Basement heartbreak month

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good building.

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

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

After the last spike

Building your deck is one thing, keeping proper care of it quite another. Postmedia Network
Building your deck is one thing, keeping proper care of it quite another. Postmedia Network

As you drive in the last 2-1/2 inch decking screw, number 1,836 in the journey, the screw you’ve been looking for, and the last spike in this backyard decking project, the sense of accomplishment temporarily distracts you from an aching back, and the torn callouses that have ravaged your once soft and pudgy, office bound hands.

Moments later, sitting on your newly constructed deck, you tilt back the first cold beer of the day, a just reward for a job well done. And, as the golden goodness trickles down your dry gullet, the liquid relief is satisfying, while a firm clasp of the cool bottle helps ease the pain of many a bruise and cut.

However terrific, this construction afterglow will unfortunately be short-lived.

From this point on, we move on from a world of measurements and construction, to décor and finishing, otherwise regarded as the total unknown. I use the term “unknown” because history has shown there is no special treatment, or evolved system of finishing, to owning a beautiful wood deck, that doesn’t include regular maintenance.

Basically, the next procedure regarding your treated lumber deck is as follows. You can either paint, stain (opaque or semi-transparent), clear coat, or do nothing.
A do nothing strategy will certainly free up at least two weekends per year, but will have your deck go from a warm hue of golden brown, to a rather unhealthy weathered grey.

Maybe a natural, silvery grey, is what we’re looking for, you may counter. I agree, the silvery grey look certainly has its place, such as on an ocean front boardwalk, and the deck of a saloon in a western movie, while being the official color of most telephone poles. But, on a backyard deck, grey, aged, splintery wood, is about as charming as roadkill at the edge of your driveway. If you like the look of weathered grey, choose the appropriate deck stain of that color.

Next, you have the choice of paints or opaque stains. I group these two products together because they both will benefit, and stick better, with the aid of a primer. Opaque stains have a dull tone, while paints offer the option of a semi-gloss sheen.

The term “gloss” often spells fear for some, due to its “slippery when wet” reputation. True, gloss paints are slippery when wet, as is every other surface known to man, other than a bed of nails.

Then we have semi-transparent and clear coat finishes. I group these guys together because they have a higher liquidity, and as a result, adhere better to the surface when the wood planks have been pre-sanded.

Semi’s and clear coats allow only one coat of finish per season, which is pretty easy. However, in our climate, the chore of lightly sanding, then staining or clear coating, will become a yearly event if your goal is to keep things looking pristine.

Paints and opaque stains, on the other hand, allow the homeowner to apply several coats of product, if they feel so inclined, over the course of a weekend.
The bonus of 2-3 coats of product is a tougher surface, more durable color, and a finish that should last 2-3 years.

Why can’t stains and clear coats last as long as the fine print on the can suggests? Because our climate can be just too hot, too humid, too rainy, or too cold, and that’s just over the course of one weekend, to really give paints or stains a chance to really adhere. Plus, most of us don’t prepare the wood with a proper sanding, or brushing, before we start.

And, we tend to bring out the pressure washer, the absolute death blow to any possibility of your stain properly adhering. Broom, soap, and a rinse with the garden hose, is all the cleaning force your deck should see.

When to stain? Wait 2-3 months following construction, the decking should be suitably dry by then.

Good building.

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

Deck board spacing matters

The correct spacing between planks for your deck? Handyman Hints has the answer. Handout/Postmedia Network
The correct spacing between planks for your deck? Handyman Hints has the answer. Handout/Postmedia Network

With the framework, railing systems, and stair stringer work completed, we’re now ready to install our treated decking planks.

The big question of course is, what should be the spacing in between the planks? However, and before coming to a spacing decision, let’s first examine the inherent characteristics of lumber, and how that relates to our landscape, and of course the time of year.

Now, does deck board spacing really need to be examined so scientifically? After all, this isn’t exactly the lounge deck off the stern of the Queen Mary, where it would see duty hosting royalty and world dignitaries.

