The crooked kitchen

Crooked kitchen? Handyman Hints will straighten this out. Postmedia Network

There was a crooked man, and he walked a crooked mile. He found a crooked sixpence upon a crooked style. He bought a crooked cat, who caught a crooked mouse, and they all lived together in a little crooked house.

What does this 1840, James Orchard Halliwell poem have to do with renovating a home? Well, it reminds us that in most renovation cases, the floors, walls, and ceilings are rarely level. Why, and especially in older homes, they might even be described as crooked. Now, is crooked bad? Absolutely not. Crooked, as long as the area of concern is structurally sound, means only crooked. “Falling over” is what we call something that’s crooked and experiencing structural failure. The difference between the two is that when something’s falling over, we call the bulldozer. When something’s crooked, we pick up an extra bundle of shims.

This week on the docket, case #333, has our Mr. and Mrs. Straight looking to replace the kitchen in a most recently purchased older home. The Straights are professional people, very level, not a hair out of place, by the book perfectionists. Unfortunately, they were charmed by an older stone house, which they recently purchased. Now Mr. and Mrs. Straight are owners of a beautiful, charming old stone home, that’s of course, a little crooked.

First renovation task on the to-do list, replace the crooked kitchen. The challenge facing the people measuring and installing the cabinetry, is that the upper and lower cabinet units are of course perfectly square. So, how do we fit perfectly square things into a space where not only the floor is slanted, but the walls are somewhat off level as well? Plus, the counter top the Straights have chosen will be made of granite, a versatile product in many ways that nevertheless doesn’t include the term pliable in its list of characteristics. Therefore, it appears we’re being asked to fit a flat, rectangular top, and a bunch of square pegs, into what appears to be a space more fit to receive a trapezoid.

Considering the Straights demand and general expectations of perfection, how can we possibly make these square things fit nice and snug into a not so square space? In most cases, when faced with installing cabinets into an area where the floors and walls are not level, the homeowner will have to face one of two choices. Either you level the floor and re-address the walls, or you increase the ordered height of the toe boards (a.k.a. kick-plates) that run along the floor, have a few filler pieces on hand, and add to the length of any cabinet panels that will see use as a finished end. The reason these finishing pieces will need to be slightly exaggerated in size, is so that they can be cut down and custom fitted on site, once the main cabinetry units have been shimmed and leveled to the appropriate height.

In the case of an older stone home, where 100 years of settling have left you with an old dog that really doesn’t want to be moved, you would usually work within the parameters of whatever the space provides. In a newer home or apartment, floor leveling compounds can bring a floor back to level, provided your plan is to refinish the floor. There’s also the engineering option, where existing beams and posts can be replaced or fortified, after hydraulic jacks have lifted a sagging floor structure back to level. Because Mr. and Mrs. Straight didn’t want to risk the integrity and charm of the slanted, older pine floor, and hand finished lath and plaster walls, those items were left and accepted as crooked. With the cabinetry and counter top installed at a perfectly level working height, along with a new sink, new taps, and improved lighting, the fact that the toe plates were slightly narrower at one end was only noticeable to those who knew. With the world of level fitting into a world of crooked, along with two happy Straights, case #333 was closed.

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

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

About MDF moldings

The focal point of this master bedroom is neither the stunning bed nor the separate sitting area. Rather the eye is drawn to the trayed ceiling with a dazzling uplighting that washes it with light and color. The romance of the mood lighting becomes obtainable by the dial of a dimmer. Decorative crown molding hides the wires and bulbs, leaving only clean lines and light. Postmedia Network

Next to giving your interior walls a fresh coat of paint, investing in new casings, baseboards, and crown moldings is one of the best value added ways of improving your home.

That being so, there are some basic finishing rules to follow, along with a few installation strategies, that’ll help make working with MDF moldings all the more easier.

If you haven’t shopped for finishing trims in the last 15 years or so, the market has almost totally gone MDF (medium density fiberboard). You can still buy the finger-joint, clear pine, oak, and poplar species of casings and baseboards, but with the fashion trend still leaning towards painted moldings, as opposed to staining, MDF delivers the biggest bang for the buck.

Simply put, MDF is far cheaper in price, and is available in far more profiles, than traditional paint grade moldings such as finger-joint pine or poplar. Because the MDF product consists of sawdust and various glues, some home builders, fearing the off-gassing or VOC (volatile organic compound) element of a manufactured product, choose solid wood.

