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

Some woods like paint, some just don’t

The only thing worse than having to paint something once, is having to paint this same item a second time, and then a third, should the finish not turn out quite as good as expected.

So, understanding that having to paint something twice is about as inspiring as watching Maple Leafs pre-season hockey; while also understanding some products simply receive paint a little better than others, let’s make our lives a little easier by choosing products to paint that are actually paint-friendly.

Other than walls and ceilings, things we tend to paint on the interior of a home include moldings, window sills and buildouts, shelving, bookcases, or any number of craft-type projects.

Products that don’t paint so well include fir, spruce, particle board, and mahogany plywood. Wood species that are somewhat unfriendly to paint include knotty pine, spruce, and oak.

Why some product species have difficulty with accepting paint is mostly due to their porosity. When a wood species or plywood is somewhat porous, regardless of its hardness, it tends to absorb paint in a haphazard manner.

As a result and once dry, a porous surface, once painted, will have often produce a raised grain, where the wood fibers rise up like little hairs, creating an uneven sheen, which will require sanding and subsequent coats. The results certainly aren’t disastrous by any means, just unsatisfying.

Now, you may question, if I included spruce in my list of those species not so friendly to paint, then why in last week’s article was it recommended to paint your treated decking planks, which in most cases are made of this same spruce species?

That would be a fair inquiry.

The simple answer is, sometimes it comes down to money. First, outdoor wood products should be painted or stained, regardless of species. So, even though spruce may not be the most suitable product for painting, the fact it’s a fraction of the price of cedar, or composite lumber, makes treated lumber definitely worth the paint risk.

What species of wood best suits the exterior, and paints or stains really well?

That would be cedar. It’s light in weight, easy to cut, drill, and sand, whether you’re looking to build a multi-tiered deck, pergola, or a couple of traditional Adirondack chairs for the backyard.

If we’re talking outdoors and if it’s in the budget, make it out of cedar.

Back in the house, preferred products to use when a painted finish is desired include finger-joint pine, medium density fiberboard (aka MDF), and birch plywood.

Finger-joint pine boards differ from knotty pine planks in that the knots have been cut out, with the board being re-glued back together using what’s known as a finger joint, since the seam resembles the fingers of two hands interwoven together. Finger joint planks represent the best compromise between regular knotty pine and clear pine.

Although knots in a pine plank can technically be sealed with a primer or shellac type solution, in reality, and in time, knots always tend to bleed through to the surface, ruining what was a good finish. Clear pine would be an option, but it’s prohibitively expensive, making finger-joint pine the best value when painting.

Finger joint pine is generally three-quarters of an inch in thickness and available in planks ranging from 2.5 inches to 7.25 inches wide.

If a wider plank is needed, in the case of a deep window buildout, shelving, or bookcase, ask for paint-grade birch plywood. It’s less expensive than stain-grade plywood, but every bit as durable. Paint-grade birch ply can be ripped to any width.

If you’re an artistic or crafty type and are looking to install a cutout of Santa and his eight little reindeer on your lawn this Christmas, then look for Russian (aka Baltic) birch plywood. Available in a variety of thicknesses, Russian birch plywood is the best choice for really any interior wood project or craft that will require paint.

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

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

Life’s better with a pergola

Pergolas with large fabric panels that can be installed every spring are a great way to reduce the amount of sunlight and heat that a patio absorbs. Postmedia Network

Why build a pergola in your backyard or on top of your existing back deck?

Because planting a maple tree would incur a 20-year wait for adequate shade. So, perhaps your children, or grandchildren, could live to see the day by which they could relax under such an investment, but until such time passes, you’d be moving your rocker every five minutes in order to catch the shade of those first few leaves.

What about patio furniture umbrellas? They’re fine for providing 15 minutes of cover for afternoon tea. Otherwise, they usually aren’t big enough to provide proper shade for a pair of loungers. Plus, umbrellas are about as loyal as a pet rabbit, and seem to love jumping up and bouncing through backyards upon the first strong wind.

So, for ease, beauty, dependability, while being a project the average do-it-yourselfer could have installed by the end of the weekend, pergolas are a great idea. Consisting of four 6×6 posts with a crown of 2×6 or 2×8 lumber overtop, with these joists set on their edges, pergolas are an excellent deck appendage because they provide for semi-shade lounging, without interfering with those delightful summer breezes. Add a little lighting, either by having an electrician install a permanent series of outdoor lamps and fixtures, or by running clear, Christmas type lights along each post and beam, and the nighttime atmosphere can be made to look absolutely spectacular.