We’re talking about an outdoor living space that’ll see plenty of spilled beer, barbecue sauce, hot dogs getting squished in between the planks, and maybe even the odd Leaf fan.

So, why scrutinize the plank spacing when its future will see such abuse and roughhousing? Because, deck board spacing matters.

Deck board spacing based on a strategy related to real information and atmospheric conditions, will provide years of beautiful, along with less maintenance, outdoor living.

What are the consequences of not following a plan, or disregarding the elements?

Aching lower back, followed by the dependency on medication, wrapping up with the eventual loss of sanity.

Now, the medication dependency and sanity issues are most probably worst case scenario outcomes, but I tell ya, the aching back due to always having to care for your decking planks, should the spacing be off, is a guarantee.

What are the characteristics of wood? Wood will shrink and expand during seasonal fluctuations in both temperature and humidity levels.

As a result, decking planks (which are normally 5-1/2 inches in diameter) will shrink down to about 5-1/4 inches during the sub-zero months, and may expand to about 5-5/8 inches wide during the summer.

With this fact in mind, we know we can space our boards a little closer during a hot, summer install, because the planks are generally at their widest.

Conversely, if the install was to take place during the early spring, or late fall, the decking planks should be spaced a little further apart, which would allow for future expansion.

What exactly does “a little closer” or “a little further apart” mean in terms of measurement?

I like to use the common nail strategy, relying on the width of a 2 inch (summer), 3 inch (spring/fall), or 4 inch (sub-zero), size of nail to determine board spacing at specific times of the year. The longer the nail, the thicker the shaft, and therefore the wider the spacing.

Generally, decking planks will tend to shrink on the width, and not so much on the length. However, don’t make the mistake of treating your decking planks like they were hardwood flooring.

With the knowledge that the planks are most likely to shrink a little, rather than further expand, during a summer installation, you may get the urge to place the decking planks tightly together. Avoid this urge.

Yes, the planks will shrink slightly, leaving a small gap in between each board that will initially look quite attractive.

However, once the dust, leaf matter, and helicopter seeds (compliments of our local maple trees) descend into this perfectly sized crack, the space between each board will fill up with debris faster than you say “hey, did you hear PK Subban’s latest country and western single?”

When that happens, you’ll be forced to scratch out the gunk with a hook bladed knife.

Unfortunately, most people tend to pass on the ensuing knee and back pain of that process, and instead turn to a pressure washer.

A pressure washer will be very effective in removing the debris, as it will effectively saturate your deck with water, and effectively remove the stained or clear coat finish.

When the wood is finally settled, what you want is about a ¼ inch space between planks.

This will allow for good drainage of rain and snow melt, and easier cleaning with nothing more powerful than a broom and garden hose.

Good building.

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

Blocking is key

Before you get to lounge on the deck, you have to build it. Don't forget about deck blocking, says our Handyman. Postmedia News Network
Before you get to lounge on the deck, you have to build it. Don’t forget about deck blocking, says our Handyman. Postmedia News Network

Today we’re talking blocking, as in deck blocking.

Deck blocking is to decking what a fou-rman, 1,200 pound offensive line is to protecting the quarterback. It’s what solid defence and goaltending is to winning playoff hockey. Blocking is the five sugar sticks Honey Boo Boo gulps down before hitting the stage at yet another Toddlers in Tiaras competition.

In essence, blocking is the game changer, and the ultimate stabilizer.

Once you’ve dug the holes, poured the piers, leveled the supporting beams, and completed the framework, or basically all the fun stuff, you’re going to want to move on to installing the deck boards.

After all, and by this point, you’re almost home. And, with the decking planks installed, your deck will actually look somewhat complete. So, let’s get those deck boards installed, and we’ll concern ourselves with the newel posts and railing system afterwards, right? Wrong!

