Solving the water mystery in your basement

This is were water from the weeping tile comes in and were the sump pump is submerged. It’s good practice to have a backup pump installed as well POSTMEDIA FILES

Today we continue our discussion regarding the mystery of basement water, basically asking the questions, where does it come from? And, how do we possibly control it?

Our case study will examine the finished living space of retired crushed-ice salesman, Sam “Slushy” Slushworth, who unfortunately has been spending most of his hours filling the clothes hamper with wet socks due to a number of repeated soakers.

Flooding is lousy, and when it occurs, is best handled by property restoration professionals. They have the pumps, hoses, and drying equipment to return your basement area back to dry in as little time as possible. Getting to dry within a day or two of a flooding is key to avoiding severe damage and mould. Flooding similar to Mr. Slushworth’s case is more of a pain in the butt, but still costly, although most would view the loss of Sam’s 1970s-era orange carpeting as divine intervention to a decorating choice long overdue for renewal.

Because basement floods will often lead to a total loss of flooring, furniture, drywall, and essentially everything except the suspended ceiling tiles and light fixtures, there are strategies to help avoid catastrophe.

One, if you’re dependent on a sump pump to keep things dry, have your local plumber install a second (or back-up pump) in the well. This second pump will be water-driven, as opposed to relying on electrical power. So, if there’s ever a power outage, or the primary pump simply jams due to an influx of granular matter, your basement investment isn’t lost to a malfunctioning $199 pump.

Those homeowners without sump pumps should consider using a dimpled membrane or 2’x2’ dimpled subfloor panel, as opposed to a simple six-millimeter plastic, underneath their chosen flooring.

A dimpled membrane creates a half-inch air space between the concrete floor and the flooring, allowing any water seepage to flow under the floor, depositing in a drain placed in an adjoining storage area or furnace room.

With the carpet removed, and the water stain clearly visible on the concrete floor, Slushy was able to trace back the water infiltration to a spot near the base of the finished wall.

So, is the mystery solved? Are we to simply cut out a narrow strip of drywall, pull back the insulation, and repair what should be a clearly visible crack in the concrete?

Oh, if Slushy could only be so lucky.

Although there exists a one per cent chance the water on the concrete floor is being fed by a crack in the foundation wall directly above it, 99 per cent of the time, water ends up travelling a distance, led by gravity and steered by obstructions, until it presents itself through a gap in the 2×4 framing.

So, if there’s no crack to be found directly above the point at which water is entering the room, is Mr. Slushworth to completely dismantle his drywall and framing in a frantic attempt to find the leak?

Perhaps, but, if this is a first-time occurrence, let’s avoid gutting the basement for now, and instead look at remedying any possible weaknesses in the water-management system outside.

If there’s a crack in your basement’s concrete wall, the repairing and patching of this issue is best done from the exterior.

There are certainly injection-type materials and hydraulic cement compounds that strategically allow the homeowner to attack water infiltration from the inside, but stopping water before it breaches the concrete is best.

Unfortunately, with our propensity to attach decks to our homes, install garden beds, lay interlocking paving stones and pour asphalt driveways directly against our foundation walls, essentially making our concrete foundations as inaccessible as possible, we’re left with either having to destroy our outdoor efforts, or make a mess of our beloved finished basement, in order to find that illusive crack.

Hence the importance of properly sealing a foundation, whether it be new or old, before any serious landscaping action happens.

Next week, managing the water runoff.

Good building.

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

Avoiding a Foolish Decision

29 BM? C Parker3 Nancy cc-cataloged cc-cataloged SUE REEVE / LONDON FREE PRESS

Spring can be a time for foolish behaviour.

We can foolishly fall in love. We can foolishly root for one of our Canadian based hockey teams to make it into the second round of the NHL playoffs. And, we can foolishly buy a home.

Time will soften a heartbreak, and even though the nights and hours invested in watching your team crash during the playoffs essentially forfeited your viewing of “Game of Thrones” finale season, the re-runs will still be pretty good. But, invest in a home that soon proves to be nothing more than a money pit?

Well, not only will you experience continued heartbreak, and time wasted searching for home remedies, but you’ll likely come face to face with financial disaster, successfully completing the foolish behaviour trifecta.