Actually, all wood species omit small doses of formaldehyde in their natural state. However, today’s MDF moldings are purchased factory sealed with a primer, which basically eliminates the off-gassing or VOC factor. As a result, the off-gassing or VOC concern regarding MDF moldings is old news, dating back about 20 years.

If you’ve worked with real wood moldings in the past, and are looking to install your own MDF casings and baseboards today, there’s one major factor that separates MDF from the popular finger–joint pine moldings of the 70’s and 80’s, and that’s the fact MDF moldings accept a nail the same way a cat accepts being tossed into a pool of water.

MDF moldings don’t like regular finishing nails, or being hammered, or being pre-drilled, and due to being so hard and somewhat brittle a product, the moldings’ edges can dent easily if over-handled.

Therefore, if you’re about to take on the task of installing MDF, be sure to buy, rent, or borrow, a pneumatic finishing nailer. What about pre-drilling the MDF, then tapping in a finishing nail, you may ask? Although a useful technique with hardwoods, a finishing nail tapped into MDF (even if pre-drilled) will cause the surface material to puff out once the nail head embeds the surface, creating a bump, which will essentially look lousy. MDF moldings absolutely need to be air nailed, and there’s no getting around that.

Rules to follow when choosing a casing and baseboard? One, they should match each other, of course, and two, the casing always needs to be thicker than the base. The baseboard molding will in most cases be wider than the casing, but it should never be thicker.

Some folks choose a thicker baseboard, with the strategy that it will hide the expansion spacing required between a wall and the hardwood or laminate flooring, thereby saving on the need for a shoe molding. Please don’t commit this finishing faux pas. Too thin a casing, or even a casing that is the same thickness of the base, looks horrible. When these two moldings meet, the shadow line created by having the casing thicker than the base, is key to proper finishing.

If you absolutely can’t live with a shoe mold following the perimeter of the floor, or have fallen in love with a particularly thick baseboard molding, and as a result, are left with too thin a casing, consider using a back-band molding to beef up the thickness of the casing.

Next, pre-paint your casings and baseboards before installing them. This strategy simply takes advantage of gravity, given that it’s easier to paint a molding while it’s lying flat, than sitting up on a wall.

Finally, caulk the seam where the casing or baseboard meets the wall, but never the miter joint. Gaps in a miter or butt joint can’t be saved with caulking. If the joint’s not tight, accept the loss and cut it over again.

Good building.

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

The should’a, could’a, would’a dilemma

I got a call the other day from a lady, a senior, who’s completely dissatisfied with the renovation work just completed on her older home.

I don’t know this lady, nor was I familiar with the contractor responsible for this debacle, nor did we supply any of the material for this project, but she wanted me to pass by her place in order to inspect the job, pass judgment, confirm the inadequacy of this job performance, so that once documented, this fellow could be taken to court for the sake of her complete financial restitution.

When I informed this person I am not a licensed contractor, nor a home inspector and that I don’t really feel comfortable leaving the safe confines of my office – because I’ve watched enough horror movies to know unassuming retailers like myself, upon entering a dark and gloomy century home owned by some little old lady will, nine times out of 10, end up buried in the basement – she understood my apprehension.

According to the descriptive manner relating to how these various wall, window, and floor products were installed, there was more than likely a cause for concern.

However, passing judgment on the work of others is easy, especially if you haven’t seen the before picture and are unfamiliar with the circumstances and limitations relating to this project.

In other words, sure the floor is crooked and maybe the windows don’t fit so flush with the inside wall, but was it contractor incompetence that led to these errors, or a restricted budget with limited resources?

Regardless, there are legal means by which to pursue somebody who’s failed to satisfy the stipulations set out in your working contract. Although I’m unqualified to comment further on the legal or courtroom process, what I can say with assurance is the strategy of chasing somebody who doesn’t want to be found in order to be financially compensated should be a last-ditch effort.

How do we avoid these legal costs of time and money?

Do your contractor-research homework before starting the project.

In this case, the person hired was a friend, of a friend, of a neighbour, and was known to do renovation jobs for cash after completing his regular job of delivering pizza and smuggling cigarettes across the St. Lawrence River.

There’s nothing saying such a versatile fellow can’t be a qualified and licensed contractor as well. But, when their cell phone numbers change from week to week, and always with a robotic message response, the odds of this guy being legit are pretty slim.