Installing the decking planks will be the final piece of the puzzle. Before the planks, before the railing, and before the stairs get installed, we do the blocking.
First, we establish the position of the newel posts. In order to achieve a straighter, super strong railing perimeter, space the posts no further than six feet apart.
Railing systems are only necessary, by code, if your deck is 24 inches or more, above grade (grass level). Realistically though, I think a railing should be installed if your deck is any more than 12 inches off the ground.

A two foot drop doesn’t seem like much if you’re between the ages of 10 and 20 years old, participate in step aerobics, or are a former highland dancer. But I tell ya, if you’re a toddler, elderly person, or have had knee surgery, looking down at that two foot drop is like staring death right in the face.

Blocking means simply wrapping lumber around the newel posts after they’ve been sunken into the joist system, or providing solid lumber for the anchoring plate of your chosen vinyl, aluminum, or composite post.

If possible, always extend your wooden newel into the joists, it’s a superior strategy to surface mounting. Once you’ve established the railing height, cut your newel post to the proper length (be sure to add the deck board thickness and joist depth to this measure).

Then, cut a ½ inch by 7-1/4 inch (depth of your 2×8 joist) notch into the 4×4 post. This notch will allow you to conveniently set the 4×4 newel on the edge of the perimeter joist, along with perhaps one screw to hold it in position, while you add the blocking.

Blocking should consist of 2×8 lumber (two layers deep) on either side of the post, with a third piece of 2×8 spanning from joist to joist. Lock the blocking into position using PL glue and screws. Then, drive two carriage bolts through the whole assembly.

Basically, the newel posts ought to be able to stop traffic. And, don’t kid yourself, the integrity of this post will be tested.

First by the local inspector, who’ll tug away at this newel like not prying it loose meant they weren’t going to eat that day. Then of course by every visitor, in-law, and good buddy, who’ll want to christen the deck by giving that first newel a little shake, along with the blessing “Yep, this looks pretty good”.

Most aluminum and vinyl railing newels have bottom plates that allow only for surface mounting. When this is the case, plan your blocking so that each and every lag screw gets drilled into solid 2×8 lumber, and not simply the decking boards.

Plus, if your aluminum post system comes with 2-1/2 to 3 inch long screws, toss them in a jar for future, unrelated use.

Then, invest in a series of 4-5 inch, heavier lag screws, and use them instead. There’s no such thing as overkill when it comes to securing a newel posts.

Good building

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

Attach or self-stand?

There are two manners of construction, or building strategies, when it comes to adding a deck to the back of your home.

Basically, a deck can be free-standing, or attached to the house. Either way, both types of deck provide a home with the living space to host such basic necessities as a barbecue, ice cooler, and of course the standard plastic or steel tubing furniture on which to relax, discuss, and solve world issues. And, there will be no issues regarding size of living space, railing systems, or number of descending tiers and platforms, due to your deck being attached or self-standing.

However, there are slight advantages to using one system, over the other. The biggest advantage of an attached deck is stability. Generally, attached decks don’t sink or tilt. This is due to the fact that our building code, when it comes to attached decks, will require you to first install buried piers, in order to support the beams, which in turn support the joists and framework. Buried piers will require you having to dig big holes, since these piers will require 24-28 inch wide footings, dug about 54 inches below grade.

Unless you’ve been exercising your back by performing 500 lb. deadlifts three times per week, the task of digging a series of holes this wide, and deep, is best performed by a backhoe. If you’re unfamiliar with this type of heavy machinery, backhoes are to your lawn what a few raccoons are to an unprotected bag of trash put out the night before garbage day.

So, there’s the lawn devastation factor to deal with if you invite one of these fine, big boy toys onto your property. However, attached decks also have the advantage of being more easily modified into gazebos, or three season sun rooms. This is because the footings and piers, and the ledger boards (bolted to the home’s foundation), are all resting, or attached to, concrete that is sitting on undisturbed soil, and below the frost line.