Because pergolas are of a very basic, yet structurally sound design, they can often serve as a base for a future screened in porch, if a couple is to really enjoy the nighttime without having to lather up in deep woods mosquito repellent. Pergolas are also beautiful when installed deeper into the backyard, providing an area of tranquility to simply relax and read a book. Plant a grape vine, or series of climbing plants beginning at or around each post base (have one of our local arborists give you a few tips or suggestions) and within a few years you’ll have a beautiful cover of green foliage.

Pergolas can be attached to the home, saving you the cost of a couple of posts, but look better if they’re of the four post, free-standing variety.

Up to this point, I’ve used the term post to describe the legs that support the overhead grilled structure, which would suggest four square shaped timbers. However, for a Mediterranean type of styling, consider replacing the standard 6×6 posts with smooth or fluted, round fiberglass columns. Fiberglass columns are considerably more costly than 6×6 lumber, but they’re structurally sound, will last forever, while the visual impact is profound, creating a backyard retreat that’s all the more unique.

Most pergolas are made of treated spruce or cedar lumber. Wood is easy to work with, and inexpensive, but like your existing deck, or anything else that’s made of wood and has to live outdoors, it’s going to require yearly maintenance. Maintaining such a structure isn’t so easy. Due to the many 2×8 boards set on edge, and considering their relatively close spacing, getting up and in between these joists while avoiding the 2×2 cross pieces above, in order to spread a swath of stain, all while balancing on a stepladder, is actually phase one of Cirque de Soleil training. As a result, and if this task seems a little daunting, you may want to consider a pergola made of maintenance free composite product, or aluminum. The advantage of non-wood products, besides not having to paint or stain, are the many screen, side curtain, or overhead canopy options that can make your pergola all the more special, and versatile.

Some models of pergolas are available with a system of aluminum louvered joists that are hinged in a manner which allows them to stand straight up, or lay flat, offering full shade, or cover under a light rain. Regardless of how it’s constructed, pergolas are a beautiful thing.

Good building.

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

Composite vs. wood: like trading in Trigger for that Mustang

Purchasing a new automobile can be expensive, as can be the purchase of composite decking.

Further to that big expense, driving your new car off the showroom floor will have you suffer an immediate investment loss of about nine per cent— and by year end, this once-shiny beauty will have declined a full 19 per cent in value.

Following the automotive trend, the ROI (return on investment) of a composite deck is about 75 per cent, essentially incurring the home renovator a 25 per cent hit on their just-made purchase.

So, if purchasing an automobile is such a lousy investment and if owning a composite deck means losing 25 cents on every dollar spent, why would a consumer consider either one of these products?

Because the alternative to owning an automobile is basically riding a horse, while the options to composite decking include cedar, treated spruce, or IPE, all falling under the category of wood.

Am I suggesting the ease of using and caring for an automobile, in relation to having to stable a horse, is in any way comparable to the merits of investing in a composite deck, as opposed to real wood?

Absolutely.

After two years of living with a composite deck, which followed 25 years of maintaining both treated lumber and cedar decks, I can without prejudice, qualify the distinction of composite decking relating directly to the experience of driving off in a new car, compared to lumber, which would be like saddling up your 20-year-old plug every morning.

Are we to altogether forget lumber as it relates to decking? Absolutely not.

Lumber will always provide the framework for whatever surface material of choice, and still remains the best value for decking materials, provided you don’t mind the maintenance.

However, if your budget can handle the price point of composite decking, the decision should be as easy as handing over the reins to Trigger, in exchange for a Mustang.

The reason for choosing composite decking can be summed up in two words— low maintenance.

Basically, the only maintenance tools required when owning a composite deck is a 50-foot garden hose extension and a 24-inch fine bristle broom. Actually, you could probably get away without having to touch your deck at all.

However, if you’re going to keep that composite surface looking absolutely pristine, and there’s no question you’ll want to, it’ll require the occasional hose down and sweep.

