Foghorn’s foggy morning

Fog in the pane? Our handyman has the answer. Postmedia Network

Case #345, titled “The Rooster’s lost his head” has a Mr. Fogazio Legano, aka ‘Foghorn Leghorn’ a nickname he picked up in grade school, due in part to his schoolmates from the local farming community having difficulty pronouncing his name, along with this term of endearment somewhat reflecting his large, boisterous manner, waking up to a foggy day.

In actuality, the morning was a little cool, but quite clear, with a bright sun rising slowly over the silos. What fooled Foghorn was the fact the thermal pane glass in his bedroom double hung window had suffered a broken seal, and had basically fogged up.

A thermal pane unit is essentially two sheets of glass united by a spacer, then further sealed with a rubberized type of air-tight band. Thermal pane glass is also referred to as an insulated pane because the space between the two sheets of glass is filled with argon gas, along with a clear film of material (Low-E) attached to the inside panel.

Argon gas is a colorless, odorless, and harmless gas that’s five and a half times heavier than air. The argon’s weight factor is what makes it several times superior to air when it comes to insulating a space. The clear low-E film allows light and some solar heat to pass through, while reflecting the heat provided by the home’s furnace, back into the room. Having both argon gas and Low-E film in a sealed unit is what creates a glass pane of optimal efficiency.

When the seal on a thermal window breaks, the argon gas escapes into the atmosphere, and is replaced with air. On a cool fall morning, this air will condensate in between the panes of glass, causing what’s simply known as a foggy window.

What really upset Fogazio though, was that due to him thinking the climate outdoors was so unfavorable, he ended up binge watching seasons 1 through 8 of ‘The Gilmore Girls’ with his girlfriend Juanita, aka Miss Prissy, basically wasting what was a beautiful weekend.

As a result of this lost opportunity, and with a few other windows in his home experiencing this same condensation issue, Foghorn began ranting and running about the place like a chicken, er, rooster with his head cut off. With his head still in a buzz, Fogazio called the number off a flyer he had seen in the mailbox some weeks before — it simply read as “Freddy’s Fog Removal” specializing in removing condensation from thermal glass panes, just call Freddy, aka ‘fast Freddy’, aka ‘Freddy the fog’.

Within days, Freddy showed up, and proceeded to drill a hole in each thermal pane, followed by the installation of a vent valve to help keep the window clear. This type of venting process, or strategy, can work, and if your goal is simply to have a clear window to look out of, then this is certainly a convenient, and less expensive (at least initially) solution to a foggy window. However, there’s a downside to convenience. The mini spare tire that allows you to drive your car home after a blowout, is convenient, as is using duct tape to hold up a sagging muffler, or having a bag of mixed nuts in your glove compartment, should you get a bout of the hungries. Convenience is good, but it’s inefficient, and only temporary. Without the argon gas, and with air moving freely into the pane, the glass panel has lost 50 percent of its capacity to retain heat.

As the months passed, these re-conditioned windows began to once again condense, along with a few other random panes. After evaluating the situation with Fogazio, it was decided the only two acceptable solutions to his window condensation problem would be to either replace the failed glass with new thermal panes, or in the case where the window was having operational difficulty, replace the window entirely. This way, maximum efficiency and home value would be maintained.

Case #345 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

Inevitable roof moss

Some things are inevitable.

Every time I watch a movie called Titanic, the ship always sinks. Just the other day, I caught the 1997 version of “Titanic” about midway through the movie. Even though I’ve watched this same film about five times, albeit in portions, I still held hope that maybe the ship wouldn’t sink this time. But it did. You would have thought Captain E.J. Smith could have avoided that darn iceberg, since it hadn’t moved in 20 years, while Leonardo DiCaprio still managed to slip into the frigid ocean waters and die, after once again failing to find a half decent floatation device to support both he and Kate Winslet.

Spring and fall in our part of the world means our local weather reporters need only to remember three words when describing what atmospheric conditions we all have to look forward to in the morning, them being “wet and cloudy”.