So, if you’re looking at a deck for now, but maybe an enclosed area in the not so distant future, consider attaching the deck to the home. Self-standing decks cozy up to the house like a fellow on his first date with a gal at the movies. The advantage of a self-standing deck is that it’s adaptable. The ledger board of an attached deck provides a secure anchor for the joists and frame work, but it’s got to be fastened to something solid. Many homes have vinyl or composite sidings that extend well under the patio door, leaving little foundation to work with in order to install a ledger board. Or, pipes and duct venting that are usually found at the rear of the home, often interfere with the proper fastening or alignment of a ledger board. Also, some homeowners may not feel comfortable drilling into a brick or stone façade, or having to remove existing siding in order to find the necessary studs in which to bolt the ledger board.

So, for all those folks we have the self-standing deck. Because a self-standing deck is basically a large table, it requires at least four legs. If the deck is any larger than 12 feet, or the maximum span of a triple 2×10 beam, you’re going to require at least a second, or third beam. More beams will of course require more supporting legs (6×6 posts). But, that’s what happens with a self-standing deck. Without the house being relied on to supply support, you’re going to need more legs. Now, a self-standing deck can be pier supported, or simply float. Floating decks are riskier for newer homes because the 6-8 feet of ground that extends out from the foundation, has yet to fully settle. As a result, the weight of a deck will surely have a couple of the deck legs sinking slightly. Older homes (15-20 yrs.) have surrounding soil that’s had plenty of time to settle, providing a solid base for a floating deck.
Good building.

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

Flats overhead

Today we’re talking flat residential roofing, and specifically, how to get them to stop leaking.

Now, why would anyone choose to have a flat roof? Well, like the lawn dart (banned in 1988, after having skewered more individuals than those wounded at the Battle of Grunwald in 1410), and clacker ball toys (banned in 1985, after it was discovered that with vigorous clacking, the resulting explosion was second only to the M67 fragmentation grenade) it seemed like a good idea at the time. Theoretically, flat roofs aren’t a bad idea, and are normally the least complicated way of covering a carport or back porch. Plus, the material cost of flat roof joists are often cheaper than a peaked, or truss system of roof. And, with a little added engineering, a flat roof can be turned into an outdoor terrace, providing a bird’s eye view of the neighborhood.

Having living space on the roof can also be quite private, unless you live by the airport, and provide a unique type of entertaining area for guests. Flat roofs rarely leak because they can’t disperse water properly. After all, flat roofs are like a table top, allowing precipitation to simply flow over the edge into an eavestrough type of system. So, even snow, which melts eventually, shouldn’t be an issue. However, in our part of the world, we get freezing rain, followed by a 24 hour thaw, then 20 centimeters of snow, with a 10 day severe cold spell to wrap up a typical January month end. When that happens, the snow melt buried under the exterior crust will pool in the middle, usually for several weeks, providing a true test of your flat roofing membrane. Eventually, and after years of pooling, the water will make its way through.

So, how does a homeowner with a flat roof avoid the inevitable? By using the best in materials, and by providing adequate drainage. First, a flat roof, or even one that is slightly sloped, requires a solid plywood base. So, if you’re repairing or replacing an existing roof, remove all asphalt or granular roofing materials that are presently on the roof.

Never apply modern day products over existing materials. One, you’re leaving two Volkswagen Jetta’s worth of material weight on the roof, which will only lead to roof sag, more water pooling, and eventual leakage. And two, the planks or plywood under this existing roof could be in lousy condition, or even close to rotting if the leaking has been ignored for some time. Left unchecked, adding a couple of tons of new roofing material to a flat roof with a weakened joist system, could make things really uncomfortable for the fellow in the top bunk when that first heavy snowfall hits.

With the old materials cleaned off the roof, check the condition of the underlay material. If you discover the underlay to be a series of 1×6 or 1×8 planks, replace the ones that have cracked or rotted, then cover the planks with a ½ inch thick plywood sheeting. Roofing materials, whether it be steel, asphalt shingles, or flat rubber membranes, absolutely require plywood as an underlay.

