A little respect for the underlay

“My wife used to be afraid of the dark . . . then she saw me naked, and now she’s afraid of the light.”

And, “I drink too much, the last time I gave a urine sample it had an olive in it”,  are a couple of classic one-liners by the man who never got respect, Rodney Dangerfield.

So, how does today’s ‘lack of respect’ theme have anything to do with building products, and specifically underlays?

Well, in the residential building biz, homeowners tend to place the utmost of importance on what you see, as opposed to what’s underneath. What you see, or the finished product, is of course important because that’s what you’re going to be waking up to, coming home to, and entertaining guests on, so you want it to look good.

As a result, homeowners tend to splurge the bulk of their budgets on the finished product, while kind of forgetting, or paying little attention to, the seemingly irrelevant underlay, simply because it’s buried.

Underlays are what you place in between the finished floor, and the existing subfloor.

Subfloors may consist of concrete, if we’re dealing with a basement renovation, or plywood, if we’re focusing on any other room in the house. The amount of attention, or money, a homeowner puts towards an underlay, will coincide directly with the basic requirements of the chosen finished floor, and/or on how you expect this finished floor to perform.

Because the subfloor is tied into the structure or framework of the home, you’re basically going to have to accept whatever’s there as your starting point.

So, whether the subfloor consists of concrete, plywood, or in the case of an older home, 1×6 spruce planks, unless you’re prepared to open up the entire joist system, changing or tampering with the subfloor is unlikely.

Therefore, with the subfloor a fixed asset, and the finished floor decided on, it’s important to realize the value of, and give a little respect to, the product that’s going to make or break the long term performance of your finished floor, and that’s the underlay.

Why do we have underlay products? Because in most cases, finished floors aren’t directly compatible with the existing subfloor.

Laminate or engineered floorings, for example, are popular choices for the basement because they’re a good value and easy to care for. However, due to possible moisture issues, wood composites and concrete aren’t good partners.

As a result, laminate floors placed over concrete will minimally require the buffer of a poly (vapor barrier)/ foam underlay. A poly/foam underlay is all you need, and at pennies per square foot, is certainly an affordable must have.

However, there are better choices out there.
Does better cost more? Always.

Poly foams solve any potential moisture issues, but unfortunately will do little to negate the cool dampness one feels when walking on a basement floor. This ‘coolness on the feet’ can be resolved by first installing 2’x2’ Barricade, or DRIcore, underlay panels.

Referred to as sub-floor panels, these floating underlay sheets take the chill out of a basement floor, making life in the basement a whole lot more comfortable.

Barricade is an OSB (oriented strand board) underlay panel with a ridged foam backing, while DRIcore has a plastic dimpled backing. Both do the job, whereby choosing one over the other is entirely based on whether extra R-value, or moisture control, is of greater importance.

Ceramic tile? Même chose, whether it be installed on the wall, or on the floor, you’re going to need an underlay. Tiles being installed in a shower area will absolutely require an impermeable membrane such as Schluter’s Kerdi matting, or Hydraflex sealant, installed over the plywood or mold resistant drywall.

Because floor ceramics require absolute rigidity, cement board or Schluter’s Ditra membrane are your best choices.

Moral to the story? Don’t skimp on the underlay, it’s the key to a long-lasting finish.

Good building.

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

Let ‘er slide

We had garden, or regular in-swinging doors, leading onto our back deck once. Once!

Now we have sliding patio doors, and they’re a welcome change.

Generally purchased in either a five or six foot width, the standard white vinyl sliding door has been a staple in new home construction for the past 50 years.

Basically, if you were building a new home or addition, and there was to be a deck attached, in all likelihood there was going to be a sliding patio door involved.

Why was the choice of a patio door such a popular one? Value.

For about half the price of a double door system with full length glass, the standard patio door delivered a full view, clean look, with a simple operating mechanism. Plus, you had the bonus of a sliding screen, making the decision of choosing a patio door over conventional doors a no-brainer.

Downside to these original series patio doors? Unimpressive locking system, with a limited colour selection that included white, white and white.

Then came the garden door, basically a double door, hinged either at the side, or stylishly hinged at the center mullion, with of course the newly designed sliding screen option.

Now home builders were able to have the somewhat classier look of a double door, due to its wider style and rail, with the convenience of a screen to let in that welcomed summer breeze. Further bonuses to choosing a garden door included a basically unlimited choice of door colours, along with a frame colour that would match the windows, should the choice be other than white.