If you own an asphalt or cedar shake roof, then persistent wet and cloudy conditions will lead to moss and algae growth, it’s inevitable. Moss and algae are basically plants. As a result, they require everything a plant needs to survive, including plenty of water, relative shade, a sprinkle of sunshine, and a reliable food source, or basically, the exact environment provided by the average roof in any one of our three united counties. Moss and algae differ from regular plant life in that they have no roots. However, they stick really well to practically any non-metallic surface, and once established, will do what plants and all living organisms do, and that’s multiply. Moss and algae are basically esthetic issues, whereby in mild cases, their appearance is worse than their bite. However, if allowed to persist, moss will grow in between the shingle tabs, loosening the necessary bond between these tabs, creating a path in which water could infiltrate into the plywood below.

When that happens, you get a roof leak, with the only solution to this problem being total roof shingle replacement. Unfortunately, knowing why moss exists on our roofs, doesn’t make avoiding or preventing it from happening any easier. The problem is the huge iceberg, which in this case represents our very accommodating environment. Temporary solutions to eliminating moss are those related to either cleaning or scrubbing the moss off the roof. The same type of bleach, ammonia, or regular home cleaning soaps that would be effective in cleaning mold, would be effective in removing moss. Roof, siding, and deck cleaners are also available on the shelves of your local building supply centers. The only issue of course is that your moss problem is situated on a roof, which is not only sloped, but has a granular surface that could become loose with basic foot traffic. Slope plus loose granular surface plus a 16-24 foot drop that leads to a sudden stop equals not having to worry about your moss problem anymore.

So, unless you own the same type of roof harness worn by professional roofers, I recommend avoiding that climb up the extension ladder. Besides, cleansers can be a little harsh on your plant and garden beds below.

What about pressure washing? Bad idea. Pressure washing from ground level will separate your shingle tabs and drive water underneath, basically achieving in minutes what will take your moss years to accomplish. Pressure washing from above is also not recommended because you’ll loosen the granular surface, again, aging your roof unnecessarily. Essentially, you’ve got to melt the iceberg, which means changing the environment. This can be accomplished by installing a strip of zinc banding just under the roof capping, or first row of shingles near the peak of the roof. Perform this task in warm weather, enabling you to more easily bend back the shingle tab. When it rains, tiny particles of zinc get washed down over the shingles. Zinc is poisonous to moss and algae, so in time, the moss will loosen up and fall off. Good moss fighting.

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

Nothing simple about this standard

Keep it simple! Those were the bold words expressed to a supplier by the chairman of our negotiating committee as we were discussing a pricing and rebate program some years ago.

This fellow, the owner of 24 lumberyards across Western Canada, was probably the most intelligent person in the room. Regardless, his goal was to negotiate the simplest program possible, something your average fourth grader would understand. He has since retired, sold lock, stock, and barrel, then built himself and his family an ocean front home in Hawaii. Now that’s keeping life simple.

Perhaps it’s being a little selfish, but I wish this fellow had delayed his retirement and been given the task of running the MMA (Ministry of Municipal Affairs). At issue is the MMA’s Supplementary Standard SB-12 for 2017. I refer to it as Supplementary Bullcrap-12, due to the fact my lack of education prevents me from fully comprehending what exactly is being asked and specified in this new for 2017 insulating home initiative.

From what I can decipher, and based on such factors as heating systems, window efficiency, floor design, number of levels, whether you have two to three cats in the house, and your preferred brand of beer, there are between six and 13 manners in which to strategically insulate a home.

I use the term strategic because even within the parameters of the SB-12 compliances, there exist sub-manners of install, based on whether these particular areas will be regarded as finished areas, storage, or simply open.

So, when my limited intelligence prevents me from understanding a concept being presented, I naturally seek the aid of someone more educated. My question was simple, and related directly to the proper and allowable use of sheeting tape and vapor barrier on a finished concrete basement wall. First I spoke with a building engineer, who gave me his interpretation of the standards, and as such, related to me his preferred method of install. “OK, I accept your interpretation”, I said, “but based on the various scenarios I was presenting, what was the rule? There’s got to be a rule, or procedure to follow, right?” I stated. “Well, we’re not all on board yet” was his reply.

How can the “we” (a.k.a. next level of intelligence) not all be on board? What type of direction will us lesser folks be facing if the “we” don’t have the answers?

