. If water isn’t being effectively diverted into the weeping tile, it will be making its way into the basement through whatever cracks or compromised areas in the concrete floor or walls.

In this case, the homeowners didn’t have a working sump pump in the well. Where was the pump? Collecting dust on one of several basement shelves, of course. Reason? There was never a need for a sump pump. The home sits atop a hill, has a proper gutter system along the entire roofline, and is surrounded by a favorably sloping landscape. Plus, in the 10 years these people have owned the home, and in the 20 years experienced by the previous owners, never was there a flood, or ever the need for a working sump pump.

Which, brings us to lesson #1 in the world of being a homeowner. Wind, sleet, snow, rain, and especially ‘water’, have little regard for precedence. So, if your home has a sump pump well, and, regardless if it’s as dry as a bone, make sure it’s equipped with a working sump pump and hose line directing the water outside, well away from the foundation.

Lesson #2, sump pumps enjoy company. So, if you’ve got only one sump pump in the well, add a second pump. Reason? A basement flood will totally disrupt your home and lifestyle. So, we do everything we can to avoid them. The second ‘backup’ pump should be powered by either a separate, trickle charged battery, or better yet, a pressure water system that can be supplied from your existing water line, or a permanent generator.

Lesson #3, if you disturb the landscape, then you’ll have to accommodate the certain change in water run-off. In this case, the homeowners added an above ground pool and surrounding deck, which in theory, shouldn’t have changed the landscape so drastically. Regardless, water knows only one direction, and that’s downhill. In hindsight, the pool and deck construction should have been followed up with a series of weeping lines installed in between the house and pool, providing an outlet for the dam of water created by the pool and deck pillars.

Never underestimate the resourcefulness of water.

Good building.

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