Plus, garden doors could be accessorized with the same type of lockset and deadbolt as the other exterior doors, so there was a consistency factor that made choosing the garden door, even at its elevated price, the better decision.

The downside of a garden door is that it swings inwards. Not a big deal if you’ve got the living room, bedroom, or kitchen space to spare.

However, if things are already a little tight, the person seated closest to the door is certainly in peril of having their afternoon tea tossed onto their lap every time somebody bumps their chair in an attempt to get in or out of the home.

That hasn’t changed, and until the standard butt hinge is replaced, or sees some major metamorphosis in its structure, doors will continue to require space as they swing inward.

What about swinging a door towards the outside? Although possible, it’s not a recommended option. Out-swinging doors take up valuable deck space regardless, and require a deck platform equal in height to the door sill, otherwise they can be a real tripping hazard.

Plus, a strong wind will tear an out-swinging door right out of your fingers, which can certainly damage the slab, and minimally surprise the bejesus out of the first time victim.

Finally, an out swinging door would require an inside sliding screen, which would look odd.

So, why the switch back to the seemingly antiquated, sliding patio door?

Colour, of course. Combo PVC (coloured exterior, white interior) sliding doors have become the new go-to product for home owners requesting their doors match the exterior windows, which have made the switch from white sash and frame, to the more decorative grey and pebble colours.

Black (aluminum) coloured sliding doors are also becoming very popular, due perhaps to the sliding patios narrow style and frame, which appears quite elegant when these thinner lines are inserted into a stone or brick veneer.

Are wood sliding doors available? Absolutely. Aluminum cladding will finish the exterior, with the customer having a variety of choices regarding wood specie and stain colour for the interior.

What if a person fears missing the look of their garden door? Go with the wider style and rail option, which combines the prestige of a garden door with the convenience of a sliding unit.

Good building!

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

Accepting your stone foundation

Old stone homes are beautiful. They're also pretty cold, especially in the basement. Our Handyman Hint solution? Accept it for what it is, unless you're willing to pour a lot of money into it.
Old stone homes are beautiful. They’re also pretty cold, especially in the basement. Our Handyman Hint solution? Accept it for what it is, unless you’re willing to pour a lot of money into it.

We owned a century home with a stone foundation once. Once!

As a result, when it comes to giving advice to those persons looking to invest in a home built before the invention of the automobile, and who have further ideas of transforming this stone foundation into useable storage space, I can only offer the following, “may the strength and courage of your faith guide you accordingly”.

My faith guided me right back up the stairs to our kitchen table, where within 45 minutes I had completed a drawing and structural details to our future garden shed. That’s my recommendation to those persons looking to use a stone basement for anything other than keeping a few bottles of wine slightly chilled — build the more convenient and certainly more practical alternative, that being a shed.

Should all stone foundations be judged so harshly? Absolutely.

However, the guidelines as to how user friendly a stone basement is, lies entirely on the reparation work done by the previous owner. In our case, the previous tenants were farmers and retired crafters.

So, the basement was left relatively unchanged since its modest beginnings in 1825. Which, meant whitewashed stone walls, an uneven ground floor, along with the standard “be prepared to duck” floor to ceiling beam height of about 5-1/2 feet.

Plus, two inches of floodwater would appear like clockwork every first day of spring. As a result, considering this basement area for storage space (provided it was off the floor) was slim, with any thoughts of potential living area being created out of this dungeon about as likely as a Stanley Cup parade down Yonge Street.

Needless to say, we continued the trend of ignoring the basement issue, and chose to instead direct our home renewal funds towards a new kitchen and subsequent pool.

However, what an engineer, or more structurally inclined fellow would have done, is address the basement.

How? By steadying the home with a new series of joists and strategically placed hydraulic jacks, the basement floor would be dug down a further three feet.

Next, with a new footing installed, and poured concrete knee-wall supporting the existing stone structure, we would lay the lines to our internal weeping tile system and sump pump well.

Finally, a concrete floor would be spread and levelled overtop. That’s a previous owner who would have done us one heck of a favor, regardless of the cost.

Moral of the story, for best results, buy a home formerly owned by an engineer. Otherwise, most stone foundations are caught somewhere in between their original state and complete renewal, having been subject to the usual piecemeal grout repairs.
Should a future home buyer be concerned about investing in a home with a stone foundation? Absolutely not.