At this point I decided to go straight to the horse’s mouth, called our local planning department, and asked them the same basic question regarding the insulating of a basement wall, and the necessity or use of a vapor barrier and tape. That was two weeks ago. So far I’ve co-ordinated with two people, neither of them are familiar or confident enough in their interpretation of the new regulations to forward me an answer, and have as a result, differed my inquiries to the building inspection staff for further consultation.

Now when I call, in an attempt to speak with a human being, I get the answering service, which transfers me to a mail box, to which I leave a message received apparently by no one. This whole scenario reminds me of the movie Terminator 3 Judgement Day, whereby the engineers, planners, and architects working on this SB-12 proposal, have designed a system so complicated and so complex, that they’ve lost all control to a series of computers that will someday bury us all in mounds of fiberglass.

My real lack of understanding of the SB-12 document is in part due to the over use of the word “coefficient”, which in the document is often followed by a series of shapes and lines that appear to be more closely related to oriental calligraphy. When I look up “coefficient” in the dictionary it simply states ‘term used by those of higher learning, with there being no actual meaning’. Very strange, very strange indeed.

Next week, insulating your basement with Arnold Schwarzenegger. Good building.

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

The attic as a tuque

Properly insulating the attic is an important part of home heating. It’s also definitely a do-it-yourself job. Postmedia Network

There are two types of tuque people — those persons with a mop full of hair who selectively wear tuques as a fashion statement, and the follicly challenged, who on a cold winter’s day, depend on this garment for their ultimate survival.

The tuque, for all its simplicity, is nevertheless an effective tool in guarding our heads from two of the basic characteristics of heat. These being that heat rises, and that heat naturally moves from hot to cold.

Therefore, understanding that a warm entity, such as your body, or your home, doesn’t absorb cold, but conversely loses heat, gives us a better understanding of the value of insulating your head, and our related topic of today, your home’s attic.

Now, what about the row of shirtless guys with painted letters on their chests that frequent -25 degree Celsius professional football games, why aren’t they freezing, you may ask? Unfortunately, the science of heat transfer cannot be altered by applying paint to one’s chest, nor can it be subdued for any length of time with the use of alcohol, hallucinogenic drugs, or the vocalizing of inspirational chants. With heat escaping their bodies in great volumes with every second that passes, these brave souls will have approximately a 10-minute window in which to get themselves on camera. If their moment of glory should pass, the boys will have some humbling choices. Either continue their shirtless crusade, and die like real men or, toss on their jackets and huddle up like a gang of emperor penguins. Regardless, shame and humility is in their future.

So, your home, like a lettered body up there in row #102, requires insulation, not so much to keep the cold out, but to keep the heat in. And, due to heat rising, and cool air sinking, properly sealing the space between living area and attic space becomes even more critical to home comfort and energy savings.

In today’s age of rising heating costs, a homeowner should be looking to insulate their attic floor with at least R-60 of thermal resistance. This would translate into layering the floor space with 18-20 inches of fiberglass pink batt insulation, or filling the area with 22-24 inches of Atticat blowing wool.

Insulating, or adding insulation to a home’s attic space is a very do it yourself project, with the greatest challenge to success being your ability to manoeuvre up through the ceiling’s 22 x 30 inch attic hatch. If you’re capable of achieving this semi acrobatic feat, have your local building supply dealer deliver a sheet of 5/8 inch spruce plywood (cut in half, providing two pieces of 2’ x 8’ walking planks) along with the insulation. The 5/8” plywood, placed diagonally or perpendicular to the truss joists, will allow you to safely navigate the attic floor, in order to place the batts or blow in the wool.

Don’t omit the plywood or skimp on a thinner sheeting. Sure footing is key to the success of any operation. With the truss joists providing 1-1/2 inches of footing, spaced at every 24 inches on center, while being somewhat hidden by any existing insulation, the chances of a fellow’s eligibility in entering a gender neutral washroom facility, increases twofold with every attempted step. Plus, the plywood can be further ripped into 12 inch strips, providing excellent shelving, or be used to create a deeper shaft around your attic hatch.

Before insulating, ensure that there are attic vents (24” x 48” raised foam shields) stapled and fitted in between each truss, that stretch down into the soffit. These vents are essential in preventing the insulation from blocking the cool air from being drawn up into the attic space.