This lady should have given one of us building supply dealers a call. From a list of qualified and licensed carpenters, she could have chosen a few names and requested quotes pertaining to each job. Upon meeting the various carpenters, she would have then chosen the person most qualified for the job, based on references provided, who best understood what she wanted, and who she felt most comfortable with.

Two mistakes first-time, or only occasional renovating homeowners do, is one: choose a contractor based on who’s available at the time; and, two: go too big, demanding too many tasks of a contractor, especially if they’re only a two-or-three-person outfit.

If your preferred contractor is weeks away from being available, book him in accordingly, and wait.

Unless you’ve got a foot of water in the basement, or a tree limb puncturing through the east side of your home, rarely does a home renovation fall under the category of urgent.

If you’ve got a lot of jobs to get done, break up your renovations into manageable segments. So, if you’re going to be replacing a few windows, get that done, assess the quality of the workmanship, then move on to the flooring, or whatever’s next.

Taking things step by step keeps you in control of the situation, helps minimize the mess, and maintains your sanity throughout.

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

So, what’s changed?

Stuff happens for a reason. The domino effect. If you fail to plan, then you plan to fail. We have found the enemy, and he is us. These are phrases the average homeowner and do-it-yourselfer knows all too well. And, barring the existence of Gremlins, or the phenomena of bad luck, why is it that home renovations never go quite so smoothly, with the results often being below expectations?

Understanding that most products have undergone some type of testing, quality control, and have a general history of use, there are still a couple of variables that can make or break the success of a renovation project, them being the labor factor, and the environment in which these products are being installed.
Not hiring a professional tradesperson, and doing the job yourself, certainly adds risk to any project, as does not preparing or modifying the home’s structure, in order to effectively accept whatever you’re proposing to add or change.

Matter at hand, Case # 625, the mysterious popping ceramic floor tiles. After renovating their kitchen, this couple installed ceramic floor tiles on their kitchen floor, and the adjoining hallway. Then, a few months later, tiles in various spots began to pop loose. The homeowner was at a loss as to why his tiles weren’t sticking, since he had laid tiles before, and therefore was somewhat experienced. Plus, the kitchen had an existing tile floor (which was removed purely for esthetic reasons), in which there was never an issue of cracked tiles or loose grout lines beforehand, therefore the subfloor was presumably sound. “With all things being consistent, why are these new tiles not sticking?” the fellow questioned. “So, what’s changed?” was my response. “There were no changes” he said. “We simply replaced the kitchen cupboards and counters, added some lighting, and basically worked within the same rectangular area as before” he continued. “But” he then paused for a moment, “we did add an island to the middle of the space”, he remembered, “but that was it” he concluded.

Just to be clear to all you folks out there in home renovation land, using the terms “replace” and “add” are indeed indications that changes have occurred. In this case, about 900 pounds of granite top and cabinetry was added to the center (essentially the weakest, and most bouncy part) of the kitchen floor. You have to then consider that a kitchen Island is a natural magnet for family and guests to gather around, sampling snacks, enjoying a beverage, all while recounting compelling tales of their storied past. This presents another 800-1200 pounds of walking, moving matter, all combining to somewhat deflect the natural state of the floor joists, while certainly creating stomping reverberations throughout the underlay plywood.

Ceramic, porcelain, and slate tiles make for excellent kitchen floors, provided of course that the subfloor, and substrate, are absolutely rock solid. This beautiful kitchen was no doubt adding tremendous living quality to this couple’s home, but it was unfortunately creating a somewhat unstable environment for their ceramic floor.

Again, stuff happens for a reason. This isn’t a case of bad luck, just poor planning. And the enemy? The homeowner, of course, for not dealing properly with this 2000 pound hippopotamus in the room. In hindsight (and not that it’s too late), the kitchen floor should have been bolstered with additional joists, perhaps doubling up on every cross member. Or, if the basement area is unfinished, and should space allow, a supporting wall could be framed directly underneath the island. Furthermore, a Ditra matting would have been a good idea in lieu of all this extra cabinetry, and heavier appliances. Ditra is an orange, dimpled membrane that effectively distributes the weight bearing load of a ceramic floor, ensuring its stability. Finally, was the proper, or quality mortar and grout used to glue these tiles in position? Premium mortars and grouts are more costly, but offer greater flexibility, and are a better choice for larger floor tiles and high traffic areas.

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