We loved our stone home, and could we have logistically moved it to our new property without the aid of four Sea King helicopters, we probably would have.

Like everything else in this world, if you love most of what you see, you’re going to accept some of the weaknesses.

Is a stone foundation a concern? Stone foundations are energy losers. Solid rock is a poor insulator, while the mortar joints are responsible for continual air and moisture infiltration.

Now, combine that scenario with a ground floor, or concrete floor that may be cracked or in disrepair, and we’re talking one heck of an influx of dampness.

Remedy? If you’ve got 200 thousand bucks to spend, you re-do the basement in the aforementioned manner. Otherwise, your goal will be controlling the water, which can be accomplished by addressing the sloping landscape and eavestrough systems outside, with the possible help of a weeping tile line and sump pump unit inside.

With a strategy in place to handle the rain and ground water, a proper concrete floor, complete with ridged foam board and vapor barrier, would be the next step, solving most of the moisture issues, while at least providing you with a somewhat useable storage space.

Good building.

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

JM in and out

In an effort to make our newly purchased, older home, a little cozier, we’re going to be adding ridged John Mansville polyiso insulation board (made right here in Cornwall, by the way) to both sides of our exterior walls.

Why insulate both sides? Because our dated walls have too many holes, or weaknesses in its construction. Weaknesses that may not have been a concern 50 years ago, when gas was cheap and chopping wood was still in vogue. However, with the price of energy today, this barn is really going to be a heating money pit.

Holes do as poor a job keeping the cold out, as they do keeping the heat in. So, we address the comfort issue by insulating both sides of the wall. Basically, if we could replace the exterior walls, we would. But assuming our budget doesn’t include removing the roof with the same crane that was commissioned to lift and lower the lengths of International Bridge one section at a time, the next best solution is to bolster the insulation value of the exterior frame.

Further bonuses to choosing the John Mansville board solution. One, it won’t disturb an often delicate wall structure that may contain anything from lead paint to asbestos filled insulation. And two, wrapping both sides of the exterior wall will make things absolutely air tight. So, that cool draft you feel up the wazoo every time you step out of the shower will soon be a forgotten morning ritual.

Step one, remove the existing wood, vinyl, or composite siding. Brick homes can be covered directly with John Mansville board, while covering a stone house (for aesthetic reasons) should be avoided. Step two, install the John Mansville polyiso board to the wall studs, with the reflective side facing the interior. Next, cover the John Mansville board with a house wrap. If the John Mansville polyiso board serves as a heavy sweater, the house wrap is its light windbreaker jacket over top. Although the ridged insulation board will basically seal the home, house wrap is a good idea because it effectively protects the John Mansville product from the elements during the construction phase, and against any moisture that infiltrates the siding in the future.

Next, install 1×3 spruce strapping vertically over the house wrap, fastening it through the John Mansville board and into the exterior wall studs. The 1×3 strapping provides a can’t-miss target for installing your siding. Plus, it provides a key, ¾ inch air space for wood and composite sidings, which require this type of drying zone behind the product in order to avoid rot or paint peeling issues. Now, with 1-1/2 inches of JM insulation board, along with the ¾ inch strapping, and considering the thickness of the siding, won’t all these exterior coverings cause a challenge to finishing around the windows? Very likely, but nothing a roll of aluminum flashing in the hands of a qualified installer can’t correct.

Is it a good strategy to install an insulation board and siding before replacing the windows? Or, shouldn’t the windows be replaced before replacing the siding? There’s no doubt that in a perfect renovation world, and with the budget to do so, replacing the windows along with the siding is as good a 1-2 punch as you can get when it comes to turning around a home’s curb appeal and value. However, if budget constraints will allow you one renovation per year, insulation and siding, in most cases, is cheaper than window replacement, and the better value.

New windows are terrific, but you’re still replacing glass with glass. So, start with the furnace, then the siding, and put the money saved on heating towards new windows the following year.

Inside the home’s exterior walls and ceilings? Basically the same procedure as we did outside. John Mansville board (3/4 inch) glued directly to the existing drywall or plaster, 1×3 strapping overtop, followed by a 6 mil. vapour barrier, then regular drywall to finish. As is common practice, be sure to start with the ceiling insulation panels and drywall first, then the walls.

Good building.

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