Finally, invest in a sheet of 2 inch ridged insulation, then cut it to size and glue the pieces to the back of your attic hatch door, effectively insulating this last cold spot.

Good building.

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

What to dew

Properly insulating your home can reduce the amount of energy you use and save you money. Postmedia Network

Back in the olden days, when energy was cheap, the Habs were winning Stanley Cups, and our knee joints were well-oiled and pain-free, batt insulation was all we needed to keep our homes relatively cozy inside.

Then came the term “thermal bridging”, which enlightened us to the fact that lumber isn’t all that good an insulator. And, considering wall designs featured a stud at every 16 inches on center, the overall R-value of the wall was reduced significantly. A typical wall assembly would have contained either an R-12 or R-20 batt of insulation, depending on whether the wall had been framed with 2×4 or 2×6 lumber. The weakness in this system, energy wise, is the solid lumber, which accounts for about 10 per cent of the wall’s mass overall. With a thermal resistance value of about R-1 per inch, between every 15-1/2 inch span of warm, protective insulation, you had 1-1/2 inches of solid wood that would effectively allow the cold to migrate through to the inside, hence the term “thermal bridge”.

So, how can we as homeowners, and home builders, reduce the cold thermal bridge inadvertently created by the wood studding? The answer is Johns Manville’s polyiso ridged insulation board. With a thermal value of R-6 per inch, polyiso ridged sheeting can be installed directly over the wall studs, or over the OSB (oriented strand board) or plywood sheeting. The JM polyiso board is not a structural sheeting, therefore, a stud wall would have to be re-enforced with steel bracing if it were to be nailed directly to the lumber.

How thick should a homeowner consider going with their JM polyiso? Minimally 1 inch, with a 1-1/2 inch sheeting being better, and a 2 inch ridged board better yet.
Essentially, with the cost of heating being what it is, there’s no such thing as over-insulating an exterior wall. Therefore, a standard wall assembly in 2017 would begin with drywall on the inside, then a 6 mil. vapour barrier, wood studding with batt insulation in between, then a plywood sheeting, followed by JM polyiso, then a house wrap, ending with the customer’s choice of siding overtop. The 6 mil polyethylene vapour barrier is always installed on the warm side of a wall assembly, and effectively stops heat and moisture from entering the wall system.

Many people question why a plastic vapour barrier couldn’t be installed on the outside of an exterior wall as well. Or, be installed on the outside only, since that’s the side that faces the elements, and is the most likely side to let water in. Two elements dictate why we install a plastic vapour barrier on the inside wall only — our colder weather conditions, and the resulting dew point. In a perfect world, with a dry and air tight exterior wall cavity, having a vapour barrier on both sides would be the perfect scenario. Unfortunately, we can’t build a home in the same way we build a fridge, or beer cooler, at least not yet anyway. So, moisture already in the wall assembly, or entering the wall cavity by some other means, has got to be able to escape somewhere. In our Canadian climate, that’s best accomplished by having moisture dissipate towards the exterior.

Without a vapour barrier on the inside wall, heat and moisture would get into the insulation, then hit the dew point (the line where warm meets cold) somewhere in between the studs. An ice mass would then develop in the insulation, killing it’s thermal value, while creating all kinds of mold issues once things thawed out in the spring.

Installing a JM polyiso creates a band of continual insulation, and moves the dew point to about half way into its foam core, well out of the wall cavity. As a result, the thicker the JM ridged foam board, the further cold is kept from the home, and that’s a good thing.

Good building.

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

Some frosty window art

Ah, the good ol’ days of frosty window art are practically upon us.

Certainly a cherished pastime by many a youngster, and those young at heart, pressing your nose, or lips, against a chilly window pane, then viewing the reaction of warm flesh meeting ice, has always been good entertainment. Or, when it’s early morning, after a painfully frigid night, and the frost on the glass is particularly heavy, who can resist pressing the side of a clenched fist against the pane, then topping the imprint off with the tips of their fingers, creating the all-time classic, little footprint?

Born from generations of high humidity producers, otherwise known as those who enjoy cooking pasta, taking long, hot showers, or who engage in regular conversation involving large gatherings, frosty window art becomes possible when a thin layer of ice forms on the inside glass pane of various windows in the home. Windows of preference often include those in, or close to the kitchen, and especially bathroom windows, since they’re located in prime, high humidity territory.

