Don’t sweat it

Wet windows? Handyman Hints can help. Postmedia Network

Why are my windows sweating? This is one of the more common questions asked by many a frustrated homeowner during this time of year. And, the answer to this dilemma is not always easy.

If you’re a Leafs fan, it’s just indicative of a clouded vision that will most likely plague you throughout the entire winter season. If you eat pasta with every meal, then use this carbohydrate overload to sweat it out in your home gym, then follow things up with a 20 minute hot shower, you’re likely stirring up more humidity than tropical storm Otto. Or, if you’re the sort of person who’s deathly scared of the cold, and have resorted to saran wrapping every window and non-essential entrance door with the same diligence you used on your luncheon pork chops, proper air circulation is going to be an impossibility.

Basically, you’re trapping humidity in the home. As discussed last week, too much humidity in the home can lead to all kinds of damage to your finish trims, framework, while ultimately encouraging mold growth. So, how do we eliminate excess humidity? It’ll take a combination of air intake, air exhaust, and air circulation.

Unless you’re willing to confine your brisk walks to the areas of the home, going from kitchen, to dining room, then up the stairs, through the bedroom, and back down again, air circulation is best handled by mechanical means. If you own a furnace, keep the fan working fulltime, and, don’t forget to change or clean the filter on a monthly basis. If your home lacks the necessary ductwork to circulate air, consider replacing your ceiling light fixtures with lighted ceiling fans.

Again, and especially during the really cold days, have the fans turning on a continual basis. A working ceiling fan will not only prevent condensation, but with the air being constantly churned, should eliminate any cold areas in the room that are close to the windows. If replacing every ceiling fixture seems excessive, then at least install a table top oscillating fan in the more problematic rooms.

Proof of air flow successfully removing condensation can be witnessed every time you turn your car’s windshield defrost switch on.

Next, air exhaust. Basically, if you’re creating steam or heat, then you’ve got to exhaust it to the exterior. Not into the attic, or the garage, or into the wall or joist system, but into the great outdoors. So, make sure every bathroom, and the kitchen, have their own exhaust fans. Bathroom fans should operate on a timer, set to 30 minutes once you step in the shower. Clothes dryers also create a ton of moisture. As a result, make sure the joints in the dryer ductwork are taped, and lead to a proper dryer exhaust vent (one with a flapper inside). Plus, disconnect the pipe every couple of months to verify that the lint hasn’t balled up inside. Definitely avoid choosing one of those interior exhaust kits for your dryer, they’re about as effective as investing in behavior lessons for your cat. Next, with all this mechanical air circulation and exhaust, comes the need to mechanically bring fresh air into the home.

This duty can be handled by installing a HRV (heat recovery ventilation) machine in your basement, or adequately sized utility room. About the size and weight of a 26 inch television (Quazar, not flat screen) the HRV system exhausts the stale air in the home, and replaces it with an equal amount of fresh outdoor air. The heat recovery is handled by a honeycomb type core that transfers the heat from the air going out, to the new air coming in. HRV units can work independently of your heating system, or be connected to your furnace, taking advantage of the room to room service provided by the existing ductwork. HRV’s will also filter this new air entering the home, and help control overall humidity levels, delivering a healthier living environment for the home’s occupants.

Good building.

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

Some frosty window art

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A well that you want to keep dry

“Are you a fireman?” was the question posed to me after giving this particular customer a quick lesson on the building code regarding egress basement windows and window wells.

“Don’t be ridiculous madame,” was my reply, “my proficiency at playing ice hockey is far too poor to be ever considered for such a position.”

This response references a local hiring practice that’s enabled our firefighters to go undefeated in charity hockey games for the past 40 years.

The issue at hand was her basement window, which had an existing window well, that she wanted to cover with some type of plastic canopy. Her idea was to somehow fasten the appropriate-sized canopy to the steel wall of the well.

Window wells are one of those necessary evils. They aren’t so attractive and they have a tendency to collect water against the foundation, which is not a good thing. In severe rains, they’ve also been known to create an interesting type of aquarium featuring some of our local frogs, insects and plant life, which can be a little unsettling for the unsuspecting basement dweller upon opening the curtains at sunrise.

However, when the landscaping has buried a portion of your basement window into the soil, a window well is what you’ll need to provide the necessary spacing for light, and escape. So – and addressing the issue at hand – this person’s desire to cover the window well is a prudent decision.

Window wells are good at collecting water, doing what wells are designed to do. However, water that pools at the foundation will creep down the wall and then infiltrate your finished basement through some little crack.

That’s the reason why we cover our window wells. The only flaw in her strategy was that she wanted to fasten the window well lid to the well. That’s when I explained to her the error in performing such a task, since it would eliminate an escape route, should there be a fire emergency.

“Oh well,” she continued, “if it was an emergency and I had to force it open, I could certainly do so.”

That’s when I explained the egress principle, which states a proper escape route must not require the escapee to figure out a latch or combination lock, or have prior knowledge as to how something opens— and certainly not require force.

When smoke fills a room, you’ve got about as long as you can hold your breath, which under duress is about 30 seconds, before the carbons and smoke matter overwhelm you. So, escape has got to be swift, and easy.

That’s when she blurted out the fireman quip.

The best system is a flip up lid that attaches to the foundation. These well covers are available with ridged, clear plastic tops that are extremely lightweight, requiring little pressure to open, while effectively diverting water away from the well. Then we discussed depth of the lid, which in this case needed to be about 14 inches.

A 14-inch lid indicated a 12-inch deep window well, which of course raised the question as to what use this basement room served. The building code doesn’t require storage, closet, or furnace rooms to have a window, so regardless of the size of the window, or depth of window well, compliance would not be an issue.

However, if this basement room were a bedroom, then we’d have a problem. Basement bedrooms require a window that when slid open, provides at least 3.8 square feet of escapable space, with 15 inches being the minimum opening of any one side. Along with this minimum window size, comes a minimum window well size, which states that the well must have a depth of at least 22 inches.

If you’re planning on renovating your basement with the idea of creating a few new bedrooms, make sure the window sizes and window well depths, conform to code.

Good building.

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

Basement heartbreak month

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good building.

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

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