Next, you’ll be applying a two part roll roofing product such as the Henry Bakor Duratac system. The system consists of first installing what’s referred to as a base sheet, which is a rubberized, self-sticking, 39”x65 ft. roll-on membrane that gets applied directly to the plywood. If applying the base sheet in late fall or early spring, first apply a primer to the plywood to help adhesion.

Next, apply the cap sheet, which is essentially the same type of self-sticking roll as the base sheet, except the cap sheet has a granular surface to effectively defend against the elements. Further keys to a successful flat roof application? Use a heavy roller to effectively seal the membranes to the plywood, and each other. Plus, avoid leakages due to pooling by properly flashing around chimneys, plumbing stacks, and everywhere the roof meets a ledge or wall.

Good building.

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

Walk around the house

Winter is coming make sure the outside of your home is ready.
Winter is coming make sure the outside of your home is ready.

Today we’re going for a walk around the exterior of our home.

Required tools for the task? Pencil, notepad, and if time has taken its toll on your weary eyes, preventing you from distinguishing a caterpillar from a missing piece of mortar at 50 paces, binoculars.

What are we looking for? Cracks in the brick, stone work, or foundation. Buckled roof flashing, missing shingles, caulking that has separated from the siding, and anything else that could otherwise be defined as a gap.

Why are gaps and cracks an issue? Because we live in a climate zone where winter allows us to skate on our ponds and rivers. This, as opposed to living in Rio de Janeiro, home of the most recent summer Olympics, which I found somewhat confusing, since they were held during the Brazilian winter. A winter in Rio means rain, then a few days of sunshine, then rain again. As a result, mortar cracks in Rio will fill up with water, dry out, then fill up with water again.

In our part of the world, a late fall rain can turn into an early winter frost. When that happens, the water in our mortar cracks will freeze, causing the crack to expand. Now you’ve got a bigger crack, which will take in more water during the next thaw, then expand further once things freeze again. At some point in time, if left unpatched, this simple crack in the mortar, or foundation, or roof flashing, will compromise your house envelope.

In other words, the rain water or snow melt actually gets into the house this time. Worst case scenario when this happens is a flood. Best case scenario is stained drywall, mold, wood rot, and eventual structural damage. So, with those dismal options in the not so distant future, we fix the cracks and fill the gaps.

As you make your way around the home, make note of every deficiency, where they’re located, which parts are loose, and so on. As far as prioritizing or budgeting the fix-ups go, anything to do with the roof has got to be done first.

However, don’t wait too long to settle the remaining issues. Your window of repair opportunity is from now until the temperature drops below 10 degrees Celsius.

Once the temperatures are below this number, caulkings and mortar repair cements won’t seal and dry properly, likely having you repeating the repair process next year.

Next, divide the tasks into specific areas or jobs, such as roofing, siding, mortar repair, gutter replacement, etc. Then, call the appropriate professional, and hand him the list.

What about doing it yourself? That’s called being a do-it-yourselfer, and although commendable in theory, its status is overrated. Why? Because a reputable professional will do a better job, and in less time. Plus, by keeping your hands off the tools, and solely on the steering wheel as you perform the daily Tim’s run for the work crew, your chances of falling off the roof, or toppling down a ladder, drop to zero.

Safety is one of those things we often fail to think about until it’s too late. I’m sure a lot of homeowners can re-point a loose brick, caulk around a window, or replace a piece of siding, so long that effecting those repairs allows you to firmly stand on the ground, or your back deck. But what do you do when there are siding, window, or roof repairs to be done that are higher than six feet off the ground? The answer is having not only the proper scaffolding equipment, and the manpower to move it around, but the necessary safety harnesses and tie down straps as well, things most of us handy homeowners don’t have hanging around the pool shed. What we do have in our garages are light-gauge step and extension ladders, purchased when we were young men, 40 lbs. thinner, and better co-ordinated. So, stay off the ladders, call in the professional tradespeople, and get those cracks and gaps filled.

Good building.

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