There are many factors and emotions that can sway people into buying a home, making it almost impossible to compile a list of do’s and don’ts regarding what makes for a good home, or a solid investment. Basically, the bottom line is, “know what you’re getting into”. This can only be accomplished by gathering information.

If your search for home details reveal a basement that floods every March 21st, plumbing that flows well enough in June, but not so good in January, and a roof that only leaks when the rains blow in from the east, but you’re still sold on the joint because the pond in the backyard reminds you of summers spent feeding the ducks at Gramma’s house, then your signing was at least based on the fact you were well informed.

Basically, ‘location’ is what most often drives the value of a home, almost regardless of the home’s condition. So, if you had to follow one real estate ‘safety net’ rule of thumb that would limit your financial risk, you can rarely go wrong buying the worst house on the best street.

Any deviation from this general rule and all bets are off. First and foremost, if there’s a home that’s of interest to you, be sure to either have it checked by a certified home inspector or be sure to specify in the home buyer’s contract that agreeing to purchase the home will be dependent on the home inspection meeting your expectations as the buyer.

Home inspections may vary in price due to the size of the home, but whatever the cost, it’ll be far less than the surprise investment of remedying moisture issues and mold in your child’s bedroom, or a crack in the sunroom’s concrete floor, that all went unnoticed until three months into your purchase.

Regardless of a home inspectors experience and familiarity with the home construction biz, all they can judge and comment on is what is visible. Unfortunately, home inspectors aren’t permitted to pull back the carpet to verify for rot or remove a piece of window casing to confirm the existence of foam insulation around the frame. So, as the buyer, your third or fourth set of eyes will be key to gathering intelligence.

First, know the age of the home your buying, or if it’s been renovated, the age of the components. Walking into a time-warp of a house that contains a different colour of carpet in every room, and re-runs of the Brady Bunch playing on the 26” Sony Trinitron, could be a sign that nothing much has changed in 25-30 years. In this case, the home’s cabinetry, light fixtures, as well as the furnace and cooling systems, will all be due for replacement. Next, ask for an ownership history of the house.

If the home has had several 1-3 year tenants, this could be a sign that this home has several issues. So, inspect this place thoroughly.

Finally, if there have been renovations, where are the work permits? People complain about the permit process, but I tell ya, there’s no better, or more powerful proof that you’ve renovated your place right, than by showing a potential buyer you’ve followed the building code.

Good home shopping.

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

Building your storied mantel

A mantel, which was originally part of a series of architectural mouldings found at a restoration store, adds instant character to this brick fireplace. POSTMEDIA NETWORK FILES

Today we’re going to be deciding on how to build our mantel.

Essentially, a shelf becomes a mantel when it’s placed over a fireplace.

When a mantel is supported by two column-like moldings placed on either side of the fireplace, this three-piece unit adopts the more elegant designation of “mantel surround.”

In an effort to simplify things, avoid formality, or guide the style of one’s home towards that of open space contemporary, mantels, as opposed to mantel surrounds, are becoming the decorator’s choice for accessorizing the wall space occupied by a fireplace.

So, with your lonely mantel now expected to bear a large portion of the decorating weight, becoming one of the key components to this accent wall, ranking second only to the fireplace itself, your mantel will need to provide impact.

For this to happen, the mantel is going to require two elements: size and character.

Size can be achieved either by building the mantel to the desired dimensions, by special ordering a solid piece of lumber, or by revitalizing an old barn beam into service. Building a mantel is easy, or like they say, only requires money.

Basically, any mantel found on Houzz or in a decorator’s magazine, can most likely be duplicated by your local building supply dealer’s bath and kitchen cabinet division, or by a local carpenter familiar with this type of finishing artistry.

Custom-made mantels are beautiful, but they usually don’t have any extended value, and carry even less of a story. Unless of course the mantel was made by some aging artisan who recently passed away, which like a piece of art, could elevate the mantel’s value.

Or, ‘legendary story’ value could result if the cabinet maker should have suffered a gruesome beheading after he slipped while trimming the mantel with his radial arm saw. In such a case, the customer would certainly benefit from the added value of their mantel having a history, and a warm, gather-around-the-fireplace type of story to recount to the little tykes on Christmas Eve.