As much as frosty window art is an exercise in imagery and artistic expression, at least until the sun hits the pane, it’s unfortunately a sign of an unhealthy home environment. Frost on the inside pane of a window occurs when warm, high humidity air, touches the cold surface of the glass, exploding onto the pane, revealing itself as condensation. If the pane of glass is really cold, this condensation will freeze, creating the not so beloved, frosty glass extravaganza.

Condensation and the ensuing frost on your window panes is not a good thing because this moisture eventually melts, running down the glass pane, inevitably settling on the sill. Or, the water could seep through a crack in the sill, or seem in the casing, making its way into the wall cavity. Either way, condensating windows lead to rot or mold.

So, what’s the game plan? Well, you’ve got to lower the amount of humidity in the home. The simplest way is to open a window. Although hardly scientific, winter air is very dry, or low in humidity, so when it mixes with your high humidity indoor air, it somewhat creates a balance. The weakness in this strategy is of course knowing when to open or close the window, and properly circulating this new air (perhaps by having the children and whatever pets can follow a pattern, run a circuit around the furniture). Or, you could modify your living habits, perhaps by cutting your shower time down to five minutes, and using only lukewarm water. Plus, maybe lay off the pasta, or anything boiled, fried, or foods essentially requiring heat, since these cooking processes all create moisture. Unfortunately, you’ll have to rely more on garden salads and other similar rabbit foods.

Now, if these solutions seems unlikely, then you’re going to have to get mechanical help. First, make sure all the bathrooms have an exhaust fan that directs air to the exterior, either through the roof, or a side wall. Never vent moist bathroom air into the attic, or into the soffit panels. Next, put these bathroom fans on a timer, having them run while you shower, and a full 15 minutes afterwards. Kitchen fans, similar to bathroom fans, should vent to the exterior. Some kitchen fans have a charcoal filter/interior venting option. Avoid this strategy. Sure, the fan will make for an easy install, eliminating grease and various cooking smells, but the filter cannot absorb steam, the main culprit in our battle against moisture.

If things haven’t cleared up yet, you could invest in a dehumidifier. Although it means having a slightly noisy piece of furniture in the room, and having to manually empty it, or minimally provide a drain source, dehumidifiers are proven effective.

Best bet, invest in a HRV (heat recovery ventilation) unit. HRV’s have become the standard in new homes, and work in conjunction with your furnaces ductwork.

Next week, more on dehumidifying your home. Good building.

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

Always ensure a safe burn

A few easy steps will help make sure you have a safe, hot burn with your wood stove or fireplace. Postmedia Network file photo
A few easy steps will help make sure you have a safe, hot burn with your wood stove or fireplace. Postmedia Network file photo

With your just installed wood stove or fireplace — just installed, hopefully, by a WETT (Wood Energy Transfer Technology) certified person, and not Buck’s ‘for cash only’ Carpentry — you’re ready to perform your first burn.

Congratulations, your home will not only serve as a meeting place for conversation and free beer, but from this point on, the ambiance once provided by the rumble of your furnace, will now be replaced by the warmth and crackling sound of a real flame.

However, there will be rules to follow in order to make every burn and house warming a success.

First, and before you light the match, we review the mission statement. It should read something like, “I, blah, blah, look to provide warmth, comfort, and care, blah, blah, blah, for said guests, blah, blah, without injury, casualties, or the need of assistance from our local paramedic and/or fire departments.”

With this in mind, let’s start ourselves a wood fire. Basically, whether we’re talking a wood stove or fireplace, the rules and procedures for a safe burn are relatively the same. Rules 1 and 2. Always begin the burn well in advance of your family and guests arrival, and two, remain of sound mind from start to finish.

Stuff can happen at the beginning of a burn, like forgetting to open the damper, or it may be excessively windy, or the kitchen range hood could be running full throttle, any or all of these factors affecting the air pressure in your home, thereby promoting a backdraft. Backdraft is the term used to describe the action of smoke reversing itself, flowing back down the flue and into your living room.