Notice that I did not use the term pressure wash when referencing cleaning. Please do not pressure wash your composite decking, or anything else other than the box of your dump truck, or the hull of your 500-foot sea freighter. The power of these machines will eventually destroy the PVC finish and drive moisture into the composite fibres, causing the boards to swell, promoting mold growth.

The advantage to composite decking is that it it’s not wood. So, besides it eliminating hours of sanding and painting over the next 25 years, composites are free of all the other not-so-admirable characteristics of wood decking, such as cracks, splinters, rot, and surface screws.

Two drawbacks to composite decking: One, it can get hot to the touch on a scorching, sunny day. Remedy? Wear sandals, or give it a hose down at high noon.

Two, composites are beautiful, but they’re not perfect. Actually, they would be as close to perfect as possible, if your deck was indoors. However, due to our seasonal fluctuations in temperature, composite decking will shrink and expand, which can cause heartbreak for those who cherish a perfect miter joint.

How to choose the right composite? That’s easy.

Providing you’re looking at comparable 25-year warranty products, choose the colour, or combination of colour and texture, you like best. Products can be solid PVC, PVC wrapped on four sides, or PVC wrapped  on three sides.

As long as it’s a quality, 25-year warrantied product, its technical composition will make little difference in your everyday life.

Good building.

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

A real shocker

Going with the composite deck? Why not include the oversized hot tub and a fire pit. Postmedia Network

Shocking probably best describes the sentiment felt by most people who inquire about the price of composite decking.

“Really!” they say, followed by a pause, then a “hummm…” as they rub their chins and look up to see if the proper response to their inquiry is by some chance written on the ceiling. Without a doubt, composite decking is a first class product, and without a doubt, first class costs.

I’m always shocked by the cost of travelling first class. Just the other day, while browsing through a cruise vacation catalog, I came upon the list of various pricing options. Ten day, Caribbean voyage on this particular cruise line, 5,000 bucks per couple if you didn’t mind sleeping in the belly of the ship, with the rhythm of the pistons lulling you to sleep, or 20,000 smackaroos for a room with a balcony. Same ship, same food, same ocean, with one set of folks enjoying the stars at night, while the belly people have the enviable task of alerting the crew should an iceberg rudely puncture its way into their living quarters.

While boarding a plane some years ago on a nine-hour flight to wherever, one of our fellow business travellers remarked that the 10 steps it took him to walk through the corridor of the first class section was the easiest 3,000 bucks he ever made. My wife and I have never paid for first class flight accommodations, but due to some chancy circumstances, have been bumped up three times in maybe 25 years of flying. I remember only the first class flights, because they were glorious, and included better food, better movie choice, and far better comfort.

Being a first class occupant, even temporarily, doesn’t necessarily change you as a person, although I do remember asking the stewardess to close the drapes separating coach from first class. With the coach class pesants constantly peaking in on us first classers, you could just feel their envy, which was disturbing my enjoyment of a lovely, happy hour chardonnay.

As it turned out, on the nine-hour return fight, our fellow business traveller (who was quite affluent) found he and his wife in first class. Ah, the power of wifely persuasion.

This all to say that yes, composite decking is expensive, but like most things that cost a little more, or in some cases, a lot more, it’s almost always worth it.

Essentially, composite decking can be anywhere from three to four times the price of a cedar surfaced deck, or about five to six times the price of treated lumber decking.

These figures, again, may seem a little shocking. However, these numbers refer to the price of the decking, or surface materials only, since a deck’s framework, regardless of what product’s being used as the surface, will in most cases be made of treated lumber. So, we’re basically talking about costly decking material, whereby the cost of the deck’s framework will remain constant.

Are some composite decking products better than others? And, why the price difference between brands of composites? These are probably the two most often asked questions. Whether one decking plank is better than another can be determined by warranty. Basically, the better brands of decking carry 25 year warranties against staining or fading. Due to this relatively long warranty period, the surface quality of such decking’s are also more resistant to scratching and wear.

Composite decking brands, or even series of products within the same manufacturer, can also differ in price due to their manner of composition. Although all still referred to as composites, since the original recipe for these manufactured decking products contained a mixture of wood slivers and recycled plastics, composite decking has evolved to include the more popular solid PVC decking, and PVC wrapped products.

Other variables that can sway the price are the more pronounced textures, or variegated color schemes of some planks. Basically, you get what you pay for.

Next week, shocking or not, composites are the way to go.

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