Otherwise, a custom mantel is a rather nondescript piece of work.

So, with aging cabinet makers on their deathbed not so easily found in the yellow pages, if your mantel is to impress, then the option of solid wood might be the next best choice.

Because B.C. fir is readily available in practically any length or dimension of lumber, the fir specie is an excellent choice for a mantel. Besides the freedom to order a mantel in the desired girth, choosing B.C. fir also allows the homeowner to match the colour and grain pattern of their mantel to that of any other wood beams and pillars in the home, enabling the decorator to establish a real continuity of style and texture.

B.C. fir can be ordered with either a rough-sawn or dressed finish.

A rough-sawn look is the resulting finish of the original log being pushed through the band saw at the mill, and offers the customer a straight, but “furry” type of texture that includes splintering and saw blade marks. Rough-sawn finishes fit right into a rustic type of décor, or serve well to contrast in a contemporary setting.

Dressed refers to the fact the lumber has gone through a planer, and has been rendered smooth to the touch.

Other than made-to-measure and solid B.C. fir options, old lumber can serve as the perfect mantel. Beams from one of the seaway locks, old industrial pillars from the cotton mills, or the posts used in the 1870 last community hanging of bad boy Alfonse “le méchant” Papineau, all carry yesteryear’s charm, and make for great storytelling.

Otherwise, the fun thing about using old lumber is that you become the story teller, which is considered fair game in the home décor biz.

Concerns regarding old lumber? Look for any embedded nails or bolts before cutting. And, the paint on these older beams likely contains lead. So, sanding will require using extreme precautions.

Good building.

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

Dealing with water’s mysterious appearance

Dimpled plastic membrane that can be applied to help direct water away from your foundation and into your weeping tile. VITALIY HALENOV / GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCKPHOTO

On Nov. 22, 1963, former marine sharpshooter Lee Harvey Oswald fired three shots at a motorcade from a sixth floor window in Dallas, Texas.

Regardless of the fact his target was moving, and possessing a mail-order rifle procured only months earlier, two out of the three shots are direct hits, instantly killing then-President John F. Kennedy. The degree of difficulty and circumstances relating to the assassination bring forth theories of a conspiracy, with even the possibility of a second shooter.

On June 3, 1934, the drilling and blasting relating to the construction of Highway A82 along the coast of Loch Ness, disturb a sleeping water monster from the depths of the loch, enabling London surgeon R. K. Wilson to take a silhouette type photograph, confirming the existence of Nessie, a creature whose sightings date back to 565 AD.

On March 14, Sam Slushworth descends the stairway towards his finished basement. As he makes his way towards the beer fridge located at the far end of a room not so fashionably decorated in 70s-styled wood paneled walls, a Mickey Mouse clock, and bright orange-carpeting, he experiences the uncomfortable sensation one gets when moisture quickly makes its way into your socks, the dreaded soaker.

Examining the room, Slushy notices a few other areas where water has seemingly infiltrated the carpet.

Was there a conspiracy to kill the president? Does an ancient sea dinosaur inhabit the depths of Loch Ness? And, where did Mr. Slushworth’s basement water come from?

Unfortunately, all are yet to be solved mysteries.

However, we will qualify ourselves to explore a few hypotheses regarding basement water, dismissing the two other mysteries until another day.

A basement is kind of like the hull of a ship, and is essentially a concrete tub surrounded by groundwater. However, and unlike the hull of a boat, which can be made of such impermeable products as steel, fiberglass, or some type of plastic, basement walls (including the ICF foam block systems) are largely made of concrete— a solid, but still very porous, type of material.

Basement floors are also made of concrete, solid but again, in no way impervious to water.

So, how’s a homeowner to defend against water infiltrating the basement, when the basement walls and floors inherently allow moisture to pass through?

Until somebody comes up with a suitable alternative to concrete, the homeowner is left with little choice but to seal their concrete walls and floors by the best means possible.

If you’re having a home built for you this spring, or will be buying a home presently under construction, then the answer to having a dry basement for the next 30 years – dismissing any natural disasters of course – is simple. Take the $5,000 to $6,000 you’ve budgeted for a big screen TV, dual chaise loungers equipped with cup holders and cooler, along with voice-activated lighting, or any other non-essential expense, and steer these funds directly into the concrete foundation fund.