Backdrafts are lousy, and can fill the immediate space with smoke and carbon dioxide within seconds. If you’re the room’s only occupant, then there’s little ordeal.

Once regaining consciousness, adjust the damper, open a few windows, and gain control of the situation. Minutes later, only a slight hint of soot in the air will be evidence of your screw up.

On the other hand, when backdraft hits a room clamored with guests, we. . . nothing breaks up a party quicker than teary eyes, and the ensuing panic of persons throwing themselves out the nearest window.

Remaining of sound mind should be a given considering alcohol will affect co-ordination, brain function, and memory, three things you’ll need in order to start, refill, and monitor the burn throughout the evening.

Fire starting procedure. Open the chimney damper, open the outside air feed, then crack open a window, just slightly. Two elements will be vying for oxygen in the room, the flame, and your fellow humans. So, make sure there’s plenty to go around. Next, crumple up a couple of sheets of newsprint into a ball, place it at the back of the fire box, then surround it in a tee pee type manner with very small pieces of wood, a.k.a. kindling. Ignite the paper. What you want is plenty of flame, with little smoke. Leave the doors open to your woodstove or fireplace for these first few minutes so that the flame will stay healthy and fast, ensuring a strong updraft.

As the kindling expires, add a few branch-sized pieces. Once that’s almost depleted, and there are plenty of hot embers at the base, toss (actually, place) a few logs on the fire. Close the doors, and stand by for refueling in about 30-40 minutes.

Things to avoid? Using fire starter, gasoline, or any type of additive to help initiate flame. Plus, and although most things will burn, thereby generating heat, use only dry, seasoned wood, recognized by cracks in the ends of the logs, to fuel your fire.

A healthy stove or fireplace will provide plenty of heat, with little scent of smoke inside, and a clean exhaust coming out of the chimney. If you experience anything different, seek the advice of your WETT certified installer.

Good building.

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

Two types of wood stoves

So, you’ve made the decision to invest in a woodstove, terrific! Now, where do you go from here? Well, besides the various shapes, sizes, top feed, side feed, glass door, or solid door models, there are basically two types of wood stoves — catalytic and non-catalytic.

Catalytic stoves have a catalytic combustor, similar to a catalytic converter in an automobile. The catalytic combustor is essentially a block of ceramic with a honeycomb core, placed inside the stove, near the top, and is the last thing the smoke particles and various gases (created by the initial burn), pass through before being drawn out the chimney pipe. It’s during this final burn phase, or catalytic action, that the remaining gases and smoke particles are turned into water vapor and carbon dioxide, providing a very clean exhaust, while squeezing one last bit of heat out of these remaining particulates.

Basically, those are the big pluses to owning a catalytic wood stove, you’re getting maximum efficiency, longer burn periods, with a very environmentally friendly exhaust. Downside to the catalytic woodstove? It requires you regularly cleaning the catalytic combustor (which is a relatively easy, although a little messy, monthly procedure) and replacing it every five years. This regular maintenance factor tends to make a catalytic stove the preferred choice of the serious wood burner, and for those folks who plan on using their wood stove as the primary heat source.

What happens if you don’t regularly clean the catalytic combustor? First signs of a problem will be grey smoke, then black, coming out of your chimney. This unhealthy situation indicates that due to the combustor being clogged, you’re basically operating a campfire, with the first burn gases and smoke bypassing the final burn phase, and being simply released into the atmosphere.

Next, as the catalytic combustor becomes totally blocked, and the resulting air flow reduced, you’ll find the stove more difficult to start, with a greater potential for backdraft.

So, the catalytic woodstove may be the superior model of the two, but unless you’re ready to commit to a maintenance schedule, it’s probably best to avoid the catalytic model.

Non-catalytic woodstoves have secondary combustion chambers, instead of catalytic combustors, to help burn off those gases and wood particles that make it past the first burn. The result is a stove that is still very efficient, and very clean burning, just with numbers not quite as impressive as a clean catalytic model. So, if we’re talking a secondary heat source, with little maintenance, other than having to empty the ash pan, the regular, non-catalytic woodstove, is probably your best choice.