If you plan on finishing your basement, then avoiding water infiltration will be absolutely essential. If a finished basement flood is something you’ve experienced in the past, then the frustration and trauma of surviving that issue is no doubt fresh in your mind.

So, be sure to demand nothing short of the best in foundation-sealing techniques this time around.

Basement floors should have a 10-millimetre plastic vapour barrier and two-inch thick rigid foam directly under the concrete slab.

Your basement’s concrete wall should be sealed with a rubber membrane, followed by a one-inch thick layer of comfortboard (rock fibre matting), then draped with a continuous roll of plastic dimpled membrane.

As a result, how the contractor plans on sealing your foundation is a conversation every homeowner should be a part of.

Due to Mr. Slushworth’s water issues happening after the concrete membrane had been installed, and the foundation backfilled, this foundation breach could be a very costly fix.

Next week, we investigate the possibilities.

Good building.

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

What’s the mantel?

Today we’re going to be deciding on how to build our mantel.

Essentially, a shelf becomes a mantel when it’s placed over a fireplace.

When a mantel is supported by two column-like moldings placed on either side of the fireplace, this three-piece unit adopts the more elegant designation of “mantel surround.”

In an effort to simplify things, avoid formality, or guide the style of one’s home towards that of open space contemporary, mantels, as opposed to mantel surrounds, are becoming the decorator’s choice for accessorizing the wall space occupied by a fireplace.

So, with your lonely mantel now expected to bear a large portion of the decorating weight, becoming one of the key components to this accent wall, ranking second only to the fireplace itself, your mantel will need to provide impact.

For this to happen, the mantel is going to require two elements: size and character.

Size can be achieved either by building the mantel to the desired dimensions, by special ordering a solid piece of lumber, or by revitalizing an old barn beam into service. Building a mantel is easy, or like they say, only requires money.

Basically, any mantel found on Houzz or in a decorator’s magazine, can most likely be duplicated by your local building supply dealer’s bath and kitchen cabinet division, or by a local carpenter familiar with this type of finishing artistry.

Custom-made mantels are beautiful, but they usually don’t have any extended value, and carry even less of a story. Unless of course the mantel was made by some aging artisan who recently passed away, which like a piece of art, could elevate the mantel’s value.

Or, ‘legendary story’ value could result if the cabinet maker should have suffered a gruesome beheading after he slipped while trimming the mantel with his radial arm saw. In such a case, the customer would certainly benefit from the added value of their mantel having a history, and a warm, gather-around-the-fireplace type of story to recount to the little tykes on Christmas Eve.

Otherwise, a custom mantel is a rather nondescript piece of work.

So, with aging cabinet makers on their deathbed not so easily found in the yellow pages, if your mantel is to impress, then the option of solid wood might be the next best choice.

Because B.C. fir is readily available in practically any length or dimension of lumber, the fir specie is an excellent choice for a mantel. Besides the freedom to order a mantel in the desired girth, choosing B.C. fir also allows the homeowner to match the colour and grain pattern of their mantel to that of any other wood beams and pillars in the home, enabling the decorator to establish a real continuity of style and texture.

B.C. fir can be ordered with either a rough-sawn or dressed finish.

A rough-sawn look is the resulting finish of the original log being pushed through the band saw at the mill, and offers the customer a straight, but “furry” type of texture that includes splintering and saw blade marks. Rough-sawn finishes fit right into a rustic type of décor, or serve well to contrast in a contemporary setting.

Dressed refers to the fact the lumber has gone through a planer, and has been rendered smooth to the touch.

Other than made-to-measure and solid B.C. fir options, old lumber can serve as the perfect mantel. Beams from one of the seaway locks, old industrial pillars from the cotton mills, or the posts used in the 1870 last community hanging of bad boy Alfonse “le méchant” Papineau, all carry yesteryear’s charm, and make for great storytelling.

Otherwise, the fun thing about using old lumber is that you become the story teller, which is considered fair game in the home décor biz.

Concerns regarding old lumber? Look for any embedded nails or bolts before cutting. And, the paint on these older beams likely contains lead. So, sanding will require using extreme precautions.

Good building.

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