What about buying a used stove, or using Grandpa’s old stove, in order to save a few bucks? Used car, used boat, used lawn mower, no big deal. When they die, you park them on the front lawn with a “best offer” sign on them. Unfortunately, when an old stove dies, or basically malfunctions, you die as well, so we’re not quite talking the same risk factor.

Old or used wood stoves should serve one of two purposes. Park them in the corner of the living room, surround the behemoth with other antiques, and add a few lights to the arrangement around Christmas time, or, earn a few bucks from them as scrap metal.

Buying new allows you to control the key feature, and presumably the main reason why you’re investing in a woodstove, and that’s heat output, or BTU (British thermal unit) capacity. Wood stoves work best when ther\y’re operating at mid-full capacity. So, if you’re looking to add a little heat to the family and TV areas, you won’t need an 80,000 BTU woodstove, attractive as they may be, that’s designed to heat a 2500 sq. ft. area.

Because we’re talking supplementary heat, smaller is usually better. Plus, it’s important to remember what the plan is, supplementary heat without this endeavor becoming too much of a chore.

Next week, the perfect burn.

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

Burning with wood

Nothing burns like wood.
Nothing burns like wood.

As the cooler temperatures slowly creep into our lives again, so does the concern of higher heating costs.

And, with most homes having either gas, propane, or electrical furnaces, we’re all basically at the mercy of the utility companies. So, if the cost of gas or electrical power happens to increase, and it always does, other than complaining about it, or toughening out the winter by investing in long johns (thermal underwear for those readers under 40), what is a homeowner to do?

Well, complaining is easy, but rarely effective, while long johns are effective, but not so easy, and definitely not sexy, so I wouldn’t suggest getting rid of your furnace just yet. Perhaps update it, but let’s not dismantle it for now.

What you may want to consider is a supplementary heat, or type of booster unit that’ll take some of the workload, and cost, off your main heating source. That’s where a wood stove or fireplace can step in.

Now, what about a wood pellet or corn stove, aren’t they more efficient than burning logs? True, they are mechanically a better value, which means they deliver more heat for the dollar. However, pellet stoves require electrical power to operate the auger mechanism, which feeds the flame. Therefore, during a power outage, and unless you’re handy enough to hook this unit up to your car’s battery, there’ll be no heat coming out of this baby. Plus, pellet stoves require regular cleaning of this same auger, otherwise it will jamb, and refuse to turn. No turn means no heat.

Finally, pellet stoves have a very modest flame, in the same way the Montreal Canadians have a very modest power play (averaging a 16% success rate last year). In other words, there’s not much flame to cheer about. So, albeit a good source of heat (when the power’s on) pellet stoves offer little ambiance. On the other hand, “ambiance” is of course wood burning’s middle name. And, no matter how hard they try, there isn’t a gas or propane stove out there that can match the fiery impact, and showcase, of burning wood.

So, why doesn’t everybody own a wood stove or fireplace? At one time of course, everybody did. But, as the convenience of gas and electrical products entered the market, we as a society, all got a little lazier. Now we’re all faced with electric and gas pricing that’s gotten totally out of our control. So, get some of that control back by investing in wood. With wood, however, comes responsibility, whereby it can only be considered a good thing if, as a homeowner, and keeper of the flame, you achieve two goals. One, you provide a warm and cozy ambiance for your family and those guests of the home. And two, nobody dies. Falling short on either goal, due to carelessness or failing to follow procedure, will make the continuation of any further wood burning a tough sell.

So, with these goals in mind, we meticulously follow a proper burning protocol every time. That being said, there’s no need to fear a wood stove or fireplace. Both look great, throw a beautiful heat, and are extremely easy to operate. However, because we’re talking a real burning flame, wood stoves and fireplaces must be respected. What’s the difference between owning a woodstove or fireplace? Besides the obvious physical differences, a woodstove is an airtight unit that burns quite hot, delivering more heat, with about five times the efficiency of a fireplace. So, if heat performance is most important, choose the wood stove option.
Fireplaces are similar to woodstoves in that they come as their own self-contained box, and are usually zero clearance, which means they fit easily into the wall framing. However, they aren’t airtight, which drops their efficiency rating. Regardless, a fireplace filled with logs is going to throw a ton of heat, easily satisfying the needs of the room in question, but its purpose is more ambiance than power.

Next week, more on burning with wood.

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